Friday, November 13, 2009

Encounter Creebobby

I think I'll start using this for Encounter Critical chargen:

See more comics, download free music, and bask in general awesomeness at Jacob Borshard's website

Just realized there are expansion tables!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween Movie Review: Don't Go Back to the Island (1977)

Few people know about this ill-conceived take-off-cum-rip-off of Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are. I can only guess that if Mr Sendak himself ever saw it he wisely chose to ignore it rather than give it any undue publicity by suing the hell out of the producers. It's a clumsy, terribly acted slasher flick with hilariously bad monster costumes and gruesome gore effects. The plot centers on a teenage hoodlum named Max, who bullies his equally dumb friends into stealing a speedboat and motoring out to the remote island he used to visit as a kid.

There, in the manner of slasher pics, each of the teens meets a grisly end, but not before Max sets himself up as a petty tyrant over his peers. I'm sure the writer/director thought he was making a very clever allusion to Lord of the Flies, but it's as hamfisted as everything else about this movie.

Eventually, having betrayed all of his friends/subjects, Max is alone, chased by every monster on the island. Interminably chased, in a night-for-night sequence that seems to last for twenty minutes and fails to generate any tension at all. In the end, within sight of the boat Max is caught, swiftly dismembered and greedily devoured.

The director manages one of his few effective shots at the very end of his movie, as the camera pans slowly away from the gory feast and tracks back into the woods, accompanied by a voice-over that's actually rather haunting:

...the blood ran out over earth
and in and out of stones
and through the grass
and into the pile of his very own bones
where they had made a supper of him

and it was still hot.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spellbook Schmellbook

Twenty-One Mnemonic Tools for Magic-Users
  1. A book, whether leathern grimoire, apprentice's lesson book, recipe file or collection of dirty limericks which are in fact cunning linguistic mnemonics
  2. A Rune-carved staff or magic wand
  3. The wizard's own beard or hair, with spell components woven into it in a complex arrangement of knots
  4. A pointy wizard's cap, magician's silk top hat or priestly miter.
  5. A talking mirror or mask of the wizard's own face
  6. The shell of a great conch into which new spells are spoken when learned and echoed back each morning
  7. A deck of cards depicting strange glyphs or scenes of thaumaturgical symbolism
  8. A strand of fetishes worn around the neck
  9. A familiar animal or homunculus which dwells in the wizard's robes or pouch, creeping out to whisper spells while its master sleeps.
  10. Pill box, klein bottle or syringe providing a daily dosage of spells
  11. Brazier, censer or pipe from which magic is smoked or inhaled
  12. Yarrow stalks, knuckle bones, or dice with which a day's spells may be divined
  13. A transistor radio tuned to a secret frequency
  14. A star chart or planar codex indicating the locations of the gods, demons or aliens who send the mage her spells
  15. An illustrated broadsheet depicting sacred postures or arcane calisthenics
  16. A cube of shifting cubes, which must be properly ordered according to the enchantments desired
  17. Musical instrument on which spells may be rehearsed
  18. A tiny ceremonial blade and stylus the sorcerer uses to write his spells in blood
  19. Chymical oils, unguents or paints used to mark the wizard's skin
  20. Chess, backgammon or go board on which the day's spells are played through
  21. Mother box, wrist-computer or Personal Dweomer Assistant

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Brain Hurts A Lot

So, I've been listening mostly to Bowie while drawing dungeon maps this week. This morning I got to wondering if I shouldn't throw a magician called Niddala Zane in there or something. Idly pondering the words "Ziggy Stardust...."

...led me to think about Ziggy....

...and Zardoz...

...which is what led to this:

Put your ray gun to my head / Put your space face close to mine, love

MP3: The Moog Cookbook, Ziggy Stardust (Compact Disc - Download)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wandering Monsters are Chief Among the Hazards of Dungeon Mapping

                                                          Successful parley!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Throwing Myself Off the Bridge

Basic D&D at the Milwaukee D&D Meet Up

What if James Kochalka thinks I'm a bad DM?Yesterday I ran my first face-to-face game in twenty years. After a year of solo tinkering and playing in other people's games I wanted to take my own turn behind the screen. Of course immediately after the Meet Up was announced I started wondering what the hell I was thinking. I had a low level case of nerves most of last week, and in my typical procrastinative fashion I was still keying the last few rooms of the dungeon an hour and a half before game time. As I left for our venue I was downright jittery: What if I stink? Will they think Basic is lame? Will I fail to advance the glorious Old School Revolution? What if I forget to wear pants?

Despite my worries I think the day went smashingly! I had a blast, and from what I could tell the players did too. I had five players, with a wide range of ages and experience. Tony and I have played 3.5 before; Joe runs Fourth Edition games; Andy and Mark are younger guys who'd played D&D Minis but not much tabletop roleplaying; and Keith is a gentleman of the old school, whose copy of the Rules Compendium I was sorely tempted to purloin.

We started off with character generation, using a handy four page handout I repurposed from Jeff Rients' Big Stupid Dungeon Party, and ended up with a cleric, two dwarfs, an elf and One Thumb the halfling. The players seemed to catch the spirit of exploration from the start, with a good balance of cautious dungeoneering and kick-in-the-door impulsiveness.

They were exploring the site of an (apparently) abandoned archaeological dig, a partially excavated temple complex somehow buried whole in solid rock. When they found an exposed section of the temple wall, a sixty foot stretch of black stone covered in rusted cogs and gears, they were immediately determined to find the way in. This soon led to the first party death. They dropped a torch into a chasm hoping to gauge its depth, disturbing the amphisbaenopede dwelling there, which dragged the hapless cleric Liam McKinley to his demise. I almost wished he'd failed his saving throw versus death instead of being eaten alive. The party considered a few plans to rescue him, but -- ooh, shiny -- got distracted by the gems embedded in the temple wall and commenced to looting instead.

The party's other adventures included a battle with giant mutant kangaroo rats, a conversation with a demented cave hobbit, and the discovery of a strange metal mask which Ammo the Dwarf declined to put on despite the taunting of his fellow PCs. Luckily enough the session ended with a big fight between a weird old wizard and his goons. I expected this to turn into a parley, but with a lucky shot Aedar the Elf popped an arrow through the wizard's Shield spell, and the mayhem was on. The party ended up fighting a desperate but doomed battle against a dozen twisted orcs made of clay and fungus while the wizard hid himself.

Only One Thumb survived the melee, holed up in the wizard's cave twenty feet up the cavern wall. He watched for hours, hoping to finish the wizard off with a sling bullet, or to lure him back up to the cave where he'd laid a trap made from bedding doused in oil. Alas, the halfling waited long enough for the wizard to rehearse Charm Person, and missed his sling shot when the magician stepped out to cast it. One Thumb failed to resist the spell, and there we draw the curtain, leaving the game's only survivor to an uncertain future.

All in all things went well, and as I say I had a blast! There were a few things I'll need to improve for future games:
  • It was tricky describing rooms and hallways concisely for mapping purposes. I worked around this by just sketching rooms myself when needed, but I'd like to improve my explanations. I wonder if simpler dungeon layouts might work better for one-shot games as well?
  • There were also two occasions when I missed important bits of layout because I skipped ahead to a room's most interesting feature. The one time this was tactically important I let the players know they could adjust their actions according to the new information if they wanted to and they were cool about it.
  • Finally I need to work on my timekeeping, and sharpen up transitions from loose exploration to round-by-round action. The lead-in to the final battle had players scattered all across the room doing various things and I should have switched to rounds sooner to keep a clearer sense of where and what everyone was up to.
All in all, phew, I'm relieved. Having a successful first session under my belt gives me a lot of confidence. I hope to run more games at the Meet Up, and maybe give a go at running an open campaign.

Special thanks to my wife, who's been incredibly encouraging. See? I even won a prize!

Ruinous Beauty

Inspirational images from the series Abandoned Places, courtesy the fascinating (and marvelously named) photo blog If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There'd be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Songcatching: Easter Thoughts

I don't celebrate Easter. My wife and I aren't churchgoers, and we don't have any family in town, so it's a quiet Sunday like most. In a few minutes I'll call my folks and cook up some turkey & chorizo picadillo, and later on I'll head out for the weekly D&D game.

But between baskets of candy and egg hunts on the news one can't help noticing it's Easter weekend, and at the gym this morning I got to thinking about two songs with Easter themes.

The first is Agalloch's "Kneel to the Cross," a cover of an anti-Christian screed by pagan neo-folkers Sol Invictus. I haven't much sympathy for the song's point of view: I'm no expert in Nietzsche, but I'm pretty sure this is what he smells like packed into a bong and passed around the dorm room. The one line that pricks up my ears is "It's love your neighbor and rattle your saber," which neatly sums up how I feel when a certain sort of believer offers fellowship with one hand while waving a hellfire brand with the other.

What keeps me coming back to the song is the chant at the beginning and end, "Summer is a-coming in, arise, arise." I have no idea how deep the fellows in Agalloch meant that allusion to be. Quite probably they go no further back than Wicker Man (spoiler alert -- 35 year old film or not it's worth seeing fresh). But beyond that stretches hundreds of years of folk song in British Isles and the Americas, both sacred and secular, Christian and pagan. It's both "Perspice Christicola" and "Sumer is Icumen In."

So while the branch may bitter the song has deep roots, whether its planters know or not. And for my part I am ready for summer to arise, to whistle up spring from deep roots and send it out to green the grass and bud the trees.

The other song could hardly be less like Agalloch's solemn anti-hymn, though it is irreverent in its own way. In addition to colored eggs and fluffy bunnies Easter weekend is the time for an annual viewing of The Ten Commandments in our household and millions of others in the US. Judging from the song "Charlton Heston" Cecil B DeMille's epic reached a few homes in Ireland and England as well.

I'd hardly knock The Ten Commandments. It's got drama, intrigue, vistas of sweeping grandeur, visions of ghostly green horror. I'm not unmoved by Yul Brynner's hard-hearted scheming and envy, nor by Charlton Heston's manly reverence and woolly white beard-wig. But mostly I like the outrageously vampy way Anne Baxter pants "Moses" whenever she and Charlton are alone. Consequently I don't have the patience for a full viewing, but I can always spare three and a half minutes for Stump's clever gloss on the movie, corny jokes and all: "Boils the size of 50p / Lights! Camel! Action! / Bushes that refuse to burn / See these sandals hardly worn / Raining blood and raining bread / The night we painted Egypt red."

May Easter and spring bring joy.

MP3: Agalloch, Kneel to the Cross (from the out of print EP Of Stone, Wind & Pillor. Agalloch's other records are available on compact disc and download)

MP3: Stump, Charlton Heston (Compact Disc - Download)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Summon Godzilla!

Here's a chart for Encounter Critical. Sufficient unto the day is the folly thereof.

If a Warlock or Mad Scientist is exceptionally successful when using the Conjure ability the following chart may be consulted. Note that Conjure only summons the creature or creatures. The spell Demon Master or the Monster Friend, Machine Friend or Seduction abilities may be required to control the summoned being(s).
  1. 3-12 Blink Beast assassins (72% Sneak Attack, Murder chances per 4th level Criminal)
  2. 1-2 Giant Robots (as Magic Statues of triple size and strength, i.e. 90-360 hp and 9-54 damage)
  3. 1 Demon Magistrate and 1-4 Infernal Ape Attorneys
  4. 1 Dragon of Fire
  5. 3-30 Phantasmatic Battle Spheres
  6. 3-18 Succubi accompanied by 1 exceptionally grouchy Gjenie eunuch
  7. 2-20 Tyrannosaurus rexes
  8. 1-3 Vorvons or Vampires (Vorvons 40% likely to have Thought Eater or Intellect Devourer pets. Vampires have Phasic Wolves, Skeleton Bats or Renfield Servitors 66% of the time.)
  9. 7-12 Whirling Dervishes (an EC Dervish has only 2-16 hp and strikes for a mere 1-4 damage. But he attacks 1-20 times per round with a base 100% chance to hit! I envision a pack of speedfreak Mevlevis spinning at Tasmanian Devil velocities. Per the rulebook, 25% chance to be armed with grenades.)
  10. 1 Godzilla
Inspired by Jeff Rients.

SEE ALSO: Discovered on the Phantasm website, further evidence of my theory that Don Coscarelli plays Encounter Critical: the Regman Quad-Barrel Dwarfcutter. The gun's going onto my EC weapons chart and the name's going into my NPC rogues gallery.

MP3: Sparks - Eaten By the Monster of Love (Compact Disc - Download)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Words

One way to think of Wohoon is: Gamma World rewritten as weird fantasy rather than a science fantasy setting. Admittedly that's a fine and perhaps spurious distinction. Like Gamma World Wohoon is post-apocalyptic. There will be robots and rayguns and possibly  probably definitely giant radioactive monsters rising from the depths to occasionally stomp across the landscape. There will be mutants, and how.

But in essence it's a fantasy world. Hobbs, elves and dwarfs, goblins, ghouls and giants, the whole schmeer. It's just that it takes place after your basic act of magical hubris blasted the best part of civilization into rubble and splinters. The hills are alive -- in some cases quite literally -- with wild magic. Whole forests are twisted by polymorphic radiation into impossible shapes, ogrish trees with beards of jangling glass and leaves of paper.

Time is broken too. The cataclysm that doomed Wohoon was caused by a cabal of chronomancers, believed to have been flung far into the future, and worshipped by furtive cults as the Gods Yet to Come. In some places time spins backward, or loops upon itself. Skyscrapers and clocktowers rise up from the shallow waters of the Sea of Clocks. The lost objects of a thousand worlds and ten thousand generations accumulate in a junkyard somewhere south. Folk from other times are drawn here as well: lost zeppelineers, dinosaur herders, mad scientists. Undeath is chronomantical in nature, a generally foul attempt to thwart the proper passage of time.

I'm already well past 25 words and the edge of coherence, but here's a few more, in the sentenceless manner Noisms suggests:

Bandits, slavers; nomadic fey; bat-faced goblins, orc parthenogenesis; molemen at the center of the earth; a dragon-locomotive 500 miles long; scattered villages, trading moots, no nations; only local gods.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wohoon, in less than 10 words

Thundarr the Barbarian, with backgrounds drawn by Salvador Dali.


There are a lot of great settings being cooked up at the moment: Thool, Athanor, The Valley of Blue Snails, Yoon-Suin, Cinder. If you're working on one, I'd love to hear a summary in 25 words or less (And please post a link if you've got someplace online where you go on and on about it!).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thirty Wizards of Wohoon

  1. The Abominable Anton Phraint
  2. Aname Rebus, lexicomancer, cabalist and dungeon cartographer.
  3. Armored-In-Teeth, Papa Shark's horse, sea dwarf houngan.
  4. Black Jenkin, Eater of Cats, a goblin fevercloak.
  5. The Blue Witch, Arfuun of the Husk
  6. Brindle the Skiver, were-rat curio merchant and unabashed recruiter for the lycanthropic lifestyle.
  7. Doctor Optogon (Uncle Spider, Old Twelve-Eyes), the beholder librarian of deChirico. Flightless but quite mobile in his arcano-mechanical spider harness.
  8. Elruss Wu Jinn (Old Dirty Bastard), madman, mushroom eater, master of the 36 Hexagrams.
  9. Falash the Leech, a healer, of sorts.
  10. Geenya Dare, the Child Lich of Roonok.
  11. Gusten Cipher, a moleman monster-builder specialized in flesh golems.
  12. Idal Rodavlas, Archaeo-mnemo-dweomerist.
  13. Iovolovoi, Mirror of Dawn, Fulcrum of Noonday, Warder of Dusk, high priest of a sun god chained to a pillar in the desert.
  14. Ishkish the Cutter
  15. Kibreel Shellback, lizard-man witch doctor of Ten Tree Fen and Binyah Sump.
  16. Laughing Margett, druidess and blood-drinker, whose mirth bares a mouthful of thorns
  17. Mamsy Illmazer, Mother Ulcer, goblin clanmother and fevercloak.
  18. Moon Mad, the Voice of Bronze, a collective mind that animates a score of living bronze statues scattered across Wohoon.
  19. The Protean, a colossal mass of seething sentient mud, crackling with radiation and insane with the magic of the scores of wizards it has enveloped.
  20. Ooloosk the Whisperer
  21. Orvix Alt, a moleman monster-builder specialized in gargantua.
  22. Otsana Muraz, enchantress and bandit queen, leading her charmed bravos against slavers and merchants alike.
  23. Shining Obwoon, a princeling of the elves, grown so fat with sweetmeats and nectar he can no longer stand.
  24. Suling, Hermit of the Bamboo, a mendicant monk with a cloak of bells and a basket over his head, piping strange tunes on a reed flute.
  25. Thomas Nodisen Alv, Wizard of Olmen Peak, machine-mage. "The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around;" he is rebuilding his own body for the fourth time.
  26. Tolobeq the Imp, inventorist of the junk heaps of Oscura.
  27. Triskelion
  28. Yugnav Sety (the Sleeper, the Silent Captain), adrift on the Sea of Clocks in a rusted iron barque, dreaming a thousand-year-dream.
  29. Zemyel Vetch (Wretch, Twitch), itinerant alchemist, abuser of his own wares, sometime venefice.
  30. Zosimos Umon, an accident of magic, a homunculus born of a drop of a wizard's blood and the clay where the blood was spilled.

MP3: Mariee Sioux, Wizard (Compact Disc & Download)
Early version of a track from Mariee's debut album. Final version and lots more at her Myspace page.
MP3: Gianluigi Trovesi, C'era una strega, c'era una fata (Compact Disc & Download)
Once upon a time in the witch wood...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It Came from My Hi-Fi...

My Sunday soundtrack lately has been a playlist built from the killer clips featured on Monster Movie Music 1950-1969. They're like some kind of mad scientists of stereophonic sound, digging up mostly obscure old movies, chopping together scraps of score music, dialog and sound effects and resurrecting them as digital Frankenstein monsters in the World of Tomorrow, 2009.

Eegah contributes to this blog!  Eegah!
Forced metaphors aside, check them out. If like me you grew up watching late night monster movies and Saturday afternoon Creature Features you'll have a blast browsing their archives.

MP3: Dimension X, The Martian Chronicles (CD or Download)
Noise/improv rockers Massimo Pupillo, Chris Corsano and David Chalmin travel to the Red Planet

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"The Neutralians bear no great love for the people of Artis and Atlantis"

Jeff Rients asked in the comments of a recent post, "Were you this manic before Encounter Critical?"


By way of evidence, two pages from a sixth grade school project:

Sulfur City doesn't *sound* like a nice place  to be a tourist

 'Died in fighted,' indeed

"It comes from the Greek word for giant"

One of my favorite remembrances of Gary Gygax is this one at The Onion's pop culture site, the AV Club. Like the author I was one of the lonely thousands of kids for whom D&D was a mostly solitary escape. He captures the mix of gladness and melancholy I feel remembering the many hours I spent reading and re-reading the DMG and running Keep on the Borderlands as a solo adventure.

I was surprised at how much Gary's death affected me. I'd collected some 3rd Edition books, but I hadn't actually played D&D or any other role-playing game more than once in eighteen years. And while I had come to see how warm and generous Gary could be with his fans and admirers, I never met him, nor even interacted with him in one of the various online forums he visited. But the news stung. And more than that, it was a memento mori: the mysterious and distant oracle of my youth, the sage and scholar whose work I annotated, was simply a man, and was gone.

That's when I resolved to turn my lifelong, if intermittent, love for D&D and other games into something more than a solitary pursuit -- a few weeks later I started this blog, a month later I played in a pick-up game. Now I'm playing once or twice a week and hoping to run a Basic/Labyrinth Lord game at the local D&D meet-up. I have Gary to thank for that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Untold Tales of God City

Rumors overheard by players in my Encounter Critical game:
  • The abandoned geodesic domes of St. Elf's Beard Hospital have come to be known as "St Elseweird" because of the strange goings on there. Some say it's haunted by the undead -- and that has so far kept a trove of valuable drugs and med-tech from being looted. (An original adventure I might eventually make available for download. Like, if I finish it ever.)
  • Reclamation of the abandoned Gloombarria Mines south of Vanth is underway, but no one seems to know who's backing the effort. Folks tell wild tales of lost treasure -- and of an evil of the ancient world.
  • A pilgrimage of lizard men has been observed traveling the mountains to the west. Legend has it that lizard shamans and headshrinkers gather once every 44 years to seek their earthly paradise, the Land That Was Lost.
  • It is whispered that a cult of Mad Scientists seeks to invoke dark forces at the sacred site of Carhenge and create an army of demon-possessed Damnation Vans. Most people think it's an old mechanic's tale. But lately there's been reports of spare parts and used motor oil raining from the sky.
  • Boondocks capo Izzy "The Fish" Schwimmer is behind on his payments to the God City Honchos. The Big Boss is talking about sending someone to collect, but so far no one wants to make the trip down to Lake Hori. (Merman Izzy was building robo-stilts for the devil-fish of Lake Hori to support an aquatic take over of the God City crime syndicate. Based on the hee-larious young adult novel Whales On Stilts!)
  • The rivalry between the burger joints in God City has always been intense but lately it's getting out of control. Churchy la Beef's got firebombed last week, and rumor has it a bunch of people got sick eating at Rollo's. (Cannibal chickenoid scientist Gallus 13 is exploiting the rivalry to further his chain of Little Chicken Huts. This is based on real life.)
  • Somewhere to the north and east of God City there's a crashed spaceship known as the Monster Magnet because it supposedly lures monsters to it from the surrounding countryside. Another rumor says the ship is called the Golden Argos because of the deadly gold-armored mandroids who have been marauding the mountain villages. It's said that it uses an extragalactic nano-neon propulsion system -- one that doesn't require a nav someone who controlled this ship might be able to escape from Planet Vanth! (Someday I *will* run an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks / Legion of Gold mashup using Encounter Critical.)
  • There's an Amazon called Jane (Or June? Was it Jarby?) recruiting bravos for a mission to rescue her family, lost in the Tiki Caves of the Fissure of Death (The Amazon is a two-headed mutant named Janus Darby, and she hopes to rescue her sister Kidney and her three step-brothers before her other sister Masha can beat her to it...Masha, Masha, Masha!)
  • A Lightning Blue Dragon has taken roost in a mountain tunnel, blocking the High Desert Freightway. Desert Hobling warlord Omar Shorteef is angry about the loss of trade.
  • Legendary baker Wenorb Dread -- founder of local favorite Voodoo Doughnut -- has closed shop for the season. Supposedly he's discovered a recipe for the ultimate seven layer cake, but needs a rare ingredient to attempt the recipe. (the ultimate Seven Layer Cake Golem, that is! This one and the previous were randomly rolled on the loony chart here.)
  • The producers of the popular holovid show "The Most Dangerous Catch" are looking for fresh talent. Filming starts soon for Season 4: Sky Piranha Fishing Quest! (Shipwrecked on a cloud? Lost in space? Attacked by pirates? Edited for maximum embarrassment by the producers? So many ways this could have gone.)
  • God City's beloved record shop, the Sonic Phasogram, home to the latest and greatest in every audio format known, might be going out of business. The scuttlebutt is trouble with the landlord. The Electric Bugbear is headlining a benefit concert. Should be a good show. (Basically the plot of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Frog & Toad Are Fiends: An Amphibious Top 10

attack frog!

When he wasn't pretending to pop out an eyeball and eat it, my dad used to recite, in tones of solemn gravitas belied by the glee in his eyes, the following poem:

Walkin' down the road
Saw a big fat toad
Guts layin' all over the tar
Musta been hit by a big ol' car
So if I grew up warped it was nurture, not nature.

10. Firetoad It's a giant toad that spits fireballs. Pedestrian.

9. Blindheim It's a man-toad with high beams. Peculiar.

8. Grippli Tree frog men, because D&D never tires of piling on more intelligent humanoids! I mix these guys up in my head with the fiddling grigs featured on the same page of the Monster Manual II, resulting in musical frogs whose piping song lulls and confuses travelers.

7. Muckdweller It's a salamander that squirts a blinding stream of muddy water. Pah-tooey! They are lawful evil, and sometimes consort with generally neutral lizard men. I imagine them as sinister tempters, encouraging the lizard men's hunger for human flesh...

6. Type II Demon (Hezrou) The toad demon is iconic to be sure, but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Types I and III-VI. It lacks pizazz.

5. Ice Toad I was ready to plunk these down at 9 or so: giant toad, blast of cold, OK, OK. But what’s this? "The ice toads have their own weird language?" Now I wonder what they’re up to, croaking and ribbiting in the eldritch glow of the northern lights...

4. Killer Frog Froggie went a killin’ and he did ride, hey hey. And, please note, they are "specially bred mutants. Only their cannibalistic habits keep them from becoming common and thus a real threat."

3. Bullywug It’s the name, really. Say it out loud three or four times and it’ll have you grinning. It’s like a novelty song from the 50s. At the same time, imagine the fracas a squad of these guys could cause, marching out of a bog in a frigging frog phalanx, with spearmen hopping over the shield wall to attack the party’s backline. Not the Hully Gully, not the Frug – good golly it’s the Bullywug!

2. Slaad The slaadi might make it onto my actual, not joking around top ten monster list. When I write that up maybe I’ll have something more intellectual to say. But honestly, one reason why I liked them so much as a kid? They’re freaky froggin’ bad asses! Spell abilities out the croakhole! Two-handed magic swords! One of them lays eggs in you! One of them has claws like Wolverine!

1. Froghemoth The slaadi might have the real ultimate power of the toad monster world, but the froghemoth has Zowie. Gygaxian naturalism is a beautiful thing, to be sure. But sometimes you have to tell naturalism of any stripe to take a flying leap into the phantasmagorical, as Gygax himself demonstrated with this beautiful monstrosity.

Tales From God City

After a good six-seven month run I just ended my online Encounter Critical game, God City Sandbox. Play by post games are fueled by enthusiasm and attention, and the game seems to have run out of steam the last few weeks. With a couple players incommunicado my own enthusiasm sorta fizzled too, and I let the game drift off into the phasic sunset. So it goes.

Don't worry, I'm not gonna get all weepy. I had a damn good time while it lasted! Here are my favorite bits:
  • At the very start of things the players decide to grab a bite at Rollo's burger joint. Now, one of the players had actually heard a rumor that a bunch of people had gotten sick eating at Rollo's...but for some reason never mentioned this to his pals. Sure enough, they ate the mystery meat and fell victim to the Wandering Upchuck Table.
  • A bit later the party need some info from someone they knew only as "Darryl's HAWT Mom." So they get Darryl on the line, who turns out to be a lisping teenage lizard hybrid (picture a cross between Milhaus and a sleestak). One of the players decides to blow smoke up the poor kid's hinder, pretending to have news of his long lost father. That ended with Darryl in tears, which did not amuse Darryl's Mom even slightly. Darryl's HAWT Mom, who turned out to be a Huge Ancient Wyrmic Tyrannosaur. Much grovelling at the foot of a half-dragon T-Rex ensued.
  • They end up going to a giant battle royale. I asked the players for pre-fight training montages, and they came up with these. Awesome!
  • They were supposed to watch over Darryl at the Brawl. Darryl, of course, was the original pipsqueak, and got choked out in about 30 seconds flat. Some goblin medics try to load him onto a crane with the other wounded, and a couple players flip. out. The pioneer Buck Pulsar jumps on the dipper bucket as it lifts off, and despite the strict rules against using magic in the arena the warlock Quazarn fires off his spell Troublesome Toy, which turns the whole crane arm into silly putty.
  • When the cannibal goon squad sent to catch the warlock goes berserk, the party's frankenstein warrior Creature rips off one goon's arm and beats another one to death with it. Later in the Brawl, Creature's player and I had the following exchange:
    PC: Creature spews hot coffee in the face of the giant.
    Me: By spew d'you mean spitting coffee in his face? Cos if it's hot enough to scald his eyes it's hot enough to burn yo tongue...
    PC: Yes, I mean summon the coffee within me that I just drank, up my esophagus and out my mouth. My thinking is that while it may be scalding to a giant's eyeballs, it might just be a nice warm drink to the digestive system of a Frankenstein.
    Me: ....
  • The hobling criminal, Hobson, spent a good part of the Brawl trying to rob lockers and using his hologram cloak to masquerade as a police officer in order to bamboozle the head of arena security. Eventually Chief Tallbard had Hobson and Quazarn cornered, but the hobling shot the Chief in the leg with a crossbow -- the only time he rolled an attack the whole game too!
  • Despite beating up on klengons, wookies, and some elf wrestlers, the PCs seemed totally intimidated by a mystical hobling-vulkin crossbreed (a vobling, natch) who never even stood up the whole time they talked to him. Goons and greasers they could deal with, but a lounging hippy who talked in song lyrics and gibberish mantras had 'em spooked!
  • The opposition got tougher the longer the Brawl went on, but the party held together until they faced Aarn, Son of Aarn and Olley, Cousin of Aarn, Son of Aarn. Aarn went down pretty quickly, but Olley just hung on and on till the last standing PCs finally took the retreat chutes out of the Brawl...
In retrospect the I let the Brawl drag on too long. It could've been done in a single session face to face, but it was probably too much of a grind for online. I made it clear from the start that they could quit the Brawl at any time, but I could have reminded them here and there as things wore on. In any case, I loved running for all of the players who visited my version of Vanth. Hope they had as much fun as I did!

SEE ALSO: All of the play threads are archived at the God City Sandbox blog, for any as like to read game logs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Winter War!

Friday before last I packed my bags, filled up a 30-count box with CDs (my iPod battery being drainsville), and motored south to Champaign-Urbana for Winter War 36. Here's how it went down.

First thing Friday night was Jeff's Encounter Critical game. He's already given the lowdown on our escape from Planet Gamma via a Left Turn at Alba-Quirky, which most people reading this have already read. I've run EC, at least as a play-by-post, but never had a chance to play. It was a hoot. Jeff didn't hand out any XP, but my PC Zeerok almost certainly gained enough for a level, what with (unsuccessfully) Reading the Mind of a dead snake person by popping its skull and poking its brain, getting the handy (ahem) mutation of telescoping arms and discovering a cure for space zombie contamination. It's too bad a few of the players seemed more interested in hanging out with their (non-playing) pals. I mean, this was a game where we slipped a mutant house-plant a mickey, flew a rocket into orbit and hot-wired a lunar rover. So their loss, obviously.

On Saturday morning I played something new for me, Cartoon Action Hour by Spectrum Games, a game that emulates the classic action-adventure cartoons of the 80s. The event was pitched as post-apocalyptic cowboys: good enough to lure me in! CAH turned out to be very fast-paced and rules light, and the cartoon-inspired setting made for a great mix of wild action and meta-game humor about commercial breaks and Action Playsets. Royce Thigpen's scenario Waste Riders was great fun. We battled our recurring foes the Ant-People and their King, had a shoot-out on horseback while chasing a Mack truck loaded with kidnapped townsfolk, and trojan-horsed our way into our nemesis Black Bart's supermarket fortress to battle his giant cyborg. What's not to love?

Up next was Matthew 'Alex' Riedel's Arcane Vault of the Magic Goddess, a 1e game featuring a buried temple to Isis and some great tricks and traps in the vein of the classic tournament modules. I can easily imagine Dave Sutherland illustrations of our hapless thief getting stuck to the wall of a magnetized pit, torched by a flame trap and, fatally, squashed by a golem! We players did more dithering than delving, and consequently didn't get to explore too much of the Vault itself. Happily, it was a runner up in last summer's Fight On! / Otherworld Miniatures adventure contest, so I'll be able to read the rest when FO #4 is published. Mike 'Chgowiz' Shorten has more on the session here.

Speaking of Cha-gow-izz (the cognoscenti say "Chicago Wiz"), he and Alex Riedel switched places for Mike's Sunday AM game, A Mob is a Terrible Thing. The moment our front line slipped down a greased slide and started getting pelted by rock throwing kobolds I had my suspicions that we'd come down with a case of Tucker's Complaint. Sure enough it was a running battle from then on, with kobolds lobbing flaming oil, rocks and javelins then running away before Alex's bloodthirsty dwarf could smash too many of them. Nothing but bad luck for my PCs: tripping and falling while chasing after a spooked henchman, trying and failing to catch a flaming gourd molotov, falling into a pit full of grey ooze, dying...

Mike's a very physical DM, on his feet for most of the session, and he pushed the pace by immediately responding to every spoken action -- unless we very clearly stated we were just planning, every damn thing that came out of our mouths was in play. Loads of low-down dirty high-adventure hijinks. Read more from Mike here and, hey, why not download the adventure for yourself?

A quick dash out for a sandwich and it was back to the table for Jeff Rients's Big Stoopid Dungeon Party. I believe that my thief LaQuinta was the first to die -- in hindsight grabbing the giant glowing ruby wasn't the smartest thing, but I had hopes of fencing it to my twin sister LaCinco. Ah well. My second character was a scholarly magic-user, who spent much of the adventure on donkey back, writing bad haiku during pitched battles and taking over mapping when our first cartographer perished. This was the limit of my usefulness since I'd prepared Read Languages and we discovered no ancient rebuses in need of decoding.

Jeff had a knack for catching individual player's voices out of a din of crosstalk and smart-assery, and a low key, almost deadpan style that worked really well with a table full of rambunctious gamers -- we didn't need any egging on to generate our own excitement. I can't imagine playing in a regular game with that many players, but as the giddy, goofy, edge-of-exhausted culmination of a con it was just about perfect.

With only a stop for coffee I was on the road and gone like a train. With just enough traffic to keep me alert and a Scandinavian audio-assist from Opeth, Robyn, and Finntroll, I was home by 10:30pm. WinterWar is a great convention. I had a fandamntastic time, and hope to make it down again next year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Planet Gamma of the Apes

Oh, uh, hey. Been awhile since I popped up in your RSS feeds. Maybe lost my mojo a little. But wotthehell, here's a quick post.

So, I'm going to WinterWar! Pretty dang excited about that. Ole Jeff the Journey Master posted his Encounter Critical pregens the other day. Spiffy as they are, I could hardly pass up a chance to roll up my own EC PC.

First guy I came up with was Gusten Cipher, an insane, saber-wielding cyborg scientist with radar eyes -- half Captain Clegg, half Herr Doktor von Frankenstein, 100% Peter Cushing.

Maybe too much Peter Cushing. I dig this character, but he seemed a little high-falutin' for Planet Gamma. I mean, you saw the pack of freaks Jeff came up with, yeah? Gooble Gobble, what the f*%k, am I right? I wanted something crazy, kooky, and, if at all possible, ooky. Something low budget and not of this world. Something neither robot nor man nor ape.

I found this:

And lo...Born of Ape and Robodroid...The 10,000 kHz Gorilla...ZeeRok the Radio Ape.

Damn I'm looking forward to this!