Monday, September 19, 2022

(Mis)adventures in Space and Time

Humble Bundle is doing a, um, bundle of the Doctor Who role-playing game from Cubicle 7! As ever with these Humble deals, what you get is a bargain, and it helps a good cause too!

I don't think I've said it on here, but Doctor Who is my favourite television programme. I'm also quite fond of rpgs, which I think I have mentioned now and then. I've heard good things about the C7 Who rpg. You'd think I'd be all over this.

And yet.

AND YET.

I've always been a bit put off trying it. I find the idea of playing a Doctor Who game a bit weird, for a few reasons:

  • Playing the Doctor seems weird. From a practical perspective you could have one person play the Doctor and everyone else play their companions, and then switch that around for the next adventure, sort of like Ars Magica with spaceships. But playing a character as well-defined as the Doctor seems a bit limiting, even with 15+ incarnations from which to choose. It seems odd to go into a role-playing game and playing such a specific character; it feels more like acting than a game at that point.
  • Playing another, non-Doctor, Time Lord is also a bit weird. Why is this Time Lord solving problems instead of the Doctor? Where is the Doctor? One of the unique things about the Doctor is that they care about the "little people" of the universe in a way that the Time Lords in general do not. If you have other Time Lords running about saving the day then you're upending the entire premise to a certain extent.
  • Playing without Time Lords at all also seems a bit weird. If you play as a bunch of "normals" then how do they get around? Do they have a TARDIS? You've got the same questions as the Time Lord Campaign above, except you've also got to work out what the Time Lords are doing, if they even exist at all.

None are insurmountable problems, but they all niggle at my mind as a sort of drifting from the central premise and then I begin to question whether it's worth playing a specific Doctor Who rpg at all.

Still, if I put those reservations aside, I can think of a few fun ideas for campaigns in a Whoish setting. Perhaps an alternate universe where the Doctor doesn't exist, or has been eliminated, and other Time Lords take up their mission. Maybe we play with a hypothetical 15th Doctor -- or one of the "minus" Doctors -- and sidestep the whole problem of playing a pre-defined character, letting the players define them as they do the Ars Magica shuffle. Or perhaps the premise of the campaign is that the Doctor is missing, the players have their TARDIS, and the goal is to find the renegade Time Lord before some cataclysm occurs. Or maybe you would just play a ground-level campaign with the players as some sort of UNIT, Torchwood, or Paternoster Gang equivalent. Or perhaps the Doctor's most recent regeneration went wrong and they split into multiple beings, a sort of meta-meta-crisis.

Hang on, I quite like that last one...

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Eager Watcher of Birds

I have started streaming on Twitch. It's just for fun; I have no illusions about being a Big Time Streamer™ but if I'm going to play the games anyway, I may as well stream while doing so. That way everyone can see how terrible I am at computer games!

I don't have a firm schedule at the moment as my life is about to get a bit... erratic in the latter half of 2022, but if you follow me on there, you will get an alert when I'm, as they say in the business, "live". I am thinking about other things to do on there besides being terrible at computer games. Perhaps I'll do some drawing, if I can work out the logistics.

I don't speak on-stream, in part because I don't have a headset or microphone and in part because I hate the sound of my own voice. In the unlikely event that a community does spring up around me, I may have to reconsider and try to be more gregarious.

You can find my Twitch page here. I'm also uploading the videos to YouTube, because Twitch deletes them after a few days. Here's my most recent stream, part of a -- very slow! -- playthrough of Borderlands 3 on the PS4:



If you do decide to follow me on there, thank you, and I hope I can entertain you!

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Votann Boys, Roll Out!

The squats are back in Warhammer 40,000! Although we're not calling them squats any more.

Now they are the LEAGUES OF VOTANN:


Hang on, that sigil looks familiar...


I still quite like the new squats anyway.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Marvellous Movies

My friend Phill has, over the past few weeks, watched almost every Marvel film, and has now ranked them. I'm not going to go into the same detail as he has, but I thought it would be worth a few minutes listing mine too.

I have arranged them into four fuzzy tiers of relative enjoyment. I'm only including the MCU stuff and I'm not including the TV shows, for reasons of general sanity.

Not Great
Eternals, Iron Man 2, Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Not Bad at All
Both Ant-Mans, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther (I may have to re-evaluate this one), Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3, Thors 1, 2, and 4.

Not Quite the Best
Marvel Avengers Assemble, Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, all three of the Captains America, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, Iron Man, Shang Chi, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Not Likely to be Bettered
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 1, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (I'm counting it, even if Marvel and Sony won't for whatever reason), Thor: Ragnarok.

Friday, August 19, 2022

I Hear You're (Not) a Racist Now, Father

The first playtest materials for Dungeons & Dragons sixth edition have arrived!

(They are calling it One D&D for some reason, perhaps because they are learning how numbering "works" from the X-Box.)

The first materials concern character backgrounds; for those of you that don't follow D&D, there's been some controversy in the past couple of years over the game's treatment of character ethnicity and species. There are a few main issues:

  • The word "race" is something of a loaded term, and there's a feeling that a better word could be used to describe whether a character is human, elf, orc, or whatever.
  • Saying that, for example, all high elves have a higher Dexterity and Intelligence than other characters is problematic. In fairness, D&D5 doesn't penalise any characters, as previous editions did -- characters only get characteristic increases -- but it's still uncomfortable.
  • From a game design perspective, if all halflings have the same characteristic bonuses, that does tend to channel halfling characters towards certain abilities and skills, and it can make things a bit samey. Oh look! Another high elf wizard!

The D&D6 solution is to remove characteristic increases from the character species, and instead apply them to their background, so now a high elf is only more intelligent than her dwarfish friend if she, for example, trained as a sage before her life of adventure. This does solve the problem. Sort of. Ish.

But:
  • They are still using the word "race". "A character's Race represents ancestry" the playtest document says. So, er, why not just use "ancestry"? For what it's worth, both 13th Age and Pathfinder are using "ancestry" now. For D&D6 to try to have its cake and eat it is baffling.
  • Shifting the characteristic bonuses to backgrounds is less offensive, but "all sages are the same" is still a weird concept.
  • The character channelling problem still exists, it's just been shifted along one column. Now, instead of elves tending to be wizards, it will be sages. Loading feats into the backgrounds is only going to exacerbate the issue.

It's not difficult to fix. Choose your ancestry, then add +2 to one characteristic of your choice, and +1 to another. Job done, problem solved.

You can sign up for the playtest documents here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Getting Cross(-Edition)

Yesterday, I pondered the feasibility of a D&D party made up of characters from different editions. I also asked about it on The Hellsite Known As Twitter, and there Courtney Campbell of Hack & Slash replied with some actual experience of playing with cross-edition characters. Here's what Courtney said:

I've done this. It's fine. 5e characters and 4e characters require some hit point math, but it works pretty seamlessly. Turns out the player side and the DM side don't need the same rules to play, just an interface.

I've done this both in Numenhalla, and in home games with 2e, 5e, and 4e players. They can follow the PHB rules for their class. I just multiplied all damage 4e/5e characters took by 2, and cut their damage in half, and it worked fine.

I get the impression that Courtney is a top-level GM and perhaps it's not as easy as it seems, but it is possible!

Monday, August 01, 2022

All Together Now

Remember when they were developing D&D5 and they said it would be compatible with prior editions, and you could run characters from different editions in the same party? That didn't happen (SPOILERS) but I do wonder if it's a viable idea and anyone has tried it.

What would a cross-edition party look like? Perhaps something like this, says the person with very little experience of anything before fourth edition:

AD&D1: Half-orc assassin, surely?
AD&D2: Gnome illusionist, obviously.
D&D3: Warforged cleric, probably.
D&D4: Dragonborn fighter, presumably, since fourth was supposed to make fighters as special as everyone else.
D&D5: Roll 1d12 or GM's choice. Or a Warlock of Cthulhu, eldritchly.

I very much want to try this now.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Money For Old Rope

Ropecon 2022 is happening in Helsinki right now!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is there and I drew this for the cover of the Ropecon-exclusive catalogue.


(With many apologies to Chris Achilleos.)

If you're in the Helsinki area, why not pop in and see what's going on at ROPECON!

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

It's Hip to Be Square

Back in January I posted the player map for a proposed old-school hexsquare-crawl rpg campaign. I haven't been able to spare the time to work on it and it doesn't look like I'm going to get it to the table anyway, so here's the GM map for you to have a squiz at and use, if you like.


If I somehow find more hours in the day I may go back to this. Perhaps at least I can polish up the bits I did start and share those. Maybe.

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Girl Who Loved Coincidences

The Hybrid Technologies building from the Transformers episode "The Girl Who Loved Powerglide" (1985):


The Stark/Avengers Tower from Marvel Avengers Assemble (2012), and later films:


(Yes, that's what it's called here, probably because of the other Avengers.)

One of these buildings is the headquarters of a high-tech corporation under attack by aliens in a Marvel production, and the other is, um...

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Presented Without Comment

I'm just putting this here for later. There's nothing to see. Nothing at all. Nothing.


#JULYGANTIC (sort of)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

North By North West Corner

This is an advert for my book Strict Time Records Must Be Kept. Sort of. Ish.



It looks like I completely forgot to mention that I'd written the book, or that it was out, so er, it's out. You can get it in print here and in pdf here. I don't think copies have got to North America yet, but keep an eye out.

Monday, May 30, 2022

CHOMPA

This small, scrappy shield -- almost a buckler -- is made from the stretched face of some hideous swamp-dwelling creature, and was created by an insane goblin wizard, or so the story goes.
  • Growls and jabbers all the time, never forming coherent words, but making stealth pretty much impossible.
  • The gob leads to an extra-dimensional space but everything there is consumed; this could be annoying or useful.
  • Goblins recognise CHOMPA as an important cultural artefact, and will be predisposed to be at least neutral to the wielder.
13th Age:
  • +4 Hit Points.
  • On a natural attack roll of 8, CHOMPA bites a mêlée opponent for 1d4 damage per level.
Quirk: You are always peckish.

B/X:
  • +1 Armour Class.
  • On a natural attack roll of 8, CHOMPA bites a mêlée opponent for 1d4 damage.
Fighting Fantasy:
  • +1 SKILL.
  • On a natural attack roll of 8, CHOMPA bites a mêlée opponent for 1 STAMINA damage.
(I am inclined to restrict the extra damage to a roll of double 4 but this seems a bit churlish in comparison to the other systems, so you may allow it on any roll of 8, although that may be too far the other way.)

Monday, May 23, 2022

LIMB OF WOE

This is a withered severed leg with dirty bandages wrapped around the stump.
  • Two-handed club.
  • The wielder counts as unarmed for any relevant effects or purposes. For example, if they are a character that normally must fight bare-handed, or if they are casting a spell that requires touching a target. That sort of thing.
  • The wielder also registers as undead to abilities or effects that detect or track the living dead.
  • The knee joint gives it a wild, unpredictable swing.
  • The LIMB OF WOE has a strong smell of something like old leather and pickling.
  • Every morning at 2am, it twitches for two long, creepy hours.
13th Age:
+1; small, two-handed.
The wielder has a 1 point conflicted relationship with the Lich King, in addition to their other relationships. If they already have a negative or positive relationship with the Lich King, then things just got complicated!
Quirk: Tap your foot constantly.

B/X:
+1 to hit and damage.

Fighting Fantasy:
+1 SKILL and +1 to the club row on the damage table.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Stranger Days

I loved Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness! But then I've been a Sam Raimi fan since I was about 10, and the film is more or less Evil Dead 4 with a Marvel budget.

I found the first film interesting -- not least how it rejects the traditional hero origin narrative -- but I'm not sure I liked it. I very much liked the sequel. It rattles along at a great pace and it's full of fun ideas and bold action and wonderful imagery, leaning away from the almost mathsy weird geometry of the first film and more into liquid dreams and nightmares and horror, which is not surprising given the director. Sam Raimi was an excellent choice.

(Although I would love to see what Guillermo Del Toro would do with Strange; I suspect it would be even better.)

The big fan-pleasing moment in the middle is perhaps the least interesting part, which is a surprise. Still good, but overshadowed by the rest of the film.

It's not perfect. There are some generic cgi bad guys in the finale that look like they've wandered in from a PS3 game. There's also no real character development; America Chavez is introduced but never becomes anything more than a plot device, which is a shame. Strange sort of learns a lesson over the course of the story, but it's handwaved and feels disconnected from the rest of the narrative, suggesting it's a remnant of an earlier draft.

I've seen some comments that the film ruins Wanda and negates WandaVision, and while I see where that criticism comes from, I disagree. I think it follows on from WandaVision without contradiction, but I do think the film wastes the character a little. WandaVision suggested an interesting, and probably extended, story arc for Wanda, one I'd have expected to see developed over multiple films and TV programmes, and while it is sort of addressed in the film, it's almost as a throwaway thing, and it does feel like potential squandered.

All that said, there's nothing to say that the suggested arc couldn't be explored in future, and even if we don't get the Wanda I wanted to see, Elizabeth Olsen does a fantastic job with the Wanda we do get. She's more or less a co-protagonist -- and a very interesting one, but I won't say more for spoiler reasons -- to the point that much as I love the title, Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch would perhaps be more apt.

It's not as good as Thor 3 or the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but it's in the top tier of Marvel movies for me. I give it four Crimson Bands of Cyttorak out of five.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sort-Of-Savage Initiative

We've been playing D&D5 again. Our GM has lost his fancy magnetic imitative tracker, a gadget he's been using since the days of D&D4, so that got me thinking about how to track turn order in a simple but visual way.

I very much like the way Savage Worlds tracks initiative using standard, non-nerdy playing cards; there are all sorts of funky game effects involved which are irrelevant in D&D5, but the basic idea of having a card in front of each player so everyone has a clear idea of who goes when is appealing. So how about this:

  1. Everyone rolls initiative as normal to determine the order.
  2. Everyone gets handed a token that marks where they are in the order; playing cards work as well as anything, unless you somehow end up with 14+ separate combat groups.
  3. Everyone forgets about their rolled initiative number, because it's no longer relevant.
  4. (Optional, but probably useful) Everyone flips their cards over when they have completed their actions.
And that's it! It may be wise to hand out all even or all odd cards in step 2, just in case there are late arrivals that need to slot in between other combatants, or you could just hand out new cards to anyone affected by the new turn order. I would be tempted to have any new combatants either go first (if their entrance was a surprise) or last (if they were heard coming), but we're getting into the long grass of house rules there, so I'll stop.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Terror in the Youtubes

Here is a very generous review of my adventure Terror in the Streets:



The adventure is available in print in Europe here and in North America here; the fancy boxed set version is only available in Europe, alas. A pdf version is available here.

Work continues on even more adventures, and I hope to have some more news soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Cosmic!

I'm not sure what this is or why it popped into my head.

Monday, April 18, 2022

It's Not Quite a Jaguar

A couple of weeks ago, Stuart and I ventured into the Outside World to play a round of Battlecars, a game from the early days of Games Workshop, designed by Gary Chalk and (Sir) Ian Livingstone. Stuart had long wanted to play it, and I had a copy knocking around from a few years ago when a generous blog reader decide to give his game collection to me.

Alas, that battered old copy was lacking instructions, but I pieced together a playable set of rules from the Battlebikes expansion, a rules summary that I thought I'd got from Board Game Geek but seems to be absent now, and a remake called Cars That Do Battle. As it turned out, all that wasn't quite enough and we had some minor issues during play, but nothing that caused too much trouble.

I also decided to draw my own board. The original game uses boards upon which flat card terrain pieces are placed, and I could see the whole thing going flying if nudged during the game. The previous owner had used blu tack to attach the terrain to the board, but that seemed an unsatisfying solution and I was worried about damage to the components. Plus, I could draw the board at a slightly larger size so that neither of us would have to do as much squinting.

I didn't have a chance to come up with a similar fix for the car templates, but there was a certain tactile fun in applying the little red damage counters and removing components and weapons as they were damaged and used.

The game was good fun. Playing a new game for the first time always takes a bit longer but we managed it in just over two hours and once we got used to things it rattled along; I was worried that it would be slow and fiddly and wouldn't capture the feel of Mad Max style combat at all, but it did feel fast and, um, furious, which was quite a surprise from such an old design. By the end of the game both cars were burning wrecks, but I made an error of judgement and had my driver leave his vehicle when staying put would have been more sensible, and Stuart punished my poor decision making with a burst of machine gun fire. Ratatatat!

Poor Terry Hawk, gunned down in his post-apocalyptic prime!
Both Stuart and I are keen to play again. I have now found a copy of the actual rules, and we have decided to make use of a variant initiative system as the original game's approach is a bit inadequate and unfair. I have access to a couple of scenarios with different win conditions, so we may also give those a try.

Day, made.
You can read Stuart's thoughts on the game here. We are thinking of giving the more complex Car Wars a try soon, and perhaps even Dark Future, as I've long wanted to play it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Emergent Cannibalism

My group is playing its way through Patrick Stuart's Silent Titans on Sunday nights. It's going fairly well. Sort of.

The players have just left a coastal village in which the inhabitants were "eating OYSTERCATCHERS from the flats". The emphasis is Patrick's.

This is an oystercatcher:

Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

I didn't know this as we were playing, so I described the villagers munching on large chunks of meat, and nibbling at very long bones, because I was thinking of this sort of oyster catcher:

Oyster Farming

Oops.

There's a concept in role-playing games called "emergent storytelling". The idea is that you don't prepare a plot beforehand, rather you present the characters with a situation, and the "story" emerges through play. I suppose this is an example of that, although I'm not sure what sort of story it's becoming.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Business Time

Just a quick one, as March expires, April rises from its ashes, and Mr Taxman sharpens his scythe.

I am told that after some... mysterious delays, the Lamentations of the Flame Princess US shop now has my books Green Messiah and Terror in the Streets in stock. If you are a Filthy Colonial and want my newest books -- and some of the older ones! -- you should be able to order them now. Alas, the fancy pants boxed version of Terror in the Streets has not made it across the Atlantic, although it may be available at GenCon later this year. As soon as I know LotFP's plans for the big convention, I will pass them on.

(The big box is available at the EU shop, as is a selection of other books.)

In other news, the Kickstarter for In the Hall of the Blue Wizard has launched. This is a collaborative zine to which I have contributed one page out of 100. I realise that Kickstarter is Evil these days, so if you don't want to support the Hall, then I understand, but I thought I should probably mention it.

That's all for new. I hope to show off some new bits and pieces soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Old Yeller

Years ago, I stumbled upon a film version of The King in Yellow, or at least something associated with the entity. I seem to remember that it was either a short film, or a proof-of-concept for a full scale production, but other than that, I have nothing. Except a screenshot:


I can't find any reference online to such a short film, which is a bit weird. Maybe it was nothing to do with the King. Maybe it was just a music video with a similar visual style. Who knows? I don't. Clearly I failed a SAN roll at some point and blocked it all from my mind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Not Taking Me Seriously, Yes?

It's #DrawDeathsHeadDay the most wonderful holiday of the year!


I would apologise for the pun, but you should never apologise for a good pun. Nor indeed a terrible one.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Misjudging a Book

I've got a couple of new books coming out soon, and so I'm thinking about cover designs. Prompted by a discussion over at House to Astonish, I found myself nostalgic for a very specific period of Marvel comics covers: 1998.



So many fonts!

So many colours!

So many logos!

I'm sure, from a design perspective, that these are "bad", but there's something about the insane throw-everything-at-the-wall energy that I love. It's too colourful, too disorganised, too messy, but it's also wonderful. It feels like the visual equivalent of pick'n'mix.


Soon after, Marvel moved to a dreadful and dull "pin up" style, with no text, and generic images that had little or nothing to do with the contents. There was much lamentation, and darkness came upon the world, etc.

I don't think any of the next wave of my books will have covers like these, but maybe one day...

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Two Women and a Baby (Except It's Not a Baby, It's a Pig-Man's Ray Gun)

We're still playing Silent Titans, although I am expecting my players to revolt very soon. Here are some pictures.

Eliuda Octave, an NPC, who is described as a "historian" but is also, apparently, a drunk.
Emily Gondal, a player-character. A Georgian governess with a harpoon gun, because it's Silent Titans and that's the sort of thing that happens here.
A ray gun looted from an evil Pig-Man. The players don't know what it does.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Masque Crusaders, Working Overtime

There is a half-decent idea here.

Let's take Ravenloft...

Wait, what's a Ravenloft?

Right, so it's Dungeons & Dragons does Universal -- or if you have excellent taste, Hammer -- horror. It's a patchwork world in which each of the classic horror archetypes rules over a little fiefdom, terrorising the locals, and the players go around staking vampires and shoving silver up werewolves, while trying not to draw the attention of the evil Darklords. The twist is that the bad guys are trapped there too, for Reasons, so if you wanted to you could examine concepts of destiny, responsibility, and enforced roles, but it's D&D so of course you don't do that.

I will say this, it's a great cover.
Do we ever find out who the Skull Guy is
or why he's on a train?
No. We do not.
Anyway. Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales backports the Ravenloft mechanics and setup to Earth in the 1890s, so instead of Tesco Value Dracula, you can fight actual Dracula, which is nice. All of the classic bad guys -- and some good guys, like Sherlock Holmes -- are running about, and ruling over the whole lot is the Red Death. What the Red Death is or does is not defined, which as we will see, is a bit of a recurring problem.

(The Red Death is more or less Nyarlathotep, but is never named as such, probably because of licensing reasons.)

I like the basic idea, I even admire the attempt to use AD&D2 for a near-modern setting, but the whole thing is a mess, veering from cack-handed to half-hearted and back. It's a shame.

Some examples:

It's unwieldy from the start. To play you need the AD&D2 books, this boxed set, plus the Ravenloft boxed set, and the Ravenloft: Forbidden Lore boxed set. The latter two you need for a couple of rules mechanics that could have been reprinted here -- as we will see, it's not like the space was needed for anything else -- but ah, then you'd be buying only one box, not three and how then would TSR avoid going bust?

Oh.

Imagine playing this in 1994, before everyone had pdfs. Imagine you were the GM but you were running the game at someone else's house, and you'd need to lug three boxes plus rulebooks plus whatever else over there. Crikey.

The setting-specific rules -- the ones that you don't have to go and find in other boxes -- are a bit of a mess too. AD&D2 for the 1890s was always going to be a fudge but it feels like they just gave up after a first draft. Fighters/soldiers are the only viable character type; magic use has interesting drawbacks -- corruption, insanity, attracting the Red Death -- but they are also probably too punitive to make playing a magician worthwhile, although I love that sort of thing in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay so (shrugs).

Thieves become "tradesmen" and lose their thief skills, but get them back as Non-Weapon Proficiencies, the effectiveness of which are based on the character's -- random -- statistics, and must be bought from a pool of points of which the magic users will in most cases get more, AND the tradesman doesn't in fact get default access to the thief skills -- no one does -- so has to spend more of that pool of points to get them.

"You can play these other classes," TSR seems to say, "But they are crap, so don't bother." Soldiers for everyone! Which is fine, I suppose, if that was the intent, but if so why bother with the other classes -- the tradesman in particular, who is crippled by these rules -- at all? I can imagine that further development could fix the issues with the other classes, or even shift to a classless variant, but that didn't happen.

There's a section on explosives, because blowing monsters up is great! It has three tables, two of which are identical, and the third is different in only one place. Why do these tables exist? I'm not picking on one section; it's all like this.

In fairness some parts work better than others, and you could probably fix the rules, but once you've done that, what do you do in Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales? How are you supposed to play? Excellent questions.

You can't use most D&D adventures because it's Earth in the 1890s. You could use Ravenloft adventures because they at least have the right mood and are similar in setting, but for some odd reason that's never floated as a possibility. There are three adventures in the box, one of which isn't bad, one is an interesting idea executed as a linear series of fights, and one is dead in the water -- literally -- and wastes a major character.


Well, you don't need example adventures, not if the setting guide is full of evocative plot seeds and compelling adventure ideas.

(Spoiler: it is not.)

The setting is vague and underwritten in that annoying style that was everywhere in the 90s, all "rumours" this and "unconfirmed" that. It's all quite terrible, but this is perhaps the best/worst example, from the Australia section:
The arrival of the Europeans has resulted in the violation of old taboos and the disruption of countless traditions. The exact nature of these trespasses and their repercussions may not be known for decades to come. Interviews with the native population of Australia tend to be less than informative, for many of the taboos forbid even the discussion of them.

Whahuh? I can see words there, but I see no actual content. Someone was paid money to write that. This particular idiot paid money to read it.

Look, I know you can't cover everything in an introductory box, but this sort of non-committal nothingness is of no use to anyone. I would have put in some concrete examples, perhaps mentioning specific D&D monsters that could be used for the basis of an adventure, even mentioning published adventures that could be slotted in. Anything other than the "I dunno, you sort it out" we get.

(There is one weird exception. Singapore gets a few lines about a very specific incident involving tiny creatures that make people disappear. There's not much more than that, and no suggestion of what the things are, but it's something.)

The Red Death, the Big Bad of the setting, is left completely undefined, except that it might be living in Vienna, except that's probably just -- wait for it -- a rumour. Okay, fair enough, I understand not specifying what the Red Death is, but maybe offer three examples, Dracula Dossier style, of what it could be. That way the GM can take one and use as is, or use the three as examples to develop their own Red Death. This is not difficult, and my gosh, it's not as if the page space is being used for anything important.

I'm not sure why this box exists. I can't imagine fans were clamouring for a Ravenloft-but-the-1890s product and it seems like an odd thing to release as a boxed set, although 1994 was in the era of TSR spaffing out as many boxed sets as they could. My guess is that it's an unfortunate confluence of someone making a joke pitch over lunch in the TSR canteen, and a sudden box shaped gap in the production schedule; the pitch got commissioned and then everyone scrabbled to get the thing out. It feels like an initial idea shoved out the door before it was ready. Perhaps it was an attempt to compete with Call of Cthulhu, but if so it's the most lacklustre attempt imaginable.

Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales is a broken product that requires umpteen other products to use, it feels unfinished, and what is included is of little use, so I wouldn't recommend tracking this one down. All that said, there is still something compelling about the basic concept, something that got me to buy it in the first place.

(I think; I don't remember when I got my copy or even if I bought it at all. It may have been a gift.)

With quite a lot of further development -- which it is obvious never happened with the published box -- Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales could work. Maybe. Ish.

I give it two Draculas out of five.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Stag Do

Last weekend, my group started playing Patrick Stuart's -- not that one -- weird sandbox adventure Silent Titans. I haven't yet decided if I'll post game summaries, as I don't want to spoil things for anyone that hasn't played it yet. Thinking.

In the mean time, here is Godbold Stag-Star, one of the player characters:


He's a dapper mesmerist, with an opera cloak and a glass sword. He's also a humanoid stag, because that's Silent Titans for you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Going Grey

Another from my upcoming Lamentations of the Flame Princess book:
This is in fact a filler piece because we ended up with pages left over after layout, but it turned out to be one of my favourite bits from the book.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Dum Dum

Here's a thing from an upcoming book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.