The Fell Types

Roman and small caps, probably cut by Christoffel van Dijck.

Lovecraftian prop blog Propnomicon recently posted about the Fell types, a series of typefaces dating from the 17th century that are now freely available download as fonts:

From mid-16th century until the end of the 17th, interference with printing by the British Crown thwarted the development of type founding in England—most type used by 17th century English printers was of Dutch origin. The lack of material inspired Bishop of Oxford Doctor John Fell to purchase punches & matrices from Holland ca. 1670–1672 for use by the Oxford University Press. The so-named Fell types, presumed to be the work of Dutch punchcutter Dirck Voskens, mark a noticeable jump from previous designs, with considerably shorter extenders, higher stroke contrast, narrowing of round letters, and flattened serifs on the baseline and descenders.

Aside from looking awesome, these fonts would be great for handouts to share extracts from grimoires, banned tomes and books that were never written in your role-playing games. And they’re open source, too, so they’re free for the taking.

Thanks to Igino Marini for putting in the effort behind this typeface revival and making them open source.

Starless

The British Museum in London

Image via Wikipedia

Caution: this post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episodes The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.

For a very brief time during The Big Bang, an alternate history exists in which Earth is the only planet with life in a universe with no stars. The planet orbits the Doctor’s exploding TARDIS, which provides the light and heat that allows life to continue mostly as usual for the human race from the first century of the common era up to the early years of the twenty-first century.

The wrenching change, a total event collapse that undid every moment ever, threw up anomalies, fossils from another history that one could say irrupted into the new, starless history. As the Doctor races around the British National Museum, you can catch glimpses of some of the oddities of this alternate history: dinosaurs in the Arctic, fossilized Daleks, penguins on the Nile and Egyptian pharaohs in Tibet.

This universe isn’t very long-lived. As time collapses around Earth, protected at the eye of the storm, it’s probably no more than an hour or two, linearly speaking, from the TARDIS exploding to the brink of total non-existence. But in that hour, a whole history exists, one which happens to be riddled with anachronistic oddities and Fortean-like phenomena. Sounds like a setup for a campaign of reality detectives to me!

The best part is it doesn’t even have to be a secret team of reality cops. In the Starless history, anachronisms are available for viewing in public institutions like the British Museum and American Smithsonian. Like the comic book version of Hellboy, where Big Red is a known celebrity, these oddities are part of history as humans know it. There’s no need for reality cops to skulk in the shadows, collecting artifacts and keeping them safe from public knowledge.

Instead, the motivations are prestige for institutions providing backing, celebrity for independent oddity hunters, riches on the artifact market and satisfying insatiable curiosity about the seeming bizarre state of affairs of natural history.

A few campaign guidelines:

  • The emphasis is on humanity and playing with history as we know it. There may be a few offworld artifacts scattered around Earth, but they are remnants of the original timeline, likely fossilized and inert, like the Daleks on display in the National Museum.
  • In the Doctor Who ethos, everything is ultimately explicable. What some call magic is highly advanced science — block transfer computation and quantum mnemonics are two convenient labels — which includes psychic abilities. So an ancient South American civilization ruled by a lineage of sorcerer-kings is plausible, but the sorcery will turn out to have been chicanery or misunderstood natural abilities.
  • Starless is continually contracting. In the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sense, it only exists for a few hours as the universe collapses, despite also existing for hundreds of billions of years in the linear sense. In Starless, the lost decade phenomenon is very real: humanity invented whole dynasties of rulers to cover the missing years for which no one could account, a la Kenneth Hite’s proposition of hollow history.
  • Remember the changes that come from seeing no stars in the sky: lovers walk under the moon, lunologists give advice based on the phases and motion of the moon and one of Van Gogh’s most famous works is Moonlit Night.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Still Lurking at the Threshold

We played another round of Arkham Horror, Jon, Nonny and I, with the same melange of cards from most of the expansions that I used for the past two games trying out Lurker at the Threshold Partly because the mix seems to work, but also because I’ve been too lazy to do more than drop the tote full of boxes in an out of the way spot on returning home from game night.

The one thing we left  out this time are the personal story cards from Innsmouth Horror. They’re neat and all, sure, but they’re mostly about slowing the investigators down, something that isn’t really needed with what’s going on in Lurker at the Threshold. Plus, going back to my point of how many things there are to track in a game of Arkham Horror these days, it’s too easy to forget about the pass/fail conditions of a personal story, or focus on them to the exclusion of other conditions that need monitoring.

This time we fought against Ghatanathoa, a delightfully cheery fellow I’d run into before. His annihilating gaze is rough: draw a token from a pool of eight whenever collecting two or more clue tokens. If it happens to show his face, the investigator is devoured. Nonny got stung by that on her very first draw from the pool. It wasn’t until much later in the game, when she had started over with Patrice the Clue Giver, that she and Jon flirted with Ghatanathoa again, having recognized the need to speed up clue token collection.

After a slow start — and what game of Arkham doesn’t have a slow start? — we got into the rhythm of gate-diving and scrounging clue tokens. We weren’t moving fast enough, though. Even with a thirteen token doom track and a number of monster surges, Ghatanathoa’s filled up quite really. The game went to final combat, which we won by the skin of our collective teeth, maybe at the last or second to last attack on the Ancient One.

The interesting thing about this particular session is how we used the Lurker’s pacts. In the past two games, players got bound allies immediately, working on the assumption that it would never come to final combat, so they didn’t have to worry about the bound allies joining the Ancient One’s side. Jon and Nonny played a little more conservatively.

It was a good long time before anyone took a pact and honestly, I can’t really remember the motivation to do so. It may have been a reckoning card — which I tried to draw faithfully throughout, but it’s difficult to keep them in mind when the effects don’t target anyone at the table, since we were so scrupulously unpacted.

Where the pacts finally paid off was in final combat. Since Ghatanathoa doesn’t sap sanity or stamina, it didn’t matter what our investigators had in those areas. So we all took soul and blood pacts, converted “extra” — read: “all but one” — sanity and stamina into power tokens, which could then be used for some truly massive opening volleys of clue tokens.

It wasn’t a brilliant start, considering each of us individually rolled just shy of twenty dice in the first round of combat, but we did eventually pull victory out of the clutch. The key was recognizing when the pacts could really pay off, and using them appropriately.

As I wrote the above, I began to wonder if I’d missed a rule. It doesn’t make thematic or mechanic sense for the Lurker, a herald of the Ancient One, to continue bestowing goodies to the investigators when its master is on the verge of breaking through to Earth. It suddenly seemed that surely we’d missed the bit where all pacts are discarded at the start of final combat, not just the bound allies. But no, I just checked the rules PDF and the herald sheet itself, thanks to the Arkham Horror Wiki. I can’t see any mention of discarding pacts, except in the event of an investigator being devoured, so I guess it’s just one of those things, like Michael Glen’s Strong Body ability making him effectively immune to at least one Ancient One’s attack.

There’s one poster over on Boardgamegeek who often comments that all investigator abilities should stop working once final combat begins. I can’t entirely agree with that, because Mandy’s dice rerolling is way too big a lifesaver, but there are certain cases where some new wrinkle doesn’t seem to have been thought all the way through to final combat.

A Carnage of Bibliogantuan Proportions

Both yours and mine — your and my? — favorite Vermont game convention, Carnage, posted their prereg book last night. This crucial step in the run up to November 5th accomplished, convention-going gamers all over New England and beyond can plan their weekend at Carnage with ease, particularly since the download offerings this year include a handy schedule grid, all the better for the conventioneer to discover with horror which two of their “must play” games have been scheduled against each other.

It’s going to be a glorious weekend. And you know, I even put some thought into Pumpkin Jack last night. Onward, to Carnage!

[Green Mountain Game Days] Fall-loha 2010 After Action Report

A grange hall full of gamers in Lyndonville, Vermont.

This past Saturday was Fall-loha 2010, the second of the Green Mountain Gamers‘ game days around the state of Vermont. Fall-loha took place up in the Northeast Kingdom, in the town of Lyndonville. We learned some things from this summer’s Game ‘n Grill, namely don’t over-schedule a game day. Open play allows things to flow organically, including jumping into a new game without worrying about “missing” something on the schedule. It also makes ducking out for lunch and dinner so much less hurried.

Exploring Castle Ravenloft

Richard, Chuck, Andy and Alex (left to right) brave the terrors of Castle Ravenloft.

We arrived at the grange hall to find things in full swing, having been waylaid by the slowest cider-pourer in New England. Alex, Chuck, Richard, Andy and I leapt into Castle Ravenloft, the new dungeon crawl board game based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. It was surprisingly difficult. I don’t know why I’m consistently surprised that cooperative games are difficult, but I am. Probably just as well I didn’t get to try Defenders of the Realm as I originally planned or I would have been flummoxed all over again.

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Council of Five Nations XXXIII Preregistration Opens

Council of Five Nations Logo

The Schenectady Wargamers’ Association passed the word around this weekend: Council of Five Nations XXXIII, their annual Columbus Day weekend convention, has its preregistration information up and available for download — and that includes a listing of scheduled events.

Council has been traditionally more of a board game and miniatures convention, so it’s kind of surprising to discover the schedule has such a nice mix of role-playing games this year, not only the usual stuff like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, but also Deadlands and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Plus all the oldies and goodies and new stuff in board gaming, and the time-honored Starfleet Battles tournament.

Council is back at Proctor’s Theater this year, in downtown Schenectady. I haven’t been yet myself, but I hear it’s a funny little venue, not without the quirky charms that I find so endearing at Lake Morey.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Back to the Future

The DeLorean on display at the Back to the Fut...

Image via Wikipedia

This was a two-fer Tuesday for me at board game night. Not only did Quarterstaff Games have the new Back to the Future card game from Looney Labs on the shelf, which I snapped up and then out of its shrinkwrap to immediately get out on the table, but I also learned Zombie Dice, which is exactly what it says on the tin.

Back to the Future: The Card Game

This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I’ve adored the films since watching the off-air VHS recording of the original film my mother made for me and my brothers back in the late 1980s. Similarly, I’ve been a fan of Chrononauts since picking the game up a couple years back. Bringing the two together I was a little nervous reading some of the pre-release reviews that have circulated around that mentioned changes from the Chrononauts parent mechanics, but I decided not to worry about that and play the game in its own right, doing my best not to think “Gee, this is different from Chrononauts.”

That, it turned out, was difficult. Trying to explain the game to Bill, Nonny, Nicole and Chris while unpacking it, I found myself on a couple occasions falling back on my knowledge of Chrononauts — even after announcing to the group that I wouldn’t — only to discover that element had changed in Back to the Future. The Timewarp card type, for instance, is now called Power Action, setting it up as a spiffier sort of Action. There are no Inverters anymore. Time travelers change past and future events by using an iteration of Doc Brown’s time machine or a Doubleback card.

But I’m getting things out of order. “Time travel,” as the Doctor once remarked. “You can’t keep it straight in your head.”

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Beefing Up the Nun

A common goal of some Arkham Horror house rules, or so it seems from internet discussion, is making Sister Mary more of a contender in the struggle against squamous horror. In fact, that even became one of the modifiers in the difficulty level cards published with Black Goat of the Woods: Sister Mary can spend clue tokens to reroll to keep her blessing.

Personally, I think that’s a little too low key for the lady. Her stats are unimpressive enough she needs a stronger edge. So in our games, she doesn’t roll to keep her blessing, period. She can still be cursed and all that, so she doesn’t have a permanent blessing. Most of the time, however, she can expect the benefit of 4s counting as successes, which can only improve her chances when she’s maxed out a skill to a whopping three dice.

Houseruling Black Goat of the Woods

Arkham Horror,Herald,Shub Niggurath,Cultists,Corruption,Dark YoungIn The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide, I recommended Black Goat of the Woods as a solid choice for a new owner’s first expansion to Arkham Horror. With a few more plays under my belt since then, I’ve recognized there are some major flaws to how the cult encounters work; namely, the places where investigators get those encounters, which are supposed to be “fun” in the Arkham Horror sense of the term, aren’t available most of the time, because the locations in which they occur are frequently replaced by gates to Other Worlds.

Having been thinking about that lately — and my dereliction in still having not gotten around to trying The Lurker at the Threshold — I ran across the alternate Black Goat of the Woods herald, created by a fan of the game. It was designed to promote the use of the expansion’s new elements, as well as make the herald’s effects somewhat more manageable. I never got around to playing with the original Black Goat herald — I think I’ve played with a herald only once or twice; we have enough difficulty winning without throwing a herald in the mix most of the time — but I like the looks of what this variation adds.

For example, as the expansion is written, an investigator may only chance into a cult membership, depending on the encounter card they draw at the Unvisited Isle, the Woods or the Black Cave. With this new version of the herald, someone visiting one of those locations must buy a membership, either with stamina or monster trophies. Now those cult encounters will start flowing a bit more freely.

I wonder if perhaps cult encounters should replace normal encounters at any unstable location? Investigators still need to visit those places to collect clue tokens as they appear, and they won’t all be replaced by gates. The cult encounters themselves would probably need to be revised somewhat to be a little more forgiving, if that were the case. They’re almost entirely deleterious to the poor investigator suffering through them, from what I recall.

[Green Mountain Game Days] Fall-loha 2010 Coming This Saturday

Fall-loha 2010, the Green Mountain Gamers‘ second ever game day, has slipped up on us. After a strong start in July with their first Game ‘n Grill, the next stop on the Green Mountain Gamers’ tour of Vermont is the Grange hall in Lyndonville this Saturday, September 18th, from 10:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. And if the June game day was any indication, we’ll play games until it’s time to put the lights out.

I’m looking forward to Fall-loha for a lot of reasons: getting out into Vermont for a couple days — we’re making it a weekend trip, rather than deal with early morning and late night schlepping — and not having to do a whole lot but play games. At the Game ‘n Grill, I think we over scheduled things a bit: teaching games, set times for role-playing adventures and all that. This time, there’s a scheduled Small World tournament, a Flames of War setup and I think that’s about it for really scheduled stuff. Everything is people bringing something they’d like to play.

Over on the Green Mountain Gamers website, there’s a thread going of what people want to play. Highlights for me include the story game Fiasco — yes, I’m dipping my toe into scary, commie story games — the new dungeon crawl Castle Ravenloft and a cooperative game in the vein of Pandemic called Defenders of the Realm. From those three alone, I think I can fill my day very nicely, with time for kibbutzing and checking out the dining side of Lyndonville.

I hope to meet some new folks this weekend. And of course I’ll have a game day report with pictures when it’s all said and done.