Friday, October 23, 2015

Play Report: Consider Yourself

Last night I had the opportunity to run another Call of Cthulhu 7th edition game at The Malted Meeple. I was particularly excited to do this, as I had to cancel my August game. I had 5 players, one who was new to Call of Cthulhu and one who was new to RPGs; the other 3 had played in my other games.

This time I ran a scenario I wrote called Consider Yourself, which I have run multiple times in the past. I won't go into specifics as I plan on running it in the future and possibly submitting it for publishing. The summary of the scenario is the PCs are asked by an oil tycoon to discretely find his missing daughter. This leads them down a road to where they dig up the past sins of others and have to deal with them in the present.

The game ended with 1 PC dead (more on that below), the rest hurt badly, and the only book that could banish the big bad vaporized in an explosion. The players had a good time, especially the first time player.

A couple things on the game:

One part of the game takes place in a homeless shelter. The PCs decided to go undercover and send one in. Who do they meet there, but Walt 'Mash Potatoes' Johnson, an NPC of Oscar Rios (and a former PC IIRC). Upon introduction, the PC introduced himself as Mike "French Fry" Fry. Walt regaled the PC with tales of riding the rails, the "hobo council", and the supernatural encounters he's had. Immediately another player exclaimed, "I'd watch that show. Mash Potatoes and French Fry, two hobos riding the rails and fighting evil." Expect a script soon, FOX. (Walt is stat'd up in GGPs Island of Ignorance. Purchase it.)

I originally wrote the game as a 50s noir scenario and had originally tied an NPC to a pre-gen to give the scenario a little more meat. However, I took that out this time and was afraid the scenario might suffer. Fortunately, it did not and I don't think anyone could tell a piece was missing. I'll likely reintroduce some of the clues into it through another fashion, but am glad things worked out.

In my opinion, this is probably one of the best scenarios I've written. However, I'm struggling with the fact that there really isn't much horror until the end. I'm usually OK with this, as I look at horror in Call of Cthulhu scenarios as an arc - it starts off slowly with a few SAN checks, builds up with the checks becoming worse, until it peaks toward the end. I feel this one needs a bit more though. I've never had any complaints and I know I'm my own worst critic, so it may be fine. I think the best thing for me to do is compare it to a number of well done scenarios and see how they work.

Finally, I love the way magic works in 7th edition. Essentially, when a PC wants to cast a new spell they sacrifice the number of MPs required and then make a POW check. If they succeed, it works. If they don't, they may attempt to push the roll (roll again). If they succeed, then the spell is cast. If they fail, the spell still goes off but bad things happen.

The Call of Cthulhu rulebook gives examples for these bad things, and IMO most are rather benign. In the game, I look at spells and magic as something that man is not meant to play with, so the consequences are dire. Very dire.

In this case, the PC had attempted to learn a spell called "Summon the Fires of Hell". They failed their check to learn up, but I told them that their PC thought they knew it. During the final confrontation, the PC cast it and failed their POW check. I explained they could push it, and what would happen. They decided to risk it and rolled again; they failed.

I described how they felt the spell go off and flames start to shoot from their hands. They also felt an intense pain as their hands began to melt and they could feel a burning inside of them. The PC charged into the center of the room where they burst with a fiery explosion, injuring everyone in the room (all the PCs, some NPCs, and some possessed attacking them). The sole copy of the book that contained the banishing spell they were trying to cast was destroyed.

While most of the PCs survived, it was definetly a dark and Lovecraftian ending in my opinion. They had no way to get rid of the evil entity plaguing them and thus decided to encase its frail prison in cement and dump it into the ocean. Too bad some Deep Ones are going to find it. ;)

In the end, a fun game was had by all and two new players were introduced to the game. A successful night.

Monday, August 31, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 - Days 26-31!

Before I begin, I'd like to take a moment to thank Dave Chapman for coming up with #RPGaDay. This was it's second year, and I've enjoyed writing my entries and reading others. With that, onto the days!

Day 26 - Favorite Inspiration For Your Game

Inspiration for my games come to me all over - from short stories I read, to TV shows or movies, to a glimpse of something I see in my daily life. The last thing that inspired me to write a scenario was the book Pines by Blake Crouch - the first of the Wayward Pines trilogy. I won't go into spoilers, but the unique twists in the book gave me a great idea for a low mythos but highly weird Call of Cthulhu scenario. I've run it once with some of the guys from the MU Podcast, and it went exceedingly well. If anyone is interested in playing in it, hit me up; I'd love to run it again!

Day 27 - Favorite Idea For Merging Two Games Into One

I think a cross between the Dresden Files RPG and the Army of Darkness RPG would be incredible. I mean, Harry Dresden and Ash?!? Groovy!

Day 28 - Favorite Game You No Longer Play

2nd Edition AD&D and Ravenloft. I played that so much when I was younger, but there just hasn't been the opportunity to play. I'd love to play in a one-shot for AD&D or Ravenloft, but can't see myself in a long term campaign for it.

Day 29 - Favorite RPG Website/Blog

There are a number of RPG websites that I like to read, but the #1 for me is (Disclosure: I am an admin on the site.) Ole Yoggie has been around forever and is the place to go for information and help on Call of Cthulhu. Paul does an amazing job keeping the site going and it has become a fixture in the CoC community.

Day 30 - Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

This is hard, as I don't know many RPG playing celebrities. I will probably have to go with Wil Wheaton. While I think many gaming geeks don't like him for whatever reason, Wil has done a tremendous job of advancing the hobby and putting it in the spotlight in a positive light. Any time that happens is nothing but good for the rest of us.

Day 31 - Favorite non-RPG Thing to Come Out Of RPG'ing

Friends. Plain and simple. I have met so many friends - both online and at the gaming table - from RPGs that I have lost count. Enough said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Days 21-25

Alright - lets go!

Day 21 - Favorite RPG Setting

When I think of an RPG setting, there's one that comes immediately to mind: the Forgotten Realms. My first experience with a setting was FR, and I remember looking through the boxed and being amazed at how much was there. Unfolding the maps, I would stare for hours at the vastness of the place, and plan where I would run my games. There was something magical about it, and to this day there still is.

The best thing were the large maps in all the supplements, that if you got multiple copies would line up perfectly. I always dreamed of getting them all and putting them together. Did anyone ever actually do this?

Day 22 - Perfect Gaming Environment

Some place quiet where you can add the atmosphere you desire. This can be a basement, a kitchen, or a desk for an online game. Quite honestly though, it can be anywhere - as long as you have good friends or those happy to be gaming.

Day 23 - Perfect Game for You

My ultimate game would be a Call of Cthulhu game, in a cabin deep in the woods, with the only light from a dying fireplace.

Day 24 - Favorite House Rule

I can't honestly think of any real house rule I use, except an overall one: don't let the rules get in the way of the story. When I run a game, if the story is going well and everyone is enjoying it, I would rather make an on-the-fly decision that is outside of the rules than stop the game, look up a rule, and break the tension/excitement/fun.

To me, RPGs are about the story. The rules just help streamline that and at times are optional.

Day 25 - Perfect Revolutionary Game Mechanic

I can think of two, which when they came out may not have been revolutionary, but were to me when I first encountered them.

The first is Sanity in Call of Cthulhu. In all previous RPGs I had played, I had only dealt with hit points as a measure of your character's vitality. When I first played CoC, the sanity mechanic blew my mind. It was so simple and obvious, yet so powerful. Since I started playing Call of Cthulhu I've seen sanity duplicated in multiple other games, but none ever have quite the impact as Sanity does.

The second are style points from Hollow Earth Expedition. These are points that are given to players for doing good things in a game, and can be returned for benefits such as rerolling a die or a temporary boost. Yes, I'm sure this has been done in other games, but HEX was the first time I encountered it. When I first saw it, I thought it was just a gimmick and something that would never really work. Then I used it, and saw others use it, and realized how powerful it could be. Their use becomes viral in games too; once one players throws in a style chip, more are soon to follow from the other players as they see their power.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Days 13-20

Running a bit behind, so these will be shorter than normal.

Day 13 - Favorite RPG Podcast

I'm going to split this up into favorite RPG podcast, and favorite RPG Actual Play podcast.

For my favorite RPG podcast, I'll have to go with the Miskatonic University Podcast. They consistently have great shows that I always listen to...and are a Silver Ennie winner this year! Congrats!

For my favorite RPG AP podcast, thats tough. Its probably a 2-way tie between:

There are multiple other podcasts I download, but these are the ones I most consistently listen to.

Day 14 - Favorite RPG Accessory

Generically, I'm going to have to go with..dice! While I realize there are diceless RPGs out there and ones that use different mechanics (like poker hands in Deadlands), I can't really imagine playing an RPG without dice.

Day 15 - Longest Campaign Played

Sadly, I've never really played in what I consider a true campaign. When I started out, we played for 2 or 3 years with the same group of characters, but the adventures were mostly one-shots.

Day 16 - Longest Game Session Played

Again this goes back to when I first started playing RPGs. We would play for hours - 8-10 hours easily at one sitting. Ah, the good ol' days.

Day 17 - Favorite Fantasy RPG

To continue the theme of when I first started, I'll have to say that my favorite fantasy RPG is AD&D 2nd Edition. Thats what I grew up on and what I love. THAC0 rules!!!

Day 18 - Favorite SF RPG

I have not played too many science fiction RPGs. In fact, I can't remember the last time I played one. However, I have read a number in the last several years. My favorite to date is probably Age of Rebellion from FFG.

I've never played a Star Wars RPG, but FFG's line seems to provide something that I would like to try out. While I still don't get their dice mechanic, I've heard nothing but good things about it.

Day 19 - Favorite Supers RPG

I am not really a fan of supers RPGs at the moment, but my favorite is the original Marvel Superheroes RPG. My brother had actually bought this and we played it constantly - creating our own superheroes against the many villians of the Marvel universe. Somehow, when I was the GM, the villian was always Red Skull.

Day 20 - Favorite Horror RPG

Wow...anyone that reads my blog knows what this is gonna be.

Call of Cthulhu

Hands down, my favorite horror RPG. While there are currently edition wars and kickstarter issues, I will still come back to it. The game is about 35 years old and has stood the test of time. I can't think of too many other RPGs that are just as old and still have such a tremendous fanbase.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 11-12

Days 11 through 12 of #RPGaDay2015.

Day 11 - Favorite RPG Writer

I think we are in a golden age of RPGs at the moment. There are so many great writers and game designers pushing out amazing material that its hard to choose just one as my favorite. Instead, I'll list a few.

These writers appeal to my interests and I've found always push out quality material. These are the writers that, when they publish something, I'm immediately interested and extremely likely to pick it up.

Oscar Rios - Oscar writes for, and runs, Golden Goblin Press - a Call of Cthulhu licensee. Oscar has been writing and running games for as long as I can remember, and I've been extremely lucky to have met and gamed with him on multiple occasions. In the Call of Cthulhu world, there are a number of authors who are reinventing the game - Oscar is leading that pack.

Graham Walmsley - Graham is the author of Cthulhu Dark, along with multiple Trail of Cthulhu and other books and scenarios. More importantly, he is the author of Stealing Cthulhu, a book which lays out the Cthulhu mythos and describes how GMs can steal directly from Lovecraft's stories for their own games. If you run any type of Cthulhu mythos game, you need to read this book.

Ken Hite - Ken Hite should be familiar to anyone who is in gaming, especially horror gaming. Author of Trail of Cthulhu, co-host of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, as well as multiple (hundreds?) of other RPG-related material, Ken is at the forefront of our industry. He is also the author of another RPG-related book that anyone who runs horror games should read, Nightmares of Mine. This book breaks down horror RPGs into their basic components and describes how they should be run to make them the best they can be.

Day 11 - Favorite RPG Illustration

This was an easy one. Whenever I think of RPGs and my RPG experience, especially when I first started out, this one always comes to mind.

On page 34 of the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (at least the one with the City of Brass on the cover) is an illustration by Will McLean depicting two adventurers in mouse costumes and stating "This had better work!".

While the AD&D DMG is full of incredible art, this one always stood out to me. Its fun and perfectly describes what can happen in an adventure. I even attempted to recreate this in my 9th grade computer art class! Fortunately, it has been lost to time.

Monday, August 10, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 7-10

Days 7 through 10 of #RPGaDay2015.

Day 7 - Favorite Free RPG

Normally, I would say Cthulhu Dark, but I think last year I talked about that. Instead, I'll say Everyone is John

For those unaware, Everyone is John is a free RPG where the players are voices and personalities in the head of a man named John. Each player has their own goals they want to accomplish and compete for control of John, which can be easily lost.

Unfortunately, I have yet to play this game, although the actual play's I have listened to have been amazing. I highly recommend the One Shot Podcast AP of the game, especially their Everyone is Joker episode.

Day 8 - Favorite Appearance of RPGs in the Media

This is a hard one, especially since I have not seen too many of these occur. However, I would probably have to go with the latest one I saw - Gravity Falls Dungeons, Dungeons & More Dungeons

In the episode, Dipper plays the latest version of his favorite RPG DD&D with his Great Uncle Ford. When their infinity die is accidentally rolled the game comes to life and they must battle against in a real world DD&D set. 

Have no clue what I'm talking about? Go watch the show. Actually watch both seasons. It's amazing.

Day 9 - Favorite Media You Wish Was an RPG

There are lots of media I wish were an RPG, some listed below. However, I should caveat this by saying I wish there were RPG components for this media out. I don't necessarily think each of these should have their own RPG as there are already so many great systems out there. So, the ones listed below also have systems I think they would work well in, if they don't already exist.
  • Gravity Falls - Fate, FAE, or Monster of the Week 
  • The Secret World MMORPG - Unknown Armies or Delta Green
  • The stories of Marcus Calvert - Fate or FAE

Day 10 - Favorite RPG Publisher

Another hard one, especially considering there are lots of publishers with material that I truly enjoy. Pelgrane Press, Golden Goblin Press, and Exile Game Studio definitely make the top of my list.

However, I still have to go with Chaosium. Despite the issues they have, and their uncertain future in the face of major changes, they are still my favorite publisher. They have put out my all-time favorite RPG for over 30 years and you can't fault them for that.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 4-6

Days 4 through 6 of #RPGaDay2015. Here we go!

Day 4 - Most Surprising Game

This is pretty hard. I'll say the most surprising game for me that I've played in is De Profundis. This is an immersive RPG where you find another player, or players, and write letters to them in the style of your character. You immerse yourself in the character, writing as they would and responding to letters you receive. Through this you create the game and its story as it comes up - making it up as you go in a manner that adds to the overall story.

I've only played this once, but it was amazing. Its a very different experience to sit down for even just 30 minutes and get yourself into the mood of your character, and physically write something to another player/character. This forces you to think in a different mindset and play in a different manner. Plus, there's something amazing when you open your mailbox and see a returned letter!

Day 5 - Most Recent RPG Purchase

The shelf behind me is full of books and games I have purchased over the years. My most recent acquisition to that is The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen which I got at a Half Price Books for a few dollars. I had only heard of the game and quite frankly was surprised to see it in a used book store, so I grabbed it.

From what I've read (and admittedly I've only skimmed it), the players are trying to outdo each other with their outlandish exploits and stories. I've heard nothing but good things about it and really can't wait to try it out.

Day 6 - Most Recent RPG Played

Not surprisingly, the most recent RPG I played is Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, specifically the Cult of One scenario from Secrets. I described the play report in a previous post.

This was such a great game in both how it played out, how the players reacted, and how it set everything up for a future over-arching villian. As a Keeper, you can't ask for much more than that, especially for a semi-regular game.

Monday, August 3, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 Day 1-3

#RPGaDay is happening again! For those unaware, #RPGaDay was created by Dave Chapman of Autocratik and is composed of a set of topics that gamers can post about once a day for all of August. The purpose is to get gamers talking positively about gaming and to share their passion. Welcome to #RPGaDay2015!

Day 1 - Forthcoming Game You're Most Looking Forward To

I would normally say Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition as the game I'm looking forward to, but one can argue that its technically available so I'll bypass that. Instead, I will say World War Cthulhu: Cold War.

World War Cthulhu: Cold War takes Cubicle 7's great World War Cthulhu setting and advances it into the cold war of the 60s and 70s. Spies, backstabbing, political intrigue, and the Mythos. Having grown up in the tail end of the Cold War, and being obsessed with it, this is a setting that I have been looking forward to since I initially heard about it almost two years ago. Unfortunately, I was not able to back it so I'll be purchasing it when it is released.

Day 2 - Kickstarted Game Most Pleased You Backed

This is a difficult one to choose as most, if not all, of the games I've backed on Kickstarter have been winners, even with the issues that some have had. To narrow it down is difficult, but if I had to choose one I would say Island of Ignorance by Golden Goblin Press.

This was GGP's premier book and was hands down a winner. Acting as the third Cthulhu Companion, it was filled with articles to assist a Keeper as well as multiple amazing scenarios. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased on this - I wrote one of the articles. However, it is still a great book and showed the quality GGP would put forth - and has continued to do so to this day.

Day 3 - Favorite New Game of the Last 12 Months

I'm going to cheat on this a bit and name my 2 favorite new games of the last 12 months - once that I've played and one that I've run.

My favorite new game in the last year that I played is Quantum Black, a new modern day horror RPG that uses the Ubiquity system. (The game is currently in being kickstarted - go support it!)

In 2014, I saw games for this being run at Origins, but was unable to get into it. This past year, I was able to get into a 2 hour demo of it at Origins and loved it! In the game, you are members of an organization named Quantum Black, which is tasked with saving humanity from the horrors plaguing mankind. It takes the best things from shows like X-Files and Fringe, adds them to a great system, and in the end comes out amazingly.

A number of RPGs have tried to do this in the past, but I don't think any of them did it successfully enough for them to pull it off. From the game play I did, this one worked. The game evoked a sense of fear and uncertainty in the right parts, and played out the action well in the others. I liked it enough I backed it on Kickstarter; so should you.

The other new favorite game that I ran in the last year is End of the World from Fantasy Flight Games, specifically the Zombie Apocalypse setting (I have not read/ran the others yet). In this game, the players play fictionalized versions of themselves in some world-ending scenario where they try to survive. I ran this at Origins where the players were at the con when the zombie apocalypse broke out.

The thing I love about this system is it is very lite. It gets out of the way of the GM and players and allows them to tell their story. The system isn't infallible, but I think with a few house rules it will play more smoothly. Despite that, the game is great and I look forward to running it again in the future.

I've only run the Zombie Apocalypse setting, and Wrath of the Gods has just come out. I have some hesitations on it, mostly due to price point and duplication of some of the material, but if you have not picked up either I would highly suggest it. Its a game worth playing!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Play Report and Review: Call of Cthulhu Cult of One

Last night I ran another Call of Cthulhu game at the Malted Meeple. Previously, I had run classic 20s era games, but this time I decided to run a modern game. Not only a modern game, but I wanted something where I could introduce the players to Delta Green. After some searching, I decided to run Cult of One by Brian Sammons and in the Chaosium Secrets book.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

Game Play

There were 6 players in my game - 5 of which had played in my previous Call of Cthulhu game at the Meeple; the last new to Call of Cthulhu. I guess I don't suck that much as a Keeper if they came back.

Cult of One is a modern day scenario dealing with a sorcerer that has fallen out of favor with Nyarlathotep and is cursed to age rapidly. After many bloody sacrifices, the big N gives him a spell called Apportion Ka which allows him to place his essence into his organs. He bribes a coroner to place his organs up for transplant, and they get placed into 4 individuals. When 2 of the 4 come together, the wizard regains his powers but won't be fully whole until all 4 are together. The catch? His original head/brain must remain intact.

Since this was an intro to Delta Green, I decided to forego the original hook and instead had each PC be from a federal agency brought together by the DHS to investigate a potential outbreak of an unknown disease in two transplant patients. The DHS agent bringing them together was an NPC I created who would eventually become their DG handler.

The PCs jumped right in and started the investigation at the hospital, immediately finding that both transplant patients had disappeared. One had walked off and the other, a 12 year old girl, evidently kidnapped by the first. After discovering that the organs came from the same donor, and all information in the hospital records on that donor had been erased by the hospital coroner, the chase was on to find out what happened and find the patients.

This led to the party splitting up - some going to the coroner's house, and others going to the organ bank to get more information on the donor and then to the donor's house. The group at the coroner's house found an undead coroner, a bath of sulfuric acid, and a partially dismembered corpse. The other found the journal of the wizard and details of the third transplant recipient.

After meeting back up (at Dennys!), the group went to the third recipient's the dark to a lake. After answering the door with a .357 pointed at the investigators, the third transplant recipient was tranq'd and the PCs started searching the cabin and surrounding area. Shortly thereafter, a Byakhee crashed through the door, while the other two transplant recipients (controlled by the wizard) were outside. Two PCs went temporarily insane, one almost died as the Byakhee threw him against the wall, and another went blind as he was hit with a spell. Two of the PCs were out back by the lake and decided to run/swim away.

In the end, the Byakhee grabbed the third recipient and flew away, escaping with the first two recipients. Shortly after, three black SUVs pulled up, and out stepped the DHS agent who brought them together. She explained she was part of an organization that investigated unusual matters like this. The PCs were invited to join. All but one agreed; the one that didn't was driven off and never seen from again.

I ran the scenario like I did to see if the players were interested in modern/Delta Green, and as a way to re-use characters from game to game. Since I only run games once a month there, running a campaign would be difficult. However, running something that is interconnected, like Delta Green investigations, is completely doable. The overwhelming answer was yes, they loved it.

Scenario Review

As for the scenario, its a winner in my book. It takes a unique approach to the cult/cultist villain, and runs with it very successfully. It has enough scenes to be able to run it in a single 4-hour session, and has enough weird/horror things in it to make it a good Cthulhu scenario. While I did have to modify it to fit my keeping style and the DG theme, those modifications were few.

There are some things I didn't like about the scenario, and either purposely changed or didn't use.
  • One of the player's handouts - a pencil rubbing - is very hard to read. I ended up recreating this on my own. (I suspect this was just something that didn't work in the printing process.)
  • At the wizards house/cabin, there is supposed to be a shed in the back that contains a mirror that allows the viewer to see visions of the Outer Gods. I left it out. Truthfully, it feels very out of place. I understand what it could be used for, I just didn't want to bother with it.
  • The end calls for a Hunting Horror to burst through the door. I ended up opting for a Byakhee, as the Hunting Horror felt like overkill. I also added a few lines to a clue about the third transplant recipient stating how "the winged servant shall be sent to helpe in his retrieval." Just to serve as a hint of what was to come.
One thing I'll point out too is that even with 6 investigators, 4 of whom were armed, the final scene can be very deadly. The sorcerer is allowed to use all of the MP from the recipients he controls (40+ MP), and has a POW of 95. This means that it is very unlikely that the PCs will be able to avoid any spells that are cast. Combined that with a Byakhee rampaging, and you have a recipe for insanity and death.

This isn't a bad thing; in fact, it makes a very good scene, especially for a one-shot. After the game was over, one of my players remarked how he didn't expect the last scene to be as brutal as it was...and he loved it!

Despite the minor issues with the scenario, I think Brian did an excellent job creating it and I highly recommend running it. My players had a great time, loved the plot and ending, and I would love to run it again. I don't think you can give higher compliments than that.

* One last thing, I noticed that the spell Grasp of Cthulhu is not included in 7th edition. Thats a shame, because its a great spell. Powerful, but offset by the number of MP it costs/minute.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Protected by Marcus Calvert

I love to read short stories. Its not that I don't like to read novels, there's just something satisfying about reading through a complete story in one sitting. That is why I tend to gravitate toward short story anthologies - I can get through a story and not have to devote a lot of time to it.

This past Oddmall, I was wandering around the vendor room and came across a man pitching his books. This man was Marcus Calvert. In front of him were three books named Protected, The Book of Schemes, and Unheroic. He described the books as short stories related to the overall theme; Unheroic, for example, all had short stories that dealt with people who were anti-heroes or those who you wouldn't expect to be in the lime light.

The price for one book was right ($15 convention special), so I bought Protected. I'm glad I did.

Protected contains 36 stories and is about 265 pages long with no story more than 8 or 9 pages. From the beginning, I was hooked. Calvert has a style in which he quickly sucks you into the story and then twists it on you, in a very good way. There were many stories I was reading where I thought it was going in one direction and then BAM, something flies out of left field.

The subject matter of the stories are wildly varied. There are some on zombies, super heroes, science fiction, and even angels vs demons.  Each story, however, makes excellent use of the setting no matter its length. Calvert does a great job of fleshing out the scene so that, even if he doesn't spell out all the details of the world it takes place in, you can infer them.

Because of that, I think that this would be an excellent book to design RPG scenarios around. Pick a short story, read it, and start playing in that world 15 minutes later. All through this book I kept thinking how I would love to run a game in the story I just read.

My only complaint is that I actually wish some of the stories were longer. Some are so good that when they ended I wanted more. Many times I thought that I could see myself reading more about this place or what was going on. I suppose, however, that if I did run an RPG in one of these stories I could do that. (More ammunition to run a game based on one of them.)

While not every story is a gem, there are enough in this book to make it worth picking up. Calvert's price is right too - you can pick up all 3 books of stories for $30. While I have not read the other two books yet, I plan on purchasing them in the future. I recommend you do as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Thoughts on the Recent Chaosium News

Just before Origins, the news about the change in leadership at Chaosium broke and it was the talk of the con. Whenever I would see an old friend or Keeper, the conversation would inevitably turn to the subject. Since then, more information has come out concerning what is going on, as well as a lot of criticism. This is my take on it (not that anyone asked, but I just want to get it out there).

If you don't know whats going on, I suggest listening to Paul of Cthulhu's excellent interview with Sandy Petersen.

In my real life, I work security incidents. Due to that, I've had the unique experience of investigating breaches and then seeing the media report "fact" based on rumor, and see others speculate on what is going on. I've learned one important lesson - do not ever speculate on something unless you have the facts, because 9 times out of 10, you'll be wrong.

I've been very guilty of this during this time and for that I apologize (to Chaosium and all others).

A lot of people are passionate about Call of Cthulhu, and rightly so. Its one of the oldest RPGs still being actively played and developed, and it has 1000s of fans world-wide. Chaosium (and Charlie) have done a great job keeping the company and game afloat for a while. However, when people feel they've been lied to, they get angry no matter who is doing it.

The last few weeks have had me go through mixed emotions due to all of the information coming out - from "I'm never playing this game again" to cautious optimism. At this time, I'm still in the cautiously optimistic phase.

The reason is I am giving the new management a chance to right the wrongs that happened. Yes, the Kickstarters are long overdue and, while I don't know what happened, its obvious something happened to delay them farther than what we were told with no end in sight.

And the new management seems to realize they need to do this and are working hard. This is evidenced by the recent Chaosium sale to generate more income, their willingness to talk, and the updates they have been giving. (Note that most of these updates are on their Facebook page that I have seen.) So, I am optimistic.

I am taking this as an opportunity for myself to move forward and look to a brighter (and squamous) future in regards to Call of Cthulhu. What happens in the next few months will decide the game's future. As a fan of the game, I am willing to wait a bit longer and see.

And I highly suspect we will never know what really happened. After all, Chaosium is not a publicly held company. We are not shareholders. While many of us are monetary backers of the Kickstarters, that does not give us the right to company information. They don't have to release any information, but the fact they have has been a good sign.

I'm sure my glasses are a little rosy at the moment, but so be it. Time will tell, but hopefully in a few months I'll be writing another post here that is reviewing the hardback of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition that I just received.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Origins 2015: Playing Games

As with last year, my wife and daughters attended Origins with me so most of my time as a player was spent with them around the convention. This post details my time at Origins with them and as an attendee.

Registration Lines: Until this year, I don't think I ever spent more than 15 minutes in line badge/ticket pick up. This year we travelled down Wednesday afternoon as I was running a game that evening. We got to the convention at about 4:30PM and spent the next hour in various lines.

This year GAMA used an automated system for pre-registration. You got a barcode when you pre-registered and scanned it at a kiosk. Your badge and tickets were then printed out. This took about 20 minutes to get through for all 4 of us.

Once we got our badges and pre-reg tickets, we hopped in the on-site reg line to sign my daughters up for some events. Unfortunately, this was slow. IMO, the reason was that when you got to the front and gave them the event to register, they had to look it up, and MANUALLY TYPE IN THE CREDIT CARD NUMBER! And if you had 3 people, they had to start the process over each time. This was even worse if the event was sold out and you had to find an alternative.

My only suggestion to this is for GAMA to use the credit card processing tools they offer to their customers. Unless the convention center made them do it this way, there is no excuse for not using a CC swiper to speed things along.

Also, GAMA should hire someone who can create a web interface to their events that is accessible from the con, so everyone can see what events still have openings. (GAMA: This is already possible through eventready!)

Quantum Black: The only RPG I played in was a 2-hour demo for an upcoming Ubiquity-based RPG called Quantum Black. This is a slightly futuristic (e.g. in the year 2020) RPG where you work for a corporation that investigates and takes care of supernatural phenomena. The demo I played in had us investigating a town where a previous team disappeared. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. The kickstarter is supposed to happen in July, and I'll likely back it.

Baker Street RPG: My wife and I had tickets to a session of the Baker Street RPG, of which I was looking forward to because 1) I wanted to try this out and 2) it would be my wife's first RPG. Unfortunately, time got the better of us and we had to cancel our tickets. However, I'm still very interested and will be signing up for a game next year.

Board Games: We are definitely a board game family. On Thursday while I was running games, my wife and daughters went through the Mayfair Games ribbon-fest and played in a number of demos. In the end, they bought Villiany from them and Dohdles from Kosmos. I also got Smash Up, Call of Cthulhu the Card Game, Bioshock: Infinite (board game), and Cargo Noir from the Origins math trade. All in all, a good haul.

Vendor Room: While some may disagree, the vendor room seemed to have more vendors this year. Mayfair and a number of the other boardgame vendors had their large booths moved to the board game hall so there was more space in the vendor room. To me, it seemed like it had filled up. There were a lot of vendors I don't remember seeing before, and a bunch that had returned and appeared to be getting good business.

Unfortunately, once more I saw a lack of used game vendors there. Maybe they've found that Origins isn't the place for them. If so, that makes me sad as I would had easily spent more money at those.

CABS Board Room: The evenings found us at the CABS board room. We had each gotten ribbons and would spend 3-4 hours (at least) a night in the board room, trying out new games and seeing if we liked them. I don't think I ever saw the room completely full, but there were a few times when it was getting close.

I am on the fence about getting ribbons next year. It isn't cheap for a family of 4 to do, but having access to the CABS library is probably worth it alone.

Cosplay: One thing I noticed is there was more cosplay at Origins this year. My daughters dressed up every day, and my wife even dressed up one day! IMO, more cosplay is good. Its a fun hobby and enjoyable for everyone. I think in the years to come we'll only see more of this at Origins.

Overall, Origins this year was a lot of fun. It had its issues like every year, but they were more minor than they have been in previous years. This being my 14th Origins, I can still see that it hasn't recovered fully from the bad years. However, its definitely on its way back. There are still areas it needs to work on, like registration lines, the ways it handles GMs, and the backwards thinking in regards to prizes and vendors; but things are starting to look better.

Unfortunately, attendance for next year is iffy due to some potential scheduling conflicts, but I hope I'm able to come down for at least a day to try things out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Origins 2015: Running Games

Instead of writing out a day by day travelogue of my Origins 2015 experience, I will instead be breaking it out into multiple posts. This one is on my experience this year as a GM.

As I said my a previous post, I was scheduled to run 4 games this year.




The first was a modern day Call of Cthulhu scenario I wrote named Devil's Cave, scheduled for Wednesday evening. Having never run a game on Wednesday, I wasn't sure what to expect. Fortunately, 1 person had signed up and 4 generic tokens showed up before we started.

The 4 players with generic tokens were three kids (aged around 10-15) and their father. The kids had never played in an RPG before and it had been forever for the father.

The game went well, although I did give some leeway to the kids' and their actions, given this was their first RPG experience. In the end, they had fun and the party barely survived. Barely.

I love this scenario, although I need to decide where I want to take it and modify it appropriately. The first half definitely needs improved, but I think I know how to do it in a way that it helps ramp up the horror of the game.


Thursday - Morning


My next game was another modern day Call of Cthulhu game called Paradise Falls. It was scheduled for Thursday morning at 8AM. Unfortunately, no one had pre-reg'd for this and no one showed up. I was a little bummed, as this was the game I was most looking forward to running at Origins. Since this was cancelled, I spent the morning catching up with the amazing Oscar Rios, barely missed braining a passer-by with my water bottle, and hitting the vendor room.

8AM games can be hit or miss, especially on a Thursday since 1) not many people are there yet and 2) the vendor room opens during this time slot. Live and learn.

If anyone is interested, I am probably going to run this at Con on the Cob if I GM this year.


Thursday - Afternoon


Fortunately, my Thursday 1PM game had 5 people pre-register for it so I knew it was going to go off. This was an End of the World Zombie Apocalypse game. If you are not familiar with it, this is a rules-light RPG where you play yourself in an apocalyptic scenario. In this case, it was a zombie apocalypse that I made up. I will be putting the setting out in the next few weeks for all to use if they so desire.

This game went off amazingly. One of the key aspects of this game is you get to play yourself, and the only items you have are the ones that you have on you at that second. As you can imagine, at a convention this could go horribly wrong; fortunately, it was spectacular.

We started by creating characters. I used a shortened method, so the entire process took about 30 minutes (including a rules explanation). After that I explained they were at Origins playing a game I was running when a scream was heard in the hallway. Soon, they the zombies were upon them and they were in survival mode.

For a game that relies upon the players playing themselves, which can go horribly wrong with the wrong group, the game went extremely well. The PCs worked together as a team even though most of them didn't know each other, and made imaginative use of the skills and equipment they could find. Fortunately for them, one of the players worked in the building next door (she showed me her key card), and by the end of the session they were safely on the roof awaiting rescue.

I have to say I love End of the World. The system is simple and doesn't get in the way of story telling. As a GM, I definitely could have done more to make the game more exciting and play to the system's strengths (e.g. diverse encounters, harder combat). However, the players said they had a blast which is all that counts.


Thursday - Evening 


My last game was scheduled for Thursday evening and almost didn't go off. This was my personal favorite Call of Cthulhu scenario, Crack'd and Crook'd Manse. I had 2 registered players who showed up and absorbed 2 others from another game that couldn't run with that few players. Four PCs is my sweet spot, so off we were!

In my opinion, this is one of the best "non-haunted house" haunted house crawls there is. The horror slowly creeps up on the PCs, eating away at their sanity, until the big reveal happens and the PCs are forced to hope for the best. Survival in this scenario is unlikely, although those that do survive, do so by the skin of their teeth (the best way in this game).

I had a 50% survival rate here, and probably the best two deaths I've had in a while for a Call of Cthulhu game. The first death occurred for an insane former Navy sailor who thought he saw a shipmate drowning in the sea, so he dove in to save him. His last thoughts were the realization that his "shipmate" was the corpse of the house's owner and he had just dove into the big bad.

The second was of a folklorist who, after escaping the house, watched her two fellow investigators tear off down the road in their car, leaving her to be horribly killed from the inside out. (I'm keeping these descriptions somewhat vague so as not to spoil anything.)

Needless to say, everyone was happy.




My experience as a GM this year at Origins was a hundreds of times better than last year. While the room we got was small and stuffy, the players and the fun made up for it.

Unfortunately, my fellow GMs and I in the group have been seeing a decline in the number of players in our Call of Cthulhu games this year. Wednesday and Thursday only saw about 1/3 of our games run due to lack of players. Friday, Saturday and Sunday raised that amount, but there were still some cancelled games. Rogue Cthulhu, another group at Origins, had more games run but said they saw some cancellations as well. I'm not sure if this means that interest in the game is waning, or there were other factors at work.

I think this does mean, however, that if I do GM again at Origins (next year's attendance is questionable for me due to scheduling), I will diversify the games I run. There are a lot of great RPGs out there that don't get a lot of play time at cons, some of which I actually know how to run.

In the end, my players and I enjoyed ourselves in the games I ran. Thats what I go to Origins for, so as a GM I'm calling this one a success.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Wife's Origins Kickstarter Vendor Experience

So many things have happened over the last week...Origins, news about Chaosium, Origins. :) I'll post about my Origins experience later. Instead I want to write about an interesting conversation I had with my wife on the way back from Columbus.

My wife is a board gamer. This was her 4th or 5th Origins, so she is not new to the vendor hall and having people pitch her new games; however, she is new to Kickstarter. While in the vendor room, she was pitched two different games currently being kickstarted (by two different booths). It was interesting when she said she was seriously considering backing one, and would never back the other one.

The first booth she stopped by asked if they could quickly pitch her the game. She said if they did it quickly, as something in the back of the vendor hall was setting off her allergies (we think it was the incense vendor in the next aisle). They quickly ran through a 2-minute pitch explaining the game, showing her the components, and briefly talked about the kickstarter (e.g. it was already funded, if you backed it you'd get a special thing, etc).

While they did not have the actual game yet to show, they had worked hard on creating as close a replica as possible. They did have some of the actual printed components, but the board and box were high quality printed prototypes. My wife ended up standing there for about 10 minutes, getting more information. I suspect if her allergies hadn't been going off, she would have sat down for a demo.

She then stopped at another booth where they pitched her the game they were kickstarting. They gave her a brief description of the game and that it was currently being funded. However, I could immediately tell she wasn't interested.

The board for the second game was a piece of white paper with concentric circles printed out. The pieces were printed out cardboard glued onto a base (I suspect the art was downloaded from Google Images as I had seen some before). Additionally, in the back of the booth were four guys sitting there, looking like they were hung over. In her words, she felt like "she was being pitched a game by a couple of frat guys who decided to throw something together".

The difference between the two were how it was presented to her. The first looked very professional and it was obvious the designers had worked hard to get something good to show attendees. The presenters were well organized and could answer any question asked.

The second looked like they had printed it out 20 minutes before heading to Origins. When asked a question, she was referred to the Kickstarter page. (We looked and this didn't actually help, as the KS page says very little about the game.)

I can only imagine that preparing a booth for Origins is difficult. However, the second booth could have done a lot more to make their game look better. In their KS video, they have what looks like a prototype game board. Why wasn't that at Origins? Having that would have made it 1000x better.

In the end, when you are pitching a game that doesn't yet exist to people you need to do everything in your power to sell it to them. People, especially gamers like my wife, aren't going to just take your word for it. They want to see something, and not be promised baked goods for backing it. I'm sure I'm not alone in this thinking and the numbers show it. The first booth opened up their Kickstarter when Origins started and was already funded; the second is 50% through and is only 10% to their goal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why D&D Encounters Should Be Done In Other RPGs

Tonight I had some time on my hands, so I headed over to the Malted Meeple a new local gaming bar, to play in a D&D Encounters session. For those who don't know, D&D Encounters is a weekly event sponsored by WotC that is "geared for a casual play audience with short sessions each week." In other words, 1-2 hour long modules that give people a chance to learn and experience D&D without devoting much time. For someone like me, who hasn't played since 2nd Edition (THAC0!), this was perfect.

The game was fun. I played a 1st level Dwarven Cleric who, despite being a healer, experienced a fair amount of combat as we traversed an underground tomb. We succeeded in the end and were nicely set up for the next Encounter scenario. While I think I still need to get used to the system, I would happily play again.

The Encounters scenario followed this basic format:

  • Set-up (Yes, in traditional D&D, we were in a tavern).
  • 3 short encounters
  • Lead-in to the next scenario
This format is great for teaching newbies the basic rules of the game and letting them play enough to get a good taste of it. I have to wonder if this wouldn't be beneficial to other RPGs.

Lets take Call of Cthulhu for example. A typical one-shot scenario runs at least 4 hours, if not longer. If you want to try it out, 4 hours may be too long of a time you want to devote to spend learning a game you may not end up liking. This is especially true at a con, where your time is valuable. Up to 2 hours, however, would be perfect.

This isn't an unprecedented idea. My first experience with Call of Cthulhu were with some 2-hour You Too Can Cthulhu scenarios run by the MU Skulls at Origins. It obviously worked; I've been playing for over 10 years now.

Think of it like this. The games we love flourish when more people play them; lose your audience and the game dies. The way to introduce more people isn't to make them play a 4+ hour game - its to give them a sample of the game and leave them wanting more. This is how D&D Encounters works, and in my opinion, is very successful.

My point is creating shorter, introductory scenarios for RPGs its more likely we'll get more people interested. Yes, there are some out there, but not enough. I'd love to go to a con and play in a 2-hour intro game of Fate, Shadowrun, or 13th Age, and I'm sure others would too.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Playing It Safe

A few weeks prior to the second or third Origins I ran games at, I was having a conversation with some folks in the chatroom. Talk eventually led to the convention and the games I was running. As I described them, someone mentioned they were impressed I was running 8 different scenarios at the con. That shocked me, as I hadn't realized I was doing that. What shocked me more, was that 6 of those 8 were brand new scenarios, some of which had not yet been run by me.

Looking back, I realize I wasn't playing it safe. I was pushing myself as a Keeper and, in my opinion, I was rewarded for doing so. My skills as a GM grew. This directly led to my players in those, and subsequent, games enjoying themselves more. After all, this is why I GM - so I and everyone at my table has fun.

Its no secret that I got burned out of gaming. This was primarily due to running too many games at Origins and not having time to enjoy myself as I wanted to. Over the last several years my return to GM'ing has started up again. I've run games at Origins again the last two years, but as I examine my gaming life recently I find I am disappointed. I've been playing it safe.

How? By running games that I know well and not pushing myself. In the last few years, I've been running the same games at Origins. Yes, I run these scenarios because I love them, but I am also familiar with them - they are comfortable. I need to fix that.

The same goes with Call of Cthulhu. I love this RPG. Its my #1 game, and probably always will be. But there are other games and systems I want to run, and have not because I'm not as familiar with them. This will change.*

This year at Origins I am running four games. Three of them are Call of Cthulhu games; two of which I have run many times in the past. However, they will be different.
  • I am running the Crack'd & Crook'd Manse. This is my all-time favorite published scenario and I have run it at least a dozen times. Yes, this is the least changed thing I will be doing. However, I will be converting it to 7th Edition, so there is some nuances that will make this different for me.
  • I am running my Call of Cthulhu scenario Devil's Cave. I've run this multiple times in the past. However, I'm changing it up. While the plot is basically the same, I'm expanding out certain points in it to make it more. This is my exercise as a GM to stretch myself with existing material and make it better.
  • The last Call of Cthulhu scenario I'm running is a new one called Paradise Falls. I am taking a risk with this one, as it will essentially be a sandbox for the PCs to play in for 4 hours. I admit I was having a rough time until I saw something that Ed Gibbs posted on the CoC Google+ group.

    In this scenario, I am planning on giving the PCs backgrounds they can choose from, and those backgrounds will be integrated into plot that they can interact with. This is a big risk on my part, but I am willing to take it as I think it will work out well. I'm really looking forward to this game, and if things go well, I will be releasing it on this site.
Finally, I will be running a game of The End of the World from Fantasy Flight Games. I'm a big fan of the simple system it uses, as well as the apocalyptic genre. I don't know if I will be using a Zombie Apocalypse or Wrath of the Gods type plot yet, and probably won't until close to the con.

These may seem like I'm playing it safe, but to me I'm taking risks with these. I'm changing existing scenarios that I know already run well, I'm running a game where I will have very little control in the overall aspects, and I'm running a new system that I am not completely familiar with.

I could crash and burn with all of these, but I'm willing to take the chance. I'm excited to go on this ride. Hopefully, it will turn out well; I think it will. Even if it doesn't, I'll at least have tried and thats my goal here.

* Yes, I ran a game of The Menace from Beyond last year. I look at this as the start of my awakening to try new things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Secrets of Tibet

Note: My review of Secrets of Tibet was originally posted on on January 27, 2015.

Chaosium’s “Secrets of” series of sourcebooks give Keepers an opportunity to expand their games outside of Lovecraft Country and into other locales around the world. Sometimes these places are closer to home, such as with Secrets of New York, and sometimes they are in exotic locations, such as in Secrets of Kenya. The newest “Secrets of” sourcebook, Secrets of Tibet, takes Keepers and players on a journey to dark and mysterious Tibet.

Secrets of Tibet was written by Jason Williams and published by Chaosium in 2013. At 161 pages long, this softcover book contains multiple pieces of black and white interior art by Caleb Cleveland and Lee Simpson that fit well into the the Tibetan motif. The cover is a striking painting by Cleveland of Tibetan monks summoning an eldritch being from a body of water.



The first three chapters of the sourcebook describe the religion, history, geography, and culture of the plateaued country north of the Himalayan mountain range. These chapters contain a plethora of information for the Keeper, including a timeline of major events (both real and fictional), sample Tibetan occupations for players, Tibetan gods and creatures, and information on Buddhism, the Dhali Lama, and Bön – a sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

The last three chapters cover notable NPCs that could be useful or interesting to have PCs meet, the different issues that come from traveling to and within Tibet, and a description of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Finally, the book ends with three short scenarios (descriptions below are vague to prevent spoilers):
  • Dreaming of the River of Night finds the PCs on a mission to find gold in the Tibetan plateaus, and takes them much farther.
  • Company Town has the PCs looking for a missing merchant in the remote villages of Tibet.
  • The PCs help the Tibetan government investigate a suspicious Nepalese diplomat in O’ Sleeper! Arise!.
Secrets of Tibet is the first sourcebook to use the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition rules. However, since it came out almost a year before the official rules were published, a summary and conversion from previous editions is included at the end of the book.



It is obvious from reading the book that Jason Williams is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about Tibet’s geography, culture, and history. This shows throughout the book in the immense amount of information it contains. These facts are welcomed as they help remove some of the mystery surrounding Tibet; something that most Keepers will find helpful. Secrets of Tibet is worth the purchase price for this information alone and I would recommend it solely for that.

However, the book is not without its flaws. First, the only map of Tibet in the the book is a black and white physical map that, with the shading from the mountains, makes it useless. A simpler map that was easier to read would have been preferable.

Second, while the book contains an abundance of information on Tibet, there is very little actual information relating it to the Mythos. There are Mythos tie-ins to Tibet in various chapters, but they feel few and far between. The chapter entitled “Tibetan Gods and Monsters” does connect the Cthulhu Mythos into Tibetan religion and folklore, but it is disappointingly short. Given the amount of information on Tibet within the book, I would have liked to see more on the author’s perspective on how to tie the Mythos in, or additional hints about eldritch things lurking in the mountainous shadows.

Finally, the three scenarios in the book feel rushed and shortened. Each scenario has its own unique charm to it, but as I read through them I felt that, as a Keeper, I would need to add more to make them usable in a game.



While there are some issues in the book, it is still worth purchasing. The abundance of information on Tibet outweighs any flaws it has, as Keepers can still take that information and twist it to their own devious ends. I still would have liked to see the book extended to include more information on the Cthulhu Mythos in Tibet or expanded scenarios, but in the end, this is a sourcebook worthy of any collection.



Worth purchasing.

  • An abundance of information on Tibet.
  • Excellent art.
  • Three scenarios.
  • Map of Tibet is useless.
  • Would have liked to see more Mythos content.
  • Scenarios need fleshed out just a little more.