Monday, September 28, 2009

Some Nifty House Rules for Palladium Fantasy

I never played a lot of the Palladium Fantasy RPG, but like most Palladium products the times I did were always a blast and the character creation options always seemed so much more interesting than D&D and other FRPGs.

I ran across a nice set of house rules for the PFRPG today and thought I'd share. The author has stripped out the core dice rolling mechanics while leaving all the fun little bits of flair intact; an admirable accomplishment!

Reading over the rules definitely got me itching to do some PFRPG gaming. Doubt it'll happen, what with so much else on my gaming platter, but at least the option's there now.

The author also mentions the possibility of adapting his ideas to other Palladium games, which is a very intriguing idea indeed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Flyer Art I Can Really Get Behind

In the course of checking out Jesse Michaels' (Operation Ivy, Common Rider) new band, Classics of Love, I couldn't help but notice some mind-blowingly awesome pieces of promotional art. Bask with me!

Incidentally, the band rocks. Shhh, no words, just listen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

[Cthulhu Berlin]: Appendix N

Taking a page from Ken Hite, my first step in working up a Cthulhu Berlin campaign setting is historical research. Fortunately, that's something I'm very, very good at.

I've availed myself of a few online sources, but most of my reading will be the old-fashioned variety. I've got a fair pile of books on their way to me via various library channels. Whenever I can, I like to supplement my reading with immersion in period films (either, if possible, contemporary or of the "historical drama" variety) and music. Here, then, is my own Appendix N of Cthulhoid Berlin.

Pandora's Box
ETA: The Blue Angel (1930)
M (1931)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
ETA: Invincible (2001)
Vampyr (1932)
Cabaret (1972)
The Threepenny Opera (1928) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Voluptuous Panic by Mel Gordon
The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber by Mel Gordon
Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant by Mel Gordon
Berlin: The Twenties by Rainer Metzger
Bertolt Brecht's Berlin: A Scrapbook of the Twenties by Wolf Von Eckardt and Sander L. Gilman
The Hot Girls of Weimar Berlin by Barbara Ulrich
What I Saw: Reports From Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth
The Secret King: The Myth and Reality of Nazi Occultism by Michael Moynihan and Stephen E. Flowers
Cabaret Berlin: Revue, Kabarett And Film Music Between The Wars (this one's a book AND four musical CDs!)
"Oh! You Pretty Things" by David Bowie
"Venus in Furs" by The Velvet Underground

Yes, those last two are not period pieces at all, but they nicely capture the tone and themes I want to go for. "Venus in Furs" is, I think, a great bit of musical shorthand for the sexually depraved, morally bankrupt atmosphere of the setting, and Bowie's song, with its Lovecraftian undertones and cabaret-style piano, seems an apt thematic intersection. Plus you just can't beat this lyric with a tentacle:

Wake up you sleepy head
Put on some clothes, shake up your bed
Put another log on the fire for me
I've made some breakfast and coffee
I look out my window what do I see
A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me
All the nightmares came today
And it looks as though they're here to stay

I might add to this list in the future; I haven't really begun to delve into books specifically on the German occult community at this time, which I know was absolutely huge. Voluptuous Panic has a great chapter on the subject, and a couple books on the list deal with the Nazi side of things, but I'm curious about other angles as well.

I'm quite excited about the possibilities already. I wrote in the comments to my last post on the subject that "already I'm getting a sense of a 'Big Three' of Elder Gods/Old Ones with an especial presence in Berlin: Nyarlathotep Hastur, Shub-Niggurath, and Y'Golonac."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Deciding On A New Campaign

Last week the Blue Rose campaign officially wilted.

I just couldn't carry on. True 20 was a nicely slimmed-down version of d20, but was still a little too close to "pure" d20 for my taste. I probably would have been able to put up with that except for the fact that the Blue Rose setting, despite my best efforts, proved just too damn dull.

I'm a recovering GADD (Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder) sufferer, and nowadays I'm very cautious of abandoning a campaign for the wrong reasons. So I'd been wrestling with this decision for a while. A couple fortuitous cancellations bought me some extra time (we only meet twice a month under normal circumstances as it is), but on the eve of our scheduled get-together, as I sat down to go over my adventure notes for the next day, I snapped.

I sent out an email to my group and was rather relieved to receive kudos from the players, who were pretty much in the same boat I was. Seems everyone kind of felt the same way I did regarding both system and setting, but we were all sort of waiting to see if things got better. They never did, and my email put everyone out of their misery.

That, of course, left us all contemplating what to do next.

This got me thinking about how groups choose a new campaign. My old high school/college group was a model of Athenian democracy. Every member had a say in the process, and everyone was entitled to put out campaign ideas, even if it was for a game they didn't plan on running. If even a single person disliked the campaign concept, it usually died then and there. The few times we managed to cajole a recalcitrant member into going along with the group, things usually died within the first couple sessions thanks to said member's apathy sort of killing the buzz.

At the time, however, I was aware, thanks to Dragon Magazine and (later) the Internet, of other groups that had a much more, shall we say, authoritarian approach. Sort of along the lines of, "I'm the GM, I have final say in what we're playing since I'm going to do the most work here. And we're playing Game X. Deal with it."

I admit that at the time I felt a definite pang of jealousy towards those sorts of groups; our "democratic" approach tended to result in a sort of least-common-denominator style of gaming that ensured everyone was equally unsatisfied most of the time.

Fortunately things aren't quite as dire these days. My most common approach when it comes time to run something new is to make a short list of campaigns I'd like to run, then go through it with the players. It's a nice balance between the two extremes mentioned above.

This time around, it was a very short list. It was a choice of either a classic D&D sandbox (using my houseruled Castles & Crusades and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy) or Call of Cthulhu (set in 1928 Berlin--a fantastically underused setting for interwar horror!). D&D won out, but barely. So it looks like classic D&D for now, but Cthulhu goodness is next in the queue. Doesn't get much better than that!

I suspect most groups follow a similar integrated approach, but I'd be interested to hear of other methods of deciding on a new campaign that I haven't touched on.

As a side note, both the Wilderlands and Berlin Cthulhu campaigns give me plenty of grist to dump in my proverbial mill, so I expect I'll be posting content of interest as I generate it in the coming weeks...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Another Million-Dollar Idea--Stolen!

Like pretty much every gaming group ever, my groups have had a share of inside jokes develop over the years, especially with my old gaming group from high school and college. One of our most persistently-recurring jokes was the "War Lich", the symbol of ultimate GM dickishness. The "war lich", as we envisioned it, was simply a lich riding a beholder. The joke was that the "war lich" would be the monster that a GM would bust out to use against a party of hapless adventurers; "You better watch yourselves, or the next room's gonna have a war lich in it!"

Like I said, the war lich was never more than a conceptual in-joke, but I did do a doodle of one, on the margins of a dungeon map, during a game a few years back:

So imagine my surprise a couple weeks ago when, in the course of browsing around Monte Cook's site, I come across this little gem:

A war mind-flayer?

The similarities are...striking. Obviously this war lich idea had stronger legs than we ever gave it credit for.

Out of curiosity, is there anyone else out there who has ever envisioned (or even introduced) one monster riding another?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Arkham Sound

In the late 60's Arkham, Massachusetts produced a variety of interesting groups, and evolved what eventually became known as the "Arkham Sound". Though overshadowed by the much-hyped "Bosstown Sound" from relatively nearby Boston, fans and scholars of the era believe the Arkham Sound to be far more organic and unique, noted for its dark overtones and rich lyricism. Though bands such as The Conqueror Wyrms and The Plasma Miasma even charted regionally, oddly few of these tracks have appeared on previous reissues or comps, with the exception of course of "Come to Arkham (Wear the Wind in Your Hair)" which is ubiquitous on budget oldies compilations. To the best of my knowledge, other than cuts on later volumes of the "Psychotic Moose and the Soul Searchers" series, which are beyond rare, none of these tracks have appeared elsewhere.

Now Dark Lord Rob, formerly of late 80's garage/psych band The Not Quite, has done the world an enormous favor by assembling a complilation of some of these forgotten tracks in conjunction with the imminent release of The Miskatonic Acid Test, a documentary film he has assembled from recently rediscovered vintage footage. Combining album tracks, rare singles, and choice live tracks from the movie's soundtrack, this collection gives a fine overview of the era and makes one wonder why more of this material hasn't surfaced. It almost makes you wonder whether there was something to those old record collector tales of the music being "cursed".

Just when you thought Darkest of the Hillside Thickets was the only punk-inflected Mythos-rock group going. I stumbled across this today. Great Lovecraftian garage rock. There's a three-CD soundtrack; the first disc is available for free download here.
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