Sunday, November 30, 2014

I awoke dreaming of encounter charts…

What finds you in the wilderness?

1- Nothing, a great, existential nothing - Landscapes quickly shift to empty, wide desolation. Even so, the stars are distant and dim. Sunsets happen quickly, when you are not looking. There is no breaking beauty only ugly open isolation.

2- Fear, ancestral and barely remembered – It stalks you. Staying in shadows it is always nearby. You know it is near; you smell its hateful musk wherever you turn. It knows you know. You can feel its toothsome smile on the back of your neck.

3- Beauty, a velvet-lined trap – It is perfect here. Brookes babble merrily. Birds sing a slow but cheery song. Soft powdery scents slide through the gentle breeze. The sun shines gently, a perpetual golden haze. Numbing joy fills your every fiber. The ways out are harsh, sharp, and uncomfortable: mazes of thorns that keep turning back to this blessed place. Why would you leave this flowered forest? No task has meaning here.

4- Lust, a strange visitor – Androgynous and achingly beautiful, an ethereal being beckons you from the path. The clinging perfume of honeysuckle and overripe fruit caresses your nose. Desire burns hot in your belly. Hunger flares within your chest. The being will never step towards you; this perfect creature was meant to be pursued.

5- Gluttony, a boisterous bacchanal – In the midst of the food-starved wilds, satyrs and fauns call you by name. Their voices are song, and they dance about great tables. Rough-hewn boards are loaded with piles of sausage and cheese, great jugs of sweet wine, flowing fountains of brown beer, heaps of ripe peaches, many legs of hot ham, great white loaves of buttered bread, cakes of exquisite shapes  scaled in sugared almonds, game birds baked with honey & thyme, and here and there punctuated with candied castles. The feast never ends, and it is very rude to exit before the host gives you leave.

6- Envy, glittering prizes always in another’s grasp – In this place, golden necklaces are scattered about the path, and your companions gather them with ease; all you find is painted lead. When you best shining knights and claim your winnings, their armor and swords turn to rust and dust. Your companions gloat in their new finery.

7- Greed, easy conquest and rich rewards – Here even the shepherds hold kingly jewels. The roughest smith can craft lordly arms. Jeweled dragons are kept as pets like cats. Within this bitterly cold valley, the next village always has better things: finer armor, softer beds, richer brews. And always for a shilling more than you can afford. Gold is easy to find here, but there is never quite enough of it.

8- Wrath, hellish heat and hot rage – It is far too hot here. The vistas slowly shift to reds and yellows. All beings here challenge and belittle you. A knight might ride by and call you craven; he will laugh merrily when you strike him. The very stones whisper your secret failings. Roots and shrubs mock you and titter at every failure. It is all but impossible to stop fighting until all your enemies lie bleeding before you.

9- Sloth, viscous and slow – The air is thick; it pushes back against you like water when you move. It is hard breath unless you are still. Your eyelids droop heavily. Crickets halfheartedly strike up their song. Should you sleep you might never awaken, but you will dream of lazy days and still contentment.

10- Pride, cool success awaits you – The breeze is cold but refreshing. Things come easily here. The grass sings in the wind of your greatness. Even the rudest villages know your name. They sing songs of your glory. Feasts are held in your honor. They’ll beg you not leave. Nothing comes easily in the surrounding hills.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Go Buy Deep Carbon Observatory... Go On Now... Get.

I have been searching for some time now for the perfect words to describe Patrick Stuart’s writing style, to encapsulate in brief his stunningly unique voice; in this, I have failed. However, I keep circling back to two words that I believe will suffice: poetic and ineffable.

Patrick has a way with words notable for both its brevity and hint towards expansiveness. “Kill them. Make them afraid. Explain nothing.” “The water of the river is ripe with life, over-full with predators. Pike and strange pale squid flit to and fro. Cuttlefish can barely be seen; camouflage flows across their pigmented skin like paint. ¶ Upriver, in the distance, rises a column of smoke or grey cloud. The only other signs to mark the sky are carrion birds. Columns of their moving forms make black signals in the grey air, sketching spirals over the accumulated dead.” 2 brief paragraphs, 5 sentences drown an entire valley and kill most of its occupants.

(The assonance, consonance, sibilance, and false rhymes conspire to give the paragraphs far more weight than they could hold at a glance. This prose is so full of prosody that it breaks like the damn and floods the mind with wild and sickening images.

The columns in the sky both mirror and presage the horrible column/ stalactite hanging down into the bleak, black void below.)

Less poetical things to note:

Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is an 85 pg. adventure on A5-ish sized paper, perfect bound and soft cover. It is greyscale in its entirety. It is stunningly written by Patrick Stewart and evocatively illustrated by Scrap Princess. I was graciously awarded a copy for this review. DCO costs $10 Digital or $13.30 Dead Tree.

The adventure begins in the drowned city of Carrowmore where a series of terrible situations await the PCs. Much has been written about this introduction, and with reason. There are no good paths to choose. The best one can hope for is to save some few of these folk by intensely focusing on achievable objectives.

The manner in which this bewildering array of horribleness is presented is pure genius. That tiny bit of design alone is nearly worth the price of admission.

DCO then moves forward from the very real and very human tragedies of Carrowmore into a surreal and sodden landscape in which the barriers between water and land have been shattered. There are ruthless magical killers, giant lake fauna, ridiculous magi, floating sarcophagi, hydrological golems, corpse filled toads, and much, much more. Several sessions could be spent exploring the valley and the drained lake, depending on how goal-driven vs. curious the PCs may be.

The main show is the Observatory itself. The place feels as though it was produced through time by an esoteric and sadistic society operating under completely alien values to observe an even more alien existence below them.

In case you haven’t decided if Deep Carbon Observatory would be to your taste, here are a few more things from within this slim folio.

  • A result from an encounter chart: “A chunk of Ambergris in the hands of a corpse being attacked by a Giant Carnivorous Platypus.”
  • Slave Spells: “Reduce Scars… Ease Greif”
  • A core sample from a stratum of rock that is actually an infinite reduction of vampire bones.
  • An allusion to this.

There is much more that could be said, but I don’t want rob you of the adventure of reading or playing this thing.

About the Art:

It’s good. It’s all in Scrap Princess’s splintery style. That’s the sort of thing you love or you hate (or you feel another way about). I especially liked the By Frosens, the Neptunium Child, and the Pale Giant. Her style can be viewed here.

Also, the maps are fine, though could have been more clearly labeled considering the size they were ultimately rendered to.  I expect I’ll have no problem using the vertical map of the Observatory proper when I get a chance to run this thing. I’ve ran a few dungeons with only side view maps without any issue.

Oh I’m going to run this fucking thing. I just have to wait until my players level up some and are foolish enough to go to the Feywode. (DCO doesn’t really fit in Fantasy Colonial America, but would work just fine in fairy-land.) Judging by the stat blocks, I’d run this unchanged for parties between levels 3 and 6 depending on the cleverness of the players and the size of the group.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth:

Patrick has described the layout of DCO as functional; I believe this is a fair assessment. The utilitarian layout suits the subject matter well enough and everything you might need at any particular moment will be within a couple of pages. Ideally you wouldn’t need to flip more than one page. We'll really you wouldn't have flip around at all in a perfect book, but meh.

The copy I got seems to have a lighter greyish cover rather than the bolder blacks I’ve seen in other copies. All the art is similarly washed-out, which is a shame because I find that Scrap’s style looks best in high contrast.  Though I must add that none of this harms the usability nor my enjoyment of DCO.

Also, I don’t like many of the names. They’re a bit all over the place: some vaguely Mesoamerican, some vaguely Dutch, some just overwrought fantasy names. Really though, the names in a module are the thing I imagine get changed more than anything else, and Patrick’s choices here will work in just as many settings as they wouldn’t.

Overall Verdict:

Go buy this fucking thing… It’s incredibly good and very, very interesting.

As soon as I run it, there will be a play report. Until then,


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Things from the Feywode

Fey means both strange & otherworldly as well as being marked for death. Wode comes from the Middle English and may refer to wood as a material, wood as in a place with many trees, and finally utter, raging madness. The Feywode has been known by many names:  Álfheimr, Sídhe, Otherworld, and quite possibly Elysium, Hel, and Hades.

Creatures from the Feywode, possibly all living things there, are symbols of human concepts made physically extant.

For instance, goblins are pettiness, but it is hardly that simple. Nothing ever is. One goblin may be the sad satisfaction of a pointless lie believed. Another may be schadenfreude. Still another may be the spiteful bitterness of spurned lovers. Feywode creatures often have an experiential element to what defines them. In a sense they feed off these particular experiences; the creatures exist to perpetuate these feelings and experiences because without these feelings and experiences the creatures would not exist.

Then there are still those things in the Feywode which are even more abstract, godlings and fairy lords and the like. These things have a great deal more power and rarely interact directly with our world. In fact, the more abstract the basis for the being, the more powerful it is, and the less time it is possible for it to exist in our world. This is why one rarely sees Eris floating down the street, but also why world changing things like the Trojan War occur when she deigns to intervene in human affairs.

Suffice it to say, the shifting alliances and labyrinthine politics of the Feywode are a topic best left to scholars more erudite than I.

Other Examples:

There are more types of fairies than there are tears in the ocean. There is a certain affinity to wildness that vaguely ties all the types together, but that very defining trait makes each one stunningly different from the last.

Sugar Plum Fairies – These tiny violet glowing creatures resemble youths with buzzing insect wings on their bare backs. They exist to perpetuate the joys of surprised children; children pleasantly surprised by finding berries in the forest, surprised with small toys from their parents, surprised by
finding candy in unexpected places.

Sprites - This is a broad class of smallish beings that delight in shocking the unwary. Some just tie knots in your hair as you sleep (feeding on your vulnerability and irritation) others, like the will-o’-the-wisp, thrive on false hope fading to despair.

Angels are universally beautiful, but universally dangerous too. Though they represent virtues and graces many of these beautiful concepts cannot exist without being preceded by horrors. There can be no grace under fire without there first being flame. And woe to you who dance with angels of mercy. There is no mercy without a stunning imbalance of power from which to begin.

With demons at least, you’re dealing with something quite direct, usually. Only prudes (and people with more important tasks at hand) need fear beings of lust. Demons of fear and rage and hatred and larceny and other such foul things are at the very least, rarely beautiful. I am not sure what this says about cosmology or virtue or metaphysics; again, I expect scholars wiser than I shall debate this for ages to come.

Gnomes are interesting in that they live entirely in our world. This possibly lends credence to the position that some part of them is actually composed of the frustrations of great men fallen before their work is done.

In conclusion, well, what conclusion can one possible draw on a subject like this? In conclusion, I suppose, there is none.


Fraederick Maypole of Merry Mount the II, Chronicler and Occasional Poet.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Failed Save vs. Charm Person

A recent internets discussion got me to thinking about mind control magics, geases, compulsions and the game play mechanics/procedures thereof.

Here’s the short version of what I’ve decided: I don’t ever want to tell a player what his/her character is doing. I may, however, under certain circumstances tell a player how his/her character feels about something.

Fail a save vs. Charm Person:

“You know. You deep down know that this guy is great. His very presence is a joy.”

The rest is up to the player.

Fail a save vs. sylph pheromones*:

“You are drawn to her. You want her. You need her. She is one of the single most attractive beings you have ever met.”

The rest is up to the player.

Approaching the mega-crypt of Blinknod the SOUL-FUCKER!:

“You all feel a deep sense of foreboding: a tightness in the pit of your stomachs, a painful chill runs through your bones, every scar you’ve managed to collect from your years as grave-robbers and monster killers burns with a new vigor…”

Again, player does with his/her character as he/she feels fit.

But oh no people may just ignore this and then do what they want! /s

Yah, I don’t really want to play with somebody that didn’t see potential fun in a new magically induced character foible. In reality, I’ve never actually played with anyone that wouldn’t react to the statements above in some way. So if these people do exist and they play RPGs, fuck ‘em. They aren’t important.

As has been pointed out by many other people, designing games based upon the hypothetical actions of assholes is a shitty way to go about game design.

*Dwarves, of course, get a bonus of +∞ to this save.