Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5e Background: Cake

fuck you
Stone grinds the harvest, a year's work reduced to so much sand and waste. The knife slices cleanly through firm flesh, vital juices running everywhere. A strange alchemy takes place to create desire, need...addiction. The unborn are destroyed for love, for fun, for tradition. Flames lick the air and scalding steel forges something new, greater than the sum of its parts. Something whole yet incomplete. You are soft now but soon that will change. Raise yourself higher, make yourself desired by all, it's still not enough. A shroud now. Yes, father. I shall become delicious.
If you choose this background, I don't even know, man. The important thing is to remember that you seem normal flesh and blood. You're just confectionary. You need not interpret this too literally. Perhaps you're a tart. (Steady, Robin.) Perhaps you're trifle. Perhaps this background simply allows you to realize your dream of becoming a gnome stripper. Determine from whence you came, a culinary institution if not some secret master chef.

Tool Proficiencies: Cook's Utensils
Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, Medicine
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A case of ingredients, two recipe books (one of recipes you found, one of recipes you invented), neat working clothes and apron, 30gp worth of silverware, a sack containing toxic but gorgeous berries.

Feature: Just Desserts

Everyone likes to treat themselves now and again. People from all cultures like having you around. Even evil people don't turn their nose up at Cake. You are never short of people who want to spend time with you. Not all of them are going to be taken in by you but maybe, just maybe, they will.

You are also rarely the first to fall under suspicion in a group. Many won't believe you are capable of trickery, murder...they don't WANT to believe it. Look at you. How could you hurt anybody? What could something so sweet do to hurt anyone? The exception of course is where poison is involved...

You may invest any Spell you know into a slice of cake, or a cupcake, as a ritual. The spell takes effect when the cake is eaten or destroyed and you take one Hit Die of damage. Sympathetic magic. You may wield a frosting bag or serving knife as an Arcane Focus.

Suggested Characteristics:

You can be pretty heavy in the metaphysical sense but you find a light touch works better. You're accustomed to giving of yourself, and to sharing, but you know in your heart you can't help everyone. Sitting around for too long leaves you feeling antsy, and you'd do anything to shake off that feeling. You may prefer to seem affable but mundane or you may prefer to look like Danzig traced a new version of Candyland, depending upon temperament. You believe a little touch of salty language and bitterness makes life all the sweeter.

d8 Personality Trait:
1. I have an energy about me that children love.
2. There are deeper layers only the few I let in can see.
3. I prefer a fresh approach to a staid yet stale strategy.
4. I seem a little nutty on the surface.
5. I'm not hung up on beauty, because it's what's inside that counts.
6. I'm so pretty. Look at me. So. Pretty. Instead of a dark lord you shall have a QUEEEEN!
7. Who doesn't love a good party?
8. I start fires.

d6 Ideal:
1. Good Taste. Decorum and refinement should be celebrated, ugliness in appearance and behavior shunned. (Alignment)
2. Personal Glory. I like to be the center of attention. (Stuff)
3. Richness. I want to leave my crummy childhood behind. (I)
4. Greed. There's so much that's ripe for the taking, and I want more. (Ignore)
5. Acceptance. There is no need to be restricted by binary notions of entrees and desserts. Some Cakes are white, some are pink, some are a mix, or are a color out of space. Each Cake is unique, and that uniqueness is special and should be celebrated. (Bon)
6. Hedonism. It's what I want now. It feels good now. (Appetit)

d6 Bond:
1. I like to enrich the lives of the poor, who don't often get what I have.
2. There is an appointment which I must keep, or everything will be spoiled.
3. The honeymoon is over. Now what do I do?
4. I'm going to spice up local politics and upset all the saccharine glad-handers.
5. I carry a secret with me about the king's baby.
6. There is a recipe for success, and I'm after it.

d6 Flaw:
1. I make a mess of things.
2. I am a bad influence on those around me.
3. I fall for every half-baked scheme.
4. Overly ostentatious, terrified of people seeing the real me.
5. Crumble under pressure.
6. I am so baked right now dude.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

REVIEW: The Drugs in the Scarecrow, by Festus Caber


A Tunnel #26 was pulped by Adder Entertainment, with only a few advance copies made available to hobby distributors and close confidants of slot car iconoclast Festus Caber. Caber of course had guest edited that issue while the magazine's EIC (Molly Malloy) was touring the central provinces with her quartet Abortion Wagon. This makes issue 26 something of a gold Zelda cartridge among Tattoonatics and special task forces. Topher Grace has one, lucky fuck.

Caber had begun experimenting with terror therapy and was maybe not in the best place to assume such responsibility. I've never read one of these myself and only partial scans exist which I won't link to, court order, but they're out there. He rearranged dungeons and turned Cullen Chap's opinion piece on Poul Anderson into an erasure poem about thunder. My favorite is the "Seeking Players" page with every game's location changed to THE NIGHT. Malloy returned to oversee the three part Bridge series in A Tunnel #27-29 and nothing was said publicly about issue 26. This is when he started wearing his signature cast. People assumed Caber had been canned, and indeed no letters exist from this period, unusual for such a rigorous documentarian. Everyone was then surprised when, a week after the purge of the unspeakable issue, shelves were suddenly warmed by The Drugs in the Scarecrow.

Romantic horror and old buildings are fine but when I say Caber brought a gothic sensibility to his work I'm talking about the opposite of what is considered right society being introduced to the concept of empire, going "Oh, being the power and structure of this kingdom seems awesome," and trying it on for themselves. I mean the knowledge from ancient smoke that every thing has both a soul and a demon in it and that your traditions, whatever they might be and whyever you might have them, are all that give you the power to kill. There is still a line to be drawn not only to the Universal Monsters we associate with gothic lit but, also, to the modernist tendency to look at the conventions of romanticism in these works' DNA and go "Needs less ennui. Needs more chainsaws." It's a pyramid of hell and yes.

This next shit is me and metaphors. Skip it if you want to get to the part with blood. Demons exist, abstractly. We only ever fight the ones we can perceive as being real. They only become real when we use a ground wire and give them a shape. Alcohol, heroin, fan fiction, all popular scapegoats, but the problem is deeper. The power to act and move towards a goal, good or ill, versus the stillness and permanence of nothing. Potential Demons by the jigowatts, becoming Kinetic Demons given an outlet. We live in a cloud of them. There's a shitty Star Wars movie of them in all our bodies, in all our minds, waiting to betray is and become weakness, need, fear, pride. Step two dimensions to the right, though, and this struggle is as phsycial and bound by the law of real space as someone solving one of those little ball bearing mazes from the grocery store. The metaphor is not literalized in The Drugs in the Scarecrow. The metaphor is something else. Not language or interface....perhaps legend, defining markers and context and orientation and distance and scale.

The Drugs in the Scarecrow is about Crowley's Mongoose, which is absolutely a band even though it isn't yet.

Wolves are underrated in a world where you fight lizard dog babies and taxidermy mistakes. The village of Recrimination is haunted by things that are alive. The more fucked up you get from finding the Hen Witch's caches in the farms around the township, the more of the danger you see. The more you're aware of. The more aware it is of you, and wants to kill you. The problem is that you also become aware of lots of things which aren't real, and may have a lucid moment as you stand over a slaughtered constable with blood on your hands. Who needs werewolves in your game when the regular old wolves can get you to listen to them?

I've considered rewriting a version of this for Fiasco and releasing it free, but honestly my favorite thing about the whole damn book is the drugs table, which won't translate, and which I mostly lifted whole for my fuck druids but which boils down to "between poison and magic there's drugs." It's the best PSA against and for substance abuse I've ever failed to save in. I think Jamie Delano read this.

You don't have to use the Hen Witch, but if you do make her scary. You don't have to make her scary, but if you don't make her Mark McKinney. I prefer more of an Angelica Huston playing a cassowary approach myself.

You are alone in the end and if you did your job then there's nothing such as a town any more. The townspeople are dead, fled, changed, joined, or coming for you because their buildings are burning. The module has a unique ending - a freeze frame. Evade your pursuers through brambled trails and outrun them across an open field as they set torch to tall grass around you. Survive twelve rounds of that and you "win;" the module ends with you still escaping or trying. The conclusion is inevitable but for the moment you live. If you live for that moment you live forever. You are the charcoal of a burned scarecrow. You are three hundred wolves.

Final note: yes, the bread lady is Margaret Thatcher. Don't let it bother you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

DUNGEON MIX: The Many Necks of Vodemarche

Just Add Map and Numbers
So Vodemarche the Living is an odd kind of name. Never mind that. He kept the lands touched by his tower's shadow under thumb. Several small villages ring the keep like Dracula-Towns, all of them still providing fear (the primest worship) to the god who will live again. Inevitably. Only he won't, because something went wrong. That's where you come in.


You've heard that deep within the Vodehorne's spires and labyrinths there lies an enormous treasure, a modest treasure and the key to an even greater treasure elsewhere, or phenomenal power.


Once Vodemarche's name was associated with mercy and generosity, before the changes got to him. One word from that Vodemarche's lips and a generations-old blight incurred by sinful ancestors will be removed from a neighboring kingdom.


Chiroryders wish to resurrect Vodemarche, all of him, as an army of god-kings to rule them and lay waste to the world. You'd probably better stop them.


Vodemarche was the only thing keeping the doubling-demon, Nikkeuradedafesas, from breaching the bottomless mirror. If the horror is loosed then no meat will sate, and no man or god shall see another face but the wailing shape of the multidevil.

All of these are of course true.

Some things which maybe aren't: Rumors of the Vodehorne

1. Ghostly servants are only visible in the lightless new moon. They still keep the place spotless.
2. The Arrow of Erasure lies within. Getting shot with it erases all memory of a lost or forbidden love.
3. No one can enter the larder, stocked with dragon fats, oils, blood, tears, meats, eggs, etc....they never spoil or age, but the door has vanished.
4. The answer to all riddles within is "autumn."
5. The shadow of the Vodehorne sweeps like a clock across the face of the land, scouring it of the unconsecrated dead.
6. Vodehorne was bestowed as a wedding present by a king with no right claim. The bride and groom still journey here, and their taking possession will have horrible wonderful consequences.
7. The Vocehorne crypt contains the Five Sacred Wives, who rise and come to town with prophecies midsummer and midwinter.
8. There is a torture chamber which stalks the halls of Vodehorne, moving from room to room, as if it were located there all along. It follows music.
9. Children who enter Vodehorne become summonable.
10. Secret signs and spells within the turquoise tower contain the mystery of the world milk.
11. Vodehorne is the crown of the one true Vodemarche, star giant and catastrophe.
12. Nets never need mending when trawling through the runoff from Vodehorne.
13. Each stone was stolen from another castle. A different one for each stone. They correspond with their sisters.
14. The number of gargoyles changes from viewer to viewer. No one knows how many are really there.
15. It's never fully dark around Vodehorne, always bright, like a bonfire reflecting off night clouds. (New adventure title: Bonfire of the Night Clouds.) Some think the lord secreted a private sun to power his tower's shadow.
16. The archtower rotates, facing this town or that, as if searching.
17. You never thirst or hunger or tire or sleep within Vodehorne, now Vodemarche is not there to decree that you do. You simply drop where you stand and die for want of well most things.
18. Only the inebriated man may tred the iron jawbridge and not be burned.
19. Another you has lived your life, followed your path, and come to Vodehorne. You will meet her and one of you must die.
20. Dogs roam the grounds, from all kingdoms and worlds. They are only ever glimpsed eating something still alive, dragging it away.
Getting to Vodehorne... foot takes a full day out of any village, geographical oddity or sorcery? Leave any time but before breakfast and arrive in the middle of the night. horse requires a check to make sure you and your ride can keep your balance on the steep and crumbling trails. Otherwise you arrive in three hours. stranger mounts will be a gamble. If the animal you are riding is typically thought of as fierce it will become feral and escape if it fails a save. If it can be described as cute or mundane it will refuse to trudge up the mountain, warned off by aeons of genetic survival math. If the animal you ride can be described first and foremost as exotic then you will arrive safely within 2 hours. This is a spell effect, and a trap. Your mount will be inexorably drawn as if through gravity toward the garden, and touching the grasses will render it a topiary. Slowly. Easy check to escape the same fate. coach will require a lot of gold and some serious negotiation. Your coachman will be driving like a thing possessed. You must make 6 checks using YOUR saves (not the coachman's), Dexterity/Death Ray/Luck whatever you have, to make sure he doesn't flip the damn thing careening around everywhere. If it flips then in addition to whatever damage everyone takes the coachman will disappear and you will arrive in the middle of the night. If all goes well then you'll arrive in an hour. You will never see the coachman again. air shows that the buildings are laid out like the surrounding countryside. The archtower is where Vodehorne is, the inner keep is the mountain, and the surrounding buildings correspond out of scale to the neighboring villages. This also inevitably alerts the gargoyles, who are only an alarm. They raise and lock the jawbridge with their cry, save to avoid deafening, save to maintain dead reckoning as you go full vertigo, save to remain aloft. boat and sewer requires a lot of rope, a day's climb straight up in addition to your normal travel time, and bolting on a subdungeon. This is an open concept dungeon with cavernous openings, occupied by a 9 autoghuls. Seeing you wakes them from a torpor state and sends them into a feeding frenzy, whereupon they begin trying to eat their own hands. They still try to kill and eat you, running into you like footballers, but pose the greatest danger in their potential to knock you back out of the subdungeon and send you plummeting to death. teleportation, wishing, or other magic is really difficult. If you accomplish it then you will find yourself horribly changed and your company scattered. invitation following a successful Raise Dead spell or its ilk will result in an uneventful arrival, usually in less than half a day.

If you're some high level badass, by the by, Vodehorne makes dragons explode. Additionally, if your game has it, Stone to Flesh will not work within Vodehorne because the masonry of the structure is already a kind of patient hissing flesh.

Viewed from a distance when placed in a hexcrawl the shadow of the archtower reaches to nearly the edge of the hex but never quiiiite to or beyond that edge, no matter how far away Vodehorne actually is from the viewer, and if you face the bottomless mirror then you see (distant and wee yet somehow so clear) an eye not unlike your own staring out from that shadow's genesis.

The Ancient Skull of Vodemarche is the Football.
You Want the Football.

a.) You begin with the skull in your possession. Maybe you get the skull before you even hear of Vodemarche or his castle or the craziness. Maybe you can pry it away from its custodians if you explain the situation.
b.) Chiroryders begin with the skull, and you must race them to the castle, intercept the skull if possible, and prevent their awakening of the Vodemarches.
c.) Neither party has the skull, and it must be recovered from a ten-times-consecrated chapel, ever wracking and darkening from the power it seeks to contain, in Blankanova, two days' ride from Vodehorne in a valley that never sees stars. The blessings fade because the temple at the burial site receives no worshipers. The citizens are all monstrous "walking eels," capable of casting Disguise Self at will. They have a church of their own in the waterfall, and worship the monster within, but they aren't up to anything sinister.
d.) The skull is buried in a mound of treasure within Vodehorne. Once uncovered every trap will reset and door relock. Otherwise it is not conspicuous, and the party may well leave it alone and be off with their treasure, never paying it any mind. It doesn't get up and come at you or anything.

What Manner of Being Lies Within Vodehorne?

  • Chiroryders are a company of faerie demon vampires sealed in walking crypts of cold iron armor. They can move in daylight but can never feed or transform and so are weaker than normal creatures of their ilk. Damaging their armor in the daylight kills them outright. Damaging them at night summons a vampire with the same number of HP and Charm Person x2. They have hemokinesis, and can make your blood gush like a firehose from any scratch. This means you take twice normal damage from them once unsheathed, and they heal equal half of any damage they deal each round. They do not have other abilities associated with vampires. They can be turned sure but also avoid the sign of St. Vestalk the Chaste, the Eye of the River Empress (which you'll only have if you slay the god in the waterfall above), and the Book of Torch. They are considered always capable of a Detect Magic-like radar for thirst, ash, and fucking.
  • Empty suits of armor, in styles reaching back centuries, some missing arms legs or heads, some just torsos, patrol and crawl along the corridors of the ancestral keep. Animate stuffed animals also prowl but freed from hunger, urge, or instinct, they keep to themselves unless threatened. This is Vodemarche trying to come back, proving unable, and the magic of his resurrection grounding itself in empty bodies like lightning rods.
  • There are indeed spirits of favorite servants still haunting the halls, but they manifest them only as a benign phenomenon: leaving a room and then re-entering it sees the room completely put back together, absent whatever being you destroyed in it. This can make keeping track of which way you just went tricky.
  • Mummy butlers inhabit the crypts. They attend the remains of the Vodemarches and will only attack if you approach Vodemarche. They attack by covering those they touch with their own wrappings, which then constrict while also conferring normal mummy vulnerability to fire to their target. The butlers then fight as a normal Skeleton until they are destroyed or until all PCs in the fight are killed, at which point they turn to ash anyway.
  • There is a demon spider here. It is as large as a fat garden spider but has dragon AC and 100HP. Its bite wounds, heals the spider, temporarily paralyzes, and has a side effect of directed paranoia. You will come to distrust someone specific around you. If you don't Perceive the spider, you may even blame them for your maladies. The spider has an ability like Shadow Step, only between cobwebs throughout the castle.
  • There are three children here, toddler age, favored progeny of Vodemarche once. They make no menace and know nothing of value apart from the location of one (1) of the secret passages. They cannot leave Vodehorne, and will tell you that. Attempting to take them turns the good Samaritan into a toddler themselves and transports the child back to the inner courtyard.
  • There is a red thing.
  • A prisoner has been here since before the Vodehorne was raised. The other cells were built around hers. She is from a time before titans, a woman who never knew magic, god, or hell. She is tall and fit. She is gray, with long brown hair, otherwise unremarkable. What's the biggest giant in your game? Use those stats. She is mute and once freed will wreck her way straight through the castle. Even if you survive her wrath the castle may not. Some structures will collapse. Have fun with that.
  • Storybook illustrations will crawl out if their book is opened. They are pleasant but patient. They will try to burn and eat you in the night.
  • Vodemarche's thirteen headless skeletons.

What is Vodemarche's Deal?

Vodemarche achieved a kind of serial immortality by transplanting his head to new bodies as the old one (already extended far beyond a normal life span) gave out, preparing his new bodies from birth. Yeah like that character you're thinking of. And like that one issue, yes. And that character, right. Moving on. These transformations had a profound effect on Vodemarche as time went on, and his personality fluctuated wildly, sometimes a savior sometimes a destroyer. To the people in the Dracula-Towns, Vodemarche is like Godzilla. Sometimes he would revisit old bodies. Sometimes conquerors or assassins would slay him, but he would always return, the spells he prepared at birth drawing a youth to the Vodehorne and forcing them to remove their own head and sew on Vodemarche's. Sixty two years ago this went awry. Vodemarche's new "project" was turned vampire and Vodemarche passed before he learned this. The girl walked toward Vodehorne and burned in the daylight. The undeath of undeath fell to those who had wronged Vodemarche. His skull was taken by a local parson to a holy place and kept safe. Until now.

The lower you go into the spiraling crypts, the older a Vodemarche you find. Distant relations, daughters, husbands, and favorite pets may also be found properly entombed here. Vodemarche himself sits on his many thrones. Vodemarche was fond of redecorating. Any Vodemarche may be awoken by affixing the head to the spine, where the two will join together like magnetism and reknit.

For convenience's sake, use ascending dragon stats for the Vodemarches, including spell lists, apart from Vodemarche XIII. A brief description of each is provided.

Vodemarche I: Tamer of the mountain and builder of roads. He knows every secret of Vodehorne and how to transfer your head safely. He knows nothing of the other Vodemarches. His skeleton is too old and ruined to come together properly, but he can answer twelve questions before collapsing again with finality.
Vodemarche II: Madman. Giggles a lot. Sits regarding a boot on a raised, velveted pedestal. Wants nothing to do with Chiroryders or the party or clemency for past grievances, any of that. Advises you to be like the boot. Will ask for the party's footwear, or offer to buy it. If refused he can animate boots, forcing you to dance or run up stairs and off a parapet. Otherwise will only attack if you try to take his head or approach the boot. II is himself wearing Sparkshoes, iron-soled boots which emit a small spark when stamped on stone and which cause one item he can see to catch fire.
Vodemarche III: The eater of wombs and killer of saints. His skeleton actually stands, sort of, supported by old armor, his bony fingers wrapped around the throat of a great hound's skeleton, still trying to throttle it to death. He will kill you unless you pledge yourself to him and give up 2 levels to give him power enough to become whole again.
Vodemarche IV: Penitent man and Vodepope. Gives up his life willingly but otherwise will not aid PCs unless they convert on the spot.
Vodemarche V: Weeper and gnasher. Lies slumped upon his seat, almost slid out. If you wake him he will scream, ringing through every hall in Vodehorne (3 wandering enemy rolls), rip his own head off again, and throw it into the darkness.
Vodemarche VI: Takes on the guise of a gorgeous human lady who then bequeathes Vodehorne to the PCs and leaves. If the PCs stop her or ask her any questions or detain her in any way she vanishes. PCs left holding the skull, and the body that was there is not there now. PCs no longer have a claim to Vodehorne and everything in the castle will try to kill them, even normally benign inhabitants.
Vodemarche VII: Speaks and reads every language. Only speaks the secrets of Nikkeuradedafesas and the bottomless mirror. Sharp PCs will note that this is how they seek to resurrect all Vodemarches at once while also using their combined power to seal the multidevil away forever (or drawing it out under their united dark control?). He then falls silent and life leaves him. Adorned in a gown of silver and rubies. Each ruby's reflection shows something you did that made you feel super awkward and uncomfortable.
Vodemarche VIII: The animal. Gorilla skeleton. Will cast spells and attack relentlessly.
Vodemarche IX: The Curse. Reassembled skeleton vomits dark smoke which envelops everything. When the smoke clears each PC has some horrible curse and must save vs Fear or flee the castle. The dark cloud will follow any PC who flees, even into town, where it changes everyone there, and so forth.
Vodemarche X: The James Bond villain. He will lead you quietly to a study which is impossible to detect when not in his presence. He will cat-and-mouse the PCs into revealing everything they came here for, and any other important information about other active quests. Everything in this room is poisoned. Everything hides some kind of weapon. Only killing him again unlocks the door. Exiting the study exits the castle. Reentering causes painful boils to appear all over your skin. Pressing forwards causes them to burst, likely fatally.
Vodemarche XI: The child. Waking it casts a Raise Dead on the whole castle. This kills Chiroryders and leaves them as just other animated suits of armor, fighting the other suits, for eternity. Once this begins neither side of this fracas will be picky about who they attack. Any other dead people, for example PCs who expired, will be raised with Young Vodemarche's mind. All of them. Vodemarche just wants to play as a child, and he will insist on this. He will bring his other new bodies down to encourage you to play.
Vodemarche XII: The freak. Great bony growths everywhere. How many spells can XII cast? That's how many arms it has, and all spells are administered by touch. This is the mutant protector who the villages respect as well as fear. If you caused some trouble in town before coming here, he will only slaughter you. If he finds out the villages actively opposed his resurrection he will silently weep then promptly release the prisoner.
Vodemarche XIII: This body still sits in the throne room high in the archtower above the central keep. The throne is a massive thing with spikes and spires like Sauron's head. It is nude, intersexed, and its neck stump still bleeds. Attaching the skull will not stop this bleeding nor will it regrow his face flesh. XIII will thank you for your service and send you on your way with 1 level's worth of gold and 1 fulfilled Limited Wish unless you have taken anything else while you were in Vodehorne. Then you are forbidden to ever leave, and magically cannot until XIII is dead again. It will dress itself in Prince John clothes but should always be treated as having stone golem skin. Approaching the corpse without the skull causes the throne to come alive, dump its occupant, and climb up on its spires like spider legs and try to kill you. He cares little for other affairs and must be negotiated with carefully. If left to his own devices, after the PCs depart, he will declare war on a neighboring kingdom within 3 days. He may offer to hire the PCs as lieutenants if they return. Raising XIII lights a fire in the great hall, out of which crawls a serpentine, 8-legged cougar, XIII's familiar, who always has at least as much HP as XIII can only be damaged down to whatever XIII's hit points are. The blood which flows from XIII's stump can unconsecrate holy ground and disenchant magic items. It also renders poisons inert. Otherwise harmless. XIII knows any spell contained in his library downstairs.

There is a red thing?

You can only see it if you know about it. Seeing it means it can kill you.

Now Multidevil.

The beast whose capture so warped XII. Every round he creates another you. Each you knows the other(s) must die. Some may suspect you are the multidevil. He will hide amongst you in your forms once the madness begins. When the original you dies, all the other yous turn into Nikkeuradedafesas, and the legions of the multidevil fly away to plunder other places. They will always target the church first. Smashing the mirror summons it. Looking into the bottomless mirror has a reduced effect: you see another you who gets sneak attack damage, who sees another you who gets sneak attack damage on him, etc. These yous are different levels (never higher) and different classes. Whichever you survives this circle of madness (d20 yous) with the most HP is the new you, and always has been the real you, the only you. You may be further back than you started in the death conga, though. If you were HOLDING the mirror, better catch it before it breaks. But do it with your eyes closed, or else all this happens again. Nikkeuradedafesas can be temporarily distracted and appeased with ripe melons and whiskey.


Other than the usual spikes, darts, poisons, spell-sealed doors, and mutation triggers, the most conspicuous traps are either the wandering torture chamber (A shadow passes over the hall, and safe and mundane things are revealed to be deadly instruments of pain administration, your armor and arms are revealed to be rags and twigs, a force tries to grab you, you are bound to rack or wheel, there are walls where there were no walls...), jellyfish chandeliers (touching the thin strands of wax paralyzes you, draws you in deeper, and smothers you with scalding wax), and of course the webs of the demon spider, which can summon him from across the castle.


The library contains 100 spells and histories, poems, and legends found nowhere else. That would be a mighty prize. You may each read one book before the library crumbles to dust. Only XIII's revival can restore it, but he will only allow you further access in his company, and with conditions. There is a mighty looking book locked and chained and held under a glass jar. It appears a mighty grimoire. It is actually a Basilisk Book, and reading it turns you to stone. Illiterate characters are immune to its powers unless they flip to the watercolor illustrations.

If the dragon larder exists it would outweigh the value of anything else by far.

All of the art and furnishings are antique and weird like from another world. All would fetch fair trade prices.

There is an armory containing lots of master crafter arms and armor. These are mundane but worth something to an esoterica collector. XIII's chambers contain his personal armor, thick furs which give you giant strength, and his spear, which blinds anyone who sees the sun glint from its spearhead, save or you're blinded forever or until Cured.

A clockwork cock roams the grounds, crowing and flying clumsily. It'd be worth a lot. It has no special properties and is tacky. It was a gift.

There is an H-style hoard in a vault whose passage is known only to Vodemarche. Within are three treasure maps. The first treasure was long ago cleared out. The second is a map to the fortress of the main asshole in your campaign. The third is a cave where dwells a powerful fortune elemental from the Plane of Treasure. Its body is worth 20,000gp for every HD it has. This is a greed punisher. Ask your players to estimate how powerful the elemental "who guards the treasure" must be , or show them the pile of loot before it "wakes up" and ask them how much of it they want and estimate is in there. It has a gaze attack which turns you to gold, which it can then absorb, healing it your HP at the time of becoming gold.

One of the riddles within can be weaponized, decapitating all who attempt to answer it and fail.


There are thirteen, sealed into the door of XIII's chamber. XII knows the answer to all but two, XIII does not know the answer to the final riddle. These are repeated throughout the castle, on doors or chests or traps. Don't be dicks with these. If they get close or come up with an acceptable answer you like or a better answer then that's the answer. Sprinkle them in places where there would be contextual clues, e.g. the atrium in the unkempt gardens for the autumn riddle.

  1. She couldn't face winter. She fell and died. (Autumn)
  2. Sunlight sparkling on sapphires brings only envy. (Green)
  3. Sword of the ancient tiger. (Saber)
  4. Speaks twice, rattling brave men as he lies. (Snake)
  5. Hiding place of love, hate, and hope. (Chest)
  6. The balm which destroys. The trap that gives life. The untakable. (Love)
  7. The watcher above, who only blinks, and sees what you fear. (Moon)
  8. The part of you only silver shows, which only the vain seek. (Eye)
  9. You never see it but it knows your name. (Tombstone)
  10. They delight you but always look down at you. (Birds)
  11. What's always around to play with? (Ball)
  12. This thing is also a symbol of itself and also a symbol of the lack of it. (Skull)
  13. How many Vodemarches are there? (None, at the time you open the throne room door)
Are there a bunch of encounters of d6 this presenting treasure type that to be found in the many rooms of the castle?

Probably. You can't need me to lay that out for you though.

You mentioned secret passageways?

YES. GOD. And trap doors. Want two things to be connected? They are. Maybe trap half of them. God.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

5e Background: A Goat

Save the Icelandic Goat
You are an escaped experiment of a renegade alchemist and his ogre doxy. You are the last of your kind, a secret parallel evolution alongside monkeypeople, like them yet so unlike them. You are a humble prince, cursed for your humility, o such hubris to be so humble, wandering the rest of your days believing you are nature's garbage disposal. You are a drunken lout who offended a fey beguiler, returned from your ungulate state by the efforts of better men and seeking a new life and some alfalfa. You are a goat who ate a magic mushroom and possibly the gnome living inside it, and now you're a person, and people yell at you when you go around naked but they can bite you, it's fun and it feels right. You are an amnesiac dragon. You are a prank cooked up by some devildemon. You have engaged in soul modification to appeal to awesome hell keepers. You are a caprakin, showing only the traces of your great northern anscestors' dalliance with the god-goats of the war-heaven. You are a wereibex. You are drunk. You are a goat cleverly passing in crude humanoid guise. Clever, clever goat.
When you choose this background, fucking awesome. Work with your DM to determine how the mechanical setup of the Race you pick can be reinterpreted in goat-ese, or to file down the edges to make things goatier. Remember that a lightning-screaming goat > dragonborn. Also make sure this is cool with everyone. Some people's make believe game where Hobbits fight Jell-O gets ruined when not everyone is taking things seriously. I know, I know, still, don't be that guy who goes out of their way to bother someone. Additionally, make sure everyone else is cool with you being a goat if only because it might make them realize their background sucks and conspicuously lacks goat.

Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Acrobatics
Languages: Goats. Think of it as a kind of Speak With Animals that's super limited and always on.
Tool Proficiencies: Carts and wagons.
Equipment: A sack of oats, some cans, and a thick, wiry coat.

Feature: Goat Lore

There is always a safe path through the mountains.
There is always something edible nearby.
There is always a safe crossing at a river.
You know a great deal about trolls, and may know many trolls by sight or reputation.

Suggested Characteristics:

Singleness of mind and purpose. Threats and impediments and drama concerning what you are doing is immaterial. You are adventurous and want to try new things, particularly using your mouth. You also wish to be left mostly to your own ends. This creates conflict. You don't often notice. You are also metal. If you find yourself behaving not metal, stop.

d8 Personality Trait:
1. I feint at any sign of danger, like loud noises.
2. I check where I'm going twice before proceeding, in both life and locomotion.
3. I prefer to ruminate on new information for long periods.
4. I frequently butt heads with those who tell me what to do.
5. I am ambitious and wish to climb as high as I can.
6. I prefer cooler climates and tempers, but I will stone cold push you off a cliff.
7. If I cannot defeat a problem face on, I like to know someone who can.
8. I have no idea where I am going.

d6 Ideal:
1. Family. Particularly brotherhood. (I)
2. Supremacy. There are only winners and losers. Winners fuck. (Hate)
3. Privacy. Enforce with heights. (Alignment)
4. Survival. The winters are long. Do what you must. (Use)
5. Variety. Do one thing for a long time, and then do another thing. Try to eventually do every thing. Do things you hate because they are not the boss of you. (Your)
6. Hate. Sheep can fuck off. (Judgment)

d6 Bond:
1. I have heard of an endless, sheepless meadow, and would go there, in life or death.
2. I need avenge the wrong done upon my people in the name of fashion.
3. I would wrong my people in the name of fashion.
4. I wish to scale the mountain because it's there, and it relaxes me, and I just think everything will make more sense when I'm there, man.
5. Because of my "crimes" I have a debt to "society" that I am thoroughly avoiding paying.
6. There are some who would call me mad...

d6 Flaw:
1. I have an expansive definition of comestibles.
2. I value my own life above all else except the Questioning.
3. I will keep on far past the point of good sense once I've set my mind to something.
4. The smell.
5. I have no respect of personal space but demand respect for my own.
6. Psst. Hey. I am mad.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

REVIEW: Diadem of the Sewer King, by Eustace Thorndike

Cam de Leon

Dungeon. Now Tunnels and Trolls is a fine game, as good a game or better than its contemporaries. There's reasons we're not all talking about the newest edition of Tunnels and Trolls at the store, though, but one reason I think never gets addressed enough is the name. The name has a huge problem and it can't compete. I'm not talking about dragons vs trolls, this Sunday SUNDAY SUNDAY, I'm talking about Tunnels. Worms make tunnels. Time and gravity and water and limestone make tunnels. The normal natural world, terrifying in its wonder and fearfully symmetrical, produces natural tunnel formations. Sure, things can build tunnels, and so tunnels can be a Dungeon, but because they also kind of just happen they can't compete in headspace with Dungeon. Dungeon denotes intentionally imposing a limiting structure on a space or person. Intent. Imposition. Limit. Structure. For my money if something has those qualities it's a dungeon, if it doesn't it's not. This is why naval games are Dungeons, why the town can be a Dungeon, why an idea can be a Dungeon. The whole world is either Dungeon or Sandbox. One becomes the other. We protect ourself from the sandstorm with Vishnu, shelters, walls, and community. We are shielded from the chaos.

We build Dungeons around ourselves and then we can't get out. This is also true in RPGs.

Faith healer and ape enthusiast Eustace Thorndike is responsible for Adder Entertainment's "Black Soil" series and fuck all else in the universe. He came unbidden out of some crowshit prairie and retired from Æ to form a modestly successful small town lawnmower repair outlet in Vermont.He remembered no one to us, and is lost to posterity save for Sight of Slime, Loam and Tooth, Diadem of the Sewer King,  and Up Comes Hell. Small town boy Thorndike single-handedly created the short-lived ruining boom of 1990 with this series of modules about cities which just stop. Fittingly in light of Thorndike's legacy vacuum it is the machinery put into motion by these empires which consumes them when they go past the point of sustenance. You can probably draw your own Captain Planet message from that but the true takeaway, for me, is that Black Soil ends when your character reaches Imperialism. The decision to continue your campaign seals the fate of your campaign. Hercules as fuck.

Thorndike heard once about writing classes but one assumes he counted them alongside mothman sightings. He understands theme, atmosphere, structure, and story, abstractly, but only seems capable of one at a time in Black Soil. Thorndike's Dungeon was dungeons.

Rabikian the Sewer King proved popular enough to be included in the disastrous mini line Æ attempted, a meditation on heavy metal toxicity. His headdress made it into one other Æ product, Chest of Bastards, and was featured as a hidden item of power in Æ's sole foray into computer gaming, Entombed!

It's difficult to assess these cam-paks individually and an assessment of the whole of Black Soil and the events surrounding it would take a Scorcesean effort, so the shortest version: what isn't quite a rat and isn't quite a cockroach? What lives for you, will kill you, will die without you? What do you make stronger the harder you fight it? Are the sins of another your sins too? Are a kingdom's sins its regent's? Vice versa? How fucking rad are spiders who spin iron chains?

Diadem of the Sewer King begins with the burial of the bone worm from Loam and Tooth and ends with either the devastation of 7/10 of your campaign world's population or with your party members of a Twilight Zone of their own making, unremembered and unloved, saving a kingdom that they didn't quite save and which no one remembers now anyway. In between it's a run and gun amongst various shit covered creatures, and one of my favorite riddles in any game ever: "I was only ever screaming at you."

It's a difficult adventure to just jump into, particularly if nobody in your group can cast Pot, but make the effort and be rewarded with all the skin you can carry and the ability to experience every part of a dungeon at once, which is a Dungeon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

REVIEW: Justice for the Blind Ghouls at Shaggermor, by E. P. Ngyuen and IVANOV


And I beheld the visage of Ivanov, alabaster and all-color-maned, and at the behest of Rintrah did the the designer of PRIPYAT and artist on Nuke Year Holocaust emerge slowly form and give the gift of sight to the twisted imaginings of impoverished veteran Elvis Presley Ngyuen, one of the great One-Hit Wonders. Lo- a scream of spiders, all painting the Last Supper, came down the halls of Adder Entertainment and the transcript of the 911 call (placed by someone still unaccounted for or named) did resemble a 44-page adventure ripped from the most lurid and cheap grindhouse horror purchased by mail order and screened at the Æ Hanukkah shindig.

Ngyuen came to New York after the war and acquired citizenship with little in her pocket aside from some naan and an unpaid citation from Can Tho municipal for illegal parking of a god, who has since been impounded, inspiring renewed interest in the relic and renewed municipal citations for trespassing. What she had picked up by the time she signed on with Æ as Receiving Notary was a love of Blondie and some self-evident influences from The Wicker Man and Night of the Seagulls. All of these, especially Atomic, are on display in Justice for the Blind Ghouls at Shaggermor, the only module that we know of whose street date was determined based on its author's cycle.

Blood. That's the name of the game. While any party containing a decent Parson has little to fear from the 'citizens' of Shaggermor so long as they plan carefully, it is a trade in sangre plied between the animate mystic order and the stubbornly extant nature all around them. Eggshells.

I've said this before and I'll say it again but there has never been so cruel an adversary in a RPG as nature, because nature does not even care. Human life is a mistake. Dragon turtles are the antibodies. It's easy to infuse it with a will and demonize it but look you can die from exposure, hypothermia, toxins, wildlife, or topographical hazards in a park and if nature can be said to want to do anything it's simply to outlive you and exist until the sun pins it for a five count. The ultimate factor in all adjudication at the table is how any quasi-appropriation of this time period is a study in Space (which must be covered to accomplish anything) beating Time (that which you are afforded to do anything) to death with history's first shovel because YHWH didn't like Space's sacrifice of corn. Nature is all that wearing a teeth suit.

The art is Ivanov, which is a name which can serve as most parts of speech. This is the infamous "map shirt" adventure that came with a map which unfolded into a t-shirt pattern, double-sided. The text advises us to eschew the physical map, burn it to ensure a fertile harvest, and copy the designs onto a the DM. This seminude style of play made for awkward tables and replayability was something of an issue considering replacement maps could only be ordered using crosswords Ivanov was unable to solve. Later interviews in A Tunnel would reveal this to be part of a publicity stunt by the then-dawning Æ Tattoo Society, a unique fan club who outlasted the company by decades and whose regular elevator terrorism has had them barred from most Gen Con friendly hotels. To no avail.

But what Shaggermor? There are older gods than the old gods, cults and heretics burned. Their macabre vengeance and strange rites have robbed the very land of its proper due, of the traditions people don't even know are traditions and not just How We Are And Are To Behave. Ngyuen had a particular fascination with Haitian culture and draws a parallel between that, Taoist mysticism, and the traditional Asterixian druid that would take an anthropologist or a poet to do credit to here. Her adverbs alone are sublimity. Ivanov once shat on a kid.

Some adventures are merely survived and what an achievement that is. The party of Shaggermor must bear witness and pass sanction at several points during the campaign. This is where Advancement and Reward comes into play, and only those who go full Treasure of the Sierra Madre are actually ensured a green or toothy end. Well, apart from service to the earth, and the bloodcurse the party must pay off every Ha'moon with virgin price, should they raise Shaggermor.

No, that's not a formatting error. You can raise Shaggermor.

Assorted apologies: THAT was a formatting error. You should raise Shaggermor.

After Ngyuen became a friar in Californian snake-handling, she renounced RPGs as tools of the Devil, saying they did not serve the Devil effectively enough. She currently hosts a YouTube channel where she discusses Carry On films.

Ivanov is.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Things I'm Working On

So with my schedule being thrown into chaos these many months this space has taken on a new shape.

Never much of an opinion blog or a provider of destination content, reviews, or commentary, it was more of a public R&D space, a link I could provide to all my players about the games we were playing so they could track more information. Sometimes I'd run ideas up a public flagpole but what that led to was me spamming the same post in about 14 different G+ communities and I can't sustain that self promotion for long without hating myself and irritating people into ignoring me.

The other thing is that most of what I've been able to game for months now has been on the store's behalf. This is great and I love being able to do it but it's not where my heart truly lies and where I have the most fun building things. As various of my players have also changed their lifestyles considerably it has become more difficult to get a group up of my local buds.

I keep working, though, because I like the work. It stresses me out but relaxes me, too, like practicing an instrument or exercising. The problem is that outside of a workshop environment, a specific context, I have a hard time opening up on something until it's finished out of a deep-rooted fear that people will realize I'm not that smart.

But never mind all that. Effectively what this blog has become is a way to track, for me and the 3 interested, how I'm coming with these projects. This is what I'm working on.

BIRDS- This is something of a setting and game to itself, I hope. It seems to me that you see a creep in the history of DNDish games where every animal can also be a person, and thumbing through the Creature Compendium alone has lots of birds and bird people. These tend to be either ways to pad out Familiar shopping/treasure tables/wandering monster lists or fill rolls a human could just as easily. Especially where PCs are concerned, there's no reason to have full rules for different kinds of bird people, to me. Not really. Not unless that's the game: bird people. Unless you're talking about a dungeon crawler where the Z axis is the most important one, and societies that generally see humans the way a traditional DND game looks at neanderthals, where there are no other civilizations because they define what a civilization is. Creatures who journey because it's in their nature. Airborne nomads. Sky queens. Mountain face kingdoms. The ultimate magic in a quasi-mideval world, the ability to ignore space and distance, or to armor yourself in it. The world is your buffet and your toilet and it needs you but if you get tired of it you can fuck off elsewhere. I'm going to even try to do art for this. I'm sorry.

DOGS- I might also try to do art for the dog book I did, and return to it to expand it a bit.

HATH SEPTEMBER: Thirty One-Page Dungeons that make up a mini campaign. You choose the order you use them in. Working title. Early stages.

DOUBLECROSSROADS- A WFRP/SBVD/BX DND/LOTFP/G+ mishmash and I've got to try and remember everything I stole...I want to release this as a kind of setting-and-rules-doc. This is my game, the game I want to run, D&D wild west style, no not Deadlands, Deadlands is its own thing, this is more like if instead of a spaceship under White Plume Mountain there was Boot Hill. Because I'm taking so many ideas for this there may not ever be a way I can actually sell this fucking thing but oh well, again, it can serve as a reference for my players.

UNDER HEAVEN- Jetpunk/sword-and-planet wuxia game setting using Feng Shui. Earliest days, newest project.

A WHOLE GAME- There's a game idea I've toyed with since getting into this hobby and I think I can take some time later this year and finish it off. Art and layout and stuff might be a whole thing and therefore out of my reach but there's always you-know-what to try and raise funds.

TWO WHOLE BOOKS- This may not happen until next year, or until I get a new job, but it's never far from my mind.

SLAVES- I've got an adventure I'm currently researching that would take place during the American revolt against the British. Inspired partly by the civil rights museum downtown, the PCs would be escaped slaves running from some eldritch horror behind them. They can potentially win their lives and even their freedom if they can get to British lines. But slavers, the white man's police, soldiers, and more threaten their crawl towards liberation. And of course they must struggle with whether to leave the white man to his fate but also consigned all their fellow slaves to such a fate, never mind the lives their escape endangered. It'd be an uncomfortable, awkward, stomach-turning thing, ideally, so I'm trying to research it as accurately as I can and be as respectful as possible. I may have a draft of this ready in a couple months though since only +James Raggi would be likely to touch it, if then, it'll probably be something I have to self publish.

DOGS AGAIN- Speaking of Raggi, Thulian Echoes stole my thunder with this idea a little bit but I wanted to capture a bit of that "revenge across centuries" motif Hammer got with its Lee/Cushing Dracula/Van Helsing pictures, where what a party accomplishes in their past era (hopelessly out of their league) sets the stage for a larger adventure that they can actually succeed in if they are careful and smart enough. There's lots of werewolves. Yes its structure also sounds kind of like Monster Squad shut up I should be so lucky you're a jerk fucking great movie fuck you.

CANNIBALS- This deserves maybe space to itself to go into more detail but the problem with the modern zombie isn't over exposure or realism or heavy handed allegory or anything like that. It's that the modern zombie absolutely obliterated *Two* amazing concepts from the face of horror: the traditional zombie, whose loss even Romero laments, their soul and mind dead, their body possessed with only the brutish strength of the will that animates and drives them...and the cannibal, that ultimate taboo and avatar of atavism. I'm still just gathering ideas for this one but I want to do a small island crawl, a trapped-and-desperate deal, centered around a society of cannibals who are opposed and oppressed from within by a madman and his zombified army of juggernauts. So cannibals vs 'real' zombies.

FIASCO- Sue me, I have two ideas I think would make good Fiasco playsets.

THE MUPPETS- Mum on this until I can figure out what the licensing for this would run, because I can repurpose this idea if I have to.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Sistren do not hide, nor shelter, nor wait, nor crow, nor tease, nor chase, nor flee, nor hunt. Sistren have. Sistren take what is already theirs. Bark and needle, fly and badger, sistren are their homes. Sistren homes are living things, a great slumbering thing made of lesser things. All are lesser than sistren.

The home is the body of sistren, who decide which limbs may grow and which must be destroyed. Sistren are their sistren, each. All else lesser than sistren. Sistren take what they already have. Sistren do not rule because the body does not rule itself. Sistren are the green. Sistren are the wood. Sistren are the sodden blood flecked ground. Sistren are offal strung through leaves. Sistren are reach, strike, talon. Sistren are seeing. Ape eyes. Sistren see. With ape faces. Tear with ape teeth.

Sistren commune. Sistren convene. Sistren control. These three alone shape the body, guide sistren. Sistren act rather than decide. Sistren need no weapon apart from their sistren. The acts and will of sistren are right things. We give the world the face we wish.

Not ape faces. We give the world a face we want.

None trouble sistren, not the Further, nor skykind. Only apes. Beyond the body and home and world, beyond sistren, they make caves and ape hives. They swarm and charge, seeking sistren. Apes do not see as they enter us. They do not know they become sisten. They shriek and bleed as sistren rip them out of their body.

Sistren act without acting, for sistren are of a will. The Song unsung, echoed in forms of bear, of oak, of stag…of ape. Unsong of sistren is piercing, constant, quiet flowing like rivers, crashing like falls. Sistren are night, the busyness and lust and fear. Sistren are dark and silence. Sistren are the silencing of the buzz. Of heartbeats. Sistren are gardeners for Eater. Sistren are the wood and shadows in which the Eater stalks.

All these sistren are. All this sistren must be. First, sistren must become. That is over. Now fly, sister, and be of sistren, else fall, and be of Eater, and so be of sistren.

Fly, sister.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

REVIEW: Fireshade At Nekrozonopolis by Marian Autumn Hartley


One Sabbatmorn when I was 7 I stood alone on a mountain surrounded by mildewed records and further mildewed people at a flea market. All I wanted, I remember, was a speaker. I thought the speaker was cool. Being 7, I did not own a stereo to use it with. Anyway there was a stall selling Sunday school supplies and I wandered over, figuring my folks would turn up there, and there was a box of donated books and old church library things and lots of smiling sheep and thick volumes of Josephus and halfway through the back was a sealed Fireshade at Nekrozonopolis.

It would have been the best fifty cents I'd ever spent.

Marian Autumn Hartley was one of the infamous One-Hit Wonders who made up the bulk of Adder Entertainment's catalog during their halcyon, apart from a few staid souls like Bloom Rose and Ivanov. Technically. Chances are if you ever held a Rust book in your hands, though, Marian was the typesetter. I'm talking Sight of Slime, Nobody Forgives Castemort, Ogerz, even After Spire Fall. Woman was singly the backbone of the cask-aged scotch attitude at Adder and "Never print anything you can't rewrite" has become something of a standard taken up by her followers in the DIY RPG community, an admonishment not only to put the work before the destination but a plea not to take anything such as the "official rules" as such a thing stronger than a suggestion.

(Actually my personal favorite quote from Hartley came from a con panel, about what she thought went into a successful module: "Alligators, or Emily Bronte.")

I'm archnemesis to the supposed-to-lose fight. I understand the dramatic potential of the inevitable and recovering from defeat and overcoming baaaaaaaAAA. In a story. A video game is not just a story, it's a participatory experience and a test of my abilities and handing someone the Gordian Knot and breaking their sword over a rock isn't being clever or challenging, it's being lazy and easy. I cannot fucking abide them at my table. Get out of here with that. It's hard enough to get everyone around the table for a few hours every couple weeks and I'm going to waste their time, or have my time wasted, just to build up the bad guy's threat for the REAL fight when I'm ALLOWED to beat him NEXT time? Or make that shit a dream?

Fireshade at Nekrozonopolis is the only thing, the single thing, keeping me from saying that can never be a useful device at the table. The thing is that its supposed-to-lose fight isn't. The PCs can avoid the stampede if your players are clever and fast and a little lucky. Hell basic cooperation gets you halfway there. And maybe a third of the module is given over to the side effects and after effects, nested little tables like an Ikea show floor. You can miss the meat of the adventure through sheer dumb luck and not ENTIRELY waste the DM's money. But to escape the stampede and the blood and the burning is to miss one of the great dungeon gauntlets. Are YOU a bad enough dude to fight your way through the spirits of a thousand fallen warriors, the gods of smoke and harvest and flood? Nameless and not of man. Heaven is weird. Only atop the dust and breath, where the shadow temple rests, can you win your freedom.

There's buy-in, see. Someone has to want to play this, to say "Okay give us an experience like this, anything but the kobold-goblin-orc ladder again." I like that it has to be agreed upon like a road trip, and I like playing with anybody who likes and chooses to play this manner of game.

This is my favorite kind of module: the kind that can be dropped into most any campaign with minor tweaks, or, should you desire, can instead be the campaign. Expanding out ideas in this book is super easy, with lots of fun ideas suggesting themselves. Here's one I tried: Skeleton Pamplona.

Hartley semi-retired after this, supervising computer drafters for the company until the summer of 93. Fireshade at Nekrozonopolis has never been reprinted and, unless Krypton reforms, it likely never will be. That's a damn shame, says I, particularly because I'd like to actually buy one one day instead of running off the microfiche copy that turned up in Vancouver back 2002. If you see somebody Kickstart this 1) Back that shit 2) Tell me immediately. I'd like to save 400 bones.

Monday, August 4, 2014

REVIEW: Wish I Might, by Nathan G. Hosea

"We never foresaw tragedy." -Tanifer

Nathan G. Hosea was one of the original Compakters and, despite his falling out with Bloom Rose, everyone writing into A Tunnel was asking the same question for the whole of the mid-80s: will Hosea ever darken the halls (well, corridor) of Adder Entertainment again? Will he break his self-imposed gaming exile ever? And if not, who would finish Falling Hard the Starchilds?

We'd seen ads for FHTS ever since the breadbox release for Nuke Year Holocaust (to an applause of nothing). I say ads; "ad" is was, the same one repeated through four of the first five issues of A Tunnel. Then poof: nothing.

In 88 we got a kind of an answer but it wasn't the one we were hoping for.

Now before we go further: kids in danger. This is a big hot button issue in RPGs but this isn't about sensitivity or censorship and everything and I don't want to derail the real meat here. All I'll say for now is this: some people's favorite film about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty and the dangers such an institution poses is The Life of David Gale. Some people's favorite film about the exact same issue and the exact same side of the issue and same thesis on that issue is Death Race 2000. Make of this aside what you will.

In 88 Hosea and prog rock splattergrapher Kip Calhoun approached Æ about a co-production project using the newly minted Cyclopean Romanse system and the charred scattered fetishized remains of FHTS. Of CR I won't say much beyond the reputation it garnered in time (Chuck Barris' Shoggoth Dating Game) was not quite earned yet, still dripping were they in the good ideas it sieved out of Lovecraft and Stephenson. Æ had moved on from their "devil out of cosmos" phase and into their "Maybe Gary and Dave will take me to the dance if I cut myself" phase so it was no longer a natural fit. However, as everybody propping up a desk with a copy of Spunj II they bought ironically knows, Æ was never a stranger to doing anything to fuck a pile of money.

RIP Rose.

The result was this thing. If I've belabored the background of this piece it's because it's more care than went into it before publishing. You can see the skeleton of a good idea here, with major NPCs and solutions statted and mechanized for both systems. Even the germ of the idea is strong, and from notes and private letters bears close resemblance at first glance to what Hosea had in mind.

The wish that made six children into stars.
The hole in the sky that tore when those stars were gone.
The stars who couldn't stop what they set in motion, destroying what they tried to save.
The thing that came to take the stars back, like a great teenager pulling a universal blanket over its head for just five more minutes mom god.

They say kill your darlings for a reason. No darling deserved SIDS more than Tanifer.

Calling Hosea enamored with Tanifer is like saying some Robotech fans have a minor issue with Linn Minmei, or that Moorcock might have liked that one pale guy. Fuck you I know it was Marcoss first you're shitting in me point. Tanifer's importance would be at least understandable enough to be tolerable if she interacted with anyone in any meaningful way at all. At all. Her box text sounds like fortune cookies a kidnapper would make you write and put in the basket with the lotion. But somewhere a list was made and the boxes were ticked and it was decided that the only logical reaction to young doomed Tanifer was undying love and devotion.

Not if you failed a save.
Or it made sense for your guy.
You either die or you become the one PC who gets to be with Tanifer forever as a star.
I think this module personally caused Square Enix to exist and damn it DAMN IT.

This is where the meme comes from. The table top Babelfish. Whole gaming groups fell out over this, first coming to blows to not give up their life for Tanifer and then table-flipping at the denouement. "I Loved Tanifer" became the kind of embattled, scarred badge of pride some people associate with Vietnam vets. "I fought hard and what I fought for wasn't worth the price." A story that tells itself forever in every tattoo at Gen Con, every TeeFury submission.

Tomb of the Cybermen was the greatest Doctor Who episode of all time until they found it. Everything of virtue here is in Hosea's notes (collected in Another Tunnel: Compleat) or like...Starman and drugs.

Æ instituted a scorched earth policy for even acknowledging that they tried Wish I Might. They rallied for a few more years (RIP Rose) but some still say this was the arrow which felled Achilles. Nathan Hosea's number was lost. In a well. A well of lava.

For a time.

"I remember it came like a surprise to me. Me most, I think. One day I was smoking on the deck reading Congo and the next I was digging. It was too hilly to run, my bike had a flat...there was a shovel I forgot I even had and I thought, 'Fuck it,' started digging a rose garden. I got to thinking about grave diggers, and the technology of necromancy..."
 - Nathan G. Hosea, A Tunnel (v2) #2, The D3@D Speak