Friday, September 16, 2011

The Shadow over Innsmouth

In august the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast covered The Shadow over Innsmouth, covering it in 4 parts with Andrew Leman doing some EXCELLENT readings. I finally got around to listening to it and it was just an excellent podcast.

Also, good was the wrap up show with Robert Price and Donovan Loucks (who runs While Robert Price's interview was intellectually stimulating as always, Donovan spoke alot about the architecture that inspired lovecraft and spoke about how you really need to spend time in New England and get the feel to really enjoy this particular aspect of Lovecraft.

I can tell you that I brought one of my Lovecraft collections with me on a trip through New England, Salem, Boston, Gloucester. I remember one morning that I woke up early in a B&B in Gloucester before light and read some of The Shadow over Innsmouth. I reread the ending passage as the narrator speaks of strange longings to find that strange reef off the coast and then I got up and went to the window and looked out through flowery curtains at the grey sea, the sun just coming up in the horizon and the sky a mixture of yellow, grey, and crisp blue. It seemed to me I could remember a genetic calling toward the sea... perhaps a strange desire to step out past the spired churches and abandoned buildings, to tread over the rocky beach line, and to slide back into the waters that birthed a primordial ancestor long ago and explore the glories and wonders below...

Anyway, this is definitely one of my favorites of Lovecraft, listen to this podcast and read the story, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No More Infravision!

I think in my next B/X campaign (or possibly later on in the campaign that I'm running) I'm going to replace the infravision that is explained in the core rulebooks with Twilightvision and Darkvision.

Twilight vision would be the ability of elves and possibly other faery types to see in the moonlight/starlight as if it were daylight.

Darkvision would be the ability to see for a short range in near perfect darkness conditions. The range of vision would be 60-90ft in most situations. Nobody knows how this works, perhaps characters with darkvision can see some other exotic radiation source that is present in the underdark? Or maybe it's just magic?

Monday, September 12, 2011

You Can Call Me Al

Meet Allessandro Mancini, my Call of Cthulhu character for the Decade of Darkness campaign initially helmed by Daddy Grognard who also plays as Chester Allen, followed up by Old 4 Eyes who also plays as Solomon. The game is currently being ran by Dungeonmum whose character is currently indisposed but normally plays a mildly alcoholic millionaire pilot.

My thesis for Allessandro is:

A passionate bare-knuckle boxer who spends his days serving espresso in coffee bars and writing poetry.

Initially, I thought it would be fun to try playing a character in an investigative game who has almost no investigation skills. I would have to make my way though encounters with my punching ability (not good when facing things with tentacles) and my witty turn of phrase... I figured since CoC characters have such short lives, that it wouldn't matter much anyway.

However, over time, Al's personality has really grown. I see him as a tragically heroic character in a nihilistic universe. He believes in right and wrong, goes to church every week with his mother, he was forced out of his boxing career by gangsters who wanted him to throw fights, he spends his days serving high quality coffee to rich people and his nights dreaming up poetry. He is a dreamer, and an optimist in the face of everything that has happened to him. He relishes the good things in life, art, food, wine, coffee, etc... maybe he is a bit hedonistic, but hey, it is the roaring 20's!!!

"his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."

Quote from The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

X4 - Alternate Intro

Upon returning from the extra-dimensional adventures with Stephen Amber, you found yourselves in the midst of Glantri. The laws of this magocracy were almost hostile toward the dwarfs and fighters of your group and so you traveled south into Darokin to escape imprisonment or death. Darokin was a land of wealth and splendor where the vast amounts of treasure your party acquired during your adventures allowed you to literally live as kings!

You lived it up in the social circles and intrigues of Darokin city for weeks until you tired of the backstabbing and strict rules of etiquette that the elite have created for themselves. Finding a noble in financial troubles you were able to invest nearly all of your wealth in a great villa and surrounding vineyards along the southern edge of a great plateau that lies to the west of Darokin west of the Great Swamp.

Traveling there with hired experts in horticulture and winemaking you spent the next year living in splendor, feasting on lamb and steer and making wine. Bards came from all around to live in your villa, hear your stories, and sing you tales from abroad. Traveling princes, wizards, and wandering knights all made your stone villa a favorite respite from the harsh wilderness. Life is good and you began to forget the tiny song of adventure that once resounded in your head.

It was then when disaster struck! A massive army of humanoids, mostly orc and goblins but supported by cruel men, ogres, trolls, and worse stormed your villa in the night. You fought back with magic and swords but you were out of practice and unprepared for such an onslaught. Their numbers were immense and finally you were forced to flee east toward Elstarath with only your fastest horses and your most precious weapons and magical items and books.

On your way you began to alert the small villages and keeps that you found along the way, but most of them had already been evacuated. It seems that the army was much larger than you had even begun to imagine. The main army of Darokin had already marched west into the desert following the humanoid army that had retreated to find reinforcements.

Weeks went by and your party joined in with a rag-tag group of reserves who was planning to meet the main army that was now deep in the desert of fire fighting the humanoid force. You find yourselves entering a small village that was only recently taken back by the Darokin army, still among the smoking ruins of the village were the signs of nomad enemies - humans, orcs, and other unknown creatures. The leaders of your rag-tag group halted at this place and awaited the field commanders orders. He is held up in the largest house of the village and spends all day assigning orders and processing information. It seems that the reserve effort is pretty unorganized and mostly you have spent the last three days camped near the edge of town with no orders or information about what you should do to help. The fires of vengeance still burn in your chests, life on the road has hardened you once more, and you would love to be able to do something effective against this unknown army...

My buddies will be back in town this weekend of Sept 10-11 and we might be able to organize up and throw down another tabletop gaming session! I'm still trying to catch up from a week on vacation so this was the best introduction I could come up with for X4. I tried to come up with a more plausible (still very rail-roady) reason for the players to be involved in this adventure that made sense from coming out of the Castle Amber X2 adventure module. I think this will serve the purpose of emptying them of nearly all of their coin and give them a reason to care about facing down this strange army and give them the idea that stealth and not strong-arm tactics will be required (since they already faced this army and were all nearly killed). I'm not trying to make this a really open ended campaign right now, I'm basically railroading my players through a group of old-school adventures one by one and having fun just playing in them. My plan is to run them through a beefed up version of X1 next followed by something maybe placed in Alphatia or the hollow world or maybe both... I may have to make something up for the next two adventures because I'm expecting the players to make it up to ~10+ level by the time we finish the X1 adventure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Magical Dwarves and Sneaky Halflings

"They brought up their ponies, and carried away the pots of gold, and buried them very secretly not far from the track by the river, putting a great many spells over them, just in case they ever had the chance to come back and recover them."

That line is from the Roast Mutton chapter of "The Hobbit". I'm reading the Douglas A. Anderson annotated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's book before the movie comes out and re-reading the book I read as a 4th grader in elementary school as an adult has been really interesting.

That quoted line really struck me as I read over it. It didn't say specifically that Gandalf cast the spells... I got the picture that the dwarves know some spells which really got me thinking about dwarves in general and how in the Middle Earth world dwarves are more like their Norse mythological roots.

Douglas A talks about how almost all the dwarven names are pulled directly from the Poetic Edda (1923 Henry Adams Bellows translation) which I have never read, but I'm thinking of looking for a copy in English. I also found it interesting in his annotation that he spoke of a dwarf who cursed a man to roam the woods as a wild bear in the Blue Fairy Book 1889 edited by Andrew Lang (Douglas was making the point that the bear man is a Beorn prototype, however I was thinking more about the fact that the dwarf had magical abilities). In our ancestors folk myths of dwarves, they are magical creatures with magical abilities; I wonder why Gary decided to make them almost "anti-magical" in D&D? As I keep reading this book I'm going to think more and more about how (and if) I should adopt this stuff for my next D&D game. I kind of like the idea of dwarves having some magical abilities...

On a completely different note, it really spoke to me that Bilbo not only can hide in the woods at will (as the BX Halfling can), but in addition Bilbo shows that he can "move silently" with ease, and attempts to pick pockets of the trolls in this chapter. I think the current BX halfling abilities mock the hiding ability, but maybe the halfling should have a marginally better aptitude at moving silently and some other thief abilities than the average human does (not trained thieves). Perhaps it would be as simple as giving halflings some bonus to surprise checks (they may already have that in the B/X system or I might be crossing my systems) or give them a +1 on a d6 or approximately a +20% chance to attempt these things.

I probably won't implement any of this in one of my campaigns without a lot of thought, but it is interesting to imagine how one could adjust the B/X system to increase the Tolkeinishness of the system. I've also been reading the MERP roleplaying system and while I love rolemaster (it is a perverse sick love) the system as it stands really doesn't exactly match the flavor of tolkien. The art was amazing IMHO, the background they put in the MERP books is great, but the system mechanics are pretty far away from the Middle Earth universe as presented in the Hobbit and LOTR.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Forgotten Realms

I have both the 1987 Grey Box realms and the 1993 Forgotten Realms boxed set redone for 2nd edition rules. I have studied both of these boxed sets in detail and I have to say that the 1993 version by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb is the better of the two. I think it is really the Cyclopedia of the Realms from the grey box that I have the most issues with.

The 2nd edition boxed set presents the same gameworld that folks learned to love through the original modules and the grey box but it is represented in a more organized format. In the "Grand tour of the Realms" the entirety of Faerun is covered along with hints of what lies "off the maps" and it is presented in a way that provides for tons of adventuring hooks. The art is minimal, black and white, and provided from a bunch of different artists with rough wood cut and charcoal drawings that really hooked me as a kid.

I LOVED that they separated the prominent NPC's from the geography in this version of the realms. I pretty much never use an NPC that has ever been in a realms novel in my games of the realms. Each time I run the realms I like to try to put a slightly different spin on it. The characters are not just going to wander into Florin Falconhand, or Elminster, or Khelben Arunsun. I don't use these characters in my games at all. Most of my players have read more realms novels than I have so I like to draw inspiration from the novels but exclude all specifics.

The fact that all the NPC's are tucked into a small section of the Running the Realms book in the 2nd edition printing of the game means that they are easily bypassed when looking for something out of these books. The dieties are all organized well and all of the 1st edition gods are present in case you just want to play a "historical" realms campaign before the ToT.

Speaking of the fact that all the gods from the original edition are still there, I think that Jeff and Ed tried hard to keep cross compatibility between the two versions of the game. There are almost no actual game statistics for anything in this boxed set. All NPC's are listed as N hm T7 and then a couple of paragraphs of description, this is easily converted into any game system you would like Original, Basic, 1e, 2e, 3e, etc... play this gameworld with any of these, do it yourself, make up your own rules. Here is a world to play in, period.

While I love almost everything about the 2nd edition realms, there is one piece in particular that I took offense against:

I hated the "time of troubles". While it wasn't half as bad as the "coming of the Shade" and all the massive world altering changes that occurred with that, I didn't appreciate TSR at the time telling me that I "had" to take the realms in a certain direction. I liked Bhaal and Bane and didn't want to let them leave my campaign. They were far better evil gods for my clerics than Cyric. The wild magic zones and dead magic zones I could take or leave, they really didn't add much for my game etc... However, this is easily changed. I just continued to begin my realms adventures between 1344 and 1358DR. I typically stole all the plot hooks from the "News of the Realms" section and changed the specifics to meet the situation that I was in and started a game. The actions of the PC's would begin to craft a story that would take the realms in any direction that I saw fit.

I had realms games where the time of trouble happened and those that didn't. I played games where Amn and Calisham had massive wars that embroiled the rest of Faerun in small scale battles for trade and land. The thing I loved about the running games in FR was that all my players had a common understand of the dieties, the races, and the major organizations. I could get right to playing the games without explaining all about my new game world of the day. The forgotten realms were always flexible enough for me to play the games that I wanted to play in them, but at the same time familiar enough to my players to have a common understanding of the game world.

If you have never checked out the second edition version of the realms, I would recommend you do.