About Tyler

In the wilds of Vermont.

Wildmark Hook

A fan of trading card game cards.

By Szente Akos (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dreams do not generally make the leap to my waking thoughts in the morning, so I sit up and take notice when they do. This time, of all things, the oneiromeme to make it past dawn was “When drafting a wildmark hook card, you may draft an additional wildmark hook card.”

Apparently I’m writing a card game in my sleep.

My first conscious reaction was that’s ridiculous. In the kind of drafting scenario you see in Magic and Netrunner, where you take a card and pass the stack on, pulling an extra card, even some of the time, shorts a card from someone else in the draft round. Unless, of course, the extra wildmark hook comes from a supply external from the draft. So then these wildmark cards are a fairly common resource, such as lands in Magic, or we’ve gotten into deck-building games like Dominion and Ascension.[1]

In fact, “wildmark hook” sounds an awful lot like the kind of mythically poetic, semantically “huh?” card names you find in Ascension, where players build their decks by purchasing cards from a shared pool of revealed possibilities. And even in that game, getting two cards immediately for the price of one is strong by itself. In that case, a wildmark hook would probably have an interesting effect — perhaps one that keys off how many other wildmark hooks you’ve already played that turn — and a low victory point value. Maybe even a high cost, to make getting even one wildmark hook, and thus two, a notable purchase.

Stay tuned for whatever weird rule escapes my subconscious next time.

[1] And suddenly, it all makes sense. All those wind-down games of Ascension on the iPod just before bed have penetrated the deepest layers of my psyche.

No Soul Left Behind, No Goal Unreached

Imagine you are a simple educator, working in a struggling charter school. Further, imagine you are unexpectedly possessed by a demon from Hell. This psychic invader grants you amazing powers — impossible beauty, transmutation of matter, laser eyes, any number of possibilities — but at the same time, demands that you commit all kinds of evil with those powers. So naturally, being a mostly decent person, you appease the demon as best as possible by concocting ridiculously grandiose acts of largely hollow villainy that also happen to benefit the struggling school in which you are deeply invested.

Congratulations! You’ve just devised a character for No Soul Left Behind, the campaign  for Greg Stolze’s Better Angels role-playing game. Written by Caleb Stokes, author of the No Security horror scenarios, No Soul Left Behind is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. The material is written, playtested and edited, so the money goes toward book design and publishing.

If you’re not sure whether this mix of infernal villainy and public education is up your alley, check out the actual play recordings of the playtest campaign, run by Caleb for the Role Playing Public Radio crew. They’re pretty spectacular, featuring a debate team turned cult of personality, a grackle cannon and a sinister horse with laser eyes.

LibraryBox of Role-Playing Delights

LibraryBox logo.This year at Carnage, I’m trying something new: a LibraryBox serving up free role-playing content wirelessly. The LibraryBox is a wireless router with custom software loaded that turns it into a self-contained data repository. In the context of a game convention, I’m collecting materials like quickstart packets, character sheets, system reference documents for open games, and whatever else has been released under a Creative Commons license allowing redistribution and similar frameworks; Held Action Theatre will be in there, of course. Anyone in the router’s signal radius will be able to access the LibraryBox with a wifi-capable device, download what interests them and leave a note in the chatbox, if they like.

The idea for this application came from Ross Peyton, over at Role Playing Public Radio. He set up a PirateBox at a convention recently to make his podcast more readily available to people than relying on shaky hotel wifi. The more gadgets gamers bring into a room, the less anyone can actually access. So why not lighten the load and provide the chance for people to discover something new?

Setting up the LibraryBox was a snap. It was about fifteen minutes between unpacking the router and being able to browse the LibraryBox for files. Now I’m filling up the storage with whatever free to distribute materials seem like they might be of interest: public domain fiction like Lovecraft, Dunsany and Hodgson; freely available role-playing games like Pathfinder, Eclipse Phase and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing; and whatever else I can fit in there.

If you have any suggestions for role-playing content to include that is freely distributable, please mention in the comments below.


An investigator confronts a Dark Young.

Send more Drama Points.

The Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, or Cthunisystem for short, brings some of the classic elements of Call of Cthulhu role-playing to Cinematic Unisystem. Compiled by Salvatore Cucinotta and Jason Vey, it’s a great resource for adding mythos monsters and a different flavor of spell to your Unisystem games.

By default, it’s written for Cinematic Unisystem games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but it’s super easy to use the monster quicksheets with classic Unisystem rules, or extrapolate backward to a full stat block. Shave off any Drama Points the creature may have and call it good.

Held Action Theatre 2: World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl Part 2

Held Action Theatre graphic.
In episode 2 of Held Action Theatre, we present the second and altogether stranger half of the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl. The most fateful, enraging words ever uttered in the history of fictional narratives intended to entertain pop up right where you expect them, so keep an ear out.

Also, Toby started tweeting @dungeonbastard during the game, and naturally, he had some pointers for the rest of the group:

Subscribe to Held Action Theatre in your favorite podcatcher with the podcast feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/HeldActionTheatre. Look for the show in iTunes. Listen directly on the web at heldaction.wordpress.com.

“O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, performed by the MIT Concert Choir and made available by http://freemusicarchive.org/ under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/

July 20th, 1969: The Magic Came Back

Greyhawk Grognard reminded us of the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16th. In turn, I am reminded that Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon on July 20th, 1969 — though my memory is fuzzy whether it was Neil’s first step, or the landing of the lunar module itself, as apparently there was a six hour difference between the two — that generated enough Glamour from the millions watching to allow a gate from Arcadia to open and let the exiled sidhe stream through, kicking off the modern era of Changeling: the Dreaming.

Prior to that, the kith living on Earth eked out an existence, surviving primarily by dint of developing the changeling way ritual, which allowed a fae spirit to graft itself onto a mortal form. No one asked the mortal form if they cared to partake in this. The inspiration of seeing humans land on the moon generated enough creative energy, in comparison to the drought of the centuries since the Sundering, to allow a gate from Arcade to open. And out poured streams of sidhe, exiled from Arcadia and thoroughly expecting to be in charge of whatever common rabble was left.

Whatever I always wondered was: what were the circumstances behind that gate opening? Was it pure coincidence? Destiny? Did the rulers of Arcadia kick those sidhe out, and the far end of the gate automatically latched on to an energy source strong enough to sustain it?

We’ll never know, because that iteration of Changeling was discontinued by virtue of not publishing anymore books long ago, and heaven knows if there will be a 20th anniversary edition of White Wolf’s wayward step child of a supplemental game line. At the very least, there ought to have been a story line where the “common” kith decide to have words with the faceless individuals who keep dumping houses of entitled sidhe on their doorstep.

Ham-Fisted Bun Vendors of the Occult

Carl Kolchak fends off a vampire with two crossed pieces of metal.

Kolchak does the best with what he has.

Carl Kolchak’s solutions were so haphazard. Manufactured, non-canonical examples include:

  • A mallet he cadged from the janitor and a splintered chair leg to fight a vampire.
  • Herbs that a book he bought at the five and dime claimed would protect from witchcraft.
  • Tinfoil folded in proportions cited in sacred architecture as defending against psychic intrusion.

In short, there must have been any number of times that Kolchak’s spit and baling wire efforts didn’t pan out. But the man in the seersucker suit lived to report another day, so there must have been some resolution to the supernatural threats that didn’t include a hibernation or migratory component.

Reminds me of the set-up for Eternal Lies, the Trail of Cthulhu campaign where the player characters are drawn into the consequences of a ritual that another group of investigators failed to prevent some years prior.

N.B. I would be remiss in not acknowledging “ham-fisted bun vendor” as first being uttered by Jon Pertwee in the Doctor Who serial “Terror of the Autons.” So possibly Robert Holmes’ creation, Terrence Dicks’, or Pertwee’s own.


Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game

Call of Cthulhu The Card Game box art, circa 2014.My favorite board or card game that I don’t get to play enough is Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. The local non-Magic card scene is all about Android: Netrunner, a game which I do dig, but sometimes goes over my head to a degree that can be discouraging. That hasn’t stopped me from keeping up with releases, of course, because lord knows I like a regular release schedule of things to collect.

With Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, I’m the local evangelist. What do I love about this game? So glad you asked.


The number one consideration for me about a game is: do I like the theme? With Call of Cthulhu, of course I do. Like the fiction and subgenre of games from which it springs, this card game drips with Lovecraftian horror. Human investigators may struggle against ghouls and unknowable ancient beings. Decaying tomes and strange artifacts offer occult knowledge and power. A carefully lobbed stick of dynamite can turn the tide. It’s got that pulpy 1920s horror vibe, and I love it.

With seven factions in the card pool, you can also play with the trope of strange allies and mortals ensnared in eldritch bargains. The Blackwood Agency may team up with the scholars of Miskatonic University as mere mortals struggling against the outer dark, or the sorcerous powers practiced by the followers of Yog-Sothoth can corrupt the innermost ranks of the Order of the Silver Twilight.

Interplay of Cards and Factions

And off of the theme, there’s the breadth of card interactions. In addition to sheer longevity, being one of the oldest of Fantasy Flight’s card games, Call of Cthulhu‘s card pool consists of seven factions, plus neutrals, with their own hallmarks and mechanical quirks. Miskatonic loves to draw more cards. Shub-Niggurath is fecund with ways to grow resources faster. The Order of the Silver Twilight bounces characters between play and hands.[1] Hastur’s lunatics sacrifice their sanity for strange powers. And so on.

When I draft a deck, I usually start by picking some mechanics I want to play with. One deck in the works uses Yog-Sothoth, who specializes in causing discard effects and recovering cards from the discard, and the aforementioned Silver Twilight. The original idea was to use Yog-Sothoth’s cards to get big characters into the discard, then pull them out again using the Order’s tricks, but it hasn’t proven practical in play. I love the thematic combination, though, since Silver Twilight is a secretive order practicing occult rituals, and Yog-Sothoth is a patron, of sorts, of sorcerers, spells and rituals. They ought to go together great. I just haven’t figured out the finer points yet.

Familiar, Yet Novel Mechanics

If you’ve ever played Magic, Call of Cthulhu isn’t so different that it would seem alien, or require training yourself to think too differently about it. You and your fellow player put out characters The characters may smash against each other while trying to secure story cards, which are essentially units of victory. One side will generally win the fight. Eventually, you acquire enough of the victory units to win.

The differences are where the fun is, of course. For instance, there are no resource cards in Call of Cthulhu, a la Magic‘s lands. Every card in your deck is a useful thing, as a character, a support or a one-off event, but it can also double as a resource to help pay to play other cards. One of the toughest decision points in the game is figuring out which of the limited cards in your hand is going to become a resource, and likely never see play. Do you prioritize the first turn, and give up beefier cards to get out the weenies, or keep something cool back for turn four or five?

In Closing

Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game hits that mix of theme, rules accessibility and capacity to satisfy my quest for novelty in seeing how disparate cards might work together. Now, I’m not a good player by any means. It takes me a while to pick up on potential synergies between cards when designing a deck — often I may not see any until I’m actually playing the deck and really processing the wording. Any time I play against someone who really knows the game, I’ve gotten walloped. But I am better than I was when I started, so I can see there’s progress. And I hope to play more often. Drop me a line if you’re in the Burlington area or want to meet up on Lackey some evening.

[1] I will cop right now that I’m just leaving the infatuation stage with Silver Twilight’s bounce effects as a deterrent. Playing Initiate of Huang Hun three times to remove as many of your opponent’s characters is a great sense of accomplishment at first blush, but suddenly you’ve used all of your domains and have no additional presence on the table to show for it, and no way to play events until your next turn.

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Conspiracy X 2.0

Extraterrestrials Sourcebook cover art for Conspiracy X 2.0.The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook collects previously published information about the alien races at large in the Conspiracy X role-playing game, and then brings their activities up to date with the new oughties timeframe. That said, the book is very rooted in the past. Each of the three chapters goes deep into the history of its species. “Way back, before you were born”-deep,[1] to the origins of each species. Which is great for the long view. Midway through the Saurians chapter, I started asking myself, “Is this all we’re going to know about what they’re doing now on Earth?” Atlanteans, Greys and Saurians do all have a section on what they’re up to at the moment, but it’s so tantalizingly brief and vague compared to the full, detailed histories of the three species.

A lot of that must come from the original remit of The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook: condense material written for supplements of the first edition of Conspiracy X into one volume for the current line and move the timeline up by fifteen years. In light of that, each chapter does a remarkable job covering history and culture of three distinct species.

The name of the podcast escapes me, but I remember hearing the designer of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Chad Underkoffler — I think? It’s been a long time since I heard the episode in question — describe his realization that long histories of how Sir Buffington defeated Lord Nemesis, and so on, can and ought to be elided into “Epic stuff happened leading us to this tipping point. Now you guys need to do something.” I’ve taken that to heart, and any time I run across supplemental material that is basically a long timeline of events that sound very cool, but are of limited utility to informing the present situation — unless you decide all those points on the timeline are covert plot seeds to bring forward to your game’s time frame — I do look askance, and wonder if this space could have been given to something a little more relevant to the contemporary status quo, and how it’s about to fall apart.

That said, I did appreciate the look into the culture and mentality of the extraterrestrials, different and varied as they may be. The Greys are the closest to monolithic, since they’re so deeply interconnected by telepathy. But even they have differences and internal division — especially, interestingly, between those on Earth and those on Greyworld. Greys on Earth are quarantined from the rest of the species because of concern about psychic contamination. The Saurians, it turns out, are divided into many factions, unlike their representation in the corebook, which is really just one faction that is most visible to AEGIS. And the Atlanteans wind up a race of radical individualists, as everyone strikes out on their own.

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook is an interesting peek into the alien races interested in Earth. I’m dubious, though, how much use the information is here to 80% of the Conspiracy X games out there, as it seems unlikely most of them are going to go that deep into interaction with any one species, let alone all three. I’d rather have much more information about what they’re doing on Earth right now, and examples of how AEGIS cells and Black Book agents interact with them.[2]

[1] “Do you know how you got that dent, in your top lip? Way back, before you were born, I told you a secret, then I put my finger there and I said ‘Shhhhh!’”

[2] Acknowledging that any throwaway mention of what an AEGIS cell did or reported is really a coded plot seed for the GM’s own campaign, either to kick it off or provide a template of what the players might get embroiled in.

When I Rolled Seventeen


When I rolled seventeen, it was a very good hit
It was a very good hit for a fighter with a plus one sword
It would’ve been a crit if my weapon were keen
When I rolled seventeen

Apologies to Jake of the Mummy’s Mask group for misremembering his particular mangling.