Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Road Trippy

Here's one final piece -- for now -- from Comes Chaos.


This is for the travel chapter, and is supposed to depict a landscape corrupted and twisted by the influence of big-C Chaos. The previous picture was my first attempt at the image, but it was too close to the action and didn't get the idea across of a journey through a tainted land. I'm not sure this one does either, but it's closer!

(Pun not intended.)

It's also a bit of an homage to a classic piece of Warhammer art, given that the project as a whole has a Warhammer flavour. As I worked on the image it drifted further from the original and I suspect it's unidentifiable to anyone who doesn't know already. I will be impressed if anyone spots it!

Comes Chaos is available in pdf now from JB's blog. A print version is on its way and JB will announce when that's ready to go.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Kebab Night

Here's another piece from Comes Chaos, which is available now in pdf from Running Beagle:


I didn't like this one at first, but I sent it over for inclusion anyway, and it turns out I was wrong because it made it into the book! I've grown more attached to the picture now, which is the opposite of what tends to happen when I draw.

A print version of Comes Chaos will be available soon; keep an eye on JB's blog for updates on that.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Oh! Don't You Tell Me It's Tough!

And another for Running Beagle!



I couldn't find a good paint splatter image, so I ended up making my own and scanning that, which all seems a bit low-fi and analogue, but it was fun chucking paint around in the name of "art".

Edit: The book is available now! It's called Comes Chaos and you can get it here.

Monday, October 04, 2021

May 1992

Another piece for Running Beagle Games!



Edit: The book is available now! It's called Comes Chaos and you can get it here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Incoherent Peacekeeping Agent

Right, so "Clone Drive" then.

I read this story when it came out as individual issues of Death's Head v2 in 2019 and it didn't make much sense then. I got the collected edition as a birthday present a few days ago and gave it another go, to see if a second try and a couple of years made a difference. Alas, it has not.

The main problem is a chronic lack of coherence. Despite being published as Death's Head v2, I think it's supposed to be the origin of a new version of the character -- Death's Head V, or "Vee" -- except he gets very little screen time and achieves almost nothing. So maybe it is about the original DH after all? It does start and end with him, but then he gets pushed aside by half of the Young Avengers, also achieves very little except to get a new sidekick, then disappears with her off to deep space where undoubtedly we will see neither of them again.

We don't get enough of Vee to make him compelling enough to follow, not that we can follow him because he hasn't appeared since as far as I can tell. If it's about reintroducing Death's Head to the Marvel Universe, sticking him in deep space is an odd way of doing it. If it's a celebration of the character -- which is what artist Kei Zama suggested when it was first published -- sidelining the ostensible star is an odd way to do it.There's no room for anything to breathe, and it all feels muddled.

Then there's the nonsense. We start with Death's Head falling through a space portal into a bin in New York, which is apparently enough to deactivate and dissasemble him. Then he is somehow turned into an amplifier for a punk band. I don't know how this works. Wiccan and Hulkling run into him by accident, except it's not by accident because Wiccan did some magic that brought them there. I think? Maybe? Wiccan did this because he already has a DH -- Vee -- under his bed and wants to know what it is. Probably? Wiccan has Vee under his bed because he did some magic to see possible futures for the Young Avengers and saw vee in some of them, and then went on an untold solo adventure to an AIM laboratory and stole Vee. I think? But it turns out that the whole thing was some sort of elaborate plan by the villain to get her hands on the original DH for... reasons. Except the villain turns out to just want to hang with DH so they go off together and leave everyone else behind. It's possible that the villain just changed her mind and switched sides halfway through the story, but it's not clear. Nothing is clear.

Oh, and then at the end, Death's Head is standing, deactivated (?) in Vee's cupboard, except he's also running around space with his new friend.

I, uh, ah. No, I have nothing. I can follow the chain of events, just about, but the individual events are baffling and the storytelling is so weird. Wiccan goes off and breaks into an AIM lab on his own and steals a robot, but we don't get to see that. Why? Wouldn't that have been interesting? What's going on with the extra Death's Head in the cupboard? Wouldn't there have been easier ways for the non-villain to ask DH to be her friend? I cannot tell if I'm being dense and this is all clever plotting, or if it's just really bad. I suspect the latter.

On the plus side, Kei Zama's art is lovely. There's a nice balance between strong cartoony storytelling and intricate detail, although the inking is perhaps a bit heavy in places and makes some of the pages look a little muddy. Even so, the art is by far the best thing about the book.

Death's Head fans will probably get this because we like to follow all of his appearances, but I can't recommend it to anyone else because I'm not sure it's very good. Disappointing, yes?

Oh, and to pad out what is still a very thin book, we get a reprint of Death's Head v1 #1 by Simon Furman, Bryan Hitch, Mark Farmer, Nick Abadzis, Annie Parkhouse, and Richard Starkings. I list the entire creative team because Marvel seems to have forgotten to do so anywhere in the book. That's a poor show.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Chop Chop

I drew this for Christopher Mennell. Sort of. I didn't know I was drawing it for Chris at the time. I was drawing it for fun based on something he'd posted online, but he liked it and bought it.

Anyway.


Monday, September 06, 2021

Dunwichin'

Chaosium was clearing its warehouses at the end of July -- some bargains seem to be available still! -- and I decided to spend some royalty money on H.P. Lovecraft's Dunwich for Call of Cthulhu. I'm not sure why I picked that one out of everything available, but I'm glad I did. Allow me to tell you why.

The Good
  • The format is a lovely surprise. I was expecting a sourcebook on Dunwich, with some related adventures, a bit like Chaosium's books on real-life locations like Cairo and London, and that is sort of what you get.

    Ish.

    It turns out the book is more of a sandbox, akin to an old school D&D adventure. You get a -- long! -- list of locations, the people associated with them, and any events -- eldritch or otherwise -- tied to them, but there is no plot as such. That said, there are some ongoing agendas and schemes, but nothing like the sort of strong plotting one expects from a CoC adventure. Not only is it refreshing, the gazetteer-like approach makes the content easy to read and, probably, prepare. Which is good, because there is a lot of content. Speaking of which...

  • So... much... stuff! Every house, building, or other point of interest is listed and numbered. There are almost a thousand locations, although some are empty. I haven't got this to the table -- and I am unlikely to do so since one of my regular players has read the whole lot -- but I imagine you could get weeks if not months of play out of Dunwich and the surrounding area.

  • The content is pretty good too. There is a lot of interesting stuff to investigate and poke, some of which is waiting for the players to discover, some of which is carrying on without them. It all seems very playable and it feels like a real, living location. There are plenty of non-Mythos interactions too, which is good, but I'll have more to say about that in a bit.

The Bad
  • The d20 Call of Cthulhu rules. Ha. No, I joke. I'm all in favour of 7th-level Librarians.

The Ugly
  • There is some... "old-fashioned" terminology used to describe the mental and physical condition of some of the Dunwich residents. This is a 2002 revision of a 1991 book, but even so I was surprised. On the plus side, there are only a handful of occurrences, but beware and be prepared to ignore the Old Ways.

  • There are a couple of sections that are a bit dungeony and feel out of place in Call of Cthulhu. These were perhaps less jarring in 1991 but they feel very wrong these days.

  • I think there's too much Cthulhu Mythos content. This seems like an odd complaint for a game about the Mythos, but bear with me. Without going into spoilers, there are at least three major Mythos, er, vectors, only one of which has anything to do with the Dunwich Horror. It feels a bit greedy and over the top and moreover, the intellectual, physical, and social decay running through Dunwich is given a Mythos origin, which I feel undermines the Deliverance-like horror of the setting; I prefer to think that the Dunwich Horror happened because the village was already corrupted by human failings, rather than those failings being caused by an alien influence.

    (What's worse is that the book is inconsistent on how pervasive this influence is and jumps through unconvincing hoops to explain why some villagers are unaffected.)

    I would remove at least one of these Mythos elements, maybe even two, and make the village a bit less of a Cthulhu "zoo". Cthulzoo?

  • I am not a huge fan of the cover, as seen above. It's a fine picture and better than anything I can do, but as a cover it tells us nothing about the book, except that there is a wrinkly old man in it. It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that there are quite a few wrinkly old men in the Dunwich area.

    The cover for 1991's Return to Dunwich is more overt -- perhaps obvious -- as a piece of horror art -- and to be fair, seems to illustrate one minor possible encounter out of almost a thousand, so I can see why it was changed for the reprint -- but it's also more striking as a visual. It looks like the cover of a dodgy VHS horror film, exactly the sort of thing I would rent in a heartbeat.

That looks like more bullet points for Ugly than Good, but worry not! That first Good point is such a... good point that it more than makes up for the flaws, and most of the issues with the book can be fixed with ease, or ignored without making the adventures more difficult to play.

(I would go into specifics on said fixes, but, you know, spoilers.)

I remember seeing the original Return to Dunwich book in the collection of my old Call of Cthulhu GM Keeper Dave and that cover jumped out at me even back then. For whatever reason we never went to Dunwich in Dave's campaign, but I hope I'll get a chance to run it one day, as it seems like great, degenerate, backwoods, fun.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Somebody Once Told Me the World Is Gonna Roll Me

I love this old article, from White Dwarf #136, because it's so pro-fun and pro-hobby. This is Games Workshop saying "here's a new ork vehicle for you to build and use, and you don't have to buy anything!"

(Except for the issue of White Dwarf, of course.)

If I were in charge at GW I'd keep the full article on the website forever, and I'd update the rules with every new edition of 40K, to keep the Gobsmasha, and the enthusiastic hobbyism, alive.

This is probably one reason -- among many, I admit -- why I am not in charge at GW.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

To Be or Chenot to Be



This one was inspired by this post at Grognardia. There's something quite compelling about the Chenot, a sort of tentacular dustbin, and I had to draw one of my own.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Incredible Adventures of Tiverton Cream

We are looking at getting a new kitchen. Some of the names of the kitchen sets are evocative, most are ridiculous. There's a hint of the pulp adventurer or consulting detective to all of them.

To generate a pulp adventurer or consulting detective, roll d16 for the first name, then d16 for the second name, or roll just once and read across both columns, although that's much less fun.

Roll a d16! One Stupid Name Another Stupid Name
1 Esker Ice
2 Chester Azure
3 Milton Grey
4 Oban Forest Green
5 Kendal Midnight
6 Glencoe White
7 Heritage Cream
8 Monochrome Cashmere
9 Melrose Dovegrey
10 Forest Luxe Pewter
11 Scandi Carbon
12 Sofia Graphite
13 Camden Slate
14 Tiverton Bone
15 Industrial Sage
16 Elder Natural Oak

Friday, July 16, 2021

Official Secrets

I have just completed a project that, for creative -- and maybe controversial -- reasons, I can't talk about. Booooo!

I have also completed work on another project that I can talk about, so here are some bits from that Yay!.


These are from Oakfell Vale, a role-playing adventure that you can buy here. I was brought in to complete some fill-in art as the original artist was unavailable, and I tried to keep some sort of visual continuity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Child Automata

LOAD "CHILDAUTOM", 8, 1
...
LOADING
....

No one knows where these strange machines originated, not even the machines themselves. Sages and scholars point to the significant differences between the Children and other automata on the Deadly Sands and say that they can't be from the same source, but what other explanation is there?

Each Child Automaton has a black or dark grey mechanical body that can only pass for human at a distance or if concealed. Their heads look human and are only revealed as artificial when touched, as their skin has the texture of strange, pliable metal.

Child Automata, as the name suggests, always have the appearance of children between 10 and 16, although some "younger" individuals have been reported. No "adults" have ever been seen, and the Automata do not appear to age or grow. Automata almost always have adult personalities, although if you want to play an actual child robot, that's okay too.

If your game uses forgeborn, warforged, robots, tick-tock men, or whatever, then use those to represent Child Automata, except you will probably want to reduce their size and movement speed; look at gnomes or halflings for pointers on how that works in your ruleset of choice.

If your game doesn't have artificial people as a character option, then use the following guidelines:

They are immune to disease and poison, and do not breathe, drink, or eat, although can mimic all three.

They heal like normal creatures, as internal systems knit together broken components, a process that baffles scholars. Healing magic works by overcharging these internal systems. Probably. Who knows?

Child Automata do need to sleep each day, just like their flesh-and-blood companions. All Child Automata have the same dream, one of a lush meadow full of tall grass and wild flowers, with bumblebees buzzing and butterflies flitting about. No living person has ever seen such things, so the source of these dreams is of considerable interest to these scholars I keep mentioning. How individual Automata react to these images is up to the player, and if you're running one of those trendy collaborative storytelling type games, maybe the origin of the dreams is also up to the player. Whatever works for you.

Some Child Automata display a sort of compulsive behaviour that may be the result of fragments of deep programming. A player of such an Automaton can roll on the following table.

GO$UB #1987 (d12):
  1. OBSERVE RECORD REPORT (to whom?)
  2. COLLECT X AND ANALYSE
  3. DESTROY X
  4. I WANT TO BE A REAL BOY/GIRL/WHATEVER
  5. PRESERVE LIFE
  6. LOCATE OTHER
  7. PROTECT X
  8. UPGRADE BASE UNIT
  9. LOCATE ORIGIN POINT
  10. CREATE ANOTHER
  11. WHAT IS FUN?
  12. BATHE IN THE BLOOD OF THE FLESHY THINGS

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Friday, June 25, 2021

A Devilishly Good (Evil?) Time

Something has gone wrong and the devils have broken through. Hell has come to earth! Literally! Except devils are Lawful, so this particular colony of Hell turns out to be a functioning, albeit evil, society.

(Just like our own! Lols.)
That's the setting of Perdition, a game I bought back in 2016 and for some reason had not read until Tuesday. This turns out to be my error.

Perdition is a Dungeons & Dragons variant with an Old School feel but some modern touches, and in terms of complexity it feels somewhere between a B/X clone and a lighter version of D&D3. The book itself is a complete game with the setting elements conveyed through rules mechanics; there is no gazetteer of the world here, and only a few major personalities -- all devil lords, of course -- are detailed.

The book is written by Courtney Campbell and Arnold K, with art from Heather Gwinn, Marcin S, Matthew Adams, Michael Raston, Russ Nicholson, and that most prolific of artists, Public D. Omain.

The Good (or maybe The Bad in this case, because Bad is Good)

The setting comes through on every page and in almost every line. It's an implied setting, oh yes, but "implied" doesn't seem strong enough a word. Infused, maybe. Soaked, even. You couldn't use this ruleset to play anywhere else but Perdition -- or a similar devil-infested place -- but then you have countless D&D variants for that.

The classes are evocative. some familiar, some new, some familiar but with new twists, but all flavoured -- soaked even -- with Perdition, er, badness. Each of the 12 (!) classes has a fun ability or mechanic and some feel almost like little games within the game. They are similar to 13th Age in that respect, although they are less elaborate and extensive than some of the classes in that game. Even so, each is like a little toy box and they all look like great fun to play. Yes, even the fighter.

As a D&D cousin, Perdition uses experience points, although here they are transformed into prestige. At a basic level, it works much like it does in most OSR variants; go into dungeon, drag out coins, convert into points and levels. But levels have a special importance in a lawful, hierarchical society like Perdition, and that's reflected in the mechanics, as more powerful characters attract more attention from the devils that run things.

Nor is money the only currency, because devils also trade in souls -- which do have a monetary value if you are desperate enough! -- and infernal contracts are common, to the extent that there's a lovely set of mechanics for handling how such agreements work, turning the negotiations into a neat little sub-game in which even the winner can come away with a bad deal.

(This twisty-turny but logical economy of money, souls, and contractual obligations can drive the game and provide the impetus for characters to adventure together. Why are we going on adventures when the devils have already won? Well, because Geoff owes Maluthraxus 2000gp from his last level-up, and Alice has been promised immortality if the black orcs are forced from Thunder Mountain.)

My favourite concept in the entire book is the Vile Conclave, an extension of this ordered system of agreements, contracts, and transactions. The Vile Conclave is brilliant. The world is ruled by devils, and devils like law and order, so of course, there is an official procedure for dealing with them. I don't know if the writers were influenced by the demonic parliament in Disgaea 4, but it's a similar concept. Rocking up at a devil's fortress and killing the fiend is frowned upon, and will probably get you eviscerated by the Devil Police, but players can instead take their grievances to the Conclave. They can also make requests at the Conclave, or even go to make veiled insults to try and force a devil to make a faux pas and thus face sanctions from its peers. All of this works through betting experience/prestige and while the mechanics are a bit light on specifics, it's a wonderful, fun idea, and I could see enthusiastic groups expanding it through use.

(Forms. There needs to be forms. Devilish requisition? That's Form 666B, sir.)

I adore how devils are used in the book. They are evil, yes, but they are reasonable and while you can kill them like your average D&D murderhobo would, there are better -- and more entertaining -- ways to deal with them, and those ways baked into the mechanics and the setting. It's so good. If you're running a game in which devils play a major part, then it's worth getting the book just to steal the contracts and the Conclave.

The Bad (or Good, see above)

Nothing! Honestly, Perdition is full of good ideas, and a handful of average ones, but there's nothing I would call bad in here. Aside from the devils. Ha. There is one extended case where some of those ideas clash and trip over each other, but that's for the next section...

The Ugly

I am not at all fond of the multiple resolution systems. You have attribute tests, which use 2d6 -- or sometimes 2d4 or 2d8, depending on the character -- against target numbers between 5 and 12, depending on difficulty. You also have skills, which are tested against a target of 6, and use a die between 1d6 and 1d12 depending on the skill level of the character. On top of that you have the standard B/X reaction roll, which is a Charisma test, but is a special case that always uses 2d6, and the game also uses a Swords & Wizardry-style saving throw. On top of that there are "struggles" which are opposed tests that involve rolling and totalling hit dice, with the highest total winning. As well as physical hit dice for physical struggles, there are mental/social hit dice for, um, mental and social struggles.

(There's also the good old attack roll and a new social/psychic attack roll, the latter of which works in the same way as the former but uses a different statistic. Some may consider those resolution systems, which they are, but not in the sense I mean here; I don't think it's fair to complain about attack rolls and other task rolls being different in a D&D variant.)

Now, I don't advocate for a universal mechanic here, because like any element of games design, a mechanic is good if it serves a valid purpose, and that's true of a single unified task resolution system too. If there is a good reason for different systems, then so be it.

(The classic example is percentile thief skills in D&D. One compelling argument for them is that switching to a completely different set of dice is a sort of direct, haptic feedback that reinforces the feel that these are a set of abilities unique to the thief.)

The issue I have with the multiple systems in Perdition is that I cannot espy the valid purpose; it feels like a bit of a janky kitbash and I imagine it would be chaotic and confusing at the table. Maybe not, but I can't see any good reason why a unified mechanic -- or at least some streamlining -- wouldn't have been worthwhile, a bit of filing down of the spiky bits.

I've written quite a lot about the task resolution, which suggests that it's a big problem, but in truth it's a minor issue and it's really the only Ugly part of the game. There is so much to enjoy here.

-----

Perdition has lots of great ideas, heaps of fun mechanics that make you want to get to the table and play right away, and a lovely, light, and elegant evocation of setting through rules. It's very good indeed and I am kicking myself for leaving this unread on my shelf for five years. Sorry, Courtney, sorry Arnold!


My copy of Perdition is a hardback printed by Lulu.com back in 2016. It doesn't look like it is available any more but you can get a pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Forever Fibbing

I bought Eternal Lies soon after its release in 2013 but Stuart's children were part of our gaming group at the time, and I was aware that the campaign was full of content that wasn't appropriate for them, nor could it be removed without undermining some of the key themes. Almost a decade later, Stuart's kids are far too cool to play with us old fogeys, so I was able to get the campaign to the table at last.

We've been playing since June 2020 -- with a couple of gaps -- but I haven't been posting summaries here because, well, the authors ask that no details of the plot are revealed in reviews or other discussion. I intend to respect that, although it will make this review a bit tricky in places. Bear with me.

I'm going to reverse the usual Good, Bad, and Ugly order here because -- spoilers, dear reader -- this campaign has major problems, and I want to end on a positive note. As much as I can, anyway.

The Ugly

The book is massively overwritten. This is obvious from the first page and was part of the reason why I didn't push to get it to the table earlier, as I feared it would be a lot of work to get it to a playable state. I was not wrong. The book has around 400 pages but there are probably about 100 pages of actual content; the rest is faff, nonsense, guff, and vast swathes of pointless repetition. Also, there's quite a lot of repeated information, and furthermore much of the page count is taken up with repeating what you've just read a few pages earlier.

There's also an issue with the tone of the writing, which I admit may be a matter of taste, in that it comes across as smug, arrogant, and hypocritical at times. For example, there are a couple of places where the very concept of dungeon-delving is ridiculed, but then we get at least three actual, honest-to-Gygax dungeons. Maps are mocked and considered tools of the imagination-challenged, except when they are not. It's a bit sad and almost embarrassing to read.

The Bad

Oh crikey.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the campaign as a whole is that, aside from a couple of places, there's not much in the way of player choice. The overall structure is somewhat similar to the classic Masks of Nyarlathotep -- which I suspect is deliberate -- in that once things get going, the players can tackle the main campaign locations in any order, but that's where the flexibility ends. Each location is a little railroad, literally in one case, which doesn't even have the decency to be a knowing joke.

(A quickish aside: my understanding is that the entire point of the Gumshoe -- I'm not capitalising it until you tell me why -- philosophy is that the players cannot fail to find essential clues, and so the investigation never stalls. To my mind, this means you can design adventures with a rich and -- if you want -- complex structure, knowing the players will not be blocked from accessing that structure because of a failed skill roll. The authors of Eternal Lies, on the other hand, seem to have taken it to mean that they can force players to experience a sequence of set pieces; it's the sort of structure that we all knew was bad in 1990 so it's a bit baffling to see in 2013, even more so in a game line that I thought was supposed to encourage the opposite. Thus endeth the asideth.)

The grand irony is that despite the rigid design, there are holes in the structure big enough to pilot the Alert through that cause some parts of the campaign to be tricky if not impossible to access. The most egregious is the climax of the entire campaign, which happens for reasons the players have no way of knowing, so the authors crowbar in some quasi-flashbacks to get the players there. One of the major non-player-characters is sort of halfway to working it out, so can nudge the players in the right direction, but -- and look at this for a clusterfudge of bad design -- if the players are sensible there is no reason for them to encounter this NPC at all, so the adventure as written has them beaten unconscious, stripped of their equipment, and dumped literally at the NPC's feet.

(I wasn't going to do that to my players, so in my game, the players arrived at the location and did what they came to do, then decided there was no reason to pursue the NPC, and left.)

This isn't something Gumshoe can fix, because the NPC's name and location are clues the players find whatever happens, but you still need a reason for them to meet the NPC, other than "some thugs knock you out", and the GM shouldn't be doing the work that a £40 book should be doing.

What's worse is that the climax only happens as a result of player action. This is supposed to be a final ironic twist, but because there's no way for the players to realise this, it can come across as arbitrary and random. For the GM, who can see the workings behind the curtain, there is a further disappointing revelation: if the players do nothing, nothing bad happens. The bad guys carry on, but they don't "win", indeed the way they are written -- which is one of the good parts of the campaign; see below -- means that they cannot triumph.

Without going into spoilers, for I have made a promise, this is how the campaign works:

In 1924, a cult attempts to do a Very Specific Thing. It is interrupted and although there are survivors, none of them know what the Very Specific Thing was, or even that the cult was trying to make it happen. This crucial bit of data is lost in 1924.



In 1934 -- or maybe 1937, because the campaign isn't sure when it is set (sigh) -- the players go around tracking down splinters of the original cult and dealing with them.



?????



The players do the Very Specific Thing (oops) and must save the world.

Okay then.

That ????? is a huge narrative and structural gap -- again, a surprise in a campaign which has up to that point forced players along a strict linear path -- and the authors seem to just assume that it will not be an issue. In my game the players decided that yes, they would go and do the Very Specific Thing but they didn't really have any good reason to do so, which strikes me as a problem, and the "twist" that they really shouldn't have done so after all is an even bigger problem, but now I am repeating myself.

(How very appropriate.)

The campaign as a whole is a mess of rigid railroading and massive gaps, which is a worst-of-both-worlds chimera I didn't think was possible.

The Good

There are a couple of terrible non-player-characters in the campaign, but they are not essential and are easily cut. The majority of the NPCs are at least interesting, and the main cast are quite well written, in particular the major antagonists. I am reluctant to call them villains, because while they stand in opposition to the players and represent the traditional Cthulhu cultists, they are far from traditional in their characterisation. Each of the major opposition NPCs is written as complex, with their own goals and motivations, and although the characters are technically on the same side, they have more differences than commonalities.

(The obvious approach is to use these differences to turn the antagonists against each other, but the geographical scope of the campaign does make this difficult and, alas, there is zero support for such an approach in the book. That the potential is there is at least half-good.)

The chief antagonists are layered and interesting enough that they could even be useful to the players under the right circumstances. On the other hand, they are cultists, so even if they are being helpful, the players may not trust them, which of course is fun and interesting. The treatment of these characters is nicely done and by far the strongest aspect of the campaign.

I must also admit that some of the set pieces are effective and fun, so while I can't condone the authors strongarming the players into experiencing them, I can at least understand why they are so keen to show them off. It is ironic and more than a little disappointing that perhaps the chapter with the worst writing is also the one with some of the most fun encounters, and my favourite section of the entire campaign is something of a side trek, optional and not strictly relevant to the main adventure.

I also like the general idea of the big climax, even if it is almost impossible to get there as written.

-----

For the most part I enjoyed running Eternal Lies and I think my players had fun, but my gosh the thing is a janky mess almost from page one, and running it is a lot of work. I don't even mean preparation work of the sort any large campaign needs, but rather a lot of fixing of broken parts and filling in gaps, and even ground-up rewrites in some places. I don't think it's too unreasonable to expect a better, more polished, and more complete product for £40.

I would recommend the campaign only to the GM that enjoys going to such effort, or perhaps as a source of ideas, as there are some good sections that could potentially be pulled out and used in other contexts. Otherwise, there are better, and easier, campaigns to run. You may have heard that Eternal Lies is a classic, on the same level as the venerable Masks of Nyarlathotep, but do not listen to such... lies.

Ha ha.


I ran Eternal Lies over 25 weekly sessions between the 20th of June 2020 to the 20th of June 2021 (!), with some interruptions here and there. We played it over Roll20 with a modified version of Call of Cthulhu fifth edition, rather than Trail of Cthulhu; I made good use of the official conversion notes here.

(And how cool is it that Chaosium and Pelgrane allowed those conversion notes to exist?)

Also useful was the Alexandrian Remix; Justin Alexander holds the campaign in much higher regard than I do, and I didn't use much of his actual remix material in my version, but reading it was helpful and it confirmed some of my own misgivings about the source and gave me the confidence to make my own changes. Justin's chapter summaries are far more readable than the ones in the book, so I recommend reading them if you're going to try running the campaign.

Monday, June 21, 2021

FLYING IDIOT DEATH SPIDER

About the size of a chubby pigeon and twice as stupid, these giant insectoid* idiots are most common in the late summer and early autumn months. They are attracted to light, fly like they've chugged 13 barrels of ale, and seem to do everything in their limited, ungainly power to get themselves killed. How they manage to survive long enough to breed is a mystery that has baffled sages everywhere.

*(As any pedant will tell you, they are not true spiders. Ettercaps get quite exasperated if you mention them as they are a bit of a PR disaster for spider-kind.)

Suicidal Tendencies (roll 1d6 once per round/turn per FLYING IDIOT DEATH SPIDER):
  1. Wibbles into the middle of combat and takes a hit meant for something else.
  2. Flumps into a lantern or torch, extinguishing it, then flies about in a panic, setting fire to 1d4 random items before burning up.
  3. Bumps into a random character's face, causing penalties (-2, disadvantage, whatever) to all rolls until it flies off to do something else.
  4. Blunders into the nearest trap, setting it off.
  5. Plunges face first into the nearest liquid, drowning itself, and potentially ruining lunch if the nearest liquid was your soup.
  6. Flip-flops around, bumping into things and causing a surprising amount of noise, alerting any nearby creatures.

FLYING IDIOT DEATH SPIDERS in Troika! and similar games of fantasy fighting:
SKILL 2
STAMINA 2
Initiative 3
Armour 0
Damage 0


FLYING IDIOT DEATH SPIDERS in LotFP and other old-school games of dungeon-based adventuring:
FLYING IDIOT DEATH SPIDER, Armour None (12), Move 120', 1 Hit Dice, 1hp, annoying flapping (no damage), Morale 12 (fearless because of stupidity)

Fly my pretties!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Feathered Cap

This enchanted hat provides no special protection -- apart from keeping the rain off your head -- and takes up a head slot, if your game uses such things.

It enhances the effects of any single-use magic item in the form of a feather; a feather token, Phoenix Down, chimera wing, and so on. If such an item is placed in the band of the hat, then it is not consumed when used. A used feather item crumbles, disappears, fades, poofs, or otherwise expires only if removed from the hat.

The feather item, if not already large, grows to an impressive size, and everyone the wearer encounters will comment on it. Use your game's standard reaction mechanics to determine if the remarks are positive or not. If the reaction is negative, it's just jealousy, obviously.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Marvel 1991: Avengers West Coast #69, Captain America #384, and New Warriors #10

I'm going to run through a bunch of comics this time, in part because I'm behind again, and in part because I managed to pick three comics that are taken up by lengthy fight scenes and little else.

Biff! Pow! Etc!

Hawkeye and US Agent have a fight on the beach. For the entire issue. The cover does not lie.

This shouldn't work, because nothing really happens. It should feel like padding, like "oh crap we've got an issue to put out and we're really late and let's just have a meaningless punch-up", because that does happen sometimes -- spoiler alert -- but Dann and Roy Thomas pull it off.

I think it works for two reasons. First, there are flashbacks throughout that break up the fight and provide context for why it is happening; I wouldn't go as far as saying it's clever, but it is at least more interesting than a strict linear narrative would have been. There's also some nice bits with the rest of the Avengers also having their own low-level disagreements that reflect the main fight, although the motif is perhaps laid on a bit thick and makes the team look somewhat dysfunctional.

The second reason it works, and probably the main one, is that the Thomases put in the effort to characterise Hawkeye and US Agent so their dispute not only makes sense, but has a sense of weight to it. It's not your standard superhero misunderstanding, but a conflict that develops out of the two of them being dickheads. Moreover, they are both dickheads in their own distinct ways, which come across well in the writing.

Less effective is Scarlet Witch at the end saying that "it would take every ounce of power we could muster" to stop US Agent if he "ever turned bad", which seems like a bit of an exaggeration given the Avengers have beaten Korvac and Thanos, but okay Wanda, whatever.

The success of the comic rather depends on how much you care about Hawkeye and US Agent. I admire the Thomases' restraint in not positioning either of the pair as being right, but making them both utter douche canoes makes it a bit difficult to engage, even if the argument is well-written. It's an interesting issue that shouldn't work but somehow does. Three Cables.

-----------------------------

Cap decides to force the Avengers to undergo medical testing, but at least acknowledges that he should lead by example and do so first. Wow, Steve. I'm now so used to Chris Evans' charming everyone's-best-friend portrayal of the character that I'd forgotten how bossy the comics incarnation can be at times.

During the testing it is discovered that Cap may have a weakness to extreme cold, which is something I don't remember seeing anywhere else and doesn't appear on any character profile I can find so I suspect it was dropped at some point. Probably the moment this issue was printed.

As Captain America is a tactical genius, he decides the best way to test this new theory is to go to "the north magnetic pole" to find his missing pal, D-Man. There he fights -- and is defeated by -- a giant snow snake (!), bumps into his old friend Jack Frost -- basically Iceman with hair -- who is dragged underwater by the giant snow snake, and then Thor turns up to deal with the situation but is unable to find the giant snow snake or Jack Frost, so the two Avengers shrug and leave. Is Jack Frost okay? They don't care. Should we have a look around for D-Man, since that's why we're here? Nah, we've fought a giant snow snake, that's enough for one day. Again Steve, wow.

I'm trying to be somewhat charitable with these reviews, because 1991 was a different time, and comics were different, and the pressures of a monthly schedule mean that not every issue can be a perfect work of art, but this is tosh. It feels like filler; most of the issue is a fight with a mindless monster, and you could tell the story with any character. The only specific ties to Cap are Jack Frost and D-Man, one of whom contributes nothing and the other is forgotten. On the plus side, the art is solid with some good storytelling, but the Arctic setting means that there's a lot of empty, white space, which again suggests a rush.

Two Cables, and that's being generous.


-----------------------------

So apparently the theme for April 1991 was "pointless fight issues" because here's another one. Emma Frost's Hellions have a question to ask the New Warriors and decide the best way to get the answer is to smash into the Warriors' headquarters and beat them up. Gah.

(Spoiler: the Warriors don't even know the answer!)

I understand this is a superhero topos dating back to the early days of the genre, but it's also a stupid one and I would have hoped that by 1991 it had gone out of fashion. Unlike Avengers West Coast, there's little attempt to add context or texture to the fight; the characters punch each other until everyone's on the ground then Emma does her passive-aggressive and haughty thing, and that's your lot. Maybe it reads better if you've been following the series, but as a standalone issue it feels either inconsequential and uninspired, or a weird throwback to an earlier era.

I've never been a huge fan of Mark Bagley's art style, which I know puts me in a minority. There's something about the way he draws faces that puts me off, a sort of weird horizontal stretch that gives everyone a sort of batrachian look, but I can't deny that he's a good storyteller and he makes the big, pointless fight at least visually interesting.

I'm not going to say this is a bad comic, but it is dull and devoid of ambition and like the Captain America issue doesn't even resolve it's own setup. Perhaps I'm expecting too much of 1991. Two Cables.

Friday, May 07, 2021

"Special" Guest

For reasons that defy rational explanation, I have been interviewed by Krzysztof Kiser about game design and my "creative" process. Perhaps Krzysztof has already interviewed everyone interesting.



Perhaps you could turn on the subtitles, so you don't have to hear my awful, droning voice.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Inner Temple of the Golden Skeleton

Over at the resurrected Grognardia, James has shared an early Dungeons & Dragons map from Steve Jackson, co-founder of Games Workshop. This reminded me that the other co-founder, Ian Livingstone, now and then shares an image of one of his early dungeons.


I can't be certain, but I think I remember Sir Ian saying that this was the first dungeon he ever designed for the game. I haven't been able to find a better quality image, and I'm too intimidated by Sir Ian's awesomeness to ask him for one.

(Not that I have any influence over such a giant! I don't mean to suggest that he and I are pals or anything.)
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