Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The October Country: Lantern Frogs

Resembling terrier-sized tree frogs, lantern frogs are multi-colored amphibians that naturally produce a soft, luminescent green glow. This illumination attracts the large insects that the lantern frog preys upon. Lantern frogs can dim their light, but do so poorly and must make a successful Hide roll in order to dampen their glow enough to avoid notice. Otherwise, observers gain a +25% bonus to any Notice roll to detect the frog's presence. In recent decades, lantern frogs have been domesticated and are a favorite pet of the children of nobility, poets, and those that eat taveesh resin.

Lantern Frogs
STR: 2d6 (7)
CON: 3d6 (10-11)
SIZ: 1d4 (2-3)
POW: 3d6 (10-11)
DEX: 3d6 (10-11)

Average hit points: 6
Move: 6 (jump 9)

Skills: Climb 90%, Hide 20%, Dodge 45%, Jump 85%, Notice 65%

Armor: 1
Attack: None, but when panicked, Lantern Frogs produce a burst of light that can temporarily blind predators. A successful POW vs. POW Opposition roll indicates the observer is blinded for 2d6 rounds.

The Aspiring Lich

I’d like to take a moment and direct your attention to the blog, The Aspiring Lich. Chris, the blog’s author, is currently suffering under my refereeing efforts in the Pathfinder Kingmaker Adventure Path. Like many of us prodigals, Chris cut his eyeteeth on AD&D and then drifted away from the hobby for awhile. He’s recently returned to the fold, taking the route that many suffered through upon coming back: sitting down to play the more recent incarnations of the game before rediscovering his old school roots.

It’s fascinating to watch that process from the outside, looking in, simply because it’s very similar to my own path. I came back into D&D with 3.5, struggled to make it resemble the game I remembered it to be, and then realized there was no need to do so when my old books and the various retro clones allowed me to play the game I was weaned on. Chris is sitting behind the Labyrinth Lord screen for the first time and realizing that is a world of difference between herding the cats and meowing amidst the masses of them. He’s already written some insightful things and turned his attentions to crafting OSR goodies. Please check out Chris’ work at the Aspiring Lich if you get the chance. Steering some traffic his way is the least I can do considering what lies in store for his Pathfinder PC…

Friday, February 24, 2012

October Country: It's the Little Things

I'm still consolidating the Secret Antiquities material into the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. This first appeared on October 23rd, 2010.

Standing on line last night for a haunted house attraction, a discussion arose regarding preferences for horror films. It quickly became obvious that, of our group anyway, the preference was on “less is more.” There were no gore aficionados amongst us. I’ve stated on a previous occasion that my favorite horror film is the original The Haunting because all the heavy scare work is done by your own imagination and not CGI or foam latex appliqués.

This morning, I watched The Grudge for the first time. In doing so, I found myself getting caught up in the minutia of the film: the little things that, when placing myself in the same situation, I found more disturbing than all the creepy dead-eyed children and stray follicles. I thought that things like the dropped phone outside the sister’s apartment or the tiny faces tacked to the closet door were much more disturbing because they merely hint that something is amiss.

I touched a little bit on this topic in The Dungeon Alphabet in my entry for “W is for Weird,” but that intended for fantasy genre. Although the October Country does veer into that terrain, it’s more horror & wonder than sword & sorcery. Time for some new entries of high weirdness and subtle terror. So, with that in mind, here are a dozen little things that would make me pause if my PC came across them during the course of an adventure:

1) A tiny spot of blood on a pristine white yet empty crib.
2) A house where all the phone handsets are missing.
3) A desk with a hundred blood-stained staples driven into its service in a seemingly random pattern.
4) A dark basement where the lights don’t work yet the dryer is running. The appliance is thumping as if off-balance and the sound of something heavy banging around inside it is heard.
5) The sound of a radio playing in the middle of an empty field. It seems to be coming from under the ground.
6) A baby book filled with nothing but small locks of delicate hair.
7) A wedding ring half-buried in the sand below the high tide mark on an empty beach.
8) A length of rope tied to a support and leading into a dark hole under a stretch of broken concrete.
9) A bare tree with a half-dozen old fashioned lanterns swinging from its branches.
10) A set of clothes lying discarded next to a still and seemingly empty swimming pool.
11) An open box of razor blades on an immaculate kitchen counter in a silent house.
12) A swarm of flies buzzing around the entrance to a dark doghouse.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hex Crawl Easter Egg

Just something that popped into my head today. Use it in your next hex crawl and see if the PCs (or more correctly, the players) pick up what you’re putting down.

Hex XXXX: A shallow grave lies in an overgrown thicket that stands here alongside the river. Excavating the grave reveals the rotted, mostly skeletal corpse of a halfling. His tattered clothing identifies him as being a River Halfling in life. A careful examination of the corpse discovers he was strangled to death.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stonehell Dungeon Review

Those of you who are still on the fence about adding Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls to your RPG collection may wish to venture over to Bryce Lynch serves up a flattering review of the book as part of his ongoing series of OSR evaluations.

In related news, I've had a few inquires regarding the state of the sequel, with some folks (justifiably so) pondering whether it will remain RPG vapor-ware. I addressed those concerns over on Dragonsfoot, but will reprint my response here:

Hello, all. I just wanted to chime in RE: Stonehell Dungeon and clear up any misconceptions. The second book detailing levels 6-10 is most certainly in the works and will see print. I intended to have it out long before now, but I've been swamped doing design work for other publishers, and since Stonehell is the only deadline that I have any say over, it's been the casualty of overwork for others. Rest assured, the dungeon will be completed as I too dislike to leave anything unfinished--especially when I know people have been clamoring for the rest of the megadungeon.

I'm on a schedule where I try to complete writing one quadrant of the dungeon each week. Sometimes I hit that mark, sometimes I don't, but slow progress is better then no progress at all. I did hit the wall a while back, and I had to go back and completely redo a section of the dungeon that was causing problems and bottlenecking the rest of the design process. I can safely say that that issue has been corrected and I'm back on track. I'll be bringing Stonehell with me to GaryCon IV and if you catch me when I'm not playing someone else's game, I'll run it with whoever want to explore the ancient prison. Player's choice whether you want to visit the old levels or the new ones.

My goal is to have the book released before the year's over. I want it done and gone probably even more so than you fine folks, but I have to temper the desire to slap the rest of the dungeon together with my commitment to giving you a book that equals if not exceeds its predecessor. I hope you can understand this and forgive me the delay.

Thanks to all of you've who've purchased, played, and spread the word about Stonehell over the last two years. I'm very appreciative of the love and support my little monster of a dungeon has received from all the old school crowd (and a few new school folks as well). 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hitchhiking through Lovecraft Country: Innsmouth

A long time ago, I started to reread the various Chaosium supplements dedicated to what Keith Herber christened “Lovecraft Country”—that area around northeastern Massachusetts that served as home for many of Lovecraft’s tales. Chaosium produced several supplements covering this area and I wanted to revisit them as an excuse to immerse myself in something other than dank dungeons and pointy-eared elves. The first revisit/review, H.P.Lovecraft’s Kingsport, covered the dual-stat supplement dedicated to the home of the Strange High House in the Mist and The Festival. Now, at long last, we move up the coast to visit decayed Innsmouth, a town that squats along the shore like a bloated toad seething with evil.

The Call of Cthulhu supplement Escape from Innsmouth was published in 1992 and is the fourth Lovecraft Country book produced for the game. Written largely by Kevin A. Ross with supplemental material by Keith Herber, Fred Behrendt, Scott Aniolowski, Mike Szymanski, Mark Morrison, Penelope Love, John Tynes, and Richard Watts, Escape from Innsmouth provides setting information for Keepers looking to introduce that sinister town into their campaign. Fittingly enough, it is a hybrid book with the first half serving to describe Innsmouth like H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport, Arkham Unveiled, and Return to Dunwich do, and the second half acting as a short campaign centered around the town. Escape from Innsmouth saw two editions (1992 and 1997), but never received the “dual system” treatment that was extended to Arkham, Dunwich, and Kingsport. Both editions are expensive on the secondhand market, with prices in the $75 to $100+ range being common. This article is based on the first edition of the book.

I must write that I approached with book with trepidation. The Shadow over Innsmouth is one of my favorite Lovecraft tales and I find the concepts and themes explored in the story both alluring and repulsive. Yet the power of the story is in its mystery and I had two concerns for the supplement: How would the town stand up to the harsh scrutiny a detailed supplement would put it under and could it retain its secrets when it was likely that the players themselves knew what went on in the shadows of Innsmouth? I had my suspicions that it would fail on both these accounts. But let’s see for ourselves, shall we?

Escape from Innsmouth is divided into several chapters:  Introduction, Mysterious Innsmouth, Welcome to Innsmouth, The Shadow over Innsmouth, A Guidebook to Innsmouth & Environs, Escape from Innsmouth, Raid on Innsmouth, Keeper’s Aids, Supporting Character Sheets, and Sinister Seeds.

The Introduction is but a single page, serving to inform the reader that the book is but one of several featured in the Lovecraft Country series, and that it takes much of its content from Lovecraft’s tale, The Shadow over Innsmouth, and the stories of August Derleth, with Ross adding his own creations to the mix. The introductory section also establishes the book’s place in the canonical Innsmouth timeline (after the events of The Shadow over Innsmouth but before the government raid on the town), with suggestions on how to use the included scenarios in conjunction with the rest of book to create a mini-campaign arc between those two events. Lastly, the author thanks various people for their contributions to the project.

Mysterious Innsmouth is dedicated to the history of the coastal town, presenting the reader with both the known history—what the general population knows about Innsmouth—as well as the secret history of the town. As always with CoC, the secret history is far more interesting, but there is little here that will surprise anyone who has read Lovecraft’s tale. A chronology of important events organized by year is also included for quick reference, as is a sidebar that introduces the Innsmouth Lore skill and twenty-five rumors (both true and false) about the town.

Welcome to Innsmouth is a mere two and a quarter pages, one of which is dedicated to new magic spells for the Call of Cthulhu. The rest of the chapter details getting to Innsmouth, surrounding towns, climate, town government, and crime and punishment. Although this information is standard for Lovecraft Country releases, I can’t say that I found this to be especially pertinent information for running an Innsmouth campaign. The book seems to be in agreement—the crime and punishment section could be summed up as “outsiders will be eaten if they attract attention to themselves.” Innsmouth is not the place for bureaucratic maneuvering or court room drama scenarios. The page on new spells, however, adds a lot to scenarios set in and about Innsmouth. That’s one of the aspects of Call of Cthulhu that I’ve always enjoyed: it’s not afraid to introduce new magic as background color, not mystic power. Why else would the spell “Lobster Charm” (which summons normal lobsters to nearby waters) be included in a game book?

The Shadow over Innsmouth covers the important Mythos topics needed to be known in order to properly use the setting. The Innsmouth look, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, an (ahem) in-depth look at Deep Ones and their society, and the effects of the Elder Sign on Deep Ones and Innsmouth hybrids are detailed. A short sidebar provides the reader with the Three Oaths of Dagon, which adherents to the Esoteric Order must recite as they are initiated into the different ranks of the religion, and a full-page sidebar lists for the Keeper additional sources of Innsmouth lore that the investigators might pursue. The archivist in me always enjoys such sidebars such as this one, which demonstrates that the best information can only be found in mildewed cellars, dusty display cases, padded cells, or over tea with little old ladies.

We now reach the chapter that makes up the lion’s share of the book: A Guidebook to Innsmouth & Environs. As Chaosium has done with previous Lovecraft Country supplements, this guidebook breaks Innsmouth down into neighborhoods and provides the Keeper with short descriptions of the major place of interest and people of note. Game stats, adventure ideas, and maps are all provided.

The Guidebook is what every fan is waiting to see. As The Shadow over Innsmouth was written from an outsider’s point of view, the reader never knows for certain what’s going on behind those shuttered windows and closed doors in Innsmouth and here Ross has the opportunity to inform him. Unfortunately, the results are neither surprising or particularly inspired. To be fair, however, given the subject of the supplement, he can’t stray too far afield for fear of upsetting the expectations of the audience. We get the expected Deep One hybrids shut away in attics and basements, the malicious Marsh clan, crumbling factories containing secrets, the Gilman House Hotel, and Joe Sargent’s bus. The occupants of Innsmouth are largely dangerous with a few rare allies for the investigators to befriend.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was hoping for more here. There are a few dim lights amidst the shadows, notably the U.S. Treasury agent operating undercover within Innsmouth and the soon-to-be magical feud between the Marshs and another scion of old Innsmouth, but I can’t say I found much else that had me enthused. Compared to Return to Dunwich (which I’ll cover one day), Innsmouth’s inhabitants and (other) secrets didn’t do much to fan my creative fires.

This is unfortunate. As I mentioned above, most players will encounter Innsmouth the game setting long after they encounter Innsmouth the story and thus the catfish is out of the proverbial bag long before they set foot inside the town limits. They know the source of Innsmouth’s evil, and although there is some enjoyment to be had blundering about town waiting for the shoe to drop, there’s no other mystery to sink one’s teeth into. This is something that Return to Dunwich manages quite adeptly; even if the players have read “The Dunwich Horror,” the setting provides many more plots, secrets, and interesting NPCs to encounter than just Old Wizard Whateley and his brood. I wish Escape from Innsmouth had modeled itself more along that design than trying to stay within the established lines of Lovecraft’s story and the various pastiches.

One last gripe about the Guidebook is the art. Most of the NPCs have a thumbnail illustration and many of them exhibit the “Innsmouth Look.” Perhaps it’s merely my own preconception, but I always pictured the inhabitants of Innsmouth who show signs of their mixed heritage to display features more unsettling or slightly alien than truly monstrous. The illustrations in Escape from Innsmouth make the residents—even those who have yet to undergo full transformations—all look extremely inhuman. Like a trout with a human torso in some cases. I’m uncertain of who made the call to go this route, but I’m full member of the “Less is More Club” when it comes to horror and I found these illustrations to be overblown in most cases.

The Guidebook behind us, we now reach the adventures. There are two: one is a short introductory investigation that gets the PCs to Innsmouth and makes them familiar with the town, and the second is a long, multi-part scenario detailing the government raid.

The introductory adventure, aptly titled “Escape from Innsmouth,” is a mite atypical for Call of Cthulhu, but looks enjoyable enough. The investigators get called in to uncover the truth behind a crime committed in Innsmouth and soon run afoul of the locals, culminating in a race to get out of town before they end up as human sacrifices. My problem with the investigation is that it both introduces and ostracizes the characters in a single scenario. Played as written, the PCs will find themselves persona non grata in Innsmouth and that effectively makes running any other stories in the town nigh impossible—a very interesting choice for an introductory scenario, no?

The second, multi-part scenario, “Raid on Innsmouth” looks much more entertaining. Not only does it give the PCs a chance to be active participants in Lovecraftian canon (the government raid and the torpedoing of Devil’s Reef), but it is designed to give each individual PC a chance to shine as the star of their own mission.

The adventure is written as five, three-part adventures that include a raid on the Marsh Mansion, an attack on the Esoteric Order of Dagon, a commando mission into the tunnels beneath to town, the events on board a Coast Guard cutter assigned to patrol the harbor, and finally, the submarine mission against Y’ha-nthlei. The missions’ parts are divided up in varying order and each player’s PC is the “star” of one of those missions. The rest of the players assume the roles as spear-carriers and helpful NPCs that support the main PC. This is all unorthodox for adventure design, but also very entertaining provided your players can dial down their egos to give each other the spotlight from time to time. And any adventure that has a subtle Blue Oyster Cult reference is OK in my book, too.

The supplement ends with a section of adventure seeds: germs of ideas left to the Keeper to elaborate on and spin into full scenarios. They vary in quality, but many would make for a much better introduction to Innsmouth than the introductory scenario, especially if you want to be able to keep the PCs around town longer than a single investigation. Thankfully, there are also included scenario ideas set after the government raid, allowing the PCs to keep getting into trouble after the fall of Innsmouth.

I wanted to love Escape from Innsmouth, I really did. Unfortunately, it is somewhat of a disappointment. This response is likely colored by my own expectations and because it is so difficult to find these days, making it more of a quest than a purchase, but for whatever the reason the supplement largely disappoints. Unless you are a Call of Cthulhu completionist or a fervent fan of The Shadow over Innsmouth, I cannot in good conscience suggest you spend $75 to $100 on this book. There are good bits to it, and a Keeper could put in the intellectual elbow grease to make those bits truly shine, but he would be better off saving his money and creating the town from scratch with just Lovecraft’s tale and whatever ideas spring to mind.

We will now leave the stink of rotting fish (not all of which comes from the wharf) and head down the turnpike towards Arkham, itself. It might be a long journey to get there, but one day we’ll examine H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham before heading off to Dunwich. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there seems to be a batrachian mob after me…

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The October Country: Torn Letters

In a quiet Chattaquogue neighborhood, not far from the water, there is the secluded street of Salt Thatch Lane. It is not a particularly notable road. The houses might be a bit more expensive and private, hidden behind high hedges and shady stands of trees, but that’s to be expected of waterfront property on the South Shore of Long Island. In spite of the lane’s seemingly normal exterior, there is something strange going on here.

For more than a decade, letters, or more specifically fragments of letters, have appeared along this road. Often found amongst the fallen pine needles or blown against a high privacy fence, the missives are all handwritten on aged and usually water-stained paper, looking as if they had been left exposed to the elements for several days. The letters are most often torn, and only a small portion of the message is found despite efforts to locate the rest of the page. The letters are always written by the same two individuals identified as Clarissa and Malachi.

At first glance, the letters read a simple love letters, ones exchanged by lovers separated by great distances. The fragmentary nature of the pages makes it difficult to comprehend the entire subject of each letter, but exchanges of affection dominate the message. However, every so often, an unsettling line is legible amongst the affirmation of love. “…found the child’s leg torn to pieces…”, “…leaning there with holes for eyes…,” and “There will be death again when the moon…” are some of the most recently discovered and unnerving snippets.

The most unnatural facet of these letters is that they vanish. An early morning walker who finds one and puts it in her pocket arrives home to find that pocket empty. Curious children put a found scrap into their treasure boxes only to have it missing the next time they peek inside. One local artist attempted to make a collage of photos taken of the found letters. When he developed his film, the entire roll was blank.

So far the knowledge of these mysterious letters has been kept inside the neighborhood. Despite the fact that some alternative news sources would pay a small sum to learn of this phenomenon, the residents are inclined to keep it a secret. Whether this is to keep their quiet streets from being overrun by cranks and lunatics or if it is because of some desire to keep the two separated lovers’ poignant letters private remains unknown.

Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls for sale at GaryCon

With just over a month to go before I make my inaugural journey to Lake Geneva, I’ve made arrangements to have a limited number of copies of the first Stonehell Dungeon book packed in my bags prior to leaving Strong Island. If you’ve not yet purchased a copy of the book and you plan to attend GaryCon IV, you’ll have the chance to pick up a book of your own while supplies last. I’ll be selling them for the cover price to help defray the cost of food and incidentals (black lotus powder, houris, etc.) while at The Lodge. You’ll save on shipping and have the chance to get your copy personalized by yours truly if you buy yours at the con. For those of you not planning on attending and who live in the continental United States, is offering free ground shipping until February 17th with the code FLIGHTLESS. I’ll see the rest of you in 34 days.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Face in the Shadows: Alistair Philips (Wildwyck County)

As some of you know, I've begun a series of articles for Fight On! magazine detailing a historical horror setting for use with Call of Cthulhu, GORE, or any other percentile-based rule system compatible with those titles. My second article, one detailing half of the towns, hamlets, and cities located in Wildwyck County, has been submitted for the next issue of FO! Of course, sometimes my brain and fingers produce more material than can fit comfortably within that most excellent publication's page count. The following was excised from the first Wildwyck article in Fight On! #13 due to such size restraints. When necessary, material from that series will be featured here for the edification and enjoyment of those interested in the Wildwyck County setting. Up first: Alistair Philips, a helpful NPC.

Wildwyck County is home to many interesting characters, some of whom can assist investigators seeking to uncover the ‘Wyck’s mysteries. Other parties will do their best to thwart such inquires, resorting to cold-blooded murder if necessary. Alistair Philips is one of the more friendly faces PCs embarking on a campaign set in Wildwyck County might encounter. His voluminous correspondence with friends, acquaintances, and the curious could serve as both an introduction to the mild-mannered historian and draw investigators living in other places to the lands along the Hudson River.

Alistair Philips, 47, historian and author
STR: 8                   CON: 12                DEX: 10                 
SIZ: 11                   INT: 15                  POW: 14               
CHA: 14                HP: 10                   Damage bonus: -1D2

Weapons: none carried; all at base percentages

Skills: Anthropology 35%, Archaeology 40%, Driving 42%, Evaluate 35%, Hear 65%, History 76%, Influence 56%, Language (Dutch) 65%, Language (French) 55%, Language (Latin) 70%, Natural Lore 45%, Occult 20%, Research 85%, Wildwyck Lore 21%,

Alistair Philips is the archivist for the Ashton Historical Society, as well as the author of numerous monographs regarding various aspects of Wildwyck County’s history. His position’s stipend and his monograph sales provide Philips with a modest living, allowing him to dedicate himself to incessant research into local history, the arrangement and maintenance of the society’s archival collection, and, his most favorite pastime, correspondence with a large circle of colleagues, acquaintances, pen pals, and folklorists around the world.

Philips stands 5’ 6” and is of slight build. A small pot-belly, the result of a bachelor’s diet and too little exercise, emerges like a hillock from between his customary red suspenders. He prefers linens suits and soft caps when strolling about town. His hair is red and thinning, and a pair of spectacles sits atop his nose, while another pair of reading glasses protrudes from his shirt pocket. Alistair is prone to headaches and must sometimes conduct research or interviews in a dark room with cold compresses held in place by a scarf wrapped around his head.

Anyone seeking information about Wildwyck’s history will eventually be directed to Phillips as the resident expert on the county’s past. Contact can be initiated by visiting the Ashton Historical Society in person (hours of operation: Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM to 4 PM; other hours by special appointment), telephone (Philips’ home number is listed), or by mail (either at his home or through the Historical Society). Characters with backgrounds in history, folklore, education, or other related fields who relocate to Wildwyck County will undoubtedly be instructed to make the acquaintance of Philips by others in their specialty; he is quite well known and respected by experts in these disciplines.

Investigators meeting or corresponding with the archivist and author discover he is an affable soul who enjoys discussing the history of his home county to great extent. He willingly puts off other pressing business to indulge in his penchant for pointing out landmarks, recounting legends, and dispensing what would be considered juicy gossip if the subjects of those rumors hadn’t been dead for over a century. Anyone who responds to his impromptu lectures with sincere interest will earn an invitation to dine with Philips at his home on a regular basis. Those who do so gain +1d6% to their Wildwyck Lore scores (see below) after 1d4 months of dining with Philips and examining the old diaries, artifacts, and maps he loves to share with visitors after meals (provided they wash their hands after eating).

While not a devout believer in supernatural phenomenon, Philips has acquired a small bit of occult knowledge and does not discount the odd tale or eyewitness account that he encounters in his research. He won’t volunteer the stories he knows, but if others express interest in hearing such tales, he gladly fulfills their desires. The following are but a sample of the legends and weird stories that Philips can share with investigators pursing such knowledge. Each will be expended on in later articles, and the game master is free to use them as starting points for campaigns set in the ‘Wyck or substitute his own.

  • A surprising number of people have vanished in Wildwyck County, more than simple happenstance can account for. These vanishings extend back to the colonial period, but few realize how long this has been happening. Philips has discovered that the disappearances occur in cycles, rising in frequency every seventeen years—a cycle that corresponds with the emergence of the local cicada brood.
  • An interesting number of “Indian stones” can be found throughout the county. These megaliths are commonly believed to have been erected by the ancestors of the Kettahwohnucks for religious purposes. There are also those who purport that the stones are not the product of the indigenous tribes, but were erected by an alien population that settled in the region at some point in the past. The Celts, Vikings, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and even Atlanteans have all been named the source of these Neolithic monuments at one point or another. Many have strange sigils and carvings on them that some believe give credibility to these more outré origins.
  • Those interested in ghost breaking might wish to contact Raymond Crowe, the owner of the decaying estate known as “Whispering Laurels.” As last surviving scion of that family, Crowe inherited the estate, a crumbling Gothic Revival mansion with a checkered history. Crowe is in deep debt due to his habit of visiting the track in Saratoga Springs and has been considering using the old estate to replenish his dwindling funds by either selling or leasing the place. Unfortunately, no one wishes to spend much time in the massive corpse of a home.
  • A student who volunteered for an experiment performed by the Department of Oneirology at Bishopsgate College has vanished. Although not an uncommon occurrence in these parts, the disappearance occurred while the student was inside a locked, windowless “dreaming lab” on the college grounds. A police investigation is underway and ransom is suspected as the motive, but there are those who think the culprits may hail from a place unreachable by physical means.
  • Odd lights have been spotted on occasion hovering above the leaning stone known as “Satan’s Lamppost” and local residents never venture near the granite oddity when this spectral illumination is sighted. Many discount the lights as the product of swamp gas, moonlight on low clouds, and even large congregations of fireflies, but those disbelievers suggest these explanations a comfortable distance away from the ancient stone.
  • There is a local boogieman known as “Old Jan” who supposedly haunts the hills and forests of Wildwyck. The legends say he was born hideously disfigured and his ashamed woodsman father kept the boy locked in the root cellar of the family shanty high up in the mountains. When the father died, the boy—now grown to an adult and possessing an animal-like cunning—escaped from his prison and currently dwells in the wild, catching small animals and eating them raw. He also has a taste for human flesh, an appetite acquired when he feasted on his father’s cold corpse after breaking free, and Old Jan lies in wait for campers, hunters, and lovers that stray too deep into the woods and mountains. This legend is existed in one form or another for more than two hundred years old and this is just the latest incarnation of it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

White Box to the Rescue!

Sunday morning, I woke up with the feeling that someone snuck up on me while I slept and poured a gallon of quick-dry cement into my head. I awoke feeling completely uninspired, not the best way to start the day when you’re facing your regular Sunday gaming group in a few hours. I had intended to whip something up for my play test game sometime between Saturday and Sunday morning, but never got around to it. I’m sure many referees know the feeling. And when even my morning constitutional failed to get the blood flowing and the creative juices juicing, I wasn’t looking forward to the game.

Getting ready to leave the house, I contemplated my options. I could grab my Labyrinth Lord book and Stonehell and adjudicate another delve through my homebrewed megadungeon, but I wasn’t up to dealing with all the baggage that Stonehell has accumulated with my regular group. I could snatch Zombies!!! off the bookcase and turn the day into a board game session, but having spent Saturday night doing that already, the idea didn’t have much luster. Finally, at wits’ end, I grabbed my OD&D White Box set and tossed it into my backpack.

With a half-hour drive ahead of me, I started quickly patching together a few ideas for what to do with White Box. About half-way to the game site, Ronnie James Dio started telling me about a rainbow in the dark over the radio and I was getting into the D&D vibe. A few ideas percolated up from my reptile brain, and I pulled into the driveway with a fuzzy grasp of a new dungeon in mind.

We were down a player, but one of my regular player’s wife and another mutual friend were at the house, preparing to head out to do some shopping. I pitched the idea of doing an OD&D game and not only was my usual players up for it, but so were the two ladies. It seems that White Box can trump a shopping trip if presented with the right degree of enthusiasm!

A half-hour later, index cards had become character sheets, a few minis rustled up for marching order, and the five-strong party entered the Gloomcroft, a series of ancient halls dug under the mountains by the giant ancestors of the kobold race. In the four-hour session, chambers were explored, monsters fought, killer pollywogs outwitted, puzzles solved, and a new word (“widdershins”) was learned. One of the PCs was slain by a stirge-crow mashup monster, but the party exited the dungeon with a few gold coins, a jeweled holy symbol, and a magical cloak. Much fun was had by all and everyone is raring for another trip into the dungeon as soon as schedules allow.

The session reminded me of two things that I truly love around the gaming table. The first is a mixed gender group of players. As we all know, men and women think differently, our thoughts colored by our experiences, upbringing, and genetics. After almost two years of an all-male gaming group, which is actually a bit of an anomaly for me, having three men and two women at the table was a great pleasure. At the risk of feeding into stereotypes, the ladies used brainpower, taking clues from the campaign world to think around problems rather than booting in the door and hewing down everything the party encountered. The guys were awestruck on a couple of occasions by the questions being asked and the useful information those query revealed. I think everyone’s play experience was improved by having a mixed group and some valuable lessons learned in the process.

The second pleasure was having players relatively free of the expectations and preconceived notions that long-time players fall prey to. One of the ladies had some experience with RPGs through her husband, but the other had played in just a single session of Vampire: The Masquerade. With White Box D&D, a lack of experience with RPGs is beneficial. The novice players didn’t feel constrained by what was written on their character sheets—or rather what wasn’t scribed on them. Experienced players sometime fall into the trap where if they don’t have a skill or a feat or a power that says explicitly that “You can do X” they can’t try it at all. Novice players seem free of such constraints and that makes for a perfect fit for bare bones OD&D.

I’m looking forward to the next time I can break out White Box and play. I hope this spur-of-the-moment group has more adventures together and that we get the opportunity to build upon this world I threw together at the last minute. Many mysteries presented themselves yesterday and the freedom I experienced running White Box is very, very alluring. There are few better ways to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon than with simple rules, a few dice, and good friends.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The October Country: The Epistolarians

Everyone knows that the art of writing letters is a dying one. In a world dominated by email, Twitter, and texting, the elegant pastime of communicating on personalized stationary is as obsolete as the 8-track. Unless it’s power you’re after.

Located throughout the world are members of the cabal know as the Epistolarians. Although this group has no centralized location and its members have never met, the Epistolarians are one of the most respected and fear power blocs active in the Periphery. With nothing more than pen and paper, the Epistolarians have thwarted the schemes of Nightmare, altered the plans of mundane governments, and permanently rid themselves of their enemies. The Epistolarians know that by putting something in writing, one can make it a reality.

Although their exact methods are unknown to outsiders, it is believed that the Epistolarians adorn their missives with the secret names of their targets and certain symbols of power known only to them and the long-dead scribes of antiquity who discovered those sigils. These letters are then exchanged amongst the members of the cabal via ordinary post. As the letters travel and are handled by each link in the postal system, they accrue power. These letters are often sent back and forth between Epistolarians several times, growing more and more potent with each exchange. Once the required power has accumulated, the letter is opened and read aloud, its written contents becoming reality with that act.

Even more feared, however, are the letters that are not read. It is said that when the Epistolarians want to remove someone from the world—either the mundane one or the October Country—a letter detailing the life of the victim is written. This letter is then exchanged as usual, but at the culmination of the rite, the letter is destroyed—as is the subject of the letter. Despite the longevity and wide-spread belief of this rumor, there is no way to confirm it because there simply is no evidence. If the rumor is true, this method of destroying an adversary is so efficient it removes all traces of the subject having ever existed, making is as if they had never been born at all.

Although the Epistolarians maintain a veil of secrecy expected of a Peripheral power, a hint of their power has leaked into the mainstream. The birth of the chain letter can be traced to individuals who heard hints of the Epistolarians ability and sought to duplicate it for themselves. Although they weren’t successful, some of the mystique of and belief in graphomancy became a garbled urban legend.

Wildwyck County: Clunker Heaven

The Sheer Mountain Mining Collective made a small fortune for itself in the late 19th and early 20th centuries cutting and shipping bluestone, a distinctive colored sandstone found only in New York and Pennsylvania. When the early sidewalks of the Big Apple demanded slabs of this stone, Sheer Mountain provided it, carving it out of the side of the mountain from which they took their name. When the mansions along the Gold Coast of Long Island cried for bluestone patios and pools, Sheer Mountain was there. Unfortunately, between the Great Depression and the growing concrete industry, the demand for bluestone waned. In 1933, the company went under, leaving nothing but rusting machinery at the bottom of a great pit hewn into the mountainside.

Nobody knows who started it, but the old bluestone quarry has become the final resting place for scores of decrepit automobiles, ones so rundown that even selling them for parts isn’t worth the effort. Instead, these junkers are abandoned at the bottom of the secluded quarry, left to rust amidst the briars and blackberries that are slowly reclaiming the old mine.

The variety of makes and models that rest quietly some 120’ below the lip of the quarry is simply amazing. A once-fine Cadillac sits beside an ancient Packard, now crimson and pitted with rust. Hulking trucks and 4x4s loom menacingly over sub-compacts. Raccoons and mice nest amongst the spilled upholstery while deer nibble at the grass growing around the dented hubcaps of forgotten Mazdas, Subarus, and Hondas.

On warm summer days, the quarry, called “Clunker Heaven” by the locals, is a popular site for teenagers to gather. They take their own rundown cars and trucks up a dirt road that winds along the slope of Sheer Mountain for miles, a route overshadowed by verdant branches and crossing chuckling mountain brooks, before arriving at the gravel patch that once served as the mine’s main yard. From there, it’s a short hike down the switch-back road that leads to the quarry's bottom. At the bottom, far from the sight of authority figures, they’re free to indulge in all the vices and pleasures teens find so attractive.

There are many tales told about Clunker Heaven, the kinds that would be called “urban legends" if they were told in a less bucolic setting. A popular tale is that one of the rusting autos contains a fortune in drug money, stashed here by dealers in an unsuccessful attempt to escape arrest. They’re up at Snake Hill Penitentiary now, but their stash remains undiscovered.

Another legends is that the ghost of a dead Prohibition-era mobster haunts the quarry, his bones moldering in the trunk of one of the ancient heaps from that era. He supposedly lurks amongst the rusting cars, angry at his violent death and unconsecrated grave. He inflicts horrible wounds on trespassers by causing them to cut themselves on the jagged pieces of metal which protrude from the briars and brambles. Those who do so are certain to succumb to tetanus or die from blood poisoning.

There is another legend about the place, but it’s not often repeated and only known by a few. These select folk maintain that there is something living down amongst the heaps, something that should not be. Decades of gasoline, oil, brake, and other fluids have seeped into the soil down at the bottom of the pit, polluting the water table and working its way into the plant life. These chemical have upset the natural order of things, giving birth to life that should never have seen the light of day. This mutation (or mutations) lairs amongst the cars, feeding on the larger animals that wander into the area. These meals have been sufficient to keep its hunger in check—so far. Who knows what might happen should the deer stop foraging in Clunker Heaven?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From the October Country: The Flesh Sempstresses

Atop a wave-swept tower of rock on the shores of the Cold Dim Sea stands a foreboding edifice of granite. Block-like and unadorned, this building looks as if the wind and rain carved it from the adjacent stone. Aside from the glimpse of a lit window amidst the perpetual storms or a blood-chilling scream doused by the howling wind, the structure shows little sign of occupancy.

This is the home of the Flesh Sempstresses, the feared tailors of Nightmare who dwell outside that realm’s borders so as to have close access to their preferred medium of creation. Harvesting unwitting travelers and wayward animals alike, the Sempstresses make unsettling patchwork creations born of the sliced flesh and severed appendages of their victims. Using methods unknown outside of Nightmare, these couturiers make unique monsters for their own pleasure and to export back to the Terrible Places. On occasion, either by accident or design, one of the Sempstresses’ projects escapes their towering abode to wreak havoc on either side of the barrier.

Few have seen the Flesh Sempstresses in person, or rather those that do seldom survive the encounter. The witnesses that do live through their meeting with the skin tailors report that they dress in antique gowns of lace with leather (or another preserved hide) accents and disguise their visages with painted china masks. They are never without at least one of their horrific amalgams of human and animal parts trailing close behind.

Scholars in the October Country suggest that there may a connection between the Flesh Sempstresses and the skinners, but this is likely due to the craftwork shared by the two groups. If this is not the case, it may be that the Flesh Sempstresses were once skinners and rose to their current role through practice and longevity. It could be just as true that the first skinners were failed Flesh Sempstresses or were created by the macabre tailors long ago and now seek to imitate their makers.

Although the Flesh Sempstresses never leave their domicile, their creations can be encountered almost anywhere. It is widely believed by the commoners of the October Country that jaded and decadent nobles procure the Sempstresses creations for their own debased menageries or blood-stained arenas.
Here on Earth, the Pope Lick Monster of Kentucky is widely believed (by those aware of the autumnal lands, that is) to be an escaped--or perhaps a released--creation of the Flesh Sempstresses who crossed the barrier. The current location of the creature, or indeed if it still lives, is unknown.

My Take on Falling Damage

It makes no difference whether falling damage is determined with a linear increase in dice or an exponential one after you land on the poison spikes I put at the bottom of the pit.

Beware the Crazy-Ass Miniature Level of Stonehell!

I took a brief jaunt up to the FLGS today to clear my head before taking a late night stab at the next phase of my current project. I’ve mentioned before that my local game shop regularly buys old gaming collections from those poor sods that’ve been forced to abandon this rather bizarre hobby of ours for various reasons. When I got there, the owner was sorting through one recently acquired collection and he knows I love getting first dibs on newly received stuff.

The collection was all pure 3.5 stuff: modules, sourcebooks, dungeon tiles, and a bunch of WotC pre-painted minis. Really, really crazy-ass minis, like Aspects of Tiamat, 15’ tall werewolves, frost giants riding on mammoths, and the like. All stuff I’ve never seen before. But while there were one or two pieces that caught my eye, I can’t justify spending $20 on a mini I might use once. However, it did give me an idea.

I’m going to spend the next few days going through all my minis—plastic and metal—and pick out the strangest of the lot. When that’s done, one quadrant or more of Stonehell is going to showcase them all. I’m not certain how (if at all) I’m going to rationalize it, but I guarantee anyone wandering into that area of the dungeon is going to meet something they’ve never seen before. I’ve got some crazy-ass minis that have been collecting dust for far too long and it’s about time they see the light of day (or at least the dim glow of a hooded lantern). If you’re one of those anal-retentive referees who simply must use the “correct” monster miniature in your games, my apologies in advance, because you’re going to hate this part of the dungeon!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Update on the Three Castles Award Nominations

There has been a slight change to this year’s nominations for the NTRPG Convention’s Three Castles Award. Due to a slight miscommunication, which I regrettably instigated, my name was left off of the list as co-author of Realms of Crawling Chaos. It also appears something similar happened with the Tome of Adventure Design. I’m pleased to announce that this has been corrected and that the list of nominees now reads:
  •  ASE1 - Anomalous Subsurface Environment by Patrick Wetmore
  • Realms of Crawling Chaos by Daniel Proctor & Michael Curtis
  • Stars Without Number by Kevin Crawford
  • Tome of Adventure Design by Matt Finch & Bill Webb
It’s an honor to be considered again for the award and I wish the best of luck to all the nominees, even if I may be biased as to who I’d like to see win this year.

In related news, Dan Proctor announced that for the month of February, you can buy the PDF of Realms of Crawling Chaos for a mere $2.95 through with the coupon (33584).

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Search for Plastic Toys from Our Youth

There seems to be something in the air of late. Old gamers are casting about for clues regarding the plastic fantasy toys they played with or heard about in their youth. Dan Proctors is looking for some and A Field Guide to Doomsday has had a childhood memory identified. It seems I’m no different, because I’ve had an itch that refuses to be scratched for some days now and I’m appealing to you for help.

Back in the 1980s, I had a playset of plastic figures roughly equal to scale in army men. I think they might have come with a vinyl play-mat, but I cannot be certain. The set was a mix of different fantasy creatures, with each cast in a single color. Now, from what I can recall, one of the figures was the spitting image of a shambling mound, complete with carrot nose. There was also a “magma man” figure that seemed to be living fire and molded in appropriately red plastic. There may or may not have been a dragon figure and other plastic landscaping pieces such as trees and rocks and perhaps a dragon’s den. I certain that this isn’t some fever dream remembered as truth and that I did in fact own this and perhaps other sets of the same ilk.

Does this strike anyone as familiar at all?

EDIT: Whoops! After looking for days and posting this, I stumbled upon a clue. I guess it was the lava man who looked like the shambling mound!

EDIT AGAIN: Nevermind. Answered my own question.

October Country Playtest

With my “to do” list of projects growing shorter, I had time this weekend to return to the October Country, picking up the game where we last left it some months ago. At that session, the PCs headed out to the Crow Tree Asylum in search of agents of The Silence, a cabal dedicated to keeping knowledge in the hands of those privileged enough to afford it. There, in the crumbling brick hallway of the madhouse’s surviving wing, they encountered a pair of humans and several Gell hired thugs engaging in a thaumaturgical rite around Crow Tree’s surviving shock-treatment chair. Too late to stop the rite, the party found themselves in a desperate battle with a writhing madness. One of the PCs fell victim to a laughter enchantment cast by their opponents, while another went near catatonic by the writhing madness’ touch. A third was incapacitated by his wounds, leaving the party’s magician to flee from the asylum before he too could be wounded or driven mad. That’s where Sunday’s game picked up.

The magician fled back to the rickety dock at the base of the hill upon which the gutted asylum stood. He leaped onto the hired skiff the party employed to take them to the archaic madhouse, yelling at their boatman, Te Mouse, to row the hell out of there. As they departed the dock, the shrill howls of madness echoed down the hill, growing louder by the minute.

Despite his best efforts, it was clear that Te Mouse could not row fast enough to escape the creature of Nightmare coming down the hill. In desperation, the boatman edged the craft into the high weeds and witches’ beard moss that lined the shore. There, with the magician’s help, they camouflaged the skiff as best they could and waited for the inevitable. Gazing over the gunwales of the boat, the two watched as the madness reached the dock and then drifted over the river, making a serpentine journey up the river towards the City of Midnight. The spirit took no notice of the hidden boat and soon disappeared around a bend in the river. With that puissant foe gone, an attempt to rescue the rest of the party was considered, and Te Mouse knew just where they could get some reinforcements…

Back inside the asylum, the three remaining PCs awoke to find themselves hog-tied and placed in the mildewed and dilapidated cells that once held the mad. From the hallway outside, they heard a gruff human voice talking with a rumbling, crude one that spoke an unfamiliar tongue. They deduced that the asylum was being abandoned and that they were being entrusted into the not-so-delicate care of the Gell, possible to be sold into slavery or simply drowned in the backwaters of the swamp. Things looked grim.

Meanwhile, Te Mouse rowed the boat to a small hunting camp located along one of the myriad bayas that threaded their way through the Snakewater. There, he introduced the party’s magician to his “dree brudders: Claude, Maurice, and Skeeter.” The trio, always spoiling for a fight, was willing to assist in the rescue for a bottle of liquor each and happily climbed aboard the skiff. Prior to departing, the party wizard performed a divination of future events and saw an image of his three compatriots bound and helpless in the bow of a flat-bottomed swamp boat poled by a pair of Gell. It looked like his friends were soon going to be transported from the asylum and with this as an impellent, the rescue party labored hard at the oars to take them back the way they came.

Inside the asylum, the three captive were roughly forced to their feet and duck-marched outside and down towards a creek winding its way past the asylum’s western edge. There, the Gell uncovered a secreted swamp boat and herded the captives onto it. Loading the boat with provisions and captured gear, the Gell shoved off into the twilight, they conveyance lit by a pair of burning brands in the stern of the boat.

At the juncture of the creek and the river, the rescue party saw the Gell’s torches heading towards them and scrambled out of the boat to lay an ambuscade. As the hulking brutes’ skiff drew closer, the three swamp hunters and the magician struck, firing crossbow bolts at the Gell’s arbalester and leaping up out of the water to strike with knife and club. A pitched battle erupted, but the Gell’s armor fended off the worst of the blows. In desperation, the party’s magician leaped over the creek and landed behind the Gell poling the boat. Before it could react, it was knocked unconscious by blackjack and tumbled into the tea-colored water. With the odds now greatly against it, the remaining Gell was swiftly dispatched and the captives freed.

The swamp brothers departed, loaded down with the Gell’s arms and armor, as well as a sizeable portion of the coinage found in the boat. They left on good terms with the PCs and may someday again cross their paths should the krewe ever venture into the bayas of the Snakewater. Te Mouse was willing to wait awhile longer before returning back to the City of Midnight, allowing the PCs to explore the asylum. Unfortunately, night had fallen and, lacking any means of illumination, they were only able to discern that the asylum was indeed abandoned and that the shock treatment chair was unnaturally cold to the touch. With one of their number acquainted with Nightmarish Lore, they deduced that this coldness was the result of the seat being used as a conduit into the Nightmare, drawing forth the writhing madness to serve the Silence’s malevolent designs. The party climbed back into Te Mouse’s boat and returned to Midnight some hours later.

Arriving back in the city, they discovered the nocturnal metropolis alive with festivities and commerce. The party decided to spend some of their hard-earned coin, visiting a hardware store, a disreputable outdoorsman’s shop, and a tannery, acquiring equipment, armor, and illicit armaments they expect will come in handy on future expeditions. Aside from being shadowed by a trio of Midnight’s criminal element, who decided against engaging in banditry on the party, their shopping trip was uneventful. After a brief supper bought from one of the city’s roving vendors, the band returned to their erstwhile employer’s book shop in the warehouse district.

They arrived to find the shop a burned ruin, its timbers and ashes still smoking in the cool night. From a pair of homeless lushes, the party learned that the shop was set alight not many hours ago, seemingly by its owner, who howled that the books were stealing his thoughts before committing arson and perishing in the fire. A trip to the local fire station confirmed this and they learned the city militia had confiscated the shop owner’s body for the duration of the investigation. Their efforts to view the body came to naught at the militia post, and so they rented accommodations at a neighborhood flophouse before deciding their next course of action.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

From the October Country: Skinners

Have you ever found yourself talking to a stranger, perhaps one seated next to you on a bus or at the bar, and noticed that they seemed a little…off? If so, you might have met a skinner and you should count your blessings you’re still breathing.

Skinners are one of the apex predators of Nightmare, birthed from one of the maelstroms of hate that seethe within its borders. Having honed their murder skill on the lesser denizens of that place, Skinners look out past the barrier to the choice pickings to be had in our world. But such an monstrosity would be easily detected and destroyed if it set foot across a vestibule without taking precautions. To blend in, they wear suits: people suits. Ones made from 100% real people.

Such a macabre masquerade would almost be humorous if it weren’t of so gruesome an origin and oh-so effective. Despite the ill-fit and obvious gore stains a skinner’s suit has, the creature’s own innate chameleon power blends with their grisly trophy to make them indistinguishable from ordinary folks. It is only by their odd turns of phrase, alien tics, and nervous habits that they can be detected---and very few people would attribute these tell-tale signs to the skinner’s otherworldly origin.

In a culture were murder has become entertainment, it’s no surprise that skinners have found 21st century Earth more accommodating to their tastes than ever. More and more have been crossing the barrier to walk amongst us. The scary thing is that, even with an increase in their numbers, they’re too few to have an impact on the nation’s murder rate—that increase is of completely human origin.

Most skinners operate across the barrier for short, intermittent periods, almost like they were on safari. Once they bag their share, they retreat to the October Country to revel in their trophies and flaunt them amongst their own kind. In time, the call of the hunt sounds once more and they dress up again to hit the town with a few days to kill. Very rarely, a skinner decides to take up permanent residence on this side. These expatriates establish a murder dynasty, taking human deviants as mates to found a bloodline of killers. Although this is rarely successful, a few backwoods clans, products of a skinner patriarch, assuage their bloodlust for decade before coming to light. Although unknown to most people, the few in the know suspect that Ed Gein might have been the descendant of an expatriate skinner.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Three Castles Award Finalists Announced

Over on the NTRPG Convention website, the finalists for the 2012 Three Castles Award have been announced. This year’s contenders, in alphabetical order, are:
  • ASE1 - Anomalous Subsurface Environment by Patrick Wetmore
  • Realms of Crawling Chaos by Daniel Proctor
  • Stars Without Number by Kevin Crawford
  • Tome of Adventure Design by Matt Finch
The finalists now move on to this year’s judging committee consisting of Dennis Sustare, Sandy Peterson, Steve Marsh, Zeb Cook and Rob Kuntz. Congratulations to this year’s nominees!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I've Never Laughed Harder While Being Terrified

Thanks to Jim Ward for sharing this on Facebook. I'm on record stating that the alien from Alien absolutely terrifies me, but I heartily endorse this sort of prankery. If more people thought like this, the world would be a much more magical place.

'Naut Fight! Playtest 2

This cocludes the 'Naut Fight! portion of the consolidation process between Secret Antiquities and The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. New content is on its way shortly.

This week we were back to four players again, allowing me to see if ‘Naut Fight! remains playable with even more ‘Nauts battling it out in the arena. Not only do the rules still allow for fast and exciting play with more players, the game seems to increase in fun at an exponential rate! The only drawback was I had to supplement my playing pieces with a Binary Load Lifter from WotC’s Star Wars Miniatures line

Everyone except last week’s winner chose to create new ‘Nauts this time and we had a wider array of engines and specials. Our first-time player allotted most of his build dice into Speed, allowing him to run rings around the other three combatants. Seeing that it would take their combined efforts to bottle up and destroy the swift-moving construct, the rest of the gladiators put aside their differences for several rounds and turned their attentions on the poorly armed and armored ‘Naut.

Having learned that putting a big hill for the ‘Nauts to fight over in the middle of the arena keeps the battle in one place, I decided to mix things up this time around. Instead of a pile in the middle of the board there was a pit with a single hex platform at its center. A glowing orb floated above the platform, and the returning players recognized this as a body reinforcement globe that added to their ‘Nauts’ hit capacity. One player headed straight for it in the initial round, almost reaching it, before discovering that the orb jaunted around the arena randomly, coming to rest in the middle of areas of intermittent fire. This proved to be no obstacle for one ‘Naut who possessed an engine that help resist fire damage. He scooped it up early in the fight, but the flame rings around the arena continued to be obstacles throughout the fight.

There was still a lack of body slams or overbearing attacks in the match, despite my reminding the players of that option. We almost had an attempt to push one ‘Naut into the center pit, but the opposing gladiator lacked the movement that round to close and make the attack and the threatened ‘Naut moved clear in the following round.

The special weapon of the game was undoubtedly the Fimbul Gun, a cold-emitting cannon that could inflict freezing damage on a ‘Naut or be used to ice down hexes in the arena to create slippery terrain that slowed down movement through them. Two gladiators had these, and you can see the iced-down ground in the pictures (the hexes marked with blue lines). The Fimbul Guns helped corral the speedy ‘Naut into a corner where it was finally destroyed.

The game is turning out to be a surprise hit and the guys are beginning to hint that I should be working on a demonstration model to shop around. They continue to provide valuable feedback and suggestions, but the real proof of the game will come the next time I get together with my friendly, non-roleplaying board gaming group. If ‘Naut Fight! proves to be a hit with them, it demonstrates that this could be something more than another portion of the October Country. I may have to pick up two more ‘Naut miniatures to bring the possible number of players up to six. If six is still fast, furious fun, I might really be on to something here.

After ‘Naut Fight! wrapped up, we managed to squeeze in some actual October Country roleplaying. The party picked up a fourth member at Hunger Rock College and got a lead through some useful inquiries (and thus skipped a part of the adventure, but this is a good thing) that led them out to the burned-out insane asylum downriver from the City of Midnight. Hired goons were encountered and defeated, and the party now believes a group called “The Silence” is involved with the attempt to shut down the library. Sounds of chanting were heard and exotic incense filled the air as they entered the asylum, but what awaits them at the end of the soot-covered hallway will be revealed next week (along with some pictures and game stats).