Sunday, September 27, 2015

Feeding Me Lines - Talking RPG Talking, Not Blow

Last year on our way to Con on the Cob, my friend Marty and I began saying things like:
"Wait where is the hotel?"
"Ahh, it lay past yond eldritch tower."
"Yes, just through the twisted bramble."
It cracked us up. So we decided every time we said one of these phrases, we'd get a point. While being teenagers plagued by Krampus traipsing through a dark wood in an event run by the great folks of Rogue Cthulhu we were sure to point out the blood was dripping from yond eldritch tower and that the only route for escape was through the twisted bramble. And we'd mark hashes on our sheets, and add up the points in the Marty-Beckett extra fun time game.

This gave me an idea to apply to games I run, give the players lines for their characters to say and give them an equivalent of a Marty-Beckett extra fun time game point when they do. It helps to build theme and atmosphere through player engagement and interaction.

The Dying Earth RPG has a similar mechanic, the Tagline. At the beginning of each session of The Dying Earth, the GM assigns each player two taglines, and each player selects one. They reflect a particular Vancian locution to conjure that convoluted whimsy of the end of Earth's days. Taglines also give experience points.
Artwork by John G for the forthcoming Crawlspace scenario Gimme Shelter

The first scenario I used this mechanic is in Gimme Shelter, an event I ran at Gen Con and am running again in a couple of weeks at this year's Con on the Cob. It uses the Crawlspace ruleset, a rules light horror game that uses ordinary playing cards for the resolution mechanic. It is fast and fun and I recommend checking it out. Gimme Shelter should be published by Peryton sometime in the near future.

The scenario follows a group of marginalized people that may or maynot have secret information about demons or aliens. Kind of a Save the Green Planet! but on the street and in shelters. Before we start playing, I give everyone a card with a phrase, and once they work it in, they get a "fame card" (allows a second attempt on actions) and another phrase. I run it as player driven as possible, and the cards go a long way in setting the tone without me having to do much talking.

Here is part of Gimme Shelter's "script":
  • Oh, do we have something on our face?
  • Who do I look like? Ratso Rizzo on the bus man?
  • Those boys are following me on a speaker phone.
  • Oh, you don’t understand. That isn’t me, he’s our husband.
  • Is your soul not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?
  • We’re just actors in a dream. It’s all an illusion.
  • Plate. Or Shrimp. Or plate of shrimp.
  • The puppet show of sight and sense.
  • Well of course they couldn’t have let me stay there, I’d have just crapped on the floor again.
  • She’s not a crackhead. I met her before she smokes crack.

I think using a tagline type mechanic can work in all sorts of games, and can really help to establish a tone. Before the next session of DCC R&PL I will create a list to use for that. I think one XP is about the right scale for DCC.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monster: Toves in DCC RPG Funnels in A Red & Pleasant Land

Sending Toves against low level characters, particularly zero level characters is a death sentence. So let's make it "fair."

When toves attack figure out which organ each will attack. You can throw darts at Slim Goodbody or roll on the following table:

  1. Skin
  2. Eye
  3. Brain
  4. Thyroid
  5. Lungs
  6. Heart
  7. Stomach
  8. Liver
  9. Pancreas
  10. Gall Bladder
  11. Spleen
  12. Appendix
  13. Kidney
  14. Large Intestine
  15. Small Intestine
  16. Urinary Bladder
  17. Uterus
  18. Prostate
  19. Ovaries
  20. Testes
Then have each player name the tastiest/favorite/best looking/most valuable organ for each of their characters.

Now the Toves have targets.

After the murders be sure to let them know the attack was out of malice, and that they live entirely on a diet of cheese.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Looking Glass Funnel Trap: A DCC & Pleasant Land

One of the themes of A Red & Pleasant Land is that the realm of Voivodja, as manifestation of the dreams of the Red King Vlad Vortigen, is itself arbitrary and capricious.
One of the great strengths of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is that it makes the arbitrary and capricious murder of player characters super fun through its funnel system.
Smoosh these two together, and like pine-apple and roast turkey, it's awesome.

Here's a trap-like setup that will likely kill a few characters. When I ran this last week it killed one character outright and drove another to permanent madness.
It also conveys a few of truths about Voivodja:

  1. "Read Me" books have the exact opposite of the best course of action.
  2. The Quiet Side of the looking glass will make characters go permanently insane.
  3. "Drink Me" vials will mess with a character's size.
The Setup:
Before you is a large looking glass with a table before it. Upon the table is a book titled "READ ME," a vial labeled "DRINK ME," another vial labeled "ИOƧIOꟼ," and a spread of food with a place card reading "EAT ME." The food consists of a quince, a plum, a bowl of currants, a bowl of curds and a bowl of porridge. You can see that the entirety of the table is reflected in the mirror.

 Sneaky Bits:
The book should offer promises of proper instruction on how the group may accomplish whatever goal they are pursuing. After that teaser part it should read "First climb through the looking glass. Next, drink each of the vials. Finally go through the small door and keep moving through the garden and don't let anything stop you. There, through perseverance, you will find that which you seek."

DRINK ME vials behave has described in AR&PL p. 150.
ИOƧIOꟼ is a healing potion, but on the quiet side it is POISON. If using this in a funnel, just make it auto death. If you are generous, give some sort of saving throw. It should be a difficult save, and I think it is more fun to say "You drink the vial labeled poison? OK, you're dead." (Alice's reasoning of "However, this bottle was not marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it," inspired this bit).
Food swaps around ability scores. I recommend making these rolls before play. Roll two six siders and count down the list. For example a 1 & a 2 swaps Strength and Agility. On the Quiet Side, the values should be inverted, so the same food type should swap Intelligence and Luck. This is a different function than the EAT ME detailed in AR&PL.
On the Quiet Side, just below the mirror, so that it is not visible from the War side, is a small doorway that leads to a wonderful garden.
If a character ends up going insane because of the quiet of the quiet side, you can always bring it back as a villain.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

DCC: A Red & Pleasant Funnel Part 2: Leave the Wood Arrive in Voivodja

Second post continuing the adventure from the first part through the Goblin Wood.

Dunstan the nameless goblin finally did convince the villagers to extinguish their torches to avoid attracting the notice of Baba Naga, a fearsome snake witch. They did think it was better to continue their pursuit of the runaways in complete darkness because there were a handful of halflings in the party and could squint out a way forward in the dark. That plan ended when Stokely Buckwalter, the rutabega farmer nearly tripped and broke his neck, but burned off some luck to save his skin. They camped in darkness.

The next morning they got a bright and early start and continued onward until they came to a moat or canal. Rodolfo the Astrologer consulted his charts and spyglass and determined the moat to be safe and began to wade his way across. His calculations were somewhat flawed and did not consider the three Little Crocodiles that lay waiting in the moat. He was quickly devoured.

This loss of a companion did not sit well with the rest of the group. "Nameless goblin," they clamored. "Why did you not tell us about the alligators?"

"Little crocodiles, I did not know they were there," Dunstan told them.

"Well haven't you been this way before?" the mob demanded.

Dunstan hesitated before he replied that he had not. Upon hearing this, Buford Gordo, the halfling Chicken Butcher, He Who Stinks of Gizzards, put his short sword through the goblin.

With the matter settled, the ten remaining Centervillains looked at the land before them.

Area map, courtesy of Jill.

First they went up to the crumbling tower. Inside they found the remnants of a camp fire and realized this was likely where the runaway children had slept. The party was heartened. Sweetfell Tannhauser, the elven Artisan climbed the tower to get a view of their surroundings. There was no sign of children, but there was a weird looking tree. 

Quickly the band headed for the tree. The tree had strange stairs that not only went up, but also in, some sort of strange M.C Escher / D.J. Dali spatial distortion. As each villager ascended the stairs, they appeared to shrink in size, but not in the manner in which some would inside the wood.

The interior of the tree was quite unusual. Instead of of a squirrel's house or a hickory hideout, it was a fancy hall, with lacquered wood panels bearing ornate, though tasteful carvings. Hanging on the wall were three sets of tapestries, each bearing the mirror image of the one across the hall. The first set showed a crowned man and woman, each wearing red, strolling merrily through a garden. The second showed the same couple, merrily drinking and spilling a deep red wine out of bejeweled golden  goblets. The last set of tapestries shewed the merry couple feasting upon babes.

At the end of the hall was a mirror, and before the mirror stood a table. Upon the table was a book titled Read Me, a vial labeled Drink Me, a vial labeled ИOƧIOꟼ, and a spread of food with a place card reading Eat Me. There were currants, a quince, a plum, a bowl of curds and a bowl of porridge. 

Dennell the Halfling Dyer downed the Read Me vial and became a quarterling. The villagers then figured out who among them knew how to read and delved into the book. The book offered the exact steps to finding the children! "Climb through the looking glass, drink each of the vials, run through the tiny door into the wondrous garden." Being a surprisingly academic and trusting lot, they decided to follow the books instructions. They all climbed through the mirror.

The silence that greeted them on the Quiet Side of the mirror was unnerving, but they had instructions to follow. Mirra, the Halfling Fortune Teller drank the vial which had writing that looked to be gibberish, 'ɘM ʞniɿᗡ'. Se then shrunk to four inches tall. Danny the Cooper, who was illiterate, drank the vial clearly labeled 'POISON' and dropped dead. Besto the Soldier ate a quince and had his Strength and Intelligence switched, becoming much smarter, but quite a bit weaker.

The silence was becoming quite maddening, so Mirra and Dennell knew it was time to act. They ran through a little door into a wondrous garden. Feeling on the brink of madness, they both willed themselves to sleep. The rest of the band went back through the looking glass and pulled themselves together. Besto is not one to leave compatriots behind so he went back through the mirror on a rescue mission.

Though Mirra and Dennell were both on the other side of the small hatch way, a hatchway much too small for Besto to fit through, they were within arm's reach. This bit of good fortune was countered by Besto's decision to wake the pair up. Mirra began screaming, as did Dennell. Besto through the tiny Mirra through the looking glass, but Dennell did not make it through. She ran off through the garden gate, screaming and cackling with utter insanity.

After eating the rest of the food, and having ability scores all switched around, the group hurriedly left this mad tree. While travelling toward the another crumbling tower that they could make out in the distance, the band discussed which of their organs was most tasty. Trene the Cutpurse had an ever so tasty spleen, while Mirra was graced with a scrumptious gall bladder. Just then, two wicked Toves, determined to let no creature that would enjoy such tasty organs ever have the chance to eat them, sprung forth from the ground and attacked the pair. Nearly immediately, the pair found themselves murdered.

This sadness was mediated by there being valuable jewels in the crumbling tower! 

They then crossed paths with the Great Grub while crossing the mushroom path. He found the Centervillains to be mostly disagreeable, but did tell them the runaways had been taken in by the Heart Queen. Finally they came to an Orb Loc, a small human village. The Village is small, the humans are regular. They were told the best way to get the kids back from the Red Queen was to give her something she wanted more than the children. Then they all went to sleep. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

DCC: A Red & Pleasant Funnel through the Terrible Goblin Wood

Session Report:
Sunday kicked off A Red & Pleasant Land using DCC RPG. Four zero level characters per player were generated by the book, and we got rolling.

A pair of children became sick of farm life and decided to run away from their boring village, Centerville. To the village's chagrin, they went toward the Terrible Goblin Wood, and even worse, toward Voivodja, Land of Unreason, Fallen Palace of the Dream Mad King. The communitarian impulse runs strong in Centerville, so its citizens (mostly halfling and human with a dwarf and elf for good measure) headed out on a find and return mission.

The journey was uneventful until the villagers stumbled into a goblin ambush. Bromstahd, the dwarven apothecarist, took a goblin spear to the throat and became the first of the fallen. The rest of the village rallied around the death of their friend and quickly killed four goblins, causing the remainder to flee. Dennell, the halfling dyer covered the dwarven die-er with some cloth with the intention of returning later to give Bromstahd a proper burial. The group then continued on its way.

Dennell led the party onward. Soon, after rolling a one on an orienteering check, the party saw a blue lump ahead on the path. They approached cautiously to find cloth soaked with blood, containing the remains of Bromstahd, who had been partially devoured by animals. Now unnerved and saddened, the brave villagers continued on, this time paying closer attention to their path.

With their new found diligence and determination, the group readily detected another goblin ambush on the path ahead. After carefully sneaking to just before the goblin trap, the turnip farmer Blort bravely charged past the goblin band to draw them out for his compatriots. All but one goblin were slain in short order, most spectacularly with a rock hurled by a sling that entered a goblin eye, and messily exited the back of the goblin's skull. Mirra: halfling, gypsy, gore-inator.

The final goblin was subdued and captured, threatened and interrogated. He claimed to know where the children from the village had wandered, and told the village their likely reason for running away, "You are all a bunch of assholes."

Darkness soon fell and Dunstan the goblin (they never did catch his name, because villagers cum adventurers are assholes) plead with them to make camp for the night. He knew that any misfortune that fell upon the group would be returned upon his head. The group was determined to find their youngsters and insisted on pushing onward.

"But please, no torches!" the nameless goblin cried. "You will attract Baba Naga!"
"Who is Baba Naga?" they all wondered.
"You know Baba Yaga?" asked the goblin.
Mirra the gypsy halfling did.
"Well Baba Yaga is made up, Baba Naga is worse!"

(To be continued...)