Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reading No Salvation For Witches

Anyone who passed up on the Pay-What-You-Want campaign for this book is going to feel bad.

No Salvation for Witches (henceforth referred to as NSFW) bursts from the twisted mind of Rafael Chandler like a hungry botfly larva, bringing forth blood and pain that is sure to infest any campaign it touches. It may be the quintessential Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure, at least after the publisher settled on its historical, anti-Tolkien setting. Everything is terrifying and wants to kill you. Don't touch anything because it's probably not worth the sanity-shattering effects. And if you happen to make it out alive, the entire world will be thrown into chaos. It's a beautiful adventure.

It's hard to talk about the content of the adventure without risking spoilers, so I will tread very lightly. The main hook is that the player characters will find themselves stuck in a magical dome that is centered on a small priory. A sect of revolutionary witches have taken over and have begun to perform a ritual that will change the entire world, but it is already having dire effects on the locals. Horror is everywhere. With it's terrifying monsters and horrible visions, NSFW is an excellent choice for a Halloween game session.

NSFW is probably the first of LotFP's adventures that I actually want to run in the pseudo-historical setting rather than converting it to some sort of weird fantasy world. The paranoia, feudalism and misogyny of 17th century England is pretty important to the tone of NSFW. I suppose it could fit in a backwards, isolated community in a high-fantasy world, but it will be hard to justify a dragonborn or tiefling character when a woman's literacy or choice in fabric is enough to label her a witch.

The book itself is 64 pages long, but that is not to say that it is a massive, epic adventure that will take up multiple sessions. The page count largely is due to the formatting and design of the pages, which means larger text and a helpful amount of white space. Unlike many adventures, I could see running much of NSFW right out of the book rather than notes. That is not so say that NSFW is a low-prep module. It isn't, as plainly stated in the author's introduction. There are many NPCs, creatures and items in the small area around the priory, and it would serve the GM to be ready for anything.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Crafting the Charmies Catagories

Due to my disappointment with a certain annual RPG awards show, I have decided to start my own. The Charmies will be an award for the best RPG products, blogs and even people who I have encountered in the year from June to May every year. I'll be the only judge regarding nominees (since I am an expert on what I like) but I will hopefully be able to set up a voting booth for the public to voice their opinion.

In the meantime, I need to figure out what categories I want in the Charmies. Below is a list of categories I think work, many scrapped from that other award group that should be doing better. I have gotten rid of the categories I felt are redundant and added some I think are important to the RPG community.

If I'm missing something important or should cut something, please let me know.

Best Adventure - An 'adventure' is a supplement that focuses on a specific story or plot. This includes dungeons, mega- or nega-.
Best Setting - Less focused than an adventure, much more 'big picture.' This includes sandboxes that don't expect a specific plot to take hold.
Best Supplement - A more vague category, but intended for books like rules options, classes, races, spells, weapons, etc., that don't focus on a setting or adventure.
Best Aid/Accessory - Products that help people play games that don't fit the typical 'book' format.
Best Art - A product that contains the best art, either by an individual or a team of artists.
Best Cartography - Best maps, with a focus on artistic merit and functionality.
Best Rules - A focus on clear, concise rules that maximize fun at the table.
Best Monster - Best specific monster or villain. Not necessarily the best collection of monsters.
Best Production Values - Best overall production, including artwork, material quality, PDF features, layout and design.
Best Writing - The product that brings the most joy from simply reading.
Best Website - This includes blogs, web apps and more traditional sites.
Best Blog Post - Best specific blog post.
Best Old Product - I'm not only going to read or buy new products this year. This award is for best product I encounter that was released before the relevant year.
Best Free Product - The best product that costs no money to procure, including Pay-What-You-Want.
Product of the Year - The best single product. Anything is on the table.
Person of the Year - The one person who made the greatest single impact on RPGs in the year, hopefully for the best.
The Zak S. Memorial Award for the Advancement of Diversity in Roleplaying Games - The name is (sort of) a joke, but the award is totally serious. I want to see who is actively working towards diversity and inclusion in the RPG hobby and praise them for their efforts. This includes designers of minorities who produce excellent games or people who foster productive discussion about helping RPGs reach a more diverse audience. Smug white dude who weaponize minorities need not apply.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Playing Sailors on the Starless Sea

After a month-long break between sessions, we were finally able to finish up playing through Harley Stroh's Sailors on the Starless Sea. It was my first character funnel and was much more fun and easier to run than I expected. I had nine players for my final session of the adventure with a total of 36 PCs at once. Not nearly as daunting as it sounds when you approach each group of PCs as a chunk of characters and let the player decide what happens to each character.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • First PC death occurred within minutes of the adventure starting as the immediate reaction to bodies covered in thorned vines is to poke them with a stick.
  • Players were obsessed with getting as many things out of the freezing tomb as possible. Apparently once of them tore the skull off the corpse while five other PCs died around them in one round.
  • There was an awful lot of planning on how to light a candle and then get it to touch the beastman that had been soaked in oil. The occurred in a room with three loose torches on the wall.
  • Several PCs were added when they were freed from the beastmen's clutches. They apparently had two dogs, a goose, a duck and a cow with them.
  • The goose found the band of fire. He immediately became the strongest creature in the game and his owner faded into the background.
  • The chaos leviathan attacked, pulling a handful of PCs over the side before someone tossed in the skull they stole from the dead Chaos Lord's tomb. I suppose that would be a pretty good sacrifice and immediately calmed the leviathan.  
  • The players left just under half of their characters on the shore of the starless sea, which is probably the dumbest thing they did the entire time. Nearly every player had one character wearing a cloak or furs and all but one left those characters on the shore.
  • As a result, only one character was able to move undetected among the two dozen beastmen at the temple. The others didn't understand why one was being ignored and just sauntered up to the temple. This began a slaughter that will not be soon forgotten.
  • The one disguised PC calmly walked up the ziggurat and immediately pushed the shaman into the pit. He then tossed skulls at whatever it was coming out of the pit. The resurrected Chaos Lord went down like a bitch.
  • The strongest fighter in the beastman melee was a cow with a pitchfork tied to it. Pitchforks are where it's at.
  • That cow will be the my wife's dwarf character's mount in the upcoming 5e campaign. Betsy the War Cow.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reading The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine

Anyone familiar with Logan Knight's Last Gasp Grimoire will not be surprised at the level of horror and despair that this module subjects its victims. Well, maybe they would be surprised. This cave is pretty fucking evil.

I won't go into the plot of the adventure, but I will just say that this is essentially Dead Space in medieval fantasy land. It's scary, gross and claustrophobic. Reminds me more of Alien and The Descent than anything related to D&D.

What really sets this module apart is just how usable it is right out of the gate. The map is small and makes sense. The area descriptions are succinct, conversational and what I presume is intended as boxed text (descriptions in much larger font) is actually worth reading aloud. The boxed text lines are short and incredibly descriptive, usually focusing on senses other than sight and sound. Knight does an incredible job cranking up the creepiness of the cave by focusing on how it smells and feels.

The PDF is formatted for electronic devices such as a tablet or laptop, with helpful hyperlinks throughout the text. There is no endless scrolling in order to make the PDF work at the table. Printed out, the format would work well as a booklet. The single column format is great in that you'll have a hard time getting lost on the page, as tends to happen to me when I run anything with pages filled with double-column, small text.

I also appreciate how Knight approaches his monster stats. Rather than giving them once, either when they first appear or in the back, the stat blocks are present with every occurrence of the monsters and in the appendix. No flipping necessary. This is revolutionary.

These motherfuckers are nasty.
Other key features of this module are a handful of body-horror spells, magic items that will punish the players for placing greed over common sense, practical rules for light sources and a nice table for random, occasionally semi-magical mushrooms. And player hand-outs.

I'm very excited to run this module because after reading through it only once, I know I could run the hell out of it. No need to write notes for the table. No need to simplify the map. No need to write the monster stats on an index card. Just open the file/booklet and go. I want to see more modules like this. Minimalist, simple, functional.

The adventure is written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so be sure to convert your silver to gold and subtract two from the AC when you use it with any other elfgame.

Download The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine from RPGNow and pay what you want.