Saturday, December 3, 2016

[Swamp '70] Swamped in pictures

Panoramio, the amazing photo sharing site, closed own on 4 November 2016. I really liked browsing it, seeing all kinds of places around the world, and it was also great for inspiration. Before it's closure, I went on a manic downloading spree and amassed some very nice photos of nature and buildings in Florida, for later use with my Swamp '70 project. Unfortunately, with Panoramio now offline, it's hard to trace back some of the authors. I can only hope that most of them will use the tools provided by Google to save their archives!

Also, it seems that direct links to user profiles are still working (although not accessible through the main site).

One of the best collections of photos of rural Florida were taken by Ken Badgley, and I cannot thank him enough for sharing his unique shots of decaying houses and old buildings. Some of this shots have this eerie-even-when-the-sun-shines quality, which I'm aiming for.

I was also able to pull some GREAT historical photos from the The National Archives.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Bloody Basic] Weird Fantasy Edition review/overview

I've been aware of John M. Stater's work for some time, but never got around to actually check out anything. His main design is the OSR title Blood & Treasure, for which he created a basic version, called Bloody Basic. Bloody Basic is a whole line of shorter books, each containing the essential rules for character creation and playing with slight variations, but presenting a different setting and race/class choices. There's a book for classic fantasy, a "contemporary" edition (contemporary meaning something like steampunk? I haven't read this one, it has "automatons, drakkens" etc, but also "fighters, sorcerers, clerics and thieves", so I don't know how different it is from the classic book), a fairy tale supplement (the brilliantly titled "Mother Goose Edition") and Sinew & Steel (promising a more realistic medieval setting). And there is a last one, which I have:

Bloody Basic: Weird Fantasy Edition

What I like about this book is that it strives to capture the atmosphere of weird fiction without or even before pulp. The short two-paragraph preface is wonderfully dense, evocative, and it provides a very strong statement. Stater stresses the origins of the weirds in the Romantic Movement:
"[Weird fantasy] has in its genes both pseudo-historical romances, Orientalism and fairy tales, though not fairy tales fit for children. The fairy tales that parented weird fantasy were never stripped of their violence or their erotic overtones.
Weird fantasy is both steeped in meaning and bereft of it. It is quiet and noisy and ridiculous and sublime."
His main touchstones are Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, although I feel Dunsany is the stronger presence here. At the visual side of things we get Beardsley and Sidney Sime, who are not just "public domain illustration sources", but major influences.

Sidney Sime. Hothrun Dath.
For Lord Dunsany's "Gods of Pegāna"

So in the end, we arrive at a game of Donjons & Decadence.

Yes, Stater substitutes "donjon" for "dungeon". And there are many-many more quirky words scattered around the book. There is even a handy Thesaurus so that you can spice up your language with appropriately archaic words. "You can call a gemstone blue, but there are many other fine words to use in its place," including, but not limited to "aqua, azure, beryl, cerulean, ceil, cesious, chalybeous, cobalt, cyan, ecchymotic, gentian"... Why call a temple simply a temple, when you can instead refer to the local "chantry, chapel, church, cloister, convent, conventicle, dagoba, deanery, dewal, dogobah, fane, fold, friary, glebe, holy place, house of [god], house of prayer"... This is all quite hilarious.

The game rules are OGL-based, with the standard six attributes. There are only three types of modifiers, 0, -1 and +1, for average, below average and above average ratings. These apply to "tasks" (tests rolled with 1d20), attack rolls, etc.

I love how the description of polyhedral dice is illustrated by Bragdon's "Sinbad, in the desert, discovers the Five Platonic Solids"!

Things get more interesting with Races! Humans are humans (although their appearance in a fantastic world can differ from ours). Elves are graceful, soulless and hedonistic. Grotesques are humanoid with one or more exaggerated or bestial feature, eccentric loners who are often slaves to their passions. The fourth available player race is Satyrs from the Greek myths. The difference between a Grotesque and a Satyr probably lies in their perception of their own "deformities" - a Grotesque wants to be a human (I'd totally go White Wolf with this race), while a Satyr is just fine, pass on the wine.

The Classes are re-skinned and slightly modified versions of the classics. Clerics become Idolators. "Turn Undead" is now "Shunning" (and can be used against any enemy of the idolator). Spells are called orisons and are gained by becoming initiated into one or more of the nine mystery cults (each initiation comes with an extra taboo!). Overall, there aren't many such orisons: a total of 30 (10 per level), and each cult gives access to basically just one spell in each tier.

The Magic-User class is renamed Magus, who cast "cantraps". As usual, the magi get a significantly wider array of spells: a total of 52 cantraps. Stater's love of new names is in full swing here as well: "Ken Gibberish" for "Understand Languages", "Eldritch Bolts" for "Magic Missile", and so on.

The Fighter is called the Puissant. They get feats and the usual combat bonuses. It comes as a surprise to see the simple Thief as the last class... :) Their lowly designation is spiced up by two possible subclasses, the Demimond and the Odalisque.

The Three Witches from Orson Welles' "Macbeth" (1948)

The Game Master advice section is generic, but the Monsters return to the flamboyant style. The Weird Tales rule supreme here: there are tentacled aberrations, gibbering mouthers, but also standard fantasy and old-school RPG beasts. Stater, obviously, uses the authentic spelling of "gnole". There are also listings for scrolls and magic items (including the "Masque of the red death" and the "Silver key" for breaching dimensions).

Overall, this is a wonderful little game. The use of archaic words might not be everybody's cup of tea... But I have to point out, that when it's needed, Stater writes in a comprehensible way, rules are kept clean & clear, they are easy to learn.

Personally, I think this game would be even better if it relied less on the old-school RPG canon! I would love to see more interesting "cantraps" and "orisons" which are not just renamed D&D spells. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

[LotFP] Cunning Folk, WIP

The setting document on "A Field in Lorraine" keeps on growing and growing -- one day I will put up the extended version. I keep adding stuff that I find as I go, so right now it's a bit chaotic, but with some editing it can be turned into a supplement that others can use as well.

I like Clerics in fantasy games, but in a 17th century weird horror fantasy they seem a bit out of place. "Divine spells", as described, are too "clean". The modus operandi, so to speak, of Catholic exorcists, Jewish cabbalists (as I see, they are best described as a mix of Magic-Users and Clerics), Protestant witch hunters are very different.

And then there are the Cunning Folk, the practitioners of all sorts of witchery and popular magic. This term, although it originates from English culture, can be used as an "umbrella term" for the entire phenomenon (see the entry on Cunning folk & the literature listing in Wikipedia for starters).

cunning folk, wise men and women

devins-guérisseurs, leveurs de sorts
Hexenmeister, Kräuthexen

toverdokters, duivelbanners

kloge folk

klok gumma (“wise old woman”), klok gubbe (“wise old man”)

curandeiros, benzedeiros, mulheres de virtude (“woman of virtue”)

Cunning Folk are definitely something I want to include in my Early Modern Weird Europe. That's why I included in the first version of "A Field in Lorraine" various ideas and folk magic spells. But now I think this can be made into a class.

Instead of working from a set spell list, the Cunning Folk would rely on two types of manipulations:

  1. "Folk magic", encompassing everything from folk medicine recipes to love charms and various practices to help out "around the house". These "spells" are part of an extensive and very convoluted oral tradition. Christian prayer and pre-Christian beliefs are intermingled. Although they are considered to be tried and trusted, there is only a limited chance that any given superstition or cantrip really has a magical effect.

    I included a list of such spells in the first version of "A Field in Lorraine".

    A great variety of spells can be culled from "Long Lost Friend" (or "Long-Hidden Friend", "Der Lange Verborgene Freund"), a collection of pow-wow spells compiled in the 1820s by the Pennsylvania Dutch healer John George Hohman (see the text here). These practices are clearly based on tradition brought along from Europe; mixed with Christian prayer. Includes three folk variants of Hold Person, "Immobilize a Thief": "How to cause male or female thieves to stand still, without being able to move backward or forward?"
    A great read.

    But there is also...
  2. Magic done with the help of a Familiar.
    Now this is a very different can of worms. A Familiar spirit is low-tier supernatural entity, a small demon, which assists the practitioner. 
These two types can overlap, and the assistance of a Familiar greatly increases the chance of a traditional folk spell to take effect.

An image of a witch and her familiar spirits taken from a publication that dealt with the witch trials of Elizabeth Stile, Mother Dutten, Mother Devell and Mother Margaret in Windsor, 1579.

There is an eerie passage (Q. 4) in "The Discovery of Witches" by Matthew Hopkins from 1647, in which the familiars of a witch are described. They materialize in vaguely animal forms:
"1. Holt, who came in like a white kitling. 
2. Jarmara, who came in like a fat Spaniel without any legs at all, she said she kept him fat, for she clapt her hand on her belly and said he suckt good blood from her body. 
3. Vinegar Tom, who was like a long-legg'd Greyhound, with an head like an Oxe, with a long taile and broad eyes, who when this discoverer spoke to, and bade him goe to the place provided for him and his Angels, immediately transformed himselfe into the shape of a child of foure yeeres old without a head, and gave halfe a dozen turnes about the house, and vanished at the doore. 
4. Sack and Sugar, like a black Rabbet.
5. Newes, like a Polcat."

I hope I will be able to find time to turn this into something.

Ideally, there should be a nice random table for Familiars (maybe taking ideas from the LotFP Summon spell?); some rules that govern the "working relationship" of the Cunning Folk and their Familiars; and ideas for the GM about "Familiars gone bad".

Saturday, November 12, 2016

[LotFP] A Field in Lorraine

I've put together a short document with my ideas for a weird & nasty & dark fantasy game set in the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War. This is not a scenario or adventure, but rather little atmospheric pieces that help to show the world of 17th century Weird Europe.

I've also included a list of "folk magic" spells. And mushrooms.

Here's the link to the .pdf:

"This is not a “historical” game. The Thirty Years’ War and other events are used as a backdrop, but their importance or overarching role is only understood in retrospect. People who are in the middle of it do not know whether the war and wars have ended or not. They do not have up-to-date information from the frontlines. News travel slowly, deception and rumors are abundant.

Lorraine is defined as the general area of events, but it is important for the tone of the game to keep the setting vague, regarding both chronology and location. Maps and timelines are only known to strategists and annalists. Player characters and the everyday people they encounter are utterly, hopelessly lost. Locals know their own village, maybe the road to the next hamlet. Superstition warns against going to certain areas, and for a good reason. Bands of marauders and deserters are menacing the lands. Many villages are completely abandoned; most of them are only inhabited by women, children, and the elderly.

The player characters are soldiers, mercenaries heading back to their villages. They served their time, their battalion was re-organized, or, more likely, destroyed. But they are not in a hurry… For they know that their “home” is not the cozy place it used to be. The player characters fear that the same atrocities they committed in foreign lands were carried out against their own villages by other soldiers."

(c) Simon Marsden

This was all created with Lamentations of the Flame Princess on mind, but can be used with any system. I hope to run this game soon for a couple of friends.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Infra Arcana

I was sick this whole week, couldn't concentrate to post anything worthwhile... Hopefully, more Swamp '70 ideas will come soon. I'm also working on an adventure framework for Apes Victorious.

"Cultist with artifact", by JMD3

In the meantime, I'm playing Infra Arcana, a roguelike dungeon crawl with occult / Lovecraftian themes. Despite the ASCII-style graphics (although not true-ASCII, but still minimalistic) it is a very immersive and atmospheric game. The music and sound effects help with this a great amount.

You can play as four different classes. The Rogue is good at sneaking around, and you can pick the "Treasure Hunter" trait as starters, which gives you a greater amount of loot. Playing as the War Veteran is probably the easiest, but they go insane much quicker than the rest... The Occultist is a tough choice: they can study spells from scrolls, but have a lower HP and combat ratings. And, finally, the fourth playable class is the Ghoul: a rather interesting addition, it can heal by chewing on fallen enemies, has some unique traits (e.g. "Foul" - there is a chance that maggots spring out of monsters killed and attack other enemies).

As for enemies, you get standard beasts / animals (wolves, various spiders), the undead, cultists, ghastly abominations. There are "mini bosses" appearing from time to time: powerful named characters with special abilities, like Keziah Mason...

You are low on health and encounter a huge group of zombies. You flee back to the closest junction, jam the door shut and try to heal up -- while the zombies are trying to break through the door. You shuffle for ammunition, but only find a scroll of teleportation: will the eldritch incantation take you to a safer segment of the dungeon or throw you straight into the mouth of an unknown abomination?!

As most roguelikes, it's punishing and hard, but not unfair, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

[Swamp '70] The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water

"Swamp '70" is the tentative working title / tag I've given to the 1970s occult game I'm brainstorming.

So, do you know this classic public information short from 1973? Pure genius. And it is a perfect creature or plot hook for the Swamp '70 setting.

"Do not play near the swamps, Hannah!" "No, Collin Smith Jr., you definitely cannot go fishing at the old pond!" "Don't go into the woods!" "Be careful, Jeffrey!" -- but the warnings and cautionary tales of parents are lost on the children... Kids keep disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Is it possible that a malevolent being is preying upon the children of the town? A serial killer, a twisted pedophile? Or maybe...

The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water?!

The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water is a disembodied entity that can form an empathic link with a sentient being and amplify in its victim such characteristics as unwariness, show-offishness, foolishness & carelessness. It inhabits perilous abandoned places. Typical examples include quarry lakes, junkyards, desolate buildings or even a poorly maintained playground. Dangers are plenty, yet subtle: slippery mud, crumbling concrete, loose stones, corroded iron. The Spirit is like the Imp of the Perverse: its influence leads the victim (most commonly, a child) to death. This is the only thing that can satisfy the Spirit's cravings.

"When the quarry operations stopped, the original quarry pit filled with water.
This was used for a "swimming hole" by local folks but it was dangerous.
Several people were drowned in the old quarry..."

The exact origin of the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water is unknown. One possible explanation that it is the hungry ghost of the first victim of the place, damned to haunt it for eternity, replaying the events of its own death over and over again. Another explanation is that once people retreat from a place, it slips into abandon, and otherworldly forces claim it as their own... 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ancient Thracian tombs as mini-dungeons (Part 2)

The nature of Thracian religious beliefs concerning death and afterlife is subject to much scholarly discussion... What follows are a few snippets that can be used as inspirational material for a sword & sorcery-type game, especially in conjunction with the tombs from part 1! As illustrations I will just use some pictures of archaeological finds from Thrace.

The ancient historian Herodotus gives us information about one of the Thracian tribes, the Getae (who were also, by accounts of other authors, connected with the Dacians).

The gilded silver helmet from Agighiol. 5th century BC. Don't look in the eyes.

In Book 4 of his "Histories", Herodotus describes the Getae as warriors, "the bravest and most just of all Thracians", who "pretend to be immortal" [4.93].
"Their belief in their immortality is as follows: they believe that they do not die, but that one who perishes goes to the deity Salmoxis, or Gebeleïzis, as some of them call him. Once every five years they choose one of their people by lot and send him as a messenger to Salmoxis, with instructions to report their needs; and this is how they send him: three lances are held by designated men; others seize the messenger to Salmoxis by his hands and feet, and swing and toss him up on to the spear-points. If he is killed by the toss, they believe that the god regards them with favor; but if he is not killed, they blame the messenger himself, considering him a bad man, and send another messenger in place of him. It is while the man still lives that they give him the message. Furthermore, when there is thunder and lightning these same Thracians shoot arrows skyward as a threat to the god, believing in no other god but their own." [4.94]
In this one passage there are already plenty of ideas! The cult of Salmoxis (or Zalmoxis, or Gebeleïzis, etc.) is a cruel one, with human sacrifice (by lottery, none the less), but it is also a rewarding one, promising eternal life.

Deer-shaped rhyta, from Thracian tombs, 4th century BC

Who was this Salmoxis?

As told by the Hellespontian Greeks,
"...Salmoxis was a man who was once a slave in Samos, his master being Pythagoras son of Mnesarchus; then, after being freed and gaining great wealth, he returned to his own country. Now the Thracians were a poor and backward people, but this Salmoxis knew Ionian ways and a more advanced way of life than the Thracian; for he had consorted with Greeks, and moreover with one of the greatest Greek teachers, Pythagoras; therefore he made a hall, where he entertained and fed the leaders among his countrymen, and taught them that neither he nor his guests nor any of their descendants would ever die, but that they would go to a place where they would live forever and have all good things. While he was doing as I have said and teaching this doctrine, he was meanwhile making an underground chamber. When this was finished, he vanished from the sight of the Thracians, and went down into the underground chamber, where he lived for three years, while the Thracians wished him back and mourned him for dead; then in the fourth year he appeared to the Thracians, and thus they came to believe what Salmoxis had told them." [4.95]
What we have here is a mortal man, a former slave, trained in the Pythagorean way, who becomes immortal and is, therefore, worshiped as a god by his kin. Salmoxis' disappearance into an underground chamber can be interpreted as a rite of renewal or rebirth; his way of attaining immortality.

Strabo tells the same story, although with some variations and additions:
"...when [Salmoxis] came on back to his home-land he was eagerly courted by the rulers and the people of the tribe, because he could make predictions from the celestial signs; and at last he persuaded the king to take him as a partner in the government, on the ground that he was competent to report the will of the gods; and although at the outset he was only made a priest of the god who was most honored in their country, yet afterwards he was even addressed as god, and having taken possession of a certain cavernous place that was inaccessible to anyone else he spent his life there, only rarely meeting with any people outside except the king and his own attendants; and the king cooperated with him, because he saw that the people paid much more attention to himself than before, in the belief that the decrees which he promulgated were in accordance with the counsel of the gods. This custom persisted even down to our own time, because some man of that character was always to be found, who, though in fact only a counsellor to the king, was called god among the Getae." [7.3]

A coiled snake figure found at Seuthopolis

If you connect these stories about a man vanishing into an underground chamber and thus becoming a god with the peculiar features of the Thracian tombs described earlier, these "mini-dungeons" become small sanctuaries for attaining immortality or, at least, temporary renewal. It can also explain the various chambers of special shape or configuration inside the tomb. The king or noble warrior or tribe priest for whom it was built from time to time entered it and emerged reborn; and used it as a burial place after a long and fulfilling earthly life, when he moved on to a different plane of existence, practically as a god.

So... are the adventurers ready to face a chthonic warrior priest god for a couple of pieces of gilded armor? Or do they want to become immortal themselves?

James H. Wilson: Zalmoxis (from "Zalmoxis and Other Poems", 1892)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ancient Thracian tombs as mini-dungeons (Part 1)

The ancient Thracians are as sword & sorcery as it gets. Barbarians, occasionally united into kingdoms under the leadership of the strongest tribe, fierce warriors, hunters, connoisseurs of fine golden jewelry, but also with a deep interest in the mystical side of things - without going into scholarly details, this is the simplified picture you can paint of them.

And they built awesome tombs. Which you can easily turn into mini-dungeons for basically any dungeon-centric game. I'm breaking this down into two parts. Here, in Part 1, I will just provide a basic physical description of these tombs, their configuration; and in Part 2 (coming later) I want to talk about using some passages from ancient texts as additional inspiration.

The dromos of the tomb at Mezek

Most of these tombs feature a sequence of corridors and chambers, built on one axis, covered by an earthen burial mound. For example, here's the plan and section of the Mal-tepe tomb near Mezek:

This tomb features an unusually long dromos, a corridor/passageway (~ 20m). This is followed by two rectangular antechambers. The complex terminates in a tholos, a circular domed room (sometimes referred to as a beehive tomb). This has a burial couch on an elevated platforms and two pedestals, all hewn from stone.

Most tombs follow a similar pattern, with variations. For example, the tomb at Kazanlak (famous for the painted scenes adorning it) has a significantly shorter dromos and only one chamber preceding the tholos.

Tomb at Kazanlak

The Golyamata Kosmatka tomb also has a tholos, but it is placed before the rectangular burial chamber.

Golyamata Kosmatka

The passage between the various sections was often closed with elaborate stone doors. This example from Golyamata Kosmatka has two relief medallions, depicting two heads: of Apollo and of Gorgon., religious and apotropaic symbols.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more Thracian funerary / ritual complexes. Some of them feature unusual sculptural elements (e.g. the caryatids at Sveshtari, half-woman, half-plant figures supporting the ceiling). Some of them are not only underground crypts, but have edifices on the outside of the mound as well (e.g. Starosel)...

So there is a lot to work with! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Warren Publishing comics & mags online

Just sayin'... Countless issues of Warren comics and magazines are up in the repository of the ever wonderful Mostly 70s & 80s stuff, Vampirella, Creepy and many more!

Ability score generation

I stumbled upon Duane VanderPol's exhaustive overview of various methods that can be used to roll up six attributes in D&D and its derivatives. When it comes to character generation, I prefer a balanced approach: I enjoy the thrill (or "thrill", as you prefer) of randomness, but I like to retain a certain control over the final results. Even with old school or OSR games, I usually go into char.gen with a character concept in my head, and and it can be fun to try and reconcile this basic idea with the ability scores (compromising over class or inventing an element in the background story to explain a low/high stat).
"Dice Demon" by Martin Hanford

One method that caught my attention is the "tic-tac-toe grid".
"A standard 3x3 grid is made with Str, Dex, Con being rows, Int, Wis, and Cha being the three columns. 4d6 are then rolled (or the usual variations thereof) nine times to fill the grid. The player then selects 6 out of the 9 possible scores from either the appropriate row or column for the given stat. Each roll can only be used once so, for example, if you have an 18 in the center square you could use it ONLY for Dex or Wis, but not both."
It is quite random, yet provides you with some interesting choices; and it's also a small, elegant mini-game. The cross-positioning of "physical" and "mental/social" attributes reflects the dichotomy of fighter vs magic-user, inherent to these systems, but this method, as we can see, adds an extra dimension to that.

Let's roll up a character and see where it takes us.
Using 4d6 drop lowest, I fill up the tic-tac-toe grid:


Not a bad set, mostly middle-range.

Let's say I want to make a Necronimus for a FH&W Weird Tales game. I need 12+ in both Wisdom and Charisma. Luckily, I have 13's available for both of them in the grid.


I can assign the highest roll, 14, to Intelligence or Dexterity. Due to my rolls, the weaker stat in this pair will still be 12. I'm putting the 14 in Dexterity, and assigning 12 to Intelligence. Strength is also 12, and, luckily, I stilll have an 11 to put in Constitution.

This is fun. Let's do a second set, this time with straight 3d6 rolls, for some tougher decisions.


Okay, now this is more like how I usually roll. The highest roll (16) can go into Charisma or Dexterity. If I assign 16 to Charisma, I can still get Dex 13, but if I assign 16 to Dexterity, I can only get a Charisma of 8 (or... 3...).
Even with this set, it is possible to hit the Necronimus' requisites, although at a VERY high price: Cha 16, Wis 13, Dex 4!... A wheelchair-bound medium, maybe?


Maybe the novelty of this method will wear off at some point, who knows, but it iss something I definitely enjoy and would like to use.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

System considerations for a 1970s occult game

Adventure into Fear, #12
...a culture that translates warm blood into cold statistics.

There is this idea I return to from time to time, which is a playing an occult-themed game set in the 1970s. Something I'm constantly collecting inspiration for, brainstorming stuff. These are mostly details little atmospheric parts and little atmospheric parts, be that comics, movies, books, anything.

And there is also the question of mechanics, something I'd like to elaborate on in this post.

An obvious choice would be Call of Cthulhu, but, frankly, I'd rather not, as I don't plan the game to be solely Lovecraft-themed. Of course, CoC can be used for any horror game (and my planned game obviously has a share of "Lovecraftianisms" in it), but still, I'd prefer something else, something that's not connected so strongly with the oeuvre of ol' H.P.

There is always my long-time favorite and go-to weirdo occult system, Unknown Armies. And there is the third edition coming soon. But, once again, it is associated with a very specific worldview, and a post-modernist approach, which I like, but the game I'm planning is, on the contrary, is rather modernist.

No time to explain, get inside the circle!

There are tons of horror systems out there. E.g. there is even  The World of Tales from the Crypt RPG, which would be thematic if I wanted to emphasize my game's connection to 1950-1970s comics. Then you have the generic horror systems like Chill (see also Cryptworld from Goblinoid Games), and even World of Darkness or, why not, WitchCraft could get a mention.

But if the game is set in the 1970s, why not have something that stems from the 1970s as well (yeah, this is a weird logical step, but you get the point)? Besides, I have a thing for the wave of OSR games coming out lately; their aesthetic and sensibilities resonate well with the game I have in my mind. I'm not afraid of this game turning into a dungeon delve into the old sewers either. That would be awesome. Though I don't plan it to be the main focus.

There are several sources I can use / plunder:

  1. Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. I've mentioned this several times before. It has basically everything I need, though it lacks a couple of generic "investigator" / "citizen" type classes. The specialized classes and races are awesome, though. And there are the optional rules for dabbling in the dark arts, "Incantations" and "Severe Sorcery". 
  2. David Baymiller of the OSR Library has a whole bunch of resources under the moniker Mythos & Mayhem. Including "civilian" classes, although I probably wouldn't need so much detail. + The much needed "Ritual Spells" and "Anyone can cast magic" sections.
  3. There are approx. twelve million "Lovecraft goes OSR" titles from various game designers. As mentioned above, I don't want to go full CoC/Lovecraft, but these games still might be inspirational. I don't have Realms of Crawling Chaos, though I should definitely check it out. A game for Sword & Wizardry was announced today, called Eldritch Tales
And so on, and so forth.

Overall, the system has to be able to handle some weird, non-human classes, as well as your humble everyday citizens and meddling kids; it has to have a ritual magic system with dire consequences; rules for 1970s technology (guns, that is). An OSR system can do all this, although with the usual inherent caveats.

We'll see.

[Apes Victorious] Mixing various classes

An interesting thing about Apes Victorious, which sets it apart from many RPGs, is that it's quite logical (setting-wise) to have a party made up entirely of characters of the same class - at least that's the model shown in the movies. E.g. a team of Astronauts, or a Humanoid hunting party. Inside the Ape Society, castes co-operate, e.g. you can have a Gorilla strike force led by an Orangutan "political officer", or Bonobos working for a Chimp scientist. But the "adventuring party", so common for RPGs, is not a regular thing here! An Underdweller Psychic, a Gorilla Slaver, a Humanoid Hunter, and an Orangutan Preacher walk into a bar ----- not a very likely joke!!

So I was wondering about mixing various classes in a party. Obviously, there has to be something special happening to have different classes working together. They can unite to face a common enemy, or they can develop an unlikely friendship... But there are also cases, when the characters are forced to interact on orders. I've decided to put some of my ideas in a table: so far only to talk about two classes at a time. What can bring them together?

An important separating line is the characters' attitude towards hierarchy their relationship with the social system. Categories include "loyal", "renegade" and "outcast". These team-ups can also serve as adventure seeds.

Click to enlarge
Or click here to see a more comfortable .pdf version:

This is a two-dimensional relationship matrix, showing how a single character of class "A" (columns) can interact with characters from class "B" (rows). This can be interpolated to a party mixing three or more different classes, of course.

Any additions or suggestions are welcome!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Addendum: Man-Thing / Scenic Dunnsmouth crossover

Just a short addition to my previous post:
a Man-Thing / Scenic Dunnsmouth crossover would be   a w e s o m e .

Scenic Dunnsmouth by Zzarchov Kowolski is an adventure module, focusing on a single (randomly generated via the innovative kit featured in the book) village, located next to a swamp: "within the rot are mysteries to be solved, evil to be fought, and the Weird to be encountered". I don't want to spoil the adventure, but I think it's okay to say that both the Dunnsmouth and the Citrusville swamps are locations of cosmic importance... If you read & run the adventure, you would agree that adding a hulking, good-natured, cryptic Man-Thing to your Dunnsmouth campaign is a logical step!

Friday, October 21, 2016

It came from the Swamp in 1972

Another entry on highly inspirational comics!

Diversions of a Groovy Kind posted a handful of flabbergasting splash pages from the Man-Thing stories that appeared in Marvel's "Adventure into Fear", #10-19. I have only read a couple of issues from the solo "Man-Thing" comics, so it's high time to delve into it again! Especially that these iterations of the Man-Thing represent something that really makes me tick: weird, bizarro, anything goes ventures, great art, and, well, the 1970s.

#13, "Where Worlds Collide" sparked my interest, as the first page features a bunch of cultists engaged in some sort of a ritual-slash-pep-talk. They are led by Joshua Kale (Jennifer Kale's grandfather -- magic runs in the family!) and not only do they know of the Man-Thing, but consider it...

...humankind's last hope! (Fear #13)
Don't let the purple robes and the occult paraphernalia misguide you - these are the good guys. Then all kinds of dangerous stuff happens, including a jump to a demon dimension and some exorcism - there's a good re-cap here.

Obviously, in the Hammer Studios version of "Where Worlds Collide", Joshua Kale would be played by Cristopher Lee.

Or maybe Cushing. Whoever is available.
Why am I talking about all this?
Basically I want to play an RPG that is inspired by

  1. occult-tinged comics, like the Man-Thing, Scorpio Rose, Dr. Strange, Dr. Orient, some Dylan Dog maybe?
  2. swansong-era Hammer Horror, especially those few set in contemporary settings ("Dracula AD 1972") and their Wheatley adaptations,
  3. folk horror (this is a huge topic to get into right now, but I LOVE all this stuff),
  4. etc.

This could be an Unknown Armies game - it is a modern setting, after all. Or possibly something to run with the Weird Tales classes from Fantastic Heroes & Witchery? It has rules for both "human" and "inhumane" player characters, stats for firearms, a plethora of spells to pick from (of course, magic in this game would be more ritualistic)... And overall, I feel it's a better fit as far as theme and atmosphere go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The landscapes of Weirdworld

I'm currently reading Weirdworld, a comic book from Marvel's "Secret Wars" line. Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Mike Del Mundo, it focuses on Arkon, the barbarian chieftain, who tries to find his way back to his homeland, Polemachus. His adventures are mostly true 80s gritty high-octane smackdowns. Issue #1 opens with him fighting an incomprehensible all-teeth tentacle monster in a river heading towards a waterfall. In the very same issue he battles ogres mid-air over the control of a dragon (the ogres also have heavy artillery support). So there's a lot of action. But we also see how Arkon is just "going through the motions": his hands do the chopping, but all he really thinks about is Polemachus.

The only thing that penetrates his mind is the utter weirdness of the world he was transported into, the surrounding landscape. As Arkon himself admits, he has merely come... enjoy the view,
And holy smoke, are those landscapes magnificent!

Mike Del Mundo's art is amazing. This is the "Skull Mountain is called Skull Mountain because it's a mountain in the shape of a skull" school of fantasy illustration, delivered with outstanding skill and style and creativity. Earl Norem would be proud. Weirdworld is a puzzle, or rather a patchwork of many different worlds: lush jungles, crystal spires growing out of oddly colored sand, rivers of molten lava...

Arkon is trying to make sense of the topography, and his most prized possession is a hand-drawn map -- I bet he will turn this into a wicked hexcrawl when he gets back to his homeworld!

PS.: You know what it all reminds me of?

Samurai Jack. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

[Apes Victorious] A review/overview

First of all, why was I so stoked about Apes Victorious? I've been planning/dreaming to run games set on "a planet ruled by apes" for quite a long time, quite possibly using Mutant Future as the backbones, but I always had the problem of having to spend a lot of time and effort statting up various simians and mutants and stuff. Apes Victorious takes this burden straight off my shoulder and presents me with an opportunity to run such a game out-of-the-box. 

In this post I will sum up my first impressions as I read the book.

("We shared your ancestors, you kept us caged like monsters...")

The Foreword set the nostalgic tone of the whole enterprise. I like the personal tone Dan Proctor takes here. Also - RIP, Steve Zieser...

Sections 1 introduces the post-retro-futuristic setting - briefly and to the point.

Section 2 is about character creation, and it's a gold mine. As I've mentioned in one of my previous posts, I thought Apes Victorious would be for Mutant Future. Instead, it's modeled after Starships & Spacemen, a game republished (reanimated!) by Goblinoid Game. I think this is a good choice: Mutant Future (Gamma World) is more on the vibrant gonzo science fantasy side, while Starships & Spacemen if a better fit for the bleak, dystopian sci-fi of Planet of the Apes. 

The main game mode is a reproduction of the movies and focuses on astronauts accidentally returning to an Ape-dominated planet. Playing as apes and mutants is an option as well.

Astronauts are well-rounded characters, with additional knowledge in various scientific areas. The Astronaut class covers also the humans who never got off the planet, but instead went into cryogenic sleep and wake up in the world of tomorrow!!! Then we are onto them dirty apes! The strict caste system of Planet of the Apes lends itself very well to conversion into RPG classes. Bonobo Agents are the sneaky / diplomatic ones, Chimpanzee Scholars are the scientists exemplified by Dr. Zira and Dr. Cornelius (obviously, there are also the not-so-humanistic researchers!), who specialize in one or another branch of ape science. Gorilla Soldiers are the leather-clad brutes riding horses and wielding whips and rifles... Fearsome foes, but also an interesting opportunity to play as a character... So are Orangutan Politicians, with their insider knowledge and intrigues.

Humanoids are the "natives", the devolved humans - low on intelligence, but true instinctive survivors. Then there are the Underdwellers, the psionic mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes. They also have access to special futuristic pieces of equipment, like powerful energy weapons.

Overall, this is all great stuff!  The options presented here allow you to explore basically any facet of the franchise. For example, I'd love to play a game about simian intelligentsia, taking cues from Soviet history, with dissidents and conformists and closed science cities.

"I'm just a humble ape, please, leave my family alone."
I think it might also be interesting to mix different types of characters in the party. Astronauts and Humanoids go together well, and any renegade Simian can join them as well. Loyal Apes are harder to mix with non-loyals, but these unlikely mixes give us interesting opportunities as well. I think I will make a table of various options...

Section 3 describes the various Psi Powers. I'm not familiar with Starships & Spacemen, but I suspect this section mostly overlaps with it. It's the tried & trusted fare of ESP, telekinesis, brain drain stuff, 12 powers in total. Not much, but it covers most things, and, frankly, coming up with new ones would take it too much towards "magic spells", and ruin the atmosphere of the game.

I've only skimmed Section 4, Adventure Rules. Good to see it has mechanics for "Nets in Combat" and mounted apes -- those pesky humanoids don't stand a chance!!

Section 5 describes creatures you encounter on the planet. These are mostly more dangerous and lethal versions of real world animals. It's interesting to see that there are "wild", semi-evolved versions of apes included. If "the Ape Master wants to add a more fantastical element to the campaign", she can turn to the Forbidden Zone: simian cyborgs, heavily mutated flora & fauna. 

Section 6 is a write-up of Ape Society. Just a few pages, which I find great. Pulling from various sources of the franchise, Proctor presents a quite concise view of the Ape Society, describes their science, religion, tech (remember, chimps, no electricity!). I think this is the best way to do it - without going into superfluous detail. Section 7 goes underground and describes the Underdweller society in the same manner, with a heavier emphasis on technological gizmos and just a few words on the ideology.

Section 8 is for the Ape Master. First and foremost Proctor addresses the problem of the narrow scope of Ape Victorious. 
"After all, as the Ape Master, how many times can you start the game by saying, “You are stranded astronauts, having just awoken from cryogenic slumber...”?" (p. 88)
This is just the kind of intelligent, self-reflective approach I wanted to find in this game! Proctor, once again, briefly, but in clear wording, talks about the influence of the late 1960s-1970s on the aesthetic and the atmosphere of this game. There are quite a few scenario ideas, handy tools like random generators for locations, names, encounters; some commentary on "mixed groups"... Section 9 implements these ideas and is an introductory/sample adventure. Section 10 is conversion options.

This write-up almost turned into a review, so it's time to summarize my thoughts.

I can say that Apes Victorious definitely lived up to my expectations! It has everything I wanted to see in it, it all seems practical and highly usable; a stand-alone niche game for people who love Planet of the Apes. And I think it has the potential to appeal to non-die-hard fans as well.

The writing is top-notch. Brief, to the point, yet personal. Formatting and layout is clean and readable. There aren't many illustrations (maybe 15 pictures for 120 pages?), all done by Mark Allen. This isn't eye candy... but it's easy on the eye. I think the book could have taken more pictures, and maybe included other artist (not that I have any problem with Allen's style - and it's a good fit for the theme). But it's a conscious laconic approach.

Well done, everybody! Can't wait to try this game in action.