Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Slow Roll Gaming Show of 2024 - Swords & Chaos, Comae Engine, and More

 This is a remarkably quiet year for a D&D 50th Anniversary. Some stuff is coming out, which is cool, but the key new edition books are all delayed to the end of the year and in the case of the Monster Manual, next year. But luckily I expect to have Tales of the Valiant in my hands in maybe just a few weeks? We shall see!

Part of me acknowledges I am just getting old, but even DriveThruRPG's picking have been....weird....lately. A disproportionate amount of content over on DTRPG seems to have either an intentional or unintentional lack of polish, as if the idea is to throwback the product to a bygone era when your only art resource was you high school buddy who doodled a lot, but meanwhile the rest of the products all have a pristine AI generated polish to them that has that "uncanny valley reality, tinged with anime thematics" look to it that is a grotesque turn-off and an immediate warning that there may have been less actual effort put in to the product. But hey, interesting stuff does slip in the cracks. I am debating ordering the brand new Smoke and Aces BRP book which looks interesting, and I just received my print edition of The Comae Engine, a rather unique reductionist redesign of the BRP/D100 system, and I also ordered a copy of Swords & Chaos RPG, a non-Troll Lord published SIEGE engine RPG heavily flavored for traditional Swords & Sorcery; barbarians only need apply, no pesky hobbits here!

So far, of the two Comae Engine looks a little heavy on the "storytelling mechanics" approach to play which for me is the equivalent of telling me that you can substitute any meat in any meal with an impossible burger patty and it will be just fine. I am not yet decided, and plan to try running it before I make any determination. Some elements such as the skill system approach are pretty cool.....and in terms of trying to make a condensed, modest system that can quickly be skinned for any genre or feel it seems like it might work pretty well in many cases. I think the book could have benefited from about 20 pages or so of examples of how to use it, and example genres/scenarios. 

To contrast, Swords & Chaos RPG from Blackspire Fantasy is a SIEGE engine powered RPG, a sort of updated version of Castles & Crusades which refines the experience to a distinctly classical swords, sorcery and sandals approach to RPGs, with humans as the only species to play, classes that fit Hyboria, Atlantis or Mu, and an excellent roster of monsters that only poaches a handful of classic OGL familiars that best fit the darker S&S vibe (e.g. cloakers, darkmantles), then fleshes the list out with a lot of more traditionally pulp fantasy beasts. No orcs, elves, halflings or dwarves here! 

Put another way, Swords & Chaos is for better or worse more my cup of tea these days, a known quantity my old brain, suffused like a marinade for decades with the swords & sorcery genre, can wrap itself around....like a tasty spinach wrap, maybe. Hmmmm now I'm hungry.

What I like most about S&C is that it is a "all in one" book laden with exactly 100% of what you need to run the game. I am sure you can swap stuff in from Castles & Crusades if you want....but you totally don't need to. This book has it all. I am really big on "one tome to rule it all" lately. I will grant systems where the rules are dispersed over 2 or 3 tomes a pass, so long as those 2 or 3 books combined are 100% complete together.

Despite this, I am still extremely keen to explore the other slightly more traditional yet nonetheless totally cool Dragonbane. I really have too many flavors of classic and pulp fantasy floating around (see also ACKS). I need to wrap up the current D&D campaign so we can get to the other fantasy games all waiting in the wings. Conundrums!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Pathfinder Monster Core is Out - Some Thoughts

 I snagged the new Monster Core for Pathfinder's 2E revised series, and have to say this is a nice, robust tome with a larger page count and content than the original. Like the new ORC licensed editions it expurgates as much OGL styled content as it can, which is to say that you won't find any distinctly D&D-brand level monsters anymore, not even the ones which served some general purpose. Owlbears - gone. Mimics? Gone. Darkmantles and other oddities such as the Chuul? Gone. Some of these monsters may be repurposed or renamed....ones which had already been given a distinct Pathfinder identity (Allgholthu, caligni, and xulgath for example being faceless ones, dark creepers and troglodytes) still lurk in these forms, but if you take a look at the section on demons and devils: whoo boy, this is where the identity of Pathfinder now feels more defined by what is absent than what is present. 

Amidst this are the many monsters out of myth and folklore oddly untouched, even the poor Medusa who deserves to be properly renamed a Gorgon, but oh well. 

I haven't decided yet if this is a good thing or not. Sure, the old Bestiaries work fine with the revised rules and provide those old OGL stats, but I'm a bit of a purist and want to look at the current state of the game for what it is trying to be going forward. Right now it is....interesting. A GM with this book will want to take some extra time to start looking for what will be the new oddities players come to associate with PF style fantasy, and what will be the useful staples for impromptu encounters. They are definitely not going to look like the old D&D stuff.

On the plus side, this actually makes the experience of reading the Monster Core feel a bit novel and different. There's effectively a new and different experience here, and the excision of so many OGL elements makes it feel more distinctly its own thing. On the negative side, it really does feel less like "something new and different" after a while and more like something defined by an absence, probably because ultimately Pathfinder really has always been the "Other D&D" for all practical purposes. What is a fantasy world (or Golarion) like without so many of these monsters that used to define it? What is everything in Pathfinder now, a game which was originally the de facto flagship for the D&D 3rd edition game system, now that it has been rendered neuter by corporate chicanery and a need to brand one's IP more distinctly? It feels a bit.....hollow, almost performative. 

Despite that criticism, I am still keen to explore this book in depth and see what sort of ideas for a campaign it may bring me. We shall see! I have to reconcile my deep dislike of Pathfinder 2E as a player against my deep appreciation for it as a GM. I haven't quite managed to resolve this internal schism in my feelings about the game yet. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

ACKS Has Arrived!

A brief note! My ACKS (Adventurer, Conqueror, King System) core book, Playe's Companion, Heroic Fantasy Companion and Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu tomes have all arrived. I just wanted to point out that I often order from NobleKnight.com, and for exactly this reason: the books were all rated in EX/NM condition and that is exactly what showed up, in fantastic shape. 

I'll be bringing these along to show off to my game group next Wednesday. We're currently in a D&D 5E campaign in my Pergerron/River Kingdoms of Anansis setting, but it is heading to a finale soon and we will have a good opportunity to break if we want to try out something new. I actually have a campaign setting designed around a very gritty old-world theme, the Lands of Selentar, about which I don't think I've posted much on the blog (come to think of it, I need to get back to posting more on the other setting I ran PF2E adventures in, Oman'Hakat, as well). 

Selentar is a fictional analog to Europe around 60-90 AD if it turns out the Roman Empire analog collapsed abruptly after the totally-not-Nero like Emperor of the Eorma was killed in a vicious civil war driven by germanic-like people who realized that the aristrocracy of the empire was riddled with demon worship. All of the gods and beliefs in this setting are derived, at core, from what is known of the various peoples around the equivalent historical time period, albeit with some extra sword & sorcery twists. So...it might be an excellent fit for the ACKS system, in other words.

As long as I am posting something I just wanted to comment that Mothership Kickstarter just charged me for shipping so it looks like we may finally see the giant boxed set soon! I will in the interim continue our bi-weekly weekend Traveller games, which have been the polar , opposite of Mothership, especially this weekend's session when the group pulled off a Star Trek style rescue of stranded ships captured on an ancient asteroid turned into a relic defense weapon by a lost civilization. Not a shot was fired and yet everyone was gripped with excitement at the mystery and task at hand, followed by success in their rescue. It was a fun turnabout from games involving high levels of death and violence, and does reflect the fact that Traveller is above all else a multifaceted system reflecting the many  concept spaces in science fiction, allowing for a vast swathe of the genre to be represented. In other words....what I am saying is it would be hard to pull off such a pleasant and optimistic (yet still exciting and fun) mission in a system like Mothership. Even if I ran a completely straight mission in Mothership like that the entire party would be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for mayhem and murder to ensue. But in Traveller? They can take it at face value and conclude that there was no need to assume a xenomorph analog around the corner. Next session they get invited to an Aslan wedding of high importance, and may discover a trafficking ring of non-spacefaring species who are being exploited by a local Evil Empire. If you are one of my players forget you read that sentence!  

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Adventurer, Conqueror King System - My PDF experiment failed

Not too long ago I dived in to several systems, one of which was Adventurer, Conqueror King System. ACKS as it is known is an OSR-adjcent RPG from Autarch Publishing which has an interesting fusion of mechanical aspects from B/X D&D, AD&D 1E and AD&D 2E. It uses "class as race" for example but does so by constructing unique classes that are custom focused on the race. You don't play "elf" for example, you pick from elven spellsword or elven nightblade, with each demihuman type having a couple base classes in the core rules and lots more in the expanded companion books. It's a decent happy medium between simpler class choices that are also meaningful in flavor and style. "Spellsword" sounds cooler than elven fighter/mage, after all, or even just "elf!"

Anyway, lots of other things in ACKS appeal to me - proficiency systems, cool subsystems, a distinct sword & sorcery flavor that leans heavily into early pulp fantasy more than later post-Tolkien fantasy, etc. etc. But...ACKS is still ultimately another OSR variant, even if it is dolled up and more original than most. As such, I decided to try an experiment: I snagged all the ACKS books I wanted on PDF through DriveThruRPG.com and decided to see if I could engage with the system purely in PDF format. Could I, in fact, read, learn, and plan for a game with a system entirely held in electronic format?

As it turns out, months later, I have decided that the answer is a resounding no. While having the documents in PDF format is handy enough, actually sitting down and working with them on a tablet or big screen is far more utilitarian, and the horrible truth is that, at least for me, the tactile element of a physical rulebook I can flip back and forth through is more useful and honestly quicker than trying to do the same with a PDF. The only true advantage of the PDF is you can search fairly quickly (as long as it is indexed and your search parameter is correct). Beyond that, books hold the decisive advantage in that you can mark and annotate more easily (if you like defacing your books!), you can bookmark more clearly, you can search about as quickly but also with more intuition because you have a measurable quantity in hand and can know roughly where to look. It's just a more visceral, intuitive experience. Some may have adapted well to electronic documents, but for me? Nope. A lot of people I think feel this way.....it is evident in my son and his friends (of those who do read or play games) that the physical book is far more valued than a PDF. On the other hand, they are all playing D&D 5E, and there are no searchable PDFs out there, but they do use D&D Beyond for character generation in their middle school group, so whadda I know.

This is all a long way o saying I decided to buy the phsyical ACKS books instead with the idea toward running a campaign soon. I grabbed some decently priced copies on NobleKnight.com and the rest in POD through Drivethru. I will write more on ACKS as soon as I have the real books in hand! It is a very interesting system, managing to hew close to OSR norms while still innovating and achieving its own distinct flavor, and I like it. I may be able to blend it a bit or at least utilize it for some of the OSE modules I have accrued, too.....there's a lot to like about OSE, which takes a different and equally neat approach to consolidating various early OSR editions of D&D together, but its flavor is incredibly vanilla as a result, and I am really loving the sort of "Howard/de Camp/Carter/Wagner/Lieber" style that ACKS exudes. 


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Dreams & Machines - Some First Thoughts

 This is a very brief post to mull over a couple odd thoughts about Dreams & Machines, the new 2D20 powered RPG from Modiphius. I snagged it yesterday, and am still ploughing through it so this is not a review, but this game evoked some immediate comparisons and observations to me. 

First and most interestingly when I read the back cover text I got this "exploring the unknown, Gamma World style" vibe but the books were sealed in plastic wrap so I bought them sight unseen based on this.

Second, on opening the book I was surprised that the books had a lot less art than I was expecting. Some of the art and the text blurbs are evocative of a kid's observations, and indeed there is some subtext to that effect.....but the game is, unlike its closest obvious influence (Tales from the Loop) not necessarily about rolling up kids in a world of abandoned giant robots. It's about rolling up adults in a world of abandoned giant robots. 

The Tales from the Loop comparison is inescapable. The art is varied in D&M but the best color pieces evoke people (sometimes kids) walking around giant robots. Some of the images look fairly menacing, but mostly its due to the spartan "shadows on shadows at night" style of the artist. The actual text of D&M is a lot more whimsical and youth-friendly; I haven't encountered anything (yet) that would suggest to me you couldn't hand this game to a 12-14 year old and regret it. 

I also felt like there's a slight bit of Numenera evoked in this book, but mostly Tales from the Loop. 

There's a lot of expository text setting up the world, how humans got there, and how and why robots are everywhere. The foes book is not all robots though. All told so far its an interesting read. 

The layout and style of the book is weird, though. It is not nearly as art-heavy or evocative as I thought, and the book barely manages to capture any style of its own; it feels too easy to draw comparisons to other RPGs that already occupy this same niche-within-a-niche genre. It feels to me like maybe an earlier draft of D&M really did focus on kids and robots, and someone midway said, "That's too on the nose, lets make them adults," but a lot of the sample text remained narratively from this kid. 

All that aside, I am still reading and it is quite interesting. A lighter side apocalyptic exploration book is cool enough, and there is ample room in the market for this kind of take. I could not dig the Tales of the Loop "kids on bikes" adventure theme anyway, I spent all my life trying to get away from being a kid, so I am content with D&M focusing on a broader picture. 

I'll post a more proper review soon enough, but wanted to share these initial thoughts!


EDIT: Worth mentioning, the book is starkly white pages with line drawings (meant at times to look simple or childish deliberately, I think), and it is so stark and simple that I feel this is the consequence of Modiphius being overly sensitive to the complaints about prior books (especially Star Trek) having white text on black backgrounds. Now it feels somehow....readable but almost plain and undercooked? Not a real critique, just a comment on how the layout feels to me. It still works for its intent.


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Long Time No Blog! Deathbat Updates

 Man I have fallen off the blog wagon this year....even my efforts to do twice a week quickly fell to the wayside. 2024 may be the year I just learn to blog when I feel like it, rather than try to maintain any schedule. It probably doesn't help that I have been generally more relaxed on my RPG focus lately.

Mainly what I've done so far in the first quarter of this year is: reduce the amount of time I spend in VTT gaming, due to developing a general aversion to wanting to run games in the medium. I just burned out, and I am no longer afraid to admit it. VTT GMing is not as fun for me as live gaming, and I now have managed to get my Wednesday night and every other Saturday game into a live environment which is great. I'm running D&D 5E Wednesdays, and Traveller (MGT2E) on Saturdays. 

I am still playing in some VTTs as a player, though. On off Saturdays a friend of mine started Pathfinder 2E. We are all horrendously rusty at it, and for the first time ever I felt like maybe we were all getting a bit too old for the needless complexity of Pathfinder 2E, but really I am just peeved that they nerfed the PF2E skill system so much.....for god's sake, why does Society and Perception cover everything???? If you aren't going to lean in to skill diversity then just cut them. I really dislike it. I think I may be ready at last to cut the cord on Pathfinder 2E, time away from it has not made it age well (and that includes the revamped edition).

Aside from that I am in a very infrequent D&D game, I got an invite to another which I am considering, and we may start another online Call of Cthulhu game tomorrow. I'm a player in each, which is fine with me.....I need a prolonged break from GMing in VTT. Maybe I can pick up the mantle again next time we have a major pandemic. I kid! But not really. 

I am, of course, putting all my eggs in one basket....a Kobold Basket, to be precise: Tales of the Valiant is what I am talking about. Nice to know it will be out before the 50th anniversary D&D totall-not-6th-edition, too! I am looking forward to playing this.

I am also planning to run Dragonbane, which I have grown even more fond of with the new hardcover core rules and Bestiary. This book does for me what I wished Magic World would have done.

So for 2024, I have very few plans to buy in to new books or expand. I have a collection which is quite robust and --honestly?-- probably needs to shrink. I was in talks with a gentleman las year about handing some of my collection off before I lost track with him, need to see if I can find his email. Indeed if you're reading this and still interested drop me an email!

Anyway, maybe I can get more on track with posting, but no promises....who knows!


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Oman'Hakat - The First World - Introduction

 In 2019 I devised a new campaign setting that was initially focused on the region of Osinre, a sort of analog for Egypt and north Africa during the late bronze age. I used it for a couple D&D 5E games, but the campaign rapidly evolved into the setting I used for my first Pathfinder 2E and I have stuck with using PF 2E for it ever since. Here at last I'm going to post details on this world I devised so it can rest along with the other campaign settings I have archived on the blog over the years.

OMAN’HAKAT – The First World

Part I An Introduction and Overview 

Themes

   Oman’Hakat is a setting which focuses on a world steeped in old-world, archaic traditions and mysticism. Although there is evidence of past civilizations, most of the memory of these older empires is lost to myth and folklore. Oman’Hakat is dominated by three major lands: The river kingdoms of Osinre, the island kingdoms of Caelde, and the northeastern Empire of Harkuum. South of Osinre is a wild and untamed wilderness split between the grassy wilderlands of Adantos and the vast southern jungle kingdoms of Omsetar. The people of all these lands collectively refer to the world at large as Oman’Hakat, derived from a common word shared between the lost empires of old to mean “The First World.”

The Ancients

Thuln and the Giants of Caelde

   Caelde is nestled on an island northwest of the Osinre mainland. The people of Caelde believe they descend from a fabled northern empire which sank beneath the waves during the last war of the dead gods, called Thuln. The people settled on the isle of Caelde and have dwelt here for over a thousand years now. Caelde is dotted with a mixture of ancient ruins believed to have been built by ancient giants, men who stood 8 feet tall and left behind wordless relics of an enigmatic past, and younger ruins of the wood elves of the Caelwood (who call themselves the Cael) which suggest a greater elven civilization at one time. The wood elves claim they arrived on the island two thousand years ago, and the ruins of the giants were old even then.

Kadt of Osnire

   In Osinre, the people of this land believe they are descended from the fallen empire of Kadt which was once nestled in the vast region now called the Kal’Osinre Desert. Kadt erected vast and impressive ancient monuments and left behind impressive cities of architectural design impossible by modern understanding, suggesting they were powerful sorcerers, but it is believed these humans, possibly the first men, were all slain in the Deluge created by the War of the Dead Gods. The ruins have been dormant for at least three thousand years, which is the time most scholars believe the War of the Dead Gods took place.

Lost Khesht, the Black Lands and the Edge of the World in Harkuum

   In Harkuum, a large inland empire stretching to the east where it meets the Bowl of the World Mountains, this ancient land shows dotted remnants of pre-deluge empires of old, all likely drowned by the Dead Gods in their lost war. In most of the civilized territories of the Empire these ruins are normally attributed to the lost empire of Khesht, a quasi-mythical era of history after which the Emperor himself aspires to reforge a modern empire.

   Along the edge of the Bowl of the World Mountains are immense statues erected to the Titans, believed to either be the victors in the War of the Dead Gods, or the monsters created to win that war, now returned to slumber. Amidst all of this lies an immense stretch of desert comprised of black sand called the Black Lands which reaches right up to the mountains of the world’s edge. Here lie the tribes of the minotaurs which protect the land and stand in remembrance of the Titans, both worshipping and fearing them. The lost ruins of this region are sometimes called the Belinrai, though that is a modern Harkuumish word which means “the lost” and likely not from the language of Khesht.

Western Kres-Ma-Tek

   While the ancients of Khesht seemed to expand across the entire continent in their ancient times, and may in fact have been several empires or kingdoms united as one culture, some time after their fall around three thousand years ago there was a second empire, though situated only along the coastlands of the western provinces called Kres-Ma-Tek. This empire lasted a little under fifteen hundred years before falling apart around 1,800 years ago. The reasons are unknown to most, but some believe they fell to predatory chaos cults, insinuating their way in to the weave of thought and corrupting the people of Kres-Ma-Tek from within. The ruins of this old empire are most prominent in Sardonte and Akeros but extend as far as the coast of Charasca to the south.

Maheruun and Mythic Kamura

   Somewhere to the far west, beyond the continent of Osinre and the island kingdoms of Caelde is a semi-legendary land called Maheruun. This land is believed to be a place where the last of the ancients of Khesht may have traveled to seek refuge, though whether they survived the ordeal is unknown. Stories in ancient tomes of the era speak of a time of exodus when entire kingdoms took up roots and traveled west to escape the wars that would destroy the old gods. For long ages this land has been defined as Maheruun, somewhere beyond the realm where there be monsters.

   Beyond even Maheruun is Kamura, a legendary land spoken of in only the most ancient of explorer’s tales about a place at the edge of the western world, a vast an uninhabitable coast at the end of the world where an island kingdom forever staves off the encroaching monsters which seep in from Khashar, the Outer Darkness.


Monday, February 5, 2024

Scrutinizing Systems for 2024 - or "What to Play While Waiting for D&D Totally-Not-6E" - Dragonbane, Traveller, Cypher System, Tales of the Valiant and More

 I guess Wizards of the Coast is A: not selling to Tencent (good), and B: not releasing their books in May, which seems like a good time to do it, but apparently they said they will still be working on them in May so now the holidays seem like a stretch too. This is good news, though! It means we should all be trying other things while cooling our jets on trad D&D experiences so we can be ready for whatever the new thing is going to be.

For me, it sort of boils down to a handful of games which have my attention, and not all of them are "unlike D&D" since Tales of the Valiant is in the mix, but hey, you know what is coming out in May? Tales of the Valiant, that's what! So yeah, going to be playing some of that for sure.

I have in my hands Dragonbane Core Rules and Bestiary, the expanded books that will nicely replace or compliment their initial Boxed Starter Set from last year. The Starter Set was a fine product on its own merits, but there is additional content in the new Core Rules for GMs to make it worth checking out, and the Bestiary is a no-brainer whether you stick to the Starter Set or get the Core Rules, it's full of good stuff that is all new content. Dragonbane manages to sit in a hard to achieve sweet spot for me. I like to call this zone the "point at which a game can work to power one or more of my campaign worlds without requiring me to simply ditch said worlds and revise them to match the game's setting and rules expectations." Secondarily, it also fits the category of "alternative fantasy systems which are unique or interesting enough to explore on their own merits, but close enough to D&D in terms of content and accessibility to be an easy sell to players." 

I could go on and on about Dragonbane like this, but it boils down to some simple facts: the game provides a robust system with enough content that you won't find yourself wishing something was in the game that isn't; it offers a setting but does not demand you use it; it provides enough content that you feel like it could substantively replace D&D for a protracted campaign without you feeling like you wish you had access to all the D&D stuff when running or playing. For me, Dragonbane accomplishes all of this, and in the smallest form factor in terms of content for a "robust fantasy RPG" that one could imagine and still fit it in to a single carry bag. 

A lot of other fantasy games out there fail at these requisites I set. Some of my demands are more specific to my tastes; for example I like the Dragonbane skill system (and I also like the D&D skill mechanics, especially once you get back to 3rd edition), but I dislike game systems that eschew skills entirely without good reason. I can forgive an OSR emulator like Swords & Wizardry Complete for this, as skills weren't a thing in the 0E era of D&D, but it means that the S&W experience will forever be limited to merely emulating that style of play, afterwhich there will be no further modifications to the game system. I was modding skill systems in to Tunnels & Trolls and AD&D back in 1982 after experiencing Runequest, so for my experience in a hobby that was at the time a venerable 8 years old I will forever see skills as OSR and necessary to a proper gaming experience. 

Anyway, aside from Dragonbane, which looks to hit the sweet spot in a unique way few other systems have come close to, we have Traveller, which is getting a renaissance of upgraded rulebook editions as well as more content of a general sort of use beyond running Imperium Campaigns. I have a real keen interest in more Traveller soon, tempered only by the fact that I know Mothership will finally be released soon as well, and Mothership is the very genre-specific Traveller counterpart.

Monte Cook's Cypher System is also about to finally release more books, too. Rust & Redemption is the one I am specifically keen on, their Cypher sourcebook for post-apocalyptic tales. I feel that Cypher System works best when you can have weird settings that cater to improvisation, and I expect their post-apoc genre book will prove to be well worth it. 

I should also mention Pathfinder 2E v2. They have more tomes on the way, including the ever important revision to their Bestiary series, and the Player Core 2 to complete the class range my group is used to dealing with. Although my group understands that the backwards compatibility is 99.5% they still seemed more interested in waiting for the rest of these core books to release so we haven't done anything with Pathfinder 2E yet. I personally am more interested in playing it at the game table; Pathfinder, along with D&D 5E and others, can easily devolve into "Find a battle map, populate with virtual tokens, watch encounter turn in to fight because the players have hammers and see nails all over the map" kind of experiences. I guess what I am trying to say is that VTTs work really well on average when you are focused on a map and minis, and are at times terrible when trying to just enjoy the game for its more exploratory and discovery/role play based elements.

I have other games, too. Vast Grimm still commands my attention and several new books released for it, making the world of Vast Grimm a more comprehensive and interesting place to explore. Mork Borg continues to fascinate me, and I think a live campaign should be in order; I am intrigued to experience t least one deliberate attempt to play the game for multiple sessions to see how it works for long hauls. Finally, I still have a shelf full of Free League Titles I need to explore in actual play, especially and in particular Alien RPG, Blade Runner RPG, Forbidden Lands and both CY_Borg and Pirate Borg. 

Don't even get me started on the brilliant 5E reimagining of D20 Modern in the form of Everyday Heroes! Ever since I snagged it last October I've been obsessing about what to do with it, and the array of weird cinematic properties they have congealed around the game to provide support is impressive. That I would even contemplate a campaign in the universe of Universal Soldier, Rambo or Escape from New York is a testament to how engaging and interesting the EH team has been with these sourcebooks. It does crack me up, though, that each sourcebook seems to start with a "I never even heard of or watched the movie this book is based on until I was hired to write it," followed by a thoughtful and engaging approach to taking a wildly dated action film from thirty years ago and turning it in to a must-play setting. 

As always, the problem is too many cool games and not nearly enough time! 


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Eridu: An ancient Sumerian Campaign Premise and Scenario for Mythras, BRP and other Suitable RPGs

 I originally used this with Mythras a few years ago for a short campaign. One of many things I have not posted to the blog before as far as I can tell! 

   When I originally ran this it was before Mythic Babylon had been announced for Mythras. This campaign takes place roughly around 2400-2300 BCE so it can stand on its own, as the Mythic Babylon book handles a more "contemporary" era during the height of Babylonian power, and this mini campaign is about Sumeria during its heady early days of power-jockeying city-states. 

   Though I used Mythras at the time (and it works well for such), I would probably just use BRP 5th Edition for it today. As written this is a "notational" overview and I also had a lot of book references at hand. Some especially handy tomes include "Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City" by Leick (Amazon), and "Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia" by Black (Amazon), a nice categorical reference. One of the more useful online resources I like is located here (Facts and Details), that site alone is practically a campaign guide unto itself. Many of the details below come from one or more of these sources. 

The Eridu Campaign

We'll start with a discussion on the pantheon of gods and then move on to the regional gazetteer.

Mesopotamian Gods of Note

Enki – god of Eridu

Deity of the rivers and men, giver of life and protector, civic deity. Eridu is described as a god who walked from the waters and brought civilization to men. His temple at Eridu, the Abzu, has rested for thousands of years.

Enlil – God of Magic

A ghost and demon to some, wizened sage to others, Enlil is the god who will one day seek to wipe humanity from the earth. Both wizened and capricious, Enki keeps him at bay. He is the purvue of sorcerers and maddened shamans in the desert.

Inanna – Goddess of Uruk

The three-fold goddess of birth, fertility and death, she manifests as three different images in life from the whore, the mother and the crone. She is the patron goddess of Uruk where she has given birth to a pantheon of goddesses and gods who are her children. Her temple is magnificent.

Nanna – god of Ur

The goddess of the moon, night cycles, women’s  menstrual cycles, bulls, male fertility and astronomy also is valued by navigators. Ur, resting on the mouth of the Euphrates, is home to fishermen and sailor alike who count on his guidance. He is also associated with change…including lycanthropic change.

Utu – God of the Sun

Revered everywhere but noted for his temple as Ashur, Utu is the god of the sun and the deserts, a wizened and ancient man who is the seat of power of the very universe itself.

Nisaba – Goddess of Writing

As the mother of Enlil she is given special prominence in the lands of the world, but she is also seen as the goddess of most importance to record keepers and the budding community of scholars who have become so important to the records of the kings, priests and their gods.

Assur – god of the northlands

This deity is revered in the north among the nomads and settlers in the region, a rowdy and wild lot known for their capricious and mercenary ways.

Ninkasi – goddess of beer

The goddess who is patron of brewing has a profoundly quiet but respected cult among the brewers of the land.

Nergal – god of war and death, Lord of Kutha

With the aspect of fire, war and death his to command Nergal rules the underworld with his wife Ereshkigal. He is revered in the remote city of Kutha, which bows before none. Rumor is there is a direct gate to the underworld in Kutha, the domain of Irkalla.


Demons of Mesopotamia

Anzu

The bird-demon is a ferocious beast, a god in its own right, and it seeks to steal the Tablets of Destiny from Ninlil. The tablets are kept in Enlil’s temple in Uruk.

Lilitu

The serpentine demon goddess who harries men and reflect the darker aspects of women. Known to steal babies and seduce men, sometimes kidnapping or murdering them.

Pazuzu

Demon king of the wind, bearer of storms and draught.

Asakku

Vicious spirit demons which kill by plaguing the head with fevers.

Asag

A demon so terrifying it boils the rivers where it wades. Accompanied by rock demons.

Edimmu

Restless dead, ghostly spirits who possess the living and make them commit criminal acts if not appeased.

Lamashtu

A goddess demon with the head of a lioness, a hairy body, donkey’s teeth and ears and eagle claws. She is served by the lilitu, and steals children in childbirth.

Kur

Serpentine dragons which plague the land.

Lammasu and Shedu

The animal-spirit protectors of men and their households, with the bodies of bulls, heads of men and wings of eagles. They are benevolent spirits and good magi can call upon them.

Rabisu

Vampiric spirits, these malevolent demons are sometimes men transformed, or perhaps fallen divinities. The Rabisu can be repelled with sea salt, or trapped in inverted magic bowls with sacred inscriptions written within. The Rabisu are violent and very dangerous vampires otherwise.

Humbaba

A great giant, after whom other giants are also named, who guards the celestial guardian of the gods.


The Major Cities of Mesopotamia (ca. 2,900 BCE, give or take)

Eridu

Ruled by Alulim, Eridu is the center of power and the other cities in the region either are perpetually at war with Eridu or seek to buy it off by tribute. Alulim is said to be tens of thousands of years old, and possibly given immortality by Enki himself. The temple Abzu is here, dedicated to Enki. The city is largely content with its prosperity but a local noble named Alalngar is among those who have been plotting wasy to overthrow Alulim, after a discovery they believe proves he sacrifices innocents to extend his life. Eridu is also considered to have the finest magi and healers in the land.

Kish

Ruled by Aga, who is at times friend and enemy to Lugalbanda.

Ur

A coastal port, ruled by Mesh-Ana-pada, a wizened sage and priest-king of Nanna.

Uruk

The great city of Innana, and the home of King Lugalbanda, father of Gilgamesh, who’s decades have shined as the servant of the goddess Ninsun, who walks as his mortal wife.

Kutha

Ruled by Naram-Sin, this city is reverent to the gateway to the dead.

Sippar

Western and Eastern Sippar are two united cities on the banks of the Euphrates, ruled by En-men-dur-ana, a benevolent lord deducated to Utu, the god of the sun.

 

Other Regions

Assur, to the north

These nomadic barbarians in the north are constant trouble for the region.

Elam, beyond the Zagros Mountains

Beyond Zagros are nomadic tribes who call themselves the Elam. The Elam are nomads who revere three great kings in Ansham, Eawn and Shumaski. The largest capital is Susa, along the river Karun, which pays tribute to Kish. Susa worships Insusinak, the god of the city (Lord of Oaths, Judge of the Dead, Symbol of the Serpent). Other gods worshipped included Ismekarab (the infernal goddess of oaths), Lagamal (the goddess of no mercy, the judge), Humban (god of the sky), Pinigir (goddess of heaven) and Manzat (The Great Lady).

Ebla is the western empire and the men of that region are effectively civilized but the Canaan are barbarian the coastal tribes who worship Dagan. (Yes, that Dagan, alias Dagon). Whether he's really an early proto-semitic god of grain and fertility or a vile fish god from the deeps is up for you all to find out.

Dilmun

Distant trade empire to the east. Beyond them is Indus, which has no direct contact with Sumer. It may be the home of the immortal Ut-Napishtim, and is a major source of copper trade. In some regards, Dilmun supplies Sumer with the metal needed to wage war. Dilmun is located on an isle deep in the great Abzu Sea.

Egypt (Khemit)

Ruled by Pharaoh Qa’a, Egypt is a remote land but hostile to foreigners.

Magan

This distant kingdom is located in the region of contemporary Oman. Little is known of it, but they are a major supplier of copper.

Meluhha

This may be the most distant kingdom known, and is one name for distant Indus. The closest trade port is Sutkagen Dor.

Kassu in the Zagros Mountains

The men of Zagros, the Kassu, who are raiders and dislike the Elam and Sumer of Ubaid alike, are difficult to deal with. The bandit warlord culture of the Kassu make travel through the mountains dangerous.

West of the Two Rivers: Hamoukar of Canaan and Ebla

The region of the Levant is prehistoric at this time and influenced by the local nomads and the Sumer-influenced cities of Hamoukar and Ebla. Hamoukar was known for its obsidian quarries while Ebla was known for its limestone quarries and aggressive trade network. Both provided coastal trade routes to the western sea. Ebla is ruled by Hakume, a shrewd and dour king. Other settlements in the area include the township of Chagar Bazar, Nagar and Arbid, all along the Khabur River Basin.

Hamoukar is also known for its weird local cult to the “God of a Thousand Eyes,” and is known to produce eye effigies in his worship. This worship is considered profane by the men of Uruk and they have sieged and razed the city at least once in historic memory….but the cult always retuns. Hamoukar is preliterate and does not use any writing system.

Amartu

The nomads of the west are distinct in their uncouth and simple nature as pastoral herders with limited grasp of civilization. The Amartu will one day grow strong but in this era they are a nuisance to the western deserts, raiders who seek to take the riches of Ubaid for their own.

Player Guide

Barbarians can come from Assur to the north. Nomads would come from Elam to the east of the Zagros Mountains (though civilized Elam dwell in Susa), and the Elam do have their own developing language with simple writing inspired by the Sumer. You will also find barbarians in the Zagros Mountains: the Kassu, a rough and simple folk prone to raiding. 

You could have a civilized foreigner visiting from Dilmun, as well. Dilmun was East of Elam, along a trade route to Indus.

Languages you can learn (spoken, not written): Sumer, Assur, Elam, Dilmun, Egyptian, and Kassite

Character Generation: Use the 80 point build.

Cultures:  Barbarian, Nomadic, Civilized and Primitive are all fine, but there's almost no written language at this time....written systems are basic counting and markers, and have little recognizable language structure as we think of it. Cuneiform is in an early developmental stage at this time....and paper does not exist. Clay tablets and clay balls with beads, counters and figurines are how information is conveyed. So one "Language (Cuneiform) skill will suffice to understand all writing known to men in this region of the world.

Humans can be from Eridu, the capitol city of the kingdom of Ubaid. If you're from one of the rival city-states at Kish, Uruk, or Ur you will need to be a responsible profession with a trade appreciated abroad to justify your presence, or have a decent social class....wanderers of little means or skill are looked at as thieves and robbers.

If you are from Eridu you at least pay lip service to Enki, the god of the kingdom and benefactor of men. If you are from Uruk you respect Innana, goddess of life. If from Ur then you revere Nanna, god of the moon and bulls.

For magic: folk magic is "sorcery" as men think of it in this age and a magus would know the art, but common men rarely do....and if you know the art, then you are no common man. Magi also know of animism. Sorcery is so rare no one can start with it and only those who figure out dark pacts which teach them the marks of power have a shot at it. Mysticism is possible to those who pursue it....in this age when some men claim to be divine in origin, mysticism is possible. Theism is practiced by the cults of Enki, Innana and the other gods, but like other magic it is very rare and only a few prominent priests know of any theistic miracles.

Also...if you want to play a barbarian (like all out) but want to be a wanderer type who's visiting Ubaid (but Not to officially siege a city and take it's stuff), Assur to the north is a good choice, as is Amartu to the west, or coastal Canaan. Ebla is the western empire and the men of that region are effectively civilized but the Canaan are barbarian the coastal tribes who worship Dagan. (Yes, that Dagan, alias Dagon). Whether he's really an early proto-semitic god of grain and fertility or a vile fish god from the deeps is up for you all to find out.

And don't forget the men of Zagros, the Kassu, who are raiders and dislike the Elam and Sumer of Ubaid alike. 


Silver as Coinage: (the below is quoted but I forget the source, might be from this useful site: here)

In Mesopotamia, silver became the standard of value sometime between 3100 B.C. and 2500 B.C. along with barley. Silver was used because it was a prized decorative material, it was portable and the supply of it was relatively constant and predictable from year to year.

 Sometime before 2500 B.C. a shekel of silver became the standard currency. Tablets listed the price of timber and grains in shekels of silver. A shekel was equal to about one third of an ounce, or little more than three pennies in terms of weight. One month of labor was worth 1 shekel. A liter of barley sold for 3/100ths of shekel. A slave sold for between 10 and 20 shekels.

 

Adventures in Ubaid:

 

Part I: The Witch and the Heart

Ur-Nisu has a son who died in battle, and his loss drove him to a greater evil. He hires an adventurer group to go with Ur-Nisu (or on his behalf) to find the witch and take his son’s heart back. Then paid to take the heart and his daughter to Haiadi to see if he can put the heart to rest!

 

The Witch’s Lair: located in a small encampment of huts deep in the Red Desert where loyal nomads seek her out for healing and seances, Emiska is in fact protected by her followers but also by the lilitu demon which she has struck a pact with. Having his heart, she can also summon the vampiric rabasu Hamattu and call upon him for protection….wise heroes will know sea salt, purified, will drive him back.

 

Emiska will negotiate with the heroes if they try to reason with her. She will offer the heart in exchange for a deed: go to the high mountains of Zagros and bring her a different heart, that of the warlord of the Kassu named Ninhadda. Kill Ninhadda, bring her his heart, and she will exchange it for Hamattu’s.

 

If the heroes try to take her out, she is protected by the lilitu, which initially manifests as a spirit seeking to possess….Emiska’s followers willingly supplicate and the demon will take control, transforming them as it does (use the Lamia stats). Even if Emiska is slain the lilitu will seek to stay, not wanting to let go of it’s host, and will seek to kill all witnesses.

 

Emiska will also call upon the power of the heart……but even if she does, Hamattu will not come if it is daylight, or if the adventurers thought to consecrate the hut with sea salt. If they did not and it is dark, he will arrive but reluctantly….he cannot face his father if he is there. If not, he will attack with a vengeance, but will recoil from fire.

 

Warlord Ninhadda: if the PCs cooperate with the witch, that takes them thirty miles in to the western mountains where a warrior who spurned the witch’s advances works with his small army in a long series of dug-out caves in the mountains. He plots to siege Hadoukar and become king of Ebla. A year ago he went to the witch and ask her to speak of his omen, to learn if he would be king. She said payment was his infidelity, and that she wanted his seed for a child. He was deeply offended, being loyal to his single wife Atane, and he rebuffed the witch. Emiska was enraged. She sent an assassin to poison him but he killed the assassin and sent the body to her village with the warning that if she tried again he would raze her village to the ground.

 

Going to Ninhadda is a huge risk, actually…he is a tough fighter and well protected. But if the PCs tell him what they were asked, he will agree to raze the village and give them the heart. If they try to substitute a heart of someone else, the witch will know and then curse them before summoning the vampire to hunt them. If the group somehow does kill Ninhadda, it creates a power vacuum among the Kassu tribes.

 

Part II: Journey to Susa

Ur-Nisu needs men willing to take a shipment of goods into the Zagros Mountain Highlands. He needs the goods taken to Susa, to a merchant prince named Haiadi, and for the hired men to escort back the payment. Ur-Nisu is too frail to make the journey which is close to 100 miles distant and requires transport by river boat for much of it. The journey will take the hired crew from Eridu to the gulf, to the river passage to Susa…..not difficult, but the possibility of river pirates is a risk.

 

Ur-Nisu promises 1,000 silvers to the group in exchange for this service, no questions asked….the adventurers were previously hired by him to go to the Red Desert and take the reliquary from the witch Emiska then he will hire them based on loyalty. For those who did not… He tells them that they are not to listen to his daughter, that she has had maddened ravings since being exposed to the malignance of a Asakku demon who came to her in the night when she was serving as a temple priestess to Inanna.

 

The goods it turns out include six clay vases filled with copper ingots, a large layered clay pot (a cold-storing pot from Meluhha) sealed in wax that contains a blackened, beating heart. Finally there is Ur-Nisu’s daughter, Ur-Erishti. She is seventeen and appears to be very unhappy with this journey, or the fact that (if pried later) she reveals she is to be gifted to Haiadi, and she will tell the adventurers that she think Haiadi is actually a necromancer who worships Nergal. She claims her father has saved the heart of his eldest son, Hamattu, who fell in battle last year during a siege in Ebla. His body was returned, and her father purchased a substance….a black tar like substance from the Red Desert sold to him by a witch, to coat on his son’s body. His son is now kept in a cool subterranean chamber, but her brother’s heart has been taken out and is to be transported to Haiadi for a ritual to retore him to life. 

 

The stories are all half true……Hamattu did die, and his body was preserved, but the story her father told her is not quite the reality. The witch in the Red Desert, named Emiska, called upon Erishkigal for the power to revive his son, but his son returned instead as an insatiable vampiric Rabisu. She removed the heart, which beats blackly, and kept it for her own purposes. Adventurers who aided him in this task in Part I will know how that all went down.

 

Pursuit of the Rabisu: Hamattu is growing increasingly corrupted, a vampire in truest form, as he descends into madness and darkness driven by Ereshkigal’s curse. As the crew makes its way on the river barge each night evidence of the vampire is present, as he shapeshift’s in to a demonic lion and follows the barge along the waterline, or turn in to an eagle and follow by air. During the day he can only manifest as an eagle, or sometimes as a vaguely humanoid shape in the recessed shadows along the river bank. He unerringly can appear in shadow near the region of his heart no matter what.

 

The journey is going to take about a week upriver to travel 100 miles. So long as the heroes stay on water the rabisu will remain at bay. If the river raft stops at one of the many villages along the way, it gives the rabisu a chance to board. Once aboard, he will seek to slay everyone and then coerce a risen dead to take the heart to a remote location in the desert for safe-keeping. Each slain foe will rise as a zombie to aid him.

 

River Pirates: during the fifth and sixth nights river pirates will try to take the ship. Led by a bandit named Unhaka, they have been told by a rival merchant that a valuable bride and wealth rests on the boat. Hidden inside the copper ingots of the hold is silver….lots of it. They will try to board the boat, about 16 men in total, during the night using river boats to steal aboard. If they capture the boat (and they will take prisoners for ransom to sort it all out later) then when they dock that is when the rabisu attacks. Each foe slain by the rabasu will rise as a zombie to aid him.

 

Arrival at Susa: assuming the group survives travel (done easily by warding the boat with sea salt) then arrival at Susa requires bribing guards at the docks with good coin to allow safe passage in to the city. Here they can find the Black Tower of Haiadi, located adjacent to a dour temple to Nergal, which allegedly holds a capstone to one of many passages to the underworld.

 

Haiadi will perform a ritual to lift the curse of the heart. Unknown to Haiadi he is doomed from the get-go…unbeknownst to all, Hamattu had prior to his battle at Ebla a year before gone to the witch Emiska for magical aid, and she gave him protection from all weapons in exchange for his seed. He gave this to her, promising to return and even take care of the child with her…..but he lied, and after sleeping with the witch he beat her soundly until she miscarried, then went to battle. So it was that he survived all weapons, unblemishing his skin, until he was doused in burning oil and died (ergo the blackened heart).

 

Now his evils have caught up to him….as Haiadi beseeches the Annunaki of the underworld to restore him in the name of the evil of the witch, winged demons erupt from the ground and take the black heart….and the vampire if he is present….dragging them in to the darkness of Irkalla. As this happens the chamber is filled with terrifying death spirits….any who star upon them must make a contested POW roll or succumb, souls ripped away to the afterworld.

 

When all is done Haiaidi….warded against such contingencies….flees in madness to the temple of Nergal to beg forgiveness. The merchant’s daughter Ur-Erishti has a profound revelation in her madness and flees to seek out the cult of the infernal goddess of oaths, Ismekarab, and to renounce her evil family.

 

The adventurers are left with an empty urn, and possibly a lot of silver that Haiadi has abandonded. When they return to Eridu they find that Ur-Nisu’s house mysteriously burned down the same night of the ceremony, and his body as not found.


Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Asus ROG Ally and Handled Gaming in 2024

 Well! It's been eight months now since I got my Asus ROG Ally and I have had a lot of time to adjust to it, get it adjusted, and find a decent equilibrium. Of the various handhelds I own, this is the only one I tend to use anymore....with a caveat, that being that I spend about 75% of my time on the ROG Ally in docked mode these days. As a consequence, I am actually using the ROG Ally every single day now as a secondary docked desktop PC, and its handheld advantage arises during travel.

The ROG Ally on release needed some updates in firmware and Asus clearly had a problem with how they set up the heat dispersal to pass close to the Micro SD card location on the Ally. Many owners found an early problem with this, and I actually have simply decided not to use a Micro SD card with it after the thing almost cooked one of my cards. Instead, to expand the memory I picked up a M.2 SSD card and followed the instructions found across many online sources to clone the internal drive onto the new card, then swapped them out. Pro tip: cloning is the best and fastest way to do this, just make sure to find a good set of instructions online, Some vloggers opt to use the recovery feature on the Ally to restore the boot drive, and that is clearly a more laborious and time consuming process. Cloning was a piece of cake. 

So once I expanded the onboard memory to 2 TB I was able to properly load the ROG Ally with whatever I felt like. I then purchased the expanded multiport 60w power supply for the Ally, which served as an excellent second higher wattage power source, but it also includes a USB and HDMI port. I can now "dock" the Ally using this setup, connecting it to a display via HDMI and using the USB port to connect whatever else is needed. 

Here's my current setup:

Asus ROG Ally, sitting on a handy dock such as the recyclable one that comes with the Ally, with a 2 TB M.2 SSD to replace the original 512 GB card;

The 60w Dock with extra ports;

A wired mouse (only because I don't have a free bluetooth mouse right now) plugged in to the power supply;

A HDMI to mini HDMI cable, plugged into the 60w plugin, using a 16 inch portable 2K 120p screen with a sturdy mount I picked up on Amazon;

A decent bluetooth mini keyboard from Logi and an extra Xbox Series controller connected to bluetooth.

So yep, at this point my handled device is now essentially a decent budget gaming desktop that I can also disconnect and carry on the go. I'm actually typing this blog on the ROG Ally as we speak using the MX compact Logi keyboard connected wirelessly to it. When I am at home, I can and have enjoyed a lot of games on the ROG Ally on this setup with no issues, In fact, I primarily have games from my GOG collection and secondarily from Steam. Some of the games are simply better with a keyboard setup, so I have games like Guild Wars 2 as an example that work best this way (though I have worked on a GW2 controller setup in the ROG Armoury overlay). I maintain plenty of games on it that default to and work well with the ROG Ally handheld control scheme for the on the go moments. Since those are far less frequent than the stay-at-home time, this setup is working great for me.

Here's the interesting thing: this setup could work really well for just about anyone who wants a low-profile desktop with handheld option. It's probably not as cheap as purchasing a decent laptop (and I have a decent laptop) but it's a fun setup for just messing around. I can also use this setup with the Steam Deck exactly as-is, since the 60w power supply/dock works with it as well. I just happen to be a lot less interested in tinkering with the Steam Deck in Linux, and to be honest, most game content on Steam runs a bit better on the Asus ROG Ally on average. 

So what does this mean for the other portables I accrued over the last couple years? It means I have committed to not buying handhelds for at least 2024, that's for sure....but also, to be honest, I just don't need them at all except from a pure gadget/tech hobbyist perspective. Based on my setup today, I think that the ROG Ally works for exactly what I need in this market, and I no longer really need the Steam Deck or the Switch OLED. I can get nothing out of either of these devices that the ROG Ally isn't providing for already (except playing the Switch exclusives, I guess).

I feel slightly differently about the other two devices: the Backbone One for Apple, and the Switch Lite, both have a singular advantage over the rest, being their small profile and extreme portability still make them much easier to just throw in a bag or my pocket and go. The Backbone One advantage is that it, combined with my iPhone mini 13, is a very low profile gaming experience for odd moments and Apple's Arcade has a decent array of games. The downside is its still best for odd moments only, is still a bit awkward to carry and apply since you have to take a protective case off if you use one, and most of the games I enjoy on the iPhone are games I can play on the ROG Ally more efficiently.

That leaves the Switch Lite, which is insanely low profile and runs the full game lineup for Switch. This one generally ends up being my "grab and go for odd-moment gaming" because it fits in my pocket easily, and is quick to fire up. The ROG Ally is my "taking a trip" device as well as my "backup mini desktop" experience at home.

Anyway....long story short, these sorts of devices are numerous and can cater to the sort of special use case you imagine you may have. For me, I now realize I am not a hardcore "play in handheld mode" gamer but I like the ability to do so, and so for me the ROG Ally is the winner as I've been able to customize and kit it out to suit my needs, and I am more comfortable in Windows 11 than Linux. Meanwhile, Switch Lite remains my best "throw in the bag and play in the doctor's waiting room" experience. The rest of the devices are just a symptom of "gadget addiction" I need to work on.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Mork Borg Adventure: THE DEATH CRYPT OF GHASTRAL

 Here's that adventure for Mork Borg I ran last year. It was generated using the adventure generation tables, then I flesh it out a bit. In the Roll20 edition I used some AI generated art assets to illustrate each room.

Mork Borg Adventure: THE DEATH CRYPT OF GHASTRAL

The scenario begins at the Bergen Crypt Treeline. A pale one name Savatha has offered you 100 silver to escort her here. Savatha is cold and listless, and prefers to travel at night under the light of the moon. A restless soul named Ghastral has a close tie to Savatha, and she seeks his crypt for communion. The group is to escort her to this location.

While meeting with Ghastral in his crypt, an earthquake strikes! The obelisk in the center of the crypt cracks, and beyond a hidden chamber is revealed, exposing ancient rooms of a lost temple.

The crypt is an inactive dungeon, but because a misery was fulfilled: “Brother shall slay brother, and sister shall poison sister (3:6)” it has been exposed once more! Make note of the misery, should any of the adventurers be siblings.

Imminent Danger: senses are being distorted! DR10 each new chamber that is entered, to see what “appears”: 1-2 fabulous treasure, 3-4 a monster; 5-6 the doppelganger of the adventurer

What Dwells Here Now? A meaty mass of slime, larvae and spider eggs! It is alive. It grows and pulses; slow groups who are too careful will notice is seems to "grow" after them, eventually filling and sealing the doors they pass through.

Distinctive Feature: the bony remains of the Basilisk’s spawn litter the complex, like a vast, winding puzzle serpentine remains.

Room 0: entrance to the tomb, collapsed rubble, shattered obelisk to the Basilisk which oozes the corpulent mass of slime, larva and spider eggs. If anyone steps in it (DR10 to avoid if rushed) they risk 1D4 damage from serious bites and acid. The hollow presence of Ghastral remains long enough to fade away, with a terrible shriek that the Unformed One has Awakened….searching carefully reveals a random scroll deposited in the crack of the obelisk. If the group lingers too long, 1D3 goblins show up to investigate, dropping from holes in the ceiling.

Room 1: Mirrors everywhere! The mirrors show strange distortions and reflect other lands, some worse and others as if they are the Eternal Fields. Amidst this, a strange beast prowls through the mirrors, distorted and strange…

The Mirror Monster: it drags one arm behind, covered in slime, with a dozen bloodshot eyes frantically casting about for victims. Its bloated body is a mass of bilious organs tied together, covered in weeping maws.

Morale 10; Damage D4 (bites and scratched); -D6 armor (regrows wounds); 5 HP

Goal: collect your eyes to add to its own so it can see through the mirror realm to Nechrubel!

Room 2: sooty walls from floor to floor, it looks as if an eruption of fire annihilated this chamber. A strange sooty wet trail leads from the next room into this one, where a mass of water surrounds a Zodiac Lung (Feretory), lying in the floor.

Room 3: graffiti in terrifying inscriptions covers the walls of this chamber. The center of the chamber is bifurcated by a vast chasm with intense rushing water deep below, roaring as loud as the ocean. Salty sea smell fills the air, and a lone gull flies up from below to land on the ledge.

The water trail in Room 2 leads to this chamber and ends at the chasm. Footholds are carved in the chasm and descend to a small grotto below, where 150 Silver, 20 gold and 1D6 trinkets can be found, along with a Galgenbeck Deathmask (Heretic) and one scroll. Guarding the hidden alcove is a Bent hiding in the chamber! His name is Sparrow, and he knows that the raging river leads to the coast.

A lone stone bridge crosses the chasm. A single black form in a cloak resides at the center of the 25 foot span. Wearing the cloak is a Belze, a bloody skeleton named Pavrak, an ancient lost priest of the temple destined to protect the bridge. He will let the group pass if they use the Galgenbeck Mask to tell him how he died….from poison slipped to him by his rival, Onmater.

Room 4: fire damage to walls show recent destruction, and in the center of this chamber is a vast altar to Nechrubel. The altar’s center is a deep pit, from which the endless bones of its spawn appear to have emerged. Amidst the rubble and debris are human skeletons as well. The Formless Priests will rise, randomly assembling, within two minutes of the group entering:

Formless Priests (D4), Morale 10, Damage D6 (clubs and rusted metal), Armor none, 4 HP (will drop lifeless if someone falls into the center pit).

FINALE: On defeating the priests, a ghostly basilisk-form rises from the pit and hovers there. If a sacrifice is made (an artifact or a living being) the ghostly serpent spews forth a random occult artifact from its mouth and then disappears. If a member of the party falls in to the pit they must make a DR14 presence check or succumb to the will of the Basilisks. Each day at dawn a new check may be made, to see who is in control that day.

The chamber rocks in a destructive quake, striking again! The group must make DR10 agility checks to avoid 1D6 damage from falling rubble. When it ends, the pit is sealed, and a crack in the far wall reveals the ominous night of the Bergen Crypts. A cloudburst of rain greets the party as they leave. Everyone may roll to see if they improve.