Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Off to GenCon

Oh, long suffering readers (all two of you), please forgive the radio silence. Between work on stretch goals for the inimitable +Harley Stroh's Peril on the Purple Planet, getting ready for GenCon, and getting work stuff squared away for going away this weekend, I have been neglecting the blog. I will come back soon, with reports from the hinterlands of Indianapolis.

In the meantime, I look forward with great anticipation to meeting the flesh sacks of the virtual people with whom I interact fairly frequently. The +Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad will be there, including Sr. +Gabriel Perez Gallardi, all the way from Uruguay. Cannot wait to see them.

I'll be working with Goodman Games on my first ever GenCon (and first ever gaming convention of any kind). I'll be at the booth in the exhibition hall from 10-1 on Thursday and Friday, and 10-11 on Saturday, and running games in the afternoon on those days. You will also be able to catch me at DougKon in the evenings, if you care to do so.

I've also made my reservations for North Texas RPG Con 2015, which will be my con for the foreseeable future, probably, as GaryCon and GenCon come at very awkward times of the year, work-wise. Still, the lack of sleep this weekend, the probably "con crud" I will pick up, and all the rest of the unpleasantness of travel, all of it will be worth it. My friends in the Metal Gods group are the fucking best, and the rest of the folks at Goodman Games are classy as hell.

Livin' the dream, people. Hope to see some of you there.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bleg: Peril on the Purple Planet

I don't do a lot of these "blegging" posts, but here's one you might want to read.

Goodman Games' current Kickstarter for Peril on the Purple Planet is going full-tilt boogie, and closes out in seven days. The adventure is the work of Harley Stroh, but also includes components created by a cast of many others, including me, Daniel Bishop, Terry Olson, Tim Callahan, and illustrated (of course) by the mad wizard himself, Doug Kovacs.

I've seen a lot of the material for the stretch goals (Yes, they're already written/being written), and the work we've done, so far, is incredibly cool and fun. Because of non-disclosure agreement, I can't go into details about the specific content, but the stretch goals listed on the pledge site are suggestive of the various aspects of The Awesome that Awaits. Go take a look at those stretch goals and imagine what you could do in your games with that material, even if you don't run the straight adventure. You could mine this stuff for great ideas for years and years of DCC RPG madness.

The $50 buy-in is the sweet spot, for which you'll receive a boxed set, including all of the stretch goals. Just go look at that list, and tell me it's not worth the money.

The Pitch: This thing is awesome. Let's make Joseph Goodman create some more stretch goals. Let's make this boxed set the coolest thing ever. Fifty bucks gets you EVERYTHING. Go (NOW!) and make it happen. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lacuna Locurae

Just a follow-up from my earlier post. I've had some time to think through how I'd like to approach the colonial element, done a bit of research into mid-15th century warfare, and so forth. Here's what I have so far. I still need names for the various levels of the city, so feel free to offer up suggestions. Ignore the bolding of the names. It's an early-draft formatting trick I use to ensure common spelling of names and titles.

Lacuna Locurae

An Early Colonial Setting for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
Edgar D. Johnson III


Lacuna Locurae is an otherworld, a world in a plane of existence parallel to the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign world, a shadow to the planet Ore. The starting locale for the campaign is Magyaru, a bustling port city of a fading colonial power. The city is host to a trade in all manner of things, a crossroads of sorts to the world's powers, and a place where any deal might be made, for the right price. Nobles and pirates, sages and savages, witches and those who hunt witches might be found in Magyaru, along with any other thing in the world, anything at all.

The main influences over this setting are Howard's Solomon Kane stories and, to be frank, gothic fiction as it has been done in a bunch of shitty movies. The pulp feel should be high, but so, too, should be the pervading sense of both encroaching doom and infinite horizons.

Personae Dramatis

Though Magyaru is ruled by a colonial governor and his captain-general, its merchant houses and guilds are growing in power, aided in part by High Primarch Kraston Moll and clergy of the the Temple of Luz, whose hierarchy has begun to question the governor's leadership and the insidious influence of his mysterious, masked advisor, Her Ladyship Lorenia Rond. She, for her part, is reputed to come from far Silicia, thousands of leagues to the west. None have ever seen even her fingers, let alone her face, for her customs dictate that she be fully masked and robed outside of the Glass Tower. The high clergy of Luz, in fact, suspect the Lady is a witch, and that her shroud conceals tokens of her bedevilment and corruption from the righteous. They would like very much to allow the Inquistors of Luz to put her to the question, and burn her for her crimes against all that is holy. That course, however, is not possible at this time, for the Governor is seemingly besotted of the foreign devil. The governor is the fifth son of Arch Duke Corlo Mythrux, who is advisor to the Empress, Herself, and thus not to be trifled with. His son, Danal Mythrux, however, is little like his esteemed father, and has been sent far from court so that he won't continue to embarrass his family. Captain-General Koban Markoz arrived with the governor, and serves both as military leader of the colony, as well as shepherd of sorts to the Arch Duke's troublesome scion. He is utterly loyal to the Arch Duke, but only barely tolerates his son—a fact which enrages said son, and has made it much easier for Lorenia Rond to insinuate herself into his coterie of sycophants.

The Governor spends much of his time at his cups, or perhaps dandling a concubine upon his knee. He has a particular penchant for the native women among the servants. Though he is not a cruel man, Danal Mythrux has difficulty understanding why this might be a problem for anyone else, particularly the women themselves. He is, of course, peerless in this realm, and deserving of everything he wants (or so he fancies).

The Governor's advisor, the mysterious Lorenia Rond, is, herself, a native of sorts. Imperial colonists arrived in the region only 100 years ago, but her tower, the Glass Tower, already stood atop a flattened area of mountainside, 1,000 feet above the highest spires of Magyaru, itself. The symbolism of this fact is not lost on Captain-General Markoz, though the Governor will hear no ill spoken of Lady Rond.


Magyaru consists of several more or less spacious levels cut into the side of a mountain. Each successive level is smaller than the one below, and the lowest level abuts onto a wide gorge which gives birth to a river entering the harbor itself.

The seven levels of the city above Harbortown are organized largely by function. The highest level of the city proper is (1) the Governor's Palace and associated executive offices, barracks, etc. Below the Palace, in order of importance, are (2) the estates of the noble families (need name for this level), (3) the homes and business offices of the merchant princes and guild masters (need name for this level), (4) the cloisters of sages and clergy (need name for this level), (5) the market square and the shops of skilled tradesmen, (6) the homes and barracks of common laborers, soldiers, and mercenaries (need name for this level), and (7) the hovels of the dregs and remnants of civilization: madmen, indentured servants, and slaves (the Low City). Each level has one or more stairs, elevators, or whatever other means of access; but the higher one goes, the fewer are the "bridges." The Governor's palace only has one stairway, but it is large, sumptuously crafted, and very, very well guarded.

It being customary that the "high and mighty" live on high, as it were, many of the nicer buildings of each level of the city hover at the edges above the next level down. Not coincidentally, the areas near the higher cliffs are less desirable, possibly because the levels drain water (and its various contents) from high to low: Shit literally flows downhill, ending up in the harbor, for the most part. Also, clusters of ramshackle shanties and platforms hang from the cliff sides and fill the hollows between the lowest two levels (Harbortown and Low City). They are inhabited by those whose lot is worst (or whose infamy is greatest). There are occasional "accidents"— fires, collapses, and the like—which result in dozens or even hundreds of casualties among these unfortunates. Rampant poverty and squalor give rise to all manner of crime, though most of it finds victims among those living closest to the misery, not those higher in the city.

The city guard forces of Captain-General Markoz ("greencoats"), are willing to ignore crimes that don't affect the high and mighty. Those who ignore this class barrier will find no mercy from the Grey Court (as the legal offices of the Captain-General are called), which makes a public spectacle of the trials, judgments, and inevitable executions of any who dare to afflict the comfortable. It's not that Markoz is corrupt, but more that he recognizes quality by the color of its coin, and believes that worthiness manifests as wealth, whether the holder of the coin be guild master, merchant, pirate, adventurer, or prince of the underworld. For this reason, the most successful grifters in Magyar or those who are not recognized as criminals at all.

Finally, there is the port, proper, its wharfs and jetties a chaos of perpetual activity. There, one can find ship to any place in the known world, arrange for supplies and repairs, and hire a crew or a party from among the sailors and other adventurers who frequent the dockside inns, taverns, and dives.

Above the city, the great mountain climbs into the clouds and beyond. The Glass Tower of Lorenia Rond shines a thousand feet above the city, old beyond measure yet gleaming as if new-made. It stands athwart the best path to the celestial summit of the great mountain. No one thinks to go beyond it, though; no one has ever tested this implicit boundary. No one even wonders why this is so.

The broader region of mountains in which Magyaru is situated is populated by tribes of savage humans, some warlike and some less so. Most of these savages are content to leave the Imperials to their affairs, and trade with them occasionally. Some warlords, though, contemplate at length the riches of the city, and the wonder why they should not have a part of those riches, or maybe even all of them.


The cult of Luz the Purifier holds sway in Magyaru, and guards its prerogatives and official status like a miser guards his gold. The cult is only one of many of the Empire's faiths. However, it is the official faith of this particular colony, having underwritten substantially the founding of Magyaru. So, in most things, other cults go about their business quietly, and without antagonizing the Temple of Luz or its High Primarch. High Primarch Kraston Moll is a veteran of the Imperial temple's politics and is connected at all levels of the city, and can deploy a variety of resources, from spies to his personal guard (which is not inconsiderable). He also is rumored to have a force of temple assassins at his disposal, but it's only a rumor, after all.

Luz the Purifier is a lawful deity, the flame of knowledge and disperser of shadows. The Temple of Luz also is home to many of the Empire's great artificers and natural philosophers. Much of its doctrine revolves around a complex astrology of sun, stars, and moons (the Great Machine), and there are festivals and sacrifices marking significant conjunctions of them. In many ways, the cult makes Magyaru a better place, providing learning and charity to the respectful and law-abiding. They can be ruthless, however, and work hard to suppress magical heresies, the cult itself the only acceptable practitioner of the divine. Those who dabble in the arcane, or who truck with magical beings, tend to become targets of the cult's retribution, though it often is not direct, relying on provocateurs and catspaws among the working classes' faithful.


While firearms are becoming relatively common among the martial classes, they are primitive. The low-velocity, smoothbore, matchlock muskets and pistols are state of the art. Mostly, though, armies still rely on primitive weapons at close quarters, and crossbows are the most common missile weapon.

Plate breastplates and brigandine armors, similarly, are becoming more common than traditional ring- and chainmail, and shields typically are used only by heavy infantry and heavy cavalry.

Artillery exists, but consists of "bombards," huge, unwieldy pieces designed for siege work, and for reducing fortifications. Mobile, wheeled artillery has not yet emerged; and shipboard cannon still are not used. Instead, naval warfare relies on long-range fire with bows, crossbows, and primitive siege engines, and closing with the enemy to engage via boarding action.

Steel and iron are the metals of the age, though good-quality bronze weapons and armor still can be found among the savage tribes of the highlands.

The World Outside Magyaru

The mountains behind the city rise up, past the Glass Tower, up into alpine valleys and highlands, up, up, up, to the stars, some claim. People don't like to talk about what's Above. They avoid talking about it, and take great exception to those who question too much. A variety of savage tribes live above the city, and trade foodstuffs and other products with the city-folk, usually in exchange for iron and steel weapons and tools, gauds and tokens of civilization, and whatever strong drink might be available.

Magyaru produces little of what it uses, and there are few arable acres within the city's boundaries. The sea is mother and father, nurturing life and providing the sternest of taskmasters, and provides everything Magyaru requires, be it trade goods, precious metals, warm bodies, food, or whatever else. The city's harbor is a ravening maw, consuming all the good things that enter it, even if only in the form of silver from resupplying ships making port calls, and from their crews who sample from the fleshpots of the lower city.


From highland savage to Imperial royalty, the races of this world are the races of Men, and come in all kinds, creeds, colors, and flavors. Human ways are pretty much what you'd expect: They glom together in groups because of accidents of geography and parentage, and each group believes on some level it is the most righteous (by whatever arbitrary measure).

Here, in Magyaru, the majority and the ruling classes are one in the same: Imperial mutts of various sorts. People of particular regions who, because of duty to the Empire, lived out their lives far from home, and there found life, love, and an ending. There are, however, plenty of visitors from far-off, exotic climes, with strange and outlandish customs and beliefs. Magyaru is a crossroads, people come here to make deals. They usually tolerate the idiosyncracies of others for practical reasons.

PCs who have come from Ur-Hadad or other places with the demi-human races (e.g., dwarves, Halflings, elves, etc.) will find themselves subject to scrutiny. Dwarves and Halflings, of course, can pass as humans who happen to be shorter and smaller; they also may face additional jibes and petty cruelties because of their size. Elven PCs, on the other hand, at least those who go without the expensive (and concealing) iron-protective raiment, will draw pointed looks, and signs to ward off the Evil Eye. There are no elves here. To the folk of this world, they simply look like demons of legend (which legends, it should be noted, are all eerily similar in matters of infernal mythology, no matter their cultural origin).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Using Mighty Deeds to Bring Flava to tha Fighta

One of the greatest contributions the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG makes to d20 game mechanics, is the "Mighty Deed of Arms" for warriors and dwarves. Like the "feat" in later editions of D&D, the Deed is a specialized maneuver resulting in better, flashier combat outcomes. It allows for things not explicated in the rules, but also provides a set of principles--general themes that can be applied flexibly to given circumstances--whereby one can engineer this particular subsystem to generate "feat-like" outcomes. Consider the following passages from the rulebook (pp. 88-92) to be the principles of which I speak:

  • The higher the deed die, the more successful the Deed.
  • A warrior’s Deeds should fit the situation at hand and reflect the might and daring of a great fighter.
  • A warrior may even devise a “signature move” that he frequently attempts based on his particular proclivities.  [even one involving a specific weapon ~EDJ]
  • Creative players will certainly come up with new Deeds. Encourage and allow this.

The example deeds in that section of the rulebook are types of attacks and effects (e.g., blinding, pushback, etc.), and provide a sense of how to scale outcomes based on the Deed Die roll. What it doesn't go into as explicitly, is how the Deed can be used to differentiate character from class--i.e., to make each character more than just another stereotypical example of his or her class. Sure, there's still room for the fighter to be the main battle tank of the party, but Deeds can be matched not only to fit a particular combat situation or need, but also to tell us who your character is, and how he or she takes care of business.

An Example

Suppose you wanted to create a warrior, but also wanted to avoid the increased fumble dice associated with heavier armor. If you handle that character like the standard "tank" fighter--heaviest armor available, plus shield--going toe-to-toe with every creeping horror and boss monster out there, you'll be slaughtered. Fun for your GM, but not so fun for you. So what can you do?

First, think a little bit about great fighters you've seen, the fighters who don't wear mail but still kick ass. Like this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome in high boots and a leather vest,
with not a scrap of plate mail (nor a shield) in sight.
I can think of a couple of Deeds for the prototypical swashbuckler type. The first of these is defensive. Let's call it "Baffle Them with Bullshit." One reason swashbuckling swordspersons are so cool, is that they both outfight and outfox their opponents. A good one cash go up against the burliest of foes and slice that foe to ribbons, whilst taking nary a scratch in the process. Baffle Them with Bullshit is the reason they don't get killed. With slashing, slicing, silver streaks of sword-swinging, the swashbuckler weaves a wall of protection, adding to his or her AC on a successful Deed, but not otherwise affecting the strike. The warrior can still hit, but the way he or she does so--with lightning-fast arrays of feints, counters, and strikes, makes it more difficult to the opponent to hit the warrior. The better the result, the more the protection.

The "Defensive Maneuvers" entry in the rulebook's Mighty Deeds of Arms section is pretty generic, dealing with providing active defense for the party--Shield walls, back-to-back fighting. That's one way to go, but preserves a fairly archetypal "fighter" role for the PC. Using the deed in ways that moves you away from the typical hack-n-slash fighter (or hand-n-bash, for dwarves), also helps to to move you in the direction of another version of the warrior archetype. In this case, the Deed provides access to a different kind of fighting style, and subsequent choices about armor, for example, that support that style. You can't very well go leaping about in plate mail (at least not without risking a dire Reflex save), in the same way that you can in thigh-high boots and a leather jerkin (Whew! Did it just get hot in here?). If you're going to go up against heavily armored foes, then you'll need to have a fighting style to reflect how you go about your business: nimble defense, piercing thrusts, leaping, swinging from ropes, etc., all of which could go into your repertoire of Mighty Deeds.

Or how about this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome while wearing hose of Lincoln Green.
So, you say your warrior has an 8 Strength due to that whole "necrotic drain from a chaotic wizard" thing? No worries. You still got  that Agility bonus. It's not much, but it makes shooting a bow much more attractive than swinging an axe. In this case, deeds will be focused on things like precision shots, trick shots, enhanced rate of fire, and the like, and even get you thinking about things like fire arrows (or poison, for the chaotic among you with a disregard of the dangers of poison-handling). Again, the flavor of the fighter shifts from armored tank to something else entirely, something more like the "ranger" archetype.

The main thing I wish to emphasize, here, is that Mighty Deeds are not simply something you do in combat. They are used for that, certainly, but they also help you think about who your warrior is, and how he or she does the biz. As soon as you get done with that zero-level funnel, and you look at the possibilities, that 7 Strength might make veer wildly from making a warrior character. It shouldn't. Are you more agile? Then use your Agility to drive your deeds? Are you a high Personality character, but the very thought of playing a cleric gives you hives? Fine. What if one of your Deeds involved taunting your opponents, enraging them and making them sloppy, and allowing you to take advantage of, say, lowered armor class, an enhanced fumble die, or something of that ilk?

Using the Mighty Deed of Arms, all of this (and more) is possible. You needn't be limited by prime requisites, by armor and arms choices, or by other limitations we tend to ascribe to the warrior-as-fighter. Sure, you're still a fighter, but specialized Deeds can make you a smarter, more interesting version of that archetype, and you needn't be the strongest guy in the tavern to do so.

Obviously, you and your judge will need to make good decisions about how this will work. The best place to do so is in the 0-level to 1st level transition period of character generation, when PC classes are chosen. With the right idea, and the right set of Deeds, your warrior may not be the biggest, baddest, hard-ass around, but he or she can still be mighty, indeed. (Damn, that one never gets old.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Game Review: Cities of Darkscorch

In an earlier post, I crowed a bit about receiving my copy of Cities of Darkscorch, but it wasn't until last night that I had a chance to play it. The wife and child joined me for fantasy rockband madness, as we dodged the blacklist, dueled with opposing quartets (and each other), and tried to get ourselves to Numenor for ultimate battle. Short version: It was fun.

Long version

The game is a turn-based boardgame. The contents consist of:

  • 16 wooden counters imprinted with the name of a band (the bands on the Warfaring Strangers: Canticles of Darkscorch compilation). I got Stoned Mace, the wife got Wrath, and the daughter got Medusa. 
  • 3 dice (d4, d6, and d20)
  • 25x25 inch game board (not shown below)
  • 2 decks of card (Fate cards and Foe cards)6 "city banner" cards with sliding windows
  • Warfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles double LP, with band bio insert
  • CD of Warfaring Strangers compilation
Box Contents (not including game board or double LP)

The production quality for everything included is very good. The double LP cover and insert are extremely nice, as is the box that everything comes in. Some of the game pieces (especially the banner boards) are not as well-made, but nothing aggregiously terrible. The art style is simple, and invokes a sense of nostalgia. I can totally see this stuff drawn on a school notebook or on a backpatch. I mean, seriously, look at that wizard on that chopper! The main gripe I have is the choice of fonts used for the flavor text and city markers. They're quirky and in-theme. They're also pretty hard to read, at times, which can get in the way of fun. For example:

Reading this stuff can be a pain in the ass, and the little windows don't like to stay put.

Same font used  on game board. Also a pain in the ass.

Gameplay itself is very simple, and reminds me a little of Munchkin (but only a little). Here are the basics:
  • You place your counter on the "City" written its reverse side. This is your home city. You must win a battle in your home city and claim that city's "banner" before you move out onto the board.
  • Each player gets three Fate cards to start, and can get more through battles or by landing on particular board locations. They include advantages, disadvantages, transportation, new band mates, and getting placed on (or getting off) The Blacklist.
  • Battles require you to go head to head with an opponent from the Foe deck. Draw the card and roll a d4. At the bottom of the foe card is a list of symbols each with an associated number. So, a "2" shows an "X" symbol and a 17. This is the drummer, who has a value of 17. You must roll the Battle Die (a d20) and get that number or above to win the battle. Defeating the foe also entitles you to receive 1 or more Fate cards as loot.
  • Fate cards can be played during a battle to enhance a roll. You play cards that give you positive modifiers. Other players can throw down cards to give you negative modifiers, just to screw you over. Many a battle was lost, last night, because of this. To be fair, though, other players can certainly work to help, as well.
  • If you win a battle on a city space, you win a banner from that city. You must collect all 16 banners to make it to the final battle, in the city of Numenor.
  • The first player to get 16 banners advances to Numenor, and is immediately joined by every other player. This person is the headliner. You don't get to be the headliner if you haven't acquired the 16 banners.
  • Once in Numenor, everyone tallies a band score, including the bonus numbers of any band members those on any advantage cards. You also can play your disadvantage cards against the headliner (at least that's how we did it). 
  • To battle, everyone rolls a d20 and adds the band score. If the headliner wins the roll, the game is over. If not, he or she must leave Numenor (moving at least one space outside) and return to try again. 

Going for atmosphere
As I said earlier, the game is a lot of fun. The cards are often pretty damned funny (and a bit bawdy), with references to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I found myself laughing at a lot of the cards as we played the game. One example:

Again with the hard-to-read font.
 Overall, I have to say I'm glad I picked this up. We had a lot of fun playing it with three people, and I think it would be even better with four or five. That would provide more opportunities for PvP battles, and chances to screw over the other players (which is always fun).

So, to summarize. Simple, easy to play, fun, and pretty well-conceived game. I'll play it again.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Peril on The Purple Planet

Good people! Hearken unto me for a moment, for I bear extraterrestrial tidings of great import!

Another fantastic Kickstarter has been launched by Goodman Games. Harley Stroh's Peril on The Purple Planet, a swords and planets adventure in the best traditions of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

So much peril! Look at all the peril! You want this peril!

Your humble narrator has even made a small contribution to the project (some material for the campaign booklet). I'm in for the boxed set, and it's looking to be pretty damned great. They already have over 100 backers, and I imagine that the stretch goals for this will be pretty damned impressive. So, if you've an interest, check this one out.

But why listen to me? Listen to the Dark Master, himself, Mr. J. Goodman:

Send your fantasy adventurers to face alien perils in Harley Stroh’s long-awaited sword-and-planet epic!
Summary of Kickstarter:
  • A Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure module of planetary scope – at level 4. The adventure flings your characters to adventures on a distant world dying slowly under a weirdling sun.
  • The basic pledge funds print+PDF copy of a boxed set containing Harley Stroh’s 32-page adventure module, plus a second 32-page campaign booklet – and possibly more depending on stretch goals.
  • The first softcover book is the adventure module Peril on the Purple Planet, which has two built-in special features. First, the cover art is oversized, and spreads across front and back cover in addition to wrapping around to front and back flaps. The flaps also double as player handouts when folded out to face the table. Second, the adventure map is a three-page-wide hex crawl, which folds out of the module center as a three-panel gatefold. Additionally, the adventure includes a number of B/W interior handouts to show the players what they face on the Purple Planet.
  • The second softcover book is a campaign booklet to expand your journey on the Purple Planet. At the basic pledge level, before any stretch goals, it includes three chapters: Lost Tombs of the Ancients, Bestiary of the Purple Planet, and Lost Tech of the Purple Planet, with contributions from Daniel J. Bishop, Tim Callahan, Edgar Johnson, and Terry Olson.
  • You can support this Kickstarter by adding on other adventure modules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, most of which are on sale for 25% off as part of this Kickstarter. You can also add on Purple Planet Player Guides at $5 each.
  • Stretch goals for this project will put even more items into the boxed set! These include the possibility of an ecology book, additional encounters, a book of handouts, a book of magic, a custom GM screen, and a guide to the Purple Underplanet!
  • The basic adventure module is complete and ready to print. All writing, art, and layout is complete. The additional writing for the campaign booklet is also complete. Art and layout for the campaign booklet will begin when this Kickstarter funds.
  • We expect PDF copy of the module to be available shortly before Gen Con, and print copy to be available at Gen Con or shipped soon after (depending on backer preference). If we have extra copies remaining at Gen Con after all Kickstarter pickups, they will be offered to the general public. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lacuna Locurae

I've been pondering what I should run for my face-to-face group, after they completed Sailors on a Starless Sea, and I think I've finally come up with something.

After escaping from the Starless Sea, the longship emerges, eventually, from a crack in a cliff, into a river. I'm thinking I might try the whole OMG WATERFALL! thing right off the bat, just to set the tone. We'll see. The more interesting thing is that this campaign will be in a realm outside of the "normal" DCC world.

What the party discovers is that they are at the base of some very high cliffs, above which are mountains surpassing even the Andes and Himilayas. Below them, foothills stretch toward a large coastal city, ocean and distant islands to the horizon.

The city itself is a colony of a distant kingdom, and a crossroads for trade. Tech levels are early colonial--ships capable of intercontinental travel, muskets, maybe the rudiments of heavy industry, etc. The city fathers are wealthy merchants, and the colonial governor is an ineffectual figurehead. There is a small colonial garrison in place to keep the peace; its leadership is competent and just, but their numbers are too few to do the job. The colony is becoming less and less like its original kingdom, and slipping slowly but inexorably toward independent-mindedness.

Culture is somewhat... unenlightened. Abject poverty exists alongside almost unimaginable wealth, and indentured servitude is common (outright slavery extremely rare, but not unknown). The city a rough and tumble place, and parts of it are entirely uncivilized. Witchcraft is a capital crime, and witch-hunters are respected figures, among most of the population, and especially among religious adherents. Executions are a popular form of entertainment for many in the lower classes, there not being much else to occupy them but drinking, fighting, and fucking. The demographics are entirely human (well, almost entirely so, but I can't go into that yet), but there's a pretty large degree of diversity among the human population, what with all the ships from far-off lands making portfall in this place.

I'm calling the campaign Lacuna Locura (Catchy, huh? I hope nobody did this already. Mr. Google says it hasn't been done, but...).

What is it? Let's start with some definitions.

Lacuna:  a gap or blank space in something; a missing part.

Locura:  insanity, madness; crazy thing, folly

There's an oddness that underlies the setting, things that aren't discussed, things that make people very, very uncomfortable. Those mountains above the city? Nobody goes there. In fact, nobody even talks about them. If the party tries to claim they are from there, people won't believe them. Nobody is from there. There's nothing beyond them. This is a Known Thing. Nobody here thinks differently. It's as if some part of reality has been removed from their minds. This is the lacuna, the missing knowledge. My thought is that a veil of magic separates the realms and keeps the population ignorant of this separation, and the very existence of a place "outside." Attempts to make claims to the contrary, or to demonstrate that the possibility, is provocative in the extreme, and could bring violence (even official notice) down on the party. The party, in contrast, knowing what they know, would be perceived by the citizenry as completely mad, by the city's officials and religious leaders as potentially subversive and dangerous, and by certain unnamed others as a dire threat. This is the locura, the psychosis afflicting this place.

I've yet to come up with a name for this city, but don't want to force it. It'll come eventually

The ruleset I'll be using is DCC RPG, the firearms rules from +Dak Ultimak's Crawl! (the original DCC RPG fanzine), possibly some elements of Transylvanian Adventures by +Scott Mathis, some bits of Lamentations of the Flame Princess style weirdness, and probably some other stuff that I'll make up along the way (mostly to do with the reasons behind this madness of missing memories). This is intended to be city-based adventure, but I could certainly see plenty of opportunities for adventures on the high sea, investigation of the mysteries of the mountains, etc., depending on where the players want to take it.

I think this should be fun, and a departure from the kinds of games I normally run and play in. Maybe it will end up being a good setting, as well. The Metal Gods campaign has set a pretty high bar in that regard, so my expectations for this will be high as well.


Thanks to +Adam Muszkiewicz for helping me with my Latin. Locura Locurae is the correct genetive form.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cities of Darkscortch Boardgame!

So, a while back I pre-ordered a board game from the Numero Group, a company specializing in reissues of out-of-print music. One of their collections of music from the 1970s caught my eye and ear, so I purchased the mp3 album: Warfaring Strangers: Darkscortch Canticles. It's early seventies heavy rock/proto-metal stuff, with a heavy Black Sabbath influence.

Later, when I was reading more about the collection, I discovered they were making a Cities of Darkscortch board game, as well. Well, it looks like they're shipping it sometime next week. Comes with the vinyl, too. I'm stoked to check it out.

Choose your band.
Get in the van.
Move through 16 sonically damaged cities
Battle 100 cutthroat quartets
Enlist the help of rock deities, sorcerers, groupies, and the windfalls of fate.
Avoid getting pubic lice, becoming an acid casualty, or finding Jesus.
Use your cunning to bribe show promoters and avoid getting blacklisted.
The ultimate goal is Numenor, 
And a record contract penned in brimstone, VD, and pot smoke.

So damned silly and so damned awesome. It pretty much screams Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, right? How could I possibly resist the siren song of this thing I totally did not need?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Small Items

Whew! It's been a heck of a month. Summer teaching is finally done, four writing deadlines have been met (one to go), and things are starting to settle down a bit. Sorry for the month (or so) long hiatus, but the blog was the only thing I reasonably could let wait while I got other stuff done. But enough of my excuses!

Here are two ideas.

Patron Bond as Wizard Class Feature

First, I think every wizard in DCC RPG should get access to the Patron Bond spell--It should be a class feature. Yes, it would make elves slightly less special, but tough shit for them. The idea, here, is that supernatural entities are keen to keep their fingers in a variety of pies, and that being "successful" in ways that make sense to beings of such power, has a lot to do with that being's ability to exercise influence, either through bargains or through other control mechanisms. There also are plenty of people who might be greedy, crazy, or desperate enough to attempt such thing, even without a clear idea of what they're doing.

Having the patron bond (little p, little b) class feature, though, doesn't have to be the same sort of thing as having the Patron Bond (Big P, Big B) spell. The big difference is that a caster without the spell can certainly find some entity that wants to make a deal, but controlling the deal-making proceedings is often aided by incantations, rituals circles, and generally knowing what might get you better results, and what might get you killed.

The caster could simply roll the class feature version on a lower die. I'm tempted to say a d10, as it's an untrained "skill," but a wizard already has some knowledge of arcane magic's workings. So, a d14 would probably be a reasonable choice. You could even open it up to other character classes (but probably not clerics), and allow a d10 (or maybe a d8) roll. Even a warrior might try making sacrifices to beings capable of keeping the Big Sleep at bay for yet another day or two. Why wouldn't they take notice? I mean, hey, who knows where a warrior might be headed. A patron certainly would value a relationship with warlord or king, right?

Some More Stuff About Elves in Ur-Hadad

The elven caste system is as ancient as elven civilization itself, and entrenched in the minutia of elves' daily affairs. Before passage to Ore from whatever plane and or planet they came from, there was tension in that system, and many factions within elven society militated against its limitations. The Elven Dominion of Ore was one outcome of those earlier tensions. Now, though, the elves have been on Ore for millenia, both the Dominionists and the elves of the Old Kingdom. During that time they've been introduced to and (though they don't like to admit it) influenced by the ways of the other races, particularly the humans. This is especially true among the lower-caste elves.

Strangely, though, the bond with humans is not with the humans themselves--very few elves, even lower caste elves, interact regularly with the other races. Rather, the bond is with some of their political philosophy. Where elven civilization is stratified from the very top to the very bottom, human civilizations tend to allow for a lot more churning at the lowest levels. There's still aristocracy, of course. The humans aren't so crazy as to believe they could dispense with rule by their elites. But lower-class humans can rise up the ladder, especially if they're willing to step on their fellow humans to do so. This dynamic has give some lower-caste elves pretensions about How Things Should Be. Some of them have plans about this. Some of them are taking timid, tentative steps.

One odd thing that's come out of that emergence of class consciousness among lower-caste elves is in their slang. It's not uncommon to hear a lower-caste elf insult another by calling him or her "a'matrak kelorko" (more or less, "human fucker"). However, another insult has recently come into lower-caste elven parlance: "a'matrak kelorko-ul." The article "ul" in the elven language of Ore means "dead" or "dying," depending on the context. Given the sparseness of relations of any kind (let alone carnal or necrophiliac relations) among high-caste elves and humans, it's not clear why that insult would apply. If the graffiti in the elven quarter is any indication, though, the phrase seems to be growing in popularity. Also, it's becoming increasingly uncommon to see the masked and robed forms of high-caste elves among the hoi poloi of their folk, treating them almost like they treat humans and the other lesser races. Strange, that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Very Metal Creation Story

I've written about the Metal Gods a whole bunch of times already, but recent thoughts and readings about cultural production spurred me to put together a... well... I guess a theology is the thing I mean. So, here, I lay out a theology of the Metal Gods. But first some things about culture.

Metal Gods Are a Product of Culture

I will begin with a pretty simple idea: That Metal, as such, is cultural. This means a variety of very complicated things, most of which are irrelevant to this post. Still, culture and its pursuit give rise to a variety of passions, one of which is music.

Culture Is Both Product and Process
First, culture is the set of things that people make through their actions on the empirical (and obdurate) world around them. This expression may be ephemeral (e.g. live music or conversations about music) or it make be more durable (e.g. a musical instrument or a recording).

Cultural production, as a process, creates groupings, patterns, and regularities, not just chaos. We get genres of music, for example, and material culture that surrounds those genres. But time also passes, and some cultural products and processes are abandoned or forgotten, and some are reimagined in new ways. The regularities break down again, and some are remade. Sometimes this happens in recursive cycles. Doom metal, for example, is a rearticulation of older rock/metal genres, but in new ways; as a genre it both repeats and creates cultural patterns.

Those cultural patterns are objects of human attention and affiliation. We like some kinds of music, so we listen to them, evangelize about them, and so forth. We pass on musical culture to others. We receive it from them, also. We do this just by living life. Richard Dawkins used the term "meme" to express how relatively ephemeral culture gets propagated socially, using an infectious disease metaphor to express that idea.

Culture is Unevenly Distributed in Time and Space

A person lives at a particular time, in particular material and symbolic environments. Those things shape him or her, and provide both means and patterns of expressing culture. For example, by being a consumer of particular products, I am interacting with the world. But those products and process I am a part of are not everywhere and ripped from the moorings of time itself A kid growing up in suburban New Jersey or rural Georgia does not experience the same things in the same ways, and those make both experiences and expressions of music culture variable from scene to scene, creating differences among people calling themselves metalheads. Nonetheless, metalheads probably can spot other metalheads in a crowd--like maybe walking across the mall and seeing one of My People out among The Straights, or not being able to find a single other person like you in other, more rarified climes for whatever your particular subculture might be.

There's also the power issue.

Culture Expresses Power Relations

The conditions under which you live, material and symbolic, are historically rooted in your particular cultural space. You live an inherited culture. And not all of the roots of that culture will be oriented toward you and your interests. Power relations are a part of that.

Not all cultures are valued equally. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, there was a shift during the Reagan years toward the demonization of punk and metal. I was a punk for the most part, but we sort of got lumped into the same crowd by the religious types. We were all just into that Devil Music, don't you know. And the religious Right came after us. They also instituted the Satanic Panic about gaming, so there's that as well. The fact that gaming and metal are sometimes the passions of the same folk, of course, means that sometimes we were doubly targeted, both by adults and by Straights in general.

So, cultural difference led to cultural conflict, and there were asymmetric powers at work. Teenagers have less influence than adults. The religious Right at that time was ascendant (not that they've left since), and able to be influential in significant ways, using mediated social activism in reaction to the bugaboo living in their brains. This didn't make life easy for teenagers at the time (with some exceptions), but it did create a sense of some degree of solidarity, at least in relation to Straight culture. Eventually, though, some Outsider cultures get appropriated in the mainstream (whence we got hair metal and New Wave).

But enough about culture. What does it have to do with the Metal Gods?

The Kids in the Basement

Somewhere, somewhen, there are some kids in a basement. They're listening to Metal. They're listening to it a lot, an they're listening to it LOUD. They're listening to it with their friends. They're expressing the "Metal-ness" in various ways, some of them frightening to adults. Many of them are really, really passionate about it. Here's where the theology comes in.

That passion feeds across all the planes of existence, calling into being and making real a particular version of Creation: Planet Ore, and Golden Ur-Hadad, the First City of Men.

Every song calls Planet Ore into being. Every chord brings forth the land and the seas, and the people and the creatures that dwell thereon and therein. The crash of the drums upon the warp and weft of Chaos sends out ripples, causes effects. The cities and rise and fall. Empires wax and wane. The moon is broken and the floating city crashes into the Thunderlands. A thousand years pass, and with them the rises the culture of Men, and the forging of Metal.

The act of playing raises the creators of the songs to the status of Creators of the World. They find themselves among the gods of that place, authors of the Lost Hymns. And the Lost Hymns still echo across Creation, making and unmaking it simultaneously. Here's how it works on Planet Ore.

  • A kid in New Haven blasts some High on Fire. On the Planet Ore, near Ur-Hadad, Graki Deathstalker takes up the Frosthammer in a futile quest to destroy the Serpent-Men and their minions.
  • An old fart in Augusta cranks Deaf Forever up to 13, and war sweeps the land, only a hardy few winning their lives (and riches and glory, but who's counting?). He speaks the name of Lemmy in praise, and on Ore rises the Cult of Lemm the Killmaster, whose aspect is the Steel Boar called Snaggletooth.
  • A teenager in Finland does what teenagers in Finland do, what with their black metal and whatnot, and a ravening horde descends upon a slumbering town. The survivors are your zero-level party.
  • A certain artist who shall not be named quests afar to create a shrine, a Wizard Van driven by an actual wizard (I've seen the hat and robes, y'all. He's a wizard.). The painted image on that van creates some aspect of the land and its peoples. The paint forms a substrate for the image in one universe, laying the foundations of existence in another.

The very expression of this culture is a profound act of creation, making from the Void, a land, people, situations in which the people live, and a sense both of urgency and of destiny. For the language in which this reality is expressed is not a thing of sense and metrics, but of possibility and passion, at once crying, "What if?" and also, "Fuck yeah!" Oh... and probably, "Fuck you!" as well.

It happens in the art on every album cover, in the notes and chords of every song, in every backpatch on a denim jacket, with each bang of every head, and in every basement where some kid, somewhere, has found The Music and The Music has found that kid.

And lo! Lemm played the first note upon the Rickenbastard, and the seas parted to form the land. Robhal chanted the Purest Note, and there came into being all of the creature that ride upon the winds, and the Greater Moon was broken. Each of the Metal Gods, given life by the Outsiders From Beyond Space and Time, became real. Each added its particular alloy of Metal to create Ore. Men once were slaves on Ore, but they would be slaves no more. Metal had been forged and it would see good use. The Metal Gods called upon their people to rise and take Ur-Hadad for themselves. And so they did. And thus, also, was born the Cult of the Metal Gods. 
                    ~Kormaki Lemmisson, Zealot of the Metal Gods)