COC: Knock Knock Knocking on the Castle Door

The party is joined by Roger Leach, another archaeologist sent by Putnam and Prof. Fuda to aid the adventurers against the Baron.

At first, they reconnoiter the gorge. Joyce falls and badly bruises her derriere on the rocks, but Endeavour finds a secret door. They explore the antediluvian tunnel only to be stymied by an unpassable iron door. Billy decides they should just go to the front door and knock, which they do, to their sorrow.

The Baron and his servant Karl greet them and the Baron gives them a tour of the castle, at first having them give Karl their weapons. They go to visit the wine cellar and the Baron reveals that it is instead a prison and orders them to enter. They resist, and an invisible tentacled monster forces Joyce, Roger, and Billy into the cell, knocking Joyce unconscious, driving Roger temporarily insane, and breaking Billy’s right leg. Endeavour empties his .32 into Karl’s chest, but Karl is unmoved and tosses Endeavour in the prison cell as well.

The Baron then reveals himself. “I am older than I look, older than any of you can imagine. I was born in Germany, in Franken, years ago, and I brought my people here to build this castle. I have had many many names, and no one now knows my true name. You have heard some of my names — Rattenfänger von Hameln, Herr Frankenstein, etc. But you are Americans and uneducated. Let me explain. I am the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I am Dr. Frankenstein. Vlad Țepeș is but a servant. I am terror and you will come to know me well. You will not enjoy the experience. Or you can serve me — the choice is yours. It matters little to me.“ He then leaves for some pastry before torturing the party to death.

Karl returns and with the aid of the invisible creature, puts Billy into the torture room and straps him down. Then he comes for Endeavour, but Endeavour manages to slip free. Karl chases him through much of the castle, until Endeavour comes to the Baron’s bedroom, surprising him. He shoots the Baron in the leg and then makes the mistake of giving a speech and making threats. The Baron casts a spell and falls dead, but a tendril of… something.. floats towards Endeavour, who fires round after round into it. To no avail. The tendril touches Endeavour and his spirit is lost. The Baron has a new body.

 The Baron is angry though, and returns to the dungeon to torture Billy. Billy makes his luck roll, and Karl comes in. The Baron is even angrier with Karl and takes him to another room to punish him, but only after breaking Billy’s other leg with a sledgehammer. At this moment, Joyce uses the time proven method of slapping Roger into sanity, and the the NPC John Kopeche frees them both. They free Billy and flee.

Again, they make their luck rolls and the Baron decides not to pursue, but instead to carry forward with his main plan. 

The party travels to Cluj-Napoca to save Billy. The doctors there do their work well, and he heals over the next six weeks. The party does more Library Research, and buys more weapons. Next time they will bring dynamite.  Sooner or later, it always comes down to dynamite.

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Session Summaries | Leave a comment

MERP: The Water of Life and other Secrets

The party released Thalian and pointed him towards Carrock-en-bar. They left for the north and were pursued by the friends of Thalian. Guthbrand led the pursuers away and the party rejoined at a preset landmark, then proceeded on. They arrived at Amon Blanc at the edge of Mirkwood, an elven and human trading post that seemed a welcome relief from the dangers of the past.

Unfortunately, the “eyes” that Sigrbrand had been gathering proved to be a great danger. He showed them to a trader at the post and later that day the sky darkened unnaturally and many of the residents went insane with homocidal rage. After calming the afflicted, the party fled into the Greenwood, now realizing that some great power was seeking the eyes. They sought to find an elven retreat known to Miena, but failed to convince the trees to let them in. Suddenly they were attacked by spiders. Guthbrand and Ruti fought back, but Sigrbrand was unbothered and blocked their advance towards Miena. The Beorning cast a Sleep over the arachnids. Guthbrand gleefully readied himself to slaughter them in their repose, but Sigrbrand shouted for him to stop, as the creatures were no longer a danger. Guthbrand continued, killing one before Sigrbrand sought to Sleep his comrade. Guthbrand resisted but was half asleep when five dark-cloaked figures emerged from the woods. They served “the Gardener” and sought the return of the eyes of their comrades and promised no violence if they were provided. The party refused but combat was avoided when Miena managed to finally convince the trees and they moved deeper into the woods. Once in, however, they found themselves moving in circles until they took the eyes and cut them into pieces, burying them in a variety of places to keep them from being found.

Suddenly they found a gate opened to them in the woods, and moved inward. They found themselves in the Town of Quiet, populated by Sylvan elves who seemed to have been there forever. The elves fed them but told them little, and the party slowly realized that they were unable to leave. The elves told them of Vassilva and a human who had both left, though the elves could not understand why anyone would want to. Guthbrand found Vassilva’s log and Sigrbrand used Essence’s Ways to detect a possible exit, but they were unable to make use of it. They discerned eventually that the clearing was surrounded by a dark force in the shape of a hand, which kept them here. They returned to the elves and asked again, this time being quite obnoxious, poking the women and poking the men harder. When Sigrbrand snatched the bard’s lute away, three wolves appeared. The elves were frightened, for these creatures did not belong here. The party killed the wolves easily, and the next day tried again, this time managing to escape.

In the Greenwoods again, they traveled north, seeking “the place of silence” mentioned in Vassilva’s log. They came to a tomb filled with traps. After Ekram slipped into a yellow ooze and was badly injured, they left him, Miena, Johnboy, and Perry at the entrance. At a pit trap, Sigrbrand grew to 8 foot tall and descended, aiding the others across the pit safely before climbing out and returning to normal size. Coming to a smashing trap, Sigrbrand managed to snag a sabre (worth 20 gp., according to Guthbrand) from a dead body. They spotted an inviting chest in another room, but there was a row of nine foot skeletons along the south wall so they avoided that, moved past another pit trap (covered this time). Guthbrand’s Perception and Sigrbrand’s Detect Traps helped them through the tomb. When they came to a grated floor, Guthbrand ran across, narrowly avoiding a flaming death. Edric refused to go further but Mince chanced it, and was burnt to a crisp. Sigrbrand, Ruti, and Sahiel followed safely. Sigrbrand neutralized a spear trap by setting it off with a rock. As the trap reset, the party crossed and found an enormous trapdoor covered with alchemical symbols. Guthbrand pulled the lever next to it, but Ruti and he still had to strain to lift it. Under the trapdoor they found stairs descending. They came to a room filled with giant sarcophagi. One proved to have been recently opened, so Sigrbrand opened it. Another set of stairs descended. Below was a set of rooms. A man stood next to a pool of green liquid. Sigrbrand felt ill at ease and suspected that the man was much more than he seemed. Guthbrand scoffed and went forward to greet the man, who calmly explained the book they sought was on a platform in the center of the liquid, which all believed to be an acid as they had seen in the tomb above.

Eventually Sigrbrand cast Sleep X on the man, which worked. They tied him up and gagged him, and then explored further, finding two doors that had breathing (probably snoring) behind them. They sounded like bears and Sigrbrand was hopeful, but when they opened one they found a sleeping cave troll. Sigrbrand charmed it and the rest of the party hid (so it would not be distracted into attacking them). He had his new friend grab the book for him. Of course, the acid spurted up and the troll’s arm was melted to the bone and the creature blinded, but the book went flying into a corner where Sigrbrand retrieved it. Hoping to deceive their captive, he hid the book and then rejoined the others, asking them to untie the man and telling them he had the book. The man was wary, suspecting a trap. Sigrbrand was becoming even more convinced that he was more than he projected, though the man had correctly completed the Theladrin welcome in Waildryth. Sigrbrand again put the man to sleep and tied him up, depositing him a room with a door to keep him safe from the trolls. Then the party left. As they neared the entrance, they heard a great angry bellow and sounds of violence, then quiet, and an even greater bellow and a repeat of the sounds of violence. Sigrbrand took this as confirmation that the man had been much more dangerous than Guthbrand had thought.

Moving westward they eventually reached the outskirts of a village, but camped in the Greenwood, where they read the book.

The book was easily read, being in Westron. It was an account of the wars of the first age and spoke of Morgoth chained below Tol Sulereb in the Sea of Rhun. The Master of Truth was named as Alatar the Blue Wizard, who was trying to release Morgoth. The Master’s infiltration of western civilization is detailed. At the same time, Demetrios the Mad Gardener was trying to preserve elven retreats (such as the Town of Quiet) in Gardens (pocket universes) where they would be safe. He sought to hide ancient treasures there as well, motivated by his younger elven days and the songs he remembered from his youth. The Water of Life is revealed as the Tears of the Entwives, said to have been lost several hundred years ago in Mirkwood. At this point the players realize that the book includes part of their adventures, and it seems likely that their time in the Town of Quiet also was outside the normal timestream, and that they are at least hundreds of years in the future. They fear what they will find when they reach the nearby village.

Posted in Middle Earth Roleplaying, Session Summaries | Leave a comment

More Minis for Roll20.net

Having moved to Cortland, New York, we’re keeping our old Boston gaming group going on Roll20. MERP figures aren’t too much of a problem, because I have a lot of minis I edited for my Navah fantasy campaign. I did make two more (below) as they are specific for the characters Sigrbrand the Beorning and Ruti the Ohdriag.

Sigrbrand, a Beorning in chain with sword and shield.Ruti, a female Ohdriag warrior in chain with sword and shield.

Call of Cthulhu is a lot tougher. Most of the COC figures out there are not as well sculpted and therefore painted as are the fantasy minis. As a result, I’m making a bunch of new ones. As always, they are PNGs made from existing images on the web. The three sources I’ve used are (1) existing minis that fit the milieu, (2) Sears catalog figures that I adapt, and (3) photos of people in 1920s style fashion.

Endeavour Quinn, a typical film noir detective, made from an existing mini.Joyce Coleman, a female archaeologist, made from a Sears catalog image.Billy Masterson, a western jock, made from a fashion photo.

The Sears catalog is a rich source for such images but there are a couple problems with it. First, I haven’t found an online collection of those catalogs. There are only a few on Archive.org, the best of which is a 1922 catalog from Chicago (https://archive.org/details/SearsRoebuckAndCoCatalog1922). If anyone knows of a fuller collection of those, please let me know. The second problem is that the images of women were ridiculously tall and willowy. To get the image above, I chopped off the head of the figure, then scrunched down the body to near normal proportions, and then put the head back on. Not too hard though, and it gives a great period image. 

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Middle Earth Roleplaying, Miniatures | Leave a comment

COC: Seeking Baron Hauptmann

Joyce is in the hospital for a week, and then heals for another 12 weeks. During that time, both she and Endeavour conduct library research to learn about the Romanian Baron Hauptmann. Billy instead wanders the countryside looking for work, but finds none due to his lack of language skills. The local farmers believe him to be an American soldier, now wandering as a bum. During his time in the country, Billy steals a pie to keep going, but later purchases another and gives it to the farmer from whom he stole it. When he returns to Vienna, he lands a job with the pawn shop, and makes $10 over the next few weeks.

Endeavour’s Viennese paramour Alexia Parovich does most of library research. She learns that the retainer they seek does seem to be connected to Baron Hauptmann, as both are connected to Deva in Romania. Deva is 50 miles southeast of Cluj-Napoca in Romania and Cluj-Napoca is 150 miles east of Budapest, Hungary. She also tells them that Castle Hauptmann is 2 miles south of Deva. Between she and Joyce, they discover the known history of the Hauptmann family.

Alexia adds, “The area of Romania where Cluj-Napoca and Deva are located is called Transylvania. Wasn’t there a novel based there?” Endeavour rereads Stoker’s Dracula (1897) for clues.

The party also sends cables off to their patron, Jonathan Putnam. The first reads:

Off to Romania. Grisly murder. Sword stolen. Need info on boy, Hauptman, Cornwallis. What is mark spoken of in letter? What is Brotherhood?

The response reads:

Ask Felix about boy. Brotherhood of Beast is suspected group. Good luck! Please report on local partridge population.

The party sends another wire:

Many partridges. Good hunting. Where Felix? Funds low. More available?

Jonathan replies:

Use rest of auction funds. I have received goods. Get sword if possible. Felix location unknown.

Unfortunately, Endeavour has gambled away all of the remaining auction funds. Billy is very upset with him and dogs him relentlessly thereafter, saying that Endeavour has stolen food from the mouth of Billy’s son. After Endeavour finds a $10 chip in his pocket, Billy tackles him for it and the two roll around on the floor briefly, before Endeavour manages to extract himself, maintaining his control over the chip. Fortunately, Alexia gives Endeavour another $40 when he asks, which helps him purchase the train and bus tickets to Deva for himself.

The party takes the train to Budapest ($20 each) and the bus to Cluj-Napoca ($5 each). The party continues by bus for a brief space, but then is forced to seek a stagecoach because of the poor quality of the roads. Joyce shows a little leg and manages to get them aboard a coach to Deva.

The town is small and impoverished, with Castle Hauptmann rotting on the hill above it. The townspeople won’t talk about the Baron or the Castle. Endeavour’s inner monologue upon arrival is as follows:

“I stared at the local populace. Sunken cheeks and furtive glances. The place seemed like we’d traveled 50 years into the past. I glanced at Billy, maintaining my distance from the surly fellow, as we headed towards the inn. One of the things I noticed was how small the people were. Must be all the inbreeding from years of not knowing anyone but their brothers and cousins.”

The party hires a translator named Sveja Kropotnik, a local youth on leave from Cluj-Napoca College for the summer. He speaks passable English. The party then interviews a number of people. The local priest is most useful, and Joyce uses her Latin to research the parish records. Endeavour finds wolf tracks near the outhouse in the morning, and they track it a short distance before losing it. It does, however, seem to be heading for the castle. They hire a local hunter, Alexei Petrovich, to pursue the beast, but he returns a short time later returning their money and saying he will have nothing to do with the evil beast. They then visit a local gypsy camp and witness a horrific assault by an invisible monster. Joyce believes that it was a star vampire, mentioned by a medieval sorcerer Ludwig Prinn in his cursed book De Vermis Mysteriis

The party meet a Hungarian student named John Kopeche, who is hunting in the region. They try to hire him and an argument about the evils of capitalism arises between John and Billy. John avoids them thereafter.

At the end of the evening, the party is becoming convinced that the Baron may be a vampire or some sort of immortal. Having exhausted their searches in the town, they resolve to visit the castle itself.

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Session Summaries | Leave a comment

The Elder Sign and its Uses

The Elder Sign, as drawn by H.P. LovecraftThe Elder Sign is a line with five branches, invested with spiritual energy (2 POW). The drawing to the right is how Lovecraft initially pictured it. It is a potent protection against the servants of the Great Old Ones when prominently displayed, for they yet remember the power of the Elder Gods, who fought against the Great Old Ones. One of the powerful Great Old Ones (including Cthulhu) might be restrained by the Sign as well, but probably only briefly. The Sign has no effect on the Outer Gods, Elder Gods, or the Great Ones, though the Elder Gods may look upon one who wears it with favor. A description of these various classifications of Mythos deities can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu_Mythos_deities  A great deal of mischief is occasioned by the servants of the Great Old Ones, so the Sign is of use to adventurers. Deep Ones and Byakhee are the most common servitor races to be affected. The Sign is usually inscribed on a stone to block the passage of those servants. Most Keepers do not allow it to be worn as a large necklace, as headgear, or emblazoned on a metal shield, but I do. The wearer should remember it must be displayed prominently to have an effect, and that the Sign is hated by the Great Old Ones, who may go out of their way to annihilate it and anyone who may wear it.  Do not depend on it too much!

Please note that COC 5th & 6th edition have a very different interpretation of the Sign, one that to me diminishes the nature of the Sign in Lovecraft and Derleth’s writings. Derleth’s description of the battles between the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods are compelling enough to me that I use those as a basis for the Sign’s efficacy. For a thorough discussion of the Sign’s efficacy as allowed in recent editions of COC, with which I wholly disagree, see https://www.yog-sothoth.com/forums/topic/23387-newbie-effects-of-an-elder-sign/  

Other protective charms that might be encountered in COC include the Star Stones of M’nar, the Seal of Isis, and Prinn’s Crux Ansata. Other possibilities include the Seal of Solomon, the Charm of Seven Paters, or some of the protective charms in Harry Potter’s universe (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Protective_enchantments). I’m sure the mere mention of Potter will scandalize most COC players. 

Snape explains that life isn't fair.

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Thoughts | Leave a comment

COC: The Sword, the Ghouls, & the Man who walked into the Danube

We’ve been getting ready to move, so although we’ve been playing, I haven’t had much time to write up the games. Here’s a brief summary of the two last sessions in COC.

Endeavour escaped from the sailors attempting to kill him, but the party never uncovered who they were, or why the purser and captain were unable to uncover them. Felix Fuda’s party and their own parted ways in Lisbon, and our three heroes went by train to Vienna.

Paracelsus with sword

In Vienna, they attended the auction as ordered, but the theft of the sword of Paracelsus (pictured above) by ghouls stopped it for a day. The party began an investigation of the theft. Billy killed a drunk while wandering in the sewers, and then the party was attacked by creatures who injured Billy and Joyce badly (Endeavour had fled in terror). At the last moment, Billy had inscribed an Elder Sign that protected them.

The auction continued the next night. For Jonathan Putnam, the party purchased The Magus (1801) for £180, Prodigies in the New England Canaan (1700s) for £620, and an Inuit medicine bag for £470. Billy was curious about what was in the bag, but Joyce warned him it was death to look into a shaman’s medicine pouch. So instead, he poured out the contents on the table. There wasn’t much interesting, so he shoved it all back in, or most of it anyways. Of course, opening the bag destroyed its power, so that was £470 wasted. They shipped the materials back to Putnam.

For themselves, they purchased Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Dead for £10 and a Hand of Glory for £20. They were unable to find the spells to activate the Hand in the library.

The investigation continued, and after Endeavour followed a man who walked into the Danube and vanished, they found the man who ordered the ghouls to steal the sword. He did it to exchange for a spell to raise his dead wife. The spell was not what he thought it was, but he was content, and the sword went to the secretive retainer of a Romanian patron. The party captured the man and the standard good cop, insane cop played out, complete with plans for his torture. Eventually, they relented but kept him locked up while they went into the ghoul tunnels, where they were attacked and Joyce injured badly for a third time. They retreated to the hospital to get repaired (again) and the villain escaped, joining the ghouls with his somewhat less dead wife.

The party now must pursue the retainer. They have also received a letter from Prof. Fuda, who apparently is another of Putnam’s agents. In it, Fuda asks them to investigate a Romanian noble. Is it too much to hope that the retainer is connected to that particular noble?

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Session Summaries | Leave a comment

Losing a Limb & Game Lethality

I just read an old blog by Omer G. Joel on lethality in gaming.  and it made me think. I disagree with Omer that lethality is the central argument. Omer praises roguelike video games, and seems to imply that tabletop rpgs should emulate them, which is basically saying that he likes hack & slash games. In general, I don’t. I am an old school gamer (i.e. an old grumpy guy) and I agree that D&D 5e doesn’t do it for me. Pathfinder is more fun to play, but there are so many extra rules that it all gets a bit silly. But ultimately my argument with those two systems is that they simplify their worlds too much and to my thinking, cheapen the story. I’m not interested in lethality for its own sake. Sure, these are adventurers and they face horrible danger. But they are also the special ones who overcome such horrors. The victories shouldn’t be cheap or easy, but they should be victories. As a GM, creating a fantasy world gives me joy. The players’ victories usually mean that they rampage through my world. The stories we create together are the reason I keep roleplaying. 

But the lethality issue is one I am currently wrestling with my own combat system. I use a hit location system (arm, leg, chest, abdomen, & head) and when an adventurer loses a limb, there’s no easy way to get it back. The players have invested a lot of emotion into those characters, and they would prefer to have some sort of fix to get back the arm or leg and continue adventuring. On my side, I’ve worked hard to create a credible world for the adventures, where the suspension of reality is not too difficult. Having Healers able to restore limbs quickly changes more than just adventuring — it implies a level of healing where health is pretty much assured, and for some reason that doesn’t sit well with me, perhaps because I also insist that players understand that combat is a bloody affair and shouldn’t be the first thing they choose. 

There are a variety of magic armors that reduce lethality as players become powerful, but beginning characters can’t afford those. My wife argued that instead of cutting the limb off entirely, I could just cut it to the bone, but the whole point of the combat system was to simulate combat, and again, eliminating severed limbs strikes me as trivializing combat. I could make Healing possible but expensive or difficult, and I’d have the same problem that beginning characters wouldn’t be able to use it. That actually might not be too bad, as the effort of creating a viable character who would survive to become powerful would make the achievement more emotionally rewarding. Omer argues that as well. Or restoring a limb might be done only for a geas or quest that is undertaken. That means that limb restoration would not be assured, but would only occur if the GM allowed it. And maybe that’s the way it should be. Such restorations would become another negotiation point between GM and players, something to build a story around. It would sure be better than just telling players they couldn’t get their limbs back.

So now the question is, how should I make limb restoration difficult or expensive? My system is skill-based, but I use magical skills that have prerequisites before they can be learned. Perhaps limb restoration is only available to the very skilled? But even then, those Healers would be unlikely to not heal everyone they could. They would be like a thousand Jesus figures, walking through the countryside. Perhaps there is an expensive spell component that is needed? It seems like limb restoration should definitely be expensive but does not need to be difficult. To fit my world, however, there will be both a level of difficulty and a price to be paid. Like I said, I’m grumpy.

Posted in Journeyman, Navah, Navah Campaign, Thoughts | 13 Comments