Thursday, January 30, 2020


Random thought: I really want Steve Jackson Games to get the license to the "Miri" episode of classic Trek, so they could make a super-specific guidebook to her disease-ridden world and it's splotchy purple adults. A sourcebook that would naturally be titled: GURPS GRUPS.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The PCs Have Sold Their Souls... Again

Quick update about my Night's Black Agent's campaign. I am a bastard GM. This weekend, I got two of the PCs to sell their souls to... well, not quite the devil, thankfully. They sold their character's souls to Graf Orlok (of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu). Still pretty bad. It was kind of surprising just how easily they went along with it. Player Characters do the darnedest things.

To be fair, there was an element of trickery on my part, in that the Renfield who brokered the deal over-acted and hammed it up so much they kind of took him to be a buffoon, and as a result the PCs under-estimated the entire situation. The cartoonish nature of the ritual's trappings made them lower their guard and play along when they should have been "nope"-ing the hell out of there.

I once had the opportunity to be within earshot of a real-life Masonic initiation ceremony when a friend who used to be a Mason took me out to a campground on a weekend when he thought there wasn't anything going on out there. I remember hearing the ruckus from across the park, and thinking: "Man, paranoid conspiracy theorists imagine that's some globe-dominating cabal of the Illuminati, but it's clearly just a bunch of goofy middle-aged white-guys LARPing in aprons. It would really suck if you drank the kool-aid, and psyched yourself up for selling your soul in exchange for the Higher Mysteries, only to get that silliness instead. What a let down that might be." And that germ of an idea stuck in my craw for years until I finally got a chance to use it in a game this weekend.

If we're hanging out some time, hit me up for the details. It's a pretty good yarn, but full of idiocy that would get taken out of context and offend or frighten someone if I threw it up on the interwebs.

(To explain the "...Again" in the title: about a year ago, one of the other PCs in this same campaign basically invited Mina Harker to attack her, and inadvertently gave the 100 year old English vampire bride the keys to her mind. They've been dealing with the fall-out from that ever since, but apparently didn't really learn from her mistakes.)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A little D&D over new years

At the end of the year we get together with some of my oldest dearest friends from back in the day. As usual, this resulted in a little bit of D&D. A total of 23 hours of D&D 5th Ed across 3 days. For most of that we had DM + 5 players, and for the last day of it there 7 players. It was a lot of fun.

As you may recall from my posts about gaming with this group a year ago, the PCs had rolled into a town called Whitspur and immediately found that something was terribly wrong there.

The landmark ancient tower that used to reach toward the heavens had been torn apart, leaving a tunnel in the middle of town. The local Duke had cordoned it off, and sent teams to explore the depths. Those teams came back with mysterious cuts of meat, which the Duke started selling at his Inn. Everyone who'd tried it raved about the delicious new food, and soon thereafter most of the town was physically addicted to the delicious rewards of the dungeon.

So my players dove straight in. I'd kind of intended there to be more investigative stuff going on in town, but they hopped a fence, burst into the dungeon, and disrupted the Duke's subterranean butcher-shop. Good for them.

In the process, they kind of got themselves stuck in the Dungeon. The Duke's men hadn't got a good look at them, but knew that some group had raided, killed a few of his guards in the process, and were well on their way to exposing and/or ending the unsavory bargain that the Duke had made with the intention of feeding his people. We left off a year ago, with them in the thick of things, and me having to keep very good records of what Dwarven Forge terrain pieces were laid out so I could rebuild a year later should they decide to backtrack. They'd explored a bit of dungeon, had their escape route cut off by the local guards, and discovered that the mystery meat was ghoul meat. There was a temple down in the dungeon, and the Duke was making some sort of regular sacrifice to it, which provided him with a ready supply of magically-produced ghouls.

I'd had a bunch of stuff prepped up in town that would have allowed them to discover the heart-breaking tale of the Duke's fall from grace. How he'd been hearing rumors of a big warlord and army coming from the West, and decided to tear open the old ruins in search of a weapon against the inevitable siege. What he found inside was an endless supply of ghouls, which, being a good and noble ruler, he wasn't about to unleash even on the worst enemy. However, it would at least solve the problems of the recent crop blight and inevitable food shortages that would come with a siege. Infinite meat might not be a superweapon, but it was a way to provision regardless of what happened outside it's walls. Who knew filet-of-ghoul was addictive, and his whole city would end up junkies and gluttons? I had this great back story worked out, difficult choices to be made, nuanced villains who certainly didn't think of themselves as villainous in the least (the Duke had a couple levels of Paladin under his belt)... I was really proud of myself. It was as if some great ancient evil had built this dungeon in anticipation of this exact turn of events. Those prophetic demony types are real good planners.

Then my players took the left turn at Albuquerque and dove straight into combat and a line of actions that seemed to make all my nuance not matter in the slightest. It was a fine pickle they'd gotten themselves into. But that's gaming. The script is not set, players have agency, and you can never be sure what direction things are going to go. You don't want all that prep to go to waste, but you can't force it on the players. It has to feel organic. Players absolutely have to have the power to go where you weren't expecting, or to decide that a given plotline just isn't for them. My players are especially good at going where I didn't expect, but I don't want to discourage them at all. I had a year to come up with a new story, or a way to make the original idea more appealing or accessible.

Thankfully, one of the players said his new girlfriend would like to join us this year. Her arrival gave me a way to still get them at least the most critical parts of the exposition that they'd missed by jumping straight down the hole. Better yet, it could be delivered by a PC instead of hoping they'd take some loose-lipped NPC prisoner, or gambling they might return to the surface and start following all my carefully constructed trail of clues.

When we left off a year ago, they didn't know what was in the next room of the dungeon, but they knew it was a room the Duke's men had already explored and used. So at the start of this year's mega-session, they found the new PC chained up in that room. I gave her a bare-bones one-page synopsis of things she'd found out about the Duke in her previous adventure that had ended with her locked in his dungeon. It wasn't the full mystery, really just a couple "gimme" clues they'd missed, because I didn't want to overwhelm the new player with too much detail. Turns out it was just enough to get the whole group talking and thinking about what was really going on here beyond just some monsters in a hole in the ground. This started the ball rolling. The PCs did a little more clue-collecting in the dungeon, found a hidden exit and got to see the blight on the countryside first hand, and then chased after more clues back in town. There was a long interview with a burned-out old Wizard who was a friend of the Duke's family. Some more clues at the edge of town, and later at a murder scene. A clandestine meeting with the Duke's right-hand-man by PCs wearing disguises. 23 hours worth of stuff. Long story short, this gave them enough of a goal and purpose that they even managed to extract a confession from the Duke before it was all over.

It was pretty great.

I should also mention that this group I get to game with in Portland is collectively just so much fun. Everybody leans hard into the role-playing, but also makes sure to leave room for fun and humor. We've got a crazy priestess of a heretical cult who recites randomly-generated platitudes like a walking fortune cookie; a conniving charlatan master-of-disguise that loves turning the tables on NPCs; an exceptionally short human fighter who gets real sensitive because everyone's always confusing him for a dwarf; and a cowbell-playing minotaur bard who cracked us all up with his "jazz hooves". The three new PCs (a dwarf paladin, and elvish druid and rogue) aren't quite as outrageous as those, but they were clearly defined and deeply played characters. They dove right into the deep end, and started swimming like pro's. Everyone was lively and remarkably focused... except for the moment when a character talked about the metaphysical taint on the Duke and everyone just lost it laughing for 5 very juvenile minutes. Tons of fun. Miss it already. December can't get here soon enough.