Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: The Haunted Landscape of Ka'tori

Image
Tuesday, June 15, 1920. Kingsport, Massachusetts

Evelyn Mercer, director of the Mercer Art Gallery had engaged the services of one of her occasional artists, Fredrik Tardiff, to solve a mystery in line with his experiences. Tardiff had been recovering from bouts with the supernatural - he'd returned from Greenland about a year ago after uncovering signs of the lost Hyperborean civilization. Spending the next six months pouring over the Book of Eibon he'd acquired was perhaps not the best idea for his mental well being but he had spent the past several months focused on mundane painting. Unfortunately, most of his former companions were unavailable - some having wisely retired from supernatural investigation, others taking advantage of Prohibition to pursue a life of mundane crime. He'd made the acquaintance of an antiquarian but he was apparently spending time abroad, currently in a yurt in Mongolia uncovering the history of an ancestor who had spent time living among the…

Fiction Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Image
This is a little out of scope for my blog but I'm aware a number of my readers are the same age as me - somewhere in their forties or fifties with adolescent children. This is a review of Jay Asher's novel which is the basis for the Netflix series of the same name.

Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide. She left behind a set of thirteen audio tapes, explaining why she killed herself and the people who contributed to that. She claims the recipients are being watched and if they don't listen and pass them on the tapes will be released publicly. The novel follows the most recent recipient Clay Jensen, who does not understand why he is considered part of the reason she killed herself, as he cared about her though was never as close to her as he wanted to be.

Hannah feels trapped and betrayed. She has the reputation of a slut, despite having only gone so far as to kiss a few boys and nothing more. She feels betrayed in fr…

Musings on Cthulhu in Colonial America

Image
I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe; by the Which I mean, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to answer, and shall commande more than you. - HP Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
I was talking with one of the players in my gaming group about Call of Cthulhu in Colonial America - specifically the 17th and 18th centuries. Sixtystone Press has a Colonial Lovecraft Country on their production schedule but it is likely safe to say it is a ways out so any Keeper is on his or her own.

I wrote about general gaming in Colonial America last year whilst in Colonial Williamsburg - Another Bucket List Setting - Colonial America. Not a lot has changed on the material available gaming in Colonial America. As I see it, the main products currently usable include:

Colonial Gothic - A game dedicated specifically to gaming in British North America.…

Adam West Was My First Batman

Image
Like many, I was saddened yesterday when I read of the passing of Adam West. When I was a young child, I have to confess I never saw the 1960s Batman series as campy. I treated those zany adventures with absolute seriousness. Of course I laughed, but much as one might laugh in a modern superhero movie with its funny moments.

A large part of that had to be how much Adam West put into his role of Batman. The show itself was awesomely campy but Batman always was serious. A noble crimefighter who would make certain he contributed to the healthy development of his young ward. Who would always do the right thing.

It was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s to rail against the old Batman show. How Batman wasn't really like that, but rather he was a grim avenger of the night. I couldn't really get into that - I love The Dark Knight Returns and similar takes on Batman but I had too fond memories of the classic 1960s show to ever speak against it. When Adam West spoke at the UConn…

Defending in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

Image
Having resumed playing Call of Cthulhu I thought I'd reflect a little bit on the rules changes in the 7th edition - specifically, related to defending. Previous editions of the game were always a little bit vague as to when you could defend. This post is a little bit wonky and probably of most interest to people considering the game.

I'll begin with a little bit of review of how dice rolling works in the 7th edition. In most situations you simply roll percentile dice, trying to roll equal to or below your skill or ability score. There are three types of success:

Normal - you roll equal to or lower than your scoreHard - you roll equal to or under half your scoreExtreme - you roll equal to or under a fifth of your score The game also introduces penalty or bonus dice. When you roll you might have one or more bonus or penalty dice. If you have a bonus die you roll three dice - two dice for your ten's digit and one die for your one's digit. You keep the lower of the two ten…

Film Review: Wonder Woman

Image
After a number of tries, I think the DC Universe films have finally managed to release a film firing on all cylinders. I think Man of Steel had a lot of good points but I think it was a missed opportunity, not showing just how good Superman is. Batman v. Superman was in my mind an improvement but I think it would have benefited from some tightening - the distrust of Superman seemed forced, the incident that caused the Congressional Inquiry was a bit confusing, and it really packed an awful lot into it. On the plus side, Ben Afleck made for a fantastic aged Batman and Gal Gadot's debut as Wonder Woman was a highlight. Suicide Squad seemed primarily to suffer from not knowing what kind of movie it wanted to be, though my younger daughter Jasmine loved it - Harley Quinn is her favorite comic book character. Jasmine and I saw Wonder Woman today and while Harley remains her favorite character, she definitely liked Wonder Woman better than Suicide Squad or any of the DC movies (she'…

More Suspense, Less Punching - Revisiting Call of Cthulhu Scenario Creation

Image
I'm finishing prepping the adventure to resume our old Call of Cthulhu game. One of my exercises was to take a bit of a machete to it, removing mandatory combat encounters and dialing up the suspense. In many games, a handy technique to get the action moving is to throw a bunch of ninjas in. In most games for the Cthulhu Mythos, that's a dangerous undertaking - a bunch of ninjas have a good chance in killing the characters. Unless of course you are going for a Pulp Cthulhu sort of game. In which case throw in the ninjas. Or Nazis. No one ever need feel guilty about punching a Nazi.

What has helped me get back into the frame of mind has been some Lovecraftian reading as well as going through some inspirational material. I love the cover to the GDW/Chaosium 3rd edition Call of Cthulhu rules - the investigators exploring a mysterious keep, looking more like regular people than hardened adventurers. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward had been on my "need to read…

Cthulhu Dark Kickstarter and Impressions

Image
Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is probably my favorite RPG. It has a system very well matched for its genre and it realizes its genre fantastically well.

It's definitely an old-school game - in many ways it is a living fossil - you could take an adventure for its 1st edition from the 1980s and very easily use it with the most recent 7th edition, converting things on the fly. If you come from a D&D background, the rules are pretty easy to pick up (I'd argue that Call of Cthulhu is easier to pick up than D&D).

But there are other ways to play a game of Lovecraftian horror, and reasons you'd want to go in that direction, depending on what you are looking for in a game. Call of Cthulhu is very traditional, giving players minimal narrative control. Pelgrane Press' Trail of Cthulhu injects a laser focus on investigation, insuring that no game comes to a halt because of a failed skill roll. One can see that Trail had an influence on the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu

Resuming a Classic-Era Cthulhu Campaign

Image
After some discussion with the group, for our Call of Cthulhu game we decided to bring back some characters from our campaign which took place in 1918-1919, beginning with an adventure set during the Great War (Chaosium's No Mans' Land).

I've been giving some thoughts as to the best way to do this. It's been about two years in real time since we last played that game. I'm definitely going to take advantage of that gap and will be introducing a one to two year gap in the game as well, pushing the timeline to 1920 or 1921. I think the passage in time can be used for a number of purposes.

We've three regular players in the game plus myself. One of the players has decided to go for a new character, having recently torn through HP Lovecraft's works (having previous familiarity form the game) - he's been eyeing an antiquarian. Another of the characters has been learning about the Cthulhu Mythos, having delved into the Book of Eibon. That time is useful to giv…

Fiction Review: Lovecraft Country

Image
“Arkham,” Atticus said. “The letter says Mom’s ancestors come from Arkham, Massachusetts.” Arkham: home of the corpse reanimator Herbert West, and of Miskatonic University, which had sponsored the fossil-hunting expedition to the mountains of madness. “It is made up, right? I mean—”   “Oh, yeah,” George said. “Lovecraft based it on Salem, I think, but it’s not a real place . . . Let me see that letter.” Atticus handed it to him and George studied it, squinting and tilting his head side to side. “It’s a ‘d,’” he said finally.
Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country is an unusual novel - it is a collection of interconnected tales about Atticus Turner and his friends and family in the 1950s.

Atticus is an African-American from Chicago. He is from an upper middle class family, with an uncle who owns a travel agency and publishes the Safe Negro Travel Guide, based upon the real world Negro Motorist Green Book which provided African-American travelers advice on what businesses would service thei…

Reflections on the Passing of Chris Cornell

Image
Andrew Wood. Kurt Cobain. Layne Staley. Scott Weiland. And now Chris Cornell.



Grunge music really took off late 1991, the start of my junior year at the University of Connecticut. I graduated in May of 1994 (taking five years due to time spent on co-op). For the second half of my time at UConn, the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden provided the soundtrack. I loved classic rock like the Beatles and Queen and I'd yet to fully discover the greatness of David Bowie. But the grunge music of the early to mid-1990's inevitably brings me back to my early twenties. I don't think I could ever explain what a seismic change those opening chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit marked for many in my generation. And now so many of them are gone. It's not a unique phenomenon -  earlier generations experienced the losses of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Janis Joplin.

Like many of his musical generation, Cornell su…

Fiction Review: The Dead Zone

Image
It's been a long time since I read Stephen King's The Dead Zone. I believe I received it as a Christmas gift in a boxed set back around 1987. First published in 1979, The Dead Zone isn't really a horror novel - it is more a crossover of a political thriller and a tale of a man gifted/cursed with psychic powers.

What I found striking was how the book both worked as a period piece and how it is relevant today. It tells the story of John Smith - yes, that's his real name. Ever since an accident he had as very young boy (one he has no memory of) he's had the occasional psychic flash. This is illustrated in the beginning of the novel, set in October of 1970, where he and his girlfriend Sarah, both first-year teachers, are at a carnival and he has a wild streak of luck at the wheel of fortune. However, his luck soon turns ill as he gets in a car accident which puts him in a coma with nearly no chance of recovery.

We follow Sarah as she meets Johnny's parents, Herb a…

The Old Ones Shall Be - Planning the Next Cthulhu Campaign

Image
After some discussions with my gaming group and time spent in creative pondering it appears that up next is some form of the Cthulhu Mythos. I'm in the process of drilling down to see just what that means.

We could continue one of two previous campaigns, a traditional 1920s game and a pulp Gaslight-era one. While the Gaslight-era was fun, my inclination is to return to a more traditional 1920s or 1930s period. New characters might be in order as our group has gotten a bit smaller since then (truthfully I found the group a little too large for Call of Cthulhu though it did help when the body count got high).

I'm considering three possible campaigns. The first is your "traditional" 1920-something era campaign, most likely set in Lovecraft country. I found my players tend to do very well when faced with the "impossible" odds a normal Cthulhu game presents. That's not to say such a game is safe - far from it.

We did enjoy a number of pulp elements in our Gasl…

Wayward Kickstarters May 2017 Edition

Image
I was updating my backed projects on Kickstarter with projects I've received and I decided it was time to do an update as to what projects are way overdue...

First, the good news. There were some Kickstarters over the past several months that I finally received overdue rewards on. These include:

The Encyclopedia of Golden Age SuperheroesCthulhu and Zombie Mugs and Cups Production Run!The Dracula Dossier - I'd actually received almost all of the rewards ages ago but there was one final reward, The Hawkins Papers, which recently arrived, closing this out. Pelgrane kept the backers well-informed as to what the issues were and their statuses.Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy - Like The Dracula Dossier, I wasn't particularly worried about this one. I've had the PDF for a while and was kept well-appraised as to what was going on.
Next, the products for which I've not yet received the full set of awards and are considerably overdue. In some cases I&#…

Fate Lessons #3: Star Wars Campaign Evaluation

Image
Last night we wrapped up our Fate Accelerated Star Wars game, at least for the time being. We ended at a good breaking point, with our heroes escaping from Alderaan as the Death Star destroyed it and broadcasting footage of this act of terror across the galaxy. Sure the Empire initially wanted to be very public with the Death Star, but after its destruction they'd have preferred keeping it hush-hush. It's hard to intimidate the galaxy with a weapon you no longer have. A write-up of the adventure itself will be forthcoming but since we decided to try something else next game (with the option to come back to it at a later point) this is a good time to reflect on our first completed Fate campaign, albeit a short six-session one. I've played and run Fate games in the past but this is the first time we kept on to a conclusion.

To begin, and this is related to the Fate Accelerated variant, the size of the rulebook was quite an adjustment. The rulebook is very short. Now as the …

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: Operation Shadowstrike

Image
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode IV: Operation Shadowstrike

The Rebel operative code-named Prodigal One has crashed in his Y-Wing on the planet NCW-781. This agent had been gathering intelligence information about double-agents embedded within the Rebel Alliance.

Gaven Stark, Marcus Doha, and R2-C4 have been dispatched on a U-Wing fighter to NCW-781 to retrieve Prodigal One's information and, if possible, the agent as well. While the Alliance has managed to distract an imperial Strike cruiser into leaving the system, elite Imperial Deathtroopers are searching for Prodigal One.

To evade detection as long as possible, the team must risk a high-altitude drop and fly to the surface in stealth-enhanced combat paragliders...

Cast of Characters:

R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droidGaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officerMarcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars Based on the advent…

Time for the Jedi to End

Image
“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.” -  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
It's been a rough journey for Luke Skywalker. He's gone from "I am a Jedi, like my father before me" to "it's time for the Jedi to end".
With The Last Jedi not out for several months I find myself unable to avoid some fanboy speculation regarding Luke's declaration.
It seems unlikely that Luke is totally ending the idea of an order of Force users who protect the galaxy. After all, from the teaser we can see he is training Rey. There's been some speculation that he'll bring balance to the Force by embracing both the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. I think there's something to this, but not in the sense of some order of "Grey Jedi". I'm pretty certain that Luke will remain a good guy - he was tempted by the Dark Side of the Force and survived by learning not to fight. 
Looking at the Jedi Knights it seems they are a flawed organization…

How Is Fate Working for Star Wars?

Image
I've had the opportunity to use every official Star Wars RPG out there. I've played all three incarnations of the West End Games Star Wars RPG, all three of the Wizards of the Coast, and an Edge of the Empire Game that borrowed material from Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny.

I've had fun with all of them and if I were in another group that proposed any of those games I'd be fine playing any of them. It was a bit unusual for me to take a stab at going my own way with a home-brew Star Wars game. I'd thought about using Savage Worlds in the past and did a one-off Wushu Star Wars game once but Fate was a bit out there for me given my earlier experiences with it were a bit so-so - I liked it but I was unable to really grok it.

What I wound up doing was deliberately avoid other adaptations of Star Wars for Fate. Now that I've been playing it for a while I've gotten more comfortable checking out what others had done but I wanted to start as minimalist as po…

First Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Vehicle Combat

Image
One request I've received for our Fate Accelerated Star Wars game is the inclusion of some space battles. I've shied away from them as I got my handle on Fate in general.

As I consider this, my inclination is to stay true to Fate Accelerated and keep things simple. Probably the most important factor in Star Wars vehicle battles is the pilot. Han Solo takes a freighter through an asteroid field that destroys smaller and presumably more agile TIE fighters pursuing him. Anakin Skywalker manages to "land" a battleship that is literally falling apart.

With this in mind, I want to stay clear of giving a vehicle full stats. Rather, I will focus on aspects. If a freighter is clunky, that can be realized via aspects. Consider this possible realization of the Millennium Falcon:

Fastest hunk of junk in the galaxyProne to breakdownsArmed with twin quad lasers and antipersonnel gunsSmuggling compartments This series of aspects would allow the crew to realize most of what we see t…

Fiction Review: The Magicians

Image
I first read Lev Grossman's The Magicians when it first came out. I've been on a bit of an urban fantasy kick lately and have begun watching the Syfy series based upon it. I just finished a reread.

Looking at sites like Goodreads and Amazon one discovers opinions on The Magicians are extremely varied. I'm definitely one of the people who greatly enjoyed it but definitely be aware there are people who hate it just as much...

The Magicians takes us through several years of Quentin Coldwater's life. We are introduced to him as a 17-year old high school senior in Brooklyn. He is a super-genius, heading for a likely Ivy League education. He's never particularly happy for long - the television series has him formally diagnosed with depression and having seen enough of it in my life I would agree with that diagnosis. He is a great fan of the "Fillory" series of novels - 1930s novels about a group of British children who find their way into the magical realm of F…

What's Distracting Me in RPGs - April 2017 Edition

Image
The good news is I'm still giving thought to the current Fate Accelerated Star Wars game. May 4th is close and it'd be a massive shame to not be playing Star Wars close to it. I'm thinking of ways to tie into Rogue One, perhaps having the characters be meeting with Bail Organa as he readies Alderaan for war, only to find themselves on the run from a space station the size of a small moon... To be honest, I've still a number of ideas and there's a request for some space battles in the game (which I've shied away from thus far).


We did take a break for this week's session - having just come back from Disney World there was no way I'd be prepped so a member of the group ran a session of No Country For Old Kobolds. I'm pleased to say my first Kobold, LeFou Gaston, died a heroic death, killing two flying turtles after being launched from a giant spork (alas he and the second flying turtle mainly died from falling...)

I've been digesting Dresden File…

Back From Disney

Image
There was a bit of a delay in my normal update cadence due to the family vacationing in Walt Disney World in Orlando. Alas, it is time to come back to the real world - especially as such vacations seem to directly attach themselves to one's finances...

I know a number of people aren't big fans of Disney World as it isn't "real". I can absolutely understand that criticism, though I suppose the escape from reality is much of the appeal we find in the trip. According to my handy Gear S3 watch we walked a few gazillion miles and despite eating rather well I seem to have dropped a few pounds (albeit with a number of pounds to go).

As a gamer, I find lots of shiny stuff when I go on vacations - visiting Colonial Williamsburg, for example, gives me all sorts of ideas for games set around the American Revolution. One thing that Disney World does is present illusions. Walking through Star Tours and one feels one is preparing to board a Star Wars spaceship. Daughter Jasmi…

Fate Lessons #2 - Tossing Death Troopers off the Cliff

Image
In this week's Star Wars adventure, our heroes were on a mission to extract a Rebel agent who had crashed on a planet and was being pursued by the Evil Galactic Empire. It's based on the old West End Games' Stat Wars adventure "Operation: Shadowstrike" contained within Instant Adventures.

My previous post on lessons I've learned in GM-ing Fate was rather popular and I found the exercise useful for myself as well so I'm continuing that idea here.

I've had some discussions on the use of sticky notes and marking up of the map. There's one reason I do that - if not I doubt we'd be doing much with Aspects. Most of us having been gaming for a long time and are got our start with more "traditional" games. As a result, it's likely we'd totally forget what Aspects were in play - it's something I ran into playing Atomic Robo a few years back.

One encounter in our adventure wound up having a nice combination of environmental Aspect…