5/16/22

Memories

Audio Version (updated last two articles with vocaroos too)

Trigger Warning - this semi-autobiographical post contains occasional mentions of mental health issues, self-harm, suicide and abusive relationships. And I'm going to go from very light-hearted talks about tRPG stuff to terrible real-life stuff, so if you need to preserve yourself, you can skip this.

I'm 25. For the longest time, I didn't keep any records, or pictures. I burned or tore apart everything I wrote, drew, made. I hated pictures of myself. Embarassingly, I also have a tendency to do that with official papers, which made it tricky to find the stuff I needed for my Master's Application.
Thankfully, my ex had hidden important stuff in a folder for me to find someday when I'd need it.
And old me kept some records of the past. Tabletop Gaming Stuff.
So here's another extremely self-indulgent post about the past, in pictures!

I was nine when my parents said I needed to pick some kind of after-school activity. I didn't have any friends, I didn't do sports, and school was carnage. I found an ad for "the drakelings, adventure games" and signed up at a local club. Three rooms shared between two clubs - the larger one was for the wargamers, with whom a friendly rivalry was quickly established. The other two rooms were occupied by 50-70 year old grognards. Very welcoming and friendly. Did not make fun of me for my neurodivergence. Did not mind that I was barely able to speak for about the first month. I was fairly eloquent, just too shy and scared to talk out loud.

Going from left to right:

Alice
1st level Chaotic Neutral Half-Elf Thief - the first PC I wanted an illustration for, and I think my third or fourth character? She played the flute, danced, pilfered pockets and overall was mainly there to entertain and be nice to people. I named her after the girl I kept dreaming of back then. The same girl with purple or red hair and a punk-ish look I put in my diaries and journals and eventually turned out to be. I go by Alyx nowadays.

Andrade Silvia (an alias of Richard Montecchio)
3rd level Bard, True Neutral.
An ambiguously evil noble of my Aëdamphia campaign. Elfen blood and a bastard.
He fled his responsibilities to take up a life of adventuring (another cover, for he was secretly seeking the Immortals to inflict the Misery upon them and restore them to mortaldom. It's complicated, I ran that campaign from 9 to like 14-15 years old.)

No Name (Varies)
1st level Psi Grey Elf Thief. True Neutral.
A one-shot character for when my middle school best friend offered to run a game. They had 19 DEX.
They tricked a King into surrendering his kingdom to their best friend.

Cairn "Featherless"
A sylphling (some kind of kender) from Earthdawn. Didn't make this one, just picked an archetype I liked. That must have been the second time I played with the grognards, so I made the character a mute.
She stalked a bunch of heroes for a few hours.

Melvin Aldric Menethil Von Something (erased)
My strongest AD&D 2 characters, having reached level 5. Thus the titles. A Lawful Neutral Magic-User serving the true neutral God of balance "Trag'Oul". I think he got stabbed to death by magic skeletons, but the GM cheated because I had tears in my eyes. I felt robbed of agency when he declared I survived when I clearly should have died, so I retired the character after that. He lives in a cottage somewhere on the border between Aëdamphia and the border of the Empire.

A few characters from the rare times I was a player in these years. See, I picked up GMing pretty fast and mainly got my enjoyment from tRPGs out of creating worlds and letting people wreck them by having sandbox adventures within. Highly improv-based, too.


Cyrcé de Melinor, She-Knight
From a french game designed and published by one of the grognards I was playing with, called Heart of Dréanne. Cyrcé was a "dark" faerie who acted as Legate and Doctor. She was also very horny because I was 13.

Salomé "Shepard"
A paranoid psychology student from Z-Corps. Don't remember her much.

Daniel Darcourt
From Black Flag, a Pirate RPG. He was an alcoholic pilot and doctor (I often favored healers)

Hazel Lynne
I think that was from a GURPS Dragonlance campaign that never went past the first session.
I drew programmer socks on her. She's some kind of thief I think?

Louise Demarches
Berlin XVIII is a COP tRPG (ACAB though). Louise was basically Agent Starling from Silence of the Lamb, and yes I first watched this movie around age 11 or 12, tops.



Look at that, I made friends, actual friends! How you ask? By running games for the new kids curious about tRPGs, and then them dragging me to wherever they went until I realized they actually did so because they liked me and I could hang out with them even if I wasn't GMing for them.

Tidus Cornegouille & Harstoudh 18th
Albert's first characters in the Aëdamphia campaign. A Dwarven Cleric and a Human Cleric.
Actually Good (well, Chaotic Good and Lawful Neutral) characters!
I'm pretty sure Tidus took part in the Gnomish Civil War, in which the Dwarves overthrew their Salt Gnomes masters and destroyed the underground city of Gnomegrad. Did I mention the setting I came up with at age 9 dealt with topics such as slavery, determinism, fate and Great Men vs Class Struggle? I was like, super into communism before my first depression

Iris Rougefer
Was a human mercenary FOR MERCADOR ONLY. No idea what that means, but hey, fifth level!


I wrote about Aëdamphia before. It was a fun setting. The Cat Folks from Shaq' Tar were a tad problematic, but besides that, I think I could probably run it as it was, if I wanted to.


Rezhan Cornwell, Slayer of Annabelle
Was a Black Mage of Tzinntch (yes, Tzinntch, not Tzeentch, this is Naheulbeuk!)
My longest running character in a 3 or so years long campaign. Started out as a fairly benign evil wizard. Got mutated into Evil Megamind. Grew tentacles. At some point he turned into a woman. Started speaking in plural first person as he grew inhabited by others. Had a SAN score even though there is no SAN system in Naheulbeuk. Turned a Paladin of Light into a Death Knight follower. Witnessed the gruesome death of his cherished apprentice, which broke him further. Tried to ascend to Godhood and betray his Patron God of Magic, nearly succeeded, but his best friend (an engineer who at this point had grown wings and rode a giant dire sheep) stopped him just short of victory.

THE SFW DISCUSSIONS STOP HERE

Then he put his finger guns to his temple and killed himself with a magic zap while hallucinating his dead apprentice.

There's a lot to unpack here. That illustration? That was M. I met her between middle and high school. We were the best friends in the world for a while. She drew everything you'll see later down the line. Save for the two years I was in a relationship in High School, we were basically inseperable. These are not happy memories, exactly. I was suicidal, dealing with complicated mental health stuff, and she was also dealing with a lot of shit which didn't help keep a healthy relationship. I like to think we both saw the best and worst the other had to offer, but it's hard not to frame a narrative where I was simply the abuser I dreaded to become as a child. Probably just guilt speaking, I've been through this before.

The apprentice's name was Aléziah. I can't for the life of me remember M's character's name, and that makes me sad, somehow.

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Past this point, we move forward in time, when I'm about 16 to 20. The best years of IRL play where we'd spend entire weekends gaming are gone for good. At this point I'm a fully-fledged addict and slowly destroying myself with little to no idea why besides heartbreak and buried trauma. She's still around though.

 

I absolutely adored Mage. We never really used the actual rules, though the GM insisted we use the character creation at the very least. Hazel Green and Vincenzo Chiarammaro were two of my three recurrent mage characters. Third one I forgot the name of but he was a John Constantine type of deal. Hazel was also known as Bloody Mary and was the scariest verbana witch around the block. Vince was literally just Dale Cooper with psychic powers. Scratch that, literally Dale Cooper.


I don't remember their names, but these were NPCs and PCs of M. The Adeptus Mechanicus ennby I think I played, but I'm not certain. To tell you the truth, my memory of anything before 2016 is very hazy or hyperspecific. I remember what I told you about these characters. I know what went on in my life, mostly. But I don't really remember much. It often feels as if these are the memories of someone else. In a way, they are. I don't feel sad for what I lost because I don't even know what is gone, I only remember that I was in pain most of the time.


I'd often ask M to draw my characters. I don't know exactly who these were but I'm pretty sure I played them for one shots with online strangers here and there.



Hiruma Hayate of the Crab. M's best character over the years I'd say. Twelve sessions, about twice a month for a year, using A Wanderer's Romance to play in Rokugan. I didn't do her justice by the end of it, but I'd say it was a good campaign. Saved the world, fought a bunch of ronin assassins, Monster of the Week style.

These my father made when I introduced my kid sisters to D&D and tabletop games. They look rad.
I think they had a lot of fun, maybe they'll remember more than I do when they grow up.
Hopefully they will.


Hey now this I can talk about! I made this character sheet for one of my early attempts at using Into the Odd to run Warhammer! I often go back to this combo, it appeals to me on some primordial level. I think the sheet looks neat.


I wanted a big "serious" A4 sheet for Maze Rats because people told me rules-light games didn't support campaign play, so I figured it had to do with presentation. It's still mostly blank spaces cause I had already been bitten by the minimalism bug.


Bloodstone eventually became Murdersoup, one of the first few games I published on Itch.io.

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These games I've run and played in left me vivid images. Well, mostly the ones I ran really.
Memories I can hold onto as truthful, without a doubt. Memories that accompanied beautiful moments of sharing and bonding, of camaraderie and laughter with friends, sometimes lovers, sometimes just passerbyes in my life with whom I shared the simple joy of tabletop gaming, even for an evening.
I'm not destroying these, I'm keeping them, back in the folder where Lu put them. Just in case I forget.



5/12/22

Return to Castle Redvald - Level 1 Map, Rules for Monsters, No Heroes!

 Audio Version


Did the map during finals. The only room that isn't optional is room A. It's not that branching though, you basically get two options every time. The well goes directly to level 3 and the access to level 2 is hidden. This way when people find stairs up from level 3 and end up somewhere unknown they're going to freak out. There's a new dungeon weather table, it is way better than the old one.

6 = Dark corridors. Without light source, you will be eaten by the Grue. Business as usual.

5 = Misty, you can notice shapes but remain unsure of what they are until they are very close. Unnatural light, as if outside. The walls and ceiling seem further away than usual. Encounter distances are halved.

4 = Wet, slippery floors, dripping walls, occasional rain if the ceiling gets particularly high. Torches last half as long.

3 = Charred, smell of sulfur, black shapes on the walls that sometimes follow you. Very hot.
All fire sources burn twice as long, wearing metal armour hinders all difficult actions.

2 = Rusty, eroded stone, verdigris, dust. Things seem older. A melancholic miasma permeates the corridors which seem to stretch longer. How long have you been here? Exploration Turns occasionally skip forward in time.

1 = Organic, bleeding walls, writhing masses of flesh, droning noise, eyes and appendages growing out of the very surfaces. Redvald is alive and it is awake. Visions of the Obelisk. Whispers in your bones. IT wants to be freed. IT must feed. You instinctively know the fastest way to go DEEPER, but every injury caused is extra bad.

There is a Painting of Castle Redvald that you enter this level through. From within the castle, the exit looks like a mirror. If you break it, you will have to find another way out. The painting is bulky but can be transported. It is supernaturally resistant but if you burn it long enough you will ruin it and you won't be able to enter Redvald by this mean anymore. Other ways of entry exist. None of them are easy.

Most Monsters are Unique
There is only ONE of each in the WORLD. They may or may not be in Castle Redvald. You can put "the" in front of all of the following: goblin, kobold, orc, hobgoblin, gnoll, ogre, troll, giant, cockatrice, basilisk, medusa, gorgon, manticore, hydra, chimera, minotaur, centaur, dragon, pegasus, hippogriff, roc, griffon, purple worm, unicorn, nixie, pixie, dryad, gnome, dwarf, elf, ent, invisible stalker, bugbear, ogre magi, storm giant, titan, shadow, lich, harpy, lizard man, doppleganger, lammasu, salamander, beholder, umber hulk, displacer beast, blink dog, hell hound, phase spider, rust monster, owl bear, golem, aquatic elf, sahuagin, eye of deep, ixitxachitl, locatah, morkoth, masher.

This forces me to make my own and to consider any monster with a certain degree of care.
All of them will get proper treatment when I want to use a ready-made monster, which should make them interesting.

Some Monsters are Re-Occuring
Men (bandits, berserkers, brigands, dervishes, nomads, buccaneers, pirates, cavemen, mermen, fighting-men, magic-users, clerics, druids, paladins, thieves, monks, assassins), skeletons, zombies, ghouls, wights, wraiths, mummy, spectres, vampires, wyverns, gargoyles, lycanthropes, sea monsters, ochre jellies, black puddings, green slimes, gray oozes, yellow molds, giant insects and animals, will o' wisps, wererats, stirges, carrion crawlers, gelatinous cubes, giant slugs, dinosaurs from Blackmoor, fucking sharks are in there too.

These are all so cool I never get tired of them, and highly atmospheric on their own. They're my bread and butter. So mostly undead, pests, and people.

A Few Monsters Get a Special Treatment
There are four Elementals. I am not using "Djinn" and "Efreet" because I have no idea how to make them not orientalist and I already have a ton of interesting stuff that I can use as spirits/tricksters and the likes (such as The Goblin). 

There Are No Restrictions on Monsters I Come Up With
I allow myself to make groups of monstrous creatures and the likes. Strange new species. I will avoid making monstrous "demihumans" though - these will remain as either unique individuals (like the Elf, the Ogre, etc.) or just be humans with weirdo cultures rather than pointy ears as an excuse to otherize them and do a lil' genocide.

OK? Good.

By the way that hack I wrote yesterday? That was just to get it out of my system. Here's a resolution.

I Am Addicted to Writing Rulesets
Heck, it's my healthiest addictive behavior pattern but it IS there. I'm going to try and abstain from writing new rulesets, because frankly, I really don't need too. I know exactly what I like to do rules-wise with the FKR framework, and anything I use can be so modular that it won't be fitted into a tight and cohesive game. Toolboxes, not rulebooks, yadda yadda.

Just for my peace of mind, as a reminder, here are THE RULES THAT ALWAYS WORK THE BEST so I should just stop writing more and write fiction stuff instead! (for me, that is)

Saving Throws are rolled with 2d6, referee sets a target number. Low roll is a disaster, close to the target might be a setback, partial success etc. High roll is a success, the higher the roll the better. Sometimes I'll use 6- / 7-9 / 10+, sometimes not. When using the latter, rolling 3d6 and keeping the highest or lowest is the best way to do modifiers without adding math. This covers almost everything.

Luck Rolls and the likes are 1d6, high is good, low is bad. X-in-6 chances work well as oracles too.

OD&D and Classic Traveller procedures are IN. I love morale, reaction, surprise (from Traveller!), simultaneous initiative etc. So I'm using that and you can't stop me.

Adventure for Adventure's Sake this is the most controversial (to me from me) change. I don't really care about numbers going up. You don't need a carrot to go explore a dungeon, that's what you sit down at the table to play. Treasure is its own reward. The greed of player-characters does not need to be translated into greed for the players. So no levels or XP or whatever.

Hits, no to hit roll, no damage, ala Any Planet is Earth / Skorne. Cause it works very very very well. Player-Characters have four hits. An improvised weapon deals 1 Hit. A one-handed melee weapon deals 2 Hits. A heavy, two-handed weapon (or a bow or crossbow) deals 3 Hits. Magical attacks such as a fireball or deadly attacks from huge monsters can deal 4 or more Hits at once. Armor and Shield help or hinder in different situations, much like how different weapons and tactics should increase or lower Hits received or dealt. I don't mind having them be sacrificed to grant an extra Hit either. Players get a Death Save at 0 Hits or worse. On 10+ you're still standing with 1 Hit. 7-9 you're bleeding out. This will leave a mark of some kind, either physical or psychological. 6- you are dead, dead, dead.

For Mass Combat I might still use some Chainmail stuff, cause it just feels nice to roll a bunch of d6 and count who's dead. It's just that there are no more heroes. Oh hey that's a good name for the ruleset. No Heroes!

5/10/22

Change of Pace, Shadowrun, Wholesome CoC, Return to Castle Redvald

Audio Version

Hey Wiz Liz, Long Time No See, What Gives?!

Been busy with life! Little time for elfgames!

I'm not super into writing session reports anymore and as time went on I realized that if I want to keep blogging, which I'd rather do since it keeps me thinking about elfgames, I should probably revisit my article format. Sorry to anyone who liked them, but I think I won't do many detailed reports anymore. Instead, for now I'll be focusing on writing my thoughts about games I've run, games I've played, and games I read. I know I don't have a huge reader base and I think this has always been a bit of an exercize in vanity as I mainly write for myself, so I will see where this leads. I haven't been very active lately but recently got back into the GMing saddle running for a small dedicated group of friends, which is why the open table project is still on hold. I just don't have that much energy for gaming, though now I can actually get some going and it is really nice to play with friends, especially given that we share of ideas, both at the gaming table and outside of it. I'm going to try to write some ideas regularly, maybe even (one hopes) daily, so my posts might get shorter and more stream of consciousness (than they already were). Today I have a few things I want to talk about so I might skip details and just give you the basic rundown.

So I ran Shadowrun with 24XX the other day, using an unholy patchwork of bits and pieces from Inner System Blues, Codebreakers (for adept powers), Legends (for spells, though we ended up using Wendi Yu's magic system from Here, There, Be Monsters! which is bonkers and awesome go read it). It worked well enough - we had a lot of fun, although Food Fight lasted about 1h30, then we did 30 minutes of NPC interactions and OOC legwork. At the end of the session I was really missing diceless-ish FKR anti-rules so I will probably be using something simpler next time. Prismatic Wasteland's post got me thinking so I might vibe within the same design space - just know that it came from them and I am only a dirty thief, if anything good comes out of it. Where was I?

Little Shadow, All Pink Mohawk

The game was goofy. Big troll in a tiny pastel painted citroën, crammed against the other runners. A magical dwarf in a drug haze channeling The Dude accidentally shooting his buddy with an Uzi. Lots of Matrix, lots of magical whackiness thanks to a freeform spell casting system and the dice being terrible to my players (they rolled so many 1s, which are Disasters in 24XX, prompting me to go with whatever the worst outcome could be, though being fairly soft, it stayed somewhat light-hearted). I am not a very serious GM, I tend to goof up a lot, so having a party that played their characters fairly straight while we were all laughing OOC at the over-the-top situations felt very different from my edgy and dark cyberpunk 2020 games from the before times. Shadowrun has a lot of p r o b l e m a t i c baggage though and I find it a bit uncomfortable to run at this point, so another thing on my backburner is to think up of an (easy) way to get my Cyberpunk Fantasy fix. It will most likely involve OD&D in some manner, as most of my tRPG stuff tends to.

Wholesome Call of Cthulhu (hey Cosmic skip this one!)

I played in a duet text game over a few weeks (turns out one on one I can keep my focus, ish, he had to remind me to post a few times) and not only was it a very fun and atmospheric adventure (apparently called Paper Chase) but I played well enough, and mostly got lucky enough I believe, to avoid anything really nasty. It basically ended with my character helping a ghoul live their best life by covering for them with their remaining relative and getting to learn what had happened through exchanging a few letters while staying safe. Apparently there was an outcome where I was just going to get brutally cannibalized by underground dwellers, but instead I got to support a weirdo's transition into an otherworldly immortal being who just wants to read books and be left alone, so that was really nice.

 

Return to Castle Redvald

I want to run some 3LBB again, and I like the name Castle Redvald. I have an idea for where I can get good maps that will do what I need, I'm going to take the best bits from my old Redvald game (mostly traps, puzzles and atmospheric stuff) and just slightly re-skin every monster in the 3LBB + Greyhawk + Blackmoor (the last two won't be on encounter tables so I can just put these in thematic areas). I can't for the life of me stick to RAW, so I already know I'm going Fighters only, no demihumans, no attribute modifiers (including prime modifiers). Found spells will most likely follow Wonders & Wickedness (aka Orbit I) and Marvels & Mallisons because these are oozing with flavour. For combat, I might go with Chainmail, specifically working from the mass combat system, simply having combattants roll their HD worth of d6, distributing them between up to four 1 HD foes (stronger foes need your full attention).

EDIT : Oops I got carried away and wrote a whole hack again.

D6    Result
1 --> Wound Unarmored
2 --> Kill Unarmored, Wound Light Foot
3 --> Kill Light Foot, Wound Heavy Armor
4 --> Kill Heavy Foot, Wound Armored Foot
5 --> Kill Armored Foot, Wound Magic Armored Foot
6 --> Kill All

Armor Value
Unarmored = No Shield or Leather (equivalent to AC 9-8)
Light Foot = Shield or Leather or Both (equivalent to AC 7-6)
Heavy Foot = Mail, with or without Shield (equivalent to AC 5-4)
Armored Foot = Plate, with or without Shield (equivalent to AC 3-2)
Magic Armored Foot = Wearing Magic Armor (equivalent to AC 1 or better)

What About Shields?
Yes the lack of granularity means shields are less important. Good thing the Shields Shall Be Splintered rule exists right? Destroy your shield, that's a free Hit, problem solved.

Death & Dying
When you run out of Hits in mortal kombat, you're dead. Heroes (4 HD, which is level 4 and the cap I'm going with to keep the game gritty) get a Death Save.

Alternative Saving Throws
Because I don't need to use the Attack Matrix, I also don't want to bother with the Saving Throw Matrix. Plus with a cap at fourth level, there would only be two values. So instead we're using this: when making a saving throw, roll under or equal to your level to succeed. So that's a 1-in-6 chance at first level, and at best a 50/50 shot for Heroes.

In Summary
Roll 3d6 in order for Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma.
You are a Fighter, and thus can arm yourself with any equipment you wish. Pick d6 things from the list.
You have ten inventory slots. 1000 coins take one slot. Bulky stuff you find in an adventure takes one slot.

Note that different tools have different situational benefits, in addition to any rulestuff mentioned here.
A dagger is better in a cramped and intimate close quarters combat, a big fucking sword is better in a field.

- Melee Weapon (Sword, Axe, Mace, etc.)
- Heavy Weapon (Zweihander, Halberd, Warhammer, etc.) - allows Normals* to hurt Large Creatures**
- Missile Weapon (Bows, Crossbows, Pistols, Muskets, plus ammunition for about a week)
- A Shield (Light Foot, can be sacrificed to avoid a hit, takes one hand)
- Light Armor (Light Foot - leather/gambeson/patchwork/furs/pelts etc. plus a helmet)
- Medium Armor (Heavy Foot, counts as two items - chainmail/breastplate etc. plus a helmet)
- Heavy Armor (Armored Foot, counts as three items - field plate and the likes plus a helmet)
- Climbing Equipment (incl. ropes, grappling hook, crampons, spikes, etc.)
- Camping Equipment (incl. bedroll, cooking pots, thread & needle, olive oil, sharpening stone, etc.)
- A Week's Food & Water (enough for yourself or two adults if rationing, plus cutlery, tankard, etc.)
- Pesticides (incl. belladona and wolvesbane bunch, garlic necklace, holy symbol, holy water, etc.)
- Burglar's Delight (incl. lockpicks, caltrops, marbles, hand mirror and other sneaky bastard tools)
- Essential Tools (incl. lantern or torches, flasks of oil, ten foot pole, crowbar, shovel, etc.)
- A Lantern or Torchbearer (for one delve or a week in the wilderness)
- A Porter (same)
- A Sellsword (same, and they get a share like anybody else - Light Foot, Melee Weapon)
- A Crossbowman (same but they have a Crossbow!)
- A Mule or Pack Goat (they go into dungeon and are loyal)
- A Horse (valid to eat fingers, sucks in dungeons, covers great distance in the wilderness)

Save by rolling under or equal to your level on 1d6. Roll your HD on the table above to do murder.
In a chaotic melee, resolution is simultaneous-ish (in practice, we roll to see the outcome of the fight, not the moment-to-moment, a round is a minute long, so it makes sense, trust me). Superior tactics might grant initiative, which means you get to resolve your turn before the enemy does so which is incredibly important when combat is this deadly. Initiative also lasts until it is lost, much like Classic Traveller surprise.

Converting Monsters

Armor Class                                                Hit Dice                        That's It
AC 9-8 is Unarmored                                 Unchanged
AC 7-6 is Light Foot
AC 5-4 is Heavy Foot
AC 3-2 is Armored Foot
AC 1 or less is Magical Armored Foot

Experience
0 XP for level 1 (Man-at-Arms), 2,500 XP for level 2 (Veteran), 5,000 XP for level 3 (Elite)
10,000 XP for level 4 (Hero). 1 SP is 1 XP.

Adjustments
Because I'm moving to the Silver Standard, all prices in Men & Magic are in SP, and all treasure values are divided by 10. People can carry as many coins as before because I don't care that much ok?


4/6/22

[Session Report] The Iron Coral Redux

Audio Version (a bit late, sorry)

Last Thursday I got to run the new version of the Iron Coral (from Into the Odd 2nd Ed) and it was a blast! This is basically a guest post since Cosmic Orrery took notes of her own! I'm adding some commentary but appreciate the change in perspective from having a player tell the tale.
As thanks for covering for my lazy ass, I gifted her character some weird flavors of gum such as "octopus ink" and "turtleshell glue".

What Happened

We arrive on boat with some other would be adventurers and go in first, climb down into the coral, the first chamber has some fella muttering in the corner, Giza ambles over and pokes it with her musket prompting it to be frightened by her horrible demenour and take a huge clawed chunk of her muskets stock with its iron nails, she retreats in panic and it runs off down (I think the south way?).

The party decides to go the direction it didnt go, and wiggles through a crawlspace (having to push and shove jacks character a bit cause of his armour) emerging then into a transluscent walled room, which had a very soggy corpse which tyrmanda plunges her hands into (almost) barfing, and rifles through finding I think some iron nails?

Theres a grate in the south we peer through and see some kind of storage room the otherside, then we head to the east wall and carefully open the sliding metal door with a crowbar, then proceed to the next slimy room which has weird sculpted furniture and a slug baloon crawling on the wall. Squirmy Joe creeps around the edge of the slug baloon's detection radius (which gets goosebumps if you get too close)(Giza cautiously points her musket at it) to look through the glass window/wall thing in the south through which he sees a man, some pantomiming, friendly waves, and then the man touches the glass and it Vwoops up into the ceiling and lets in an EXTEREMLY loud mechanical noise from the other side of the door, this makes the slug baloon freak and it emits a phsyic scream. Giza frantically tries to shoot it but misses before it crescendoes and she falls limp, her brain being filled with visions of a terrible landscape with gaunt aliens reaching towards her. Everyone else is okay and quickly hack slash shoot the thing to pieces. After a short rest to coax the whimpering Giza back to lucidity, the party chats with the man, Marcus (who had his ears stoppered with wax) who reveals he's been lost in here for a while. Longer than the Iron Coral has grown out of the ocean, actually.

GM Note: Giza only had 3 CHA, and was now down to 2 after the psychic scream. At 0 CHA your brain explodes, scanner style, and it was a d6 of damage so that was a VERY lucky moment.

We head down the east passage, down some stairs, and into a room with a dome up top, we contemplate this for a moment then decide to move on, descending for real this time down a steep flight of stairs to the level below. Here we enter a weird garden made of alien coral which reminds Giza of the visions she had earlier. We peer at the weird blockage on the south wall; Tymandra thinks it'd be better to avoid the weird coral and so we beat a careful path to the west exit then enter a room with a metal door, which Tymandra crowbars open again like before. 

We enter a sticky sweet smelling room with a big white rock in the south corner... At this point we catch Marcus licking the wall and tasting it (he says it tastes like licorice) and suggest he lick the stone. When he does it comes alive! And forms into a spiky humanoid coral shape and starts lumbering forward!
(I think we shot at it first?) We shoot and hack at it, but oh no, our attacks just slough some chunks off and it grabs Tymandra's apprentice Marion and tears/dislocates her arm, leaving her screaming on the floor! (she was too close, attacking with like a dagger or something)
Tymandra chartges forward to avenge her apprentice and everyone else takes potshots at it, aiming for the center of mass and knocking enough chunks off that it collapses to the floor and starts to get reabsorbed by the wall.
Giza scampers over to tend to Marim while Tymandra viciously tears the heart of the dying creature out. The goo oozes off the creature and turnes out to be a jumbled mess of metal bits, dentures, wire, rust nails, copper wire, etc. We rest a moment and make sure Maion's okay (her arm was really roughed up but not ripped off ).

GM Note: because Critical Damage should be scary, but you can also kind of just get back up and be fairly capable after a short rest, I like to go with "it looked worse than it actually was", unless they die.

Then, we tentatively poke our way southward, where we find a room with two corpses on the floor and a violet suit of armour standing against the wall. Giza's arcanum senses tingle urgently and she scampers over (prodding the two corpses as she passes) to investigate the armour (which turns out to have a corpse inside) she bashes the corpse's head in, then takes the armour down and starts opening it up while the other two loot the corpses (which have some sewing needles and stuff). Giza tips the old corpse out then puts the armour on (neglecting to take off her own clothes) and feels it violently drill into her flesh and clasp tight - but afterward feels very safe and secure and protected!

GM Note: it's not coming off without some major surgery.

Everyone agrees to head back to the surface since we've now found a little bit of treasure and could maybe sell the armour, Tymandra snatches up some of the copper wire (bulky) from the dead white stone as we pass, then we follow our route back.

As we're climbing the stairs up a ghostly transluscent psychic spirit snake starts encircling us whispering something, but everyone just plugs their ears and ignores it much to its consternation and after a while, snubbed, it disappears into a wall, then we're in the slimy furniture, but as we reach the metal door to the glass walls room we hear fishy babbling like what the first creature we met sounded like. Giza's flashbang is suggested as an obvious solution and we debate whether to attack them or just run for it, but remembering that to get out we need to crawl through a crawlspace; we decide it's better to attack. The metal door gets wrenched open, we toss the flashbang in, slam the door, hear a bang and yells, then we throw open the door and rush in guns blazing and swords chopping and we dismember all the fishlings till there's only one left alive but injured. It quickly expires while we debate over whether to help it (it had a boot on its head!)

 

Art by Scrap Princess (Monster Manual Sewn From Pants)


We crawl through the crawl space and pop out, breifly spying the first creature we met who runs away again, then we climb out of the Iron Coral into the salty sea air, with sun peeking through the cloudy, rainy sky (I think it was raining when we first went down) and board the steamship we arrived on again

The End (for noowwwwwww) 


A Few Thoughts

It had been a long while since I'd run a game - Into the Odd is still extremely fun, especially interesting to see the kind of tension that comes with very low stat rolls (Giza and her CHA 3 came into play). I was originally planning to remove stats and simply assume 10 for PCs the same way I do for NPCs, but players rolled interesting stats before I announced the house rule, so we went vanilla-ish instead.

I was very happy with the pacing of the session, something I think the whole group agreed upon. I think it's mainly thanks to Chris's description format for the dungeon rooms. It's the Gavin Norman method of just using a few keywords to evoke a scene. It's easy to improvise on (I did a few time fairly naturally) but is also enough on its own.

2/23/22

Dreams of Terror & Death - Talking about the Open Table

AUDIO VERSION

Content Warning: mild descriptions of violence against the helpless.



The wind from the west. From the sundered land. Rot rides it, and the stench of blood. Cursed walker, will you travel there? To the valley of the Unfortunate Undead? Our young ones are taken by the child-thief Tergol, known for his vile crimes and alchemy of flesh.

The world dies even now. Reality decays, truth becomes dream and dream, truth. Cracks grow in the once-stable structures of the past, allowing things misshapen and vile to worm through, emerging into day's wan light. The known world closes in, bounded to the west by the massive Bergen Chrypt with its catacombs and ice-caked peaks and surrounded by the Endless Sea to the north, south and east. Many have ploughed the wave's furrow in search of new lands. They all return, against their will. Alive or dead.


- Mörk Börg

You are walking the Broken Road of Kergüs, each day a blink between nigh-endless night that seem to stretch longer and longer as the black spires of the colourless queen's palace grow closer. The taste of soot lingers after every breath. Gnarled roots and twisted, dead trees seem to observe you. The icy wind howls, carrying with it the scent of burning embers.

As you travel through these ashen wastes, foolishly hoping for an omen that would help you in your futile struggle against the tides of fate, a scream pierces the dusty valley. Down on the road ahead, about a hundred yards: a savage troop putting travellers to the death with unspeakable playfulness. Ten men carrying hatchets, naked save for war paints and ritual scars, are tormenting the survivors of a burning caravan. Dead soldiers are scattered across the debris. A handful of unarmed refugees remain, their spirits broken, patiently awaiting their turn.

What do you do?

_________________________________________________

The opening lines would be repeated each session, to hammer in the despair and doom metal atmosphere of the campaign world, straight from Mörk Börg. The third paragraph introduces a more specific starting point - where the players begin for this given session, and what lies ahead. The final paragraph presents a situation, an injustice, a threat. Note that the vicious marauders are human, as I am interested in exploring questions of corruption and evil as inherently human, rather than an overworldly force. They have taken some of the traits of beasts, transformed by their bloodlust and greed, but they are nonetheless human. Men, in fact.

Skorne is the rulebook, and carries a lot of flavour. It will be the engine that drives play.
The structure of the game follows that of Skorne - the players are renegades, knaves and rogues, not merely attempting to survive but also struggling against the very end of the world brought forth by its corrupt, monstrous rulers, which the game calls Tyrants.

Because I want to use Mörk Börg's incredible flavour and map, that will be my main sourcebook. Queen Anthelia is the "colourless queen" I mentioned above and is one of the Tyrants. Virhu, the basilisk that prophecizes the end of the world, is Skorne given physical form. Because a giant, immortal, all-knowing basilisk is an extremely metal concept. This gives me locations filled with excellent ideas, good tables and just all around incredible artwork and music to daydream about. Both games feature prophecies of the end of the world and a countdown clock towards the End of All Things.

Another essential is Maze Rats, for its grounded yet fantastic and near-exhaustive random tables that make stocking wilderness, dungeons and cities alike a breeze. If Skorne is the bones and Mörk Börg is the meat, flavour for the system, then Maze Rats' tables are an added texture, the skin or clothings sewn into the fleshy monster that this campaign could be.

I want this to be an Open Table - I offer a weekly time and date, using HammerTime in my Discord ads so that anyone, regardless of time zone, can know when precisely the next session will be set. While I have decided for the moment to not explicitly exclude anyone, for my own comfort and to provide a safer space for marginalized folks, the ads will feature a disclaimer which I am still working on, something like:

"Although the themes and tone of the game are violent and dark, this Open Table is, by design, by and for marginalized people first and foremost. Above all, I want it to be a safe space for those who are denied one in their daily lives. If you enjoy more privilege than most, you are still welcome, but remember that you are a guest here."

Trusted friends pointed out that this may be confrontational or blunt, though my hope is that it will weed out undesirables, and deconstructed bros will understand the need for this sort of space in the first place and not feel threatened or antagonized by the disclaimer. I love my cishet straight white dudes friends, but y'all know there's already a ton of places that accomodate you before anyone else and we desperately need to change that, so here's my awkward attempt at doing my part in the hobby.

Also I really want to play freaking tRPGs again and don't want to have to do too much emotional labour to get there.

_________________________________________________

So besides that, what do I mean by an Open Table - well, what I gain is peace of mind - no need to run after people to schedule appointments where everyone can make it, because any "core group" will defined after the fact, and remain fluid as the only commitment I ask is that if you sign up for a session, you either show up or let me know whenever possible if you cannot make it. Don't fuss it - you don't have to justify yourself, just please tell me if you're not gonna show up. Because there are certain end conditions tied to how many players die, there may eventually be a hard cap to who will be able to play. Another interesting thing about having different players often is that various sessions might happen in wildly different places, with regular players getting a peek into different areas of the setting and facing a broader variety of threats and tyrants to overcome.

For safety tools, I will rely on lines and veils plus reminding people that anyone can call for a break at any point during the sessions, which are usually two to three hours long, tops. Keep in mind that death will be on the table as the setting and atmosphere, as well as playstyle, require a fair amount of danger and pain to really shine. It is also my personal preference, and I found it easier to sell it to strangers by using pre-existing material that share the vibe I like. I aim for fairness and impartiality when I run a game, albeit Skorne asks of me as my first GMing principle to be tough and not, ever, pull punches. I intend to do just that. Victory is not assumed - doom is the default expected outcome, and only skillful play, resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity, and a bit of luck, will save you or allow you to save the world. Sounds familiar?

One of these days, I'll make a post about disempowerment fantasy and why I find that and survival horror cathartic and surprisingly refreshing. In the meantime, if this is your cup of tea and you're cool with having your lil' character die in a hole in the ground, I hope to see you soon at the (virtual) table!

2/22/22

All Work and No Play Makes Wiz Liz a Dull Girl

AUDIO VERSION

I Need to Start Running Games Again...

...is something I've said far too many times. The more I wait, the more energy it takes to attempt to begin preparing new material or running games. There's the growing performance anxiety which I can get rid of easier when playing with people I know, or just running regularly which in turns makes it easier to take it easy, cause I actually get my gaming fix and don't need to second-guess as much. There's the pull of the Ideal Campaign, that makes me bite more than I can chew and try to start games with a focused group, lots of scheduling involved and the promise of a coherent whole, even though I should know better at this point: one-shots are how I run games efficiently. Campaigns as loosely connected one-shots, or, best case scenario, as the result of an emergent series of coincidences: managing to run games every weeks or so for a long while, core players creating engagement on their own, or simply finding a creative process for prep that I find fun to engage with outside of the table. I tried to start one recently, and gave up after two weeks passed after our first successful game.

A Review of Past Campaigns

There's been many a one-shot over the years, and a whole lot more micro-campaigns, usually interesting stuff we started but never finished, mostly my fault. I get distracted. I get excited about running Cyberpunk and a week later I suddenly crave Dark Fantasy. I burn out. Life gets in the way. Once in a blue moon, it's not even on me, players just drop out. I'm a decent Game Moderator at the table but I am not very good at getting people organized and playing. There's a lot of memorable micro-campaigns I'm skipping here, cause I want to reminisce about what worked in the games that truly did last for months. Spoiler Alert: none of them were planned as campaigns. Also, my memory is sort of shot because of mental health stuff, so I'm not sure about the actual order in which these went.


Digging Castle Redvald was super fun, AND I had some players who were always there, AND I had a fairly easy schedule and just didn't need much prep or mental energy to run it, so it lasted for about six months to a year, IIRC. Running the game was a breeze since I've internalized OD&D's mechanics and the players didn't need to be sold on the concept.

I still love digging dungeons, and would probably enjoy creating a sandbox with lots of broad strokes and a focus on interesting adventuring locales, most likely with a Dungeon people would repeatedly go to.

- Into the Odd x Barrowmaze was mostly about playing tRPGs with my then-girlfriend. We lived together, she loved dungeoneering and I found that having her handle a whole party using ItO+EB mechanics worked super well. The Gang Up rules from EB in particular felt way nicer with one player handling multiple characters, somehow. She was also really big on mapping, and since it was IRL, it was easier to do the whole carthography thing.

Barrowmaze is a very good "classic" dungeon. I'd say it's a bit vanilla but has the advantages of not requiring GMs to read it beforehand as most of the information is fairly tightly written. It's no Gavin Norman level just yet, but it's not verbose so I can just pick it up and run it as-is. Could easily re-skin it for other settings too. But if Redvald taught me one thing, it's that running your own material is just way more engaging. Could have both though.

- Before these, my last long campaign was a Legend of the Five Ring game using A Wanderer's Romance rather than L5R's system. Lots of cool samurai duels and courtly intrigue. It was amazing, but then again, I had a dedicated group of friends, all able to make time and most of them knowing one another, so playing tRPGs was both a part of what made us friends and an excuse to gather regularly. We also played videogames together and just chatted daily. That was a long time ago now. Fond memories in retrospect, but it was exhausting to run cause the more story-oriented structure created a lot of dissonance for me between wanting to let the dice dictate the action, while also fearing situations that would kill our momentum like actually losing a major character (ie: PC).

There is little I can take from that nowadays. I did spend more energy then on in-character banter, and creating NPCs that felt more real since we spent a lot more time simply taking in the setting. Sometimes I wonder if my games could be improved by a less focused approach, if I instead offered more atmosphere and scene-setting. Probably can have my cake and eat it too if I inject more of my writing, boxed texts style, into adventures that would still be tightly focused on problem-solving and so on?

- My very first campaign lasted three years. Two groups, some core players, some passing by. One world which I started running in around 9 yo, kept growing until I was 14 or 15. Sometimes I think about picking up Aedamphia again. Other times I feel like it might need too much reworking, considering how much I've changed as a person since then. Maybe I'll try again some day. I do remember these fictional places like I lived there. In some ways, I've lived there. I have memories of the people and places we shared back then that feel more real than some of my childhood. I've been coming to terms with why exactly that is over the last year or so. It had trolls and corwids and faeries and salt gnomes and all sorts of weird stuff.

The lesson I keep being reminded of was there from the start - we did not try to play "a campaign", we just played the game. Which at the time I called D&D. I like to call adventure games "D&D" just for the baggage, which to me is mostly WONDER, it brings. It works for my friends. It doesn't for people who know about D&D in a nerdy fashion, like non-casual gamers. Either because they think about its problematic aspects, or its design issues, or the multitude of meanings people attribute to it. So instead if I run a fantasy world again, I'll call it Underground Adventures. Maybe for a change I could steal from myself. Compile all of the fantasy stuff I came up with over more than a decade now, do my own kitchen sink hodgepodge, see what sticks. And just play, for a change.

So, what would make me think of just playing, no hassle, effort only in stuff that is actually fun and engaging to work on?

Digging a Dungeon and Filling a Sandbox with interesting and weird stuff I can daydream about. Drawing maps, knowing I don't have to worry about counting coins for XP or keep more interesting/dangerous monsters to level 3 or whatnot cause there's no levels or XP in my games.
It would be about Treasure-Hunting though. Cause I want Rogues and Knaves, "murderhobos" if you will. Adventurers described in three words at character generation, who are mostly defined retroactively by the actual play moments they go through. Cheap, disposable, with memorable, developped characters being something that regular players get to have by simply playing more and affecting the game world. That also means an Open Table - because I don't want to have to run after anyone for scheduling. I can offer a time and date on a weekly basis, see who can make it, who's interested, and just run for 2-3 hours.

The Big Question I'm asking myself is, do I want it to be a mixed space or not, if I'm going to be running for strangers (friends I haven't met yet!) again. What I'm thinking is, I'll offer games from places that I share both design values and political ideas, like the FKR Collective or the Intersectional Playpen and go from there. Maybe I can try both - have some non-mixed queer/poc/neuroA parties at time, see how it feels, and other games that are open to any kind people. It's not that I have anything against cis straight white dudes (some of my best friends are, krkrkrkr), but rather that there's already so many spaces where they're the majority, and sometimes I think that it might feel good to provide similar stuff for my niche game style. I'll look into non-mixed spaces in other domains and learn more about that for now.

Rules-wise, I'd have to go with the one near-diceless system that I always default back to after getting tempted by an addition of more clickety clacky dicing. In its current iteration, it looks like this:

CHARACTERS
a) Quick & Dirty - roll d66 for a background, infer skills, gear, contacts, etc. Name, pronouns, done.
b) Custom - write down a thirty words narrative, that's your character. Could get experimental too.

SAVING THROWS
Classic Traveller-inspired. Players only roll to avoid risks. 2d6 to beat 9+, 7+ with advantage, as default but not automatic target numbers. So 2d6 roll high, beat a TN set in advance, emphasis on making the risk and likelihood of success clear before a player commits. All-purpose, intentionally excluding violence.

VIOLENCE
Skorne frames it even better than Any Planet is Earth. Which has a conclusion that I reached too when studying Classic Traveller's combat rules. Diceless violence works really well with Hits. Four Hits for Players, one to four hits for weapons used in a "typical" combat situation, whatever that means. Armour and shield as additional hits (thanks, Skorne!) - or, could be interesting to graft the even more straightforward notion from 24XX of just "Fine / Injured / Dead" without ressorting to dicing. Or is that not granular enough when going diceless? Needs testing.

Battery dead, it's three AM, I'm done for now. Just needed to write this down.

1/31/22

[Session Report] Zoopunk #1


source

 

World: This but in a Cyberpunk Future; I call it Zoopunk (though it went through multiple iterations)
System: Inner System Blues / 24XX by Jason T.

This here is an attempt at a short campaign, we're aiming for five or so sessions, up to ten tops, of weekly or bi-weekly play. This was the pilot episode, which is not necessarily part of the campaign's continuity, and followed a session zero of about four hours where we chatted about campaign expectations, character creations, and safety. Here is a summary of events (keeping records is 50% of my prep work) accompanied by commentaries about how things went.

Characters
- John "Doc" Shrew, a Shrew Stitcher
- Custard McInflames, a Cuttlefish Grifter
- Slide, a Chameleon Infiltrator
- and Yojimbo, a Wolf Hacker

What Happened
- They hadn't heard from Yojimbo in years, so when he called the crew to Skinners' to "talk", they knew something was up. Still, they went and caught up with their old buddy, who quickly brought business up: he needed the crew's help. A few weeks earlier he had stumbled upon an interesting piece of VR software during a datasteal on TransTechnica: an hyper realistic 19th century South Carolina manor, wherein he met a special someone - another hacker by the name of Abby. He wanted their help finding her while he tries to lay low and avoid TransTechnica's goons.

- Which is when a three-animals corporate hit squad hit the bar. A jackal in a silve-white suit spilled his drink on Yojimbo before trying to shoot him at point-blank, grazing his leg. Two others shot up the bar from a catwalk above with machineguns. We resolved that with some rolls: Yojimbo to defend against his attacker, trying to grapple at him. Slide getting the drop on one of the corps (the Bear). The rest was descriptive as the major threats were dealt with: from behind the bar, Custard and Doc took some pot shots to force the second upstairs shooter into cover. The crow (last hitman) managed to escape, John Shrew patched up Yojimbo's leg, Custard and Slide grabbed the jackal and everyone got the hell out of dodge before cops showed up.

- Back at HQ (an untidy break room with a bar and small alcove for Doc's medical chair and supplies), the table got quickly acquainted with Watts, their fixer (a 40s gay monitor lizard who I'm trying to do a posh british accent for, emphasis on trying), as well as Pudding, a possum street kid, eager to help if a little clumsy. Watts dug up some info on TransTechnica to get everyone up to speed while Doc examined Yojimbo. Then the crew asked a few questions to the goon, who, threatened with a gun, plead for his life and promised to find another line of work; he also revealed that TT was only after Yojimbo for the datasteal, at least that's all he knew about. Project Aurora, it was called. Oh, it also helped that Custard made use of some telepathic powers to check whether the Jackal was lying (he wasn't). Pudding cheerfully took away the corporate to dump them somewhere, blindfolded and tied but alive.

- At that point our hacker's player had to call it quits, though we kept going for another scene. By the end the infiltrator also had to sleep, and we wrapped things up with the grifter and stitcher.

- The group minus a hacker decided to take on TransTechnica directly, hoping to hit the downtown skyscrapper quickly enough to get the info they needed (Abby?) and leave. Short on time, I called for a quick montage, asking the players to describe how they pulled off the plan to get inside as it happened, rather than playing it out in the typical back and forth of Q&A. Essentially, Slide got some explosive shots for his scoped rifle and blew up some exec cars in Royal Plaza in Downtown, right in front of the TT skyscrapper. During the commotion, Doc Shrew and Custard got inside, and, guided by the hacker, found their way downstairs into the basement, then into a server room from which they downloaded the virtual reality file, in part corrupted since before their intrusion. They escaped without trouble and we wrapped up here, about three hours into a two hours intro session.

Thoughts After the Game
I'd say it went fairly well, I hit a roadblock inspiration-wise so I found some free adventure online and peppered a few additional details here and there, although it's a fairly linear adventure aiming more at showcasing bits of the world rather than opening up into a proper sandbox mission. Next time, we'll do some light roleplay around the debriefing to wrap up the case, and hopefully I'll have some prep to go into a more open-ended, player-driven approach. 

As it is often the case when I start running a game, I'm considering moving to different systems or going straight FKR soon-ish, possibly by the next session. I do like 24XX, but considering the way the table works and since it's not gonna be a procedural game (like, say, a dungeoncrawl), I think I'd probably benefit from going more towards diceless-ish play, though I'm not quite sure how to articulate why.

The anthro animals aspect didn't come up much, aside from visuals (at least in my head), or the one brawl between the jackal and wolf, where I thought to describe the jackal clawing and biting rather than just grabbing and punching.

Getting back into running games after a fairly long hiatus (for my habits) was a bit messy, but now that I got my fix, I'm excited to play again ASAP.