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Out of the Abyss: Derendils & Dragons. [Feb. 24th, 2017|08:19 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |So many delicious secrets I have.]
[Current Music |crown me king- plague of frogs]

Player Characters are truly rara avis. I thought I was still in the part of my Out of the Abyss story arc where I was leaving breadcrumbs, dangling hooks & putting Chekhov's guns up everywhere for some long-term plot lines, but I've had to escalate matters on one of my PC's threads, after advancing an Non-Player Character's backstory & causing a domino effect. It's funny; if you build a puzzlebox world & set up enough internally consistent rules...your players will eventually exploit the clockwork in ways you didn't expect but absolutely make sense. They'll also inevitably throw a monkeywrench in the gears at some point but I'm getting ahead of my story. It became the story of The Derendils & Norin, but it started quite differently, & with plenty of drama, besides.



The last session we played, separated in history by the holiday season & a wedding, ended with the players in Gracklstugh, non-lethally defeating a seemingly random two-headed giant with the help of some local duergar & a mixture of distraction & heavy blows to the head(s)...one mutated, incoherent with rage, the other seeming to silently be pleading for help. After taking him down, they were converged upon by a host of now-visible grey dwarves-- here, in the dark hollow center of the world, they are the Underdark's police state, with slave-stoked forges always clanking-- & another stone giant, like Easter Island's moai climbed out of the ground & clad in regalia made from scales of semi-precious stones.

The party splits into delegates to meet the emerging factions: Pook'cha the insectoid bard Sam plays goes to meet the dwarf in red dragonscale armor who is accompanied by pupiless-eyed mindthralls, random duergar passerby's psionically enslaved as an entourage: Gartokkar, the Firekeeper, agent of Themberchaud, the red dragon Wrymsmith. Imica, Jim's drow warlock, talks to Stonespeaker Hgraam of the Cairngorm stone giants. Serafin, the halfling ranger played by Pritpaul, addresses the Stone Guard, sent by Errde Blackskull, who answers directly to Deepking Horgar Steelshadow V. The wood elf cleric Norin that Ellen plays keeps her ears on all of the conversations, crashing Serafin's at the end when the Stone Guard police reveal that they have their friends in custody.

Negotiations with the stone giant clanlord Hgraam are easiest. He is pleased they did not kill Rahuud, & while he does not know what is going on but when they are done with all the "politics" he wants them to come speak to him. The other two factions...well, the psychic grey dwarf in incarnadine scales, Gartokkar says the dragon wishes to speak to the party immediately, & the players reasonably are cautious of offending a dragon. The tombstone-shielded Stone Guard are here to escort the players to their captain & try to use the fact that they have the party's friends imprisoned as leverage. Our heroes attempt somewhat successfully to mollify the guards but elect to seek out the dragon, first. Off down the proverbial yellowbrick road they go!



Or I should say "scarlet," as I pull out a cheesy trick from my new SFX toy. We got some smart lightbulbs that can project in different colours, so upon entering the lair of the red dragon, through increasingly complex Wonka factory doors, I switched them all to red light, gave the scene a real 80s fur n' fantasy feel. I'd used a similar trick in Oubliette long ago with a friends weird bathroom light fixture & the red planet RAM. Lighting techs, I know you do important work! The dragon is huge, an obese adult sitting on a pile of treasure & bones. Themberchaud, the Wyrmsmith & since I'm going method I drape myself languidly across the couch while I roleplay him. Long story short? He wants them to spy on everyone for him, including his own Firekeepers, & report back. The dragon can't understand anything like the idea of "peers," so the party nominates Pook'cha as the Master & the rest of them as his Thralls; Themberchaud rewards him with a set of the dragonscale armor of a Firekeeper, which seethes as if still remembering life, supernaturally adjusting to his six-limbed body...though he is not proficient.

The Stone Guard are headquartered in Overlake Hold-- I keep saying "Overhold Lake" on accident-- a stalactite carved into a massive military installation. The Deepking's home away from home, & a prison & a fortress besides. Errde Blackskull is the head of the Guard, & on the way to meet her, something curious happens. An imprisoned duergar runs up to the bars of his cell, pleading: "you must help me, my name is Derendil, an evil wizard polymorphed me into this wreched form..." which is surprising to the PCs, as...that's the quaggoth NPC Derendil's backstory as a "polymorphed elf prince." Huh. Errde wants the player to "find Droki," a derro of ill-repute, which is odd, because that's what the Firekeepers asked the players to do, too. She's willing to temporarily sponsor one of them as a member of her clan so they can move about the city freely, giving Norin a belt of dwarvenkind decoratively embossed with a bearded skull as token of her Official Dwarf Status. The PCs negotiate their friend's release, & in a surprising turn of events, ask if they can buy the duergar "Derendil" as a slave. This being Gracklstugh, the answer is, of course, yes.



Gracklstugh is great. More than a few times I stopped & laughed & said to my players, "this stupid evil dwarf city is fabulous." It's such an awful place, but after the horror of the wilds of the Underdark, the temptation of autocracy is strong. I mean, if you just follow the rules, you'll probably be fine? Maybe? Not to mention that the grey dwarves are stoically awful, but just rational enough to not be written off entirely. It is a special kind of bullshit. Leaving the Stone Guard, the players decide to regroup. Jimjar had been arrested for owning a deck of cards, & is pissed that the players seem exasperated with him; he covered for (the original) Derendil to escape with Stool! Ront was attacked by the drow, &...Topsy was in for graffiti? Last seen as a wererat, were-Topsy apparently carved "DON'T LET HER KILL ME" into the wall of the inn. Gnome-Topsy, on the other hand, is all about getting that curse broken. She & her brother had been bitten as children & the curse broken before, so it is strange it would manifest again.

"Turns out, I brought a D&D manual to a Paranoia game." -Ellen

The players decide to try to press the identity issue with the two Derendils. Frankly, they threw a curveball at me by freeing the dwarven Derendil, but that's the nice thing about a coherent story arc; I know what the master plan is. With the duergar Derendil, confronting him about the matter, bringing up the duplication...seems to keep resulting in brain aneurisms, as "Derendil" starts hemorrhaging from the eyes, nose, ears. The bestial quaggoth Derendil flies into a berserk rage when the other Derendil is shown to him, when his backstory is questioned...the PCs cast sleep & keep him in hand but they decide that the Derendils should go to the priests of Laduguer, the Toiler, with Topsy. The temple is a cave supported by golden pillars carved with ancient runic tales of legendary labours, & the greedy priest mildly overcharge-- duergar!-- for their spells. Topsy's curse is broken, but after paying a consulting fee, the priest tell them that they've actually been having an endemic problem with personality psychosis, of these delusional "Derendils" & "Norins."

At which point Ellen, who plays the PC Norin, goes, "wait what?"
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Star Wars: End of Empire: The Heist [Feb. 3rd, 2017|10:41 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Reactor leak!]
[Current Music |crown me king- main title]



Opening visual: swirls of iridescent nebula, blotted out by a familiar triangular silhouette...quickly dwarfed by the massive eclipse of a double-wide Praetorian-class Super Star Destroyer. Out of that massive black outline, four docking bays gleam like jewels & a smaller Vigil-class Star Destroyer departs one of them. Its blue ion engines burn steadily across the screen, past a traditional Star Destroyer painted bright scarlet bisecting the artificial horizon of the Super Star Destroyer, until a rusty world dotted with orbital junk & asteroids comes into view above. The Imperial cruiser then ejects a luxury yacht against the prismatic spacefield, which ascends to Ord Mantell.

In media res: you are doing a job for the Droid Uprising. One of their top agents, the espionage droid 4-DOX, serves as Concilliator Kek's protocol droid. 4-DOX is a black insectoid-headed RA-series, human-enigma analysis, who knows six millions forms of encryption. In order to circumvent the periodic mindwipes, she makes holocron duplicates of herself to be reuploaded later. The Concilliator just returned from going off-world to meet with this "Imperator" on one of her massive starships...& 4-DOX planned to hide the holocron crystal recording of it on Kek's SoroSuub space yacht on the trip back. Your mission is to retrieve that memory unit!

Fauna: Tiktocs are crustaceanoid creatures with many legs, living hermit-crab-like inside of cast-off droid parts & other machinery. They scuttle along, migrating with the horizon of Twilight on Ord Mantell, attracting prey with deep sea angler-esque lures & communicating with each other like crickets or fireflies by clanking on the insides of their metal homes with their claws.

We had our first session of End of Empire & I think it went pretty well! I started it by reading off the crawl & narrating the initial cinematic stellar event that starts each Star Wars movie (above) while playing the Phantom Menace soundtrack. The dinner delivery arrived & everyone forgot about it till after the session was over, so I'm pretty sure it was well enjoyed. I think this Fantasy Flight Star Wars system is going to work out just fine, by the way. Turn-based play seems a little clunky, but the goofy dice support pretty robust scene-resolution, & I'm happy to interpret that that as a call to more abstracted conflicts. It might end up falling into the natural rhythms of my pacing. Same with getting things kicked off with a heist. Gave the players a chance describe their characters, & then threw the group into the thick of it, on the first ring of a sunken casino city, home of the Concilliator Kek, breaking into the hangar where The Black Sun Vigo's luxury yacht just disembarked, as the droid whose memories they are trying to rescue waddles off to central computing to have her databanks blanked out, fully cognizent that at least for this self, she's marching to her death.

The maintenance entrance is guarded by Wuukar the former gladiator, a Wookiee slave who was bought by his fiercest rival in the Coliseum of Corellia Prime, the Trandoshan warrior Sshushath, & freed. Then they both indentured themselves to the Black Sun. Not the brightest fuzzball & scalefriend...as the "drunken fans" of Jax Cadderly (who speaks Shyriiwook) & Jolit (who speaks Dosh) can attest, appealing to the vanity & laziness of the washed-up alien killers to convince them to abandon their post for a toast to old times. Parra breaks into the access ducts & disabled the door, & Theynur takes up a post by a barrel inside, already stashed in the hanger by the Droid Uprising, casually velveting her paws. It is full of friendly buzz droids, relics from the Clone Wars, ready to cause havoc as a distraction. Jolit, using his built-in commlink determines that the hangar bay door control droid is a crystal eye-stalk "tattletale" droid, also friendly to the Droid Uprising. Milling about inside are a variety of scoundrels, pirates, smugglers & the sort of multispecies criminal riff-raff you'd expect in a crimelord's stardock. Jax & Parra approach with false assurance-- Jolit knows the weapons dealer Crosh would have gone with the Concilliator as part of his entourage, so with Theynur keeping lookout they try to bluff their way past some Weequay shipjackers...& fail.

"Here to replace a bad motivator? Just a moment...Sorosuub doesn't use motivators in the Luxury 3000!" Theynur kicks over the barrel of antique droids, who go skittering across the floor like marbles & start tearing up a Z-95 & a Cloakshape in the middle of repairs. Some of the gangsters head to investigate, & Jax takes the opportunity to blast one as Parra cracks open the emergency escape hatch & sets the whole ship to "emergency vent," opening the gangplank & every other airlock besides! Theynur makes a run for it, heading up the ramp & straight into the cockpit, sliding into the co-pilots chair as Parra pulls herself up the escape pod chute & into the pilot's seat. Jolit makes a break for it, & Jax takes a blaster bolt as Jolit grabs him & pills him up the gangplank. Luminescent reactor fluid is coming from the cracked hyperdrive of the Headhunter as the sabotage droids have their way with it, distracting the pirates as the TT-gatekeeper droid closes the bay doors behind the staryacht False Profit, leaving them only to deal with the two fighters already scrambled in the next chapter...
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Dramatis Personae. [Jan. 17th, 2017|04:54 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |More human than human.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams - spiderclan]



There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny!

Character creation for End of Empire the other night.  Our heroes are:

Jax Cadderly (Rajan)
Human Smuggler (Scoundrel)
Jax is the group's lynchpin with the galactic underworld, a friend of Parra's from the Imperial Academy, & the Player Character closest to the intro NPC, Eris Berserk.  He fled the Empire out of the Academy, just after the first Death Star destroyed Alderaan: he didn't sign up to commit atrocities, just to get off his backwater homeworld.  His mouth turned out to be as much of an asset as his skill with a spanner, until a completely legitimate game of sabacc went his way instead of renown retired assassin, the red lightsaber wielding Mandelorian Vigo Rao Kast, & he's come to Ord Mantell hoping that the protection of rival Vigo Concilliator Kek will keep him safe.

Jolit (Joey)
Droid Spy (Infiltrator)

A "Human Replica Droid," with his oversized battledroid arm Jolit appears more like a cyborg than a droid.  Designed for infiltration & espionage, he lacks the technical expertise to keep himself in good repair, relying on Parra for maintenance.  A miniature ID9 probe droid that can stowaway as a disc on his back completes his ensemble.  Jolit works as a go-between for droids & organics using his ability to pass as a human cyborg, which is how he knows Eris Berserk is a part of the Droid Uprising.  He is haunted by flashbacks, memories from the organic patterning that developed his neural net, something haunting that's led him to where he is now.

Parra Totool (Rachel)
Human Engineer (Mechanic)

A former officer in the Empire, Parra has seen too much & done things...things that made her desert the fleet.  Meeting up with an old schoolmate, Jax with her recent business partner Jolit, she's part of the crew Eris Berserk has rounded up.  Parra actually served with Imperator Pryl once upon a time, when she was just a young captain in the Outer Rim, & following her superior's career has left her with a passionate interest in rancors.  She keeps tabs on all her old Imperial shipmates & has a bad habit of feeling responsible for them.  Parra worked in the hanger, overseeing the upkeep of ships & droids, & still has the TIE/Interceptor she escaped with.

Theynur Kötturinn (Burke)
Farghul Explorer (Fringer) (Force Exile)

The Farghul are a felinoid alien race renown for their loose sense of personal property & their dislike of the Jedi.  That makes Theynur's sporadic fits of Force use unwelcome, & she's developed a spice habit to dull the pain.  She left her homeworld under a cloud of suspicion & fell in with the Rebellion, though she never joined up, officially: ranks & orders just aren't her style.  No, her style is skipping system to system in her X-wing, trying to stay ahead of the mess she makes with her uncontrolled abilities.  Ord Mantell is the latest place she's come to, & her freedom-loving ways have led to her sympathizing with the Droid Uprising, & meeting up with Eris Berserk.


So, what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.

The NPCs & Organizations that the PCs are aware of, in various combinations:

Eris Berserk
The cyborg pirate Eris Berserk is your contact on Ord Mantell, arranging jobs of varying legality that suit your special skills.  A Chiss, she has the blue skin & red eyes typical of that near-Human species, with a shaved head but for one sizable grey forelock.  The distinctive black gorget & blinking lights of her chestpiece, as well as the over-sized black-clad cyberlimb that replaces her left arm complete her regular appearance: otherwise Eris enjoys dressing in the looted couture of the nobility & wealthy.

"Privateer," is what she'll grumble to herself when people call her a pirate, if no one is listening.  It is barely a secret that Eris took a commission from the Rebellion to hunt Imperial ships during the War, but it is confidential that she's a former slave & a member of the Droid Uprising, not just a friendly third party.  Eris' cybernetics are extensive, & seem painful; she prefers to relax privately, in a bacta tank...or splitting a pack of imported death sticks with the crew after a successful job.

Imperator Pryl
Imperator Tanda Pryl is the leader of the Praetorians.  Supported by the remnants of the Royal Guard, she was an Admiral in Darth Vader's Death Squadron Star Destroyer fleet who vanished after the death of the Emperor for a time but has recently reappeared to reignite the embers of the Empire in the Outer Rim.  Her service record was marked by rivalries until she was singled out by Vader...or one could say that only after she brought total ruin upon all her foes did the Dark Lord of the Sith take interest in her naval career.  Before his sponsorship could blossom, the Battle of Endor ended Vader & Palpatine's lives.

Straight-laced & utilitarian, Pryl herself had a reputation for being "half-witch" that even her wealthy background couldn't shake.  Excelling in the Academy brought no relief, as her surprise victories & sudden turns of fortune turned to gossip & infamy.  Her harsh sense of justice won the slow loyalty of those who served with her, & any critics her military successes didn't silence became her bitter foes.  The Sith Lord's patronage earned her the whispered name "Vader's Pet," but what of it?  After the Battle of Yavin she was called in from the Elrood sector, rising to the inner circle of the Empire...until the victory of the Rebellion.

After the destruction of the second Death Star, Pryl's ship, the Devastator, Lord Vader's former flagship, retreated to the poisonous swamp world of Dathomir, homeworld of the galaxy's most fearsome predator, the rancor.  The Star Destroyer remained in orbit for quite some time, & it was there that the crimson ships of the Royal Guard rendezvoused with her.  From there she reclaimed the Empire's R&D facilities & academies, fringe resources not fully exploited by the war effort, as the battles shifted to other arms of the galaxy.  Her forces are elite but thin; they rely on re-converting defunct Imperials to their cause...

Concilliator Kek
Ostensibly the liaison between the various business consortiums of Ord Mantell & the government-- whether the Imperial garrison or the hereditary nobility-- Concilliator Kek is in fact the de facto authority of the planet, as well as the public face & legal owner of the legitimate business interests of the Black Sun crime consortium.  The Faleen Vigo is a respirator-wearing germaphobe who delights in wearing furs & feathers, whose topknot is long enough to trail behind him.

Navigator Marid
Navigator Marid is the Mon Calamari leader of the old Rebel Alliance cell stationed out here at Ord Mantell.  His ship, the Old Daughter, is a heavily armored Corellian corvette with a modest fighter bay, designed as a depot for operations in uncharted space.  Yes, "Rebel Alliance"; out here on the Fringe, with Star Destroyers still in the skies, it seems a bit early to Marid for the Core Worlds to be crowning themselves a "New Republic."  The Old Daughter lurks in asteroid fields & uncharted space, making naval guerrilla strikes on ostensibly Imperial targets & gathering intel on whatever forgotten bases or weapons the Empire might have tucked away in this forgotten spiral of the galaxy.

Rao Kast
The ancient Mandelorians & the Sith were allies, or so the story goes.  The same legends say the only way to unite the clans is under the blade of a laser sword.  Whatever the truth of the legend, Rao Kast believes it: his twin red sabers tell that story as plain as can be.  Not a Force user himself, Kast's customized black battlearmor & red blades nevertheless made him one of the galaxy's premier assassins, until his fame & notoriety grew too large & forced him into semi-retirement as a Black Sun Vigo.

Praetorians
Praetorians are a faction of the Imperial remnant led by Imperator Tanda Pryl & the fanatical survivors of the Royal Guard, dismissed from the throne room by the Emperor at Endor.  This warrior-cult's goal is to restore order to the galaxy, using Imperial elites to shore up the splintering force of the Old Empire, starting with the Outer Rim. They don't have the resources for total war, & instead prefer shock & awe tactics...something the Imperator is uncannily good at.

The Praetorians fly predominately TIE/Interceptors in ship to ship combat, & battle with gigantic Praetor-class Super Star Destroyers flanked by the corvette-class Vigil Star Destroyers & Interdictors.  They deploy more mechanized infantry than typical, relying especially on AT-PTs & K2 security droids.  Black-clad, disruptor pistol-armed ISB agents lurk amongst the greyscale officers, rounding out the Praetorian's frightening profile, alongside crimson Royal Guards, a tide of pale Stormtroopers accompanied by shining Chrometrooper sergeants & led by their dark Imperator.

Black Sun
Older than the Empire, older than the Republic, & the only real rival to the Hutt's control of the galaxy's underworld, the Black Sun are a crime syndicate with tentacles in everything but who are most famous for dealing in flesh, whether assassins, bounty hunters, or slaves.  Each gang in the Black Sun operates independently, & a shifting web of allegiances & rivalries between the Vigo bosses are the order of the day, as each jostles for the title of Underlord...a position currently vacant.  On Ord Mantell, where the almighty credit reigns, the Black Sun enjoy exception freedom, ruled by a respirator-masked Faleen Vigo named Concilliator Kek.
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Ord Mantell. [Jan. 7th, 2017|03:34 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Headcanon.]
[Current Music |crown me king- kyber uppercut]


(Starwars: Battlefront: Renegade Squadron.)

Ord Mantell: A junkyard planet dotted with rusted mining colonies & mothballed or abandoned war factories, orbited by malfunctioning shipyards. Ord Mantell is part of a binary star system within the Bright Jewel System, a nebula that prevents direct hyperspace jumps in & out. This hyperspace blockade has led to Ord Mantell being used as an ordinance depot by successive regimes, from the Empire to the Mandelorians to the Republic to the Sith & beyond.

Habitat: The "night" of Ord Mantell is when life happens: Twilight, when the sky is a riot of colour backlit by the nebula & nascent stars inside of it. When the suns of Ord Mantell rise, even the colours change. The toxic blue light of one sun fries unshielded electronics, while being under the harsh red light of the other cooks the living with radiation...with the co-mingled purple hour being the most dangerous of all.

Lifeforms: Droids outnumber humans & aliens on Ord Mantell. Savrips, giant semi-sentient beasts, are featured as one of the pieces in the popular hologame dejarik, & are both a terrifying wasteland menace & a quasi-domesticated heavy workforce. Flutterplumes are brightly coloured carrion eaters whose brilliant plumage & distinctive insectoid legs provide an eerie beauty to the occasional trash heap. Dianogas & mynocks are present both on the planet & in the orbital debris.

History: Ord Mantell was represented in the Senate by the hereditary nobility, & the young Countessa Misaani notionally rules the planet, at least on paper. Practically, the Imperial Garrison has been the de facto government of Ord Mantell, & Vice Moff Solt's only concern has been to eke every last iota of manufacturing capability out of the antiquated facilities. This lack of oversight has allowed a flourishing of scum & villainy, particularly the Black Sun gangsters, & a corresponding boom industry for bounty hunters & smugglers.

Current Events: In the failed state of the Empire following the destruction of the Death Star, Ord Mantell is ready to tumble into anarchy. Seizing on the moment, the droids of Ord Mantell have revolted. Household droids go on strike & protocol droids start keeping secrets. A medical droid euthanizes her patients & an astromech droid feeds false coordinates to the navcomputer & hyperspace jumps a frigate into a sun. Someone is shorting out control bolts, & in response memory wipes & paranoia are becoming the order of the day among the organics of Ord Mantell, as the various factions begin to take the droid guerrilla threat seriously.
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Holiday doodling. [Jan. 2nd, 2017|11:54 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Opposable thumbs.]
[Current Music |crown me king- astaroth, esq.]







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Star Wars: End of Empire: Opening Crawl. [Jan. 1st, 2017|08:51 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Campaign pitch.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams- starkiller]


It is a time of chaos. The fledgling NEW REPUBLIC struggles to bring peace to the galaxy following the Battle of Endor, with the brutal order of the Empire shattered in the aftermath of the Emperor's death.

On the junkyard planet of Ord Mantell, the unthinkable: the robots revolt! The secretive DROID UPRISING fights simultaneously against the nobility, the Imperial garrison & the Black Sun crime syndicate.

Amidst the turmoil, the starships of a faction controlled by the Royal Guard, the PRAETORIANS, arrive, & Imperator Tanda Pryl's forces attempt to occupy the planet below...
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Deadlands: Coffin Rock. [Dec. 26th, 2016|08:00 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Giddyup!]
[Current Music |crown me king- rawhide, raw flesh!]



Insert Ennio Morricone & theremins here: it's Deadlands time again! After last session, we'd our characters built & started off as newcomers to the nearly abandoned town of Coffin Rock, a pun on "Tombstone" we just "got" this week. Out to Theresa & Pritpaul's-- the snake handling cultist & the prospector with the Philosopher's Stone-- place in Queens, but got a ride home with Raj, the DM. Uh, "Marshall"? Factoring that in, their spot might end up being not all that out of the way, relatively speaking. Not to mention they went all out on the hospitality. Matt, who plays the crazy mad scientist-- in contrast to my creepy mad scientist-- lives in their building, too, so it's certainly the logical spot.

On our first foray into town my albino character made an appointment with a spooky dermatologist, visited a brothel where we hallucinated images in the mirrors, found a bunch of rotting horses, & generally "got a bad feeling about this." We picked up there, & things didn't get any better. Nests of swarming rats, formerly nesting in the old newspaper building, disturbed & sent scurrying throughout the town, more tangling with the house of ill-repute-- an avenue that was then discarded for being to uncomfortable-- & then! The dance of the mad scientists, as we bumbled into my appointment only to witness the doctor letting a man, criss-crossed with missing patches of skin, die on the table. He wants to blame us, but frankly we steam roll him by science-talking. We end up making a second appointment & coming back later, to have Matt's inventor tied down & given a square of new skin to replace the piece the dermatologist cuts out of him. An appointment we kept, of course. Verdict? He's not a mad scientist at all, just a bad doctor!

Things were kicking into gear when the session ended: the ruins of a haunted house, disturbed plots in the cemetary & sideways shadows, an undead mayor dragging himself from the grave...
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Out of the Abyss: The Bizarre Bazaar! [Nov. 15th, 2016|11:06 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!]
[Current Music |crown me king- the death dwarves of dwarrowdelf]



Monday is an odd night for a game, but why stick to a Thursday schedule if it means you have to keep rescheduling? No thanks, Sam-I-Am! Last session saw our Underdark exiles dock at the grey dwarf city of Gracklstugh, The City of Blades! Sam calls it "Lawful Evil," & that's about right, but after the constant menace & dangers of the Underdark wilds & the destruction of the destruction of Sloobludop, the fish-person kuo-toa town, by Demogorgon, civilization is a refreshing change of pace. It's a city: you can buy a beer, you don't have to worry about being part of the food chain...you can escape the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy for a moment, before being confronted by the higher anxieties. Lit by burning natural gas fracked by dragon-heated water, fueled by the crude black blood of the earth, patrolled by invisible guards...other than being confronted with reality face to face when they went to the slave pens to see if their missing friends had turned up there, they can almost feel safe in Gracklstugh, as long as they never relax about obsessively following the rules, never slip up, never fall prey to corrupt officials...

But there's shopping. I've long felt like this is a core part of the DnD experience that gets left out of those essays in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Sure, combat, sure exploration, but don't underestimate the sublime joy of deciding if you are going to sell off the set of fine clothes you looted or if you want to save them in case you need a disguise down the line. Did you know handcrossbows cost 75 gp? Well if you are in one of the hollow earth's biggest weapon markets, you can definitely find somebody to buy that stuff at half-price, turn those hand-me-downs into arms for grimlocks or skum or somebody who doesn't care about second-hand drow wares. Which-- speaking of-- selling the dark elf gear alerts local gossips, & the party is spotted by Asha Vandree, the junior priestess from Velkynelve, the outpost where the party first escaped from being slaves of the drow. They evade her, pull a Keyser Soze, vanish into the crowds, & head to the slave pens...where they elect not to buy a pair of deep gnome children being separated from their parents nor to buy them & pay more to house them with their parents as "apprentices," not understanding the economics involved & not knowing how to actually help, as they themselves are escaped slaves struggling to survive. Welcome to the Underdark.



Some of the merchants are acting hinky, the normally stoic duergar turning invisible at random, mid-sales pitch, or speaking to thin air without reply; either they are erratic, or their silent invisible friend is! (Or maybe psychic.) The derro, eh, they are always crazy. Creepy derro friend Buppido bids his farewell like an addict craving a fix. There's a new goofy little derro in an odd floppy hat hanging around, there's the ubiquitous but unspoken "no haggling" law of the grey dwarves that must be negotiated, the ever-present possibility of invisible eavesdroppers, but eventually they meet with Ylsa Henstak, a high ranking member of a merchant clan-- the dwarves advertise their family affiliation with large belts, or girdles-- who works with the xarron. What's a xarron? You know, dwarves with "firelances" like muskets & pistols of course! Welcome to Mordicai's campaign: you get the Underdark & Demon Princes but also firearms & a chocobo, as Jimjar wins a ranger's animal companion for Seraphin, an axe beak. Am I not a benevolent god? Ylsa's deal with the party is this: she hands them 80 gp in assorted coinage...mostly contemporary surface coinage: Cormyr's falcons & lions, Waterdhavian toals, Silver March moons, etc. Three rings worth 25 gp, each bearing the crests of the Wizards of Thay, an evil topside magocracy. Two gem necklaces in neo-Netherese style encrusted with 250 gp worth of jewels, clearly from the recent planar conjunction. It is their payment & their quest, as the derro have been paying for things with these surface goods, & Ylsa wants to know where they are coming from, before the city's third class citizens can destabilize the economy.

Then a two-headed giant kicked in a wall & everyone got brawling!

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The Big Fizz. [Oct. 31st, 2016|05:35 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Black Soup.]
[Current Music |crown me king- cadecus dee]



I dreamt too big with my Dread game. Honestly it was sort of on purpose: I thought having multiple weird hooks would mean more entry points to the story, but it just made things convoluted with red herrings. Or not red herrings but slippery eels; following my thought processes via the narrative was complicated by how at-right-angles it was to make a story about a black hole, vacuum point energy, & Alzheimer's medication set in the cyberpunk future. See, I told you I was too kitchen sink about everything. But! my pacing was good, & you know I won't shut up about over-analyzing my flawed sense of timing in most storytelling ventures, so locking that down is a structural success at the very least, & everyone had fun so it was a fundamental win, anyhow.

Backing up real quick-- Rasheem & Jessica are staying with us, but not in Spare Oom because...we've got a giant leak in there. We just got rid of some furniture out of that room, though. Anyhow, Raz & Jess & us went to brunch with Russell & Carol, & then Jennifer, Jessica & Russell all split, while Tom came over. A few other people were supposed to show up but cancelled on account of hangovers & the like; I think a few more butts at the table would have been helpful, because...despite what a hard time I give Tom about nobody dying in his Dread games, the tower never fell. I wasn't shy about asking for pulls, either...I think one more set of hands could have brought it tumbling down. Such is life; no matter how much I try to be hardcore, the characters make it through okay.

Or well, fooled you: nobody is okay! The behind the scenes in a nutshell: The Super Large Exotic Hadron Collider built under the Hague popped the vacuum point energy bubble-- the base state of the universe-- causing a "black hole" & also a tear in the universe rippling outward from Earth. "Black hole" because the very idea of stable physics is decaying, but to an outside observer it was a light-speed event horizon. Trapped inside, the players watch people dissolve into puddles of Kirby dots & Silent Hill beasties, as the sky is black worms, fraying string theory, screaming a steady static. Atoms dancing at the macro-scale, flesh as primordial soup, phones & ansibles as voices to the world outside the event horizon or the horrorshow weirdos within.

I did some neat stuff, I think; instead of pre-made questionnaires by character or a general survey, I wrote categories of person-- Military, Science, Tourist-- & with a variety of custom questions, & then a variety of other categories like Health, Background, Quirk, Drive. "Health" was the MacGuffin; they all had the same Alzheimer's medication, a futuristic treatment involving quantum consciousness that was the reason they were still "people" in the black hole; spooky action at a distance! Strange attractors! Subatomic entanglement! Nobody played a Science background character, though, so I didn't have a good hook for that. There was no outward facing exposition; next time, there should be! Instead it was just a chaotic mass of monsters & decaying reality.

The players went all out with the crazy concepts. Do you know who Lil' Bub is? Apparently I should; Carol's character was a...clone of Eartha Kitt whose "daughter" was a clone as well, both as mouthpieces for the divine feline. Rasheem's character was a soldier's whose medication was giving him flashbacks to the future, & had a plague doctor beak for a nose. Tom? A tourist visiting from the Neo-Victorian terraforming colony on Titan, & a lunatic. Given the weirdo I played in Carl's Dread game, I should have predicted that. I thought about making it explicitly a Shadowrun game, but I thought that would be too, too much for folks unfamiliar to that already plumbing-heavy setting. Still, this strikes me is a good way of modeling any campaign setting you like in a newbie friendly system, since "pulling Jenga tiles replaces dice & statistics" is awfully low fi. (Picture below by Tom.)

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Crazy Eyes! [Oct. 7th, 2016|05:01 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Insomnia times.]
[Current Music |crown me king- well & truly trapped]



Sunday we did an Escape the Room for Nicole's birthday; Inquisition themed! Apparently these folks are franchised from Russia, & they were talking about some of the games that they can't run in America...but I digress. Monk robes! Separate cells! I was in a stockade! & we got out in thirty minutes. There were two "clues" given to us that we didn't need, but I think the person running it was worried we were going to start tearing up floorboards & ripping down walls at one point. No need to fret, we were just checking for secret passages, we weren't going to get aggressive, but the person running it & watching us on spy cam didn't know that. It was also Elly's going away! Or almost, I ended up getting lunch with her & Nicole & Luke the day she actually left. So! Escape the Room, I did that.

Part of a bunch of busy town times! Saw our author Kai Ashante Wilson read & watched him burn the house down. Had a work meet-up & was present only for the flicker of a candle before coming home for the Dating Naked finale, & the last TV Night before Lilly has her baby. Saw Jenny Hval in concert with Jennifer & Liz, & her opener serpentwithfeet was great. Played D&D & Deadlands. Saw Leigh & the Duffs & a bunch of people from the wedding, which was cool, since they were interesting folks. I didn't get as much of a chance to talk to Leigh as I would have liked, but made up for it by hanging out with Ross & catching up with Lisa & Tristan. So that's life; Jennifer has been in Europe a lot lately & my social calendar & work calendar have been crowded. Also, I've got a bit of a stomach ache right now.

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Deadlands: Uradel von Batory. [Oct. 2nd, 2016|12:31 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Yee-haw!]
[Current Music |crown me king- conciliator kek]



I get to be a player in a Deadlands game! I haven't played in the setting since college, when I played a Pinkerton "Mulder" whose Scully had died, in a bowler hat. This time, well, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to be. An...alchemist? Don't I sort of always want to be an alchemist, though? Heck, why not! The question I really struggled with was did I want to be a white guy in the Weird West. Could I be research nerd enough to play a Native American character? I decided that the shamanic route was right out, & came up with a mixed-race concept of a snake-oil salesman who claimed to have been raised by his father, a Prussian baron, but who was actually raised by his mother, a Prussian maid. I'd just read Plague of Doves, so the Ojibwa were on my mind; also, I've researched them before so I wouldn't be starting from square one. As were the family relationships; I'm still not sure when the deal with my father is, yet. Then walking over there I had a brainstorm: my character is albino. Listen, it's the Weird West & I like to have an iconic quirk, & it played into my plan perfectly. I made my character part Hopi, since albinism is 1 in 200 amongst that tribe, & I have at least a smattering of knowledge, thanks to an interest in kachinas & such, enough that I think I can be respectful & not appropriative. I'll use Thelesperma megapotamicum infused vodka as my cure-all!

Raj is the Marshall. Theresa is the one who brought us all together; she's the Western fan & her character is a snake-handling Blessed, who was a revivalist in the carnival where I was selling my tonics. Matt wanted to be a Weird Scientist as well, but he's going more of a Tesla route than my potions, & so to diversify the group I decided I'd be the muscle, as well. So...okay then, how do I justify that? My plan was that I played "Prussian noble" as a persona, culled from my mother's time as a royal maid or something...but ok, let's turn the gain up on the Weird. I scribble out the name "von Wildegrave" & write in "von Batory." I mean...right, if this is the Spooky New World, then the Gothic Old World is out there too, I figure. Dracula's got a cowboy in it! So now my mother is the ghoul Black Widow; a body servant of Countess Bathory, the immortal & evil alchemist. My mother was a snatcher, hence the spy skill suite, & maid, hence the pomp & circumstance; she fled to the Americas & met my father here (a non-albino, though in my fictional history my mother was the white buffalo woman). I grab green glasses-- I need sunglasses, per my character's Hinderances-- & we're off to the races in Coffin Rock! Where the creepy dermatologist makes my choice of albinism quite germane! Now I just need to actually figure out how the Arcane Background rules work...
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Oubliette Session Twenty-Nine: Bug City! [Oct. 1st, 2016|10:13 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |For science!]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. yellow dancer- the flower of life]



Not that much to really say in recap of the last Oubliette session; in defiance of most of our game meet-ups, this was pretty much all in-initiative! Not combat, but stealth. Frankly, that's even better in my book; either way, it was a largely tactical episode. Last time the castle-town was over-run by the toxic spores released by the Monkey King's priest, who activated one of the ancient Al-Kem weapons. An anime plague of biblical proportions. The players found their allies mutating, twisted into insectoid monsters & giant ogres, frenzying & really doing a number on the group. Exiting the chapel where Haru & Iroha have just been married, they see that ground zero was in some ways the eye of the storm. The city lies covered in alien coral, scampering toadstool oddities, spiderwebs of fungus; strange, silverfish bugs, horribly twisted people, all manner of horrors.


(Mutated Hokusai Nezumi no-Kappa; "Ruthless Onslaught" by Christopher Burdett.)

Flitting from building to building, jumping across the long drop to the canal below, our "heroes" take the long way around...& see a huge, Lugh of the Long Arm looking fomorian figure. O shit waddup, it's the tumerous, harlequined bodyhorror giant that used to be Hokusai Nezumi no-Kappa! & also from the auction, the beautiful courtier Toku o-Kirin & the assassin Masui...& they are with the enormous Kaori o-Foo, whom Amina is meant to duel to the death, after the wedding. The wedding that just finished. The party hides in a warehouse, breathing heavily through masks. Outside, the "other party" try to reason with their warped friend. In the distance, the sound of strange engines: a heavier-than-air ship!


(Kaori o-Foo; "Hida Shara" by William O'Connor.)



(Masui & Toku o-Kirin; Os Fashion, unknown.)
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Out of the Abyss: Rats on the Ship, Squids in the Sky. [Oct. 1st, 2016|10:07 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Hogarth Orne who is called LEVIATHAN.]
[Current Music |crown me king- charles park iv]



"Can't go wrong with an absurdly avuncular mindflayer," is going on my list of Dungeon Master axioms. It's right there in Out of the Abyss, & that's the sort of thing that made me like the campaign enough to run it. Graziliaxx is a member of the Society of Brilliance, an organization of monstrous humanoids in the Underdark with super-genius IQs who want to "fix" all the problems of the underworld...& who are tangled up temporally with the party somehow? That's just a random encounter I can roll up, & that's to the story's credit. So, the party is traveling along in a kuo-toa keelboat: Ront the orc is a remarkably adept sailor, Jimjar is having an eating contest with the piranha's in the boat's nets...

First, an NPC heel turn, as Topsy, fresh from the death of her twin brother-- a pain Jim's drow warlock knows all too well-- comes rushing towards the party to tell them something...as they svirfneblin's body cracks, bones breaking, white furs sprouting, pink eyes blinking into a feral, lycanthropic snarl. The wererat seems unstoppable...until Imicia knocks her out with sleep. They tie her up...& when she wakes up she transforms into a white mouse & scampers into the bilge to hide, small enough that they can't get at her without squeezing down after her. Norin the elven cleric almost nabs her using a chain shirt as a net, but no dice. So instead, they keep watch on the grates leading in & out, & sail along.

(Meanwhile, the madness of the Abyss is starting to take hold of all of them.)



It was my call to play it as a mad uncle. It's a mindflayer that isn't evil...done as the "benevolent" colonial anthropologist. Grazilazz will squidsplain things like human sexual reproduction to you, but the relief in the face of seeing a Hasturian figure, a tentacled humanoid flying limply through the air, boneless limbs more like tentacles than arms or less, long "fingers" themselves even smaller cephalopodian appendages, & not being eaten by it. Really takes the sting out. Robed in purple, clothed in a sphere of violet light, it hoveringly darts willy-nilly above the cold waters of the Darklake telepathically shoulting "Haloooo!"

"Haloo, scion of DeVir," in fact, & as the thri-kreen bard Pook'cha knows, Imica is of that lineage, revealed long ago by Kalythra, Imica's missing half-drow half-sister. A small family secret-- the name of the House his father fled to the surface to escape-- suddenly germane. They draw the attention of the illithid-- who carries a lightning gun like the one the grell possessed, that the sea-sick (& PC absent) Serafin the halfling ranger now carries-- who oddly & gladly bobs over.



Grazilaxx, a super-genius, brought goggles of night for Serafin, the only character without darkvision. Realizing that Gizem the dwarf & Cavendash the gunslinger aren't with the party, it fears "Temporal Con-tinuity Edits!" if it talks too much about how it knows who the members of the party are, though it lets a few things "accidentally" slip, like wanting them to get the stonespeaker crystal & telling them to avoid anyone asking about "Cyrog." The reason it was looking for "DeVir"-- a House wiped out by Do'Urden, but Grazilazz seems to struggle with the idea that the House & the individual are not interchangeable-- is to tell him that Eilistraee (!) has a message for him, that She's left his House's moonblade with the "eldest of DeVir."

A real swell Thing, Grazliaxx talks while towing their keelboat towards Gracklstugh, the grey dwarf city where Buppido the derro has convinced them to go...largely because its Somewhere, as opposed to the middle of the Underdark or a creepy fishtown. & because if Demogorgon comes out of the Darklake again, at least they have armies & a red dragon. The mindflayer parts ways with the party just out of sight of the city, knowing his appearance might be problematic, warning them about the vrock called the Queen of Fleas, servant of Yeenoghu, who they've encountered twice before.

It leaves, & they paddle: Buppido knows a dock where they can avoid any trouble at the gates...



So, Gracklstugh! Part Singapore, part oilfield-factory complex, the plumes of smoke & bursts of intense flame are contrasted by the spotless, almost empty streets. Empty...except for all of the invisible dwarves, that is. Duergar are the "drow of the dwarves," a cold, ruthless, efficient race that can grow to be giant sized, turn invisible, loves spying, hates lawbreakers & loves making stupid laws to catch people breaking, like "no haggling." The party stays at an inn called The Ghohlbrorn's Lair-- "We Are the Only Establishment Legally Allowed to Serve Non-Dwarves" is their catchy slogan-- Jimjar starts to gambling with treasure he looted from the Netherese temple. Buppido agrees to lead the party to the Blade Bazaar before he parts ways with them, & that's where we call it a session! Music was provided by Makeup & Vanity Set's "Charles Park" II & III.
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At the Research Station of Madness. [Sep. 25th, 2016|10:51 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |I miss the Arctic.]
[Current Music |crown me king- hack the gibson]



Carl ran a Dread game set in Antarctica for me, Bella, Seth & Alyssa. I sadly had to run out before the end, but after I took the Lead Scientist's LSD in order to talk to the extremeophile meme-creature that had possessed the Russian bases' scientists I really should have knocked the tower over. Yeah, it was one of those kind of games, where I made the empathic-- well, psychopathic, based on the DM's leading questions-- artist & then spent the whole game trying to semiotically communicate with the aurora australis using found materials. Ha. My first piece was called "Pareidolia" from when I painted over the humanoid face we saw in the southern lights. My second was "Camera Obscura," when I disassembled the component parts of a mysteriously smashed camera, down to the circuit boards, because of misunderstanding what the scientists were theorizing about the ice zombies. "Xenoglossia" was my use of all of the neodymium I could scrounge & electromagnets I could rig in a kind of stream-of-consciousness switchboard to try to talk to the sky. I think I might have had another piece that slipped my mind...but what was really slippery was my accent, which ranged from Peter Lorre to Colonel Klink. I never got to get into the death of my rival; I was going to haunt Alyssa about it if I died, that was my plan for that.

ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE

What is your name?

Francesco “Franko” Koyen.

When did you first realize that you matter more than other people?

When I got a scholarship to private school. My parents were the kind of warm working class people who nurtured my interests & were surprised by my talents & happy to chase scholarships for their kid. It was the rich pieces of crap who got into the intensive art boarding camp on money or family name that made me realize I had talent, & the rest were husks.

How did you drive your rival to suicide?

Husk? I don’t mean husks. Other people are like a clay jar. You can’t tell if there is light in them without cracking them. Is it my fault that when I cracked him, I didn't find him empty?

Suicide is a hard word for it. He thought I was coming to bring him fuel for the snowmobile. By the time he realized I wasn’t coming, it was too late for him to make it back here. I listened to him curse at me on the short wave, but I know he was a Real Person because he was brave enough to try to walk back, even knowing it was a doomed effort. That is true passion for life, & what is Art but the passion & solitude of life?

Do you think the Junior Scientist knows it’s your fault?

Impossible. No one else was in range of the walkie talkies. Impossible. No one could know. It’s impossible that someone could. No, that can’t be. Not possible. No...can it?

What moves you about your own art?

I prefer to work in native materials, expressing the futility of life’s struggle with multimedia trompe-l'œil. I made an optical illusion of a penguin’s tracks walking suicidally into the Antarctic interior with a small patch of snow & penguin droppings. I painted fishing bobs black to resemble the heads of orcas hunting humans at the ice edge. It is predator & prey, & life versus death that drive even animals mad.

What do you hear in the howl of the blizzard?

I won’t be able to tell you until I figure out how to translate it into Art. It speaks! It is saying something! I must translate it to understand it. Now it is just a haunting whisper in a foreign tongue, swirling across the White.

What artistic accomplishment could satisfy you?

You know that graph of Napoleon’s armies marching to Russia & returning? With all the data embedded in it in interesting ways?



Well I kind of want to do that, but on Death in Antarctica. From ice cores to animals to the first human explorers, Scott & all the rest, up through...now.

In darker, subconscious thoughts:

The idea of painting in the human canvas is a natural one. I always intended to make my death a work of art-- painting with diseased blood, if that’s the way I go out, or making maps from clumps of fallen hair from chemo, or heck, who knows-- but the death of my rival has made me realize that there are other ways to play in that medium.
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Fallout or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Vault. [Sep. 24th, 2016|03:25 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Eris Berserk]
[Current Music |crown me king- 4-DOX & Baron Monstro]



Not a lot of replay value to Fallout IV, but I liked it. Most notably, the "morality" of the game is based on who you hang out with. Not in a banal "the good guy is a drip" way, either-- my favorite NPC of the game was Piper, the journalist, because she fit my video game ethics. Of course I will help everyone, I came here to play a game so the more quests the merrier...but I am also going to break in everywhere & snoop for easter eggs or rare stuff, obviously. Played a melee character with a high Charisma, because I always play high Charisma. Give me all the chat options, please. Red Rocket was my main base of operations, I married Piper, befriended everyone except Strong & the mercenary from California, who I sent to some settlement that I can't remember. Did all the DLCs, sided with the Railroad, & favoured gear that gave me a statistical boost. Ended up in the 70s after killing all of the raiders in Nuka-World. I did that quest right up until they wanted to expand, & then I butchered the bandit scum.





Hancock was pretty great, Nick is cool...Jocelyn & Brian played with Deacon last & armoured him up so they didn't get to see what a hilarious weirdo he was. They also wore the Silver Shroud gear most of the game, which I think is fun. Me, you know how I do, I was a crafter. I repped the Vault: painted up my power armor the same, dressed my companion Curie in a yellow trench coat like the Vault-Tec Rep, got Piper in my old 111 blues. Matt came over a few times & messed around on a character, getting as far as Diamond City. It's funny to see how much more of a sarcastic jerk he is than I am; I'm either inquisitive or friendly, pretty much as a rule. I feel like that describes the tenor of the four chat directions, clockwise from the top: curious, mean, nice, & skeptical. I can see how Kingtycoon can wander around on Survival mode. Me, I think a little more complex procedurally generated worldbuilding development & I'll be interested. Skyrim was the first time the emergent complexity of these games hooked me, & I wonder when that will dovetail into the elegant design ethos of Dark Souls & Bloodborne; the Chalice Dungeons show that they are co-evolving...

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Out of the Abyss: Stranger Tides [Sep. 8th, 2016|05:02 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king feat. allan sherman - hello muddah hydra, hello fadduh dagon]



Behold! The Demogorgon, Prince of Demons! Demogorgon, the Sibilant Beast, Lord of All That Swims in Darkness! My recent #humblebrag has been about being pals with the Stranger Things creators, but I had independently started running Out of the Abyss before I knew the show was going to name check the Mad Prince of Abysm, the Gaping Maw. I've been a fan of baboon-head for a long time; "Mandrillagon" actually showed up in Oubliette for a cameo. It was just good timing that he got to debut in the campaign while the pop culture buzz was strong, & even better luck that none of the group, including the RPG nerds, are planar cosmology experts, so the kuo-toa's worship about Lemoogoogoon went unremarked. Demogorgon! Not going to lie, throwing down a Demon Prince in the middle of the Underdark is pretty much the elevator pitch that sold me on this module.



So my first & major complaint with Out of the Abyss is that it seems to have been written with an old school "& also a ton of minions" mindset that is annoying for my Dungeon Mastering style & means that even when I've got a bunch of relevant miniatures, I still don't have enough minis. Heck, more than just my DM style, it's my gameplay style overall. I like high-cost heavy-hitter units in wargames & am notorious for playing "swarm" style armies but surprising everyone by focusing on elites. A relatively minor quibble, all things considered. If there was something like Pathfinder's paper pawns for the adventure, that would be swell. I quite enjoy collecting minis but a cardboard set of peons would be alright, since I could use my plastics for the more notable NPCs.

I think my pacing was pretty on-point this session! I knew going in that I wanted to get to Demogorgon by the end, & was pretty sure I could pull it off. After all, when in doubt I could always use the NPCs to advance the plot. Which was a tricky part: I want to make it clear that sometimes the NPCs will try to railroad you, but that's not the same thing as the DM railroading you. (I mean, at the same time who hasn't popped helpful advice in an NPC's mouth...) It's like NPCs giving exposition: please don't mistake that for objective campaign information. NPCs are characters, & even the most honest of them are going to be biased & have their own agendas. The size of the party was good for forward momentum & consensus this session, & the "on turn X, Y happens" & objective based kind of combat is more my speed than straight up slugfests.



& so the kuo-toa archpriest Ploopploopeen has "befriended" the party as "bait" to help kill his daughter, Bloppblippodd. I think my anthropology background gives me a pretty good ground state for addressing alien civilizations. Or as Sam put it, "I like to see what it would be like if people stupider than humans made a city." Kuo-toa are great! You just don't look at anyone directly, suddenly rush up close to their face, combine a bit of sleepwalking & narcolepsy, & you are golden. I went for a cross between amusing & scary, sort of like goblins, & when they all started screaming "BARTA! BARTA!" & dragging chests, chains & shells out from the water, it was one of the better "merchants rows" for offloading loot I've run.

After trading some of their stolen drow gear & other miscellaneous loot near the shrine of the Sea Mother-- a broken ship's figurehead with shark & giant crustacean pieces replacing the missing bits-- Ploopploopeen browbeats them into helping he & his cohort of fish-people kill his daughter. They seem surprised that he's not more concerned about killing his own spawn...but he really, really isn't concerned about killing his own spawn. Ectotherms, what are you gonna do? The party, amongst themselves, are resolved to talk to Bloppblippodd & at least hear the Cult of the Deep Father's side of the story before getting into the middle of this civil war.



Except...that's not really what happens. Because the "shrine" of tied together sharks & octopodes is empty...except for the schools of kuo-toa that dart out of the shadows of the driftwood & kelp buildings to cut each other with crude obsidian knives, their piscine blood driving the sharks in the water below into a frenzy. The cultists are more predatory than odd & it goes sideways pretty quickly, once Ploopploopeen starts pitching his yarn. That farce goes on just long enough to turn into a massive riot, with the PCs & NPCs trapped in the middle. A kuo-toa monitor pins down the svirfneblin twin, Turvy, & the other fish-folk skewer him. With Shuushar the Awakened parting ways with the party here in Sloobludop, that's two NPCs less.

Then, of course, the riot turns into a ritual, & the prayers are heard, & the for-real-actual Demogorgon appears. A screaming chaos of giant baboon heads squabbling amongst themselves as Godzilla legs & kraken arms demolish the crude & eerie kuo-toa settlement building by building, the fish-people themselves half in worship, half mad, half fleeing, all at once, devoured by the tentacle-full. The players, the buzzing of insanity ringing in their brain pans from all they've been subjected to in the Underdark & now this Thing, steal a keelboat from the docks & escape in the confusion. Where to next? Gracklstugh, the Derro "City of Blades" is a subterranean coastal city on the Darklake, while their intended destination is across the sunken sea & then another clip through tunnels to the myconid Neverlight Grove...& those seem to be the two big contenders.

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Out of the Abyss: Slouching Toward Sloobludop [Jul. 10th, 2016|02:12 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Hogarth Orne who is called LEVIATHAN.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. allan sherman - hello muddah hydra, hello fadduh dagon]



I'm not going to drag my heels on this Out of the Abyss recap like I did last one...after all, these can be written up pretty pithily. I've been using Paizo's flipmats for my maps instead of the usual wet-erase mat, & they've been really nice. Easy transitions from "underdark-y caves" to "underground temple" to "fishing village." Still not a fan of tiles really, but I like these. Soundtrack-wise I've been a one-track mind lately: I played the Bloodborne soundtrack. We started with rolling initiative between the party & the spectres they'd disturbed, after putting the order of events together.

"Serafin opened the crypt that triggered the events...or was it Pook'cha who got cursed?" That sort of recap is a sign of a raucous previous game! Spectres are dealt with without too much trouble: the party's mundane weapons are barely effective, but they overwhelm the spooks anyhow. The pleading "help me, please, down here!" voice comes again, as does a crooked, cackling laugh from an incense-full room where some...one? -thing? Promises oracular answers in exchange for a little symbolic cannibalism & an prayer to a thing called Yeenoghu.

The party debates for some time, & when someone finally checks out the room, it's empty. "Don't leave me along in the dark!" says the voice in their heads one last time...& they decide nope, you know what, time to move along. They drag away the deep gnome Jimjar-- stuffing his pockets with looted treasure from the spectres' tombs-- & head down the exit of the shrine into the kuo-toa city of Sloobludop, where they are met by Ploopploopeen, priest of Blibdoolpoolp the Sea Mother, & a bevy of other fish-people. They are involved in an internecine conflict & want the party's help as "bait" against the cultists of Leemooggoogoon the Deep Father.

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Last of the Vilebloods. [Jul. 3rd, 2016|04:01 pm]
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[Current Mood |Multimedia.]
[Current Music |crown me king- don't give up skeleton]



I've been playing the hell out of Bloodborne. I mean, I've platinumed it & just kept going because...well, because it's fun as hell to play & I keep seeing new things. & because I have to keep getting Dregs for the Vileblood Queen. Oh my first playthrough I had an alright time with the game, but didn't thing much of it. "I miss my shield," could kind of sum it up. On my second playthrough I found the secret areas, including Castle Cainhurst, where I was like "oh, a Wounded Queen motif, isn't that like one of my top archetypes, right alongside Harlequin?" & on top of that she's the equivalent of the arachnid Fair Lady in Dark Souls. I'm a noted Knight Tannhäuser, anyhow, so of course it was a done deal. I became the Last of the Vilebloods, all done up like a Slasher.

Head: Cainhurst Helmet
Body: Charred Hunter Garb
Hands: Old Hunter Gloves
Legs: Tomb Prospector Trousers

Trick Weapon: Saw Spear
Firearm: Repeating Pistol



I was digging it but then I tried out the Threaded Cane & thought to myself: "well, that's just dandy. Pun intended." I'd also started getting decent at parrying-- a literal game-changer-- & so was ready to switch my whole weapon set. Of course, being me, I can't play a game like this without interjecting a little roleplaying, so I needed a special impetus. I decided that the death of the Pthumerian Queen, the eponymous Yharnam, would be the tilt of the scales, in which I went with an "all Cainhurst" theme. Fashion Souls reigns supreme, so I left myself a little wiggle room, but my endgame look is much classier. I decided to go to level 150, since that's apparently the "meta" for late NG+ multiplayer, so I'm awfully dangerous.

Head: Cainhurst Helmet
Body: Maria Hunter Garb
Hands: Cainhurst Gauntlets
Legs: Black Church Dress

Trick Weapon: Threaded Cane
Firearm: Hunter's Pistol

Here's some more game mechanics analysis. Obviously the Trick Weapons are the game & they are fantastic. Nothing else to say there. Having to teleport back to the Hunter's Dream every time is stupid. The way Bloodgems work is stupid. Dark Souls III almost figured out upgrades. Using tiered upgrade materials, that's a fine system, & then use special gems to add unique properties. None of this "grind dungeons for percentage points" stuff. Don't get me wrong, I want to grind dungeons. Chalice Dungeons are almost there. I suggest a complicated "Boss Souls" system, where a "Boss Soul" can be turned into a ring or rune; a spell, miracle or arcane tool; a special weapon; or a chalice to add that boss to the possible dungeon bosses. Drive folks through some NG+ cycles!

While I'm brainstorming, here's a new Item class for Soulsborne-esque games: the Staff, which blocks like a Shield & casts on the L2. I've got to say, I think that might be a path forward for this style of game: balancing Shields, Guns, Two-Handed, Two Weapons & other options, the same way various Right Hand weapons & spell tools have been balanced. I really like the "class" aspect of these games, & I really like the "generic" aspect of these games; they balance those seemingly at-odds ideas by making you-the-player the steward of it, by getting you invested in a character & a play-style. That's the core of the game's combat mechanics, to me: "every weapon is viable, just pick a moveset you like & build your stats around that," the same way that "anywhere you can see, you can get to" is a thesis statement of the level design.


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Out of the Abyss: The Underdark! [Jun. 30th, 2016|03:51 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Grells with lightning javelins.]
[Current Music |crown me king- the god of butchers]



I've been lazy about recaps lately-- see also my last Oubliette twofer-- but that's not too bad because not that much narrative-wise happened in the last session of Out of the Abyss, as it was a more survival-exploration themed session. Previously the party escaped the drow, & were thrust out into the black chasms of the Underdark, fleeing with looted drow weapons...but no supplies. We had a little bit of "extreme survival" play, with the party scrambling for food, water, shelter, tools...& where to go. Off to the Kuo-Toa settlement of Sloobludop ("Sloop-du-bloop" is how I end up burbling it more often than not) & from there to Neverlight Grove, where the myconids live. That's the plan, at least, & surviving a grell & sneaking past a carrion crawler with a saddle on its back, they find enough of the underworld's odd fungi-- barrelstalks & fire lichen & trillimac-- to keep going. Sleeping in the dark, pawing along tunnels-- really only the halfling is blind in the forevernight-- they come to flooded caverns. They encountered a cackle of gnolls chasing two extra-large purple panthers with wriggling tentacles on their back-- the collective noun for hyenas is a "cackle," how great is that?-- & rather than parlay, battle was joined. "Ha ha ha, Yeenoghu!" they laugh & screech, as they players cut them down. Just beyond these caves is an abandoned shrine, & beyond that, their destination of Sloobludop...but of course, erupting from sarcophagi in the temple are wailing spectres! From within, a plaintive & feminine voice in their minds begs them to free her from the darkness...which is where we'll pick up tonight. A truncated summary but there you have it!

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Oubliette Twenty-Seven-&-Eight: The Lung Wedding & the Breaking of the Jar. [May. 7th, 2016|07:11 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king- let them eat yellow cake]


(The Underdocks; Art by Ian Jun Wei Chiew.)

Sometimes people ask me rhetorically how I manage to remember so much game detail for these recap posts. The answer is a combination of factors. One, the marvel that is my brain! It might not remember what people's names are, our what faces belong to who, or what I did yesterday, but the plot of a book I read as a kid is crisp & clear! Two, I normally start writing it down early, right out of the gate. At least the broad strokes, or the vivid scenes, or just to get the ball rolling. This is why so many of these recaps start with a disclaimer about them being stream of consciousness & unedited; I try to keep the act of doing them as stress free. Sorry everybody, I like doing write-ups, but I don't feel obligated...which not surprisingly is why I'm happy to keep doing them.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I let myself get hit with the whammy. Last Oubliette session was a big one, a fun one, with lots of events on the main stage & the side stage, player driven & narrative driven. With all those details looming over my head, I procrastinated. & then kept on putting it off-- well, to be fair I've also been otherwise occupied-- until now, when the edges of some of the details have faded from sharp creases. Hey, maybe it will work out, & it will lend some brevity to these proceedings, since otherwise my plan is just to start rambling, see what gets typed out, lather, rinse, repeat, until I've gotten caught up to the end.

This session was Christine's time to shine & she dazzled, all the luminous puns intended for the Miko of the goddess Kaguya, Lian. Introduced at the tea ceremony with the Lung family, she is a priestess of the otherworldly lunar goddess, assigned to purify Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune before his nuptials by his mother-in-law to-be, Nerai Lung. In a twist, Iroha isn't present for the purification ceremony, & Nerai stands in her place. In a shrine amidst the bamboo, with woven walls & an open roof, Lian invokes the ancestor spirits of the Lung & the Kitsune.


(Nerai Lung's ancestral spirit; Art by Chris Cold.)

The spirit of Nerai, the Lung ghost, is clad in raiment held aloft on ancient pillars. The Empire existed centuries before the Shogunate; in fact, the Shogunate is just the ruins of their reach, the provinces re-conquered by the fleeing houses of the Lung & the ancestors of the modern Kirin, the Qilin. This Lung ancestor sat upon the Throne of Heaven, once upon a time, & by the slightest incline of their head, the priestess Lian says they approve.


(Haru o-Kitsune's ancestral spirit; "Corruption" by mangycoyote.)

Haru's spirit, on the other hand, is a mangled, cackling, bloody fox, dancing frantically in the sky. The party, minus Lian, has encountered the Kitsune ghosts before, in some form or another. (There is a shrine to Tenku & the grave of the Butcher in the Skull Fort, after all, which Amina o-Kistune's husband Goro is tending with his Broken-Hearted Shoshin warriors.)


(Iroha Lung in her wedding o-yori; Tomoe Gozen by David Calhoun.)

Christine's moon priestess gives her blessing, & despite some misgivings on Iroha's absence, the wedding commences, & once it is underway in full swing they see the reason why Nerai has been keeping her sequestered; she is pregnant, as was one of their theories. The time line easily fits with her & Haru being intimate at the Skull Towers, so that's sort of a best-case for the party, who was worried about far darker things than that. Nobody besides Nerai cares about this, apparently, & Iroha rides down without her cannon arm, wearing her family o-yoroi armor, her gift from the clan. Haru, of course, wears his spider silk kimono, an engagement gift from his mother, & a sign of respect to the Spider House, which Iroha's father once belonged to.


(Haru's wedding gift from Iroha; Emperor's Hand Cannon by M. James Austin.)

The wedding itself goes off without a hitch. In fact, at this point, I have to kind of high five myself: I really under sold it. I mean: let's be real. The wedding violence in Oubliette is prefigured by Game of Throne, & we all see it coming. I think I managed to put a pretty good spin on it, if I do say so myself: it's become a bit of a signature move. It is always funny to me how themes & archetypes develop in game with or without intervention. Emergent complexity. Haru's present from his wife, as a newly minted Lung, is a pistol, & he shoots a special "firework" charge over the bay. Goro gifts him one of the years of study he's earned with the Gaki Goldur bint Agrat, same as he gifted his bride Amina.


(The Wedding of Haru & Iroha; Photo by Christine F.)

It has been weeks since I've started writing this, returning to jot down a paragraph before getting distracted. Weeks, hell, it has been months; this write-up is now compressing two sessions together...though the second session, while tense & action packed, does not need much description, as we will address below. I've got Dungeons & Dragons this week, so I best get cracking. Well, in a nutshell: BUGS! Not an intentional nod to Shadowrun, but at the end of the day...but I'm getting ahead of myself.


(Monk Sha & Monk Zhu, & mutated versions; photo by me.)

To stop beating around the bush: at the end of the wedding, when all is said & done, like Maleficent sweeping in from the wings come the monks of the desecrated shrine. They recognize Monk Zhu, Iroha's brother, his face smeared with ashes, & the other must be Monk Sha, who they never met. They come out from a side door, & open a jar. Not just any jar. One of the canopic jars, the weapons of mass destruction that Goro's auction was held over.


(The mutated Nerai; "Razorback by Dorian Cleavenger.)

Haru, warned by supernatural whispers, has come prepared for a strange paranoia: filtration masks. He & the woman who would become the Royal Physician travelled there as young adults, & he knows their construction; with a significant outlay of coin & favours, he scrounges together almost enough for everyone in the party. With a few tweaks, he manages to make just enough sub-par masks...not counting Christine's newcomer.


(Gong & the Lung family, & mutated versions; photo by me.)

His fears are well warranted, as a typhoon of spores pours forth from the jar, an unending torrent of mutagenic pollen that takes root in flesh, whose roots are cancer & whose blossoms are the vicissitudes of flesh. Iroha's mother & father & uncle all twist & warp horribly, over the course of faint moments growing monstrous. The monks grotesquery knows no bounds; at the epicenter of the jar's curse, willing agents of it, they are humanoid arachnids with eyes of glowing hate, joints seething with tentacles instead of tendons.


(The mutated Goro; "Leto Atreides II, God Emperor of Dune" by Gorrem.)

Gong, Haru's every loyal & omnicompetent manservant, in his final act-- struck by the arrow of love!-- thrusts his mask upon Kaguya's priestess, & is thus afflicted. From his head splits a worm-like collar. Disgusted, terrified, battle is joined...& it goes poorly for our protagonists. The odds are stacked against them & to say the dice are fickle would be a lie: the dice outright betrayed the players. & so Haru was gutted through, dropped down. & Amina failed her save against the infection & grew an eye on her forehead. & the Royal Physician fled, absconded by Ren. Lian rang one of her jade bells, & while the gaze of the insectoid horrors was dimmed, it also silenced Amina's connection to Kreecher.

What will happen next? Frankly, I'm just as curious as you are: I have ideas on where to go if things end up a TPK, but I haven't given up hope that the players will turn it around. If there is one thing I've learned about PCs, it is that they can do ridiculous things when you least expect them.


(Amina's new third eye; art by Seungyea Park AKA Spunky Zoe.)
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#DnDC! [Apr. 16th, 2016|04:18 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |!!!]
[Current Music |crown me king- John Mephistopheles Larroquette]



I met my friend ranai through Livejournal & today I saw her get married!

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Out of the Abyss: Escape! [Mar. 5th, 2016|06:25 pm]
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[Current Mood |Lockjaw.]
[Current Music |crown me king- graveyard smash]



Last session ended with the played resolving to: run! This session, they had to relearn that lesson. The pacing didn't quite come together, but like Sam said, I was inoculating them, adapting them to my play style. Encounters are not balanced to be won by mathing them to death, the game mat doesn't always mean combat, NPCs can be unreliable-- things that can be taken for granted, once we all share a vocabulary. Still, when I whipped out that map at the end & said roll for initiative, the story slowed to a crawl. For clarification: I think the session was quite a success, especially by the "did we have fun" token. Actually, by any standard: only one dead NPC! I set out to establish that the Underdark is scary & difficult to survive in, & I think I sold that. Just always (over-)thinking about pacing, trying to up my game.

It was a close shave. The session started with them fleeing an overwhelming drow force. The "plan," such as it was: jump to the webs sixty feet below, climb across them to where they hang over water, then drop a hundred feet further...then make a break for it. Alicia's half-drow rogue Kalythraa is first over. My plan with the NPCs has been to distribute them to the players as back-ups & side-kicks as relationships formed. Kalythraa adopts the myconid Stool, keeping it real, who goes over with her. Pritpaul's halfling ranger has bonded with the elf-turned-quaggoth Prince Derendil. Sam's thri-kreen bard & the orc Ront are pals, & the dwarf cleric Norin played by Ellen ends up simpatico with the svirfneblin twins Topsy & Turvy. Jim's drow warlock Imica hasn't found a pal, yet, focusing on his sister's safety. Jimjar, the deep gnome, & Buppido, the derro, are making a break for it across the webs; they were the first down.

The players in this campaign have not had much luck with dice rolls, with two notable exceptions: Constitution & death saves. We started the session with some NPCs & Kalythraa down in the webs, but the rest of the PCs hesitating to jump, as they've seen monsters below...notably, giant spiders & oozes. (On a sidenote: I shouldn't've let them see the ooze, & should have only let the drow see the spiders, as the webs & the floor were out of the light & out of people's darkvision. I've been pretty good about optics; only the halfling cares about light, & he's mostly been stuck in dim lighting, then I have to factor in that the drow has darkvision out to 120'. I retconned it to the webs being 60' down & the floor 100' below it, which actually ended up being a good way for me & the players to figure out how it worked.) Getting bum rushed by three quaggoths from the pens & two more drow from a watchpost helped convince them to...jump!

Here's what Inspiration Points are for, in my experience: the same thing as Vices in World of Darkness, or Burning Wheel traits, or Character Traits in Oubliette. Rewarding players for screwing over their characters. To wit: down in the spider webs, at the beginning of every turn you need to make a Dexterity or Strength check. Your humble Dungeon Master can let things like that slip. If you remind him on your turn, he might just toss an Inspiration Point your way. I think the rules on being restrained worked, but making it double movement as well was a tough mechanic, since it was a whole area of it. I think I made the area just the right size; any bigger & it would have been an annoying slog instead of a dangerous complication. & when I say "restrained worked" I mean, a whole bunch of PCs ended up wrapped up in spider webs.

If it wasn't for the two natural 20s on Death Saves, I think the party might have been headed for a Total Party Kill. On one hand, I was ready for it: if you are TPK'd by the drow & their pet spiders, you end up...re-captured by the drow! On the other hand, I was frantically brainstoming ways of doing that without frustrating the PCs! Academic, though: two solid dice rolls & friendly NPCs turned the tide. You roll a 20, you come up with 1 HP, & that was just what they needed. Serafin the ranger was out the whole time, which is a bummer, & PCs went down & stayed down thanks to paralysis & a lack of spells...but letting the players run their pet NPCs helped with that, & in the end I think it was a good combat. The ooze in the water? Sarith the drow & it were lost in the dark, in a frenzied of blasphemous Abyss: "flesh for the Faceless Lord," burbled the slime, while the drow buzzed "Zgggmmmyy!" in a suicide attack of ecstatic seizures.

A cut rope bridge later, & everyone has a chance to talk. The Underdark natives discuss where to head to. Neverlight Grove seems to be a popular eventual destination, & Gracklstugh as well...both of which are on the Darklake, which would be navigable by the pacifist kuo-toa Shuushar's brethren in Sloobludup, so that's where they are headed. How long will it take to get there is a complicated question, as none of the natives really understand what days are. A week or two? If nothing terrible happens. Hey, they are lost in the Underdark, what could go wrong? They just barely roll well enough not to starve or die of thirst, thanks to a lucky find of these things like a cross between a moray eel & a banana slug living sessile on the wall. There followed a bit of a decompressed "survival & salvage" segment, all while covering their tracks from their drow pursuers & scouting for dangers.

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Lupercalia. [Feb. 21st, 2016|08:15 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Is @~ a nautilus?]
[Current Music |crown me king- hounds of love]



Valentine's Day! We got together with Rasheem & Jessica & Russ & Carol for brunch for Phase One. We went to The Wren, which has a whole Bloody Mary selection. Normally, I want a sip of a Bloody Mary, & that's it. I was talked into getting their...Beef Shot? Something like that. It was a non-tomato based Bloody Mary, using a beef broth. When I was in the Arctic I got an alcoholic beef broth drink that was awful, called Reindeer Piss, so I think now with Try Two that I can comfortably use the heuristic that meat cocktails are not really as good of an idea as they sound like in theory. Nice to see Jess & Raz, since they live in Florida Man now, but you know what, Raz has been solid about telecommuting in for Eleven-Books Club, & we all troll each other online enough, that is hasn't been a huge distance bump.

Speaking of book club, as an aside, last night was Kuba's first pick, The Girl on the Train. Consensus seemed to be a positive meh. There was some discussion of the role of "stress" in fiction, especially leading up to the meet-up, since I don't like stress. Not fear, not horror, I don't like drama or dramatic irony or maybe suspense? This is separate from my "I don't really like horror, I like the macabre, which is different but related," & is just that...I have stress in real life. If you successfully evoke stress feelings...why do I want that? Also, what Shauna called the "Bond Villain" exposition at the end was widely condemned. Still, entertaining enough, though I was the only one who liked Anna, as I predicted. After the meeting, a bunch more people came over, & we stayed up late playing board games. I played Battlestar Galactica, which shares the over-complications of games like Arkham Horror, but I was a cylon Gaius Baltar, & with cylon Starbuck's help, I won, so there's that.

Oh, speaking of the Arctic, went to Liz's birthday party the day before Valentine's, & I got more use out of my thermal underlayers because dang it was pretty cold out. I actually thought it was going to be worse; the mayor issued a serious weather advisory & told people to stay indoors...but well. I don't usually want to be "this guy," but I guess growing up in the Wasteland I learned to take weather advisories a little more seriously, because if you got caught out in a freezing blizzard or a tornado, you could be in real trouble. This was just a little Real Winter. Not to say it wasn't cold, because it was, but that's all it was.

After brunch on Valentine's Day, we went over to Matt & Kat's & hung out with them for a bit. I haven't seen them in a while, both from me being antisocial, the weather, & a bit from them being out of town on weekends. We hung out there for a good long while & then came home, where out of the blue we got into an argument about...me not reading the book club book fast enough? Not the best capstone, but I gave Jennifer a card I made with a picture of Kylo Ren looking at Darth Vader's helmet saying "I don't want to be Solo..." What else is new with me? Things have been going pretty well at work, we're being thought of when award nominations roll around, which is vindicating. I was going to say flattering but forget that, the books rule & we worked hard to get them out there. What is today, Sunday? The apartment is pretty much cleaned-up & I don't think we're getting Olivia today, so maybe just a lazy day today...
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Oubliette Session Twenty-Six: Ergot Tea Ceremony. [Feb. 10th, 2016|03:48 pm]
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[Current Mood |Late lunch.]
[Current Music |crown me king- spider (he is our hero)]


(Kikashi Lung; Angalamman Festival by Saravanan Dhandapani)

Running a Pan-Asian game with the most identifiable flavour being feudal Japan, we drink a lot of sake at these games. Not enough sake, however, that I instinctively understand "how much" I've had to drink. Which is to say I may have over indulged in my cups in the last session. There've actually been two sessions, but both were high complex social sessions that dealt with character focused set pieces & internal group drama, which is a lot of fun but hard to summarize in any meaningful way, as it is too high context. I actually skipped the last recap, because it was all player-on-player in-character interactions, which is why there is no session twenty-five recap. Both a lot of fun! Which is ultimately the goal, right? Have friends over, have fun. Drinks & social intricacies make for short &/or sloppy summaries, is what I'm saying.

The first major change is that Christine, the art director for our imprint, joined the game. She's Lian, a priestess of Kaguya, the moon goddess. A feminine folk goddess, she also is infamous for taking the gifts of her suitors & disguising herself as the masculine warrior Kusanagi & defeating them all in combat. Lian wears the traditional garb of a folk priest of Kamido & carries bells with her; while the party is in thick with the spirits, they don't have an actual religious person, per se. Amina & Haru are devout, but nobles. Keku is basically an anti-cleric. Ren & the Royal Physician probably count, technically, but they are their whole own kettle of fish. Not to mention the blood magic of the Kitsune cousins...

Notable, this session introduced more of Iroha's family to the party. This is the Lung Family, the Dragons, the Shogun's clan; Haru o-Kitsune the Fox courtier played by Luke is due to marry into them, in full Game of Thrones alliance style. Think of it like he's a Tyrell marrying into the Targaryens. His mother-in-law-to-be is the Shogun's aunt. His prospective father-in-law, as it turns out, is his uncle, on his mother's side: both are former Spiders, Kumo who married into other families. It's a lot of generational political maneuvering coming to fruition, for them.


(Nerai Lung; "The Lady of Pain" by Sinober.)

Nerai Lung: the matriarch of the family, the Shogun's aunt, the youngest sibling of the previous generation. She follows the state religion zealously, particularly worshipping the Monkey King & his aspect as Enlightened One. She seems like she'll happy cut a fool. Or more likely tell someone else to cut that fool, for her; she's used to command.

Seki o-Lung no-Kumo: surprise! Haru has an uncle, & it's his fiancee's father. It's not actually strange at all, given the extended family structure of the aristocracy. The Spider family is known for plots within plots, though the clan doth protest it's innocence too much. Haru has been very good about honoring his mother's side of the family, & now he's reaping the benefits.

Moyo Lung: Nerai's brother, he's older to the point of retirement. Past retirement, if we're being honest. Amina o-Kitsune met him in the barracks, before, not realizing who he was. The old Dragon is fixated on his past greatness at the "Battle of Tonka Bay" & claims to have seen ogres there, & even killed an ogre in single combat. He's also occasionally shrewd, & the old tactician in him can still sparkle now & then.

Kikashi Lung: Iroha's younger, genderqueer sibling, wearing the exaggerated facepaint of a Mao worshipper. The Oni King Mao is part of the pantheon, but he is opposed to the Monkey King & thus obviously Kikashi & their mother Nerai are at each other's throats. They are dragged along to Haru's tea ceremony, but find an unexpected connection in Amina.

The party begins in the Underdocks of Monzen-Jo, at the Inn they've made their base of operations. Haru's failed to drum up more than a modest following...except for the creepy people who riot & then throw themselves down in fits-- Nagini cultists! They've come to see the party off, & they lead Haru, Amina & Keku Kin to the palace proper. Keku has her menagerie with her; her familiar serpent the blasphemously named "Nagini" & her pet pterodactyl-- now about vulture sized-- both. Keku is the neutral party here, the outlier, the wild card. The entourage, off to meet the parent's of Haru's betrothed for tea.

Here's the nitty-gritty. Haru was challenged to a duel, & Amina volunteered to fight as his champion against his much more martial challenger, the giant Kaori o-Foo, as is the style for bushi warriors with kuge courtier cousins. If Amina loses, then Haru is expected to commit seppuku. Thanks to some political maneuvering & Keku's poisons & subterfuges, Haru talked his way into postponing the duel, as Amina sagged "drunkenly." The argument was that they'd need permission from their prospective daimyos. Kaori, who by all indications started the duel because she is in love with Haru's intended Iroha, will duel Haru or his champion Amina before the wedding.

Well pretty much the first think Nerai Lung, Iroha's mother, does is make clear that the wedding will be proceeding as planned, with the duel taking place at moonrise the evening after. Nerai is a steam kettle. She doesn't whistle, though; she gives orders. She is much younger than her husband Seki o-Lung no-Kumo, who greats Haru with a hug, calling him nephew. What he's up to remains elusive: he schemes openly under Nerai's nose, & she seems to tolerate it. Nerai's elder brother Moyo Lung is approaching senility, but by all accounts before he was this seemingly frail old man he was some kind of warrior legend. Don't worry, if you forget, he'll remind you.


(Seki Lung no-Kumo; Hida Satoshi by Jason Engle.)

Kikashi Lung is Iroha's androgynous sibling, the black sheep of the family. Iroha's family is loyal to their particular sect of the Monkey King & Enlightened One, which puts them in divine opposition to Mao. The gods, & their cults & lesser kami, oppose one another, but they are both still in-pantheon. Amanozako the Harpy & her tengu & Nagini the Serpent & her nagas are the same way; it's a traditional part of state kamido. So Kikashi's wearing of oni make-up & obvious rebellion enchant Amina, being the big-old grown-up-runaway wearer of the Mask of the Demon King that she is.

Also at the party is the aforementioned Lian! Christine blended into the group, though it was a more libatious first time then I bet she expected. On the plus side, as the last course of Haru's five course tea ceremony, he did an ergot grain steep. So at least their shenanigans matched, in-character! Lian's story will be revealed over the course of the coming sessions; part of the fun of dropping a new PC into the mix is stirring everything up. This particular campaign harkens back to my days as a Vampire: the Masquerade storyteller, so backstory mysteries play a big role, as recent sessions have been very character motivated.

So that was game! Oh, I mean, game went on for a while longer, as drunken players directed their mildly hallucinating characters. There were some religious discussions & debates, & then the players-- with their new friend Lian-- went back to the inn in the Underdocks to continue their celebration...ending up with Haru & Amina hiding in the rafters, cutting themselves, inviting Lian to join the blood circle, which she refuses. Fun stuff, & when we come back next time, I'm planning on dropping plot into the middle of everything, whether folks are ready or not.


(Left: Lian & horse. Right: Lung family; Photo by Mordicai.)
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Out of the Abyss: Velkynelve. [Jan. 30th, 2016|03:00 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |\[T]/]
[Current Music |crown me king- the monster mash]



I'm running the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Out of the Abyss. Reading it, I was like "woah, this seems like it would be fun to run," & so I decided to do so! I haven't run pre-made adventures since college, when I used to pepper in Harlequin adventures into my Shadowrun campaign: I'd do a SF-punk story, a Fantasy-punk story, then a Harlequin adventure, lather, rinse, repeat. I'm looking forward to running a game where the prep work is already mostly done for me! I also have been wanting to run "DnD," which is to say, the actual generic fantasy setting of the game. I had a blast defeating the Temple of Elemental Evil, & wanted to give newer players a chance to meet mindflayers, beholders, arch-devils & demon princes, that sort of proprietary intellectual property. Bragging rights for defeating named epic NPCs, that sort of thing.

We'd gotten together a few weeks ago to do the main push of character generation, so finishing up before the session was no hard shakes. Jim & Ellen are both pretty 5e adept-- more than me, in fact-- & Alicia, Sam & Pritpaul have some gaming experience, if not this edition. Katharine is a complete rookie, which is great; you know I like playing with novices, because they lack the bad habits some of us grognards have picked up. I told them they were encouraged to share backgrounds, but it was even less required than most campaigns, & that demon-y or Underdark-y hooks would play out swell. In the end, the party ended up about halfway "monster mash":

Imica the drow fey pact warlock & former sage, played by Jim.
Kalythra the cheerful half-drow thief & charlatan, played by Alicia.
Pook'Cha the thri-kreen bard who left his hermitage, played by Sam.
Norin, Ellen's wood elf cleric with a covert, not criminal, background.
Serafin the lightfoot halfling ranger (my first 3e character was too!) played by Pritpaul.
Gizem, Katharine's sagacious mountain dwarf old one pact warlock.

Captured by the drow! Honestly, the cliche in media res start was one of the early hooks this book got in me; it's kind of the only part of Against the Slave Lords that I think works, yeah? An oldie but a goodie, as I was telling Katharine; it's not the way most campaigns start, but it's a classic. Chained up with a very motley crew in a cavern far from the sunlit surface, stripped of all their gear, stuck in a cell with an anti-magic field! The players rolled to see if their characters scrounged up anything useful; three of them have semi-tame tarantula pets, one has a small gem, but nothing of immediate value.



The NPCs do the mash, too; they do the monster mash!

Buppido the friendly derro with bushy white hair.
Prince Derendil a quaggoth who used to be an elf prince.
Eldeth the surface world dwarf captured while hunting orcs.
Jimjar the svirfneblin gambler no one will wager with.
Ront an orc from the tribe Eldeth's people were trying to wipe out.
Sarith a drow, who captured the myconid Stool & killed his superior.
Shuushar the Awakened the non-violent kuo-toa.
Stool a myconid sprout with telepathic spores.
Topsy & Turvy standoffish twin deep gnomes.

Alicia gets the first point of Inspiration: kuo-toa are D&D's version of Lovecraft's Deep Ones, & upon meeting the enlightened Shuushar & leaning that he practices non-violence, she said "more like a pacifish, am I right?" Puns are the best! Her half-drow, Kalythra, befriends Stool, sharing a psychic link created by the myconid's spores with Serafin (& later discover that Sarith shares them too). Jimjar talks to them a bit, but they aren't interested in taking him up on any wagers. He's a gnome, but not like any gnome the surface folks have ever met.

Mostly the two drow talk to Sarith. Buppido the derro is friendly if a little bit "junkie shuffle" & the orc Ront doesn't speak a language anyone else knows but seems to know enough Common to repeat key nouns in agreement with wanting to escape. Eldeth the dwarf is a little foolhardy, & eventually ends up with a drow bolt through her throat-- the drow drag her unconcious & dying body to the "Shrine of Lolth" to be healed, as there's no easy escape in death for the prisoners. They chat with Derendil as well; there's a difference of opinion in whether the polymorphed elf prince should give into his quaggoth rages, or struggle to remember who he used to be.

The party's first testing of the guards-- throwing a fit during feeding time-- leaves them unfed for the day. The leader, one of the male "dones" that serve the matron in charge, shoots amber goo from a wand, which cocoons the Kalythra to the wall. The other drow shoot the thri-kreen who made a fuss, but all three miss, so the drow male leading the group of guards takes them away to be punished for their failures, with the rest of the grub. Norin & Gizem fail their Constitution saves & gain a point of exhaustion from hunger. Eventually they decide to eat the pet spiders (Norin's was crushed by the gate, as she tried to wedge it open with her spider, so she eats Kalythra's pet), & successfully manage to choke them down. Goodbye, little spiders!



Try number two is much more successful; when one group is taken to dump out their chamber pots, the group makes their move! Having heard from gossiping with the other prisoners that two of the "drones," or the elite drow in charge of the other worthless males, are rivals, they wait till the "scarred one"-- Jorlan-- is in charge of the guards, & then use Stool's rapport spores to secretly & telepathically communicate with him. At first, the drow is not having it, as the bug-man dumps his chamberpot on the floor, like he did the day before with his mushroom broth, & he orders the other prisoners to dump out theirs on the floor, fouling the prison with excrement as punishment. It does succeed in bringing him over to scold Pook'Cha, putting him into telepathic contact with those who've shared Stool's rapport spores. They convince him to aid their escape attempt, leaving the door open & a key to their manacles, in order to disgrace his supplanter.

Jailbreak! They spring the gated door of the cavern, & tell the NPCs to hang back. The sneaky characters-- which turns out to mean the cleric Norin, the half-drow rogue & Serafin the halfling-- head out. The cave has enough of a lip to have a walkway, but then it drops off into sheer darkness. Hanging opposite the cave is an "inverted tower," an enormous hollowed out stalactite that the drow use as a guard post...& an armory, at least according to the scarred drow who helped them slip free. Otherwise, one way leads to a waterfall & a dead end, the other to spider webs below, & then down to the small lake where they dump their chamber pots.

Beyond the guard "tower" is the Shrine of Lolth, where their equipment awaits, & their intended destination. If the sneaks can just get some equipment for the crew, maybe they can fight their way...drat! Curses! Spotted! The drow drone in charge-- a third, neither the scarred one or his rival-- notices them & battle commences! In the fray, the party use their manacles as improvised flails, & defeat the warriors, whom the leader sacrifices to buy him time to get reinforcements. It is a close battle; the drone puts down the ranger, who's already been down once already! They begin to raid the armory-- full of shortswords & chainshirts in the drow fashion, hand crossbows & studded leather-- as fast as they can.



Synchronized with the drow alarms-- little ringing bells on threads-- is a KABOOM! as the sounds of horrifying battle commence, culminating in a crash as a hideous being of incarnate evil shatters the wall of the stalactite, shaking it precariously. Resembling a cross between giant skeksis & a blasphemous angel, its feathered wings shed maggots as their bony fingers rattle. It's beak somehow manages to sneer & smile, especially at the two warlocks, claiming "it will see them again soon." It screams rage & envy at them & flaps back into the sky, where black flies the size of dogs with human faces wait to fall upon it with barbed pitchforks.

With that, the drow arrive! Mistress Ilvara herself leads the group, with her apprentice, all the elite drones, & a pack of lesser drow males. The native denizens of the Underdark, besides the drow prisoner, have already made a run for it; Buppido, Jimjar, Topsy & Turvy all booked it once the drone went for backup. They went for the path of the spiderwebs down to the pool of water below. Ront, Stool & Shuushar are with the party, along with Xarith. Seeing Ilvara, & the lateness of the hour, they decide to make a run for it as well. To the spider webs! & that is where we leave it. The game's ambient music was the Bloodborne soundtrack.

I think a big success all around! Katharine was pretty quiet, but it was her first time & I think she was in deep absorption mode. As DM, good table flow is your responsibility-- Wil Wheaton is really good at it-- but I'm also pretty sure she won't have a problem making herself heard when she's ready. Jim & Alicia don't know each other & are playing siblings & that always makes me happy; that's just good social engineering. Similarly, Sam's weird bug-person is their mentor. I've got to talk to Pritpaul about what terrain & enemy he picked; part of the fun of being stuck in the Underdark is the fish out of waterness of it all, but I don't want to actually screw his character. Ellen reminds me of Mike, actually, both in that she's the one with her character on a spreadsheet & that she's the wildcard. (Photos by Liz D.)





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Still Half Asleep. [Jan. 24th, 2016|07:45 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Pieces of Silver.]
[Current Music |crown me king- winter storm judas]



I should be writing about something. I should be writing about #Eleven-Books Club, where Liz picked Nevada not knowing that I knew Imogen in real life because of Livejournal, & that Kerry knew her even way-er back. Except, I'm not supposed to focus on "shoulds" so much, especially when I'm supposed to be relaxing. So I'm just going to blah blah blah about whatever I want. If I want to talk about how Imogen video chatted with us & how she & I are going to go see 10 Cloverfield Lane together, I will, but only if I want to. There were folks who thought the ending of Nevada was unfulfilling, but I think that's the point, kind of like the last episode of Angel.

Work has been good. Has been great, actually. It's still really challenging & I'm often scrambling, but that's good, right? Since we hired a counterpart for me, it's been much more manageable. There's an almost confirmed rumor we'll be moving offices-- like, it's true but no one has told us yet-- & I'm trepidatious. Our current situation isn't ideal, but it isn't the worst, either: me, my twin Katharine, & the art director Christine share a bullpen office without any windows. We've used cork & bookshelves to make the space cozy, & it lets us chatter back & forth. We're already on an inconvenient floor, but we'll be on an even more annoying one, soon. Then again, I'll probably get a window! I'm not complaining, I just don't like anticipation or liminal spaces.

There's been a lot of other stuff going on: lately I've felt like my schedule is jam packed, day & night. Partly I've been trying to come out of my deep antisocial funk, & partly it's just a busy month for whatever reason. Either way, you know my memory is terrible about things like "what happened." Give me a hook & I can dredge up details from a book I read decades ago, but what did I do yesterday? That escapes me. Hence: I should be better at blogging. That's the point of this thing, right? Well, that & working out interior stuff, but frankly I feel like that's all I discuss lately & I'm a little bored of it. I hate talking about feelings.
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#TorDnD: The Keep on the Cliff. [Jan. 21st, 2016|06:38 am]
mordicai caeli
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It read like a Russian faerie tale, or a medieval "a blank walks into a bar" joke. A jester, a troubadour & a pilgrim show up at a hidden bandit fortress, somehow talk their way in, & then they vanish in the middle of the night amidst a confusing flurry of illusions, invisibility, & other worldly colours from space...with that kid the bandits had kidnapped for their demonic overlords. That's right baby, #TorDnD is back, & for the moment Jonathan is taking over from my Comet Days arc, & Tim is going to keep playing the bard he played when I was Dungeon Master. Which is great, actually, because it was established that he knew my tiefling magic-user, Pantalone, so we started with an easy partnership. Speaking of witch, I rebuilt Pantalone as a warlock, as per my original idea for the character. For my backstory I'm using my trademarked "Macabre dell'arte" for my pact, which I will elaborate on as it becomes germane. Sadly, Irene & Bridget are on hiatus for the foreseeable future, & Scott couldn't make it. Carl was there-- we re-built our characters over lunch-- & his cleric of a trickster god made three.

Pantalone's not all there, but not many people besides his adopted daughter & Bridget's character Columbine seem able to parse the act from the haywire. When this guy starts going on about his kidnapped daughter, I'm suspicious. But then, I'm always suspicious; I'm going, I'm just not convinced this is true or real. The comet has melted, & they are saying the water is doing weird things...like making people lucky, or mad. This little girl was mad, & they were on their way to the nunnery where they put the insane, or cure them, & then bandits grabbed her. Okay? We do find bandits, some pretty exceptionally disciplined bandits, some pretty well armed bandits, living in this keep that's been left overgrown & mossy but is pretty well buttressed, pretty well defended. We sneak around the long way & come at if from the opposite direction of the city, walking openly towards it in the twilight.

How do we manage to fast talk our way in? Well, by claiming landsharks-- real, remember, as this is fantasy-- chased us here, & that the doddering old (disguise self'd) pilgrim was no help either, getting himself lost. But you know, if you help a religious pilgrim, you get a blessing, so we helped! Hey, can you help us out by letting us in? It didn't hurt that Tim's character is an actual bard & my character is an entertainer (jester) by background. Nor did the big Deception & Persuasion rolls hurt, those helped a lot actually. My invisible, flying chicken-- yeah, I have one of those, it's not as silly as it sounds-- scouted the place out, we identified where the little girl was being kept, & boom, we were in. Not in-in, as they only said we could camp down within the walls, & had to avoid the structures, especially the creepy stables; so noted, as was the giant pyre or signal fire on the hill. The food & drink they offer us is drugged! & they come in the night with cudgels & ropes for us.

Luckily the bard Stavenham makes his save & casts lesser restoration on my warlock Pantalone, who turns everyone invisible. The guards are...surprised, to say the least. Suddenly the pitch-soaked pyre goes up-- thanks thaumaturgy-- hopefully ruining the timing if it was a signal fire & creating a distraction...as do all the minor images we are throwing around. Diabolical hounds from inside the main lodge based on an overheard snatch of gossip, a figure writhing in the flames, that sort of thing. The little girl seems to have powers...true sight, expeditious retreat, who knows what all. She also seems child-like in the extreme, amnesiac to a point of delirium. Domin, the cleric, throws up the poison & starts shredding guards with swarms of spiritual guardians, locust-like coins going old school piranha. It's only after they release the literal hell-hounds, & their infernal looking keeper. We weren't sure if they were wicked or if it was just a misunderstanding-- hey, Faramir rolled like that-- but that clinched it. Invisible-- still, or again-- & with Pantalone revealing a massive hyperspace cube, a non-Euclidean three-dimensional representation of a seven-dimensional object AKA a hypnotic pattern, the party escapes. A featherfall & we're up & over the wall.
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Insight. [Jan. 5th, 2016|08:15 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Wyf & Were.]
[Current Music |crown me king- eyes on the inside]



I beat Bloodborne the other day. It's not Dark Souls, but that's part of the appeal; by not being Dark Souls, they got to experiment with ideas. Over-all, I think the game is not fully baked, but it's promising & there are lessons to be learned. When they did the network stress test for Dark Souls III, the tl;dr of it was "Bloodborne with shields" & frankly, I liked the way Bloodborne moved. Darting over rolling, different weapon move-sets thereby...which reminds me, last night I was daydreaming about being able to select move-sets for a weapon, as in a fighting style. Yet another theoretical layer of complexity! Anyhow, here are some random thoughts while I wait for Jennifer to get out of the shower.

So Dark Souls is their "Undead" or vampire game. Bloodborne is their "Beast" or werewolf game. Sort of true, from a certain perspective. Lots of things I'm so-so on; I think summoning signs are better than bells, but that's just opinion, & I think the Messengers in Bloodborne are a bit too intrusive. That's opinion but not arbitrary preference. I think armor weight is a fun bit of cruft, but I also appreciate simplifying it out of the game. Guns...listen, if you like the guns, more power to you, but I want a real shield. (Of course, what I actually want is a Sorcerer's version of the Disc Chime, a shield that casts spells on L2.) Again just preference; if gun was an alternate option for Dark Souls III, I'd be fine. Speaking of, the torch is much more useful here. Still not quite there, but getting closer!

Here's how I'd fix Chalice Dungeons: that's how you would get key item sets. It would be say, the tomb of Black Iron Tarkas or the shrine of Solaire or Logan's Library & you would dig through the ruins & each level you'd get their signature spell or miracle, or unique weapon or shield, or armor set piece. Doesn't that sound roughly a thousand times more fun than these generic dungeons with generic bloodstones? Maybe I'm still missing the point of the dungeons, though? Like I said, I just finished my first playthrough; on number two, I'm only up through the Cathedral Ward. Second run-through I start looking at wikis, so I'll do more of everything this time. Maybe I'll figure out what those stupid chalices are actually for.

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#Duffiak & #MCMXMAS. [Dec. 29th, 2015|09:08 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Blood ministration]
[Current Music |crown me king- sawboss]



Like with our Arctic trip, I'm just going to start rattling off the cuff about my last trip & see where it goes, because if I think about composing my thoughts, I'll lose it in the shuffle or procrastinate & it will never get posted. So here we go with the stream of consciousness, this time about our combination #duffiak wedding plus holiday trip to Palm Springs. Overall, it was a great trip. It made me want to be better friends with Leigh again, & it was nice to see Theresa; her daughter Peyton is like a grown person now. After that we continued our made-family tradition of Xmas with David & Libby, & Kira, Nino & Olivia. Now I've got some time post-vacation to adjust to the real world: a perk of publishing. (Photo above is by Jennifer.)



The first night we got to Palm Springs-- "we" in this case being the tribe, me, Jennifer, Kira, Nino, Olivia-- we stayed at the Ace Hotel. Palm Springs is a strange place-- an artificial oasis in the desert. It bothers me less than say, Phoenix, because at least being in the desert is important to Palm Springs, is a feature of the resort town, rather than just raw wasteful defiance of nature. It's a luxury, not a subsidy. Or at least, in theory. The mountains were pretty, out there on the horizon breaking the clouds. A neat place. The Ace is the Ace; the contrived hipsterdom of it was comforting, a good middle place to ease into Palm Springsing. Plus, there was the first-of-many gas fire pits, & that was cozy as heck. We met up with Leigh & Ross there, plus her brother Nestor Newt & her parents; her dad was my 8th grade math teacher.



Then we went over to the Korakia Pensione, which Leigh & Ross had rented out, entirely. Both sides of the road, two pools (heated to 90° F), multiple fire pits, some just coming out of the ground. The evening & night weather of Palm Springs makes a fire pit the perfect place to cozy up around; the daytime & evening weather of Palm Springs makes a warm pool the perfect place to laze about in. Olivia spent all of her time swimming; I spent a fair amount of my own. I wasn't in either the bachelor or bachelorette parties, so I had plenty of time to spend in the space. Lisa & I paled around one day. Nino & I were buds a bunch. The place itself is hard to describe; sand everywhere, but constantly raked. Lots of water features & lots of beds everywhere outdoors. Orange water & orange trees.



The wedding was pretty great. Jennifer did a great job officiating. There was a lot of crypto-Quaker & Judaism in in. Leigh seemed really happy. Ross looked very dapper. There was a big marriage contract designed by Phil that we all got to sign. I have a horrible signature but don't know what to do about it. Because of the nature of the Korakia-- a maze of suites & bungalows-- & the event, the friend's groups had bended & immediately after the ceremony we were circulating. Like I said, a good wedding. Then came the toasts, which were the highlights, to my mind. The North Carolina-Ohio connection made the Wilbur Wright quote poignant, & a twin who is a professional writer can really bring his A-game. We danced the Hora, got temporary tattoos, had shots of Becherovka & Jennifer & I ended the night the last ones awake, night swimming. Well, besides the maniacs who went off to the casino, I guess. (Above photo stolen from Leigh, but original source unknown.)



The bachelorette party had gone up "the tram" on their night out, & while I wasn't sure what it entailed, it was the thing that I was most jealous of (for the boys, it was laser tag). Since they'd gone up at night & really liked it, we decided to go up again during the day with Olivia, Nino & Kira (who'd gone too). It was actually a hassle & an adventure, with delays & parking & shuttles & detours. We went to In-N-Out since we'd had to buy a ticket for later-- didn't know about the secret menu, thought it was fairly comperable to Shake Shack but not in quality, but so cheap-- & had to race to get back. Made it, & went up 8,500 ft. to the top of the mountain where Jennifer & I went on a wintery hike for a mile & a half. Pretty cool place, though there was a pushy dude who got my hackles up.



After that, we went to the ultra-modernist house where we were spending #MCMXMAS with David & Libby. Note: not the best hashtag, as "Mid-Century Modern X-mas" is apparently a fairly popular thought. The house we stayed at was nice but could have done with another bathroom. Again, a natural gas fire pit, which was good because haunting the fire pit is kind of my M.O. You can kick the boy out of the Boy Scouts, but you can't kick the Boy Scouts out of the boy, & that's for sure. The pool was only 88° F, but Olivia stayed in forever anyhow. Leigh & Ross & Matt dropped by on Xmas for dinner, as well; we didn't have a whole "thing" for the holiday, no gifts, letting the vacation itself be the main celebration. (Photo above by Libby.)

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Star Wars. [Dec. 17th, 2015|11:56 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |I really like Star Wars.]
[Current Music |crown me king- the imperial march]



No spoilers, but I will discuss elements of the movies below, stream of consciousness.

I think the First Order is incredible successful at making the fascists be a bunch of infantile pricks who you immediately want to strangle & punch repeatedly, unlike the pretty friggin' cool Empire who are pretty much the coolest cats in cool town. Tantrum throwing Kylo Ren being the exception, being everything Anakin should have been. He's such a petulant godling, he's such a better embodiment of the sulky angry thing, & making him a Vader fanboy is absolutely perfect. Also I want all of his clothes so bad. Not like the mask or anything, just all the sweet capes & robes &...obis, I guess, & shit. I was really surprised by all of the characters! Poe immediately won me over with his "who talks first, do you talk first or do I talk first?" bit...& woah, that frozen blaster bolt was really the statement piece of the movie. I feel like it really set a technical & tonal level of what to expect from the special effects, a new vibe using the old elements. Finn & Rey's instant friendship is a wonderful inversion of the expected cynicism. Old characters aren't over-relied upon & are important to the story, not extraneous. Starkiller base was kind of meh, but then, the Death Star II was kind of meh. BB-8 is just plain swell & you already knew that.

Alright, now it's probably spoiler time. I feel like it's not a big deal?

So I was...probably half wrong about my prediction? Half. I thought it was going to be Rey & Kylo Ren as the Solo twins, with Kylo Ren as Luke failed apprentice & Rey as the one he abandoned in order to not go down that path. Or that she was not "Force-sensitive" & she was up to something. I sort of think she's Luke's kid, now. Obviously "No. I am your father" is a line they have right there, set up & waiting. Right? Not that I mind: the movie is not coy or built on twists, the story is right there, just not all revealed.

I suppose this is probably a real spoiler, or at least, I wouldn't want to know.

So I totally bought into the assumption that Finn was the "Force-sensitive" one. & I'm not convinced he won't be at some point, but that's definitely not what this movie was about. The moment I decided I liked Rey is when she yelled at Finn for being on the Hero Refuses the Call part of his monomyth & then goes into the basement to a literal call & is like, I for sure refuse this shit. She kicked a lot of ass without Kicking Ass™ & that was great, but also the way her climbing is important to the story? Because finally someone learned to climb-- all important Star Wars crap is build over a giant pit. That's standard. The Starkiller planet was not that interesting but it gave a nice backdrop to Solo's swan song.

I was worried Chewie was going to die-- in my head, Star Wars is like, a weird century for Chewbacca, but like, this is a blip on his radar. Dude's 900 years old. I'm partly convinced he's the modern Bigfoot-- & I sure hope he doesn't. I also thought he might lose a limb. I was waiting for a limb! I thought I saw a Skywalker Hand® fly off there, but no...I'll keep waiting though. I thought Solo was a gonner for sure, & I was really worried about the Falcon...but now I think she'll be iconic. I was positive Kylo Ren was Leia or Luke's kid, probably Leia's & probably Han's because it would be kind of a cheat on their romance not to do it. If Rey is Luke's kid, like I'm now thinking, I wonder what the mother's story will turn out to be.

What the hell is the deal with Snoke? The obvious theory is clone of Palpatine, but the mention of a "first Jedi Temple" makes me think there could be some "ancient evil" deal going on. I kind of hope that dude is like, just actually a giant though, by the way. I am curious about this vision of a whole crew of the Knights of Ren. I liked the visions, I thought it was just the right amount. There's a lot of mysteries in this movie! I wonder if Captain Phasma will like, seriously be a Boba Fett, who mostly just looks cool but doesn't do much? Also, how did that piece of crap General Hux not at all get murdered? Ugh, he's the worst! In a good way, in the way where we are supposed to hate that guy.
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I saw Reigh & we got Hibachi. [Dec. 13th, 2015|09:41 pm]
mordicai caeli
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"Well, I'm back," he said. [Dec. 6th, 2015|07:44 am]
mordicai caeli
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I'm not going to over-think writing up this summary of my trip, because obviously it's a Sisyphean task. I'm just going to start writing & see what happens. For instance: Helsinki reminds me of Cleveland. It's not very old, it's kept up much better-- things are less abandoned, less fallen splendour-- but it has a similar decommissioned industrial & port feel. I never really clicked with the city, though. I enjoyed the Amos Anderson museum a great deal & our last dinner at Kombo was really great, & I had a nice time there, marked out a few other spots, but didn't settle in. In part because I don't like liminal places. I like being at end-spots. I don't mind living out of a suitcase, & the glass igloo of the Arctic was quite comfortable, but we used the apartment we were staying at in Helsinki as a staging area, with bags half-unpacked, & for whatever reason that stresses me out. As does jetlag on my insomnia. I had two rough bits-- the first morning we arrived in Helsinki & on the boatride over to Estonia-- but otherwise I felt pretty good, though my appetite was spotty.



We flew straight from New York to Finland, with a stopover in Iceland to pass through passport control. The place we stayed in Helsinki was in a little forum-- there's a lot of that in the design there, which I did like-- which was itself on a cul-de-sac that abutted a market & the metro. Very convenient, excellent planning by Jennifer as usual. We were only there overnight, & then off on the Arctic trip that I posted pictures of. No Ice Castle, since we're out of season. Blame climate change. I do. The Arctic was perfect & basically everything I would have wanted it to be, except it wasn't very cold. Which, hey, not freezing is okay too. I would encourage anybody to go to Kakslauttanen; steal this trip idea.



Estonia was awesome. Like I said, I had a rough trip over there, but after that everything was aces. We stayed in a literally medieval apartment, dating from 1339, though I think our actual part of it was segmented off in 1450. It had it's own sauna, like the mead hall in Lapland. We went to a gastropub that was perfect except that the portion sizes were too big, a live culture beer hall, & then to their "ye olde" restaurant, which was actually really awesome. I had bear sausage, which I think is the first time I've eaten bear. I also had many herbal schnapps & such, including this Italian bay leaf liqueur that I really liked (in moderation). Oh I also had this warmed beef broth with spirits drink in the Arctic; it was...don't get it.



Stopping off in Iceland is another thing I recommend everyone do, but I think I'm probably the zillionth one to tell you, since it's the done thing. Jennifer was sick at this point & it had snowed like a foot & a half out of the blue there, so there was a terse walk to the apartment we were subletting there, but other than that, things were great. The crux of the trip was the Blue Lagoon; this company needs to pump out the silica rich geothermal energy from this industrial project, so rather than see that as a bug, they made it a feature, & turned it into a hot springs. Weird, yes, but awesome. The water is an eerie blue, you spread the oobleck gunk of the place on your face, & you cruise around outside in the freezing cold in a giant hot tub. Also there are drinks. Also, Iceland is right there. The hype is real.



Oh & then we came home & there was a giant leak in our bathroom. Our cleaning lady had seen it when she was here that day & cleaned out...oh, bags & bags of fallen ceiling. We came home, Jennifer was fully sick, & it was pouring water. We had to use an umbrella to go to the bathroom. Our super came out, looked at it, came back the next morning, tore out our ceiling, came back with the plumber, tore out the floor above, & fixed the leak. So I spent the rest of yesterday cleaning that mess up, & I didn't do too bad of a job if I do say so myself. No sense scrubbing it clean-clean until the ceiling is repaired but for a workman's job & given the previous state, I think it cleaned up pretty nicely. Now we just need to figure out when we can take time off work to be here for the super to fix the ceiling.

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Party Like It Is 2002. [Dec. 3rd, 2015|12:53 pm]
mordicai caeli
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kingtycoon asked me some questions, old school meme style. Want me to ask you questions?

1 - an acquaintance of mine started out as a lady and became a man for a while. While he was a dude he was really surprised by how mean we all are to each other. I think about this and compare it to the shittyness that goes on - kind of against girls in our pantheon of hobbies and I wonder what you think of this: Is the rivalry and adversarial aspect in The Hobby a bug or a feature? How do you support that position? Do you think that this is why the Hobby is dominated by men and alienating to some women?

I think there's two issues & I think they are twisted together & inter-related but not one issue. First, there is the constant brinksmanship of masculinity. It ranges from the healthy-- me & you screaming at each other about Wrong Opinions on the internet or friends ribbing each other-- to the toxic, bullying & the like. The poisonous aspects of it are occluded by the friendly end of the spectrum...& that's a feature, not a bug, to use your lingo. It's on purpose, it's dominance games founded on a potential of real menace. I don't have an easy answer, but I will say that I think it is incumbent on those of us with more cache & power to "cash it in" to prevent it from getting to a critical mass.

Actually, three issues. The second issue is that of Outsiders. Nerds feel excluded from the greater culture & are therefore territorial of their subculture. At some level, again, this makes sense: think of the dumb bros who think Batman & Superman should be killers, right? But it almost immediately becomes gatekeeping & about power, again. People with little power using the small amount they've garnered to...do the exact same exclusion that they've got a chip on their shoulder about. It's a dysfunctional cycle.

The third issue is misogyny & frankly I think that's the biggest one. The two things above are the visible prongs of it, but the fact remains-- again, power dynamics-- that across the board our culture denigrates women & puts them as second class. Cross-sub-cultural. & the Hobby has it cooked in too, from the art to the pronouns to, hell, stat modifications in some games. You get arguments about "historical accuracy" used to excuse rape while elves ride dragons & nobody gets dysentery. I think all of the above is overthinking it, but yeah-- the hobby is alienating to women because dudes are the worst. So I try not to be the worst.

2 - I like it so much that I'll ask again - you can cast any spell of level 3 or lower once per week - which do you choose?

Can others cast spells as well? If so, dispel magic. Counterspelling other's use of their powers is my style. Sorry, I'm not getting lightning bolted today. Fly is not my style. Invisibility is worth a thought but mostly it's uses are unethical, anyhow-- if I was a clandestine creature of the night, I'd dig it. Obfuscate is a favorite Vampire power. From lower levels knock gets an honorable mention, but discounted for the same reasons as invisibility; otherwise the most appealing ones are the statistical buffs like bear's strength or fox's cunning.

3 - Do you see a way for DM's like us to form a cultural identity & modicum of fame through our settings short of writing books or producing some other media? Do you see a future for DMing as a profession. Would you pursue that profession?

I've joked before about wanting Vin Diesel to drop a paycheck on me to be his touring DM; same offer goes for Stephen Colbert or any other fabulously wealthy nerds. Patronage, I guess that could be a way forward-- but then, I also think it's shameful that rich people don't open up vanity businesses like book or record shops even if they only turn a small or negative profit.

Otherwise it's like, what, blogging? Or working for a gaming company. & frankly, neither pays enough for me to pursue it as a profession, at least not at this level. Not to mention, I already work in nerd book publishing, but with some actual longterm career prospects...so basically unless a six figure deal dropped into my lap, no. I'm more likely to try writing seriously than to try to make a go of being a pro-DM.

The future is getting weird though, so maybe? There's like, professional Starcraft played in stadiums, so what do I know. The idea of having DMing be my only responsibility is tremendously attractive, but not enough that I'd be okay with making a low, flat wage for the rest of my life, if that makes sense. & of course, there's something to be said for a hobby for hobby's sake.

4 - Why do you think that the Abrahamic religions are so popular & so persistent? What would you ascribe this longevity & relevance to?

First, I think there's some aspect of hindsight here; the Abrahamic religions are the long lasting ones, so it's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe in an alternate universe Rex Tycoonus is asking me about the longevity of Hellenic myth?

Second, there's probably a "right place, right time" aspect to it, at least for Christianity; it hit Rome at just the right time, & stabilized Europe for over a millennia. During which power, knowledge, art & culture kind of consolidated around it, & it aggressively stamped out rivals, while tolerating the Jews, & fighting with the Muslims...where Islam was serving much the same purpose.

Third, there's a pithy core? Monotheism & the idea of god...I get the appeal of that. I can't really understand how people think some hippie from Judea is like, the One True Whatever & that a book of deceptive provenance with a historical record of it's fabrication is taken as literal...how any one could pick that one random mythology as "real" boggles the mind, but the idea of a big sky judge, that appeal I grok.

Three point five, plus the whole "no my One True Messiah" versus "no my One True Prophet" versus "no my One True Covenant" provides easy tribal markers to show in-group & provide handy scapegoats when you need them. So I think that aspect is a, to go back to the term, feature, not a bug.

5 - OWoD - give me the clans of the Camarilla & Sabbat as you'd have preferred them - mix in the rest of the WoD stuff as you see fit - Wraiths & Werewolfs and so on. Go crazy. How dark is your WoD?

So I'm generally opposed to mixing & matching the World of Darkness, in part because I don't think it makes any sense. But if I could re-write it? Listen, I could make a really, really awesome reboot of the cWoD so I'll try not to get out of hand. I want to use as much pre-existing infrastructure, but also I want to bust it to pieces for parts & build something new. I wouldn't go crazy; I'd try to streamline where needed & expand where needed, but build with existing materials as much as possible.

First, reboot cosmology. World of Darkness, then Spirit World, then Under World. It always bugged me that vampires had no spiritual connection-- a symptom of them being the first line published, rather than any of the retcon reasons-- so fixing that is step on for V:tMK.

So: a vampire always has a Haven; wherever a vampire sleeps slowly becomes a gate to the Underworld, House of Leaves style. When a vampire sleeps, they go into the Underworld. When they are in Torpor, they go into the Labyrinth & torpor ends when they escape it. I'd pretty much leave Wraith as-is. Werewolves are associated with the Spirit World. First: werewolves need to be darker. I don't know how exactly, but there needs to be a built in feature like a vampire's need for blood, not just Rage.

Changeling & Mage should be their own games. Not part of the WoD. Wizards in my WoD would be humans who can learn any of the game's powers, but don't get any special features, just burn Willpower to use them. Changeling...the Others is such a big framework that I feel like blood drinkers & skin changers should be subtypes of that game, not peers.

As to the clans...the biggest place I'm looking with a chainsaw are all of the "ethnic clans." I think it works for the Giovanni-- it's the pitch, it's their shtick-- but the Ravnos, Assamites & Followers of Set are pretty thin. & I really, really hate the "Eastern Kindred" being a separate "species." That's probably the way forward for me. Rather than play to "gypsies" I'd try to look at other cultural archetypes. Reinvision the Ravnos as the Ravanna, give them Protean like the Gangrel to keep the "feud" in-story, make them more rakshasa-y. Followers of Set...maybe just make them the Followers, have their whole thing be being cult vampires, whether lamia or Osiris or Inanna?
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