Friday, October 20, 2017

Death is Not the End

Tougher breaks: you hit 0 hp, you die; no death saves. But what if, as you die, you get to make one last move to swing that final combat scene in a different direction and go out in a blaze of glory? Below are some sketches for "death moves" for the baseline 5e character classes:

Some furies can only be slaked by violence. You should number among the dead, yet you rise again to heft your weapon against your foes. You continue to fight. You cannot be healed, but neither can you be killed. At the end of the battle, you fall to the ground having died a warrior.

With your last breath you sing one final, mournful dirge. Your allies are bolstered by the song and gain advantage on their attack rolls for the rest of the scene.

A holy soul never shudders at the thought of death, for you go on to a better place. Before you depart the mortal coil, you pronounce a benediction that gives your allies a stock of temporary hit points.

Some die unavenged, but not you: nature will have its revenge. The area erupts in natural phenomena that turns it into difficult terrain for your foes and harms your enemies within it.

A lifetime of bloodshed has changed the way you see the world; even as you die you see one last tactical opportunity. Before you perish you make one last, impressive maneuver that reveals your enemies' weakness in a way that your compatriots can exploit.

All your life you have resisted the temptation of the dark hadou. Now, as death approaches on silk slippers, you give in and become an avatar of disciplined destruction.

Heaven avenges its own. As you die, a glorious light fills your vision: a warrior angel come to take your place and fight alongside your companions in your stead.

Death hungers for your life, but that hunger is matched by that of the beasts who now arrive to rend and tear at your foes.

You appear to fall on the field of battle, but this feint carries the scent of finality: it was all a deadly ruse that catches one of your foes unawares and inflicts a grievous injury.

The magic that flows through your veins spills out and its power can no longer be contained. As your lifeblood ebbs away it causes a magical explosion to wrack the area, greatly damaging your foes.

Before your soul departs to serve your patron for eternity, you pronounce a lasting curse on your enemies. You foes make their attack rolls and saving throws with disadvantage for the rest of the scene.

You've kept it hidden all long, this last dweomer. As you die, you can one final spell that changes everything.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Unwanted Audiences in a Vampire Court

Campaign: Game of Fangs (Krevborna, 5e D&D).

Characters: Magnus (dhampir mastermind rogue), Florian d'Targan(half-elf lore bard), Orest (human divination wizard), Maria Marzistrada (human crown paladin).

Events: Magnus was awoken by servants of the castle at an hour he was largely unacquainted with. He dressed hastily and was ushered into the candle-lit library of Castle Maylak. Awaiting him was a severe woman dressed in black lace and furs; it was Magnus's aunt, Kristianna Rhiannon. Kristianna expressed grave concerns about Magnus's ability to bring House Rhiannon to a position of power over House Maylak. 

Although Magnus had few examples of success to cite, he did manage to argue Kristianna into a stalemate; she would allow Magnus to continue to call the shots, but she also made it clear that she would be remaining at Castle Maylak and was prepared to take over the mission should he continue to move slowly.

Orest also found himself the subject of a sudden audience: he was taken from his dank cell in the dungeons and escorted to a room deep within the crypts where he found Baroness Maylak, Sonder Skellig (the Baroness's dour personal bodyguard), and Florian waiting for him. The Baroness had brought the famed greatsword of House Maylak with her; she absently stroked the sword's keen-edged blade while she interrogated Orest about his previous outburst. 

Orest revealed that he had heard of a plot against the Baroness's life as a bargaining chip to regain his freedom. The Baroness didn't seem alarmed at this piece of intelligence, but her curiosity was definitely piqued. Orest pushed harder, vowing to the Baroness that he and Florian would expose the traitors in Court Maylak...he then floated the idea that if the Baroness has not been aware of the plot against her life, perhaps her network of spies at court had been compromised. 

Sensing an opportunity, Florian intimated that if he and Orest had access to the Baroness's web of spies and informants they might be better equipped to serve the Baroness's interests. The Baroness surprisingly agreed to their request, but required that the pair swear upon the ancient Sword of Maylak that they would serve her faithfully in this task. Sonder remained obviously skeptical about Orest and Florian's true intentions.

Maria "ambushed" Kristianna Rhiannon as Magnus's aunt was making her way back from the castle's library. Maria attempted to ply Kristianna with flattery to learn her aims and perhaps sound her out as an ally for plans of her own, but Kristianna deftly maneuvered around Maria's clumsy attempts at gaining her confidence. However, while they were conversing in the hallway, Maria noticed that under Kristianna's many sumptuous rings are arcane patterns of scars on her fingers. Back in her own chambers, Maria recorded the general shape of the scars so that she might research them at a later date.

Orest's sprite familiar had overheard Maria's conversation with Kristianna and duly reported it to her master. Orest met with Florian and Magnus to discuss the content of Maria's attempt to forge a bond with Kristianna. Combined with their vague knowledge that Maria was making private inroads with the Convent of the Heart-in-Twain, Orest put forward the suspicion that Maria had "gone rogue" and was no longer pursuing the group's interest. Magnus would hear no talk of dissension; he chalked Orest's suspicions up to the devil still possessing the wizard to sow division, and stormed out of the meeting. Even Florian, Orest's staunchest ally, was unsure that Maria's conduct hinted at deceitful aims. There is now disunity within the ranks.

As he stalked back to his chambers, Magnus encountered a beautiful woman just arrived at court: Melinda Maylak, the Baroness's cousin. Melinda offered a bottle of wine and coquettishly asked if Magnus would like to meet the castle's ghost?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Horror of It All, 2017 (part 2)

As per tradition (and my natural inclinations) I watch as many horror movies and Gothic thrillers as I can in October. Here's the lowdown on the second week of morbid curiosities I've been parading before my eyes:

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
Tabloid reporters Jack Harrison and Gil Turner are sent to Transylvania with two choices: find the Frankenstein monster or find new jobs. But before the jumpy journalists can dig up their big story, they must first face the horrors of an extremely clumsy butler, a nymphomaniac vampiress and a semi-mad doctor, as well as assorted mummies, werewolves and more Transylvanian oddballs. Can these two bumbling heroes unravel this monstrous mystery or are they in for some very scary surprises?

I can't believe I'd managed to avoid this before now. Transylvania 6-5000 was a movie made to free a chemical company's frozen assets in Yugoslavia, and it shows. Not even Geena Davis in a vampy outfit can save this one.

The Asphyx (1972)
English country squire Sir Hugo Cunningham searches for immortality by literally 'bottling up' the Spirit of the Dead, or Asphyx.

Usually I'm a sucker for anything horror set in the Victorian era, but The Asphyx was truly soporific. Apparently the spirit of death looks an awful lot like Slimer's Fraggle-ier cousin.

Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
When his brother disappears, Robert Manning pays a visit to the remote country house he was last heard from. While his host is outwardly welcoming - and his niece more demonstrably so - Manning detects a feeling of menace in the air with the legend of Lavinia Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, hanging over everything.

A bit wobbly, but Curse of the Crimson Altar has the kind of atmosphere I like. Plus, come on, it has Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Barbara Steele. 

Lore (2017)
From the executive producer of The Walking Dead and the executive producer of The X-Files, this anthology series brings to life Aaron Mahnke's "Lore" podcast and uncovers the real-life events that spawned our darkest nightmares. Blending dramatic scenes, animation, archive and narration, Lore reveals how our horror legends - such as vampires, werewolves and body snatchers - are rooted in truth.

I only watched the first episode of Lore...and it might have been the only episode I watch. Lore is a spooky history-themed podcast that has been turned into a television show by Amazon, just in time for the Halloween season. Unfortunately, the jump to a visual format has really been to the concept's benefit; it mostly feels like a podcast that has been jammed over top dodgy History Channel-style re-enactments.

And then there are the inaccuracies. Mercy Brown was not "America's first vampire." Mercy Brown's story was not the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. (It may have been among his inspirations, but claiming it as the origin point for Stoker's novel avoids all the scholarship we have about his inspirations.) The phrase "saved by the bell" isn't actually a reference to people who were rescued from death by anti-premature-burial devices. (The earlier known usage of the phrase comes to us from the world of boxing.)

The Boy (2015)
An intimate portrait of a 9-year-old sociopath's growing fascination with death.

Not the one with the doll that looks like Jared Kushner, the one with Dwight from The Office. Slow-burn (hey oh!) about the makings of a future serial killer. Key word: slow.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Krevborna: The Book

I've mentioned this on Google+ but not here: I've been working on a campaign setting book for Krevborna

If you don't know what Krevborna is, it's a Gothic Fantasy setting for roleplaying games inspired by Bloodborne, Hammer Horror, and Eastern European folklore. I've been building the setting on this blog; you can read about the setting here and read actual play reports from games set in Krevborna here.

Take a look to the left; that's the Table of Contents as it stands right now.

Current state of the book: 
- I'm fairly confident that the manuscript is done.
- The manuscript has been handed off to an editor.
- I've been talking about potential ideas with the cover artist and she is at work on an initial sketch. I might be able to preview the cover image at some point, but we're at an early stage with the art.

Below is an example of what the page layout looks like in general. Each major location in the setting gets four pages in this two-page spread format; here is the section on Hemlock, a town of witches and apostates:

It's interesting that Hemlock won the poll of which area I was going to preview in this post as it's also a location that my players steadfastly avoided going to when they had the opportunity.

Aside from location detail on five major locations and four other dangerous locales, here's what else is in the book:
- Brief general notes on the setting, its people, its secrets, and its general aesthetics and themes.
- A map of the setting by Michael Gibbons, so you know that's good.
- People who have played in my Krevborna games will definitely recognize some of the NPCs, monsters, and locations described therein. Don't be surprised if you even run across some easter eggs related to your characters!
- Stuff for players, including advice on character archetypes that fit the setting, dark secrets that lurk in characters' pasts, and details on otherworldly beings that characters might make pacts with.
- Information on the setting's factions and important NPCs, and advice on how to use them in your games.
- Background on the world of Krevborna and its cosmology.
- My best advice for running "Gothic Fantasy" games.
- An expanded adventurer generator, a bestiary of sample monsters in the setting, and a list of inspirations that gives credit where credit is due.
- The book is fully indexed. There's even a separate index for all the random tables in the book for ease of use. Here are the unedited draft of the indices:

Some names are placeholders; some names still need to be added.

Why I'm proud of this project:
- I've put a lot of effort into making this book support the principles of setting presentation I talked about here and here
- The book is designed to deliver adventure-oriented detail instead of big honking paragraphs of frustrated novelist writing; expect setting info to be deployed via bullet points and terse description you can use in play.
- I've got a great cover artist lined up and am super excited to see where her inspiration takes her on this project. Hopefully I'll be able to preview some art in the near-ish future.

Additional details:
- Right now, the book is 100% system neutral.
- The book's dimensions will be 6x9, and it will probably be between 110-120 pages long.
- The book will have a color interior.

Things that still need to get done:
- I need to make some decisions about the interior art.
- I am planning on releasing the pdf and print hardcopy through DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, so I will have to figure out how that works.
- Release date tba.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Paperbacks from Hell

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix strikes the perfect balance of context, curiosity, and lurid sensationalism in its approach to the paperback horror boom of the 70s and 80s. Daring to peer beneath the gruesome (and often just plain baffling) covers, Hendrix and his colleague and researcher Will Errickson chart the trends, history, and notable figures involved in creating these once ubiquitous tomes. This book will slake your thirst for killer crabs, Nazi leprechauns, and suburban devil cults.
On this mini episode, Kate and Jack talk to Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction about his horror paperback collection, some of the factors that came into play during this particular period in pulp fiction, and the role of these books in today's popular culture. Catch Will and Grady on the Paperbacks from Hell book tour at Powells Books in Beaverton, OR this Thursday October 12.
Intro/outro music: "Halloween" by the Crimson Ghosts
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