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


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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 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


 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.


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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Looking at VTTs in 2024

 I just realized I already blew my commitment to blog twice a week this year in the first month! In my defense work has been a real bear with my time, but still.....oh well!

I've been looking at various VTTs lately with an eye toward one which is not so onerous and unpleasant to use. I've come to the conclusion that a big chunk of the problem with the VTT environment, at least when using it for gaming, is that the dialogue and conversations are forced into a mono-channel and it is inevitable that people will accidentally walk over one another. The person with the softest voice or the worst microphone will get steam rolled. The person who is quickest to dominate a conversation always has an advantage, one even greater than at a live table. The need to corral and wrangle becomes paramout for the GM.....something I find very tiring these days. It's tough, too, because if several players are all excited and trying to talk, it means they are quite engaged with the scenario and having a good time; but to me as a GM it has now turned into noise that is all incoming at the same volume and nigh impossible to parse out properly, leading to irritation and confusion.

I know how to handle this sort of thing at a live game table....but VTTs are a different bag of cats. To that end, I've been looking at a few different VTTs to see if any out there are more friendly to the dynamics of everyone sitting in one channel trying to talk, and (spoilers) the truth is not really, its a fundamental component of the state of video conferencing these days. Your only hope is that the players you have are well versed in web etiquette, a skill I think best learned from using web events for work and other more cordial environments.

That said, I have noticed some interesting things in studying certain VTTs in this quest. Here's my observations so far:

Roll20 has made huge strides

For better or worse, Roll20 is making a concerted effort to improve its platform, and the overall effect is making it (imo) the easiest and quickest way to get a game going with the least overall effort. Some of my favoritism toward Roll20 comes from having used it consistently for 4 years now, but the truth is, when I try another platform and it doesn't offer some fundamental feature that Roll20 has built in, that other platform stands out as inadequate as a result. has some problems

I found PlayRole last year and thought it was pretty neat, especially the way it focused on indie RPGs and unlocked tons of stuff I had already purchased from Exalted Funeral for me. Experiments with it proved successful, but when I finally decided to run a full campaign in January some unexpected setbacks hit. They lost the license for their provider service that let participants use audio, video and file sharing. That was possible to work around, though, as players could still log in to use Discord on the side for voice. I didn't have any file sharing issues so not sure what that was about, but I did run into an unexpected problem, which is how PlayRole handles dice rolls. It will show you a dice roll, but provides no context. I thought it might be due to the custom character sheet I was using, but I tried some other official sheets to other games to see how they works, and it was the same every time. As a result, when I called for rolls from multiple players it could get a tad tedious tracking things and parsing it out. The PC format also proved a bit cumbersome with heavy scrolling. We had a good time, but that was despite the UI and not because of it. This is a shame....I was really excited with my use of it last year but the reality shines home once you try the VTT with a more complex system (and admittedly, Mothership is not that complex).

Alchemy is out there

I don't know much about this yet, but I do know if I try anything with it I will experiment with Mork Borg first. It looks really neat, and it does interesting things making the UI add to immersion with fonts and style. However, in messing around with the free Mork Borg it was a bit unclear to me exactly how a game would shake out of the approach Alchemy is using, which is a bit concerning. 

Shard Tabletop dominates 5E based gaming

I haven't run a game there yet, but I've spent close to a year as a player in a 5E game using Kobold Press books in Shard Tabletop, and I am seriously impressed with how it handles the experience. It has a couple minor issues (such as no easy way to see your PC sheet in one viewing) but that is made up for by convenient tabs to go where you need to quickly. The player experience is great, but I haven't yet committed to running anything so can't speak on that side of things....yet. I predict that Kobold Press will make this the gaming VTT for Tales of the Valiant, and if so then I will give it a fair shot once that game is out. Meanwhile, the only downside to Shard is that while it can import stuff for use from standard D&D 5E, its a bit opaque to me as to how its done, at least partially because I don't do D&D Beyond, I guess? 

Foundry is still out there

I really want to figure Foundry out, but I also really wish Foundry didn't require me to have to "figure it out," and I don't know what to do about that. I've managed to create a campaign on it and populate some zones, but it has weird scaling issues and I then can't really figure out where to go from feels to me like Foundry is a good choice for gamers who are also more technically minded and maybe come from pursuits and careers that lend to the kind of approach this platform demands, such as programming or engineering or something; but I just want something that "works" and I can't quite figure out how to do that with Foundry (or can't find the time investment I need to go through loads of arcane tutorials that may already be out of date, take your pick).

So yeah....for now, for me at least, Roll20 is still top dog. But I am keen on trying Shard Tabletop down the road when it hopefully gets full Tales of the Valiant support. We'll see! And I am very interested in trying to figure out how Alchemy is supposed to work. I keep popping back in to Foundry, too. Maybe one day it will surprise me with an overall improvement on the user experience. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Mothership 1E Ditched Levels (Which is a Shame)

I have a rant about Mothership. Here it goes...starting with a regression to Traveller:

For better or worse, Traveller 2nd Edition and prior editions have a long history of front-loading your character's skill history into the terms you serve before you retire in middle age and decide to go adventuring. Traveller is all about spacemen resolving a midlife crisis through adventure, essentially.

Mothership 0E, however, was a game about frightened average Joes out on a routine job discovering horrifying alien threats. The average Mothership character is someone generally early in their professional career in Traveller terms, suddenly thrust into a deadly limelight and having to build instincts to survive and learn.

Mothership 1E, however, got some notion going that levels are too gamey for it and decided to go with a more Travelleresque approach, one in which you can improve skills through learning and cash over time. The problem is its a pretty simplistic and arbitrary approach, and as a result feels just as gamey as levels did, because under this system, as an example, getting good at something like firearms takes 4 years of study--not because anyone in their right mind thinks it really takes that long, but because that's how long an expert skill takes.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that sure, when you choose to analyze a system in a game, it can and will come off as gamey. The question is: does the system serve a good purpose toward the type of game and story you are telling? And the answer is that yes, leveling as a mechanic does serve that purpose, but inconceivably long periods of training time do not. In the former, your characters can semi-organically grow with experience, and you could refine the level process if you so desired to let the improvements reflect the type of experience gained (if you want to drill down enough for that level of granularity). But the other system will arbitrarily restrict the chance of growth in skills and learning to a much smaller percentage of gamers, those who play Mothership like a long-term multiyear campaign with characters who aren't at near constant risk of death and therefore somehow have time to train for 2 to 6 years. I don't know who's running the game like that, sorry.

What Mothership 1E needs is both systems: a training mechanic (and the save improvement through shore leave mechanic) and a leveling reward system that identifies that the stuff the characters are actually doing at that moment in play is what actually matters to the game and experience, not "set your PC aside for 6 years to do nothing so you can improve." Alas, I don't get involved in development on stuff, I generally trust those in charge to make good choices, but I feel like maybe this was a missed chance to let the devs of Mothership know that whoever told them a slower system of advancement for their fast-passed horror game was a good idea were maybe not speaking for all of us? 

Well, there's a huge 3PP community out there for Mothership, maybe one of them will (or has) hacked the level mechanic back in. I know I'm awarding "skill points" that can go toward skill improvement in my game. No one is ever going to learn the good stuff otherwise, and I am not going to restrict myself to boring, slow games where survival is paramount just to aid them in growth; that's what Traveller is for.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Vintage Film Restorations - the Allure of Vinegar Syndrome and Others

The Rabbit Hole of Collecting Vintage Film Restorations

In 2023 I discovered Vinegar Syndrome at a local ComicCon (the first I had ever been to!) and was exposed to the world of vintage film restoration focused on all of the weird, schlocky, forgotten films of the 90's and earlier. At the time I snagged a nice remaster of Beastmaster (a film I loved back when it came out, even as cheesy as it was compared to Conan the Barbarian) and a nice retro-themed print of Censor, one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade, which focuses on the late 70's and 80's era of "video nasties" in which the story essentially turns in to one--great movie, and its focus is why I think Vinegar Syndrome sponsored a special edition. 

I have since ordered quite a few weird vintage movies from Vinegar Syndrome, and also discovered Arrow Video, Severin Films and of course we have the ubiquitous Criterion Collection where you can find high priced but (for the most part) extremely worth it re-releases on blu-ray and UHD. I've managed to snag several of my favorite japanese films from Criterion, including some of the best of Akira Kurosawa.

The interesting thing about this corner of physical media collecting is that it's potentially successful only because the current market is trying so hard to shift away from physical media entirely. Streamers want to stream, and "sellers" like Vudu want to sell, even as Sony removes content from purchasers as a reminder that a "buy to watch" option online is never the same as ownership. In the midst of this, specialist retailers who focus on re-releasing videos (Gruv, for example) may find they are the best and only source of physical media over time. 

But this is not quite what Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow Video and Severin are doing. They aren't producing (mostly) mass market appeal films and rereleasing them for people still into physical copies of content. No, what they are doing is finding the weird, obscure, unusual and most importantly "not popular" in any conventional sense and restoring them, sometimes for posterity (to keep the movie from disappearing) and sometimes because the film either has or deserves a cult following, and this is the only way its going to happen is if the film remains available. Sometimes these aren't really good films by any stretch (not even in a so bad its good way), they're just films of note that help catalog the history of film in general. In fact, many of the actual publishers of these films are smaller groups who are then represented on Vinegar Syndrome's site, and the actual content is often incredibly obscure, films which no one likely has ever heard of, often done on zero budget, by film makers who may or may not have gone on to build bigger and better careers. 

The reason I got sucked in to it was initially just the novelty of high quality restorations of some films I loved, but I rapidly descended into a rabbit hole of fascinating and obscure filmes, many foreign, which I had never heard of before. For example: Alexandr Ptushko's films (such as Sampo and the Tale of Tsar Tsaltan) are works I have never even heard of before featuring Finnish and Russian epics from the late fifties of incredible production value for the time. Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Tetralogy is a masterpiece in weird cold war era scifi from behind the Iron Curtain. Other remasters are more down to home, representing unusual films such as Through the Fire, a low budget first film that manages to come just short of being a genuinely good spooky detective horror story, or Creature, an obscure Alien knock-off I remember seeing in the 80's on HBO, featuring Klaus Kinski in one of those roles where he chews the scenery with his trademark weirdness. More familiar films can be found as well, such as Road House, From Beyond, and if you go over to Arrow Films you can see bigger films get special re-treatments. Conan the Barbarian and its sequel are getting a very nice UHD collector's set I'm not crazy enough to buy for the price, but it's cool that such a thing can exist.

Anyway, this is a corner of my interests I have not written about much, but which has consumed a bit of my time. I might consider a regular blog series on this, with a twist. One of the movies I picked up was The Incredible Melting Man (which was much scarier when I was 8 years old, and much less so at 52) and my son and I both concocted a much better plot using this movie as the springboard for a scenario for Call of Cthulhu or Mothership. This could be done with quite a few other movies, and leans in to a scenario technique I experimented with a few years ago when I took the core conceits of Conan the Barbarian and turned it in to a Starfinder campaign. So...I might watch and discuss some of these movies from a gamer's context, identifying what sort of fun ideas and scenario content (and for what games) might be derived from some of these movies. We will see!

Monday, January 1, 2024

Deathbat's Goals and Predictions for 2024

 Well the new year is here and along with it comes a slew of blogs and vlogs talking about new year predictions, goals and rampant, wild speculation. For my part of this, I am going to lump my post into a list of predictions and goals for myself:

Goal: run Mothership - easily achieved! I am starting the new campaign next Saturday (sesh zero was last Saturday, obstructed by work).

Prediction: D&D One will release but D&D Beyond will be in poor shape for an "early access" portal of online graphics-focused gaming - I actually think that we won't be anywhere close to seeing a properly ready product on D&D Beyond in the way most gamers imagine it will need to be. We're going to see a product that only hints at that demo WotC showed us, instead.

Goal: run Dragonbane - also easily achieved! I will plan to run this, probably on Saturday, after the Mothership campaign.

Prediction: Tales of the Valiant will arrive and be a big hit, may eat in to Pathfinder's market share but won't steal casuals from D&D. Much as I'd like to imagine it could, I don't see it happening. But I do believe that Kobold Press is well known for putting out good products, and that will garner attention within the more "core" RPGer crowd that may be seeking a D&D alternate. It's target of 5E compatibility will make it an easier sell.

Goal: run Traveller! Now that the newer release books are all in my hands I have a keen interest in building out a new Traveller campaign, and I might consider using The Great Rift set to do it. Probably a goal for later this year due to my interrupting the flow with Mothership in January.

Prediction: We will get D&D-like (what we used to call heartbreaker) fatigue in 2024 as numerous other D&D-inspired games finally release in response to the revamped D&D plus the post OGL kerfuffle. Examples include Tales of the Valiant, of course, and the second set of Pathfinder 2E revised book, but Shadowdark is a thing, as is a 2nd edition of 13th Age allegedly supposed to release some day, and there are a fair number of other D&D-based post-OGL products named last year which I recall as being scheduled for release this year.

Goal: Try to get at least 2 posts out every week this year on the blog. I'll try! It is a good writing exercise, this as always has been less about writing for an audience (yeah, may explain some posts lol) and more about writing for myself to keep my own interest engaged.

Prediction: We will not see a lot of new IP or gaming properties this year as the market is too knotted around D&D at the moment. Once the new D&D books and whatever happens with D&D Beyond finally drop, we will see a sag in the market for a bit, and possibly some waning interest over time, followed by maybe some more creative endeavours in 2025. This will be my "bold" prediction. Will see if it comes to pass next year.

Goal: pace myself. I am honestly getting older, so I keep reminding myself, and it can be hard to run two games a week these days while managing a business and family. I need to keep that in mind and not be shy about letting my gamer cohorts know that sometimes Wednesday or Saturday nights are just not good for gaming. Also, whenever possible, I need to foster more local IRL gaming because the VTT experience is just never really going to cut it for me. 

Okay, that's it for my gaming predictions and goals of 2024! I wish I had more of a non-D&D sort for predictions, but it's hard to come up with anything noteworthy. To that end:

--I could say "Chaosium will give up on Rivers of London" for example, but that's hardly a prediction and more just an observation that they backed a really esoteric IP (for the states, at least) and didn't do enough promotion. 

--Or I could speculate that we'll reach January 1 2025 and still be waiting for the third Esper Genesis book to arrive (I am going to call that one now), but that's mostly just a recognition that something on the business/publishing end of the publisher for that book series has gone very south and that I suspect the real reason that they haven't produced the book is lack of funds. 

--Likewise I could predict that Steve Jackson Games may announce a new edition of GURPS this year but I doubt it; I think the core developers/writers at SJ Games are too old and tired to take up the mantle of a new edition, and GURPS has languished in its own special corner of the cottage industry for so long that no new blood exists to come take up the task. 

--I could also predict 13th Age 2nd Edition won't see release this year, because they probably want to wait until well after D&D's next edition has saturated its way through the audience and generated a new group of expats for a different variant edition, but who really knows, Pelgrane Press publishes to the toot of its own horn. 

--I could also predict that Pathfinder, despite now having better, more organized and comprehensive books out, will flounder in the market due to the perceived buy-in being too high for most gamers, but it will still appeal to the subset of D&Ders who crave a bit more dynamic mechanical flair in their games. We'll see!

Anyway, Happy New Year!