2017. november 16., csütörtök

[Review] Battle for the Purple Islands

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

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

Battle for the Purple Islands

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

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

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

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

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

2017. augusztus 9., szerda

The Shark-Man, Nanaue

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

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

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

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

2017. augusztus 1., kedd

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

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

A Green Jewel They Must Possess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




2017. július 28., péntek

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

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

His Flesh Becomes My Key

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

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

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

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




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

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

So far, so good!

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

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



2017. július 8., szombat

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

(click to zoom)

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

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

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

DJ or DM? - RPG soundtracks

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

I love RPGs and I love weird obscure music.

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

MIXTAPE – “17th Century Schizoid Man”



Mort Garson – Black Mass/Lucifer (1971)

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

Anna Själv Tredje – Tussilago Fanfara (1977)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klaus Morlock – The Bridmore Lodge Tapes (2014)

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

John Foxx – London Overgrown (2015)

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

The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths (2017)


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


2017. július 7., péntek

[LotFP] Two spells, VAM-style

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

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


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

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

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

2017. június 25., vasárnap

[Actual Play] Barbarians of the Dead Wastes #2 [LotFP]

(c) Philippe Druillet

This week we resumed our barbaric sword & sorcery game.

The Fighter (Max) and the Magic-User (Hiram) rested a bit, bandaged their NPC friend, the Specialist (Ludwig), then decided to venture deeper. The next level of the tower was partially "flooded" with earth through the windows (as the tower sank into the ground). When the PCs passed by, tendrils burst from the window openings and paralyzed the Magic-User. The Fighter cut him free with his ax (true barbarian style), then they ran into a tunnel through a collapsed part of the wall.

They ended up in a small cave system, formed by collapsed buildings, rocks, etc., the ruins of a sunken ancient city. Most of these tunnels were now inhabited by fungi and yellow fluorescent slugs. They found the skeleton of a humanoid, albeit with the head of a crocodile, squashed under a fallen block of stone. They took the skull, because why not. Further down they found a small room, which used to be the crocodile-creature's sleeping place. A different tunnel took the players to a cavern with a subterranean lake. On the other side of the lake they saw the facade of a magnificent building.

Unwilling to enter the water, the Magic-User used Spider Climb to cross the ceiling and fix a rope to the facade. I described the effect of the spell as something akin to the "spiderwalk" scene from The Exorcist. The Magic-User's contorted body creeped out the Fighter big time.

Magic is weird.

Behind the facade they found an ancient archive, with racks full of baked clay tablets.

The shimmering stroboscopic figures from sessions #1 started to appear again, this time for longer periods. Then the players entered a big hall, which had an altar of sorts, with a big pulsating crystal in the middle. Standing next to this crystal, the ephemeral (almost holographic?) people could maintain their visibility in this world...


These ghastly figures turned out to be the last echoes of the ancient city, kept "alive" by the crystal's force. They communicated telepathically with the PCs, and were bent on keeping them underground, to ease their isolation... They launched a nerve-wrecking mental assault, when the characters tried to remove the crystal. In the end, they managed to come to terms, and the Magic-User vowed to re-create the crystal altar somewhere else, before it gets destroyed under the ruins of the ancient city. 

The players will now return to their hometown. To be continued.

(c) Doug Kovacs

2017. június 17., szombat

[Actual Play] Barbarians of the Dead Wastes #1 [LotFP]

(c) Kevin Hou

Just a quick report...

Played with two friends - one of the with some experience, the other totally new to RPGs. We share a love of Conan, horrors & experimental metal so we settled upon a sword & sorcery type game.

I rolled up some pre-gen characters for them. They picked a Fighter and a Magic-User. The pre-gen Specialist was brought in as an NPC, to round out the party. To make introductions quicker, and to be able to show as varied an experience as possible, we agreed that the characters already know each other, and that they are adventurers / treasure hunters. They live in a city called Agad, which is situated right next to the Dead Wastes, an ever-changing land of sand, rocks, monsters and ruins.

They ventured into the Wastes after hearing a rumor about a recent storm clearing out a patch of volcanic sand and revealing an ancient ruin. They found the ruin, which turned out to be (at least its visible part) a hemisphere buried in the ground. Unfortunately, their rivals, a small group of adventurers led by Tarsus the Rat got their first. We spent some time making up a story about Tarsus, who used to work together with the players, then betrayed them. The players hid behind a rock and decided to let the Rat enter the ruin first. Then they followed into the building a bit later. The structure turned out to be the top tier of a huge tower, an ancient structure, which had either sunk into the ground, or was buried by sandstorms.

(c) SolFar

The players explored the first room, found some artifacts, then eventually encountered the rival party. One thing led to another, and it all turned into a bloody and quite deadly fight, with all the rivals dead, the Specialist reduced to 0, and the Fighter and M-U both reduced to just 1 HP. During the combat scene, all characters experienced something weird: shining humanoid figures blinking in and out of existence in the peripheral vision...

We stopped here. It was a fun session, something we will continue next week.

2017. június 6., kedd

2017. június 5., hétfő

Dark Magic in New Orleans: Death on the Bayou

Long time, no post... But that's how it usually goes.



I'm always on the look-out for swampy RPG stuff, and came across an interesting piece, Dark Magic in New Orleans: Death on the Bayou, by Randy Richards, published in Dungeon (#71). It's an adventure for Mask of the Red Death, the 1890s century Ravenloft / Gothic Earth setting.

The players are thrown into the murky waters of voodoo, alligators, and ritual murders.

Marie Laveau

The usual suspects are present: the adventure's background draws heavily on historical Voodoo practitioners such as Marie Laveau and Doctor John, who also seems to be channeling Dr. Curt Connors / Lizard from Spiderman... albeit he relies on dark magic, not science.

I even found an Actual play of this on youtube, by people who can be familiar from the Fantastic Dimensions roster. Ran using LotFP.

2017. február 7., kedd

[Actual Play] A Field in Lorraine #1 [LotFP]

Recently I've ran a short session of LotFP, using ideas from A Field in Lorraine as the setting. It wasn't a spectacular session, because most players were tired after work, but we still wanted to get together and play a bit.

The characters are traumatized mercenaries in the Thirty Years' War, who are heading back home. There's a weaponsmith/engineer who was buried in a tunnel for some time (Specialist), a soldier who was burnt by quicklime (Fighter), and a mercenary who dabbles in the black arts and killed off his own platoon by summoning a demon he couldn't control (Magic-User).


The players first encountered a ruined village. One of the houses was inhabited by a lone woman, who kept everything in order and cooked meals for the characters - but it turned out that she thought that they were her long-lost husband and children. I wanted to include this small scene to emphasize the inhumane and sanity-wrecking nature of the setting.

Then the characters met two noblemen and their entourage, who turned out to be high officials of the Church, sent to investigate the case of mass stigmatization in a near-by village. The players traveled together with them to that village, then stayed at the inn for the night. The village had the heavy odor of chemicals hanging above it: the players soon learned that its source was the tannery. The locals were all discussing the miracle: the Five Sacred Wounds have appeared on the bodies of several villagers.



In the inn they were approached secretly by a local merchant (and owner of the aforementioned tannery). He said that he was afraid that the clergymen, who are also infamous witch hunters, will investigate the miracles, and then go after the rich people of the village, accusing them and their families. He said that this took place in many other places beforehand. The players agreed to move to his house and act as bodyguards while the witch hunters are in town. The next day they followed around the witch hunters a bit, while they visited the houses of stigmatized people.



We finished at this point, the session serving basically as an introduction. The tone was set as I wanted, but, of course, the lack of action is always a bad thing... Something you always have to keep in mind when GMing!

2017. január 21., szombat

Betrayer

There is this tendency, that I tend to play video games mostly during times when I'm SWAMPED with tons of IRL stuff and work... They are a great way to relax and to procrastinate. To write tabletop RPG-related stuff or to play, you need to be able to concentrate more; while computer games can be played for full effect even when tired.

Lately, I've been playing a game called Betrayer.

It's a first-person action/RPG hybrid, set in 17th century Colonial Virginia...


The whole game is presented in grayscale, with red accents. It seems kinda gimmicky, but it really adds to the whole atmosphere. There is an option to colorize the graphics, but I prefer the original b&w world (you can tune the dark & light balance, contrast, so it's not as heavy on the eyes as you would expect).

You fight using period weapons: bows, crossbows, pistols and muskets - these last two deal high damage, but reload times are very long, a nice realistic touch. Usually you only get to fire each gun once per combat...


You slowly work your way through the game world, fighting possessed Spaniards and flaming Savage Braves (this game is 'colonial' in many ways...), investigate clues scattered around the map, try to learn what kind of evil possesses the land. Sometimes you have to enter into the shadow worlds, a dark parallel dimension, which allows you to interact with the flipside of this horrorshow. In this mode, you can cleanse objects and chat with the spirits of the deceased.

Quite an engaging game, overall, so I really recommend it.