Monday, September 4, 2023

The Spiral of Horror - A Campaign Frame


I don't think this has anything to do with mermaids

I've been playing World of Horror, which officially releases next month (and which you should grab before it's price goes up with that official release), and it's made me think about an old campaign frame I once discussed with one of the Nightwick Regulars but still haven't been able to pull off. Here I wish to revise that campaign frame into something more concrete and see how it sounds to my gentle readers.

First, we need the equivalent of the Spiral from Uzumaki, the overall theme and phenomenon that will drive the strangeness of the campaign. Here is the first place I wish to borrow from World of Horror: we're going to have the imminent return of a Great Old One. For my example here I'm going to pick Cthulhu but I think you'll see any of them can work. An important thing here is we don't want one organization that is trying to summon Cthulhu, but rather he is coming and his influence is spreading throughout the world. If you're playing Delta Green, we can do that literally, but if we're doing more traditional Call of Cthulhu or Liminal Horror, or especially if you're doing Liminal High School, we're going to be focusing on how this effects one town.*

Why a Great Old One? They're thematically broad, like the core phenomenon of Uzumaki. Cthulhu is most utilized in scenarios in the form of Innsmouth/Deep Ones stuff, but remember that the story the Call of Cthulhu is about his effects on dreamers and artists. The madness of dreams could certainly show up in a number of scenarios, as could ancient artwork that seems to resemble the modern, or what of the "white pulpous thing" in the swamps of Lousiana or the stellar nature of his star spawn, or even his defeat of other intelligent races in Lovecraft's Mythos? Maybe a Elder Thing ruin activates an ancient weapon meant to stop Cthulhu's return based on math created by that ancient race but now it will destroy the town the PCs occupy. I dunno. Lots of stuff. If you need ideas for expanding the meaning of your respective Great Old One, check out the section on them in Trail of Cthulhu or, if you have it, the d20 version of Call of Cthulhu.


The stars are right

Next we come up with 1d4+2** of mysteries around the town.*** In my head players will have access to the hooks for these all at once. In my original Lerouxville campaign the analogous list of hooks came in the form of the notes of a missing friend. He had collected a number of notes on the outer layers of various mystery-onions**** and the players could kind of pick which one they wanted to investigate. Unfortunately I did not have these as thematically consistent as we want here - they were just a bunch of weird things - nor did I have the intention of ever revealing the fate of the missing friend. In hindsight I should've probably made that explicit - "you're never going to actually find out who killed Laura Palmer, that's just the frame for the other stuff" - but the first part is remedied by this campaign model. How you develop these mysteries is up to however you do it normally. I'm a fan of the method in the DG Handler's Guide, but you do you.

For the sake of our Cthulhu example, and because I have Liminal High School on the brain, maybe some high school Wicca types were all visited by him in a dream and now they're out in the swamp feeding people to those polypous things. Get a list of NPCs, leads, maybe a handout for one of their dream journals, and you have a scenario.

Do you read Sutter Kane?

Finally, at least prep-wise, we have the main innovation I have taken form World of Horror. In World of Horror, every time you investigate a location some event happens. Often these are related to the case but often they aren't and sometimes an animated head or the missing class of 1971 just pops out of nowhere and you have to run away or fight it. That's a bit... too much if we want to be thematically consistent, but there is something we can take her. What we're going to do is come up with a list of kind of one off random spooky encounters that can be inserted into any investigation. These are tied thematically to the Great Old One.

As I hinted at above, our example for this is going to be a dream-driven deep one with a fire axe that'll attack the PCs during one of their investigations. What's his deal? Unfortunately for the PCs, that's likely to be a dead end; however, he sets up the broader theme of the Great Old One thematically and introduces an element of horrific synchronicity into our game. 

Investigation!

So mechanically what you'd have is the PCs select the scenario - "let's check out what those witchy girls were doing in the swamp our friend seemed so interested in. Maybe they killed him?" They ask around and find out that a fellow student who works at the Shell station***** has seen them meet up in the gas station's attached Subway every weekend before leaving for somewhere else. Thinking they might be able to follow the The Craft wannabes from there, the players decided to stake out the Shell station. The Keeper (or whatever you want to call them) rolls a die - let's say a d6 for old time's sake - and getting a 6, rolls a second die to determine which of his unplaced weird things happens at the Shell. Oh look, it's the fire axe maniac! How convenient for our example! He asks if they read Sutter Kane. They look confused. He attacks them with an axe. Gameplay ensues.

So why do this? What do we get out of it? Well from our example one thing we get out of it is potentially a higher density of weird moments instead of mundane detective work. I know a player who has disliked most of the CoC/DG games run by the Nightwick Regulars because of the lack of relative action. This perhaps does something to remedy that. Hopefully. It also sets up foreshadowing for the final bad thing in our Uzumaki spiral. And if you want to be real pretentious about it, and this is hack work, remember, it adds to the horror of the unknowable or some shit. Spooky!


* You could probably do that with Delta Green too.

** Not necessarily literally rolling dice but I wanted to be more concrete than "a handful." 

*** Or world. Whatever.

**** To slightly borrow a metaphor from some asshole.

***** Get it? Because of the ocean?

Friday, September 1, 2023

Combat Hack for Liminal Horror

I'm currently playing in a Liminal Horror game run by Evlyn set in a high school in a spooky Pacific Northwest using her excellent Liminal High School. I liked it enough that it has put me into my terrible "monkey see, monkey do" mode so I've been thinking a lot about Liminal Horror. Normally I'd use Call of Cthulhu for this sort of thing, but 7th edition and Delta Green have complicated my "which version do I choose?" arithmetic and added to that thinking about Sandy Petersen is a bit more fraught given certain events.

So why not try the game she wrote the supplement for? A cursory read showed me there's nothing I found too unpalatable about Liminal Horror. The magic system isn't necessarily my thing but not in a way that would ever be a deal breaker. However, on rereading it I discovered it has a mechanic I hate:* no to hit rolls, only damage.

I'm not a fan of this for a number of reasons, but I actually think in a horror game it matters a bit more because the certainty of a hit takes out some of the tension. I am not generally a big fan of things that move rpgs more towards perfect information games and I think that movement is worse for horror.

A conversation about this issue with some of the Nightwick Regulars led to Huth, Anthony, and I putting our brains together and (mostly Anthony) providing this hack: To make an attack roll, compare your STR or DEX (depending on weapon) with the target's DEX. To hit the target, roll under 10 modified by the difference between your two stats. So if you are trying to shoot someone and you have a DEX of 10 and they have a DEX of 13, you need to roll under a 7. If you are hitting someone with a baseball bat and you have a STR of 15 and they have a DEX of 8, you need to get under a 17. Always treat a natural 1 as a success and a natural 20 as a failure.

There. Now it's palatable to me again.

*I should've known this due to its Into the Odd lineage, but I am perhaps less up on the NSR than I should be.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

I worked on a thing!

 

Hey, if you wanna see something I worked on that isn't Nightwick Abbey, check out Where Once Was the Sea aka Fish Hole. I wrote a room for it! It's a pretty neat (if dense) little dungeon location for Simple DeeEnDee but is easily runnable with stuff like OSE or whatever your old school rules of choice are.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

In Fair Cuccagna Session 21: First Steps in a Larger World

 
Miles and miles of manicured garden

Provisions - Off into the "Wilderness" - Thoughts on Rangers - A Bed of Soft Grass - A Village Divided - A Second Campsite - Torches in the Night - A Debate - The Peril of Facing Wizards - Into the Hills - ON Gnoles - A Tree of Strange Aspect - Plans Made but Not Executed

Characters Present
Jules Mozarin, Averois Conjuror
Emmelot, Averois Seer
Maglor, Changeling Seer/Warrior (Determined this session to be Averois)
Prestidigitorio, Karslish Medium (Though he claims to be a local)
Lord Saurr, the Crowned Cat of Karse, Grimalkin

Hirelings
7 men-at-arms (non-classed fighting men)
6 porters/linkmen
Tomantha Peggifer Shones, Karslish Medium in the service of Lord Saurr
Baldassare, Cuccagnan Seer and apparentice to Jules Mozarin

Events
  • This week the party eschewed returning to the manse of Prospero the Blue and instead sought to make their way into the interior of the island. Their goal was the mysterious House of the Gnoles, which Lord Saurr had earlier heard was the site of several unsuccessful break ins.
  • Jules and Prestidgitorio debated the best methods for buying provisions, discussions of herding goats and using goat milk to feed the large number of hirelings the party possesses, but ultimately they decided on purchasing a large number of normal rations.
  • Emmelot saw to the purchase of two wagons and two teams of 4 draft horses to pull them, hoping to make the trip easier and to provide transportation for the copious amounts of precious lucre they hope to gain in raiding the gnoles.
  • Lord Saurr purchased a large amount of rope.
  • After these were all purchased the party set out and found that the manicured gardens of the wizards of Cuccagna stretch for as far as the eye can see. Only occasional shifts in style of garden served to break up the monotony for those characters more used to the wilds of the continent.
  •  Prestidigitorio wondered if a ranger would be useful at all in such an environment, though it should be noted that despite the gardens and occasional appearances of out buildings and sheds, they saw not a soul on the twisting paths.
  • Emmelot, being the most accustomed to greenery, was able to find them an area of especially downy grass for them to sleep their first night. This they did without incident. 
  • The next morning they awoke and noticed two gleaming white towers about a hex away and decided to make their way to them.
  • Betwixt the towers was a village where the manicured gardens gave way to fields of barley, olive orchards and vineyards.
  • The party noticed that the inhabitants of this village were dressed either in all red or all blue. At first they took comfort in the fact that these people seemed to be mixed among the fields, meaning that at least they weren't "racist;" however, they soon discovered something very odd about the inhabitants.
  • Calling out to one they quickly found him abrasive but at least somewhat willing to help; however, after they had spoken a few words with him a seemingly identical man in the opposite color came up and asked who they were speaking to. This led to some confusion as the party attempted to communicate with both identical men who seemed unable to perceive each other in any way. Prestidigitorio lamented that this is a thing that belonged more to the future/past than to the island's breed of strangeness.
  • This strange encoutner turned stranger still when the two men were asked to draw a map to the house of the gnoles and, coming forward to do so, they clipped into each other in a hideously uncanny way - each as though the other was made out of nothing at all. Despite this they still were both able to draw in the dirt (though annoyingly close to each other such as to make the map somewhat difficult to read), meaning that they likely were made of solid matter. Curious.
  • When asked where their master lived, they each indicated a separate tower - the conical rooves of which matched their attire. 
  • The party then tried to follow the map, heading southeast and again having to find a place to camp. They set up watches with the Crowned Cat of Karse taking the middle watch due to his uncanny night vision.
  • In the night he saw, several miles distant and across the strangely rolling gardens, a troop of horsed men - he wagered about 20 in number - carrying torches and heading towards the strange village which they had visited that day.
  • He immediately awoke his companions to discuss what to do, fearing these men were up to no good and that innocent villagers would suffer. The general counsel of the other characters was that the intent of the men-a-horse was unknown, and while they had a party in similar size it would likely deplete precious resources needed to steal from the gnoles. As such Lord Saurr reluctantly relinquished his watch and went to bed.
  • During his watch, Maglor saw great explosions and heard great peels of strange thunder from the direction of the village. Soon after he saw a much smaller band of horsemen slinking way. Lord Saurr, when told of this later, commented that he should've known the wizards over the village would be puissant enough to take care of such raiders.
  • They then rode their wagons up from the gardens and into the scrubby hills of Cuccagna, and saw that the land was quite arid with mostly bushes and the occasional lone and forsaken tree.
  • Lord Saurr, who seemed knowledgeable in the ways of gnoles, said that they may seek to watch them through a tunnel system which connected the trees.
  • This prompted a debate on the nature of gnoles, with Prestidigiatorio, who claimed to be a local, stating that they are men with the heads of hyenas, while Lord Saurr said they are more like "an artichoke made from India rubber." None could say who was right, except the referee.*
  • In the meantime Emmelot inspected a nearby tree and found it, indeed, came with two little eye holes for peeking and a door granting egress to a sheer tunnel that descended into the earth.
  • While debate initially covered how one descend into the hole, it quickly turned to what kind of tactics the party should adopt more generally. Lord Saurr suggested at first that he should go and attempt to sell them rope** while the party navigated the tunnels beneath and took them by surprise. Maglor suggested this was maybe not the wises course of action but the inverse - where the party approached in the open and Lord Saurr attempted to sneak in with his greater stealth and dark vision - might be more amicable.
  • However, seeing the whitewashed walls of the  house several miles distant, it was realized by all that leaving for the house now would make them arrive sometime after dark - when the gnoles would likely have an increased advantage. Pondering this, we agreed to pause the game and make new plans for next week.

* She did, in fact, confirm that they didn't have hyena heads.

** Lord Saurr's player insisted that it was a coincidence that he had bought so much rope, and that it was more about the cheapness and usefulness of rope in wilderness settings.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Cuccagnat Catch Up 2

Yep, I'm still running Cuccagna, and I have been quite neglectful in posting session reports. I want to resume my posts of the sessions, but I don't have good notes on a lot of the ones I've missed. As such I will try to do some highlights from the ones I've missed. So instead I must offer a list of highlights from previous sessions and hope that's enough for anyone who for whatever reason wants to keep up with the adventures on that strange isle.

11*: The party investigated more rooms on the ground floor of the Lapis Vaults. There they found a trio of rooms that appeared to be inhabited by a strange and beautiful sorceress. These were illusions crafted by Prospero the Blue and seemingly depicting a romance with the woman in question, including a nice picknick on the beach, a night in the boudoir, and her cuckolding him with a man capable of casting fireball.** The party in general recognized the man from one of the portraits they had taken in an earlier session and Jules de Mozarin recognized the woman as the subject of the crystal ball they had found.

12*: A strange "knight" from a far off land joined the party. He insisted that all things should be done chivalrously, and that Prospero the Blue should be met openly. The rest of the party gingerly tried to play around this, not admitting they were there to loot the place. Notably he confronted a group of giant bees who were doing something to the bodies of hirelings that had been left in the dungeon long before, and remarkably survived. Alas soon after he fell to a group of backwards Blemmyes. Then it was revealed this remarkable man was a living harness! No more will his like be seen again on the World of Nightwick.

13*: The party took to the upper floor of the vaults. There they found a foraging party of pseudopods which they learned were looking for food as the Kingdom of the Monopods [sic] is lacking such. They deceived these creatures into believing they worked for Prospero the Blue and were sent to reclaim objects to be moved to a new manse. Shortly after they found the lair of the toy dogheads and decided to face them in open combat. I think Oro the dwarf died in this one, but overall the party was victorious. They also found the strange room they believe to have once been the home of the intelligent rats that people the dungeon, and found primitive tools made for tiny hands used to escape it. 

14*: Lord Saurr decided it would be a good idea to start bringing food to the pseudopods to win their favor. Jules wished to explore the second floor and see what a room he had seen off of the Doghead lair was, but they were interrupted first by giant rats and then a rotten room full of shriekers. The shriekers summoned a number of glass statues similar to the ones the party had previously encountered. Lord Saurr was knocked unconscious but the party prevailed. A group of pseudo also appeared to watch the combat and then hop off without participating. Shortly after the party found a large number of glowing vats containing misshapen beings - prototypes of the creatures seen elsewhere in the manse. Beyond this they found a secret door in which were a group of magicians they quickly slew in a battle of magic. From this they obtained a fair amount of treasure and a spellbook containing spells from the continent.*** A karslish fighting man pc named Thomus was also killed this session in one of the struggles.

15*: The pseudopods are once again given food. Jules finally gets his wish and the party, with some fights against intelligent rats, finds its way to the room that seems to have been a doghead prison. The blemmye he saw in the room had been killed by someone else searching the room. Feeling they had finished exploring the upper level the party at last descended into the tunnels beneath the manse. They found a wine cellar, the door to which was trapped and killed an Averois fighting man PC whose name I do not remember at this time. They carried a great deal of the wine out using the obscene number of hirelings they now possess - the party now contains some 20 odd members including mercenaries and porters. 

16*: The pseudopods are once again given food, but seem kinda squirrelly for a reason unknown to the party. The party then fought more intelligent rats on the way to the tunnels. They then tried to get a wagon in the tunnels to the surface level so that they could bring the last of the wine out and make bank. During this they were again attacked by intelligent rats who skirmished with them, shooting and then retreating into the darkness. They eventually got the barrels out with their huge number of hirelings and the wagon. They then returned and found a number of barrels containing "the black blood of the earth" which they also took to the surface to sell.

17*: Pseudopods fed again. More of the tunnels explored. A large cave filled with strange, iridescent stalactites. This room proved to cause strange vision if any noise echoed of the stalactites, as the cleric Skleras found out to the party's peril.  Maglor believed he heard a large number bees coming from one cave, and Lord Saurr found the site of an old battle between several of the creatures from the dungeon. The cat was then chased by some mushrooms he believed to be shriekers, though why they were chasing him he wasn't sure. Finally they found a cave containing a number of spider webs that, surprise surprise, was home to a tarentella. This they slew but then Skleras fell down its trap door lair into a nest of its sprawling children. Numerous bites sent him into a dancing frenzy but the hireling Tomantha was able to cast sleep on him such that they could pull him out of the hole without interference.  In the lair they found the corpse of a magician and his spellbook.

19*: Jules de Mozarin was summoned to the Viridian Palace by Prospero the Green. He brought with him the entire party as a display of his own importance. Prospero the Green offered him the chance to have have the great wizard serve as a mentor**** if Jules and company would perform two related tasks. First, find the petrified body of Sir Wint of Dril, spy for Prospero the Green who had been captured by Prospero the Blue, and prevent a party sent by Prospero the Orange from doing the same. In the dungeon they again gave food to the psuedopods and this time asked them where the body of Sir Wint could be found. This they provided and soon the party headed to the sitting room and strange room of statues where they had previously fought a Scitalis. This time they fought a group of magicians and their hired men-at-arms. These they defeated, gaining spell books and a scroll with a great deal of Cuccagnan spells. Jules used a scroll provided by Prospero the Green to debrief Sir Wint, learning that Prospero the Blue used a strange blemmye with the head of a cockatrice to petrify suspected thieves and spies. They then spent some time carving his statue out of the wall in which it had been placed and returned to their wormship and back to the Great Wen where Sir Wint was returned to flesh.

20*: Psuedopods again fed. This time they discussed the blemmyes and the tunnels. Lord Saurr hoped they could be made to attack the Blemmyes but the pseudopods are too afraid of the backwards anthropophagi. In the tunnels below they had a brief fight with some Blemmyes after a hireling fell in a pit. They seemed to be guarding an area with the mounted heads of their enemies.  Beyond that they found a strange trapped room in the cave covered with depictions of satyrs. The phalli of the creatures produced arrows when someone stepped on the tiles. They found a room with a statue and a large number of shriekers, that Maglor was able to see without disturbing thanks to his dark vision. After some discussion they decided against fighting the shriekers and instead made their way to the area where Maglor heard the bees. There they found a strange device, pictured below.

The strange machine

Little could be ascertained from it other than that it would require thieves' tools or the claws of Lord Saurr (who was not present) to open. After contemplating the device the party returned home more or less without treasure.

* Numbers are somewhat speculative as I'm worried I missed one or two.

** This spell was an illusion and merely caused a number of members of the party to pass out.

*** Continental spells - those found in the OSE core rulebook, are only available to starting characters.

**** Mentors are very important for the magician class, assuming you want to control which spells you gain as you level.

Friday, April 14, 2023

More like Night of Dud, am I Right Fellas?

 
Classic? More like ass-ic... I'm sorry everyone

.About a year ago I decided I wanted to give the game Warlock! a go, because it seemed to combine my love of rules light systems with something very much like WFRP. I like WFRP a whole lot and even once ran the Nightwick Regulars through it for a while, but ultimately we decided the combat got to long for a game that mostly took place in a megadungeon full of mindless freaks that want to kill you. After reading up on Warlock!, I thought maybe it would be a system I could use for the World of Nightwick that wouldn't give me the same kind of headache.

I first tried running a Zzarchov dungeon I had played in before and remembered enjoying, but it turns out taking a dungeon meant for a system you've never run before and trying to run it with a different system you've never run before is too many variables. So I switched gears and decided to run the "classic" Warhammer adventure, Night of Blood. Warlock! played its part amiably, but the scenario less so.

Having run it, I am convinced that Night of Blood is a classic mostly because of the amazing Russ Nicholson art in the original. Admittedly, it could be the atmosphere of the adventure, which seems very good but is ultimately marred by the structural problems of the thing.

Night of Blood sees the characters travelling through the forests of the Empire on a dark and stormy night. I said it was Walpurgisnacht because A) it actually was Walpurgisnacht when I ran it* and B) While I know there is an Old World equivalent, I wanted to possibly say later the adventure had taken place in the World of Nightwick. The first encounter is possibly with a group of beastmen - which exist in some form in both the Old World and Nightwick - but it's also where the first problem is. The encounter only occurs if the players decide to stop when they hear the sounds of hunting beastmen. 

As it exists, the beastmen hunt is merely a trap for idiots. Which I guess is fine, but it's a lot of detail for something most groups I've played with would respond to with "ok we keep going." Other options include having the beastmen set up an ambush, which works especially well if the characters are in a coach or on a riverboat, but there's also not really a reason in the scenario to have it. Except to kill idiots.

This summarizes the entire problem with the adventure: it is written as though the characters will make the stupidest possible decision at every point. The characters will eventually arrive at a coaching inn where mutants have slain some of the guests and the proprietor and are preparing the rest for a summoning ritual. They are, in the meantime, poorly pretending to be the proprietor and guests. The adventure emphasizes at various points that these men are acting very suspicious, and that's all well and good. I do this kind of thing all the time. In fact, I have run several adventures where I lampshade the fact that the PCs are in this kind of horror movie situation and they know the guys are acting suspicious and the guys know they know but keep acting that way anyway out of decorum.

The problem is that the adventure then proceeds to describe what happens when they eat drugged food. Why any PC would eat the drugged food in this case is beyond me, assuming the GM has been following the instructions on how to run the NPCs. A smart party would know to fake eating it or some other action in order not to get drugged.

Now if the module provided anything to facilitate that kind of player action, this post wouldn't exist - or rather it might exist as "hey this adventure Night of Blood is really good you should play it. Great atmosphere!" But the amount of words spent describing the players getting drugged and then awakening as the cultists successfully summon the demon is very lengthy, and the part where they describe what the players can do to avoid this fate and how to make that an interesting session rather than just "they don't eat the food and try to leave" is nonexistent.

Admittedly my session wasn't boring, but everything I did was just my interpreting from the initial setup of the Hooded Man inn. I ended up relying on about 3 pages of a 9 page adventure. It's a neat setup, but the assumption about player activity means there's no actual guidance for what any players with two brain cells to rub together are going to actually do.

*I want to make this a yearly thing, and my preparing to run a game on this year's Walpurgisnacht is what reminded me of how mad I am at this adventure.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Magic in the World of Nightwick

I realize with the writing of this post that I am putting myself, and perhaps the world, at great personal risk, but wedding my desire for Vancian magic and my desire for magicians to be manipulating the threads of reality against the will of God. Hopefully this schema will quiet the Voices.

 

In time out of time before there was time, there was Nothing, and in Nothing there could have been anything. There could have been, but there never was. Endless potential but with nothing having to face the shame of having to be. Then the God of Law sounded like a great bell, and the tone spread throughout Nothing and made it a myriad of Somethings: land and see and rivers and trees and stars and demons and fires and angels. All these somethings were, it is said, from the mind of God, but since the God of Law had only the Nothing to make them out of they are imperfect.  The rest of this story is told elsewhere.

For us it suffices to know that everything that is something is two things: that which exists in the World and that which exists in the Law. Magic, then, is the manipulating of one of these two things. The Church of Law and its clerics wield magic by asking for the God of Law, one of His saints, or His angels, to intercede on their behalf. Typically this involves changing the thing in the World by realigning it with the Law. A man is healed by remembering who they are in the Law. A stick is made a snake by changing whether it references the Law for sticks to the Law for snakes. And so through piety are miracles worked.

The magic of the magician is different. Magicians learn as much about the forms which exist in the Law as they can, absorbing arcane formulae which bring parts of their brain in line with the strange thoughts of a thrumming sphere at the top of space. The human mind is fragile and can only contain a small number of these forms and as soon as they are utilized they are expelled until study again realigns their synapses to the thrum. However, they do not align the thing in the World with the Law. Instead, they change the thing in the World to the idea within their own head, changing its accident in the World to mirror their thought in an arrogant act of self-creation. In this way it is a reverse of the eucharist of Earth's Catholicism. A magician could not make the bread into the body of Christ, but they could make it smell and taste and feel like human flesh.

Demons are of particular use to the magician, for they remember the Nothing and the pang of the Law and how all things were rendered into existence. They have a unique perspective on the Law for they alone remember the world without it. As such demons commonly know a wide variety of spells and may teach them to mortals who agree to join them in their attempts to dethrone the God of Law and pitch him into the pit in a final act of suicide.

Some magicians crave this final act of self-destruction, for they too burn against the World and against the God of Law for making it, but most merely see this path as a way to enjoy riches and knowledge in life. And why wouldn't they? Even the most minor of familiars can instruct a magician in a variety of spells that normally only the most advanced scholars may learn. And besides, is not being really that different from returning to the mind of the Sphere?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The World is a Haunted House

 


Some time ago I was in a conversation with Cole about Nightwick in the very pretentious way I sometimes do and the topic veered into the definition of "Dark Fantasy." It's a genre which I think there is no question that the World of Nightwick occupies, even if it's not always serious. It's also a genre which, 13 years after I first started running Nightwick still has a lot of cultural cachet. If anything it's gotten bigger in this post-Dark Souls/post-Elden Ring world, and I think for someone who works in that medium, even if it's all hack work, it's worth thinking about what it is. 

Normally it is defined as "fantasy with horror elements," but very commonly Moorcock's Elric saga is included in Dark Fantasy and I wouldn't say it has horror elements. Cole provided a definition that I think does the wonderful job of including the things people would want to include and excluding what they wouldn't while also being very evocative: Dark Fantasy is fantasy that takes place in a world that is haunted.

What does it mean to be haunted? Probably at least in part because of my history background, I am going to be using "haunted" here to mean that it bears the scars of the past - a psychic shock that causes the memories of the dead to cluster there like bats in a cavern and for them to weigh as a nightmare upon the brains of the living. In thinking about this topic outside the realm of games, I have come to see history writing as a sort of ghost story. The crimes of the past have a long reach and haunt us today as much as any specter from the mind of MR James.

In our fantasy game worlds, or fantasy worlds in general, we can achieve this sense of being haunted through the numinous. The psychic scars of the past have physical and spiritual manifestations on the world. In the world of Nightwick, immediately to the northwest of Nightwick Village, is the Mire of Princes - created when the blood of an army facing the Sword Brothers so suffused the ground that it became a marsh ever after. More distantly there is the Blood Red Sea - stained that color after the demon Moloch pitched the men of ancient Acheron into it. And of course there is Nightwick Abbey itself.

Within Nightwick Abbey's hall, the sins of the Sword Brothers live on in twisted and exaggerated form. Tortures carry on forever, heedless of the death of both torturer and tortured. Hochmeisters of the past walk evermore beneath its ruins, returning again if slain for they are trapped forever. Even what was once a lavatory has taken ghastly shape in hideous memory of the room's previous purpose. Nightwick is, after all, a mythical underworld

If you want to run something that's Dark Fantasy, as seems to still be in vogue, that's how you do it. Think about the history of the setting and how its crimes gnaw away through time into the present. It is a mode of thinking that should be easy to all of us now.

There are times when I desire to run something where the world is less numinous - a lower fantasy where heroes of maybe a Howardian stripe come to grips with monsters of super science - but then I have to write dungeon rooms. It seems my brain is either too choked by the weeds of time and the study of past wrongs or too enamored with the gothic I engaged with in entertainment and saw in the woods where I grew up. But my dungeons are always haunted. Maybe I am too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

An OD&D Thief Rewrite

A bit ago I saw a discussion on twitter where Idle Cartulary and Marcia B were discussing the design differences between the original thief class - which anyone familiar with OSR discourse knows creates limits on other characters that didn't previously exist - and the paladin which largely creates new abilities only that class has. Marcie later posted her own thoughts on the original version of the thief, but I thought I'd weigh in not with thoughts on the thief but my third(!) attempt at a rewrite of it.

Note: unlike the version on my patreon, this is written with OD&D - or FMC or DD or whatever very close retroclone you want to use - in mind.  I wanted to make sure the mechanics either added things a thief could do better than another character and that tied into existing mechanics where possible.


Thieves

A player in the Nightwick campaign may wish to play a thief. This character type is open to  all races and any race may advance to any level as a thief. 

The prime requisite for the thief is DEX. If a character has a 16 DEX or higher they may opt to level as a thief for a given dungeon expedition in the same manner as an elf may switch between fighting man and magic user. Characters who do so retain their abilities from their original class but may not wear armor heavier than leather and still utilize their thief abilities.

Thieves may use any weapon and shield, but may only wear leather armor and no magic sword will ever deign to be used by you unless you also have attained at least the 4th level of fighting man.

Thieves possess a number of special abilities described below.

Hear Noise: Unlike other human characters, or even demihumans, thieves advance in their ability to hear noises as they level.

Hide in Shadows: While the thief will always be surprised if the party is, the referee must check separately to see if monsters are surprised by the presence of the thief even if they are not surprised for the party, for a thief may hide in the shadows cast even by a torch. At level four a thief gains a 3 in 6 chance of surprise and at level 9 they may attempt to slink back into the shadows even if they reveal themselves during combat.

Open Locks: If the referee determines a lock on a chest or door may be picked, a thief may attempt to pick a lock during a combat round by rolling the number indicated on the table below. They may also spend 1d6 exploration turns to automatically open a  lock given.*

Move Silently: Thieves whose party would not otherwise be given away by torch light or the clink of armor, may surprise opponents or otherwise move without being detected based on a roll described on the table below. This ability increases as they level.

Sense Traps: Thieves may intuit the existence of traps on a 1-2 on 1d6, much as elves do with secret doors.

Remove Traps: A thief has the same chance to disarm a trap per turn as they do Open Locks per round. No attempt to automatically disarm a trap may be attempted in a time segment shorter than an exploration turn. The referee may determine that a failure to disarm a trap automatically sets it off.


Sneak Attack: A thief attacking an opponent who is unaware of their presence gains a +4 to hit and does additional damage based on the table below.

Read Languages: If a thief is literate as determined by the referee based on their intelligence score, they may read treasure maps and other mysterious scripts without the use of a spell starting at the third level of experience. Once they reach level 9 they may then cast spells from magic user scrolls.

Thief Advancement

Level

Experience Required

Hit Dice

HN

OL/ RT

MS

SA

D

W

P

B

S

1

0

1

1-2

1

1

2d

11

12

14

16

15

2

1,200

1+1

1-2

1

1-2

2d

11

12

14

16

15

3

2,400

2

1-3

1-2

1-2

2d

11

12

14

16

15

4

4,800

2+2

1-3

1-2

1-2

2d

11

12

14

16

15

5

9,600

3

1-3

1-2

1-3

3d

9

10

12

14

12

6

20,000

3+1

1-3

1-3

1-3

3d

9

10

12

14

12

7

40,000

4

1-4

1-3

1-3

3d

9

10

12

14

12

8

60,000

4+1

1-4

1-3

1-4

3d

9

10

12

14

12

9

90,000

5

1-4

1-4

1-4

4d

6

7

9

11

9

10

125,000

5+1

1-4

1-4

1-4

4d

6

7

9

11

9

*Non-thieves have a 1 in 6 per exploration turn of opening a lock, provided they have the proper tools, but cannot make an attempt to do so within a combat round.