19th Level

Subscribe to 19th Level feed
RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger532125
Updated: 2 weeks 4 days ago

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.




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

Characters:

  • 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...











Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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. 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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.]

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

Characters:


  • 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.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play - Blades in the Dark - The First Job

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 01:13


The Dragons were a new crew in Duskvol. A city of near perpetual night, much like the rest of the world, with a pitiful dawn and dusk every day. Yet life went on. Unless you hired the Dragons to end someone. That was what they did. They endeavored to keep it as quiet as possible.

Two of the small crew were on the job this night - David "Dirk" Burke and Tocker "Ogre" Helker. Ogre, unsurprisingly, was the muscle, whereas Dirk was the more subtle type of fellow.

They'd been hired by an agent by the name of "Rufus", representing some undisclosed parties on the city council. The captain of the Leviathan Hunter Billy Budd, one Tyree, was to be terminated. Ideally the ship as well should be scuttled or destroyed.

They got aboard ok - the Billy Budd was in harbor readying for a long trip and they acquired forged papers from a contact of Ogre's so they could pose as medical inspectors to do a final check of the crew's health before departure. Not required by law, but often done, as an ill crew would be less efficient - and possibly might not return - and fail to return with their precious cargo of Leviathan blood.

While their forged papers were accepted, there was quite the mixup as a second medical inspection team arrived minutes after they did. Fortunately they had had smuggled an explosive device into the hold - one which they proceeded to detonate.

In the chaos Captain Tyree and the bulk of the crew went belowdecks to put out the fire - though a bosun stayed up, one which Dirk took out, albeit after taking a beating. Ogre locked the controls of the Budd onto a collision course with Whitecrown.

Getting the fire out, Tyree came back to the bridge, to be knocked senseless by Ogre, weighted down and sent under the water. As the ship collided (ouch) with land, they joined the stream of people fleeing the sinking ship.

They received their full payment but had drawn a bit of attention in this job. Ogre got pulled in for questioning by the Bluecoats. The pair used influence and intimidation to reduce the heat on their crew. They also learned that the Billy Budd had been owned by Strangford, a member of the City Council - apparently there was a plot to weaken him, one which they had assisted in...



Notes

We're taking a bit of a break from Call of Cthulhu, with two of the PCs having had their sanity blasted so low so as to pretty much require retirement. I still need to do that final writeup. I'll also do a writeup on my opinions of Blades in the Dark at some point.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #1 - Call of Cthulhu

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 01:29
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"


At long last we come to the end of our long journey. Far longer than I'd have anticipated, with quite a bit of upheaval in life slowing down my blogging. I made an initial list when I began posting this Top 19 - and as I posted and had chances to reflect, some games made slight moves. Call of Cthulhu never budged from its perch at the top. 
Call of Cthulhu is a game of cosmic horror. The investigators face creatures from beyond their comprehension. Cultists who worship terrifying gods. 
Call of Cthulhu is one of the most heroic games I've played or run. Yes, it is notorious for characters meeting horrible fates. I've found that a game with investigators, little better than regular people, standing against the darkness, struggling to hold it back for just one more day, one of the most heroic things I can imagine. They won't be recognized with parades. It reminds me of a quote from Babylon 5's "In the Beginning":
 No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people but I ask you now, to step forward one last time, one last battle to hold the line against the night.
Call of Cthulhu has been around for decades. And while the 7th edition represented a major refinement of the rules, you can still pick up something from the early editions and use it with the newest, with no additional prep required for conversion.

The game system doesn't seem all that special when you read it. It's fairly basic - the early editions have ability scores that typically range from 3-18 (i.e. roll 3d6) and skills that are percentile-based. The 7th edition moves the ability scores to percentile-based as well, but it remains the same bell curve - it's essentially a (3d6) x 5 roll. Characters have a modest number of hit points - most characters are one unlucky blow away from death. The system has a simple counter for sanity as well, with a system to track the descent into a madness, with bouts of madness as characters decline. Characters can learn magic, magic which can serve to save them from great danger, but also likely to drive them insane.

What I can say about the system is it plays fantastically. It just works. It is just fun to play.

The production values of the 7th edition products are fantastic - all color, as opposed to the black and white (often with color plates) of older editions. The default era for the game is in the 1920s and the supplements for the game do a great job capturing that period. Other supplements take place in the modern day, the Victorian era, the Old West, and lots of one-offs. There are a ton of adventures available.

Successful Call of Cthulhu investigators are cautious. They gather clues, do research at libraries and avoid fights whenever possible. If it isn't possible, they try to get every unfair advantage they can.

I introduced my 13 year old daughter to Call of Cthulhu and she loves it. We're taking a break and playing Blades in the Dark for a bit, but we will return to it - she's suggested she wants to have a second character ready for when her first goes insane or is eaten by a horrible monster. She definitely gets it.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #2 - Star Wars (West End Games)

Sun, 06/10/2018 - 00:31


Welcome to the penultimate entry in this journey that has lasted a lot longer than I'd anticipated. I'm one of those Star Wars fans who were there at the beginning, seeing it for the first time at the age of five in a Brooklyn movie theatre - a big one, one with balconies.

In the mid 1980s, Star Wars entered a lull. I still loved it but popular interest in it had waned. At Quassy Amusement Park, where I worked in high school, we had a few gazillion Snowtrooper figures redeemable with tickets from Whack-a-Mole and Skee-Ball.

But it began picking up steam slowly. I remember being overjoyed at the first Star Wars Encyclopedia that I picked up from a Stop & Shop that had a small book section. And in 1987 I remember seeing advertisements for a new Star Wars RPG. I was overjoyed. I'd tried my hand at adapting AD&D for Star Wars but it wasn't right. I'd had better luck with the Marvel Superheroes RPG oddly enough.

The West End Games Star Wars RPG is my favorite incarnation of Star Wars RPGs. I've played them all. Fantasy Flight Games' version is a lot of fun - it just missed an entry on this list. And I think Wizards of the Coast really got Star Wars right with their Saga Edition series of Star Wars books.

So why the silver medal to the West End Games Star Wars? The first reason is that it feels like how I picture Star Wars. No character is incompetent. No skill in starship piloting? Make a roll anyways.

This version of Star Wars uses what would later be called the D6 System. It got its start with the Ghostbusters RPG. Every character has a bunch of attributes and skills. Every skill falls under an attribute. If you don't have a rating in a skill you just use the attribute rating. The ratings are simply the number of dice you roll, plus possibly adding one or two "pips" to the total. You use six-sided dice. So a rating of 3D+2 means roll 3 six-sided dice to the total and add 2. Tasks have difficulties. Characters can take as many actions as they want in a round, though they every action after the first takes one die away from all actions that round.

My favorite version of the game is, oddly, one that is not often even considered one. It is the Star Wars Introductory Game, put out late in the game's license. The versions of the game are:

  • 1st Edition
  • 1st Edition plus Rules Upgrade - the first few adventures had a four-page rules upgrade that gave the game a more standard round sequence.
  • 2nd Edition - Made the game a little crunchier.
  • 2nd Edition Revised & Expanded - Close to the 2nd edition, dialed back the crunch a tad.
  • Star Wars Introductory Game - Boxed set, returned to the simplicity of the 1st edition but in a much more polished format.
Space and vehicle battles are just an extrapolation of normal combat rules - something nice, not requiring you to learn a whole new system. If the game has one weakness, it is the Force rules are a little wonky. Beginning Force users are pretty mediocre, but if they get to a high enough skill level they become extremely dominant. Admittedly, one could argue that's how they are in the movies too... I find the Force rules work well for a Luke Skywalker in A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back - or Rey in The Force Awakens.
West End Games really did a fantastic job in production values. Though the 1st edition was primarily in black and white, it had color plates with advertisements from the Star Wars universe. With just three movies, a few novels and comic books (at the time the game came out), they did a fantastic job filling in details of the universe. These details still find their way into modern Star Wars productions. Star Wars Rebels featured a number of things first seen in the West End Games incarnation - Imperial Inquisitors, Interdictor-class ships, Shantipole being the source of the B-wing fighter,  etc. 
Fantasy Flight Games has a reprint of the 1st edition coming out, albeit extremely delayed. I'm very pleased that people will have a chance to check out the original game. It's worth noting the 1st edition has some concepts that quickly went away - for example, in action scenes, your skill roll also doubled as your initiative roll.
How does it compare with the Fantasy Flight Games version? Fantasy Flight Games gives your character a lot of interesting nuggets and abilities. West End Games' version is a lot simpler. I can definitely see why some might appreciate all the funkiness that the FFG version brings - I've played the game myself on a number of occasions and quite enjoy it. But the West End Game version is more along the line of "spend five minutes making a character (or less) and get playing". 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #3 - ACKS

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 01:36


I have a special place in my gaming heart for early editions of D&D. I'm not quite enough of a grognard to have played the original D&D when it came out - my gaming career began in the early 1980s. I played a lot of the Basic and Expert D&D incarnation as well as a ton of Advanced D&D. But they didn't quite make it this high in the list.

One of the things I loved about the Companion rules of D&D was the way it brought about domain play. Early in this list I had Pendragon as a game I really like but didn't get a lot of time playing. I really like the idea of PCs ruling domains. It's a reason I greatly enjoy George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. But there were a few frustrations I had with D&D. I liked the idea of demi-humans having their race as their class - it added a certain amount of character - but I also found it a bit limiting. When I played, I liked being a magic-user but I was frustrated by the limits of low-level magic-users. I liked the additional details in AD&D but missed the domain play rules. And sometimes those details got to be a bit too much. And yes, like everyone else, we swapped things between the games.

Along comes Adventurer Conqueror King - ACKS, which for me, emphasizes the things I love about those early versions of D&D and AD&D. It's definitely more of a D&D game than AD&D. It really emphasizes domain play. The designers put more thought into a fantasy economy than anyone I could imagine. They kept race as class... but made multiple classes for each race. This keeps the non-human races distinctive from humanity but still gives a lot of choice. The game (in its Players' Companion) also has rules for making your own classes - and wonder of wonders, all of the classes in the game follow those rules. Magic-users are fine-tuned to give them a pool of spells they can cast from daily, giving more versatility. It adds a proficiency system to add additional details to your character - a bit of a cross between skills and feats from later editions. Non-magical healing, dabbling in magic, blind fighting, navigation, etc.  The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook even acknowledges some of the issues thieves have, being so poor at their core abilities, and fine-tunes that a bit.

Basically, ACKS takes all the things I like about old D&D, keeps them, and fine-tunes them - smoothing over the frustrations I've had. The line of products for ACKS isn't huge but they are all first rate. I especially appreciate the Lairs & Encounters book - an excellent resource for sandbox play. The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook and Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu show how the game can be adaptable to other genres. Heroic Fantasy is good for a lot of literary fantasy, from Lankhmar to Middle Earth. Barbarian Conquerors is excellent for Conan, Elric, Barsoom, and Buck Rogers.

I've not played ACKS in a while - I do find it requires a bit of prep time and my group is a bit on the small side - I also find older D&D-type games tend to work a bit better with larger groups. It is time I'd like to be able to spend. Hopefully when I complete my master's degree later this year some time will open up - as readers of my blog have seen, my free time over the past several months has dramatically decreased. In any case, ACKS is a game I find gets so many things "right" for the way I see D&D which is the reason I have it ranked so highly.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #4 - Fate

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 02:25

Fate was a way harder game for me to "get" than I thought it would be. I suspect if I'd never gamed before it would have been a lot easier.

There's a ton of blogs and reviews that can give you all the details of Fate. I'm going to talk about the Fate Accelerated version where I finally grokked the game. Fate Accelerated and Fate Core are officially the same game, but there are some definite differences.

Fate uses Fate dice - six sided dice with two plusses, two minuses, and two blanks. You roll four of them and add them together - adding various modifiers as well, but the dice give a range of -4 to +4. You're trying to beat some difficulty. It sounds pretty traditional.

Here's where it diverges. Fate Core gives your character traditional skills like shooting, piloting, etc. Fate Accelerated goes for approaches - how you do something, Are you forceful? Are you sneaky? Both a wizard and a warrior can be forceful. But your aspects and stunts give more definition.

Aspects basically describe something. It can be as simple as "strong", but that's a pretty lousy aspect. "Strong and dumb as an ox" on the other hand works pretty well - a good aspect has positive and negative aspects and helps form the picture of who you are. It also can be something temporary - attached to a scene or a character. For example, "warehouse floor on fire" is an aspect. So is "I've got you covered". Aspects can also be a permission to take some action. For example, with the aspect "Dark Lord of the Sith" it would be reasonable to use the Forceful approach to yank blasters out of the hapless rebels' hands.

Stunts are mechanical exceptions - bonuses you get under certain circumstances being the most common.

When you pay you are throwing aspects, fate points, stunts, etc. all over the place. Invoking an aspect typically gives you a +2 bonus. But unless you create that aspect, something that takes an action, or have some other way to get a free use, you need to spend a fate point. Lousy stuff happening to you is a great way to get more fate points.

I've talked about the mechanics. They're pretty simple, but it took me a long while to get the hang of how best to use them. It's a very narrative system, designed to tell stories of exceptional people. I used it for a team of Star Wars rebels and it worked great. But I also had previous so-so attempts at using the rules. You really need to buy into the game. But when you do, it is fantastic at telling stories of exceptional people.

Like everything else on this list, I'd not use it for everything. But I did finally get to see how powerful a system it can be. Still got Dresden Files Accelerated on my bucket list....



Blog note - updates this month have been near-impossible. Lots of family activities, grad school, etc. I'd been planning on going to North Texas RPG Con next month but that's looking less and less likely as the semester progresses. Just one and a half classes left...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Actual Play: One in Darkness Part 1

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 02:38
Do you think I care if there was just beer in that keg? I know what's in it. I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars. You've been telling Ma that you've gone into politics, that you're on the city payroll. Pat Burke told me everything. You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood - blood of men! - Mike Powers, The Public Enemy

Based on the adventure of the same name by Doug Lyons with L. N. Isynwill, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.
Setting:Boston; Wednesday, April 20, 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 some unpleasant bouts with madness in New Orleans, Crowley and Tardiff had spent the previous two months undergoing psychiatric care. In the interim, the chaos of the early days of Prohibition had seem an increase in mob violence in Boston, with the Crimson Gang cutting a swath of violence through the streets as they made their play for more territory in Southie.
The local papers such as the Boston Leader had been full of news about a recent shootout. The first was dated Saturday, April 16.

On Tuesday the 19th another article had a strange connection to this, one that was retracted the next day...
Later that morning a disheveled young reporter, Jeffrey Daniels, came into Crowley's Boston office to meet with the investigators. He explained he was the author of the retracted article - his editor chose not to publish it after a phone threat from Patrick Malone. He paid a compositor to slip the article into early editions of the Leader - and was fired for doing so. Earnestly he asked they look into it - suggesting they check with the police for verification.
The three had conferred with a Boston police detective, Paul Farrell, when they had looked into missing people at the Museum of Fine Arts. Going to his precinct they found it a cross between a madhouse and a military headquarters getting ready for battle. Farrell explained they were preparing for follow-up battle with the remnants of the Crimson Gang. He explained that yes, the threats to art dealers was indeed legitimate but he tried to assure them, unsuccessfully, that the threats were some sort of prank. However, some snooping revealed some of the survivors of the earlier raid had gone mad and there was talk of some beast that bullets bounced off of...
Going to Digby's Colonial Galleries they met with Bertram Digby. After much haggling and negotiation he admitted to having bought a statuary tablet from a fence, Keyhole Eddie. He sold them the tablet, a strange sone slab about a foot square and an inch thick, made of glossy blue-green serpentine, a brittle rock which can easily be broken. One side has been inscribed with images of a repulsive humanoid face, surrounded by a flowing script. He agreed to call them should Keyhole Eddie return. Crowley returned to his office and Furst and Tardiff went to Anthony Huer's Boston Art Shoppe, located in a less friendly area of the city, off of the notorious Scollay Square. He eventually told a similar story and sold them a similar, though not identical, tablet. He explained how he used the red talisman he'd received with the threat as a bookmark - but he turned it over to police. They noticed the book he had had a red talisman within it... Huer was mystified how it had gotten there and offered it to them. They made some calls to Miskatonic University to have an expert look at their tablets that evening. They noticed before they motored off the tablet was gone - going back into the Art Shoppe they saw it was again in Huer's book. They took the book with them that time. Sure enough, at some point (not when they were looking at it), the red talisman again vanished... back to Huer, this time in his pocket...

At the university, Furst and Tardiff met with Doctor Ronald Galloway, a prominent Egyptologist and skilled linguist. He explained that the script was in Aklo, the language of an ancient race prior to the Hyperborean world. The tablets were some mechanism to summon and dispel the Black Demon to and from our world. The Black Demon was an agent or avatar of the Black Pharaoh, Nyarlathotep...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #5 - Cthulhu Dark

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 02:17


Cthulhu Dark is without a doubt the briefest game in this list. The rules take up two pages and that includes examples. I'm going to do something a little weird and reproduce the essentials of the first page of the rules. You can see a the full rules of the first incarnation of the rules at http://catchyourhare.com/files/Cthulhu%20Dark.pdf. You can purchase the newest version at RPGNow which includes lots of campaign settings, interpretations of the rules, adventures, etc.


Your Investigator
Choose a name and occupation. Describe your Investigator. Take a green Insight Die.

All dice, including your Insight die, are six-sided.

Insight
Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind the universe. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll your Insight Die. If you get higher than your Insight,
add 1 to your Insight and roleplay your fear. (This is called an “Insight roll”.)

Is your Insight real? Can you really see a deeper truth? Or is it just insanity? Sometimes, it is hard
to tell.

Investigating
When you investigate something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (the “Human Die”).
  • One die if it’s within your occupational expertise (the “Occupation Die”).
  • Your Insight Die, if you will risk your mind to succeed.

If your Insight Die rolls higher than any other die, make an Insight roll, as above.

Then your highest die shows how much information you get. On a 1, you get the bare minimum: if
you need information to proceed, you get it, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent investigator would discover.

On a 5, you discover everything a competent investigator would discover, plus something more. For example, you might also remember a related folktale, rumour or scientific experiment.

On a 6, you discover all of that, plus, in some way, you glimpse beyond human knowledge. This
probably means you see something horrific and make an Insight Roll.

Doing Other Things
When you do something other than investigating, roll dice as above. If you roll your Insight Die and
it rolls higher than any other die, then, as before, make an Insight Roll.

Again, your highest die shows how well you do. On a 1, you barely succeed. On a 4, you succeed
competently. On a 5, you succeed well and may get something extra. On a 6, you succeed brilliantly and get something extra, but maybe more than you wanted.


Those are the essentials. If you fight supernatural stuff you're pretty much dead. If your Insight hits 6 your character is essentially insane.

What is it about this game that has it ranked in my Top 5? In my experience, it works fantastically well for what it sets out to do. I still love Call of Cthulhu (hmm, it hasn't appeared on the list yet...), but sometimes you want some "pure" Lovecraftian horror. Cthulhu Dark is fantastic at stories designed to do that. When playing it, my players realized their doom and embraced it, reaching a point where they grabbed for that Insight Die, feeling their characters were facing some sanity-blasting horror.

Though there is nothing about the rules that makes this a requirement, Cthulhu Dark also steps away from the genteel, educated investigators that one often finds in Call of Cthulhu. Instead the characters are intended to be at or near the bottom of the social ladder. It's a different feel that I rather enjoyed. I

As I've mentioned a few times, this list only has games I've played. To be honest, based on just reading, I'd've been impressed by Cthulhu Dark but it would never have occurred to me to rank it so highly. It is a great read but I found it to be an even greater play experience.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #6 - Ghostbusters

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 21:46
Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!- Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, Dr. Peter Venkman



I think every "Top N" list needs at least one or two "WTF?" entries. Yes, I am absolutely serious, I put West End Games' old Ghostbusters near the top of my Top 19 list.

Funny story. At least to me. When Wizards of the Coast first released their Star Wars RPG there was a lot of criticism about it being "D&D in space" due to using the d20 rules. While the d20 incarnations weren't my favorite (though I do think they got it right near the end of their license with Saga Edition), I always got a chuckle out of that criticism. By that standard, West End Games old Star Wars RPG, much beloved, could be considered "Ghostbusters in space".

For people familiar with the D6 Star Wars RPG, there is a lot familiar. You've got four traits ranked by the number of dice you have in them. And you can have talents for each trait. In Ghostbusters, it's pretty simple, with every character having a single talent per trait. If you can use a talent, you get three more dice. Check out the very complicated character sheet below.


Brownie points are a cross between hit points, experience points, and hero points. You can spend them for bonuses. You can spend them for permanent increases. And you lose them when you get the crap beaten out of you.

Equipment was handled with cards listing things like proton packs, scuba gear, mountaineering equipment, etc. The mountaineering equipment came in quite handy when we played.

Combat is roll a bunch of dice. No initiative. No rounds really, very freeform. Damage is pretty arbitrary. This all got tightened in the 2nd edition, Ghostbusters International, which at the time I considered a massive improvement. Now I have to confess to preferring the much faster and much, much looser 1st edition of the game.

Here's something else kinda funny about the Ghostbusters RPG. Take a look at some of the credits from the Operations Manual:

Yes, though published by West End Games, for all intents and purposes it seems to have been designed by Chaosium. There's only a few entries left in this list and if you've read my blog at all you know they're going to appear again. It's not surprising - published in 1986, this was West End Games' second RPG, after Paranoia in 1984. With that Call of Cthulhu pedigree you can rest assured there are awesome rules for ghost creation...
Ghostbusters is terrific fun. It asks for a lot of improvisation which may not be for everyone - and it definitely asks you to be in the right mood for it. But it is an absolute blast to play. Go find a copy. If you Google, you can probably find some PDFs of the first edition - some of them not on Russian filesharing sites...
Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!
- Winston Zeddemore
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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