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.

[Apes Victorious] It's out and I'm reading it now...

Apes Victorious is out, $4.97 on rpgnow for the .pdf (art-free edition will be made available for free on the publisher's site)! I've got my stinking paws on it and already maybe about halfway into reading it. I might post about some of my first impressions.

Swords & Stitchery already has a quick review of it online. There is also a google+ community which might become a hub of discussions.

Monday, October 17, 2016

[Actual Play] Gamma World 2e: Session 1

Most people in my active social circle don't play RPGs. This just had to change. I recruited two people who'd played in the past (though their experience was limited to just a couple of sessions), and another friend decided to join as well (without any prior RPG experience). Because all my players are into surreal, weird stuff, I offered to play Gamma World. 2nd ed., the one I'm most familiar with.

The first session was mostly about getting our heads wrapped around this whole concept of role-playing and rolling dice. One person got sick, that left me with two players. Character generation took some time, but it also included some collaborative world building.

The party so far:
 - A dog-headed wandering philosopher. With great physical and low mental stats... She has the ability to open portals into other dimensions (Planar Travel)... I don't know whether it will be actually used at any time, especially given the note in the book that if somebody enters the portal, they "will never find their way back to their own plane" -- Sliders, anyone? Maybe it will be used as a high-risk offensive weapon (opening a dimensional rift under a powerful enemy)?
 - An oversized cat, coming from a tribe of similar cats, with some nifty telepathic powers.

The anarchistic community of the cat tribe served as the starting point of the game. We outlined the place they live at (a small pool / pond and a grove inside the ruins of a blasted city), their lifestyle, etc. The dog-headed philosopher arrived at this place, being chased away from the nearby village of mostly humans. She was stopped at gates of the tribe, where the cat PC was on a look-out. A lengthy discussion ensued, and the cats agreed to provide shelter to the harmless wanderer.

After resolving some trust issues, the PCs decided to go hunting. The time-honored way of doing this is going out with spears and digging up mole hills and hoping you don't find the angry albino moles. The two hunters happened upon a previously unknown mole/rat creature, which proved to be easy prey, but gave off a piercing dying cry -- which attracted a significantly bigger bloodthirsty rat. In this creature's case, the piercing scream was amplified into a Sonic Blast. The fight was basically an introduction to the GW mechanics, and took more time than usual, but it's the process of learning... The PCs were seriously injured, but in the end defeated their foe. They butchered it and returned to the tribe --- only to find the gates open and two guard cats vanished into thin air!

We wrapped up at this point. Next session the investigation will commence,
and hopefully a third player will join the group. The pace will definitely be faster,
and I plan to up the weirdness as well, now that the players are
more comfortable with the system and RPing in general.

[Apes Victorious] Triumphant simians rising!

Apes Victorious, by Dan Proctor, soon to be released on Goblinoid Games! I'm a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes, so I'm really looking forward to this game. I though it'd be a Mutant Future setting of sorts, but turns out it's a stand-alone game. As usual with Goblinoid books, a free no-art version will be made available... hopefully very soon.

This is what the publisher has to say:
"Apes Victorious is a roleplaying game in which you take the role of an astronaut from the 1970's who finds himself marooned on a future Earth ruled by intelligent apes. Players may also take the role of an ape, a degenerated human, or a psi-active underdweller. Fight to survive in this post-apocalyptic future ruled by four species of apes. Or play apes who hunt humans for sport. For a different kind of campaign, play highly intelligent but insane underdwellers who have advanced technology and powerful psi powers. 
This book contains:
  • A complete game
  • A post-nuclear apocalyptic setting in which apes have become the dominant species
  • Six player classes
  • Animals and creatures of the post-nuclear future
  • Campaign advice
  • A complete introductory adventure
  • Conversion notes for compatible games including: Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, Starships & Spacemen"

On FH&W's "Weird Tales" game mode

The return to the pulp roots of fantasy genres is a common staple in the OSR world. Authors embrace any possible combination of "sword", "sorcery", "planet", "sandals", slap on a few tentacles and eldritch rites and popular Lovecraftisms, and the game is ready. This is not meant to be a criticism - I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff, so I'm only happy to see it implemented.

But there is a stand-out example.

One of the most interesting features of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (FH&W), the OSR game written by Dominique Crouzet, is the inclusion of a whole "Weird Tales" game mode alongside the traditional fantasy of elves & dungeons. These races and classes are meant for "Swords & Planets" settings (p. 16), so basically for science fantasy, but many other pulp variations are implied.
A thing I really like about this part is that Crouzet includes out of the box playable races that are usually considered "monstrous" and "evil". There are Reptilians - humanoids descended from the dinosaurs (oh you crazy lovely science fantasy Darwinism!), chaotic WitchlingsRevenants - cursed ghosts, Winged Folk (clearly a nod towards Pygar, the blind angel!), and so on.

The book covers a lot of ground, gives us lots of options to model basically any fantasy book or movie that came out between 1850 and 1980. "Planet of the Apes", you say? There is Primate weird race. Add jet-packing Sky-Lords and mad scientist Savants to the mix. Crouzet even released a document of additional science fantasy goodies, loaded with characters "inspired by old TV shows or movies, though in order to avoid copyrights infringements, they have got different names and backgrounds". He references Logan's Run, Dune, all the good stuff.

Summoning circles are fun (FH&W, p. 52)
And there is another pulp line, a foray into Call of Cthulhu territory. There are Tainted Humans, mutated, twisted people, who can also be used to model, for example, Deep One / human hybrids. For class you can pick the Necronimus,the Occultist or the Psychic - all classic tropes of pulp occult subgenres. This is definitely something I'd like to see more of.

FH&W doesn't get as much attention as many other games in the retro-gaming sphere. It may be due to insufficient marketing... but I have to admit, that the book as it is right now can seem unfocused and under-edited. The amount of sheer awesomeness it holds is both its advantage and hindrance... But if you, as a DM, have a certain pulp setting on mind, you can surely pick out just the classes and races and elements you need and offer them to your players.

Broken crystal balls go dzingg! (from Hergé's Les aventures de Tintin: Les 7 Boules de cristal, 1948)

Sunday, October 16, 2016


This blog will house my various weird fiction / sick sad world / RPG / maddening occult snippets.