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Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Clockwork & Cthulhu Campaign in Review


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Aww, The Vanishing Tower now has a holiday tradition! Reviewing the past year's blood-soaked saga of Clockwork & Cthulhu!

What were the top 5 hits of this past year for the longest running roleplaying game I've ever tried? There is so much to choose from, so much ground covered, consequences consummated and reckless adventure pursued... I'm just having a hard time deciding!

#5 You Tube! I know I am real late to the party here and this sure is some low-hanging fruit, but this is a recent development for my group and it has had an immediate impact on my enjoyment of our play. The live streaming and the resultant upload of the video for later review lets me remember important events, catch witty things my players are saying I otherwise miss and appreciate the effect of pacing on everyone's enjoyment of any given session. How else will I never forget -6 Hit Points is not considered being "softened-up" by the players?


#4 PC Death! Not once, but twice! The Scottish outlaw Creigh disappeared through a hole in the wall and Cousin Ralph Norton, a beast of a man, went down during a whirling knife and pistol fight. Player Characters can take more of a beating than the NPC's in my Renaissancegame but I am truly surprised this was the limit of the PC body count for 2018. Dice favored the players more than naught when life and success held in the balance. This puts two regular players on their third character each while everyone else is still on their original. In a long running campaign PC death changes the dynamic of the PC group. Comfortable niches are all but upturned and Players have to reinvent a game personality. I believe it is just enough work to make a player want to keep their existing character. I know as the Keeper I have to make not inconsequential choices on the fly for the introduction of a new character. It is important to not restrain from killing a PC when the dice roll against them just because I got invested in some story elements involving the stand out character. No plot armor allowed!

#3 Splitting the Party! One player went one way, one another, and still others clutched their wounds and looked for a place to lie low. The old OSR maxum of keeping your player group all together during the session must surely be tossed on the junk-heap of gaming history by now. 2018 saw the campaign enlivened with the players finding themselves making split-second decisions and getting cut off from one another. This spawned a couple of bonus sessions and overall made a greater campaign world. This doesn't mean a Keeper does not need to work extra hard on pacing and keeping everyone involved. I did have to schedule seperate sessions and find time for them, but it shouldn't be shied away from in session either. Zak's Frostbitten & Mutilated has a nifty adventure which gives any Game Master an example on how tension and interest can be maintained while splitting the party.

#2 The Birth of the Side Quest into a major Campaign Event! The PC's have gotten up in all manner of conflict with cosmic and local forces that the adventure ground literally squirms with the snakes of complications. Whether or not the PC's pursue their enemies, trouble with an agenda is sure to find them. The Keeper's most useful tool for handling PC's going in unknown directions are random encounter tables customized for the current adventure location. The running and gunning the players did in the streets of Old Yarmouth against alien antagonists and political rivals was all spawned from the fallout from a previous mission. The proper mix of success and setback with random encounters and prepared site locations gave the players complete agency against a backdrop of a responding campaign world. Did I say random encounter tables are essential? You know what fuels great tables? Great adventure content. Involved side quests come across better when you have interesting third party content to use. It is hard to constantly foster entertaining encounters so a smart Keeper will use quality content from others as solid footing to riff off of during live play.



And #1 is the Consummation of the Picaresque.  Sailing to the New World in pursuit of their ever-elusive initial adversary is kind of a big deal. Because it fit for the time period the voyage and the destination continued the campaign world-building. How the PC's arranged passage to the New World was an engaging adventure arc in its own right! The PC's jumped from Yarmouth, Norfolk, on to King's Lynn and then Africa. Each stop gave the PC's a chance to interact with the NPC's and they worked with their environment as they saw fit. Unique outcomes along the way, a hallmark of the picaresque,  will then plant the seeds for future, new adventures.



And that is what has stuck with me for this past year's play. There is one more session of 2018, this Sunday morning. No matter what occurs on the last day of this year 2019 feels like a year of reckoning. For the PC's, for the campaign long unanswered threads- some will be answered. This is right an just and the group has made it so. I wonder what this will bring the body count to?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Space Opera Character Step-by-Step

To this point, each character has acquired a number of personal traits and capabilities which define the scope of his actions and his reactions only in general terms. All PCs are, as yet, untrained and inexperienced. They lack a background which establishes their expertise in specific areas, and which assists the player to formulate a definite personality for his alter ego which will bring the PC ‘alive’ in the game.” Space Opera Volume 1, Page 30



The game isn't unplayable but it sure is poorly organized. Character creation is fairly simple with some short sidetracks into calculating promotional and material benefits, both which can be jettisoned in favor of a Star Master's own setting information.

I made this step by step guide to help myself quickly navigate the Space Opera rule book when creating a new PC.

1. Choose Character Class. Players are free to choose the class of character they wish to play. Page 9.

2. Random Roll for Personal Characteristics. Fourteen in total, improve with Class specific DM's. Page 11.

3. Random Roll for Planet of Birth. Roll 1d20 for Gravity Field, Atmosphere and Climate. Page 12.

4. Choose Character Race. Note Planetary Types preferred/required. Page 15.

5. Determine Height, Mass(Weight), Stamina (optional), and Damage Factors per rule book tables. Page 19.

6. Choose a “qualified” career and roll Initial Enlistment term. If this initial roll would not qualify as a successful re-enlistment roll too, subtract the minimum enlistment score needed from the base 3d6 roll (unmodified by PC DMs). This negative value represents a penalty DM applied in -2 DM blocks against the chances at promotion in initial tours of service. Page 30.

7. Roll for chance of promotion for every two years term of service. Page 31.

8. Calculate Benefits. Severance as well if PC is not re-enlisting. Page 40.

9. Calculate Skill Points (SP) and purchase Expertise Levels in desired Skills. Page 42.
Armsman: PCs receive 1 SP x sum of Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, Leadership, and Bravery scores.
Tech: PCs receive 1 SP x sum of Dexterity, Intelligence, Intuition, Leadership, GTA, MechA, and EIecA scores.
Research Scientist: PCs receive 1 SP x sum of Dexterity, 3x Intelligence, 2x Intuition, and any one of GTA, MechA, or ElecA scores.
Medical Scientist: As for Research Scientist, Only with a strong emphasis on medical and biological science fields.
MediTech: A MediTech can be given SP as described for a Tech or he can be awarded I SP x sum of Dexterity, 2x Intelligence, Intuition, GTA, MechA, and EIecA, whichever is more advantageous to him.
Scientist-Engineer: As for Research Scientist, only specialization may be split between general science, engineering science, and technical skills.
Astronaut: PCs receive I SP x sum of Dexterity, Agility, 2x Intelligence, Leadership, Bravery, and GTA.

PC rolls 6d6 for skill points which can be applied to the purchase of General Skills only.

And that is fucking it! I mean, you still need to go to Volume 2 and drool over the equipment lists. Spend whatever cash you have on hand and stock your sci-fi guy. This means you can hand over Volume 1 to the next person on the couch who needs to roll up a character!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Stupid, Simple Way to Resolve Airborne Travel Encounters

In most OSR games the chance of encounter during overland, wilderness travel is once a day. However the chance of encounter is resolved for your game, there is most likely no reference for chance of encounter while flying through the air, at increased speed, covering a tremendous amount of distance. And an encounter "chance" doesn't build in the increased exposure an airborne party would have to attack and of being seen. At least not to my satisfaction. So here is what I do.


1. I count up how many hexes the airborne party covers per the wilderness map being used. This is how many times I roll for an encounter chance. 

2. Roll all encounter chances at once. 

3. For every encounter result I generate the type of encounter. If the encounter has any chance of engaging the airborne party then a random encounter results. If not, nothing. 

3a. If a rolled encounter may have ability to observe or have interest in the airborne party I will note this for possible future encounters.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Classic Traveller For Free

Yes, I want to signal boost this along with "everyone" else. I have played this original game system and really enjoyed using it to run my first satisfying role playing game of sci-fi.


CT-ST_Starter Traveller is an introductory version of the game. It included a book of core rules, a separate set of charts, and a book of adventures (there are three separate download files). Now all for free in PDF over at Drivethru.

The adventures are forgettable, but you want this for the core system and Marc Miller's recommendations for use. That being; a game system for those who want to run their own vision for an interstellar game universe. Yeah there are the typical conceits which have come to define Traveller; jump ships, death during character creation and massive computer space required during star ship build,  but as a flexible referee world-building tool kit with a solid, thoughtfully built personal combat system I don't find much which beat it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

World of Xoth Official USR Sword & Sorcery Setting!

Vanishing Tower Press is happy to announce The World of Xoth is now the official setting for Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery! 

As this was the birthing place of my USR hack for Conan inspired adventures, I am pleased to incorporate this rich sword and sandal setting to the new edition!

In all actuality this just means the use of proper and place names found in Xoth, but allows me to set the three adventures in the new book in a proper setting. With Thulsa's free Players Guide to the World of Xoth any new referee will have all they need to start running pulp fantasy adventures in a lightly-realized game world begging for the heavy hand of an inspired Crypt Keeper!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

C&C #4 On Line Session Broadcast

Our fourth live streaming session of the long running adventures of the esteemed C.l U. B. agents continued today with close naval combat the whole time.

Pacing is always  a concern for the hardworking Keeper, and no one wants a fight on a blood-soaked pirate deck to fall flat. But can one stretch it over the entire session and make it the centerpiece of the day's action? Of course you can!


More efficient use of my game tables during play is my current area of improvement. But don't hold your breath, I've been this bad at it for five years now. My favorite parts of today's live session was the reveal for the Captain's name as well as that of the ship. Bunjee-jumping beasts and impromptu naming were some of other enjoyable game moments. Can't wait till next session and see what adventure has in store for the PC's!