Wednesday, 10 July 2019

No Rest For The Wicked - a short review

I bought No Rest For The Wicked, here's my thoughts. Mild spoilers.

Visual stuff first: I only got the PDF, so I can't say anything about the physical book. Cover art by Yannick Bouchard is always nice, featuring Alice the Cleric. Internal stuff is very pretty. Dark minimalist moodiness, setting the tone wonderfully. Jez and Alex do a very good job here; I'm reminded of the dark block-black art of Hellboy comics. The whole thing has a sort of grimey woodcut feel to it, it's wonderful.
I found the layout of what goes where pretty intuitive. There's a lot of information repeated, so you get the brief summaries all in one place, and then more detail later on. It works well, and saves page-flipping in play, I imagine.
But then, this is LotFP, you expect it to be good.

So, then, the adventure itself.
There's no weird elements here (save perhaps the PCs), just humans being grubby and horrid.
The adventure itself puts a neat little moral dilemma in front of the PCs, and then asks what they'll do. Things have layers. None of the 'bad guys' are presented as wholly bad, and it's possible (if difficult) to appeal to their better natures. None of the victims are wholly blameless, either. It's messy and complex. The sort of thing where working out the 'right thing' to do is going to take a long argument, but you don't have time to have that argument, you need to act now.
If the PCs do nothing, they're basically fine (so long as they can avoid being hauled in for being witches and/or bandits, which is always a possibility). The affair ends cruelly but cleanly, a few people get executed and that's the end of that.
If they intervene there's a horrible tension to things and the slightest knock can set everything off into a spiralling disaster. The whole thing drips with possibilities for the PCs to do something dramatic and stupid, and make everything Much Worse.
I just don't want to run this, honestly. I want to play this. It gives you a nasty moral problem with difficulties and complications and external pressure. I want to try to give everybody a happy ending somehow.
Reading it, it feels like this is a situation best solved by subterfuge. A cleric with the right miracles prepared, or a magician with invisibility, illusions and some prep time, etc can - if they want - solve this fairly easily. Then again, the massive looming threat is 120-ish soldiers, all lv 0. A direct fight is one that the PCs almost certainly lose, but the almost is important. LotFP gives PCs a lot of lateral thinking tools and weirdness. Misdirecting or subverting the army's not impossible.

Minor quibbles:
There's no map of the surrounding countryside; where the inn, the army camp, escape routes, hiding places etc are in relation to each other. If the PCs decide to flee with the fugitives, this is gonna require a little frantic map-sketching from the ref.
It feels like if the PCs start throwing around witchcraft, the responses of various NPCs will matter. It's not clear how the adventure intends the innkeeper, refugees etc to respond if the PCs start summoning tentacle-monsters and creating phantoms, even if they're trying to help. Not a massive issue, but it's something I'd possibly have given a little more detail.
These are very minor though, and don't really detract from the quality of the book as-written.

The tone is interesting. It's fundamentally about refugees from horrible circumstances. It tugs at the heartstrings. It doesn't take a political stance, and makes no assumptions about what the PCs will do, but it feels relevant. I feel like it's one of those scenarios where how you approach it says something about you.
It ties in with some of the themes of other LotFP modules - Man Is The Real Monster, War Is Horrible, etc. I can see it working amazingly as a prelude to Better Than Any Man. Actually, I think thematically this adventure, No Salvation For Witches and Better Than Any Man are very nicely tied together. The three in sequence would make a pretty great campaign imho.

Following certain unfortunate events recently, I've seen a lot of discussion about what the future holds for LotFP as a brand. If they keep putting stuff like this out, they'll be just fine.

I''d run this, and I'd leap at a chance to play this. Go get it.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Supernatural Masterpieces

A system for the creation of magic items.

How it Works
To make any sort of masterpiece, you require three things:

  • The raw materials to make an exceptional item of the same type (iron for a sword, etc)
  • A forge, workshop, studio or similar in which to work.
  • A magically resonant ingredient that is included in the item to be made, which lends it its potency.
The first two are trivial to acquire. 
You can assume that the materials cost the same as buying a pre-made example of the item in question (what you save in labour costs is negated by the requirement for higher-quality materials).
The place to work is likewise easy to acquire, merely costing a thousand silver (or gold in a gold-standard system) to buy all the necessary tools, supplies, venue etc. You'll need to have an appropriate place to work, however; you can't forge swords in an artist's studio, nor can you make magic shoes in a blacksmith's forge.

The third part (resonant ingredients) is where the meat of the system lies. A resonant ingredient is some material taken from a supernaturally potent place, monster, event or similar. For each such place/monster/event you encounter, you can distil its magical potency into a single ingredient that is used when making the masterpiece.
The resonant ingredient might become a physical part of the item being made (for example, you might make armour from dragon-scales or use a giant's thigh-bone as the haft for an axe). It doesn't need to be, however, and can be used up in the crafting process in some other way (you might quench a sword in basilisk's blood or burn a particular wood to heat your forge). 
Each different resonant ingredient you incorporate into the item being made gives it a particular property, but using many of the same resonance doesn't stack (IE you can make a sword that is Winter and Night resonant using those two ingredients, but not one that is doubly Winter resonant by using two winter ingredients; the sword either is winter resonant or it isn't).

Spotting when something could be resonant, and working out how to make it into the item you want, is up to the players. Justifying why a particular thing is resonant is a matter of player skill, that rewards familiarity with the themes and ideas each resonance embodies.

The examples given are only examples: If your players make something not covered, invent an effect for it that matches the themes of that resonance. Perhaps they have an idea for what it does; if they do, go along with that idea if it makes sense for the relevant resonance. 
Don't be limited by what's here, use it as a starting point.

There are a total of Seven different resonances: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Day, Twilight and Night. Without further ado, here they are:


New growth, vibrant life, nature red in tooth and claw. The triumph of the green, savage world over civilisation. Growth that is unrestrained and without reason, like a plague or a cancer. Life struggling to expand, feed, breed, evolve. Regeneration and adaptation. Rot and decay leading to new life. Predation, parasitism, the competition to survive. Vigour. 
Classical Elements
Earth, Wood, Grass, Venom.
Shambling mounds, myconids and other plant or fungal monsters, particularly the less elegant sort. Parasitic monsters such as rot grubs. Giant insect-like beasts such as purple worms, carrion crawlers and so on. Slimes, molds and puddings. Primordial lizards, ancient fish. Probably nothing particularly intelligent. The 'lower orders' of life that just want to feed and breed.
Deep jungle, thick forest or swamp, coral reefs. Places untouched by civilisation
Plagues, storms.
Savages, druids, the insanely feral. Those who cast off the restraints of human culture and revert to living like mere animals.

A spring-resonant sword drips with venom; victims must Save vs Poison or else take double damage.
Clubs and Axes
A spring-resonant club or axe has a 1-in-6 chance to destroy any crafted object that it strikes. 
Other melee weapons
A spring-resonant weapon gets +2 to hit and damage against 'civilised' foes; anything that has a use for money.
Other ranged weapons
Spring resonant ranged weapons and ammunition passes through foliage, tree trunks and other living plants as if they were intangible.
The wearer of spring-resonant armour regenerates one hit-point each turn. The wounds seal up and are replaced with odd scars; sometimes the scars are a crust of tree bark, coral or lichen.
Farming or gardening tools
Plants planted and tended to with spring-resonant tools grow in a matter of minutes rather than months or years, often growing far larger than natural and in strange shapes.
Other tools
Other spring-resonant tools can be used to work living flesh or growing plants without causing any pain, and if used in this way the subject will recover from the alterations without ill-effects (although alterations made may be permanent). IE, spring-resonant woodcarving tools could be used to re-sculpt a person's face for cosmetic or disguise purposes, etc.
Spring-resonant boots allow the wearer to pass through undergrowth, over marshy or rocky ground, and so forth without being slowed at all.
The wearer of a spring-resonant ring does not need to eat or sleep, so long as they get enough water and access to sunlight to photosynthesise. 
The wearer of spring-resonant clothing gets +5 to any saves against poison, and suffers 5 less damage from any venomous attacks.
Spring-resonant amulets render the wearer immune to the downsides of any disease they might be infected with. Whilst still a carrier, they don't suffer any symptoms. Furthermore, they can - by touching a victim with their bare skin - infect that victim with a disease they suffer if they wish.


Triumph, glory and majesty. Martial might, beauty that exalts, fabulous power. The world of 4-colour comic-book characters engaged in larger-than-life struggles. The apex of things, power at its climax. Emotions that are huge and all encompassing; courtly love, endless vendettas. Hubris and vainglory. Living in the moment. Heroic archetypes, narrative tropes, fairytale logic. Pride.
Classical Elements
Fire, stone, gold, the sun.
Dragons, unicorns, and other heraldic monsters. Butterflies, angel-fish and other elegant beasts. Lions, stags, eagles and chimera composed thereof. Elves, nymphs, sylphs, satyrs and related beings known for their beauty. 
The highest mountains, deepest vales, widest rivers and other exceptional places. Castles, huge monuments to personal glory. 
Pitched battles, volcanic eruptions. 
Divine monarchs, heroes-of-the-people, paladins, champions.

A summer-resonant sword burns with brilliant flame. +d6 damage.
Lances and spears
A summer-resonant lance or spear automatically seeks out the hearts of its victims. When charging, the wielder gets +3 to hit.
Other melee weapons
A summer-resonant weapon looks magnificent, giving an extra +1 to the morale/loyalty of allies while being wielded.
Other ranged weapons
Summer-resonant ammunition, or ammunition shot from summer-resonant weapons, burns with brilliant fire. +d6 damage.
Summer-resonant armour is made for honourable duelling. Whenever the wearer engages in single-combat, for the duration of that duel they are immune to any attacks by anybody other than their chosen opponent; enemies who would interfere are struck dumb and dither rather than attacking. The duel concludes if either side is slain or backs down, if the wearer attacks a third party, if one of the wearer's allies interferes, or if the two combatants part and go their separate ways.
Heraldry, banners, etc
Summer-resonant heraldry is glorious and inspiring to behold. Reaction rolls are 3 better when viewing it, and the loyalty and morale of followers and hirelings is likewise 3 better.
Summer-resonant tools impart an artistic flair upon everything they touch. While the actual quality of the work is no better, and no practical benefit is gained, even a mediocre worker using them produces results that are ornately and elegantly decorated.
Summer resonant rings allow the wielder to make attacks with their bare hands that do d8 damage just like a war-hammer. 
Summer-resonant clothing is opulent and pristine. The wearer is always treated as an individual of repute and importance. Furthermore, no matter what horrible situation they find themselves in, their appearance is never marred or dirtied - save perhaps a single stylishly dramatic slash of blood across their face.
Summer-resonant crowns render the wearer totally immune to fear, charm effects and other emotional manipulation. 'Hard' mind control such as commands and domination still affect them, but the wearer will internally disapprove of whatever they are compelled to do and knows exactly what happened. 


The triumph of the cunning over the strong. The maturation of things. Carefully-laid plans. Artifice and artificial things. Trade, Machiavellian politics, capitalism, byzantine schemes, degenerate democracy. Industry and mass production. Laws, contracts, small-print and legalistic conflict. Civilisation conquering the natural world. Ambition.
Classical Elements
Brass, gold, fire, soot.
Artificial monsters such as golems and animated objects. Beings that rely on mind-control, such as mind-flayers and succibi. Monsters associated with contracts, binding and punishment, such as genies and devils. Monsters that bind and entangle such as spiders, ropers, etc.
Palaces, court-rooms, prisons, and other places of power and control. Factories and workshops. Geo-thermally active places.
Coups, industrial revolutions, court cases.
Lawyers, artificers, spies, strategists, inventors.

An autumn-resonant sword parries and blocks effortlessly, as if with a mind of it's own. The wielder gets +3 AC.
Whips and flails
An autumn-resonant whip or flail entangles those it strikes; they must save vs paralysis or be unable to move from the spot for a round.
Other melee weapons
When an autumn-resonant weapon is used to parry, it hooks onto the enemy's weapon, dragging it from the enemy's hands. When an enemy rolls a 1 to hit, they are disarmed.
Other ranged weapons
When firing autumn resonant ammunition, or using an autumn resonant weapon to fire it, ammunition is never depleted and lasts forever.
Autumn-resonant armour renders the totally wearer immune to improvised weapons, unarmed attacks, and the natural attacks of mundane animals. Monstrous or supernatural beasts can still damage with their fangs and claws, however.

Autumn-resonant shields grant no benefit to their wielder, but give +3 AC to their allies fighting to either side of or behind that shield.
Autumn-resonant tools can be used to work with frightening speed. Any task takes one-third of the time when done with such tools.
Contracts signed in autumn-resonant ink are magically enforced. If any signatory breaks the terms of the contract (letter or spirit) they take d12 damage immediately, and everybody else involved knows the exact nature of their betrayal.
Snares, bear-traps etc
Those caught in an autumn-resonant trap are totally unable to free themselves, no matter what they do. They must rely on somebody else to free them.
Autumn-resonant clothing displays a combination of shining golden inspiration edged with steel-hard absolute authority. The minions, followers, hirelings etc of the wearer will never fail their loyalty or morale rolls for any reason.
Autumn-resonant amulets render the wearer resistant to fire and heat. +5 to saves, and half damage.


Unstoppable entropy, the ending of all things, privation and hunger. Barren wastelands, widespread death. Strength from desperation, wisdom derived from suffering. Endless hunger that drives those afflicted to cruel deeds. Fear and dread used as weapons. The unstoppable march of time and desperate struggles against it. Relentlessness, sacrifice, consumption. Hopelessness.
Classical Elements
Ice, ash, darkness, poison.
Wendigos, werewolves, ghouls and other beings driven mad by hunger. Creatures associated with winter, ice or cold such as yetis, white wolves, frost elementals. Pointlessly spiteful beings such as redcaps and manticores. 
The arctic, mountain-tops and other cold places. Barren wastelands and deserts. Graveyards, mass graves, sites of great disaster.
Famines, mass-executions, blizzards, droughts.
Cannibals, the elderly, 

A winter-resonant sword sucks at the vitality of those it strikes. When it deals damage, the wielder is healed by that much.
A winter-resonant weapon is spiteful and cruel. It deals double damage against enemies with only 1 hit dice.
Other melee weapons
A winter-resonant weapon is blisteringly cold to the touch, dealing 1 extra damage against warm-blooded foes and double damage to fire-type foes.
Other ranged weapons
Winter resonant missiles (or ones fired from winter-resonant weapons) are blisteringly cold to the touch, dealing 1 extra damage against warm-blooded foes and double damage to fire-type foes.
Winter-resonant armour renders the wearer immune to cold, fatigue, weather exposure, and so on.
Cooking & eating utensils
Food prepared or eaten with winter-resonant utensils is nourishing and palatable no matter how unsafe or distasteful it may seen. Human flesh, carrion, insects, rotten food and worse are all pleasant and edible.
Medical Supplies
Winter-resonant bandages, surgeon's tools, etc can be used to heal all damage a victim has taken, at the cost of reducing their HP total by 1 until they next gain a level.
Torches, tinder boxes, etc
Objects burned by fire from a winter-resonant source can never be repaired or restored. Corpses burned by a winter-resonant source can never be resurrected, reanimated or otherwise return; they're gone forever.
Other Tools
Winter-resonant tools can be used to destroy anything, given enough time. No hardness or skillful artifice prevents them being hacked apart by winter tools.
The wearer of winter-resonant clothing is uncomfortable to even look at. Observers tend to drop their gaze before the wearer, and enemies always fail morale checks when fighting them.
The wearer of a winter-resonant amulet does not feel pain. If they would be knocked unconcious or disabled by pain, but are not yet dead, they can carry on acting, totally numb to their injuries.


The clear light of day that illuminates and lays bare. Clarity of information, intellectualism, cerebral thought. Purity, things divided into their proper categories. Certainty, structure, properly applied mechanisms that produce predictable results. The acquisition of knowledge, more than mortal minds can handle. The overwhelming realisation of the totality of things.  
Classical Elements
Sunlight, crystal, water, 
Hyper-rational monsters such as modrons. Monsters associated with light, such as will-o-whisps. Monsters with gaze attacks like medusas and beholders. 
Palaces, court-rooms, prisons, and other places of power and control. Factories and workshops. Geo-thermally active places.
Coups, industrial revolutions, court cases.
Lawyers, artificers, spies, strategists, inventors.

A day-resonant sword cuts through anything. Victims get no benefit to AC from armour or natural toughness.
Other melee weapons
Other day-resonant weapons allow the wielder to see a second or so into the future in snatches and glances. While using such a weapon to attack, the wielder always goes first in initiative.
Other ranged weapons
Day resonant ammunition and other ranged weapons have unlimited range (as far as the eye can see), and never take any penalties for long range.
Day-resonant armour allows the wearer to know the capabilities (IE the rough stat block -  HD, AC, attacks, vulnerabilities or immunities, special powers, etc) of any being whose attacks successfully penetrate that armour.
Lanterns, torches and other lights
Those illuminated by the light of day-resonant illumination are revealed for what they really are; illusions are dispelled, invisibility and disguises penetrated and the true form of shape-shifters superimposed over them.
Nothing that is written in a day-resonant book will ever be forgotten by the writer. No magic or force can ever compel the writer to revise an opinion they've written in such a book, either, until they revise the written statement.
The wearer of day-resonant jewellery automatically knows any lie told to them, and understands the actual truth instead.
Day-resonant tools work without any risk of flaws or slip ups. The work might not be good, but the user will never mess up badly enough to be noticed or cause disaster.
The wearer of day-resonant clothing is never caught by surprise. Furthermore, they always see through mundane attempts at hiding or disguise, having a sixth sense that alerts them to such things.
Mirrors, lenses, telescopes and so on
Day-resonant viewing items allow the viewer to see all details with absolute accuracy, and to see through solid objects if they wish.


Concealment, illusion. Transitional states. Things fading from memory, things that are forgotten yet still remain. Anonymity, loss of identity, wiping the slate clean. Disguises, masks and veils. Things intentionally erased. Hallucinations, gas-lighting, paranoia. Leaving the past behind and becoming something new in the present, transformation that negates the past. Uncertainty.
Classical Elements
Mist, shadows, sand.
Illusions and monsters that use illusions such as hags. Ghosts and lingering spirits. Remnants of ancient civilisations. Monsters that resemble things that they are not such as mimics, cloakers, doppelgangers and so on. 
Empty ruins, lost colonies, mist-shrouded islands.
Revisions of history, becoming lost.
Censors, con-artists, those who drink to forget, make-up artists, burglars, those who hide in plain sight.

A twilight-resonant sword is near-impossible to perceive, appearing as a cloud of indistinct possible blades that don't reveal its true location. Victims get no benefits to their AC for shields, dexterity, defensive fighting or similar.
Twilight-resonant knives cause injuries that are not immediately apparent, causing the victim to bleed out without realising. Wounds caused by the knife don't appear for d10 rounds but deal that much extra damage.
Other melee weapons
Twilight-resonant weapons are concealed when carried but not being wielded in combat; no search of the carrier's person will be able to notice them.
Other ranged weapons
Twilight-resonant ammunition and ranged weapons can be shot absolutely silently and with little visible motion. Shooting such a weapon makes no noise and never gives away the wielder's position if they're hidden.
Twilight-resonant armour is imperceptible when worn. While still bulky and heavy, no observer will ever realise that the wearer is armoured, and will instead believe them an unarmoured, largely helpless civilian until their actions prove otherwise.
Twilight resonant tools are small, easily concealed and unremarkable looking. They are always overlooked when searched for by anybody but the owner.
Ink, paint, chalk, etc
Things drawn with twilight-resonant materials can be used as if real. They remain real for as long as was spent drawing them, and then fade away to nothing.
Those wearing twilight-resonant boots never leave any tracks, nor can they be tracked by scent.
Anything written on twilight-resonant paper is immediately forgotten by the writer, unless the writer knows to mix a little of their blood into the ink. Furthermore, if they read whatever they wrote, their memory might stir but they'll soon forget it again.
Twilight resonant clothing is dull, drab and easy to ignore. The wearer gets a 50% chance to hide simply by standing still and blending in- if they already have such a chance to hide (as a thief or halfling perhaps), increase that chance by 50%.
Any person who touches a twilight resonant glove with their bare skin (other than the wearer, obviously) forgets that that the wearer was there or what they did once they're no longer in the wearer's presence.
Twilight-resonant masks perfectly disguise the wearer. Whatever the mask is off, the wearer will seem to all observers to be that thing. 


Passion, art, madness. Emotions unrestrained by reason. Transformation from moment to moment to reflect whims. Things that should not be known. The transcendence of the spirit over the physical world. The dark womb-crucible which allows the mind to reinvent itself. Shapelessness, amorphousness. The drive to create art, to express one's self in ways that defy rationality. Primordial truths beyond the scope of the rational mind. Mysticism and the higher instinct. Altered states of consciousness. Insanity.
Classical Elements
Darkness, clay, wax.
Shapeless primordial monsters such as shoggoths. Insane monsters such as beholders, derro and so on. Beings whose forms are shaped by their emotions such as genies.
Lunatic asylums, artists' collectives, caves inhabited by religious mystics, growths of hallucinogenic plants.
Mass hysteria, religious revivals.
Religious mystics, the wildly insane, the most passionate of lovers, alchemists, artists, those who willingly undergo extreme physical transformation.

A night-resonant sword causes those it strikes to mutate physically or emotionally, weakening them. Those it strikes must re-roll all their hit-dice, taking the new result if it is worse.
Hammers and maces
Night-resonant hammers and maces cause those they strike to fall asleep, unless they pass a Save vs Magic to resist. 
Other melee weapons
Night resonant weapons can be warped into the shape of a spear, sickle, halberd or two-handed-axe by their wielder, working exactly like a weapon of that type until the wielder lets go or wants to revert them or transform them again.
Other ranged weapons
Those hit by night-resonant missile weapons are physically mutated. They re-roll all their hit-dice, and take the new result if it would be worse.
Night-resonant armour shifts and alters its shape and fitting to best suit the wearer from moment to moment. It simply doesn't encumber the wearer, at all, ever. If it ever matters if a location is armoured, then it will be for that moment. If the wearer ever needs a location to be exposed, it will be for that moment.
Night resonant rope moves of its own power, knotting or unknotting, coiling itself, extending and so on as commanded by its owner.
Night resonant tools work on any material, regardless of suitability. Stone can be sculpted like wax, wood cast and forged like iron, and so forth.
Lanterns, torches and other lights
Those illuminated by the light of night-resonant illumination remain asleep no matter what; no noise, movement or even injury will be sufficient to wake them.
If the wearer of night-resonant clothing tastes the blood of another being, their appearance and physical characteristics - including str/dex/con, AC, natural attacks and perhaps even abilities such as flight and physical senses - shift to become a doppelganger of that being. While their mind remains unchanged, their body is transformed, permanently.
The wearer of a night-resonant mask mentally takes on the traits of whoever the mask depicts. Their personality shifts - possibly including alignment, int/wis/cha and so on - and they may gain or lose abilities such as the capacity to turn undead, immunity to fear, etc. They may forget aspects of their previous life, and start remembering facts that, while obvious to the mask-identity, their real self has no way of knowing. 

New Class: The Artisan
It might be the case that you don't want everybody in your campaign making millions of magic items, and you'd prefer to limit this craft to a single class. If that's the case, here's such a class for you.

Hit Points, Saves, Experience Totals, Attacks, Etc: all as the Magic User.
Tinkering: Get a 5-in-6 chance at the tinkering skill in LotFP, or else 5-in-6 to McGuyver together any gadget that might require a roll, take a mechanism apart etc. 
Artisans: Can make use of the 'supernatural masterpiece' crafting rules given above. If this class is being used, they're the only class that can.
Fast Work: At first level, can complete a crafting project (IE swords, etc) in half the normal time. 1/3 time at 2nd level, 1/4 time at 3rd, etc.
Identify Artifacts: Can identify the magical properties of any material or item that they are able to examine and experiment with for a full hour.
Mastery Of Their Own Tools: When wielding a supernatural masterpiece they made, the artisan can always use it regardless of class restrictions. They can wear any armour they made, wield any weapon, etc. 


six of these seven resonances (spring, summer, autumn, winter, day and night) are based on the magical realms in the larp Empire, by Profound Decisions in the UK. Kudos to them for these, they're pretty great. I've tweaked them a bit, however, and added a seventh.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Guess what's in print?

Wolf-packs & Winter Snow Revise Edition is in print! It's 300ish pages of palaeolithic weird-fantasy and I finally fixed the horrible print errors that made it illegible. So have at it.

That is all. Still osr high priestess.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

On the Place Of Grim Subject Matter

Warning: this is gonna have some bleak stuff, and some stuff relating to sexual violence. In it, I talk about being the edgiest of edgelords, and also delve into some very personal stuff. This may sound worryingly close to storygames. Feel free to skip this one if it's not your cup of tea.

There was a broohaha lately involving a convention rpg one-shot which apparently involved all the PCs getting raped, which is perhaps not the most sensitive way to game with total strangers. 
That's what prompted this post, but the ideas had been milling around in my head for a while.

* * * * *

So. First up, let me tell you about Dr Choi, the pro-life campaigner's worst nightmare.
Dr Choi was a character I ran in a mixed-splat World of Darkness game a few years back. We were all servants of the Wyrm in some capacity; I played a Wyrm-tainted Changeling who worked for Pentex.
Pentex are (in the setting) a spiritually corrupt medical research company, known for their (deliberately) poor ethics and the spiritual taint their products spread, as well as their various bio-weapon related side-projects. Specifically, she worked in Embryology - the study of how embryos develop. Stem cells and all that jazz.

A few months into the game, the Black-spiral-dancer pack I was working with captured a pair (one male, one female) of enemy werewolves. My PC lobotomised them both with silver spikes (to keep them docile) and set about breeding my new test subjects.
This was the beginning of Dr Choi's descent into utter, unrepentant atrocity. All that horrible stuff you're imagining my PC did? I did that. I did worse

People say that playing truly evil characters is dull because doing atrocities gets boring after the first time. Those people lack imagination. 
(It remains a point of pride that the most fucked up PC I've ever played was for Changeling the fucking Dreaming, and that she managed to put the antics of the Tzimisce and BSDs to shame).

Dr Choi is perhaps the most extreme example of this sort of thing, and also somewhat atypical in that she was deliberately as grotesque and horrible as I could possibly make her. Everybody in that game was on-board with going full-throttle horrible and seeing just how dark we could take the world-of-darkness setting.
There are other examples, though, most of them rather more tasteful.

I play in a regular Vampire the Masquerade Larp where - among other things - rape, incest, psychological torture, child trafficking and other nastiness are explicitly on the cards. The game uses pretty careful tools to ensure that players are opting into the darkest stuff, and players who don't want to deal with it don't have to. But. I've dealt with some of the nasty shit in the game, and had a lot of... I wouldn't say fun, for all of it. But they've been experiences I'm glad I had. The game is dark and gothic and atmospheric and genuinely the best larp I've ever been to. It gets under your skin. It's fucking great.
Like, I cannot hype this game up enough. If Bex & Delia (or people who know them) read this, fuck, I can't thank them enough for the work they put in.

Shortly after I lost my Grandmother (who had been there for me in some really difficult times, gave me a place to stay when things were rough at home - of all my family, she was probably the one I was closest to) to Alzheimer's I played in a Changeling the Dreaming game. 
Changeling deals strongly with loss of self; if your memories of your life as a changeling fade into the mundanity of mortal life, how do you respond? How do those watching it respond? How do you face forgetting with dignity?  I'd just watched my closest family member forget who she was and die from it. And then I'm playing a character who's in that situation herself, feeling herself slipping away, watching her reality recede bit by bit to be replaced by something far emptier, knowing that in a few months time she'd have people around her, and she'd not recognise them, and that would break her former friends' and lovers' hearts. So she said her goodbyes and killed herself while she was still herself.
I mean, it was super sad. I cried a bit after the game. But it was also really fucking cathartic. It let me work through a bunch of difficult complicated feelings I'd been trying to ignore. 
Shit like this is why we, as a species, tell stories. 

I'm about to start a VtM 5th Edition game. I'm not a fan of everything that system does, but the way it focuses on feeding and touchstones really zeroes in on the very personal aspects of the game. With the characters we've got set up, it's looking like domestic abuse is gonna be a thing that comes up. And I've got some history with that, that's left me with some emotional issues to work through, but the group are all people I trust and am comfortable with. I'm expecting it to get dark and intense and I'm really looking forward to it.

* * * * *

So, why am I talking about this?
Well. The old staple conversation of Rape In Tabletop RPGs has reared it's head.
On the one side, we have people arguing that you should always be able to rape to your heart's content in RPGs because, uh, free speech? And if a player can't hack that, they shouldn't be playing RPGs. Because, you know... on a certain political wing, Trigger Warnings (and their cousins in RPGs: lines and veils, etc) are a tool of the SJWs that threaten our precious western civilisation.
On the other side, we have people arguing that rape is never OK to put in your games. That old James Desborough article, tastefully named "In Defence Of Rape" gets trotted out and mocked, as does much of the LotFP back catalogue where things get unusually edgy.

Here's the thing: the games listed above - which are, really, only the tip of the iceberg - are some of the best, most intense, most rewarding experiences I've had with RPGs.
There absolutely is a space for this sort of thing in roleplaying, and attempts to erase it leave the artistic and emotional potential of the medium lessened and hollow. 
Indeed, one of my favourite RPGs of all time - Monsterhearts by Avery Alder - is explicitly about messy teenage sexuality, and it can (if the relevant characters are in play and the relevant mechanics get triggered) get real bleak real fast. Its a game where sexuality can be predatory and weaponized and abusive. And, I mean, I've had some (minor) experiences with this sort of thing, but that doesn't get in the way; it gives me that much more context and emotional resonance to draw on.
There have been larp games which have brought me to floods of tears. There have been games where the NPC I played - bleeding and broken, lying twitching and whimpering and screaming - made the players feel ill. This shit can be powerful. The interactivity of the medium, the viscerality of it (particularly in larp, but also in ttrpgs) can make you feel things in ways that other mediums just can't.
I mean, fuck, I talk about WoD a lot in this post, but Death Love Doom is, imho, a fucking masterpiece for how it can get under your skin and really produce an uncomfortable horror experience in a genre (D&D) where that sort of thing doesn't normally go so well.

But, there's a flip side to this. Would I use a Changeling the Dreaming character to work through my grief with a bunch of strangers or casual acquaintances? Of course not. This stuff makes you emotionally vulnerable. It can be too much all in one go. I've had games where we go "ok, that scene was hardcore, let's pause, get some food, and step back from the game to chill" because that level of intensity's unsustainable in more than short bursts.
You gotta use safety mechanics. I'm not a huge fan of the x-card as the main solution to this stuff (I've said so at length here) but other ideas, such as Lines and Veils, and regular check-ins, and so on are vital if you're gonna create an atmosphere where people feel safe and comfortable delving into this stuff. And, indeed, if it all gets too much, you gotta stop the game, because people's emotions take priority over the game unless you're a fucking sociopath.
((Admitedly, I am perhaps not great at calling time-out for my own good sometimes. Like, physically, I've got injured in larp fights by not making the 'pause the game for health and safety' call when somebody was about to stand on my head. I've been hit in the face with the butt of a weapon, spat out a tooth, and kept on playing. I'm not great at self care. But fuck it, I'm having fun and I'm not dead yet.))
And, like, not everybody's gonna be up for this sort of thing all the time. I'm not! A lot of the time I just wanna be chill, throw some dice around, fight some skeletons. Some people are fragile, or don't have the same experiences to draw on, or are uncomfortable exposing themselves like that, or have really nasty memories or phobias, or just don't enjoy horror. That's cool.
I wouldn't have played most of the stuff listed above with total strangers, or with people I didn't trust to handle it well. Even among my IRL friends, there's plenty I wouldn't be happy playing a game like Monster-hearts with.

So what's my point? My point is that this sort of thing is powerful and can lead to some amazing experienes if you go all-in on it. But for it to work, you need a level of trust between everybody involved. Everybody needs to feel safe and to be buying into where the game is going.
Obviously, that can't happen if you spring this stuff on somebody by surprise.
Like the proportion of women that have been raped, sexually assaulted, abused in relationships, etc is pretty fucking high, and this isn't news to anybody with half a brain. But, like, the proportion of men who've had this shit happen to them is surprisingly high as well, and nobody fucking talks about it, which is its own problem. Which means that the chances are, even if you don't know about it, somebody in your group has probably had to deal with this shit irl.
If - and it's a big if - you want to do this sort of thing, you wanna find a group of friends you're comfortable being emotionally open with, and then work out which themes you want to explore. It doesn't have to be rape! You can get really fucking dark with parental abandonment, Alzheimer's, war, all sorts of shit... pick a topic that works for your group.
You can make a joke of it and be grotesque and outlandish - see Dr Choi, above - but that robs the experience of some of its horror and catharsis. Leaning into it, taking it seriously and getting immersed can be really rewarding.
Its not for you, but if you've been considering this sort of game and aren't sure, it gets my seal of approval. But, in the words of an immortal scholar*: The Bleak Horror Of Man's Inhumanity To Man is a Sometimes Food. Maybe play some Paranoia or whatever after to cleanse your palette.
*cookie monster

* * * * *

Unrelatedly, I've declared myself Evil High Priestess of the OSR. I now have a fancy hat, ominous robes, and a wobbly-bladed knife made of obsidian, and am keen to start ripping out hearts and offering them to Ungoliant.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Stuff In Print and Other News

Just a quick one, I've finally got test prints back for The Stygian Library and The Dolorous Stroke back that don't have those weird transparency issues, which is nice!
(The solution turned out to be taking a really high-res screenshot of each page, and making a new pdf where each page is just that screenshot as a .png. It's not the most elegant method but it works; there's a slight affect on the crispness of the text but it's basically fine).
So now you can buy them! Here is The Stygian Library and here's The Dolorous Stroke.

There are probably typos, but fuck it they're done now.

Wolfpacks Deluxe will get sorted out and - hopefully - likewise be up for sale soon as well. It's a big chunky 300-page hardback, but I have hope. Likewise Esoteric Enterprises. 

I've revived my 'ship sailing into the west' module idea, and been hashing stuff out for it. That's probably my next project to come out. That or finally finishing the ref stuff for Esoteric Enterprises, but that's gonna be a long slog before it's done.

(There's also still a fundraiser going Mandy's stuff. Any help you can throw at her means a lot.)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Go Buy DMT!

"Hello? Mission control? This is Agent McCormack reporting in. Location... deep dreamscape, second layer, reflection of East-London dockyards. Requesting urgent support. Entire team pinned in combat with unknown assailants." 
"At least [fragment missing] on our position. Seemingly human, emerging from the harbour, most with fish-like alterations, many armed. ...I don't know, give me a [speech inaudible, sounds of gunfire]. Good God, it's huge! Coming out of the water, slithering this way." 
"It's [fragment missing]." 
"Oh! I hear police sirens in- [wet ripping sounds] Jesus, it got Granger, his skin came right off... Mucus everywhere, guns don't do... oh Jesus Christ, it sees me! [inaudible, heavy breathing and footsteps] Get me out of here! I can't-" 
[Transmission ends in static]

So. Deep Morphean Transmissions is done. You can buy the referee book here, and the player-handouts here.

So now I'm gonna ramble about the project a bit. 
Structurally, the game comes in two parts that you need both of. First up, the player materials contain all the rules of the game. This is, I think, a big thing. All the rules you need in order to play are on your character sheet, fitting on two sides of A4. I stripped down the game mechanics a lot so that you only got the bare essentials left. These are:
  • Attributes (Charisma, Intelligence and Will), which you roll under to do most things.
  • Saving throws, which work like you'd expect in OSR.
  • Rolls to hit, and defence (the equivalent of AC). If you attack, roll greater than your to-hit value to do so successfully. However, if your roll is greater than your victim's defence value, the shot hits but is deflected. IE, if you have a to-hit of 11+ and your victim has defence of 18+, then a roll of 1-10 misses, 11-17 hits and does damage, and 18+ hits but is deflected harmlessly.
  • HP, which are reduced as you take damage, and on 0HP you leave the dreamscape.
  • Heart rate, to which you add all your dice rolls, representing the increasing stress you're under. If it gets high enough, you're in the zone and can be badass (rolling again if you fail), but if it gets too high, you have a heart attack, taking you out of action just like if you run out of HP.
  • Reckless rolls roll twice and take the higher result. Careful rolls roll twice and take the lower result.
  • A special Technique or two for each department:
    >Security Agents can intercept attacks, and attack again if they drop an enemy.
    >Surveillence Agents get thief-skill style abilities that always work but increase heartrate when used; one such ability per level.
    >Tech Support Agents get a limited number of support and recovery abilities, much like a cleric's limited pool of spells.
    >Logistics Agents get an unreliable ability to call Mission Control for help.
  • You get XP for learning secrets and completing mission objectives. Every 10XP levels you up, improving your saves, to-hit and an attribute of your choice by 1. Maybe it affects your department technique, too.
And that's fucking everything. Congratulations, you now know enough to play the game.
So yes. The player stuff is pretty minimalistic. But that's fine, complicated mechanics don't make the game good, they just slow stuff down. The bulk of the gameplay is in how these mechanics interact with the setting and the monsters, and the properties that emerge from that.
In this case, playtesting has been pretty encouraging. My players have thrown themselves face-first into experimenting and exploring, trying weird stuff I didn't think of (there's a section in the referee book called 'things the agents can do' which is, more accurately 'weird things my playtesters tried').
And this is where the referee book comes in. It's also small - 77 pages, of which 7 are bumf rather than content and another 15 or so are full-page illustrations by Scrap Princess -

interjection: I fucking love Scrap's art in this book. Like so much. She's knocked it out of the park imho. Look at this brilliant madness!
interjection over.
so. Ignoring 15ish pages of art and seven of indexes and stuff, that leaves about 55 pages of content.
That's tight. It's the most concise I've ever released a full project. Which, to be honest, was tricky. I've been pretty ruthless in editing out things that seemed superfluous. Everything's been tightly trimmed. This is the bare minimum to run the game.
Incidentally, just like the Ref book not repeating the player-facing rules, it also doesn't include any of that 'how to be a good OSR referee' stuff. I can write for pages and pages about that, but here I didn't bother. If you're running it, you probably already know how to referee. So I cut it.


Inspiration-wise, it's both a weirdly mixed bag and very tightly-themed. The game's a dreamlike blend of espionage and noir and lovecraft and surrealism and body horror. It being written by me, there's plenty or parasites and transformations, ways to go mad and have your PC fucked with, and also an entire monster entry that's assembled from a big pile of random tables. 
Tonally, it's drawing on stuff like Paprika and Jacob's Ladder and Lacuna and Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories. Games in this setting will be excursions into paranoia and weirdness. The breaking down of reality is a big theme, unsurprisingly.

I even managed to get it to include the old standard of Law vs Chaos alignment, which is a first for me. Really though, Law vs Chaos just maps onto Reality vs Madness in this case.

Anyway, it's been a few months of furious work, and here it is. I hope you like it.
Thanks go to Scrap, my playtesters, and Chris (who ran the campaign back when I was a student that inspired this).

~ ~ ~

Also, while you've got your wallets out buying my stuff, there's a fundraiser going for Mandy Morbid's legal fees here. Mandy's a massive nerd and a real sweetie irl, and this has been a very shitty year for her for the sorts of reasons you can probably guess, so any help you can throw her way will be appreciated.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Visual Design Stuff for Deep Morphean Transmissions

So the dreamscape based game is nearing completion. It's acquired a title - Deep Morphean Transmissions (the acronym is DMT) - and most of the text is done, and the layout's largely there, too. So Imma talk about it a bit.

I've been working with Scrap Princess on the illustrations, it's been really interesting; I've never collaborated on visual stuff before. There's been some back-and-forth about the illustrations and the look of the thing. She had the idea of using analogue photocopy textures, which have become quite a prominent thing. Like a sketch would be drawn, photocopied, more drawing on the photocopy, and so on. You get layers of noise and grime building up there, it's super cool, I really like the direction she took.

You can see that in this image, the grimy textures in the drawing. The same photocopier texture from one of these images is what was used for the page header/footer.

I've been giving scrap's art a full A5 page per illustration, with the header/footer extending to the full page around it to tie things in. It's simple but I think it looks quite striking.

The book's divided into rough sections, with the header on each page saying which section it is and what the rough topic of the page is. I've tried to limit each topic to a two-page spread, although that's not always possible. Some topics get 2 or 3 two-page spreads if the subject matter is bigger, but that's still gonna be divided into 'chunks' of a two-page spread each. Where a topic is smaller, it gets a single page, and the facing page gets one of the full illustrations on it. Likewise, if a topic covers three pages, the fourth in the little four-page section gets an illustration.

By now, you'll have seen that the text all has a watermark behind it, these are all public-domain images, often heavily processed. Each section gets a repeating watermark on each page, in washed-out blue & violet colours that tie in with scraps art. The idea here is that these images do the work of giving a page some visual interest, while fading into the background in a way that a foregrounded picture wouldn't. Plus, by repeating across multiple pages, each topic is tied together by the watermark, giving the sections more visual cohesion. Here's an example:

Other than that, in terms of design I've tried to keep things pretty clean and modernistic. Ariel's not a font I usually like, but it's got a sleekness to it that works well with the look I'm going for here. Likewise the tables being simple square black lines works alright here, I think. For the headings, meanwhile, I've gone with a typewriter font that I've found vaguely reminiscent of a nice 'mid 20th century' aesthetic that works for the subject matter.

So yeah, it's coming together. I'm pretty pleased with how it's looking.
Oh, as a final thing, the core mechanics of the game all go on the PC's character sheets, including how character gen works. So while the rulebook has commentary and advice on the rules, you need to read the handouts to know the basics. There's also gonna be a set of printouts to give players with plot-hooks and hints, that work as in-character documents that the PCs are given during their mission briefing. They're gonna have the scrap-princess art (because it would be a shame to waste it, she's turned out some really good stuff), as well as carefully edited public domain stuff, and bits of text.

Anyway, that's where things are. I'm probably got a few days before I release this thing - it needs indexing still - but it's well on its way. And I'm pretty pleased with it.


Oh, also, there's a fundraiser for Mandy Morbid's legal fees, because that whole situation continues to be dreadful. Here it is, maybe throw her a few bucks.