Sunday, October 23, 2016

DCCRPG World Tour - Beyond the Silver Scream

Yes... THE Bruce Dickinson

"I hate things with curves." - The Nerd Girl Margaret Miller, a Wizard and Initiate of the Dimensional Dogs

Some Stranger Things

After binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix back in July, I went on the hunt for a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure that could deliver some of the same, nostalgic 1980's "feels."  My quest did not take very long!  After scrolling through some of the offerings on DriveThruRPG, I discovered Beyond the Silver Scream by +Forrest Aguirre.  The description featured was perfect:

"Players begin as high school kids in the mid-'70s - early -'80s who go to the local seedy theater to catch the premier of the new horror flick "Screaming Sorority Girls from Planet Playtex."  But the horror isn't confined to the screen!  And the special-effects are all-too-real.  So take a seat and brace yourself for an adventure where the director isn't the only one doing the cutting!"

That was all I needed... SOLD!

Beyond the Silver Scream is a fast and fun 0-level funnel adventure that starts in a modern world, but quickly takes players into a strange underground cultist lair.  Along with the module itself, the product features some terrific bonus content:
  • An occupation list fitting for the '70s and '80s.
  • A full patron write up for The Dimensional Dogs, a weird and bizarre "elder god'ish" entity.  
As we got closer to October's DCCRPG World Tour event at Phantom of the Attic in Pittsburgh, I got the urge to run this adventure.  Teaming up with Judge +Michael Bolam, I ran Beyond the Silver Scream as part of the DCC RPG Pittsburgh Halloween Horror Hoopla!  Michael ran The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress by +Michael Curtis.  

To make things interesting I decided to beef up Behind the Silver Scream and turn it into a 2nd level adventure.  My last two Road Crew events at Phantom Games were both 0-level funnels (The Museum at the End of Time and Escape from the Purple Planet), and I wanted to seem some Spellburn and disapproval!  

I had some tweaking to do!

Adventure Adjustments

Once I start tinkering with an adventure I can get a little carried away.  Here's what I came up with to make Beyond the Silver Scream my own:

  • I totally jacked up the plot of this adventure, injecting both Dungeon Master and Venger from the Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon, as well as a ton of Blue Oyster Cult references.
  • My plot went as follows:  
    • Venger from the D&D Cartoon, in a quest to gain power, created a ritual to gain the power of The Dimensional Dogs all for himself.  He had collected an entire village worth of souls to use for one aspect of the ritual, including the band Blue Oyster Cult, and needed to make one more sacrifice.  
    • Hoping to thwart his nemesis, Dungeon Master would recruit some brave heroes from Earth and set them on a path to intercept Venger.  
    • Not wanting to give their power over to Venger, The Dimensional Dogs would also try to sway the new heroes to their side, giving them access to the blessed Blade of Bruce Dickinson.  
  • Since there is a point in the adventure where the PC's can either head towards the weird village of time dilation or the scene of the cult sacrifice, I decided that either could be where we ended the quest.  Either way, the PC's would somehow get contacted by The Dimensional Dogs, be given the opportunity to take them on as a patron, and be granted the beloved Blade of Bruce Dickinson.

  • I started all the PC's as 0-level characters, generated using modern-day characters.  Although the adventure features a 0-level occupation list, I used the "Teens out of Time" list on Purple Sorcerer.  This saved me from having to write too much out by hand.  
  • Each player received just one 0-level character, but early on in the game I had Dungeon Master upgrade everyone to a shiny new 2nd level character!  
  • We only had three players, so I let everyone play a pair of characters.  
    • Chris
      • Margaret Miller, the Nerd Girl Wizard
      • Ron Englehart, the Undercover Cop Warrior
    • Christopher
      • Eddie, the Metalhead Warrior
      • Stacy, the Overachiever Girl Elf
    • Richard
      • Mark Marnie Smith, the Kleptomaniac Halfling
      • Amara Jackson, the Chess Club Girl Thief
  • Sadly, three of our PC's didn't make it.  Stacy, Ron Englehart, and Eddie all fell battling evil.  RIP.  

Rules Tweaks
  • To set the adventure up for 2nd level characters I made some simple changes to most of the encounters.  
    • For difficulty classes, I added +2 where it deemed fitting.  So DC 12 instead of DC 10, etc.  
    • The cultists are tough already, with decent HP.  I just boosted their AC's, gave them some additional attack modifiers (another +2 to hit) and some more gear.  
    • I tried making their gear extra creepy.  For instance, the guards in area 18 I had their flails be actual biting human heads on chains. 
    • I substituted randomly generated Type I demons for the Devilspawn in Area 5.  I rolled up a Hyena-Turtle Demon that was quite fitting. 
  • The Abomination in area 25 needed some big-time beefing up!  
    • I went with 50 HP, and another +2 to all saving throws.
    • I also gave the Abomination a Caustic Spew, requiring a DC 14 Reflex Save or suffer 2d6 damage and get blinded for 1d6 rounds.  
    • This Caustic Spew automatically activated in a 20' detonation once the beast was killed.  Pop!
  • Venger!  Since he was featured so prominently in my adventure, I had to give him a write-up.  (Init +4; Atk Sword of the 9 Hells +4, 1d8+3 dmg; AC 15; HP 50; MV 20, 50 Flight; Act 2d20; Spellcasting +8, access to all 1st and 2nd level spells.)
  • Blade of Bruce Dickinson:  Yes.. THE Bruce Dickinson!
    • +1 Long Sword
    • Alignment: Chaotic
    • Intelligence: 5
    • Communication: Simple Urges
    • Bane: Venger 
    • Power: Wielder gains infravision 120'
    • Power:  The sword causes an additional +3 damage if another player spends their entire action drumming.  +5 extra damage if using a cowbell. (I added a cowbell in one of the cultist's closets for just this purpose.)

Richard, Christopher, James, Chris

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Carnival of the Damned - Norwin Game Knights Event

"One cannot live a full life without having experienced the legendary Dungeon Crawl Classics Adventure: The Carnival of the Damned by +David Baity.  This is the greatest truth known to mankind."

- Marcus Aurelius 

Other Experiences Pale in Comparison

I am in so much trouble.  Have you ever had one of those gaming experiences that was just 'magical' for everyone at the table?  Of course you all have!  That's what keeps us all in the hobby.  So you also know the challenge of trying to repeat that experience again, and again, hoping to retain the magic of that very first session.  Last night was one of those nights, as I joined forces with my daughter Evie to run The Carnival of the Damned by +David Baity for the Norwin Game Knights.

I've been running Dungeon Crawl Classics with the Norwin Game Knights virtually every month since the summer of 2015.  But what made last night extraordinary was that I ran my first Tournament Funnel.  If you've never experienced a tournament funnel here's how it works:

  1. A predetermined number of players sit at a table, and everyone else who wants to play gets in line.
  2. Each player at the table gets one character.
  3. After each encounter, the surviving player characters get a stamp.  They accrue these stamps throughout the adventure.  
  4. When an active player's character dies, they leave the table and their seat is taken by the next person in line.
  5. The player who just had a character die can get back in line.
  6. This continues until the adventure is over, or the event runs out of time.
  7. At the end of the adventure, tally up the number of "successful encounters", and determine which player character (living or dead) had the most successes.  This is the winner!

Our entire family first experienced The Carnival of the Damned as players with Judge +Michael Bolam on Free RPG Day at Phantom of the Attic in Pittsburgh.  For most of the event, my daughter Evie was in 1st place with the most encounters survived, but in the last hour she dropped to fourth place.  While disappointed, Evie cherished the experience, and talked about it for most of the summer.  When adventure author +David Baity found out, he sent Evie a clown-themed care package.

Fast forward a few months, and we were trying to think up some kind of spooky, Halloween themed adventure for our October Norwin Game Knights event.  Given that 2016 seems to be year "Year of the Clown Sighting", how could we not choose The Carnival of the Damned?  Evie offered to supply one of the prints given to her by David as a 1st place prize, and I was still sitting on some extra DCC World Tour swag for runner-up prizes.

Just Clowning Around

Rather than attempt to give a play-by-play of last night's completely bonkers event, I thought I'd just share some pictures and give some commentary on how I ran the adventure.  

I should probably point out that I wasn't able to get through the entire module... which is a good thing!  When you first open The Carnival of the Damned you will realize that there is an insane amount of potential game-time within those 144 pages!  +Michael Bolam ran us through (sometimes quite literally) in around four hours, but I was only sitting on two-and-a-half.  Completionists could take eight hours or more to finish off this monstrosity!  To make matters more complicated, nearly half of our players had never experienced a role-playing game before.  

How awesome that this clown-themed, death trap of an adventure would be their first tabletop RPG experience!

I also had to contend with the ages of the players.  I believe the youngest was around nine, and all but one were under the age of sixteen.  If you've never experienced role-playing games with kids, be aware that this many youngsters tends to generate a level of noise that can be deafening.  Not only does this require a lot of shouting by a now hoarse judge, but it also means that much of the scenario's nuance is left behind.  

That said, I knew we would never get to the main story of the adventure, so I made an easy alteration.  Those of you familiar with The Carnival of the Damned will know the Petting Zoo encounter.  I made the bunny area the end of the adventure, and had the stolen children be the bunnies.  So at the very end, however many bunnies the players save, that's how many children survive the adventure.  I held this encounter to the last fifteen minutes of the tournament.  

Knowing that I would have to do a lot of screaming, I made sure to enlist the greatest Co-Judge of all time: Judge Evie!  Evie was in charge of marking off successful encounters on the character sheets, as well as adding PC's to the Ded Pile.

Here's Ded Rat, our brand new keeper of the "ded".  Yes, we know we spelled it wrong.  Apparently everyone had to point that out last night. It didn't take long for the Ded Rat to make some friends.

Some of the characters died pretty quickly, but we soon noticed a trend: the least experienced players were surviving the most encounters!  Jordan, Abby, Lylah, and Gabe were all playing cautiously, but didn't just sit back and wait for others to get the glory.  They were each brave but not reckless.

We had thirteen total players join us for this event, with eleven staying to the very end.  As I was wrapping up the experience, several of the players were already shouting out requests for "another game".  At this point it was closing time for our monthly event, but I appreciated their enthusiasm!

With a total count of ten successful encounters, Jordan (right) was the victor of the Norwin Game Knights' very first DCCRPG Tournament funnel!  Like all four top-scoring players, this was Jordan's first tabletop role-playing game event, and we hope to see her back at the table soon... maybe running her own events?

Ultimately we only completed about a third of the encounters in The Carnival of the Damned, so I'm sure we'll be running this tournament again.  Perhaps this clown-themed quest shall become our new Halloween tradition with the Norwin Game Knights.  But I know that there is one very important result of this experience...

... I better have another tournament prepared soon! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Inglourious Dragons of Weird War 2

Where to Place Your Dragons

Earlier this week I jotted down some notes for a new, dragon-themed mini-campaign for our family.  +Jennifer Walls, Carrie, Evie, and Cooper are my favorite players, and I'm always looking for ways to bring everyone to the table with something unique and innovative.  We've played with dragon-PC's before, during Thanksgiving 2014 when we dragged my parents to the table for Council of Wyrms.  That particular game session became legendary as my dad was quite disruptive at the table, and almost warranted a "player time out!" 

Disinterested in running AD&D 2nd Edition for the family again, I grabbed my Savage Worlds books and took to the internet in search of some kind of Council of Wyrms fan conversion.  Just when I thought I was going to have to create some kind of dragon conversion notes on my own, my good friend +Ray Slakinski pointed me towards Savage Dragons!  A Savage Worlds fan product written by +Richard Woolcock, Savage Dragons is full of rules for playing dragon-PC's in just about any setting you could imagine.  The racial rules are completely balanced so that game masters could include dragon PC's alongside any team of adventurers.  

This absolutely free fan project was perfect for my needs!  

With the rules in hand I sat my family down and gave them a pair of options for this game:

Option 1:  The player characters are hatchling dragons.  Breaking through their shells and stumbling out into a beautiful and mysterious fantasy world, the dragons find adventure at every turn!  Magic embraces the lands of this strange new world, and the Dragon PC's must learn to survive and thrive while mastering their own arcane-imbued forms.  A fantastical sandbox, in this campaign the player Dragon PC's will be set along a path to find their parents, unlock their ancestry, and make contact with the enigmatic Dragon Sage.  

Option 2:  Secret British Agent Dragons fighting Nazis in Weird War 2.

It should be no surprise that Option 2 was a unanimous decision.  

The Inglourious Dragons

I've got some work to do on the first adventure still, but over the last few nights we've used the Savage Dragons rules, combined with Weird War 2 Campaign Setting, to come up with a crack team of dragon commandos.  

Stay Tuned

So long as no one else comes down with the cold thats affecting our family, we're slated to play the first game of this mini-campaign Saturday night.  I'll probably discuss more about the inspiration for this twisted take on the Weird War 2 setting in that post, but until then please feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas on this project.  While I'm thinking this will be a lot of fun for our kiddos, I'm also excited to try this same theme with some grown-up gamers!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

DCCRPG - The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk - Part Six

Gone Mental

Maybe it's just our group, but we're REALLY stretching out +Jon Marr's The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk to the absolute maximum!  Last night marked our six session with this adventure, and we still didn't make it to the very end.  Granted, we're only playing 2.5 to 3 hour sessions at a time, but for an adventure that you can purchase for just under five bucks we've really maxed out the value of this module.  It probably doesn't hurt that this group of players tends to take the sandbox concept to the extreme.  

We also featured the addition of a new class to our campaign: the Psion.  Featured in UX-02 Mind Games by +Reid San Filippo and Shield of Faith Studios, the Psion class has a feel that harkens back to the old Psionics Handbook from 2nd Edition D&D.  Weird supernatural abilities, but with a distinctly non-magical feel.

If you're interested in a full review of Mind Games, check out the video I posted last month:

At the end of the session Marc commented that he was enjoying the new class.  We'll see how it progresses as the campaign moves on... provided he survives!

The Great SCOT Continues

The Free Company, our adventuring party happily enjoying the Great Sunken City Omnibus Tour, completed Perils of the Sunken City and last month moved onto the The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk.  If you're interesting in starting this story from the beginning, here are the previous tales:
This is an open door campaign, so we can always have new players join our group.  Here are our only rules from game to game:
  • Schedule five players for each event
  • Hold a sixth seat free for last minute additions
  • Players who complete an adventure have "dibs" on joining the next adventure
  • Players can bow out, and rejoin later with living or new characters so long as there is a open spot at the virtual table

As always, Die Rodney!

The Free Company Roster

*New class featured in UX02: Mind Games

The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, Part Six

Poor Nicodemus is quite surprised.  While resting comfortably at Castle Bellows, taking a break from adventuring, Nicodemus is awoken by Mayor Manse of Slither's End.  The mayor holds a deed to The Free Company's practically new fortification, and declares himself "Lord Manse of the Flow".  While Nicodemus is free to trade at Castle Bellows, he can no longer call the place his home.  Nicodemus leaves in a huff, heading to Slither's End to get some questions answered.

He arrives, and immediately receives some unexpected news:

  • The Free Company sold Castle Bellows to Mayor Manse for 17,000 gold pieces.
  • The 17,000 "gold pieces" came in two denominations, 7K in gold and 100K in silver. 
  • The weight of all that money meant that it couldn't easily be carried around the region, and needed to be protected.
  • The Free Company now owned the old, dilapidated Gralk home in Slither's End.
  • The Free Company hired some guards to protect the home.
  • One of the guards, a dwarf named M'gordo, was way too experienced to just be a guard, and in turn was given a chance to audition for The Free Company.
  • M'gordo was on a quest of his own, in search of the Magical Beard Conditioner to make his facial hair silky smooth.  
  • Ichabod, the party's cleric of Cthulhu, had a change in personality and now proclaimed himself to be Razoul the Psion.  His personality shift must've been due to a psionic mishap.  
After reviewing the team's "status updates", Nicodemus gets The Free Company back on track, hunting down Jonas Gralk to save the lost villagers.

The Free Company knows that Jonas Gralk has some kind of hideout east of the Unusually Large Tree, so that's where they head first.  A river runs just east of the ULT, and the party starts looking for a way to cross when their new dwarven guard M'gordo goes rogue.  M'gordo decides that he wants some wood from the ULT, and takes out a club to "beat" a piece of the wood away from the structure.  

All this does is piss off one of the Type I Squirrel Demons guarding the tree.

The Type I Squirrel Demon descends upon M'gordo, with a vicious look in all of the eyes that cover its body.  M'gordo flees, but is captured by the squirrel demon, who "pouches" him instantly.  The rest of The Free Company notices this, and comes to M'gordo's rescue.  Ssof Rehtaf's prays for some paralysis power that stuns the Type I Squirrel Demon, and M'gordo is de-pouched beard first.

Noticing that there is a weird fortification on the other side of the river, the Free Company finds a rocky path just north of some rapids and decides to cross.  Razoul proves his worth by telekinetically connecting a length of rope across the water, and each character carefully makes their way to the other side.  

Nicodemus scouts ahead of the group and notices that there is a small party of workers just outside of the fortification.  Eight guards (three humans and five opossumen) direct twelve Slither's End villagers in a crude lumber operation.  The villagers look drugged.  When Nicodemus reports back to the rest of the party, Ssof chooses to parley with the guards.  As soon the Cleric of Aristemis approaches the work crew, he gets pincushioned by the opossumen's javelins, collapses, and starts to bleed out.       

The rest of The Free Company rushes to Ssof's aid... by ignoring him and killing off the human and opposumen guards.  When the battle is over, Ssof is turned over, and revealed to be alive, albeit with some nerve damage.

A guard is also left alive, and he starts to spill the beans about the fortification and the Gralk family.  He is stopped abruptly by the villager children, who demand that the guard be sacrificed to Salissak the serpent.  The Free Company does nothing to stop this, and the guard is carried away by four young children, screaming.

When the children return, the horrible truth behind Slither's End is revealed.  The villagers of Slither's End worship a dark snake god known as Salissak.  Salissak often demands sacrifices, and so victims are lowered into the swamp via the "speaker's podium" in the middle of the village.  One of these victims was Jonas Gralk's sister, and so Jonas Gralk's mother Clotilda has taken it upon herself to enslave the villagers and force them to work in the ooze pits.  There is something in the pits that Clotilda Gralk covets, and it must be uncovered.  

All the party can think about at this point is "there is a possibility that another fortification can be captured, and then sold on the open 'evil lair' market." 

After reconnoitering the fortification, an taking a guard headcount, The Free Company devises a plan to reduce the number of minions within the ooze fort's walls.  First, they wait for a scouting party to look for the first eight guards.  The Free Company slays all of the scouts, taking their gear and equipment.  Returning to the fort, the party hears Clotilda command her son Jonas to lead a team personally into the swamps to seek and destroy the imminent threat.  

Needless to say, especially given all the experience The Free Company has gained in the swamps surrounding Slither's End over the past few weeks, that Jonas and the guards are easily dispatched.  The guards all die and Jonas is paralyzed by Ssof Rehtaf.  The Free Company heads back to Castle Bellows with their prisoner in tow.     

To be continued in the Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk 7, The Wreckoning... 

Adventure Notes

  • In my mind M'gordo, played by my friend +Thomas Howell, is a dwarven version of the Zohan.  Not sure if this was Thomas' intention, but come on... a quest for Magical Conditioner?  I'll say this - Thomas sure knew how to create the perfect backstory for one of my games!
  • Poor Ssof!  When you roll over a body after combat to see if the PC survived, even if they make it they suffer permanent attribute loss.  Ssof's Agility of 5 dropped to a 4.  
  • I debated pushing through to the end scene inside of the Ooze Fort, but I didn't want to give this adventure a hasty end.  We've already received so much value out of the Sunken City, and an ending to this particular adventure deserves a great ending!
  • I still don't know how the party is going to leave Slither's End with 107K in actual coinage.
  • I'm not sure how we're going to run the next adventure.  A Gathering of the Marked is designed as a 0-level funnel, and although I added meat to The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk to scale it up for 1st and 2nd level, I'm considering doing the next adventure as a funnel.  This would give all of the players a chance to create a "backup" character for later in the campaign.
  • I truly believe this campaign is going to end up being a series of fortress, dungeon, and lair "captures", with their subsequent sale on the open market to evil villains with money to spare.


"Dwarves don't float." - M'gordo is wise.

"So what you're saying is that you'r playing a dwarf hairdresser!" - Marc's reaction to M'gordo's backstory.

"Not in the face, it's my money maker!"  - M'gordo begs the Type I Squirrel Demon.

"Oh man, it has the finest pleather ever!" - Alex talking about the +1 Wallet of Shadiness 

"I'm a psionicist, not a squirrel gynecologist!" - Razoul to the party after being asked to check for some eggs.  I tried adding some of my own rap lines to this, but didn't get that far. I know the next line should be "... apologist for all of this..." but I can't get any further.  Feedback welcome.  

"I think we could make a lucrative career out of capturing places and then selling them.  This is turning into 'Flip My Dungeon.'" - Marc has his eyes set on acquiring the Ooze Pit Fort.

"How goes it?" - Ssof asks the opossumen just before they lob five javelins at the cleric's head.  

"Where's your god now, padre!" - Nicodemus to Ssof, after the cleric gets peppered by javelins.

"Let me die!" - Andy after finding out his character's agility dropped to a 4 after getting rolled over post-combat.

"I'm not rolling a die to see what we do." - Marc denies Alex's roll-off.

In Memoriam 

  • None, but Ssof Rehtaf came REALLY close!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Caterwauler - A Savage Worlds Rippers One-Shot

Rip Roarin' Rascals

I almost forgot that I had to write a blog post tonight!  I must be slipping as I get older.  Maybe I'm just out of practice, as it's been a while since I've had the chance to play a game during the middle of the week.  Between late evenings at the office and some work travel, my weeknights have been rather dicey.  But earlier this week I was looking at my calendar, and noticed that I had an evening free... 

... free to do anything I wanted.  

So I chose to dip into Rippers: Resurrected for an online one-shot experience!  

I purchased the original Rippers PDF's not long after I first discovered Savage Worlds in mid-2012.  I loved the Victorian Horror theme, coupled with the cool steampunk tech weaponry.  Obviously I was also drawn to Rippertech!  If you aren't familiar with the setting, Rippertech is sort of like monstrous, organic cyberware harvested from the minions of evil.  So your characters can go out into the night, stalk vampires or werewolves, cut out their fangs and claws, and implant them into their own bodies... with a price of course.  

Although I never ran a full Rippers campaign, during my early days as a Savage I merged many of the concepts into my very first Savage Worlds campaign: Clockwork.  A Victorian time traveling mash-up, Clockwork took Space 1889, Rippers, and Realms of Cthulhu, and threw them into a blender with a dash of Doctor Who.  I borrowed several of the foes from Rippers, as well as the equipment list and some of the edges and hindrances.  

Even though we dealt with some horror, Clockwork had more of an alien twist.  Every supernatural experience or entity had some kind of scientific basis.  That was the Doctor Who talking, as I discovered the legendary show, along with the spinoff "Torchwood", right around the same time.

Fast forward to 2016, and +Pinnacle Entertainment Group has released the Rippers Resurrected setting after a successful Kickstarter campaign.  New art, streamlined rules, and updates for the Savage Worlds Deluxe edition, Rippers Resurrected also came with an added benefit: affordability!  I showed up for the "Rippers Party" late, so the original hardback was collectable and very hard to acquire second hand.  Sure PDF's are great tools to have, but I love actual books.  

I just needed some time to play.

Circling back to my "free night" this week, as soon as I realized that I had time to do some gaming I put out a call for players.  With only a couple days notice, I was able to recruit three fine gentlemen to take a journey with me back to 1892...

  • +Tim Other played Sir Jonathan Dennis Braun of Eatin-Over-Heywoods, the lordly arcanist.
  • +William Keller played "Sir" Mack "The Claw" Messer of Bobbin's Basement, a do-gooding street tough who longed to be more like his dandy cohort.
  • +andrew lyon played Albion, the secret identity of Prince Albert, grandson of Queen Victoria.
If those characters sound exciting, you can bring them to your own table.  Each was a pre-gen provided in Pinnacle on their website for free!  You can download them here.

Having a free night for gaming is quite welcome, but what I didn't have was any time to write my own adventure.  Scrolling through the free Rippers swag I found an adventure called Caterwauler (another free download) written by +Shane Hensley himself!  After a quick read, and some yellow highlighting, I was ready to roll.  

No Adventure Summary?

Typically this is the part where I'd give you a quick summary and play report of what happened during the play session... but I'm not doing that tonight.  Caterwauler, at its heart, is a thoughtful mystery that takes place in the grim streets of London.  Since its my hope that more folks try this game, I'm going to stick to a "no spoilers" stance.  But that doesn't mean that I can't mention a few highlights from our fun evening:

  • If you plan on running Caterwauler, or any London-based Rippers Resurrected adventure for that matter, I highly recommend visiting this site: London 1868.  There you'll find street maps of the city of London, less than thirty years prior to the start of Rippers.  True, this isn't quite up to the times, but it's pretty darned close!  
  • At the beginning of our session Andy was running late and it looked like we were going to end up with just two players.  If that had happened, I was going to make the adventure a "Buddy Cop" feature, titled either "Sir Jonathan & the Mack" or "Mack & the Dandy."
  • After finishing the adventure with three players, I think that specific number (3) is my new favorite when it comes to mystery RPG sessions.  Three players meant that everyone had a chance to offer their thoughts and ideas, while still feeling like they were heard at the table.  One of the downsides to playing online (I tend to use G+ Hangouts) is that the players often spend much of their time communicating directly with me but not enough with each other.  Three players seemed to mitigate this issue.
  • Let it never be said that my games aren't educational!  Last night Andy found out that "Whitechapel" and "White Castle" are two very different places.

So that's it... that's all the summary you are getting tonight.  It's late, I'm tired, and I've got to prep for tomorrow's Dungeon Crawl Classics game.  But if you're in the mood to give Rippers Resurrected a try, download the free pre-gens and the Caterwauler One-Sheet.  Maybe give Johnny Depp's "From Hell" a quick viewing just for further inspiration.  

You'll have pretty much everything you need to give this dark and brooding campaign setting a go! 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Shudderscape - A DCCRPG Reunion Game

The Monster Squad Returns

A little over four years ago I wrapped up an epic, three-and-a-half year long D&D 4th Edition campaign. The players included my brother Tom, two friends from middle-school and high-school (Randy and Chris, aka "Cone"), and Randy's friend Tym. When we started the campaign, a spinoff of a previous D&D 3.5 Ravenloft game, my brother wanted to give Planescape another try, however I was still interested in Ravenloft. 

So I decided to split the difference.

Our Ravenscape campaign began with four player characters getting summoned to the Domain of Dread to do the bidding of a foul summoner. Each player character had a monstrous twist:

  • Obsidian, the Shifter Druid, played by Randy 
  • Wonk Urhugar, the Dhampir Goliath Fighter, played by Tom 
  • Guhlmorg, the Goblin Sorcerer, played by Tym 
  • Gravesend, the Tiefling Bard, played by Cone 

We eventually started calling this foursome the Monster Squad. 

Meeting weekly, most of our initial adventures centered around evading vicious monster hunters, clandestinely slaying foul fiends, and befriending the more kindly monsters who just wanted to live in peace. As the campaign progressed we moved on to Planescape, with the PC's getting involved in Sigil faction politics, and operating a bar and brothel called the Trunk of Junk (formerly the Tenth Pit Alehouse). Epic tier brought interaction with deities, the inclusion of my friend Frank, who played the Lady of Pain as a Deva Ardent, the death of Strahd von Zarovich, and all the ramifications of dealing with Gravesend's daddy: Orcus

The campaign ended with the ringed city of Sigil crashing off the coast of Dementlieu, the Monster Squad's battle against the largest possible dragon while in their Elven Man-O-War Spelljamming ship (we really did mash up everything), and the final battle against Orcus himself. Sigil was returned to it's former place atop the spire, and the cosmology of Planescape returned to the original, AD&D 2nd Edition Wheel, rather than the weird 4th Edition version.

When the campaign was over, our crew disbanded and we went our separate ways. Over the years I've had the chance to play with a couple of these guys during one-shots and mini-campaigns, but never as a group. 

So imagine my glee when I suckered the entire crew of Monster Squad alumni back to the virtual tabletop again last night! With a stack of Dungeon Crawl Classics swag, and a copy of Sour Spring Hollow by +Michael Curtis, I was ready to reintroduce this crew to glory, riches, and certain death.

Reunion World Tour!

As I concocted the plan to get my Ravenscape players back to the table, I figured that the most exciting way to add spark to what could end up being a one-shot,would be to include backstory from our last campaign. Since the best way to truly experience the visceral sensations of Dungeon Crawl Classics for the first time is through the 0-level funnel concept, I needed to somehow connect those epic, 30th level 4E characters to a bunch of ragtag, know-nothing, commoners. 

First I advanced the story five-hundred years from our previous campaign. Sigil now resembles a more Victorian society, while the Outlands surrounding the great spire, as well as the planes themselves, have a bit of a "Wild West" feel. I pulled this idea from way back when I wanted to blend Planescape and Deadlands for a Plane Justice concept. The Trunk of Junk Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel was still owned by two members of the original Monster Squad, and the famous establishment had an entire cast of interesting employees working hard to keep the joint looking fine and fit. 

For our 0-level funnel our PC's would be those employees. 


Now that I had a jumping-off point, I needed an adventure. 

I've had my eyes on The Chained Coffin for quite some time, ever since the boxed set arrived as part of my Kickstarter reward for the DCCRPG 4th printing. I love the Appalachian feel of the Shudder Mountains, and the touches of American folklore and mythology. My maternal grandmother was from West Virginia, and we used to vacation as a family in Hungry Mother State Park near Marion, Virginia almost every year as kids. The Appalachian Mountains are connected to my own personal history, so the images and scenes contained within this beautiful box really strike home.  

Not content with just the main box, and even though it could take me months, if not years to play through all the added content that comes with the main Chained Coffin box and the two additional modules (Chained Coffin DLC), I had to have it all... all things Shudder Mountains! 

But where to place the Shudder Mountains in the Planescape cosmology... 

Looking at one of the Planescape maps, I saw some mountains in the Outlands that rested right up along the edge of the Great Spire. What a perfect image! Beautiful, rolling, lush hills sidling right up next to an infinitely tall spire. The starter adventure, Sour Spring Hollow, even opens with a teleportation to a haunted farm, so there was very little customization necessary to get this module to fit a Planescape campaign...

... or should I say Shudderscape?

I should note that immediately after our adventure last night several of the players asked about grabbing their own weird dice. With their surviving characters advancing to 1st level we are planning a follow-up session next month, perhaps exploring another section of these twisted hills. But whatever we do, and whatever we play, I'll be content knowing that the band is back together. 

Dramatis Personae 

The Employees of the Trunk of Junk:

  • Cone's 0-levels 
    • Ren "Choppy" Swilligen the Woodcutter 
    • Jer "Dirtbane" Kane the Gravedigger 
    • Tarris "Goes to Blowin" Midtower the Elven Glassblower 
    • Gran "Too Tan" Topknot the Halfling Dyer 
  • Randy's 0-levels 
    • Ronda Wolf the Halfling Dyer 
    • Slim Whitman the Outlaw 
    • Ryuh Haw the Herder 
    • Buz Beevis the Herder 
    • Tink the Robot Merchant 
  • Tom's 0-levels 
    • Cockswain McCrane the Halfing Mariner 
    • Puck Pace the Costermonger 
    • Bilbo Swaggins the Confidence Artist 
    • Tutone Malone the Guild Begger 
  • Tym's 0-levels 
    • Feddi the Elven Glassblower 
    • Grendy the Herbalist 
    • Nemo the Minstrel 
    • Adeelsa the Halfling Trader 

Sour Spring Hollow

Sixteen employees are hard at work in the infamous "Trunk of Junk" Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel in the great planar city of Sigil. A local spirit-delivery-bauriar (ram-centaur) named Sanderson arrives with a new tasty drink called "Sour Springs Spirits." The terrible beverage knocks all the tasters out, and plane-shifts them to a part of the Outlands at the base of the Great Spire known as the Shudder Mountains.

The employees quickly realize that they are on haunted ground, as they are beset upon by cackling and crowing spirits that can turn blood to dust, and flesh to husk. The Sigilian employees figure out some relatively interesting ways to divert some of the spirits (prayers to Smeesh - God of Lint and Cheese, and really bad jokes), but ultimately suffer terrible losses as the entities are not affected by regular weapons. The wayward tavern-workers discover than anyone killed by the spirits is transformed into a corn-husk doll. 

The spirits eventually leave, but return time and time again, each time claiming more lives.

A well to the east reveals little but a shambling mound that continues to moan the word "Hobb."

Four buildings stand on the haunted ground. One by one the players search, finding useful gear and equipment. A broken stick of hawthorn seems particularly interesting, and it proves to be a useful weapon against the spirits... especially when combined with a hammer-head. There's also a building with a magic, flapping book full of spells. The last building has a child's drawings depicting a woman with a holy symbol coming to some houses, getting her walking stick broken, and her body crucified.

One of the buildings turns out to be a Gardinel, a living building that can digest visitors (claiming two employees), but otherwise these investigations lead to some great loot. 

Grendy tries burying one of the dolls in the nearby graveyard but disturbs three Earth Hounds that hill him. Ronda Wolf lures the Earth Hounds to the Gardinel with a crushed hamster, but the living house uses its great tongue to lash out and drag the halfling inside. Fortunate they hounds follow. 

Eventually the party discovers the body of a priest of the Sovereign crucified on a scarecrow at the top of the corn field. Investigating the corpse, the employees notice that it is reaching out to the sky. They try a whole mess of ideas to interact with the corpse. They put some stuff in the corpse's hands. Nothing. Nemo calls upon the Sovereign for guidance, and is zapped by lightning, inducted into the priesthood instantly.

But that doesn't lift the curse.

Since they did not explore the well, the party goes back down and communicates with the bushy construct. They trade the mound a piece of hawthorn for an abandoned holy symbol of the Sovereign. Back to the scarecrow. 

Once back at the scarecrow and priestess' body, the party places the holy symbol in the dead's outstretched hand. There is a great thunder clap in the sky, and a ring of positive energy flows over the farm, destroying the remaining spirits. A few cackling spirits attempt a final attack on the party of Trunk of Junk employees, but they are successfully repelled.

Adventure Notes

  • Sour Spring Hollow is a piece of cake to place, and offers a quick but smart adventure for a starting group of 0-level characters.  We made it through the adventure in about three hours of total gameplay.
  • At the beginning of our session I gave all of the players a bit of backstory as to what had happened to their previous D&D 4th Edition characters:
    • Gravesend ascended to godhood at the end of our last campaign, and now rules over the land of the dead as the Raven King.  His son Kell, daughter of a drow general who led a demon army, is now a prominent politician and businessperson in Sigil.  He's also kind of a dick.  
    • Obsidian the Shifter Druid is still alive, still an owner of the Trunk of Junk, but has been missing for quite some time (... hmmm... future quest?)
    • Guhlmorg the Goblin Sorcerer, known by many as the Chronomancer, spent so much time bending and warping time that he exists a few moments ahead of existence.  This means that when he's bartending you can only remember him if you are looking right at him (obligatory Doctor Who reference.)
    • Wonk Urhugar the Dhampir Goliath Fighter died centuries ago, but his great-great-great grandson Krad Urhugar acts as bar manager for the Trunk of Junk.
  • To showcase the wild and crazy, do-it-yourself feel of DCCRPG, I started bending the rules early.  I asked each player to talk about backstory from the previous campaign.  Depending on the stories they told, and how they were displayed as art around the walls of the Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel, I dished out some bonuses to attributes and Luck.  One PC, Randy's character Slim Whitman, died during this sequence after drinking something called Guhlmorg's Prolapse in Time.  He should've just had a beer.  
  • In the original adventure the Deadfall in the well doesn't really say anything, but I thought that moaning "Hobb" like the name "Hodor" would come off as super creepy.   It also gave me the opportunity to do a creepy voice in the mic repeatedly, as if doing the bird calls prior to the Hobb Spirit arrivals wasn't creepy enough.
  • Cthulhu's Suspenders of Swag:  I needed to throw a magic item into the game, and so many of the descriptions of cabin contents included clothing.  I made one of the pieces of clothing be a set of overalls with way too many suspenders.  Wearing these grant +5 to Personality rolls when talking with someone else wearing suspenders. 


"I'm having trouble with the mathematics." - It's been a long time since Randy's rolled dice.

"This is like the hardest choose your own adventure book I've ever played." - Cone wasn't far from the truth.

"You said when someone dies, you can get their stuff, but that doesn't count when they get eaten by a house... right?" - Randy longed for all the sweet swag that Tink the Robot Merchant was carrying.

The Crematorium 

  • Jer "Dirtbane" Kane the Gravedigger - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Tarris "Goes to Blowin" Midtower the Elven Glassblower - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Gran "Too Tan" Topknot the Halfling Dyer - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Ronda Wolf the Halfling Dyer - Grabbed by the Gardinel (living house) 
  • Slim Whitman the Outlaw - Violent intestinal prolapse after drinking the "Prolapse in Time" beverage at the bar 
  • Ryuh Haw the Herder - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Tink the Robot Merchant - Crushed by the Gardinel's stomach 
  • Cockswain McCrane the Halfing Mariner - Digested in the Gardinel 
  • Puck Pace the Costermonger - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Bilbo Swaggins the Confidence Artist - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Feddi the Elven Glassblower - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom 
  • Grendy the Herbalist - Arm torn off by Earth Hound while digging in a grave 
  • Adeelsa the Halfling Trader - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom