Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: Your Dead, by Calvin Turtle

Dreamcast psychopomp and esoterica calculator Calvin Turtle was the world's champion single-legged roller-blader years 1991 and 2013, a popular lecturer on the Believe In A You That Achieved Without Dope kind of circuit for middle schools and hip youth groups across the fabled Canados. His deck chair stewardship during the Second Death of Adder Entertainment was something of a slight diversion from more positivity-focused message. Thrashers and backyard wrestlers alike, however, were more familiar with Calvin from his deck art and guerilla publishing efforts. He was one of the first people on TBN to formally denounce the Phelps cult and, always tech savvy, he was one of the first seventeen people on Twitter outside of the development team.

Always tech savvy, he is currently angling to be the first person to 3D print morphine. Calm down, it's for hospitals mostly. 90/10, tops.

The final three releases during the Second Death bear the tacky jammy thumbprints of Calvin Turtle. The penultimate release, Your Dead, is no bungle or mistranslation on the part of the low-bidding Philippines printer. These dead are yours, and you are responsible for them. You have to put your toys away.

Subtlety and Æ always went together like Rick Allen and clapping, after all, so a farewell to bygone adventures could only be slightly more on-the-nose. Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy enough release on the strength of the fact that Æ were not known for playing around with ghosts and undead that much, not when compared to some of their contemporaries. Particularly during the Great Awakening they had shied away from even the demons and should-be-deads in favor both of more sober, simulationist fare (like Goest-Thou Hawking) and of more banana pancake gonzo (like Robot Zoner). That meant that anything they did when dallying with the dead deserved naught but the direst and highest of dread fantasies. They turned to Calvin Turtle, ill equipped for the task and ill at ease with the subject. Calvin's editorial ethos bade him basically put everything into Your Dead that he was ever whipped for as a youth.

Oh, you pretty thing....

Quite apart from the Stair and its literal death spiral, the economy of Animus ticking away as you descend turning how you handle an almost literal railroad into something resembling a modern megadungeon's branching path of choices...

Quite apart from the honored tradition of the Binder and the call to include all your players' dead characters as woeful bygone spirits to torment them with their failures, having the metagame effect of driving a wedge between their allies at exactly the same time this is happening IN-game...

Quite apart from the Ridress and her ephemeral veil, the Zoetroopers and their flickering dance of smiles and spikes, the Choir and the Hourglass, Riddle and Chain, the Pit Pope and Its armor of savior flesh and heretical scriptures containing actual Cainite passages...

Wholly discounting the apocalyptically offensive Hoodoo Jim in accordance with the Rule of Vonnegut....

We have the sublime experience of revisiting the Æ dramatis personae in "6. Ballroom Falling." You'd have to play through the same adventure multiple times in order to meet everybody so let's talk about some of the big names here:

Phantecore. Soulange. Countess Farther Coming Now. The Slinking Prince. Omen Dog. You meet Nicod. Rabikian. The Hate God. You meet Good Old Mr. Hell. But I said big names: Ivanov is the miniboss of the encounter in that, if you do not face and defeat him (by ART-ing at him so hard that his only means of defense is MAKING A DUNGEON EXIST AROUND HIM so there is an exit through which you can escape!!!) you have lost; there is no penalty but your life will be counted measurably less than my life.

All of Æ is represented here, from their far out space nuts to their arty fart storybook heroes to their tragic heroes to even some Hosea characters for some fucking reason. You play chess with the souls of those you have personally slain all while they curse you. There are contests which can only be resolved by arguing around the table about who has the better tattoo. You yourself survive the fire. The fire.

It is a goddamn mess but it is beautiful in that way, like the last episode of your favorite show which, hey, it's shitty on its own, but look there's that guy and they finally said what that thing was and man aren't you going to miss these guys? Emotional manipulation was never Æ's strong suit and it wasn't exactly Turtle's, this thing is like a Christmas ornament from the 70s, tacky and overdone but if you actually think for a second that it isn't utterly singular and starlike in its execution, that an experience we would never have been able to even experience without this work isn't worth a thousand fools and a billion failures, then just damn you I guess. Just god DAMN you.

...and YET. And yet just remembering things exist does not make a great product, all told.

Calvin was no chameleon so his attempts to ape assorted Æ artists are able but, at times, amatuerish. The art is not enough by itself to recommend the book except in a trading-card-set-that-never-happened kind of way. That's not to say that Turtle doesn't turn in some fantastic pieces, like the book's bugfuck French cover or the Banshee Map. I had the opportunity to purchase his proof of Tanifer at a convention some years back when it went to auction. I did not, obviously; sorry, spina bifida sufferers, goodwill is not worth a man's very soul. (I kid, I dropped them a ten and so should you. They also had Festus Caber's minotaur from Ye Minotaur but gods balls, man, I am but a peasant....)

Of course, life is not that neat. Neither is business. The company limped along another three weeks after this hit shelves, announcing their shuttering and boxing due to pure market-share loss on the very eve of their final release, Calvin Turtle's Lovely Pink Walls. But that would not be the only echo of Æ's glory days. As any student of American history knows, there was a second Great Awakening.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Zombie- A DNDish Class

HD: d8
Saves: as Fighter
Attacks: as Fighter
Advances: Special
Requirements: Special
  • Zombies begin play with HP equal to their Master's Intelligence score.
  • Zombies may wear no armor. They may not use shields.
  • Zombies may use any weapon but they will use it gracelessly and receive no tohit bonuses with weapons except bonuses from magic items. They gain their full tohit and damage bonus with their bare hands.
  • Zombies automatically Know Direction concerning a specific person, item, or building about which their Master has instructed them.
  • Zombies may Hide in Shadows/Stealth as a level 1 Thief.
  • Zombies may roll 3d6 whenever they want to attempt something bordering on supernatural, like choking someone with great strength, smashing through a wall, ignore damage, walk across the bottom of a lake, etc. Rolling a 1 means they have the gift of the Evil Eye and succeed for 1 round/partially succeed; use 1d8 to set damage/duration/extent of success. Rolling two 1s means they are gifted in the Eyes of the Serpent and super succeed. Rolling greater than their Master's Intelligence means they fail and the Zombie becomes Confused.
  • Zombies confronted with their past lives, skilled rival mentalists, or who find their quest wholly interrupted (say they were supposed to retrieve a vase that gets shattered) must roll against their Master's Wisdom, with failure indicating Confusion: all orders are now jumbled and must be interpreted as broadly and disastrously as possible.
  • Zombies advance normally as a Magic-User. Zombies whose Masters level up automatically gain enough XP to level up.
  • At level 3 Zombies are immune to charm, fear, sleep, and paralysis.  
  • At level 4 Zombies improve their AC by an amount equal to their Master's Charisma bonus.  They gain this bonus again at level 8.
  • At level 6 they do not need food, sleep, water, or air.
  • At level 10 they neither age nor burn.
  • Zombies may advance to whatever level their Master may advance.
  • Zombies do not speak unless they speak a short message delivered from their Master. They only understand whatever language their master uses to speak to them. They are +1 to saves against spells cast in other languages.

The idea here is to have a sort of Monster As Magic Item. Like say you find an amulet, what does this do? It binds one soul forever to yours and is otherwise worthless. The DM should use this sparingly and have fun thinking up genie wish/EC Comics ways of having this boon backfire. And of course the party aren't the only ones who can turn people into Zombies...

Zombies all have a Master, either a PC who knows the secret mesmeric, chemical, and ritual methods of zombification, or else some NPC. If it's a NPC then you get your marching orders from the DM and how you execute them is left to your interpretation. This has fuck all to do with flesh eating and while they may be a kind of walking dead these are NOT reanimated corpses. More gifted Masters are capable of creating more gifted Zombies.

Zombies can only operate with single-minded purpose according to their Master's wishes. This kind of character is really meant for a very specific kind of player, one whose main contribution to the night is not in the form of tactics but in the form of atmosphere. Zombies should do everything as brutishly, slyly, and creepily as possible. Zombies with another PC for a Master are programmed by that PC, and Zombie players with NPCs for Masters must submit their programming to the DM. A Zombie may be programmed with as many distinct nuances to their orders as the Zombie has Hit Dice. A level 1 Zombie may receive the order "Bring me Jessica." A level 2 Zombie may receive the order "Bring me Jessica and make sure she is not harmed," or "Bring me Jessica and kill Margaret." All commands must be 5 words or fewer. Zombies given commands that seem to conflict with one another must roll for Confusion as outlined above.

Zombies who awaken from Zombification are useless normal people unless they were secretly awesome before getting Zombied. A Master can allow his Zombie to wake any time the Master wishes, with no memory of what they did as a Zombie. A Zombie who drops to 0HP or less does not ever die, they just lose all animus and all resistances/immunities...a Zombie who is dropped to 0HP and thrown in a river will lie at the bottom of it drowning forever until they dissolve. They are sustained in this way so long as their Master lives. Likewise, if a Zombie's Master is killed then the Zombie must make a save vs spells. On a success the Zombie simply dies, assuming an appearance consistent with being dead for weeks or months. On a failure the Master's mind inhabits this Zombie body, possessed of all the Zombie's abilities but with the full mental faculties and skills of the Master. Though they still cannot speak these are deadly creatures called Revenants.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I Will Trade You Money For Death (PS I'm Famous?)

So I am experimenting with a Patreon to help alleviate some of our medical and travel expenses. If it doesn't work, if I've gotten no response by the end of October, I'll shutter it. However, if it helps, I'll try to hone things so that the most people can get the most out of this. That means more games I run online. It means more articles in general. It means more of my more popular articles, like DUNGEON-MIX or the Adder Entertainment reviews. It also means a lot, lot more, potentially.

Also if you haven't been listening to Renfield's Cast yet then you should start because I'm mentioned on an episode and they talk about how awesome Scrap and Patrick and Zak are so you know it's good.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The OG Dungeon

1. A caveman has awoken in your home setting, a primordial man. He is spreading primitivism as he goes. In his wake people have fought one another tooth and nail, blood was spilled, lived ruined. He's holed up in the old monastery where his new "tribe" are too cowed to challenge him, afraid of what he might do next.

2. The adventure begins when it's 16 Celsius outside. For every in-game hour that passes the temperature drops by 2. This affects about a ten mile radius around the caveman. He will plunge the region well beyond winter unless he is stopped today.

3. Before the session begins have your players write down 100 words. When they enter the monastery all characters lose their vocabulary except for 1 word, rolled randomly from the list. Wizards get 1+Int bonus words. Nobody can read. Players must communicate using only this word which almost no other character will likely know. Instead of treasure once a concept has been demonstrated enough to be explained, or once a familiar item or idea resurfaces, the DM may allow players to regain another word. Actually speaking of treasure any relics or silver that go missing from the monastery will be chalked up to the mad monks or the caveman, so...

4. Being in the same room as the caveman reduces your Intellect by 1 every ten minutes until you have dumb animal intelligence, say Intellect 2. If you ever reach that you lose even the one word you know. The brothers here are all basically animals now and they will defend their territory on sight. They are young and virile and that's actually weird...

5. When you find the caveman you will fly into an uncontrollable rage and must attack something ever round until the caveman is dead or you are. Keep in mind that the temperature effects and intelligence loss effects will still progress in this period.

6. The caveman has missed a lot of time and he needs to make up for it; yours will do. Every time the caveman touches you or every round he sustains that touch you de-age by a year.

7. Successfully kill or re-Captain America the caveman and you get his extra time, aging 1d100 years and gaining an absolute shitload of XP, a bunch of new languages, and knowledge out of step with your setting, like maybe firearms or trains or lasers or cloning.

8. If the caveman touches the idol mounted in the cloister alcove then the caveman will wither to dust as the Saltpeter Madre takes HIS fluctuating time and awakens herself, like a living statue, from a sleep she entered before the current gods. Do not fuck with her run away just go go away and be somewhere that is not here.

Avoid the Lich Noids: Dungeons With Dominos (but on cards this time)

So these cards are a thing and now you have a dungeon in your pocket. Sure you could already do this with tarot cards or playing cards and such but I saw these and they are cool so I wrote this thing.Plenty of people already do this with dominos but dominos are less elegant than a pack of cards, this shit fits in your pocket or purse or killsack or shoe holster or empty magazine.

Shuffle them like crazy and then spread them out in a dungeon layout of your choosing. Roll a bunch of spare d6 to indicate doors like so:

1- Open
2- Closed, unlocked
3- Closed, locked
4- Closed, unlocked, trapped
5- Closed, locked, trapped
6- Unique (like it only opens for a code word or it's magically sealed or only opens at certain times or or or)

Put the doors wherever you want doors to be. Let the controller of the light source determine when you flip these cards over. You and the mapmaker make your notations so that when the light source moves away you can flip the cards back over. 1/2 of a card represents a 10'x10' cube.

By themselves each value represents something specific, with evens being physical dungeon features and odds representing animate opposition.

0- Blank space; only stone here or, if appearing in a corridor, an unpassable cave-in or floor collapse.
2- Decorative feature, like statues, art, or intricate architecture
4- Utilitarian feature, like a kitchen or shitterhole
6- Comfort feature, like a bedroom, harem, or torture chamber
8- Fuck You Carl Sagan room; a Wizard did this, something about this room makes something not work like normal; maybe it's gravity, maybe it's language, maybe it's caterpillars.

1- Nonhostile animal or NPC (NOT friendly - ambivalent at best)
3- Hostile animals
5- Hostile humanoids
7- Hostile monsters
9- 6+HD monster

Then we take care of a few things about rooms and card-on-card contact.
  • Only end contact is considered when determining stack-on effects. You can try stacking effects from all directions of contact if you feel like it but good luck my homegirl, let me know how the funhouse wood chipper comes out.
  • If the total value both sides of all cards present in a room is somehow LESS than the d6 result on the door through which you entered this room is instead EMPTY and devoid of anything interesting, the vaunted Gygax "breathing space."
  • For even numbers, the quality and extent of the room's features are determined on a scale of 1-10 (0 being 10) depending on what value that card is making end contact with; this might represent the craftsmanship or the vintage of the decorations of whether the place is just overstuffed. For 8s it represents the level (1-10) of caster this effect must be considered backed by. If an even number's end contact is divisible by 3 the area must be considered trapped.
  • For odd numbers the number of creatures encountered is determined by the card's end contact, 1-10, with the exception of 9s; for 9s you just have 1 such monster and the card you're making end contact with represents how many HD you have to add to 6 before determining the monster found in this chamber. If an odd number's end contact is divisible by 4 then there is considered to be something valuable here, "treasure" guarded or otherwise.
This is what I mean by end contact, parallel cards for like 30x20 rooms do not have end contact, you have to form either a line or a right angle to be considered in contact

Then of course we have other stack-ons to consider depending on what cards within a chamber or corridor are making some kind of end contact

01 Dead adventuring party
02 Rival adventuring party
03 Evil twin adventuring party
04 Time displaced adventuring party
05 Animal corpses
06 Humanoid corpses
07 Monstrous corpses
08 Warning written somewhere in room
09 Cryptic clue written somewhere in room
11 Overt clue written somewhere in room
12 Secret passage
13 Secret passage, dangerous
14 Secret passage, trapped
15 Edible food or drinkable water
16 Reliable map
17 Bullshit map
18 Barricade against one door
19 Multiple barricades
22 Dungeon entrance/exit, unguarded
23 Dungeon entrance/exit, guarded
24 Dungeon entrance/exit, guarded, locked or blocked
25 Important letter
26 Interesting reading
27 Useful reading
28 Magical message
29 Magical tome or scroll
33 Something is alive that is normally inanimate (not like undeads but like chest mimics)
34 Something cute
35 Something extra gross
36 Something extra creepy
37 Something seemingly benign
38 Something on fire
39 Hardcore nudity
44 A red herring
45 Something filthy and foreign that shouldn't be here
46 A machine beyond any reckoning
47 Magical surveillance
48 Mechanical or animal surveillance
49 Vegetable hazard
55 Elemental hazard
56 Metaphysical hazard
57 Non-damaging insects
58 Cobwebs fucking everywhere, too thick to see through
59 Something brand new, just made or purchased and at odds with its environs
66 The banner of some faction which is/was holed up in this dungeon
67 Fake treasure
68 Blood. Blood. Blood.
69 If you don't have a specific place you wanted to put the macguffin it is instead here
77 A dangerous language barrier
78 An animal doing something it normally doesn't, like a flying shark or a vulture scratching around like a rat
79 Cursed magic item
88 A ghostly flicker
89 Magic item
99 Altar to the Worst God
00 Unique physical feature

If a door is trapped or if a trap is present in the room then the value on the door (1-6) determines how many d4 of damage the trap does, while the number making end contact with the door determines the type of trap. If the card is doubles (like 9/9) then you may choose one or more elements to combine into one trap.

1 Needle
2 Dart
3 Spike
4 Blade
5 Crossbow
6 Acid
7 Poison
8 Crushing rocks
9 Pit
0 Magic, effect of a spell level equal to the value of the door/the door you entered through.

With these, a handy hex map, those story-generator dice, and maybe the Rules Compendium I'm pretty fucking set to run whenever. I mean I need to rearrange things a bit so the stack on effects make a little more sense according to the above's something. I'm going to set up some time to run a game with this soon, stay tuned.