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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger537125
Updated: 1 week 1 day ago

Meditations on Lankhmar Gaming

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 01:52

I recently took my backer draft copy of the DCC Lankhmar set out for a few adventures. It's been fun - I find DCC to be a pretty good system for the setting.

This got me thinking of my own history with Lankhmar - an experience which, judging by articles and interviews, is similar to DCC Lankhmar author Michael Curtis'. I first encountered Nehwon, the world of Lankhmar, in the pages of AD&D's 1st edition Deities and Demigods. It gave stats for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the gods of Nehwon, various creatures, and gave an extremely high level overview of some of the organizations to be found there. It also mentioned the books these stories could be found in. Books I could not find.

A few years later TSR came out with a Lankhmar: City of Adventure supplement for AD&D. I loved it - a guide to Lankhmar and Nehwon. Lots of new rules for PCs. Looking back it did have the oddity of re-skinning white magic to be clerical magic and black magic to be standard magic-user magic. It greatly hobbled such characters with much longer casting times. But I really liked the idea of a low-magic setting for adventurers. Unfortunately I still couldn't find the darn books.

In the 1990s White Wolf began publishing hardcover editions of the Lankhmar novels. I was finally able to read the books. I did indeed enjoy them for the most part - they were uneven, with some fantastic stories and some that were... ok. Overall I really enjoyed them. I was pretty spoiled from having read the TSR sourcebooks but I still enjoyed the reading. I was a bit surprised by some heavy doses of BDSM in some of the stories. I think, overall, I enjoyed the fun the two had in their adventures - and misadventures. They messed up a lot - they lost their trueloves while they were making a drunken raid on the Thieves' Guild. There was an undercurrent of the protagonists doing what they wanted to be doing, something I didn't always find in swords and sorcery fiction.

Lankhmar has a bit of a mixed record in RPGs. I liked the AD&D Lankhmar, especially for non-magic characters. When Mongoose Publishing had the RuneQuest license they published some Lankhmar material. I think RuneQuest is a great fit for Lankhmar but I found the Mongoose lacking in quality. Pinnacle has done a series of Lankhmar books for Savage Worlds - I'm not intimately familiar with them but they seem to be of good quality.

Overall, I probably consider DCC and RuneQuest the best possible matches for Lankhmar. DCC is awfully close to what I'd consider the perfect system for Lankhmar out of the box - it doesn't require extensive modification. It does include rules for luckier and more bad-ass characters, dispensing with the zero-level funnel. It also makes it easier for characters to heal without the benefit of clerics. Adventures are designed for parties of varying sizes, including very small parties of two or three characters, very much in keeping with the setting.

There's a few things that I've found a bit rough with DCC Lankhmar. It's been a lot harder on PCs than I'd've expected. There's been no fatalities yet but some pretty major/permanent style injuries. The rules do have some options for a bit less deadly game. I'd glossed over them, deciding to try the rules as written, but I think should we do some more adventures I might try them out.
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Fiction Review: The War of the Worlds

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 21:35

My first encounter with H.G. Wells' classic The War of the Worlds was as a broadcast of the 1950s film version of it - on WPIX Channel 11 in New York I believe. I later read the novel for a high school book report and greatly enjoyed. It remains a favorite of mine to this day - every few years I find myself rereading it.

The novel tells of the invasion of then-modern England - the suburbs around London in the late 19th century - by Martians. It is told by an unnamed narrator, a journalist by trade, and how he and his wife dealt with the invasion. It also gives a view of the invasion in London from the perspective of the narrator's brother, a medical student.

The Martians arrive in meteor-like cylinders which serve as small bases of operations for their invasion. The Martians march across the landscape on nimble tripods. These tripods carry various weapons - most notably a heat ray and "black smoke" projectors - a type of poison gas. Red weeds from Mars proliferate wherever they go. We also get glimpses of the Martians themselves as they toil under Earth's greater gravity. We learn the Martians do not eat but rather exist in a vampiric existence - taking nutrition by blood transfusions - and they have a taste for human blood it seems.

We see the British army confidently standing up to the Martians - and getting their collective arses kicked. We see civilian populations fleeing as the invaders approach -  with many dying from poison gas. These types of scenes that would become all too common in the real-world wars that were to come.

There are moments of heroism. British artillery manages to bring down one tripod and in the Thames, H.M.S. Thunderchild boldly rams a tripod, allowing refugees to escape - and providing a name for a starship in Star Trek. But for the most part the British military and civilians don't stand much a chance. The narrator is trapped in a house partially destroyed by a cylinder landing for two weeks, much of that time spent with a curate he comes to despise. He also meets a surviving artilleryman who concocts bold yet unpractical plans for generations of resistance. In the end the Martians are defeated by bacteria - it's not that they have no immunity to Earth's bacteria specifically but rather they have no immunity to any bacteria.

Why do I find the novel so appealing? I find it offers a lot - and what one gets out of it in one reading may be different from other readings. There are many mysteries to it - and finding one's own answers can be part of the appeal. Why, for example, is the invasion centered around London? Did the invaders recognize the United Kingdom as the primary world power and decide to knock it out first? What sort of commentary is intended? For example, what is to make of the negative portrayal of the curate and the animosity the narrator feels towards him?

The novel is a great source of inspiration. It's been adopted as a famous radio play and has had multiple movies made about it - my favorite easily being the classic 1950s one. And there have been numerous expansions of it. Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a storyline taking place around the invasion and dives into the Martian biological vulnerabilities. There is a great Elseworlds Superman story which features Superman facing up against the Martians. They appear in various RPGs. Chaosium has included them in one of my favorite 6th edition supplements, Malleus Monstrorum. There really is something Lovecraftian about uncaring aliens that invade the Earth and view humanity not with hate but rather as a food source. Golden Age Champions makes stopping the Martian invasion of 1938 a potential storyline to bring about a superhero team.

I think Wells would like his creation being used in RPGs, considering he created one of the first (if not the first) wargames, Little Wars.
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Actual Play: The Madhouse Meet

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 01:48

With my degree pursuit entering the home stretch, posting has been pretty anemic. But I wanted to give a very brief write-up of our first adventure playing with DCC Lankhmar. This is our playing of The Madhouse Meet from the 2016 Free RPG Day book from Goodman Games. 
Cast of Characters:
  • الموت (Almawt) - Daughter of Lankhmarts who settled in the Eastern Lands. Abandoned her designated role as a squire to study magic under Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. 
  • Ганзориг (Ganzorig) - Unlucky and dim-witted Mingol warrior, deadly with his battle axe. Challenge to speak with given his lack of speaking the common Low Lankhmarese. 
  • Phlegm - Lankhmar-native. Smuggler, independent thief who has reached an accommodation with the Thieves' Guild of Lankhmar.

The trio did not meet in a tavern. They were however all captured from the same tavern, the Heavy Lion, in the slums near the Marsh Gate of the Temple Quarter. The wizard Tulmakiz had been experimenting on transients in the slums but he needed some heartier subjects for his foul experiments. He drugged the drinks of Almawt, Ganzorig, and Phlegm and had his hairless goons drag their unconscious bodies to his base, a long-abandoned insane asylum.
Almawt and Ganzorig awoke in the same cell, chained to the walls - Almawt, identified as a wizard, was also gagged. As was her familiar, a psuedodragon. A goon fed them some gruel and departed - with the wizard Tulmakiz watching.
Ganzorig was able to break them free of their chains and bash the door open. Though they could barely understand one another, they clearly had a common purpose - escape. They wandered their way past vacant cells into their jailor's quarters - they caught him by surprise and were able to slay him - Ganzorig wielding his chains as weapons and Almawt invoking deadly icy magic missiles.
Before working their way upstairs they encountered the thief Plegm who had also been making his escape. They also found their weapons and other gear in their jailor's quarters.
Upstairs they explored, defeating a cook, a goon, and looting Tulmakiz's quarters. They found Tulmakiz in his laboratory, planning to do all manner of vile experiments upon them. After defeating him, his nearby guards fled, though they did need to do battle with a final quartet of guards who blocked their passage to the smelly streets of Lankhmar's slums.
Though they'd met through misfortune, it had been a profitable meeting. Perhaps it would be worth adventuring together in the future.
Loot of Note
  • Silver smerduks - 127
  • Gold Rilks - 132
  • Eevamarensee Green Coins - 11, worth 20 gold rilks each
  • Silver Thieves' Guild Dagger
  • Parchment written to the Overlord's Chief of Spies detailing the movements of the minor noble Baron Nayari
  • Scrolls detailing Eevamarensee pain sorcery, including Mouse's Painful Suffering
  • Four vials of Eevamarensee slumber powder - contact or ingested, DC 15 Fortitude save of sleep 2d6 hours
  • Healing ungent
  • Three vials of Eevamarensee liquid fire

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The Elder Gods Reign Supreme in the 2018 ENnie Awards

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 01:06

Taking a look at the 2018 ENnie Winners, it seems the Mythos kinda kicked ass.

By my count, products in the Cthulhu family won a dozen awards:

  • Best Adventure (Silver) - Delta Green: A Night at the Opera (Arc Dream Publishing)
  • Best Art (Gold) - Harlem Unbound (Darker Hue Studios)
  • Best Electronic Book (Gold) -Delta Green: A Night at the Opera (Arc Dream Publishing)
  • Best Game (Silver) - Delta Green: The RPG (Arc Dream Publishing)
  • Best Monster/Adversary (Silver) - Down Darker Trails (Chaosium Inc.)
  • Best Podcast (Gold) - Miskatonic University Podcast
  • Best Production Values (Gold) - Delta Green: The RPG (Arc Dream Publishing)
  • Best Rules (Gold) - Delta Green: The RPG (Arc Dream Publishing)
  • Best Setting (Gold) - Harlem Unbound (Darker Hue Studios)
  • Best Supplement (Gold) - Reign of Terror (Chaosium Inc.)
  • Best Writing (Gold) - Harlem Unbound (Darker Hue Studios)
  • Product of the Year (Silver) - Delta Green: The RPG (Arc Dream Publishing)

In addition, Chaosium collected a number of awards not related to Call of Cthulhu:
  • Best Family Product (Gold) - Khan of Khans(Chaosium Inc.)
  • Best Free Product (Gold) - Runequest: Quickstart Rules and Adventure (Chaosium Inc.)
  • Best RPG Related Product (Gold) - Khan of Khans (Chaosium Inc.)
  • Fan's Choice, Best Publisher (Silver) - Chaosium Inc.
An impressive performance - it's interesting seeing how the ENnie awards have evolved from what used to be very d20-based. I'm regrettably unfamiliar with Harlem Unbound beyond a fairly high level - though I've just remedied that via a purchase. Everything I've heard about it is superb - I love the culture of the Harlem Renaissance and also love the idea of playing African Americans in Harlem facing the Mythos - it has a certain appeal giving HP Lovecraft's own attitudes towards race. Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country did something similar.
Seeing Chaosium perform so well is also satisfying - for so many years they were a company that could get out a single product per year if they were lucky. And Arc Dream took a big chance making their newest version of Delta Green a standalone RPG as opposed to a supplement for Call of Cthulhu. 
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Prepping an Old-School Call of Cthulhu Scenario

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 02:04

As a dad, software engineer, husband, and grad student, the amount of time I have to make my own adventures is sadly limited. I'm currently in my last class so I'm hoping the fall will bring more time both for this blog and for me to prep my own adventures. However, for the time being I've gotten great mileage out of pre-made scenarios.

One nice thing about Call of Cthulhu is there are a lot of such scenario out there. I especially like that there are a lot of scenarios suitable for one or two sessions of play - I love long campaigns, but right now such a style isn't quite suitable for me. It is also nice that you can take an scenario written for the old editions of the game and use it with the newest ones without any difficulty.

One thing in most Call of Cthulhu scenarios favor is they don't typically force a certain course of action for the investigators. I've had sessions where I'm pretty certain the author would barely recognize his or her scenario. Typically, Call of Cthulhu scenarios present the current situation, a hook, a bunch of locations, and a bunch of NPCs and monsters.

However, one challenge I've found, especially with older scenarios, is it is often a bit of detective work for the keeper to understand all the pieces. Over the years I've developed a bit of an informal system for prepping my scenarios. I usually have them in PDF format so I pull them into Acrobat on my iPad Pro where I can mark the up.

What am I looking for? Typically I want to make certain I understand:

  • What do the investigators need to do to have a chance to succeed? 
  • Who are the NPCs and how are they connected? Are there any potential allies?
  • What will happen if the investigators do nothing?
  • Are there any adjustments to make to my campaign? For example, any NPCs from previous adventures to reuse? Any changes needed due to our game taking place in a different year?
  • Are there any aspects of it that show great potential for wiping out the investigators? This isn't to say I'll change it - but at the very least I want to make certain I'm aware of it if possible.
  • What course are the investigators likely to take?
  • Are there any easy to miss clues or discoveries? Are any of them vital?
That last bullet point is a biggie, especially in older scenarios. Indeed, it is the main reason that the game Trail of Cthulhu was created. Call of Cthulhu is a dangerous game and I think it is at its most enjoyable when success is not guaranteed - but I don't want to penalize players if they ignore, for example, a bartender, who turns out to be the only source of a vital clue. Again, that's not to say that failure should be impossible - but I do prefer there being more than one path to success. So I might tweak scenarios, either on the fly or during prep time, to have additional ways of getting required information. It's a balancing act - I don't want to play a game where every bit of information is fed to the investigators.
I may have made this sound a bit more "scientific" than it really is. But perhaps the greatest tool I have for this prep work is a pen and something to write on, whether physical or virtual. The odds of my players taking the "expected" course tends to be low - which I greatly enjoy. But I'm best able to give that freedom when I better understand the scenario we are playing.
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Actual Play - The Spawn - Part 1

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 01:58
Based on the adventure of the same name by Harry Cleaver, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.

Boston, Mass. to Coppertown, New Mexico. June 20 - June 26, 1921


  • Jordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for France
  • Liam Maguire - Former Boston police officer turned private investigator after the 1919 strike
  • Dora Martin - Journalist determined to understand the truth

At Fredrick Tardiff's art studio in Boston some new investigators had gathered. Dora Martin had reported on the Crimson Gang and had determined there was more to it than the official story So had former police officer Liam Maguire.
Dora had received a letter from a former colleague of hers, a labor organizer and general rabble rouser, José Green.

Prior to leaving they did some research on the mines:

  • The Beasley Mining Co.
  • Offices: 28 Main Street, Coppertown, New Mexico.
  • Officers: President William Beasley, V.P. Edward Beasley.
  • Incorporated: May 19, 1912 in New Mexico.
  • Capital:about $5 million (no shares).
  • Property: 20 unpatented claims and 1 mill site, about 560 acres of land on the N. side of Devil’s Mountain, 5 miles from Coppertown, New Mexico.
  • Development: main developments are two claims, Broad Vein and the Copper Lady, both incline shafts cut into porphyry copper deposits

Taking the train to small town they arrived on the evening of Saturday, June 25. They checked into La Casa Royale, a hotel run by local Mexican-Americans. They ate at the nearby Silver Spur. There they made the acquaintance of the young Professor Tyler A. Freeborn who told them fascinating stories of how the local Indians had abandoned their mountain dwellings around 1300 A/D/ and settled in flat river valleys. He'd broken his arm finding a strange temple in the mountain dwellings and was eager to return.

They also met with José Green who talked of the strangeness - how the Copper Lady mine was far more productive through mined by lower paid Mexican and Mexican-American workers - whereas the primarily white-worked Broad Vein was paid much more but produced far less. The workers there were happier though - and better paid. The better pay was not unusual given they were white but the fact that they were paid so very high was - as was the happiness, despite the unusual number of fatalities, even in dangerous work like mining. The bosses had refused help from the Copper Lady miners in rescuing Thornton and some of his fellow miners from a cave-in in Broad Vein. He never had a chance to see the bodies.

Given the next day was Sunday, very early in the morning they snuck into the Broad Vein mine to check it out, entering through an air shaft on the side. They worked their way past the cave-in and going further down they found... a sacrificial chamber, with a smooth tunnel leading from it. Exploring it they went deep into the mountain. After over an hour of travel they decided to turn back - only to discover a tentacled horror following them. Opening fire their guns did minimal effect and they ran - deeper into the mountain. They eventually passed a curtain or blanket and entered... a torture chamber... Breaking down the door they found a staircase leading to the Beasley Mansion...

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Reflections on the Past Several Months and Looking Forward

Sun, 07/22/2018 - 03:21

While my blog has avoided going into hiatus, it has gone from double-digit posts per month to just a few. Suffice to say, the past few months have not been boring.

Last September and October weren't too bad for the blog - a little bit of a slowdown but not too bad. Then on October 31st my younger daughter was hospitalized. As any parent no doubt knows, there's nothing so horrible as a threat to one of your kids. 
I've also been busy with grad school. I've been pursuing my master's degree in strategic analytics since September 2005. It's been a long slog - while the material hasn't gotten more difficult, I've found keeping at it more and more difficult as time goes on. I've managed to do so though and have just begun my 10th and final class. If all goes well, I will finish the program in the end of September. 
My professional life was upended this summer, as I was laid off from my job in mid-June. I'd first joined EMC all the way back in 2002 after the startup I'd been worked out went under a little over a month after the birth of my first child. I'd not planned on staying so long but I had the opportunity to wear a few gazillion hats and further my career and skills in many ways. The silver lining is my job search went extremely well and I'll be starting a new job next week - one I'm really looking forward to. 
I had to miss some convention opportunities as a result of all this - I was unsure I'd be able to make it even when I was employed due to school - once I knew I was losing my job, I couldn't justify such expenses.
With all of this, time for hobbies has been greatly reduced. I managed to keep gaming fairly regularly, though I do appreciate the opportunity to have played instead of GM-ed when I felt my creative energies at a nadir. 
I imagine the next two months will be a bit tight as well as I begin my new job and work my way through this final class. Hopefully not quite as tight as the past two have been. I'd really like to bring the frequency of updates to this blog back up. 
There have been some good things going on in life. We've been teaching our eldest daughter how to drive and she's started her first part-time job. Our youngest has joined in gaming - she loves Call of Cthulhu. She'll be traveling to Japan for two weeks in October as part of a cultural exchange program (and her parents will do their best to avoid being constantly worried during those two weeks).
There's been a number of games coming out of late that I'd love to get the change to play - so many games, so little time. I've not had time to digest it fully yet, but the new RuneQuest looks wonderful. I've received the backer previews of Goodman Games' Lankhmar and I don't think I've ever seen the setting handled better. While it's not new, I recently received the Fantasy Flight Games' reprint of the West End Games 1st edition Star Wars RPG.

I am hoping that life get a little more boring going forward.  Or that it be exciting in good ways. 
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Actual Play: One in Darkness Part 2

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 01:16

Based on the adventure of the same name by Doug Lyons with L. N. Isynwill, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.

Part 1

[Note this writeup is a bit brief given the adventure was played several months ago.]

Boston; Wednesday, April 20 - Thursday, April 21, 1921


  • Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in Arkham
  • Jordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for France
  • Fredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist

Late in the night of the 20th, Crowley received the call that Eddie Clark had been spotted and rejoined his companions in apprehending him. After some severe questioning, they searched his flat and discovered it had records of a delivery to an abandoned brewery - perhaps where the Crimson Gang was hiding.

They made their plans to go to the hideout - with the knowledge that the Black Demon was searching for Malone as his ultimate target, they planned on using the tablets to bring the demon there - and then hopefully banish it.

While they did manage to get access to their hideout through guile, the encounter with the Black Demon was horrific. Furst, who had studied the banishing spell the most, was stricken mad by the horror as it tore through the Crimson Gang. Crowley and Tardiff fared little better, though their luck held out long enough to dodge the creature's attacks and for them to complete the spell, banishing the creature back from whence it came.

Furst recovered from her initial shock, though she would need time to recover fully . Crowley was a broken man and Tardiff realized his luck had just about run out and felt his days on the front lines were over.

Keeper Notes:

This adventure was a lot more dangerous than I'd anticipated. At the end of it Furst had her first full bout with madness, Crowley was down to 1 sanity point, and Tardiff's luck was down to single digits. We decided to take a brief break from Call of Cthulhu after this as we ready for a game with Furst now moving from new character to grizzled veteran and Tardiff and Crowley moving to NPC/support status.

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Remembering James - 1971-2018

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 23:01

As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that he was gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart- Rush, "Nobody's Hero"

My first ever gaming group was in the 1980s. In the summer between 5th and 6th grade I posted an ad in the local library looking for a gaming group. I was terrified as it was my first time DM-ing for a group - all the other gaming I'd done had been with one friend here, maybe two others.

Some members of that group became my closest friends in middle school and into high school. Jim was one of them. When I see the show Stranger Things I think of that game of friends. I'd suddenly found a gang of geeky people to hang out with. I remember being over Jim's house many times - his family had a VCR long before mine did - and we watched tons of science fiction and fantasy films. The Last Unicorn, Star Trek II, etc. Halloween parties at his house. He always managed to find new games - he introduced me to Top Secret, Tunnels & Trolls and many other. I remember just how great it was having friends, being a geeky, chunky kid. Jim was a good one. Like me, he was a big kid. But man he could dance at our school's Top 40 Club.

We went to different high schools but still had a decent amount of contact. We both went to UConn in fall of 1989 and we did a ton of stuff together that first semester. Alas, college wasn't for Jim and he departed after one semester. As so often happens in life, we drifted out of touch. The last time I saw him face to face was probably a little before I got married in the mid-1990s.

We encountered each other on Facebook several years back and alas his health has been bad for much of that time. He passed away last night.

Jim was one of the best friends of my later childhood - late tween years into teen. I'd've been a lot lonelier had he not been in my life. My thoughts are with those close to him.

Once upon a time I was nearly certain of a life after this one. I don't have that certainty any more. At times like this I think of Carl Sagan's words -

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
The next time I'm at my parents' house I'll see if I can dig up a picture of him for our childhood. But until then, I'll use an image of Star Trek II to remember him. He made fun of how much the ear worms freaked me out...

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