Friday, September 28, 2012

Confession About Hangout Gaming

So, I met a lot of folks on Google+ because I followed Tabletop Forge. A lot of folks. I got introduced to a lot of blogs and bloggers as well as a lot of new gamers (and even a few games) because I followed Tabletop Forge on Google+. I added a bunch of folks to my circles and a bunch of folks added me to their circles, all since I started following Tabletop Forge on Google+. I've been invited to join hangout game after hangout game because I hit a little "follow" button on Tabletop Forge's Google+ page and have contemplated running one or two or whatever.

The confession?

I've never actually played any tabletop-style rpg online successfully.

Back in the day, I tried a few PbP games and I ran one PBEM game, but both of those were largely flops. I've wanted to try a hangout game ever since I saw that such a thing was even possible (there are many nights where my wife works super-late and I have tons of free time to screw around in and hangout gaming would be perfect), but, and I'll be completely honest here, I'm terrified to try it out as a GM/DM/Judge/Referee without having played first.* I've been invited to more than a few hangout games now that Google+ events, well, exist, but they're always at inconvenient times for me (during the middle of the day when I'm working or on a night of "wife time"). I look for a new game on ConstantCon about every other week. There are plenty of games that I would love to get in on if I had the chance (Wampus Country, anyone?), but

So, time and tide decide on a regular basis to not wait for me and G+ gaming goes on and on and I get left out. Maybe my schedule is a little strange (it doesn't seem so to me). Maybe I work when most geeks have time off. Maybe my non-wife-time off is when other people work. Who knows.

What I do know is that there's a ton of great players and GMs out there and I'd love to find some that are ready to rock when I am.

*Oh, there's also the fact that I already run two different campaigns and don't think I have it in me to run yet another campaign.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: The Metal God, Part 3a; The Metal Gods as Supernatural Patrons

To seekers of lost and forbidden knowledge, particularly wizards and elves, the Metal Gods provide unique opportunities. Were one to learn the names of even half of the entire assembled body of the Metal Gods and their associated histories, it is reasoned, one would know the history of the entirety of the world several times over. When the revolt against humanity's masters began thousands of years ago, the smiths and warriors who would become the first Metal Gods looked down upon no weapon, mundane or arcane, and as readily as they picked up steel they learned what magic arts they could. And so did the first Gods learn metallurgy and swordcraft along with invocations of rune magic and sorcery, swordplay and warcraft along with war wizardry and black magic. As they brought hope to their people, humankind began to write songs and war chants as paeans to the Metal Gods, recounting their deeds or prowess and sorcery; so too did some of the Metal Gods write their own songs to pass down what they had learned to their descended and, indeed, the entirety of human posterity.

Lost Hymns

As the memory of Metal Gods gone by pass from human record and memory, so too do the songs to their greatness. These songs, chants and lyrical epics are necessarily tied to the divinity of the Gods and, just as the Gods join their predecessors in the Gray Communion, these songs go on to resound through the Valhalla-like celestial realm of Gods where they form the soundtrack to the eternal wars which the Metal Gods wage against each other, other gods and even demon princes. While some cosmologists suggest that mortals can never interact with the Lost Hymns, wizard devotees of the Metal Gods know that the mortal mind can, indeed, harness the power of the Lost Hymns... it just can't remember them after the fact. The Lost Hymns have become a visceral experience, a state of grace that mortal wizards can summon forth like a storm to bolster themselves and batter their enemies. Since the names, lyrics, rhythms and melodies of the Lost Hymns can never be known by those without a deific nature, these Hymns are instead tapped by opening up a hole in space and time to the home of the Metal Gods themselves, a feat that only the most powerful of sorcerers dare attempt.

Invoke Patron check results:
  • 12-13 The Metal Gods fail to hear your pleas over the sounds of eternal battle. Your paean to them, however, creates a bridge to their celestial realm and you catch a glimpse of one of the Lost Hymns, inspiring you to greatness. You gain a +5 to your next attack roll, saving throw, skill check or spell check.
  • 14-17 Acting as a conduit to the celestial realms of the Metal Gods, what starts as a humming of far-off instruments in the back of your mind arcs to that of your nearby allies. The humming quickly adds rhythms and melodies and before you realize what's happening, the opening notes of one of the Lost Hymns course through you, as if remembered from some dim ancestral, racial memory. You and all  nearby allies (within 20 feet) gain +5 to your next attack roll, saving throw, skill check or spell check.
  • 18-19 You summon one of the Lost Hymns from the vast beyond of the Metal Gods' celestial realm, and a song that has gone unheard for countless generations resounds through a breach in space and time. This ageless music inspires your allies and cows your foes in equal measure. When you roll this result, roll 3d6; the result of this roll determines a pool of benefits and penalties. This Lost Hymn pool is used up on a one-point-per-roll basis every time a d20 is rolled for an attack roll, skill check, saving throw, magic use check, etc. For allies of the caster, each d20 rolled gains a +1d4 bonus; for enemies, each d20 rolled suffers from a -1d4 penalty. Once the Lost Hymn pool has been used up, the Hymn fades from the area and may not be invoked again for 1d6 turns. 
  • 20-23 As 18-19, but the Lost Hymn pool increases to 3d8 and the benefit/penalty die increases to 1d6. Furthermore, the caster may, on his turn, expend 5 points of the Lost Hymn pool to strike any one opponent with a bolt of lightning summoned forth from the space-time breach; this bolt automatically hits and does 5d6 damage (Reflex save DC 10+CL+Intelligence modifier for half). 
  • 24-27 As 20-23, but the Lost Hymn pool increases to 5d6. In addition, by expending an additional 5 points of the Lost Hymn pool, the caster may, on his turn, invoke a wave of thunder centered on one opponent that does 1d8+CL damage to all opponents within 20 feet of the target and deafens them (Fortitude save DC 10+CL+Intelligence modifier to avoid). 
  • 28-29 As 24-27, but the benefit/penalty die increases to 1d8. 
  • 30-31 As 28-29.  The caster may now, as a normal action, expend 10 points of the Lost Hymn pool to summon a servitor of the Metal Gods through the rift. Roll 1d6: (1-3) Type II Demon, (4-5) Type III Demon, (6) Type IV Demon. These demons may be of any sort not typically associated with a particular supernatural patron or of a type of a type that Judge designs. The demon remains for 30 minutes (Type II), 1d3 turns (Type III) or 2d4 rounds (Type IV) before crossing back into the Metal Gods' celestial realm.
  • 32+ As above, except the Lost Hymn pool increases to 5d8. 
In the next few installments, I'll be looking at Spellburn, Corruption, the role of wizards & elves as devotees and how they differ and Metal Magic. Oh, and maybe I'll come up with some Patron Spells. That'd be nice. 

Before There Was A DMG... Interpreting Ready Ref Sheets

A little while ago, I got slightly obsessed with Judges Guild material. Crappy typesetting (as in, everything wasn't so much typeset as typewritten and then assembled onto pages) and all. To be fair, these things are chock full of nostalgia for me, but not nostalgia for products I used at a particular time in my gaming career or anything, but rather for the DIY, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, labor of love nature of these products. By today's standards, many of these products were misleading or incomplete in that, if you didn't already have some clue what to do with them, you wouldn't learn much about how to use them from them themselves. So, I started digging up pdfs for as many Judges Guild products as I could a few weeks back and tried to see if there was anything I could use or emulate for any of the current games that I am running (JG material in 4e? hell yes!). One of the neatest products I ran across during this data mining was Ready Ref Sheets.

WTF Is Ready Ref Sheets?

Way back in the mists of time, there was no DMG. There really was no D&D material that was published expressly for the use of the DM. Even if you consider two out of three of the white box books were ostensibly for DMs, remember that anyone who wanted the Men & Magic book also had to pick up the box that also had Monsters & Treasure and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures as well. So, these two other books ended up being as much for players as for DMs (ultimately) and while DMs had the Supplements that TSR would soon published, I get the feeling that most of these would get picked up by players as well, particularly Greyhawk (for the thief) and Blackmoor (for the monk and druid). When the Judges Guild published Ready Ref Sheets, there was no DM-specific reference guide filled with "here's a rule or a chart to help you with something that you might not have thought to prepare for"-type information. All packed into (literally) typewritten page after typewritten (and chopped up and reorganized) page. Some of the charts and tables and such JG might have previously published in earlier products, but here it's all in one place. Add to that some more traditional reference material ("combat matrices" and saving throw tables, lists of TSR-published monsters & their stats, etc.), and you've got what was, at the time, one of the most useful bits of D&D history.

Using Ready Ref Sheets Today

An intrepid DM can find a lot of inspiration in Ready Ref Sheets. The section on Ravaged Ruins (page 43) is actually pretty stellar yet simple and could provide a lot of direction when you need it most. Some sections have been done better since (Poisons & magic item creation rules, etc.) and can largely be ignored. At least one section (Women) needs to be either (a) pitched entirely or (b) completely rewritten for a modern audience to cull the rampant male fantasies running amok there. Everything else seems to fall somewhere between these with dashes of largely irrelevant (at least to today's games) and pretty damn awesome. My final word is that there's plenty of stuff to draw inspiration from here, plenty of things to rip off and plenty of things to completely rework to make usable.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Supplement to The Metal Gods, Part 2

The day after I finished the last Metal Gods post, I realized that I had left something very important out of the Part 2 post: how to handle clerics who choose to follow one specific Metal God, rather than the pantheon in general.

Pantheism & Deific Patronage

Most other faiths encourage the exclusive worship of one deity by its clergy and most clerics of these other faiths hold one god above all others in their hearts and devotions, if they even recognize the existence of gods other than their patron. The Metal Gods, however, share no such concern for their individual worship but understand that the nature of their divinity relies upon their unity as a pantheon. As a result, the Metal Gods encourage their clerics to venerate the entire pantheon as well as the spirits of those Metal Gods who have passed from Man's knowledge and beyond the veils of obscurity. From time to time, a cleric gets the idea to choose as a special patron one particular Metal God above the rest of the pantheon; among devotees of the Metal Gods, this specialized form of devotion is poor form at best and terrible heresy at worst. In ages past, a terrible schism shook the faithful of the Metal Gods when a popular movement that favored the god Tallic drew new attention to the pantheon but ultimately attempted to supplant it with a form of worship centered around veneration of Tallic to the exclusion of all other Metal Gods. As the long and bloody schism wore on, the Tallicite movement drew some clerics of the Metal Gods to their cause, but these eventually found themselves unable to channel divine magic; in short, for their crimes against the pantheon, the Metal Gods (even Tallic) turned their collective backs on the Tallicite movement and it collapsed in upon itself, its disenfranchised priests now shamed by their own hubris. Today, the lessons of the Tallicite Heresy are recounted widely among the ritual chants of the faithful and any young acolyte who shows a particular interest in one God over the others is encouraged to research other Metal Gods, in particular gods that inspired the favored God or those who have been inspired by him, Gods who are often connected to him and so on.

While I can easily understand folks who have a favorite band, the slavish devotion to one particular band or another just doesn't sit well with my conception of what the Metal Gods mean. Back in the 90's, far, far too many people would never have listened to any metal if it wasn't for the Black album and the single-minded, cult-like promotion of one particular band (who shall remain nameless). These folks quickly went back to listening to boy bands and filth like Dave Matthews once the craze had passed, taking no notice of anything that happened in the metalosphere that didn't have anything that band. So, the pantheon of the Metal Gods requires devotion to the entire pantheon and no single-minded fanboyism of any god is tolerated. Because I wrote it and the fair-weather fandom sucks up the place for everyone. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: The Metal Gods, Part 2; Clerics and the Metal Gods

Unlike most deities, the broad pantheon of the Metal Gods may be worshiped by clerics of all alignments; so diverse are their teachings and deeds that, over the eons, nearly all ethical systems have been ascribed to or explained by the myriad theologies. A cleric of the Metal Gods follows the normal weapon restrictions for a cleric of his alignment and actively pursues the tenants of that ethos. However, the different alignments reflect different specific takes on the pantheon.

Lawful Clerics

Clerics of Lawful alignment look to tales of Metal Gods who protected the weak, who sacrificed of themselves in the face of certain destruction, who strove to preserve Man's civilization from the tides of chaos, and find inspiration. More focused on helping the less fortunate than other clerics of the Metal Gods, Lawful clerics often become adventurers to place themselves on the front lines against those who would bring Man's dominion to an end. While most Lawful clerics join this crusade, many do so as much for the joy of the battle and to slaughter Man's foes. Even though bloodthirsty, these darker Lawful priests maintain a tyrannical discipline among the armies they chaplain, valuing duty and honor above personal gain. Whether out of a righteous desire to protect the weak or smite the wicked, Lawful clerics of the Metal Gods gird themselves for battle against the forces arrayed against Man and whatever wickedness threatens it.

Neutral Clerics

Some Neutral clerics worship forces of nature or lost and forgotten deities; Neutral clerics of the Metal Gods do both. For the Neutral worshiper of the Metal Gods, the vast legion of Metal Gods who have passed into obscurity forms the basis for the gods' power along with their connection to the elements of nature. Though the names of Metal Gods from the past may have faded from Man's memory, the divinity of those gods lives on the the world and in Man himself like the ancestor spirits that Man once worshiped; this divinity manifests itself in the roll of thunder, the crash of waves and the furnace of the volcano. Similar to druids or shamans, Neutral clerics of the Metal Gods often form the nexus of their communities as they encourage the union of those communities with the forces of nature and, thereby, the lost Metal Gods. It is for this reason that, of all the servants of the Metal Gods, Neutral clerics feel the greatest compulsion to preserve the tales and lineages, holy chants and ancient rites of the Metal Gods, be they extant or past. Whether written on scrolls in cyclopean stone libraries or in the oral traditions of their tribes, Neutral clerics keep the past alive and kicking ass.

Chaotic Clerics

Just as with Lawful clerics there are two distinct traditions of clerical devotion to the Metal Gods, so too are there among Chaotic clerics. Both traditions value freedom and self-determination above all things, and both traditions have very different focuses. The first tradtion harkens back to the Metal Gods' first incarnation as the saviors of Mankind who rescued him from bondage at the hands of the elves, the lizardfolk, the serpentmen and other races; the primary act of devotion to the Metal Gods, reason the clerics of this tradition, is to free as many Men as possible from unjust (or in some cases any) bondage in order to spread freedom and to allow those from whom freedom has been taken the ability to become captains of their own fate. These Chaotic clerics of the Metal Gods flaunt laws and disregard authority with the ultimate aim of bringing as much freedom and good to the greatest number of Men that they can. Completely to the contrary of the altruistic tradition, the other tradition of Chaotic clerics follow a philosophy often referred to as the "Will to Power;" this tradition justifies taking any action that one may desire, insofar as the actor's personal power or pleasure is increased, by application of that actor's freedom to act in such a way. By this logic, each person has the ability to choose power, and the responsibility to himself to do so, but that if he finds himself without power then either his Will is insufficient or another holds power superior to that of his own. Either way, the answer is the same: seek more power, be it martial, political, societal, fiscal, mercantile or arcane. The cults of these Chaotic clerics spring up among members of all social classes, and often lead down dark paths as followers forgo their own humanity (usually viewed as a weakness in these circles) in favor of greater and greater personal power. It is through the darkest acts of sacrifice, demon-summoning and even worse of these cults that have led some nations to mistrust all clerics of the Metal Gods and have led some rulers to outlaw the faith entirely.

I thought that one of the best ways to conceive of the different logics of the different alignments as regards the Metal Gods would be to think of bands or songs that I thought best exemplified what I would think of when I thought "Lawful" or "Chaotic." Some of these changed over time (I basically spent all night on YouTube watching metal videos, so that's bound to happen), but much of the imagery and ideas that the writing kicked up simply became better defined around what one might consider to be "metal traditions." Punk, for example, fits squarely in the Chaotic category but so does Norwegian Black Metal. This whole article was a sort of thought experiment on how I could tie in common themes in metal and metal-influenced music into the basis for not merely a religion, but the entirety of mankind's culture. 

Next time, I'll be focusing on the Metal Gods as supernatural patrons for your wizard or elf!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Game of Taps: "Can We Trust This Demon?"

Last week, we had our second session of the Game of Taps at the Taproom here in fabulous downtown Ypsilanti. The game was delayed by a day due to my anniversary, and that led to a strange set of circumstances: two of our players didn't make it and, instead, we picked up two different players. Rather than convince these new players to take over for our missing ones, I decided that we'd start another funnel (using Purple Sorcerer's Perils of the Sunken City) but that Chris could use his fresh level 1s instead. Effectively, I fast-forwarded the game a week or two from where things got left off last time. This time around, we picked up the game in Mustertown, nestled up close against the walls of the First City, where Chris's PCs, the newly minted Mewick the Cultist (level 1 wizard) and "the Shoveler" (level 1 warrior; originally a grave digger, this guy earned his name by shoveling everything in half) was recruited by a pack of treasure-seeking villagers. But first, the Players!
  • You met Chris L. last time. Barrista. Semi-pro gamer. Plays the chaotic duo of Mewick the Cultist and the Shoveler.
  • Doug is one of Chris's coworkers who had never played an RPG before but after hearing Chris blab about how awesome our first session was and the fact that it was at a bar, he had to join in. He took to rolling up his PCs really quickly, especially in the round-robin style that I use. Doug is playing the following:
    • The healthy squire. Now, also the very dead squire. (Dead)
    • A crazy-strong barber. This guy is totally warrior material (if he survives!)
    • A caravan guard who is slated to become a thief if he ever makes it to 1st level.
    • (Warning! Incoming stereotype!) A dwarven stonemason. Strong! Clumsy! Dumb!
  • James hung out with us last time we played but didn't actually play since he joined got to the bar late. This time, he was there from the start and provided us with some of our stranger moments. He made a big deal about pooling his PCs' assembled wealth to buy a grappling hook. James played:
    • A jeweler whose only worthwhile trait was that he started with a 20gp gem. It is now the party's most prized possession. Well, James's part of the party. This guy was the first to die and did so in the most fantastic, impressive way that I've seen yet in DCC (see below).
    • A dwarven mushroom farmer. James felt that he had to add "magic" as a descriptor to the type of mushrooms this guy farms. (Dead)
    • A halfling haberdasher. This guy is totally a stereotypical halfling and is easily the best-dressed member of the party.
    • A gong farmer. Contrary to what you might believe, this does not mean that he farms percussion instruments. Nope, this guy is a master shoveler of shit. Does the Shoveler have competition? Not really. At least, not from a guy with a -2 Str penalty and stats that really look favorable for a thief or wizard. 
Like last time, the game started in a tavern. This time, there was a tavern in the game as well. It was like holding a mirror up to a mirror. Anyway, the game started as the group of 8 level 0s showing up to the tavern to find the fabled Shoveler in order to recruit him for a trip to into the Sunken City as protection and an expert guide. They got Mewick as an added bonus, but there was a lot of negotiation. In the end, I think that Chris really won the "what's my share?" negotiation, but I didn't really let that secret out. The other two players agreed to allow each individual character one share of the treasure and that the shares of any dead characters would go to Mewick & the Shoveler to split. Boy, was that a dumb idea. They may not actively try to kill off the level 0s, but they've already shown that they're not going to put themselves in harm's way to protect the 0s. After much drinking, the crew of 10 heads off into the swamp the next morning accompanied by horrific hangovers.

The PCs trudged through the swamp -- which is really not the truth since there was a road -- and found themselves at the hut of the local swamp witch, the Lady. It was pretty funny how terrified of this hut the guys were. More rightly, terrified of what might be living in a hut in the swamp! There was a cauldron on the boil over a fire in the hearth and one of each player's characters decided it was a good idea to investigate. Turns out, the Lady was pleased to have company and offered them each a bowl of "soup" (they all declined) and a little bit of palmistry. When asked what their future held, the players were admonished to "keep all of their blood on the inside." At first, they thought it was good advice. Later on, they realized that it could be interpreted as just "don't bleed." (Judges who have read the Perils of the Sunken City may detect a note of foreshadowing here.) The Lady also gave the 3 a quick blessing; basically a +1 token that they could use instead of burning luck.

Moving on, the heroes made it to the Sending Stone and the Proving Stone, ancient menhirs that allow quick transportation into and out of the Sunken City thanks to Sender, the demon bound to both stones. Right, so, now you know: magic, ancient city, demon, teleportation, magic. Bad idea to mess with, right? Well, while trying to figure out the stones, James's jeweler decided that he had to hammer off a little chunk to see if he needed to have it on hand to use the teleportation magic. And them the stone erupted into black flame as Sender showed up to figure out who was fucking with his stones. One failed reflex save later and the night had its first fatality and Chris had his first extra share. The party spend some time talking with Sender, becoming thoroughly convinced that they both couldn't trust him but had to. "Can we trust him?" "He's a demon." "That's not a 'no.'" A lot of that. After they spectacularly failed at some ad hoc social mechanics, Sender ended up thoroughly confusing the group as to how the stones actually work and caused the party to believe that it needed to climb the Sending Stone in order to find a place that no one had ever touched before. Remember that grappling hook I mentioned before? Well, the heroes remembered to use it, but they forgot to take it with them as they 'ported into the city. All of James's hard-rolled copper wasted...

The 'port took the adventurers deep into the city, into some garden protected by a dome. The garden was long overgrown and wild, and, as the players would soon discover, peopled by OPOSSUMEN! First, let me say that I frigging LOVE the idea of oppossumen, if only because I'm sick to death of orcs. I loved the beastmen in Sailors of the Starless Sea as well. I may have a theory as to why I dig the "animal man" villainous race trope as opposed to orc or goblin or hobgoblin, but I need to think more about this. So, the group fought some oppossumen. This is where the other two PCs died and almost where Mewick met his end. Basically, Chris made a huge tactical error that left Mewick exposed, but it was because he didn't realize that he could -- and should -- cast Magic Shield more than once. Rather than penalize him for not owning the book (that's a relatively expensive book) and having read every rule, I thought it was wiser to ad hoc-in a "bleeding out" rule that was a little more forgiving (1d4 rounds of bleed out, a "heal"-type check necessary to stop bleed out). The 0s saved Mewick (the Shoveler just kept shoveling... ostensibly to beat back the oppossumen, protecting the dying Mewick), but only after two other 0s lost their lives. Or were sacrificed. Whatever you want to call it. After killing the oppossumen and taking their stuff (who would want it?), the players were pretty banged up, so I decided to allow a "liquid courage" rule like that used by many OSRites, which proved terribly popular (the players all now intend to keep a bottle of booze on their PCs at all times).

The adventurers moved on to explore the one structure inside the dome, an ancient gladiatorial arena and confronted their first "trap funhouse." Now, I'm going to admit that I might not have read this section as well as I could have. As a result, the funhouse effect wasn't as huge here as it could have been. Instead, the players fumbled through some minor electricity trappage and figured out that all they needed to do was throw some levers and loot a corpse. After that, they realized that a well, previously blocked by an electrical dome of shockiness, graped open down into a dungeon below...

We called it there and are patiently waiting for next Monday to roll around. Then, we should be finishing off the Starless Sea with the original group (going back in time to find out how the Shoveler and Mewick survived) then rejoining the new group (going forward in time) as they explore the dungeon below the arena.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Game of Taps: Answers to Jeff's Campaign Questions, Part 2

Note to self: read more than just the next question before I start to answer more of these questions.

Who is the richest person in the land?

The Vizier Regent of the First City of Men, Ur-Hadad, is widely regarded as the wealthiest single person in the world. Since the last Pascha of Ur-Hadad died a century ago, the office of the Vizier became Regent of the First City and, no longer bound by the oversight of a hereditary ruler, the Viziers have steadily increased their own influence over matters of state and trade; the city's bureaucracy now runs on a fine-tuned system of bribes and kickbacks, all of which toss at least a little bit of coin upwards, ultimately landing it in the coffers of Vizier. Every certified business transaction requires a city seal (and thus payment), every bill of goods requires verification (and thus a bribe), every police inquiry an "investigative fee" (more bribes), every official action of state an "investiture" (still more bribes) and so on. This system of institutional corruption assures a sort of oligarchic power structure that places the Vizier Regent squarely at the center of power, both temporal and financial, carefully arraying those below him against one another, supported by the merchant princes who actively bring trade to the city (and thus bring in new sources of income) who rest above the displaced nobility of the city who live off the remnants of their once-great estates.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Some minor healing magics may be available from local wise women or parish priests, but for the truly egregious wounds, there is no wiser place to look than the Temple District of Ur-Hadad. The Avenue of a Thousand Gods alone boasts no fewer than fifty temples with attending clerics of various pieties and the great gods who dutifully answer their prayers. The faithful are encouraged to make the pilgrimage to the Avenue to seek out their favored god's little corner of it; the unfaithful are encouraged to find the deity most sympathetic to their particular line of work and outlook (and alignment) who is actively looking for donations. In the wider world, temples can be found in every city and many towns across the world, though true clerics are few but often lead such holy sites. Some clerics of Chaos even maintain temples in the wilderness where they can carry out their nameless rites without interference, but they are least likely of all to offer any healing services.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

Other than the Temple District, should an adventurer require healing for an unusual malady, the faithless and foolish mingle with the well-travelled and the wise in the Great Bazaar's Arcade of the Opened Eye (commonly called simply "the Eye") where philosophers and physicians hold court beside alchemists and astrologers, prescribing cures and treatments for all sorts of physical and spiritual problems, each under the sign of an unlidden eye, reputedly representing an openness to all the world's truths and secrets. The truly learned, however, will quickly exit the Arcade and turn a quick corner down an old alley stinking of rot and spoiled wine. Here, they will find another shop, this one under a sign of a half-lidden eye, where Master Guang-Yuan Jo, greatest sage still living, searches for the answers to the central mysteries of universe and the bottom of successive bottles of cheap wine. It is said that there is no ailment or condition that Master Jo cannot correctly diagnose and treat, no matter how esoteric. It is also said that Master Jo was the last physician to Pascha Ubek VI, the second-to-last Pascha before that line went extinct, but was removed from that office when he poisoned the Pascha with quicksilver, a treatment that was supposed to provide immortality to the ruler. However mysterious his past may be, common practice suggests that arriving at Master Jo's doorstep without proper amounts of libations is a sure fire way to anger the ancient sage and likely a way to find yourself under the effects of an even more powerful curse than the one that brought you to Jo's door in the first place.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

Wielders of arcane energies are, by their very natures, a secretive, possessive and greedy lot. No wizard, given other options, would trade his magic knowledge to another; they are possessed of no "spirit of sharing." Instead, wizards and sorcerers wrest magical knowledge from the ether itself (read: supernatural patrons) or from ancient and forgotten texts. The only time one wizard will willingly impart any magical knowledge to another person is through an apprenticeship. Wizards are, however, terribly practical folk who might condescend to teach some noble's heir a few paltry cantrips at a vastly inflated sum should they find themselves in dire fiduciary need. They might even teach a spell or two to a low-born merchant should the price (and the need) be right.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Boy, I feel like I've answered this already. Anyway, here we go:
Other than the prognosticators and prevaricators of the Arcade of the Opened Eye or even Master Jo himself, there are many well-educated and specialized fonts of knowledge across the First City. Every noble household retains at least a tutor for its heirs and most also pay for the services of an advisor. Consulting sages, scribes and accountants work for merchant houses on a contract-by-contract basis, usually taking up office near their most lucrative employers. Scholars of lesser reputation offer services to common freedmen (or even slaves) and, more notably, the criminal element of the First City.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Did I Seriously Just Watch That? - Knock-Off Seven Samurai Edition

Paul Giamati's "The King Has to Poop"
Fat Tom (Jason Flemyng), Deadwood's Langriche (Brian Cox), Gareth from the Office (Mackenzie Crook) and ... some... other people ride across 13th century England to play Seven Samurai opposite Paul Giamati's King John, fresh from signing the Magna Carta and rebelling against his own signature thereupon. Derek Jacobi is in there, too, somehow. In a nutshell, that's the plot of the movie Ironclad (2011). In a nutshell, if I were to discuss an awesome remake of the Seven Samurai, I'd be talking about the Magnificent Seven, but I'm obviously not.

While the film isn't terrible, it's not great, either. It does well enough at portraying the "Dung Ages" of England, but who needs to see that again? Frankly, only a small amount of the entirety of HISTORY happened in England, even during the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, so why the hell do we have to be subjected to Anglocentric portrayal of the smallest fragment of that history after Anglocentric portrayal of the smallest fragment of that history? I mean, seriously? As an American capable of thought, I am sick to death of this concept that any bit of the past that didn't happen in America must have happened in England. Forgive me, but fuck that. That's the reason I stopped watching the History channel back in the 90's: it was really just "the History of some people who happen to look and sound close to what we think we look and sound like."

I think you understand the bulk of my categorical disdain for films of this nature. Allow me to be more specific. The Seven Samurai is one of those kickass movies that I will watch on my own when I'm feeling like I have the attention span to read subtitles (about 1/4 of the time, unfortunately) and my wife isn't home. I may love Kurosawa's pacing in the original, but it put her to sleep; I can't blame her, especially since I can be entertained by a particularly interesting shade of paint drying. So, when the wife's around, or when I don't have the attention span for subtitles, I can watch the Magnificent Seven. She, thankfully, loves that movie, and will let me watch it in her presence more often that I would have thought. Magnificent Seven did something interesting by casting absolutely huge names in the major roles. I'm sure you can name at least five of the big names in this film. No good yet? How about Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and either of Eli Wallach or Robert Vaughn. Right, so, awesome frigging cast. Ironclad decided that, if it were to try to remake Seven Samurai and set it in a one of the few places/eras that Americans can understand (see above), it should use the Magnificent Seven logic of throwing identifiable actors at a problem and hoping it gets sorted out. It worked for the Magnificent Seven, but does it work here? I'll let you be the judge of these odd casting choices:
  • Brian Cox - You've seen this guy in a bunch of stuff. Tons of stuff. Probably more stuff than even the venerable Derek Jacobi (see below). The part that I know him for the best was that of Langriche in the third season of the absolutely stunning HBO series, Deadwood. In that series, he plays a probably gay, well-heeled and flamboyant showman, producer and actor who comes to a small mining town to set up a theater. In Ironclad, he gets cast as a warrior. Not a good fit. 
  • I know Jason Flemyng primarily for his role as Fat Tom in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In fact, I use an exchange between Fat Tom and Nick the Greek from that movie frequently in conversation ("It's kosher, Nick. Kosher like Christmas." "Jews don't celebrate Christmas, Tommy." And so on). You may know him as Dr. Jekyll from the crappy movie version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here, he's just a dude. The horny dude. Yeah, not much material for him to work with here. 
  • Somehow, neither Jason Flemyng nor Mackenzie Crook got DVD box or poster billing for this movie. Don't recognize the name? Well, if you've seen any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (and really, who hasn't), you'll know this guy as the pirate with the wooden eye. Folks who know what's good for them know him as Gareth from the original BBC version of the Office. This guy is great at playing a goon. And he barely does any acting in this movie in favor of giving lines to actors half his caliber. 
  • Which brings us to the greatest actor in the film, Sir Derek Jacobi. Yes, he is a "sir." I'm not just adding that because he's British. I'm pretty sure that part of his deal with the Devil that makes him so damn great is that he has to appear in absolutely every period piece ever. I'd like to explain the bizarre cognitive dissonance I experienced at his being in this movie, but I'm afraid the train of digressions that it would require would make my brain catch on fire. I'm barely staving that off now. So, Derek Jacobi. Right. He barely manages to get any face time with the camera. Granted, he gets something close to a plot point, and more time than Jason Flemyng and Mackenzie Crook, but that's to be expected. He has seniority taking care of shit like that. And that contract with the Devil. Or is it the queen? Is there a difference?
  • Paul Friggin' Giamati actually gets some lines and a decent speech. He plays King John, after all. That, in and of itself, however, is odd. Giamati has a great reputation for being a huge, quirky and skilled actor and all that, but it's really strange to hear him try an English accent. 
The thing about it all of these recognizably famous people being cast in yet another Seven Samurai that really bugs me is that all of them seem tangential to the plot. Well, except for Brian Cox and maybe Paul Giamati. The movie really wants to spend all of its time focusing on two of the least-interesting characters played by the least-compelling actors in the film. Kate Mara (cast as DeYoung Hotniss) has apparently been in other films and stuff, but I have no idea why since her acting is barely passable. Whoever cast her thought she'd be a big enough name to bump a decent actor from the box/poster. James Purefoy (cast as Emo Templarington) has apparently also led a career of undistinguished acting roles that somehow netted him more screen time than any of the actually good actors in this film. All in all, terribly disappointing showing for a cast of good actors who were horribly misused in a vain (in the literal sense of the word "vain") attempt to remake one of the greatest films of all time that my wife won't watch.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Game of Taps: Nearing the First City

Hours stretch into days as you pass through mile after mile of fetid swamp, watching and hoping for some vision of civilization. At noon of the second day, you catch a glimpse of your first sight: the high peak of some vast tower rising out of the muck miles and miles away to the southwest; an hour later, when you catch sight of it again, you see now that it is in fact a colossal ziggurat of unimaginable and incalculable size. It is only then that you realize what must lie beyond the swamp; beyond this stinking and insect-swarmed terror can only be the fabled First City, great Ur-Hadad, the jewel, tarnished though she may be, of mankind's collected realms. Your head abuzz with dreams of the wonders and splendors, treasures and pleasures that this great city may offer, you hasten your pace at the oar, each row bringing you closer to what may lie inside the First City's high walls. 


It is nightfall before your first glimpse of the Usud Usal, a high wall that separates the city proper from the trackless swamp beyond. Here, built up against the wall like a lean-to shed, the village of Mustertown huddles close to Ur-Hadad's westernmost gate. The city proper may be rock and plaster, marble and metal, but Mustertown, shelter for the commoners, rogues and miscreants deemed unworthy for entry to the great city, is a moldering mass of crudely-cut and salvaged wooden planks that swell with the surrounding humidity. It is here, at least, that you may finally find some respite after your long ordeal in the harrowing swamps. 

In my Game of Taps campaign, the First City of Ur-Hadad fills the role of "campaign mega-metropolis," like Waterdeep, the City of Greyhawk, or Goodman Games' own Punjar. I plan on borrowing liberally from these other metropolises as makes sense, as well as from Purple Sorcerer's "Sunken City" series (I friggin' love the idea of Mustertown and am importing it and the swamp surrounding it whole cloth). I wrote this little bit as the players' first glimpse of the First City, but a lot more information will make it into their hands and yours as it is written.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: The Metal Gods, Part 1

Man has known for millennia that his is not the first people to walk the planet. His, he knows, is a young folk, even though he has seen the demise of others. So, too, have these peoples, in their inexorable decline, watched the ascension of Man; they have watched him evolve and develop, learn and discover. Of all the advances in science, arcana and culture that these other races watched Man uncover, the one that they all universally feared was the discovery of metal. With metal, Mankind could assert power of its own and a species that had only recently crawled out of its caves would learn to rival the highest of the high, the vaunted and exalted; this threat could not stand, and thus most of the ancient races struck out at Man, slew countless tribes and enslaved most of those who remained. Toiling in bondage at the forges of their masters or in secret at the forges of their dwarven allies (one of the few races who did not assault the humans), the race of Men learned that which the other races had feared and ultimately, predictably rebelled. It is the greatest irony that it was only through the slaughter and enslavement of Man that he ultimately learned the secret that the other races dreaded he learn; that it was their violence against him that led him to unravel the Riddle of Steel.

When Mankind struck back at the old races and threw off their yoke, so too did he cast off his past. No longer was he hunter-gatherer, no longer did he kill with wood and stone. Now he was a warrior, he was a conqueror, he was like the gods themselves. The old legends scrawled on the walls of caves with river-ochre were wiped away and new ones written in blood and carved into the hides of Man's enemies were made. Man's first smiths became creator-gods who gifted his race with spears, swords, shields and armor; man's first great fighters who took up these tools became warrior-gods and gifted his race with  freedom, wealth and lands of his own. Both of these became the first of the Metal Gods.

There was a time, at the dawn of Man's ascendancy when every Metal God had a name and all those were known to all Men, but as eons passed, more Men who would become Metal Gods were born to successive generations. Ages and empires would rise and fall, each with their own supreme smiths and warriors, and in time, Man lost track of the names of every Metal God, coming to worship them in their entirety as a pantheon of mostly-nameless ancestors and revered predecessors. The worship of other gods, Lawful or Chaotic, has come and gone throughout Man's history, but the Metal Gods have existed as long as Man has been free and will endure as a pantheon until twilight sets upon Man's domination of the world.

The ranks of the Metal Gods swell with the eons, filled with the names of smiths and slayers and ultimately those names pass into the forgotten past unspoken. Every warrior who wields a spear, a sword or an axe may one day become a Metal God, even if he pays no more than lip service to the pantheon; similarly, any smith capable of crafting weapons and armor notable enough to become legendary may also join the Gods' ranks. The warrior earns his place through his deeds, the smith through the deeds done with that which he has crafted, for both know the true answer to the Riddle of Steel: the power is in the hand that wields the steel, and so too does the steel lend that hand its power. As the eras have passed, so too have strictures as regards who may become Metal Gods; first, a scant few dwarves joined the pantheon, heroes of their kind and Men; later, even one or more elves joined the pantheon, usually through atonement for the sins that their forebears perpetrated upon Mankind during its slave ages.


Today, the Metal Gods serve a number of important functions in modern society. First, they provide an ancestral, uniquely human object of faith. All men can find some virtue in the Metal Gods he may empathize with, no matter if he is Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic (thus, clerics of all alignments may worship them). Second, both the smiths and the swordsmen of the pantheon possess secret knowledge, of the past, of the ways of metal, of the arts of slaughter; many an aspiring student of the arcane has turned to the Metal Gods to answer their pleas for magical power and many a Metal God has listened. Finally, the Metal Gods are an aspirational group for makers and marauders alike, for any who master the ways of metal may become one of its gods.

The idea for the Metal Gods first formed in my mind as I started reading the DCC RPG for the first time. Maybe its a nostalgia trip (but I doubt it), but the art, the rules and Goodman's invocation of "pre-genre" fantasy hit a chord with me. Thing is, it was a power chord. It was a power chord with a dropped-D tuning, a Boss (or possibly SovTek) distortion pedal, played through a Marshall stack. In short, that chord was metal as hell. So, too, did this game need some serious Metal Gods. Since my concept of what my DCC world should be has more in common with CA Smith, RE Howard and HP Lovecraft (wow, lots of double initials there), I knew my Metal Gods had provide a more humanocentric view of fantasy without becoming too benevolent in an "Elder Gods vs. Old Ones," August Derleth-style schlock-fest. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Patron Roulette: Handling Wizards & Elves at 1st Level in the Game of Taps

I'm currently prepping for my first DCC game in a few days and as I was thinking things through earlier today I started thinking about PCs transitioning to 1st level from 0th (I absolutely love typing 0th). For most classes, this really shouldn't be difficult, but for both the elf and wizard, the question to me is "where does all this magic suddenly come from?" Unlike D&D, I don't have to worry about wizards suddenly having access to a spellbook or some other appropriately goofy appliance and that really, even after all of the flavor text from the pages of DCC, someone really could simply accrue 10 xp, decide to become a wizard and *bam* all that magic comes pouring in to make him special. However snarky that might have sounded, I actually think that that's a strength of the system. So, where does that magic come from? How does it get there? How do you know how to use it? It seems to me that the easiest answer is the supernatural patron. After all, elves get Patron Bond and Invoke Patron as their guaranteed 1st-level spells and I'd wager that many wizards would take those as well and, frankly, the patron mechanics are really one of the serious money-shots of DCC's magic system. This answer, of course, begs the question "how does your 0th-level commoner PC attract the attention of some high-and-mighty supernatural patron so he or she could become a 1st-level wizard PC?" Oh, and another question "which patron?" Here are some of the answers that I came up with:

  1. Player's Choice: Let the player choose which supernatural patron they want to be indebted to and meshes the best with their ideas of their character. This option would work best for a player who's familiar with DCC already (and maybe owns a copy) and has already started to plan. Or you could just flip to page 49 and let your future-wizard-player get the gist and make an impromptu choice, but pushing a premature decision has never really been my style, so I'd recommend against that.
  2. Let It Ride: Here's the skinny, choice of patron really only makes a difference when trying to cast the Invoke Patron spell to 1st-level wizards and elves. Other than that, at first level, patron taint or potential spellburn is really the only patron effect. The point here is to not make the "what's my supernatural patron" call until you actually need to. This strategy, I think, would work great for the player who wants to make the right call but needs to see just a little bit more about the game before making a decision. But what if the player refuses to make a decision and needs to be pushed off the patron cliff?
  3. Roll Your Own: There comes a time when hemming and hawing needs to stop and dice need to roll. If your player simply cannot make up his or her mind and you don't want to make the call for them, roll 1d12 and consult the following chart.
  1. The Unknowable Void, the dark heart of entropy toward which all of creation hastens
  2. Bugbogbubliz, demon lord of amphibians
  3. Azi Dahaka, demon prince of storms and waste
  4. The King of Elfland, fey ruler of the lands beyond twilight
  5. Sezrekan the Elder, the wickedest of sorcerers
  6. The Three Fates, who control the fate of all men and gods to see that the world reaches its destiny
  7. Yddgrrl, the World Root
  8. Obitu-Que, Lord of the Five, pit fiend and balor
  9. Ithha, prince of elemental wind
  10. The Metal Gods, once-mortal scions of violence and war (more info coming soon)
  11. Judge's choice (players beware!)
  12. Something else, impossible and likely unintelligible (read: gonzo; think: Raggi/LotFP)
As I said above, this guideline was written with my own campaign in mind (so, you'll see that I've added two patrons, the Unknowable Void and the Metal Gods; more on them later) and what I'm worried will be an inevitable "under the gun" moment. The Game of Taps crew has had the amazing experience of randomness giving us great results for things ("when in doubt, roll it out" is pretty much this group's motto) and so a random chart seemed a great idea. To be fair, I'm writing this (nearly immediately) before a session in which the guideline is to be used, so I'll see how it pans out; you'll probably get a playtest report in my next Game of Taps progress report.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Game of Taps: Answers to Jeff's Campaign Questions, Part 1

Ages ago (if slightly more than a year can be considered "ages"), Jeff Rients posted over on his blog a series of twenty short questions that every DM should be prepared to answer for his or her campaign. I was introduced to this series of questions not by Jeff's blog itself, but rather through the disparate posts scattered across the RPG blogosphere where DMs have endeavored to answer these questions themselves. And so, it's my turn. The following answers will pertain to my DCC campaign (the Game of Taps) and aren't definitive answers but more of an exploration of my initial thoughts about the campaign world. This is part 1 of 4.

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

Religion varies strongly with alignment. Lawful clerics largely worship deities that represent some aspirational value or sphere of civilization; thus, there may be a god of valor alongside a god of aqueducts. Neutral clerics typically venerate deities tied to forces of nature or the elements or may worship gods far older than the civilizations of man (including the Old Ones). Chaotic clerics usually proffer sacrifices and perform rites in the name of demons, gods of passion and personal power and other beings that represent a "will to power" philosophy; chaotic clerics usually lead cults devoted to these deities and philosophies rather than large temples. Clerics of all alignments, however, may worship the pantheon known as the Metal Gods, though each cleric may focus on a different aspect of the pantheon (more on the Metal Gods is coming soon, I promise).

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Though stalls throughout the First City hawk wares of all sorts -- and adventurers will have little trouble in locating a full compliment of essential gear -- it is more likely that adventurers and sellswords find their supplies at any one of the many trading posts or frontier towns that dot the world. When in doubt, a wise adventurer goes looking for the nearest tavern where either the most basic gear can often be found (at a considerable markup) or directions to a nearby reputable merchant may be obtained, thus giving the ring of truth to the old adventurer saying, "Where there's swill, there's a way."

Where can we go to get plate mail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Finding an armorer skilled enough to craft the plate mail isn't the problem; getting the monster to the armorer is. Rare as cities may be in the borderlands, the dwarven redoubt of Hulgaz-Arad has a reputation for straddling both the civilized and savage worlds. As such, traders from all races, peoples and nations are welcome there under the aegis of an ancient curse that prevents racial enmities or the war between Law and Chaos from erupting here. Thus, not only will you be able to get your bugbear friend fitted for plate, but it could even be fine dwarfcraft.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Many scholars debate whether Sezrekan the Elder indeed continues to count as a wizard or whether his (at least) demi-god nature precludes so mundane a moniker. Some speak with fear and wonder among the mages Emirikol or Lokerimon and rightly so. The Emerald Enchanter is the subject of many hushed, furtive whispers. All of these are contenders for the greatest wizard in the land, along with many other mages of today and ages past, and all would be right, as would all be wrong. Each wizard is truly unique, each with his own spells, powers and abilities to shape reality that are particular to him. In short, every wizard is the mightiest and each the least in power (when compared to any other mage).

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

The names of few warriors are known to common men, but for those who are savvy, the prowess of the warlord Karas of Skall is purported to be the only reason that Chaotic beastmen haven't overrun the frozen steppes of Dalmohad; brutal with sword and axe, Karas long ago lost count of the souls he sent to meet the Yama Kings in the underworld, but a cult has sprung up in his wake collecting their skulls. Rumor has it that, when they collect enough skulls of Karas's fallen foes to build a temple, the cult believes that Karas will ascend to godhood and join the Metal Gods. Though a powerful and savage fighter, Karas's skill at arms may be matched by the strategic mind of pirate king Malice Vull. Vull raids the convoys of ships that ply the southern seas, be they owned by man or monster, with his fleet of devoted seamen. Nominally the ruler of Bastard's Rock -- once a notorious prison, liberated by a prisoner revolution more than a century ago -- Vull maintains a naval superiority that galls all maritime nations and causes all sailors (other than his loyal pirates) to curse his name.

Friday, September 7, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: More Folio Fiends; Feathered Fiends, Part 3

For this week's DCC Donnerstag, we finish up the last few bird-themed monsters from the Fiend Folio with three monsters that aren't just bird-themed, but are also humanoids. Of these three, two have made it to every successive edition of D&D, but one has been lost to time, but I'll let you judge whether that was a good idea or not.

Aarakocra

Init +2; Atk +2 javelin (1d6) or +0 talon (1d3); AC 12; HD 1d8; MV 20' (fly 60'); Act 1d20; Fort +0, Ref +4, Will +3; AL N.

These intelligent avians haunt their high mountain eyries, caring little for the affairs of lowland humanoids. Although they wish no ill upon other species, aarakocra make no distinction between wild or domesticated animals and can sometimes be found raiding farms for livestock. Aarakocra fight solely using their talons, primarily because most of their fighting takes place in flight and their hands are part of their wings, but also because of their frail arms and strong legs.

I've always loved the aarakocra. Specifically, the Fiend Folio aarakocra. I remember an article from Dragon that allowed you to play one. Guess what I did. Anyway, I think the reason that I loved the aarakocra so much is that, back when they were new to me, the concept of bird men had always been normal men with wings (quite possibly with the head of a bird) but with the body of a man. The aarakocra were the first real avian species I'd ever encountered, as opposed to folks like the Thanagarians or whatever the hawk people from Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon were. 

Dire Corby

Init +0; Atk +3 claw (1d6+1); AC 13; HD 2d8; MV 30'; Act 1d20; Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2; AL C

These subterranean monstrosities seem to have descended from an earlier, more highly-evolved species; eons of isolation, inbreeding or the influence of some dark god have twisted whatever the dire corbies used to be into the ravening, ferocious beasts that they are today. They have little in the way of society, and less in the way of language. The few scholars who have bothered to learn their corrupt, brutish language have translated the one word chanted over and over by the black flock in combat as "doom." Woe to the adventurer who encounters one of the lost grottoes of this base, degenerate race.

Okay, so I used to think "dire corby? wtf?" But then, preparing for this article, I actually reread the entry on them. It pretty much calls them out as reavers and marauders of the underdark. Sprinkle in some CA Smith-style mumbo-jumbo about degeneracy and you've got a usable monster.

Kenku

Init +1; Atk +2 short sword (1d6); AC 14; HD 2d8; MV 20' (fly 40'); Act 1d20; Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +3; AL N

Stealthy and secretive, the avian kenku are a race of tricksters and rogues who take advantage of the better natures of other species to the best of their ability. Often underestimated due to their small stature and inability to speak (though they are suspected of telepathy by sages), kenku turn this to their advantage to steal from humans, kidnap them or encourage them into danger. Kenku fight only when retreat in not possible or when they have a clear advantage. Kenku have developed excellent disguises that allow them to pass for humans easily (until they have to speak or their faces are exposed), and they often conceal their wings (and ability to fly) with a large cloak in order to have one last ace in the hole.

As much as I like the kenku, I have, for some stupid reason, always assumed that they didn't have wings. I always assumed that the wings in Nicholson's awesome picture here were a cloak. Man, every entry I reread in the FF teaches me something new. So, maybe the reason that my kenku never flew is that they were just keeping the fact that they COULD fly a secret to play at the last second. The clever get away or whatever. 

So, there you have it. As of this post, I've converted eleven monsters from the Fiend Folio to DCC stats. I'm not sure if I'll start another round of this next week or get in to some of the other stuff I'm working on for the Game of Taps, but I feel a certain pull towards an entry on crustaceans. Time will tell!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Did I Seriously Just Watch That? - Dr. Who vs. Frankenstein Edition

So, I just watched Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973, not '74 like Netflix lists). I was raised on a steady diet of the old Hammer horror films, first on tv in the 80's (the local PBS station used to show a lot of this stuff in the early 80's and then the FOX network joined in every summer in the later part of the decade) and later on VHS. Somehow, I either completely dodged Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell or my mind managed to completely block out one terribly important fact from the film: in 1973, Patrick Troughton, famed British actor who portrayed the second Doctor on Doctor Who from 1965 through 1968 (modern Whovians should know him as "the guy who Matt Smith stole all his schtick from") plays a mere grave robber in this film. This grave robber character doesn't even have a goddamn name. Just "grave robber." That's how it shows up in the credits. Patrick fucking Troughton as "grave robber." Upon discovering this fact, my mind immediately wrote the following imaginary letter to someone who will never read it:

Dear casting agent for the 1973 film Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell

Fuck you. 

No, seriously, fuck you. 

You cast as a nameless part one of the best Doctors ever as a teeny tiny bit part while casting any number of other, vastly inferior actors in named roles that give them far more screen time and opportunity to let their talents shine. And yet Patrick Troughton got "grave robber." 

Again, fuck you.

Sincerely,

Someone who isn't going to get bent out of shape that the other guy who played the Doctor who's in the film, Mr. Peter Cushing, got top billing. Tarkin fucking rules. But seriously, bad form, sir. 

Honestly, I hate to swear so often in one post (particularly when it's really just the same thing over and over) but my outrage here is getting the better of me. While the movie theater Doctor (again, Cushing) appeared in nearly every goddamn Hammer Frankenstein movie (at least every one I can think of), this is the only one (to the best of my knowledge) that features Patrick Troughton.

Having watched and enjoyed this film, however, that's my only real complaint about the film. Good stuff. It's the "Frankenstein takes on an apprentice" plot again (for only the billionth time), but it's handled well. The more I think about the character of Frankenstein, though, the more surprised I am that Paul Ryan isn't an avowed Hammer Frank fan. I mean, this guy practically REEKS of the Nietzschean egoism that Mr. Ryan likes to pretend is simple "Objectivism." Okay, that's it for me on the mixing games and politics front.