RPGs

1965: Nuclear War

Reviews from R'lyeh -

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

—oOo—

Invented in 1965 by Doug Malewicki and published by Flying Buffalo, Inc. since 1972, the Nuclear War Card Game is a satirical game of Cold War brinkmanship, black propaganda, and mass destruction designed for between two and eight players. Designed for players with a sense of humour, aged thirteen and up, who each control a major nuclear power, it  can be played in roughly thirty to forty-five minutes. Whilst the aim of the Nuclear War Card Game is to win by defeating a player’s rivals—either by persuading their population to defect or bombing them back into the Stone Age, either way reducing their population to zero—a game can also end in a storm of retaliatory missile and bomber strikes that leaves everyone’s population dead and dying. In which case, everyone loses. If you think that this sounds M.AD., then that is Mutually Assured Destruction for you.

The Nuclear War Card Game consists of two decks of cards, eight player boards, a Nuclear Spinner Board, and a four-page rules leaflet. The two decks are the Population Deck and the much larger Nuclear War Deck. The Population contains cards representing between one and twenty-five million persons, whilst the Warhead Deck contains cards of various types. Warhead cards represent nuclear warheads ranging in size from ten to one hundred megatons, each indicating how many members of a population it will kill, ranging from two to twenty-five million. Delivery cards indicate the size of Warhead tonnage they can deliver to a target, raging from a single ten megaton warhead in a Polaris missile to a Saturn rocket capable of carrying a single one hundred megaton warhead, whilst a B-70 Bomber can carry multiple warheads up to a total of fifty megatons. Other cards include Anti-Missile cards which will bring down incoming missiles during an attack, whilst others are Top Secret or Propaganda cards. Top Secret cards can decrease an opponent’s or the current player’s population, force him or the current player to lose a turn. For example, ‘Your Cold War prestige soars due to being the first on the Moon’ causes five million of the enemy to join the current player’s country and ‘TEST BAN!’, which called by the President of the current player’s country forces him to miss a turn. Propaganda cards simply cause Population from a rival country to defect to the current player’s country.

Each of the Player Boards, illustrated with a photograph of a Titan missile launch station, is marked with six spaces—‘Face Up Card’, ‘1st Face Down Card’, ‘2nd Face Down Card’, two ‘Deterrent Force’ spaces, and ‘Population’. A player uses the ‘Face Up Card’ and ‘Face Down Card’ spaces to set up and bluff using his country’s nuclear arsenal; the ‘Deterrent Force’ space to establish a threat against anyone who might attack his country; and the ‘Population’ space to keep track of his Population cards. The infamous Nuclear Spinner Board is spun whenever a missile is launched or a bomb is dropped to give a random effect, such as ‘Explodes a Nuclear Stockpile! Triple the Yield’ to increase the number of Population killed or ‘Bomb Shelters Saves 2 Million’ which reduces the damage inflicted. The Nuclear Spinner Board also tables to get the same effects from rolling either two six-sided or two ten-sided dice as an alternative, or if the spinner is broken! Lastly, the rules sheet both explains the rules, answers various questions, and gives some suggestions as to tactics when playing the game.

Game set-up is simple. Each player receives a Player Board, a number of Population cards (the number determined by the number of players), and nine cards from the Nuclear War deck. On a round each player takes it in turn to play all the cards marked Secret or Top Secret in his hand, draw back up to nine cards, play any cards marked Secret or Top Secret in his hand so added, draw again, and so on until he no cards marked either Secret or Top Secret in his hands. The fun of these is a player using the text on the cards to build a story about his country, taking it through the Cold War to the point where Nuclear confrontation turns hot…

Then each player places two cards face down in the first two slots on his Player Board. They will be revealed in subsequent turns and in doing so, will reveal a player’s strategy. A player with weak warheads or inadequate means of delivery—bombers or missiles, or who does not immediately want to turn the Cold War hot, can play Propaganda cards to reduce a rival country’s population. A player who wants to go aggressive immediately can put down a delivery system—bomber or missile—followed by a warhead, which has to be launched at a rival country once the combination has been revealed. A player can also bluff, playing a warhead, but not a delivery system—and vice versa, instead playing a Propaganda card. In some instances, a player does not have a choice as to which option he chooses, it very much depends upon the cards in his hand.  Alternatively, a player can place Anti-Missile cards or even a combination of a warhead and a delivery system onto the Deterrent spaces of his board. These are placed face up rather than face down and serve as a warning against any other player who might be thinking of launching a nuclear strike at that country. The classic combination being a Saturn missile with a hundred megaton warhead ready to launch in retaliatory fashion against an enemy. 

Once a player has put two cards into the first two slots, and sets up his initial strategy, he draws a third from the Nuclear War deck and places a third card into the third slot on his Player Board. The last thing a player does is turn over and reveal the card in the first slot on his Player Board. This will reveal the initial suggestions as what his current strategy is. On subsequent turns, a player will draw a card first and then play the rest of the turn as per normal.

If a player reveals on subsequent turns that he has a delivery system loaded with a warhead—in the order of delivery system first, followed by the warhead, he is ready to launch a nuclear strike! He designates his chosen target, spins the spinner on the Nuclear Spinner Board and applies the results to the warhead’s detonation. If the warhead is successfully detonated, the targeted player loses the indicated number of casualties from his Population. Once a nuclear strike has been launched at another player, a State of War exists not between the attacker and defender—but between all players! This State of War continues until one player, whether the attacker, defender, or another player is eliminated. An eliminated player can retaliate by combining warhead and bomber or missile cards and target not just the player who struck at him, but any player! It is entirely possible for an eliminated player to eliminate a rival with a retaliatory strike, and that rival to eliminate a rival with a retaliatory strike, and so on. Basically in one giant M.AD. conflagration!

Peace then breaks out… until another player has a warhead ready to launch. Play continues with rounds of missile and warhead build-ups punctuated by deadly strikes. Of course, during the build-up phases, there is scope for further bluff, as well as negotiation, counter bluff, and intimidation. A game of the Nuclear War Card Game continues until one player is left standing (amidst the irradiated rubble) undefeated and still with a Population of at least a million. Alternatively, everybody might have been wiped out, in which case, everybody loses.

With simple rules and direct mechanics, the blast ’em, bomb them style of play of the Nuclear War Card Game is quick. Which means that once a player is eliminated, he should not have to wait too long before either the game finishes (with a winner or not) and a new one, quickly and easily set up to start play anew or a wholly different game chosen. In this way, the Nuclear War Card Game serves as a solid filler.

Physically, the Nuclear War Card Game does not share the production values as more contemporary titles. The card stock for both the Player Boards and the Nuclear Spinner Board is adequate enough though still feels slightly cheap. The cards for the game feel slightly thin, but apart from the Propaganda cards which are rather plain and lacking in flavour, all of the cards are brightly and engagingly illustrated. The rules sheet is simple and utilitarian, but like everything else in the game, does its job.

—oOo—

In 1984 Games Magazine called Nuclear War, “the quintessential beer and pretzels game” and put it on its  top 100 list. The game also won the Origins Hall of Fame Award as one of the best games of all time in 1998 and in 1999, Pyramid magazine named it as one of The Millennium's Best Card Games. Editor Scott Haring said “Back when people were well-and-truly scared of the possibility of nuclear vaporization (I guess today either the threat is lessened, or it's become old hat), Nuclear War dared to make fun the possibility of mankind's dreaded nightmare via a card game.”

Designer and publisher Steve Jackson reviewed the Nuclear War Card Game in Space Gamer Number 34 (December, 1980). He described it as, “...[N]o sense a serious simulation - and even as a game it is very, very simple. Other than that, the only drawback is that the "strategy" rules often lock you into a bad move a couple of turns ahead. Real life is like that - but this game isn't real life and shouldn't try to be.” before concluding that, “This is NOT an "introductory" wargame - it's not a wargame at all. It's a card game. Recommended for a quick social game or for when everyone is too sleepy to play anything complex.”

In Dragon Issue #200 (Vol. XVIII, No. 7, December 1993), Allen Varney included it in a list of ‘Famous & forgotten board games’, in his article, ‘Social Board Games’. He stated that, “It’s a sin for a multi-player design to throw out a player before the game is over, but in this venerable game, that’s the whole point.”, ultimately describing it as the “black-humored contemporary of Dr. Strangelove.” More recently in Scarred For Life Volume One: The 1970s (Lonely Water Books, 2017), authors Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence described the Nuclear War Card Game as “A card game about the unthinkable, featuring a Twister-style spinner containing results such as ‘RADIOACTIVE BETA RAYS KILL ANOTHER 5 MILLION’ and ‘ADDITIONAL 1 MILLION ARE ENGULFED IN THE FIREBALL’ might not seem like most people’s idea of a fun night in, but Nuclear War is a darkly comedic, even educational game. And it’s a brilliant one to boot.”

—oOo—

The Nuclear War Card Game is a game of nuclear brinkmanship, of nuclear standoffs and deterrence, one in which peace is always temporary and war always inevitable. Its subject matter—notoriously black, if not tasteless, in terms of its humour—combined with its mechanics (especially the retaliatory strike rule) make it the ultimate ‘take that’ game, often escalating into everyone having to ‘take that’ and suffer the consequences. The Nuclear War Card Game captures the foolishness and absurdity of the Cold War, pushing everyone to slam their fists on the big red button in the ultimate ‘take that’ game—whether as first strike or in revenge.

—oOo—

With thanks to Steve Dempsey for locating Allen Varney’s ‘Social Board Games’ in Dragon Issue #200 and Jon Hancock for Steve Jackson’s review in Space Gamer Number 34.


American Fetish Meets Pop Art: Russ Meyer’s ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’

We Are the Mutants -

Sam Moore / November 19, 2020

It’s easy to spot an exploitation film by the cover of the poster or DVD. Maybe more so than any other type of art, you can judge it by its cover: a woman, often barely dressed, holding some kind of weapon. Think Pam Grier on the cover of Coffy or Foxy Brown. Even contemporary grindhouse fare like Planet Terror embraces this tradition, with a machine-gun-legged Rose McGowan among the most immediately recognizable images from the film. That’s because exploitation films always know what they’re selling. That’s where the name comes from; there’s something in these films—normally sex and violence—that is being exploited in order to lure an audience. And that’s where Russ Meyer comes in, the filmmaker whose Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) takes everything about the exploitation genre and ramps it up to an eleven. It’s a strange film that at once knows the genre’s problems and is willing to embrace them. 

In the film’s poster, true to form, instead of one woman, there’s two, and the angle of the camera seems designed entirely to highlight Varla’s (Tura Satana) chest. She’s thrown a man to the ground, and there are two cars, engines roaring, behind her. In many ways, it’s the perfect crystallization of the film itself: women, breasts, violence, fast cars. This excess is a “come hither” moment for exploitation audiences, taking everything that they love and blowing it up to extremes. That’s what makes Pussycat so compelling, the strange combination of exploitation and the reverence with which it treats its objects, like a piece of lurid pop art, amplifying and magnifying the tastes of the seediest corners of grindhouse cinema.

One of the ways in which Pussycat challenges the nature of exploitation is by approaching these common tropes—oversexed and ultraviolent women—with a kind of self-awareness, looking at the genre with a nod and a wink. This is made clear from the very beginning of the film, and the way it uses voiceover narration—there’s no other voiceover in the film after this, which is unusual—that beckons the audience by welcoming them to “violence, the word and the act.” The voice goes on to talk about the way in which the “favorite mantle [of violence] still remains sex,” and the “voracious appetite” that the film gives to its leading ladies is something that obviously applies to the audience as well. Pussycat is explicitly designed for an audience that’s hungry for the intersection of sex and violence, for images of powerful women—as long as they’re not too powerful.

The women in Pussycat are fascinating contradictions, something that the film explores through the ways in which the gaze of the camera operates, often changing to enhance different aspects of the characters, from their sexuality to the power they possess over men. As the film begins, Varla and her soon-to-be partners in crime, Billie and Rosie (Lori Williams and Haji), are go-go dancing. The camera loves it, obsesses over and objectifies their bodies, the way that they move, embracing the male gaze at a level that almost feels like parody, even though it’s clearly played straight as can be in every possible way. But beyond just leering at the women, this sequence establishes the fact that they are powerful, with a shot straight out of Film School 101: with the camera low down, looking up at them, it makes the women seem bigger and more prominent—in more ways than one, they fill the screen. As the camera cuts between the dancing women and the borderline rabid men who watch them, bellowing “GO, GO, GO,” it becomes clear that this is, for better or worse, a film about women—about the power they can exert, about the way that they’re looked at. The opening voiceover offers a warning about the kind of women capable of violence, and it’s clearly aimed at men, with examples like “your secretary, your doctor’s receptionist, or a dancer in a go-go club.” It’s power through the lens of female characters, but clearly designed for the consumption of men, the great contradiction that defines the gaze of Pussycat, and much of the other exploitation fare of the era.

The women are placed among a landscape of things that define American masculinity, and the object most rooted in this is a fast car. Driving, racing, and time trials animate much of the drama and narrative of the film. Varla, Billie, and Rosie race through the California desert; they play high speed games of chicken with one another, and the film climaxes in a chase sequence that takes place both on foot and on four wheels. The three women are placed in a position normally associated with masculinity, which is what makes them such fetishistic objects of male wish fulfilment. The camera never lets the audience forget about the assets of these women, but they’re also shown to be “one of the guys” in the way that they drive, fight, and flirt. They can—up to a point—hold their own against the men, and there’s often a kind of role reversal in terms of gender.

In action films, with the James Bond franchise being a prime example, it’s the men who are good drivers and use women purely for sex. But in Pussycat, the women do that, with Varla’s attempted seduction of Kirk, a man she’s hoping will lead her to some money that’s been stashed away. There’s something striking about the way in which, in the moment, Pussycat engages in this role reversal without any asterisk or caveat, simply allowing the women to be powerful and sexual on their own terms. This understanding of how sexuality works on screen comes through in one of the most common exploitation tropes—the catfight, which occurs early on in the film. Billie and Rosie fight each other, their shirts get wet, and it’s all set to a strange, almost dissonant jazz score that undercuts the sexploitation angle of the scene. If the score had been different, then it would seem lifted directly out of porn.

This strange combination of a kind of female empowerment (one built on having the characters embody ideas of strength that are typically associated with maleness and masculinity) and exploitation fare is what makes Pussycat a unique, more aesthetically curious film than a lot of its contemporaries. And some of these images: the cars racing across the desert, Billie and Rosie in the water after a catfight, are reminiscent of pieces of perverted pop art. Pop art as a movement was all about taking the lowbrow and mass-produced elements of American culture, from Warhol’s soup cans to Lichtenstein’s comic strips, and elevating. This relationship between commerce, mass-production, and artistic merit is something that is rooted in a uniquely American tradition; Jasper Johns even reproduced the American flag itself. All you need to turn stills from Pussycat into a Lichtenstein print are some kitschy captions and speech bubbles.  

Meyer’s relationship to exploitation film is a lot like the relationship that pop art has with capitalism. They’re both at once slyly aware of what the systems they exist in are doing, and they are either satirizing it (the dissonant jazz score over the catfight highlights the absurdity of the trope) or embracing it in all of its ugliness. The difference, sometimes, is almost impossible to distinguish. It’s easy to imagine Varla, for instance, even at her lowest point, aping Lichtenstein’s famous Drowning Girl. The original contains the thought bubble “I don’t care! I’d rather sink — than call Brad for help!”, and while the words don’t appear in Pussycat, Varla might have said exactly this, replacing Brad’s name with Kirk’s. The film is even willing to lampoon the misogyny that defines so many responses to independent and powerful women, notably when the Old Man whose family the dancers ingratiate themselves with in the hopes of finding money says: 

Women! They let ’em vote, smoke and drive—even put ’em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president! A bunch of smoke up your chimney! Russian roulette on the highways! Can’t even tell brother from sister, unless you meet ’em up close.

This line highlights the biggest problem with Pussycat’s relationship to the grindhouse: while it’s more than willing to show these women being sexual, strong, and violent, it always reins them in when the male characters get too uncomfortable, a response that typifies a kind of masculinity that both objectifies, and is afraid of, powerful women. The film makes them monstrous, in a way—they always exist in counterpoint to the sweet and innocent Linda, who they’ve kidnapped and who offers a different kind of womanhood, one more palatable to male audiences once the credits have rolled. It’s no wonder that Varla’s demise in the climactic finale—in a moment of what feels like purposeful irony, she’s run over by a truck driven by Linda—that she gets described as “nothing human” by Kirk, before he and Linda drive off into the sunset in the very truck that she used to kill Varla.

In a way, the end of Pussycat is the only way that such a distinctly American exploitation film could end: after a whirlwind tour of tropes associated with male action heroes, set against a uniquely American desert landscape, normalcy returns. The power (and gender) dynamics of the real world—where your secretary or doctor’s receptionist are unlikely to kidnap your girlfriend, or try to seduce and rob you—are reinforced by the violent end that the subversive women meet. In contrast to this, the sweet Linda and righteous Kirk ride off into the sunset together to begin a quote-unquote normal relationship. Exploitation cinema reached its heights in the early 1970s, and while the template of Pussycat is there, the films that came in its wake were less willing to embrace the larger-than-life aspects of their characters and stories. Pussycat remains unique for the ways in which it refuses to look away from the complicated relationship that its characters have with the gaze of both the camera and the audience. These women are simultaneously manipulating that gaze and being manipulated by it, something that makes Pussycat the kind of gaudy pop art that you could only ever find on 42nd Street.

Sam Moore‘s writing on queerness, politics, and genre fiction in art has been published by the Los Angeles Review of Books, Little White Lies, Hyperallergic, and other places. Their poetry and experimental essays have been published in print and online, most recently in the Brixton Review of Books. If their writing didn’t already give it away, they’re into weird stuff.
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The Thrill Is Worth the Pain: Hell and Survival in Dio’s ‘The Last in Line’

We Are the Mutants -

Mike Apichella / November 17, 2020

The first music videos to air on MTV and broadcast television were chaotic blurts of arty nonsense defined by pastel colors, cheesy dance party theatrics, and avant-garde visual effects. Often realized by student auteurs working with little to no budget, even the weirdest of these clips didn’t aim for scares.  

Early heavy metal videos were an exception. Sans any playful abstraction, these emerged as S&M nightmares brandishing dystopian, Mario Bava-esque atmospherics, and other classic horror movie elements. Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest, and the ever disturbing Ozzy Osbourne were some of the earliest metal acts to dabble in these themes, and headbangers were mega-stoked to find their favorite shredders interspersed among skinny tie New Wave bands, foppish New Romantics, Barnes & Barnes’ “Fish Heads,” and all the other tamer acts that typically formed music video programming in the age before American Idol and reality shows.

No heavy metal chiller got more immersive or confrontational than the 1984 video Don Coscarelli directed for Dio’s “The Last In Line” (watch it here). By ‘84, Coscarelli was already well known in the genre circuit for cult classics like Phantasm (1979) and The Beastmaster (1982). The work he turned in here is a claustrophobic melange of suspense and political subtext, overflowing with scenes of torture and psychological horror.

The clip starts off with a courier (child star Meeno Peluce) bicycling in a peaceful California suburb, gliding through a squeaky clean business district. Sporting long curls, a dangling earing, and tight Levi’s, it would’ve been tough to find another actor who looked more like a young suburban rocker. Once he arrives at his office-plex destination, a beardo in an old sports car (Dio member Claude Schnell) gestures ominously with the sign of the horns, possibly an attempt to stop the kid from entering the glassy industrial space. Confused and annoyed, the teenager avoids the mysterious hairball. As he enters the building, the music chimes along with a folky lilt and forlorn vocals describing “a ship without a storm.”

The kid gets in the elevator, going up, then makes a sudden high speed plummet as the guitar distortion kicks in, crashing deep beneath the Earth’s crust. The elevator doors open to an attack of screaming riffage that ushers our hero into a murky, post-industrial Hades. Freakish processions of enslaved deformity mob the kid: shambolic zombies, doomed souls covered in infectious scars and pockmarks, and hastily assembled androids (including one that’s extremely Borg-like in appearance, years before the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters made their debut). The hapless creatures are pressed into electronic torture chambers by cyborg storm troopers armed with glow-in-the-dark cattle prods.

Several images here signify economic blight. One zombie can be seen clutching a grocery cart filled with sundry garbage (a boom box, a broken record, scraps of fabric) while dressed in a tattered trench coat. A balding middle-aged man limps along in filthy business attire wearing a cracked pair of reading glasses. Their vacant stares are fearsome, but also touched with overarching sadness and tragedy. Some of the less monstrous extras appear to be outcasts from L.A.’s Skid Row (whose hordes of homeless the LAPD was desperately trying to “clean up” on the eve of the 1984 Summer Olympics).  

Of the video’s many scenes of suffering, there are two big standouts. The first occurs as our hero finds a fenced-in arcade where kids are chained to video game machines. Their wrists are locked in manacles that shock them whenever they make a mistake. If they lose a game, they’re fried to death. An obvious interpretation here involves criticism of consumer culture and the moral panic surrounding video games. 

Another interpretation involves game theory—the belief that dog-eat-dog competition is a major building block of civilization. So Long Sucker (originally Fuck You Buddy) was a board game co-created by the infamous RAND Corporation and Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., a paranoid schizophrenic whose battles with mental health weren’t publicly known until several years after his research had concluded. In the early 1950s, Nash and RAND conducted a series of experiments in which people were monitored while playing So Long Sucker. They hoped the project would yield undeniable scientific proof of game theory’s validity. According to RAND’s own documentation, their first experiment was a failure; the others were successful, but occurred in an environment much more tightly controlled than that of the first one. Regardless, after many years of therapy and introspection, Nash later declared his belief in game theory to be nothing more than a bi-product of the paranoia brought on by his mental illness.

The deadly arcade serves as the proving ground for this cynical realm, ruled by a mutant military-industrial establishment. The players here, like the protagonist, are teens. Unlike the other haggard rogues, they’re fresh-faced and clean cut. The arcade of doom pinpoints and rewards those driven by the insane competition while rooting out and killing those who are not addicted to conquest. Presumably whoever endures gets a special place in the wretched promenade. 

The scariest torture scene unfolds when Peluce’s character wanders into a theater where another large group of teens have been fastened to metal racks, their mouths stuffed with big red ball gags, foreheads primed for lobotomizing. They all face a giant screen TV that plays footage of singer Ronnie James Dio belting out incendiary lyrics:

Two eyes from the east
It’s The Angel or The Beast
And the answer lies between the good and bad
We search for the truth
We could die upon the tooth
But the thrill of just the chase is worth the pain

In the track notes of the 2003 Dio anthology Stand Up and Shout, the singer described “The Last In Line” as an open-ended tribute to perseverance: “This song has many interpretations. You could be the last in line meaning, oh shit, all the good stuff is already gone. Or you could be the last, the strongest, and, to me, it’s always been that, the perseverance that comes from going through challenges in life. And when you get to the end and you’re the last one standing, and you ask yourself, ‘Was it worth it?’ You better say yes. That’s gonna be my answer.” The song’s revelatory chorus reinforces this sentiment:

We’ll know for the first time
If we’re evil or divine
We’re the last in line!
See how we shine!

No one goes further with over-the-top theatrics than Ronnie James Dio himself. The guttural overlord gets to do all the things that have rightfully made him a superhero to generations of heavy metal fans. In many scenes he’s shown standing on a bonafide pedestal! His greatest moments come at the end of the clip with a hilarious sequence that’d be a spoiler if given any detailed description.

The other Dio band members also get interesting cameos. They emerge as impartial overseers breaking the netherworld tension by hamming it up in one ridiculous arena rock pose after another. Along with Schnell’s cryptic allusion are the scenes where drummer Vinny Appice flails away at a zany bronto-bone drum kit, while guitarist Vivian Campbell solos atop a bashed up car before an adoring crowd of zombies all clad in skull-crunching electrodes that are actually hooked into his axe. The rapt attention that the ragged zombies give to Campbell and his guitar’s connection to their head gear combine to symbolize another great creator of iconic ‘80’s trance states: the Sony Walkman and similar portable stereo devices, distractions that could just as easily enhance or annihilate reality. The scene also refers to another great moral panic of the time: the idea that heavy rock could turn people into disciples of Satan. It was one of many irrational fears that inspired the anti-metal crusades of The PMRC and other right-wing Christian groups. 

Just like the dehumanizing repetition of factory work or the brain melt one experiences while stuck at the local post office or DMV, the prisoners keep on marching around and around, enduring the same endless cavalcade of machine-induced humiliation. In harmony with the lyrical themes, Peluce’s character stays focused on survival from start to finish, even when fear seems to control every expression. Coscarelli’s horrors only encourage the kid to resist the overwhelming bleakness. 

While videos for tracks like The Plasmatics‘ “The Damned” and Motley Crue’s “Looks That Kill” prominently featured dystopian aesthetics, “The Last In Line” is one of the few clips to serve as an unflinching commentary on defying the apocalypse. Don Coscarelli turned the Dio anthem into an ideal soundtrack for Reagan-induced nightmares of cruelty and destruction. Grotesque monsters, wayward youth, and the impoverished are all enslaved in the same excruciating hell—what lies beneath the glassy veneer of the suburban industrial park. To find a way out of this infernal world the young courier must move against the tide of pain. His will to survive—tenacious individualism is another Reagan-era requisite—provides the only path to freedom. 

Mike Apichella has been working in the arts since 1991. He is a writer, multimedia artist, musician, and a founder of Human Host and the archival project Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts. Under his real name and various pseudonyms, his work has been published by Splice Today, Profligate, Human Conduct Press, and several DIY zines. Mike currently lives in the northeast US where he aspires to someday become the “crazy cat man” of his neighborhood.Patreon Button

Miskatonic Monday #55: Endless Light

Reviews from R'lyeh -

 Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...


The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.


—oOo—


Name: Endless Light

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Allan Carey

Setting: Jazz Age lighthouse island
Product: Scenario Set-up
What You Get: Twenty-three page, 30.60 MB Full Colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: In an unnatural confrontation between two greater foes, sometimes the only natural option is survival...
Plot Hook:  A engineer leading a work crew to clear a construction site on a lighthouse island discovers the island already a’tremor, as strange creatures roil below and the waves bring others ashore.Plot Support: Plot set-up, two Mythos entities, two maps, one handout, and five pre-generated Investigators.Production Values: Clean and tidy, gorgeous maps, and clearly done pre-generated Investigators.
Pros
# Type40 one-night, one-shot set-up
# Potential convention scenario
# Solid moral climax# Superb maps and handouts
# Pre-generated Investigators nicely fit the setting
# Easily adjustable to other periods# Possible first encounter with the Mythos?

Cons
# Potential Sanity gains potentially outweigh the losses?
# Needs a careful read for preparation# Needs some stats creating before play# Another ‘trapped on a lighthouse’ set-up?# Investigator interaction hooks and relationships could have enhanced the tension.
Conclusion
# Great production values
# Relatively low set-up time# Taut twist upon the ‘trapped on a lighthouse’ set-up

A Frustrating First

Reviews from R'lyeh -

As a country, Spain is rarely visited by roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror—and when they do, it is primarily during periods of great conflict or turbulence, such as the Spanish Inquisition of fifteenth and sixteenth century or the Spanish Civil War of the nineteen thirties. Examples of the latter include ‘No Pasaran!’ from the Miskatonic University Library Association monograph Shadows of War: Four Scenarios Set In and Around the Second World War published by Chaosium, Inc. for Call of Cthulhu and Soldiers of Pen and Ink, a scenario for Pelgrane Press’ RPG of clue orientated Lovecraftian investigative horror, Trail of Cthulhu, whilst ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ in Strange Aeons from Chaosium, Inc. and ‘Fires of Hatred Defile the Sky’ in Red Eye of Azathoth: Unspeakable Adventures Straddling a Millennium by Open Design, LLC, are examples of the former. There is not even a Call of Cthulhu campaign supplement for Spain in any period, so it was pleasing to see to see the publication of Campo De Mitos: A Campaign Setting of Lovecraftian Mythology Based in El Campo De Gibraltar, despite the fact that it is not a Call of Cthulhu campaign supplement for Spain. Rather, it is a campaign supplement for part of southern Spain, the ‘El Campo De Gibraltar’ of the subtitle, focusing in particular upon the town of Algeciras. Also pleasingly, it is written by a native, Paco García Jaén, and it is systemless, which means that its contents can be adapted for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or the roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative of your choice. However, Campo De Mitos is also the first book from a new publisher, Mindscape Publishing, and that is not without its consequences.

Presenting a fictionalised rather than a historical version of the town and region, specifically in 1924, Campo De Mitos is designed as a sort of sandbox, the Investigators able to go anywhere and encounter anyone in the region, but particularly in the town of Algeciras. Primarily the sandbox is built around numerous NPCs and their places of work, whether that is Manolo the ‘Ice Cream Man’, a street vendor who sells ice cream, sweets, and treats all year round from his cart in the Plaza Alta in the centre of the town, or Anselmo Arrubal, the quiet and fastidious, but also misogynist owner of Santos Bookstore, who worked with Aleister Crowley to open up access to a seemly infinite library behind the counter of the bookshop. Being a systemless book, none of the NPCs have any stats, but what they do have is a set of three profiles—friendly, neutral, and antagonist, each of which sets their attitude towards not just the Investigators, but also other NPCs, who in turn will also have their own attitudes towards the Investigators and other NPCs. This is a nice, simple gauge that helps the Game Master roleplay each NPC when the Investigators interact with them.

The various locations in Algeciras are all outwardly ordinary, ranging from La Alicantina Pastry Shop to the Post and Telegraph Office. Some are, of course, inherently Spanish, such as the Convent Of San José, the Bullring La Perseverancia, and the White Cross Monastery, and their inclusion go towards emphasising the atmosphere and feel of the town and region—which are obviously different to that of locations typically seen in Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying. All of the locations and NPCs have their secrets, many of them weird or odd, or connected to the Mythos. Some of them are perhaps in terms of Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying prosaic, but others are inventive and engaging. For example, the Juan Moya Barbershop whose owner is renowned for the ointments, balms, and other concoctions he has on his shelves, many of which repulse women as much as they attract men. Juan Moya mixes them from the plants he harvests from the Dreamlands, not by going into the Dreamlands himself, but by reaching into the Dreamlands via a portal he is able to open in the basement of his shop.

Throughout the book, boxed sections add adventure seeds and little snippets of background material, typically where they relate to a location or establishment being described, such as the box discussing female bullfighters next to the description of the Bullring La Perseverancia. Beyond Algeciras, there are entries on a handful of nearby towns and villages, including the surprisingly nearby Rock of Gibraltar, which has been in British possession for over two centuries. A Bestiary also describes a number of creatures and beings. They include a Cyäegha Tick, a rare parasite which feeds on its host’s brain energy and amplifies it in psionic attacks, as well as turning the host into a tentacles ending stingers, eyes, and tweezer-like claws; the sea-dwelling, mermaid-like Gnorri which have asymmetrical arms and long tails and little regard for humanity; and Meigas, beings of the Dreamlands which appear as women when on Earth, and which come in various types. For example, the Feiticeira, or Sorceress, is ancient and lives near rivers or streams and uses its hypnotically beautiful voice to attract children, and then drown and devour them, or the Vedoira, slender and pleasant diviners, who for a price, can contact someone in the afterlife and determine whether he is enjoying eternity in Heaven or is still in Purgatory. Many of these are drawn from Spanish folklore, but others will be familiar from other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. It would have been nice to have seen some of these used in the supplement’s setting content, but the Game Master will have to do that herself.

Physically, Campo De Mitos is a handsome book and the publisher has put a great deal of thought into the choice of period appropriate photographs and had it illustrated with some delightful artwork that looks great in greyscale, but really makes you wish that the book was in colour. However, the book lacks any usable map of any kind, either of Spain, the region of El Campo De Gibraltar, or indeed, of Algeciras. Which hinders the supplement’s intended use as a sandbox. That though, is not the real issue with Campo De Mitos. Nor is the fact that entries in the index refer to the wrong pages. The real issue with Campo De Mitos is that it has not been professionally edited and as a consequence, it reads poorly, it is obvious that English is not the author’s first language, and it lacks the development necessary to make it an accessible, easily referenced, and easily utilised sourcebook for the region it sets out to describe. To be clear, the English is not necessarily bad English—the author’s English is infinitely superior to the reviewer’s Spanish, but to a native speaker it simply does not read sufficiently natural. Thus, Campo De Mitos needs editing, needs localising, and needs developing—and the latter would probably have solved the supplement’s other issues and pushed the supplement towards what author and publisher intended it to be.

As a supplement dealing with Spain—or at least a part of a region of Spain—in 1924, it does not pull back enough to introduce to the country as a whole. There is no idea of its politics, its religions, its culture, and so on, or how to get there during the Jazz Age. From a roleplaying point of view, it does not address what type of Investigators might be found there or ask if there are any careers that they might have which are common or native to the setting. There are mentions of historical events, but which are completely left unexplored. For example, the Rif War is mentioned, but no explanation of who, what, and why it is, is given. As a consequence, Campo De Mitos lacks context and feels disconnected from the rest of the world, let alone the rest of Spain.

In terms of its descriptions, Algeciras fluctuates in size—from village to city, and back again; numerous details are added, often suggesting mysteries, but very rarely with any explanation and simply left as unknown; and too many of the NPCs in Campo De Mitos share traits in common, such as having perfect recall as to their clients and what they purchased or reasons for coming to the region and Algeciras, and that they keep secret—from both their fellow townsfolk and the Game Master! Also, so many of them possess strange devices whose origins and workings are left up to the Game Master to determine. For example, a pair of needles which ease the creation of fine ladies’ hats, the hats when worn imparting a sense of euphoria to the wearer and the needles when inserted into the spine, travelling up into the brain to take possession of the victim’s consciousness—to unpredictable effects. The effects are left up to the reader or Game Master to decide, as are the origins of the needles, just as the secrets of too many NPCs are left to the Game Master to decide and develop.

In terms of the Mythos, Campo De Mitos again suffers from inconsistency. For example, for all that Algeciras is a port town and that the Deep Ones have played a role in the region, they are barely mentioned, whereas Ghouls have strong ties to the town’s cemeteries and authorities. However, the Ghouls themselves are left unexplored—and the same can be said of the Mi-go, who also have had a presence in the region. As to other entities and races of the Mythos, there is no mention. Of course, there are limitations upon what such elements from Lovecraft’s fiction can be used, but Campo De Mitos does not sufficiently develop the ones it does use—or at least mention. And whilst the supplement does provide an overview of the Mythos in the region, it is again underwritten and underdeveloped.

Campo De Mitos is not without its charm, which shows in its artwork, its atmosphere and feel for small town life in Southern Spain, and some of its ideas. Yet the fundamental failure to either edit or develop the supplement sufficiently leaves a prospective Game Master with too much to decide or create on her own. For the publisher, Campo De Mitos: A Campaign Setting of Lovecraftian Mythology Based in El Campo De Gibraltar can be described as a flawed, but not unworthy first effort, and definitely something to learn from. In the meantime, Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying awaits the publication of a good supplement dealing with Spain.

Blue Collar Sci-Fi Horror II

Reviews from R'lyeh -

In the ecologically ravaged future, twelve billion people live on Earth in environmentally sealed kilometre high city blocks clustered around ‘lungs’, the colossal city-sized atmosphere processors located on the coasts. They grow and  process the algae that provides humanity with air, and eventually, food. Life is about surviving, but there is a way to make it better—work in space. Sign up to crew the service vessels maintaining stations, outposts, and mines in other star systems; the tugboats hauling the refineries back to Earth; the Arbiter ships as Colonial Marshals investigating crimes on behalf of the Interstellar Department of Trading; as military units preventing (or even conducting) civil unrest or hostile takeovers; as scientific survey teams; or as Deep Space Support Teams—DSSTs, or ‘Dusters’, effectively serving as troubleshooters for their employers. Last twenty-five years and you get to retire to a life of luxury. However, it is not that easy… 

Space travel takes time. Even with the Gravity Assisted Drive, a minimum of a week per light year. It means that trips can take months with most of that time spent in LongSleep. Fortunately, that time counts towards time served. When not in LongSleep crews work to maintain their ship, because if anything went wrong, it could be weeks before anyone responded. Starships are not luxurious, but places to work and protect you from the vacuum of space, radiation, and random asteroids. Yet despite the safety standards, there are budget considerations, especially if your employer is a corporation, and whilst your ship might protect you, it will still have been built on the cheap. The same goes for outposts and mining facilities and the few settlements on other worlds—for no one has struck it lucky and found the equivalent of an Earth as she was planet. So living and working space is rough, hard, and sometimes lonely. And that is before you consider the dangers of corporate feuds, off-the-books scientific research, the psychological stresses of working cooped up with others for long periods, and then there is always the unknown… 

This is the set-up for Those Dark Places: Industrial Science Fiction Roleplaying, a roleplaying game inspired by the Blue Collar Science Fiction of the nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties, such as Alien, Outland, Silent Running, and Blade Runner, plus computer games like Dead Space. Published by OspreyGames—the imprint of Osprey Publishing best known for its highly illustrated military history books—Those Dark Places is its third roleplaying game after Paleomythic and Romance of the Perilous Land. Although it very much wears its influences on the hard-wearing material of its sleeves, Those Dark Places is not necessarily a Science Fiction roleplaying game in which the crew will encounter strange aliens which morph into xenomorphs that want to hunt them and turn them into incubators. This is not to say that it could not be, but that is very down to what type of game that the General Monitor—as the Game Master is known in Those Dark Places—wants to run. Instead it is a game of environmental horror and dread, of loneliness and fear, of stress and strain, at the limits of mankind’s survival. Expect encounters with crazed killers driven to madness and murder by loneliness and never being able to walk under an open sky—or poisoned by their environment or the drugs they have been taking to numb the boredom; feuds over scientific discoveries and research which have escalated from industrial espionage to open conflict between corporate militaries; scientific discoveries and research gone to devastatingly deadly effect and which a corporation will do anything to cover up or prevent from being stolen; and more… 

A Crew Member is defined by his name and description, CASE File, Crew Positions he is qualified for, and Pressure. His CASE File represents his actual attributes—Charisma-Agility-Strength-Education, which are rated between one and four. It should be noted that Strength works as the equivalent of a Crew Member’s Hit Points, as well as his physical presence. His Crew Position can be Helm Officer, Navigation Officer, Science Officer, Security Officer, Liaison Officer,  Engineering Officer, or Medical Officer. To create a Crew Member, a player assigns values of one, two, three, and four to his Crew Member’s CASE File. Then he selects his Crew Member’s primary Crew Position, which is rated at +2, and his secondary Crew Position, which is rated at +1. The process is as simple as that! 

Warrant Officer Grieg is an Engineering Officer aboard the CSV Lullaby, a commercial tug owned by Bellerophon Incorporated. He is six years into his contract and is a strong advocate of workers’ rights. He is always the Union representative on any vessel he serves aboard. 

Oran Greig
Charisma 3 Agility 1 Strength 4 Education 2
Pressure: 6
Pressure Level: 0

Crew Position: Engineering (Primary)
Crew Position: Liaison (Secondary) 

Mechanically, Those Dark Places is very simple and requires no more than a six-sided die or two per player. To have his Crew Member undertake a task, a player rolls a six-sided die and adds the values for the appropriate Attribute and Crew Position. The target difficulty is typically seven, but may be adjusted down to six if easier, or up to eight if more difficult. If the task warrants it, rolling the target number exactly counts as a partial success rather than a complete success. In that case, the player needs to roll over the target difficulty. Combat uses the same mechanics, with damage inflicted being deducted from an opponent’s Strength. A Crew Member is unconscious when his Strength is reduced to zero and dead when it drops to minus two. Sample damage is just one for a punch, three for a pistol, and four for a rifle. 

However, Those Dark Places does get more complex when dealing with stress and difficult situations, or Pressure. A Crew Member has a Pressure Bonus, equal to his Strength and Education, and a Pressure Level, which runs from one to six. A Pressure Roll is made when a Crew Member is under duress or stress, and all a player has to do is roll a six-sided die and add his Crew Member’s Pressure Bonus to beat a difficulty number of ten. Succeed and the Crew Member withstands the stress of the situation, but fail and his Pressure Level rises by one level. However, when a Crew Member’s Pressure Level rises to two, and each time it rises another level due to a failed Pressure Roll, the Crew Member’s player rolls a six-sided die and the result is under the current value of his Pressure Level, the Crew Member suffers an Episode. This requires a roll on the Episode table, the results ranging from ‘In Shock’ and losing points from a Crew Member’s Attributes , up through Rigid, Catatonia, and ‘Insane Fear and Driven to Violent Flight’. Whenever a Crew Member’s player needs to make a roll on the Episode Table, the maximum result possible is limited by the Crew Member’s Pressure Level. So at Pressure Level 3, a Crew Member can only be In Shock and suffer points lost from either his Agility or Strength, but not anything worse. 

One issue with Pressure Level and Episodes is that a Crew Member cannot immediately recover from either. It takes time in LongSleep or back on Earth to even begin to recover… Worse, once a Crew Member suffers an Episode, its effects linger, and he can suffer from it again and again until he manages to control his personal demons. 

And that is the extent of the rules to Those Dark Places. For the General Monitor, there is a more detailed discussion of how they work, the various roles or Crew Positions aboard ship, the types of campaigns that can be run—typically based around the type of ship that the Crew Members are operating. So tugboats, passenger ships, science vessels, arbiter ships, tactical vessels, and more, each suggesting ideas about what such a crew would be doing and it might be tasked with doing. These are accompanied with descriptions of the types of reports that the Crew Members will be expected to make. These include Personnel Reports, Accident Reports, Industrial Espionage Reports, and more. Essentially combine a Personnel Report and a ship type and a General Monitor has a decent selection of campaign ideas to inspire her. Rounding out Those Dark Places is The Argent III Report, a complete scenario surrounding the sudden appearance of a research vessel thought lost for decades. It is playable in a session or two. 

Physically, Those Dark Places is well presented, although untidy in one or two places. The artwork is good, definitely showcasing its inspirations. 

Although clearly inspired by films like AlienThose Dark Places is not a roleplaying game about facing strange, horrible creatures. This is reflected in the fact that there are no rules for creating such things in the book. Indeed, the rules for creatures focus on creating pets like cats and dogs for companionship in space rather than monsters. There are though, rules for running and playing Synthetic Automatons if the General Monitor includes them. Essentially, Those Dark Places is about facing horrors human and environmental rather than actual monsters. Nor is it a roleplaying game with a set background, although one is outlined should the General Monitor want one. At two pages, even this background is short enough to allow the General Monitor room aplenty to insert content of her own, that is if she does not want to create a background of her own. 

However, all of this is not about roleplaying Blue Collar or Industrial Science Fiction and Horror in space—although Those Dark Places could be run like that. In actuality, what Those Dark Places is about is applying for a career working in deep space. The process of creating a Crew Member, of filling in a CASE File, is writing the application form. And then, the playing of Those Dark Places is not roleplaying missions out on the frontier, but simulations—run by the interviewer as part of the application process—run to test their suitability for working between Earth and the frontier of space. All of this is delivered in an game voice that is a mix of wearied tone, corporate cheeriness, and faux ‘I believe in you’ attitude of a Human Resources interviewer that manages to both capture the tiresome nature of applying for employment and make the reader/potential Crew Member want to punch the writer/speaker. It is a brilliant conceit which creeps up on the reader as he works his way through the book. 

Unfortunately, Those Dark Places is being released when there are already two roleplaying games within its genre, the Alien Roleplaying Game from Free League Publishing and Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG from Tuesday Knight Games, both having been released relatively recently onto the market. However, Those Dark Places is very much its own thing, a combination of simple mechanics and human and environmental horror—plus its simulation/employment application conceit rather than necessarily being a game of facing horror and horrible monsters in deep space or being based on a licence. 

Combining light mechanics and an easily familiar genre, Those Dark Places: Industrial Science Fiction Roleplaying is a pleasingly accessible treatment of Blue-Collar Science Fiction of the seventies and eighties. It enables the General Monitor to run simulations in which the horror lies not only in isolation and what we might find on the fringes of space, but also in what humanity brings with it.

Friday Filler: Beasts & Behemoths

Reviews from R'lyeh -

There is no denying the continued and growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, with it having appeared on the television series Stranger Things and it no longer being seen as a hobby solely the preserve of typically male, nerdy teenagers and young adults. Yet as acceptable a hobby as roleplaying and in particular, playing Dungeons & Dragons has become, getting into the hobby is still a daunting prospect. Imagine if you will, being faced with making your first character for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? Then what monsters will face? What adventures will you have? For nearly all of us, answering these questions are not all that far from being a challenge, for all started somewhere and we all had to make that first step—making our first character, entering our first dungeon, and encountering our first monster. As well written as both Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook are, both still present the prospective reader and player with a lot of choices, but without really answering these questions in an easy to read and reference fashion.

Step forward the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ published by Ten Speed Press. This is a series of introductory guides to Dungeons & Dragons, designed as primers to various aspects of the world’s leading roleplaying game. Each in the series is profusely illustrated, no page consisting entirely of text. The artwork is all drawn from and matches the style of Dungeon & Dragons, Fifth Edition, so as much as it provides an introduction to the different aspects of the roleplaying game covered in each book in the series, it provides an introduction to the look of the roleplaying game, so providing continuity between the other books in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ and the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the core rulebooks. This use of art and the digest size of the book means that from the start, every entry in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is an attractive little package.

The first in the series, Warriors & Weapons provided an introduction to the various Races of Dungeons & Dragons, the martial character Classes, and the equipment they use. Subsequent entries in the series have examined Monsters & Creatures and Dungeons & Tombs, culminating in the surprisingly late and seemingly out of sequence, Wizards & Spells. And there it would seem that the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ had covered just about everything that the reader and potential play of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition need to know before progressing onto the roleplaying game itself. So the publication of Beasts & Behemoths, the fifth entry in the series, comes as something of a surprise, the unexpected equivalent in the series of the Monster Manual II to the Monster Manual. Of course, another book about monsters makes sense, since not only are books about monsters fun, but there are an awful lot of monsters and creatures in Dungeons & Dragons, and the earlier Monsters & Creatures cannot have been expected to cover all of them!

Where Monsters & Creatures categorised its entries by terrain, so Caverns & Dark Places, Forests, Mountains & Other Terrain, Oceans, Lakes, & Waterways, and more, Beasts & Behemoths breaks them down by size—Tiny & Small, Medium, Large & Huge, and Gargantuan. Its forty or so entries include Cranium Rats, Demilich, and Pseudodragon under Tiny & Small; Drow, Gnoll, and Sahuagin are listed as Medium creatures; Corpse Flower, Minotaur, and Umber Hulk for Large & Huge; and Purple Worm, Roc, and the dread Tarrasque for Gargantuan. The mix includes the familiar, such as the Hobgoblin, Orc, and Minotaur alongside the little known, like the Yuan-Ti and the Oni, but all are classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters and creatures. In addition, Beasts & Behemoths includes two subcategories, Lycanthropes and Metallic Dragons—or Good-aligned Dragons. So the former category has descriptions of the Wereboar, Wererat, and Weretiger as well as the Werewolf, whilst the latter ranges from the Brass Dragon to the Gold Dragon. This compliments the writeups of the Dragons of various colours in Monsters & Creatures. Every entry is given a double page spread, the left hand page showing an illustration of the creature or monster, a listing of its special powers, a description of its size, and an indication of its Danger Level, from ‘0’ or harmless to ‘5’ for really nasty. On the right-hand page there is a description of the monster or creature and its lair, accompanied by a list of things to do or not do when dealing with it.

Thus for the Medusa, the given Danger Level is ‘1’ and her Special Powers are, of course, her Petrifying Gaze. Her size is listed as being typically Human-sized—except that is, for her hair, which might be a whole bigger (and writhing, of course). Her write-up includes a description of how she comes upon the transformation into a Medusa and the price paid, plus the types of lair she prefers. The entry advises that when encountering a Medusa, an adventurer should carry a mirror with which to catch her reflection, as well as a powerful healing potion which undo the effects of her Petrifying Gaze. It also advises that an adventurer not catch her gaze nor seek out immortality.

Like Monsters & Creatures before it, Beasts & Behemoths adds legendary entries and encounters to complement its ordinary encounters. The description of the Death Knight is accompanied by a  legendary entry for Lord Soth, the fallen Knight of Solamnia from the world of Krynn who would later be plucked from Krynn by the mysterious mists of Ravenloft. It covers his history, his lair, and the fearsome skeleton army he has at his command. Again, this is a nice accompaniment to the legendary entry for Vampires, the feared Count Strahd von Zarovich, to be found in Monsters & Creatures. These legendary creatures are foes that the adventurers are unlikely to face for a very long time, but they are ones to be whispered about in hushed tones—even the ones who are not evil or chaotic. Each of encounters consists of a short piece of fiction which sets up a situation that ultimately ends the reader being asked how he might react or what he might do next. To accompany the description of Pseudodragon, the encounter describes how Florizan Blank, the bard known as the ‘Dandy Duellist’ who combines dance moves and swordsmanship, comes upon such a creature in woods whilst he is tracking down a Hobgoblin tribe which attacked a nearby village. Will he attempt to tame the creature and take it as a companion—and if so, how? Will continue on his way, hurrying after his quarry lest they launch a raid on another village? These encounters nicely illustrate the play of Dungeons & Dragons and the type of encounters and questions that players will be dealing with from session to session. In addition, the inclusion of Florizan Blank is a nice call back to the fourth book in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’, Wizards & Spells.

Just as in Monsters & Creatures, the last words in Beasts & Behemoths are about using beasts to create stories and build a hero, taking the reader on his first steps to composing his adventurer’s story. It opens up a little to ask the player to wonder about the other heroes his character will adventure alongside, what and where his adventures take place, and of course, why? It explains a bit more about the play of Dungeons & Dragons, so serving as a light primer before the player gets to the table.

There are just two issues with Beasts & Behemoths. First, for a book filled with great Dungeons & Dragons artwork, it does not list or credit one single artist. This is really disappointing, not so say inexcusable, and both the publisher and Wizards of the Coast should know better. Second, Beasts & Behemoths commits the same error as Monsters & Creatures in using anachronisms when it comes to describing the size of the monsters and creatures in the book. For example, the Cranium Rat is described as being the size of a sneaker or Hobgoblin as being the size of a professional (American) football player in all of his gear. Again, the inclusion of such modernisms breaks the verisimilitude of the book, making very much a reference work out of the game when it could have been a reference work both out of the game and in the game.

Physically, Beasts & Behemoths is an attractive little hardback. It is bright, it is breezy, and it shows a prospective player what his character might face, both in the art and the writing. Further, the art shows lots of adventuring scenes which can only spur the prospective player’s imagination.

Now obviously, Beasts & Behemoths is designed to showcase Dungeons & Dragons and introduce the prospective player to what his character might encounter—especially in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. However, much of its content would work just as well as introduction to some of the monsters of Dungeons & Dragons-style retroclones, though in its look, it is brighter and breezier than the style and tone of the typical fantasy roleplaying game from the Old School Renaissance.

Monsters & Creatures introduced the prospective player to just a tiny, but often iconic, few of the monsters and creatures in Dungeons & Dragons. Beasts & Behemoths adds to that, but also stands alone in that a player could read it rather than Monsters & Creatures to get an idea of some of the foes his character might face or encounter in the game. Similarly, Beasts & Behemoths is more of a general reference work, something suitable to have at the table during play, since its contents can serve as the legends and the folklore that a player character in a fantasy world might have learned about said monsters and creatures as he was growing up. That said, doing so adds another book to the table, and that may add unnecessary clutter during play. When it comes to clutter, are two books devoted to monsters in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ enough—or will there be a slew of them, cluttering up the series?

Beasts & Behemoths is another bright and engaging entry in the series, providing another light introduction to the monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, and the game itself. It again nicely works as a gift as much as it does a useful reference work, but as an entry in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’, it feels very much like an extra in the series rather than part of the essential quartet of titles.

Jonstown Jottings #30: The Troupe of Terror

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—

What is it?

Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror presents a band of ‘occluded’ entertainers prepared to delight and dine anywhere for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.
It is an thirteen-page, full colour, 1.24 MB PDF.
The layout is clean and tidy, and the illustrations good. It needs a slight edit.

Where is it set?
Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror can be set almost anywhere. Given suggestions include on the road or wherever the Player Characters live or are staying. 
Who do you play?No specific character types are required when encountering Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror. Having an entertainer, or a worshipper of Eurmal the Trickster or Donandar the Musician, in the group is not necessary, but may add to the fun and drama of any encounter with the ‘Troupe of Terror’.
What do you need?
Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. HeroQuest Glorantha, the Guide to Glorantha, and The Glorantha Sourcebook may provide further illumination for the Game Master, but are not necessary to run Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror.
What do you get?
Monster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror provides the Game Master and his players with three things. The first is a hextet of individuals and creatures that although will outwardly appear colourful and entertaining, are more than willing to wine and dine at anyone’s expense—including the Player Characters. They make up a troupe of minstrels, mimes, and clowns each of whose consciousness was awakened by a magical performance given by the  Puppeteer Troupe. Unfortunately, ill prepared for such illuminating revelations, each has fallen into madness and been transformed in another way. Now they wander Glorantha, wining and dining on their audiences as they go…
All six members of the ‘Troupe of Terror’ are given full stats and write-up. This includes their backgrounds, their Illuminate abilities, and some interesting magical items a few of them possess. Although they still possess magic which the Player Characters will recognise, their Illuminate magic will likely confuse and confound them. In particular, the members troupe will be particularly powerful if they are allowed to perform. Both the strangeness and potency of their magic means that the Game Master will need to prepare any encounter with the ‘Troupe of Terror’ with care.
The second is a trio of adventure seeds which provide ways in which the Game Master can introduce the ‘Troupe of Terror’ to her players. Two of the adventure seeds, involving an encounter with the hextet on the road and hunting them for their bounty, are mundane and it is only the third which really explores the fullest potential of the ‘Troupe of Terror’, in which the troupe pulls the Player Characters into its performance and it very much becomes something else… This requires careful staging upon the part of the Game Master as well as a delve back into the Player Characters’ previous adventures. This has the potential to be a really entertaining encounter and performance which highlights the magical nature of Glorantha, although of course, in a slightly warped way.
Lastly, it serves as an introduction to Illumination. Especially the dark side of Illumination. It is not an extensive introduction and provides a short bibliography should the Game Master want to read further. On the other hand, an encounter with the ‘Troupe of Terror’ would also serve as a warning as the dangers of Illumination.
Is it worth your time?YesMonster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror presents an entertaining bunch of anthropophages who not only know too much, but also know how to put on horrific performances, plus staging advice for the Game Master. NoMonster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror is probably worth avoiding if the Game Master does not want to bring Illumination into her campaign.MaybeMonster of the Month #10: The Troupe of Terror needs a careful read through and consideration prior to being run, especially given its magical and dining subject matters

Judge Dredd IV

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD is the fourth roleplaying game to explore the world of Judge Dredd and Mega-City One as depicted in 2000AD. Not only that, it lays the groundwork and the core rules for any number of comic strips to appear in the pages of the long running British weekly comic, including ABC Warriors, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog—and more. The focus of Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD though, is firmly on the post-apocalyptic, dystopic satire of the police state—or ‘Judge state’—that is the setting of Judge Dredd. Published by EN Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD shares some comparisons to earlier iterations of roleplaying games based on the Judge Dredd licence. Like Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game from Games Workshop, it uses its own mechanics, in this case being powered by the W.O.I.N.—or ‘What’s OLD is NEW’—dice pool mechanics. Like The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game, the d20 System version from Mongoose Publishing, that it allows players to create ordinary citizens and perps, as well as Judges, and like Judge Dredd, the Traveller version also from Mongoose Publishing, it allows the creation of Psi-Judges, Tek-Judges, and Med-Judges as well as Street Judges from the start. Another difference between Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD the previous iterations is that it is set in 2099, so a few years earlier in the timeline of Mega-City One.

A Player Character in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD is defined by a fair number of factors. At the narrative level, this factor is a descriptor, ‘A[n] [Age] [Trait] [Species] [Career] who [Hook]’ which sums up the character, for example, ‘An elderly egotistical Orangutan Fence who enjoys a real cigar’. On a mechanical level, a character has eight attributes—Strength, Agility, Endurance, Willpower, Intuition, Logic, Charisma, and Luck, as well as two secondary attributes, Reputation and Psionics. He will have any number of skills, ranging from Accounting, Light Armour, and Insight to clairsentience, boinging, and flirtation. Now all of these have a rating, typically four for the average Human and each has an associated dice pool of six-sided dice, typically two six-sided dice for the rating for four, which a player or the Referee rolls for character or NPC to undertake an action. A character will also have various Exploits, essentially talents and abilities gained from a character’s species and various careers, such as Pacification from the Applied Violence course a Cadet Judge can take at the Academy of Law which grants bonus baton damage or Art Savant from the Scrawler (graffiti artist) career which improves his Reputation with fellow Scrawlers. Lastly, a character has a Grade, which is a measure of the number of Careers a character can have. Typically, this is set at five for beginning characters, and besides limiting the number of careers a character have, it also limits the size of the dice pool a player can roll for his character.

To create a character, a player selects a species and its exploits, then three species skills. He then chooses five careers. From each he chooses two of the listed skills, either the Aim or Feint Exploit, and one more universal Exploit. Adjustments are made to Attribute and Skill rating as the player makes his choices. Each Career also adds one or more years to a character’s age. The process takes a little time and is slightly fiddley, but a player is given a lot of options to create an interesting character and a Referee to create interesting NPCs.

Our sample Player Character is Ookie Whithers, a Chimpanzee who grew up and lives in Apetown. Since he was a Juve he has been an associate of the Chimpolini crime family, but never rose high in its ranks because of his love of gambling. He has a minor record as a Juve and in more recent years has become a nark for the Department of Justice. He always has a book running on all manner of events and is never seen in the same waistcoat twice.

Ookie Whithers
A Suave Chimp Fence who can never turn down a bet
Age: 23
Grade: Five
Careers: Juve Gang, Gamer, Pongo, Fence, Nark

Strength 5 (2d6) Agility 5 (2d6) Endurance 3 (2d6) Willpower 2 (1d6) Intuition 8 (3d6) Logic 5 (2d6) Charisma 9 (3d6) Luck 7 (3d6)
Reputation 3 (2d6) Psionics 0 (0d6)

Health 11 Speed 19 Jump 10’/5’ Carry 80 lbs. Initiative 3d6
Melee Defence 11 Ranged 7 Mental Defence 11 Vital Defence 7

Skills
Accounting 1 (1d6), Appraisal 1 (1d6), Bluffing 2 (1d6), Brawling 1 (1d6), Carousing 1 (1d6), Forgery 2 (1d6), Gambling 3 (2d6), Insight 1 (1d6), Movies 1 (1d6)

Exploits
Agile, Beguiling, Feint, Great Leap, Lucky Escape, Natural Climber, Profit, Stone Cold Stare, Thrower, Weak-willed, What’s the Plan?, Where the Action is, Zero-g

Where creating a citizen or perp type character is supported by a wide range of options—though there is no equivalent of the ex-prisoner who has done time, the options for creating a Judge are more proscribed. A Judge has to be Human or a Clone, must take Cadet followed by two advanced courses, such as Basic Psionics or Citizen Manipulation, and then Rookie. The last Career is a Judge Career such as Med Judge, Psi-Judge, Street Judge, or Tek-Judge. More options are available in terms of Speciality Judge Career, which include Block Judge, Crime Scene Processor, Interrogator, Wally Squad, and more. These become available if the Referee is planning a game with more experienced Player Characters, and equally, a Referee could reduce the number of Careers to just four if she wants to start a campaign with Rookie Judges.

Our sample Judge is a clone taken from the same biological material as Judge Dredd. He wants to emulate his genetic stock and be a Judge worthy of his forebears. On the streets he relies upon his presence and his intimidating manner, and when that does not work, is a dab hand at pacification.

Judge Leonov
An Alert Street Judge who wants to be worthy of his clone source
Age: 24
Grade: Five
Careers: Cadet, Citizen Manipulation, Applied Violence, Rookie, Street Judge

Strength 7 (3d6) Agility 5 (2d6) Endurance 7 (3d6) Willpower 6 (3d6) Intuition 8 (3d6) Logic 6 (3d6) Charisma 5 (2d6) Luck 3 (2d6)
Reputation 2 (1d6) Psionics 0 (0d6)

Health 34 Speed 19 Jump 10’/7’ Carry 140 lbs. Initiative 10d6
Melee Defence 18 Ranged 7 Mental Defence 11 Vital Defence 11

Skills
Bravery 1 (1d6), Boxing 1 (1d6), Clubs 2 (1d6), Hardy 1 (1d6), Insight 1 (1d6), Interrogation 1 (1d6), Intimidate 3 (2d6), Law 3 (2d6), Light Armour 1 (1d6), Perception 1 (1d6), Pistols 1 (1d6), Riding 1 (1d6), Running 1 (1d6), Tactics 2 (1d6)

Exploits
Ingrained Skill Package, Fast Healing, Academy of Law Curriculum, Voice of the Law, Pacification, Obey the Law, Freeze!, Feint, Knockdown

Mechanically, Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD uses W.O.I.N., or ‘What’s OLD is New’. This is a dice pool system which uses six-sided dice, the size of the dice pool being determined by a character’s attribute, skill, and the quality of equipment used. This is then rolled and the results totalled to beat a Difficulty Score, which can range from Easy or seven all the way up to Mythic or forty-five. A typical Difficulty Score will be Routine or ten, Difficult or sixteen, and Demanding or twenty-one. If three or more of the dice rolled are sixes, then a critical result has been achieved. The number of dice rolled can be adjusted by Complications , such as shooting at someone behind cover, scaling the side of a building in a snowstorm, or simply not having the right equipment.

However, whatever the size of the dice pool a player or Game Master has built, the maximum number of dice rolled is determined by a Player Character or NPC’s Grade. For most Player Characters, this will be five. Further, the player or Referee can spend dice for various effects. In combat, this will typically be to increase damage, at a cost of two dice from the pool to add an extra die to the damage roll, but many Exploits also require dice to be spent. For example, Blind Shot enables a character in cover to shoot at an opponent without looking at them at a cost of two dice.

The mechanics also cover common situations like chases, engineering problems, hacking and computing, tailing, and more. Countdown situations, such as a Judge being critically injured and in danger of dying or picking a lock before a guard patrol comes in sight, are handled by dice pools. The dice pool is rolled from turn to turn, each roll of a six reducing the size of the pool, until the pool is depleted and the effect of the countdown counting down is triggered.

Each Player Character also has a Luck pool of dice equal to the number of dice derived from his Luck attribute. These dice are spent on a one for one basis to add to an attribute check or to reduce the size of an opponent’s attribute check, reduce damage dice suffered or increase damage dice inflicted, and to trigger Exploits. The expenditure of one Luck will also grant a character an extra action, buy off a Condition (typically suffered in combat, but it may also come from an environment), and so on. Luck dice do need to be of a different colour as unlike ordinary dice, they explode on a result of six or more. Luck dice can typically be replenished once per day.

Combat in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD is designed to be a tactical skirmish system, ideally using miniatures and a combat map, although it need not be run that way. The rules cover position, overwatch, flanking and crossfire, dual-wielding, and more. As well as accounting for the environment and its effects, such as a snowy street or underwater, the rules also add Stunt Areas, like a hanging cable, a patch of ice, or a banister, which a character can take advantage of. Using a Stunt Area not only grants a bonus to a character, often a bonus to a damage roll, but also nicely captures the comic book feel action of Judge Dredd.

Psionics are covered through the Psionic attribute and its dice pool, plus skills such as Biopsionics, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, and Teleportation and their associated abilities. So Clairsentience covers Hypcognition, Necrophony, Combat Precognition, and Retrocognition, whilst Telepathy covers Empathy, Mind Control, Mindprobe, Mindread, Mindwipe, and a whole lot more. These are powered by Psionic Power Points—derived from the Willpower and Psionic dice pools, and are learned through taking a career like a Psi-Judge or a Psyker. The rules themselves are workable, but being covered in just three pages feel brief as if waiting for the full supplement on the subject.

Overall, the mechanics are workable and at their core, are easy enough to understand. Obviously, situations like combat or handling chases or psionic encounters will complicate things, but not overly so. In play, a player will need to need to pay attention to what his character’s Exploits can do to get the most out of W.O.I.N., whilst in general, W.O.I.N. does feel as if it should be more cinematic than it necessarily is, but elements of the mechanics, such as various Exploits and Stunt Zones do push Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD towards a comic book style of play. Rules are provided should the Game Master want a cinematic style of game.

The list of equipment for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD covers everything that a Judge would use, from the Birdie lie detector to Riot Foam Cutters, as well as civilian and criminal gear, including Bat Glider Suit and Spray Paint Aerosol. It would have perhaps been useful if the equipment issued or available to Judges had been more clearly marked.

The setting of Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD—Mega-City One and beyond, is given a good overview before focusing on particular locations in the metropolis, each of which is pleasingly accompanied by suggestions as to how to use that location. However, for a roleplaying game which focuses on law enforcement, the section on crime and punishment and the list of crimes and their typical sentences is at best brusque. It does not help that this section is hidden in the book or that the list is not repeated in the appendix of tables at the back of the book.

For the Game Master, there is solid advice on running scenarios and campaigns set in Mega-City One, as well as capturing the atmosphere of the setting, types of campaign and scenario, and handling opponents and rewards. Suggested campaign types include Citizen- and Perp-based campaigns as well as Judge-based campaigns. Rules are provided for the Game Master to create her own foes, monsters, and other NPCs, as well as listing typical foes, ranging from Blitz Agents, Citizens, and members of Citi-Def to Tek-Judges, Vagrants, and Workers. Sadly, the selection of foes does not include any of the classic criminals and enemies faced by Judge Dredd himself, which is undeniably disappointing. 

Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD includes a starting scenario or ‘Crime Blotter’. This is ‘State of the Empire’ and revisits the very first Judge Dredd comic strip back in Prog #2 of 200AD when Judge Dredd went into the ruins of the Empire State Building to arrest ‘Whitey’, the vicious leader of a gang of perps who killed Judge Alvin. It can be run with a team of Judges going into apprehend the perp, but it could also be run with a group of perps doing a retrieval job for a local hoodlum or ordinary citizens who go in search of a missing child at the wrong time. It is primarily an exploration and combat scenario designed to showcase the rules more than the satire and humour of the setting. However, that aside, it works well enough.

Fortunately, Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD also provides a number of further Crime Blotters for the Game Master to develop. Whether it is investigating a break in at a Munce foodstuffs laboratory or a potential block-war, all five are nicely detailed and include guidelines on how to run them for Judges, perps, or citizens. The quintet also delve further into the setting of Mega-City One and provide some great action for all character types.

Rounding out Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD is an appendix of various tables for the game. The appendix also includes a set of pregenerated Judges ready to play ‘State of the Empire’ and the other Crime Blotters. The Lawmaster and the Lawgiver, the famous motorbike driven by all Judges and feared handgun wielded by all Judges retrospectively, are also given their character sheets of their own here. Fans of Judge Dredd as a roleplaying game will be pleased to note that the Lawmaster is designed to complement a Judge rather than outperform him.

Physically, Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD is breezily and brightly presented. It needs an edit in places, but one clever feature is that each chapter is colour-coded for easy reference and access. Another enjoyable feature of the design is that comic strips are used to illustrate aspects of the rules, including a sample of play and character creation. The use and choice of artwork taken from the Judge Dredd comic is also well done, capturing a lot of its action and tone. However, the layout of Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD is just a little too busy and fussy in places and it is difficult to find things despite the inclusion of an index.

There are a trio of omissions from Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD. One is the aforementioned menagerie of criminals, enemies, and foes faced by Judge Dredd. Another is rules for vehicle combat, which really would have complemented the guidelines for handling chases, their lack meaning that the Game Master will have to improvise in order to bring the Lawmaster into play, something that happens often in the comic strip. Lastly, there are no rules for handling arrests, which feels really, really weird given how intrinsic that is to the setting of Mega-City One and what a Judge will be doing from one shift to the next. Now, there are skills which can be used, such as Intimidate and Exploits, to handle arrests, but really, not having a discussion of it is a major omission.

Ultimately, the omissions in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD mean that it is not the best treatment of Judge Dredd in a roleplaying game. Not all of those omissions are insurmountable, and it is likely that there will be supplements which will address them in the future, but their absence just does not feel right. However, there is a great deal to like about Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD. It presents three different campaign options—Citizen, Perp, or Judge, and supports all three with the means to create a wide range of character types and multiple scenarios which can be used in all three campaign types. The W.O.I.N. mechanics are serviceable, and the rulebook brightly and breezily captures the tone and energy of the comic strip. Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD might need more fleshing out than a core rulebook really should, but as an introduction to the setting and the first few games in the setting, it more than adequately lays the groundwork and sets everything up for roleplaying in Mega-City One of the Judge Dredd comic strip and the various roleplaying treatments of 2000AD comic strips to come.

Judge Dredd III

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Almost a quarter of century after Games Workshop published Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game, Mongoose Publishing would revisit the licence based upon the famous 2000AD titular character—the third time for the licence and the second time for the publisher. Mongoose Publishing had already released The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game in 2002 for the then system de jour—the d20 System, but by 2009, the d20 System had run its course. In response, the publisher turned to another of its licences, its first edition of its version of the venerable Science Fiction roleplaying game, Traveller, to power its other licences, the results being the Universe of Babylon 5, Strontium Dog, and of course, Judge Dredd.

Like The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game before it, Judge Dredd was published as a full colour hardback which contained the means to play in its milieu. Actually, it was published as a more colour hardback, for it does not make use of the black and white artwork which long graced the pages of 2000AD. Its setting remains a future America (and beyond) after a nuclear war which irradiated much of the Earth and forced most of the world’s population to live in a number of megalopolises—or supercities. Each is home to millions and millions living in great city-blocks, most of whom are unemployed and turn to hobbies, brand new trends or crazes, or even crime to keep themselves sane. The teeming masses are difficult to police and it takes a special dedicated individual, one who has trained for nearly all of his or her childhood to patrol and enforce the law in these great cities. These are the Judges, trained to be the best, armed with the best equipment, and ready to patrol the streets as combined policeman, judge, jury, and executioner. They enforce the law and do so fairly—and none no more fairly than Judge Dredd himself, a figure who is both authoritarian and an anti-hero, the most well-known and feared Judge in Mega-City One on the eastern seaboard of what was once the United States of America. On a daily basis, Judge Dredd has to deal with litterers and jaywalkers, slowsters and sponts, robbers and murderers, smokers and boingers, illegal comic book dealers and gangster apes, and even Judge Death from a parallel earth. Over the years, the Judge Dredd comic has presented a carnival of crazy crimes and criminals, certainly more than enough to provide a rich, bonkers background, just as it did for Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game when it was published in 1985 and then again for The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game when it was published in 2002. However, Judge Dredd pushes the timeline on seven years to the year 2131 with the appointment Chief Judge Dan Francisco, a former Street Judge made famous by his starring in a twenty-four-hour reality television show following his exploits, who would reinstitute the anti-mutant acts.

Besides being from the same publisher, what both The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game and Judge Dredd have in common is that they require core rules books to play. Being a d20 System supplement, Judge Dredd required the Player’s Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, whilst Judge Dredd requires the Traveller rulebook to run and play. However, there are a number of major differences between The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game and Judge Dredd. Notably, the former allows players to take the roles of citizens and perps (perpetrators) instead of Judges, enabling a very different, crime or resistance-driven campaign in Mega-City One, whereas the latter does not. At the beginning of the game, The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game only allows players to create Street Judges and Psi-Judges, whereas in Judge Dredd, a player can create a Street Judge, a Psi-Judge, a Tek-Judge, or a Med-Judge. Where The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game uses the spells of Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition to model the psionic abilities of the Psi-Judge and threats capable of using psionics, Judge Dredd uses the Psionics rules and abilities of Traveller. Where The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game uses the skills and Feats of Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition to model both Player Character Judges and NPCs, Judge Dredd uses the skills of Traveller—though with a few new additions, and adds Feat-like abilities called Techniques. And where The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game simply has a player roll his character’s attributes, assign skill points, and choose a Feat or two, Judge Dredd has a player roll his character’s attributes, and then take along a lifepath that tracks his time at the Academy of Law. The result is a Rookie Judge with a bit of a history and a background, rather than someone faceless and anodyne, which would result from the character creation rules in both Judge Dredd and The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game.

A Judge is defined by six attributes—Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Influence (see below). Of these, Influence, the measure of a Judge’s commanding presence when dealing with the innumerable criminals and perps of Mega-City One, is something that only Judges have. Normal NPCs do not have it and instead have Social Standing as they would in Traveller. A Judge does not have the Social Standing attribute. All are initially rated between two and twelve, but can go higher. To create a Judge, a player randomly generates his Judge’s attributes—except for Education and rolls on a series of tables for each of the four terms his Judge serves at the Academy of Law. Normally four years long, one of the terms is only three years long and the Judge also has to undertake the Hot Dog Run, mandatory trip into the Cursed Earth to test the cadet’s skills, tenacity and to educate him in the hellish wilderness beyond limits of the city walls, as well as Full Eagle Day, when the Rookie Judge spends a day on the streets with a seasoned Judge to see if he is suitable for graduation. A cadet enters the Academy of Law at age five and graduates at the age of twenty.

Tek-Judge Gagarin
Judge Gagarin’s technical aptitude was spotted during his second term and he was transferred into the Tek Branch during his third term, studying the Robot War in particular. He also passed the flight simulator course. However, despite passing his Hot Dog Run, Tek-Judge Gagarin returned with a case of Recurring Radiation Sickness.

Str 04 (-1) Dex 11 (+2) End 10 (+1)
Int 13 (+3) Edu 10 (+1) Inf 09 (+1)

Skills
Athletics (Co-ordination) 1, Athletics (Endurance) 1, Combat Engineering 1, Computers 2, Drive (Lawmaster) 1, Engineer (Electronics) 2, Flyer (Grav) 0, Gun Combat (Lawgiver) 1, Jack of All Trades 1, Law 2, Mega-City One 1, Geography 1, Mechanic 1, Melee (Unarmed Combat) 1, Space Sciences (Robotics) 2, Street Perception 1, Survival 1, Tactics 1

Special Techniques
Data Access, Jerry-Rig

Rules are also provided for creating more experienced Judges, but not civilians, and the Referee is advised to use the standard Traveller rules to create them—though of course, this would be without the benefit of any of the weirdness and wackiness to be found in Mega-City One. Nevertheless, the rules are creating a Judge are undeniably engaging and a whole lot more fun than in previous roleplaying games based on Judge Dredd, plus they help a player build a rapport with his Judge. The rules add a few new skills such as Combat Engineering and its Specialities of Fortifications, Camouflage, and IEDs and Mines, Gun Combat (Lawgiver)—which a Judge trains in exclusively, Law, Street Perception, and more. All of the new skill descriptions include examples of their use. Special Techniques—essentially the equivalent of Feats from the d20 System—are talents and abilities that give a Judge the edge over a perp. So Dead Halt enables a Judge to bring his Lawmaster or other vehicle to a sharp stop safely and under control, Formidable Presence grants a Judge the full weight of the law in his stance and attitude such that ordinary citizens are rooted to the spot in fear, and Rapid Aim enables a Judge to get a bead on a perp with incredible precision.

Mechanically, Judge Dredd uses the Traveller system. In general, this is a straightforward set of rules designed to handle Science Fiction settings. Which means it can handle technical aspects, like computers and vehicles as well as the action and the interpersonal. The first mechanic that Judge Dredd adds is that for making an arrest. To do this the Judge’s player makes an influence roll, aiming to  get eight or more, modified by the Judge’s Influence modifier and the arrestee’s Desperation value. This ranges from minus six to plus six, any perp with a level of minus four or below prepared to do anything to escape, whilst at plus four and above, the perp is desperate to get arrested. The rule for handling arrests is accompanied by a guide to sentencing and the types of back-up and support a Judge can expect.

In terms of background information, Judge Dredd provides quite a lot. This covers not just the history of Mega-City One and a timeline, but also its transit systems, various types of habitat from city blocks and cardboard cities to Luxy-Blocks and the Jungle—home to genetically modified primates, and notable landmarks like the Big Smelly (concreted over Hudson River), the transported White Cliffs of Dover (complete with ‘genuine’ Brit-Citters including dancing chimney sweeps, singing academics, and Pearly Kings and Queens), and Moonray Tower from which lasers beam advertisements onto the lunar surface. Sport, leisure, and fun is also covered, as crazes, organisations, and more. Judge Dredd also provides a brief introduction to places beyond the walls of Mega-City one. Extensive equipment lists detail everything that a Judge would routinely carry on him or might have access to, whilst the rest will equip potential perps. This also includes numerous vehicles, but not spaceships, the Referee being advised to check out Traveller and High Guard for more information.

Psi Division and Psi-Judges get a chapter all of their very own. As with the rest of Judge Dredd, it expands upon rules given in the core Traveller rulebook. It adds Advanced Talents particular to the setting of Judge Dredd, for example Aura Perception and Energy Kinesis, but these are the least powerful. Dimensional Manipulation and Temporal Manipulation are powerful abilities in themselves, but they are also powerful in terms of narrative, able to affect the flow and status of a story during play far more than most other powers. However, such powers are rare and are not available during Judge generation. They are accompanied by some guidance on handling the effects and consequences of temporal travel. As powerful as psionics can be, their use is not without its consequences and psionic trauma can be suffered for overusing powers and psionic strength, and being exposed to mental or emotional stress. Suffer too much psionic trauma and a Judge may fall victim to mental instability or even insanity. The rules cover the potential effects of all of these as well the means to recover from them, plus a range of psionic equipment.

The Judge Dredd comic strip is of course known for the wonderfully weird and wacky nature of its perps, from the Angel Gang to Judge Death—and back again. Judge Dredd has rules for rolling up perps, as well as aliens and mutants, but the ‘Most Wanted’ list of classic criminals faced by Judge Dredd himself over the years is here kept to just a handful or two. And so few of them are actually illustrated. This is perhaps one of the more disappointing aspects of Judge Dredd as a roleplaying game.

For the Referee there is some decent advice on running campaigns and the types of crimes and story-arcs which work together, and in addition to the general background and the timeline, Judge Dredd includes a description of Sector 13, an individual sector of Mega-City One and its features. It pays particular attention to Sector 13’s seven major city blocks, two of which follow a heavy theme of twentieth century rock music—Jon Bon Jovi Block and Bruce Springsteen Block, both of whose citizens hate each other and typically war against the other using very loud music. The contemporary references of Judge Dredd are, of course, very contemporary to 2009, but many still work today. This takes the place of a traditional scenario in any other roleplaying game, but there are lots of details and roleplaying hooks which the Referee can develop into running a campaign of her own in Sector 13.

Physically, Judge Dredd is well presented and as expected uses a full colour artwork drawn from the comic strip. It is not always the most evocative artwork and it often feels a bit dark. The other issue with the presentation is that although there is a map of the world inside the front cover, there are no other maps in the book. So no map of Mega-City One and no map of Sector 13. To some extent, the map for Sector 13 is not quite as important as that of Mega-City One, primarily because the geography of Sector 13 is not as tightly defined, and the Referee can easily create it if necessary.

If there is a disappointment to Judge Dredd, it is in its treatment of the criminals and perps that are fundamentally intrinsic to the setting, their lack of entries just feeling mean-spirited. Similarly, the lack of illustrations for the criminals and perps who are included feels the same way and is actually unhelpful for the Referee. Yet as a consequence of using the Traveller core rules, Judge Dredd feels far more competent in handling the technical aspects of the setting—vehicles and vehicle combat, psionics, and more, than the previous iterations of roleplaying games based on Judge Dredd. Similarly, whilst character generation feels technical in nature, the process is actually fun, and it produces Judges who are both competent and possess a degree of backstory that a player can bring to the roleplaying of his Judge. Judge Dredd may not have quite the charm of Games Workshop’s Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game, but it definitely has more character than Mongoose Publishing’s earlier The Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game, and the technical efficiency of its design makes it playable and engaging. 

Friday Fantasy: Colony of Death

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Colony of Death – Weird Fantasy Roleplaying in 17th Century Maryland is a campaign setting set in the New World of the mid-seventeenth century. Designed for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, but easily adapted to the retroclone of your choice, it takes the Player Characters to the Americas, but not where you would expect. In general, when a supplement is set in early colonial America, it is set in Massachusetts, or elsewhere in New England. Examples of this includes Atlas Games’ Northern Crown and StatCom Simulations Inc.’s 1983 Witch Hunt. The setting for Colony of Death though, is further south, the rough and ready Maryland Province, which in 1650, is not even twenty years old. Although the war between King and parliament back in England led to an uprising in the province, this was put down, and the governor reinstalled, as was its policy of religious tolerance between Protestants and Catholics. Also restored was its promise of fifty acres of land to farm for each new settler—and this a potential reason for the Player Characters to come to the frontier of the empire that is the young Maryland Province.

Colony of Death starts with the history of the new province, how King Charles I of England granted its charter to Lord Baltimore to the recent war with the Susquehannock natives and their allies from nearby New Sweden; the various peoples of the colony, including Catholics, Protestants, indentured servants, Virginians who want to claim the area, natives from the various tribes of the area, and more; and details of diseases rampant in the area, such as Dysentery, Hookworm Infestation, and Yellow Fever; and encounter tables for the various terrain types in and beyond the province. A lengthier section is devoted to a bestiary of the region, detailing the varied creatures and things to be found in Maryland. These include the mundane, such as the Black Bear and the Black Widow Spider, alongside a number of monsters, for example, the Goatman, said to be the devil and to haunt the forests west of the Chesapeake; the Hexenwolf, a type of lycanthrope also found in Maryland’s woods and its arch enemy, the Schneller Geist, or Snallygaster, a dragon-like best. Stats are also included for English pirates and natives, and the monsters also veer into Mythos territory with the inclusion of the Mi-Go and the Sasquatch. However, none of these count as the oddest threat in Colony of Death, and that award goes to a Squirrel Swarm. Altogether, the range of the monsters in the book covers a number of genres—more traditional combined with folklore the Hexenwolf, for example, whilst the Mi-Go are definitely Lovecraftian.

Roughly half of Colony of Death is devoted to the supplement’s four scenarios. The first of these is ‘St. Mary’s Shoemaker’ takes place in St. Mary’s City, the capital of the province. Still suffering from the aftermath of The Plundering Times—the Protestant Uprising during the time of the English Civil War, the people of the tiny city are shocked to learn that the body of a well-dressed woman has been found in a nearby river, minus her feet! This is more of a scenario set-up and the opportunity to detail St. Mary’s City than a plotted scenario and the Referee will need to develop a good reason for the Player Characters to be visiting the city, let alone investigating a podophiliac murder.

However, if the Player Characters are successful in investigating the strange death, ‘St. Mary’s Shoemaker’ does set up the second scenario. ‘Hell’s Bell’ takes them exploring or surveying up the Potomac River, perhaps visiting a parcel of land they have been given. On their way, they pass through the village of Lebenstadt, settled by Germans and notable for the large, engraved bell hung at its centre. The people of Lebenstadt are welcoming and hospitable, but hide a supernatural secret which is revealed when the settlement is attacked by another creature. Again, this is more of a set-up than an adventure with a plot and there is the possibility that even if the secret is revealed, that the Player Characters walk away from the village with nothing really happening. Another settlement, a Swedish trading post, beset by attacks by a red-haired giant, is the location for ‘The Hand and Eye of Loki’, the third scenario. If the Player Characters have reason to visit the trading post, there is more reason for them to get involved and this scenario is stronger for that and its greater use of Europeans’ historical involvement in the New World. The last scenario in Colony of Death is ‘To Burn a Witch’ and it oddly takes the Player Characters out of Maryland and across the Delaware River and to the city of Providence. There they come across the sight of the city’s Puritans burning a young girl accused of witchcraft. This is not really even a set-up , more of an encounter in which the Player Characters can choose to get involved in or not. If they refrain, nothing happens, but even if they do, ‘To Burn a Witch’ does not explore the ramifications. Ultimately, it suffers from being based around twentieth century attitudes towards what is a horrid happening rather than the attitudes of the period.

Rounding out Colony of Death is a lengthy appendix. This gives tables of names suitable for the region, including Algonquin, English, and German, an expanded map of the region, and a guide to growing tobacco in Maryland—which turns out to be really hard work! This is all useful content and the latter guide adds depth to making a life in the province.

Physically, Colony of Death is reasonably well presented. The maps are okay and if the artwork is amateurish in style, it at least works well enough for all that.

Although Colony of Death – Weird Fantasy Roleplaying in 17th Century Maryland is to be welcomed for taking Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying (and other retroclones) to the New World and a hitherto unexplored region of the New World, as a supplement it is underdeveloped. It could have done with reasons for bringing the Player Characters to the New World—and Maryland in particular, and for involving them in the scenarios. Perhaps also some rumours that the Referee could develop into scenarios and help get the Player Characters get more involved in the region would have also been useful. As would a bibliography and perhaps a look at the folklore of the region, especially for the Referee who wants to bring it further to life.

Ultimately, Colony of Death – Weird Fantasy Roleplaying in 17th Century Maryland is not a book which can be picked up and used with any ease. As the groundwork for a setting which the Referee can research and develop further herself, Colony of Death – Weird Fantasy Roleplaying in 17th Century Maryland is not an unreasonable starting point.

One Man's God: Finnish Mythos

The Other Side -

Suomi Neito the Maiden of Finland"Suomi Neito" the Maiden of Finland.
She is in the shape of Finland.

Seems like a good day to talk about fallen gods and demons.  We are also getting into mythos I know less and less about. So let's begin our tour in a country I have always liked, Finnland.
I don't think it is too much to say that the myths and characters presented in the Deities & Demigods for Finnland are largely, if not exclusively taken from the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala.  I have a copy of the audio-book I had been meaning to listen to before this, but since I no longer drive to work it has been taking a bit longer to get through my backlist.   I have had some exposure to the myths in comparative mythology books and of course, every D&D gamers knows that Gary Gygax was also a big fan of these stories.
The Mythos of the Finnish people are maybe some of the most relatable to long time D&D players since so much of them have been adopted into D&D proper.  Goddess Loviatar and Mielikki have been adopted wholesale into the Forgotten Realms campaign and remained unchanged from the D&DG counterparts. Mordenkainen sounds like he could have been a traveling companion to Vainamoinen and Lemminkainen.  Let's also not forget the Louhi, the Witch Queen of Pohjola is also an alternate name/guise for Tasha/Iggwilv.  
It is hard to say if the Finnish Mythos have a more D&D feel to them because of how they are presented in the D&DG OR is because so much of D&D has strands of Finnish/Kalevala DNA in it.  Those ties only got deeper as the development of D&D from the early 70s to the 80s went on.  So it would then reason that any Finnish "demons" would convert over to AD&D demons fairly well.  
Except there is one little problem.
There are no monsters listed in the D&DG Finnish mythos that could even be considered demonic, with maybe one exception.  The mythos are filled with Gods, but they are more background to the stories of the heroes.  The Kalevala is a Heroic epic.  So it has more akin with the stories of Gilgamesh and Heracles than it does with say the neighboring Norse myths which tend to be more about the exploits of the Gods.
So let's look at what we have and expand it out.
Page from the D&DG featuring Louhi, Loviatar and MielikkiLouhi, Loviatar and MielikkiLoviatar/LouhiThere is not a single male D&D player aged 40 and up that doesn't know Loviatar from the D&DG. Expand that outward and there isn't a single Forgotten Realms player of any age that doesn't know Loviatar.  She is the beautiful, cold, and strikingly topless, Goddess of Pain.  She is the intersection of D&D Dungeon Masters and S&M Dungeon Masters. she has been sexed up and everyone knows her.
Or do they?
In the Kalevala Loviatar is the blind daughter of Tuoni/Tuonetar.  The part about the cold wind blowing is spot on, but she is also the mother of the Nine Diseases.  Back in my AD&D witch playtests (late 80s) I had a witch of Loviatar who specialized in disease spells. So I do recall reading that much then in this comparative mythology book. 
There is also some conjecture that in the earliest tales Loviatar and Louhi were the same characters. Called Louhi in some areas and Loviatar in others. Though I think you would have trouble telling a Forgotten Realms fan that their Maiden of Pain is an ancient wrinkled crone. 
At one point I wanted to stat out the nine sons (or in my mind, eight sons and one daughter) of Loviatar as demon-like monsters.  But I never got it to come together in a way I liked.  I may try again after reading the Kalevala. 
If Loviatar went in one direction, Louhi went in the opposite.   Loviatar might be more popular with the D&D crowd, but it is Louhi who is more well known.  A lot can be said about Louhi and maybe one day I'll devote some more time to her. We do know that she was the model/alternate name for Tasha/Iggwilv. Which brings up an interesting idea. We know she has a son and she is the main antagonist of the Kalevala, though she also sometimes helps the heroes.  
Side note: I am sorry, the whole time writing this I keep hearing "Bring me the Sampo!" from the 1959 movie "The Sampo" or better known here in the US and to MST3k fans as "The Day the Earth Froze."  It has been my tradition to watch an MST3k movie while decorating for Christmas ever since I first saw this one. 
I do find one thing about the whole Louhi/Iggwilv connection interesting.  You have a Finnish girl (Louhi) essentially kidnapped and raised by a Russian witch, Baba Yaga.  Allegorical of the Russian occupation of Finnland from 1809 to 1917? Maybe.  OH! here is an idea.  The PCs need something from Iggwilv's past BUT her past is in Russia and Finnland during the Victorian era.  Would give me a chance to play some Ghosts of Albion.  It would work well since the "Suomi Neito" or the Maiden of Finland is a concept similar to "Britannia" or "Éire / Ériu" and what the Protectors are. 
In the D&DG Louhi has 45 total levels of spell casting, she is certainly a very powerful character. She stole the sun and the moon for example. 
Edvard Isto The AttackEdvard Isto "The Attack" 
The eagle of Russia attacks the Maiden of Finland.
Again her shape is the shape of the country.
Hiisi and LempoThe closest thing we have to a demon is Hiisi the God of Evil.  I say closest, but the entry in the D&DG does not lend itself to being a demon.  Sure he is Chaotic Evil, but he seems to be more human or at least a giant. 
When doing my research I found that much like "The Devil" and "devils" Hiisi is both the name of a god of evil, evil beings in general and the place name where these beings are found.
We know from the D&DG that no evil creature can cause Hiisi damage.  Could it be that these evil creatures are his?   The plural of hiisi is hiidet. It usually translates to "malicious creature " or even demon.
HiidetFREQUENCY:  Very RareNO.  APPEARING:  1 (1-3)ARMOR CLASS: 5MOVE:  12"/24"HIT DICE:  10+30 (60 hp)%  IN  LAIR:  95%TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil, SpecialNO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2 fists or 1 weaponDAMAGE/ATTACK:  2d6 x2 or 2d8SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  NoneSPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +1 or better weapon to hit, hide 90%, Immune to cold and fireMAGIC  RESISTANCE:  10%INTELLIGENCE:  Animal (savage)ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  EvilSIZE:  L  (12' to 18' tall)PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil
Hiidet are often confused with hill giants, ogres, and trolls.  Each one is unique in that it takes on the coloration and form best suited to its chosen lair.  A Hiidet of the stoney mountains will appear to made of stone with moss-like hair.  One living in the forests will have brownish or greenish skin and leaf-like hair.  This camouflage is part of their demonic heritage and is set once they find a lair to settle in.  It does not change though as they move around.  It does confer a 90% chance that they will remain unseen in their lairs. 
Hiidet attack with their fists or a weapon. They are immune to the environmental effects of cold and are immune to both fire and cold effects including magic and dragon breath.
Hiidet are something of a cross-species between elementals, giants, and demons.  They are quick to anger and will lash out at anyone invading their lands, but they are also cowards who will avoid attacking large parties.  Their lairs are natural areas such as caves, or holes in the ground that would fit them.  They keep nothing of value, preferring to eat their victim whole.  Every so often though a rare magical item will be found in their lairs (10%). 
Lempo is a similar case.  There was a god (sometimes goddess), Lempo, of love, but of the irrationality of love that causes people to make bad decisions.  Lempo seems similar to the god Pan in many respects including his "demonization" by Christians.  Another character, Paha, is also mentioned. 
LempoFREQUENCY:  Very RareNO.  APPEARING:  1ARMOR CLASS: -1 or 9MOVE:  24"/48"HIT DICE:  6+6 (42 hp)%  IN  LAIR:  0%TREASURE  TYPE:  NilNO.  OF  ATTACKS:  NADAMAGE/ATTACK:  NASPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Cause chaosSPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +1 or better weapon to hit, invisibleMAGIC  RESISTANCE:  25%INTELLIGENCE:  AverageALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil (Chaotic Neutral)SIZE:  L  (12' to 18' tall)PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil
Lempo are nature and fertility spirits that have been corrupted by evil.  Their former function was to ensure fertility and crop growth, they became corrupted and now sow lasciviousness and chaotic behavior.  They cause faithful couples to stray and young people to behave in an erratic manner.
As spirits, they have no physical presence in the world. Though any weapon that can target ethereal creatures can strike them (AC -1).  Likewise they have no physical attacks save their corrupting influence.  The tactic of a lempo is to rest on the roof of a home to cause all inside to come under it's influence. Characters and creatures under 4 HD have no save and act in a chaotic manner.  Creatures 4hd and above are allowed a save vs. spells.
A priest of 4th level and higher can see the lempo, it appears as a humanoid shape (male or female) with a crow's head, feet, and wings.  The priest can "turn" this creature as if it were a wriath.  A result of T means the lempo has fled but is not destroyed.  A result of "D" means the lempo has been forced out of the spirit realm into the physical.  Here it may be attacked with magic weapons (AC 9), but it has no attacks to counter. 
If the lempo has fled or has caused enough damage in one village it will move on to the next one.
Lempo–Hiisi is also a trans-Neptunian trinary object along with Paha. Like many of these planetoids, they are named for creatures and characters from the underground, afterlife, and chthonic gods/creatures. 
Depending on your read, Hiisi, Lempo, and Paha could be three unique characters or one with two lesser cohorts, or the name of all such creatures.  
Finnish MaidenI have mentioned her a few times above, but the personification of Finland is the Finish Maiden.  I am not sure if there is any relation between them and Ukko's Air Maidens from the D&DG, but it does seem like there could be a thread connecting them.
"Suomi Neito" the Maiden of Finland with map of FinlandFinland and her maiden
She joins the others from nearby lands, Lady of the Mountains (Iceland). Ola Nordmann (Norway), Holger the Dane (Denmark), and Mother Svea (Sweden).
My feeling is there is a lot more to these myths and stories and like always the D&DG is just scratching the surface.  Again, this is not a bad thing.  The D&DG is not a textbook on mythology. 
ETA: I am also submitting this as part of November's RPG Blog Carnival.



Space Age Slap Jack and the Lords of Faerie

The Other Side -

space age slap jack card deckA few months back I was digging through a bunch of old notes.  We were cleaning up my game room and as typical of me, I took the opportunity to reorganize my accumulated notes. 

One of the things I found was some hand-written notes on various personages from my games.  A couple that had a very strange genesis and how I worked around to get them to where I have them now.  Vague? Yeah. But let me start at the beginning and work my way back up.

Let's go back to Christmas 1982.  I was full-on in my Star Wars fandom.  I had seen Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back a couple of times. I had read everything I could my hands on about Star Wars and I was hungry for more.  Also at this time, I was really getting into D&D. My introduction three years prior and my gift of the Basic and Expert Sets had kept me going for a long, long time.  Anyway Christmas. We would always go to my mom's sister's house for Christmas eve or close to that. Here we would get small gifts.  Nothing huge, my mom had a big family, and getting something for everyone was expensive.

This year (and I don't remember many other gifts we got to be honest) I got something that was very strange to me.  I got a deck of Slap Jack cards.  I thought it was an odd gift really, I was 13 and this was a game for little kids. But this set was different.  At least my Aunt or whoever bought it knew of my love of Star Wars and this was a "Space Age Slap Jack."

Space Age Slap Jack. Cards laid out

While I might have played it as RAW once or twice that Christmas, that is not why I grew to enjoy this set. It was the art and the overall concept.

Jack, The Lord of Aggression was an obvious Dollar Store Darth Vader.  He may have been the "star" but he was also the least interesting.  There were cards named "Interstellar Demon" and "Guardian of the Oathbreakers" and "Orbital Guardians."  The art is not fantastic, but it is very compelling.

But it was the Queen of Goodness that captured my attention.

Queen of Goodness from Space Age Slap Jack

She was a Queen. She had a glowing sword. Not a "lightsaber" a glowing sword. And she looked profoundly sad to me. I wanted to know more about this deck, the story it was trying to tell me. But what was it? It was 1982, there was no Internet, BitNet was still new and no one had access to it. So I did what I always do.  I made a story up.

jack lord of aggression cards

In a way, these cards became an ersatz tarot deck.  I would deal out the cards and whatever came up I created a narrative in my mind.   Jack was what I'd call today a Warlock. He was the great traitor of the Galactic Peace. The Queen was the young ruler of the Galaxy, now in charge after the untimely death of her father the old King.  She ruled, but Jack strove to take it away from her.  In this tale, my Galaxy had both high tech and old magic. If this sounds familiar, then yes I have adopted some of these broad strokes for my BlackStar game.

I don't think I ever wrote any of this down. The material I found was recycling some years later. 

Fast-forward a couple of years. Now I am in my hardcore AD&D phase.  While I had been listening to music my whole life I was actually "listening" to the music instead of just "hearing" it as my late brother Mike would tell me.  One of the albums (tapes really) that also captured my imagination was Led Zeppelin's Four, or IV.   The song "Battle of Evermore" on side A, right before "Stairway to Heaven" grabbed a hold of my imagination with its epic Tolkienesqe imagery. But what really grabbed me more than anything were the haunting vocals of Sandy Denny.  I found the voice of my Queen.

But by this time I had moved my sci-fi fandom and my fantasy fandom further apart. Another little tidbit. While listening to the Battle of Evermore for the first time I misheard the lyrics (as we often did in the 80s).  The lyrics go:

Queen of Light took her bow
And then she turned to go,
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom
And walked the night alone.

But I heard: Queen of Lies and Prince of Beasts.  These names took over the meta-story of the Queen of Goodness and the Lord of Aggression, but of course, they had changed a little.  The Queen of Lies was the Queen not because of lying, but because of the only lie she ever told, a lie that caused the death of her father (remember she was sad).  The Prince of Beasts, the former Lord of Aggression was also changed into a character that was aggressive, but not due to evil, but because he was protecting the wild spaces he lived. He became more of a Beorn-like character. Their stories are linked. And don't get me started on the Angels of Avalon or the Dragon of Darkness. Though my Orange Dragon from the Pumpkin Spice Witch certainly fits that.

The Queen of Lies and the Pince of Beasts eventually became something akin to faerie lords in my games. Both are sad figures and represent the melancholia of certain heroes in various tales.

The Tale of the Queen of Lies and Prince of Beasts

A long time ago a Faerie King had a beautiful daughter. Her mother had been human and died in childbirth.  The King, being a wise King, did not blame the girl as other monarchs might have, and instead of bemoaning the lack of a son he raise his beautiful, but sad daughter to be ready to rule in his place one day.

The King's lands were beset by all sorts of beasts so much so that his Kingdom and the surrounding lands became known as the Wild.  While the King loved his daughter, his people did not. In their minds, she was the cause of her mother's death and the reason the King would not remarry to have sons.  Over time the King's advisors suggested he marry her to the local Lord who had control over all the wild beasts.  The King saw the wisdom of this and prepared the marriage.  His daughter however did not want to marry the Prince, whom she felt was an uncouth savage, even if he was a Faerie Lord.

On the night before the wedding, there was a great feast. The daughter though, not being able to stand it any longer, broke hospitality and claimed she was already betrothed to another.  When it was discovered that the girl had done something no other fey in the kingdom could do. She had lied, but no one knew this or suspected it. 

The Prince, insulted waged war on the Kingdom. The war lasted for what felt like forever. Until a fateful day when the Prince was ready to kill the defeated King did his daughter admit her wrongdoing. 

The Prince, realizing his war was built on a falsehood, left the Kingdom and was never seen by it's inhabitants again, though he could be seen roaming the wilder places of the lands.  The princess, shamed, sat by her father's side. He forgave her and within a few nights had died from his wounds.  The girl, being the only one of royal blood, became the Queen.  She has been ajust, if unloved Queen, but her subjects still refer to her as The Queen of Lies.  Her lands are now known as the Kingdom of Rain.

Queen of Lies
Faerie Lady
Frequency: Unique
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Neutral [Lawful Neutral]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Armor Class: -1 [20]
Hit Dice: 14d8+28** (91 hp)
Attacks: Sword or by spell
Damage: 1d8+4 or by spell
Special: Witch spells (13th level), damaged by magic weapons
Size: Medium
Save: Witch 14
Morale: 10
Treasure Hoard Class: NA
XP: 3,250
The Queen of Lies rules the lands known as the Kingdom of Rain. Named so for rain that always seems to be falling or threatening to fall at any moment.   She called the Queen of Lie because it was a lie that put her on the throne when her father died. 

The Queen is a beautiful, but sad and lonely Faerie ruler. She is a fair and just ruler and her people thrive, despite the weather, but they openly dislike her. She has gained the enmity of the Prince of Beasts, lord of the neighboring kingdom, an enmity that has earned her the attention of both the Erlking and the King of Goblins. While she has no interest in either suitor she knows she must choose one faithfully or the curse of rain her kingdom is under will not be lifted.

The Queen possesses her father's great Sword of Light, which provides her protection as well as magical fighting prowess. However, she prefers to use her magic when needed.  The Queen turned to sorcery and witchcraft to be able to lift her Kingdom's curse. She has not but can cast spells as a 13th level Faerie Witch.

Despite her name, the Queen never lies. She is half-human and can lie, but now she chooses not to.

Prince of Beasts
Faerie Lord
Frequency: Unique
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Neutral [Chaotic Neutral]
Movement: 240' (80') [24"]
Armor Class: 2 [17]
Hit Dice: 11d8+33** (83 hp)
Attacks: Fists or by animal type
Damage: 1d8+4 x2 or by animal type
Special: Beast form, damaged only by magic weapons, summon beasts
Size: Large
Save: Monster 11
Morale: 10
Treasure Hoard Class: NA
XP: 3,500

The Prince of Beasts is an odd fey lord in he does not like the company of other faerie lords and ladies, or faeries of any status. Instead, he prefers to spend his time in the wild running with the animals and communing with them.  

The Prince appears as a huge elf lord, standing 8' tall. He is broad and muscular. He is often mistaken for a large human or even a smaller hill giant. He wears simple animal skins though nothing can hide his regal bearing. 

Like all faerie lords he has a personal weapon, a sword, he can use. But the Prince prefers to fight with his bare hands or by transforming into any natural animal.  He can shape-shift into an animal and back 3/per day in the daylight hours.  At night he chooses a shape and sticks with it till the dawn.

He can summon any animal as per the Druid spells, Animal Summoning, they will obey his calls till the death.

The Prince of Beasts is on good terms with the various Animal Lords, but doesn't belong to their numbers. He ignores most of the Faerie Lords when he can.  He has a special enmity with theQueen of Lies, though he would rather avoid her at all costs.  He is also the enemy of the Erlking.  The Goblin King fancies himself as a rival, but the Prince does not take the Goblin King seriously.


NIGHT SHIFT Content

In NIGHT SHIFT the Lords of the Faerie continue into the modern-day.  The Queen of Lies is a real estate developer living in Seatle.  She has plans for the wild areas surrounding the Pacific Northwest.  The Prince of Beasts is a Wildlife conservationist.  Their battles are less about sword and claw and more about permits and lawsuits.  Both though are still powerful in their respective realms.

Halloween Hangover: October by the Numbers (and pictures)

The Other Side -

Another Halloween is now part of the history books.  I am sad to see it go, but now it is time to sit back and see what I did here.


October saw a whopping 92 new posts here at The Other Side!  That beat my previous record of 72 in October of 2013.

In that time I watched 60 horror movies, with 41 one of them being first-time views.

You can see all my movies from the October Horror Movie marathon on my Pinterest board.

Follow Timothy's board October Horror Movie Challenge on Pinterest.

This translated into 74,587 hits for the month.

The Pumpkin Spice Witch was offered for free as part of DriveThruRPG's Halloween Sales. 

You can find it by going to your Wishlist (you need to be logged in),


Scrolling down and clicking on the Pumpkin,

Then it will be added to your cart for the price of a few clicks!

The promotion went so well that as of right now 1,213 were downloaded!  I also got a few sales and few dead tree versions too.  Not bad for a year-old niche product in a niche market.

In fact, it was so popular that Aubrey Spivey from the Old-School Essentials group on Facebook dressed up as a Pumpkin Spice Witch for Halloween!

I have gotten a lot of nice accolades and nice words about my books over the years. But Aubrey Spivey 's cosplay of my Pumpkin Spice Witch cover has REALLY made my Halloween ????! Thank you!

Posted by Timothy S. Brannan on Saturday, October 31, 2020
I mean really. How cool is that?
NIGHT SHIFT also did remarkably well.  I don't have the final numbers yet, but my payment for the month was great.
Stated up 12 new characters here for Night Shift and a few new monsters. 
I have a few "loose ends" and other ideas I didn't get around to posting. But don't expect this level of posting in November or December! 


Providential Horror

Reviews from R'lyeh -

The Shadow Over Providence is a short, one-shot, one-session scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Published by Chaosium, Inc. to celebrate NecronomiCon 2019, it is mostly set within the confines of the Milton Hotel, based on Providence’s iconic Biltmore Hotel in the year 1928. In addition to a number of other events, the hotel is playing host to ‘The Kingdom of Fire – Egypt’s 18th Dynasty.’ This is a travelling exhibition showcasing some of the finest exhibits and artefacts from the British Museum, including treasures of Tutankhamun and Hatshepsut, and a prize exhibit, the mysterious canopic jar of Ibnhotep the Mad! Whether attending the Sterling-Homes Wedding Reception, the Society of Geological Sudies Annual Convention, or visiting the hotel because of the exhibition, all of the Investigators will have given tickets to see it and as the scenario begins, will be perusing its displays. However, as any good Call of Cthulhu player knows, almost nothing good can come of having Ancient Egyptian artefacts on display—and so it is with The Shadow Over Providence. Within minutes of it starting, it is lights out and away we go—a robbery, a bizarre and grizzly death, a crime to be investigated, abductions of guests and staff—and more… Just what is going on in Providence’s most famous hotel?

The opening scene of The Shadow Over Providence is actually tightly scripted, but this script sets everything up and does it with a bang—or a fusillade of bangs! Once the lights go on and the investigation, the likelihood is that the Investigators will be deputised by the local police and so will have permission to investigate the robbery and both the mundane and the outré deaths on the night. Barring a single excursion to the city’s morgue to examine one or more of the corpses that turn up during the scenario, The Shadow Over Providence is set within the confines of the Milton Hotel. There are actually just a few locations for them to investigate in the hotel and relatively few NPCs for them to interview, and the scenario will play out slightly differently and be more of a challenge if the Investigators are not deputised. So probably more like a traditional Call of Cthulhu scenario. 

Beyond the initial scenes, there are no set events in The Shadow Over Providence, meaning that at the same time as the Investigators carry out their efforts, the Keeper will be pushing events along with an expanding number of strange deaths and disappearances, including potentially, attacks upon the Investigators. There is a sense throughout that the Investigators and the hotel guests are being hunted and stalked through the halls and walls of the Milton Hotel, and despite the size of the building, there is a claustrophobic feel to The Shadow Over Providence. Ultimately, the Keeper will stage a confrontation between the Investigators and the antagonist, its nature depending upon the actions of the Investigators so far. This does mean that although the scenario is of a length and suitability to be run for inexperienced players or those new to Call of Cthulhu, the open structure of the scenarios mean that it better suited to be run by a more experienced Keeper.

One of the strengths of The Shadow Over Providence from the outset is that it can and does bring a diverse group of characters together to investigate the mystery at the heart of the scenario. The six pregenerated Investigators, for example, include a Sikh Psychiatrist from India, a New England elementary teacher, an African American journalist, a Moroccan artist, one of the hotel’s concierges, and the hotel handyman. One issue with these is that they do not have all of the skills listed in the checks throughout the scenario—Locksmith and Egyptian Hieroglyphs in particular. Neither issue is insurmountable should the Keeper allow her players some extra skills points with which to customise their Investigators. Were the players to create their own investigators, this might be less of an issue. Similarly, were the players to create their own investigators, they could also be of almost any background as long as they have a reason to be at the Milton Hotel—the scenario providing three already. That is, the wedding reception, the geology symposium, and of course, the Ancient Egyptian exhibition itself. Then, once the Investigators have successfully solved the mystery behind the horrid events that follow the opening of the exhibition, they have a reason to know each other and a reason to investigate similar mysteries. In this way, The Shadow Over Providence works  as a ‘Gateway’ scenario to further adventures and mysteries, just as much as it does a one-shot.

Should one of the Investigators die during the scenario, it is suggested that he be replaced by one of the NPCs. However, some of these NPCs have abilities more akin to those of Investigators created for Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos, so the Keeper might want to be careful in selecting which one she assigns to a player whose Investigator has been killed. Another issue is that one of the NPCs knows more about the attempted robbery than any other NPC. This probably makes that NPC unsuitable as a replacement Investigator, but the Keeper could actually develop the NPC into a full Investigator right from the off and include it amongst the starting Investigators. Doing so would add a degree of Investigator versus Investigator conflict to the play of The Shadow Over Providence, which could be entertaining if run as a convention scenario or for more veteran players.

Physically, The Shadow Over Providence is as cleanly laid out as you would expect for a Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, although it is in black and white rather than colour. It is generally well presented with suitable illustrations of Ancient Egyptian artefacts. The floorplans of the Milton Hotel are simple and clear, if small, and appropriately for the scenario, includes the air ducts. For all that the scenario is set in a real world location, it is a pity that none of the illustrations depict—if not the actual hotel the scenario’s Milton Hotel is supposed to be based upon, then of a similar hotel to help the Keeper describe the building to her players. Indicative of both the shortness of the scenario and the focus upon the diverse cast of Investigators is that half of The Shadow Over Providence is made up of the pregenerated Investigators.

After its opening action, The Shadow Over Providence settles down into a haunted house—‘haunted hotel’?—style scenario in which the Investigators are hunted as they themselves hunt for clues. This requires careful handling by the Keeper to maintain the pacing, but in the right hands The Shadow Over Providence delivers a solid balance of creepy investigation and scary action, whether as a one-shot or potential campaign starter.

An Alien Starter

Reviews from R'lyeh -

It has been almost thirty years since there has been a roleplaying game set in the universe of the films Alien and Aliens, but that roleplaying game—the Aliens Adventure Game from Leading Edge Games—is primarily remembered for its complexity and emphasis upon combat over horror. That said, the publisher did produce Aliens, a highly effective treatment of the film which was also one of the earliest co-operative games. However, Free League Publishing, best known as the publisher of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was, obtained the licence and published Alien: The Roleplaying Game in 2019. Drawing from the films Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Prometheus, this explores the future of mankind in the late twenty-second century, where out on the frontiers of space, colonists scratch a living on barely terraformed worlds, starships towing mammoth refineries processing resources leave for the inner worlds with their crew in hibernation, corporations own and run worlds, rivalries between corporations escalate in cold wars and hot wars, and the United States Colonial Marine Corps attempts to keep the peace. Out on the frontier, in the coldness of space there are secrets too, some corporate, others unimaginably ancient, many of which will get you killed or kill you. There are rumours of old ruins, of impossible aliens, of lost colonies, and coverups—and maybe they will get a person killed too. This is the set-up for Alien: The Roleplaying Game, its future one of body horror, survival horror, corporate malfeasance, and worse…

The Alien Starter Set is designed as an introduction to the setting and the game. It comes richly appointed. Open up the deep box and you will find two sets of dice, a deck of cards, a large, double-sided poster map, two books—one a rulebook, the other a scenario, five pregenerated Player Characters, and a sheet of counters. Everything is done in a trade dress which evokes the Alien and Aliens milieu, muted blues and greens against a black star field, with superb fully painted artwork done by the same artist who illustrated Symbaroum. Essentially, the Alien Starter Set comes with everything that the Game Mother—as the Game Master is known in Alien: The Roleplaying Game—and five players need to enjoy their first experience of the horror setting and the roleplaying game’s mechanics.

The first of the books in the Alien Starter Set is the Rule Book. Now this is not the full rulebook, but the pared down version you would expect of a Starter Box. It introduces the setting and its history up until after the events of Alien 3, its themes—Space Horror and Sci-Fi Action, combined with a Sense of Wonder, and it explains the rules—skills, combat, panic and stress, and of course, xenomorphs. It also covers the types of characters that can be played and their associated campaign frameworks—Space Truckers, Colonial Marines, and Frontier Colonists. It also mentions Company Reps and Androids, both of which are playable using the full rules. Notably, it also explains the Alien: The Roleplaying Game can be played in one of two modes—Cinematic and Campaign mode. Cinematic mode is designed to emulate the drama of a film set within the Alien universe, and so emphasises high stakes, faster, more brutal play, and will be deadlier, whilst the Campaign mode is for longer play, still brutal, if not deadly, but more survivable. Of the two, the Cinematic mode is suited to one-shots, to convention play, and as introductions to the mechanics and setting of Alien: The Roleplaying Game. ‘Chariot of the Gods’, the scenario which comes in the Alien Starter Set, is written for the Cinematic mode.

Although the Rule Book in the Alien Starter Set does not include rules for creating characters, it explains what they are made of and how they work. A Player Character is defined by four attributes—Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy, each of which has three associated skills, for a total of twelve skills. For example, Heavy Machinery, Stamina, and Close Combat are associated with Strength, whilst Observation, Comtech, and Survival are associated with Wits. All skills also have stunts which come into play when a player rolls two or more successes in an action. A Player Character also has one or more Talents, essentially advantages that give him a benefit in addition to his skills. None are listed in the Rule Book in the Alien Starter Set, each of the pregenerated Player Characters in the Alien Starter Set has one.

In addition, a Player Character has a buddy and rival from amongst his fellow Player Characters—intended to create tensions and roleplaying opportunities; Personal Agendas—again to create tensions and roleplaying opportunities, but also to earn a player Story Points—which can be spent to gain automatic successes) for his Player Character; and both equipment and consumables. The latter consist primarily of air, food, and water, for whilst there are monsters—inhuman and human, out there on the frontier which will kill you, so will a lack of the right consumables.

Mechanically, Alien: The Roleplaying Game and the Alien Starter Set use the Year Zero engine first seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. The rules are light and fair quick, with dice rolls primarily intended for dramatic or difficult situations such as combat, hiding from a strange creature bent on doing unspeakable things to you, making repairs in a hurry, and so on. To have a Player Character undertake an action, a player rolls a number of Base dice equal to a combination of attribute and skill (or just attribute if the Player Character lacks the skill), aiming to roll one or more sixes. One result is enough to succeed, whilst extra successes can be used to purchase Stunts, like halving a task’s time or doing extra damage in combat. Although one Player Character can help another, the Alien: The Roleplaying Game—just like the films it is based upon—will involve conflicts between Player Characters as well as NPCs, especially when Personal Agendas clash, and where opposed rolls come into play from such situations, successes rolled by either side cancel each other out. If a Player Character fails, or wants to generate more successes, then his player can push the roll. Although this can only be done just the once for each roll, it can generate successes, but it also leads to the core mechanic in Alien: The Roleplaying Game—Stress (and panic)!

Stress in the Alien: The Roleplaying Game is designed to build and build over the course of a scenario, particularly in Cinematic mode. It is not gained just for pushing a roll, but also for firing a firearm in fully automatic mode, suffering damage, being attacked by a fellow crewman, when someone is revealed as an android, and so forth. For each level of Stress suffered by a Player Character, whenever that Player Character takes another action that requires dice to be rolled, his player not only rolls the Base dice as usual, he also rolls a Stress die. So, the more levels of Stress suffered by a Player Character, the more dice—Base dice and Stress dice—his player has to roll. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it increases the chances of rolling successes, but on the downside, any ones rolled have negative effects. First, they prevent the roll from being pushed; second, they trigger a Panic Roll. This requires the roll of a six-sided die plus the Player Character’s current Stress level. Results of six and below have no effect, but results of seven and above include a nervous twitch which increases everyone’s Stress level, dropping an item, immediately seeking cover, screaming, fleeing, going berserk, and more. Although rest and recuperation can reduce Stress, for the most part, over the course of a scenario, a Player Character’s Stress is going to grow and grow...

Combat in the Alien: The Roleplaying Game is designed to be straightforward, but with one or two tweaks to fit the setting. One of these is Stealth Mode, the initial state for any combat situation. This is designed to cover hidden movement by NPCs and other unknown threats, attempts to detect hidden movement and threats, and the like before actual combat occurs. The rules also cover Initiative—handled by draw of a card, rated between one and ten; actions—a Player Character receives a Fast Action and a Slow Action or two Fast Actions per turn; ranged and close combat; damage and critical injuries—the latter suffered when a Player Character’s Health is reduced to zero, some of them deadly; and Overwatch, the ability for trained soldiers to monitor a particular area and be ready to shoot when something happens within it. Other hazards covered in the Rule Book in the Alien Starter Set include starvation and dehydration, the cold vacuum of space, fire, explosions, disease, and more. The Rule Book ends with a surprisingly extensive list of guns and other equipment, the firearms in particular being illustrated.

In all of this, the Xenomorphs do get their own section. It amounts to half a page. This might seem to be somewhat sparse, but to be fair it is enough to run ‘Chariot of the Gods’, the scenario which comes in the Alien Starter Set. Plus the scenario has more detail about the threat it thrusts in the Player Characters’ way… Written by Science Fiction author, Andrew E.C. Gaska, ‘Chariot of the Gods’ written for Alien: The Roleplaying Game’s Cinematic mode. It falls into the ‘Space Truckers’ framework and is very much a Blue Collar Sci-Fi horror scenario, covering all of the themes of the setting and the roleplaying game—space horror and Sci-Fi action with both survival and body horror along with corporate malfeasance. Its fairly heavily plotted storyline  is supported with a combination of Personal Agendas and events that get increasingly horrifying as it progresses. Unlike the Rule Book in Alien Starter Set, it includes all of the details of the Xenomorph that the Game Mother will need, but this is by design and will obvious why once the Game Mother begins preparing the scenario. It should be noted that given the importance of Personal Agendas in Alien: The Roleplaying Game, ‘Chariot of the Gods’ really only works when all five pregenerated Player Characters are in play and it can benefit from the tensions and conflicts that their Personal Agendas will promote. Overall, this is a nasty one-shot which should provide one or two sessions of play and deliver a film-like plot.

Supporting both ‘Chariot of the Gods’ and Alien Starter Set, the box also includes a number of extras. These start with the two sets of dice—the Base dice and the Stress dice. Both are six-sided dice and there are ten of each. The six face of both the black Base dice and the yellow Stress dice is marked with a ‘blip’ or ‘ping’ a la the Motion Tracker of Alien and Aliens fame. When one of these is rolled during the game, it is counted as a success.  However, the one face of each Stress die is also marked with a Facehugger symbol. When one of these is rolled, it prevents a roll from being pushed as well as triggering a Panic Roll.

The five pregenerated Player Characters make up the crew of the USCSS Montero, the small cargo ship which appears in ‘Chariot of the Gods’. They are double-sided and include an illustration and background on the one side, and a filled in character sheet on the other. They are clear and easy to read.

The deck of cards consists of fifty-six cards. They include the ten Initiative cards and twelve Weapon cards, which can be used when playing any scenario or campaign of the Alien: The Roleplaying Game, whilst the remainder are tied into the ‘Chariot of the Gods’ scenario. These include ten NPC cards for the scenario and twenty-four Personal Agenda cards to be handed out as the plot progresses in the scenario. Lastly, the large foldout map, done on heavy paper stock, is also double-sided. On the one side it depicts the limits of explored space and on the other a full set of starship deck plans. This is designed for play, making use of the sheet of cardboard counters that includes USCMC marines, ship’s crew, Xenomorphs, ship counters, and status counters. One notable feature of the starship deck plans is that they include the ship’s vents—perfect for hidden movement and hunting monsters in the dark!

Physically, Alien Starter Set is superbly presented. The look and trade dress of the box and its contents screams Alien and Aliens to anyone who looks at it. Both books could have been shorter, yet the more spacious layout makes them much easier to read and digest. The cards and the pregenerated character sheets feel a little thin, and perhaps it would have been nice if the counters had been in more then the one colour. The poster map though, is pleasingly sturdy. The writing does a slight edit in places, but it is direct and to the point, getting across the dangerous and dystopic nature of the future of the twenty-second century and presenting the rules in a simple, easy-to-read, and easy-to-grasp fashion. The standard feature of the Alien Starter Set is the artwork, which is just stunning.

The Alien Starter Set does exactly what it should. It introduces the setting and explains the rules, before providing a playing experience within that setting. It does this very well and it does a good job of supporting all three of these objectives. However, the Alien Starter Set is for a licensed property and it has high production values—and both factors are reflected in the price. The Alien Starter Set does cost more than the average starter set. Yet once the Game Mother has run ‘Chariot of the Gods’, the Rule Book can easily serve as a ready reference guide for the rules at the table where it is likely to be more accessible than the Alien: The Roleplaying Game core rulebook. Both counters and the poster map can be used again, and there is no denying the utility of having more dice at the table. Further, future adventures could be run using the rules in the Alien Starter Set alone, especially if they come with pregenerated Player Characters and written for the Cinematic mode. 

The Alien Starter Set is an impressive introduction to the Alien: The Roleplaying Game. It not only looks fantastic, it also comes with everything necessary to deliver and roleplay a frighteningly nasty experience in the cold darkness of space where the horrors faced include the feared Xenomorphs and your fellow man.

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Craft Legacy (2020)

The Other Side -

Managed to get one last one in for October 2020.  And this one is rather perfect for this week.

The Craft: Legacy (2020)

This one was released to much fanfare online on Wednesday.

The movie begins with three witches, Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Franky (Gideon Adlon), and Tabby (Lovie Simone) trying to get their magic to work.  They lament the lack of their "fourth."

Enter Lily (newcomer Cailee Spaeny) and her mother Helen (the always wonderful Michelle Monaghan) moving to a new town and home to live with Helen's new boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny) and his three sons.   

From here the movie follows the same trajectory as the first Craft movie.  This is not an accident, nor is it sloppy writing.  There are a lot callbacks to the previous movie and a lot of nods.  When this movie comes to the point of climax of the previous movie it takes a turn. 

Spoilers follow.

The coven turns against Lily, not because they are abusing their power, but because she is.  They blame her for the death of Timmy. So the other members of the coven bind her and all of their powers.  

Before Timmy's funeral, Lily learns that she was adopted and she begins to suspect that Adam is not what he says he is.  We learn that Adam is some sort of warlock himself. He takes on Helen's form to get Lily to give him her powers.  When she refuses he decides to kill her.  While fighting she manages to freeze him revealing her powers were back and the other members of her coven were there.  Together they all manage to subdue and then eliminate Adam. 

The coven reconstituted Lily is taken to an institute to meet her biological mother, Nancy Downs from the first movie.  Yes, Fairuza Balk makes a cameo as Nancy. 

So. Yeah not quite as scary as the first, but it also keeps it open for future sequels.  There is the question of Adam and what he was doing all over the world.  There was certainly a vibe of "Warlocks vs. Witches" implied here.  I was expecting more horror given this is a Blumehouse flick. 

In truth, I rather enjoyed it even with its lack of real horror.  Nice nod to the first while moving ahead on its own path.

NIGHT SHIFT Content:  My NIGHT SHIFT co-author Jason Vey also watched this movie a couple of days ago and agrees it would make for a very fun NIGHT SHIFT setting. So expect to see some more from either or both of us on this. 

Watched: 60
New: 41

And that is it. Another October Horror Challenge in the bag. 60 total movies, 41 new. I am already looking at the movies for next year.

October Horror Movie Challenge: Season of the Witch (All)

The Other Side -

ITS HALLOWEEN!  It's a Saturday. We get an extra hour after midnight and the moon is full.  

Again, today I am going to end with some movies around the same theme; or more accurately movies with the same title.

Oh no, must be the season of the witch!

Season of the Witch (1972 or 1973)

Ok, this is a repeat from 2012, but the topic and time period was just too perfect to ignore. While this month has largely been about European Horror prior to The Exorcist, this one from Horror Master George Romero could not be ignored.  

Besides, bored housewife turns to witchcraft? Yeah, that is great stuff, to be honest.  There is still a lot of fun in this movie. A nice slice of Occult Americana. Neat little bits on Rosemary's Baby, Voodoo, ritual tools, and Tarot Cards. Even an honest to Goddess coven and ritual initiation.  If anything this movie is better with another watch. The movie even has enough sense to know when to take itself seriously and when to not.  

The new special edition Blu-Ray art makes Joan look a little scarier than she is but hey, that is fine really. 

A wonderful example of the Swinging 70s and horror prior to The Exorcist. 

New View: No
Witches: Yes
Features the Donovan Song: Yes

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Now I remember seeing this one in the theaters. I loved the poster and thought it was really cool.  But for the life of me when rewatching it I could remember any of it.  This movie is best watched as disconnected from the rest of the Halloween/Michael Meyers franchise.  It fits in with the original vision of the franchise as separate, unrelated movies in an anthology.  Much like "Creepshow" and "American Horror Story."

The story is. Well it's dreadful, to be honest. It wasn't well liked then and it has not aged well either.  I do like the idea of the masks being haunted/possessed/curse or whatever it was they were.  Though seriously, trying to get a chip from the megaliths at Stonehenge? Yeah, not likely.  Though I would totally use a bunch of cursed masks in a game.

I think I remember why I don't recall this one as well. It's kinda dull and I might have spaced out a lot while it was on.  

New View: I am going to say No, even though I can't remember much of it.
Witches: None, but it does have Dick Warlock in it. So that is something.
Features the Donovan Song: No


Season of the Witch (2009, 2014)

Did Halloween III leave such a bad taste in everyone's mouth that this title had to wait nearly 30 years to be reused? I guess. 

My first "first time view" today and one of my last (!) new movies of the season.  Make no mistake, this one is not good. It is a little indie film from England. The actors are mostly unknowns.  Mary Blackwell travels back to her hometown of Maiden Hollow to clear out her recently deceased father's house. There is a priest who becomes obsessed with Alice (Beth Kingston) who looks like his dead wife.

Or that's what I think. There are times when the music soundtrack overwhelms the voice track. Calling this a "slow burn" is charitable. Calling it boring might be closer. 

Which is too bad, because I had hoped for some English folk horror.  The "village justice" scene at the end is the closest we ever get to that.  Actually, I felt the whole scene was overdone to be honest. 

The movie was finished in 2009 but not released till 2014.

The tag line is "Don't look behind" which makes no sense. Given how times the question is asked the tag line should be "Did You Have Breakfast?"

New View: Yes
Witches: Not really
Features the Donovan Song: No

Season of the Witch (2011)

This one is pure horror-action cheese.  I saw it when it came out but I am a little surprised in never made it into my Horror Movie Challenge till now. 

So this one has a lot of good going for it on paper. Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman star as Teutonic Knights.  There is a girl, Anna, played by Claire Foy in her first movie role, being accused of witchcraft and they need to take her to a monastery. 

It goes about as you would suspect. Knights take the witch in a cage. She protests she isn't a witch. Crazy shit happens on the way.

It's a fun romp and Cage never fails to amuse and Ron Perlman is always fun.  The demon effects are also really good. After spend so much time in the 1970's horror it is nice to see a really scary looking monster.

In some ways this movie could be considered part of a series along with Vin Diesel's "The Last Witchhunter." There is a similar vibe to them both.

New View: No
Witches: Yes
Features the Donovan Song: Sort of. It's on the soundtrack, but it is a symphonic instrumental. 

Judgment: If your "Season of the Witch" movie does not feature the song by Donovan, then your movie is going to suck.


I started early while waiting for Trick or Treaters.  I might be able to get in one more tonight!  The new Craft movie is out now!

NIGHT SHIFT and Old-school Content:  The "Season of the Witch" is a potent concept for me. 

I used it for the name of my Willow & Tara series (essentially "Buffy, Season 8") and it is coming around again in relation to my War of the Witch Queens

Watched: 59
New: 40

Halloween Horror '86

Reviews from R'lyeh -

The Dare is a Call of Cthulhu scenario which very much wears its influences on its sleeve. It is a horror scenario of Cosmic Horror, so obviously H.P. Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. It is a haunted house scenario, so obviously any number of haunted house horror films and short stories, but also—just a little bit, ‘The Haunting’, the classic introductory scenario for Call of Cthulhu, which goes all of the way back to 1980 and Call of Cthulhu, First Edition. It is inspired by Call of Cthulhu, Third Edition, Call of Cthulhu, Fourth Edition, and Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition—certainly for its look. It is inspired by the horror films of the late 1970s and 1980s, including Halloween, Poltergeist, Evil Dead, The Lost Boys, and more. Above all, it is inspired by the kids’ adventure and kids in peril films of the 1980s, so The Goonies, Stand By Me, Monster Squad, E.T., and more. This rich source of inspiration has been mined in recent years by Roleplaying Games such as Free League Publishing’s Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, Renegade Game Studios’ Kids on Bikes, and Bloat Games’ Dark Places & Demogorgons: The Roleplaying Game, but also most obviously on the silver screen by Stranger Things.

So The Dare is a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, in which the players take the role of preteens who are dared by a school bully to enter a haunted house on Halloween. Published by Sentinel Hill Press—best known as the publisher of the Arkham Gazette, following a successful Kickstarter campaignThe Dare is written by Call of Cthulhu veteran Kevin Ross. Designed as a one-shot, ideally for four or five kids and ideally to be played on Halloween, it began life as a tournament scenario, which has now been updated to be run for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. As a one shot set in the eighties, The Dare works as a palette cleanser for veteran players, likely going all in on the period motifs—Sony Walkman, leg warmers, genre knowledge gleaned from video nasties, and so on, but it also works as an introduction to Call of Cthulhu for new players, made all the easier by its parred back ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ mechanics designed to fit the genre. It could in fact, be the defining experience with Cosmic Horror for the kid investigators, who as adults grow up to become investigators into the Mythos in the nineties, noughties, and beyond!

The set-up for The Dare is simple. School bully Roger Simmons has dared several of his victims to enter the Barnaker House, an abandoned and dilapidated home on the edge of town, and spend not just any night there, but Halloween! As the house wheezes and groans around them, their senses assaulted by the stench of mould and decay, of animal urine and faeces, the sound of scuttling in the walls and from room to room as the light from their torches skitter about them, a storm blows up and it looks like the investigators are there for the long haul… As they suffer the taunts and jibes of their bully, will the investigators find out if the house is really haunted? What horrors await them as they try to last the night?

To support this, The Dare is fully plotted out together with floor plans of the Barnaker House, stats and descriptions of all of the NPCs and the monsters. This includes suggestions as to what the NPCs will do location from location, but also gives suggestions as to how to adjust the tone of the scenario from location to location. These are set at the US film ratings of PG and R, the former minimising the violence, the gore, and the death, emphasising menace and anxiety, the latter being more visceral in its inclusion of gore, violence, and injury. Essentially, the difference between The Goonies and Evil Dead.

Mechanically, The Dare uses the Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition rules. It presents the core rules to the roleplaying  game, but it also strips them back to present what it calls ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’, a simplified version of the rules. Notably, the rules condense the eighty or so skills of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition down to just fifteen. So instead of Psychology, Be a Pal, Be Bossy rather than Intimidate and Persuade, Sneaky in place of Sleight of Hand and Stealth, and Spooky Stuff rather than Occult and Cthulhu Mythos. The most notable addition to these skills is Play with Matches, which covers setting things alight, building traps, using chemicals, and so on, all of which should serve as a spur for the investigators’ invention. Overall, these stripped-down rules could easily be used to run other ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ type scenarios, or even slotted into an anthology of ‘Gateway’-type scenarios in which the investigators are kids.

Rounding out The Dare is a short essay by Brian M. Sammons, ‘Grab the Machete or: How I Learned to Stop Going Insane and Love 80s Horror Movies’. It provides a brief overview of the genre and suggests ten films that the Keeper and her players should watch as inspiration. The Dare also comes with ten ready-to-play ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ investigators. These are all designed to be played as girls or boys, and come with alternative names and space for boy or girl photos. There are some thirty or illustrations included in the pages of The Dare—each based upon a photograph submitted by one of the Kickstarter backers, which can be used by the players to illustrate their kid.

In terms of its horror, The Dare really revolves around its PG and R ratings and the classic confined space of the haunted house. Played using just the PG rating and it would even work as a scare ridden one-shot suitable for a younger, even preteen audience. Switched to the R rating and The Dare becomes a more visceral affair, much in the mode of the film It—though without the coulrophobia—and so is better suited for mature players. For the Keeper there are plenty of staging notes throughout, though she will need to handle one NPC with care. One option might be for the NPC to be played as a Player Character Investigator working hand-in-hand with the Keeper, but if not, and the players work out what is going on beforehand, it really is up to them to roleplay within the genre until their Investigators know. 

Physically, The Dare stands out because although written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the layout for it is of Call of Cthulhu, Third Edition. It not only fits the period setting of the scenario, but it fits the scenario’s sense of nostalgia too and gives it a certain, delightful charm. The maps are perhaps a little plain and it needs a slight edit in places, but the artwork is excellent. The theme is applied to the front and back cover, which is done as the cover of a video cassette.

The Dare is a superb one-shot, one that manages the odd combination of being both nasty and charming, all infused with eighties nostalgia, from start to finish. Not just in the style of the story, its tone, and set-up, which can be creepy or horrible depending on the rating selected, but very much with its look. The Dare also suggests a style of play and provides a set of mechanics to support that, both of which deserve revisiting in future releases. Whether you are visiting the eighties for the first time or going back again for another go around, The Dare successfully double dares you with a one-shot of Halloween horror.

Friday Night Videos: Witch Songs

The Other Side -

It's Halloween Eve!
So I guess that makes it All Hallows Eve ... Eve. 
Whatever.  It's Friday. The moon is Full and tomorrow is my favorite Holiday of the year.  I am been building up all month to this.
Since it is also "Witch Week" let's have some Witch Music.
Of course, you know I have a playlist of witch songs!




Happy Halloween!

 

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