Monday, 17 August 2015

Sudden & Dramatic Reversals

He turned toward the arch — with appalling suddenness the seemingly solid flags splintered and gave way under his feet. Even as he fell he spread wide his arms and caught the edges of the aperture that gaped beneath him. The edges crumbled off under his clutching fingers. Down into utter blackness he shot, into black icy water that gripped him and whirled him away with breathless speed.
-          Robert E. Howard, Jewels of Gwahlur

Think about the best gaming sessions you’ve had. What are the things that remain strongest in your memory, the gaming stories that you tell repeatedly, or laugh about years after the events? The chances are that these stories revolve around dramatic reversals – the times where you thought you were on top just before the shit hit the fan….or you thought you were facing certain doom just before the dice tipped in your favour.

Grab just about any book on novel writing, and it will tell you the same thing – a chapter that begins with things look up should end with things taking a turn for the worse, and vice versa. Why? Because the sudden reversal is a common human experience, and dealing it speaks to the heart of our existential dilemma. No matter how good our lives may seem, there is always a reversal at the end.

Role-playing games can incorporate these dramatic reversals in several ways. Among them are:

(1) Intentional Shifts. When some precondition is achieved, the reversal occurs. For example, in 4th Edition, when a monster became “bloodied” its new condition might change its combat statistics. In Dungeon Crawl Classics, the Death Throes of a creature might create a new creature altogether – which might even be more dangerous than the creature it originated from! One example of this occurs in my own AL 1: Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror, where defeating the Dancing Horror triggers the creation of the Hoardling.

Consider also adventures, such as Joseph Goodman’s The People of the Pit or Michael Curtis’ Frozen in Time, where achieving the win condition of the scenario triggers a reversal that the PCs may not survive. This is nothing new. First edition module A4, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, ends with the eruption of a volcano that could spell the end of tardy adventurers. I feel certain that many of my readers can easily call other examples to mind.

Other “fortunes shift” triggered events occur within the context of the adventure itself. There is an excellent example of this in the first instalment of the Savage Tide adventure path. Another great example of a sudden dramatic shift in fortunes (almost certainly) occurs in Death Frost Doom.

(2) Potential Shifts. In a non-linear scenario, the layout of an adventure can include elements which can provide great weal or woe, but which only become active on the basis of the players’ choices.  A trap, a monster, or a hidden treasure may all make the difference between success and failure.  A series of the same can create a series of dramatic shifts, tracking the PC’s fortunes both fair and foul.

You will occasionally hear some wag claim that the original Basic and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules were intended to allow every possible XP to be gained. In other words, every monster was to be fought, and every treasure was to be gained. This is regardless of what the authors themselves said:

[I]t is quite conceivable that they could totally miss seeing a treasure which is hidden or concealed. In fact, any good dungeon will have undiscovered treasures in areas that have been explored by the players, simply because it is impossible to expect that they will find every one of them.
-          Mike Carr, In Search of the Unknown

These same wags will often express perplexity at the deviousness with which certain items of treasure are hidden: How is it even possible for the PCs to find them?

The answer, of course, is that the PC’s weren’t meant to find them, and they weren’t not meant to find them. The game – and the dramatic reversals in the game – require that the PCs either find them or do not based upon the game’s actual events. These games were not intended to be a linear “adventure path”! To set up this sort of sudden dramatic reversal, the Game Master merely need to seed his adventures with all sorts of potential boons and mayhem. Then sit back and see which the players trigger.

Panic had momentarily touched his soul at the shock of that unexpected reverberation, and the red rage of the primitive that is wakened by threat of peril, always lurked close to the surface of the Cimmerian.
-          Robert E. Howard, Jewels of Gwahlur

(3) The Devil’s Bargain. The PCs gain an item that seems harmful, and then discover a way to gain great good from it. Or the PCs gain an item that seems useful, but discover that it comes at horrific cost. There are a few items like this in D&D, and quite a few in various Goodman Games or third party DCC modules.

Note that this doesn’t always have to be an item. Dungeon Crawl Classics also does this with class abilities – you can call upon your god/patron, but then your god/patron gets to call upon you. Michael Curtis’ adventure, The Chained Coffin, includes a literal Devil’s bargain

(4) Random Results. You want to know why players pay attention to critical hits and fumbles? Because the results matter. And, unlike all of the other forms of dramatic reversals described above, this isn’t the GM playing you. This really is just pure, unadulterated luck, good or bad. Regardless of the consequences, there is a lot riding on those dice.

Through the use of dice, random tables, and similar means, a game can bring real sudden change into play. Fortunes can be made and lost. That it is not the GM, but the impersonal dice, doing this to you is a good thing.

There is a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones faces yet another thug. This thug has a sword, and it looks like another tough fight is about to begin. Then Indy draws and shoots him down. Sudden dramatic reversal right there, and one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.

The thing is, it wasn’t scripted that way. There was supposed to be a big fight. The story goes, Harrison Ford was tired from filming all day, so he drew and fired as a joke. The other actor went along with the joke. The director thought that it was brilliant, and, rather than try to enforce the lavish fight he had imagined, went with it.

Consider this in game terms. In effect, Indiana Jones gets a critical hit that ends a “tough” encounter immediately. Imagine what would happen, though, it Steven Spielberg decided to “fudge” that result, and demanded that the complex fight scene he had imagined would take place regardless. That might have been a fantastic fight scene. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, we would have lost one of the scenes we remember most from the movie.

And that is the point. Spielberg himself experienced a dramatic reversal from his own expectations, and he was wise enough to realize that this was a good thing.

May we all be so wise!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Mathom Correction

If you received this year's Mathom, please ignore the last paragraph on Page 1. It snuck in from last year's offering!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Mathom Preview

Midnight tonight is the last chance to obtain this sparkling, no-art beauty. Here is a sample:


In response to her call I obtained my first sight of a new Martian wonder. It waddled in on its ten short legs, and squatted down before the girl like an obedient puppy. The thing was about the size of a Shetland pony, but its head bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws were equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars

Calot: Init +4; Atk bite +2 melee (1d6); AC 12; HD 1d8; MV 80’; Act 1d20; SP ferocious bite, loyalty; SV Fort +1, Ref +10, Will +8; AL L.

Calots are fierce, intelligent animals that are the fastest living things on Barsoom. Despite the fact that they are noted for their loyalty, and used as “watchdogs” by Barsoomians, to be called a calot is a deadly insult, and wild calots can pose a serious threat to travellers.

A calot can clamp down on a successful bite attack, doing 1d5 damage each round until it is shaken free (opposed Strength vs. a +3 bonus; one free attempt per round). This hampers the bitten victim so that it takes a –1d penalty on the dice chain to Initiative and attack rolls, but if the opponent is larger than the calot, it can automatically inflict 1 point of damage each round by spending an Action Die to do so.

Because of their fierce loyalty, a calot gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls, and a +3 bonus to damage, when defending a creature it has bonded with.

Like the preview? Find out how to get the Mathom here!

Twenty entries for Barsoomian creatures, a discussion of bringing your PCs to Barsoom, nine lunar creatures, and three entries for campaign worlds alien or mundane.

Like the blog? I could use your help here!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Mathoms II: Barsoom Stats & More!

So far, only 5 people have signed up to get the 2015 Mathom, in this post.

The Mathom is done. It contains a bunch of stats for Barsoomian creatures, as well as the lunar creatures from The Revelation of Mulmo, and an extra monster or two (which are OGC).

Shiny, Chrome, and Ready for Valhalla!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Mathom Time

Well, it is nearly that time of year again, when I send out a "Birthday Mathom" pdf. Next Tuesday, as a matter of fact.

While I am not yet sure what is going to go into this Mathom, I will be sending it out to anyone who does the following:

(1) Posts in the Comments section with their Top Three DCC adventures to date - any author! - with at least three words for each to say why.

(2) Sends me their email address at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com so that I can send them their Mathom.

DEADLINE: Monday, 3 August 2015 at midnight EST.

As in years past, the Mathom is likely to be some combination of preview material and other stuff that I couldn't publish normally due to copyright reasons (such as stats for Appendix N creatures). But I don't know. I haven't assembled it yet.

On Another Note

The last couple of years have been challenging for me. Specifically, my creative output has suffered as my energies have been channeled elsewhere. I was hoping that 2015 would have seen output similar to 2013, but Life doesn't always play fair.

Most of the things that have vexed me in the last two years are simply domestic. Everyone has to deal with domestic issues, and hopefully with time and effort, they will be sorted. This is something you could help with, though, if you were so inclined.

Regardless of my own reduced output, there has been a LOT of GREAT material published for this game in 2015, both by Goodman Games and others. I would like to point out especially The Vertical Halls, Patrons Extraordinary: The Unpretty Preview, Crawling Under a Broken Moon #5, and Steel and Fury as some things you may have missed and probably should not have. Did I mention Drongo: Ruins of the Witch Kingdoms, Wrath of the Frost Queen (now available in print), or the most excellent Black Powder, Black Magic

I am sure that I haven't even mentioned some of the best of 2015 so far. Blame Old(er) Man Memory, which is not nearly so good as Young(er) Man Memory. Also, I assume that you are all aware of boxed sets like Peril on the Purple Planet and The Chained Coffin. If not, why not?


The Mathom is done. It contains a bunch of stats for Barsoomian creatures, as well as the lunar creatures from The Revelation of Mulmo, and an extra monster or two (which are OGC). Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Rhino-Triceratops from the Herculoids

Rhino-Triceratops: Init +2; Atk gore +5 melee (1d12+6) or charge +3 melee (3d12+6) or energy rock +4 ranged (3d6); AC 20; HD 10d8+20; MV 30’ or burrow 10’; Act 1d20; SP fast movement, extendable legs, energy rocks; SV Fort +10, Ref +4, Will +6; AL N.

These strange, alien creates appear to be a cross between a rhinoceros and a triceratops, with ten short, stubby legs. These legs are extremely powerful, allowing the creature to move at twice its normal speed, in addition to its regular move, by expending an Action Die.  The legs can also extend upwards to a height of 50’, enabling the rhino-triceratops to reach sustenance that might be out of reach, but the creature can only move at half speed, and cannot spend its Action Dice for additional moves when doing so.

A rhino-triceratops has four horns on its head, one medium-length horn rising from the tip of the snout, two smaller ones further up, and one hollow horn in the middle of its forehead. This horn is where the rhino-triceratops stores its supply of energy rocks (see below). These horns also assist in burrowing as the rhino-triceratops rotates its head rapidly, moving through the earth and even solid rock.

Through some unknown method, a rhino-triceratops can generate and store up to 12 “rocks” made of solidified energy, which they can fire as a ranged attack (up to 120’) from their hollow horn. They explode on impact, and a rhino-triceratops can shoot two of these rocks using a single Action Die.

Generally benign herbivores, rhino-triceratops are usually solitary. They become hostile when threatened in some way, often attacking until their foes are slain or driven off. They stay together long enough to mate and then they part, with the female raising the young only until they can fend for themselves.

Rhino-triceratops communicate amongst themselves with gravelly growls, snarls, and roars, and appear to have a rudimentary form of intelligence. They sometimes form close attachments with other creatures, although this is very rare. Rhino-triceratops are brown, green, or any shade in between.

Source: The Herculoids (Hanna Barbera Productions). Modified from original write-up by Rendclaw, via Turgenev’sPDF collection.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I just signed the petition "Supreme Court of Wisconsin: Grant justice in the appeal of Walter Wessel IV" and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name. 

Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support. You can read more and sign the petition here.

More gaming stuff anon.


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Please Help

On 30 April 2015, my nephew, Walter Wessel IV, took his own life as a direct result of his experiences with the Wisconsin judicial system. He was accused, while a minor, with criminal damage to property over $2500. One of his accusers has now subsequently committed suicide.

Like many teenagers, Wally had a rebellious side. He initially refused to speak to the detective assigned to the case, citing his Constitutional right to do so. This seems to have upset the detective enough that she made it her mission to see him convicted. In the preliminary hearing, the judge indicated that there was not enough evidence to go to trial.

Consider the highlights: 
  • The prosecution withheld the recordings of the interviews with the only witnesses for the state from the defense.
  • The investigating officers took DNA evidence, which did not match the accused.
  • There was, in fact, no physical evidence presented.
  • The witnesses for the state had their juvenile charges either completely dismissed or adjudicated as a result of their testimony. Again, one of these has now committed suicide himself, following the death of my nephew.
  • These witnesses not only had a motive to fabricate an accusation, but they were consistently inconsistent in their testimony about that accusation.
  • My nephew had an alibi for the time the crime had been committed, which could be verified by phone records, and that person testified in court.

In the initial trial, the court-appointed defender was clearly incompetent, and sabotaged the testimony of my nephew’s witness. Upon appeal, the District Attorney stated that they had worked hard at finding the guilty person, going so far as to use DNA analysis, although she neglected to mention that the results of the DNA analysis did not support conviction. The appellate judge ruled that, although my nephew had not received a fair trial, his Constitutional rights had not been violated because (1) he had heard the evidence against him at the pretrial hearing and because (2) the judge did not believe my nephew’s testimony.

My nephew committed suicide during the appeal process. Although his family has tried hard to restore some sense of justice, they don’t even have a reason behind the second appeal’s failure. They now have until 17 August 2015 to request a further appeal from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, and have no hope of being given a fair hearing if the matter can simply be swept under the carpet.

According to my nephew’s attorney “The Supreme Court is very hostile both to one another and to defendants. Even if they did take the case, I don't think they would grant him relief. In the last few decisions they've released in criminal cases (including one of my cases), the supreme court has gone out of its way to deny relief to defendants and in doing so (in my opinion) created very bad law.”

My nephew, Wally, was not perfect. He did have run-ins with the law as a juvenile, but he was also turning his life around. He was gainfully employed, well-liked at work, and in line for promotion. He smoked pot recreationally, and he drank about the same amount as his peer group.

Wally was sent to the Huber Facility, where he was provided hard drugs by other inmates. To the best of our knowledge, this was his first experience with hard drugs. On the day after his release, his probation was revoked for drinking and drugs, and was sent to prison to wait his revocation hearing. He had been diagnosed with depression while in custody for awaiting his revocation. 

He elected to go to a boot camp for 6 months, although depression disqualified him from going, and after a couple of months he had to leave because they were afraid that he would kill himself. His probation officer knew at the time that he had been diagnosed with depression by two different doctors, one paid by the state. His probation officers broke the rules by sending him there, and should have offered him a drug program instead. Neither his parents nor my nephew were made aware of this until it was too late. His lawyer suggested a doctor assess his mental state. He was found to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most likely related to his conviction of the crime and what followed. He was once again released to probation.

After 3 months, Wally smoked again to ease his depression, an act that cost him 18 months in prison. His mother, my sister, said: “But before the judge sent him to prison he commented on how convenient it was that we were able to buy a diagnosis of PTSD and then he went on for what seemed to be at least 10 minutes telling my son what a piece of shit he was. Then he sent him to prison, not because he was a danger to society but because he needed to be punished. I guess that wanting to end one’s life is not punishment enough.”

Because Wally was small, he spent a lot of time in solitary confinement for his own protection – a small room with no windows. This is normally a severe punishment, and there is growing consensus among psychologists and human rights advocates that it is a form of torture. This was after he had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Four months after my nephew got released from prison his grandfather died. He was depressed and again smoked pot. Since this had been the second time (he admitted to both times prior to any tests) he was locked up for 3 days. His grandfather died, he smoked a joint, he had to go to jail for three days.

I don’t have the words to tell you what Wally’s suicide has done to his family. No, he was not perfect. But he was also not guilty of this particular offense, and no reasonable court interested in a just outcome would have found him so. Therefore, I am asking you to help. When the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is considering whether to hear this case, and when they rule on it if they do, they need to know that the outcome matters. They need to know that people are watching and waiting to see what they do.

Below is a link to his court records. These are a bit misleading, because the two Dane County traffic offenses were related to another person by the same name.  The final case in Waukesha relates to sending a topless picture of an ex-girlfriend to a then-current girlfriend. The prosecutors sought a 40 year sentence.

We would like to give this case as much coverage as possible. What I am asking you to do is simply to +1 on Google or share to Facebook. Even if it does not help his case with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it will be of enormous comfort and support to my sister and her family.

I beg you to help me.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Plasmoids from Herculoids

Quasarian Plasmoid (small): Init +5; Atk slam +1 melee (1d3) or grapple +4 melee (0); AC 17; HD 4d8; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP DR 5, +4 AC vs. ranged weapons, grapple (Strength +4), immunities (blunt weapons, electricity, force attacks), regenerate 3 hp/round, half damage from fire, cold vulnerability, malleable form; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +1; AL L.

Quasarian Plasmoid (medium): Init +4; Atk slam +3 melee (1d5) or grapple +7 melee (0); AC 18; HD 6d8; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP DR 5, +3 AC vs. ranged weapons, grapple (Strength +6), immunities (blunt weapons, electricity, force attacks), regenerate 2 hp/round, half damage from fire, cold vulnerability, malleable form; SV Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +3; AL L.

Quasarian Plasmoid (large): Init +3; Atk slam +5 melee (1d7) or grapple +10 melee (0); AC 19; HD 8d8; MV 20’; Act 2d20; SP DR 5, +2 AC vs. ranged weapons, grapple (Strength +9), immunities (blunt weapons, electricity, force attacks), regenerate 1 hp/round, half damage from fire, cold vulnerability, malleable form; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +1; AL L.

These strange creatures are formed of a softly glowing whitish-yellow protoplasm. They have solid black eyes with whitish-yellow irises. Reproducing by division every 10 years, they range in size from three feet in height to over eight feet, depending on their maturity level. Plasmoids move by either bouncing along or undulation, and can alter their shape to fit through the smallest holes and cracks. They originally hail from the world of Quasar, but have been found on different worlds as well.

Plasmoids tend to be solitary creatures, but they have an affinity for Lawful humanoids, sometimes becoming their self-appointed protectors and guardians. Plasmoids can fully understand humanoid languages and desires after 1-3 weeks, but communicate with each other through a language of chitters and babbling, along with eye expressions. They draw their
sustenance from the very air. These creatures are very difficult to kill. They can be stretched, even sundered, and they will reform their shape in moments and start regenerating the damage taken. Usually these whimsical, strange yet kind creatures spend most of their time
defending either their territory, their young, or their allies. Some wander their world, hiding from those that might fear them while searching for potential allies.

In combat, Plasmoid bodies shift and undulate in strange ways to avoid blows. This is even more effective against ranged attacks, which they can dodge with comparative ease. Their elastic, spongy flesh is immune to impact damage and blunt weapons, electricity, and force attacks (such as magic missiles). They take only half damage from fire, but are vulnerable to cold, which causes a –4 penalty to AC and a –1d penalty to a Plasmoid’s Action Dice for 1d5 rounds. These effects are cumulative with multiple cold-based attacks.

A Plasmoid can attempt to wrap around an opponent, doing no damage but potentially disabling him unless he can succeed in an opposed Strength check. A creature which fails three such checks is helpless.

Plasmoids are very intelligent, and can reshape their bodies roughly into any solid shape they can imagine. Because of their resilience and elasticity, they can form umbrella-like shields, parachutes, or even trampolines. The efficacy of any given form must be determined by the judge on a case-by-case basis, but the judge is encouraged to grant the Plasmoid a faux “Deed Die” or a die type equal to its Hit Dice (1d4, 1d6, or 1d8). This faux die does not add to attack roll or damage, but the result can be used to judge the success of attempts to trip, encumber a weapon, etc., that the Plasmoid may make inside or outside combat. This faux die can also be reduced by cold-based attacks, or have circumstantial penalties or bonuses using the dice chain as the judge determines.

Source: The Herculoids (Hanna Barbera Productions). Modified from original write-up by Rendclaw, via Turgenev’s PDF collection.

Note: The relationship between the Plasmoids of Quasar and other strange, bud oddly similar, creatures isn't well understood. In particular, the Shmoo seems to be a somewhat less malleable neutrally-aligned relative of the Plasmoids. Shmoos also reproduce far more quickly than do Plasmoids, and a single Shmoo may rapidly become an infestation.