Friday, February 24, 2017

One Night at Fayaz's

Campaign: Scarabae (Open Table 5e D&D)


  • Theobaldo, the Marques de Carabas - refined and gentlemanly tabaxi rogue
  • Mortimer - pugilistic human monk
  • Dr. Aleister Wiffle - human fighter conducting research into infectious diseases
  • Ash - human monk and accomplished sprinter
  • Zunx - fidgety little warlock mole-ish thing

Objective: To find a dwarf child in a Chuck E. Cheese gone mad and return him to his father

  • The crew was assembled in the early hours of the morning by Koska, who sent messengers to fetch them to a location on Porthos Street in the Redgutter Ward. The client is a male dwarf whose beard is threaded with gems. He sits in a gilded carriage and speaks to the party through the carriage window. He explains that his young son Allan attended a pizza party at Fayaz's Pleasure Palace for Children last night, but come this morning he discovered that neither his son nor the servant sent as his son's chaperone had returned. Surmising that his son was still at Fayaz's, he sent three armed servants into the building to find his son, but...they never came out again.
  • Gesturing to the building across the street, the dwarf pointed out Fayaz's. The building is a single story tall and built from new brick, with a faux gilt dome on top and a gaudy sign out front. Strangely, the building had no windows. Scouting the perimeter revealed that there is a front entrance and a side entrance that is probably used to bring in foodstuffs for the kitchen. Ominous black clouds whirled above the building, propelled by winds that no one on the street can feel.
  • The characters chose the front door for their initial point of entry. Inside the front door they found three ticket booths, all of which were occupied by the corpses of the ticket-sellers. The room was illuminated by an enchanted, glowing ceiling. Obnoxiously loud carnival music blared from speakers in every room of the restaurant. The corpse of a gray-haired elf lay face down on the carpet in front of a door marked MANAGER'S OFFICE. Examination of the elf's body indicated that he had been assaulted by something capable of both bludgeoning him and slashing his vest to ribbons. Rifling his pockets gained the party a set of keys that unlocked the manager's office.
  • The manager's office proved to be fairly mundane, save for a crystal ball on the desk. When fiddled with, the ball swirled with mist and then resolved itself into an image of what appeared to be a women's bathroom. The characters had tuned in just in time to see the door to the bathroom close--something was on the move. 
  • Further manipulation of the crystal ball showed them a room lined with mechanical rides and games such as a magic dart board and an automatized whack-a-mole. Seated upon the mechanical rides were three corpses armed with swords, presumably the dwarf's servants who had been sent in prior and who had not returned. The final image the party got out of playing with the crystal ball was a constructed pit filled with multicolored rubber balls. Also in view were what appeared to be naked, chubby pink legs walking out of view. The party wondered if these legs might belong to overgrown babies, and they weren't half-wrong. 
  • And then...the crystal ball suddenly went dim and the glowing ceiling extinguished, leaving the crew in total darkness.
  • A lantern now lit, the group decided to retreat outside and try the side entrance--which put them in a pantry filled with shelves of canned ingredients and bags of flour used to make the pizzas served at Fayaz's. Aleister opened a door to see what was beyond; he found the restaurant's kitchen and also two human-sized mechanical cherubs staring back at him blankly. 
  • Shutting the door quickly and informing his fellows of what was approaching, Aleister and co. readied themselves. Mortimer quickly tied a couple aprons together; when the cherubs wrenched the door to the pantry off its hinges he was able to throw it over a cherub's head to "blind" it. The rest of the party let loose a barrage of gunfire, rapier stabs, and fisticuffs that quickly brought the two automatons down. 
  • From the kitchen, the party entered the dining room where they found several long tables still laden with food and drink. Unfortunately, they also found many adults who were either parents or staff, all of them apparently dead save for one half-orc woman. At their right was a long stage full of mechanical cherubs going through their prescribed motions--some were dancing, others playing instruments. 
  • The half-orc woman muttered something about "the children" and "the control room." Aleister decided it would be best to carry the half-orc woman back into the kitchen where they could tend to her wounds; as he was carrying her back to kitchen, however, the fattest of the cherubs on the stage shot her with an arrow and things looked grim for her, and the party, at that moment.
  • Battle broke out between the crew, the fat cherub, and a cherub drummer who also left the stage to join in the fray. The party managed to put a lot of bullets into the fat cherub, but the situation become worse when the opposition was joined by four more of the mechanical monstrosities. (These four were the ones they had caught glimpses of in the crystal ball in the manager's office.) 
  • In the ensuing battle, the party started to take quite a beating. Two of the cherubs (including the deadly bow-wielding one) were taken down, but Mortimer and Theobaldo both went down as well. Sensing the tide of battle turning against them, the remaining members of the group dragged their comrades back to the relative safety of the kitchen where they were patched up by Dr. Wiffle.
  • Oddly, the cherubs did not pursue them into the kitchen. Exploring a different path through the building brought them to a janitor's closet and then to Fayaz's control room. Listening at the door let the crew hear whispering voices seemingly talking to themselves. How they would storm the room was much debated. At last, they threw open the door, ready to hack and slash one was inside.
  • Built into the desk were a number of switches and dials used to control the various enchantments at work in the building. Also on the desk were a crystal ball like the one in the manager's office and a large black egg swirling with shadowy power. Zunx used his magic to manipulate the control panel to restore the light throughout the building and (finally) kill the ever-present music. Zunx also picked up the crystal ball and...sent it crashing into the black egg, shattering both. (And, it should be added, severing the outside influence exerting control over Fayaz's mechanical cherubs.)
  • Although normalcy was restored, they still hadn't found any children. The next door the party tried opened into a long hallway lined with half-built or semi-repaired cherubs. Fearing that the automatons could come to life at any moment and overtake them, they decided to test their apparent inactivity. 
  • Ash volunteered to sprint the length of the hallway, turn around, and sprint back so that his fellows could pick off anything that came after him. Ash ran his race safely; nothing sprang out at him or followed in his wake. A more cautious exploration of the hallway revealed that several children were hiding behind the cherubs, including Alan, the dwarf boy they had been sent to rescue.
  • The crew ushered the children outside, reuniting Alan with his father--who certainly won't be winning any Parent of the Year awards, as he seemed to have trouble recognizing his offspring, but such is the way of rich folk who leave the upbringing of their heirs to servants. 
  • The party returned inside, as they knew that there should have been more children inside that they hadn't found. They were right, but there were no more children to be discovered within. What had happened to them? The only clue they discovered was a black ashen ring featuring leaf-like sigils burned into the floor of a workshop--a sign they recognized as belonging to the Children of Fimbul, a dark sect of druids that wish to begin the apocalypse to rid the world of machines and usher in the rebirth of a more natural age.

The Take:

  • XP - 205 each.
  • Assorted coins and jewelry looted throughout the premises and your fee from the dwarf: 318 gp each.
  • The crystal ball from the manager's office will allow you to see into any room of Fayaz's, which might come in hand if you ever need to peek into whatever business sets up shop in the building. Fayaz's is undoubtedly closed for business.
  • That smoke-able stash of drugs you found in the kitchen turns out to be magical; when smoked it functions as a potion of heroism.
  • Two of the now-dead parents were apparently in the habit of communicating to each other with a pair of sending stones.
  • One woman was wearing a bracelet of prayer beads; 5 of them turn out to be beads of force.
  • Talk among yourselves and let me know how you want to distribute the magic items.
  • Also, if you'd like to note some aspect of the adventure that was important to your character as a way to get Inspiration in an adventure to come, feel free. I've written up my Inspiration replacement rules here. Let me know if you have any questions about that.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour

The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour
There is a hallowed tradition with this sort of BBC documentary: at some point it's going to go comically off the rails. The first third is the strongest bit; it gives a lively and informed overview of the Gothic as a historic term, a style of architecture, and a burgeoning literary form that officially started with the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto but already had deep roots in British literature. If I had a nit to pick with the first episode of the series it would be that Ann Radcliffe didn't get nearly as much spotlight as she deserves as an innovator in the mode. Radcliffe's short-shrift is emblematic of a recurrent problem throughout The Art of Gothic; this documentary seems to imagine the Gothic as the province of male thinkers and male artists without daring to peer outside that blinkered view. (Mary Shelley and Jane Austen are the exceptions, but then, they always are, aren't they?)

But it's in the second act where things start to go a bit strange. The documentary is forced to grapple with a time line in which the Gothic enters a fallow period in the mid-nineteenth century, and thus it starts creating dubious links between cultural artifacts and a larger Gothic worldview to fill in the gaps. Analysis of Augustus Pugin's work on Westminster Palace gets spun-out into grandiose feelings about the inherent darkness of his architectural and decorative ideas (with Charles Barry's work on the Houses of Parliament oddly downplayed to fit the narrative), and the discussion of renaissance faire cod-medievalism is a square peg being fitted to a round hole. 

Worse yet, untenable claims begin to crop up. The idea that the nineteenth-century Gothic made self and identity the site of phantasmagoric horrors is advanced, seemingly without knowledge of James Hogg's eighteenth-century work in the same vein or a consideration that the horrors of self and identity informed the Gothic's literary ancestors. A case is made for Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater as the invention of drug usage as escapism, which conveniently ignores a long history of European alcoholism at the very least.

The third acts starts briskly by giving pride of place to Bram Stoker's Dracula and the various cinematic terrors it inspired, but the documentary ultimately does what many contemplations of the Gothic attempt--it aims to make the Gothic more respectable by tracing its lineage to markers of Real Culture in the twentieth century. Sure, we can read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as colonial Gothic, but then T. S. Eliot is dragged in, one imagines against his will, as is Francis Bacon. All the insight displayed in the first hour of the series falls away, leaving us with the lazy notion that if a thing is grotesque it's probably Gothic. The ending moments are the most cringe-worthy, as they reveal--in what is probably the most British flourish ever--that the mobile phone is the true modern form of the vampire! Muahaha, the call is coming from inside the house!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bad Books for Bad People: The Incal

After failing in his quest to find financing for his 18- to 24-hour-long film version of Frank Herbert's Dune, Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo and Santa Sangre) partnered with French artist Moebius to create a science fiction graphic novel titled The Incal. This epic, first published between 1981 and 1988, takes its hapless hero John DiFool across strange galaxies while providing a platform for Jodorowsky to explore his esoteric ideas, which blend shamanism, the tarot, Freudian psychoanalysis, and theater. As you might gather, there's a lot going on here.
Jack and Kate break down how Dune's DNA exists within The Incal even though its creators take the tale in a direction that's far more madcap, alchemical, and... well, French.
Can a work of art succeed at being both serious and light-hearted at the same time? Why are women so goddamn allegorical? Is there such a thing as an unfilmable graphic novel? Who is Kill Wolfhead and why is he the best? Find out all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
Intro/Outro Music: "5:55" by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Air.
Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our reading list.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Three Wells I Drink From to Bring Them Pain and Torment

A lot gets written about RPGs. A lot of it is forgettable. (I know because I write a lot about RPGs and then immediately forget about it.) Here are three articles/essays/whatever that I keep coming back to, and what I've learned from them:

Yes I Sank Your Barge, by James Wallis
Lesson learned - If you want your game to be dramatic and fun, you can't allow the characters or their players to become complacent. You have to keep their lives "interesting," by which I mean "terrible."

A 16 HP Dragon, written by Stras, archived at Sage LaTorra's page
Lesson learned - It isn't the numbers that players should fear in your game, it's how you use words to make the opposition worthy of fear.

Grand Experiments: West Marches, by Ben Robbins
Lesson learned - How you set up the social aspect of the game changes how the game is played. It's worthwhile to think about how you can arrive at the kind of game-play you want through altering the relationship of the players to the game.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Darkness is Eternal, Unfettered, and Hungry.

Campaign: Krevborna (5th edition D&D)

  • Kylic, fey-blooded half-elf cleric who feels an evil at work in the bones of the world
  • Luka, self-sacrificing human ranger who has lately converted to religious service
  • Tristan, human paladin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against the undead
Objectives: To kill the Master!

  • The party convened at the behest of Kylic, who used his network of urchins to pickpocket both Luka and Tristan and lead them into a dead-end alley where he could dramatically tell them that he felt the eyes of the Master elsewhere for the moment. With the Master distracted, his mind on other matters, Kylic felt that this was the time to strike and rid the land of his vampiric menace!
  • Two days later, the party took to the road. The weather had turned unseasonably cold, and what remained of the harvest still lay in the fields--but it was now blanketed by snow.
  • As the party traveled southeast toward the coast, they encountered a vagabond woman named Annoushka and her child making camp for the evening. Tristan approached the woman and discovered that she is a tinker. As she posed no danger, the group joined her camp for the evening and partook of her lentil stew. 
  • When asked if she knew anything about the Master's castle, Annoushka informed that she had passed it but had given it a wide berth. She said that a forest of impaled bodies stood before the castle now, and that it was a place "where hope goes to die," which proved to be oddly prophetic. Much of the conversation proved to be unplanned foreshadowing; when Tristan expressed his burning need for vengeance against the undead, Annoushka warned him that this was something that could consume him. Similarly, much was made throughout the session of the notion of Luka as a self-sacrificing man whose fate tended toward doom.
  • The party arrived at the black castle of the Master after a few days of additional travel. The iron gate was wide open, which marked a change since the last time Kylic had ventured inside. Annoushka had informed them truly of the forest of the impaled; Luka would diligently to behead each corpse in fear that they might rise up against them if they had to make a sudden retreat from the castle. Sadly, there would be no retreat for most of the party.
  • The heavy, iron-studded doors of the castle swung open easily; either the party was expected or the residents generally had no fear of intrusion. Inside, the group began to explore. Kylic, in particular, was driven to reach the highest points of the castle. 
  • The dining room in which hung the painting featuring the now-deceased Anton Sellvek was rediscovered. A bell tower was ascended as well, but so far there was no sign of the castle's inhabitants.
  • The music room, however, did prove to be occupied by a woman in a white lace dress seated at a harpsichord. Since her back was turned to the party, Luka decided that the best course of action was to sneak up behind her and attempt to end her life abruptly. Although he did get the drop on her and managed to inflict grievous wounds that turned her white lace to a crimson field of gore, she managed to find her feet and transfixed Luka in place--his lungs felt like they were filling with water and he found that he could not move from the spot.
  • Tristan and Kylic moved to Luka's aid. A door in the music room flew open and a thin, young butler with slicked-back black hair entered the room. The wounded woman was easily dispatched, but a wave of hatred and anger emanated from the servant that inflicted horrid pain on the party. The butler did not attack them directly, but whenever his stare fell upon one of our heroes it brought horrible thoughts and images to their mind's eye. 
  • This was to be the first to two battles that went back and forth; characters repeatedly went down under the barrage of negative emotions and psychic attacks rippling from the butler, bringing them to death's door, only to be revived by healing magic so the fray could continue as things spiraled dangerously out of the party's control. Ultimately, they were victorious and the butler fell has Tristan split his head with a deft halberd attack. The party barred the doors and recuperated as best they could.
  • Further exploration revealed an iron spiral staircase leading up into a clock tower. Amidst the machinery, Kylic sensed their quarry looming in the shadows. After a very short burst of banter that confirmed to Kylic that the slender, bearded "man" was indeed the Master, Kylic attempted to take him by surprise with a blast of holy power, but unfortunately his spell missed and the time for talk was now over. 
  • Much like their previous battle, this one was back-and-forth. Tristan, Kylic, and Luka all went down at some point only to be brought back to fight again until...a stalemate, of sorts. Tristan had previously abjured the Master with powerful magic that had made the vampire feel fear, but the Master had felled Luka with a vicious claw attack and now held him on the point of death as a hostage. 
  • Tristan attempted to barter for Luka's life, but all the Master wanted was for Tristan to break his oaths as a paladin and devotee of St. Othric--which Tristan could not bring himself to do. Seeing the catastrophe unfolding before his eyes, Kylic fled back down the stairs, out of the castle, and ran toward the party's carriage. Tristan considered running as well, leaving Luka to his fate, but ultimately it was in his nature to stand against the darkness even at the cost of his own life. Tristan made one last valiant attempt at slaying the master, but he too fell before the count's rending claws. 
  • Both Luka and Tristan had moments of lucidity as the horror that is the Master remade them in his own image. Through a blood-red haze they saw the Master bending toward them, they could feel a rush of anguish and pleasure as the vampire feasted upon their blood. When they regained consciousness they were no longer men of valor and conviction; they were now accursed creatures of the midnight hour bent to the will of a greater evil.
The Spoils:
  • XP - Kylic receives 1000 XP

* * *

  • This turned out to be an action-packed session that was a roller coaster of hit points lost and gained, more death saves than any one session has ever called for, and the tragic death of Krevborna's two longest-lived and much-beloved player characters. As much as I'll miss having Luka and Tristan in the game, that's where the choices led and where the dice fell. 
  • For much of the session it felt like the players were doing a "speed run" to the final boss; they pushed hard and fast in their exploration, focusing on finding and fighting the Master. Unfortunately, that had repercussions. Luka's attack on the woman in white did a good job of taking her out quickly--but ambushing her actually removed a potential ally for the party who knew the ins and outs of the castle and the Master's various weaknesses. 
  • Similarly, the rush to the clock tower left much of the castle unexplored; there were a number of things to be discovered that hinted at better tactics or points of leverage, but they went unseen. At one point Kylic had the idea that the clock tower's mechanisms were connected to the Master's invasion of Krevborna from the nightmarish realm of his origin--this wasn't correct, but he was on the right track that the clock tower did have a purpose that the party could use to their favor. 
  • Of course, in any game with dice it's also going to come down to where the bones fall. The Master was tough opposition, but not insurmountable. What did tip the scales in his favor was that I rolled two critical hits against Luka and one against Tristan, which turned the tide greatly in his favor since the party was running low on healing resources. Conversely, some of the characters were faced with bad luck on their rolls--such as Kylic's spell attacks.
  • I was on the edge of my seat during the battle against the Master, that roiling feeling present in the belly as everything fell apart for the characters, and the next day I was fairly bummed out about their dooms. All this means, of course, that the players were doing their jobs and created characters worthy of emotional investment.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pyrads, the Keepers of the Flame

Pyrads are fey maidens who tend the sacred bonfires that are said to be the fey's source of endless rebirth and immortality. As long as such bonfires remain lit, the fey host will always return to soulless life after death. It is the duty of the pyrads to feed, nurture, and protect the bonfires to which they are bound. 

A pyrad's demeanor changes with the season. In the spring and summer, they are wild and frivolous, dancing and frolicking amidst the flames of their bonfires. In the autumn and winter they grow solemn and vicious as the flames of their fires gutter and weaken.

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 13; Hit Points 22 (5d8); Speed 30ft.
STR 10 (+0) DEX 16 (+3) CON 11 (+0) 
INT 14 (+2WIS 15 (+2) CHA 18 (+4)
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +5; Senses darkvision 60ft
Perception 14; languages Ignan, Sylvan; Challenge 2 (450 XP)
Innate Spellcasting. The pyrad's innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 14). The pyrad can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: produce flame
3/day each: faerie fire, thunderwave
1/day each: resistance, heat metal, flame blade
Magic Resistance. The pyrad has advantage on saving throws
against spells and other magical effects.
Speak with Beasts and Plants. The pyrad can communicate
with beasts and plants as if they shared a language.
Leaping Ember. Once on her turn, the pyrad can use 10 feet of her
movement to step magically into one bonfire within her
reach and emerge from a second bonfire within 60 feet of
the first fire, appearing in an unoccupied space within 5 feet of '
the second fire. Both bonfires must be large or bigger.
Flame Blade. Melee Spell Attack: +6 to hit reach 5 ft., one target. Hit
10 fire damage
Fey Charm. The pyrad targets one humanoid or beast that she
can see within 30 feet of her. If the target can see the pyrad, it
must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or be magically
charmed. The charmed creature regards the pyrad as a trusted
friend to be heeded and protected. Although the target isn't
under the pyrad's control, it takes the pyrad's requests or
actions in the most favorable way it can.

Each time the pyrad or its allies do anything harmful to the target, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success. Otherwise, the effect lasts 24 hours or until the pyrad dies, is on a different plane of existence from the target, or ends the effect as a bonus action. If a target 's saving throw is successful, the target is immune to the pyrad's Fey Charm for the next 24 hours.

The pyrad can have no more than one humanoid and up to three beasts charmed at a time.

* * *

Based on the dryad, obviously.