Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Beast of Beverly Hills

I am currently sitting in room 231 of The Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, drinking black coffee, contemplating a nightmare. It must be a nightmare. I can not call it a memory.

It has a different name now.

For two nights I have slept here. I must have slept, though the bed is still made and the mint lies uneaten on the pillow. I tried to go for a walk this morning, but the corridors confounded me and turned me back to my room.

Marilyn lived here. She got out, for a time, but her suicide tells me she never really left. She carried these corridors with her.

Alvin Lustig, "Incantation" 1947

Alvin Lustig designed these hallways. He was clever to merely call himself a designer and not an occultist, but anyone with understanding can perceive secret messages in the architecture ­— sigils bound in stucco and steel.

Portraits of Lustig by Maya Deren

Everyone here is from out of town.

Everyone is here on business.

Last night I was drawn to the amoeba-shaped pool, though I was very tired. Other guests seem to feel it as well, travelers dressed for dinner though it was nearly eleven. A young woman drank too much champagne and fell laughing into the water. I wanted to help her, but knew better than to stain my good suit.

We watched her thrash for a time, and when she grew still we raised a glass to her beauty and then retired smiling to our rooms. The pool was empty this morning. Someone else is checking in now.

I too am here on business, but I cannot remember what I do for a living. My credit cards are all maxed out. My pistol and passport have been stolen from my room.

I fear I will never leave.


*I am staying in this hotel for work. I got sick of working so I wrote this up. No one actually drowned here last night.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A thief, a priest, and two barbarians walk into a bar.

Last night was the 3rd session of my Ancient Aliens-inspired 5e game. We played in the upstairs lounge of the Mexican restaurant/bar next door to my apartment. The 1970’s rec room-meets-West Hollywood coke den décor therein makes a great setting for Swords and Sorcery shenanigans.  Plus, there’s a weed dispensary across the street. I’m kind of shocked it took me 3 sessions to figure this out.

Here’s what went down.

Yes. That is a Disney Princess mechanical pencil on my Fiend Folio.

The Black City was built by godlike visitors from Sirius using slave labor and powerful magics not seen since the fall of Pangaea. Something bad happened.

Whatever it was, it was bad enough for the priests to hide the city from the gods. But the spells they used have grown corrupt and now the strange, non-Euclidean avenues of the City are slowly leaking back into the world of men.

Five dipshits prowl the ruins, armed to the teeth and hoping to slake their lust for gold and experience. They are:

Baal - a Serpent Man Barbarian from Vaalbara
Prius - a Priest (deceased)
Rizzo - a Thief from the mean streets of Atlantis (locals call it Hotlantis)
Ragnar Bastardson - a teenage Barbarian from the northern wilderness
Sildar – an aging npc warrior who lost his sword arm

Having wisely avoided a squad of vampires, the group rappelled down a black basalt wall and entered a hallway. There they discovered a trap that released gasified Green Slime into the air, but not before some of the congealed slime discovered the Priest’s face.

They bashed down a door, alerting a pair of wandering Ghouls to their location.  Battle ensued in a room used to store ritual teas, and The Second Ghoul succeeded where the Green Slime failed. The Priest is dead.

Despite having two Barbarians in the party, the Thief actually managed to land the killing blow on BOTH of the Ghouls, possibly aided by the weapon he found in session One.

This was a quick game but a lot happened to solidify the game thematically. My initial idea for this campaign was “Kinda like if Red Nails was set in R’lyeh”, but this was the first time those elements started to come into play. The first two sessions had been fairly unstructured, basically getting used to the game again. My procedural skills as a DM have gotten pretty rusty and this was this first session where I felt confident with minimal prep. Actually my entire prep consisted of looking at notes written on my phone during my 20 minute bus ride home from work.

Fernet helped. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I agreed to run 5e for a group of my weird coworkers this weekend.

So far, the only preparation I've done is read Aaron & Del Mundo's Weirdworld #1, which came out today.

20 pages later, I am fully prepared. The setup line alone ("Where Lost Things Go") is enough to set my brain on fire.

Also, I want a 100 issue run of this damn book. If gonzo late 70's / early 80's Sword & Sorcery is your thing (and if you're reading a D&D blog, it probably is), then Weirdworld #1 is worth your 4 dollars. For that you get cool art, hilarious dialog, a slew of Bronze age and Crystar references, a floating island, a map that includes a location called "Motherboard Mountain", and a metric crapton of fun. Dig it, True Believer!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Night Falls On Grundyville

…and a wet fog rolls off the harbor, cloaking the flooded streets of Old Town in a sick miasma. Out on Harbor Isle, the gas lamps of Doc Grundy’s Miracle Elixir Company still burn a noxious green, though the factory has been shuttered since the new proprietor came home on a boat laden with foreign idols, a big bellied Eel Wife by his side. 

At the sign of the Lamprey’s Daughter, bastards and thieves throw down their coin as a ten year old boy chokes a small but vicious dog in the fighting pit. 

Seances are held in musty parlors. Esoteric orders gather behind moldy drapes. Heavy canvas bags are delivered without comment to anatomists and pie makers alike.

And is it me, or just Whateley's Whiskey, or do the rats seem extremely well organized?

Come morning, the fungus priests will clear away the fruiting bodies that choke the alleys each night, barely staying ahead of the Rot. The omnipresent chimneys will make greasy smoke of that which died in the night —little else will burn around here. 

The church bells will ring, but the pews will remain empty. 

God draws no crowd in Grundyville. 
What it is:

A grotesque urban setting for Elf Games. A fetid shithole of a port town, a pox upon decent folk, a half-flooded Sodom-by-the-Sea. Bertolt Brecht’s Innsmouth, a Norman Rockwell painting of feral orphans kicking a drowned dog.

What it looks like:

(concept art swiped from the Dishonored and Thief video games)

What it sounds like: 

What kind of trouble can my PC get into there?

Off the top of my head, they could

…run afoul of organized crime, or organize some crime of their own
…rub shoulders with Old Money, the decadent, ghoulish, and probably cannibal upper class
…battle Eel Men and slack-jawed flood zombies in the submerged streets of Old Town
…explore Harbor Isle’s haunted factory/megadungeon
…avoid mutation-inducing alchemical pollution and its accompanying weather
…hunt Leviathans with cutthroat sailors as desperate and dangerous as yourself

Stuff like that.


I’ve always been fond of urban fantasy, but I’ve never run a city-based game. I'm giving it a shot, hence this bullshit. Expect sooty industrial hellscapes, scientific hubris, wizard gangs, undead thugs, sewer delves, and half-cocked (sometimes quarter-cocked) notions.

Part 1 of lots.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Princes of the Apocalypse

Principia Apocalyptica

Princes of the Apocalypse is a 250-ish page hardbound adventure for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons characters level 1-15, with an MSRP of $49.95 USD. Here's roughly what you're paying for:

13 pages of background, factions, and adventure hooks

21 pages on Red Larch and the surrounding Dessarin Valley, the area where the adventure occurs.

140 pages of keyed adventure locations, dungeons, and side treks.

24 pages of monsters and NPCs

8 pages on the Princes of Elemental Evil

4 pages of new magic items

3 pages on Genasi as a player race

13 pages of new spells

8 pages on adapting the material to various published D&D worlds.

5 pages of sketchbook and concept art for things that didn't make it into the adventure but really, really should have. I am definitely bringing the Walrus Knight back.

Note: these counts are eyeballed. The font size is generous and there is a vast amount of art in this book.

The book itself is Realms-centric, but only in the naming of certain factions and cities. It's slightly worse than what we saw in The Lost Mines of Phandelver. I'm not spoiling much by saying this adventure is about preventing an elemental apocalypse.


The structure is pretty good. The adventure starts small, with a missing persons investigation, which leads to the discovery of one or more cults active in the area. The events will progress with or without the intervention of the PCs, and how they deal with them is a matter of choice. Combat is one solution, though infiltration and intrigue are likely to be more fun. For being nonlinear, the writers have managed to make the progression of events/monsters/cool locations feel earned.

Plenty of dungeons. Much like Zelda, there's a Water Temple, an Earth Temple, a Fire Temple, and Wind Temple. The Elemental Nodes are cinematic and evocative. The cults are just developed enough for the DM to make their own. There is a crapload of adventure content. Several of the side treks seem really fun. Actually, if you're starting a new campaign you'll need to run a couple off the bat, as the real joint doesn't really kick off until you're 3rd level.

It's not an adventure path. I wouldn't describe it as an adventure path in the Paizo sense because there doesn't appear to be any railroading (note: I understand that a certain amount of railroading is to be expected in an adventure path, which is why I'm happy Princes of the Apocalypse isn't one). It's really a campaign more than an adventure module.

Diversity of enemies. I feel like half the monsters in the Monster Manual show up in this thing. Some of them seem a bit randomly placed but it wouldn't be D&D otherwise. Also, over 15 levels you're likely to get mighty sick of 100% elemental-themed enemies. 

The Balloon Pack: one of the magic items is essentially an air elemental-powered jet pack.

Shoutouts to The Temple of Elemental Evil are there without really being there at all. I always wanted to like that adventure but never really did, and I actually think I'd have more fun with this one.


The overland map. Once again, WOTC publishes a very pretty map gridded out in numberless 10-mile hexes. Which is good for determining travel times and that's it. There is ample dead space in this book to include 10 pages of encounters keyed to hexes. Even if you don't want to write them, at least number the fucking hexes for me, Mister Fifty Dollar Book.

What they cut. Those concept art pages have some pretty great stuff that I wish was in there. Giant vulture riders? Brain parasites? Arial dungeons? Who says no to stuff like that? (Answer: Chris Perkins)


Like any book of this type, many DMs will want to tinker around to make the enemies and cults fit the world they're running. I think they've done a good job giving you an adventure that works without giving you too much that you won't use. Room and location descriptions are for the most part brief and manageable. These aren't One Page Dungeons, but I doubt anyone really expected them to be. This is always a hard balance to strike because everyone in the OSR knows you could do this book in a third of the page count, but then someone else will complain they paid for something that ain't finished cookin' yet.


Yes, totally. I am not overcome with a burning desire to do so first thing tomorrow, but that might actually be a good thing. It's a solid, nonlinear, site-based adventure with plenty to do, and it stands head and shoulders above Tyranny of Dragons. I think this would be a lot of fun for any group looking for a lengthy, classic-feeling cult-bashing adventure. Many bonus points if they're also Avatar and Legend of Korra fans.

If you can't get down with insane cults who worship the concept of air or whatever, then this is probably not for you. 

For everyone else, I give it a 


Monday, March 30, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse

I am immortal. I have inside me blood of kings.

I picked up the new 5e campaign book this weekend. My awesome local gets it early on account of being awesome. If you're ever passing through Portland, pay them a visit. 

I ended up with a much busier weekend than expected, so I've only read the introductory chapters. I'm planning to review it via this very blog this week, but here are my first impressions:

-It looks like a site-based adventure with enemy factions (the four elemental cults), and it looks like you could tackle it in any order, play one cult against another, etc. So far so good.

-The four cults have four elemental themed weapons, so there will be swag once they are dead. The cults also seem like they'll be fun to flesh out.

-There are some good, if cursory flavor bits for each cult. For instance, followers of the water cult obsess over water breathing magic and consume potions in order to spend time meditating underwater. Such meditation rarely provides enlightenment though, bringing to mind the rather bogus nature of real world fringe religious cults.

-It's really funny to think of Evil Water as a concept until you really consider how each element is inimical to human existence. Lightless, crushing depths of anything scare me.

-I like the idea of elemental worship because it evokes vague connections to real world mysticism.

-The art direction of 5e is largely preferable to me than the last two editions, however the maps seem to maintain the WotC standard of Pretty > Useful.

-Like every published adventure it's too wordy and the backstory is overwrought. However, the background really does boil down to "fight evil cults for fun and profit", so it's not as terrible as some adventures I've read.

-It includes the free players companion. Since anyone can get that for free I didn't see a need to include it in the book (24 pages is a lot of real estate). 

That's it. Not much useful information in this post since these are just the vibes I got from a casual look-see. 

Blog tax:

Aegis of Tourmaline:

This fist-sized chunk of black tourmaline is a ward against elemental Earth magic. It will automatically absorb d10 bludgeoning damage cause by an attack from any earth elemental or earth-based based spell. It doesn't have to be brandished to function, simply having it in your bag is enough. Once it absorbs 10 points of damage, it crumbles to a fine black powder and ceases to function. 


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

That's no moon, it's...

A book of extremely useful d12 charts alerted me to the fact that my campaign has a leftover fortress world hanging around somewhere in the night sky.

What is it? Let's roll a D10 and find out:

1. An orbital super weapon terraformed by Elves long ago. Now a pristine, forested moon, it is home to a race of aloof High Elven types. But they are besieged by attacks from the insane, biomechanical Drow living just below the surface.

2. A stranded battleworld trapped in your planet's gravity well. Its clone gladiators await...
    roll d4: 
    1) worthy opponents to test their ancient mettle
    2) repairs to get them back on the Galactic Battle Circuit
    3) a messiah to lead them against the forces of Chaos
    4) strong genetic material to refresh the amniotic vats (which have been pumping out Mutoids for a         while now)

3. The largest piece of debris in the Orbital Rust Belt (roll on that table and extrapolate something)

4. A decrepit space hulk of the Dinosaur Imperium. Its cold blooded serpent soldiers lie dormant until the geodesic dome above the Terror Terrarium can be repaired.

5. The time-distorted remains of a transport ship that a previous race tried to use to escape the campaign world aeons ago.

6. The head of an ancient Cosmic God That Could Not Survive A Lawsuit From The Jack Kirby Estate. Speaking of Celestials, The Dreaming Celestial is named Tiamut. That name reminds me of something....hmmm....

7. A branch of the Celephais Library System. Its volumes are said to contain the esoteric lore of a thousand dead worlds.

8. Nevermind, it's just the station from the Albuquerque Starport. Hopefully one of the PCs comes back wearing a Dead Kennedy's amulet.

9. The remains of a Suncrusher used by man man in his desperation to cut off Serpentkind's powersource. 50% chance it was never used but still active, 50% chance it succeeded and the campaign begins under a dead sun.

10. Secret holdfast of the superwizards, a magical Illuminati and the secret gods of the campaign world. Their existence is merely a rumor until someone in the party gains access to 9th level spells, at which point they appear to offer a seat on their council.