2017. december 28., csütörtök

[Swamp '70] George Rodrigue paintings

The paintings of George Rodrigue (1944-2013), depicting life in rural Louisiana have an eerie, haunting quality to them... Definitely inspiring. Check out the site of Wendy Rodrigue (the artist's wife), it has background info on several paintings.

Aioli Dinner (1971)

Doc Moses, Cajun Traiteur (1974)

"A traiteur is a Cajun folk doctor with a special, inherited gift for healing one ailment. In George’s painting, Doc Moses heals earaches. He pours a ring of salt around the patient and touches his ears. Amazingly, only the healer must believe. The patient’s skepticism does not affect the cure." (source)

The Cajun Bride of Oak Alley (1974)

"In 1850, on the occasion of the simultaneous weddings of his two daughters, Durand’s slaves decorated the arboreal alley in a manner befitting his most eccentric nature. Prolific web-spinning spiders were brought in (some say from the nearby Atchafalaya Basin, others say from as far away as China) and were released in the trees to go about their arachnidan business. Then slaves went to their task of coating the dewy, billowing webs with gold and silver dust blown from bellows. And under this splendidly shimmering canopy proceeded the ethereal promenade of the wedding party and its two thousand guests." (source)

2017. december 6., szerda

[LotFP] Musings on Mirror Image

Mirror, mirror...

In Lamentations of the Flame Princess the classic Mirror Image spell it is given an interesting twist:

"This spell grabs 1d4 duplicates of the caster from near-identical timelines to confuse foes and make it more difficult for the original caster to come to harm. Since all of the mirror images are the caster, in the same situation and fighting the same battle in their own timeline, they are indistinguishable in every way from the caster and mimic his every motion." (LotFP: Rules & Magic, p. 117)

In other D&D variants* Mirror Image is usually treated as an illusion spell. Which is fine, but for reasons of WEIRD, the LotFP version holds many possibilities, reaching behind the mere use of the spell.

Magic is supposed to be dangerous, and have serious consequences, right?

If the mirror images are real people (from a different timeline), forced to appear next to the caster by foul sorcery, then when they die or take damage in their stead, well, that's real death and damage. Not many Magic-Users realize this dark feature, that by using Mirror Image as a parlor trick or to get out of some mundane trouble, they are actually eradicate themselves from "1d4 timelines".

So, if a Magic-User in your game casts Mirror Image often, as a Referee (DM) you can certainly introduce some creepy weird elements. Have the "eradicated alternatives" haunt the Magic-User in his/her dreams, or just flicker in and out of existence in their field of vision.

And what if the alternative timeline self casts Mirror Image? Does the Magic-User from your game get siphoned into the alternative timeline for the duration of the spell?

These are also good ideas for a Mirror Image miscast table...


* At least to my knowledge, this variation is included only in LotFP. Correct me if I'm wrong.

"Which version of myself should I kill today?"

2017. november 19., vasárnap

Contacting unnameable cosmic forces

"Then, toward midnight, the necromancer arose and went upward by many spiral stairs to a high dome of his house in which there was a single small round window that looked forth on the constellations. The window was set in the top of the dome; but Namirrha had contrived, by means of his magic, that one entering by the last spiral of the stairs would suddenly seem to descend rather than climb, and, reaching the last step, would peer downward through the window while stars passed under him in a giddying gulf. There, kneeling, Namirrha touched a secret spring in the marble, and the circular pane slid back without sound. Then, lying prone on the interior of the dome, with his face over the abyss, and his long beard trailing stiffly into space, he whispered a pre-human rune, and held speech with certain entities who belonged neither to Hell nor the mundane elements, and were more fearsome to invoke than the infernal genii or the devils of earth, air, water, and flame. With them he made his contract, defying Thasaidon's will, while the air curdled about him with their voices, and rime gathered palely on his sable beard from the cold that was wrought by their breathing as they leaned earthward."
 "The Dark Eidolon" by Clark Ashton Smith

Wonderful passage from a wonderful story.

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.