"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Friday, July 28, 2017
LONDON, 2017 (Session 3)
Concerned that their research may have sent up red flags with the opposition--whomever and whatever that might be--the quartet rents a car and travels to London by circuitous routes, using AirBNB to rent a home in Plaistow, near Plaistow Park. Their research indicates that Siever's asylum, and Carfax, were once located here.
They settle into the small home and set up operations there. In the beginning they have no greater difficulty than an over solicitous neighbor across the street. McPherson scouts the neighborhood and discovers a large Eastern European community a few blocks away, including a Romanian father and his London-born daughter running a convenience store. McPherson uses his impersonation skills to blend in and pass himself off as a fellow immigrant.
But there is a growing sense of being watched as the team further investigates the London locations and draws plans to investigate them. McPherson--perhaps paranoid--has the sense of being followed and turns to see rats in the street. Lacey, meanwhile, begins to experience disturbing dreams in which a dark figure comes into her room and interrogates her. Luna, the psychic, spends the night monitoring her and indeed confronts a dark presence.
There are other signs as well, but the team presses on. They pinpoint the location of Laura Wexford's home, Wallingham, in Hampstead, as well as her burial place in nearby Highgate Cemetery (the dossier fictionalizes this as "Kingstead," but records show this is where Laura was buried). They also locate Siever's former asylum...now an NHS Hematology Treatment and Research Center. McPherson asks around and discovers the place has a shadowy reputation; heavily policed, there are rumors of people disappearing.
The team decides to stick with Laura. Under the cover of darkness, they penetrate Highgate and locate the Wexford tomb. There are signs of recent entry.
Inside, it is much as the dossier describes, including the sarcophagus of Laura Wexford itself. As they begin to open this, Luna Richter begins having enigmatic visions; clocks, the sea, the number four. Only once they have opened the casket does she understand; someone has placed an explosive device her with a timer and C-4. They have seconds before it explodes...
Monday, July 17, 2017
There was, for example, Geoffrey McKinney's divisive and controversial Carcosa, set on the world first mentioned by Ambrose Bierce and later more extensively in Robert Chamber's The King in Yellow. Pretty much absorbed into the Cthulhu Mythos, this was a setting of weird science, Lovecraftian gods, and nary an elf or dwarf in sight. The vividly described sorcerous rituals were a turn-off for many, with elements such as ritualized rape, dismembering, and child sacrifice. Less controversial, but no less weird and wonderful was the Zak S. offering A Red & Pleasant Land. This presented the land of Voivodja, a "Wonderland" beyond the looking glass ruled by vampiric dynasties (the Red King and the Pale King, the Queen of Hearts and the Colorless Queen) whose sorcerous warfare had turned the realm into a madhouse of chaos and horror. With inhabitants like the Cheshire Cat, Jabberwock, and the Hatter, Voivodja made even the eerie Wonderland of the Burton films look cheery. Mention must also be made of Kenneth Hite's Qelong, a setting inspired by Southeast Asian mythology. Fought over by two "barely conceivable beings" this land has also been filled with horror and madness. If you are seeing a pattern here; good. The worlds of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing are not showcases for the struggle between Good and Evil, but rather terrifying arenas in which characters struggle for survival and sanity.
Which brings us at last to Veins of the Earth.
The Underworld isn't a new idea, it's one of the oldest known to man, and it is a staple of both mythology and fantasy roleplaying. The word "dungeon" is, after all, the first "D." We are all used to adventures underground. But Patrick Stuart's spellbindingly written setting book, hauntingly illustrated by Scrap Princess, has a sort of weird alchemy to it that fuses Moria, Virgil's Underworld, Neil Marshall's The Descent, and the terrifying endless labyrinth of House of Leaves. This is a fantasy world, a fantasy universe, right below our feet. Where mundane, terrestrial mines and caves end, the Veins of the Earth begin, and woe to the adventurer who crawls into them. For here "the frightful bulk of night, feebly pushed aside for a moment, as quickly, and with an irresistible violence, regains empire." You leave the world of daylight behind for "the deeper, more true world...bordered only by light above and fire below, and perhaps not even that." The entire setting is an endless maze of lightless tunnels and caverns, stretching out for infinity and populated by entities banished from the sane world of light and reason.
This is poetic--and to be certain it is never very clear if the Veins are literally in the Earth or an extradimensional space altogether--but the setting also brings very real concerns to bear. Darkness rules the Veins, absolute and total, making light the most precious commodity in this underworld. While there may be places lit by bioluminescent fungi or magic, do not expect this. It is not the norm. Running the setting, GMs need to adopt a whole new vocabulary. "You walk into a room" will not work. How, if you cannot see, do you know it is a room? Stuart suggests learning to limit your descriptions to "you see" and bearing in mind how few meters ahead the player characters really can see. Couple this with the fact that many of these tunnels will involve climbing, squeezing, or crawling...that there is always the very real danger of a sudden chasm in the blackness ahead. There are detailed and surprisingly realistic 3D cave and tunnel generating systems in the book for just this.
There are other very practical rules as well. Encumbrance becomes a serious concern when slithering throw very narrow passages, and where does the water and food come from ? In case you run short, there are some charming rules for cannibalism. And without light, measuring time has to be done differently. There are no days and nights, just the endless dark. This all tends to make claustrophobia and madness very real threats. Veins of the Earth is filled with well-thought out goodies like this.
But this is also a weird fantasy game, and in the absolute darkness, magic and horror flow deep. There are civilizations down there; the AElf-Adal are a terrifying cross between the Unseelie and the Drow, fae beings born from human dreams and nightmares that still require madness and terror to survive. Long ago, they were driven from the surface by the very humans they used as psychic cattle, and now they hate humanity as much as they hunger for it. There are the Deep Janeen, solitary elemental beings of terrible power. The dErO resemble the UFO conspiracy Greys, and the dwarven Dvagir are a race obsessed with perfecting themselves, a process they associate with Ascent. The first of their kind emerged from the Core, and they have been working their way up ever since. The Substratals are Lovecraftian/demonic earth elementals, and the Gnomen are perhaps the least threatening, a race that values and treasures life above all else in the cruelty of the dark.
Aside from these are monsters, a great many of them, many original and terrifying (think fossils that claw their way out of the stone hungry for the flesh and blood they lost and can never again have). These just add to the value of the book, either as an utterly unique and terrifying setting, or as a grab bag of ideas to add to your own games and campaigns.
Veins of the Earth completely re-imagines the way we look at the dungeon in ways never really seen before, and is yet another example of the outside-of-the-box thinking that makes so much of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing a dark jewel of a game. Use it to add deeper, darker levels to your dungeons, as a particularly grim Land of the Lost into which characters are thrown and struggle to escape back up into the light, or as a sourcebook for inspiration. With high production values, lyrical and evocative writing, and disturbing illustrations, no one with a taste for weird fiction will be disappointed by it.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Attack/Defend: These are fairly self explanatory. Any successful attack or defense against attack earns a card.
Maneuver: The character forgoes any action this round to move into a better position. This usually will require a Speed roll against the opponent's level. With a success, the character earns an extra Asset against his or her opponent the next round.
Trick/Test/Taunt/Intimidate: The character outwits, stares down, harangues, or threatens his opponent in lieu of any other action. Trick can be an Intellect or Speed action that somehow fools or deceives the opponent. Test of Wills is a steely eyed stare-down (an Intellect action). Taunt is another Intellect action, but this time designed to enrage the opponent via verbal barrage, rude gestures, etc. Intimidate can be a Might, Speed, OR Intellect action depending on how the character choses to frighten his opponent. In all cases, roll the action against the opponent's level, adding in any appropriate Skills or Assets. Success stymies NPC opponents the next round; player characters, however, lose a card from their hands.
Campaign: This card can only be played by a character with an active Subplot in effect. It allows the Subplot to influence other adventures beyond the current one.
Nemesis: This Subplot causes a character to acquire a nemesis, who will take special attention to the character.
Romance: This card introduces a romantic element into the story. It does not have to be reciprocated. Some of the more interesting story elements come from having someone having romantic feelings for a person who doesn’t notice what’s going on.
Suspicion: This Subplot makes a character suspicious of another character’s actions or intentions.
True Identity: As above, but the suspected identity is true. True Identity can also mean that the character discovers something about him or herself.
These cards replace "Subtle Cyphers." Thus the character is only allowed to carry as many of them in his hand as his character type allows.
Action: This card acts as an additional Asset to any single roll, making any Level 1 Difficult task automatic. More than one Action card can be played at once.
Coup de Grace: Increases the Damage inflicted by a character by 4 points...the equivalent of a natural 20. Note this does not effect the actual die roll, it just adds extra damage or allows the character to trigger a Major Effect.
Possibility Cards (Hero and Drama): The Hero card replaces a die roll with an automatic result of 10, beating any Difficulty of 3 or less, or any Difficulty that has been lowered to 3 or less. The Drama card works the same way, but is an automatic natural 20, with all attendant benefits.
Defiance: Grants an Asset to all skills and tests used to defend against 1 specific opponent until the end of the scene.
Escape: This card insures that the group can escape an encounter alive.
Glory: If played after rolling a natural 20 for a key action during a dramatic scene, automatically grants a 1 XP award to all players.
Haste: Gives an extra action at any time during the round.
Hero Fails: This card cancels one of your successful actions in exchange for 1-3 XP, based on the severity of the failure.
Idea: This card lets you ask about what course of action your characters should take. You will receive at least one useful idea about the next course of action.
Inspire: Use this card to trigger a free recovery roll (1d6+Tier level).
Leadership: This card take the cards from your hand and give them to other players. You then draw cards to refill your hand.
Master Plan: You may exchange a Master Plan for the top card of the discard pile.
Monologue: This card stops hostile actions while you make a dramatic speech.
Opponent Fails: This card cancels an opponent’s action that was aimed at you. If the opponent aimed at multiple people, only the result against you is canceled.
Seize Initiative: May keep current card on the action stack for next round or immediately flip a new card onto the stack.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams all made real
All of the buildings, all of those cars
Were once just a dream
In somebody's head
It's unfortunate that such attitudes exist, that people are afraid of letting their imaginations "run away with them." It is also completely understandable. At issue here is the nature of "power," and of society's attitudes towards it.
The beginning of despair lies in being unable to imagine anything better. That leads to surrender.
There is a deep misunderstanding of what "power" is. The word comes to us via French from the Latin potis, "to be able, capable," and is cousin to the English words potential and possibile. There is a hint to its identity in this. While we are generally taught that power is synonymous with "control," as in power "over" something, true power is the capacity to do and more importantly to create. On some level we all understand this; Abrahamic faiths often refer to God, the Supreme Power, as the "Creator," and few aspects of human existence are treated with as much awe and sanctity as the power to create new human life. Paradoxically we look askew at imaginative power, the power to create new ideas. Indeed, it has often been said that the tragedies of history all stem from a lack of imagination. It goes back to the obsession with control, and the desire by societies to control, regulate, and dictate the ideas that make up that particular culture. When we talk about dictators wanting to control what people think, what we are really saying is that authoritarians want to control what people can imagine. The beginning of despair lies in being unable to imagine anything better. That leads to surrender. In the interest of keeping control, those at the top of a society must limit the populace's ability to dream.
So very few of us then allow ourselves the experience of imagination as creative play. This is tragic, because the imagination--like a muscle--only grows stronger with use. Many of the same activities that lead to weakness of the body simultaneously lead to weakness of the imagination. Sitting passively watching the latest big budget superhero film, the new season of Game of Thrones, or playing the most recent release of a favorite video game all seem to be exercises in imagination, but in reality these are mediums where all the imagining has already been done for you. This benefits both authority and the entertainment industry--which like a drug dealer makes the public dependent on its product for "escape"--but does little to benefit the individual. This is especially pernicious for children. Where once they went outside to run and play, making up their own adventures and stories, today they remain indoors spoon-fed someone else's.
We end up in a situation, then, where people require re-education to do what should be completely natural for them. No, not everyone should have equal imaginative capabilities, any more than we should all be able to lift the same amount or run just as fast, but we should all know at least how to sit down and make up stories, close our eyes and visualize, or engage in creative play without feeling self conscious about it. Even reading--which like sex or dance is a creative pairing between two individuals, one providing the words and the other painting the images in his or her head--is becoming less common these days. I have no doubt that this deterioration of imagination lies at the heart of many of the political movements we see these days, and I feel strongly enough about this to write an entire blog about it.
...the key to a better life, for oneself, one's family, one's society, lies first in the ability to imagine one.
The connective tissue in all that I discuss here is imagination as creative play, a guilty pleasure that so many people have been taught to keep away from. But the key to a better life, for oneself, one's family, one's society, lies first in the ability to imagine one. This is the Promethean theft of fire from the gods. It is the mercurial and awe inspiring heart of true magic. The first step in attaining this power is to allow oneself to go against oppressive norms and prohibitions intended to stifle it. The road to freedom begins with allowing oneself to engage in the simple magic of childhood, to give oneself time to play.