Wednesday, November 22, 2023

ACKS 2 Kickstarter - Last 24 Hours

Before I forget - Adventurer Conqueror King is coming out with a second edition.  The kickstarter is in the last 24 hours.  Alex had been posting playtest versions of the rules and we've been using them in our bi-weekly Greyhawk game - he's created procedures for thief skills and dungeon crawling that we've found immediately useful in our Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, so I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing.  ACKS takes the promise of the BECMI line - Basic Expert Companion Master Immortal - with tiers of play where players engage in domain building and conquest - and packs the main arc into a concise levels 1-14 like the original red box/blue box Basic-Expert rules.  It captures those high level campaign elements in a way that no other clone game has embraced, while still being a fully realized dungeon crawler if that's the end-all be-all for your style.

The two games I'm running - Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Adventurer Conqueror King - come at old school gaming and D&D from radically different places.  It's worth a discussion!  I'll write about it this weekend as I'll have some time.  In the meantime get over to the ACKS kickstarter before the clock runs out:  ACKS 2 Kickstarter - Last 24 Hours

Sunday, November 19, 2023

LOTFP Review: Winnie the Shit

Get yourself a blender, pour in a parody of Winnie the Pooh, a heap of The Island of Dr Moreau, a pinch of seasoning from Animal Farm, and some references to the Kelvin-Verse, and you've got the adventure locale for Winnie the Shit, Kelvin Green's latest offering for the LOTFP line.  This one is a 48 page hardcover with Kelvin doing the writing, cover, and interior art.  This is a solid addition to the Kelvin-verse; I don't rate it up there with the big three - Strict Time Records, Forgive Us, or Green Messiah - but it definitely has play and should go in your "Kelvin-verse" sandbox.  You can get the hardcopy at the LOTFP webstore (here) or DriveThruRPG (here)

The book describes a mini sandbox area in a place called Lancaster Great Park (modern day Ashdown Forest) in early 17th-century England.  A misanthropic sorcerer, AA Moreau, had fled to the forest to work on his master spell, The Ascendant Synthesis of the New Man, which creates sorcerous human-animal hybrids.  He had hopes of replacing humanity with a newer, better race.  At the start of the adventure, Moreau's creations, the New Men, have imprisoned him and depopulated the nearby village of Hartfield of its people who were used as raw materials for more New Men.  Their sadistic leader, Edward Bear, tortures AA Moreau and forces him to cast the spell each day to create another hybrid (assuming the New Men have a ready human victim and animal to synthesize).  There are several loose plot hooks that can get players investigating the area, but the moment the characters run into a few violent hybrids, the game is afoot, as they say.  There's something extremely satisfying as a referee to imagine wailing on the player characters with a hatchet-wielding Piglet or a savage Winnie the Pooh.  The sandbox gameable content includes lairs of the various main characters (all allusions to the main characters from the 100 Acre Wood, after being re-envisioned as misanthropic human-animal hybrids), and some places to explore like AA Moreau's house, Rabbit's underground warren, or the creepy Woozle's spinney.

There is something solid and accessible about the adventures set in the Kelvin-verse.  When you open a non-Kelvin LOTFP book, there's a risk of being confronted with a tortuous premise such as... "This adventure takes place in July of 1647 in a Swiss chateau overlooking the Bodensee on the exact day before that year's solar eclipse..." and you're wondering, "neat idea but how am I ever going to fit this thing into an actual campaign?"  Many of the Kelvin-verse adventures are set in England and feature an uncanny locale where something nefarious is happening - that looseness makes them extremely referee-friendly to place and establish.  The premises allude to pop culture in a fun way; there will be puns and humor (checking off the box "entertaining for the referee to read"); you'll still get a dose of horror and weirdness before you're through.  Over time they've started to reference their own Kelvin-verse mythology that connects to other locales in the Kelvin-verse... John Dee's 'Men in Black' from Green Messiah make an appearance in the 100 Acre Wood, for instance.  I suppose the highest praise I'd offer is that I'm actively working several books from the Kelvin-verse into my 1630's York game - we'll feature Bee-Ware, Magic Eater, Strict Time Records, Green Messiah, Fish F*ckers, and this fella, Winnie the Shit, just off the top of my head, along with some of the LOTFP classics.

With this review done, I've finally finished looking at the summer's batch of LOTFP books.  I still think The Yellow Book of Brechewold is my pick for favorite new book from the past summer.  Both the ACKS Greyhawk game and LOTFP York 1630 are going strong, so I don't know that we'll get to visit Brechewold any time soon (unless I make time travel a thing for the York crowd...) but Brechewold is high on the list to get the campaign treatment in the future.  Apologies for the glacial pace of my blog of late; the end of year has been quite busy in the real world (the pay the bills world) but have some time off with the USA's upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  I'll be getting back to older LOTFP reviews next, starting either with something called The Obsidian Anti-Pharos or The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero.  Should be fun.  Oh, and I'll get some game reports posted - the players are chugging along in Greyhawk and York. See you soon.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

LOTFP Review: Galileo 2: Judgment Day

Let's establish something right from the start - this is mostly set up as a one-shot adventure designed to evoke a vibe that blends slasher horror and a little dark humor.  The player characters are ostensibly deep in debt to the Inquisition, destitute and working off their debt by carrying out surveillance against a man under house arrest - the famous scientist Galileo Galilee.  They watch his villa day and night, until one evening they see him fleeing into the night, disguised poorly as a nun.  They're faced with a crucial decision… do they recapture Galileo, or use his escape attempt as a chance to ditch their post and loot his wealthy villa?

Unbeknownst to the players, Galileo's villa has hosted a prison warden for the past several years, a merciless automaton created by the Church and equipped to use the voice of Galileo's oppressor, Pope Urban VIII.  When you are a fictionalized version of the Church, of course you can invest untold sums into manufacturing a weird science robot to torture enemies of the state.  The scenario kicks off when Galileo has zapped the mechanical terror with a kit-bashed device to give him time to escape.  If the players explore the villa looking for loot, they'll need to deal with the automaton as it reawakens; if they head off into the night in pursuit of Galileo, the automation emerges from the villa to track them through the woods and into the nearby city.

The meat of the scenario involves chase rules and the tactics and capabilities of a powerful opponent with a series of pro-wrestling style finishing moves and a sadistic streak.  Depending on whether the players loot the house or hit the road with Galileo, there are opportunities to introduce bystanders and similar 3rd parties to get in the way of the automaton and allow it to demonstrate its killing potential.  As a 9 HD terror, it's probably a death sentence if the players assume they can beat it without wearing it down, luring it into water, getting it to fall from a high place, or some other clever environmental tactic.  (Galileo used an electrical device in his basement to zap it, so players looting the villa may also chance upon that device).

That's about it for this one.  If you believe your referee style could create a suspenseful adventure portraying a ruthless automaton with the voice of Pope Urban VIII relentlessly pursuing the characters, while executing deadly wrestling finishing moves with panache and showmanship, this could be a fun one shot scenario.  Even in the realm of dedicated horror games, there aren't too many scenarios that capture the "relentless killer" vibe, putting this in a rarified spot.

So what do I think about it?  Well, I don't typically run convention games or one-shots, so I'm probably not the ideal target audience.  I do think a creative referee could integrate this into a campaign without too much trouble… its 1637, Galileo is a brilliant scientist under house arrest, and he may be in possession of books or knowledge a typical group of early modern LOTFP adventurers (or their patron) could require, necessitating a side trip to Florence and a mission to evade the spies of the Inquisition and secure a surreptitious audience with Galileo.  It could be like a heist or infiltration adventure that transposes into a slasher horror.  It's a short scenario and would probably get done in a 2-3 hour sitting.  There are a few thousand XP available for looting the villa, and a similar amount in payment for helping Galileo escape.

Galileo 2:  Judgment Day is available in hardcover (40 pages) at the LOTFP web store or PDF over a DriveThruRPG.  It's written by Bradley Anahua (a LOTFP rookie) with art by Charlie Gillespie.

The Automaton

Saturday, October 21, 2023

LOTFP Review: Black Chamber

A new challenger has rattled its spurs and stepped through the batwing doors onto the dusty streets of Review Town to take on the LOTFP-verse.  This one is called Black Chamber, and features a theme of arena combat with unwitting victims popping out of the floor in an alien danger-room setting.  Maybe that's why the phrase "a new challenger approaches" is on my brain.  We'll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of this one as we break down the walls of the Black Chamber.

As usual, reviews are meant for referees, there will be spoilers.

The Good

I enjoy dystopian science fiction and horror movies like Cube, or The Platform, that unsettle the viewers with a dangerous, unknown environment, and force the characters to survive long enough to figure out what's going on and escape.  Black Chamber leans heavily into that theme, temporarily trapping the players in a pitch-dark arena where bizarre and random opponents will be thrust upon them.  Adversaries can range from zombie conquistadors, robots that grind opponents into sausage, to ordinary people who have been trapped in the dark and just want to escape.

There is a back-story to this one that involves an infectious alien intelligence that co-opts living creatures, making them part of a collective while it changes their blood and organs to black oil and coal - a kind of alien zombie.  There's a constant threat of infection to the players while fighting in the arena itself, including guidelines on handling "alien rabies".

Beyond the chamber (and it's expected the players will figure out a way to escape) there's a small dungeon, where the players can learn the ancient history of the place, find potential allies, and deal with a few powerful foes.  One of the foes is a potent magic user, controlled by the alien collective, who can cast a quirky spell called Seven Gates, which opens up seven portals throughout the dungeon.  The portals can last up to several hours once created.  You can imagine some madcap chase sequences like a Looney Tunes cartoon or a Scooby Doo chase scene, as different groups use the portals to pop around the dungeon.  Oh, and the destination each time someone enters a portal is random.  Zoinks.  Cue the Benny Hill music.

Finally, if you like the flavor of Gamma World, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, there are hi-tech devices the players can loot, and a fair amount of treasure.  This adventure creates a balanced tone of horror, sorcery, and super science that checks off a bunch of interesting boxes.  I'd love to hear how the playtests went for this one.

The Bad

If you're in the market for a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure for your 1657 Portuguese campaign during the Portuguese Restoration War, you are in luck my friend.  This one is not quite "tell me you're a one-shot without saying you're a one-shot" territory, because it wouldn't be too hard to scrub the historical context and place this in a decade or setting that actually matches your LOTFP campaign.  There are certainly cases where LOTFP authors pursue their vagaries and make obscure adventures difficult to integrate into an existing campaign.  This one isn't too bad.

The Ugly

My eyes.  I love dark mode on my computer screens and iPad, but it was a bit jarring for a game book.  I'll put a picture of one of the pages below.  The aesthetic certainly drives home the oppressive theme of black, seeping infection and gives it a metal vibe.

The Judgment

I loved this one - it's why we come to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  It's a challenging adventure, it's got horror, weird science fiction stuff, and puts interesting pressures on the characters to escape before they all succumb to infection.  I'm not sure a first level party would even make it out of the chamber, so this is probably something for a party with a little experience.  Access to cure disease would improve their long term odds.

It's a 40-page softcover, but this should have been one of the hardcovers and gotten the deluxe treatment - it's a keeper.  I think the softcovers were community submissions.  The author here is Becami Cusack.  The best of the summer LOTFP releases have been Yellow Book of Brechewold, Temple of the Wurm, and this one.   Let's see where it lands as I finish the last two new books.

You can get a PDF of Black Chamber over at DriveThruRP (DriveThru), and it looks like physical copies are available at the LOTFP web stores (LOTFP Web Store).

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Game Reports - ACKS and LOTFP

York 1630 - F*ck Around and Find Out

I'm a few weeks behind on game reports for this one.  Our players, the magic user Allister, cleric Blackburn, Yuri the Elf, and Remy Knotwise the Halfing, have been exploring a puzzle dungeon called The Grinding Gear, a dungeon beneath an abandoned inn within the woods west of Aldfield.  Allister has two henchmen as well, a fighter named Wood and a specialist named Toby.  Rather than post a dull play by play, I'll just focus on some highlights.

At one point they encountered a set of stairs that led up to a landing, the passage turned right, and the stairs continued up.  The landing was one large pressure plate trap, and anyone that triggered the trap got launched in the air by a spring-loaded wall that threw them off the top of the stairs, like a giant pinball bumper.  The players avoided the trap and straddled the corner to avoid the pressure plate - that's not the interesting point.  Later in the dungeon when they ran into some "fast zombies" (ie, ghouls) the cleric used a scroll of turn undead to drive them down the same hallway - he quickly reasoned he could make them flee down the stairs and let the pinball bumper take care of them.  There was a moment, much later in the game, when they went by that way again and found the broken bodies of the zombies at the base of the steps, horribly mangled after being launched into the air.  I think one of them was still snapping it's jaws futilely at anything that came near, unable to even crawl with it's broken body.

They were running low on water and needed to leave the dungeon and return to the surface (they hadn't yet found the water source in the dungeon).  So they returned to the surface and carefully retrieved water from the well, cautious that there were still mosquito bats in the vicinity living in the attic of the inn.  It had been several days since the players first smoked them out.

A random encounter while the players were staying top-side brought some inquisitive bandits into the area of the inn, and they caught sight of some of the players fleeing into the inn and barring the door.  The bandits gave up investigating the statue and bodies in the clearing to mess with the players in the inn.  "You better leave us alone - don't f*ck around and find out", yelled one of the players through the door.  (We're from Philly where Gritty - the Flyers mascot - is basically the mayor of f*ck around and find out).  One of the quick thinking players ran up stairs with a pot and pan and started waking up all the mosquito bats in the attic with a huge racket, while the players continued to goad the bandits into yelling back at them through the front door.  This picture perfectly captures the moment the bandits got swarmed by angry mosquito bats while the halfling and elf laughed at their misery from the safety of the inn.  I love how this group repeatedly figures out how to use the environment as a weapon.

Here's a pic from a previous session when they were exploring an area with pits, and the halfling went down to explore after they killed a ghoul safely from outside the pit.  The halfling player was over the moon with the way his character has been depicted in these game vignettes.  He's even got a tiny pin with The Pillories logo on his hat.

ACKS Greyhawk - Let's Look Fabulous

In Greyhawk news, they did it.  The players finally had enough of Temple of Elemental Evil level one and started exploring the second level.  They seem to be figuring this D&D thing out.  They murdered a minotaur, and cut through a lair area with room after room of bandits wiping them out with a barrage of sleep spells and scooping up the spoils.  As an impartial observer, I believe they'll start getting more experience and leveling up... their insistence on grinding out all of level 1 was getting a little tedious.  Note - there is a horrifying room in the top center of level 1 with like four Earth Elementals patrolling it... the players learned about this place by interrogating some bad guys, and astutely decided to leave if for now.  They found a scroll of protection vs elementals on level 2, so now the wheels are turning.

Their fabulous moment came when exploring a junk-filled room with chests and wardrobes... full of many garments, clothes, dresses, and other sartorial accoutrements.  Old Gary (or perhaps Frank) was being generous when he wrote, "If care is taken in sorting, adventurers can fill three large sacks with good garments, worth 500gp per sack".  This was the last thing the players did on their way out of the dungeon for the night, and many jokes were made... "gee, we barely get any experience for fighting in deadly combat, but bargain hunting for clothes in the bandit's thrift store and suddenly my mojo is pointing up".  Like my son the football player always says about his "drip", look-good, play-good.  That's 1500xp of looking good for you, fellas.

In other ACKS news, I just learned that ACKS 2.0 (second edition) will be hitting the kickstarter later this month.  Oof - I love the compactness of the original book, it's an all-in-one, but ACKS 2.0 will have a player's books, judge's book, and monster book.  It's a great rules set for combat heavy, oldish school heroic fantasy, but a three book set is not an auto-buy for me - I have questions.  We may stick with first edition, we'll see.  Anyone else in the same boat or you diving in?

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Strigoi - Vampire Alternative for LOTFP

Zombies?  Nope - vampires!  The Strain.

To quote my teenage daughter, I've become "low-key obsessed" with Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain.  I binge watched the four season TV series on Hulu, and am working my way through the source novels (I'm on Book 2).  The novels were written with the help of Chuck Hogan, a spy novel author, and so they read like page turner thrillers with a horror twist.  The TV series presents a squirmy, gruesome re-envisioning of the vampire myth with plenty of visceral body horror.  It's a perfect take on vampires for your LOTFP game, and in time for Halloween if you're looking for some horror reading or viewing.

The books have been out since 2009 and the series came to TV in 2014, so I'm not spoiling any ground-breaking new show as I discus the general plot.  Be warned, some discussion of the plot will follow.  The series starts with the arrival of a dead airplane landing in JFK Airport, a 21st century re-imagination of The Demeter crashing into Whitby along the English coast.  In The Strain, the 200+ dead passengers on the airplane are infected with vampirism, going through a biological transformation while their bodies are sent to various morgues around the city.  They awaken at night and wander off to infect their loved ones and passersby, and suddenly a vampire plague begins to quickly spread across the Five Boroughs.

New York is honeycombed with subways and transit tunnels that give the vampires places to hide during the day, and the plot features wealthy opportunistic "human familiars" teaming up with the vampire lord, The Master, by spreading misinformation and slowing down the response of government agencies.  Instead of an apocalyptic zombie plague, New York faces a vampire plague, which spreads beyond the city, and the series eventually goes full-on apocalyptic, with nuclear winter providing safety from UV radiation for a dystopian future ruled by the vampires.  It's bonkers.

The Strain upends the glamor that has claimed hold of the vampire myth - there are no sparkling, handsome or beautiful sexy vampires here.  They are victims of a fast-acting, incurable, mutagenic virus, spread by worms, that rewrites their biology to turn them into giant leeches or ticks - they eventually lose their hair, sex organs, and even their nose and ears will wither away.  Instead of fangs, The Strain vampires (called the Strigoi in the series) have a six foot mouth stinger that lashes out and attaches itself to a victim, followed by a slow glug glug glug as it siphons out all of the victim's blood.  Anyone bit by the stinger is infected with the vampire worms, and anyone engaging in combat with the Strigoi risks getting infected if splashed by the vampire's white blood.  There are many moments of body horror in the series as wriggling worms burrow into open wounds or eyeballs to infect a new host.

From the cover of Book 1 The Strain.  It's gruesome.

Classic D&D vampires had that weird problem where they've got the blood-drinking fang equipment, but really what they want to do is touch you in melee and drain life energy levels.  The Strigoi represent a terrifying way to put blood draining vampires back into your game in an action-oriented style that plays well with classic fantasy and D&D style combat.

Strigoi (Munchers - the newly formed)

Unarmored, Move 120'. Hit Dice 1-4. Attack range 6' doing 1-4 damage + specials, Morale 8.  Chaotic.

Newly formed Strigoi start with 1 HD and gain a HD each week they're able to feed.  There are powerful free-willed strigoi (Lieutenants and Ancients) that are significantly more capable than "munchers" - we'll tackle them another time.  Munchers have animal instincts, with an innate desire to return home and feed on their loved ones.  However, they are connected through a hive-mind back to the Master, who can force groups of Munchers to apply tactics or carry out more complicated actions as the situation dictates.  Strigoi have 60' infravision and heightened senses, including hearing - sensitive enough to hear nearby heart-beats.

In melee, the Muncher uses it's 6' stinger attack.  A hit target must save vs paralysis or be helpless while the muncher drains constitution at the rate of 1d6 per round until the target dies.    The stinger is unarmored and can be severed in combat by an ally with an edged weapon attack doing 2 or more points of damage.  Anyone hit by a stinger in combat is infected with capillary worms (see below).

Glug-glug-glug.  This should terrify any D&D character.

Strigoi are vulnerable to silver weapons, and must make a morale check at -2 when confronted with silver weapons and each time they are hit by silver.  They will likewise shun silver mirrors, as such mirrors reveal their true nature (undead and riddled with parasitic worms).  They are destroyed in sunlight.  

Strigoi take half damage from normal weapons due to their mutated biology.  (Alternatively, I suppose you could say any damage roll in the lower half of the damage range is ignored, while a roll in the upper half represents a hit to a vulnerable area like the neck or head - whatever is less fiddly and more fun for your table.  I like the latter.)

Capillary Worms

Each time a Strigoi is killed in melee combat, roll a d6 - on a 1 result, the victor is splashed by Strigoi blood (including the parasitic capillary worms) which seek to burrow into the victim's flesh and cause infection.  Like rot grubs, the victim must immediately apply flame to the worms (1-6 hit points of damage) or a worm burrows into their flesh.  At that point, only a cure disease spell can end the transformation into a Strigoi.  (In the series, modern UV lights can also destroy capillary worms).  Anyone hit by a Strigoi stinger is automatically infected by worms.

The disease weakens the host over a 24 hour period as the capillary worms multiply and overwhelm the victim's system, colonizing the victim's organs and growing the vampiric hinged mouth and throat stringer.  Strigoi have heightened metabolisms and "burn hot" for purposes of infravision, a possible way of detecting them at a distance if your game uses infravision.  The newly formed Strigoi will arise the following evening and return home, seeking to infect their loved ones.


Although the TV series focuses on a biological, viral explanation for the Strigoi, there are mystical and alchemical elements in both the show and  novels that involve a Judeo-Christian mythological view of the vampires and their origin.  Their history is recounted in a book of esoteric lore called the Occido Lumen.  While the Strigoi disease appears to be a purely biological phenomenon, they are actually a supernatural plague and count as true undead, meaning they can be turned by clerics with a Turn Undead spell or ability.  Munchers are turned as Wights.

Potion of Longevity Ingredient

In the series, 3rd century alchemists created a formula to leverage the capillary worms as a component in a potion of longevity - more to come as I get deeper in the books.

I don't think I'm done with The Strain or the Strigoi yet, as I read further I'll likely provide some stats for the powerful free-willed "Lieutenants" and the terrifying "Master".  It's the Halloween season, after all.

Note:  All the images are from The Strain TV series, subject to copyright, and used here only under fair use as part of a review and discussion of the work.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

LOTFP Review: A Gift for All Norway

Is it?  Is it really a gift for all Norway?

Disclaimer:  Reviews are for referees.  I'm a spoiler.  Stay out, players.

I'll come right out with the judgment… I have some issues with this adventure for campaign play because of how much work is left to the referee, but it'd work fine as a one-shot at a convention.

A Gift for All Norway is a short book - 16 page pamphlet with a soft cover.  The dungeon involves the adventurers entering a cave seeking a stolen artifact, the Heart of Hrungnir, named after a figure from Norse legend, a Jotun.  Within a few rooms of the cave structure, it should be apparent the characters are traversing a gigantic digestive tract like the miniature scientists and doctors from the movie Fantastic Voyage.  Challenges include environmental factors (like lakes of acid) and oozes and slimes (crawling and slithering anti-bodies).  There aren't really NPC roleplaying opportunities in the dungeon, and little or no treasure (unless the players keep the artifact).

All gut-tract dungeons need more Raquel Welch.

If the player's find the artifact, there's a location where it fits in the dungeon, and funny things can happen.  I won't spoil all the fun!  It's definitely a gift for somebody.  I can imagine a party making it to the ultimate location, and deciding what to do next should be an interesting dilemma.

My knock on this one for campaign play is it requires a bit of hand-waving or a lot of referee work.  The players supposedly start in England, travel to Norway, and have to deal with an evil Nordic cult waiting for them at the village of Vihavn not far from where the adventure begins.  All that stuff is left for you (the referee) to figure out.  The evil cult is actually just called "the Nordic cult".  I asked ChatGPT to help me name it and the AI cranked out a handful of evocative names:

  • Frostfang Covenant
  • Rimeborn Disciples
  • Hrungnir's Cursebound
  • Jotun's Whisper
  • Jotunheim's Doomcallers
  • Frostforged Creed
  • Nidhogg's Vanguard
  • … you get the idea.

So you’re buying (and playing ) this one for an 8 room romp through a digestive track dungeon (no Raquel Welch in sight) and a LOTFP worthy decision.  For a one-shot, you could start the players already in Norway - right at the cave mouth - and probably get through the dungeon in a 2 hour convention slot.  I can see it being a satisfying short dungeon in those circumstances.

It's kind of weird this batch of LOTFP adventures had two "crawl around the inside of a giant ancient being" adventures - don't forget we had Meanderings of the Mine Mind earlier, and now A Gift For All Norway.  They are very different - we're talking about Night at the Museum vs Fantastic Voyage.  The Mine Mind is all about interacting with anachronistic people, while this one is Man vs Nature (and by Nature, I mean gigantic digestive and respiratory tracts).

You can get this one at the usual places, the LOTFP store and DriveThruRPG:  A Gift for All Norway.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Game Reports - York 1630 and ACKS Greyhawk

I'm a few weeks behind on game reports - so today is a two-for-one.

York 1630 (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

At the end of last game session, the players were seriously depleted after battling about a dozen "mosquito bats" (stirges in your BX parlance).  They were exploring an abandoned inn, The Grinding Gear, and the mosquito bats were nesting in the attic.

The players secured themselves in an upstairs room away from the bats and bandaged themselves, healed as best they could, and rested.  Their fighter, a 30 years war vet, is also a medic.  In the morning, they hatched a plan to remove the bats from the attic - they smoked them out!  They created a smoky fire with oil-soaked rags in a cook pot and opened the trap door into the attic just enough to slide the smoke pot onto the attic floor.  Their stealthy halfling crept out of the front of the inn where he could spy the smoke billowing out of the attic hole, and he watched as the flocks of mosquito bats fled into the nearby forest to escape the smoke.

When the coast was clear, the players put a lid on the smoking pot, retrieved the treasure from the attic, and found a place to hide it in the inn before considering their next move - finding the underground tomb complex they believed was in the area.  The one thing they hadn't fully inspected yet was the statue in the courtyard, the one surrounded by a field of drained bodies, and they suspected the tomb entrance was tied to the statue.

Since the players experienced the mosquito bats in the attic, they surmised that's how the bodies around the statue became drained; they just didn't understand the mechanism.  So there was some trial and error, with one person going forward to mess with the statue (the halfling) while the rest of the party stayed far away and watched.  In this way they were able to observe the statue's sleep gas trap, and how the smell of the gas coaxed mosquito bats out of the woods to slake their thirst on the sleeping victim(s).  They were able to save the halfling and use the trap door in the statue's base to get into the dungeon.

The most interesting thing that's happened in the dungeon so far was when they discovered a barred door - an NPC party was hiding in the room.  "Don't come through the door or we'll sleep you - we have a wizard!" they warned through the door.  None of the players had considered this was a thing that could happen… that there could be NPC magic users, and opposing magic users could have sleep spells too, and the entire party of first level heroes could be put to sleep and knifed in a dungeon.  Yikes!

The elf player whispered to his companions, "Don't worry - elves can't be put to sleep.  They don't know about me.  Start chopping it down!"  Our party's artist captured the moment when "The Pillories", as they're called, chopped through the door and the elf put the 3 humans in the room to sleep anyway.

ACKS Greyhawk - Temple of Elemental Evil

The best news about our Greyhawk game is that we held it.  We missed a bunch of weeks due to scheduling issues and attendance.  The core group is now on board with a bi-weekly cadence, which works perfectly with a bi-weekly LOTFP game.  This way the regulars should be able to make all the games going forward.

Otherwise there hasn't been a lot to report lately! The players are obsessed with grinding their way through all of level 1, exploring everything, and indulging their completionism urges.  This can be the bane of running a megadungeon (or in this case, large dungeon).  However, I'm hopeful they've learned enough about level 2 to head down there soon.

Last game they also discovered one of the final roleplaying oriented encounters on level 1 - the torturer and his bugbear sidekick.  The thief heard an active 'torture session' in progress through the door, and the players were able to get the jump on the torturer.  A mercenary on the rack cried out for help, the hapless farmers in the prison cells cried out for help, and the torturer was willing to parley after a sleep spell put the bugbear down (the torturer was level 5, unaffected by sleep, but outnumbered like 8 to 1, and he failed a morale check).

The paladin honored his promise to the torturer of safe passage in return for answers, keys, and freeing all the prisoners.  The players learned a back way down to level 2, as well as the location of more prisoners.  The torturer scooted off, the players freed the mercenary and the prisoners, and their militant "bladedancer" - a cleric trying to build an army for the goddess of war - made a recruitment pitch to the mercenary to join her budding force.  (The player rolled terribly on the reaction roll and the mercenary declined - "I ain't in this for your revolution, princess".)  This is why they usually let the paladin recruit the survivors.  But then the mooks are more loyal to the broader group than Shakti's weird crusade for the war goddess (Shakti is the bladedancer).

The torturer had given them some bad advice (mean people suck) and some of the "prisoners" he directed them towards were actually zombies in cells - but were easily handled with clerics and old school Turn Undead.  One of the cells had an actual living prisoner, a gnome named Wonnilon, who desperately wanted to find his gear, but the night was getting late and the players had to leave the dungeon for the night.  Wonnilon left with them, with the promise they'd finish looking for his gear the following week.

Final thought - it's interesting running two different OSR-derived games at the same time (bi-weekly) and seeing the nuances in them (and how their rules sets compliment the subtle differences in the expected game play).  Both ACKS and LOTFP are not true clone games but rather include strong authorial voices and design philosophies.  Grist for a future post.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

LOTFP Review: Faecal Lands

I group Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures in two broad categories, Type A and Type B.  I sift through the catalog looking for the Type A adventures - they are grounded and gritty, focused on themes of exploration, discovery, and building horror, with real consequences and that LOTFP weird twist - like running a Call of Cthulhu adventure but using the familiar BX rules set.

Type B adventures push the limit of what you can do with a table top adventure - all the "shock for shock's sake" art pieces - the classic James Raggi 'damn the torpedoes' mindset that gets things banned on DriveThruRPG.  As an observer of the Type B phenomenon, I used to think James enjoyed triggering people, but nowadays I see him more like an eclectic publisher that puts a lot of mixed stuff out there and hopes it finds the audience that appreciates it.  I'll shrug my shoulders and say, "well clearly this thing wasn't made for me", and move on with my life.  When you throw a lot of stuff against the wall as a publisher, not everything has to stick.  But I'm always on the lookout for more of that Type A stuff, because when they're good, they're really good.

Faecal Lands is not a Type A adventure.  But it might find an audience, so let's get into it.

I imagine a hypothetical idea pitch would have gone like this - "You know, James, Lamentations needs its own planar adventure.  Lots of modules in the history of fantasy gaming feature jaunts into the elemental planes, where the players are grappling with a hostile environment and battling planar entities until they can escape back home."  Oh yeah, that sounds interesting, but what's the weird twist?  "Oh that's the best part.  Since the elemental planes of air, earth, fire, and water are so banal and overdone, I was thinking it could be the plane of poop.  It'll have poop demons, and lakes of pee, and poop dragons, and a final poop boss guarding the poop fortress".

If that sounds like the kind of thing you've been waiting for your whole life, I have great news for you my friend - this is your day, and this is your book.

The cover is so gross I almost didn't want to review it (so I'm not putting the cover here, there's a link below if you like).  But the setting is done earnestly and with an eye towards challenging game play.  I've read plenty of more serious adventures that wish they had the amount of gameplay, usability, and design this crappy book holds, even if it's built around a bad joke.  It includes a hex crawl, points of interest and mini-dungeons to explore, large wandering encounter tables, environmental hazards and diseases, a rudimentary ecology and bestiary, and interesting items and fetch quests.  For a gag book it is shockingly well done.  That makes it perplexing - it'd be much easier to write off if the game content was bad - it's not.

Edit:  I thought it'd be helpful to show a snippet of a page - most of the encounter areas are like this, with functional maps that combine room key descriptions and maps in one neat layout (referencing a bestiary in the back).

At this point, I don't no plan to use this one.  But I won't say never, because there could be that game situation where things go pear-shaped and the party is landing in a metaphorical world of sh*t, and the referee just wants to say, "F*ck it, you twits are landing in a literal world of sh*t too.  Good luck escaping the Faecal Lands, dolts(1)."  This is what Type B LOTFP brings me to - profanity.

The book is 32 pages and written by Glynn Seal, author of The Midderlands.  (There are even several references to Great Lunden).  Glynn also did the art, layout and cartography, and it's all good.  However, much like some criticism I leveled at Meandering of the Mine Mind the editor here missed a few things.  It's as if this batch of LOTFP releases was rushed, or the editors were only looking at spell check and not the big picture.  Small things, like a missed table reference here, or the wrong type of skill check in the text (LOTFP uses d6 skill checks, not % skills).

While the idea of a poop dimension full of poop demons has a distinctly adolescent quality to it, this is executed seriously and would be a challenging adventure locale.  My sense is it would work best for a competent group of players with characters in the level 4-6 range.  (I think the LOTFP crowd has given up suggesting level ranges).

You too can be grossed out by visiting the LOTFP webstore or DriveThruRPG:  Faecal Lands

(1)  Here's an example of how one could tie this easily into a recent adventure: In Magic Eater, there is a gross cult that also involves a poop theme.  The Magic Eater is an unstable monster that should explode when he dies, blasting everyone in the room (cultists and player characters alike) over to the Faecal Lands to be grossed out even further.  You're welcome.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Spotlight on ACKS: Where Orcs are Evil

I'm overdue to say something about Alexander Macris's video channel.  Alex is the writer of Adventurer Conqueror King and he's been doing a YouTube channel for several months now where he tackles game theory and being a better referee.  He's got a collegial style and well-articulated positions.  Last week he tackled the question of whether your RPG should have "inherently evil races" (video is posted below).

This question has been around.  It's been a lightning rod in D&D style games since the Keep on the Borderlands introduced tribes of humanoids just up the road from the Keep (and it's usually accompanied by a debate on colonization in gaming).  Over 40 years, designers and authors have granted more sympathetic attributes to the humanoids in their game worlds, prompting Wizards of the Coast to declare there were no longer evil humanoids in modern incarnations of D&D, but rather they would have all alignments like humans - a sort of "Fantasy Star Trek", where through cooperation, inclusivity, diplomacy, and cultural exchange, everyone can find common ground and have a place in the Federatio… er, Forgotten Realms.

At that point, might as well admit James Raggi was right 15 years ago when he dumped fantasy settings for the early modern and said, let's just place adventures in the real world and have complex conflicts with human antagonists without the furry costumes… but that's another game, another post.  Alex is clinging to heroic fantasy with its panoply of sentient races.

Alex offers a workable solution to the question of innately evil races.  An "innately evil race" would be one where coexistence is not possible at all - the evil race represents an existential threat to human civilization.  The example he uses in the video is the xenomorph from the Alien series.  You're either on the side of civilization or you’re siding with the enemy and betraying it.  The scientific term for this unresolvable clash of species is "competitive exclusion theory".

The problem is that humanoid depictions became relatable and too human.  Orcs are a misunderstood culture, like a fantasy version of  Star Trek's violent yet honorable Klingons.  They're no longer Tolkien's implacable forces of destruction and death.  In the movie Return of the King, there's a visceral experience of orc hatred of humanity when the orc commander proclaims, "The age of men is over, the time of the orc has come."  The battle of Minas Tirith is an extinction event - the stakes are victory or the fall of civilization.  In Middle Earth, Fantasy Star Trek is reserved for the humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits to become kissy-kissy allies and cohabitants.  The spawn of Morgoth (and the orcs) have no place in Eriador.  (And yes, I'm side-stepping any broader discussion of the orcs based on Tolkien's letters or life experiences - here I'm just reacting to the representation in the fiction).

Tapping back into the Trek universe, maybe the Borg are the best example of that existential threat.  Or the Gorn.  In fantasy, something like GRR Martin's White Walkers are a foe with whom there can be no compromise.  But for mainstream fantasy games, 40 years of treating orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins as variant people, has gone too far to reclaim them as an irredeemable enemy.  Were the seeds sown as early as the 1E Monster Manual, with it's complex and naturalistic depiction of humanoid tribal life?

But we will do as we will, in our home games.  Here is the video:

One parting thought - I'm intrigued by the idea that depictions of orc-like monsters and boogeymen in fairy tales and literature may hearken back to some "species-memory" of conflict between homo sapiens and the Neanderthals during the Ice Age.  Instinctual memory sounds like goofy pseudoscience, but it's fun to think about.  It brings to my mind the horrible "Wendol" from the movie The 13th Warrior (Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead novel), where the Wendol are a nigh-supernatural force of Neanderthal-like primitives that emerge from remote caves to terrorize Viking villages.  There are no universal translators, parleys, or requests to negotiate anywhere in sight - just battle axes, swords, and a doughty crew of Northmen to hold the line and stand for the survival of mankind.  Along with Antionio Banderas.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

LOTFP Review: Do Not Accept This Quest

This one is called Do Not Accept This Quest.  "They should have never entered that house…"  I didn't love the adventure... but how about that creepy cover?

Per the usual disclaimer - this is an adventure review, beyond here lie spoilers.

This is about a ruined house with a small dungeon beneath it.  From the backstory, we learn the previous owner was a diabolist who murdered children.  We should be in for something chilling!  However, the execution didn't live up to the premise.  In a published adventure, I want ideas that I couldn't have sketched out for myself with a few hours of prep before game night.  

The rooms of the house are atmospheric, but the dungeon beneath is linear - a straight path with rooms attached.  There are locked rooms in the cellar of the abandoned house with wolves living in them.  I could probably stop the review right there...  Later we learn there are imps breeding in the dungeon.  Maybe the imps are carrying keys, and keep the wolves as pets, and take them out for walks?  The imps don't have supernatural abilities, immunities, or tactics, so they come across as goblins with wings.  In several of the rooms the imps are hanging out with the dead zombie children like it's a monster mixer - a party.

Physically, this book is a soft-cover pamphlet, 12 pages, with nice production values in terms of art, layout, and cartography.  The author is JE Evans.  I'm used to books in the LOTFP line embracing "The Weird" - either a novel premise, a strange twist, or something that subverts expectations - the weird is the LOTFP trademark.  This one has some evocative descriptions, but there wasn't a twist (unless you'd call imps with babies and their zombie play-dates is the twist).  How would you give this one a "weird twist" and make it less conventional?  Drop your ideas in the comments.

This one is $4.99 over at DriveThruRPG:  Do Not Accept This Quest.

That's all for this one.  Next up is something called (groan) Faecal Lands.  I don't have high hopes for a book themed around a poop dimension and poop demons, despite the author's impressive resume.  Wish me luck, I'll be holding my nose.  The good news is, once we get past the poop kingdom, the remaining new LOTFP books look like absolute fire.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Game Report: Grinding Gear Part 1

At the end of the Tower of the Stargazer, we didn't discuss a next game; I assumed it was a one-shot until we connected offline, and the player's said, "This OSR vintage is fine stuff indeed, let's have another!".  I needed to get a campaign world skeleton (Building York 1630) together for the following weekend, and quickly prep an adventure.  We chatted offline about what they wanted to do - something sinister that appeals to the horror enthusiasts, or a more traditional dungeon challenge that could arm them with coin and gear for the challenges ahead?  It was a close discussion, because the group is here for the horror, but ultimately they decided they'd prefer to work off their gaming rust in something more recognizable.  I put aside The God that Crawls (for now) and dusted off The Grinding Gear.

The players had over 6,000sp after their first caper, and spent the week thinking about what to do with their money.  They decided they wanted to rent a house in York as a headquarters, build out a library, and use downtime in between adventures to research spells and make some scrolls.  (These are all activities contemplated and encouraged in the LOTFP rules).  By the time we started play the following week, the elf had researched Sleep, the magic user had researched Charm Person, and the cleric had crafted a scroll with Turn Undead and two copies of Cure Light Wounds.  They were more prepared for the next adventure.  They also chose a name for their character group, The Pillories.

The one-legged veteran Mason, a survivor of the wars in Europe, knocked on the door of the Pillories' HQ early one morning.  Mason was a henchman of William Brewer, the local mob boss.  "The big guy wants to see you - says he received some correspondence meant for you.  He's arranged a lunch for today".

Over the course of a lunch meeting with their patron, the players did in fact receive several pieces of correspondence - a letter to meet with The Doctor(1) later in October (it was currently early September).  The doctor was the collector who wanted the king and medusa statue recovered from the tower last game session, and Brewer earned a fine commission as a broker.  The doctor now suggested there was another salvage opportunity, but he wanted to discuss it in person on his way back through the area from Cambridge.  He had a home in nearby Harrogate and a mansion in the Pennines; he invited the players to make arrangements with his staff in Harrogate for a visit next month.  He claimed to be an apothecary and alchemist, and to induce further goodwill he included a gift he called an "Elixir of Wound Recovery", implying there was even more beneficial solutions available for their ongoing partnership.

The second correspondence was more immediate, and I'll relay the text of it here:

The 15th Day of September, 1631

To Those Worthies Who Found the Star Jewel,

On behalf of my Principal, I'd like to extend my deepest congratulations on this lofty accomplishment.  There are channels where news of such deeds have circulated, and patrons like my Trustor have taken note.  Be thou hale in the tribulations to come.

My benefactor is extending a formal invitation for you to stay and visit his establishment, a relatively obscure tavern and inn called "The Grinding Gear" that caters to daring men of fortune like yourselves.  You'll find his establishment in the North Riding.  Follow the road out of Harrogate to the small minster of Ripon, and travel west into Nidderdale.  You'll find us west of Aldfield.

We look forward to meeting you and offering the opportunity for your next grand adventure.

Safe travels,

Signed, the estate of Garvin Richrom (deceased)

While the player's contemplated this peculiar note from Garvin Richrom's estate, Mister Brewer raised the topic of the excellent "Ambersham Mead"(2) they were sampling over lunch.  "This is truly the finest mead on the market in England, isn't it?" quipped Brewer.  "Maybe when the dust settles from this 'Grinding Gear' jaunt, I'll ask you to head off to Devon and see if you can make some kind of special business arrangement with the brewers."

The players wanted some leads on some "muscle" they could hire as retainers and Brewer knew just the right people.  "There are these two guys who came here looking for work, but they're no good for my organization… I won't employ mere highwaymen or crude bandits who prowl the crossroads robbing travelers…"  In this way the players met Toby Martin (specialist) and Wood (fighter), two former brigands who claimed to have fled a group of outlaws called "the Locksmiths" who were holed up in an old ruin near Selby.  "Life with the Locksmiths started to go bad.  Half the gang moved into the dungeon and started organizing themselves into some kind of gross cult and we wanted no part of it…"(3)  One of the players, Blackburn, quipped, "Cults are our specialty - maybe we'll have to check it out some time, too."

The players bought horses and stuff they'd need for the overland trip to the Grinding Gear; they rode west from York to Harrogate, stayed at a nice inn overnight in Harrogate (the Granby), and went north to the minster of Ripon the next day.  In the Auldfield west of Ripon, they spoke to a farmer named Ambrose and learned "Yes, there used to be a place called the Grinding Gear in the nearby forest, but the man lost his daughter several years back and closed up shop…"

"Come to think of it", the farmer called out as they made to continue, "You're not the only folks to come through here looking for it… there were a few fellers like you come through here just a few days back…"

The Grinding Gear was published back in 2009, if you're a referee reading the blog you're probably familiar with it.  The players found the scene, the abandoned outbuildings, the lonely and empty inn, and the courtyard statue of Garvin Richrom on a monument block surrounded by all those dead bodies - stripped of clothes, and riddled with puncture marks.  We played up the "Hills Have Eyes" angle with the eerie silences and the unshakeable feeling of being watched.  The halfling scouted the area and noticed the uncanny lack of critters with his Bushcraft skill - no rabbits, squirrels, or songbirds anywhere nearby.

The players ignored the statue after taking a cursory look at the bodies, instead choosing to enter the inn and methodically search floor by floor until they reached the ladder into the attic.  At the urging of Allister, Mr. Wood hefted a lit lantern up the attic steps, flipped the trap door open, and saw a breadcrumb of coins leading to a larger pile of treasure in the middle of the attic. He called back down, and Blackburn started up the ladder behind him.  Once Wood made it out of the trapdoor, he stretched to full height and started looking around with the lantern beam.  As the light flashed across the ceiling it began to ripple and undulate… it was covered in pale roosting bats.  One of them unfurled its wings and looked back at Wood, and where its mouth was supposed to be hung a floppy, mosquito-like proboscis.  "Get down, get down, get down" yelled Wood.

Our group's artist depicted the fight against the mosquito bats.

By the time Blackburn got off the ladder, and Wood was able to close the trap door behind himself, 10 of the monsters had followed them through the hatch and into the hallway below; several were clinging to Mr Wood and already slurping his blood.  Our night ended with a desperate fight between the Pillories and the mosquito bats on the 3rd floor of the inn.  The players eventually prevailed, although everyone was down in the 2-3 hit point range by the end of the combat and Yuri the Elf would have died without a well-timed Cure Light Wounds.  An uncomfortable thought passed through the group - only a fraction of the mosquito bats made it down the trap door behind them.  There was a huge gaping hole in the side of the attic providing egress into the courtyard.  Did anyone remember to close the front door behind them?

Our cast of Characters
Minister Blackburn:  Cleric
Yuri: Romanian Elf
Remy Knotwise:  Halfling
Followers:  Mister Wood (Fighter), Toby (Specialist)
Allister:  Magic-User

Deceased:  Edmund, Zach - lost in Tower of the Stargazer


As I work through the LOTFP back-catalog, I'm going to put a lot of rumors and pointers out there for future adventures - here are seeds planted this game:

(1) The Doctor's plot hooks will lead to The God That Crawls, Death Frost Doom, and eventually Strict Time Records Must Be Kept - this feels like a good "spine" to the campaign.

(2) The Ambersham Mead of Devon is of course a nod to Bee-Ware!

(3) The Loquesmyths are the gang of thieves in Magic Eater.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Review: Temple of the Wurm

When I saw the cover of this book, with player characters drooping and flopping like melting Salvador Dali clocks. I groaned.  There's no way I'm going to like this adventure.  Then I read it, and I was surprised. It's odd and cool and felt like a Cthulhu Mythos excursion without a deep one or squid face in sight.

Remember people, adventure reviews are for referees.  Don't spoil yourself, players.

You could say this adventure is "high concept".  The players explore an alien temple where many spells, traps, and alien attacks can make them two dimensional, collapsing to the floor like silhouettes and able to slither up walls and ceilings.  There are also effects that can reverse the dimensionality in the other direction, making the players 3-dimensional, or adding additional dimensions, moving the player character through time or into the higher dimensions.  It has the potential to be very weird.  Note:  there are no Dali clocks in the adventure, although time can become twisted; if anything, some of the locales in the alien dungeon have a circuit-board quality with flashing lights that brought to mind a 2-D character entering the movie Tron.

The situation is fairly simple - people are disappearing near a lake.  A likely hook is the missing son of a fisherman and a request to poke around under water - he was taken.  There is a cave in the lake, leading to an air filled dome and the entrance to the temple proper with the warring two-dimensional aliens.  If the players are resourceful and can learn how to communicate with the aliens, there are opportunities for roleplaying and alliances - there are even factions, and a terrifying predator ("the wurm").

It's hard to rate how this adventure would handle during gameplay without a playtest because of the strangeness, and there could be a wide range of outcomes depending on whether players learn how to communicate with the alien factions.  My guess is it would be a hoot (a technical term).  It should make for an interesting challenge having combats where some characters are 2-dimensional, others are 3-dimensional, and monsters are similarly shifting in and out of different phases.  There are also areas that can only be reached having a 2-dimensional scout opening up exploration avenues leveraging dimensionality and letting players exploit their new states.

As an avid reader of Lovecraft and all things Cthulhu Mythos, I couldn't help but notice how this adventure taps into vibes similar to From Beyond, or The Mountains of Madness, and the idea there are older, stranger races just beneath our feet or just beyond our ordinary senses.  I think it's quite likely players returning from Temple of the Wurm will forever mistake moving shadows or flickers just outside of their peripheral vision as the 2-dimensional explorers invading the realm of the 3-dimensionals.  I would certainly take advantage of that ambiguity to create fear and uncertainty.  "Have they found us again?"

The author of this one is Alucard Finch.  It’s digest sized, 48 pages, with great layout and art.  It's not tied to any specific LOTFP time period or setting, so could be placed in any type of campaign.  That's been a theme with these new releases so far, they've featured dungeons that could work both in a LOTFP setting and in a heroic fantasy setting where the referee is willing to play into 'the Weird'.  It's available at the LOTFP EU webstore or here at DriveThruRPG:  Temple of the Wurm

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Building the York 1630 Campaign

Events moved quickly after the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess game last week.  The players had their successful one-shot delve into the Tower of the Stargazer, declared, "By Jove, this OSR style of gaming is quite a rare flavor", and continued "Bartender, I'll have another.  No, bring the whole bottle, let's make it a full campaign!"

Spoilers may follow.  I don't believe any of my players follow my blog, but in case any do - you might want to stop reading if you don't want to know how the sausage gets made… or how the whiskey is distilled?  I should get my metaphors straight.

In daily life I'm a busy corporate minion, so I knew I'd be stitching together a handful of adventure modules into a loose setting rather than relying on home brew.  For a Lamentations campaign that hits on the classic notes, the centerpiece would be Death Frost Doom and its aftermath.  There are many potential outcomes from it that can send your campaign into a different direction, like a zombie apocalypse or a plague of vampires, and I recently re-watched The Strain and Fear the Walking Dead, so I am here for any and all of it.  

Earlier in the summer I read a book called The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England (Jonathon Healey) so I had a sense of the politics, tensions, and domestic concerns in England between 1620 and 1630 and the transition from King James to Charles.  I picked York because it seems like an interesting northern city with old medieval walls and streets, perched on the edge of several large wilderness areas - including the Yorkshire moors, which seem like they could serve well for hosting haunted places and the odd lair.

In no particular order then, here are the kinds of things I did to get ready for campaigning.  I found a handful of maps online of early modern York that would work as a city map, at least until I convert one in a mapping tool.  I created a random name generator so I could quickly name NPCs and characters on the fly, and also a campaign events generator to populate the calendar with upcoming events that happen in the wider world - wars, and rumors of war.  I made a calendar, too - strict time records and all that.

I created a list of some 40-50 random names of interesting sounding businesses, so I could improvise as required when the players went shopping - I use the name list to pluck a name, pluck a shop name off the shop list, and use another random generator with personality quirks for a suggestion of an NPC's personality.  I built these tools in Excel years ago with random numbers and vlookups, and just update them from campaign to campaign to simplify prep.

I don't have a map of England yet - I've used Google maps to familiarize with the area, but eventually I want to make something with hexes that can be shown to the players for overland travel.  Someone pointed me at a Cambridge collection of period-appropriate John Speed maps; they are amazing, but possibly too detailed and busy for game purposes - we'll see where I land.

In the first game, the players' patron was a local gangster named William Brewer.  He's going to stick around  as an important supporting character as we shift to a campaign mode.  His tavern, the Brabbage, will be a hub for rumors and future plot hooks, and I came up with a handful of things to introduce in the game session so the players have options.  Thinking back to the game session, I introduced plot hooks related to The God That Crawls, The Grinding Gear, Bee-Ware!, Magic Eater, and Strict Time Records Must Be Kept.  Not bad for a single session.  A game based in England will feature many of the Kelvin Green LOTFP titles, as they involve unusual locales and villages that work well in a sandbox.

Here's something obvious to me, though - LOTFP needs an adventure database!  After the current slew of books, the publisher is approaching 100 titles (the last printed title is numbered LOTFP00105, but there are a few skips and reprints in those numbers).  Some are targeted at a fantasy setting, while others are more tightly bound to Earth history and real world locations.  There are adventures set in England, in Scandinavia, in Europe - such as France, Italy, and Germany-based adventures.  Don't get me started on the time periods - many assume a 1630's era, but I've seen one-offs that are set in earlier or later time periods.  Most of them target low levels, although there are a few outliers.  Then there's the taste factor, which ones are "all ages" vs "extreme content".  It's fine to have such an eclectic catalog but a searchable database with attributes would make a referee's life much easier to find useful adventures.  Since I doubt someone will see this humble plea and produce a searchable LOTFP database, maybe it's something I'll put together as I continue the "quixotic quest to review every LOTFP adventure out there…"  I digress.

Besides needing a map of England, I also want to identify several secret societies to round out the campaign prep.  Characters with extraordinary powers, like clerics and magic users, in an otherwise mundane world, would exist on the fringes or keep their status hidden.  There might be cabals of magic users vying for power in the shadows, or a small collection of monster hunters that still fight the good fight in the name of the divine.  Call of Cthulhu is full of these kinds of groups, like the Theron Marks Society, the Brotherhood of the Beast, or the Silver Twilight.  Lastly, I'm also thinking about making some period-appropriate encounter tables for the countryside - who doesn't love a giant random encounter table?  If some kind soul already knows of a Thirty Years' War random table, I would be grateful for a pointer.

Hope you enjoyed reading about the process, and maybe even got some ideas you can use in your own games.  I'll get last game session written up next.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Current Mood

I joined meme culture.  The opportunity to run a game for my high school buddies has put me behind the screen again with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LOTFP) rules in hand, and it's been a blast.  I love the LOTFP rules and aesthetic.  The rules compliment the scenarios very well - LOTFP is lower-powered and focused on exploration, and the scenarios are equally light on combat and concerned with engendering a growing sense of mystery and dread.

Meanwhile, Adventurer Conqueror King powers up the combat side of classic D&D, which is a natural fit for Gygaxian adventures (heroic fantasy) that feature a lot of tactical combats as in The Temple of Elemental Evil.  My vision for the Greyhawk campaign is to make it a tour de Gygax, including Tsojcanth, the Giants, and Descent into the Depths of the Earth.  We've missed a few weeks of scheduling, but I'm hoping to get it back on track soon.  We're going to relax the scheduling to bi-monthly to make it easier on a couple of the regulars to accommodate, and this is going to create a natural opening for me to keep the LOFTP running as a bi-weekly game too (win-win).

I spent a chunk of time last week laying out the foundations for the LOTFP campaign, York 1630.  I'll post the process this week, a play report on the LOTFP game, and another adventure review.  Happy Monday.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Review: Meanderings of the Mine Mind

Spoiler warning - this is a review of an adventure, players stay out!

The set up of this one is fairly simple - some miners are on strike, some heavies from the local guild are trying to get them back to work, and the adventurers show up.  There's a random table that provides several ideas on why the players have come to the mine - the Church hired them to destroy some cave art!  A child went missing in town and is supposed to be hiding out in the mine!  That kind of stuff.

Meanderings of the Mine Mind is an introductory adventure written by Mark Sable; it comes in at 32 pages, and it presents a short mind-bending dungeon.  The overwhelming vibes it kept giving me was somewhere between 1960's Star Trek and the movie "Night at the Museum" - imagine a Star Trek away team ending up at the OK Corral, or Nazi World, or Teddy Roosevelt running into Sir Lancelot and the pharaoh.

This is basically a fun-house style dungeon with some quirky historical encounters, like Roman centurions or World War 2 German Wehrmacht soldiers with grenades and rifles.  The idea behind it is this:  beneath the mountainside is the ancient corpse of a gargantuan alien creature - I picture a Marvel "Celestial" - and the miners have dug tunnels through the thing's fossilized brain.  The silver they're mining once functioned as the creature's neurons and synapses.  The tone of this is more weird and gonzo than horror - it's lighter fare than your typical LOTFP excursion.  While it could work fine in LOTFP's default early modern setting, it could also be used in a traditional fantasy setting.  If it had a detachable cover and those pale blue maps from 1980's TSR , this could have fit right in with the charming "B Series" modules that took place somewhere on Mystara.

However - I have some nitpicks!  Let's start with the maps.  Every room in the dungeon has 3-4 subsections, lettered such as area A, area B, area C… and directions like "A:  A makeshift bunker here houses German soldiers from World War II".  The text is written to make you expect to see where area A, B, C, and so on are placed on the map… I spent too much time looking for them.  Maybe there was a mix up between the maps, the text, and the directions given to the cartographer.  If you're going to run this one, it'd make sense to put annotations on the map so your descriptions don't get crossed up during game play.

The other peculiar thing in the dungeon involved a "diamond encrusted mining pick".  Every room has a silver vein, and it's implied the players can bust out their Skyrim or Minecraft moves and do a little ore mining along the way.  However, I couldn't find anywhere in the text where it describes how much silver can be gleaned from a silver vein.  This seems like a question the players will ask.

When players do some mining, there's a large random table of weird effects that can happen.  The effects are flavorful - they could experience alien memories, have their brains zapped or altered, gain superpowers, all the way up to waking up the big fella who goes and destroys the countryside.  But I was mentioning the "diamond encrusted pickaxe".  Yes, a diamond pickaxe is a treasure in one of the areas.  Besides being a fine treasure on its own, it lets the players mine silver without triggering the random effects.  It made me wonder, if a miner had enough money to bling out their mining pick with diamonds, why are they in a mine?  My "Stan Lee No-Prize" explanation is that the diamond crusted pickaxe was manifested by the alien's mind - it can be used later in the adventure for something special.  But that's the kind of detail you'd expect the author to share or an editor to catch.  Maybe I'm overthinking things - we're talking about a dungeon with cavemen and a Renaissance painter in the same room - but these are the important questions that keep me up.  Watching the fan spin on the ceiling in the middle of the night, and turning the question over and over again in my brain… why, why is there that diamond encrusted pickaxe lying on the floor?  I have to know.

Like most Lamentations of the Flame Princess physical books, the production quality is very high - hard cover, heavy weight paper, fantastic art, layout, a beautiful map.  If this were a PDF on DriveThruRPG, perhaps an author's first adventure, and it had a few loose ends in the text or some misses on the map, you'd say "this is a really great first effort, and there's the bones of a fun adventure in here".  After all, it's easy enough to update a PDF and send it back out into the world.  But LOTFP is an experienced publisher putting a lot of effort into their physical books.  It's fair to expect the maps and text to be a little tighter.

This was LFP0096 out of the new releases.  Going in order, the next one up is LFP0097 - Temple of the Wurm.  It looks quite strange - looking forward to discussing that one!

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Tower of the Stargazer Game Report - York 1630

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

I had a core group of friends in high school who all played games together - we played D&D, Chill, MERP and Rolemaster, Traveler, all sorts of stuff that was around back in the late 1980's.  I haven't seen a few of them in a long time - 20 years!  We reconnected earlier this summer and were musing "Wouldn't it be fun to fire up a game again?"  I knew one of the guys, Dave, shares my love of horror and the weird - they agreed to do a LOTFP one-shot.  It took a month or so to get the schedules to line up, but we finally ran our reunion game last weekend.  I was having trouble getting our Greyhawk ACKS game fired up anyway due to summer vacations and travel, so this was a great weekend for a pick-up game.

The group made characters during the week after a "session zero" discussion - they brought Blackburn, a Solomon Kane-like cleric; Allister a magic-user from London; Edmund, the burglar; Remy Knotwise, the halfling of Essex.  I'm putting the game in 1630 York in England.  Yorkshire and the northern coast has been on my travel bucket list forever, and it seems like the desolate north of England would be fine for placing a LOTFP adventure.

Billy Brewer, aka Willy the Fox, or Billy B, the local crime boss, who is always referred to as "Mr. William Brewer" in his presence, often arranges things for wealthy patrons, and one of his benefactors, The Doctor, had seen an art piece a long time ago in his youth in the parlor of a tower out on the moors.  It was the former home of an acquaintance who had disappeared many years ago, and the Doctor wanted to know if the art piece could be salvaged and brought to him - he was a collector of rare things.  The tower was out on the moors, away from well-traveled routes.  Mr Brewer would send a few of his thugs along as muscle and furniture movers, along with a horse and cart, but there were enough rumors about the "old wizard" that used to own the place, he wanted to hire several specialists in the occult to accompany his superstitious goons.  Thus, the players came to meet each other and have a job.

By this time, the published adventure Tower of the Stargazer has been out in the wilds for 13 years and is well-known as a fine introductory adventure.  I'm sure you know all about it, so I'll elide many of the details and just focus on the interesting bits that happened.  (And if you're a referee and don't own it already, why don't you have it?  It's great).

Our first casualty was right on the doorstep.  The players performed a search around the door, verified there didn't appear to be any traps, and the thief/specialist (Edmund) boldly grabbed the door handle to shove it open.  The magically trapped handle became a serpent, reared around to bite him, and he died when he failed his saving throw.  Remy, the halfling, said "Perhaps we should knock…" grabbed a spear, lifted one of the door knockers with the spear tip, and watched with a sense of accomplishment as a loud gong reverberated through the valley and the doors magically swung open.

I had everyone make several characters as a contingency, so Edmund's player used the gong sound echoing across the highlands as a contrivance for his replacement character to come investigate the area, and thus Yuri the Elf would soon join the adventure.

The statue the players sought was in the second room, so Brewer's thugs got to work with ropes, block, and tackle, to maneuver it out of the tower and safely stow it on the wagon.  The players began exploring the abandoned tower.  The terms of their employment specified they could salvage anything out of the tower to keep for themselves after securing the statue.  However, if any of Brewer's goons went with them and died, they'd owe a death-benefit to the crime lord out of their share.  They found several trap doors in the floor not far from where the statue was found, and began exploring the basement.

One of the rooms down there is a workshop with operating tables, dissected critters, and a human corpse with a bulbous abdomen, stitched back together with golden threads.  One of the players even said, "This is all wrong - it's going to be John Carpenter's The Thing and turn into a giant maw and start chomping us".  But then the player noticed the corpse was stitched with gold, real golden thread, and caution was thrown to the wind in the interest of loot.

Everyone freaked out with horror mixed with laughter when the animated guts of the corpse started choking Allister, their magic user.  Dave is an artist and posted this sketch shortly after the session, capturing the corpse mayhem:

No one died by asphyxiation, although Allister did almost get choked out.  In the meantime, a couple of Brewer's goons were poking around the lab, too.  The goons were named Barty White, Lucky J, and Zach.  Barty had stayed topside with the horse and cart, but Zach and Lucky J came in to explore with the players.  Zach went to investigate a hallway of mirrors, got promptly sucked into some kind of mirror of life trapping (he looked like General Zod in the phantom zone) and Lucky J tried smashing the mirror to get his buddy out.  Unfortunately that didn't bring Zach back.  That led Dave to make the quote of the night, "Lamentations of the Flame Princess - play stupid games and win stupid prizes."

The players figured out how to work the tower's elevator and made it to the lowest level, where the actual treasure chests were protected by various force fields across a large room.  After a lot of trial and error and frustration dealing with the levers and the different on/off modes, they still hadn't figured out an effective way to negotiate these barriers, and gave up in disgust.  By this point Allister, their magic user, had shocked himself into unconsciousness, and the others decided discretion was the better part of valor, and they would just have to give up on the treasure room and head back to town.

On the way up the elevator, the halfling became curious if the elevator went to a secret spot on the first floor.  He found himself on the third floor instead, face to face with the wizard of the tower, trapped in a thaumaturgic circle of some kind and frozen in time.  There was a hilarious conversation between the halfling and the wizard, as the halfling figured out the wizard was trapped and kept saying, "keep talking, keep talking, I'm listening…" while he rooted around in the wizard's stuff, shoving anything that looked remotely valuable into a large sack (including a 5,000sp "star gem").  That particular scene ended with the wizard howling in helpless rage at the thievery, while the halfling scooted off into the elevator yelling "YOLO, sucker !!!" and escaping with a large bag of loot.

So they missed out on the treasure vault, but salvaged their night with their halfling's daring exploits.  Back in town they'd have to forfeit some of their pay to offset losing Brewer's man Zach, but overall it was a successful first adventure. 

The game rules were very well received (and why not, LOTFP rules are great), the players liked the different vibe of early modern, and the focus on exploration and puzzles interspersed with moments of dread that characterize good LOTFP adventures.  Great fun was had all around.

We had had a "session zero" during the prior week where we talked about character generation.  The question of keeping demi-humans in the game came up.  We ultimately decided to keep them in the setting and play up the idea that they were rare but possible; halflings were a well-known English phenomenon in the south of England, near Kent.  Dwarves were uncommon, but rumored to live in the mountains of Scandinavia.  Elves had left the British Isles centuries ago for some unknown faerie land, but the dark forests of Eastern Europe still had rumored settlements of Earth-bound elves with slavic names and heavy accents.  Thus the player's elf character became "Yuri", a wanderer from a distant land.  (He still has some work to do to explain Yuri's presence in the Yorkshire Moors…)

Sufficient fun was had that they implored me to make this a semi-frequent game, so I'll be running a York-based LOTFP campaign 1-2 times a month, in or around when we don't get together for Greyhawk.  So this won't be the last time you hear about these particular characters or their exploits.  Incidentally, anyone know of a good hex map of Ye Olde Merry Englande?