Thursday, October 29, 2009

After Lovecraft

My friend Rick Dakan, author of many fine books (including All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the Geek Mafia novel series) has returned to RPG publishing with The Horror at Red Hook: The Cold Case of Robert Suydam. As the title implies, this Call of Cthulhu scenario involves characters picking up the pieces after Lovecraft's short story of the same name.

I'm lucky enough to game with Rick almost weekly. It's also illustrated by my longtime friend and gaming buddy Kent Bonifield, whose art has been featured here on Dungeonskull Mountain before. But I'm not just plugging this scenario here because two friends worked on it - no sir! I playtested this adventure (playing a streetwise hobo named Brown Bottle Bill) and so can vouch for its coolness. In fact, my group's characters are included as pregens (though the names, I'm told, have been changed).

You can grab it in PDF format here. Or, if you're a Luddite like me, order it in print here (or at any other fine gaming establishment, be it brick-and-mortar or online).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Folio Imbroglio

I think that a lot of the illustrations in the original Fiend Folio are begging for New Yorker-style captions.

"Have you heard the good news?"

Now, I love me some gorbel, but that picture's hardly the only one worthy of captioning. Anybody else want to try?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Your Sorcerous Ways

Although I haven't mentioned it in quite a while, my homebrew fantasy setting, the Freed Lands, still percolates away in the back of my mind. I sometimes hesitate to post about it, since I get the impression it's largely of interest to myself alone, but this blog is too long neglected, so let me raise for discussion an idea that I hope will generate some commentary:

Fantasy without spells.

That's right - I'm coming to the conclusion that I'd be happier if my setting didn't have magic, or at least didn't have what RPGs generally describe as "spellcasting". The more I think about what turns me off about D&D-style western fantasy - a magic sword for every warrior, wizards chucking lightning bolts at their foes with impunity, priests healing the injured several times a day - I just don't like the idea of mere mortals having that kind of power, least of all on a reliable, predictable basis. I want magic to be scary and incomprehensible. I still want monsters, though.

In a lot of ways, the feel I want is what's depicted in the ultra-violent manga series Berserk, around the time of "The Golden Age" story arc. (The series ramps up the D&Disms shortly afterwards, with the main character befriending an elf and a wizard, among other things.) But early on, the world of Berserk is much like Europe during the 13th century or so, with mercenary bands doing the business of war and terrorizing the populace when work is slow. Whenever anything supernatural occurs, it's monstrously demonic in nature, and met by most of the protagonists with disbelief, confusion, and abject terror. That's more or less what I'm going for.

So, for the moment, I'm thinking of a human-dominated world, where magic is a fantasy, but horrific monsters lurk at the edges. There's still room for a sorcerer or two in this world, I suppose, but they'd be more monster than man.

You know, this concept has a lot in common with the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I could say that's because BRP's currently the system I'm planning on using for the setting, but I think it's really just the influence of the aforementioned Berserk along with Princess Mononoke and similar films.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Perchance To Dream

I am beginning to think that I want to run a fantasy campaign for which no game system exists, which is simultaneously frustrating (because it means that I can't just pick up a book off the shelf and run it) and liberating (because it means I can quit looking for something already in print and figure out how to put it together myself).

I want it to have the following:

  • Subtle magic (i.e. no fireballs or bags of magic swords)
  • Detailed and deadly combat that is fast-paced, with use of minis as an option
  • Systems for conquering and managing lands
  • Hirelings/followers as an integral part of the game
  • Support for large-ish battles (involving about 20 to a side)
  • Ways to mechanically differentiate one "warrior" character from another
  • Non-dicepool
  • Characters that can fit on an index card

Does such a game exist? I think not, but I'd love to be proven wrong. I have been thinking of cobbling it together from bits of BRP, which is a close but not exact fit. I am open to suggestions.