Sunday, June 24

Vornheim - My Most Used Game Supplement

I know I have droned on about this probably ad nauseum, but yes, Vornheim, The Complete City Kit by Zak S. continues to be the most used game product off my shelf during live play. I do use it sometimes for game prep, but, and I believe this is the point of the book, it works best for me when, midgame, I spin around in my chair and literally grab this small 64 page book off my bookshelf and put it  to use in the moment. 

My continuous campaign is set in 1646 England so the color, the fluff, of the book dovetails pretty seamlessly with this campaign world, but the nuts-and-bolts of the content, when stripped of the fluff, is a real honest-to-grimness Game Master/Referee tool I can use in any genre I'm running. The book has made a part of gaming I always found difficult to run a breeze and a joy. See, when I'm jamming a session there is a lot of noise going on upstairs in my head; what's around the next corner, what are the bad guys doing right now, how does the player's actions effect what is going on, should I arrest them... ? 

It may seem simple when a PC wants to make contact with their secret organization where would it be located, but it is just such tidbits I don't know which can bring my brain to an awkward stop, and worst of all, break the flow of play which most certainly is going on for the PC's. 

For example, today I only used the book once, but as I mentioned a PC wanted to make contact with their faction, a secretive organization which may or may not have a chapter in the current city. I called for a Streetwise skill roll for the PC to establish in a roll whether or not there was a chapter here for him to make contact with. If the roll fails then no luck. But the PC nailed it so I need to give him satisfaction. Go to the back of Vornheim, roll on the table and wala - Orphanage. It kind of bakes in what type of faction leader you are going to find. If I rolled a jeweler the location in the city, the contact's personality, all would be kind of different than the type of personality involved with an orphanage. Not saying the contact would be caring of the innocent, perhaps they hate kids with such a passion the orphanage allows them to enact their viciousness with no one noticing, but it does start the world building process right there at the table with credible elements. It is the English Civil War, there are going to be many orphaned and displaced children, who knows what they have seen... hooks just start mushrooming and all I have to do is sit back and wait for the PC to act. There is much more to the book than just building names, any of the numerous reviews out there can give you tons of detail. The big takeaway for you the reader is it is an in-play game tool which works!

This book is totally worth its weight in gold - highly recommended.

Friday, June 15

Homegrown Horror from Clockwork & Cthulhu - a session report

Pardon me, your cruel Keeper, as I add a session report to the tapestry which the good Dr. Norton has been so diligently provided to date. See he is awash in the absolute tumulent of events which have been engulfing the party so I feel it is incumbent upon your host to lend a horror stained hand. 

The following narrative gives only a glimpse of what a portion of the party experienced under Saracenic Hall. There will be more added to this tale. And it may seem a bit disjointed, but before our brave heroes are swept from the board it is appropriate their trials and tribulations should be accounted for;

We're taking the girl?” Tomas nodded to the bound redhead in hand, catching Ralph out of his reverie. Ralph looks around, grabs his lantern from the floor.

Yes.” The house servant resists a bit as the Frenchman pulls her along. She bites her lip as if afraid to raise her voice in protest within the dark subterranean hall. Ralph strides forward down the hall, lantern held aloft, in search of the grinding and piping noise issuing deep within the dark. The passageway is narrow, barely six feet in height so the party must watch their head. Ralph's light reveals the walls are riddled with small holes. The horrid grinding and piping sounds come from these holes, weirdly amplified and the group quickly pushes on.

Ralph is stopped short at the entrance to the next chamber. Their appears to be no floor. Open cells, square pits really, drop into the dark leaving a thin walk of stone, a mere six inch span, to provide a pathway to the outlet on the other side. Holding the lantern high Ralph is able to illuminate the pit before him. Ten feet across and fifteen feet deep, smooth fitted stone walls. Skeletal remains huddled pitifully at the bottom. There are seven in all. The narrow lip proves to be sturdy under Ralph's searching feet.

We walk across, to that exit.” He informs the hostage and the Frenchman.

The corpses, they have been mutilated,” mentions Tomas. In the middle of the room the exiled noble is able to survey four of the pits at once. “They all are missing a foot and a hand. What do you suppose that was for?” 

Ralph, silent and noncommittal as per his way, shrugs. The two warriors instantly come alert at the sound of a grotesque skittering. A clicking of legs and cold chitin as two monstrous ticks descend from the black ceiling, down along the far walls, and gingerly make their way towards the group along the narrow cell rims.

Both Ralph and Tomas give oaths under their breath, each recognizing their precarious footing on such narrow ground. These blasphemous, these ugly, overlarge insects suffer no disadvantage with a multitude of legs. Instinctively they place their female hostage between them. Her bound hands making her defenseless they debated not on protecting her from the gruesome onslaught which was about to spring.

The giant ticks leapt at the pair, savage mandibles spread wide intent on gorging on blood. Tomas struck with his long thin rapier while Ralph made a windmill swipe of his ax. Both warriors were able to land telling blows against the thoughtless insects, large as they may be, but it was Tomas who lost his balance. He tumbled roughly onto the moldering bones at the bottom of one of the pits only to stir up more foul-smelling outsized insects. Tomas desperately clutched at the ear-wig like insect who writhed and strove to snip his head from his neck. The close grapple preventing him from wielding his deadly rapier effectively. Ralph saw nothing for it. He leaped into the pit bringing his booted heels square on the giant insect's back. There was a sickly crunch and the beast lay inert.

I thank you my friend.” That was a tight one.” Tomas tipped his hat to the burly Puritan.

We should leave this chamber”, Ralph replied.

The red haired hostage had an opportunity to escape her captors while they battled in the pit, but she had not. The dark nightmare tunnels had kept her fast to her captures better then any iron cage or chain. Outside the insect infested pit room the tunnel walls turned from stone to natural cavern. A noxious stink was now readily apparent. Like pigs, like a pig sty which had never been cleaned. When the stink came to be almost a physical cloud making the trio's eyes water the tunnel gave way into a cavern. Mewling sounds came from below. They stood on a ledge overlooking rough, rocky ground below. It was packed with moaning, pig-like beasts where the awful stench emanated from. The beasts were revealed in the lantern light as flabby, loose fleshed swine on unnaturally long legs sprouting a gnarled horn from their white skinned faces. Hairless, their long stay in this subterranean sty left the pungent beasts albino white. The ledge the adventurers stood on gave access to the lower cavern via time worn stone steps while an additional tunnel continued on from this horrid stockyard. For stockyard it surely must be. A smooth granite stump projected from the floor of the ledge. Upon it laid boning and skinning knives. Discarded hooves and snouts nearby added to the feted smell. Rats squabbled over bits in the gloom. Hanging on nails banged into the cavern wall dried, pale skins hung drying. 

So the promised pig skins by Mr. Carter. I believe this is where they would come from.” Ralph comments soberly. Tomas wrinkles his brow in confusion. 

“A local leather worker was grousing about Thomas Carter not showing up. Wasting his time and all that. He was hoping to purchase a bundle of pig skins. I think this is what Carter intended to sell.” finished Ralph. The hulking Puritan turned to the Frenchman and handed over his lantern. "I'm going to look for an exit out of here. Maybe there is one in the sty.” 

Both Tomas and Ralph had clocked two exits leading out from the ledge they now stood on. One reintroduced the worked and finished walls they had already encountered while past the skinning block another natural tunnel plunged downwards. Before Tomas could comment Ralph gingerly navigated the worn steps into the sty. The ungainly beasts moaned and bleated but caused not a stir as Ralph pushed down into the far corner of the pit. There was a drainage grate at the lowest point. Wholly inadequate for the amount of filth it needed to filter and the smell at this point made Ralph wretch.

Which way then?” Tomas hollard out. Ralph tugged his chin than strode back up the worn causeway directly to the girl.

Which way out! What is down here? Speak, and be quick.”

Truly I never come here.” gasped the red haired hostage, trembling at the terrible visage and rough handling. “It is forbidden. Our Lord makes requests, but we set table in the manor house and he joins us. Joseph, the groundskeeper, he speaks with Edgar directly. I just see to the house.” Ralph looks to Tomas. 

I suggest the finished passage. A terrible stench comes up from that other tunnel.” Proffers the Frenchman.

I think we should return to my cousin. Tell him what we have found.” Answers Ralph.

Ralph routinely turns to the educated Dr. for direction when events befuddle him. Now deep in the bowels of Saracenic Hall the Puritan soldier starts to feel he is a bit at a loss.

Back we go!” smiles the rakish noble and returns the girls gag, pushing her ahead as the group retraces their steps.

It is not until they recross the pit laden room that they hear a tittering and clattering in a great cacophony. Lantern held out Ralph and Tomas witness a cascade of oily black haired rats boiling out of the holes in the corridor. A horde unimaginable must courses through the underground confines to disgorge such an endless stream of rats. The whistling and grinding were nothing but the echoes of the beasts which scurried through the cracks and sludge deep beneath the wash! A literal tide of rats advanced on them as more and more poured forth from the walls.

Quickly back!” urged Tomas. Ralph hurled his lantern in anger at the swarm. A conflagration erupted amongst the bodies. A foul stench and smoke erupted. The lantern oil spread and squeals of roasting fat of the rats drowns out the terror which engulfs the trio. It was only the hasting flames feasting on the packed horde of vermin which provided the orange light which guided them back to the sty.

Perhaps the finished hall will bring us back around to the others? Tomas proffered. “I don't like the looks of the other.”

Makes no difference I guess. “ Ralph replied. "Retrieve that old torch in the sconce and get it lit. I have no desire to blunder through these halls in the dark."

The passageway here was marked by large rectangle blocks stacked for the walls and ceiling. Archways were trimmed out with thick neo-classical cornice sculpted molding giving the hallway a squat, oppressive and heavy feel. The passageway made several turns to the left and right with no branching halls or doors. Soon though they entered a larger chamber distinct in that it was a room of many archways and alcoves. The thick sculpted trim work was on display around the archways and base molding. Each of the various rooms and alcoves were stacked by dusty, but well made furniture. Tables, chairs, mirrors, candlesticks, bureaus, suits of armor, goblets and flatware. All were piled thick upon each other so that many of the alcoves were nigh impassible. A zig zag course could be made through the middle of the chamber and the men, with hostage in tow, pushed into the cluttered chamber. It was near a small circular end table they notice a light. A pale, cold white light flared from a smooth clear stone. Cards and other parlor games were also stacked on the table and moldering carpeted chairs. The cobwebs were noticeably absent in this spot as if it was regularly used. The house girl in tow rolled her eyes wildly and appeared frighten. Before Ralph could interrogate her further another woman appeared as out of air. Tomas could swear, later, she definitely drifted into the room, but truth be told the rooms felt totally empty, and then she was there. A mature woman, not terrible to look at, very pale and blond. Her hair seemed so fragile and light that it floated on an unfelt breeze. Her dress was horribly out of date, the obtuse Norton could even see this. The fashion-conscious Frenchman was appalled at the dried, crusty brown stain on her bodice.

Have you brought food?” she questions the group. “Food would be nice...” her nails drag across one of many stacked end tables. She looks through each of party members if they were nothing but so much gossamer. When her gaze lands on the house maid they come alive and joyfully exclaims, 

“Rebecca, is that you? It has been so long. I last saw you but as a child. We could play a game. You remember Dame Fortune's Folly? We must play, I have the cards right here.” The haughty lady literally trilled she seemed so pleased.

Of course m'lady as you wish.” the house maid answered, visibly shaken and despairing.

Your friends must play as well, you will join us won't you? The game plays best with four.” She whirls in speech drilling down on Tomas and Ralph.

Sure.” They agreed.

The group sits upon dusty chairs and the woman moves aside an antique chess set and some silver forks. She asks Rebecca to fetch the pale crystals which offered a clear white illumination to the immediate surroundings, leaving much outside the circle of the table in darkness. While there were many candle sticks and lanterns available in the clutter none seemed to have been used, no wax candles or oil was to be seen.

You will be dealt two cards face up. You will then have a choice to wager on the chance of the next card landing between the two face up cards value. If your cards are say a 2 and a 6 you will require a 3,4, or 5 to collect on your wager. If you pass on the wager you will face the Dame’s fortune or folly, which is decided by this third card which your wager would have been decided on. The fall of the cards will also tell a story, some even say the sensitive are able to hear their future predicted in the story played. Oh, and of course, if you wager it must be something of value. I don’t want your dusty hat or stained wine skin.” The women explained all this breathlessly, shuffling the cards rapidly and fussing with the playing surface. Looking directly at Ralph she played two cards in front of him. A four of clubs and a nine of diamonds.

A warrior continuing a battle, one which calls on all your strength and endurance. Will the goal be accomplished? Will there be a rest from action?” The strange lady in the stained dress pours over the upturned cards. “Much like the legend of Sir Galhalt and the Iron Siege. Shall you wager, or tempt the Dame’s fortune?” she asks Ralph.

I will wager.”

What do you have to offer?”

Ralph pulls out his hatchet and pries several gems embedded on the handle. They click onto the table and roll across the cards. The lady circles the brilliant stones with a long finger.

Very well young knight, I accept your wager,” she coos.

A five of hearts is turned and the lady tells the tale of Sir Galhalt and his tragic end. Both Ralph and Tomas fall adrift in her oratory. While her tale ends with the turning of the card both men feel as if they have traveled on an epic journey and endured the hardships Galhalt suffered. Ralph feels as if the blood in his veins has been leeched out and replaced with ice water. He comes out of his fugue with the lady congratulating him on his win. She rummages about the stacked ornaments and books next to her and pulls forth a golden buckle trimmed with small diamond-like crystals. She presents it to Ralph.

To the victor.” She hands Ralph the buckle, wipes her chin and presents two new cards to Tomas. “Jack of Spades and Eight of Hearts. The rebel, playing naught for love but a cause. Long discarded emotional attachment it seems you now must make a hard choice.” She looks at the Frenchman expectantly.

Dame fortune's folly,” he answers without hesitation.

The Candle.” she smiles. “A flickering light in the darkness...” 

Once again the turning of the third card takes but an instance but the men feel transfixed within an ancient ballad of heroes, dark forests, and lost love. Coming out of their revere Ralph is first to notice the change. With a horrified gasp he yells “Tomas!” pointing. 

Sprouted like a mushroom in the rain a thick, short-haired tail curls from Tomas' backside, to the floor and back up twitching near his head.

By the three beards of the drunken lady I have a tail!” gasps Tomas.

The lady claps her hand in obvious delight. Ralph explodes into action.

Sorcerous!” he yells, grasping his axe, he rears back to split her skull.

A look of rage consumes the lady's face, her eyes go black, and she hisses like a scalded cat. Before Ralph's arm can come down she moves with blinding speed. In a blink she is behind Ralph lifting him out of his chair. Shirt and flesh split open as long yellow claws splash Ralph's blood in a spray to the ceiling.

Ralph groans from the gruesome blow and falls to the floor. The lady, panting, looks to drive both long nailed hands deep into his body, but Tomas leaps to his fallen comrades aid.

Stand back hell spawn!” he screams. His rapier darting and slicing at the demon witche's face she steps back, then backhands the Frenchman and sends him sprawling into a pile of chairs like he was a paper doll. She looks down, drooling in her blood lust intent of scooping out Ralph's guts. But the Frenchman's desperate attack gave the grievously wounded Puritan soldier time to roll under the table to the other side. Laying on his back bubbling gore he deftly lights a grenado, the wick cut short by his gritted teeth, and tosses it at her chest over the table. There is a stunning blast which leaves the men concussed.

Eventually they come to their feet from under the blasted furniture and gimjacks. Surely there must be something left of the she beast, but lo, there is nothing to be seen except the sturdy groined walls and archways and the destruction of housewares from the blast.

The girl Rebecca was clearly dead. Her broken body lay over a crumpled armorie. Splintered shards of wood protruded from her chest, neck and face. She must have been standing when the grenado detonated. But no trace of the demon whore could be found. There were some scraps of cloth that may have been from the dress she wore, but there was no flesh, no blasted body parts.

It was a deft toss Ralph,” the Frenchman acknowledged. “It was like she cared little for your bauble and then whoosh!” Tomas flutters his hands in the air simulating the blast.

We must find my cousin. He needs to know the dangers we face here.” Ralph winces as he makes his way back from which they came.
Perhaps, being a doctor, he can tend your wounds?” Tomas adds looking at Ralph's exposed back. The man's flesh hangs in ribbons, dripping blood with each step. Tomas grabs up one of the light radiating stones and follows after the bloodied puritan warrior.

Back at the subterranean sty Ralph muses. “Nothing but to take the last remaining passage, foul smell and all. Perhaps it will lead back to the passages the others took.”

The pair picked their way carefully down the natural cavern away from the sunken sty packed with the pale pig-like creatures. The passage was slick with moisture and a few squabbling rats. Fortunately the horde they encountered by the room of square pits had not come all this way otherwise all would have been lost. The further they traveled through the more foul, wet and steep the way became. 

Tomas was in the lead holding the illuminating stone aloft when Ralph, weakening from his wounds, lost his footing and slid rapidly down the incline colliding with the surprised Frenchman. They tumbled roughly gathering speed and landed with a lurid splash in a mud and fecal laden pool. It was a separate tunnel they had fallen into. The opening of the tunnel in which they were traveling was at shoulder level returning upwards in such a sharp angle Ralph just shook his head when Tomas suggested he could boost his companion back up the way they had fallen. This new tunnel ran straight and apparently level. A stream of foul, stinking water flowed in one direction, so there was at least a slight incline to the passage. Ralph groaned under the pain of his wounds. Tomas hollered as a pale, grotesque worm rises from the foul pool, wrapping around his leg and climbing up his chest. 

It was a horridly large maggot, grown fat off the refuse of rat, pig, and offal. Its eyeless head ended in a sucking maw ringed with small, saw-like teeth. Tomas grasped the thing with both hands desperately trying to keep the carrion beast from latching onto his face. Ralph swung quickly, reopening his coagulating cuts. The sharp hatchet sliced through the beast's neck, the decapitated head flying off the cavern wall and into the muck. Tomas dropped the now dead maggot in time to pull his pistol. Another giant horror had risen from the pool and looked to bury its snapping maw into Ralph's raw back. The report of the wheelock echoes down the fetid tunnel. The Frenchman's aim was true, and the pistol's lead round obliterated the head of the maggot. It's convulsing body flops back and is submerged into the muck.

Enough of this hell Ralph. Lean on me and I will lead us out.” Tomas' agitation and worry was magnified by his thick animal tail swishing back and forth behind him.

But which way? I despair of ever leaving this horrid place.”

We'll trust to the lord, and our resolve,” answered Tomas. “I say we follow the stream as opposed going up. Methinks this is the drain for the sty above.” 

Ralph shrugs. On the edge of blacking out from blood loss he had little strength left to argue or think.

It seemed like an eternity, but the pair emerged eventually from the tunnel into a sharp sided hillock. A marshy stream crossed the opening carrying the effluvia further into the thick reeded meadow. Trees on firmer ground gave the gully deep shadow in the late afternoon sun.

We must return to the manor.” Ralph rasped. “We must hope our companions find a way out as well. We will need to assist them if the Irish mob still prowls the grounds.”

Very well. The ground is difficult, but I will continue to aid thee.”

An hour later the sweaty, shit stained heroes collapsed among the tall, unkempt grass at the rear of the manor. It was obvious the fire the good doctor had started within the hall had not taken for Saraceninc Hall still stood with no sign of damage or smoke. It was also obvious the house staff and laborers were still on their guard. Stirred like a swarm of angry bees they moved about between the house and the cottages farther back.

What do we do now?” asked Tomas.

We wait.”

Monday, June 11

What I bought at NTGC

Saturday and Sunday I checked out the vendors at North Texas looking for something to buy. Next to playing games the most fun I have with RPG's is running my fingers over new adventures looking for something I can use in my current games. There is also the nostalgia punch I get when I see an old copy of a product I once had. At a con though everybody is in the know so the chance of finding a diamond in the rough, while likely, will be priced to grab a high price for the vendor. I pulled down an SPI Dragonquest box and the price on it was $149.00. As much as I know where I was when I bought my original Dragonquest game and the hours of adventure I and my friends had with it, the system isn't that great and it never produced any good adventures. I did have a hunger for some high fantasy so continued to comb old D&D modules and Judges Guild I drilled down through their Traveller supplements I found in the bins looking for a sci-fi fix. I decided while I got a lot of joy looking at all these old classics I was sure I was not going to get game content I would be satisfied with. But I really want to buy some game stuff.

So I punted and felt over the one rack in the place which had old fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks. It wasn't much but at fifty cents to a dollar I felt I couldn't go wrong. Anything with REH on it was three to five. At Gencon I got Quelong for five dollars. Kennith Hite for a fiver? That was awesome, and he signed it! How James was able to sell this excellent adventure so cheap, well, I didn't ask him I just gave him five bucks and went looking for Ken. Can I repeat this here at the paperback rack. Not likely, but I would get, I was sure, what I was really after. Adventure material for my games. The games come from the stories, the source material. It what always fired me up about playing RPG's. There is always a story in mind behind any game I'm in.

My five dollar haul (it was really $5.50, but the young kid said he'd only charge me $5.00, what an awesome little dude) was Police Patrol: 2000 A.D., Time's Last Gift, Lacy and His Friends, Conquerors From The Darkness, and David Starr, Space Ranger. I now had reading material for the plane and enough fodder I was sure I could pull adventure ideas, npc's, campaign concepts, from these pages for my current games. While players are all familiar with many of the adventures which are out there they sure are not going to see I'm pulling stuff from late sixties stories. You file off your serial numbers and noone will know there Center City from their Vythain. I don't need to even keep them when I'm done. As cheap, disposable fiction they won't linger on my bookshelves. They either have good ideas or the don't. And I don't have to feel like I paid a king's ransom for garbage.

I wouldn't say no to more used fiction racks at a gaming convention. Concentrated on books which spurred our favorite games and adventures. But I know that is not for everyone as a fun gaming purchase. And maybe this is only attractive to game masters? Maybe players don't need to find a continuous stream of material to keep their game going so it isn't such a burning need? But if you got used paperbacks you are selling at the con you can be sure of getting my fiver.

Wednesday, June 6

Jez Gordon Right Here Right Now

T-shirts will be available at North Texas Game Convention Saturday morning. How should I distribute them?

1. Arena Death Match
2. John Carpenter Fwy Car Jacker of the day
3. I have a helicopter
4. That guy is awesome, here is ten dollars.