Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ghosts of Albion at ValorCon 2015

I am going to running a game of Ghosts of Albion: Dinosauria! at ValorCon this Saturday at 10:00am.

Here is the blurb from the program.
New Year's Eve, 1853.

You are cordially invited to a special and most unique diner party.  You will be the guests of Richard Owen as he unveils the most exciting scientific discovery of our time.  You will behold Owen's incredible Dinosauria!

Dinosauria is an introductory adventure for the Ghosts of Albion Role-Playing Game.  Take on the role of power mages, ghosts, vampires or humans that hunt the darkness to protect the shores of England in the early Victorian Age.  Ghosts of Albion is powered by the fast and easy to learn Cinematic Unisystem game engine. The same system found in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Army of Darkness.  No knowledge of the game needed.  Game Master provides character sheets, dice and rule book.
So if you are in Chicago come on by and sit in on a game of Ghosts of Albion!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Class Struggles: The Necromancer

Very, very few classes or class concepts have been gone over more than the Necromancer.  For a class that was never part of the original game, and never actually a proper class in it's own right, a lot of ink and pixels have been spent on this class.  So much that I am sure to miss things and might even need a part 2.  Where do we start?

Well to begin with what exactly is a necromancer and what is it that appears in so many games?
Taken from the Greek a necromancer is someone that communes with the dead. So spells like Speak to Dead are a good example.  Historical necromancers, like for example John Dee, spoke to the dead to get advice. or foretell the future.   In modern parlance and certainly in games (maybe one caused the other) necromancy has come to mean a wizard that controls or manipulates the forces of death and unlife.

The easiest Necromancer is simple.  Play a Wizard/Magic-User and then only choose necromancy spells.  Wear a lot of black and hang out with undead.  This is also a very satisfying necromancer since all the trappings have to be role-played.  Alternately one could play a cleric of a god of death, take only reversed necromancy spells and command instead of turn undead.
I think though as time wore on people wanted something that wa little bit of both.

The first, or at least one of the first was from White Dwarf Magazine #22 from December 1980/January 1981.  Lew Pulsipher gives us an article about evil priests, the "Black Priests".  While these are more cultist, there is a lot of necromancy being thrown around.  This is followed by a true necromancer class also by Pulsipher in issue #35 from November 1982.  Either of these classes is fine and represent the design philosophy of the times.  Namely take and rearrange already familiar elements.  The Black Priest and this Necromancer have the same shortcomings though; a reliance of human sacrifice.

The Necromancer is turned up to 11 with the publication of Dragon #76 in August 1983 and Len Lakofka's death master class.  Designed to be an "NPC Class only" I remember seeing it first in the pages of Best of Dragon Magazine Vol. 3.  I admit, I rolled up a death master right away.  He became a major antagonist in my games for many years to come.

In AD&D1 the example of the Illusionist gave birth to the speciality wizards of 2nd Ed.  One of those speciality wizards was the Necromancer.  This continues in practice to the most current version.  Though unlike the Illusionist, the Transmuter or even the Evoker, the Necromancer got it's own book.  The Complete Book of Necromancers was one of those books that everyone seemed to want.  I remember picking it up back when it was first published. I paid $15 for it.  Later the cover price jumped to $18 and soon it became very rare. No idea why.  The aftermarket price jumped considerably and I ended up selling mine on eBay back in 2000 for $81. Not a bad deal really.   I recently picked up a copy at Half-Price Books for $9.  The PDF just about the same price.  Though the book is crammed full of necromancer goodies. Spells, magic items, undead familiars.

Moving out into the world of Fantasy Heartbreakers there is the near-compatible Quest of the Ancients.  This necromancer reads like the Death Master, but has some interesting spells and some powers.  The Arcanum/Bard Games also has a necromancer class.

3.x had, at the last time I looked, at least 3 different kinds of official Necromancer classes.  The two best are from Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead and Heroes of Horror.  Heroes of Horror featured the rather popular Dread Necromancer class.  There is also the Death Master class from Dragon updated to 3.0e.  The Crypt Lord from the aptly named Necromancer Games. Not to mention dozens of others from other third party publishers.  Most take the same elements and reorganize them, but every so often something new is produced.

4e had necromancers as well. It was a type of wizard (much like the witch was) and was introduced in the Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow book.  It had some rather neat features to it as well.

For the OSR things are really no different, dozens of different types and sorts of necromancers. I am only going to talk about a few.

One of the simplest also belongs to one of the simplest OSR games.  Basic Fantasy has a necromancer class on their downloads page for free.  It has a lot of spells and weighs in at an appropriate 13 pages.

I would have to say one of my favorites, at least in terms of style, is the one from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The necromancer here is cut from the "evil cultist" mold like their warlock and has a lot of great spells and powers.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts also has a great necromancer and the big feature of this class (and this book) is the number of spells.  While this book as more spells, the AS&SH class is slightly better in terms of what I want. Right along with that is the necromancer from the great Theorems & Thaumaturgy. A basic class, but some really nice spells.

Another really cool one in terms of how the necromancer is presented is the one from Adventures Dark & Deep.  Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer is certainly in the vein of the "this is an evil class" but +Joseph Bloch makes no bones about the fact that players will be playing these as evil characters.  It's sort of the point of his "Darker Paths" series. In that respect this is a good one to pick up just to get some ideas on how to play an evil character.  Plus it has some unique spells.

Back at home I have most of these printed out and put into a folder.  I also have a number of character sheets of all the different types of necromancers.  Basically I have six characters with two sheets each; a 3.x sheet and an OSR compatible one (the five above and an old fashioned MU with necromancy spells).  This gives me 12 different sorts of necromancers for 6 characters.  I call them the Order of Six based on a group I introduced in my Buffy games.  I am planning on using them as my bad guys in my games, but right now I am only playing 5e! So I can't really judge how well they all work.  Similar to what I did with the Witch's Nest.  Sounds like a plan to me.

By the way. My son has a 5e game he is in charge of.  He has a 15th level necromancer in that game and it is wicked.

I feel like there is alot more to say but I have only scratched the surface.

What is your favorite necromancer class?

October Movie Challenge: Witchhouse (1999)

Ah well. It couldn't last.  Witchhouse from the turn of the century (that sounds odd while still being correct...) is neither interesting nor a lot of fun.  At least with Full Moon Features (the production company) I'll get a little fun.

Ok.  Lilith Le Fay (I am not joking here) invites all her college age  friends over to her ancestor's house one May Day eve (Wallpurgis Night) to have a party.  In truth she is a witch and she wishes to raise her ancestor Elizabeth Le Fay back from the dead.  All her friends are the descendants of the witch hunters who killed Elizabeth.

This could have worked, but honestly the acting was terrible and the plot...well here is an indication of what we are dealing with here.  The castle that Lilith stays in is now located in Dunwich, MA but was brought over brick by brick from Scotland.
Including the dungeon.
So lets throw everything we have ever heard of against the wall and see what sticks.

In a note of true tragedy to the movie one of the stars, Dave Oren Ward who played the stoner Tony, was murdered right after the film was done and in post production.

10 Watched / 8 New

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

Continuing my week of +Venger Satanis posts here is his next big one.

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
Described as weird fantasy/sci-fi/gonzo, I also wondered if it was a subtle jab at "The Big Purple".
Let's start of with the easy stuff.  Yeah, some people are likely to get offended by this adventure.  That's not a bug, but a feature, as we say.  Typically anything done either to purely offend or go out of it's way to push an agenda is going to suck.  I get the feeling here that this is the sort of game he plays all the time.  The art is still more "Heavy Metal" than it is "Hustler" and there is a solid 80s vibe to reading it all.  Please keep in mind this aesthetic when reading; it is a guiding principle that fits the art and the game design.   I think in someone else's hand it would have come off as crass or even as complete shit, but VS owns this. There is an honesty here that can be respected.

This book is a campaign book/hexcrawl/sandbox.  The PDF is 110 pages and packed.  It would make for a gorgeous looking book and it would sit nicely on my shelf with my other books circa 1983.

VSd6: This is a new mechanic introduced for skill checks/ability checks.  He mentioned it has been influenced by 100s of other d6 based mechanics and you can see that here.   It is an interesting system and provides some nice dramatic elements to the game, but not something I am planning on using myself.

Darker Secrets: This book also brings over the "Dark Secrets" idea/tables from Demon Slayer.  So in some respects you can use this book as a means to "beef up" the Demon Slayer adventure, although you don't really need too.   Though adding in the changes to magic that this book does might be fun.

The Monk: This campaign guide also features a Monk class.  It is not too far from the AD&D1 standard, though not as much detail is given.

We get into the islands proper and are given some background; 20,000 years of background to be precise, but only in a couple of pages.  The interesting bits happened in the more recent past including turning the "Purple Islands" into a penal colony.  Yeah, no jabs here at all...

There is a lot going on with these islands and the worship of the Great Old ones is just a small part of it.  The wording of the monsters, settings and even location is basic or even vague enough to allow you to put this anywhere.  It feels kitchen-sinky enough to fit into places like Mystara (which has a little bit of everything anyway) but focused enough to give you hints that is part of a much larger world.   Though I do like the appearance of the Shiny Demon and a preview of "Alpha Blue".

There are pop-culture references galore here, and it is very obvious that VS pulled out every bit of fantasy, sci-fi, euro-sleaze horror and 70s metal he had at his disposal and threw it into a blender with plenty of purple dye.  It could have turned out to be a horrible mess, but it doesn't.  Instead we get a ton of options spread over three islands.

I have to point out, don't play this as a single adventure.  The purpose here really is not to clean out the island, but to explore it.  It's a great place to strand some PCs after an ocean-going adventure.

At the end of the book we are given new spells and new magic items.

In the Afterword VS mentions that this product should not be used in isolation.  I agree, again I think that this would make for a great semi-tropical island in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The mythos are similar enough, or at least enough to fit together.  The only thing that would make it more perfect is if this book could be printed in 7.0" x 8.5" format to fit in my AS&SH box.

Not sure where or how I want to use this yet, but I know I really want to.

October Movie Challenge: Horns (2013)

Ig Parish is having a terrible day.  His girlfriend was raped and murdered and now he has these two horns growing from his head.  Now everyone wants to tell him their deepest, darkest secrets.

Horns (2013) marks the return of both Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple to my horror reviews.  I have made a couple of decisions here.  First, Daniel Radcliffe is a phenomenal actor.  Second, Juno Temple is not.  Sorry. I really wanted to like her but she just was not that good in this.

The story here is interesting and Daniel Radcliffe makes Ig as about as distant from Harry Potter as you can make it.  No reason is given as to why he grows these horns and gains his powers, but none it really needed.

Game wise I think I want to redouble my reclassification of fiends and only have devils as fallen angels.  Everything else is a demon or something like that.

9 Watched / 7 New

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Week with Venger Satanis: Liberation of the Demon Slayer

It's the month of Halloween!  Though I understand many people still call it "October".  Fine. Whatever.

I thought this month I would spend some quality time with products that fit the theme of Halloween.  While putting together my list I realized I had a bunch of products from Kortthalis Publishing and +Venger Satanis.  I thought, what the hell, lets make a week of it.

Venger has had an interesting time in the RPG biz.  I remember talking to him shortly after he was banned from and we discussed our respective horror games.  He has had a nice rise recently as an OSR publisher and has a few nice titles under his belt.

Lately he has been promoting something he calls O5R, which I have to admit it very clever, or products that can be played with either old-school games and their clones or with the newest 5th edition game.  It is a solid strategy really.  I have demonstrated time and again to myself at least that you can freely mix the two in terms of adventures.  I would imagine that goes even further.

Today though I want to start with one of his first OSR books.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer
I first picked this up near when it was released.  Since then I have considered it a potential entry in my War of the Witch Queens adventure path.

The adventure is six levels and 70 pages.  VS suggests using 3 0-level characters per player and let everything work out, or a large party of 1st level characters.   Nothing is mentioned on how many players, but I am guessing 6 to 8.

There is some background given about the world this adventure lives in.  They are all optional, but it does set the mood for the rest of the book.   I found the bits about Snake-men and elves to be interesting.  The adventure is steeped in a lot of Lovecraftian tropes and we are introduced to some of the "Old Ones" here, albeit with different names.

If you, like me, love eldritch abominations and dark magic then this the adventure for you. The adventure itself "sounds" simple enough. Retrieve a demon killing sword from the caves to stop the demons attack your village. Easy peasy. Trouble is that the author grew up when dungeons-as-meat-grinders were a thing and everyone was afraid the big bad devil was going to get you. This adventure though is closer in tone and danger to the Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen than it is to most Lamentations of the Flame Princess products. With the right DM this could be a great and dangerous adventure where the party could live. Sure they could all easily die too. One can read this and imagine that all of the author's games are a bit like it.

Actually I have known the author for a number of years and yeah this is exactly the kind of things I expect in his games. I think the difference here with this adventure and some of his earlier material is there is a maturity here to accept the absurd. This adventure can be played straight or with a dash of dark humor. Think of it as a horror movie, even the scariest have a touch of humor to them; it sets you up for the bigger punch later down the road.

The adventure proper gets going about page 17.  We are treated to rumors, some background, wandering monsters and some maps of the first level.  The maps have been drawn by +Dyson Logos , so you know that these will be interesting.  The feel of the first 4-5 pages of the adventure is really one of pure old-school nostalgia.   The first level is a bit of meat grinder, by design, and there are a lot things going on here that would make the hard-core Gygazian adventure fan happy.  Going back a bit it becomes obvious that the "optional" information above is still rather important since it colors the actions of many of the inhabitants in this dungeon.

As you descend into the dungeon things get weirder and more deadly.  I mean really, really deadly.  Devil lords, liches, vampires, freaking lasers and a nuclear warhead.  Yeah, VS really cut his teeth on the 70s and 80s era gaming.

I want to take a moment to talk about the art. Yes there is a lot gore, nudity and phantasmagorical horror here.   It comes off though more as "Heavy Metal" than say "Hustler".  All I can really say is that it fits the aesthetic of the book.   In truth I had more of an issue with the sci-fi elements (even though there were very good reasons for them to be there) than I had with the nudity.

The demon-slaying sword Kalthalax is an interesting weapon. One that would have a good home in my regular games to be honest and one that is enough of a hook to make me want to find a way to work this adventure in.   Maybe I can make Clavenus a witch instead of a wizard.

In any case there is a lot of fun to be had with this adventure; if you don't mind the occasional casualty.  I think what helps here is while the adventure is a meat grinder, it is done just to rid the party of the weak.  They are expected to survive and tell people the tales of their great adventure.

While VS takes the care to make sure this works with nearly any old-school game (and in the future he fits 5e into that as well), I can't help but think how well this would work with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The background is similar and the elves in Demon Slayer would be a nice addition to AS&SH, which does not have any elves.  Indeed, elves would seem like souless, demon-like monsters compared to humans. At least to humans that have never seen an elf before.   There is a mix of demons, devils and Lovecraftian beasts/gods that somehow feels right for that world. Mixing in AS&SH to this would give you something very, very close to playing akin to Michael Moorcock's world.

Curiously enough in my own games I do have an epic weapon for killing demons. In my current world state this sword is lost and a quest is needed to recover it. Maybe this is what I need. If so then the value of this adventure just increased ten-fold for me. I am going to have to spend some quality time with it and a pencil to see if it can be recrafted into something that fits my world a little better.

However YOU decided to use this adventure I am sure it will be fun.  Maybe deadly fun, but certainly fun.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Zatannurday: Spider-Gwen Movie Trailer

I make no excuses for my love of Spider-Gwen.  In fact she really is one of the very few Marvel characters I like these days enough to talk about here.  Yeah, I like the movies and REALLY looking forward to Doctor Strange, but I would really love an Emma Stone starring Spider-Gwen movie.

Apparently I am not alone.

No chance in hell we will ever see this. But fans can always hope right?
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