2017. november 16., csütörtök

[Review] Battle for the Purple Islands

Nowadays I'm up to my neck in work, with little time to play, read or write about RPG stuff, which is bad. But here's a quick review! I've already featured three adventures from Venger Satanis' weird pulp/noir Outer Presence line. The first review was my own initiative, the rest were based on review copies Venger provided.

Now it's time to take a closer look at Battle for the Purple Islands (review copy provided by author):

Battle for the Purple Islands

This is a 22-page booklet, with great b&w interior art (by Fuzzy Big, Monstark, and Craig Brasco). It can be used as a part of your Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence campaign, or as a stand-alone scenario.

In the beginning, there is a section for fleshing out your characters, mostly via random tables (this is usual for Venger's scenarios, and I actually like it - it is perfectly possible to use these snippets and tables as "modules" and use them when running any of the other adventures). The appendix holds some more random tables, e.g. a 1d100 hexcrawl.

The scenario includes three "entry points" (hooks) for PCs, depending on whether they are veterans of the Purple Islands or newcomers, or allowing them to cross over from the Alpha Blue universe. This is very useful stuff. The story itself is then propelled by the appearance of a messenger on a quest to save the universe, none the less... but the island is an arena between various factions and wildcard tribes, who make everything very hard. And very random. With so many agents, the situation can get out of control very fast, which is, by the way, a good opportunity for the players to gain the upper hand. A reptiloid moon priest attacks your cannibal captors? There's your chance for the escape! But be careful, 'cause an ape patrol is just around the corner, looking to slay some nameless cultists of an unnameable god!

So, yeah. This is dense pulp madness. Evocative! And handy, too: the section on local purple tribes allows you to cook up your own Mondo Cannibale. Nods to Heavy Metal and weird fiction all around. And yes, the dude on the cover is exactly who you think he is.

There are some organizational issues, though. Subheadings of the same level can cover factions, random encounters, set pieces... It is roughly in chronological order (the "ending" is in the end), but the middle chunk of the text doesn't provide enough pointers. It is comprehensible, but takes a read-through and copious note-taking. Not for pick-up play. However, while reading it, you can definitely fine-tune it to your own and your players' preferences.

2017. augusztus 9., szerda

The Shark-Man, Nanaue

I was reading a collection of Hawaiian folk tales, and stumbled upon a great and horrific one about Nanaue, the Shark-Man.

Nanaue is the son of a human female and the Shark King.

"...a fine healthy boy, apparently the same as any other child, but he had, besides the normal mouth of a human being, a shark's mouth on his back between the shoulder blades."

There is a DC villain of the same name, but he is a full-blown humanoid shark, which, frankly, I find less horrifying, than the shark mouth grafted onto an otherwise normal human body, and who only occasionally turns into a shark. 

2017. augusztus 1., kedd

[The Outer Presence] A Green Jewel They Must Possess, Reviewed

See also: my review of the main book for The Outer Presence and of the scenario His Flesh Becomes My Key. Disclaimer: the author provided a review copy of this product.

A Green Jewel They Must Possess

A Green Jewel... is a hard-boiled occult detective story. It's heavy on tropes, and works best if both the GM and the players are versed in pulp & horror, and are ready to immerse themselves in this world of unaussprachlichen Kulten and other mind-bending kosmische conspiracies.

The scenario probably takes 1-2 sessions to play through. In a nutshell, the characters are assumed to be Investigators who come in contact with the adventure's centerpiece, which is, obviously, THE Green Jewel They (that is, everybody) Must Possess. It might seem like a MacGuffin type of device, but let's just say it comes with a couple of strings attached, which are not obvious at first glance. And those who end up possessing it by the end of the scenario are in for a surprise.

The investigation leads the players to several locations. I actually really like how they are described, as each comes with plenty of small details that make them interesting. This is in true pulp spirit. You have to be able to catch your players' attention (or creep them out) with weird, unusual set pieces.

The Outer Presence line takes a minimalist approach when it comes to PCs. The players basically just have to show up, with a bare character concept and maybe a name, without much preparation, then roll on a table to generate some additional background information. His Flesh Becomes My Key provided characters with random paranormal/extrasensory abilities, while Green Jewel gives them a "character subplot" of a more mundane nature ("out of rehab", "owes money to the mob", etc.). The PCs' relationship to the main NPC is randomized as well.

Maybe tables like this should be collected into a single volume "Outer Presence Companion" of sorts? To be used to enhance other quick, out-of-the-box contemporary occult investigation adventures. The GM can take the "Companion", and insert or ignore the "character modules" as fit for the story.

I mentioned in my review of His Flesh..., that the scenario is presented without an initial overview, so the GM (unlike the players), has to read and prep it before the game session, make notes of timelines/NPCs. Although, when compared to His Flesh..., Green Jewel comes over as more organized and easier to follow. And the scenario in the main book comes with an overview and background description as well. But this style of presentation is a conscious choice by the author, Venger Satanis, to turn the scenario into a suspense / mystery short story. In my opinion, it lowers the usefulness of the product as a tool, but, I have to admit, it does add to the atmosphere!

Altogether, I find the whole Outer Presence line quite good, and recommend it to fans of grim, pulpy horror.

The green orb, as seen in "Heavy Metal"...

2017. július 28., péntek

[The Outer Presence] His Flesh Becomes My Key, Reviewed

I wrote about The Outer Presence earlier on my blog, and recently the author, Venger Satanis, sent me review copies of two horror scenarios from The Outer Presence line. So here's what I think about His Flesh Becomes My Key:

His Flesh Becomes My Key

His Flesh Becomes My Key (let's just call it His Flesh...) is described as an "eldritch pulp / investigative horror" scenario. It's developed for the simple rules-lite The Outer Presence, but can be used in any other system without much effort.

The scenario's setting is defined by a short, but very evocative introduction, a description of the world coming apart at the seams: "This reality currently sits on a dimensional fault-line. It's been like that for thousands of years, perhaps from the very beginning." This shifting reality gives the characters a chance to experience flashbacks and lucid dreams.

His Flesh... assumes that the player characters are a team of "investigators". There isn't much of a hook, so I think the scenario would work best as a one-shot, or as an investigation for a very specific group of characters (weird consultants for the police, occult detectives, etc.). 

I want to keep this review spoiler-free, so suffice to say, that the players investigate a series of occult-tinged murders, and get drawn into something bigger. There is a twist-ending, of sorts... Twilight Zone style. Which might work with your players, or might annoy the hell out of them.

What I really like about this scenario is its imagery and tone. It displays noir sensibilities… but this is not the 1940-50s stylish black & white noir, but something more 1980s or early 1990s? Miami Vice? No-no… Silk Stalkings, yeah, that's the one! Occult Silk Stalkings, I like that. Dario Argento, but not the 1970s Argento, but the pastel & neon of Tenebrae and Phenoena. RPG-wise, the first thing that comes to mind is not Call of Cthulhu (Modern), but old World of Darkness and especially KULT, this type of stuff. In The Outer Presence scenarios nothing is set in stone, everything's just vague shapes, mist, smoke machines and lasers, but you still get an impression, an atmosphere, a strong visual. Venger draws heavily on movies, so if you are a horror nerd, you share this world.

And the book/pdf looks good too, with a crisp layout and several full-page illustrations.

So far, so good!

Now, what I'm not so keen about is the presentation of the scenario. There is no overview of "what's going on", so the game master has to read the whole thing to get the picture. It's not too long (around 10 pages of text), but I think such summaries are important. There are no NPC write-ups, and all information regarding them is scattered all around in the step-by-step narrative of the scenario. I definitely think that a published adventure should help the game master more.

My overall impression: although the information is not organized efficiently, His Flesh Becomes My Key is a highly inspiring, atmospheric scenario.

2017. július 8., szombat

Hex map interpretation of "The Men from Porlock" by Laird Barron

(click to zoom)

"The Men from Porlock" by Laird Barron is a kick-ass horror tale. Set it 1923, it's about a group of lumberjacks stumble upon a village, seemingly stuck in the past. The villagers worship the Great Dark and the Old Leech and generally do things cultists do in Barron's stories...

I was re-reading it, and mapped it out for fun. 

The story would make a great Call of Cthulhu one-shot, maybe?

DJ or DM? - RPG soundtracks

Background music is a time-honoured game master tool, perfect for setting the atmosphere of the session. Ideally the soundtrack has to be of the ambient sort, from the Brian Eno gray zone of “as ignorable as it is interesting”. There are many ready-made solutions, which work perfectly (e.g. Cryo Chamber ambient releases for dark fantasy/horror games), but I tend to go the extra mile, and most of my prep time is spent compiling the perfect playlist for the upcoming session.

I love RPGs and I love weird obscure music.

So here’s a sample of what I’d used for an early modern LotFP game. This mix conveys melancholia and a sense of the weird, but it is not overtly dark or oppressive. It features both ambientish materials and a selection of period music. Just make sure you put the playlist on shuffle: too much period music in one bunch leads to a Ren-faire atmosphere. But if the short harpsichord interludes are mixed with brooding ambient, it’s great.

MIXTAPE – “17th Century Schizoid Man”

Mort Garson – Black Mass/Lucifer (1971)

Pioneering electronic composer Mort Garson created several “occult” themed albums (Ataraxia: The Unexplained (1970) being one of the other prominent ones), but Black Mass/Lucifer is my favourite… For today’s listener, this doesn’t sound like a grim & dark “Satanic” album – but it’s wonderfully weird and creative.

Anna Själv Tredje – Tussilago Fanfara (1977)

This Swedish gem is one of my favourites. Atmospherically it goes from mellow and fairy-tale qualities to eerie otherworldliness. Abstract synth music tends to work great, and I find that even if sometimes it sounds “futuristic” (with cosmic beeps and echoes), it blends in perfectly with a pseudo-historical setting.

Henry Purcell – The Suites for Harpsichord [Played by Colin Tilney] (1979)

Tilney is a renowned master of early keyboard instruments, and there are many albums where he plays old harpsichords and organs. Any compilation of baroque music is great, but Tilney is my personal preference.

The City Waites – Sorcery and Spectres: Songs of the Supernatural (1995)

Music from the other end of the social hierarchy: a collection of traditional folk songs, broadside ballads (and some chamber music too). This album is great, but you have to go through the songs first, because some of them can be distracting, and, as such, have no place in your session background music.
Check out also Popular Tunes in 17th Century England (1980) by the Broadside Band, or any other similar compilation.

The Unquiet Void – Scorpio (1999) & Poisoned Dreams (2004)

If the list sounds too up-beat, add some Lovecraftian horror ambient!

Klaus Morlock – The Bridmore Lodge Tapes (2014)

Nowadays there is certainly a revival of “hauntological” music, inspired by the Berlin school of electronic music, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and many other weird apparitions. Check out the Ghost Box label and their ilk, or, for instance, Klaus Morlock. The Devon Folklore Tapes series is great as well.

John Foxx – London Overgrown (2015)

More haunting synth washes, this time by John Foxx (of Ultravox fame). I love London Overgrown, because thematically it depicts a world after the downfall of humanity... But if this sonic vision is too new-agey and soothing, replace it with an unhealthy dose of Lustmord or Atrium Carceri.

The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths (2017)

Closing of the list is a recent release by the revived BBC Radiophonic Workshop... this tapestry of noises, drones, chimes, buzzing synths proves that they are truly the masters of their art.

2017. július 7., péntek

[LotFP] Two spells, VAM-style

Vaginas are Magic! is now available in pdf format as well, and it's one lovely grimoire!

It inspired me to write up some of my spell ideas. No spell levels defined, Miscast tables provided. Writing Miscast tables is FUN... Most of them make you wanna miscast.
Take a peak, if you are interested:

One is a variation on the theme of the poisoned apple, the other one reads like a cantrip (but with dire possible consequences)...

The spells are named after bands / songs / albums I love, so that's in keeping with the trend set in VAM.

 - You've got to pray for it...
 - Pay for it, you mean?