söndag 21 april 2019

Announcement: Wolf-Eel Games, Patreon and #PamphletJam

Hello all,

Exciting times! I'm actually finishing up on a lot of projects and I am making great progress in general. I've decided to make a big move:

ANNOUNCING: WOLF-EEL GAMES


Wolf-Eel Games is going to be my own self-publishing vehicle. It's going to have a bunch of stuff that I've discussed here and on Twitter.

You can find us at https://wolf-eel-games.itch.io and Patreon.

ANNOUNCING: THE DINING DEN OF THE FUZZ-MONSTER




The Dining Den of the Fuzz Monster is a submission to the great itch.io "Pamphlet Jam" created by Nate Treme. It is a grotesque adventure inspired by the dark humor of Mervin Peake's "Gormenghast" and the terror of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", with a fun and scary monster at it's core. It is based on The Black Hack (duh) and can be used as a pick-up-and-play, dropped in an already existing setting, or as a part of the setting of Skøvd.....

https://wolf-eel-games.itch.io/the-dining-den-of-the-fuzz-monster

ANNOUCING: PATREON

I've long had a Patreon - and it's starting back up again! All pamphlets and similar endevours will be available there for $1 a month! I'm currently working on more expansions on the pamphlet format. Find them there before it's released anywhere else!

VISIT - https://www.patreon.com/wolfeelgames

torsdag 18 april 2019

Fever Swamp x Black Hack - An Actual Play Report, Chapter 2.

OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE UR-CORPSE


GAME: The Black Hack 2nd Ed. by David Black

SETTING: Fever Swamp by Luke Gearing

LANGUAGE: Swedish

PLAYERS: 

Disa as the Fighter "Pravoslav "Pravvo" Storáková"

Elliot as the Wizard "Eberhardt "Nubbe" Brúntz"

Jonas as the Cleric "Bohumil Storáková"





SPOILER ALERT 

I trust that if you are going to play this module, you won't read further. If you like knowing all the secrets and pointing out a bunch of meta-stuff at the table is fine with your group, alright. Personally, I think Deadpooling it isn't all that rewarding.

Part 1: The Actual Play


Upon arrival in the Village of Clink, the players had already heard of the bounty regarding Gert Von Hammer and his research. I also introduced them to the creepy Jasmine - the cult-leader for the water-dead god. I loved the cult, even if I didn't get to play with it (or the Village of Clink in general) during play. It follows my general rule that if there is a cult, they ought to be wrong about what they are doing, not just their methods. Too often, the abusive propaganda of cults are treated like secret knowledge - in Fever Swamp:
"The God is real, but lies far below the ocean, not in this stinking swamp."

To the end, the players believed that the Water-Dead God was in the Ur-Corpse temple, or somewhere else in the swamp.

So they ventured out, dealing with various happenings and encounters. It all ran pretty smooth - awarding XP for Exploration was a good incentive to keep going. It did, however, powerlevel the fuck out of them! Which was good for them, but I had to reroute it to the XP-per-POI after they hit level 4, as it was going way too fast.

I had hidden some of the tribal encounters around the map, which were all memorable, and an oppurtunity for me to give out Cleric spells. During play, they got an odd Shaman Apprentice named Siiri by their side, which I gather was a party favorite, as she was easily the most useful NPC for them.

Some highlights:

  • Hunger the Crocodile was sleeping. I cannot for the life of me remember if I rolled something or if someone cast a spell, or if I was just too worried it was going to kill them (bad move!) but there it was, the giant thing sleeping. I rolled on the BH treasure drop table for the various belongings they could find on the nearby corpses. 
  • The Oracular Succubus scared Bohumil half to death as soon as he layed down and heard her voice. Ran away immediately, still got charmed though! 
  • The flammable fungus at the Ruined Monastery nearly exploded Nubbe to death. Thank god for stale water. 
  • One of the Tribes attacked and killed one of the NPCs - a randomly rolled naked Witch they had just recently encountered. It was one of the more genuinely horrifying encounters. They were going to sacrifice her to the trees. What's more, the Tribes village had just then been decimated by the Corpse Pile, so the tree sacrifices would've been reanimated and all jittery. They didn't pass across that hex, but I still got to spook em with signs of the Corpse Pile. 
  • NPC Drama - Our armourer Katerina had a bad time after some corpse fell on her during an encounter and nearly flipped completely as Siiri suggested an amputations of her infected, swollen arm. Some deeply intense shit unfolded as she nearly ran away and demanded that they focus on the mission. 
But the best part was most definitely the Ur-Corpse Ruins. They ventured in, were careful, all of that - except for when they got to the searing light. Bohumil got separated from the others and had taken a lot of damage. Standing alone infront of the Ur-Corpse, he did the only thing he knew to do - steal the god damn Corpse Fragment. Of course the checks to do it carefully failed, and so Bohumil became responsible for the apocalypse. Oh, and all his bones broke.

When the Ur-Corpse horrifying visage raised all dead around it to consume the living, the party was surrounded by the evil undead, and the world was doomed. It was then Bohumil was rocked out of his unconsciousness with the help of a nice slap on the face. He then realized the fragment he stole could be used to grant life to one dead thing. An ironic end to the campaign. 

Part 2: A Review and some Lessons

Review 

This module rules. It appeals to me specifically, and itches literally every aesthetic itch I have. There are some things which carry the potential for problematic play, as discussed in the first blog-post, but I think that is firmly up to the GM and the Table to manage. There is so much of this book that is unique and worthwhile. The art is so great and evocative - it is beautiful but ugly at the same time.

Running it was very easy, and my players felt motivated to push forward - there was always something happening and always something pushing the players forward. It had a brilliant "just another hex before we stop" feeling. 

What I love particularly is how it leaves so much unexplained - what the fuck are the Stilt-Walkers about, why do they hang around these cursed places? What is the monolith? Some might find that frustrating, but I find it brilliant. Most of these truths aren't available for the players, so why should it be for the GM. There is a an immense sense of implied world-building where your brain starts filling in blanks.

Above all it is the mood of the module that stands out. You fill kind of slimy and afraid even GM:ing it. I love stories and games where the characters go through a kind of nihlistic, negative character development, where they face off with things so life-alteringly grim and shocking that they are irreversibly changed. Annihilation, Aguirre and The VVitch all come to mind. Even as my players won all battles, they didn't become glorious heroes known throughout the lands, but scared and broken travelers. That's not a happy place, but it is a good place. What I guess I'm saying is - play this module if you like scary, gross, sorta funny and character-life-altering stuff.

My only real criticisms: Stilt-Walkers are great, weird and sort of scary characters. They were fun to play around with, but there are way too many of them. They're in most significant hexes, are in the random encounter table, and the fact that 18 of them can appear at once makes it feel sorta samey after a while. Initially, I enjoyed the frantic and overwhelming nature of my players squaring off against such a weird opponent, but after a while, it felt like both me and the players just wanted to avoid them. I get that it is probably there because those hexes have a mysterious nature to them, but I'd scale down the number of Stilt-Walkers appearing, and maybe replace them or create variations of them somehow in many of the hexes.

It is also quite difficult to envision the physical space in hexes that weren't keyed or described. I had to do a lot of breaks for quick map-making in order for me to make a gameable fictional space for the players. That is probably not something I can fault the design for, though, as it would be kind of difficult to include that stuff everywhere.

With regards to The Black Hack, it worked beautifully (there's a reason everything I write is written with Black Hack in mind), but the lack of comprehensive NPC rules (to the extent that I felt they were needed) meant I had to improvise and houserule. I have some problems with the GM just making up NPC actions/reactions by fiat, especially when it comes to combat, but I still wanted their companions to feel fairly exposed. Flipping a coin for that stuff is fun, but limiting. Some GM's might find the lack of rules for that stuff fun, though.


Lessons

This module taught me quite a bit about both design and GMing. Here's some of them: 

  1. The Cult is Wrong: Abusive religious groups are often portrayed in fictions as bearers of secret knowledge and truths accessible only to them. Even if they are still presented as evil, they are narratively justified when their sacred beliefs turn out to be true, and their methods turn out to be justified. The Cult of the Drowned is fundamentally misguided and their methods are wrong. As someone who left an apocalyptic cult, I find that to be a breath of fresh air. It inspired me to do a write-up on cults in movies - coming soon. 
  2. Only My Players Can Start The Apocalypse: You ever watch a superhero blockbuster action movie the last 10 years? If so, you've probably seen a movie where the world is ending and only a group of very special and definitely not fascist übermensh can do anything about it. That's fine, they need to make like 50 more of these, so it makes sense. But games are built on player-agency. The sense that you can impact your environment. choose your own path, poke the dragon and face the consequences is what makes gaming so special. When you start the game of threatening to destroy the game world, you're effectively railroading the characters. Sure, it is not railroading in the sense that you are stopping players from going anywhere or just ignoring it, but more likely, they'll try to stop it and do nothing else. This is a caveat I'd put on my piece about Inherent Tension - just because the characters in your world are motivated to act, it does not mean that you should coerce them to act in a certain way. 
  3. Make Lore You Can Use Without Losing Your Mind: For the longest time, I resisted Lore like death. Mostly it's because I'm Swedish, and every Swedish rulebook is ten pages of unusable block-text that is virtually ungameable (looking at you, Oktoberlandet), and the same goes for tons of WotC and WoD stuff, too. Mostly it is because I feel like it encroaches on my domain as the GM, and becomes another avenue of responsibility that I don't particularly feel like having. Fever Swamp is gracious toward the GM in that the lore is presented in a short and concise manner. It has the place, some things about the place and what might happen there, as well as stats for creatures that might be there and what they might do. What motivates these characters, and why are these places like this? That is up to me. I don't have to adhere to the designers own intentions, but I can use the same tools. It is not the job of a designer to motivate the moving pieces in the game world. 

Part 3: IN CONCLUSION

Luke Gearing has made a setting that is so tailored to my specific interests that it is almost frightening. Did you make this for me, Luke? 

This was one of my favorite gaming experiences in long, long while. I'm probably going to run it again, some day.
You can buy it here. Please do.