martedì 26 maggio 2020

The Temple of Pulchra Morte




I've been absent from this Blog for a very long time and a lot of stuff happened: I lost my father and the World was struck by a Pandemic. I never stopped playing, luckily, even if I had to migrate my group to Rolld20, not as bad as it sounds, when all's said and done, especially if you're running an OSR campaign.

This is my first little contribution to world of dungeon making. It's free for you to download and sorely needs more playtesting. The Temple its a three-sector dungeon, every sector has about 20 rooms. It can be placed in any setting with minimal stress. Don't want to spoiler it, in case you're a player.

Enjoy and waiting for feedbacks!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tGGOK09AIW8eFqRqGzeyywRVb2pVLeSs

giovedì 4 aprile 2019

Putting "Role" back into "Role-Playing"

"We play dungeons, not characters". I read this slogan and found it quite funny and smart. It says a lot about the need many of us felt to go back to our roots, before games became too verbose and complicated. I fear, though, that some may take it too literally.

If you start this hobby thinking you're going to play some kind of tactical skirmish game set inside a fantasy dungeon, with added gestional elements, you might want to grab a copy of Heroquest, or one of his too many spawns. Think about it: you're into something that is called "Role-Playing". I guess "Role" must play a pretty important part in the show ... say: at least 50%?

I've been into a heavy storytelling for a long time and I'm the first to admit that it can get very frustrating and emotionally stressing. It's difficult for the gamemaster to prepare, relies on a generous dose of wild improvisation and suffers from a lack of real decision making for the players, because, you know ... if the story is so important usually it must go in a precise direction, whatever the players do. That is called "railroading" and if everyone agrees about its necessary evil it can be fun. We had fun with it. We played characters, not dungeons. We staged entire fictional lives.



In these days, playing AD&D 1st edition, in its Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea incarnation, I'm looking at simplicity and fun. This doesn't mean that I renounced playing NPCs or that my players have blank stereotypes instead of PCs. Things can be done with measure. Balance is the mother of success (and good fun). 

Too often I see groups playing like many of us did at the very start of the hobby: using only the third person. So, here's my dime on how to put the role back into role-playing, with little or no effort:

  1. Use the first person and have your players use it. No: I ask the barkeeper for some beer. Yes: "Hey you! Bring us some beer!". Just that. It hasn't to be acting. Remove the third person filter: it can be very very liberating. 
  2. Promote 1 by having the group joined by a couple of NPCs who interact with them in the first person and have very distinct personalities. They can be your active voice in the game, which is useful too. 
  3. Lights out. Play by candle light. Visual distractions have to be removed. You don't want your players commenting your book collection while you try to set a mood. Only the table has to be visible. 
  4. Use music. Once I had a lot of spare time and noted single songs for every scene. Now I don't and use mostly background music. In the Spotify era this is much simpler than it was in the 90's. You need artist's names? Just write me. 
The best hing? We can have dungeons and characters and be very happy about them all. 

martedì 26 marzo 2019

Thoughts on (#1): Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition

I played Warhammer 1st edition for many years. I loved everything about it: the setting, the amazing artwork, the simple rules, the euro-renaissance look, Chaos, the chance to have players start as common folk (rat catchers!), the funny and terse writing. Middenhein is one of the best city systems ever. Power Behind the Throne, in my humble opinion, the best city adventure ever.

I bought the second edition and played some years more. I was glad to have new material. Didn't care much for the new rules and magic system. Didn't care either for most of the new artwork. You know: Warhammer RPG identified so strongly with its illustrations ... John Blanche, Dave Adrews, Will Rees, Ian Miller, etc. They pushed you inside a very different vision of Fantasy: mangy individuals dressed in rags, cities where roofs touched each other, rivers that looked like sewers, demons that were more nightmares than hulking threats ...


Adrian Smith - Realms of Chaos


All these good things, this atmosphere, was already going away through the 2nd edition. But it was still tolerable, even if many books were just too long while saying too little (filler, filler, filler) and the new adventures almost amateurish.

I skipped the 3rd edition entirely. Don't really care for RPG-boardgame hybrids.

Had the chance to skim through a physical copy of the fourth the other day, at my local store. I felt a little like vomiting. Cubicle 7 has this power of using the same style of artwork for all of his games: you have Tolkien and Lone Wolf looking the same (no Gary Chalk? That's murder!). Now you have Warhammer in the exact same palette but with a disreputable amount of D&D 3 - 4 - 5 thrown in. You know ... those things that sell ...
Everyone has big muscles. There are no more commoners. You're a rat catcher? You're probably a hulk too. Everything is kind of greyish, greenish, maroonish and absolutely devoid of magic, dynamism or atmosphere. Monsters are unrecognazible (just use the 3.5 Monster Manual).


idontknowwho - WFRP 4th edition


I don't think, as many say, that this is the effect of Fantasy Battle ichoring its venom on the RPG. It's more of a cultural thing. It's just massification. Let's print products with little personality, so they're going to be good for most of the people. It's like Disney - Marvel - Lucasfilm.

Sometimes I eat at fast-foods. I just don't want to dwell there for a three-years campaign. My fault. We'll se what they do with the Enemy Whithin Reloaded. I probably won't be there to know. 

lunedì 25 marzo 2019

The Vermin Menagerie #2: the Cobbleroach

It took millennia for the Cobbleroach to adapt to the city environment. And adapt he did, to the point of becoming virtually invisible to the eyes of his predators.
Covered by a cubic mass of chitinous exoskeleton (which opens to let it use its wings) capable of being stepped-on by foot, hoof or cartwheel, the Cobbleroach mimics cobblestones, positioning himself to rest where one is missing or displaced. Streets in particular disrepair may attract a multitude of the creatures, spending the day in disguise and moving during the night in search of prey.


Cobbleroaches hunt in swarms of 5-50 (5d10) individuals and are carnivorous, their diet being composed of lizards, rats, cats, small dogs and, occasionally, drunkards sleeping in secluded alleys.

What is left looks like the victim of a Piranha attack but Cobbleroaches are way slower to chew their prey, so it must be relatively small or utterly helpless. If the sleeping homeless wakes up and proves to have a fight in him the roaches reaction very much depends on their number. But beware: their clicking call can summon 5 - 50 other fellow chewers in 1d12 rounds.  Desperate yelping or meowing at night might mean some stray or pet is being chased and eaten alive.

Cobbleroaches are quite helpless during the day, their predators are mainly cats and dogs, able to sniff them and use their paws to dislocate the insect and overturn it.


Cobblepickers are industrious individuals who roam the city armed with 4 feet long batons that end with some homemade iron point, they patiently test loose or suspicious cobblestones and, if they turn out to be vermin, skewer them. City authorities pay 25cp per insect killed and use their exoskeletons to manifacture inserts for leather armor.

Cobbleroach: HP 1 - AC 4 (exoskeleton) - bite, damage: 1 (single) - 1d4 (2 to 10) - 1d6 (10 to 20) - 1d8 (20 to 30) - 1d10 (30 to 40) - 1d12 (40 to 50) - 1d20 (50 +). Swarm attacks as single creature - If PC hits roll normal damage -2 to see how many are killed. XP: 20 each

sabato 23 marzo 2019

The Vermin Menagerie #1: the Roofer or Stinging Spider Dog


Possibly the result of some magic experiment gone wrong, the Roofers, or Stinging Spider Dogs, live in the city since time immemorial. Authorities loathe them and offer 1 gold crown per fresh carcass. You'll soon discover why.

These vermins' heads remind of those of giant fruit bats, furry and cute. Their body looks like that of a small dog, with four conventional legs and eight huge spider-like extra legs protruding from their belly. The tail is that of a scorpion, ending with a sting that constantly drips a dense, dark ichor. 

Roofer are nocturnal animals and live in family groups of 4 to 12 individuals. They are omnivorous, hunting for small rodents, birds, insects and scavenging for fruit, seeds and other human-related imports. Thy're filthy, mangy creatures, impervious to disease but ideal as disease carries. 

Thy can run on their dog legs or crawl with the spider ones, climbing any kind of surface. When the spider appendages are not in use they are retracted under the belly in a dark, hairy cluster that makes them seem even more pot-bellied than they naturally are. 

Their name comes from the fact that they tend to hide under roofs, inide attics or under gutters, sleeping through the daylight hours in tight, furry groups. 

Roofers are not aggressive towards humans, on the contrary: they'd be perfect pets. The problem is: when they're happy they have an innatural compulsion to sting their benefactors. Their venom causes severe drowsiness for 1d4 hours, not unlike a generous dose of liquor, followed by vomit and uncontrollable shivering for 1d2 hours. 

In the slums of the city, the poorest and most deperate citizens use their venom as a free alternative to drugs and spirits. Some breed Roofers (who are extremely happy to comply), coming to live very short lives in a state of perpetual stupor. This is why the city authorities pay good money for their extermination. 

Their call sounds like that of hungry kittens, but they use it rarely, having adapted at being hunted. They're clever and see perfectly in the dark. 

Roofer: 1HD, AC6 (fast), 2 attacks: bite (1d3 - 35% of contracting some disease) and sting (save vs. poison or see above, starting in 1d4 minutes), experience 50, treasure none, saves as small animal (dog). 

New Class: Roofer Hunter - progression as thief - HD 1d6 - climb as thief - move silently as thief - hide as thief - resistance to poison (-5 to saving throws vs. poison) - immunity to disease - follows tracks in urban environment on a INT test - at 5th lvl gains 2 apprentices - at 9th lvl an office.
Trappings: small uber-faithful, smart, ferocious dog - sack - 10 feet pole ending with rusty hook.


venerdì 22 marzo 2019

The Ladies of Zyan


Player Characters should approach Zyan has strangers: it would be impossible to pretend to know as much as a citizen would know about the city. It is an alien environment that must be discovered piece by piece, with the right amount of fear and awe. My party arrived from a setting of mine, through portal, after a lot of adventuring, loaded with money and experience (averaging 6th level – Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea ruleset). I wanted to give them a patron and, being a fan of gender diversity, it had to be a woman (group is sadly all male). And then I thought about this:

[What I write about Zyan is not to be considered canon. The only official material comes from Ben at Mazirian's Garden blog and Through Ulthan's Door zine. These are just personal additions to my ongoing campaign]

In the last 50 years it has become fashionable, among a selected group of wealthy Zyan ladies, to sponsor adventuring parties in their quests. It’s a race for social recognition: the Lady with the most successful parties not only partakes in their fortunes but emerges among her peers through the show of exotic paraphernalia gathered in the most obscure corners of Wishery and the Multiverse.
These ladies: widows, spouses of wealthy merchants, spinsters known for their exquisite irrationalities, are competing on another front: turning their bodies into what their masks represent, until their bodies become the masks. Through the use of powerful vivimantic arts, over the course of many years (and for egregious amounts of money), these women have not only preserved or enhanced their youth: they have become something else, with the goal of giving physical form to their innermost self.

Regarding the sponsorship of adventuring parties these ladies usually demand a cut of what is found or pillaged (between 10% and 20%) in exchange of top-class equipment, portal expenses (when needed) and, most importantly, the acquisition of contracts through agencies who specialize in gathering rumours about possible adventuring locations. Agencies take their cut too, usually between 20 and 40%.

[The amazing dolls are crafted by Virginie Ropars, reworked through Painnt and reproduced without permission]

Carbunchia: Chaotic Good – (Goth, Depressed, Bouts of Folly, Romantic, Lonely) – Clan: nobles / Guild: Guides

A widow and orphan whose fortune is rapidly dwindling, lives in a big tower mansion with her only unpaid employee, uber-faithful aged butler Cospic. Refers to Prokter & Kuntz agency, specialized on dungeons on Prime Material Wolds.
       
Velvet: Neutral Evil – (Sexy, Luxurious, Self-Centered, Ambitious) – Clan: merchants / Guild: Fleischguild

Chronically unfaithful wife of merchant Lord Bantam, who’s always “abroad” for work. Famous for wild parties who typically end in orgies. Strong sadomasochistic tendencies. Loves to get “intimate” with her “heores”, often leaving marks. Refers to Niggurath & Sons agency, specialized in Planar and Dreamlands sites.

Petal: Neutral Evil – (Narcisistic, Superficial, Vain) – Clan: nobles / Guild: Guides.

Collects exotic flowers in a Greenhouse inside her mansion, calls them “her babies”. Married with Count Dukkas, who amiably abuses her, physically and psychologically. Loves to “dress” her heroes. Refers to Jared’s Everything Emporium, specialized in “Weird” contracts.
       
Blanca: Lawful Good – (Control-Freak, Pious) – Clan: merchants / Guild: Benefactors.

Married to merchant Bartholomeus (an introverted collector of minutiae), ardent Benefactor. Demands only “gifts” (no cut) from parties. Refers to Sprague’s, specialized in eradication of evil.

Simbilis: Chaotic Evil – (Sneaky, Cold-Blooded, Observant) – Clan: merchants / Guild: Fleischguild

200 years old. Heiress. Too ambitious for her own good. Loves and collects snakes. Eats critters. Refers to Niggurath & Sons.

Butterfly: Chaotic Good – (Wispy, Eerie, Fay, Unpredictable) – Clan: Artists / Guild: Guides.

Example of vivimancy gone slightly wrong. She knows and is ashamed. Ongoing feud with her ex wizard/dealer. Always means well, sometimes with catastrophic results (for her or parties). Refers to Jared’s Everything Emporium, specialized in “Weird” contracts.





giovedì 21 marzo 2019

Zyan: so beautiful, so scary, so sad

Settings are like rats: there's too many, they look all the same and they feast on scraps. Read ten random "original" fantasy settings and you'll feel like visiting ten different McDonald's in the same city.

When a good setting comes by it's a thing to celebrate. I found one: it's called Zyan and it's supported by Mazirian's Garden blog and a wonderful zine called Through Ulthan's Door. It's written by Ben L. who is a nice person, a philosopher and a true "author".

Zyan is a city that flies over the Dreamlands, or Wishery, as Ben calls them. You probably know a lot already about it so I won't go into details: this thing I'm writing, after all, isn't going to be read by anyone if Ben himself doesn't share it. So, Ben: please share!

Why should you consider playing in Zyan? First of all because it's so intense it compelled me to draw a map (many, many years since I tried my hand at a city map).



Second: it's unique. In my campaign I use it as a base for Planar missions, a sort of Sigil. Sigil is unique and uniquely irritating. Bloated descriptions that don't describe enough. That jargon ... maybe sounded like a good idea in the 90's, now it's such a drag ... Zyan, on the contrary, is so terse it takes only a handful of blog posts and a zine to FEEL it.

It's a disturbing place, full of morbid mysteries, unknowable rites, obscure gods and weird traditions. It is, at least for me, a deeply sensual place, in a very twisted, freudian way. A place of sin, decadent, byzantine, full of subterfuge and deadly ennui. "The stuff that dreams are made of ..." and yet ... fully playable. This is a small miracle: how many times have we read something that had atmosphere but no substance, that you couldn't bring to the table without titanic efforts (see: Vornheim)? This nightmare comes table-ready.
I'm 44, I've got a full-time job and a 3 years old son. I sorely need table-ready stuff. 

Zyan reminds me of the grotesque baroquery of Jean Pierre Jeunet's & Marc Caro's City of Lost Children (sorry for the obscure citation ... I'm an ex movie-critic).


Of the exquisite madness of Terry Gilliam's Baron of Munchausen.


It has body-horror, butcher-priests, a lot of theatre, killer puppets, pig-men, faceless lions and cenotaphs lost in a jungle of giant mushrooms hanging upside down from the city's rock. It has a sewer river and entire subcultures living exclusively underground. 

Most of all, in my humble opinion, it's about the loss of hope (beautifully exemplified by the struggle between the two crowns who hold the city in an eternal standoff). This, in a way, puts Zyan more in a "Dying Earth" context than a Dreamlands one: the marmoreal, escherian vistas are lovecraftesque and dunsanian, but the nihilistic push is more like Vance meets William Burroughs. 

Anyway, if we go past the somewhat lazy game of naming possible inspirations, what we have it's Ben, his psyche, his vision. No wink-wink references and no old-school obligations to drag it down.

I dare to make a wish about Zyan's future: a beatiful illustrated manual giving us everything we need to play in Zyan Above, Below and in-Between. That would keep me busy for the years to come! 

So: wear your mask, say your prayers and jump into Zyan: such pleasure and such pain are waiting there for you!