A blog about games, gamers, and various and sundry geek culture-related ephemera and paraphernalia.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Wanna See Something Really Scary?"

Since we're on the topic of things that are scary, I think this is a perfect time to introduce the side project that's been filling my brain of late. (Well, one of them, anyway.) It's one of my current writing projects: Scary Things.

Scary Things is about a bunch of kids from different cliques who, upon hitting adolescence, find that they suddenly have supernatural abilities. It's as much about discovering the full extents of these abilities (not to mention their origin) and the new reality they open up for the kids as it is about them having to transcend their social boundaries and biases to learn how to work together - which they'll have to do to survive in their strange, scary, new world.

And before we get to the meat of this article, let me head off something at the pass: the title, "Scary Things," is not in any way inspired or influenced by NetFlix's (awesome!) series, Stranger Things. Nor is its concept.

Scary Things actually began its life as the title of a set of miniatures skirmish game rules I was working on, shortly after I released New World Disorder. (In my former life as an indie game designer.) It was to be a horror-themed variant of the NWD rules, but it never got beyond the play-testing stage. The name later found new life as the title of a rules-lite, horror-themed role playing game concept I very briefly tinkered with.

Then, a few years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night and - as so often happens when I'm laying in the inky blackness, wide awake - ideas started pouring into my head for a story about a bunch of teens who are endowed with supernatural powers. It was an off-shoot of my quarter-century long horror RPG campaign, which I've considered turning into a series of books for almost as long. (Which, as of last year, I've finally begun to do, with my Fred Carter adventures.)

I knew immediately what the title of this story would be.

Thus, Scary Things, in its true form - the form that feels like the name deserved all along - was born.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, allow me to introduce to you: Scary Things.

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Scary Things, Part One: "Endings and Beginnings"


Maria had just finished her rounds of the nursery when the hospital lights went down for the night.

She stood in the doorway of the nurse's station and took one more moment to scan the room, thinking to herself how pleasantly quiet it had fallen. With the lights down and the half-dozen infants sleeping like, for lack of a better word, babies, the nursery was blissfully - and uncommonly - tranquil for this time of the evening.

She turned and went to set her clipboard on the desk at the station. As she did, she bumped the large orange and white cup of coffee she'd set there at the start of her shift. For half a heartbeat, she wondered how it had gotten so close to the edge of the desk. Then, it toppled over and, as she dove to catch it, hit the arm of the chair and seemed to explode - some into her face and the rest all over the front of her lime green scrubs.

She opened her mouth to curse but caught herself in time - realizing that the current tranquility of her evening shift was a fragile thing, susceptible to breakage by such things as a loud torrent of expletives. No spilled cup of coffee was worth the risk of filling the rest her shift with six screaming infants.

"Madre de Dios," she muttered under her breath, snatching up a nearby towel and wiping in futility at the cold coffee that was rapidly saturating her pants from the knees down.

It only took a few wipes to become clear to her that this wasn't going to be an easy cleanup. She glanced again over her shoulder at the nursery, as if something there might have changed in the few moments that had passed. She thought for a moment - a very brief moment - about calling someone from Maternity to come down the hall and watch over her charges while she went to clean up her mess. It's what she would normally have done - she took her responsibility as the infants' caregiver and protector with utmost seriousness.

But tonight the peacefulness of the sleeping babes seemed to fill her with a sense of security. She felt they would be all right. Just lock the door, her inner voice - the one that hardly ever led her astray - told her. They're sound asleep. They'll be fine.

She didn't give it a second thought - she went into the hall, closed the door behind her, and locked it with the key dangling from the rubber bracelet on her right wrist. Then, whistling a half-forgotten lullaby her grammy used to sing to her, she went up the hall to go get some fresh scrubs.

She didn't notice the human-like figure that moved up the hall behind her, cloaked deep in shadows that none of the hall lights were casting. Nor did she hear the same lullaby being softly whistled from the figure's lips, the bottom of which was swollen and split, causing blood to well up but not to run.

The shadowy intruder stopped at the locked nursery door and watched Maria as she continued down the hall, remaining still until she turned the corner and was out of sight. Then, it turned to the door, still cloaked in unnatural shadow. Its head, covered by a blood-stained silk scarf, bowed as it focused on the door handle. Its hands - also smeared with still-damp blood - reached toward the handle, but instead of grasping it, simply waved over it as a few words softly issued from its bloody lips.

A strange light played across the door handle and it turned easily. The figure raised its head and hands as if to push the door, which opened without being touched. The figure took one glance up and down the hall before it slipped into the nursery. The door swung silently shut behind it.

[Continue Reading...]

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Scanning Project: Meet Fred Carter

October descends upon us this weekend.

To kick off the Halloween season, I thought I'd take you on yet another trip down memory lane. Except this time, the lane takes a turn into the depths of a lonely forest, where the trees squat threateningly close to the path and block even the pale light of the gibbous moon on the horizon...

I've mentioned before that I was a sensitive youth, and that I was horribly afflicted by nightmares through most of my childhood. (My earliest memory is actually of my mother coming to me after I'd awakened, screaming, in my crib, and of the nightmare that caused me to do so. Talk about "setting the scene.") But, believe it or not, I also loved spooky tales and horror films, despite the frightful effect they always had on me. I couldn't keep myself away from them if I'd wanted to.

I was a living, breathing paradox.

I've also mentioned before how I made my first foray into horror role playing in 1985, using a mash-up of TSR's Top Secret, Pacesetter's Chill and FGU's Villains & Vigilantes. I only got to play a couple games of this creation before I retired from playing RPGs for several years.

When I returned to role playing at the tail end of the '80s, it was to the old stand-by: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I played this with a couple of people (my later-to-be-ex and one of her friends) who were only marginally interested in gaming. They were both still in high school, and I later discovered that they had a couple of school mates who, apparently, were part of a regular gaming group. I expressed interest, and they arranged for me to run a game of AD&D for this group.

The group in question consisted of the youngest brother of my childhood best friend (and someone whom I hadn't seen in almost a decade, but who would soon become my new best friend for the decade-plus to come), a guy I worked with but didn't know all that well, and couple of other guys, brothers, I'd never met. I was nervous, having never run a game for strangers before - I had no idea if it was going to flop, or - worse - turn into one of those RPG horror shows one would occasionally hear whispers of back in the day.

But it was a blast!

That game was the birth of what would be - with the occasional membership change - my core gaming group for the next twenty years.

But that's not the topic of this post. This post is about the foundations of my horror gaming history, which - despite that mid-eighties game - was really born with this group of people.

You see, I was invited back to join that group for the following week's game. Their existing game master was going to be running a game of his ongoing horror campaign, using a system I hadn't heard of: Palladium's Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS").

This session would turn out to be the first of scores of horror role playing game sessions. The bulk of these took place between 1989 and 1996, but the campaign setting that grew from the first games is the same setting (including characters) in which we've played as recently as last year (2015). I would have never imagined that this first step for me into an unfamiliar game system with a new group of people would spawn something that would last a quarter of a century. It still boggles my mind!

And it all started with this character: Fred Carter.

Yes, you read that right - his name's Fred. I suppose an explanation is in order.

As I said, BTS was a new system for me. I had never even laid eyes on the book prior to showing up for that night's game, so I was completely overwhelmed by it. But I needed to make a character fairly quickly so we could get to the game. Not being able to immediately grasp the nuances of the multitude of character class options available to me, I was lost. Then, I saw a picture in the book of a spiky-haired man blazing away with an assault rifle at an unseen enemy and decided that would be my character - a gun-toting, paramilitary type. So I opted for the Physical Genius P.C.C. (That means Psychic Character Class, for you non-Palladium readers.)

Here's a free tip, kiddies: if ever you get the chance to give BTS a go, steer way clear of the Genius character classes. There's not much there you can't already pull off with a smart selection of skills; the perks you get for taking the class are next to useless, and that's about what your character will end up being, as a result. In the meantime, all your fellow players will be playing super heroes.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a hot tip from a hip, popular gaming-geek blogger to warn me off the class, and I compounded poor ability score rolls with a poor class choice. Followed by mediocre skill selection. Topped off by a poor roll on the background table.

In short, I ended up with an average meat bag. A coffin stuffer of completely ordinary proportions. A mook. And one who had formerly been institutionalized ("All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi.") for - get this - fear of the dark. In a game full of proto-super heroes - martial artists of profound physical ability, mages who can step into shadow and throw fireballs, and psychics who can see into the past, read minds, cause spontaneous combustion, etc., - I had a character who could walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. On a good day.

Disappointed, I gave my everyday guy an everyday name: Fred. (And I topped it off with a nod to my favorite story by my favorite author: "The Statement of Randolph Carter.")

But the thing is, being a total non-hero was the best thing that could have happened to the character. And to me as a player.

You see, while everybody else was running around finding out what the monster of the week was and how to defeat it, I got to play a character who didn't have to think, didn't have to interrogate NPCs, didn't have to read books. All Fred had to do was be the meat shield for the group's "useful" characters. For the real heroes.

Fred quickly rose to be the protector of the group. It was a role that totally suited me. I could turn off my brain, which - as someone who's usually the game master - was a brilliant thing. I didn't have to be "on" all the time, like I did when running a game. What's more, I had time and energy to spend on developing Fred's personality.* (And the residual fear of the dark added a nice touch that let me delve even more deeply into role playing him.)

It was a the most fun I'd ever had playing a character. Or ever would have.

As time (and games) passed, I left Fred behind to try some of the other character classes available to a BTS player. I settled on a parapsychologist - Fred's uncle, I believe - who suited my intellectual side, and let me be a little more invested in the mystery behind each game session's lurking Big Bad.

Before long, the group moved to playing TriTac's Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic (or "Satlking," as we call it). It seemed to suit us better than BTS, and we played many more horror games in that system (but with the same campaign universe and NPCs). Everybody made new characters for the game - except me.

I went back to Fred.

I remade Fred, and this time had better luck with my ability score rolls. Not only did he come out a little more buff (and not so ugly!), but he rolled a high enough "PSI" score to make him an "Anti-PSI," meaning his presence made life difficult for psychic beings, and his touch drained them of their power. This made Fred the Protector even better at a job he'd already become very good at, and to this day, I revel in every chance I get to play him.

Which, sadly, is next to never.

So, in honor of the character I've played in more game sessions that any other, here's to Fred. Fred, the mook. Fred, the goofball. Fred, the guy who dives in front of bullets so the guy who can save the day doesn't get taken out. Fred, the guy who pisses off fellow PCs when they forget he's an Anti-PSI and try to use their psychic powers around him. Fred, the guy who punches the monster in the face and gets punched back while the witch casts the spell to banish it.

Here's to Fred Carter, the coolest nobody I've ever met.

P.S.: Watch for an upcoming post in which I share the gory (not just figuratively) details of Fred's first BTS game.

P.P.S.: I love Fred Carter (and his adventures) so much that I'm working on an urban fantasy novel/novella featuring him. Hopefully, the first of many. If you're interested in that sort of thing, keep an eye on my writing blog: christopherbrackett.com.

*In case you're interested, I played Fred's Intelligence score of 14 like it was 9. And I played his personality as a cross between two of my all-time favorite film heroes: Jack Burton and Ash Williams (as seen in Evil Dead II - Army of Darkness had yet to be made!). He can be a little annoying (or so I've often been told) but everybody knows that when the poop hits the proverbial fan, he's all business. He leaps into danger when his friends are in trouble - with even less thought than usual - and would give up his life to defend an ally or an innocent. I figure that allows him some latitude when it comes to being a bit of a wise-cracking meathead.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Does Anyone out There Still Play Beyond the Supernatural?

In the coming days, we'll be indulging a bit more in some nostalgia involving the scary side of role playing, including Palladium's horror-themed RPG, Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS"), first edition.

To get everyone primed for these meandering jaunts down memory lane, I thought I'd re-post my last BTS-specific creation: the character sheet my game group's been using since 2009 or so.

Which, unfortunately, means we haven't used it much at all - I can probably count on one hand the number of BTS games I've played in that time. TriTac's Bureau 13 just had more traction with my group, so BTS was always sitting on the sidelines, watching and hoping to get picked first next time.

That's really a pity, because BTS is a really fun game. It's not perfect, of course, but there's really nothing like sending in your proto-super hero to smash some nasties in the face (be it literally or figuratively). We'll cover that ground a little more in the aforementioned posts.

Anyway, here's a simple sheet for a simple (but fun) game from the days of yore, for those of you who keep the torch lit...

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Wait... Does This Mean Wil Wheaton Is a Hydra Agent?

Did anyone else happen to notice this at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier?

I may be mistaken, but those look suspiciously like Wesley Crusher uniform surface-to-air missiles. Weaponized Wesley? Wow - that Strucker was even more of an evil ass-hat than we'd ever realized...
Exactly, Wes. Exactly.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scanning Project: M.U. Corman Tech Building

Here's another old map/floor plan from ages ago.

If I recall correctly, I drew this one up while watching Re-Animator on videotape, rented from the video store right after it was released to video. (If you're of a certain age, the latter half of that sentence may confuse you. Come to think of it, the former half might, as well.) I loved the movie and wanted to throw a version of the story into my Call of Cthulhu/Chill/Villains & Vigilantes mash-up. (This never saw use in those games, but it did finally get used a few years later, during my Beyond the Supernatural campaign.)

So, I drew up a map of what I thought Arkham and its envrions should look like (which I'll share later) and this, the "modern" sciences building of my version of Miskatonic University: the Corman Tech building.

(And yes, the building's name is a nod to the director of some of my all-time favorite films.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Scanning Project: Stilman Institute

October's right around the corner, and that means that Halloween is imminent. And that means a series of horror gaming-related posts is also imminent!

As a prelude of what's to come, I thought I'd share another piece of my handmade gaming paraphernalia. Specifically, the grounds map and floor plan of the Stilman Institute, home to a sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, of the player characters in my Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS" to my group) game.

(For those not in the know, BTS is a really fun little game from Palladium. It pits characters who are essentially low-powered super heroes against all manner of supernatural beasties. You could do worse than to give it a try - just stay away from the incomplete second edition. Stick with the all-in-one rules set with the inspirational Richard Corben cover.)

The Institute is a group of federally funded psychic researchers. (The term "paranormal investigators" had yet to come into vogue when this map wa created - sometime in the very early '90s.) It's led by wheelchair-bound Ezra Stilman and his daughter, Maya. (I believe I have character sheets for both of these characters - if I can find them, look for them soon...)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Even More Dice Lovin'

Carried on from yesterday's article:

My first set of non-standard (read as: not just six-sided) polyhedral dice came in my Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons set in 1981. I didn't know it at the time, but these were apparently uncommon colors for the TSR dice: they were a combination of solid red dice and pink-and-white marbled dice.

Unfortunately, although I still have my first dice, they are tattered and worn, having fallen victim to a poorly conceived dice-bag-as-hacky-sack affair sometime in the mid '80s. I was bummed out, but not distraught over it. I had mostly moved on to playing Top Secret at that time, and I had several other sets of "Dragon Dice" that fared far better in the aforementioned incident and which could take the place of the damaged dice. Also, by then, my first wave of gaming had almost reached its end, and my renewed interest in the hobby wouldn't arrive until the end of the decade - by which time, dice were no longer hard to come by. (And were better made and came in more interesting variations.)

So I never really felt at much of a loss over my D&D dice - until the last several years.

Over the course of the least eight years, I looked every now and then to replace these dice. And although I was able to locate many Basic and Expert sets with their dice sets intact, I was unable to find any like the ones I had originally owned. I hadn't realized when I was in my late teens just how hard it would be to replace the damaged dice. (Isn't that always the way?)

Finally, last year, I found a Moldvay boxed set on eBay with a set of dice that was almost exactly like mine - they were all marbled, unlike my mixed set of solid and marbled dice. But having spent so long looking for a set even close to mine - with no luck whatsoever - I barely hesitated to pay the rather hefty price for the boxed set.

I've now mostly replaced my original set of dice, and that makes me happy.

New dice on the left, original dice on the right
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Speaking of Dice...

While looking for a good image to use with the Zen and the Art of Dice article, I stumbled across some images that reminded me of my old TSR dice. These sent me on a short journey down memory lane.

I blame the following products.

I can't look at the wickedly cool, stylized imagery of these old "Dragon Dice" packages without feeling a deep pang of nostalgia. They're just so cool, and seeing them instantly transports me to 1982, where I'm standing at the counter of B. Dalton Booksellers and agonizing over which ones to buy. (Ultimately, I bought a set of each of the ones below, plus a couple differently colored sets. Yes, my dice addiction started early.)

I still have all of them - including some I added in the past few years and those that came with my Gangbusters and Star Frontiers boxed sets, and even those from my Moldvay Basic D&D set. (More on these, tomorrow!) I don't use them anymore - as much as I love them, they really aren't the greatest dice - but I occasionally take them out and admire them, recalling fondly the period of my life they represent.

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