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Actual Play: One in Darkness Part 2

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Based on the adventure of the same name by Doug Lyons with L. N. Isynwill, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.

Part 1

[Note this writeup is a bit brief given the adventure was played several months ago.]

Setting:
Boston; Wednesday, April 20 - Thursday, April 21, 1921

Characters:


Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist

Late in the night of the 20th, Crowley received the call that Eddie Clark had been spotted and rejoined his companions in apprehending him. After some severe questioning, they searched his flat and discovered it had records of a delivery to an abandoned brewery - perhaps where the Crimson Gang was hiding.

They made their plans to go to the hideout - with the knowledge that the Black Demon was searching for Malone as his ultimate target, they planned on using the tablets to bring the demon there - and then hopefully banish it.

While they did m…

Remembering James - 1971-2018

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As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that he was gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart - Rush, "Nobody's Hero"




My first ever gaming group was in the 1980s. In the summer between 5th and 6th grade I posted an ad in the local library looking for a gaming group. I was terrified as it was my first time DM-ing for a group - all the other gaming I'd done had been with one friend here, maybe two others.

Some members of that group became my closest friends in middle school and into high school. Jim was one of them. When I see the show Stranger Things I think of that game of friends. I'd suddenly found a gang of geeky people to hang out with. I remember being over Jim's house many times - his family had a VCR long before mine did - and we watched tons of science fiction and fantasy films. The Last Unicorn, Star Trek II, etc. Halloween parties at his house. He always managed to find new games - he introduced me to Top Secret, Tunnels & Trolls and many o…

Actual Play - Blades in the Dark - The First Job

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The Dragons were a new crew in Duskvol. A city of near perpetual night, much like the rest of the world, with a pitiful dawn and dusk every day. Yet life went on. Unless you hired the Dragons to end someone. That was what they did. They endeavored to keep it as quiet as possible.

Two of the small crew were on the job this night - David "Dirk" Burke and Tocker "Ogre" Helker. Ogre, unsurprisingly, was the muscle, whereas Dirk was the more subtle type of fellow.

They'd been hired by an agent by the name of "Rufus", representing some undisclosed parties on the city council. The captain of the Leviathan Hunter Billy Budd, one Tyree, was to be terminated. Ideally the ship as well should be scuttled or destroyed.

They got aboard ok - the Billy Budd was in harbor readying for a long trip and they acquired forged papers from a contact of Ogre's so they could pose as medical inspectors to do a final check of the crew's health before departure. Not requ…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #1 - Call of Cthulhu

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The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. - H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"


At long last we come to the end of our long journey. Far longer than I'd have anticipated, with quite a bit of upheaval in life slowing down my blogging. I made an initial list when I began posting this Top 19 - and as I posted and had chances to reflect, some games made slight moves. Call of Cthulhu never budged from its perch at the top. 
Call of C…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #2 - Star Wars (West End Games)

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Welcome to the penultimate entry in this journey that has lasted a lot longer than I'd anticipated. I'm one of those Star Wars fans who were there at the beginning, seeing it for the first time at the age of five in a Brooklyn movie theatre - a big one, one with balconies.

In the mid 1980s, Star Wars entered a lull. I still loved it but popular interest in it had waned. At Quassy Amusement Park, where I worked in high school, we had a few gazillion Snowtrooper figures redeemable with tickets from Whack-a-Mole and Skee-Ball.

But it began picking up steam slowly. I remember being overjoyed at the first Star Wars Encyclopedia that I picked up from a Stop & Shop that had a small book section. And in 1987 I remember seeing advertisements for a new Star Wars RPG. I was overjoyed. I'd tried my hand at adapting AD&D for Star Wars but it wasn't right. I'd had better luck with the Marvel Superheroes RPG oddly enough.

The West End Games Star Wars RPG is my favorite i…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #3 - ACKS

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I have a special place in my gaming heart for early editions of D&D. I'm not quite enough of a grognard to have played the original D&D when it came out - my gaming career began in the early 1980s. I played a lot of the Basic and Expert D&D incarnation as well as a ton of Advanced D&D. But they didn't quite make it this high in the list.

One of the things I loved about the Companion rules of D&D was the way it brought about domain play. Early in this list I had Pendragon as a game I really like but didn't get a lot of time playing. I really like the idea of PCs ruling domains. It's a reason I greatly enjoy George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. But there were a few frustrations I had with D&D. I liked the idea of demi-humans having their race as their class - it added a certain amount of character - but I also found it a bit limiting. When I played, I liked being a magic-user but I was frustrated by the limits of low-level magic-us…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #4 - Fate

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Fate was a way harder game for me to "get" than I thought it would be. I suspect if I'd never gamed before it would have been a lot easier.

There's a ton of blogs and reviews that can give you all the details of Fate. I'm going to talk about the Fate Accelerated version where I finally grokked the game. Fate Accelerated and Fate Core are officially the same game, but there are some definite differences.

Fate uses Fate dice - six sided dice with two plusses, two minuses, and two blanks. You roll four of them and add them together - adding various modifiers as well, but the dice give a range of -4 to +4. You're trying to beat some difficulty. It sounds pretty traditional.

Here's where it diverges. Fate Core gives your character traditional skills like shooting, piloting, etc. Fate Accelerated goes for approaches - how you do something, Are you forceful? Are you sneaky? Both a wizard and a warrior can be forceful. But your aspects and stunts give more defin…

Actual Play: One in Darkness Part 1

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Do you think I care if there was just beer in that keg? I know what's in it. I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars. You've been telling Ma that you've gone into politics, that you're on the city payroll. Pat Burke told me everything. You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood - blood of men!- Mike Powers, The Public Enemy

Based on the adventure of the same name by Doug Lyons with L. N. Isynwill, contained in the Chaosium anthology The Great Old Ones.
Setting: Boston; Wednesday, April 20, 1921

Characters:
Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary: After some unpleasant bouts with madness in New Orleans, Crowley and Tardiff had spent the previous two months undergoing psychiatric care. In the interim, the chaos of the early days of Prohibition had seem an incr…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #5 - Cthulhu Dark

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Cthulhu Dark is without a doubt the briefest game in this list. The rules take up two pages and that includes examples. I'm going to do something a little weird and reproduce the essentials of the first page of the rules. You can see a the full rules of the first incarnation of the rules at http://catchyourhare.com/files/Cthulhu%20Dark.pdf. You can purchase the newest version at RPGNow which includes lots of campaign settings, interpretations of the rules, adventures, etc.


Your Investigator
Choose a name and occupation. Describe your Investigator. Take a green Insight Die.

All dice, including your Insight die, are six-sided.

Insight
Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind the universe. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll your Insight Die. If you get higher than your Insight,
add 1 to your Insight and roleplay your fear. (This is called an “Insight roll”.)

Is your Insight real? Can you really see a deeper truth? Or is it just insanity? Someti…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #6 - Ghostbusters

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Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! - Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, Dr. Peter Venkman



I think every "Top N" list needs at least one or two "WTF?" entries. Yes, I am absolutely serious, I put West End Games' old Ghostbusters near the top of my Top 19 list.

Funny story. At least to me. When Wizards of the Coast first released their Star Wars RPG there was a lot of criticism about it being "D&D in space" due to using the d20 rules. While the d20 incarnations weren't my favorite (though I do think they got it right near the end of their license with Saga Edition), I always got a chuckle out of that criticism. By that standard, West End Games old Star Wars RPG, much beloved, could be considered "Ghostbusters in space".

For people fa…

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #7 - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

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This was one of the tougher games for me to place. For a long time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the main game I played. I’m going to commit some old-school heresy and link the first and second editions of the games together - though there certainly was some stylistic changes, AD&D 2nd edition was more a change along the lines of editions of Call of Cthulhu than the leap between AD&D and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. One could even make the argument of linking AD&D and B/X D&D but given the number of differing assumptions between the two parallel game lines, I’ve chosen not to do that - though truth to tell, my groups, like most, happily cross-pollinated between the two lines - but we usually preferred AD&D.

What was it about AD&D? I think what I liked about it was that it was a dense game. The early books were tomes you could explore. It was a crunchy game - notAftermath crunchy but compared to B/X D&D there was a lot to the game. I don’t kn…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 3

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I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask.  ― Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow

[Part One] [Part Two]


Setting: New Orleans, LA; Tuesday, February 1 - Saturday, February 5, 1921
Characters:Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist Summary: Hearing Fowler and Papa Screech back in the estate, the investigators exercised stealth. Crowley and Tardiff prepared to burn the side of the teleportation portal on the estate side of the gate while Furst snuck upstairs to see if there was anything worth seeing.

Upstairs she did find something rather disturbing behind a locked door (which she easily picked) - a shrine to his dead wife and daughter, with a copy of The King in Yellow as wel…

Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #8 - RuneQuest

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RuneQuest is a game I’d love to get a bit more time playing. The first version I picked up was the Avalon Hill-published, Chaosium-produced 3rd edition of the game. For many, if not most people, RuneQuest is equivalent to Glorantha, the default setting of the game. However, the 3rd edition took place on a fantasy version of Earth, with Glorantha detailed in a book in the boxed set.
My own experience with RuneQuest is in using it as the rules for a fantasy version of Earth, with the PCs being either Vikings or Lenape Native Americans, covering a fictional colony set up by Vikings in Manhattan around 1000 AD. It featured evil dwarfs, dragons, and lots of violence. It was a lot of fun. If it went much longer I think I would have thrown in some ninjas and dinosaurs... We actually used a fairly crunchy version of the rules, as designed by Nash and Whitaker for Mongoose Publishing, a set of rules that became the basis for The Design Mechanism’s RuneQuest 6th Edition and later Mythras. Chaosi…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #9 - Dungeons & Dragons (B/X, BXCMI)

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I got my start in the B/X version of D&D and it’s still a game I really like, though it’s been years since I’ve played it. I’m lumping the Basic/Expert game with the later Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immportal sets, later consolidated into the Rules Cyclopedia, one of the greatest single volume games I’ve ever seen. I am keeping it separate from AD&D which will appear in one of the remaining 8 slots - I was a bit torn as to which to rank higher. Part of me wanted to link them all as one game but my own gameplay experiences had them feeling rather different from each other. I certainly borrowed material from one game and used them in the other.

With that out of the way, what was the appeal for me of D&D? As with manu others of my generation, this was my first exposure to role playing. In some ways the game is a bit kludgey, with a variety of mechanics - lots of x in 6 chances, percentile chances, d20 attack rolls, low armor classes are good, etc. Nowadays that’s part of …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #10 - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

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I’d originally planned on making this list a “top 10 list”, but given the name of my blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to make it a “top 19”. It’s taking me a bit longer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, over the past few months I’ve had to dial back on my posting frequency. It’s been a combination of finishing up my master’s degree (eight classes down, two to go) as well as actually working on my first gaming product intended for publication (more on that in a few months if it becomes something real).
That said, we’ve made it to the top ten. Another of the reasons I expanded it from ten to nineteen is I wanted to get some retroclones that I’ve played in. Today’s entry is one that I’ve really enjoyed - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorceres of Hyperborea. Take Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and super-emphasize elements that would fit into Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborean stories - a swords & sorcery corner of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The rules themselves are a close variant of AD&…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #11 - Vampire: The Masquerade

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I saw Vampire: The Masquerade a number of times at the local Waldenbooks in the early 1990s. As a poor college student without a lot of free time I didn't make that many gaming purchases back then - and without a regular book there didn't seem much point in purchasing it. But every time I was there I flipped through it and was amazed - it was different from any other RPG I'd ever seen. From the evocative art to the comic book style story within to its themes. Eventually I wound up purchasing it.

Truth to tell, I've not gotten that much play out of it - in that, it resembles Pendragon - a game I really like but have gotten very little opportunity to play. However, the few times I've played it were a blast - whether it was dark and moody or superheroes with fangs, it was a blast.

There's a number of things about Vampire that I found - and still find - appealing. I love politics and Vampire games can be all about politics - high stakes politics in the style of th…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 2

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[Part One] [Part Three]

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
- "Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2


Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.







Setting: New Orleans, LA; Monday, January 31, 1921 - Tuesday, February 1, 1921
Characters:


Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary:

After dealing with a bout of paranoid madness, the investigators limped their way back to their hotel to recover from the shock.

The next morning (rather late morning), going over Gavvin's notes, they decided to go to the warehouse being used by the Most Honorable Krewe of Sword…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #12 - Marvel Super Heroes

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There have been a number of RPGs based on Marvel Comics but my favorite remains the original game, as published by TSR in the 1980s. It's been around 25 years since I've played the game but I still have very fond memories of the game.
I believe TSR made the game from 1984 to 1993. There were two main rules sets - the original basic game in 1984 and the advanced game which was releases in 1986. TSR later published a revised basic set. The game reflected the changing Marvel universe - it began with a strong Bronze Age of comics feel, though over time it acquired the Iron Age feel of late 1980s and early 1990s comics - the proliferation of X-Men teams, supernatural characters, etc. Though strongly rooted in the Marvel Universe, the game had rules for your own characters, teams, headquarters, etc. 
The mid-1980s saw a number of "table-based" RPGs - Chill, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, and Conan are the biggies I can think of. Of the TSR games, I think Marvel did it …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #13 - Dungeon Crawl Classics

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We're entering a region of my Top 19, probably up to number 6 or 7, where I'd almost be inclined to list a 6-way tie. I like all the games on this list a lot and we're hitting the games that I really, really like.

Dungeon Crawl Classics came out around the time I started this blog so it has a special place in my heart. It takes the D&D 3.x rules and strips them down. It then looks at the stripped down rules and decides they've not been stripped down enough. And then it decides to strip them down a bit further. And then it adds a few gazillion tables for critical hits, spells, deities, etc. It takes Appendix N of 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the inspirational reading section, as its source material. This gives it a mix of science fantasy, weird fantasy, swords and sorcery. Inspirations like Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Manly Wade Wellman, HP Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp, Andre Norton, etc. It did introduce me to a number of authors I've come to greatly e…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #14 - Icons

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I have a mixed record with superheroes. I love superhero comics, but my success rate with superhero campaigns is rather limited. That said, there will be some superhero entries on this list - games I have had the opportunity to play and enjoy.

I had the opportunity to clock some time running an Icons campaign and definitely had a lot of fun. It's clearly a relative of Fate, though with a good dose of TSR's old Marvel Superheroes RPG in the mix as well.

Icons does a good job of emulating what you see in a comic book. Characters can slam foes and send them flying. By using Determination, characters can activate Qualities (like Fate Aspects), avoid Trouble, and up their effort to retry failed tests. A character who dies is out of play for at least an issue, but after which may make a miraculous return based on an explanation come up with by the GM and player. No, this is not a gritty simulation of realism. Superman, Captain America, Phoenix, Bucky, Professor X, Doctor Doom, Magn…

Actual Play: Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? Part 1

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[Part Two] [Part Three]


In early 1921, the investigators depart Massachusetts to investigate a mysterious death in New Orleans...

Based on the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign" by Kevin Ross. Originally published by Chaosium in The Great Old Ones, revised version published by Golden Goblin Press in Tales of the Crescent City.

Setting: Boston, Mass. and New Orleans, LA; Friday, January 28 - Monday, January 31, 1921

Characters:


Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in ArkhamJordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for FranceFredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist
Summary

The investigators received a telegram from the great occultist, Étienne-Laurent de Marigny of New Orleans asking them to travel to New Orleans, indicating he required their services in an investigation.

Leaving Boston on Friday the 28th, they arrived in New Orleans two days later after an uneventful rail journey. Much warmer than Boston, New Orleans was …

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #15 - D&D 5e

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Back in 2015 I gave my first impressions of the 5th edition of D&D. Beyond that brief campaign I haven't clocked much 5th edition time but my impressions remain - it's a great game. It takes a number of lessons learned from the 3rd and 4th editions of the game.

Here's my big takeaways on the 5th edition. First, it takes away the necessity of 3.x games to very carefully balance encounters and to plan player characters from first level. It removed the "grind" often found in D&D 4th edition and stepped back from a number of decisions made in there that made the game feel less like D&D. One interesting lesson it took from 4th edition was a "proficiency bonus". When making a roll in something core to your character you add it to your d20 roll, otherwise you don't. A fighter would add it to attack rolls with his sword, a wizard would apply it to her spell rolls. Any character would use it for skills he or she is proficient in. It applies to c…

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #16 - D&D 3.x

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One of the oddities in this list is variants of D&D will appear multiple times while games like Call of Cthulhu will appear once. However, I've found many of the editions of D&D are extremely different from one another. If you showed up at my Call of Cthulhu 7th edition game with a 1st edition character, we could probably convert on the fly. On the other hand, bringing a D&D 3.5 character to a 4th edition game would not work.

Additionally, there will be a few retro-clones on this list - primarily if they bring something very new to the gable.

While D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 do have some fair-sized differences, it is clear that 3.5 is an evolution from 3.0 as opposed to an entirely new game, as was done in 4e.

It was tough for me to figure out where D&D 3.x should rank. I want to point out that any game on this list is a game I've both played and enjoyed - and there are a few games not on the list that I've also enjoyed quite a bit.

The 3rd edition of D&a…