Monday, December 5, 2016

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: The Scuttling

Based on the adventure "The Scuttling" by Todd A. Woods and Kevin A. Ross from Chaosium's Sacraments of Evil

Friday March 15, 1889

Ascott, Morton, and Pound are hired by railroad tycoon by Nigel Stander to acquire a 16th century bust of Lady Jane Grey from Misters Weiman and DeMarco in New York City, with Ascott to work as his agent. Agent suspected his brother wanted to get him out of the city for a few months but a trip to America seemed entertaining. Mister Morton saw a potential story and Pound accompanied him to make sure he stayed alive.

Sunday, March 17, 1889

The characters travel to Liverpool and depart on the Christabel under Captain Dan Holley. There is some confusion when the Gustav Ericsson is in her berth but they make it aboard eventually. It is a long journey as the Christabel is an older ship without steam engines.

The crew tries to scare their passengers with tails of monsters (i.e. squid).

Monday, April 15, 1889

The Christabel glides into New York harbor, seeing the newly assembled and still shiny Statue of Liberty in the harbor. After some confusion about currency exchange, the characters acquire lodging.

Tuesday, April 16, 1889

The bust of Lady Jane Grey is determined to be authentic and purchased at the previously agreed upon price, despite Weiman and DeMarco's attempt at dishonesty.

Thursday, April 18, 1889

The Christabel begins its return voyage to Liverpool.

Tuesday, April 23, 1889

An undersea earthquake raises a mud bank to the surface which the Christabel runs aground upon. The characters are able to walk on the bank and collect some fossils that date to the Silurian Age, 400 million years ago.

Friday, April 26 - Saturday, May 11, 1889

A number of mysterious deaths occur. Eventually they discover the ship has become infested by prehistoric eurypterids, a cross between scorpion and lobster. Seeing the scope of the infestation, including a nine foot long mother, they scuttle the ship. Realizing they will be considered insane, they falsify the log to indicate an out of control fire burning the ship down to the waterline (which is indeed how they scuttle it). The survivors board a longboat, though the bust is left behind (while the mud bank is the likely source,  there is a lot of suspicion at the bust as well...)

Tuesday, May 14, 1889

The Christabel survivors are picked up by the Gustav Ericsson, en route for Greenland...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Other Things Distracting Me, Late 2016 Edition in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away

I noticed I've been flipping through my Star Wars books over the past few days, both the old West End Games resources and the newer Fantasy Flight Games ones.

Must be a new Star Wars movie coming out.

It's been about a year since I played a Star Wars game so the stars could be right for that this winter. But it seems I really need to be independently wealthy to have time for lots of campaigns. I'm a bit jealous of those people who are able to participate in or, in some cases, even run, multiple campaigns.

I've written about the original D6 Star Wars system a number of times and had a chance to explore its predecessor, Ghostbusters, this summer. It's far from a perfect system but it has the virtue of being incredibly easy to play. Fantasy Flight Games' versions of Star Wars is a lot more crunchie than the D6 incarnation - in my experience prepping takes a bit longer, though it does make for some rather interesting characters.

Oddly, while I played the numerous Wizards of the Coast versions of Star Wars, those aren't any consideration in my mind for a game. Not that I dislike them - I had a lot of fun with them, but I find these other two versions fit my gaming style nowadays better.

What sort of game? Well with Rogue One coming out and it being years since I did a "traditional" Star Wars game, fighting against the Evil Galactic Empire seems a neat thing to do...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Remembering Joe Dever

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf gamebooks were incredibly popular among my circle of friends in the 1980s. The 1980s were a great time for gamebooks - I remember devouring Bantam's Choose Your Own Adventure series but the Lone Wolf books were my favorite by far. Throughout the series Dever revealed more and more of the world of Magnamund. A simple combat system added an element of randomness to the tales.

An amusing irony about the books is though they were for solo play, they encouraged a lot of socialization among my peers. We discussed the world, used elements of it in our D&D games, traded books with each other, etc.

Dever passed away this week, far too young at the age of 60. I'm glad he got to see his creation endure beyond the gamebooks fad of the 1980s. Cubicle 7 recently released a beautiful adaptation of Lone Wolf as a fully realized RPG. It's nice to think his words and his creations will live on. There are probably people adventuring in Magnamund as I write this, either alone or as part of a gaming group.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Doctor West Will See You Now: Zombies in Call of Cthulhu

While I've been examining zombie gaming possibilities, I've got a late 19th century Call of Cthulhu game going on. Some of the players in my group suggested we do a zombie Call of Cthulhu adventure.

While we've got the pulp dials cranked up pretty high, I do want to keep the game Lovecraftian. I'm a huge Jules Verne fan and can  see at some point doing a Victorian-era adventure and/or horror game in the vein of Pinnacle's Rippers or Cubicle 7's Victoriana. But for this game I do want to stay grounded in Lovecraftian horror.

Which brings us to one of Lovecraft's least favorite creations, Doctor Herbert West, the "protagonist" of his serial "Herbert West - Reanimator". This serial examined West and his obsession with reversing death. To quote the first section of the serial:

In his experiments with various animating solutions he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the prime nuisance of the college. Several times he had actually obtained signs of life in animals supposedly dead; in many cases violent signs; but he soon saw that the perfection of this process, if indeed possible, would necessarily involve a lifetime of research. It likewise became clear that, since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress.

West spends the serial developing his serum, trying to perfect it. He is faced with the need for fresh corpses and his results tend to be zombie-like monstrosities. It occurs to me there is opportunity to explain West was trying to repurpose some ancient Hyperborean formula used to reanimate the dead - perhaps as a weapon. These reanimated dead, zombies if you will, would be able to create more zombies  by the serum transferred by bite. Of course without the proper mechanisms to control them, they become mindless killing machines...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Brains: Thinking About Zombie Apocalypse RPGs

I recently posted some of the games that are distracting me, causing one player to ask me "what about a zombie apocalypse?"

So... What about a zombie apocalypse? Truthfully, I've never done an all-out zombie apocalypse game, though I have rather enjoyed liberal use of zombies in D&D games.

I've actually always wanted to do such a game, though truthfully I find it a little bit on the intimidating side - while a one-shot zombie apocalypse game is pretty easy to do, the challenge is in keeping the campaign interesting. Obviously, game after game of killing zombies would get rather boring.

One of the inspirations I'd take would be Max Brooks' World War Z. While I found the movie to be so-so, I found the book fantastic. Its premise is it is written several years after a zombie apocalypse has been contained, with the author being the interviewer of numerous personalities. Most of the interviewees appear in only one chapter, others are revisited throughout the book, either directly or indirectly. Through them we follow the story of the outbreak, the near collapse of civilization, and the turning of the tide. What I found refreshing was the idea that civilization does not absolutely collapse, though it is on the brink. For example, the United States is forced to withdraw its zone of control to west of the Rocky Mountains, temporarily abandoning everything else. The Walking Dead is another inspiration, both in comic and television form. There society is definitely more decimated, providing a greater need to form their own communities.

Gaming engine is fairly wide open. I've two games that are built around zombies. The first is Eden Studios' classic All Flesh Must Be Eaten. I flipped through it a little bit today and it does have a lot going for it, though it does seem a funkier in its mechanics than I'd remembered. I really do like its zombie customization system. The other game I have is a more recent one, Immersion Studios' Infected RPG. While AFMBE is a fairly generic zombie apocalypse game, Infected posits a fairly specific apocalypse, set five years after the outbreak. It's definitely configurable but I'd need to give some thought to the default assumptions and how much work I'll be creating by breaking them. The biggest adjustment I'm considering is starting the game off in the outbreak and possibly utilizing the Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel system, giving each player multiple characters and seeing who survives the initial outbreak.

Other games would work very well for a zombie apocalypse. There's four additional ones I'm considering:

  • Savage Worlds - Fast character generation, fairly easy prep. Tons of online resources. Possibly a bit pulpier than I'd be looking for.
  • BRP/Call of Cthulhu - I love Chaosium's BRP system and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition could work just fine - take away the Mythos, add zombies. Its got a lot of stuff we don't need, but we already have the books, so no harm.
  • GURPS or Hero - Lumping these together. Both of these are fairly gritty RPGs which might serve well in a survival game where a certain amount of realism is desirable - yes, in Champions the Hero System can go to four-color comics, but take away the powers and start with fairly normal humans and you've stripped away a ton of the complexity. I lack a ton of experience with either, having played in the occasional game of both. Given I've a desire to do Golden Age Champions at some point in the future, perhaps a basic version of Hero might be reasonable.
We've still got some Penny Dreadful Cthulhu to do, but this will give me something to contemplate. Assuming Rogue One doesn't unlock Star Wars...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fake News of the Future

I've been avoiding talking too much about the recently completed US presidential election. I've some very strong opinions on it but it's motivated me to relaunch my political blog where I can have a place to focus on it and leave my geeky blog here relatively nonpartisan.

One aspect of the recent election that has caught my eye which does have applicability to fiction and RPGs is the prevalence of "fake news". For example, I saw the following on my Facebook feed a few gazillion times:

The problem with that quote is Trump never said that. For good measure, here is a quote that Clinton never said:

These sorts of fake quotes were a serious problem during the recent election, as were news sites which treated them as real. And partisan news sites that took a real story and slanted it beyond recognition to fit a certain world view.

As our world becomes more and more digital, this will become a greater problem. How hard would it be to inject a totally fictional character into history. There is a non-fiction book which describes Julia Child as a member of the [fictional] Delta Green organization. That was caught, but what if it wasn't and got reused over and over again. And while that happened with a book, think of how easy it would be to inject someone digitally into history. Going into cyberpunk ideas, consider the possibility of hacking into a newspaper's digital archives and inserting a false story.

What strikes me is with all of our instant access to information, our ability to verify a fact sometimes actually becomes more difficult. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's Distracting Me Now: Fall 2016 Edition

So we've a few Penny Dreadful Call of Cthulhu sessions under our belt right now. Our adding the pulp rules definitely add a bit of a twist - our most recent session had a character survive a blow from a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath that would have been fatal in a non-pulp rules set.

I've got the next 2 adventures pretty much ready so of course I've been flipping through other gaming stuff on my shelves.

The Star Trek RPG playtest is coming up - we've had some thoughts of trying that out. The playtest materials should be out soon so we'll see how that looks.

The Golden Age Champions Kickstarter just funded so at some point in the future we'll be trying that out, either with the Hero rules or with another superhero rules set - the product itself will include material for Mutants & Masterminds and for Savage Worlds so should the Hero System scare me too much we'll have other options. Some Nazi punching may prove rather soothing after a stressful election season. I've always wanted to try out the Hero System but at the same time I'll confess to some intimidation. Champions Complete looks a lot more manageable than other versions I've seen but we'll see. My best guess is this would be most likely some time next year.

For whatever reason I've been reading and watching a lot of 18th and early 19th-century American history. That's had me flipping through my Colonial Gothic material as well as the Renaissance RPG, a variant of RuneQuest designed for the early modern period. I keep visualizing Arkham: 1754. There's supposed to be a Colonial Lovecraft Country from Sixtystone Press for Call of Cthulhu but I don't think I've heard an update on that for at least a year.

There's a new Star Wars movie coming out in a month. We'd been talking about giving the Minos Cluster folks positions in the Rebel Alliance at some point...