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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger520125
Updated: 3 days 5 hours ago

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #7 - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 22:48


 This was one of the tougher games for me to place. For a long time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the main game I played. I’m going to commit some old-school heresy and link the first and second editions of the games together - though there certainly was some stylistic changes, AD&D 2nd edition was more a change along the lines of editions of Call of Cthulhu than the leap between AD&D and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. One could even make the argument of linking AD&D and B/X D&D but given the number of differing assumptions between the two parallel game lines, I’ve chosen not to do that - though truth to tell, my groups, like most, happily cross-pollinated between the two lines - but we usually preferred AD&D.

What was it about AD&D? I think what I liked about it was that it was a dense game. The early books were tomes you could explore. It was a crunchy game - not Aftermath crunchy but compared to B/X D&D there was a lot to the game. I don’t know if anyone used all of the crunch. For example, it was only a few years ago that I finally understood how speed factor worked in the 1st edition - each weapon had a speed factor assigned to it, though it was apparently only significant in the cases of a tie for initiative. There were rules for aging, diseases, saving throws for equipment carried by characters, etc. I think what I loved most was the feel of the game. It was a less brightly lit world than that of B/X D&D. Characters were generally assumed to be opportunists and evil characters seemed to be expected - though I recall a lot of debates in Dragon magazine’s old forum section. Of modern games, I’d say Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Dungeon Crawl Classics come closest to the tone of AD&D’s 1st edition. You won’t see LotFP on this list alas, as while I’ve borrowed from it, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to play it and I’ve limited my list to games I’ve played or run at least once.

I do wonder if I perhaps ranked AD&D a little too high - I suspect given the opportunity to play AD&D or AS&SH I’d probably pick the latter. On the other hand, I’ve such powerful memories of AD&D - I think we’re giving a bit of a nostalgia bump...

Looking back, I do think AD&D 2nd edition is a bit unfairly maligned. It provided some much needed cleanup of the rules - in AD&D 2e I actually understood how speed factor worked. It is regrettable how much tidier AD&D got - demons no longer in the game, no more assassin player characters, etc. The cleanup probably was necessary - I wasn’t in an area hit hard by the anti-D&D craze of the 1980s, but it was a real thing - I remember Gary Gygax on 60 Minutes.  The 2nd edition did go for more plot-driven adventures, sometimes with PCs relegated to being mere observers. However, late 2nd edition adventures experienced a bit of a renaissance after Wizards of the Coast bought TSR. There were some interesting experiments in that era - one of my favorites was Reverse Dungeon, where the PCs played the humanoids whose lairs were being attacked by adventurers.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 3

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 00:05
I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. ― Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow

[Part One] [Part Two]


Setting:New Orleans, LA; Tuesday, February 1 - Saturday, February 5, 1921
Characters:
  • Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in Arkham
  • Jordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for France
  • Fredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary:Hearing Fowler and Papa Screech back in the estate, the investigators exercised stealth. Crowley and Tardiff prepared to burn the side of the teleportation portal on the estate side of the gate while Furst snuck upstairs to see if there was anything worth seeing.

Upstairs she did find something rather disturbing behind a locked door (which she easily picked) - a shrine to his dead wife and daughter, with a copy of The King in Yellow as well as a tattered notebook. Flipping through it she found it was a set of instructions as to how one might summon Hastur. She pocketed the notebook and, going back downstairs, put the King in Yellow in the kindling they had laid out.

Their attempt to sneak out was not quite successful - Papa Screech heard them and pursued, opening fire with his handgun. Furst and Crowley returned fire, killing him. However, Fowler lived in a wealthy neighborhood and they quickly heard the whistles of police officers responding to the sound of shots fired. However, Tardiff had an ace up his sleeve - a spell he had learned to summon a mist, providing them a cloak in which to escape.

The next day Crowley and Furst monitored the swamp summoning area while Tardiff kept an eye on things in New Orleans.

Tardiff learned that Fowler had been taken to a hospital for a nervous breakdown - and that the portal had indeed been destroyed. He also discovered that Fowler had vanished during the night.
Crowley and Furst saw some of the remaining cultists dragging Fowler to one of the old hits, tied up. From listening to their talk it was clear they were distraught, refusing to believe that Papa Screech was truly dead and hoping he would soon appear so they could complete the summoning ritual.

That being established, the two returned to New Orleans to meet with Tardiff. They decided to make an anonymous tip to the police about Fowler and informed their patron, Charles Sunstram, of all that had transpired.

Keeper Notes:This last part was a pretty quick session, but we weren’t quite able to finish in part two. I was rather impressed by this old adventure - I ran it pretty close to as written, though I did add an extra clue here or there as it seemed there were a few too many pinch points. New Orleans was a nice diversion from our New England based campaign and over the years I’ve come to appreciate the Robert Chalmers that influenced HP Lovecraft.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #8 - RuneQuest

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 18:08




RuneQuest is a game I’d love to get a bit more time playing. The first version I picked up was the Avalon Hill-published, Chaosium-produced 3rd edition of the game. For many, if not most people, RuneQuest is equivalent to Glorantha, the default setting of the game. However, the 3rd edition took place on a fantasy version of Earth, with Glorantha detailed in a book in the boxed set.
My own experience with RuneQuest is in using it as the rules for a fantasy version of Earth, with the PCs being either Vikings or Lenape Native Americans, covering a fictional colony set up by Vikings in Manhattan around 1000 AD. It featured evil dwarfs, dragons, and lots of violence. It was a lot of fun. If it went much longer I think I would have thrown in some ninjas and dinosaurs... We actually used a fairly crunchy version of the rules, as designed by Nash and Whitaker for Mongoose Publishing, a set of rules that became the basis for The Design Mechanism’s RuneQuest 6th Edition and later Mythras. Chaosium, after a long journey, has the rights back to both the game and the rules and is in the process of producing a new edition, RuneQuest Glorantha.
What’s the appeal of RuneQuest? For me, it’s the skill-based characters. Without classes, you can make any character you want. With a simple percentile skill system it is easy to know how good your character is at something. And characters will rarely have enough hit points to guarantee surviving a single hit from a sword, combat is very exciting - lots of parrying and maneuvering. The Nash and Whitaker incarnation of RuneQuest greatly detailed the maneuvers possible, with characters getting additional options depending on how well they attack or defend. This was sometimes a little too crunchy for my tastes but it did make combat very exciting. From what I’ve seen, Chaosium appears to be throttling back on this a bit, going back to something closer to the 2nd and 3rd editions of the game. Still quite a few options, but not quite as crunchy. I’m considering RuneQuest to be a single game, unlike the different editions of D&D. Unlike D&D versions, RuneQuest character sheets from one edition tp the next look quite similar to one another, albeit with a lot more details as the editions go up. The editions aren’t quite as similar to one another as they are for its sibling, Call of Cthulhu. This is perhaps not too surprising considering the game has had four publishers - Chaosium, Avalon Hill, Mongooe, and The Design Mechanism. 
RuneQuest is also well known for its magic systems. The base game assumes that everyone is able to use magic, though for most this amounts to very minor magics like sharpening a blade. It is possible to become a dedicated priest in all of the editions and many of them also allow for sorcerers. Nash and Whitaker opened it up to shamans, divine priests, sorcerers, and mentalists. They also provided dials for how magical a world you wanted - you could,for example, take away the ability of everyone to use magic quite easily. It was also used by Mongoose for gaming in Lankhmar, though, truth to tell, I was a bit disappointed by those books. 
I’ve never gamed in Glorantha which makes me a bit uncomfortable commenting on one of its best known aspects. Glorantha is very much a fantasy setting. The gods in that setting are very real. The afterife is a very concrete thing, reducing fear of death quite a bit - and giving an emphasis on becoming legendary for one’s deeds. I like how it gets away from the default medieval fantasy of most games, going for more of a Bronze Age fantasy - and with a strong emphasis on different cultures, from the very primitive to empires. I’ve been giving some serious thought to trying out a Glorantha-based game of late.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #9 - Dungeons & Dragons (B/X, BXCMI)

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 01:56


I got my start in the B/X version of D&D and it’s still a game I really like, though it’s been years since I’ve played it. I’m lumping the Basic/Expert game with the later Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immportal sets, later consolidated into the Rules Cyclopedia, one of the greatest single volume games I’ve ever seen. I am keeping it separate from AD&D which will appear in one of the remaining 8 slots - I was a bit torn as to which to rank higher. Part of me wanted to link them all as one game but my own gameplay experiences had them feeling rather different from each other. I certainly borrowed material from one game and used them in the other.

With that out of the way, what was the appeal for me of D&D? As with manu others of my generation, this was my first exposure to role playing. In some ways the game is a bit kludgey, with a variety of mechanics - lots of x in 6 chances, percentile chances, d20 attack rolls, low armor classes are good, etc. Nowadays that’s part of the charm and nostalgia of the game, but in all honesty it got rather confusing when learning. But once I grasped the basics of the game it was a joy to play - four main classes, three demi-human classes and that’s it for your character options. Spell lists of moderate size, not a gazillion special abilities to keep track of.

As I’ll mention with AD&D, part of the appeal of this game was the setting and adventure modules. The Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread are two of my favorite gaming locations. A small fortress on the wilderness with monsters nearby and a “lost world” island to adventure on. The Companion series opened up a frontier region of Norwold, inviting players to settle down and rule their own realms, getting involved in fantasy medieval politics. One area of D&D that I preferred to AD&D was how it handled high-level play, with rules for domain management and its War Machine rules for simple mass combat resolution.

D&D also had a default world that developed slowly over time - from a simple presentation in the Expert set of the “Known World” to more developed Gazeteer modules to the Voyage of the Princess Ark exploring the whole planet. The immediate are, as covered by the Gazeteers, was my favorite. It was a shameless amalgamation of cultural riffs on human cultures - Vikings, Bedouin, Mongols, a Byzantine Empire, etc., all shamelessly close together. You had your Principalities of Glantri, a realm ruled by competing wizard families with a canal city for a capital.

I know there was a certain amount of politics at TSR that kept D&D and AD&D separate games. They definitely had different tones but keeping them as separate games was an incredibly odd business decision it is very understandable that Wizards of the Coast brought the two lines back together for D&D 3.0.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #10 - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 00:15


I’d originally planned on making this list a “top 10 list”, but given the name of my blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to make it a “top 19”. It’s taking me a bit longer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, over the past few months I’ve had to dial back on my posting frequency. It’s been a combination of finishing up my master’s degree (eight classes down, two to go) as well as actually working on my first gaming product intended for publication (more on that in a few months if it becomes something real).
That said, we’ve made it to the top ten. Another of the reasons I expanded it from ten to nineteen is I wanted to get some retroclones that I’ve played in. Today’s entry is one that I’ve really enjoyed - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorceres of Hyperborea. Take Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and super-emphasize elements that would fit into Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborean stories - a swords & sorcery corner of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The rules themselves are a close variant of AD&D, with a number of changes that I really liked. No more multi-class characters - but each of the main four classes have a number of subclasses which often borrow from other core classes. For example, one can be a warrior who dabbles in magic. There are no non-human characters, something which feels appropriate for the genre. While characters can create minor magic items, the more techniques of more major magics such as enchanted weapons have been lost.
The setting is a mini-universe - a hexagon shaped sea whose waters drop off to infinity, surrounding a small continent and many islands. There are untold ruins, remnants of many cataclysms, and those cities that remain are often a fraction of their former populations. Above a pitiful dying sun provides feeble warmth.
AS&SH isn’t as open-ended as some other D&D-style games in tone - I think, for example, it would be an awkward fit for heroic fantasy - but it’s not trying to be an anything game. It sets its sights on a specific genre and masterfully executes.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #11 - Vampire: The Masquerade

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 01:21

I saw Vampire: The Masquerade a number of times at the local Waldenbooks in the early 1990s. As a poor college student without a lot of free time I didn't make that many gaming purchases back then - and without a regular book there didn't seem much point in purchasing it. But every time I was there I flipped through it and was amazed - it was different from any other RPG I'd ever seen. From the evocative art to the comic book style story within to its themes. Eventually I wound up purchasing it.

Truth to tell, I've not gotten that much play out of it - in that, it resembles Pendragon - a game I really like but have gotten very little opportunity to play. However, the few times I've played it were a blast - whether it was dark and moody or superheroes with fangs, it was a blast.

There's a number of things about Vampire that I found - and still find - appealing. I love politics and Vampire games can be all about politics - high stakes politics in the style of the Corleone and the Borgia families. I also love history and with Vampire you can play a character centuries old - and you can easily play a historical game, with supplements covering the Middle Ages and Victoria Era

The tone of the game screams 1990s to me. The 1990s was the decade that I came into adulthood. I was an 18-year old college freshman as the 1990s began. I was never a part of the goth subculture but I definitely appreciated it. I loved grunge music. My favorite color was black. Like many people of that period, Vampire spoke to me. Vampire and other White Wolf games came to dominate the gaming industry as the decade went on. Even that had parallels for me, for by the end of the decade I was married, doing well in my career, and would soon be purchasing a house, getting a dog, and having kids.

I see Vampire still speaks to people. My younger daughter is the geeky one, the one who loves comics, anime, manga, rpgs, etc., has expressed an interest in playing Vampire and loves the art of the game. I'd certainly take it for a spin again. And with more play, I imagine I'd be ranking it much higher.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 2

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 00:55
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
- "Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2


Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.








Setting: New Orleans, LA; Monday, January 31, 1921 - Tuesday, February 1, 1921
Characters:


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

Summary:

After dealing with a bout of paranoid madness, the investigators limped their way back to their hotel to recover from the shock.

The next morning (rather late morning), going over Gavvin's notes, they decided to go to the warehouse being used by the Most Honorable Krewe of Swords. It was a hive of activity, with the impeccably dressed chairman of the Krewe, Denis Bouchard, paying a visit, though it was the oddly dressed and speaking Papa Screech who was truly in charge. Bouchard was friendly enough, especially given Crowley's wealth, inviting them to a Mardis Gras celebration at Fowler's estate on February 9. Screech said little, commenting that the Yellow Sign had come to him in a vision - something that conflicted with their recent reading of The King in Yellow. As they left, they noticed the skylight was shattered - something seemed to have landed on it hard. Something to investigate at a later point perhaps.

With many signs pointing to Fowler, they paid a visit to his estate. Finding it totally vacant, Furst picked the lock and they had a look around. Much to their surprise they found a room with what Tardiff recognized as a teleportation gate from his sojourn to Ka'tori in June of 1920. Knowing how to activate it, they bravely (foolishly?) did so, taking a sanity bending journey... Into the swamp outside the city... They'd arrived in a hut, one of many rundown huts. Looking around they found their way to a clearing with some stone menhirs - a sight they recognized from their visions and from The King in Yellow. It was the perfect place to bring Hastur to take a mortal form, bringing him from Carcosa.

They also found a relatively friendly face, Granny Goudreau living in a one-room cabin. She talked about the wicked voodoo folk, led by Papa Screech. He had been part of the Cthulhu cult wiped out back in 1907. She'd also observed Papa Screech and his people preparing for a ritual - one where they'd summon Hastur to take over the body and destroy the mind of some stupid white man, Fowler, convincing him he'd become a god.

They returned to the abandoned hut and returned to Fowler's estate as the sun set. There they overheard Papa Screech and Fowler talking, with Screech assuring him he'd soon be a god...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #12 - Marvel Super Heroes

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 01:59

There have been a number of RPGs based on Marvel Comics but my favorite remains the original game, as published by TSR in the 1980s. It's been around 25 years since I've played the game but I still have very fond memories of the game.
I believe TSR made the game from 1984 to 1993. There were two main rules sets - the original basic game in 1984 and the advanced game which was releases in 1986. TSR later published a revised basic set. The game reflected the changing Marvel universe - it began with a strong Bronze Age of comics feel, though over time it acquired the Iron Age feel of late 1980s and early 1990s comics - the proliferation of X-Men teams, supernatural characters, etc. Though strongly rooted in the Marvel Universe, the game had rules for your own characters, teams, headquarters, etc. 
The mid-1980s saw a number of "table-based" RPGs - Chill, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, and Conan are the biggies I can think of. Of the TSR games, I think Marvel did it best. Below is the "universal table" from the original game:
In terms of action, the universal table was great - it greatly mimicked the feel of comics, with characters going flying in battle, getting briefly knocked off their feet, etc. The characters had 7 abilities - Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche - to this day, remembered as FASERIP. Each ability had a comic sounding rank - Feeble, Poor, Typical, Good, Excellent, Remarkable, Incredible, Amazing, Monstrous, and Unearthly. It's worth noting I quoted the abilities and their ranks from memory - again, despite not having played in over two decades. That's how well the game was done.
Characters had Health and Karma stats as well. These were based off of their physical and mental abilities. Health was a fairly typical "hit point" style ability. Karma was a character's ability to influence fate - bonuses to dice rolls. In the advanced game Karma could also be spent to try "power stunts" - non-typical uses of power. Spending Karma was also used for improving abilities and getting new powers. Karma could be pooled by teams, giving a common resource. You gained Karma by being heroic - and could lose it by non-heroic actions. Characters who killed lost all their Karma - and a Karma Pool would also be wiped out by a character in it who killed (keep an eye on Wolverine).
Additionally characters had Resources and Popularity, reflecting their relative wealth and how well-liked they were. Villains could have negative Popularity, reflecting how feared they were - and sometimes even well-meaning mutants might fall into that category.
Marvel Super Heroes worked great both in campaign play and for quick games. As I wrote this overview, it occurs to me it had an influence on games like Fudge, Fate, and Icons. One of the things I remember most about playing the game is how much it felt like a Marvel Comic - clearly one of the game's design goals and one it realized admirably.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #13 - Dungeon Crawl Classics

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 01:31


We're entering a region of my Top 19, probably up to number 6 or 7, where I'd almost be inclined to list a 6-way tie. I like all the games on this list a lot and we're hitting the games that I really, really like.

Dungeon Crawl Classics came out around the time I started this blog so it has a special place in my heart. It takes the D&D 3.x rules and strips them down. It then looks at the stripped down rules and decides they've not been stripped down enough. And then it decides to strip them down a bit further. And then it adds a few gazillion tables for critical hits, spells, deities, etc. It takes Appendix N of 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the inspirational reading section, as its source material. This gives it a mix of science fantasy, weird fantasy, swords and sorcery. Inspirations like Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Manly Wade Wellman, HP Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp, Andre Norton, etc. It did introduce me to a number of authors I've come to greatly enjoy - Wellman and Norton probably being the biggest two.

Characters begin at 0-level, with a massive dungeon crawl called the "funnel", with each player running multiple characters. Most will die. It's a deadly game - the first game that I ever experienced a total party kill (in a 1st level adventure).

Having clocked some time with it, there are a few things I'm less than crazy about. Probably the biggest is there is a lot of deliberate "we're not going to give a rule for that" moments. In some respects I can appreciate that, given the variety of campaign worlds possible. - encounter tables and magic items come to mind. In others I'd really have preferred some more guidance. I'm thinking of things that were found in early editions of D&D - more details about wilderness travel, strongholds, etc.

I am greatly looking forward to the Lankhmar boxed set coming out this summer from Goodman Games for DCC - it really is a setting that seems perfectly matched for the game.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #14 - Icons

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 01:49

I have a mixed record with superheroes. I love superhero comics, but my success rate with superhero campaigns is rather limited. That said, there will be some superhero entries on this list - games I have had the opportunity to play and enjoy.

I had the opportunity to clock some time running an Icons campaign and definitely had a lot of fun. It's clearly a relative of Fate, though with a good dose of TSR's old Marvel Superheroes RPG in the mix as well.

Icons does a good job of emulating what you see in a comic book. Characters can slam foes and send them flying. By using Determination, characters can activate Qualities (like Fate Aspects), avoid Trouble, and up their effort to retry failed tests. A character who dies is out of play for at least an issue, but after which may make a miraculous return based on an explanation come up with by the GM and player. No, this is not a gritty simulation of realism. Superman, Captain America, Phoenix, Bucky, Professor X, Doctor Doom, Magneto, the Joker and countless other comic book characters are shocked, shocked I tell you that it is so easy for a character to come back from the dead.

While Icons allows for deliberate character building, it assumes random character generation - again calling to mind the old Marvel Superheroes RPG. Characters might not turn out balanced and there can be some really odd assortments of powers, but in my experience that's half the fun of the game.

My Icons campaign was pretty brief, but nothing I ran into suggested it would be inappropriate for a longer term game. It's probably not a good game for simulating Alan Moore's Watchmen or Neil Gaiman's Sandman. But for someone like me whose favorite comic books are from the Bronze Age of Comic Books, it's a super-fun game. It requires minimal prep time - indeed you could block out say 30 minutes for character generation and still have time for a full adventure.

Interestingly, Icons was created by Steve Kenson, who had previously created Mutants & Masterminds, another, far more crunchy (but also fun) superhero RPG. Kenson in the introduction discusses this, pointing out that there's no "right" way to do a superhero RPG. I can see times where I'd want more detail, something I could get from Mutants & Masterminds or Champions. There's also times where I might want to stretch the genre quite a bit, something I think games like Wild Talents are great for. But sometimes I just want some superheroes to save the city/planet/universe, and Icons is great for that. I also want to call attention to Dan Houser's art, giving the game an attractive, consistent "look" which really adds a lot to the game.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 1

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 04:17


In early1921, the investigators depart Massachusetts to investigate a mysterious death in New Orleans...

Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.

Setting: Boston, Mass. and New Orleans, LA; Friday, January 28 - Monday, January 31, 1921

Characters:


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

Summary

The investigators received a telegram from the great occultist, Étienne-Laurent de Marigny of New Orleans asking them to travel to New Orleans, indicating he required their services in an investigation.

Leaving Boston on Friday the 28th, they arrived in New Orleans two days later after an uneventful rail journey. Much warmer than Boston, New Orleans was apparently unaware that Prohibition was in effect. de Marigny met with them briefly, explaining he had business in Arkham that prevented him from giving a curious case the attention it deserved but that their reputation made him confident it would be in good hands.

De Marigny showed them a letter he had received from Charles Sunstram, editor of the New Orleans Daily Gazette. Sunstram's letter indicated suspicion that one of his reporters, Peter Gavvin, had been murdered after stumbling upon a conspiracy. According to the police, Gavvin jumped to his death from the roof of a Tulane University building. Sunstram did not believe it and was concerned about a drawing found in Gavvin's hand - an occult symbol, de Marigny was quite certain...


Sunstram was able to meet with the investigators, with the newsroom beginning to fill up as with Sunday evening setting in and the Monday morning issue being finalized. Sunstram explained how Gavvin had been reporting on various Krewes preparing for Margi Gras (February 8th this year). He shared with them Gavvin's notes:


Going through the newspaper morgue's they learned a number of bits of trivia:

  • Randall Fowler's wife and child had been killed in an automobile accident
  • The Fowler family was once known as the LeFleur family. They changed their name after the Civil War owing to Gaston LeFleur's reputation as a slave-trader.
Sunstram wrote them letters of introduction and secured them lodging at the Lafayette Hotel. On the way to the hotel, they kept seeing examples of the symbol found on Gavvin. Though the hotel was very nice, they were plagued by dreams - dreams of the symbol, yellow-colored, and of an abandoned city of towers on a lake. Tardiff secured liquid courage to help him find his way back to sleep.
On Monday the 31st they sought out information on the strange symbol they were seeing. They found their way to the Avedon Antiquarian Gallery. Avedon wasn't around but his trusted assistant, Rodrigo Vargas was. From Vargas they were able to obtain a blade Imbued with the Might of the Elder Ones.. 
They learned quite a bit from Vargas:
  • Gavvin had met with Avedon. He was looking for a copy of the infamous French play, The King in Yellow. Avedon was going to check his personal library for a copy. He hasn't been in the shop since.
  • Papa Screech is rumored to have been part of a cult shut down by the New Orleans police over a decade ago.
With some persuading, they got Avedon's address. Traveling to his small courtyard house, they were able to meet with Francois Avedon, though he was only partially sane. They did manage to find his private copy of The King in Yellow, in its original French. Furst read it and summarized it for Crowley and Tardiff. The experience was somewhat sanity-rending for all of them, learning strange tales of Carcoa, Hali, twisted royal families, and the Phantom of Truth. All were infected with a strong paranoia, Crowley and Tardiff much worse and indefinitely...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #15 - D&D 5e

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 22:22


Back in 2015 I gave my first impressions of the 5th edition of D&D. Beyond that brief campaign I haven't clocked much 5th edition time but my impressions remain - it's a great game. It takes a number of lessons learned from the 3rd and 4th editions of the game.

Here's my big takeaways on the 5th edition. First, it takes away the necessity of 3.x games to very carefully balance encounters and to plan player characters from first level. It removed the "grind" often found in D&D 4th edition and stepped back from a number of decisions made in there that made the game feel less like D&D. One interesting lesson it took from 4th edition was a "proficiency bonus". When making a roll in something core to your character you add it to your d20 roll, otherwise you don't. A fighter would add it to attack rolls with his sword, a wizard would apply it to her spell rolls. Any character would use it for skills he or she is proficient in. It applies to certain saving throws for your character. Otherwise you pretty much roll a d20 plus ability modifiers. However, the proficiency bonus is modest, starting out at +2 and maxing out at +6 at 20th level. Magic items are also made a bit more modest - and one could easily do a game in a low-magic world.

Mechanically, the only real complaint I have with the game is characters seemed a little too tough to me and advancement seemed a bit too quick. The second of those issues is certainly very easy to remedy, assuming all at the table are in agreement.

In many ways 5th edition feels a bit like pre-3.0 versions of D&D and AD&D, albeit much cleaned up. You could probably take Keep on the Borderlands for Basic D&D and run it with perhaps a half hour or hour of conversion ahead of time - and I suspect your game wouldn't hurt much if you converted on the fly. It wouldn't be as smooth as running a 1st edition Call of Cthulhu adventure with 7th edition but it would be far easier than trying to run a 3.5 adventure with 4th edition D&D (I can't imagine doing so on the fly).

That said, there's a few things that stop D&D 5e from having a better ranking. Mechanically, it's a superior game to Basic/Expert D&D. Despite that you'll be seeing that version of D&D later in the list. Why is that? This list is my top list of games, trying to rank the "fun" I have with those games. For me, there's a certain magic in those older versions of D&D - from the world building advice to the art to the feel of the game to the supplements and adventures that come out. For me, 5th edition is a bit lacking in that intangible aspect. If it were the first version of D&D I encountered, I might very well rank it a lot higher.

D&D 5th edition does seem a bit like an "evergreen" edition. Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro doesn't seem interested in a stream of supplements or adventures, releasing them only occasionally and has outsourced some to other companies. This is probably both a plus and a minus - over time, games like 3.x and 4e changed quite a bit, with an unending stream of splatbooks. It's nice to get away from that treadmill. However,  sometimes one might want a bit more.

With 3.x I said I'd join a game as a player quite readily but I'd need some time to think about DM-ing such a game. For 5e, I could see doing either quite readily.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #16 - D&D 3.x

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 23:50


One of the oddities in this list is variants of D&D will appear multiple times while games like Call of Cthulhu will appear once. However, I've found many of the editions of D&D are extremely different from one another. If you showed up at my Call of Cthulhu 7th edition game with a 1st edition character, we could probably convert on the fly. On the other hand, bringing a D&D 3.5 character to a 4th edition game would not work.

Additionally, there will be a few retro-clones on this list - primarily if they bring something very new to the gable.

While D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 do have some fair-sized differences, it is clear that 3.5 is an evolution from 3.0 as opposed to an entirely new game, as was done in 4e.

It was tough for me to figure out where D&D 3.x should rank. I want to point out that any game on this list is a game I've both played and enjoyed - and there are a few games not on the list that I've also enjoyed quite a bit.

The 3rd edition of D&D was a massive change to Dungeons & Dragons. While Advanced Dungeons & Dragons had introduced non-weapon proficiencies as early as its 1st edition, D&D 3rd edition introduced a fairly rigorous skills system, incorporating a number of special abilities such as what had once been ranger and thief abilities in previous editions of the game. Nothing technically stopped you from making a wizard good at picking pockets - it probably wasn't the best use of limited skill points and you'd never be as good as a rogue, but the ability to customize was nice. Similarly, the use of feats allowed for further customization - the crafting of magic items, mastery of two-weapon styles, access to weapons your class wouldn't normally have, etc. You could also multi-class quite easily, taking one level of rogue, then one of wizard, etc. Doing it too much would make your character spread too thin, but a bit of dabbling made for interesting characters. The game also introduced "prestige classes" to the game - special classes you could qualify for over time, giving you some interesting abilities. You could, for example, become an eldritch knight, advancing both in fighting and magical abilities at the same time. You'd lose some of the abilities you'd have gotten by staying in one class, but it was more beneficial than multi-classing.

The game also introduced a universal mechanic - roll a d20, add and subtract modifiers, and try to beat a difficulty. This was actually pretty revolutionary for the game. Previously, a saving throw vs. a minor spell effect was just as difficult as one for a major one. Similarly, the difficulty of picking a lock was solely dependent on the skill of the thief. Sure, most of us threw bonuses and penalties in as house rules, but it was nice to see it made official.

I found this version of D&D a ton of fun to play and to run. However, as I got experience with it I found things that bugged me. Perhaps the first of these is it was a game I found extremely difficult to house rule. In my experience, D&D 3.x was a very precise machine and modifications could have side-effects. For example, the game really assumed miniature use and if you didn't use them  a number of feats became either useless or difficult to adjudicate. If you removed those feats then you'd have to address other feats that they were prerequisites for. It was like pulling a thread on a sweater.

I also found the game to be a bit too complex for my tastes, especially when it came to creating adventures. I found I still loved coming up with ideas for adventures but actually implementing them wasn't as fun, what with the need to finely balance encounters, give out the right amounts of treasure, etc. As a player, I also found it somewhat frustrating that you often needed to start planning for prestige classes at 1st level. Especially frustrating when a new book came out after you started play...

While you'll see some skill-less versions of D&D ranked better than 3.x in my list, it's worth noting that, in general, I prefer skill-based games. I've had a lot of fun in versions of AD&D relying on player skill to come up with clever plans but I do like having things like a characters's ability to sneak around spelled out. And I especially like the existence of social skills - just like most players aren't great warriors in real life, most aren't also masters of deceit or oratory. That said, I found D&D 3.x to be a bit too rigorous in its skill definition, particularly when combined with its expected use of miniatures.

In spite of those paragraphs of complaining, I did have quite a bit of fun with D&D 3.x. When you played the game the way it was expected, it played very well. Combats were rather fun as characters danced around the battlefield, tumbling past opponents or trying to flank a foe. If I were invited to play in a D&D 3.x game (or its successor, Pathfinder) and I had the time, I'd gladly do so. I occasionally join in a D&D Online game which is based on the 3.x rules. I would probably need to think hard about running such a game though.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #17 - Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games)

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 03:57


In the late 1990s I resumed regular gaming for the first time since high school. The game we played was Star Trek: The Next Generation, published by Last Unicorn Games (LUG). We played all the incarnations of it - they came out with three RPGs for Star Trek. Their first release was for Star Trek: The Next Generation, covering 24th century Starfleet games. They later came out with releases for the original series and for Deep Space Nine. I really liked their DS9 game as it allowed for a variety of character types, much like the television show it was based on.

When making this list, I gave some thought to all of the Star Trek RPGs I've played. I've played the FASA, Last Unicorn, and Decipher ones. I do have a place in my heart for the FASA game, though I found its extremely tactical combat system a bit of a mismatch for its genre. The Decipher game I didn't get to play all that much. It was the Last Unicorn version I got a ton of play out of.

Like the FASA Star Trek game, characters in the LUG Star Trek games are built with a sort of a life-path, following your characters development as a Starfleet officer (or other sort of character). Characters have both attributes and skills, with you rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to your attribute and then adding the skill rating, comparing to a difficulty. Fairly straightforward.

I found the game played very fast, definitely feeling like Star Trek. The supplements and adventures for the line were all rather good and there was an active online community around this incarnation of the game - I'm still in touch with some of the people I met from this community. Regrettably, as time went on there were a lot of schedule slips and LUG was eventually bought by Wizards of the Coast. The only book that came out of that was a limited edition of Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium. The Star Trek license was acquired by Decipher. As I understand it, Wizards of the Coast had planned on d20 versions of Dune and Star Trek games, something that never came to pass.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: The Art of Madness Part II

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 02:57


The Art of Madness is an adventure from the anthology The House of R'lyeh, written by Brian Courtemanche.

Setting: Boston, Mass. Wednesday, December 1, 1920

Characters:

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

Summary:
In the basement they saw a closed shaft in the floor. Hiding for some time they saw the shaft open from below, a rubbery hand emerging and grabbing it. As they ran to the shaft to attempt tracking it, it heard them and leapt back up - a hideous ghoul, about to strike! A confused melee and firefight broke out. Furst and Crowley opened fire on it while Tardiff swung a makeshift club he'd found in the debris in the basement. It was a dangerous foe and none of them were warriors. Though bloodied, they wounded it enough to drive it into the tunnels. In the chaos Thurber had run off.

Before venturing down there themselves they made for a hardware store and equipped themselves - flashlights, shotguns, and dynamite. They then went into the tunnel beneath the North End. At the bottom of the shaft they found an Art Club pin, as worn by one of the missing, Jason Davies. They also found some drying blood from the ghoul they had wounded. Trailing it through the tunnels they found themselves wandering through a combination of ancient smuggling tunnels and sewers, eventually transitioning into natural - and narrow tunnels.

Eventually, after some very tense hours, they reached a strange underground classroom/studio. A ghoul was teaching three students on the art of depicting death. The three were the missing from the School of the Museum of Fine Art. The ghoul, wearing a rather ridiculous beret, barked at the investigators to be quiet, for they might learn something. He introduced himself as "Professor" Pickman - presumably he was the "Peters" Thurber had referred to. Davies, catching the investigators' attention, quickly wrote "HELP US" on his canvas before painting over it. Thinking quickly, Crowley lifted his shotgun and blew Pickman's head off. Shrieking from the tunnels around them revealed they had attracted the attention of more ghouls. They placed dynamite at all the tunnels save the one they'd be using to escape. Davies and Hall came quite willingly but Wilson's sanity had been somewhat shattered - she wanted to stay down to learn. Tardiff and Furst dragged her out as Crowley detonated the dynamite. They fled their way to the surface, being chased the entire time.

Eventually they found their way blocked by numerous ghouls - ghouls they opened fire on. Again surviving an onslaught, somewhat worse for wear, they drove them back into the tunnels - though as they fled one promised "we'll be watching you on the trains!"

Davies and Hall were able to return to their previous lives, though Wilson had to be institutionalized. Tardiff did get the Museum to show some of his work, a cause for some celebration (and additional finances).


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #18 - Pendragon

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 02:15


Today's game just barely meets the criteria of being a game I've played, having only played a few sessions - but I loved those sessions. King Arthur Pendragon, originally published by Chaosium (and kinda sorta having found its way back to Chaosium, the long way round).

Pendragon is a game about playing knights in legendary England, as seen through the legends of King Arthur. Its biggest influence is Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. You typically build your character, assumed to be a knight, by first building his grandfather's and then father's history. The game itself is designed to follow your characters for decades - indeed it is expected your character will die in the course of play, either in battle or through old age. Every session is designed to advance your character a year. Finding a wife and getting an heir is therefore of prime importance for your character.

Pendragon uses a variant of the BRP system as seen in RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, though it uses d20s instead of percentile dice, though maintaining the roll-under mechanic of those games. It has a number of tweaks to support its style - for example characters have various traits and passions which influence the way they behave. For example, a lustful knight might have to make a check to stay faithful to his wife. A knight whose father was killed by Saxons might have to make a check to work with one. Combat in Pendragon is exceedingly brutal and healing is very, very slow - forget about resting over night, your character might take months to recover, months he does not have. And it is possible for a wounded character to get worse, not better.

The game also includes rules for maintaining your character's manor, courtship, childbirth, etc. It is a game fantastically faithful to its source material.

Like most Chaosium games, it has gone through many editions - and it's had a fair number of publishers. The 4th edition broke a little away from the laser focus on playing knights - it introduced rules for magic, non-knight characters, etc. Editions since then have gone back to a focus on knights.

Why haven't I played the game more? It's not quite meant for me. Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of Arthurian legends. I like the story of King Arthur well enough, but despite multiple attempts, I've never been able to read Le Morte d'Arthur in its entirety. And it can be tough to find a group committed to a game of Pendragon - like I mentioned, I've only played it a little and I've never been able to do a full campaign. I'd love to adapt it some time - I've a hunch it'd make a great engine for A Song of Ice and Fire and I'm curious what the upcoming Paladin: Warriors of Charlemagne will bring, being based on Pendragon. I've also a hunch it'd make a great engine for a Viking RPG.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #19 - D&D 4th Edition

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 01:03


I gave a lot of thought as to whether to include the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons on my list. Of all the games on my list it's probably the one I have the most issues with. On the other hand, I really like a number of ideas that the designers of D&D 4e tried to do. They took some chances, broke a number of "sacred cows of D&D". Looking back, I think Wizards of the Coast would have been better off making D&D 4e a separate/non-D&D game. though I can understand not wanting to have products competing with each other.

What I really liked about D&D 4e was the way it gave all classes a bunch of interesting abilities - some usable at-will, some usable on a per-encounter basis, some usable daily. Characters had different roles which greatly influenced how they'd handle things in combat - some characters were great at slugging it out with multiple opponents, others dancing all over the battlefield. All the classes managed to feel interesting and have a good contribution to make.

As a Dungeon Master, I found games in D&D 4e extremely easy to prep, much easier than D&D 3.x games. D&D 4e introduced minions to D&D - 1 hp enemies, great for simulating the hordes of baddies often encountered in film and literature. These minions could be quite dangerous and could threaten high level characters, but they were designed to be fought in hordes. I loved the idea.

The implied "points of light" setting was also a nice touch. The idea was that some great empire/kingdom had fallen and their were elements of civilization survived, but they were isolated with dangerous wilds between them. It justified a lot of adventures.

That said, D&D 4e did have a number of issues. The first of which is something I've heard described as "the grind". Combat took an extremely long time to resolve. Usually, halfway through the battle the outcome would be clear but it would still take some time to play out. Second, the game relied on an ongoing series of Player Handbooks, DM Guides, and Monster Manuals. It felt as if you were purchasing downloadable content for a video game. Unlike some games with such a model, the game felt a bit incomplete as released.

Probably the largest issue with D&D 4e was how different it felt from what came before. It probably did change a bit too much.

Why am I listing it with all those issues? Probably because I did like a number of the things it did and tried to do. It was perhaps a misfire, but an interesting misfire.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - Criteria

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 00:41


I'm going to be launching a "Dan's Top 19 RPGs" series of posts. I was going to make it ten but with the name of this blog I couldn't help but go for nineteen. I'm hoping to get it done in about a month - it's been pretty hard keeping to a rigorous schedule the past several months, with family health matters and me getting close to completing my Master's degree while working.

This post will lay out some ground rules. The most important is I have to have played the game in question at least once, either as a player or as a GM. This will disqualify a lot of popular games - many of which I've used in some form - some of which I've used a lot of. I'll list them at the end of this post.

The other question is how I'll handle editions. If a game changes a lot between editions I will treat them as separate games. On the other hand, games that are refined from one edition to another will be treated as one game. For example, I'll be treating Call of Cthulhu as one game while there will be more than one D&D game on the list - moving from a 3.x D&D game to a 4e one would be doable but rather challenging.

I'm not going to be giving the games reviews, but rather I'll be giving my impressions of them - what I like about them, what frustrates me, etc. The ordering doesn't mean I dislike any of the games - I'd probably play any on the list and depending on mood I'd likely play a poorer ranked one over a better ranked one. And there's games not on the list I'd gladly play.

I do already have the list composed - I hope I'm not forgetting any that I should have included. When I wrap up I'll probably to a follow-up post of "oops, I should have included xyz..."

Closing, here is a list of games that would likely be on a "Dan's top games list", largely due to me not having played the game in question. For some I'm quite familiar with the game and have borrowed elements of it for other games but never actually played it.

  • Colonial Gothic
  • Firefly
  • GURPS
  • Hero System (technically I have played it once but I don't fully grok it enough to feel comfortable listing it)
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
  • Pathfinder
  • Savage Worlds
  • Star Trek (Modiphius)
  • Traveller
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Developing Boston for 1920s Call of Cthulhu

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 13:37


While Chaosium has produced sourcebooks for many locations in Lovecraft Country (Kingsport, Arkham, and Innsmouth) as well as non-fictional cities of the 1920s (such as New York City and New Orleans), the nearby city of Boston, while being featured in many adventures, has never received its own full sourcebook.

The most common era for my Call of Cthulhu games has been in the 1920s - some campaigns have been in New York City while others have been in Lovecraft country. For those in Lovecraft Country, many adventures have been in nearby Boston. Over the years I've slowly been building up some expertise in the area and I thought it might be of interest to others gaming in the same setting - whether with Mythos horrors or a purely mundane game.

First, let us investigate those official sources. While Boston has found its way into many adventures, I can think of two sources where it has been given a fair amount of detail. First, The Unspeakable Oath double issue 16/17 has a reference on Boston. Second, "The Art of Madness" by Brian Courtemanche, included in Chaosium's The House of R’lyeh adventure anthology has a brief but very well-done overview of Boston and the adventure itself really dives into details of Boston - institutions, neighborhoods, ancient smuggling tunnels, etc., all of which are real - I highly recommend it.

Going into Lovecraft, I find "Pickman's Model", the inspiration for "The Art of Madness", similarly goes into nice details of Boston.

Contemporary tourist books are often available, sometimes digitally, other times from eBay or Amazon. I like the 1920 edition of the Rand McNally Boston Guide as well as Boston: A Guide Book by Edwin M. Bacon from 1922. Both books assume someone unfamiliar with Boston - though obviously both are giving a focus on tourist destinations and not on neighborhoods or the seedier aspects of Boston (no speakeasy guides here...)

Tufts University has Boston Streets: Mapping Directory Data. This project includes very detailed maps of Boston in 1928. Historic Map Works has similar data. I find their 1922 Maps of Boston handy as my games have tended towards the earlier part of the decade. They are a great source of historic map data for many cities - I've used them for New York City in the past.


The non-fiction work Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo is a great read, really capturing the feeling of post-World War 1 Boston. I've reviewed that book previously and have used the event in my game to great effect. Puleo has also written books on the Italian immigrants of Boston (The Boston Italians) and Boston from 1850 to 1900 (A City So Grand).

Francis Russell's A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike is on my reading list - I can't vouch for it but it is a major event in city's history and worth researching in some form. For early 1920s games it gives a great excuse for the Boston Police to need help, what with nearly the entire police department being new at their jobs after Coolidge fired almost all of the 1919 force. This strike plays a major role in the first of Dennis Lehane's Coughlin novels, The Given Day. It shows the life of Irish and African-Americans in Boston as well as the conditions of Boston in 1919 - the fear of anarchists, the Influenza outbreak, some pitcher called Babe Ruth. It's sequel, Live by Night begins in Boston, focused on organized crime and prison life.

I'm sure there's more sources - and I'll gladly add to this list if people have suggestions - but hopefully this will be of some value.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: The Art of Madness Part 1

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 03:06


The Art of Madness is an adventure from the anthology The House of R'lyeh, written by Brian Courtemanche. Featured heavily in this adventure is the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Living fairly close to Boston, I've been to the Museum many times. It's been neat playing an adventure with a familiar place...

Setting: Boston, Mass. Wednesday, December 1, 1920

Characters:

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

Summary:Fredrick Tardiff had been constructing a new series of contacts to assist with investigations into the bizarre, with the last of his Great War compatriots moving back to Harlem. He had begun meeting with Earl Crowley, an antiquarian who had uncovered one too many things that couldn't be explained by science. Jewelry from Innsmouth of metals unknown to science. Reviews of a French play that had made its audience go mad. He'd also made the re-acquaintance of Jordaine Furst, hailing from the Alsace region of France, recently taken back from the Germans. Furst had assisted the Entente during the Great War, having been raised by French patriots within German Alsace. She had encountered strangeness during the war as well as in the tomes of the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire and had traveled to Massachusetts in search of more information from libraries in Boston, Cambridge, and Arkham.
The three went into action together on December 1, 1920, when Tardiff received a phone call from the head of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Mr. Edward Walfo Forbes, asking for his help in investigating a series of disappearances.
The three visited him in his office. He explained that three members of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts had vanished. A new professor, Jason Davies, was last seen on Sunday, October 31, at the Boston Art Club. About two weeks later a second year student, Helen Wilson, vanished. And finally just recently a third, a first year student, Ruth Hall, went missing. The school was participating with the Boston Police but in the wake of all nearly officers being fired after the Police Strike, the force was way over its head.
From talking with instructors and students they learned all three had a bit of a taste for the macabre - Wilson, for example, always carried an Edgar Allan Poe book with her and her work was inspired by him. She was friends with Hall who shared her interests to a lesser extent.
A janitor followed them around and finally approached them. It turned out he, Roberto Silva, knew much more but was nervous to involve the police for fear of getting himself or the school in trouble. Silva explained he saw all three, on different occasions, meeting with a heavyset man, middle aged but not looking well. He thought he might have been a relative of one of the young ladies or perhaps a major donor to the school interested in students. But he also saw Davies on the 31st of October, after his meeting at the Art Club. This is where he feared getting in trouble, as Roberto had used his key to enter the school to listen to a radio broadcast from the AMRAD station, 1XE. Silva was a radio aficionado but had not been able to afford his own set. Hw liked listening to 1XE as well as the station that sometimes broadcast out of Kingsport. Davies had seen him enter and, not having a key of his own, asked to be let in so he could prepare for his Monday class. Afterwards he saw Davies leave on Fenway and run into the heavyset man - going off with him somewhere - willingly it seemed.
Their investigations got some traction when they went to the Boston Art Club - an exclusive club that was beyond Tardiff's means - or ability to find a sponsor for. Between the charm of Furst and wealth of Crowley they got admittance to the "Ladies' Room" where some of the club members agreed to talk with them - Joeseph Minot and Walter Eliot. They explained how Davies, of limited means, had been sponsored by Franklin Thurber. They'd not seen much of Thurber lately - perhaps he had been upset by the disappearance of Davies. He'd been hitting the bottle hard over the past year, often talking of another member, one not seen in ages, Walter Pickman. Thurber had claimed that Pickman was convinced monsters were living under Boston - and he'd apparently convinced Thurber as well. A photo of Thurber matched Silva's description of the heavyset man perfectly. After much wrangling and threats, they got Thurber's address from the Club - a brownstone in a wealthy area, just off Louisburg Square. They also saw some of Pickman's art, in the Club archives (certainly not for display). Tardiff recognized the near-human canine-things in the art - ghouls they were called - at least in many of the volumes he read. They had a taste for human flesh - often long dead, though they'd go for fresh meat for the occasional treat.
A disheveled Thurber answered the door and quickly confessed that he'd been forced by someone named "Peters" (they were certain he was lying about the name) forced him to bring him art supplies - and students. Willing students, he assured them. In return he was given jewels and other valuables to pawn off - which helped support his drinking habit. He had to do an art supply dropoff in a North End basement and was "convinced" to take them along.
In the basement they saw a closed shaft in the floor. Hiding for some time they saw the shaft open from below, a rubbery hand emerging and grabbing it. As they ran to the shaft to attempt tracking it, it heard them and leapt back up - a hideous ghoul, about to strike!
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