Sunday, October 14, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 19 Aug 2018

Meriwether the infantryman (1st level Cleric)
played by American John

Nell the innkeeper (1st level Warrior)
played by Todd

Pemberton Nimby (sage)
NPC ally

Session 4
The townspeople of Brimstone had finally recovered from their collective hangovers (brought on by a bit too much neighborly affection from the Canadian fur trappers) ... but unfortunately, one of the supply trains was infested, and it brought a whole passel of mice into town. Their brown furry bodies skittering over the dirt roads made it look like the whole ground was crawling with horrible life. Brimstone had booze again - but that was about all they had, as the dadgum little varmints ate up pretty much everything but the whiskey. The situation didn't bother Meriwether and Nell much though, as they didn't plan on spending much time in town.

Nell and Meriwether had previously agreed on a plan to try to bring Archibald back to life. Nell swore she would have her revenge on Archibald for how cruelly he had treated her in the past, and while Meriwether had no memory of Archibald being cruel to anyone, he did want to see his friend again, and he had a peculiar itch to learn more about this whole resurrection business. Meriwether had adopted the bat statue he found down the Maw whole-heartedly, and he'd given himself up to the worship of Camazotz the bat god. He might not know much more about the demon bat than the critter's name, but he was fixing to start him a cult if he could just persuade some people in town to join him. And beside's Nell could be awfully persuasive. "Oh he was so terrible cruel to me!" wailed Nell, "And you what? Yes, come to think of it, that hustler owed me money, too! Oh, I'mma make him pay something good!" Again, Meriwether didn't really think any of that was true, but who could say no to Sweet Nell?

Fortunately for their plan, Nell's former occupation as an innkeeper meant that she knew a rumor about a disgraced doctor who'd been run out of town after people caught him paying vagrants to dig up graves so he could study the bodies. Rumor was the sonbitch hadn't even gone far, just moved out to the tent city just past the northwest corner of town. They took the long way round, sticking to the outskirts, passing through the cemetery to retrieve Archibald's body before making their way over to the tent camp. They found the resurrectionist's abode, an old Civil War hospital tent that received a wide berth from its neighbors. And inside, they found the resurrectionist himself, Pemberton Nimby.

This guy, basically. (And yes, I did a Peter Lorre impression for his voice.)
Nell and Meriwether showed Dr Nimby Archibald's ant-bitten body, and the nugget of demon ore they hoped he could use to resurrect him. Nimby assured them that he could bring Archibald back, and that he could be less of a free-willed individual and more of a puppet. (Nell was adamant about this point.) He explained that he would fashion the ore into an artificial heart, and whoever held the heart would command Archibald's body. On the issue of payment, Nimby didn't want money. ("Are you sure?" asks Nell, "because Archibald is good for it. He'd be happy to repay you just as soon as he's done reimbursing me!") He wanted them to either bring him more demon ore, or convince the mayor to let him come back into town. Despite Nell's golden tongue, they preferred to fetch the ore, although Meriwether felt nervous about going back down the Maw after what happened to his friend. Fortunately, Nimby has a lead on some demon ore. There's an older mine where the final discovery was some demon ore, but unfortunately, the miners released something from deeper underground and all of them were killed. The company closed down the mine and hushed the whole thing up. (How does he know what the miners found before they died, if none of them survived to tell the tale? Better not to ask.) He'll use their ore to resurrect Archibald, on the condition that they pay him two nuggets of demon ore in return. They all agreed, and Nell spat into her hand to shake on it, baffling Meriwether, who, for all his interest in the occult and macabre, remained startlingly naive.
Nell and Meriwether rode out to the site of the mine. They tied their horses up to the last intact hitching post, next to a shattered water trough. They easily broke away the makeshift carpentry where the entrance had been halfheartedly boarded up. The sign announcing the mine's name had been splashed with whitewash, then broken in half. Lighting a lantern, they entered the mine, and immediately saw a main shaft straight ahead of them, and a secondary shaft opening off to one side. Meriwether observed that the miners likely wouldn't have gone to the trouble of digging a second shaft if the first one still had any ore in it, but Nell ignored him, and they started down the main mining tunnel.

Nell led them into the first "room" (really a side-tunnel, but as Meriwether would later observe, the whole mine and cavern complex really was laid out like a building, even in the natural, water-carved regions). As they entered, they heard creaks and groans of rock and timber, and the doorway collapsed trapping them in the room. Inspecting the rubble, Nell decided the hours of digging it would take to escape was too much work, so they searched among the wood scraps littering the floor until the found a trap door and a ladder leading downward. Nell climbed down first, and saw a natural cave filled with stalactites growing up out of the floor like a sapling nursery.

Squinting, she thought she saw a patch of darker darkness at the far end that likely represented another way out of the cave. As she strained her eyes, a rock whizzed past her head and shattered against the cave wall behind her, showering her with fragments and dust. Meriwether, who was halfway down the ladder, dropped the rest of the way to the ground and fired in the direction the rock came from, exploding a stalactite. Nell realized that one of the stalactites had moved, just not the one Meriwether shot, and opened fire as well, her bullet passing through the stalactite as though it were made of water. The stalactite's surface rippled and seemed almost to boil, and lashed out like a tentacle, grabbing another stone from the floor to pitch at Nell's head, grazing her temple and sending her to her knees. Meriwether dropped his rifle and ran forward, drawing the weird tooth-shaped dagger the group had discovered down in the Maw. For the barest instant he hesitated before striking - a voice of protest spoke in his head "It does not live. It will not bleed." - but Meriwether's determination to protect his friend prevailed, the dagger struck true, and the stalactite turned to dust and fell away like a crumbling sandcastle.

The two paused to bandage Sweet Nell's head and check the lantern, then collected a sample of the dust and made their way through the crowded cave to enter a natural tunnel. In one direction, they saw the tunnel continue on with other caves branching off it. In the other, they saw a twisting slope where it looked like they'd be able to clamber back up to the top level. They hurried up one at a time, with Meriwether holding the lantern, then passing it up to Nell before beginning his own clamber. They found themselves in a mine shaft that the believed was the main passage they'd been in before. The peeked into the first room they encountered without entering it, and saw a sagging ceiling barely being held aloft by a few makeshift support beams. They passed it by and looked through the door to the next room, where they locked eyes with a pair of bizarre amphibians with long noses who appeared to be "fishing" down a hole in the floor.

Nell produced some dried beef she had once taken from Harry the butcher's dead body. Meriwether took the beef into the cave, and broke off flakes to offer the two creatures. They rolled up their snouts like reeling in a line, then approached Meriwether to accept the food. By carefully flaking off chunks of dried meat while walking slowly backward, Meriwether was able to lead the amphibians to the mouth of the collapsing room. He tossed the rest of the beef inside, and when they followed, shot and broke one of the beams, causing the entire ceiling to collapse, either killing (or at least trapping) the two creatures.
I totally forgot that cave fishers are supposed to be crustaceans, so this what I described instead.
Using a grappling hook and rope that Meriwether had graverobbed borrowed from Archibald, the pair descended down the hole the weird lizards had been using to "fish". As Meriwether set foot on the cave floor below, the whole ground seemed to ripple like the surface of a pond. Meriwether realized it was another stone-mimicking monster, and began preparing a spell to paralyze it. A tentacle that moved like liquid but looked like solid stone emerged from the floor and battered Meriwether. This time it was Nell who dropped in to help, cutting the tentacle in half with a well-placed shot. The severed half of the tentacle turned to gravel, then melted back into the surface as each pebble landed. The floor seemed to boil like an overheated stew. Over the protests of his dagger - a tooth, he realized, from the mouth of the great Death Bat itself - Meriwether stabbed the magically-charged dagger. The ground froze in place as the creature was paralyzed, then crumbled to gravel as it died. The pair collected a second sample alien matter from the stony remains.

The cave they found themselves in was like a tunnel in its own right, albeit a very narrow, tightly curving one. The followed the winding path downward until they reached a point where a waterfall was pouring into the room from above. Opposite the waterfall was an exit, which led out into a much wider cave tunnel with other side-caverns opening off of it. They entered one of these, where they saw a pair of large, drowsy lizard creatures lounging alongside a pool of water. They managed to back out carefully, and chose another side-cave. Here they saw well-preserved fossil bodies of two ancient lizards encased in the wall. Working together, Meriwether and Nell dug out the fossils, then climbed and clambered their way back to the surface, and rode back to town.

Back at the tent camp, Nimby had laid out Archibald's body on an operating table, and appeared to be doing ... well something to it. He was well pleased to see the fossils. He refused to take them as payment in lieu of demon ore, but told them that if they left the fossils with him, he would perform another favor for them in the future. After some quick deliberation, Meriwether and Sweet Nell agreed. Nimby promised that the next time they came to see them, Archibald would be read to rejoin them in the mine, to help retrieve the precious demon ore to pay the group's debt to the disturbing resurrectionist.
2 fossilized lizards
1 resurrection of Archibald

None (for a change!)

2 XP for negotiating with Pemberton Nimby
1 XP for first stone mimic
1 XP for cave fishers
1 XP for second stone mimic
1 XP for snapping salamanders
2 XP for fossils
8 XP for exploring 8 new rooms
Total: 16 XP each

Running graveyard (and session of death)
Archibald the 1st level Thief (3), Officer Shia "the Beef" the NPC Mexian police-officer (2), Daniel the plumber (2), Officer Benicio "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-officer (2), Luther the factory-hand (2), Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)
This week, Dreams in the Lich House's random campaign event table gave us vermin. This didn't come up much since the group decided to head out of town to rob an abandoned freestanding mine instead of going back down into the Maw. I think my players are feeling understandably wary about the dangers of the first level of this place. Giant centipedes, cave crickets, and giant soldier ants all have 3 HD, and two of the three have attacks that can kill a 0th or 1st level character outright. The only 1 HD monster they're likely to encounter is the giant worker ant, and even those have a high AC that makes them challenging for low-level combatants to defeat. I do really like the campaign event generator though. It definitely helps me, at least, feel like the campaign world is a living place. Recently I've been trying to think of ways you could use something like this to breathe some life into domain-level factions ... although I wouldn't want the random events to become so important that they overwhelmed any attempt by the players to form their own agenda and set their own goals. That wouldn't be railroading, exactly, since it would be random rather than scripted, but events that forced my players to be re-active instead of active would still rob the game of something important.

I created Pemberton Nimby because of my players' goals, specifically the goal to bring back Archibald. The fact that it was Todd who wanted to resurrect John's character to use as an undead servant is fine within the social dynamics of my group - although in general I would want to be very careful about allowing one player to take over another player's character. If the friendship dynamics were different, I wouldn't have let it go quite this way. One thing I am okay with is letting characters come back from the dead as a new character class - once. If Archibald dies again after this, that'll be the end of him. I actually quite like, though, the idea of character classes that you can only take on if you've died. Metal vs Skin suggests that the only way to play a shapeshifting hengeyokai is to come back from the dead as one, and of course Terra Frank wrote three wonderful undead character classes for the first Gongfarmer's Almanac in 2015. (Her contributions are in the first issue, if you go for the free pdfs instead of the at-cost print copy.) 

The mine itself was procedurally generated using Melancholies & Mirths' abandoned mine generator. Lungfungus' generator creates a mine above a larger cavern complex, with more dangers in the untamed caves below. The monsters are all his recommendations as well. At first they were all randomly generated, but at a certain point, I capped the list so that wandering monsters would come from a reduced subset of his original bestiary for the place. This generator did not produce a large number of monsters or treasures - although I think it did produce enough of both to make the outing worthwhile - but what it did generate in quantity were "trick" caves.

Lungfungus also doesn't say anything about it one way or another, but I used his baseline "tricks" to create more interconnections between the rooms and levels. So the room where the entryway collapses, for example, doesn't force you to dig out the entrance - it also provides you with a second exit to the level below. Water features also connect upward and downward, linking rooms that would have been separate if I hadn't decided they must be linked and then connected them. The one thing I worry about is that a dungeon (even if it's supposed to be an abandoned mine) with so many empty rooms could get a little boring. Even if the empty rooms are enlived slightly by tricks and interconnections, there's not really a lot there for the players to do or interact with.

This whole campaign is something of an experiment, with me using other people's random generators to procedurally generate a megadungeon, minidungeons hidden inside the main space, even campaign events. At some point, I'm going to get tired of this, and use what I've learned to write more of my own material. I haven't reached that point yet, but I can see it, off on the horizon somewhere, and I know that it's coming. This isn't because there's anything wrong with the generators I'm using. On the contrary, a big part of my desire to make things of my own is because of how much they've inspired me. Another part is simply that they are someone else's, made for their goals, for their campaign, and thus they don't necessarily fit my goals quite as well. Everything implies setting, and I find myself wanting a slightly different setting, with my own materials to imply it.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Links to Play Reports

Not that long ago, Papers & Pencils posted an introduction to a new batch of "actual play" or "play report" posts, and it got me thinking about all the excellent play reports I've read in the OSR blogosphere over the years.
In my efforts to collect the links below, I've also come up with a couple recommendations about writing play reports.
First, it really helps if you tag/label your posts.
Ideally, tag your posts both with whichever "actual play" synonym you're using, as well as a second tag with the name of the campaign. Sometimes it's nice to see all of someone's play reports together, and sometimes it's nice to see the play reports for one campaign interwoven with posts laying out setting materials for it. Without tagging, it's very difficult for anyone to find your old reports. At best, they can try to expand all the month and year folders in your archive, and look for post titles that sound like they might be actual play. The gold standard, if you feel up to it, seems to be to create a static page of links to all the reports in a single campaign, so that people can easily read them in order.
On my own blog, the games where I'm the referee are tagged as session reports, and the games I play in are tagged as play reports.
Second, narratives are easier to read than transcripts. If you want to quote yourself or your players directly, be warned that a little goes a long way, and a lot is probably too much.
Third, practice every good writing skill you know. Some of these reports I like much more than others. Another time I might try to understand what separates my favorites from the ones I like least. For now, let's say that it's probably best to go with a conversational style. Some people can write within-fiction accounts well, either fictional news report from within the campaign world or fictional first-person narratives allegedly written by player characters - but it's my impression that those are more difficult to do well than talking through it in plain language. Frequent paragraph breaks are your friend; a wall of text is not. The right amount of detail is a balancing act, but it's probably better to highlight a few amusing anecdotes and summarize things that happened in a straightforward fashion. Personally, I also enjoy hearing from other referees how they made certain decisions and rulings as a kind of post-mortem, but the absence of that analysis also won't doom you.
Jeff's Gameblog
Probably the first "actual play" reports I ever read were written by Jeff Reints. As far as I know, the first campaign he blogged about was his Cinder campaign. A few years ago, he probably would have been most famous for his Wessex campaign, also known as "The Caves of Myrrdin". More recently, you might have heard of his Vaults of Vyzor campaign. I really love the fake old first-person dungeon crawler CRPG graphics he put together for his Vyzor posts. You can see an example below. (Jeff's players also create a lot of maps and art, and he posts a lot of it in the session reports. It livens them up even more.) Jeff doesn't tag his play reports separately, but he does tag them with the names of his campaigns, so you'll see the reports alongside all the things he creates for them. It was much shorter lived, but he also ran a few sessions of Doom of the Jaredites, a hexcrawl based on the Mormon myths about the lost tribes of Israel settling in the American southwest.
Roles, Rules, & Rolls
Roger ran at least two campaigns that I'm aware of. One was to send players into the Castle of the Mad Archmage megadungeon. The other was his Trossley campaign. Roger tags the campaigns, but not the play reports. Over the course of those two campaigns, he wrote his own Cellar of the Castle Ruins dungeon level, that I believe fits directly above the CotMA. Frankly, it's worth checking out everything in his "Rules and Tools" sidebar. You can see a map of the Cellar below.
Telecanter's Receding Rules
Telecanter didn't start out tagging any of his posts. If you browse his archive, you can find a number of early play reports by looking for entries that have the same name, followed by a Roman numeral, for example in September 2009, he has a series of posts about a game he called Epithalamium. Later, he started tagging his play reports as either post-session narratives or post-mortems. These overlap a lot, and most reports are tagged with both, but there are a few you'll only see by looking at one or the other. Like Roger, a lot of Telecanter's games featured a dungeon of his own making, the Coastal Caves, which is in the one-page dungeon format. You can see an image of the map below. Telecanter wrote a lot of really interesting free content, and I highly recommend checking out the links along the top of his blog, all of the really, but perhaps especially the DM Aids.
Dreams in the Lich House
John's blog is pretty much just setting creation and play reports, and the settings he creates for his campaigns are all pretty memorable and interesting. He doesn't tag play reports separately, so you'll find them interspersed among his campaign materials. His Gothic Greyhawk campaign is the oldest one I'm aware of him writing about. I started reading his blog while that one was coming to a close and his next campaign was getting started. It's one I've written about before, the famous Black City campaign, set in an alien city on a frozen island in a north sea, explored by pirates and vikings. Next he spent a fair bit of time building a Harrow House campaign, but I don't think there are actually any play reports in there. Instead I think he ran an ancient Greek themed version of the same idea, which became his Taenarum campaign. He ran one of the only Dwimmermont campaigns I've seen. More recently he started a 5e Illyria campaign, although it didn't last long. If you were going to check out additional materials on John's blog, I'd definitely recommend looking at the collected links for the Black City project.
Hill Cantons
Chris writes about his game sessions using a fictional news gazetteer. Usually he ledes with rumors and information to set up the next session, but usually follows up with information about what happened at his table recently. He also ran a Traveller campaign that he wrote about too. I've praised Chris' writing about undercity pointcrawls before. Another very cool idea of his is the Chaos Index, which allows player hijinks to cause escalating metaphysical disruptions to the campaign setting.
Tales from the Sorcerer's Skull
Most of Trey's recent play reports take place in his own wonderfully Oz-ian Land of Azurth setting. (It reminds me a lot of Wampus Country, as well.) Trey seems to frequently use well-known adventures, but re-skin them. Most recently his players visited a Yellow-Submarine-themed Misty Isle of the Eld, and before that they went to Castle Amber. Trey has a couple of books that collect his Weird Adventures and Strange Stars settings. He's currently working on something with Silver-Age-style supervillains, and (much beloved by me) his slowly accumulating science fantasy setting. The map below comes from his unnamed science fantasy world.
Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque
Jack meets my gold standard for play report tagging. All his play reports share a common tag. Each play report is also tagged with the campaign it took place in. And then his two longest-running campaigns - Krevborna and Umberwell - both have static pages so you can find all the reports in chronological order. I've actually played in Jack's Umberwell campaign.
For any of these play reports, good writing helps, but it's probably also important that your session was lively and your players enjoyed the experience. I don't think there's any writing style in the world that could make it enjoyable to read about the kinds of online games where you explore two rooms, spending half the session trying to solve a puzzle with no clues, and the other half in excruciating slow combat. Jack's sessions (that I've played in at least) typically involve a fair bit of exploration and investigation to gather clues, with a climactic battle at the end once you understand enough to confront and fight the source of the mystery.
Dungeon of Signs
Gus labels both his actual play reports and tags the individual campaigns they belong to. His play reports are mostly divided between four different campaigns. The first campaign Gus ran was based on the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, although it mostly took place in the campaign world outside the famous megadungeon, rather than inside it. His second campaign (or family of campaigns) is based inside his own HMS Apollyon setting. Gus also played in a Wampus country campaign (hosted, unsurprisingly, by Erik from the Wampus Country blog) and a Pavelhorn campaign (hosted by Brendan from Necropraxis). Gus wrote quite a few dungeons and adventures, and you can find them on his PDFs to Download page.
Monsters & Manuals
Nomisms writes lots and lots of setting material, including his well-known Yoon-Suin setting, but he has relatively few actual play reports. (He may have slightly more than I realize, because he tags his campaigns, but not his play reports, the two I found here are campaigns that only exist as actual play.) His Cruth Lowland campaign is, I think, set in a kind of Dark Ages northern Britain. Three Mysterious Weirdos takes place in a fantasy Edo Japan, much like his Valleys of the Winter People setting materials. Some other fun settings he's developed over time on the blog are Behind Gently Smiling Jaws, an Inception-style campaign that takes place in the mind of a dreaming immortal crocodile; New Troy and There Is Therefore A Strange Land, both of which are high-fantasy with fairy knights and interdimensional travel; and two I'm especially fond of - a planetcrawl through fantasy moons of Jupiter, and The Fixed World, where different parts of the world are always the same time of day and the same season, so Always-Winter-Always-Morning is near Spring-Morning and Winter-Noon, etc. You can see his map of it below.
In Places Deep
Almost all of Evan's play reports are from his long-running Nightwick Abbey campaign. If you've heard of Evan before, it's probably because of Nightwick, which you can see a partial map of below. I briefly played in one of Evan's online games, maybe a session or two, in his ancient Mesopotamia inspired Uz setting. More recently, Evan's written a couple of good retrospectives about what it takes to run a megadungeon campaign for as long as he has. Like Hill Cantons, most of the play reports here take the form of within-campaign fictional news reports. (I don't know the best way to assemble players for an open-table online campaign, but putting out a call for players on his blog seemed to work for Evan the time that I played.)
Hack & Slash
Courtney's session reports are mostly from awhile ago, and most of them are transcripts rather than summaries. Unfortunately, we don't get to see any of the actual play that goes into his Numenhalla megadungeon, pictured below. Courtney's blog shares a lot of his thoughts on player agency, and his great love for dungeon tricks and traps. Recently he's been publishing Numenhalla in segments, alongside advice for running a resource-management heavy megadungeon campaign using 5e.
Unofficial Games
Zzarchov's recent play reports are from his Xanthandu campaign, seen below, which I believe is set in a kind of fantasy Polynesia, or at least some sort of fantasy tropical island with a French colonial governor. A few are Neoclassical Geek Revival games (for which he also has example-of-play transcripts, which I am given to understand are lightly fictionalized versions of real events, emphasizing the use of his houserule mechanics). Zzarchov also played in Evan's Nightwick Abbey game, so some reports on that appear as well. If you recognize Zzarchov's name, it might be because he has written quite a few adventures, including Scenic Dunnsmouth, which uses dice-drops and playing cards to procedurally generate a Lovecraftian village, and Price of Evil, which uses similar techniques to generate random Gothic haunted houses. I'm also quite fond of his "seed tables" for generating random wilderness hex contents. These are each three related 1d8, 1d6, and 1d4 tables, where rolling triples 1-4 or doubles 5-6 gives additional results, which I think is a smart use of the dice.

False Machine
Patrick's earliest actual play posts are all his adventures in other people's campaigns. He mostly wrote these as first-person within-fiction narratives. More recently, his posts are about games he's running. First in his Islands of the Imprisoned Moon campaign, which I think takes place in a fantasy Polynesia, and second in his Syr Darya campaign set in Nomisms from Monsters & Manuals' Yoon Suin. His most recent post covers something like 11 sessions in one long go. I've mentioned Patrick's Deep Carbon Observatory on here before, and he also wrote Veins of the Earth (among others).
Blog of Holding
Paul has only a couple groups of play reports. He has one series of actual play in a setting based on the fictional game Mazes & Monsters. He has another series of play reports from a game he played with D&D designer Mike Monard. Paul doesn't really tag any of his posts. Those two series are unusual because they are tagged - but my favorite group of his play reports aren't. My favorite is Paul's "Downton & Dragons" campaign which combined D&D with Downton Abbey, and took place in four parts. You might have heard of Paul from his project to turn D&D's "random dungeon generator" into a dungeon map.
The Alexandrian
Justin's play reports all take place in his Ptolus campaign. After each play report, he also posts a post-mortem talking about some gamemastery decision he made for the session. Justin's blog also meets my gold standard (and may actually represent the high-water mark for organization) since he not only tags his play reports, and his post-mortems, and the campaign itself (so that you can view both together), he also has an index page linking to each entry. Justin's blog is also a treasure trove of good advice and interesting ideas, and he wrote the "Halls of the Mad Mage" dungeon that I've used on a couple occasions.
Planet Algol
Probably the best way to read Planet Algol's play reports is to go over to the sidebar of his blog, scroll down past the images, and start at the beginning of his "Algol Adventures" links. However, he has more play reports than show up in the sidebar, and there is a tag you can use to find them. While you're there, it's probably worth checking out his page of links to many of his campaign setting materials.
Henchman Abuse
Anomalous Subsurface Environment was one of the first OSR megadungeons, and I remember seeing someone point out that the guy who wrote it also had a hilarious blog where he wrote about his players exploring the place. It's really good. Pat does tag his play reports, but honestly, most of his posts are play reports, and the relatively few that aren't are all about him designing rooms and traps and monsters.
People Them with Monsters
Jeremy didn't write a lot of session reports, but they were mostly related to his evocative Outland campaign setting. Outland really captured my imagination, especially with the cool house rules document and cool character sheet. You can see a map of the setting below. Outland was similar to one being outlined by another blogger on the now-deleted blog called "A DM's Tale" (or something pretty similar). Both settings were human-focused, but had things like morlocks and demons rather than elves and goblins. It helps that Outland has a good name, for sure, but I liked the variety of weirdness he was creating (and I appreciated his willingness to admit in his reports when things didn't go the way he'd hoped). Today you might know Jeremy from his very helpful DCC reference document.
In their own ways, I think Planet Algol, ASE, and Outland are all inspired by or were responses to Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa setting. Carcosa came out a little before my time. By the time I started reading gaming blogs, Geoffrey had already deleted his and gone into semi-retirement. I wasn't there to see how people first reacted to his setting. I think I first read about it in some RPG trivia post that listed it alongside FATAL and The World of Synnibarr. But for people who were around at the time, it seems like the combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and weird horror tapped some deep vein of interest and inspiration. Which is probably why Carcosa is still interesting and still popular today. It's also why I still find Planet Algol, Henchman Abuse, and People Them With Monsters worthy of revisiting.
Dungeonskull Mountain
Paul's play reports are divided between two main campaigns. His more recent one is his Rifts misadventures campaign. Before that, he had a Demon Verge campaign, which was based on an idea Jeremy from People Them With Monsters also had - to use Dwarfstar games' Demonlord boardgame map as a wilderness hexmap. This is an idea I love, and so I really enjoyed reading Paul's reports on his campaign there.
Redbox Vancouver & Redbox Niagra
These aren't individuals' blogs, they're blogs maintained by D&D clubs. They're connected to, or share members with (I think?) Planet Algol, The Mule Abides, and the whole Dungeon World scene.
I first learned about them because RBV played some sessions in the Anomalous Subsurface Environment as part of their White Sandbox campaign (check session 40 to see what I mean). Poking around, I discovered that their Black Peaks campaign included adventures in Stonehell, and that they had a brief Planet Algol campaign as well.
Separately, reading about Barrowmaze on Discourse & Dragons led me to RBN and their ongoing campaign through Greg's dungeons, including now Forbidden Caverns of Archaia (Which is great, because Greg doesn't tag his play reports - there are plenty of entertaining adventures, but you really have to scour his archive to find them.)
It's really fascinating to read these guy's play reports, because they're clearly interested in old-school gaming, and obviously getting together frequently to play old-school D&D, and yet they're socially almost entirely disconnected from the corner of the OSR scene that I'm most familiar with. Reading their reports is like looking into some parallel world.
Savage Swords of Athanor
Doug's is the last of the old blogs in the "so old they're now defunct" section of my list. I think all of his play reports take place in his pseudo-Roman setting of Estarion. Like Jeremy from People Them With Monsters, he also has a cool house-rules document. In the sidebar to his blog, Doug also has a series of setting documents you can download. They're less like zines and more like a broadsheet or gazetteer, but still kind of cool and worth checking out, especially if ancient Rome is your thing.
Papers & Pencils
As I mentioned up at the beginning of this post, Nick is the one who inspired me to kick this whole list off. He doesn't actually tag his play reports, but he does maintain an index for each campaign, linking to each session in order. His first campaign was Dungeon Moon, which was huge and probably over-ambitious, and I like that he talks with humility about what he wanted to do and what went wrong. While it was too hard to run as a judge, if Gus from Dungeon of Signs is any indication, the players all enjoyed the depth and scale of the place. Nick's second campaign was On a Red World Alone, which was set on Mars, the eponymous red world. His most recent campaign, and the one whose index he just published recently is Fuck the King of Space, where the goal and attitude are pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the name. I like science fantasy and even just regular fantasy set in space, so I'm particularly fond of that aspect of Nick's GMing. In terms of referee advice, Nick's also written a list of post-game questions for the ref to ask themselves to help guide preparations for the next session. Several new bloggers a little further down my list have adopted these and started adding them to the end of their own session reports.
Bernie the Flumph
Josh's play reports tend to alternate between a campaign set in Sine Nomine's Silent Legions, and various DCC adventures. I've played online in a game Josh was running once, set in his own Sanctum of the Snail adventure. I enjoy Josh's love for mollusks, and his personal quest to stat up the Flumph in every ruleset he can.
Against the Wicked City
Except for one early post about playing D&D with his toddler son, all of Joseph's play reports are about a group of players collectively known as Team Tsathoggua, who've been adventuring in a fantasy Southeast Asia that includes the Island of Purple-Haunted Putrescence and Qelong. Joseph's players are full of schemes, and seem to be constantly trying to set themselves up as local rulers. Joseph's campaign materials outside this game mostly focus on his linked Wicked City and Great Road settings, which are part of a fantasy Central Asia. He also writes reviews, mostly of horror-themed adventures and rulesets, most recently a series of posts about the newest version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. You might also know his essay on the aesthetics of ruin, or his collection of weird character classes that's available to download from his sidebar.
Coins & Scrolls
Skerples has an ongoing campaign with a fairly stable group of players. Over time, his play reports have transitioned from being set in his own Tomb of the Serpent Kings and Steam Hill dungeons to taking place in his version of The Veins of the Earth. Skerples is notable for being very into accurate medieval and feudal history, while running a game where most of his players are insect people. (Technically his list of player races includes many non-insect options, but in practice, his games end up feeling more weird than if his players mostly played as hedgehogs and mice.) Skerples is also and enthusiastic adopter of the Goblin Laws of Gaming, making him one of the founding members of what I would consider to be the slightly separate GLOGosphere of OSR bloggers. (You can see all of Goblin Punch's GLOG posts here, and find all the pdfs of his rules here.) You may also recall that once when I was reviewing Skerples' vignettes of fantasy epochs, I said something like "Skerples should collect these into a book and offer it for sale." Well, Skerples did in fact collect them into a book and offered it for sale. My influence on the project is parodically denounced in the acknowledgments.
Throne of Salt
Dan is also part of the new crowd of GLOGosphere bloggers. His recent play reports all take place in his own planes-hopping Danscape setting. His games sound fun, and they remind me of that fact that virtually anyone who runs an online game with an open table that they announce on G+ is going to end up with a veritable "who's who?" of celebrity players. (Well, as "celebrity" as it gets among the OSR blogosphere anyway. But Dan's games end up being just as much celebrity games as Jeff of Jeff's Gamesblog's do.)
Eldritch Fields
Tamas has apparently been around for a few years, but I only just found his blog. He doesn't have many play reports, but there's quite a bit of variety, ranging from a Conan-style raid on a wizard's tower, to Cavegirl's Game Stuff's Gardens of Ynn, to his own adventure inside a giant fish.
The Scones Alone
Brian's blog is pretty new, so he only has a handful of play reports, all set in the same campaign, exploring A Red and Pleasant Land using Into the the Odd rules. Still, his reports are interesting, I appreciate his self-reflection, and there's a soft place in my heart for anyone who attempts to bring in NES games like Dragon Warrior and the original Castlevania as inspiration for their games.
Bearded Devil
Most of Jonathan's recent blog posts are actual play reports. I heard about Bearded Devil from seeing someone praising his hand-drawn city maps. They are gorgeous. He also draws headshots of all his player characters and NPCs. So I came for the art, but the play reports themselves are lively and interesting. One recent game took place in a city built inside the stomach of a flying psychic whale. Another involved an evil alchemist who was synthesizing fake royal jelly to usurp the throne become the false queen of the wasp-women.
People who run games seem to be much more likely to write play reports than players are. (And the players who write play reports seem to be players who are themselves also judges and referees.) I take notes almost every time I play or run a game, but I admit, I'm not always fast to write them up properly. Probably there are other people in a similar situation.
Despite this, I do think there's a real value in people sharing their gaming experiences. Seeing how other people run their games can give you ideas for things you want to do (or things you desperately want to avoid doing!) and it gives you a sense of what the community is like, what other players and other judges are doing at their tables. If you want to know what works well, what's hard to pull off, what people usually pay attention to, and what they ignore, there's no better way to find out than by reading play reports, especially if they come with some sort of post-mortem talking about how the referee prepped, how they made key decisions, or anything else important that came up during play.
I really like learning what's unique about people's home campaigns, but I think it's also quite valuable to see what happens when two different judges or two different groups play through common dungeons, or use two versions of the same campaign setting. First because it's important for a community to have a shared repertoire and language, a shared collective memory of key or formative events, and secondly because it's by seeing how different people interpret the same game text that you really learn how the game is played, you really see what's possible within the structures the game establishes.
In addition to post-mortems, I also really like to see lists of the player characters and retainers, lists of encounters/combats, lists of treasures found, and lists of XP awarded. Papers & Pencils' list of post-session questions might also be catching on. I find that these kinds of summaries are a good GM-aide (I often don't know how much experience to award until after I've gone through the list of everything the players did while writing up the report), and I enjoy them as a reader as well. Not only do they help me keep track of all the moving parts of the session report, they again show me how different judges adjudicate similar situations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

GFA18 - Alternate Plantients for MCC

My fifth 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac article (and this is the last one I'm numbering, I swear) is a list of alternate plantient appearances for Mutant Crawl Classics. Like my alternate manimals, this is a follow-up to my earlier thoughts about MCC's plantients and to my post about Future Evolution. You may notice that common farm and yard plants get top billing here. For some of the plant types, I listed very common types as suggestions. For others, there were either too many options (I don't want to list every kind of flower I can think of, what could possibly be the point of that?) or too few (does anyone really have multiple strong images of ferns in their head, and need a table to help them decide which one to imagine now?) I think the player should be allowed the leeway to describe their plantient looking the way they want - which could include, for example, choosing to look like a pine cone instead of a pine tree if they rolled a 14. As with my other posts in this series, Keith Garrett made it better with editing, and Karim made it better with art.
Art by Karim
Table: Plantient Body Type
Roll 1d6: (1) Human body-plan with plantlike features; (2-4) Human-plant hybrid or anthropomorphic plant; (5-6) Sentient plant with roughly human-sized body, opposable thumbs, fine manual dexterity, and terrestrial locomotion.
Table: Plantient Subtype (roll 1d24)
1     Cereal grain - Roll 1d4: (1) rice; (2) wheat; (3) corn; (4) oats.
2     Leafy vegetable - Roll 1d3: (1) celery; (2) lettuce; (3) greens.
3     Underground - Roll 1d3: (1) bulb such as garlic/onion; (2) root such as potato/carrot; (3) rhizome such as ginger/lotus.
4     Vines - Roll 1d6: (1) berry/grape; (2) melon; (3) pea/bean; (4) tomato/pepper; (5) squash/gourd; (6) flowering/leaf.
5     Herb - Roll 1d4: (1) basil; (2) mint; (3) rosemary; (4) lavender.
6-7   Flower
8     Grass
9     Cluster of shoots - Roll 1d5: (1) asparagus; (2) sansevieria; (3) reed; (4) bamboo; (5) birch.
10     Bush/shrub
11     Fruit tree
12     Tropical - Roll 1d4: (1) palm; (2) coconut; (3) pineapple; (4) banana.
13     Leafy deciduous tree - Roll 1d4: (1) permanent spring flowers; (2) permanent summer green; (3) permanent autumn colors; (4) foliage progresses each time plantient gains level.
14    Pine conifer
15    Fern
16    Carnivorous plant - Roll 1d2: (1) flytrap; (2) pitcher plant.
17     Cactus or succulent
18     Seaweed, sponge, or coral
19     Fungus - Roll 1d3: (1) mushroom; (2) toadstool; (3) morel.
20     Moss, wort, lichen, or mold
21     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 once on this table and 1d20 once on the Mutant Appearance table.
22     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 once on this table and 1d20 once on the Manimal Subtype table (the character is still considered a plantient).
23     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 twice on this table.
24     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 twice on this table and 1d24 once on the Mutant Appearance table.

Monday, October 8, 2018

GFA18 - Alternate Manimals for MCC

My fourth 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac article is a list of alternate manimal appearances for Mutant Crawl Classics. By now, I'm sure every MCC referee has their own list of alternate manimals, but consider this my hat thrown into the ring. In my view, a good list has two characteristics - first, it's inclusive enough that no one reading it immediately thinks of an animal they want that isn't on the list (and if someone really wants a specific animal? don't make them roll, just let them have it), and second, it's exclusive enough that it doesn't include any animal that you have to look up before you're able to imagine it. Ideally the list is also weighted in some way that certain general broad types of animals more common than others (and also so that, for example, me knowing 10 times as many dog breeds as cat breeds doesn't mean that dogs are 10 times more common than cats). This is a follow-up to my own earlier post about manimals in MCC. This is also an example of me trying to apply some of the ideas in Future Evolution, so farm animals, pets, and urban pests are more prominent than animals that, say, only interact with humanity in our zoos. Keith Garrett edited all my articles about MCC for the 2018 GFA, and Karim provided all the art for this series.
Table: Manimal Body Type
Roll 1d6: (1-2) human body-plan with animal features; (3-5) human-animal hybrid or anthropomorphic animal; (6) sentient animal with roughly human-sized body, expressive face, opposable thumbs, and fine manual dexterity.
Table: Manimal Subtype (roll 1d24)
1     Primate - Roll 1d6: (1) gorilla; (2) chimpanzee; (3) orangutan; (4) baboon or mandrill; (5) monkey; (6) australopithecus.
2-3   Carnivorous mammal - Roll 1d12: (1) small-breed dog; (2) large-breed dog; (3) coyote, wild dog, or jackal; (4) fox or wolf; (5) tasmanian devil or thylacine; (6) hyena; (7) domestic cat; (8) bobcat, leopard, panther, puma, or cheetah; (9) tiger or lion; (10) ferret, weasel, or badger; (11) bear; (12) dire wolf, sabretooth tiger, or cave bear.
4-6   Herbivorous mammal - Roll 1d16: (1-2) cow; (3) bison, buffalo, auroch, gnu, or yak; (4-5) donkey, mule, pony, or horse; (6) zebra or giraffe; (7) pig; (8) warthog or boar; (9) sheep or goat; (10-11) deer, antelope, or gazelle; (12) elk or moose; (13) alpaca, llama, or camel; (14) hippo or rhino; (15) elephant; (16) woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, or mastodon.
7-9   Omnivorous mammal - Roll 1d20: (1-2) mouse or rat; (3) mole; (4-5) chipmunk or squirrel; (6-7) hamster, gerbil, or guinea pig; (8) pika, marmot, capybara, or wombat; (9) beaver or otter; (10) groundhog, prairie dog, or meerkat; (11-12) rabbit; (13) kangaroo; (14-15) opossum, raccoon, or skunk; (16) red panda, tanuki, or lemur; (17) panda bear, koala bear, or sloth; (18) hedgehog or porcupine; (19) anteater, armadillo, or pangolin; (20) megatherium or glyptodon.
10-11   Amphibian or reptile - Roll 1d10: (1) frog or toad; (2) salamander or newt; (3) iguana or lizard; (4) gila monster, komodo dragon, or goanna; (5) gecko or chameleon; (6) turtle or tortoise; (7) snake; (8) alligator or crocodile; (9) tyrannosaurus or velociraptor; (10) brontosaurus, stegosaurus, or triceratops
12-14   Bird or avian - Roll 1d24: (1) chicken or turkey; (2) duck, goose, or swan; (3) pigeon; (4) canary or parakeet; (5) cockatoo, toucan, or parrot; (6) cardinal, robin, or bluejay; (7) songbird; (8) hummingbird; (9) raven or crow; (10) eagle or hawk; (11) owl; (12) condor or vulture; (13) peacock; (14) pelican, spoonbill, or stork; (15) seagull or albatross; (16) penguin; (17) puffin, auk, or dodo; (18) flamingo; (19) iris, heron, or crane; (20) ostrich or emu; (21) bat; (22) kiwi, platypus, or echidna; (23) moth; (24) pterodactyl or archaeopteryx.
15-17   Fish or aquatic - Roll 1d20: (1) goldfish or clownfish; (2) salmon, carp, bass, or trout; (3) catfish or plecostomus; (4) sardine or anchovy; (5) puffer or blowfish; (6) lionfish; (7) swordfish, sawfish, or hammerhead; (8) piranha or shark; (9) manta or eel; (10) porpoise or dolphin; (11) seal, manatee, or walrus; (12) whale; (13) seahorse; (14) seaslug; (15) starfish or urchin; (16) jellyfish, octopus, or squid; (17) oyster or clam; (18) lobster, crab, or shrimp; (19) handfish or coelacanth; (20) placoderm, ichthyosaur, or plesiosaur.
18-19   Insect - Roll 1d16: (1) flea or tick; (2) cockroach; (3) mosquito; (4) spider; (5) fly; (6) ant or termite; (7) bee or wasp; (8-9) beetle; (10) grasshopper or cricket; (11) mantis; (12) scorpion; (13) worm, snail, or slug; (14) caterpillar, centipede, or millipede; (15-16) butterfly.
20     Protist - Roll 1d14: (1) amoeba; (2) paramecium; (3) dinoflagellate; (4) yeast; (5) algae; (6) diatom; (7) radiolarian; (8) streptococcus; (9) staphylococcus; (10) virus; (11) bdelloid rotifer; (12) tardigrade; (13) nematode; (14) slime mold.
21-22   Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 once on this table and 1d20 once on the Mutant Appearance table.
23     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 twice on this table.
24     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 twice on this table and 1d24 once on the Mutant Appearance table.
I organized these more according to bodyplan and appearance rather than actual genetic lineage, which is why dinosaurs are being counted as reptiles instead of birds, while bats are counted as birds rather than mammals.
Umm ... I'm preeetty sure they are ...

Friday, October 5, 2018

GFA18 - Alternate Mutants for MCC

My third 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac article is an alternate list of cosmetic mutation for mutant characters (or whenever else you need one, like if your starting equipment includes an animal). I've previously discussed my concern with MCC's mutations, and this was an attempt to create a list that accomplished what I said I wanted. While I didn't want the list to be too long, I also didn't want anyone reading it to immediately say "but what about ... ?" as their first thought after reading it. I also tried to organize it so that the mutations get weirder the higher numbers you roll. Keith Garret edited this article, and Karim drew the art that accompanies the whole series in the GFA.
Table: Mutant Appearance (roll 1d24)
1-3   Skin Color - Roll 1d10: (1) bright red; (2) neon orange; (3) lemon yellow; (4) neon green; (5) bright blue; (6) purple; (7) snow white; (8) metallic (roll 1d2: (1) golden/bronze/brass; (2) silvery/leaden/steel); (9) translucent/invisible; (10) outré (roll 1d5: (1) infrared; (2) ulfire; (3) dolm; (4) jale; (5) ultraviolet).
4-5   Skin Texture - Roll 1d10: (1) mottled, spotted, or striped; (2) banded or segmented; (3) lumpy, warty, or wrinkly; (4) covered in fur or feathers; (5) covered in quills or spines; (6) covered in scales (roll 1d4: (1) fish; (2) amphibian; (3) reptilian; (4) pangolin); (7) chitinous; (8) shifting pattern indicates emotion; (9) inorganic material (roll 1d3: (1) metallic; (2) stony or rocky; (3) crystalline); (10) sheds completely once/day.
6-8   Eyes - Roll 1d8: (1) one; (2) three; (3) slitted or barbell pupil; (4) unnatural iris color (roll 1d6 on skin color subtable); (5) solid white or black; (6) glowing/fiery; (7) compound insect; (8) eye stalks (roll 1d2: (1) short stalks growing horizontally from temples; (2) long stalks growing vertically from forehead).
9-10   Mouth - Roll 1d10: (1) special diet of inorganic material; (2) sharp fanged teeth; (3) metallic or crystalline teeth; (4) manimal muzzle; (5) beak or duckbill; (6) extra long neck; (7) strange tongue (roll 1d3: (1) black; (2) forked; (3) extra long); (8) 2d4 pairs of facial appendages (roll 1d4: (1) cat whiskers; (2) tiny tentacles; (3) catfish barbels; (4) insect pedipalps); (9) horrible mouth (roll 1d4: (1) insect; (2) leech; (3) throat pouch or sac; (4) oversized with unhinged jaw); (10) two mouths (roll 1d3: (1) two rows of teeth; (2) second mouth below original on oversized chin; (3) second alien pharyngeal mouth emerges from throat).
11-12   Head - Roll 1d10: (1) pointed elfin ears; (2) manimal ears; (3) elongated nose; (4) manimal nose; (5) neanderthal brow ridges; (6) alien bone structure of forehead; (7) antennae; (8) manimal horns; (9) acephaly (no head, face on torso); (10) bicephaly (roll 1d3: (1) 1d3 extra faces on head; (2) 1d2 extra human heads; (3) 1d2 extra manimal heads).
13-15   Hair - Roll 1d8: (1) unnatural color (roll 1d6 on the skin color subtable); (2) otherworldly color (roll 1d4+6 on skin color subtable); (3) permanent impossible hairstyle; (4) glorious waist-length beard; (5) made of quills; (6) made of feathers; (7) made of petals or leaves; (8) hairless revealing oversized or oddly-shaped skull.
16-17   Arms and Hands - Roll 1d10: (1) three or four fingers per hand; (2) six or seven fingers per hand; (3) clawed fingernails; (4) manimal paw; (5) webbing between fingers; (6) pincer instead of hand; (7) giant hands or child hands; (8) elongated arms with second elbow; (9) extra arms (1d2 additional pairs); (10) tentacles (roll 1d2: (1) arms replaced by tentacles; (2) hands replaced by mass of tentacles).
18-19   Legs and Feet - Roll 1d10: (1) six or seven toes per foot; (2) hands instead of feet; (3) manimal paw feet; (4) hooves instead of feet; (5) bird talon feet; (6) flippers instead of feet; (7) backward bending knees; (8) elongated legs with second knee; (9) legs fused into single appendage; (10) tentacles (roll 1d2: (1) legs replaced by tentacles; (2) feet replaced by mass of tentacles).
20     Bodily form - Roll 1d8: (1) vestigial tail; (2) manimal tail; (3) decorated spine (roll 1d3: (1) sawtooth spikes; (2) sail crest; (3) bony plates); (4) serpentine; (5) spherical; (6) trilateral symmetry (arms and legs come in groups of three instead of pairs); (7) centaurian (four legs, upper body unaffected); (8) geometric body (roll 1d4: (1) cylinders and spheres; (2) cubes and rectangles; (3) pyramid; (4) dodecahedron).
21-22   Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 twice on this table (if the same type is rolled twice, the mutant with have an asymmetric body that incorporates both appearances).
23     Multiple mutations - Roll 1d20 and 1d24 on this table (cumulative. If another result of 21+ is rolled, the mutant will have three or more mutations).
24    Multiple mutations - Roll 1d24 twice on this table.