Ye Liveliest Awfulness

Reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward this weekend — probably a re-read, as it’s all very familiar to me — a question struck me: given that one of the founding principles of life in Lovecraft Country is that there were all sorts of unnatural doings afoot during America’s colonial period, particularly in the darkly wooded hills of New England — including the deeds of Keziah Mason, as related by The Dreams in the Witch House — why haven’t there been more role-playing opportunities set in that time period?

Certainely, there was Noth’g but ye liveliest Awfulness in that which H. rais’d upp from What he cou’d gather onlie a part of.
— H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Maybe I’m not aware of the texts that do so or maybe it’s because one of Call of Cthulhu‘s key themes is the modern person’s realization the universe is vast, ultimately unknowable and uncaring, but given everything going on at the time that crept down through the years to plague the residents of 20th century Arkham and its neighbors, it seems like colonial America is a natural time and place for mythos-based action. Even in Charles Dexter Ward, there’s an archetypal coterie of community members who take it upon themselves to protect their local world from the depredations of an evil alchemist. That screamed “party of wildly disparate yet bound by a common interest player characters” to me.

I see there’s at least one Chaosium monograph on the topic, Colonial Terrors. Have you ever run a Cthulhoid campaign or one-shot in colonial America? How did it go?

The Next Step for Hermetic Realm Magic

I just had a terribly awesome idea: bring the Hermetic Realm system I assembled last year over from GURPS to Unisystem.

It is terrible because I spent too much time on that project last year. Redoing it for another, marginally different system seems like a poor use of time.

It is awesome because that marginally different system has much easier character creation. New pregenerated characters would be a snap and importing the existing set from GURPS would be even snappier. Also, I generally find Unisystem a hell of lot easier to teach on the fly.

But would it make the magic system any simpler to use? That’s the key point that finally came to me in the last month or so. A free-form magic system based on the Cabal’s Hermetic cosmology has to be really stripped down to work in a four hour convention time slot with a table of total newcomers.

So I find myself debating whether I should stick with GURPS and do the stripdown there, or move on to the relatively fresher ground of Unisystem, import the basics and actually make sure it’s simple this time.

I have to do something because I want to run another Cabal game for Carnage. Would my time be better spent making a more robust, flavorful world and scenario? I think it would. But I continue to think longingly about the simplicity of Unisystem when I ought to be focusing on content.

[Eye of the Qlippothim] Mid-August Progress Update

The Sigillum DEI, from John Dee's Mysteriorum Liber Secundus.

I drove myself to work on Eye of Qlippothim this weekend, mainly sitting down at the computer to continue pulling together the various bits of magic systems from all over GURPS Thaumatology to create a flexible, open-ended alternative to the standard GURPS spell system.

Picking Up the Threads

It’d been a while since I worked with the rules document, so I found myself scratching my head in a few places. “Why did I do that? Is it supposed to be a skill modifier, rather than margin of success?”

Originally the plan was to use margin of success as the determining factor for all of a spell’s parameters: how long it lasts, the area it covers, how far it goes, all that. However, I also want to use the familiarity table for range. Instead of worrying about physical distance, a wizard has to be symbolically close to their intended subject: know them intimately or have a link to them, like a treasured lucky charm or sample of blood. If this system is intended to encourage players to accumulate lots of sympathetic modifiers, which it is, then it seems wise to prompt that upfront. Damage and duration can run off margin of success, because they should be unpredictable. But players should be able to judge with more accuracy whether their spell will hit its target, so I think it’s sensible that range work as a skill modifier, so they can figure right from the get-go what kind of bonuses they need to collect to offset penalties.

Organizing My Thoughts Through Rule Aids

In addition to a document collecting and organizing the various rules bits for this system — for which I still haven’t settled on a name; Decanic Realm magic? Hermetic Realm magic? Hermetic Astrology magic? — I’ve been working on GM screen inserts[1] and a “quick and dirty guide to casting magic” sheet for players. One could argue I am putting the cart before the horse, creating accessories before getting the rules completely sorted out, but I’m finding it helpful.

Not only do I vary the work, so I’m not constantly focusing on making all the disparate rules align, which is my least favorite part of the project, but creating the player aid helps me get the process organized in my head. I realize there are missing steps, or that it makes more sense for figuring familiarity range to go before rolling the dice, and so on.

Ever Onward

Until the rules and players collide in a playtest, I don’t think I can make much more progress on them. That won’t happen until Fall-loha at the earliest. So now I will turn back to character creation — I have a healthy list of concepts brainstormed over the weekend and I have GURPS Cabal to plunder for its own concept list — and developing the plot and non-player characters; the latter’s always a rough spot for me. I’m trying hard this time, I promise!


[1] Incidentally, I decided to do this screen in landscape orientation. Whether I buy the premade screen by Hammerdog Games or build my own out of foamcore, I think I will prefer the lower height, which allows my voice to carry and hides less of the table from view. On the downside, I’ll have to create my own front-side inserts, as there aren’t any genre-suitable landscape screens to repurpose, but that’s not a big deal. I already have some ideas in that direction.

My Carnage in Wonderland Schedule

Despite knowing for months now what I want to run at Carnage this year, it took me way too long to come up convention book descriptions. That (embarrassingly minor) task is done, though, so now I turn to the great work of pulling together the many disparate threads to weave into two different wholes.

For the curious, Friday night you will find me continuing the saga of Ghostbusters International-Boston in GURPS Ghostbusters: The Girl in the Looking Glass. This one is based on my own starting premise and ideas gleaned from that game of InSpectres back in June:

There’s strange doings at the Fleming Museum. A phantasmal cat has been spied stalking the premises. Students attest to long, involved, ultimately unrewarding conversations with a giant caterpillar sucking on a hookah. The lead curator has gone missing, last seen walking into the newest exhibit: a recreation of Charles Dodgson’s study. Suit up, Ghostbusters! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this frightfully cheerful role-playing adventure.

Saturday night is a rather bolder move on my part, returning to the world of the Cabal I only got to skirt last summer in a stalled campaign. Martense College and its surroundings have lurked in the back of my head ever since then and lately I’ve gotten a lot of interesting ideas to inject into the setting. Travel with me, if you will, into GURPS Cabal: Eye of the Qlippothim:

Looking at sedate Martense College, hidden in the rolling green hills of New England, one would never guess at the secrets lurking beneath its liberal arts exterior. (Most of the time) out of sight of the unsuspecting public lies the black school within a school, the scholomance of the Cabal, educating the next generation of wizards, vampires, faeries and more.

And if a lively student body weren’t enough, reptoid hunting parties stalk the night, redcaps make mischief in the village and the hill clans of Luke’s Notch strike pacts with entities not seen in Creation since before the Great Flood. The lodge members of the Wheel of Ptah have their hands full. Join the fun! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this adventure, which uses a variant magic system from GURPS Thaumatology.

Yes, it’s that variant magic system. I’m really going to do this and I’m really going to make it work. August is my month to design and playtest of Eye of the Qlippothim, as I’d really like to give it a runthrough at Fall-loha.

Demonground

Sometimes paying attention to the Hotness column over at RPG Geek pays off. That’s where I was reminded of Demonground, a horror and weirdness role-playing zine that published fifteen issues between 1998 and 2002. The keeper of the files seems to have redesigned the site a bit, but the issues themselves are the same as they ever were.

Demonground‘s a handy resource for GMs looking for a bit of inspiration, like monsters, artifacts of interest and all that. And it covers many of the horror games of note at the time, including Dark Conspiracy, Call of Cthulhu and my personal favorite WitchCraft, in addition to non-setting specific material. Now admittedly, this can be a mixed blessing. I’m of the variety where I zero in on what’s specific to my preferred properties, ignoring the rest. Fortunately, the later issues of Demonground are conveniently labeled so as to help such picky consumers find the content relevant to their pursuits. For the rest of you, gorge away.

And since Demonground‘s material is timeless, you can merrily mine away regardless of the fact there hasn’t been a new issue since 2002. And if that’s a concern, go check out Protodimension.

[RPG Blog Carnival] New Year, New Game

It’s fitting that the first RPG Blog Carnival topic of 2011 is about new games. That’s what I’ve been jonesing for, after all.

So what role-playing am I going to commit in 2011? A new game could be a freshly published book as much as it could a traditional campaign or even a one-shot. In true Yankee style, I’m going to take what I’ve already got and make it work for me.

Ghostbusters International Will Expand Its Operations

Running Ghostbusters convention games is slowly becoming my thing. I’ve only done so at Carnage so far, but that’s fine, because that will always be where a GBI adventure premieres. I’ve got two in my archive and an easily modified BPRD adventure to put to the cause. At some point, I’ll get on the New England / northeastern gaming circuit as a GM and I’ll have a stash of material ready to go.

For 2011, my plan is to maintain the course with Ghostbusters. I’ll write a new adventure to debut Carnage, maybe break out an older one at a game day if called for. And certainly it’ll become obvious that it’s time to open a franchise in Vermont, rather than trucking in from Massachusetts every other week.

The Time War Comes to Earth

Maybe not precisely, but I do want to run a Doctor Who game as an on-going campaign. I’ve got premises in mind, I’ve got candidates for systems and I’ve got some people in mind to play. By the time this post hits, I will have asked them and I hope more say yes than don’t. There are still questions to answer, like how often could we play, where and how can we avoid being straitjacketed by attendance requirements, but I’ve got hopes and some confidence in making this work.

And That’s It

Really. I’m being realistic about these New Year’s resolutions. There’s other stuff going on in my life, like helping put on Carnage and the Green Mountain Game Days, contributing to Geek Mountain State, plus my professional and other personal endeavors, that I think I can handle just this: running a frequent periodic campaign and a convention-grade adventure.

So that’s what I’ve got for the new year. Stick with me to see what happens.

GURPS Ghostbusters: Pumpkin Jack Update

The Carnage submission deadline passed by while I was on hiatus. Due to scheduling concerns and other demands on my time, including taking on more duties as a convention staffer this year, I decided to scale back on running games this year. So in addition to a session of Arkham Horror, I’m going to run Pumpkin Jack twice. Yes, twice, on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Sunday morning’s typically a low energy time slot at any convention, so that can work both against me — there won’t be many people awake — and for me — those who are awake don’t have many choices in what to play. But really the key benefit is I now only have to write one adventure instead of two. I still want to write that Broken Spokes adventure, but it wasn’t coming together very easily and I think Ghostbusters will be a bigger draw for obvious reasons.

Convention games are always a crap shoot. You never know what’s going to grab the interest of that year’s attendees. I feel reasonably confident about Pumpkin Jack, though. It’ll certainly go off Saturday morning, if not Sunday. And if it doesn’t go off Sunday, then no big deal. It’s not like all the times I wrote an adventure that didn’t get played at all.

Ghostbusters: Pumpkin Jack

After struggling with a non-starter of a plot seed for some time now — slasher movie characters coming to life during a horror film convention, I think I finally got something I can work with for Carnage, thanks to a poster at RPG.net who shared his own idea for a one-shot Ghostbusters game. My take’s already going in a different direction because I’m still trying to accomplish some of the things that I wanted to do with the slasher concept, but there are some core elements that will carry over. Not that knowing that will save any potential players who scour that thread for clues. Bwa ha ha.

Story

So I went to Muddy Waters tonight for a writing session. I hadn’t necessarily planned on making it a Ghostbusters session, but I think I got more done in that Open Office document than I did filling out the Broken Spokes wiki. Some story elements and characters popped into my head that I never could have expected. This might be what fiction writers refer to as their characters telling them what happens next.

As it stands, I have a much better grasp of what to shape this into, but it’s not quite there yet. Material I wrote tonight doesn’t line up with my goals. I could ditch the goals and follow the material as it inspires me, but it’s leading me in a direction I’ve already gone. I want to do something different this year.

Right now, there’s an element linking back to one of the original ghost hunters of modern fiction. The Wikipedia article teaches me it really makes no sense as such in the context I want to use it, so I think I’m going to end up inventing my own substitute, who can be modified to fit appropriately. But the inspiration’s still there. I’ll tell you all about it after the convention in November.

System

I’m not sure if I want to stick with GURPS for this and future Ghostbusters games. Having had time to think about it, I wasn’t taken away the representation of proton packs and ghost traps. Basically it’s more fiddly math on my part than I necessarily want to do. I also don’t think it’s necessarily fun for the players. They basically spend turns maintaining their streams until the ghost is contained.

So the choices seem to be make everything else so entertaining that busting ghosts is a dreary, but necessary part of a ridiculous job, or mechanically spice up the zap ‘n trap part of things. I’m struck by the thought there should be an option for going “full stream,” whatever that might be — probably extra damage or an instant containment field with a risk of catastrophic malfunction or power burn-out. But are those interesting problems? They essentially take away the player’s single really useful tool for a random period of time.

Looking back at Lurker in the Limelight, most of the fun at the table came not from busting ghosts, but character interaction and riffing on the absurdities of entrepreneurial spectral extermination. The system I would most likely switch to, Cinematic Unisystem, wouldn’t really make a difference in that regard, as both it and GURPS are pretty traditional in what their mechanics represent in the game world.

I’ll think about it more. I have a month or so before I have to submit anything for the convention book.

Carnage the 13th Goes (Un)Live

Last week, Carnage‘s new website went live, unofficially marking off the countdown to the convention’s thirteenth gathering in November. That can seem like a long way off in April, but I appreciate the head’s up. I’m a poky writer at the best of times; combining that with the desire to playtest adventures beforehand can get hairy.

But I’ve already given some thought to what I want to run, including adventure particulars. In keeping with the horror theme, I plan to run a GURPS game using Kenneth Hite’s Cabal universe, as well as a return to the Boston franchise of Ghostbusters International, which went so well last year — still up in the air whether I want to go GURPS again or switch to Cinematic Unisystem.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to run, as I’ve climbed on board the good ship Carnage as staff. There will still be lots of running around this year, except now it will be with purpose. Working as staff is fun and something I tend towards naturally, but it does put a crimp in one’s ability to run games.

I hope to squeeze in at least a game of Arkham Horror somewhere along the way. Last year’s session was sparsely attended, but I’m not sure if that was the Saturday night time slot or the myriad viruses that flew thick and heavy. If last year’s convention “flu by,” then 2010 will be the Year of the Antibacterial Wipe, I think.