Sunday, November 11, 2018

Two Moons Above - Keeping Horror Simple

From left to right: Jen, Rachel, Shannon, Cody, and me!

(Author's Note: As my regular readers have already discovered, I'm deep into a full-on Savage Worlds obsession. A the time of this post's publishing, we're at the tail end of the super successful Savage Worlds: Adventure Edition Kickstarter. If you'd like to read about my take on the new game, here's my initial blog post on the topic, and then here's my vlog/livestream Q&A specifically for folks who may know very little about the incredible game of Savage Worlds!)

Last night I tried my hand yet again at a style of game-play that typically resides outside my game mastering repertoire: HORROR. 

If you would ask my players about my GM'ing style, I think you would hear descriptions like zany, over-the-top, outlandish, comedic, mashed-up, or weird. Now, I don't have any issues with these descriptors and I actually cherish the last one. That's probably why I'm such a fan of Numenera, which is a game that's all about unleashing the weird and bizarre. 

Running a good horror game requires setting the proper mood and building tension. I often find this challenging as I love to keep things fun and funny and I am quick to crank these up to an eleven. I'm not saying that I can't, or haven't run a decent horror game before, but I always feel like I'm working at it, sometimes way harder than I should. 

But last night's game went so well, and all I really did was make a few tweaks to how I usually run my games. I thought I'd share. 

Two Moons Above

(GM's Note: although I didn't have an official title at the time of our gaming session, since I'm considering fleshing out this adventure for future use and potential publication, I felt that one was needed for this post. Plus it hearkens back to one of my few successful attempts at running a horror adventure series: Another Sun Rises.


My adventure was based on a single page of notes, cobbled together to describe a story that has been brewing in my head for the better part of a decade. I am a fan of history, especially alternate history scenarios. 

One such scenario is Operation Sea Lion, which I first read about in Weird War Two: Blood on the Rhine, a D20 system campaign setting from the early 2000's. Operation Sea Lion was Hitler's proposed German invasion of Great Britain, to have occurred after the Battle of Britain. Weird War Two: Blood on the Rhine suggests an alternate campaign where the player characters are fighting in a resistance against Nazi occupation in England, perhaps leveraging English and Celtic mythology and stories.

I kicked around the idea of using the updated Weird Wars: Weird War II setting for Savage Worlds, perhaps tossing in a few dashes of Rippers Resurrected. But in the end, while both settings offered tidbits of theming, I built everything using only the Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook. 

I offered pre-generated player characters, and if you'd like to use them in your own game here's the link. Each PC has five open pieces of backstory that the player must determine prior to the session. This way, there's a bit of customization even with some pre-gens. I think I'll be using this concept again.

The original inspiration for this adventure was this amazing cover art for one of my favorite d20 products of all time.


I'm not going to go into crazy depth here, but I think I need to share the basics of this adventure:

It's October, 14th, 1940, and the player characters are hanging out in a pub in Elvington, England, just east of York. It's late. The mood is dire. Just a few weeks earlier the last remnants of the British Expeditionary Force, along with their French compatriots, were defeated and captured at Dunkirk. The Battle of Britain is in full swing, and it appears that a Nazi invasion attempt is inevitable.

Little do the player characters realize, but the invasion has already begun. Small Nazi , angular-shaped zeppelins silently advance over the North Sea. These one-hundred foot long zeppelins are equipped with several works of weird science:

  • They are covered with angular, reflective surfaces that scatter radar.
  • Each airship has a massive, thirty-foot wide disk suspended directly beneath the craft.
  • A long cable and winch can lower a ten-foot wide cage down to the ground, releasing the airship's most secret weapon: a single WEREWOLF! 

That's essentially the gist of this adventure. The Nazi's plan to secretly release nearly invincible werewolves into the countryside to cause chaos and carnage in England's northern towns while focusing their invasion on the southeastern coast. When you think about it, werewolves are pretty much the supreme super-soldier. They are fast, vicious, powerful, and they can't be harmed by anything save for silver. 

Just how many silver bullets do you think are in the English countryside at any given time?

As soon as the werewolf is released into the countryside it starts murdering civilians. The player characters must either deal with the creature or flee the village and get help. The choice is theirs. 

The Werewolf

I made just two tweaks to the werewolf featured in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook.

  • The werewolf may be on a murdering spree, but he is still intelligent and communicates and coordinates via a radio with "command" located back on the zeppelin. 
  • The werewolf can only be active (in hybrid-wolf form, not human) when there is a full-moon visible. Since it's not the night of a full moon, the Nazi super-scientists have figured out a work-around to this problem: giant moonlight generators hoisted below each zeppelin. 

I wish I had a better map for you. I don't. This is what I have. Maybe if I do anything with this adventure you will get more. The squares are buildings. That's what I got.

Adventure Summary

This is essentially a "one-sheet" for Savage Worlds, and so it leaves a lot to the GM to flesh out the village of Elvington. It also leaves a lot to the players to figure out the best way to deal with the problem, or escape. That said, there is an order to which the events unfold that will help move the adventure forward.

  • The adventure starts with Stephen, son of the pub's owner George, rushing into the pub screaming that the moon has disappeared. The PC's may notice that the moon (which just a few moments earlier was a waning gibbous), is no longer in the sky. 
    • Weather conditions are poor, and even though it is evening, it's still a bit overcast, so it's hard to make out any shapes in the sky which is why the zeppelins are not clearly visible even though one is presently eclipsing the moon.
    • Moments later the moon reappears, and the PC's may decide to further investigate, or just go back to drinking.
  • A few minutes later, the boy is screaming out that there is a second moon in the sky, a full moon hanging above just to the north, which doesn't make sense because it's nowhere near the ecliptic. With the haze there are no features visible on either moon, neither the real one nor the fake. Both are roughly the same size in the sky, however.
  • As the PC's go outside to investigate, they will hear a lot of the village's dogs barking, the animals unnerved by what is going on in the sky. The first sign of something "wrong" is that the dogs to the north start to bark less and less. This is the werewolf killing them. 
  • The werewolf will begin to silently enter homes and businesses, killing residents. The first sign of this will be when the PC's approach one of the buildings near where the dogs have stopped barking. The building's light's are on, and everything seems normal, however as the PC's observe closer there will be a splash of blood on the window, and all the lights will go out on the inside of the house. 
  • The GM is free to populate the village with any buildings that they see fit. For this scene I had it be a manor house. 
  • After killing off the inhabitants of three homes, or engaging the PC's once, the werewolf will attempt to retreat so that it can be extracted by the zeppelin. The second moon will then disappear. 
  • A few minutes later, the moon will appear to the south, and everything starts all over again. The werewolf will then pursue the PC's actively. 
  • A squad of 4-6 Nazi soldiers will quietly enter the village to review the damage caused by the werewolf for study. I kept them always out of reach, but they would turn on lights and could be seen in the windows of buildings where the murders previously occurred. 
    • If encountered, figure they have d6's in everything except for Agility, Shooting, Tracking, and Stealth. For all of those they have d8's. They are armed with bolt action rifles (2d8 dmg). 
    • Don't let the soldiers get caught until the PC's encounter the werewolf directly. 
  • The PC's need to either work out a way to kill the werewolf (a serious challenge given that they are just in an English country village), or flee (which will initiate a chase, as the werewolf can run at the speed of an old car on a country road). 

At the moment when the player characters have either defeated the werewolf, or successfully outrun him as they flee Elvington, the sky clears up and dozens of additional moons appear... as well as the zeppelins themselves. 

The invasion of England has begun. 

New #SWADE chase rules!

How Our Session Played Out

In our game last night, the PC's realized that something was wrong and immediately started investigating. The PC's phoned the police for assistance, and then went outside to take a look around. They took the strangeness seriously after witnessing the murder at the local manor. The splash of blood on the glass, and the lights going out spooked all of the players except for my wife. She approached the glass and then knocked on the door. So I had the werewolf smash through the glass and slash her character (Georg Von Werther) across the back. 

The PC's then fled to a butcher's store and armed themselves with cleavers. Running over to the pub they convinced the pub owner to lend them his shotgun. That's when the party tracked the creature to a postal office and tried to engage it armed with meat cleavers and a shotgun. 

Their ineffectiveness at harming the beast caused quite a stir, as did the near death of Shannon's player character to a vicious attack. The plan shifted from "fight" to "escape." The team noticed that the werewolf was speaking German through a radio, and since one of the PC's was Austrian, he was able to work out that the werewolf was intelligent. 

When the werewolf was shaken by a shotgun blast, the party ran to a nearby car. One of the PC's bravely stole the radio off of the werewolf just before everyone fled off. For the flight out of town we used the updated Chase Rules from the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, which I thought played rather well. I look forward to using them again. To shut down the werewolf the party's Austrian musician mimicked the voice of the werewolf (a really hard persuasion test) through the radio asking for the moon to be switched off in German. The light was shut down, the werewolf stopped chasing.

The realization that the moon, and dozens like it, were all created by Nazi zeppelins was both an awesome plot twist as well as a horrifying image. 

Jen's character.

My Horror Commandments

(GM's Note: These are commandments for myself, and while I would suggest them for others who have found the Horror genre to be difficult, by no means would I suggest that these are something that work for everyone. They worked for me, though, which is why I'm sharing.) 

I followed six, very particular commandments that I established before we started playing:

1) Share nothing with your players about the adventure. I didn't tell them the title (of course I didn't have one), nor did I give them any spectacular backstory that would've made it seem like this was some kind of supernatural adventure. Obviously this wouldn't work for an ongoing game that already includes the supernatural, so maybe this is cheating. But it worked for me this session. 

2) Don't let your players break the mood. This was key. One time when I was trying to run a serious Ravenloft campaign back in the mid-2000's a player decided his character would sound like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. I didn't put a stop to his antics then, so the game died on the vine. Last night my wife was initially going to name her Traveling Musician "Blooz Traveler." Yeah, that wasn't happening. I informed her that she needed to keep things at least a bit more serious. So she modeled her trombone player after The Sound of Music. 

3) Keep the frightening scenes just out of reach. Whenever the players witnessed something terrible they were not in a position to intervene. Save for that first scene with the blood splash on glass, the next two times they saw the werewolf, it was at a great distance. They couldn't make out just what the thing was, but they saw the victims being mutilated from a couple hundred feet away. I think this helped generate some helplessness that was a lot of fun. 

4) Allow for occasional goofiness outside of the game, but don't let it invade the adventure. Playing games is fun, and even in a serious horror adventure, there should be room for a little lightheartedness. But I didn't let it drift into the game itself, or at least not too much. There were definitely a handful of funny sequences in game, but nothing too outlandish. 

5) Reveal everything methodically. It's okay to crank things to a 4 instead of an 11. Be careful in how you share details about what the PC's are encountering, especially when you are using a monster. I definitely had to squash my urge to reveal too much at once. When the players first encountered the werewolf at the manor, if I had the creature reveal itself right then and there the battle would've been long and protracted and would have smashed the chance for mystery. I figured that once the party realized it was a werewolf, they would've gone straight hunting silver. Instead, they armed themselves with knives, cleavers, and the shotgun, hoping they would do the trick. They didn't. 

6) You can crank in reverse. My typical adventure is a continuous escalation towards victory. There's a problem that appears, and the players work towards resolution. My goal last night was to offer plenty of moments where the tension deescalated. From the disappearance of the second moon, to giving the PC's time to reequip themselves, I tried to leave moments for the tension to "reset." 

*     *     *

So I'm tossing this back to you. What do you believe makes a good horror game? What is the best horror-themed RPG session you've experienced, and what made it different from others? If you are a GM who runs lots of horror games, how do you set the tone? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Why Am I Keeping This Game?

I'm not sure whether it's some early sign of a bizarre mid-life crisis, or just a subconscious rejection of some facets of consumerism, but I recently kicked off a quest to downsize my gaming collection by a sizable margin. Selling off pieces of my collection isn't a new thing for me. When I went from AD&D 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition, I sold off some of my old materials. The same happened when I went from 3rd to 4th. And then 4th to Savage Worlds and the Cypher System. 

But this time it feels different. More urgent.

It all started a few months ago as we approached our big move from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Obviously we needed to make room, and I needed a little extra cash. So I dug through all my old books, found some of the more collectible, yet idle pieces that I owned, and sent them on their way to friends all over the country. 

I started the process again a few weeks ago as a means to offset my Savage Worlds  Adventure Edition Kickstarter backing. I wanted to go "all in" but we're also on a budget to buy a new house. If selling off Planescape and Dragonlance books would help me update a system that I was actively playing, I was all for it. 

But all these recent book sales have had a snowball. I kinda wanna to keep goin'! 

I noticed that some of the games I was selling off hadn't even been played. I just collected them for the sake of collecting. I know I'm not alone in this part of our hobby. Pretty much every gamer I know has a stash of stuff that's just reading material, or maybe just something that completes a particular series of sourcebooks or settings. But this week my habitual collector brain broke, and I took a long, hard look at stuff that I have just sitting around. 

Maybe more of my collection needs to find a new home?

Take my Fantasy Flight Star Wars collection. I've played Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion for maybe a total of ten sessions. I can't stand the dice mechanics, and the rules are way too crunchy for me. So why am I keeping all the books? I have just about everything for Edge of the Empire. I just kept collecting it as new books rolled out. I think it needs to go. 

Hell, I may ship the X-Wing miniatures off as well. They just take up space. Plus I don't want to upgrade to the new edition. 

I've still got a lot of old AD&D 2nd Edition stuff, some of which I know other folks are on the hunt for. Am I just keeping these around for a collection's sake? I'm not going to be running Ravenloft again anytime soon. If I want gothic horror, I'd prefer to do something with either Rippers or Accursed (both Savage Worlds). 

I've always been a big fan of Firefly, and I own just about all the Firefly and Serenity RPG stuff. Am I going to run that? Doubtful. No desire to learn yet another system, even if the source material is so close to my heart. There was a time when I wanted to have "everything Firefly" but I've got everything for the board game, and that should be enough. 

These are just snippets of a collection that continues to grow as each and every Kickstarter fulfills. 

Even if I pare down my collection, perhaps limiting it to a single 4 by 2 Kallax (currently it's triple that size), keeping only the games and systems that I am actively playing at this moment... I still have more settings, adventures, and plot point campaigns, than I'll ever be able to play through. 

That's where the mid-life crisis thing is kicking in. Frankly it's a little chilling.

Recently I was thinking about taking a rush at the four main Deadlands Reloaded plot point campaigns. I have all four hardbacks (The Flood, The Last Sons, Stone and a Hard Place, and Good Intentions), and gee, it'd be great to run the gauntlet! But from what I'm hearing, it'll take a year just to dig through The Flood, and that's with a weekly campaign.

Well, it's next to impossible to get a weekly thing going as a grown up with responsibilities. 

So let's say it takes two years. Two, four, six, eight years from now I could have all of these completed. Throw in the rest of the plot point campaigns that I have, and that I really want to play, and I'm looking at probably fifteen years of Savage Worlds gaming.

What about the other stuff I've got? When all is said and done, Peril on the Purple Planet will have taken our monthly DCC group about eighteen months. We only scratched the surface of the Chained Coffin. Lankhmar ain't even here yet. At least I've worked my way through a lot of the DCC modules successfully, but with each one that I finish, Goodman Games (and third party publishers) crank out five. At least. 

I think there are another four Cypher System settings coming out right now after the last Kickstarter right? Talk about cranking out the goodness! 

Sorry, at this point I'm just ranting and I'm not really sure why. Personally, I love all of these options. We live in a golden age of gaming. There's more to be played than we can ever play, and I think I'm just now realizing it, and it's scaring the hell out of me. To play everything that I want to play I'd need to make it a full time career, and that's just not feasible with a wife and family. I'd need to be some kind of true Nomad Judge, living in a teardrop trailer driving around from city to city running games for people. Damn, that'd be awesome! 

Enough rambling, let's talk about your shelves! What games do you own that you know you're never going to play? Why are you keeping them? What do you plan to do with all those sourcebooks and modules? What's keeping you from selling them or even just giving them away? 

Monday, November 5, 2018

When Do You Play?

I think I'm getting old.

The closer that I get to 40, the more I notice a nagging indicator reminding me that middle age is just around the corner. It's not random joint pain, nor is it my newfound difficulty in keeping off the pounds. It's not my thinning hair, or the scraggly gray whiskers that poke out from the sides of my head. 

It's my preferred gaming schedule.

Back in my prime, that glorious time between my late twenties and early thirties when I was still young enough to maintain a sturdy constitution but old enough to have a solid career with steady, game-purchasing income, I loved to end my day with a great role-playing game session. We'd kick things off at 8pm or 8:30, play until midnight, and often I'd still have the endurance to craft our post-game write up afterwards. Then, around 2am I'd finally settle in front of my PlayStation and crank out a couple hours of Final Fantasy VIII. 

Those were some good times!

But as I worked my way up into my mid-thirties, I noticed that those long evenings started to shorten. First it was the late night computer or console gaming that disappeared. No worries there. I've had my fair share of accidentally playing a game like Master of Orion or Civilization until my alarm went off and I somberly realized that I would either need to drink a gallon of coffee or try to call off work for the day. 

Next went the late night adventure recaps. Even prior to my blog, I used to do adventure write ups after each and every gaming session. But instead of writing them after midnight, I started waiting until the next morning. 

The last thing to go was the 11pm to 12am hour of gaming. I'm just no good after 11pm, no matter how much coffee I've had beforehand. Gaming in person after 11pm isn't too bad, but gaming online knocks me right out, even if I'm the GM. Don't even ask me to play in an online game that'll run after 11pm. 

My new favorite time to game? Afternoons. 

My 2pm to 6pm schedule over at The Games Keep in West Chester, PA, is absolutely perfect. Just after lunch, so I've got a full belly, but safely before dinner so that I don't have to worry about spending money on take out. Sundays are especially great for this schedule, as I don't have to get up to early and I still have adequate time to prep in the morning while slurping down one or two cups of coffee. 

Running games isn't too bad in the morning, but my "pre-10am haven't had enough coffee grumpiness" is best suited for electronic gaming where I don't actually have to interact with any real people. We used to run some Dunkin and Dragons gaming with the kiddos, but those games didn't start until way later in the morning. Like 11am. Heck, that's practically afternoon.

I've still got a couple games a month that run later into the evening, most notably my Purple Planet campaign beginning at 8:30pm, and typically ending a little after 11. All I can think about after those games is "damn, that sure was a late night!" I truly wish that I could still stay up super late, as I don't feel like I have enough gaming in my schedule right now. But with my new work schedule eating up most of my weekdays, and kids activities jacking many of our evenings. 

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be making an attempt at setting up a regular, long-term, biweekly (or is it semi-weekly?) Sunday afternoon game during that most special time slot of 2pm to 6pm. Here's hoping that I can find a few players who share in my delight of an AARP-approved, early bird special schedule RPG session. 

Wish me luck! 

*     *     *

Sundays from 2 to 6 may work great for me and my schedule now, but I'd love to hear about your perfect game time. When running for your home groups, do you prefer a late night gaming schedule, or something way earlier in the day? 

(PS: I was falling asleep writing the end of this. Ugh!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lazy Bones - A Deadlands Bedtime Story - Session 2

Another night, another Savage Worlds: Deadlands Reloaded bedtime story with Cooper! Now I'm here, doing a brief recap while listening to my own personal Weird Western playlist on YouTube

I should note that last night's session included a miniature that Cooper painted himself: a Hero Quest skeleton. He wanted to use that figure for Sebastian, so until we get something from Hero Forge, that's gonna be Cooper's character. Come to think of it, my miniatures for this game are lacking in general. I'll share the scenes below, but I'm using mostly D&D miniatures. I need to fix this. I've got a handful of Deadlands minis, but nowhere near enough. Maybe in coming weeks this'll get righted. 

My post last night (covering the prior night's game and origin) discussed the origin of this new, bedtime story campaign. Since it was a lot, I thought I'd skip straight to the story.

Session 2 - Under the Big Top

Things looked worrisome for Sebastian Squelette. He allowed the creepy clowns to take his shotgun and whip and lead him to the circus, but once there, it seemed like they were going to be keeping him for a while.

Once backstage at the circus, Sebastian noticed that there were several cages. One housed a pair of wolves and a wolfman. Another kept a massive boar. A pair of huge frogs were penned up nearby. In the last cell on the far side of the area a sickly looking man had collapsed from exhaustion on the floor. 

It was Mr. Zink!

Sebastian allowed himself to be locked in the cage, and turned to thank his new jailers. Once they left he hatched a quick plan. 

One of Sebastian's harrowed powers allowed him to turn into a ghost. As soon as the clowns had left the backstage area, the outlaw skeleton became incorporeal and drifted out to the main area beneath the big top. Across the chamber he saw that one of the clowns had a large key on his belt. 

Sebastian carefully snuck up on the clown and grabbed the key. This required him to become corporeal again, but before he could change back he was spotted.

Sebastian ran towards the backstage area while the clowns grabbed torches. The ringmaster Philippe sent his tiger after Sebastian as well. Knowing he'd need allies, Sebastian ran up to the wolfman and let him and his wolf allies free. 

Here's where things got messy. The wolves attacked the tiger, and the wolfman attacked two of the clowns. The third clown charged Sebastian as the skeleton made his way to Mr. Zink's cage. But once Sebastian unlocked his zombie-friend's cell, Mr. Zink unleashed some wicked arcana on the pursuing clown.

Turns out that Mr. Zink is a Huckster - a spellcaster that made deals with dark spirits in return for awesome energy. Mr. Zink's spell of choice, a lightning bolt, made short work of the clown. 

Unfortunately for the party, the master of the ring was also the master of the dark arts. Philippe sent forth a pair of fiery blasts that nearly killed Sebastian and Mr. Zink in one hit!

(GM's Note: Seriously, if Cooper hadn't nailed his soak roll at this point it would've been a short adventure. Technically I'd let him wake up in a grave with a splitting headache rather than kill off Sebastian. I don't think Cooper's quite ready to "play for keeps" again yet, no matter how much Dungeon Crawl Classics I've put the child through.)

Undeterred by the ringmaster, both Sebastian and Mr. Zink returned fire. Lightning and bullets peppered Philippe as he dropped to the ground. Then the two partners in crime unlocked all the cages, allowing the other critters to get free. The undead pair wasted no time hightailing out of the big top, dropping the last remaining clown so as to assist the wolfman. The wolfman introduced himself as Wolfman. 

Once outside, the trio headed back to the train station. Chances are they wouldn't want to stay in Dodge City for long. 

To be continued... 

Wrap Up

Okay, I'm having serious flashbacks to Numenera Disenchanted Tales with Carrie and Evie now. I remember our first game being a bit of a tough grind, just trying to keep the girls on target. But the second game was a lot smoother, and so on and so forth. Each game they got more and more excited by the story and by advancing their characters. I think we're going to have the same thing here with Cooper. 

I got home late from work tonight. Around 8:30pm. I figured Cooper would've dragged his feet on getting a shower, and we wouldn't have time. Nope! He was ready to go. So we had a great one hour session, did the good night hug, and he was off counting sheep. I have a business trip for the rest of this week and he was a little bummed that we couldn't continue night after night.

There's always the weekend!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Lazy Bones - A Deadlands Bedtime Story - Session 1

I've got a fever... and the only cure may be Deadlands. 

Here's the issue. I've been geeking out somethin' fierce with the new Savage Worlds Adventure Edition Kickstarter going on right now. I spent the entire weekend flipping through some of my old Savage Worlds books, reminiscing on previous games and campaigns, and cooking up some thoughts for new sessions. But then I came across my Deadlands stuff, and my future goals all became a lot more immediate. 

See, I can't ever seem to open a Deadlands book without doing a complete gaming U-turn, and taking the first locomotive back to the Weird West. One quick read of Bruce Campbell's forward in the the original Deadlands Weird West Player's Guide, and I'm in a full western tailspin. I'm back to reading The Sixth Gun, watching Westworld, and booting up Red Dead Redemption. 

But it's been years since I've had a long term Deadlands game cookin'. I had a couple Deadlands Classic campaigns back in the mid-2000's, and was a player in a long running Deadlands Hell on Earth campaign (RIP Joaquin Vega.) Other than that, all my Deadlands action has been one-shots, many with the Norwin Game Knights. 

Flipping through just one of those books reignites the urge. 

I should note that it's really, REALLY hard not to come across a Deadlands book whenever digging through my pile of gaming materials.

What I really want to do with Deadlands Reloaded, and what I've always wanted, is to do a live, in-person campaign. Not a one-shot. Not a con game. Not an online campaign. Real people in a real room with real dice, real Fate Chips, and real playing cards. Playing once a week. Hell, maybe we could even get through one of the four incredible plot point campaigns I own. 

Unfortunately, I don't live close to enough people whom I know who would be able to take part in a regular, weekly game. Even Jen and the girls have such busy schedules now that they just don't have as much time as they used to in order to game with their dad. 

But what about Cooper?

Evie was Cooper's age when we first started Numenera: Disenchanted Tales back in early 2014. We've been talking about ways to help get Cooper away from his TV and his Nintendo Switch, without having to institute hard limits. Maybe a bedtime game, styled like what I had run previously for his sisters, would have similar beneficial effects.

This wouldn't even be Cooper's first rodeo. He's played his fair share of Savage Worlds over the years:

That said, its been a few years since Cooper's played any role-playing game. He's dedicated his time to electronic gaming, and does a fair bit of board gaming as well. But with his sister' graduating to the grown up table, I think Cooper's been feeling left behind.

In addition to Savage Worlds being a game Cooper was somewhat familiar with, Deadlands Reloaded has a lot of features and themes that would excite my eight-year old son. So much of the Weird Western style, coupled with the "Fast, Furious, Fun" of Savage Worlds appeals to younger players. Back when we ran the Norwin Game Knights, it was never hard to pick up a whole table of young players willing to take to the dusty trails. 

Also, there are the Harrowed, and Cooper really has a thing for the undead. I think it started with Plants vs. Zombies and just progressed from there. Maybe if I let Cooper play a harrowed from the get go I'd be able to pique his interest right off the bat?

So we planned a bedtime one shot for last night, with a subsequent session planned for tonight. If both go well, we'll set up regular games at home, perhaps with some guest stars from our friends and family.

Sign up now!

Sebastian Squelette, the Stealthy Skull

Here's the character Cooper and I concocted for our story:

The skeletal outlaw is a harrowed from Tombstone, who had big plans in the CSA a year ago. Sebastian took part in a massive heist to steal the tomb of George Washington. After dismantling the structure, Sebastian and his partner Mr. Zink attempted to make delivery to a gentleman named Billy Bob Jenkins in exchange for one million dollars. But it was a set up! Instead of becoming rich, Sebastian had to flee Virginia and the Texas Rangers. He made his way to Philadelphia.

But Sebastian longs to go home.

Recently Sebastian got a telegram from his good zombie friend (or "zombro") Mr. Zink. Mr. Zink had found his way to Dodge City, and wanted to link up with Sebastian so that they could travel back to Dodge City together.  

Image from Hero Forge. If Cooper successfully completes 10 sessions, I promised him a custom Sebastian Squelette figure that I will paint for him. 

  • Attributes: Agility d12, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
  • Edges: Veteran of the Weird West (Harrowed), Supernatural Agility, Ghost
  • Hindrances: Wanted (Major, Texas Rangers), Phobia (Minor, Tigers), Enemy (Minor, Tracker Tim)
  • Skills: Fighting d8, Guts d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d10, Stealth d6, Streetwise d4, Tracking d6
  • Gear: Double Barreled Shotgun, Colt Navy Revolver, Whip

Game Modifications

I made just a couple of adjustments to our game to help Cooper re-learn the system, and not overly complicate our game. 

  • Exchanged Fate Chips for the more Savage Worlds standard "Bennies." I figure we'll go back to Fate Chips later, once he mastered the process.
  • I gave Sebastian Hinderances that are more suited for the GM to track. Wanted, Phobia, and Enemy can all reside on my side of the screen, and don't necessitate too much active role-play, at least in the beginning. 
  • For tracking ammo, I had Cooper break out six white Nerf bullets (pistol ammo), and two green Nerf bullets (shot gun ammo.) Heck, I think I may use this for my grown-up players at some point!

Session 1 - Clowning Around

It was early evening when Sebastian's train entered Dodge City. Once he got out of the car, he called out "Mr. Zink! Mr. Zink!" 

Strangely enough, this method of investigation worked. A passerby, unfazed by Sebastian's skeletal visage, stated that he knew a Mr. Zink, and had seen him earlier having a drink over at the Alhambra Saloon. 

Sebastian strolled into the Alhambra Saloon, sauntering up to the bar while a musician played a few pleasant tunes on a piano. The skeleton asked the bartender where he could find Mr. Zink. The bartender claimed that the zombie had left a few hours earlier with a traveling salesman. But something wasn't right. Sebastian sensed that the bartender was lying. 

"Tell me the truth!" Sebastian shouted at the bartender.

The bartender cried out that Mr. Zink had been press-ganged by the circus on the north side of town. That was no good. 

Sebastian walked out into the dark streets of Dodge City, headed north towards the circus. Soon a trio of clowns encircled the skeleton. 

"Well, well, what have we here? Wanna join the circus, skeleton?" they asked. The clubs they were carrying seemed proof enough that they weren't actually asking. 

"Okay," Sebastian responded. Outnumbered, he figured that he was headed to the circus anyway, so why not see where his path led. The clowns took his shotgun, but Sebastian was able to hide his Colt Navy Revolver in his pants. 

Cooper wanted to help draw the map of the circus big top.

When Sebastian entered the big top, he gasped. There, in the middle of the giant circus tent, was the Ringmaster Philippe, guiding a tiger around in circles. Sebastian hated tigers! Sebastian choked back his fear, and continued with the clowns towards the backstage area.

To be continued... 

Wrap Up

I gotta say, Cooper impressed me with one of his decisions. When the three clowns appeared, I figured that we were going into combat. I drew the map, placed the miniatures, and broke out the playing cards. But Cooper kept his finger off the trigger, and went along with the clowns. Pretty impressive! 

As we move along in the campaign, I'll continue to post updates. If you'd like to join us, please be on the lookout for our adventures. 

And again... if you'd like to join Sebastian Squelette and Mr. Zink on the dark trails of the Weird West, let us know. Maybe there's room in the posse for someone to ride shotgun. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Road Crew Event - Shadow Under Devil's Reef, Part 2

"We fight the fish with the fish." - Steve James

This quote from our player Will is so very, very important. Embedded in those words are the heart and soul of our Road Crew campaign (that is increasingly becoming NOT a Road Crew campaign but just a regular store game... which is totally fine with me.) If that quote doesn't seem to make sense don't worry. It doesn't make sense to me either, and yet it totally does. 

During today's session of Jon Hook's Shadow Under Devil's Reef, our party finally completed the adventure using a combination of quick thinking, fishy spell-casting, froggy clerical magic, and high die rolling. A very well cast Paralysis spell from Turd Fergeson essentially one-shotted the boss encounter. That was the kind of day I was having as a Judge. 

At the end of the session, I made a comment that the party beat me quickly with the high rolling. All the players seemed surprised that I would take an adversarial tone against the them in my games.

Sorry guys, I'm here to roll dice and kill characters. Unfortunately I didn't kill any characters today, but I came close a few times.

And there's always next time. 

As an added bonus, Robert brought a whole mess of Dwarven Forge for us to use for the game. I had SO MUCH fun with the caverns and dungeons, and can't wait for my own swag to come next year! I've gotta wait a long time, but after seeing the stuff in play, it's gonna be worth it. 

Cast of Characters

  • Larkin, Elf, played by Shannon
    • Glassblower by trade, whose magic is derived through careful use of lenses, crystals, and light. 
    • Native of the Eastern Forest.
    • Owns a prized hen.
    • Seeks the Great Pumpkin as a patron
  • Turd Fergeson, played by Ryan
    • Faithful servant of Amon-Tor, goddess of mysteries.
    • Originally from Earth. 
    • Has possession of an endless suite of one-liners to fit every occasion.
  • Marco, Thief, played by Cody
    • Born and raised in Black Sand Port.
    • Tried to join the Thieves Guild, but was too rebellious. 
    • Learned several alien alphabets from his former Guildmaster's secret library. 
    • Partially possessed by the soul of a magic door named... Door. Door can grant Marco aid in dealing with other doors, at a cost. 
  • Steve James, Wizard, played by Will
    • Earth native who left home, joined the French Foreign Legion, fell into the DCC Planet, and became a great wizard.
    • Father of Steve James II (evil Cult Wizard, RIP) and grandfather of Steve James III (lost teen who wanted to discover his family, RIP)
    • Specializes in all-fish magic (Ichthyomancer).
  • Tonya, Warrior, played by Robert
    • Badass figure skater from Earth. 
    • Wields a big-ass sword, and not afraid to cut you with it. 
  • Lars, Dwarf, played by Rob
    • Human from Earth who was transformed into a Dwarf after traveling to the DCC Planet.
    • Seeks entrance into the CCPR (Card Carrying Punk Rockers) but needs to complete three acts of legendary vandalism.
    • Wielder of the Demon's Claw, an enchanted scimitar from Fu-Lamia. 
  • Bueno, Cleric, played by Evie
    • Gender-shifting villager from Reed who was a simple hireling trying to save some of their friends from the Crimson Flame before gaining Clerical powers. 
    • Twisted worshipper of the froglike Bobugbubulz.
    • Extremely chaotic.

Adventure Overview

(Judge's Note: I'm going to take full advantage of the Dwarven Forge, and use the pictures to illustrate this tale of danger.)

The party opened the great onyx door leading down into the depths of Devil's Horn Island. Time was of the essence, because the more time the party spent on Devil's Horn Island, the more they mutated into fish/amphibian beasts. 

The sloping passage was super cramped. Halfway down there was a four foot gap spanning a pit. Seemed easy to cross! Marco played scout throughout the adventure, and during this first segment he easily crossed the gap. Unfortunately, the tentacle beast at the bottom of the crevasse wasn't thrilled to see a meal get away. 

As the rest of the party tried crossing, he beast would try to devour Lars and Turd Fergeson. To distract the horror, Bueno summoned forth a feast of food, and dumped it atop the creature. While the thing ate the food of Bobugbubulz, Tonya charged forward and skewered. 

One shot. One kill. 

Moving into the next chamber, the party discovered six mutated Fu-Lamians. Five of them were only slightly mutated, much like some of the party members. But one was huge, much further along than his associates. The lead mutated Fu-Lamian didn't want to let the non-mutated party members past. Tonya wasn't about to be told what to do. 

The two troupes threw down. Before too much blood was spilled, Steve James cast Sleep on all the mutants. What a peaceful way to end the combat!

That's when Tonya walked up and lopped the head off of the lead mutant. 

The next chamber featured a small portal leading further down, with a rather large pool to the right. Each party member who entered the chamber was psychically "called" by something in the water. Marco and Larkin easily resisted the call of this unknown evil, but Bueno and Tonya were not so fortunate. As soon as they entered the chamber, they dropped their weapons and headed for the pool. 

Realizing that it could be dark magic at work, Turd Fergeson ran into the room while casting Protection from Evil. The spell worked, breaking the hold on both Tonya and Bueno. That's when the evil arose from the water. The massive shambling mound of tentacles, eyes, and human mouths was truly terrible to behold. The slap of its limbs caused terrible acid burns, as Larkin realized when she was attacked. 

Tonya collected the party, and had them evacuate from the chamber, while Steve James cast a Sleep spell in retreat. The spell worked! The monster collapsed into the water. Earlier, Marco had chucked a dagger at the beast, so he tried to collect it from the pool. Unfortunately, there was enough acid in the water that he burned his hands when he tried.


Thirty feet down the corridor, the party came to a door. A magic door. The Judge revealed that the locked door was "humming." The players made fun of the humming, and mocked the Judge. They made sounds as if the "humming" was musical in nature. So the Judge complied.

"Door" was a jovial sort, very eager to see the rest of the dungeon. Door offered Marco a means to open him. If Marco agreed to take Door with him, Door would open up. 

Marco agreed.

Door then possessed Marco.

At first Marco didn't realize that his soul fused with that of an intelligent magical door, but after a while he caught on. Fortunately, Marco was mostly in control of his own body...

... that'll change with time.

Even though it cost the party's thief part of his soul, the team let Marco lead the way down a long hall to another door. Door made Marco wave at his "friend." This was when the party realized that the possession had taken place. 

The next hallway was bizarre. A series of chambers, some holding tentacles, others holding imprisoned Fu-Lamians that were being transformed into tentacles. 

There were a few open chambers, and the most mutated of the bunch - Steve James - had to struggle to not throw himself into the vacant room. Actually Tonya did the struggling, as she wrestled the party's wizard away from an attempted suicide. 

Once at the end of the hallway, there was a locked door. Marco tried unlocking the portal but failed. That's when Door offered to help. Marco agreed to let Door take control of his arms. This unlocked the door, but again... at a cost.

I should point out that the mechanic I used for this was a simple percentile system. At the beginning of their arrangement, Marco was in control of 80% of his body while Door was in control of 20%. Every time Marco gives in to Door he will trade 2d10% of control. This act cost him 19%. 

The current scoreboard is now 61% to 39%. 

As the party moved into the chamber, they found a pair of Elder Things working a control panel. Three great, glass chambers were attached to the central room, each holding weird creatures floating in water. One held a large, injured starfish thing. The other held a dead starfish thing. The final chamber held a fully transformed, amphibian Princess Kaeko, along with her attendants.

The Elder Things weren't about to let the party rescue the princess! The two aliens charged the party, met quickly by Tonya.

But Turd Fergeson wasn't in the mood for a long, drawn out battle. He cast Paralysis (and got a 25) and both aliens were immediately stunned and on the ground. 

Rather than a great, magnificent clash of blades and spells, the boss battle was finished like a bar room brawl. The party encircled the aliens and bludgeoned them to death with fists, pole-arms, and Tonya's crowbar. Because blades didn't work that well. 

With the Elder Things dead, the party used the central console to release the princess. Unfortunately her mind was not her own, and the same went for her attendants. Steve James cast Sleep on two of her attendants while Lars slew the other two. The princess's precious PsiSpider, carried by Larkin, then freed the mind of her mistress.

Together, the party fled the dungeon before anything else terrible could give chase. Once back in Black Sand Port, the team received their reward with a healthy dash of glory!


"They're not fish! They're cephalopods!" - For some reason this made a different to Lars.

"We fight the fish with the fish." - Steve James being the Steve James. 

"Run!" - Tonya grabs the party, and pulls them out of the dungeon before more eldritch terrors could ruin her day. 

Open Story Points

  • With Princess Kaeko saved, would the party's good standing in Black Sand Port be of any benefit?
  • Now that he was possessed by Door, was it only a matter of time before Marco lost his own soul? 

Character Crematorium 
  • None this game!

What's Next?

I think our adventuring party will be headed back to sea for Moon Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom!