Friday, February 26, 2016

Pre-GaryCon Update

Yeah, I know I've sort of let the B5 posts fall off. I really mean to get back to this. I have a post about cavemen half-way finished (yes, yes, I know I can just finish it off but it led to some research that I hope will bear some really interesting fruit), and I still want to talk more about the witches, so there's definitely more coming.

However, it's GaryCon time around these parts.

That means a few things. 

First, it means that I'm rushing to get every order of the Metal Gods zine and Black Sun Deathcrawl that I'm delinquent on out the door in the next few days. We even opened up BSDC to a few more sales (I found 20 "reserve copies" I had on hand and made those available for sale) in anticipation of the 3rd printing (absolutely no difference between the 1st through 3rd printing as far as I know). Once that's all done, I'm going to start implementing a new strategy for keeping better track of orders and how many copies of zines I have on hand to hopefully tighten a few loopholes in my attention span that some things seem to fall through.

But that's not what you came for, is it? You wanted to hear about GaryCon before GaryCon is GaryCon, right? Cool, 'cause that's what I'm here for.

This year, the Muszkiewicz family hope to leave our fair city of Ypsilanti, MI, at the crack of 8a. We'll be accompanied by our friend +Brooke Schuette (who's totally +Kathryn Muszkiewicz's "mini me," even though neither will admit it) to help Katie & I keep an eye on Stan during stuff. Brooke was one of my original Quasquetherion players and even was part of the Iron Coast crew for a time and is really excited to hit up her first gaming convention. 

After stopping in Chicago for lunch (because), we plan on getting to the Grand Geneva in the mid afternoon, giving us time to unpack, unwind and maybe go for a swim before the obligatory "meet up with everyone at the bar" thing that happens every year on Wednesday. If you're going to be there, stop by and say howdy. I'll be the "hulking Pole" with the baby. 

The only event that I have planned -- as in "on the books" -- is the podcasting seminar that takes place some time on Thursday. I should really find out exactly when that is. I'll be repping +Drink Spin Run - An RPG Talk Show Podcast despite being the more abrasive of the show's hosts. Apparently, there will be a happy hour event after this, too. So, good stuff. Let's hope they have good beer on tap. 

The only "off the books" thing I have planned is co-DMing the Saturday night DCC "DougKon" nonsense with +Doug Kovacs and other folks. I'm sure I'll get roped into running stuff other nights, but this is the only night that running shit is a lock, and here's why: Last year, +Jobe Bittman lamented to me that we just kept playing the same games over and over. We play DCC every night. We might play Metamorphosis Alpha during the day. That's fine and all, but there are so many other goddamn games out there  that get neglected. At a convention, you've got this ready and willing collection of folks who show up to this specific gaming convention precisely because they're amenable to playing disparate games, particularly old school ones. Last year, we managed to get in some Traveller as run by the ever-awesome +Todd Bunn, but other than that, it was pretty much just DCC & MA. 

It's time to get some different shit in.

I talked to Jobe about what he wants to run/play, and compared it to my own list. There's not a lot of overlap, but there is some. Some of the overlap, though, was of a "if you run that, I will play," variety. Jobe plans on running Rolemaster at some point, now, which is pretty cool. +Jason Hobbs (or, if you prefer, "Scott Hubbs") also requested some games, and I liked his requests, so they're on my list of "yeah, I can run that" stuff. 

Without any further ado, here's the stuff that I'll have "on deck" and gtg at a moment's notice:
  • +Pearce Shea's excellent awesome adventure "In The Woods" for his Monsterparts RPG. You're kids at camp and everything gets all Silent Hill/creepy-ass fairytale/horror movie on you. Deal. Survive. Solve mysteries and uncover secrets.
  • Beyond The Wall is quickly becoming my "man, I really want to play X" game. Quick but flavorful set up, rules that make sense and a fast way to turn "maybe it's like this" into an adventure. 
  • Dwimmermount. Hobbs requested that I run this classic. I'm not sure what system (probably Delving Deeper or Whitehack for simplicity), but I ran this as an "off night" game when I was running my Cradle of Sin DCC RPG campaign a year or two ago (two years? Jeez!) and it was a lot of fun and I ended up building myself a little Dwimmermount tool kit that I should probably talk about in a future post.
  • Quasquetherion. My B1 hack that will not die! I ran this at GenCon 2014 and U Con 2015 and it was a hit both times, building on my successes of running this as a home campaign. This session could be either Whitehack of Delving Deeper, but it definitely needs to be an OD&D-ish game. 
Other stuff I want to play or run:
  • +Dan Domme and I were talking about playing some World Wide Wrestling. I'd happily either play or run this. I can do a mean Mean Gene.
  • I would never poo-poo a chance to play a game that no one 'round these parts ever seems to want to play. Stuff like Torchbearer or Dungeon World could be a really fun way to spend an afternoon.
  • Honestly, I'd play anything that folks got really, really excited about. I pick up on excitement easily. If you're planning on running something off the books, hit me up, I might be super into it.
There's no way I plan to play/run all of these things. If I get three or four games in all weekend, honestly, I'll be happy.  I'll try to keep folks in the loop about stuff I'm doing so you can either live vicariously through me or so you can participate, but I don't hold out a lot of hope for it.

Hope to see you at GaryCon 2016!

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Old Moldule-Ing B5: Horror on the Hill, Tres Brujas

First, enjoy this. Second, be aware that [SPOILERS] await below for stuff other than B5.


One of the cooler features of B5: Horror on the Hill are the witch sisters on the Hill. Why aren't there more witches in RPGs? In the context of B5, the witches fill an interesting role: they're not necessarily good nor bad, nor even somewhere in between. They can be allies, they could be enemies, they could be "quest-givers," all depending on how you play them. The significantly less awesome part of the way the witches are presented in B5 is the way they're presented. Instead of being strange wise women that villagers tremble at the thought of, we're treated to, well... we're treated to a pair of friendly grandmas.

Like this:


The description of their abode presents a doily-frilled, tea time chamber of nothing-anywhere-near-like horror. Do you see that rolling pin? Ridiculous. I can't imagine who these witches would engender fear in, except for my middle school-age kids who don't want to have their cheeks pinched and smooched.

This must change.

In DCC # 66.5: Doom of Savage Kings, +Harley Stroh writes one of the coolest witches in any RPG product ever. Ymae, the Mad Widow (is she ever even directly referred to as a witch? If not, well done, Sr. Stroh!). She offers to help the PCs, but at a price, and it's a wonderfully witchy price: marriage to one of the PCs. Doesn't this sound like it belongs in a folk tale? Then, the help she offers requires a further task of the PCs, gathering the hair of seven corpses (these can be pre-existing corpses or the hair of dead PCs) which is again wonderfully folk tale-y. Then, she'll weave the hair into a rope that can be used to bind the demonic Hound of Hirot. Got that? Corpse hair rope that binds a demon, all for the price of marriage to a PC.

This is the model we want our witches to take, not cheek-pinching, tea-and-cakes grandmas.

Three Witches You Shall Meet

For not a few reasons, I like to have witches come in threes. Whether it's because of the Sword song above or because of the symbolic significance of threes, I can't tell. I think it's probably because I just naturally organize things into threes. So, there are three witches. And, because it will make sense out of some stuff later on, the three witches suffer under a curse. And, because of [curse rules], they suffer under a ban preventing them from talking about their curse. Their curse also ensures that PCs will meet only one of the witches at a time.

The witches may be sisters, they may not be. We'll talk about that later. Here are the things we know about the witches for sure:

  • Only one of the witches may be encountered at a time. 
  • The time of day affects which witch is encountered
    • Masza will only be encountered at twilight (give or take)
    • Malwina will only be encountered at midnight (or thereabouts)
    • Marika will only be encountered at dawn (again, you get it)
    • During the hours of full daylight, none of the witches are active
  • The witches know Hanuszka's Secret (see a future post)
  • The witches suffer from a curse that they seek to break
  • The witches know about and can help with The Horror (see another future post) but will only do so at a cost
  • The witches know something that no one else knows (again, future post)
For fear of getting snagged into writing and re-writing this post over and over again, I'm going to stop right here. In near future posts, we'll be exploring the witches some more, you'll learn more about Hanuszka's Secret and The Horror and -- I promise -- we'll actually get to the dungeon sooner rather than later. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

This Old Module-Ing B5: Horror on the Hill, Inspiration & Background

I could start off with the same tired "fuck yeah Appendix N!" line you've heard over and over again (often from me), but I want to talk about some specific influences here, because I think it's important that, at this stage in the renovation process, we understand where we're going. We're not talking about a simple conversion, no. Any old chump can do that. Converting doesn't put any of myself into the process. What we're doing is a real renovation, and nothing is sacred. We're going to take someone else's module and make it mine.

Some of the influences that I find most inspiring for this project.
  • Polish Folklore - You've seen my last name. It's not a surprise that I'm Polish. What surprises me is how little of the Polish medieval experience shows up in gaming culture, despite the number of prominent "Poles of North American birth" there are in that field. [I've had to stop by self from heading off in diatribes no fewer than 3 times at this point.] So, we're going to put stuff there. A great place to start is Polish Folklore. In specific, I'm going to use the tale of Krakus and Smok Wawielski ("the Dragon of Wawel Hill") as the frame that the background of the module is going to hang on. 
  • I'll be ratcheting up the general Polish-ness of the setting as well. A borderland beyond which barbarians and dragons lie? Cool clothes including fur hats? Crazy-awesome names with more Z's than you know what to do with? Yep. We're doing that. 
  • I've spoken before about how, out of the Weird Tales Three, Clark Ashton Smith is my favorite, and I think this is because he walks a strange course between the super-heroicism of RE Howard and the powerlessness in the face of cosmic evil of HP Lovecraft. Smith has a sort of sing-song fairytale logic to his stories, a pervasive poetic nature that, to me, evokes more emotion than the blood and thunder of Howard or the paranoiac cowering of Lovecraft. His heroes are, typically, normal people (no Conans here) in extraordinary situations. This is what I want the PCs to feel like. 
  • How to Write Adventures That Don't Suck - by Goodman Games. There's this outline floating around with text from the 2007 seminar of the same name that Goodman Games gave at GenCon. GG has also held seminars of the same name & topic at several other conventions (GaryCon 2015 for sure, but I'm there were others as well) and much of the advice from the 2007 seminar still rings true today (there are probably some refinements upon it, but the 2007 outline has been written down, so I always refer back to it). While it was emailed to me when I started working on the DCC Cabal's Hypercube of Myt project, since I can find it with a simple Google search, I'll gladly share the link to the document. Here:  http://www.goodman-games.com/downloads/HowToWriteAdventuresThatDontSuck.pdf Lots of good advice here. 
And that's all guiding us forward as we go. 

Background

In the ancient days, a cloister of scholar-monks made their home at the crest of the Hill. We know little of them and their ways, save evidence of crumbling and moldering texts and scrolls are all that's left of their order. From the settling of the first of the Wolczik tribesmen in the shadow of the Hill, the monks' monastery, in ruins now for more than a century, has weighed as an ill omen of darkness to come. And came darkness did.

When the Wolczik tribes came to these lands, a beast issued forth from the cave at the foot of the hill, that cave strewn with impossible bones of creatures no man had seen alive. A dragon vast and scaly, the fiend breathed a noxious flame equal parts pyre and poison. The dragon had slept during the first Wolczik migrations into its lands and was enraged to find the new interlopers decades later when it woke. It set upon the villages of the Wolczu, demanding tribute in a tongue so ancient, the elders say, that the first man had not yet drawn breath when that tongue had died out. Though they knew not the words, the Wolczu knew the meaning, as if those meanings were what had been spoken, not any words at all. The threat was obvious: present the dragon with tribute worth of it, or face its wrath. 

At first, some were defiant -- and defiance was met with rapine and ruin. Whole families met death beneath the fiend's flames, their lands corrupted and despoiled by its poison. To this day, there are blighted spaces in shadow of the Hill where nothing may grow. To this day, there are families who know no heir and are presumed to be extinct to a man, villages no more than char and ash, walls naught but tumbled stone. The only way to survive was to obey the dragon and thus they did, except for one.

A goatherd who had been tending his flock when the dragon had boiled his lands and his family blazed, Bartosz the Elder made the long trek from the foot of the Hill seven days to the court of Gragan Osztjo, the tribal cheiftan who had become king of these lands. Gragan wept with Bartosz, led the shepherd to sup from his table and drink from his goblet in sorrow, and came to call the widow "brother." 

When Gragan called for his bravest tribesmen to take up arms against the beast, it was his own three children who answered the call. First was Gragan the Younger, the middle child, wise and quick-witted with a gilded tongue. Next was Hanuszka, the eldest, fierce and fiery, she was the strongest of the three and wisest in the ways of war, shamed that she had let her brother pledge his spear first. Last was young Dobrogost, a fair-haired youth who had seen only twelve winters, yet was brave enough to stand by his sister and brother. Gragan wept tears of proud despair, for he was bound by Wolczik law to not refuse a spear pledged in vengeance. 

Yet Bartosz, the weary widower, could not bear to see Gragan lose all his children as he had, and begged Dobrogost to withdraw his pledge. Knowing that Trzejnobog, the God of Threes, he who is held most holy of the gods by the Wolczu, would favor three worthies more than two, Bartosz begged Gragan for a spear and a helmet, that he might have his own revenge and stand by the side of those who Wolczik law now considered his nephews. Gragan could not refuse, and soon Bartosz rode a tall courser alongside Hanuszka and Gragan II's destriers toward certain death.

Though the poets disagree on the details of the battle, the outcome is the same no matter the source: at the end of the bloody affair, only Hanuszka crawled out of the cave at the foot of the Hill. It is said that Bartosz and Gragan II's bodies were never recovered and that the cave serves as mausoleum for man and dragon alike. 

The dragon slain, the Wolczu rejoiced and held forth Hanuszka as a triumphant conqueror, and she begged her father to grant her lands around the Hill, that she might make sure the evil never return to Wolcz. Gragan I commanded his tribesmen build a fortress on the opposite bank of the River Zska from the Hill, and bade her guard it -- and Wolcz -- from foes human and monstrous alike. In mourning for the loss of her brother, Hanuszka named the fortress Gragova, and made her coat of arms a man and a dragon dealing death to each other. 

Dobrogost was declared Gragan I's heir and took up his banner upon the father's passing. In time, Dobrogost's son and heir, Gragan III, came to his aunt, the Lady Hanuszka and asked her permission to retrieve his uncle's remains from the cave where they had been left. By Wolczik law, Gragan III was required to ask, and by that same law, Hanuszka could not refuse, though she knew it folly. Thus, last year, did Gragan III  and his Companions stride into the maw of the cavern at the Hill. There has been no sign of him since. 

Hanuszka has declared the Hill anathema, and forbids her people to cross the River Zska within eight miles of it (the distance a horse will walk in two hours).  This last Grandfathers Feast (a semi-annual holiday honoring those past), she outlawed the now-traditional pageant of her victory over the Horror on the Hill.  In her sorrow, Lady Hanuszka allows no mention of the name "Gragan" within the walls of the fortress named after him. The lands at the foot of the Hill have grown wild and fallow, and campfires have been seen dotting her slopes, though she be shunned by the Wolczu. Travelers -- Wolczik and foreign alike -- have disappeared from the roads and rivers of the land, and locals fear to go abroad at night. And on certain nights, when the fog hangs low over the Zska, a miasma,  a poisonous, smoky haze, can be seen rising from the mausoleum-cave where the dragon once dwelt.