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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.


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 Mood |Oubliette tonight!]
[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]
mordicai caeli
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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]
mordicai caeli
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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
[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]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , ]
[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
[Tags|, ]
[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]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , , ]
[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]
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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]
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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]
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[Current Mood |She made this .gif.]
[Current Music |crown me king- %]

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"Well, I'm back," he said. [Dec. 6th, 2015|07:44 am]
mordicai caeli
[Current Mood |International Playboy.]
[Current Music |crown me king- top it off]

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]
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[Current Mood |Airport screwdriver.]
[Current Music |crown me king- HAVE YOU SEEN ME?]

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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#MagnetosphereWasRight [Nov. 30th, 2015|10:30 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |68°]
[Current Music |crown me king- top it off]

So earlier this year Jennifer noticed the euro was weak against the dollar & decided to plan us a summer vacation in Europe, since I've never really travelled outside the country, besides Hawaii & Canada...& instead she booked us a vacation in the Arctic during the winter because she loves me & knows I want the forevernight of Fimbulwinter. The vacation is still ongoing-- we are in Helsinki, going to Estonia tomorrow, then eventually Iceland-- but we are back from the Arctic.

We stayed in a Skyrim mead hall turf house the first night with it's own sauna & lavish bathroom. I managed to light a fire & feel like all my years of Boy Scouts were worth something. I also was a master tracker of animals, which Jennifer said was cheating because it was snowy but I never claimed to be Aragorn son of Arathorn or have any levels in ranger. Just the Wasteland background!

After that we slept in a glass igloo! The point is to see the Northern Lights but it was overcast the whole time. That's okay, I saw 'em in Cleveland once upon a time. The glass igloo ruled, but the lack of a shower sucked, even with a public sauna as an option.

Jennifer took this picture of us snowmobiling. It's like a four by four.

We rode horses, too; I rode a Finnish horse & Jennifer had an Icelandic horse. My horse's gait was weird, her's was crazy, as is the case with Icelandic horses. It had to trot a lot to keep up with the bigger horses. I sympathize: trotting sucks. We were with some people who were very horse adept & we said we were intermediate because we'd ridden a bit as teenagers. It was a bit out of my grasp, especially when we cantered, but we kept it on lock down.

Then after a big meal of reindeer-- I had the sautéed reindeer, Jennifer the flank steak-- we went on an Aurora hunt at night in a sledge pulled by reindeer. I say "at night" but it was basically two hours of daylight, four hours of twilight bracketing that, but otherwise dark. It was heavenly, in a literal sense. Dark upon the waters.

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Halloween. [Oct. 27th, 2015|10:36 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Current Mood |HH.]
[Current Music |crown me king- if only i could be so grossly incandescent]

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#LillysPizzaParty [Oct. 25th, 2015|03:12 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Current Mood |Sunday Sunday.]
[Current Music |crown me king- clownsuit mario]

When fatbutts invited me to her bachelorette party, I was basically like, "uh...depends?" I have no problem being the lone guy, but depending on the activity, I can't imagine it being fun for anyone being the one husband on a girl's-night-out. Luckily, Jennifer & her new squad-- Yassmina, Lauren & Lilly, though she obviously didn't help-- planned the event, so I got the best of both worlds. During the day, we kayaked the East River, from Long Island City to DUMBO & back, & then everyone else went out to party & I came home. I got adventure & curmudgeon in one fell swoop; that's my idea of a good time. Lilly & Megan's kayak dumped them in the East River! Or well, the wake from a ferry capsized their kayak while they were launching from DUMBO. I got my underwear soaked on a crashing wake-wave coming in, myself. It really reminded me of Cleveland-- something about paddling small boats on a Super Fund river past abandoned factories, I guess. The Squad made shirts for the event: "Pizza Rolls Not Gender Roles." (Photo below by Lilly.)

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What the What. [Oct. 18th, 2015|01:56 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Just to keep posting.]
[Current Music |crown me king- HAVE YOU SEEN ME?]

Still busy with work-think & thus absent from a lot of social life. I'm trying to make a concerted effort to fix that, with more no-obligation couch hangouts (which Terra & I rule at, & makes me sad she's gone) with Matt & Nicole, & seeking out someone to run an RPG campaign where I can be a player, which is another void in my life these days. Christine at work says she's going to run Pathfinder-- yay! I'm going to play a human occultist with an elongated cranium, a pyschic third eye, who uses a green glass ball as a divination focus & learned to make goetic amulets while he was training in bootcamp to be a member of the Chellaxian hellknight's Order of the Gate, where he also picked up his martial proficiencies. Ideally I think I want something that balances out Oubliette, firms up the schedule while sharing the burden, so to speak, the way Mike's Oisos campaign did. & Scott's! Anyhow, it was New York Comic Con, & I didn't take any interesting pictures at all, really, but Jennifer joined the Lambs Club Club this time & got a taste-- literally-- of why it's hard not to come home in your cups. Dionysus wept for joy.
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Dark Souls: The Voyager. [Oct. 8th, 2015|08:49 am]
mordicai caeli
[Current Mood |\[T]/]
[Current Music |crown me king- if only i could be so grossly incandescent]

Jennifer: "Are you playing Dark Souls again?"
Mordicai: "Yep! I'm going to play it the way I like it."
Jennifer: "Those are some weird character names."
Mordicai: "..."
Jennifer: "Wait, are those all just Jenny Lewis lyrics?"
Mordicai: "...no..."
Jennifer: "Mordicai..."
Mordicai: "...one of them is a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song..."

They say the magic swordsmen of Vinheim base their style of Magic Weapon, & really, that matches how I best like to play the game. Balder Swag Sword for scrubs, Soul Arrows & Spears for blasting bosses, (Crystal) Magic Weapon for duels & minibosses. I usually go Intelligence High for that reason. I like to have a bit of armor, but this time I'm going lighter than I usually do, at least for now. For a while I was rocking the Elite Knight & Havel's Ring, & in the future I might gravitate towards the Dingy Set mixed up with the Favored Set, but that's getting ahead of myself. My first build was a heavy in Elite Knight with the Wolf Ring, & now I've called back to that; what I want most out of armor is poise, so I've gotten rid of Havel's & replaced it with the Wolf. (I didn't take The Old Witch's Ring!)

Dubious Carim Sorcerer with the Master Key.

Head: Crown of Dusk
Armor: Black Sorcerer Cloak
Arms: Eastern Gauntlets
Legs: Antiquated Dress

Ring: Ring of Favor & Protection
Ring: Wolf Ring

Hand: Balder Side Sword/Sorcerer's Catalyst
Hand: Grass Crest Shield/Sorcerer's Catalyst

The Real Dark Souls is Fashion Souls, so let's start there. I'm keeping it old school with the Sorcerer's Cloak, but taking it up a notch by wearing the Black version from Sen's Fortress, 'cause I'm fancy like that. Right now I'm going through the Oolacile DLC, so I'm feeling very "on point" with my Antiquated Dress & Crown from the Dusk Set; the Crown I wear for the magic boost, but mixing the Dress & the Cloak up makes me think I'm a Vinheim magic swordsman with a fancy for the myth & truth of Oolacile, even though I don't use their spells; I'm more of a cutting edge Crystal Caves kind of gal. I buy up all the spells; I'm a wizard. The Eastern Gauntlets seem an odd choice, but they look nice & give me 2 points of Poise, which puts me over a Poise Break. Anyhow, all I've got left to do is take down Manus & then Gwyn & I'll move on to a New Game & do the opposite of things; let Lautrec live, save Solaire.
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World War Bee by Katie K. [Oct. 6th, 2015|08:25 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |The last of it, I think. For now.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. houdini's ghost- night will be our darling]

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Black Catsup. [Sep. 27th, 2015|07:34 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Forward momentum.]
[Current Music |crown me king- the opposite of nothing]

A pretty lively weekend so far. At work on Friday I battled my emails down into the teens before leaving, & then met up with the trolls to go bowling! A crop of last minute cancellations, but that left us with a pretty good number for knocking down pins. The philosopher bartender was charmed by my spell, but I failed in my goal of breaking one hundred. After that I came home to find my apartment full of...g-g-g-gamers! Jennifer had invited over some folks & they were knee deep in Coup; after that they started Resistance-- mocked up with regular playing cards-- & I jumped in on that. I was a spy, but my partner & I couldn't coordinate who should throw the "betrayal" card & we just didn't lose enough missions, though we were pretty sneaky. Saturday I played oodles of Dark Souls.

Yeah, I am giving the old thing a playthrough; it's still pretty active, as far as summon signs go, at least at peak locations, like outside of Ornstein & Smough. Then book club! It was Pale Fire, littlewashu's pick; I barely started it so I had a lot of basic questions about the plot. So I was no help at all! Stylistically, it seems like my cup of tea, but it also sounds like I might find the frame sequence gross enough to wreck it for me. Like, laughably so. I went into book club thinking I would finish it & left it thinking I would "give it a shot." That brings us up to today! Some friends from work are having a Chopped party, & since I'm eager to know them better I was happy to jump at the chance to eat competitively cooked cuisine. Christine, my work-space mate, is coming with me; we're a publishing power couple! But first Olivia is coming over this morning to hang out.
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#TorDnD: The Ethernaut's Comet's Thrilling Conclusion. [Sep. 24th, 2015|11:52 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Sick today. Not happy about it!]
[Current Music |crown me king- clownsuit mario]

I ran the last game of the Comet sessions of #TorDnD that I'd plotted out this week. Challenge-wise, I think it ended up being close to on point-- I put down the paladin, at least-- but was a bit light for a climax. Over-all, though, the "one-free-long-rest" set-up worked out, with a short rest between rooms if they wanted it. I am bad at pressing the story on-- you know that I run Oubliette on a very character driven, loose-format style-- so the pacing was screwy, but it was alright mechanically. The challenge rating was a little light but the party was a little large. In retrospect, I should have just had Irene's character get deus ex machina'd into the mists when she couldn't make it. Which oh! At least I claimed a small fatality as K'arl the hummingbird was slain. (First photo is by Jonathan R.)

It's still surprising how unclear I am on 5e's rules; they've changed just enough about the fundamentals that I'm not sure how you qualify for a sneak attack anymore, or just how criticals work...let alone how the wonky ranger spells work. It means an experienced player can eke a lot more damage out in a turn than a rookie. I suppose that's the same as it ever was; just seeing how Tim running Irene's character as support turned her into a lethal machine gun turret. Not that he was pushing hard against the mechanics; he played her like a robot NPC, just like you normally would with an absent PC. He just has the best knowledge of the rules & so knows how (for instance) hail of thorns works, & that when there are clusters of enemies he should use an area attack. "Game skills." In addition, it makes me wonder if they've finally hit the sweat spot between "easy" fighters & "hard to play" magic-users; spells really added a whole new dynamic to the ranger's bow. I'd like to see a game play from level one; but you know that's my favorite (& no clerics).

We got to start the best way of all: "alright everyone, roll for initiative!" Last session had ended with Scott's character Kal-Ra & I think Tim's Bard Stavenham (we retconned it to be Stavenham either way) failed sneak checks peeking into the next chamber-- where a tentacle-faced white furry beast waited, surrounded by crystalline eggs! Some of which shattered or hatched, spilling out tiny hornless larval versions of the white "apes". There was a whole mutant ecology-slash-phylogeny going on in the background of the dungeon as people intuited, you know me. The "mother," which Carl called "a pile of clams," rolled pretty terribly, except for one glorious moment when she ate the magical hummingbird; the swarms of babies were made short work of by spirit guardians. Bridget's rogue Columbine is a sneak attack machine, once we finally get the rules figured out. The party chokepointed them at the door & the archers laid on the pain. It was brutal, for the monsters.

There's a giant tank filled with fluorescent green egg drop soup & a spirally horn or tusk with a piece of flesh at the end floating inside of it, when they enter the next chamber. Carl's cleric Domen uses the mold in the other room to drain out the ooze from it-- getting green slime on his pants along the way-- & Jonathan's paladin Aegwyn cracks the "glass" open with his magical longsword to pry the horn out. In the next room are some fallen stalagmites of ice...& another Gug-like creature that drops on them from the ceiling! Scott makes a quip about the horn & the sideways faces of the last bosses & the demon from Conan the Destroyer & I smirk because I'm glad someone caught the reference. There's also an invisible force in the room, a faint impression of a distorted & shark-like cheshire grin set between polished fire opals, reaching inside of people's bodies' & twisting their guts. I took the players to the line, using up pretty much off of their spells, dropping a PC (though he got back up) but the battle is short. They find a second fire opal in the four-armed giant's belongings, & a wooden chest...that is totally a Mimic! Kal-Ra the monk gets nom-nom'ed upon. Yeah, I made a dungeon & put a mimic & a rust monster in it. Heck yeah I did.

Domen makes tenuous contact with the invisible entity-- a successful religion check brings up the memory of seeing a similar visage illuminated in a manuscript & the titles "General of Gehenna" & "The Oinoloth"-- & he realizes it is stuck between the Prime & the Ethereal Plane. Ah, the ethereal gates of the star-shaped chambers! But backtracking in that direction, the party is confronted! By Marjan & her pet Hook Horror, & Went & Alia with their pet Chuul. They want the "Horn of Zargon", & the players know it. It's late in the night, & the conclusion is a little rushed so folks can get home for bed (gpoy): they are confident in Marjan's motives as someone who intends to control the horn. Went's motives are unclear, but Marjan warned them not to trust her & hey, I guess they trust Marjan! They give her Zargon's Horn, & she gives them a javelin of lightning forged by the cyclopes. (They didn't get a pet monster for Alia's side-quest.) & In the next 30 hours, after the players depart the fallen iceberg, the caves of the Comet melt & collapse...which would have been a real problem if they had taken two long rests, but they didn't, so no sweat! So that's my mini dungeon, & now my watch has ended. Till next time, anyway! I left all those breadcrumbs for good reasons, after all...

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#Merriment! [Sep. 20th, 2015|01:33 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Climb to the top of the world.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ƆMC]

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Isle of the Dogs. [Sep. 15th, 2015|09:24 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Juggers coming!]
[Current Music |crown me king- nobody carries the dogboy]

This might not technically be a Dead World game, since Tom didn't go with his usual zombie standby, but since Tom ran a horror one-shot, I'm putting it under this tag. We played Dread, which is an indie horror game where the clever mechanic is using a Jenga tower instead of dice for the "mechanics." I've heard of the game, & watched it on TableTop (Part II), & was anxious to give it a crack. Like Lasers & Feelings, this falls into a casual area of gaming that kingtycoon & I have been talking about a lot lately. Dread doesn't have anything mechanically that really applies to Oubliette, but this is as much an RPG as anything: we all pretended to be someone else & there was a randomizing element that made the game suspenseful to everyone, including the narrator.

& it was a solid one-shot! Tom always asks for feedback & I always give it to him but I'm notoriously terrible at one-shots-- they sprawl out longer-- so I am trying to learn from him, if anything. I think his best skill is his sense of escalation. He keeps pushing up the threat level when the shit hits the fan. That, & his use of visceral descriptions & a sense of vulnerability; in traditional RPGs, stepping on a trap has been contextualized as mundane, but when my character Meredith stepped on the board of broken nails...when Tom mentioned the nails were clipped into hooked points & I decided to step all the way down before I could change my mind....when I found out the board was 8' & I couldn't even crawl away. Yeah. Or further back, the moment when Luke's character Aleksander stepped in a bear trap & we all winced.

I played Meredith Palmer, the former pageant girl & spelling bee champ turned head cheerleader. I always play Tom's games with a "horror movie problem," like the film nerd who stays too long to shoot footage, or the special forces guy who is secretly working for a corrupt PMC, or a Lovecraftian "nervous condition." This time my "dark secret" was cocaine...& then half of the rest of the group were power drug users. Instead it became "frustrated that these stoners & pill poppers don't have any blow." Nicole played my boyfriend, Daniel Lee, the basketball jock & tinkerer. Lilly was the stoner, Luke the pyro nerd, Alicia the girl next door, James the rich kid.

The set-up: creepy abandoned island with mansion on it. The owners had tons of trained attack dogs & when they died the dogs went feral. It's a dangerous place, an urban legend, as the incest twins of the mansion part attests. Our boat crashes there. There is a creepy house with a very creepy flooded basement. The back yard is full of dog skeletons; the spooky woods are filled with traps. Twincest. I mean, obviously twincest. Then of course comes the slasher. & the rescue boat of dubious provenance. Pretty spooky stuff, but somehow, we survived! Not without some serious injuries, but we made it!
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