Sunday, September 29, 2019

Everytime At a Table: The Call of Kopfy pt. 2

Tale of the Unlucky not-so-Clueless

Last Friday, 27.Sep, Kurt Van Dyke (Curtis) and Becky Fitzgerald (Robin) were back in the creepy world of the Call of Cthulhu. This adventure had Van Dyke, Fitzgerald, and Prof. Judy (NPC) taking a look at two sarcophagi supposedly from the Mongolian steppes circa 720 AD. With an Know roll, both the professors of history as well as art  didn't know the Dulu Turks of the Turgesh Khaganate were ever into doing sarcophagi-- they were there to verify the authenticity as their employer, the Boxer Foundation of Greater Boston, is often contracted to do. Fitzgerald was there because the Thurdson Museum curator for Eurasia and India, Albert Halstead, got a little ahead of himself wanting to get some press for the big hit of next season.

Now while there were a ton of items that were really from central Asia from between 500 AD and 800 AD, the sarcophagi and their mummies just were too new. Some anomalies in the bodies called a more forensic examination. Halstead outraged, just in principle, would make sure he would get one, as well as a second opinion. Van Dyke found some of the script on the outside of coffins that reminded him of Sumerian which he had etched out earlier before the fireworks.

Judy wasn't feeling well after seeing the mummies and artwork on the coffins, so she went home. Becky and Kurt had just begun. With some successful research rolls, they discovered that the language of the script was actually Akklo. A prehistoric language supposedly spoken during mostly unbelievable times (you know, like Atlantis), and only referenced in books that delve into the deep occult. The kind which are in the reference-only parts of the Miskatonic University, where Van Dyke was a Fellow at the Medieval Astronomy Society. Becky went to her offices at the Boston Big News and wrote up a spicy piece on the fraud going on at the Thurdson.

For fun, I randomized, using the CoC 5.6.1 edition, which book they would find that late Friday afternoon. But he missed a Spot Hidden check and missed looking at who else had checked out the book earlier in the week. Kurt was able to obtain some time with Necronomicon itself. And while he was referencing its specific mentions of Akklo writings and what they meant, he couldn't help but letting his eyes wander a bit more. So back at home with his notes, while studying some more, he went a little mad. Big Sanity loss, and a dementia. Having seen ghouls before, sarcophagi as batteries made sense, totally makes sense. One thing he knew, he had to see those mummies again.

He called Halstead to get permission. The other man had read the late edition of the Big News and wasn't having it. The art history man failed a Fast-Talk/Charm roll, so the curator told him to try him on Tuesday. That of course meant that our three investigators broke in on Saturday during the school field trips in the main halls of the museum. They bumped into a security guard who Becky Fast Talked into thinking they were waiting for Halstead to show up.

More examination of the mummies had the trio noticing that the second mummy had been desecrated since the last time they had seen the two. Its heart was missing. Perhaps it was the missing heart, perhaps it was the relatively fresh organs still inside the mummy and then the other one (Kurt had to be thorough), more than likely it was the man's sexual arousal around the cadavers; Judy had had enough. She had to sit down, and that is when she noticed the scratch marks on the inside of the coffins. She melted into what I can only call a semi-catatonic state. She'd do whatever was suggested of her but nothing else. Kurt was quite excited to notice the previously unmolested mummy's box had a small bronze box in it. Just about the right size for say, I dunno, a human heart. He also noted that if the box from smaller mummy's container was missing.  He suggested taking the remaining heart with them.

Becky seeing Judy fading and Kurt deranged was not having it. She manhandled both of her companions to her car. They got Judy home and in bed with a promise to come see her in the morning. By the way it was 4:40pm. She then took Kurt to Sally's Roadhouse where the fried steak was highly spoken of, while the authentic Canadian Mist whiskey was kept mum about. So they spoke a little about theories that the man was developing, but the reporter kept things light and tried have the dinner be a therapeutic experience. Well, it did help her out and the other knew enough not to talk about what was really on his mind.

I pointed out that it was 7:00pm on a Saturday night. The gin joint was starting to get hopping and there was a heart out there in a bronze box. And that Halstead guy had the gall to tell them maybe Tuesday. Noop. Becky wasn't having it. She got Kurt back to his house, the guest house on the Boxer Mansion grounds. Then she tucked herself into bed. It was probably a little after 9pm.

Becky was up early and first checked on Judy. The professor was back to something of herself. Checking on the other professor, Kurt was feeling much better, thanks to a decent roll. I just had throw in that he had photographs of Pickman's works next to his bedside. After a breakfast, the three decided to go and tell Halstead that his mummies were defiled by somebody but definitely not them.

Of course, there was no answer at the door when they got to Halstead's sizeable house out in the farther burbs. His car was in the car port and even his wife, whom Kurt had met, was not coming around. So the Art Historian went to pick the lock. It wasn't locked. Searching through the house the PCs found the study where they noted a letter from Jack Harker, a notorious field archeologist known to be more than little "out there,"  chiding Halstead about showing the sarcophagi to anyone.
They then noticed that the curator had many of the same notes that Van Dyke had made from the Necronomicon no less. His theories though were much more clearer and thought out. The coffins where batteries for "the key" to "the door."

They continued through the house, where they found the master bedroom was a makeshift Satanic alter. It was very cold in the room, but not quite cold enough to cover the smell of Halstead's wife's corpse. She had her chest open and heart pulled out apparently. In the scrawling Akklo glyphs on the floor was the missing bronze box and more notes from Halstead. "Not enough charge. Another to turn the lock." Quiet the scientists that curator.

Everyone made their Sanity checks, but Judy left the room without saying a word. Kurt and Becky made the call to take the box with them. She made her friend dump out the heart still in it.

Becky and Kurt argued about what to do with the box, and then the boxes. Judy chimed in and it was decided to destroy the two boxes. While getting the second box, Judy just waited outside asking the security guard to call Halstead as he had promised to show up this time. The gang destroyed the boxes placing them on railroad tracks.

AnalysisThe players weren't so unlucky after all, I suppose. Heck luck really had nothing to do with it. That except for the rolls where no one saw them pull up to Halstead's house on Sunday.

I had it planned that the PCs would encounter Halstead at his home on Saturday night. He would be over his anger and want to talk as learned colleagues. where he would offer some wine, he is a know Merlot fan. He would engage about the possible origins of the coffins and give them some history about Jack Harker and his dealings with him. He would point out that that he had been studying the Akklo language. AS he showed the characters his take on the notes that they themselves had discovered, the drugs in the wine would kick in.

The PCs would've awakened in Halstead's master bedroom bound at their hands and feet. The man and his wife would perform a Gate spell in front of them. The mummy's heart would not finish ritual so he'd encourage the investigators to help out (with their POW ) or become his next energy source. From there I was going to focus on the combat. Then I was going to give a glimpse into the Mountains of Madness as Halstead's wife was pulled through by a shoggoth.

Well all that didn't happen. I was impressed at the Players not wanting to be insane. Sure they fun doing the book chase. Curtis performed his insanity awesomely. Robin handled Judy expertly and kept her in the adventure when I assumed she was just going to dumped into a hospital.

My traps are going to have to better for these two.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Everytime at a Table: Call of Kopfy, part 1

Friday the 13th, September 2019: "Return of Pickman"

Well, most of the first hour was taken up by both the players needing to feed themselves and develop their Characters. I pretty much sat back and made the players find where I had posted instructions to develop their Characters before hand and follow them. While I enjoy beverages during a game, I really think meals and snacks should be done away from the session. As a GM I am not up here yapping so I can listen to crunching and watch ppl chew with their mouths open, so food just gets on my nerves. Then as the last bites were consumed, we did the GM-Player thing about filling out the Characters with their backgrounds. Then we took a break because we were at the 55 minute marker and I am 50 minute play-10 minute break enthusiast.

Apologies to my European friends but starting later in the North American evening for a horror game was awesome. Once everyone had full bellies, the lateness of the hour in our collective diurnal cycles helped set the mood. The titillation of the darkness of night only getting darker and deeper, just had everyone in the mood so to speak. Indeed the two players, Peryton and Curtis, are very experienced roleplayers but neither had sat around in CoC groups from 1980 until about 1992, experiencing the 1920s fetishism; they somehow got the vibe quickly. I was answering questions about whether coca-cola still had cocaine in it as late as 1927 and everyone was looking for a speak-easy.

The two Characters had perfect CoC Occupations, a reporter and an art historian as I sexyed up the Pickman story. The art historians were called to an art gallery where an undiscovered Pickamn painting needed to authenticated. I had made notes on the paintings', the new one and two for comparison, subjects and details. I think my descriptions of the paintings along creeped out the players. The experts Curtis, Kurt Van Dyke, and his coworker Judy Penworth would conclude that the found piece was convincing but a forgery because it was too new. Meanwhile, Pery, Becky Fitzgerald, would be a little too curious about the paintings, the Pickman family, and the art house owner Berthold Lancaster, like a good reporter.

At the hotel, Van Dyke would spend some time on the restaurant veranda looking through Pickman's works. Fitzgerald would use her time to get the contact information for the artist's next of kin using the night desk at her newspaper. The night finished off with the art scholar seeing a ghoul in the woods watching him. A Sanity Check had the professor convincing himself that he had a seen a local walking past but had "Pickman on the mind."

In the morning while the Characters breakfasted, the local sheriff stopped by and started asking them questions about themselves and their interview with Lancaster the evening before. When one of them asked, finally, why did he want to know, he informed them that there was a break in at the art gallery and that Lancaster had not gone home to his wife that night. When he heard about the Pickman paintings he asked which of the two were they checking out. Eyebrows raised, the PCs answered. They were asked not to leave town as he "checked a couple of things out."

Becky would spend the morning getting in touch with Pickman's nephew in New York to find out that Lancaster had no permission to do anything near his uncle's work let alone family property. So just after lunch, the group, not able to leave town anyway, decided to some, well, let's call it investigating. Bumping into the Sheriff at the Pickman household, the PC's mentioned that they had spoken with the family member in charge of the property, and he was a little too busy to not assume that they did not have specific permission to be there. He had his notes and left them to their business and left. The PCs found that someone had tried to burn down the garage after doing some graffiti using expensive art school paints on the wall. The inscription read "You Fraud!" and other things. like a pretty drunk and angry owner of an art gallery getting a little out of hand.

Of course the investigators promptly broke into the house and went directly to the basement. They found the artist's work space and a hidden door that lead into a collapsed tunnel. Fitzgerald would lead the party outside and find thr traces of the collapsed tunnel in the lawn and garner the general direction it would have lead. Even when I had Professor Judy try to distract them with exploring the house some more, they decided to explore into the woods.

It is here where they found the abandoned cemetery and a car that they recognized as Lancaster's. And it was only 4pm. They found a mausoleum that was in a fairly decent state of repair compared the rest of the place. And they found what had to be clothes of one of Pickman's models from the now missing third painting.

The party's unease increased when the noise of something like a coffin lid falling onto a floor. They started retreating quickly summarizing that Pickman was indeed still alive and painting. He was an insane psychopath that wasn't above living a graveyard and possibly eating human flesh. Then they found Lancaster's crucified body, and confirmed that eating human flesh wasn't out of bounds. It was late enough in the day to where I had the ghouls start to scamper about in the shadows. The investigators realized that there such things as ghouls and there were a lot of them. Lancaster's car became a quick getaway vessel.

Back in the town proper they got a hold of the Sheriff and related their tale. He detained them as he gathered a few men to investigate their far fetched claims. The PCs cooled in their heels over night. In the morning he would show back up harried and disheveled. About an hour before the 11:13am train to Boston would show up, he'd let them go and them not come back to town ever again. Before they left though, he'd ask Fitzgerald, "You say that you saw green glowing eyes?"

It was then she realized that he had seen them as well.

The players deciding to save the house exploration until later, really threw a kink in my night-attack plan with the ghouls, but it worked out.

As much as I am a fan of the Dreamlands and the ghouls of Lovecraft's writings, I kind of over them being the hobbits of CoC. They are creatures that reject their humanity for cannibalism and they shouldn't be played as nice and the people around them are not balanced sorts. It was kind of nice to ruffle the feathers of the PCs by having them move into the shady world of occultism and its truly brutal nature, while providing just a glimpse of it.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Rated "R" and Rated "X" Table-Topping

I suppose you, my seated readers, are old enough for the talk about (gulp) sex and D&D. Especially right now that your mother is off at the bulk-buy store obtaining your pizza bagels and Mountain Dew for the month for a couple hours. You see when a man meets a woman, or another man, a weird couple, or a vacuum cleaner, BUT NOT an animal, there is sometimes a physical attraction between the two or more. Often this attraction can even be emulated in an RPG session or two; it's better with someone in a maid costume in the bedroom but its okay to work out things on a table-top, using dice, I mean. Sometimes it may even be better to leave things at Character Sheets and dice, if you take my meaning... nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

My excuse to do this topic John Tarnowski in his RPGPundit Presents series called "F*ck Station Aleph" where he states, I paraphrase, that he is going to do Venger Satanis's Alpha Blue right. Now he's joking, the two are friends. Plus a bit of competition between those never hurts the creative field as long as there is no Trademark or patents invovled. Both are definitely examples of , what I can only call, "Age of Consent Roleplaying" not "Family-Friendly Forever!" which gives me an excuse to go a bit about my current blog fixation with being okay with not pandering to nostalgia or kids.

But first a quick promotion before the rant. "F*ck Station Aleph"  is a part of Tarnowski's Lost Sun gonzo (sphere) fantasy setting featured as a part of weekly(?) releases under the label The RPGPundit Presents. In 30 pages, he sets up a setting that a mini-campaign can take place in an "sky island"/space station. which has devolved into a mega brothel. Keeping OSR conventions in mind, there is new equipment for the adventuring party to do some shopping. The random encounters are designed to move into a plot leaving any sordidness up to how far the players can drag the GM into the details. One definitely gets the feeling of the TV show Lex not the movie Caligula. I rate it a "Nessie" on the Smurf-To-Godzilla scale. For what the work loses in points for using "f*ck" and not just "fuck" in the title, it makes up for in its lack of pretension and not trying to be shocking. Using a DCC-like chart system, a GM can get a lot of use out this piece.

There now... As a convention GM, I keep good old fashion movie ratings in mind. Screw all at "TV Mature L S E V" mumbo-jumbo. I don't say the words "fuck," "asshole," "shit," "cock (not the bird)," or "cunt" before 9:30pm, which means everything before then,  is rated PG. I don't ever recall going PBS by referring to the nouns or verbs above in proper English before the evening either. It's usually not until after 10:15pm, I may start slipping into using "fucking" as an adjective because of tiredness.

But at 9:30, the subject matter may get sexually explicit. Cops start investigating rapes as well as murders. NPCs use phrases like "Blow job alley," "Tranny like them didn't mind the evil eye" "She was a cow" or "Cuckold lay like a cucumber" as well as using the list of swear words from above. Players are expected to be comfortable, if a little chagrined, at the dialog going on. This more often than not gets players feeling comfortable enough to get a dark and blue themselves. A PC will proclaim that they were raped by the villain of the story. PCs make passes at NPCs, sometimes other PCs, luckily only couples to date for the PC-on-PC. Closets are ducked into, and the minds' eyes all move elsewhere, as we keep things R-rated. I did go cable TV, "kind-of" X-rated one time when an investigator Lord Hemmingsway came home from a bar brawl and night in the swamp and his house-keeper, Olga, insisted that he have a bath so she could "scrub all that dirt off." I being the ref, let the cards sort the details out-- I fudged a couple draws to make the cigarette smoking scene more fun. BTW Lord Hemmingsway was played by the wife and Olga was the husband in that situation, making the scene weird yet typical at the same time.

Now while you are blushing about the details, the points here are expectations and the process of consent. Perhaps I as a GM that has experimented with deconstructing film ratings into RPG scenarios have an advantage, but roleplaying is meant to be entertaining on various levels, not just moving pieces around a board. The late evening parlor games can be quite a bit of mental stimulation if presented with openness and looking at the audience. By thinking about the context outside of the session, a GM can do material that is explicit without not focused on the "sleaze" factor. I am serious, it does work at least with horror.

To get back to "sex and D&D," Don't just make it about the visuals. I've done "romantic" RPG scenarios because I've read romance novels (to pick up chicks dammit) and just kept it 19th century. "19th Century" means "no sex scenes" in case you were wondering. The Jane Austen fans ate it up like it was pudding and and had J.D. Rob written on the title. Their daughter thought the whole was dorky and wanted to get on her cellphone, but almost everybody enjoyed the yarn.

You can't please everybody. At the same time, keep in mind what you're doing and you can do what you want.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A World A Week: Blimp World

So the Amazon TV series Carnival Row has forced me to restart designing that perfect city-fantasy/ steam punk setting yet again. With its Blimps, fairies, and Edwardian England, I find myself pulling out notes from 2004 for my first "mixed technologies and folkloric fantasy setting called "the Straits."
Seeing it done right by China Mieville's novel the Scar in '07, I put it down for a while. But I get the itch. I've been sticking to quick tries like Egg City my take on Shadowrun meets Mother Goose, I suppose. But Orlando Bloom's latest attempt to show that a model can be a smart man and a tough guy just does it right enough to be inspiring.

So it's not blimps, it's harnessed shy-hippos
For all my love of World War I fetishism , blimps just don't really work for me. I am still a Jean Giraud fan when it comes to floating things. Creatures and people make interesting subtext. I have also spent enough time in the air to know blimps are not signs of power but desperate attempts to be massive without ever succeeding. But writing the passages about sky-hippo maintenance might have me just go with blimps and be done with it.

This being urban fantasy, there are humans along with other fantastical species (races, kin, whatever). Goblins, because why not; and an ostrich-headed individual. I might be going into my warped version of the Furry fetish which I should admit a very superficial understanding of in case you ever get to read anything from this world in-depth. No elves or dwarves yet. I don't feel I need them, but lordsheads know where the writing will take me.

The World around Pholus City-State

Pholus City-State
is if Colchester stayed as prominent as it should've on the British Isles. It is the first and last colony of the Overlord's Empire on the Big Island. It is a city of five million and it controls its nearest 100 miles, though surrounded by primitive Bretons and swarthy Continentals. Its Cloud Corps is its answer to dealing with the more often than not overwhelming forces on the continent just about 22 miles over its shores, and the cow-herders along its landlocked borders.

The Free City of Pallis is Amsterdam plain and simple, but with sky-hippos and more than few furries. They are strong enough to share a mutual protection pact with Pholus City-State against the rising forces of "the Horde" to the ever troublesome west lands. They are pioneering biplanes. Meanwhile their gully trolls don't take kind to incursions on their homeland's borders.

Hop Island and Brooz has had enough of everyone's meddling and declared themselves neutral.  That includes "the Compact" (Pallis and Pholus), the Maroon, and the Horde. Whether or not any of these other parties let the area stay uninvolved is a matter of debate among the others ruling elites it would seem.

Havre- the capital of the Maroon Kingdoms' north-most countries. With its massive population and industrial base, it also tries to be the protector of "the Old Ways." It is always looking to cause trouble in the Fields and westward. Many of the wilder creatures in both those places would be more than happy to be Maroon citizens.

Klust- East-most capital of the Horde Lords' lands. Their advances in biplanes and blimps could prove sky-hippos obsolete. The constant state of conflict by the Horde's Unification Wars have this city's armies deadly modern and its magical powers horribly black