Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Two-Headed Serpent for Pulp Cthulhu

The Two-Headed Serpent is a campaign for Call of Cthulhu and its supplement Pulp Cthulhu, written by Paul Fricker, Scott Dorward, and Matthew Sanderson, the trio best known as the Good Friends of Jackson Elias.  From the back cover:
The world needs heroes, now more than ever.
The Two-Headed Serpent is an action-packed, globe-spanning, and high-octane campaign set in the 1930s for Pulp Cthulhu.  The heroes face the sinister conspiracies of an ancient race of monsters hell-bent on taking back a world that was once theirs.
We began play in early July and ran weekly 3-hour sessions up to mid December.  Accounting for a few cancellations, I believe it took us 18 sessions in all to complete the campaign.  We lost one player after the first game, another after chapter 5, and picked up a player just after chapter 4, and we had three players that were there from start to finish.  Four investigators usually felt like an appropriate size to me.  Having completed the game, here are my thoughts on the individual adventures and the campaign as a whole.  Spoilers after the break.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Don't Go Down the Well

Last week during our AS&SH game, my players were setting off into the deep deserts outside of Xambaala in search of a cannibal cult that had been tormenting the citizens of the city.  Before long they passed by a depression in the dunes: a small pool, surrounded by foliage.  An oasis in the barren wasteland.  I asked if they would like to explore it.
One of my players responded
"Oases are just wells in the sand."
And they gave it a wide berth and got the hell out of there.
So where did my players develop this fear of wells that transcends locale and form?

Well, it actually goes back to this thing:
From the Dungeon Alphabet
This image made me want to create a particularly gruesome monster to devour any adventurers who got overly nosy about deep, dark places.  I statted up my first DCC monster based on this horrific thing.
The battle with this monstrosity is one of the most memorable moments in our years of gaming together. With its multiple limbs it lashed out at most of the party at once, and its poisonous mandibles tore into their leader, sapping him of strength.  Despite its ferocity, the adventurers were getting the better of it, and it failed its morale and fled deeper into the well.  To my surprise, the warrior was not willing to let it get away.  He leaped into the well after it.

This was a pivotal moment for our group.  We ended the session with that leap and I set to work on figuring out what the hell was down that well.  This monster was the more fearsome thing they'd encountered and in an occupied dungeon with multiple factions I'd described the room as covered in dust and cobwebs, so surely the residents of the dungeon had learned to avoid it.  The possibilities at the bottom of this well became tantalizingly ancient and dangerous and powerful.  And our brave warrior was plummeting toward them.

The chain of events that this encounter led to culminated some six months later with a total party kill due to an encounter with a vengeful dragon mother who smelled the scent of her son on the scales of the armor our well diving warrior was wearing.  It was a story of hubris and justice and righteous anger.  Of all my years of play, it was the most memorable and enjoyable and satisfying arc I've experienced.

All because an idiot jumped into a well.

I don't think I've had a better game since, despite whatever great ruleset or module I've bought or what advice I've read in blogs.  Those few months of gaming made me sure this is a hobby I would keep for years.

It also made my players eternally cautious of wells and anything that might possibly be construed as a well.  From Rappan Athuk to The Ring to the Mines of Moria, wells have a significant impact on our psyche.  They represent the unknown, the hidden depths, all the potential for glory or despair obstructed by an open portal of darkness.

What could go wrong?

Friday, October 12, 2018

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire


Zak S posted a questionnaire to get folks talking about the OSR scene.  Since I'm trying to post more than twice a year, I figured I'd chime in.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
I think Rob Conley's Fantasy Sandbox guide is one of the best starting places for creating your own thing, which is pretty much the heart of this hobby.
2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
Don't go down the well.
3. Best OSR module/supplement:
Wormskin.  Dolmenwood is a forest I want to get lost in for years.
4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
Trollsmyth's Shields Shall Be Splintered is pretty great.
5. How I found out about the OSR:
When I got back into the hobby a few years back I was looking at a lot of new games and someone suggested I monitor the Humble Bundle to see what comes up.  When Castles & Crusades showed up, I grabbed that and was thrilled that it felt like going back to the sort of game I played growing up.  It surprised me that there was an interest still in that kind of gameplay so I followed the tracks in and haven't emerged since.
6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
I like random tables and Wizardawn has probably got the best collection of them.
7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
With the demise of G+, MeWe is looking like a pretty good, active community with a lot of familiar faces.
8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
I'm on various Discords sometimes, but mostly I just with a few friends on Hangouts.
9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
This is a hobby that is worth playing well.
10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
Call of Cthulhu
11. Why I like OSR stuff:
It's a solid framework of rules that can be adapted to damn near anything and still be compatible with everything else.  That's pretty liberating.
12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
J. V. West's Black Pudding zines are wonderfully fun and have a fun art style.  This is my favorite source of random henchmen to populate the tavern with.
Colin Chapman's Drunken Debauchery table is an instant adventure generator.
13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
I think even the best bloggers go in waves so no matter who I choose would probably dry up for a while.  Coin & Scrolls has been producing a lot of interesting content for the past year, so I'd go with him right now.
14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
I like my jousting rules.  We always need more knightly games in our games.
15. I'm currently running/playing:
I'm still in the midst of the Anthropophagi of Xambaala for AS&SH.
16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
Even attribute generation methods have more interesting debates at this point.
17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:


Sunday, September 23, 2018

AS&SH: The Anthropophagi of Xambaala



The Anthropophagi of Xambaala is a module for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea written by Corey R. Walden and kickstarted by North Wind Adventures along with The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor in the aptly named Beasts and Cannibals campaign.  The kickstarter was launched back in March with an estimated delivery date in August.  PDFs were delivered to backers on July 30th and the printed books started shipping over Labor Day weekend.  I've said before that Jeff Talanian runs an extremely professional and punctual operation and he continues to deliver.

I've had time to read through the adventure and my game group has a few weeks of play in it now, so let's see what this Anthropophagi stuff is all about.  Spoiler review after the break.

Barrowmaze Mapping (Area 1)


I've been reading through Barrowmaze lately and have to say it is pretty cool.  Written by Greg Gillespie based on his home-game dungeon, with the best lineup of artists outside of the DCC rulebook, Barrowmaze is a sprawling 375-room single-level megadungeon with an undead theme.  It was published through crowdfunding in 2014 and has been consistently referenced among the best dungeons published in the OSR since.  From the back cover:
Local villagers whisper of a mysterious place deep in the marsh - a place shrouded in mist and dotted with barrow mounds, ruined columns, and standing stones.  The tomb-robbers who explore beneath the mounds, or rather the few who return, tell tales of labyrinthine passages, magnificent grave goods, and terrifying creatures waiting in the dark.  Are you brave (or foolish) enough to enter Barrowmaze?
It's a pretty classic setup.  Written for Labyrinth Lord, the book includes a gazetteer introducing the region around the Barrowmaze, including a small hex map to explore and the town of Helix to serve as base of operations.  There's a smattering of new monsters, spells, magic items, and some nice tables for dungeon dressing and random crypt generation.  For more of an overview, you can check out Questing Beast's video, and there are plenty of reviews out there praising it.  After the break is some mapping stuff, so if you're playing in or planning to play in a Barrowmaze game, go away.

Friday, April 20, 2018

MCC: The Arrival


 Goodman Games launched their kickstarter for Mutant Crawl Classics on June 24, 2016.  Fulfillment was originally estimated for fall 2017 but after backer feedback on the pdf drafts, they decided to delay printing to correct some mistakes and their new estimate was May 2017.  They posted a few days ago that shipping had begun, but they made another mistake - not everyone got their backerkit tracking numbers correctly.  So it when my apartment mailroom notified me that I had a delivery waiting, I got a nice surprise.  Photos ahead.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Gary Con X

The Seat of Honor

Day One

I arrived at Gary Con X around 3pm on Wednesday.  This is only my second con to attend after going to NTRPG last June.  It's a significantly larger con but still nowhere near the size of the big cons.  Whereas at NTRPG I carefully booked all my time, I only scheduled a single game each day, hoping that I'd be able to find enough extra stuff to do to fill my time.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On Challenge


There is a shortage of player intended advice in RPG books, but the 1e PHB contains a section on "Successful Adventures" full of good tips for playing the game.  Although it assumes a level of out of game commitment among the players which likely seems absurd to most GMs, it ends with this poignant section on why players should care about playing well:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Jousting for OSR games


I've been wanting to introduce some medieval games into my campaigns.  It's always nice to have opportunities for wealth and fame that don't involve fighting monsters.  Jousting tournaments can provide a whole host of adventuring opportunities as the PCs will rub shoulders and exchange blows with a great many characters of varying social standing, and how they conduct themselves can greatly influence their standing.

Surprisingly, there aren't a lot of jousting rules that I could find.  None of the various rulebooks I own have any, and a cursory internet search only turned up a lot of overly complicated 3x-5e houserules.  Fine if you're into that, but they won't suit my purposes, so I figured I'd take a crack at a simple jousting system that accomplishes a few goals.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

AS&SH Roll20 Update and Rats in the Walls Review


My Roll20 campaign has had eleven sessions so far.  I posted recaps of our first session and another update after a few more sessions.  While I haven't felt like writing up session reports lately, I did want to write a review for the first official AS&SH module that I've inserted into our game, Jeff Talanian's Rats in the Walls.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Villain Spotlight: Jenner


In 1979, after his pitches were rejected at Disney where he was working as an animator, Don Bluth and a group of his fellow animators left Disney to form their own studio, Don Bluth Productions.  The studio is known for their unique animated films that often dealt with darker subject matter than Disney films.  An American Tail is a somewhat depressing story of the immigrant experience, beginning with an antisemitic raid by Cossacks on a Jewish Ukrainian village.  Once they flee to America they find their dreams of utopia are somewhat dashed by the terrible poverty the lower class immigrants live in in America and that the same prejudices are there as well.  All Dogs Go to Heaven is a heartwarming story of gambling addiction, smoking drinking, murder, and the soul's ultimate fate for heaven or hell.  It features some of the most disturbing images of demons and hell to be found in a children's movie.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fear the Walking Dead

In my current AS&SH campaign, my players have encountered zombies twice.  The first was running into four zombies in a corridor.  They threw down oil, lit the hallway on fire, led the burning zombies into some other monsters so they'd fight, and only when there was only two left, badly burnt and wounded, did they engage them in combat.  The second encounter, they opened a door to a room, saw eight zombies, slammed the door shut, spiked it closed, and fled to the opposite side of the dungeon.  For the first time ever, my players are deathly afraid of zombies.