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

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Ghouls All Came from Their Humble Abodes

Here's another post in - ahem - the spirit of the season: a scenario I whipped up for a recent session of Call of Cthulhu: In the deep woods of northern Massachusetts, the PC's (or, since this is CoC, the "investigators") are about to become embroiled in a family's dark and deadly secret... will they survive the "Horror of Halloran House?"

(A few caveats: There are no stats given for the antagonists in this scenario, but you should be able to pull everything you need from the CoC rulebook - I did! Also, I had to pull the floorplans of Halloran House from the document, since they were modified versions of something I took from one of Chaosium's supplements.)

Click here to download the "Horror of Halloran House" in PDF.

Check out these links if you're in need of third-edition character sheets or minion master sheets.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Better Stay Away From Him - He'll Rip Your Lungs Out, Jim!

Since Halloween is fast approaching (a little too fast for my liking - it always seems to come and go far too quickly) I thought I'd share an outline for a scenario I subjected my players to - er, I mean ran my players through a while back.

The scenario's set in modern-day Arkham, MA, and includes an NPC long-known to the characters of my game group's 20+-year Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic campaign. But there's no reason it needs to be set in that witch-haunted city, nor does it need to even be for that game. It's generic enough to be lifted and dropped into just about any modern horror game setting you choose - all you need to do is file off the serial numbers...

(Warning: adult themes ahead.)

"And Death Shall Walk Among Us"
A Scenario for Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic

In 25 Words or Less
A cabal of semi-well-intentioned whoopee witches have summoned and bound Death into a human body to "do the Lord’s bidding."

What Went Before
Three weeks ago, Father Anthony diTomaso, a priest at Saint Ambrosius’ church in Arkham, discovered a hidden chamber under the floor of the church rectory’s basement. Therein he found a cache of documents hidden there by an unknown party, possibly as long ago as the mid-1700's. Among the items he found a leather-bound book with no title. Entirely hand written, the book’s author was unknown – only the initials “C.M.” on the book’s flyleaf served as a clue to its author’s identity.

Within the Nameless Book, diTomaso found a ritual to “Summon and Bind to Ye Service the Lord’s Angel of Death.” Having lost himself within the book’s treatises against the sins of man and the need for men of the Lord to take action to protect mankind from itself and from the evils lurking at the edges of sanity (many of which it describes fully) diTomaso took his first step onto a slippery slope.

diTomaso gathered up four other faithful, pious men to join his cause: Capt. Frank Garrick of the Arkham PD, Arkham businessman Luthor Burton, Dr. Ken Draiben, and MU professor Michael Flemming. Fueled by diTomaso’s fervent, charismatic fanaticism, the group pored over the book, reading many times from cover to cover. They met weekly in the hidden room, beginning and ending each meeting with a reading from the book and the singing of a hymn found on its first pages.

Having convinced themselves that mankind was in imminent danger of succumbing to the evil forces that constantly chip away at its foundation, the cabal determined that they would attempt the ritual to summon “The Angel of Death.” The ritual required a female virgin, whom Draiben was able to select for the group from patients at his private practice. The virgin wasn’t to be sacrificed, so the group didn’t have that moral hurdle to overcome. She was, however, to be “deflowered” – an issue that the fanatical group took about twelve seconds to come to terms with.

The girl, Tina Moreau, a 19-year-old MU student in one of Flemming’s classes, was lured to the professor’s office after hours (on academic pretexts). On the way there, she was stopped by Capt. Garrick, who “arrested” her “on suspicion.” He took her to the rectory, where the ritual was immediately performed.

Seven hours later, when the ritual was finally done and dawn approached, the cabal watched in abject horror as the girl’s belly swelled. In under an hour, she gave birth – to a dark-haired, black-eyed baby girl.

The cabal discussed what was to be done, and it was decided that Draiben would take the baby and her now-catatonic mother to his home to care for them. He put Tina in the guest bedroom (chained to the bed posts) and watched after the baby – whom the cabal had named “Angela.”

Angela never ate or drank, and grew phenomenally fast – at the apparent rate of five years per day that passed. (She’d sleep for five hours – exactly. Upon waking, she had “matured” another five years from the night before.) She was beautiful, a sight of almost alien perfection. Her hair and irises were jet black, and her skin white as porcelain. The only blemish on her body was a rose-colored birthmark on her left shoulder – and odd-shaped, five-lobed pattern that seemed too symmetrical to be a natural occurrence.

Around the time of Angela’s birth – unbeknownst to diTomaso’s cabal – another odd phenomenon began to occur: people the world over stopped dying. Even terminally ill patients in the hospitals and the nursing homes did not die. In case after case around the world, people who should have died did not. People in fatal accidents, shot, blown up – it didn’t matter. No matter how severe the wounds, nobody died.

In Arkham alone, a trio of teens who were in a “fatal” one-car crash should have been killed based on the severity of their injuries. The townsfolk called it a miracle, but as more such “miracles” occurred, even the most mundane people in Arkham began to get a sense that something was wrong.

By the third day, when Angela appeared to be about 15 years of age, only seven people had died: three registered sex offenders (all of the known sex offenders in the city), two members of the city’s most violent street gang, The Crimson Skulls, one city alderman (often accused of corruption and mob ties), and one local fortune teller (who was a local celebrity and reported to be able to speak with the dead and use “black magic”). The county coroner could not determine the causes of death, and none seemed to have been victims of foul play. They all had one thing in common, though: a small patch of blackened, necrotized flesh over their hearts – each in the shape of a small hand-print.

As it turns out, the “force” inhabiting the girl’s body is not an “angel of the Lord,” but the elemental force of Death itself. An archetypal personification of the entropic and destructive forces of the universe, Death’s role is to transform sentient beings, “ferrying” them from one life to another. However, the cabal has disrupted the natural order, and Death now takes “her” commands only from them. Thus, the only ones dying are those they choose. All others are trapped in their current forms – despite their conditions.

The Hook
Capt. Dave Dietrich of APD’s Special Investigations Division calls the PC’s. [Dietrich is the aforementioned well-known NPC - he's been involved in several of the PCs' adventures, and is well-aware of the weirdness and supernatural danger that plagues mankind.] He’s distressed and asks them to come to the station. He can’t say why over the phone – they need to see this for themselves.
Scene Snippet:
At the APD station, they’re shown to the new SID room. Dietrich has his own office here, as does a Lieutenant under him, and he has several harried-looking detectives working here with him in a “secretarial pool” layout.
At the station, Dietrich takes them from the SID room to the holding cells in the basement. In a “special holding” cell that is segregated from the others, he has a single Hispanic male. Covered in blood and suffering from what are obviously multiple gunshot wounds, the man is barely coherent. A quick examination will show anyone with even rudimentary medical skills that the man’s wounds are fatal. Two bullet wounds clearly enter his upper torso, pierce his heart, and exit through his back. His heart is no longer beating, and the congealing blood is slowly oozing from his wounds – but still he lives.
Scene Snippet:
An EMT is being led from the cell block by an officer as Dietrich leads the PC’s in; he is pale and obviously shaken. He’s saying something to the officer leading him out like: “You can’t get me to go back in there! Not me, man! No way!”
The man, whose name is unknown, was in the process of robbing a mini-mart when an APD patrol car pulled up. The officers going for their nightly coffee were just as surprised as the perp was, then the guns came out. When the shooting was done, the perp, the store’s cashier, and one of the two officers had been shot. Only the perp had been hit “fatally.”

Dietrich takes the PC’s back to the SID room where he shows them newspaper clippings and Web site pages he’s printed out. In the last three days, these sorts of “miracles” have been happening all around the world.
Scene Snippet:
As he’s showing them his “evidence,” Dietrich bemoans: “As if I don’t have enough to deal with, between bleeding statues, cult graffiti, missing persons, and dying scumbags… [sigh]” (The first two are red herrings, but the last two are clues directly related to the real cause of these problems. The missing person he mentions is Tina Moreau, and the "dying scumbags" are those Angela's "removed.")
On-going Events
“The List”
The binding ritual specifies that Angela’s victims must be selected by a majority of the summoners. The cabal have selected several victims already and put them on a list that is kept in the hidden room. The GM should populate this list at his discretion.

Other Events
In the wee hours of the morning of day five, Draiban – suffering a moral quandary – takes the catatonic Tina Moreau to the outskirts north of town and abandons her there. She will be found by a local delivery man at 11 AM, unless the PC’s happen to find her first. For his trouble, Draiben is added to the top of “The List” by the cabal that evening. If nothing interrupts the timeline, he will be dead by midnight.

Dramatis Personae
Angela, the physical embodiment of Death
Strikingly beautiful and simultaneously terrifying, Angela is unstoppable. Her body is immune to everything – the only way to stop her is to destroy or remove, with an enchanted item, the sigil on her left shoulder. Doing so releases her from her fleshy prison – but before she leaves it, she’ll “take care” of the cabal. (“I must be sure they receive the sweetest reward for their efforts.”) Removing the sigil frees her, but does not compel her to leave the body.

Angela matures at the rate of five years per day, but peaks at the apparent age of twenty-five on day five. She finds it amusing to dress in Goth fashion, a la Neil Gaiman’s characterization of her.

When Death leaves Angela’s body, if she has not been mortally wounded, Angela will be a beautiful, homeless amnesiac. Otherwise, she will immediately suffer the overdue effects of her injuries. Once freed from the binding, regardless of whether Death remains in Angela's body or not, anyone dead-but-not-dead still suffering from fatal injuries will immediately pass away.

Angela's only power is to take the life from her chosen victims. She usually does so by gently laying the palm of her hand over the victim's heart. Death is instantaneous, and the only evidence left is a patch of dead flesh where she laid her hand. (She need not take a life in this manner - any physical contact is enough for her to steal a living being's life force. She just like's to do it this way...) As previously mentioned, the binding ritual prevents her from taking the life of anyone other than those on the cabal's List.

Instead of "hooking" the PC's as suggested, this would be a perfect chance to pull a bait and switch on the players, making the "miracles" look like the start of a zombie apocalypse.

Instead of setting the game in Arkham, you could always use Winter Creek, VT.

If you need Bureau 13 character sheets, feel free to try my home-brew B13 character sheet.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

More Sci Fi Goodness

Here's the starship record sheet I made for my aforementioned never-to-see-the-light-of-day HardNova II campaign:

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Friday, October 23, 2009

My God - It's Full of Character Sheets

While we're on the topic of science fiction RPG's, I thought I'd share a character sheet I created for my favorite RPG that I've never actually played - Precis Intermedia's (formerly Poltically Incorrect Games) HardNova II.

HardNova II is a great little rules-lite game. In 52 pages, the game's core rules manage to pack in robust rules for characters, including seven PC races; rules for starships; a basic and advanced task resolution system; a basic setting outline, including simple world creation rules; an "enemy" alien race and rules for creating other alien races; and four senarios. It's a nifty game that I really can't help but fall in love with all over again every time I look at it.

I spent a lot of time compiling a "Galactic Guide" of technology and adapted races from my own imagination and a variety of sources, including Traveller, Star Frontiers, and two of PIG's other games, The Colonies and EarthAD. I'm still not sure why none of this work ever resulted in at least a game session or two. I think maybe it was just a matter of bad timing - as in my interests at the time were not in synch with those of my game group.

Regardless, it's a good game, and definitely worth a look. In fact, at $4.95 US, if you're a sci fi RPG fan you practically owe it to yourself to go buy a copy of the PDF right now. (And in case you were wondering: No, I'm not sock-puppeting for Precis Intermedia just because they happen to be the current publishers of my miniatures games! Plenty of other folks like this game, too - just check out the RPGNow reviews if you don't believe me.)

So here's the (slightly customized for house rules) character sheet that has never seen use:

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Different than what I'd planned on posting today, that is.

I was hoping to get some of my scanned horror resources (mostly hand-drawn maps and floor plans) posted this week. However, it seems that the image files of the pieces I'd scanned have been stolen by file-stealing Ninja Hacker Gnomes. (I suppose it's possible that I accidentally deleted them, but I find the Ninja Hacker Gnome theory far more compelling.)

Since that means I'll now have to find the time to re-scan all that stuff, I figured I'd post something useful in the interim.

To that end, here's a character sheet for the latest edition of a truly old-school game - and no, I'm not talking about 4E! I'm referring to Mongoose's version of the Traveller game system.

I didn't have the good fortune of encountering Traveller back in the day, aside from moderate exposure to it via Dragon magazine. Being a gamer in a vacuum, my RPG exposure prior to the late 80's was mostly limited to TSR's boxed games. (Thus my first sci fi RPG was Star Frontiers.) I did flirt with various later editions - MegaTraveller and Marc Miller's Traveller ("T4") specifically. But none of these really grew on me. MegaTraveller was too clunky (and infuriatingly broken in a few places), and T4 was just too lacking in luster. (Although it was also populated with cool Chris Foss artwork - alongside what are, IMHO, some of Larry Elmore's worst pieces ever. Elmore's cover for Star Frontiers is, to this day, my go-to piece for sci fi RPG inspiration, but to say that his work in T4 disappointed me is a gross understatement.)

Even later (as in a couple of years ago) I ran a "Classic" Traveller ("CT") game set in the universe of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda that quickly fizzled out. Honestly, I like the idea of the game - a lot. I just seem to have trouble finding an edition that really hits the sweet spot for me. Well, make that had trouble.

Thanks to Mongoose's newest edition, I think my Traveller woes may be over.

I picked up the core rulebook for a song on eBay (almost half of what I'd have paid for it at Amazon) and spent some quality time with it a few nights ago. Boy, was I impressed.

The newest edition seems to preserve much of the simplicity and charm that I so loved in the first three CT "LBB's," but added the depth and robustness I liked from the later editions. After a first read, it looks like this edition has included everything I liked about the previous editions and excluded everything I disliked.

So now I find myself ramping up for a campaign in the Third Imperium, and really looking forward to it. I've finally got an edition that hits all the right notes for me - let's just hope it goes over well with the players!

Anyway, enough talk - here's the character sheet (based on the look and feel of my earlier Star Frontiers sheet):

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Now on the Escapist: Dungeon World - A Closer Look

Some of you may have noticed my absence... As I emerge from my unexpected month-long hiatus like a sinking man clawing at a vine above a pit of quicksand (believe me, this analogy isn't as fanciful as you might think) I find myself wondering:

What am I going to post?

Well, the first and most obvious answer is the announcement that my second entry into The Escapist's "Days of High Adventure" column is live. If you'd like to know more about the (free) "Dungeon World" setting, head on over to the article and check it out.

I guess the second thing is to give you an idea of what I'm considering for upcoming posts. I've got a lot of pots on the stove, so to speak: the promised series of Top Secret resources from my scanning project; the continuation of the "A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts)" series; and a series of horror-themed scanning project and resource posts in honor of the imminence of my favorite holiday.

To be honest, I'm still struggling to recover from being blind-sided by a series of personal issues that laid me low and totally derailed my posting schedule. I can't promise that I'll be back to the regular, post-a-day schedule I was keeping prior to my going MIA, but I will do my best...
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