Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New Releases Tuesday: The Witch for Swords & Wizardry Continual Light

I have been keeping this one under wraps for now, but it's Halloween and it's the time for witches.



Cover art by the wonderful Marlena Mozgawa, Lenamo Art. http://www.lenamo.art and https://lenamoart.deviantart.com/.

The Witch for Swords & Wizardry Continual Light includes:

  • Seven levels of the Witch Class with three brand new witch traditions
  • new, never before published witch spells
  • rules for familiars and ritual magic
  • new spells, monsters and magic items for Swords & Wizardry Light/Continual Light

All in 13 pages for your Halloween games.

The Witch for Swords & Wizardry Continual Light is designed for Swords & Wizardry Continual Light

Monday, October 30, 2017

No Spell to Right This: Carmilla Week Round-up

Well...it was more than a week really.

I love doing these week-long deep dives into a character or a system. It's a great way to explore a topic in my mind. Whether it is a week-long deep dive into a game system like Blue Rose or Superbabes or investigating a set of characters like I did with Miriam and Fran it is something I really look forward to planning and doing.

Doing this for Carmilla and Laura was just as much fun.

I did a lot of stats for various horror games.
Not to mention my original Ghosts of Albion stats for "book" Carmilla.

I also watched a lot of movies.
I would like to try some more systems to be honest. Chill 3.0 comes to mind.
Anyone have any requests?

I am looking forward to doing some more of these deep dives.  Maybe next time a game system.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Weekend Gaming: Halloween Gaming, Return of the Vampire Queen

It was our weekend of Halloween gaming.  It's was also my oldest son's birthday weekend.
He ran games all night long and while he slept today I ran  "Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen" again, this time for my younger son and his group.



It was 2014 when I first ran this adventure for my oldest son, so I wanted to run it again this year for my youngest since they would have been the same ages.  Very different experiences!

I picked up this adventure back when +Mark Taormino kickstarted a few years back and it is one of my favorites. It's just so much fun.  I also combine it a lot with the classic Palace of the Vampire Queen and the sequels made by Bill Barsh at Pacesetter.

Combined they really make for a great full palace, dungeons, and vampire pits.

Today's group got much further.  I made some changes based on previous runnings and some advice from Mark.

Sin, the Queen on her throne, Diabolica, and the Queen ready to attack
Combined with mins from three different companies this represents one of the things I love the best about this hobby; everyone coming together to provide something new and exciting.
Standing Lady Neeblack is the Vampire from Reaper Minis.


Ok and a bunch of tombstones and coffins from Michaels.



Oh and an old D&D action figure Umber Hulk to represent a giant Umber Hulk.  Yeah, they were scared about that.



They managed to survive long enough to face the Succubi Sin and Diabolica and finally Lady Neeblack the Vampire Queen herself.

I can't say enough good things about these adventures.  It would not be Halloween without them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Seven Best Horror RPGs

I wanted to get this out in time for Halloween weekend gaming.

This is based on a conversation I was having on Facebook where we all discussing the "Seven Best".  I had a number of people ask me what I felt were the Seven Best Horror RPGs.

For this I immediately thought I am not going to include any horror RPG I have either written or worked on, but as it turns out that is a non-issue since my top seven are all ones done by others.  If this was a Top 10 then we might have other problems!


So without further ado, here they are my Seven Top Horror RPGs, arranged by year and one honorable mention.

Seven Horror RPGs
There is a chill in the air, gloomy clouds in the sky and leaves are all turning.  It is October and it's the time of the season for horror games.  I have been playing horror games for as long I have been playing RPGs.  Even my fantasy and sci-fi RPGs take on a slightly darker tinge to them.  So with Halloween just around the corner I wanted to talk about my Seven Favorite Horror RPGs.

Call of Cthulhu (1981)
Call of Cthulhu might not be the exact first horror RPG, but it was one of the first and the most influential. It was certainly the first horror game that most of us have played or knew about.  It perfectly blended the mythos stories of H.P. Lovecraft with RPG mechanics. Out of the gate the game did exactly what it was supposed to do, which is why the changes in the first six editions are relatively minor.
Call of Cthulhu was monster hunting, but it was so much more than that.  “Monster hunting” covers D&D pretty well but there the similarities end.  In CoC you had to investigate, you had to research and then maybe, just maybe, you found the clue you needed.  If there was magic you used it only in the direst of circumstances and even then your victory or your sanity was never assured.  For many in the 80s, CoC was their first introduction to the weird and alien worlds of the Cthulhu Mythos. Stories from 30-50 years prior were now in vogue again and influenced a generation of gamers and game designers.
The Basic Roleplay System from CoC also powered other games namely Stormbringer (1981), Superworld (1983) and RuneQuest (1978, 1980).

Chill (1984, 1992, 2015)
Chill has the distinction of being the second RPG I ever played (Dungeons & Dragons was first).  Chill is a horror game in the vein of the Saturday night creature feature monster movies, or monster hunting TV shows of the 80s to today.  Here our heroes are brave (mostly) but are expected to push back the dark for just another day.  Chill First Edition came out of Wisconsin and Chill Second Edition came from the Chicago suburbs, so it had a strong Midwest flavor to it that drew me in immediately.
Like Call of Cthulhu’s investigators the characters of Chill are normal humans caught up in an abnormal world.  There are monsters and they need to stop them.  Not always because they are the best at what they do, but because they are the only ones that can. Unlike CoC, the characters of Chill are expected to survive, more or less.  Call of Cthulhu has investigators, Chill has heroes. The definition is subtle in play, but you can feel it.
Chill introduced me to the idea of a meta-plot in RPGs. That there was more going on than just what your characters did. There was this worldwide organization, S.A.V.E., and they helped with the beasties and things that went bump in the night. As the books came out the S.A.V.E. plot expanded.   But we ignored this for the most part with 1st Ed.  In 2nd ed and later 3rd Edition, this became more of a central feature of the game.

Vampire: The Masquerade (1991)
Very, very few games have changed the business as much as Vampire.  Up to this point, you fought the monsters.  With Vampire you became the monster and the battle was with yourself.
Vampire asks the question, what would you do to stay alive? What price is your humanity to just exist for one more long night?  There is personal horror here along with existential horror.    There are also other horrors. Things worse than you, things less human than you are.
The mechanics of the Vampire game, later the Storyteller System, were nothing new; a dice pool with successes and botches, but combined with the story and the effects it became the system of choice for many in the 1990s.  In fact it captured the fear and horror of the 90s so well that it can be better compared to the fear and horror seen in Dracula at the turn of the prior century (1890s).  Though Vampire owes its largest debt to Anne Rice and embraced (pardon the pun) by those who grew up on “Interview with a Vampire” and “The Vampire Lestat”.
For better or for worse Vampire changed not only how we view games but how they were also marketed and sold.

Kult (1993)
Kult asks the question “What is reality?” and the answers are not ones that normal people want to hear.  Characters can come from all walks of life and persuasion and the background can be any large modern city.  But that is where most games stay, Kult goes beyond that and characters (and players) discover that reality is an illusion and the real reality is a battleground of supernatural forces vying for control.
If WitchCraft posits that “All Things are True”, Kult’s point of view is “Nothing is true”.  In many ways, it presaged the ideas from the movies “That Dark City” and “The Matrix”.  There are supernatural creatures that control various areas of human action and interaction behind the scene and some humans know about these creatures, Archons and Death Angels, and follow them in cults. The characters do what they can to discover these forces or keep them at bay.
The game had a great concept in Mental Balance that was the first real challenger I felt to Call of Cthulhu's Sanity score in terms of gauging the mental health of the characters involved. More out of balance you are the stranger you become even to the point of not being altogether human yourself anymore.
With Kult, the horror is also of an existentialist variety, but in that way, only the Scandinavian seem to do well. If Call of Cthulhu is Lovecraft and Chill a Saturday Night Monster Movie then Kult is Søren Kierkegaard.

CJ Carella's WitchCraft (1999)
WitchCraft is, hands down, my favorite game.  Period.  Picking up a copy of this book back in 1999 was just like picking up a copy of the Monster Manual in 1979.  Everything I ever wanted in a game was right there. Everything.
WitchCraft had such a profound effect on my gaming that I can draw a rather clean line between what came before and what came after it.
The central idea behind WitchCraft is the same as most other Modern Supernatural Horror games.  The world is like ours, but there are dark secrets, magic is real, monsters are real. You know the drill.  But WitchCraft is different.  There is a Reckoning coming, everyone feels it, but no one knows what it is.  Characters then take on the roles of various magic using humans, supernaturals or even mundane humans and they fight the threats.  Another conceit of the game (and one I use a lot) is that supernatural occurrences are greater now than ever before.  Something's coming.
You can play the same sort of games you played in Call of Cthulhu or Chill as well as Vampire.  WitchCraft assumed that all supernatural views of the world were equally likely. So vampires could rub elbows, metaphysically speaking, with elder horrors from beyond. Your characters can be there to stop them, study them or join them as the case may be.

Little Fears (2001)
When was the last time you were really, really afraid? Most people would say childhood.  Little Fears is exactly about that.  Little Fears is a game of childhood fears.  The monsters are real, they hide in your closet and under your bed. The scary old lady down the street really is a hag. But don’t worry. You are protected by Belief and items that seem mundane or meaningless to grownups can help you.   Little Fears is based on a simple system, as befitting its nature of school children fighting monsters adults can’t see. 
Little Fears also has the notoriety of being one of three RPGs one of my FLGS will not sell in the open.  You can order it, but they don’t stock it.  I don’t agree, but I respect their choice.
While it is a game about children, it is not a game for children.  The subject matter of abuse and death can be a bit much for some adults, let alone kids.  It is also one of the most effective horror RPGs I own.

Sorcerer (2002)
If Vampire is all about what will you do to remain human, Ron Edward’s Sorcerer is all about what price will you do for power?  Created at the height of the creative output of The Forge, indeed the first RPG from and starting the independent RPG movement from The Forge. 
Like Vampire your character struggles with their Humanity. But where Vampire can be described as the Beast Within, Sorcerer is the Beast Without or in this case a personal Demon.  You make a pact with a Demon for power and the more power you need, use or take causes you to lose your humanity and become more and more enthralled to the demon.  The game can do a lot of different types of play, but it is all centered around this central idea.

And one more.

Special Mention: WITCH Fated Souls (2016)
I know I am only doing Seven games, but WITCH Fated Souls by Elizabeth Chaipraditkul combines a lot of what made all these other games so much fun.  You have the struggle with power vs. humanity vs. damnation you see in Vampire and Sorcerer. The hidden world of Little Fears, Chill, and Kult and the power struggle between faction you can see in WitchCraft and again in Vampire.   All against a background that is as unique as Call of Cthulhu and Kult.
I picked up this game last year and have not done enough with it yet.

All these games are great and many have won numerous awards over the years.  They have been enough that they cover most aspects of horror.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October Horror Movie Challenge: Styria (2014)

I wanted to go back and rewatch this one after spending a lot time with Carmilla.  I remember that this one had been pretty good and I wanted to go back and see if it held up.

I am happy to admit it does.

There must have been some sort of cinematic vibe in the air because rewatching this one now reminded me a lot of The Only Lovers Left Alive.  The soundtrack is still awesome and the chemistry I saw between the two actresses, Eleanor Tomlinson (Lara) and Julia Pietrucha (Carmilla), is still there, even if it is not the same as the newer Carmilla movie.  Not sure if I can grok a blonde Carmilla though.  Stephen Rhea is fantastic as usual playing Lara's father only as he can.  He always looks like he is one bad bender away from falling apart.

As my want, I watched this as if it was a sequel to "Daughters of Darkness" and a prequel to the "Carmilla" web series.  It doesn't...but it would fit the backstory well enough with some edits.

It is a very worthy entry into the collective mytho-storytelling of Carmilla.



This Old Dragon: Issue #126

October 1987.  I am a Freshman in University and about to hit my first big Halloween bash at a school notorious for it's 50,000+ people Halloween party.  But that is at night. Durning the day I pick up a copy of Dragon magazine that is destined to be one of my top three Dragons of all time.
So "Here I Go Again" with October 1987 and issue #126 of This Old Dragon!

Let's first talk about that cover.  It is easily one of my all-time favorite covers. Daniel R. Horne's "Saving the Best for Last" is an epic in a picture.  An old enemy back from the dead to exact his revenge and a ranger down to her last magic arrow.  Only one is going to walk away here.  To this day if I ever use a frost giant against a group of characters you can best believe that at least one of them is coming back as an undead to try to avenge.  That's some powerful shit there to still affect my gaming 30 years later.

Letters come from people looking for PBM games. I didn't have a mainframe account yet, but I knew even then that LISTSERVs were going to be the future of gaming, at least anyway for the next few years.  We also learn that Star Frontiers will no longer be published. More on that in a bit.

The Forum covers two letters concerning setting up a BBS (Bulletin Board System) for accessing older Dragon articles via modem.  Oh the can of worms that must have raised in the offices then.  This is the dawn of the age that TSR clamped down on ANYTHING on the Internet that was D&D related.  Heck in the 90s I seriously doubt I could have even done an article like this without hear from their lawyers.  Look, I am all about nostalgia here of the "Golden Age" of our hobby, but let's not forget what a bunch of assholes TSR had back in the late 80s and early 90s.  You could barely talk about anything online.  When it comes to doing anything online with D&D give me WotC over TSR any day of the week.  Sorry if that makes me loose my old-school street cred, but it is also the truth.

Ken Rolston is up first with his Copyright 1987 Role-Playing Reviews (No snark, I only point that out because it is one of the reasons why the BBS would not have worked and the CD-ROM didn't).  Covered this month is Role-Aids Undead.  I enjoyed the Role-Aids products even if they never had much, or any, traction in my groups back then.  Everyone was all "only TSR!". But Undead is a fun book an a fun adventure.  It had some great alternate lich ideas and some cool undead.  It even had a clan of disgraced dwarves.

Sage Advice runs the gambit.  One player asks if his LG Paladin could marry a CE Magic-User. It must have made a sub-conscious impact on me cause I'd spend the next few years having my Paladins fall in love with Witches.  Or maybe they are both my favorite classes.
We learn also there will be no more Star Frontiers (less details than promised) and no more D&D Cartoon.

We come up to our October feature! The Dead of Night.

To start off with a home run we have THE Tom Moldvay talking about a bunch of different vampires in Hearts of Darkness.  He gives us stats not only for the vrykolakas, Baobhan sith, and the ch'ing shih but also for Dracula himself. I had been working on the stats for Dracula for every game I knew at that point.  I even had Star Frontiers stats for him.  Seeing this was like a bolt from the blue.  I knew I was doing something right.  I still continue to this day.

Dead on Target by David Howery is a great article on using the right weapon against the right undead.  If you go with the idea that clerics can't use swords, then this article makes a lot of sense in explaining that.  Swords are not that effective against skeletons, zombies or ghouls. Sorry Michonne.  A lot of these ideas have been used in other games before or since, but here they were new and fresh and really, really bugged the crap out of my players. Especially since I Was about to go All Ravenloft, All the Time.

Vince Garcia is no stranger to the Other Side.  His article on A Touch of Evil:  Breathing life into the world of the dead was another one of those articles that were common sense in retrospect but seemed revolutionary at the time.  The article covers how to make undead scarier and more unique.  It flows well from Dead on Target to really, really make for a bad day.

And now the scariest article of all....Steve Winter is up with The Game Wizards Second Edition: An Editors Viewpoint.  Yes, 2nd edition is going to be here in about a year.  It is an overview of what the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide will contain.  I remember a few years back comparing this list to my PHB and DMG and found minor differences, but nothing that stood out.  I can't recall if I was excited then or not. I DO know what I did think eventually.  It is the same cycle I go through with ever edition change.  1. "I am not going to upgrade, I am happy with what I have." 2. "Ok, I'll have a look and see, but I am not really going to play." 3. "Wow this is awesome! I love what they did!" 4. "Abandon everything, this is now the only edition I will ever play!" 5. Repeat.  The notable exception was 3.0 and I was ready for that one the moment I knew it was coming.

Dan Salas is next with a world changing article for me. Well, game world changing.  The Ecology of the Shade gives us a look into the Shade (from MM2).  AS an alternate to the Lich this was a viable option for characters looking for immortality and not exactly Good.  Some of this would come back from the dead in 4e as the Revenant.

Bazaar of the Bizarre covers Treasures of the Orient. Neat, but I would have rather seen more spooky stuff.

Dean Shomshak is back with some spells for Call of Cthulhu in A Ghastly Grimoire.  I adapted some to AD&D.

Letters and Forum have their overflow pages.

The Dragon's Bestiary covers mutants for Gamma World.  Yes, I converted some of these as well. Especially the Giggle Bugs.

New contact system for Top Secret.

The Marvel Phile is next and it is another home run.
One of my FAVORITE Marvel Comics was The Tomb of Dracula.  Loved it. Was introduced to such great characters as Drake, Blade and of course Doctor Strange.
The Marvel Phile has stats for Dracula and bringing his "history" up to date.
I spent HOURS pouring over various books and movies and comics to come up with the most detailed history of Dracula.  I had him doing something every year from the time he was born till 1987.  Obsessive much? Yes. But you should expect that by now.
I added his Marvel stats to my collection as well.

HUGE ad for something I never thought I would see in 1987.  A Star Wars RPG.






Role of Computers covers the state of the art for PC games at the time.  One game it covered was Rogue by Epyx, Inc.  It reviewed the PC and Mac versions, but not the one I was playing at the time, the Tandy Color Computer 3.  I was most disappointed.

Small ads.
Convention Calendar
Snarf Quest and Dragon Mirth.
A double shot of Wormy in the form of a Hex-Word puzzle and the normal comic.
Fun stuff.




All in all a crazy great issue and one I still use.

Want to know what I thought of White Dwarf from the same month? Spoiler, it doesn't measure up. But check out White Dwarf Wednesday #94.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Carmilla Movie (2017)

Carmilla week continues.  The movie is out tonight or tomorrow (depending on where you are) and I wanted to save this system for today.

A change tonight from ancient, dusty videotapes for this challenge.  Instead, I am reviewing a movie that was only released to the public 2 hours ago.

The Carmilla Movie, based on the hit webseries was just released to backers and I just got done watching it.

Naturally, I don't want to say too much because of spoilers, but I will say this.  It lived up to the hype and the anticipation.

The basic gist is Carmilla is being summoned back to Styria to deal with all the deaths she caused.  We get ghosts, haunted houses, vampires and plenty of chills.

Natasha Negovanlis is an absolute treat as Carmilla and Elise Bauman shines as reporter Laura Hollis.  All the cast is great though.   The newcomer, Dominique Provost-Chalkley though puts on a stellar performance as Elle, Carmilla's first true love and the big bad of the story.  Elle is about as far from Waverly Earp as you can get and really made me appreciate her as an actress even more.

The movie is a solid horror flick despite Laura's own "goodbye Hammer Horror, hello Rom Com!"

You don't need to see the series to enjoy this movie, but if you did then there are plenty of rewards for you.

Very pleased.



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