Monday, November 29, 2010

Night Below: Murder Below

We are finally in the home stretch of this Night Below campaign, which is getting close to the two year mark. I’m guessing we have about two games to go. I could easily have stretched this out. The Derro town urban location I created as a last stopping point before the City of the Glass Pool could have provided a ton of role-playing opportunity, with its marketplace and slave trade and all. All sorts of humanoid types mixing it up there. But with the previous game more or less being one giant waste of time (taking place almost entirely in a small cave two characters were recovering from going into the negatives), I feel I should not dilly dally. Personally, I am starting to feel a bit burnt out on running AD&D. Not for good mind you, I just want to spend the upcoming year focusing on a Knights of the Old Republic campaign, and maybe a bit more Metamorphosis Alpha and some Champions. I need some quality time with a game where players cannot argue with me on every point.

I’m going to do a long post with my final thoughts for posterity on this setting when the campaign is over, but for now I’ll say that it is not just challenging and often brutal in terms of combat, but is also a bit of mental grinder. Besides the oppressive underground setting, there are around half a dozen mostly neutrally aligned tribal forces that have to be dealt with, either through some kind of appeasement or with a huge fight. I see online that there have been groups that have had campaigns go for the better part of a decade with this module. Sheesh, good thing I am stopping with book 2.

So in this game the party carried on, meeting and counseling with the group of Derro Renegades who oppose the Mind Flayers who have enslaved many of their people. Jump ahead to the party going into the Derro Town, meeting the few allies they have there, and making an assault on the Mind Flayer tower where the Crown of Derro Domination is supposedly held by an Illithids. If it is there or not, the group decided that if they were going to assault the City of the Glass Pool, they didn’t need this place at their backs with evil reinforcements. So we ended the game with them beginning assaulting the tower, and the giant Derro cavern rocking with explosions from the Renegade Derro causing distractions for the party.

OK, but the most significant thing that happened this game was while among the Renegades. The Renegade leader had offered to purchase the party captive, Prentyss, the young female thief member of the slaver group from the previous couple of games (and a group that, with the exception of the added NPC Xavier, was a set encounter in book 2 of the module). Yet another argy bargy started (see last game for an example of such) over what to do with Prentyss, but Krysantha the Drow put an end to debate about the teen girl by taking her scimitars and murdering the helpless thief in front of all. It was kind of a chilling moment. I tried to give the other players a chance to do something, but with the Githyanki ally I had Paul (of Lily fame) running also ready to kill Prentyss to end arguments, there was not much they could do.

Let’s talk about big Dan and his drow character Krysantha for a minute. Dan is a big beefy dude from South Africa (white guy) who has also lived in Australia for a long period. He is an international businessman with his own internet-related company (and he lives up on Mulholland in a big house with a view and a hot wife, so I’m guessing rich or on his way to it). He has also worked in the past with some kind of mountain rescue, and you can for sure picture him coming down a mountain with a fucked-up hiker over each shoulder. Dan was one of our group’s original players along with me, Andy, and Terry. He is a funny guy, with a great enthusiasm for the game. Dan also justifies what I would call “powergaming” as just letting off stress and getting some escapism, which I truly believe. He is by no means a problem player as a person, but his character Kryantha has gotten my goat a few times in the past.

When we started this group I was just off of a more or less 7 or 8 year gaming hiatus. The year or so leading up the formation I was dying to do some gaming, but didn’t want to seek out other groups because I wanted to run my own games (plus I wanted to pick and chose the type of people I would sit for hours with and pretend – you know what I mean). So when we got together and my players base turned out to be pretty cool I was tickled pink. One of those side effects of the pink tickle was that I was pretty open with what I was going to allow for characters. Thus came Krysantha.

Krysantha is a female drow, and a fighter/druid. I didn’t really look up drow in the Unearthed Arcana to refresh myself on them before I said “OK, you can have one”, nor did I think of the power gaming ramifications of a female drow (females being the more powerful of the species) combined with fighter prowess and druid spell ability. Ultimately, this turned out to be a powerful character. How much of this did Dan count on? I dunno. See, in the 90’s I ran tons of games of all kinds for a couple of different long-term groups. Most of these people had at most a little bit of gaming experience. So they took what I had to offer without much complaint. Sure, somebody would occasionally point out an inconsistency or something, or ask for something for a character that was out of line. But for the most part, as long as they were having fun they didn’t care how the sausage was made. This is how I got in the heavy (and lazy) habit of house ruling so many things.

Well, as it turned out, when I got these much more experiences players for this latest group, I had house ruled myself into a corner. Both Dan and Andy had a lot of gaming background, and had played under different kinds of DM’s. This did not fully gel with my laid back style, but over time they mostly acclimated. Andy especially has stopped being a pain for me almost completely with this stuff. I think he now gets how I do things, and approaches things a bit more in a way that is more enjoyable to me. Dan as well to a degree, but there is still a side of me that sees the big guy as a shamelessly powergaming bastard. And I made it all possible.

But hell, Dan is fun and really into roleplaying and I would not give him up for anything. But his actions are still a bit frustrating. Before this last game, he emailed me saying he would like to change Krysantha from lawful neutral to neutral. “Oh brother” I said, “he wants to be more difficult with the character now.” That hasn’t panned out yet, but to avoid more argument against his characters wishes, he committed murder on a helpless (and not fully evil) captive and his neutral status prevents any kind of forced alignment change. My call, because Krysantha claimed to have done it for the good of the group (whereas I think Dan just wanted to kill something).

Anyway, it sets up an interesting dynamic. Big Ben’s Lumarin the high elf is lawful/good. Terry is neutral/good (actually, I think neutral with good tendencies), as is little Ben’s Ormac the gnome. Andy’s bard Vaidno is staunchly chaotic/good. I think the shock of this murderous act was palpable for a minute or two. Personally, I had more I would have liked to do with the Prentyss character in the future, but a part of me was glad because her death made a couple of things easier on me (like I didn’t have to have her boyfriend Xavier and friends try to bargain for her release).

But what next? These basically good characters could not really do much about Krysantha, even the lawful Lumarin. I mean, Krysantha is a deadly character with her two magical scimitars and all the rest. Plus they are in the “belly of the beast”, so to speak. More dissension in the group at this juncture could result in a total party kill. But considering this was a basically evil act, the good PC’s are unlikely to associate with the drow once this is all over. Also there is the party NPC, neutral/good ranger Dia to consider. She was obviously miffed at Krysantha for the blatant murder, and she carries the sword Finslayer. Finslayer, besides being and anti-Kuo Toa weapon, is also anti-drow.

The “epilogue game” after this adventure is going to be a hoot. That is, if they all survive the next couple of games.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Friday: South Park Cthulhu

This new episode of the long running Comedy Central staple has been airing a lot this month. When I saw that it featured our favorite tentacle-faced god-priest, I considered that I might mention it in a post. But I have to admit that the sheer weakness of the characterizing of the Great One really turned me off. Don’t get me wrong, it was otherwise a pretty good superhero parody episode. In it, all the kids of the town follow the lead of The Coon and Mysterion and create costumed identities for themselves (all of them pretty fail). But the intriguing part of it is we find out that Kenny, the group pal who dies so often, actually has some kind of power that grants him this immortality along with an affect that makes others forget that he dies. So in his torment he creates Mysterion and patrols the nightscape.

That’s all good, but then enters Cthulhu. He has arisen due to the BP oil spill, but he isn’t too pissed off to be befriended by Cartman, who takes him on a spree of destruction than includes Burning Man, Whole Foods, and young pop singer and MILF magnet Justin Bieber.

As I said, I was pretty “meh” about it, but today I read on where they seem to be asking if the makers of South Park were a little hard on the crooning kid jackhole. Well, that pissed me off, because I thought who they were hard on was Cthulhu. You see, I don’t mind when I see cute Cthulhu plushies or bumper stickers. That is all harmless fun. But the very fact that the South Park dudes just used him to squash things is to me unforgivable. Why didn’t they just use Godzilla or King Kong? Because they are trademarked or something? I mean, the appearance of Cthulhu should include the stars aligning, monsters rising, and people across the globe should feel the awesome psionic affect of Great Cthulhu’s mighty mind clicking into alien high gear. But no, he just crushes Whole Foods and other American conceits.

I think the makers of South Park are smart and funny, but I guess they just don’t really know what Cthulhu represents. I’m guessing they saw the plushies at some point, or a Miskatonic U. t-shirt, and then somebody told them “Oh, Cthulhu is a big monster that sleeps below the sea waiting to awaken and destroy the world.” Nuff said.

C’mon guys, do a little fucking research. This was a great opportunity to spoof the creations of Lovecraft in some meaningful way. But no. Worse yet, South Park has a way of bringing back monsters and things for further episodes, and it will probably just be more of the stupid chickenshit fail they did with Cthulhu in this one.

South Park, this is where you really jumped the shark. May Azathoth take your minds and souls.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

Drizz’t Du’orden. Sure, a cool character twenty years ago, but like a lot of people I’m pretty Drowed-out these days. Hell, a player in my current campaign and his Drow character have me pretty much never wanting to see or hear of another Drow ever again. In the 80’s they were one of my fave species, but nowadays blah.

So the fact that I have been reading a book about D&D in general, much less one with a Drow as the main character, is pretty WTF. Much as I love the game, I never had a desire to read a D&D based novel.

From what I understand, R. Salvatore created Drizzt at the last minute, when his publisher asked that he include a backup character to the ones already created. So comes a Drow, not just a good and kind one, but a ranger no less. Drizz’t lives in the snowy North, fighting Yeti and Frost Giants and generally helping out the ungrateful humans who live in the snowy hell. Other main characters include a dwarf, a young barbarian Drizz’t trains in combat, and a female human child raised by the dwarves (that I guess the Drow gets to nail sometime later when she hits that age, or a decent mirkin is found for her).

I’m not a huge reader of this kind of stuff, but I can tell it is very basic writing and very basic storytelling. But the big draw for me is the D&D references. It’s fun to hear about encounters with Verbeeg, frost giants, and white dragons. This is the same reason I enjoy the Baldur’s Gate video games; you get to fight rust monsters and beholders and gnolls and all that good stuff. If it is something out of Monster Manual 1 & 2, then consider me tickled pink.

I picked this thick book up at the Socal Minicon as a freebie earlier this year during the summer. I’m only a third of the way or so through it, so that gives you an idea of the level of thrill I get out of it. Let’s put it this way, yesterday I read almost 100 pages of a book called “Blood Meridian” (by the author of “No Country for Old Men), something it took me months to do with Icewind. So there, that’s my review. I get some enjoyment out of the D&D references as I said, but it is unlikely that I will finish this book. Especially right now when I have about three other books I am more excited about and trying to pound through. But when I feel like some light, Jr. High School level reading about creatures out of D&D, I can always grab up Icewind Dale. It’s in the back of my Jeep…waiting for me to finish the others.

Should I have titles this post "Icewind Fail?" Yeah, that would have been funny...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Comic Book Dork Monday: Deathlok the Demolisher

Deathlok is Luther Manning, a soldier from near-future Detroit who is turned into a combat cyborg that fights against tyranny in a decaying urban landscape.

No, wait. Deathlok is a robot sent back in time to fight Captain America, and Luther Manning is a clone who also travels back in time to stop Deathlok from doing nefarious deeds. But wait, Deathlok is still Luther Manning and the Luther Manning clone never had the mind of Luther Manning. Luther Manning clone dies and Deathlok still has the brain of Luther Manning…

No…wait. Deathlok is John Kelly, and was created by the CIA.

Um, no, wait. Deathlok is Michael Collins, African American professor who becomes a cyborg in modern times and fights in Latin America for The Roxxon Corporation.

NO...he’s Jack Truman, an agent with SHIELD. Um, scrap that, because Jack Truman’s brain is removed from the cyborg and replaced by the brain of former SHIELD agent Larry Young.

Ugh. Way to go Marvel Comics. In the true style of “The House of Ideas,” a great original character concept, a refreshing 1970’s break from the typical superhero comic, is beaten, raped, and left to die.

Marvel did all kinds of stupid Team-Ups (the most irritating being one with The Thing from Fantastic Four) with Deathlok, and several ill-conceived time travel concepts that just beat the life out of what was a great alternative character in Marvel’s Silver Age. That not being bad enough, every several years they took what was a fairly unpopular but very cool and offbeat character and tried to reinvent him in what were very banal and not very clever ways.

But those first few issues of Deathlok were the bomb. Luther Manning was a soldier who got himself blown up, but the military forces that be reanimated his body and attached a computer and cybernetic limbs to it. The look of Deathlok was way ahead of it’s time. Spider-Man once described him as a “zombie cyborg” and that is indeed the look he had. Not only that, but the human portions of his powerful body were still decaying to some degree. Despite an anti-decay liquid that flowed in his veins instead of blood, Deathlok’s friends and foes alike often commented on the rotting smell that accompanied him. Cannibal surivers in the ruined cities could smell Deathlok a mile away, and came a ‘running to munch him up as if the dinner bell had rang.

A cool laser pistol and a magnetic knife (so it would stick to his leg without a sheath) made up his arsenal. Deathlok combated military dudes, suit and tie bodyguards, mutants, post-apocalyptic gang members and bandits, cannibals, robots, and other cyborgs in his grim and gritty original adventures. In the original run, Luther Manning’s brain was supposedly taken from the Cyborg shell and place in a Luther Manning clone. A character saved? Not quite. In usual Marvel style, they would later kill the clone (in a Captain America comic no less) and state that Manning’s true brain still resided in the cyborg. Great way to continue the character, no? Big NO. Some years later Marvel just went ahead and reinvented Deathlok again and again.

When I was a kid Deathlok showed me that there was more to comics than good looking superheroes. I still have those original issues, and every few years I bust them out and have a great read of a great 70’s comic character.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Serious sides of Gamma World/Mutant Future

Today in his “Free Friday” post, James over at Grognardia started a discussion on taking this genre more seriously, pointing out a Jim Ward article at “Wizards of the Cost (spelling mine).”

This hit home for me, as it reminded me of a bit of a conundrum in my recent attempts at doing a Metamorphosis Alpha game (using Mutant Future). We have played around four games or so far, and in the most recent game a couple of weeks ago the party came close to where they are going to exit the level and find out about the world “outside” the fields they know. The next session should be both interesting and exciting as they find out they are on a spaceship, and just how large the universe actually is.

But as far as Grognardia James’ post is concerned, it really struck a chord with me. You see, those first few games came off just so goofy. We had big fun with the powers and disabilities (nobody wanted to be pure human because we had such a gas with the random mutations), and character creation was a hoot. Unfortunately the hilarity did not stop with the wacko mutations.

In Gamma World and Met. Alpha games of my youth, we had some giddy fun, and there were laughs galore in the games. But we always approached it with a certain degree of seriousness. There may be insane powers abounding, but the game is still set in an apocalyptic setting. It is a game of survival even more than D&D, and at least in the case of Gamma World you are adrift in a decaying world full of danger. Now, I actually played in Cyclopeatron’s Gamma World (my first time sitting down as a Gamma World player in around 30 years) one-shot earlier this year, and the game was full of good chuckles. But even though this GW setting was more akin to what you would find on a classic heavy metal album cover (our characters were mutated rock stars of the far far far future), and was almost more high fantasy than any kind of serious science fiction, it managed to find enough of a dramatic tone to balance out the goofiness.

But goofy is just how my first few of these recent games I ran. But before this most recent game I put my finger on the button of what kept certain seriousness from drifting in along with the crazy mutants. And what the problem was comes right down to me. You see, without even thinking about tone, I went into the games laughing more than anybody. And I set the scenes and encounter with a certain comedic tone without even realizing it at first. All the laughing is great, but this isn’t fucking Toon or Paranoia or some other game where laughs are first and foremost. It’s basically Gamma World, and it should be more frightening and chilling than pure guffaws.

So before this last game I decided that the world could be as goofy as hell, or whatever the players wanted out of it. But for me, as GM, I needed to try and not share in the laughs. I had to approach my game setting and the session more or less serious as a heart attack. Instead of describing an encounter with a flock of sheep that turn out to be carnivorous with a big grin on my puss, I need to think in terms of just how scary this could be. A pleasant postcard scene of sheep on a hill, then suddenly this flock is tearing into you like fluffy wolves. Lovecraft could easily present this weird situation in a non-goofy manner, so why can’t I?

The funniest movies are the ones that act like they are not in on the joke. Austin Powers was funniest in the first movie because he wasn’t in on the joke like he seemed to be in the later films. And the funniest Jim Carry movies have everyone in the foreground talking about some serious matter, while in the background Ace Ventura is jumping around with an alligator or whatever clenched on his ass. Or, you can even turn that around a bit. The home invasion and rape scene in A Clockwork Orange has in modern times become sort of a comedic punch line, but at its core it is one of the most frightening scenes in any film ever made. It all depends on approach.

So in the last game I took a more serious stance, and although the players still had a jolly good time with their sicko super powers and crippling disabilities I think there was a bit more respect for the setting, and what I was trying to do with it.

The things that happen in any role-playing game very often elicit laughs and humorous ironies, but sometimes it is best if the GM doesn’t act like he is in on the joke.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All that in-game argle bargle

After several weeks we managed to get back to The Night Below. Until last night I figured it would be maybe three games to finish this up. Now I feel I could not have been more wrong.

I can’t say it wasn’t fun. It was a mostly role playing session, with a short bit of combat at the end. But it was not meant to be hugely talkative, because in this game I expected the group to meet the Derro Renegades, and then spend around half the game in the Derro Town (the last stop before The City of the Glass Pool). I’m no railroady DM though, so things rarely pan out the way I would like, especially in relation to the amount of time things take.

I have a group where the players are all often of a different mind about things with each other, and it is for sure like that with the characters. Not generally especially argumentative with each other, when it comes to the handling of captured NPC’s or treasure they can argie bargie (using the terminology of my Scottish parents; “argle bargle” counts as well) up a storm.

The thief member of the slavers that were fought (to a standstill more or less) last game was charmed by Kyrsantha the drow, so she returned at the beginning of this game from running away from the cave-in. Two characters, Big Ben’s Lumarin the Grey elf MU, and Terry’s Helena the human fighter, were at negative hit points and therefore pretty damn jacked up. The slaver’s young thief Prentyss was then taken into custody (but treated friendly at this point) and the group backtracked a few miles and found a perfect side cave to take the several days rest required for the negative hit point nellies to recover. On a side note, Helena was negative 8, and it had been a long time since anyone in my game was that bad at such a high level (Helena has around 50 hp). My impulse is to at least have some minor crippling of some kind, but that is always tempered by the fact that D&D isn’t really set-up for that. In the long run, I didn’t have anything be wrong once the time period went by, although I am likely to give her a minor thing next game, like a minus 1 to the strength in her shield arm or some BS like that.

Anyway, let the hours-long never ending argle bargle commence. Ultimately, both Kryantha the drow and Lumarin the elf felt fairly harsh measures where called for. Not killing (I think), but at least stripping Prentyss of her stuff and sending her off alone into the Underdark. Now, both these characters are lawful in alignment (Lumarin lawful good; Krysantha lawful neutral) and it seems that the last couple of games I have to constantly remind them. I’m like “If you are going to choose a lawful alignment, fucking own it! I didn’t make you choose that alignment.” Man, nothing is more tiring than fretting over alignment issues. The people that don’t use them for sure have a point.

It seemed like they were ready to send Prentyss away to the surface world along with an Invisible Stalker escort to protect her, despite the now uncharmed and tied up Prentyss telling them that gang leader Xavier has a map of the City of the Glass Pool and would probably trade it for her. It really seems that both Lumarin and Krysantha are taking out a lot of their anger at Lily for her betrayal last game on this thief NPC. It all smacked of chaotic actions to me. Even ol’ chaotic good half elf bard Vaidno has become a voice of reason aimed at these guys. Only Vaidno, Helena, and Ormac the gnome seem to not have become bitter at the heavy experiences they have had in the Night Below.

Dia, the NPC ranger and bearer of Finslayer the anti-Kuo Toa, Aboleth, and Drow sword, finally spoke up, and the sword demanded that Prentyss be kept as a useful hostage. Finslayer only cares about what will help the goal of destroying it’s hated enemies. Meanwhile, both Lumarin and Krysantha seem more bottled up with their own vendetta’s against a couple of young female thieves than in destroying the true evil power in the area. In this game for sure they seemed somewhat unlawful to me. Both Ben and Dan are stone sure they are correct in their thoughts and actions (and I have to admit that it is often hard to figure out what is supposed to be coming from the characters, and what is being vented by the players themselves. Here is where it starts to feel like work).

So it is decided that they will take the hostage Prentyss along with them. So begins the hour long bargle over who gets what out of Prentyss’ belongings. Hoo boy, another long spirited debate. At one point Andy was yelling at hard-headed Dan here, and it was a comfort hearing somebody else having to raise their voice at the sometimes obstinate and power gaming Dan.

Poor Paul. Paul is a young guy who came along late in the group, and had no tabletop experience before (although he had lots of D&D type video game experience, such as Neverwinter Nights). He turned out to be a great roleplayer though, and his actions as Lily last game netted him more experience than anyone else has received in one game in this group. Just outstanding stuff. Paul got a kick out of all the trouble Lily was still causing in the group despite having run off with Xavier and gang, but lets face it; sit around for three hours listening to the arguing with no character present is tiring, and finally he was picking up his stuff and ready to book. But I had him stay, and for one little combat encounter with a Derro patrol I had him show up with a Githyanki NPC to run and join the party. In the little bit of time we had, he got right into the character (he had Githyanki experience from them being a major plot point in one of the Neverwinter Nights games).

So there we had it. A spirited game, but one that had way to much in the way of debate. Fun on one side of the coin; exhausting as the chapter in LOTR where they all argue at the meeting in Rivendell on the other side of the coin. Just in the spirit of getting the campaign to a conclusion sometime this millennium, I am going to have to cut these debates short, putting some kind of 15 minute time limit on any subject on the table. It was a special case though, in that they all spent a week in a small cave, and that added to the slow down in game play. I’m hoping we can now move into a nearly all combat phase of the campaign finale. In those brutal and deadly last hours of the campaign, these guys are not going to find me to be the softy, pushover DM I tend to be just for the sake of shutting people up.

Time to pump it up a notch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Friday: Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell wrote some of the most prolific and lasting Cthulhu Mythos tales in the latter half of the 20th Century. Although he has long since tried to distance himself from writing Lovecraftian setting stories, he himself freely admits that his favorite tales he produced are those dealing with those soulless god-beings of the Mythos.

As a more modern horror writer, Campbell is heavily influenced by of course Lovecraft, but also Howard, Robert Bloch, Robert Chambers (of “The King in Yellow” fame), and Richard Matheson (“I am Legend” and about a dozen Twilight Zone episodes). As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, these were most often the times his best tales take place in (80’s too). Shagadelic, baby! Yeah! These decades actually worked well as a time period for old school horror. Among free love and The Drug Revolution, Cthulhu and his minions could crawl in the psyche of mankind with impunity.

I think Campbell greatest contribution to the Mythos is The Severn River Valley setting. His earliest Mythos works were originally set in Lovecraft’s Massachusetts, but it was August Derleth who suggested that he come up with a new setting for Mythos tales. So Severn Valley was born, based on an actual river and area of England (The Severn is shown in the photo above) that he spent time in during his youth (including local towns and city areas still in ruins from The Blitz of WW2). His Brichester fills in for Lovecraft’s Arkham, and The town of Clotton is his Dunwich. Many of Campbell’s Severn Valley tales take place in these two locations and immediate environs. Campbell’s Necronomicon is The “Revelations of Glaaki,” at the time of the tales being reprinted in 12 volumes by Brichester’s Ultimate Press, who among other things are also producing pornography (finally the Mythos and sex meet, albeit in a printing shop). Brichester U. fills in for Miskatonic U. To give you a groovy hippy era vibe, Brichester has a variety of mod establishments, including a science fiction bookstore, tennis courts, and a vegetarian student hang-out called “Peace and Beans.”

All sorts of interesting things are going on in Severn Valley. “The Tomb-Herd” is a particularly chilling crowd. There are the tree-like Dark Young of Lovecraft fame running around in the woods (one of the few creatures in his works that Campbell did not invent), a god-monster living in a lake and blighting the homes around it with its cult, and the spacecraft of alien insects encamped in a clearing. There is even a sort of “Innsmouth taint” in one area, but instead of taking on the appearance of a toad, the rural villagers bring to mind the look of fat-faced rabbits (both amusing and chilling).

Campbell came up with quite a few of his own gods for the Mythos, including Eihort, a sort of multi-eyed elephant shaped blob that lays its young into a victim, who is driven mad and finally dies during a thunderstorm, tiny Eihorts bursting forth from his body. One of my favorites is Y’Golonac, a fat, headless being with eyes in its hands. Y’Golonac is usually found sitting behind a massive brick wall in a cavern, waiting for his name to be read aloud from “Revelations.” When it happens, he takes over the reader’s body and wreaks havoc. The Render of the Veils is especially scary, a being who shows you what the world really looks like, and when you see that you go forever mad. His priests call him forth with a blindfold on, which must be a treat to experience. It really is a clever take on why you can never see your God. I used all three of these gods in my 90’s CoC games.

“The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenents” and “Cold Print” are the anthologies you want to read to enjoy the Severn Valley Setting. But besides his Mythos tales, Campbell has also done extensive work in other aspects of horror, drama, and fantasy. In the 70’s he completed three of Robert E. Howards unfinished Solomon Kane tales. He has written novels about serial killers, demonic alien invasions, and even novelizations of Universal Horror classics. Just a few years ago, after working a several month stint at a Borders Bookstore, he penned a novel about a bookstore staff trapped and hunted by evil forces while working an all night shelving shift (The Overnight, 2004). Clearly, just like Stephen King and Lovecraft, Campell had the ability to make the mundane and normal seem sinister.

Though I had not heard of Campbell in the 80’s, by the early 90’s I had discovered him (I think because of some of his entities showing up in a Call of Cthulhu supplement), and devoured his Lovecraft inspired stuff in a matter of months. He had a huge influence on my Call of Cthulhu games in the 90’s, and my very last few games I ended up doing in the late 90’s were going to be set in Severn Valley. But for some reason I went with Arkham instead. Pity, but maybe one day…

I plan to post more about Campell and his creations in future CoC Friday posts, but in the meantime, if you haven’t read him…go check out those anthologies!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thinkin’ about campaigns for 2011

November always seems to be the time I start to look towards what will pan out for the game group in the coming year.

I’ve been doing pretty much the same 1st edition campaign for over two years now. So, with maybe three or four games left for my AD&D Night Below campaign (actually, the first few months of gaming in this group had nothing to do with the NB, I hadn’t originally planned for the party to end up in that grinder of a setting) I have to start thinking of what to do next.

A part of me wants to get right into a new D&D campaign. It has now literally been years since I ran for a group of low level characters, and it would be fun to start something fresh after all this time steering the destinies of higher level PC’s. But really, I love running other games besides D&D, and I want to have an opportunity to do more of that without it just being an alternate. So what I will do is take a break from running D&D for the first few months of 2011 (with the exception perhaps of the occasional White Box game) and do something entirely different.

Big Ben has been running his AD&D elf-centric game here and there, but I think for the first couple months of the year we’ll play a bit more of that, plus Terry has expressed interest in revisiting her old 2nd edition game world so we will maybe be doing a bit of that as well. So D&D, which Andy and I basically started the group to play, will be well represented without me actually running it. But run something regularly I will, but what?

As much as I love Call of Cthulhu, I’m still not sure this is the right group for it. Role playing abounds with these guys, but lots of combat also seems to be a big preference. That just don’t happen in CoC. I have done a few street level Champions games with Terry, Andy, and Paul, but I’m not sure that doing that or full blown superheroes will fit the bill for what I want from the group right now (I find Hero System, like all crunchy systems, to be best for small groups).

Basically, I have recently that I would do a space game of some sort for next year’s early months. But what would these guys like? Star Wars? Dune? Aliens/Firefly/Traveller type settings? Anyway, I posted those choices on our Yahoo Groups page, and out of the five who voted so far, Star Wars is the clear favorite. So I think I will do a short SW campaign. This is good for a couple of reasons:

One, I really have a bad attitude about Star Wars. All the Muppets and the childish, unfunny humor. The three prequels that put a bullet in the franchise for me. Sure, I find them watchable on TV here and there, but have zero desire to live in that universe or to know any of the people in it. What, you ask yourself “This is a good reason?” Well, as much as I think much about the films are lame, I love the Knights of The Old Republic setting with a passion, based mostly on my experience with the XBOX game of that same name. 4,000 years before the hubris of George Lucas. And less Muppets because less Outer Rim planets have been discovered. Lots of epic things happening too, like the end of the brutal Madalorian War, and the beginning of the Jedi Civil War. Jedi and Sith are all over the place, and Lightsabers more plentiful than empty beer cans on the floor of a Culver City bus. No stupid “Rule of Two.” Really, there are a million reasons why it is a great Sci Fi setting despite the silly films.

And reason two, well, I had a pretty shitty experience with running this game last year for a group of middle-aged Star Wars freaks who treated me like an employee and stuck around when I left to discuss my game performance at the end of the day (yeah, I know, much more to that tale but I have pretty much moved on from just another negative experience in a fairly overall shitty year). What, you ask yourself “This is a good reason?” Well, yeah. I like my regular group, and I put a lot of work, time, effort, and a certain amount of money (I owned no Star Wars books when I accepted the “assignment”) into the few games I ran for that Hollywood group. I think we can have a lot of fun with it, and light Sci Fi is something I can practically phone in like my D&D games.

So Knights of the Old Republic it is, for the first three or four months of the year, anyway. Besides the KOTOR games, I will of course throw out that odd OD&D White box dungeon crawl as an alternate, as well as some bits of Champions when the group is lacking players on a game night. I’ll alternate my games with whoever does some of their D&D. I’ll let Big Ben and Terry slug it out for those slots.

I just gotta finish up the year, and finish up this damn Night Below campaign. Fun, but jeez, it’s starting to feel like I’ve been walking uphill with this setting over my shoulder forever. Gotta wrap it up (and kill some characters if at all possible). Stay tuned for details on that (finally back to AD&D next week).