Sunday, 1 September 2019

Call of Cthulhu Session 3: the Subterranean Pyramid

After Session 2, Dr. Milka and Mike Hunt woke up in the morning in their jungle camp to the sound of a passing train. Rising to investigate, they found their friend Daniel Sephenson had arrived, and with backup!

The Investigators:

  • Dr. Milka- medical doctor with a shotgun
  • Michael Hunt- 45 year old dilettante in search of diversions
  • Daniel Stephenson- Boston Dilettante looking to use his education and skills from hunts in Africa to make his way in the world
  • Miss Lily Walker- private eye
  • Dr. Jack Pearson- professor of Anthropology
  • Detective Donato dos Reis- hardboiled Brasilian police detective
  • Dr. Gretta Von Flue- Parapsychologist
The party began going over the campsite again in the daylight, as well as the Mayan monolith from last session. Dr. Gretta recieved a vision of a Mayan ritual atop a pyramid. With the last bloody Human sacrifice, a wave of energy pulsed through the Jungle and with a sigh she knew "the Gate is Sealed!" This vision cost her some sanity points, but gained her some points in Cthulhu Mythos.

Following the instructions of the crony they had captured the night before, our investigators headed down the narrow path through the jungle, towards "Senor Esteban".

Cresting a ridge, they were met with a vista into a wide valley, thick with growth. They espied a small pyramid about 5km away, half collapsed into the tall vegetation. 

Continuing along the path they ran into a gory sight: an eight-limbed figure dried out and strung up on a tree. It took the party's collective skills to cut down, investigate, and dissect the figure. They determined that it was made from Human parts sown together to form some sort of mystic ward. They attempted to replace the ward, but without much luck. As they continued on the trail, they felt mild tremors from deep below the ground.

Reaching the pyramid, the party quickly encountered a pair of local-yokel guards. They fast talked them into thinking that they were gun-running partners. They were brought around to the East side of the pyramid where Senor Esteban's men are encamped. There are signs that they have been excavating the ruin.

Arturo Lopes, Esteban's Number Two, treated our investigators with suspicion, but they reached a sort of standoff with him. Donato would come to meet Esteban while the rest of the party were left to drink Tequila under the watchful eyes of his well-armed men.

Donato was led past the guards by Arturo into the pyramid, winding deeper and deeper into a reverse-pyramid underneath the ground! Reaching what must be the apex of the inverted subterranean pyramid, he found a small room, most of which was occupied by a roughly circular pit bored deep into the ground.  Crouching with his ear to the pit was a man, dressed as an experienced explorer, but with a crazed, disheveled look to him. After Arturo called to him, Senor Esteban a.k.a. Walter Kimbel arose. "Every day I can understand them a little more" he mumbled excitedly. "Soon we will be able to complete the ritual!"

Arturo tried talking to Kimbel about our investigators' guns, but the man was too far gone, preferring to crouch at the pit and listen.

As Arturo prepared to lead him out, a pistol held to his back, Donato managed to grapple him, avoid the point-blank shot(DM's shoddy diceroll) and throw the man into the pit. This woke Kimbel from his trance. He drew a knife and attempted to stab Donato, but he too was sent flying into the pit, a look of mixed terror and ecstasy in his eyes.

Meanwhile, the sound of the gunshot upset the guards outside. They disarmed the rest of the party and led them to a cell in the pyramid where they met Jackson Elias and two local boys. Jackson told them that Kimbel is insane, having gazed too many times into the Crystal Skull of Ah-Puch.

As word spread that "Senor Esteban" and Arturo are dead, their remaining men quickly began looting the site and fleeing into the jungle.

Donato eventually managed to find his comrades and Lily picked the lock to the cell. Jackson Elias quickly led them back to the room with the pit and recovered the relic, a beautiful but ancient crystal Owl Skull. He had Lily take lots of photos with the pyramid, the skull, and the smuggled guns for his next book.

Dr. Gretta stared into the eyes of the skull. She found herself communing with "Ah-Puch" telling her to perform the ritual to free him and break the seal. Her sanity suffered some more and she found that she had learned a new spell "Summon Burrower from Below".

The party left the place with their lives and a few crates of contraband rifles to boot. Back in Campeche the next morning, they found that Jackson had disappeared but left them a letter.


Monday, 19 August 2019

Call of Cthulhu Session 2: Jungle Training


For Session 2, two of our investigators had other business, leaving Milka on her own. Fortunately, she met another American who is staying in Campeche, a bored Dilettante looking for amusement. They made plans to take a train out to Jackson Elias' camp.

The Roster:

  • Dr. Milka- 26 year old medical doctor. She has trouble finding steady employment and so is willing to look outside the standard hospital jobs
  • Maria's story
  • Michael Hunt- 45 year old dilettante in search of diversions. French/Spanish speaker with good drafting/modeling/library skills. Carries a double-barrel shotgun out in the bush

The two began preparations for an expedition into the jungle. They collected their crates of guns, booze, and cigarettes. They bought supplies including backpacks, water, rope, rations. They got a donkey to carry the supplies. With that, the two boarded the slow steam engine out of the city and into the jungle.

After many bumpy hours, with numerous stops and delays, the party reached milepost 126. Maria, a middle-aged woman the party had interacted with on the way, tried to persuade them to return. They bravely continued unloading their gear and the train headed off, leaving them in the dark jungle.

They stumbled around in the dark for a while until finding the path by the river. Once on the path, they found a large Aztec monolith with carvings and hieroglyphs. The carvings showed a demonic entity reaching up from under a pyramid to the people above. The party took a rubbing of the hieroglyphs.

The investigators discovered Jackson's camp. It was destroyed and had been looted. After scavenging some materials, they constructed a tent and bedded down for the night.

The party were soon disturbed by chimes and otherworldly fluting. A gory figure appeared in the Jungle, lit by red lights and holding a skull. He spoke Spanish claiming to be Au Puch and demanding the party leave their goods and flee this jungle. His two skeletal minions lurked in the shadows.

Doctor Milka and Mike replied with some ill-aimed shotgun blasts. Two of the otherworldly intruders fled, while the other fell and was captured by the investigators. He is a drunk villager who works for a gringo named Esteban. Michael paid him to return to his village. He thanked them but warned him to stay away from Esteban. He is violent and mad and will do terrible things if he catches them!

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Call of Cthulhu Session 1: Off to Yucatan

Saturday night, we kicked-off our first session of Call of Cthulhu. I've never played call of Cthulhu before, but fortunately one of our players has, so he was able to provide some quick rules Guidance when things got sticky. The adventure I decided to go with is Don Coatar's "The God of Mitnal", but with my own twist to it. It's a short, straightforward romp into Central America which seemed like a good opportunity to start learning the game rules. It also can transition into a full Masks campaign if things go well.

The Roster:
  • Mac Johnson- 29 year old journalist and photographer. He has done quite well for himself already and is looking for adventures to truly make his name great
  • Daniel Stephenson- 49 year old Boston Dilettante from an uber-rich family. They have disowned him and now he is looking to use his education and skills from hunts in Africa to make his way in the world
  • Dr. Milka- 26 year old medical doctor. She has trouble finding steady employment and so is willing to look outside the standard hospital jobs
Jackson on past adventures
The year is 1923. Mac's friend and mentor is famed explorer and writer Jackson Elias. Jackson made arrangements with him that, if he should need assistance on one of his adventures, Mac will gather a team and come as quickly as possible for $100 a week hazard pay. Today, Mac received a telegram calling in that favor:


The party gathered in Mac's NYC flat and made plans. They collected info on wanted gun-runner Walter F. Kimble. They researched the cult of Ah Puch. They negotiated expenses with Elias' editor Jonas Kensington. They bought supplies. Finally they headed-off to Yucatan.

In Yucatan they had a number of close calls, with a strange, murderous Owl and with a thief trying to steal their rifles. They also heard creepy rumors about Ah Puch's reawakening, thanks to Daniel's translating.

Finally they contacted Guillermo and heard that he hasn't seen Elias in almost a month, but he knows he is investigating a pyramid out in the Jungle. He gave them a note from Elias with directions where to get off the train and how to find his encampment.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Buck Goes Adventuring


So recently I created my first Call of Cthulhu character, disgraced baseballer Buck Pickman. Now, in the interest of learning the game system, let's put him through an encounter:

It's late at night and Buck is at the old Crenshaw residence on the outskirts of Salem. More specifically, he is in the process of breaking into the Crenshaw's abandoned farmhouse. He's investigating the reports he has heard of strange lights and drumming coming from the place.

After climbing in a ground-floor window, and setting his lantern on the counter, he has begun rummaging around. Suddenly he hears steps on the front porch. He uses his Listen skill to see what he can find. He rolls a 44, success! He hears three barefooted people at the front door. He gets a check next to the skill for a chance to improve it at the end of the session.

He draws his revolver and steps into the shadows. A key turns and the door opens. A cultist with tribal headdress and a long bush knife steps into the room, followed by similarly outfitted characters. Buck attempts a Hide skill check but rolls 20. One of the cultists rounds a corner and the two make eye contact.

Round 1


Buck has a missile weapon so he goes first. He aims from point blank range(70% becomes 140%) and shoots. He rolls a 25, not only a hit but an impale. He rolls 2d10 for damage and gets a 17. The cultist only had 15 HP so he falls down dead. He gets a check next to the Handgun skill for a chance to improve it at the end of the session.

Seeing their ally fall, the other two cultists rush towards the sound of the shot, spotting Buck in the corner.

Round 2


Buck sees he is outnumbered and decides to flee towards the window, using his remarkable Jump skill to make a quick egress. The cultists have higher DEX scores so they go first.

The second cultist is faster. He takes a swipe at Buck with his weapon. He rolls a 2, scoring an impale. 11 damage. Since Buck has only 2HP left, he falls unconscious. Fade to black.

He wakes up bound and in pain, his wound throbbing to the sound of drumming. Masked bodies undulate around him. Strange lights appear in the sky. He is about to find out what the rumors were all about. In fact, he is about to play a central role in a most inhuman ritual...




Conclusion

The game system is pretty easy to learn. It reminds me of Cyberpunk 2020, which is a system I've used quite a bit. It's percentage-based. Direct combat is quick and deadly and therefore probably best avoided. I like it.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Planescape Session 5: the Maze of the Melancholy Minotaur

I missed session 4, so this summary follows Session 3.

In previous sessions, the party met a group of Thri-Kreen from the planet Athas. They were in search of a particular botanically-skilled Sensate in the hope that she might help them replenish their magic-ravaged desert planet.

The search for the sensate led them to the gallery of wizards, an art gallery specializing in portraits of powerful mages. The party's visit follows a theft of several paintings in which painting-portals malfunctioned, a sensate disappeared, and a painting of an imprisoned god was vandalized.

This led them into a painting containing a magic labyrinth with a magic healing fountain.

In session 5, we continued to search the maze by the guidance of our four-hoofed colleague. The dwarf barbarian took a piss into what turned out to be a Land Shark's lair(IMHO the DM missed a perfect opportunity to roll on the limb-loss table). The party defeated a Land Shark with the help of a firebolt and Cardinal Sardinius' net, and found the art-thief he had devoured, along with the stolen Wizard portraits.

Ultimately we came upon a strange scene: a sensuously dressed woman, rooted to the ground, staring-down an immobilized Minotaur.

After charming the beast and watering the lady(this time with water- what did you think, you perverts?) she awoke and accepted the mission to revitalize Athas. We left the maze escorted by the Minotaur, returned the paintings to the gallery owner(for a humble 1000GP reward) and headed out to meet our Thri-Kreen sponsors.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Lycanthropy for Fun and Profit!

Due to the Passover holiday, we had 13 gamers turn up for game night, including 8 kids(my daughter included). We decided to "split the party" and run an adults game and a kids game. Avi ran the adults game. I got the kids. It was not dull. Rarely has so much ADHD sat around a single table. We continued our long-running Swords and Wizardry Palace of the Silver Princess campaign. Here is the summary:

Characters:


  • Princessa- Human Fighter with a bastard sword, ring mail and a shot bow. Watch out for this one!
  • Minionoid- son Minion. A chaotic Elven thief with a two handed sword who has joined the party for obscure reasons
  • Ragnar- Chaotic Dark-Elf Assasin who backstabs people with his two-handed sword
  • Yoland- Elf Wizard with a staff and a Javelin
  • Blitzen- Tough Dwarven Fighter lady
  • Aragon- Elf Wizard who aspires to fireballing everything
  • Firestorm- Elf Druidess who loves animals

Summary


The party started off in N'Sau, a village full of war-refugees. First everyone got excited about fishing and made skill rolls. Minionoid then decided it was time to avenge his father, so the party started their journey to the Palace. Blitzen decided to stay and fish and was eventually eaten by Bears(I think her player realized she was ~5 years older than any of the other players, so she quickly lost interest)

They encountered a lone Wolf Warrior on horseback. They tried to kill him but he fled. Firestorm befriended his horse, so he was forced to flee on foot and she kept his horse.

At night, they encountered a Bugbear and two Orcs. Yoland charmed the Bugbear, and the Orcs were killed, with much excitement over the division of treasure. Minion was knocked unconscious and bandaged by Firestorm and the party took a few days for him to heal.

Updated map of ground level
(A quick DM note: I quickly realized that with 6 hyperactive kids shouting , having everyone roll for initiative to determine combat order, as I usually do, was simply not going to work. I chose to just go clockwise around the table, with the Monsters going last, which worked much better, especially with kids getting up and changing seats.)

Upon reaching the Palace the next day, the party saw two Wolf Warriors riding in the front gate. They climbed in through the tower window.

They did some exploring, encountered killer bubbles, and purple moss. They found a statue of mother and daughter with a hidden compartment revealing a riddle about My Lady's Heart. At this point, they have explored most of the ground-level of the dungeon, except for the Northwestern and Southeastern quadrants.

Ragnar discovered a treasure, including gold and a silver Wolf Warrior ring, but was discovered by the rest of the party. Princessa and Minionoid beat him up, divvied up the stuff, with Firestorm healing him and taking the ring.

They party then encountered a red-headed amazon. They chased her and when she turned to face them Princessa and Firestorm began to parlay with her. Her name is Aliegha and she is here because of her master. She was happy to hear that the party had killed some Wolf Warriors, since they have been hunting her.

At this point, Minionoid and Ragnar got bored and wanted to just kill Aliegha. This really upset the two girls, who were trying to befriend her. (Was a really funny pre-teen boys/girls dynamic for me to observe.) Finally, Minionoid declared he was shooting an arrow at her, while Ragnar snuck up behind her for the backstab.

Aliegha was injured, but suddenly shape-changed into a bear, knocked Minionoid unconscious and chased away Ragnar. Then she told the girls her story.

She is a Werebear, cursed with lycanthropy and hunted by the Wolf Warriors, notorious lycanthrope hunters. She is here because she works for her master, a powerful Cleric, Catharandamus. He made a deal with the Goblin king: he will help the Goblins take-over Gulluvia, and the Goblins will then help him find My Lady's Heart.

Princessa and Firestorm tried to convince Aliegha to revoke her support for this evil plan, but she sadly told them there was nothing she could do. She urged the party to flee this place and go on with their lives elsewhere.

Princessa convinced Aliegha to bite her, thus giving her lycanthropy too! With that, Aliegha bade them farewell and left.

We ended there, and everyone got 500XP, which just pushed Princessa to 2nd Level!

On Running Games for Kids

This was my first time running a game for kids who were mostly not my own. It was fun but hard! The kids' energy was high, but they also occasionally got distracted and wandered off. My daughter, for example, went and made herself an omelette at one point, but was also very engaged at other points and overall told me she had a great time and couldn't wait to play again. Another kid was very engaged for most of the game, but disappeared about 1/2 an hour before the end.

Character creation was a bit hectic with all the new players. Some ported over an existing character from another game to 1st Level Swords and Wizardry, others created characters from scratch. All but one of the kids had played some form of DnD before, either joining for one of our adult games or going to a paid, after-school DnD activity, run by a guy in the neighborhood.

Two brothers who were there were constantly fighting with each other. I didn't manage to separate them, but if I run another game in this series I definitely would. Their dad told me they had an amazing time though, so apparently the fighting didn't hurt their experience, even if it distracted me.

One thing for sure is that, if I run a game like this again, I will implement a "No Screens" rule during play(to be fair, I've had this with adult players, which is infinitely more annoying). One of the players was on his phone the entire time and we had to keep calling him over to the table and explaining him what was happening now. At some point I just stopped calling him over.

Finally, I think that I would cap the number of players at the end. Seven is just too much, and anyway, three of them dropped-off leaving us with four highly engaged characters at the end.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Western Terror

S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is a film that plays out like a DnD One-Shot. A kidnapped woman, a group volunteers to go after her, a journey into the wilderness to the Troglodytes' base, and the resolution by combat with no quarter asked and none given. Here are a few things from the movie I'd like to bring into my next game session.

The Hook


There's a lot to love about the scene of the Native American guide who helps the party locate the Troglodytes' base. There's a weird power-dynamic between the Indian Expert and the White Settlers. Behind that tension, all his passive-aggressive answers build-up the mystery and danger of the mission:
  • What kind of tribe doesn't have a name? One that doesn't have a language
  • You'll take us to them? I won't. Cause you're an Indian? Cause I don't want to get killed
  • Well what are they? Troglodytes
  • What do they look like? A man like you would not distinguish them from Indians, even though they're something else entirely
  • You'll show us where they're at? You'll be killed if you enter their territory
  • How many do you think there are? It doesn't matter. You don't have a chance against any number of them

The Journey

One of my favorite recurring western themes is the journey through the wilderness. The party must travel over long barren wilderness to reach their destination. As DM I usually drag this out a bit, with random encounter rolls, and lots of questions about the party's camp preparations. I especially enjoy playing out the tension, will they get attacked at night. What I'd like to add is the effect of the journey/weather. Some constitution checks for men and their mounts to leave the party not at their best when they arrive.

The Terror of the Bow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFPZzWrHyvs

The ambush by the Troglodytes is great. The party is sneaking around, trying to scout out the enemy base, when out of nowhere, arrows. The attack is so silent and understated, it takes the audience a couple seconds to process what just happened.


TPK

DM's who provide real dangerous challenges for the PCs must occasionally deal with Total Party Kills, when the entire adventuring party gets wiped out in one combat. One option is to roll up a new party of characters who are friends or relatives of the old one. Bone Tomahawk uses the classic trope of "Knocked Unconscious then Wake Up in a Cage". This works if you are using a system which distinguishes between death and unconscious characters.