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?


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.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Night Night

The original version of this had a fancy gradient in the night sky, but (a) the file size was huge, and (ii) this flat version looked better.