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Monday, March 31

Mysteries: Step by Step Instructions

An excellent thread on how to construct mysteris in any role-playing game. It points to the flaws that riddle so many Call of Cthulhu scenarios, which essentially lay out the framework for a mystery but never any of the steps. So at best, the PCs are left to dither as they struggle to find certain clues (in extremis, the game grinds to a halt, which resulted in someone developing Trail of Cthulhu in response) at worst there's no actual arc of clues to find and thus the GM has no framework to guide the PCs.

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?t=13089

Nemo Solus Sapit is a great example, which we just completed. I rewrote it completely, giving it a narrative arc, but took out much of the mystery for a couple reasons: 1) the mystery isn't relevant to the story because I didn't have any of my PCs replaced by an impostor, and 2) the climactic conclusion ultimately leads to an encounter with Azathoth, which turns the scenario from investigative to survival horror. In fact, the scenario makes it clear that although the summoning of Azathoth can be avoided (and award the PCs Sanity for doing so), many of the clues and statistics lead the PCs to the encounter.

Or in other words, if the PCs are actually effective in solving the mystery, there's no big payoff. This seems to be a problem with a lot of CoC scenarios -- by being a good investigator, you're in essence robbing the PCs of an exciting conclusion. In fact, many of the CoC scenarios are conflicted as to how they would like to be resolved, providing multiple options as if they were all equally legitimate conclusions, when in reality there's a strong bias towards one particular conclusion.

There are too many mysteries to count in Nemo Solus Sapit, but here's a few:
* What happened to the PC who was committed to the Van Dyson Center?
* What happened to Petrov Van Dyson's wife, Candice Lee?
* What's wrong with Damon Newcomb?
* What's wrong with Petrov Van Dyson?
* What happened to Mr. Kuhn?
* Why does Damon want his cane so badly?

As you can see, the scenario is all over the bloody place. I co-opted the script from Gothika to fix a lot of these problems, primarily by stripping them out. This resulted in the following:
* We know what happened to the PC, but not WHY he's there. I genuinely tried to convince the PC that he's nuts by shifting his reality several times. Thus, less of a mystery as to what happened to him and more why he's back in an insane asylum.
* In Gothika, the deus ex machina is a ghost. I used the same solution here. So it's not just that Candice Lee is dead (she's introduced immediately), but who is she and why is she so angry that she came back as a ghost? The ghost wasn't originally in the story at all, but I felt it was a necessary element to keep the scenario moving since the villain's tracks are practically undetectable.
* What happens to Damon is witnessed during the scenario, rather than after the fact. Again, less mystery, more excitment in the revelation.
* I chose to reveal what went on with Dyson through a series of audio tapes revealed throughout the session. This created its own narrative arc that happened independent of what the players did, since I just played them in order.
* Investigating what happens to Kuhn was one of the few active investigations, which was for the agents "on the outside" to discover. Even then, Candice Lee's ghost led the investigation from clue to clue.
* The cane required a much longer backstory, which I provided to one of the PCs prior to starting the scenario. In fact, the cane was a MAJOR part of the scenario but isn't valued nearly as much, to the point that the author doesn't even explain where it's hidden. Given the cane is such a big deal, I felt it should be a mystery unto itself.

In short, I took the scenario from six mysteries down to two or three. I thought it was better for it. You'll have to wait until the story hour is published to see if you agree!

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Chapter 4: Faint Transmissions - Introduction

This scenario, “Faint Transmissions,” is from the free D20 Modern supplement at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20modern/oa/20050222a by Rich Redman. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero) played by Joseph Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
• Jake “Blade” Iron Shirt (Strong Hero) played by Matt Hammer

I really enjoyed the idea of Jake’s connection not to just to the popular club scene, but to Hollywood in general through the custody battle over his son, Alex, with his famous movie star ex-wife, Christine Dee.

When I was looking for inspiration what Christine’s background might be like, I stumbled upon the Lori Lovecraft series of comics (http://www.lorilovecraft.com). It’s essentially film noir mixed with Lovecraft with a sprinkling of softcore porn. What’s not to like?

All that, and I managed to tie Stephen Alzis into the mix too. After seeing Reaper, I role-played Alzis just like the Devil. For good reasons, if you know anything about Alzis.

Most of all, this puts Blade front and center and “off the ranch” – he’s about to do two missions that will alter the course of history without accidentally “invoking the hounds” as Alzis likes to say. But to get that accomplished, he’s going to need a little help from his friends. The first time around, the only one who wakes up fast enough is Guppy.

Poor Guppy.

These are short one-shot scenarios that provide interesting situations, situations that don’t necessarily require combat. Unfortunately, the series abruptly stopped after the fourth installment. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 6b: The End

Dril blocked Kham’s blow with his rifle.

“Now what? I don’t want to hurt him!”

“He’s gone mad!” shouted Cael. “He heard my tale. The King in Yellow has taken him!”

Ilmarė bit her lip. “I will try to reach him.” She put her bow away, closed her eyes, and lifted her hands up.

In the midst of all the madness and grief, the elorii’s voice rang out. [MORE]

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Sunday, March 30

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Conclusion

The firefighters, part of the STREETSWEEPER team, arrived just in time.

“You stupid morons screwed up again, didn’t you?” muttered Drake. He was dressed in a firefighter’s coat and hat. But the hat was a little too big for his elderly frame. “And now I have to wear this.”

“We stopped the thing,” said Hammer.

“But not before it got to the Senator.” He shrugged. “At least it was a Democrat. Clean it up boys!”

“The fire’s out,” said Guppy. “So we don’t need…oh.”

Firefighters opened up cases of firefighting equipment. But instead, they lifted flamethrowers out of their toolkits. They busily set to igniting the stage, the chairs, and the corpses. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 6a: The End

The jester bowed deeply, sweeping his arms toward the macabre scenery that had transformed the feast hall.

“See, we are just in time,” he said merrily. “I have brought you to the King, as I promised. I present to you The Last King, The King in Yellow, He Who Should Not Be Named…my master, and yours.”

The jester peaked up from his bow and suddenly collapsed, like a marionette whose strings was cut. It lay motionless at Vlad’s feet. [MORE]

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Saturday, March 29

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 9b – Political Aspirations

Six police officers were ushering Senator Holt, a white-haired man in a dapper suit, off the stage of the conference room. The rest of the crowd was dispersing as they spoke.

“Federal agents!” shouted Hammer, flashing his badge. “We’ll take it from here.”

“Don’t believe them,” snarled the Senator, his hollow gaze boring into the agents. “They’re terrorists!”

“But sir, they have badges,” began one cop.

“So did Willis! Do I need to remind you one of your own tried to kill me this morning?”

The cop blanched. “No, sir.”

Hammer drew two Glocks. “Release the Senator into our custody, NOW.” Behind him, Archive drew his own pistol.

Two cops drew their pistols. “Put your weapon down!”

“I am not going to ask you again!” shouted Hammer. “The man you’re protecting is an impostor. This is a terrorist plot to blow up the building.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” He pointed one crooked finger at Hammer. “I’ll have your ass in a sling for this.”

One of the cops lowered their pistols. “Sir, I’m not so sure…”

Holt snatched the pistol out of one of the other cop’s holsters and fired on Hammer. The agent fell to his knees, still holding his Glocks. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5c: The King in Yellow

Kham squinted in disbelief as a child stepped out in front of him on a stage. His companions, the jester, the castle…all were gone.

“I am not the Prologue, nor the Afterword,” said the child. “Call me the Prototaph. My role is this: to tell you it is now too late to close the book or quit the theatre. You already thought you should have done so earlier, but you stayed. How harmless it all is! No definite principles are involved, no doctrines promulgated in these pristine pages, no convictions outraged…but the blow has fallen, and now it is too late. And shall I tell you where the sin lies? It is yours. You listened to us; and all the same you stay to see the Sign. Now you are ours, or, since the runes also run backwards, we are yours…forever.” [MORE]

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Friday, March 28

Breakfast of the Gods

Breakfast of the gods is a three-volume webcomic epic featuring some very familiar faces from your breakfast table. It's either outrageously irreverent or deliriously insane in its approach, I can't make up my mind which...but I love it!

Breakfast of the Gods Book One: The Last Good Morning
Last updated: Tuesday, July 31st, 2007 ... Read it now

Breakfast of the Gods Book Two: O Cap'n, My Cap'n
The end of the second book of Brendan Douglas Jones's epic web comic trilogy "Breakfast of the Gods!" Last updated: Monday, March 3rd, 2008 ... Read it now

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Wit and Wisdom

"If you believe that capitalism is a system in which money matters more than freedom, you are doomed when people who don't believe in freedom attack using money as a weapon."


--Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat of the West

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RIP Ben Chapman

Benjamin F. Chapman, Jr. (October 29, 1928 – February 21, 2008) was an American actor best known as playing the Gill-man in the 1954 horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon. A distant relative of fellow actor Branscombe Richmond, he also appeared in Wake of the Red Witch in 1949. [MORE]

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 9a – Political Aspirations

A reporter set up camp in front of them, beaming spotlights and cameras in their direction. A pretty young brunette in a business suit held a microphone before her and addressed the cop. “You were a witness to the events that took place today. Can you comment?”

The cop grinned. “Senator Holt’s a tough old bastard. I know he served in World War II. After all that’s happened, he’s still going ahead with his presidential nomination anyway. Hell, after what I seen today, I’ll vote for him!”

Hammer swore. “It’s in the Senator.” He turned around to face his two remaining comrades. “All right, we need a distraction. Archive, you’re with me. Jim-Bean…get these people out of here.”

Jim-Bean grinned. “I think I know how to do that.” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5b: The King in Yellow

Cael spoke of several traditional tales as they traveled to the feast hall. His voice was clear and strong, skilled and youthful.

“Cael is quite skilled,” said Ilmarė, “and apparently much younger than we thought.” She grabbed one of the candles.

After each story there was much applause and toasting to the bard’s health.

“What are you doing?” asked Vlad.

The hot wax was easily crushed in the elorii’s hand. “Old Mother Esther survived Umor’s Tale only because she could not hear. We must deafen ourselves if we are to survive. Quickly now!” She balled up two pieces of wax and put them in her pointed ears.

Cael’s voice changed, sad and world-weary. “Hear me now, gathered host, as I tell a tale of sadness, beauty, and loss. I speak now the tale that should not be spoken, the tale of He Who Should Not Be Named. I speak now the tale of Lost Carcosa and the coming of the King in Yellow.”

Dril and Vlad grabbed candles and plugged their ears with wax.

The crowd hushed. Kham didn’t move, listening intently.

“Kham?” asked Vlad. “Why aren’t you using the wax?”

“There’s only one way to figure out this thing,” said Kham. “I think I have to experience this story for myself.”

“What?” asked Dril.

Kham nodded to the jester, who waited expectantly. “Lead on,” he said. “This is one vassal who is tired of taking orders from his King.” [MORE]

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Thursday, March 27

Wit & Wisdom

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one."


--Author Leo J. Burke, quoted in the Salisbury, Md., Daily Times

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 8d – A Little Extra Help

“What the hell are you doing?” asked Hammer.

“Looking for keys. You two go ahead,” said Jim-Bean. “I know what it’s after.”

“Wait, what are you…” but that’s all Archive got out.

Jim-Bean hopped out into the hallway. “Hey ugly! Looking for this?” He lifted the sphere over his head.

He ducked as machinegun fire peppered the hallway again. Then Jim-Bean sprinted across the hall to the parking garage. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5a: The King in Yellow

The main door was open, with light and the sounds of merriment spilling out into the night. Once inside, a portcullis dropped down, followed by the main castle door slamming shut.

“The fate of the Duchy of Moratavia is now in our hands,” said Dril.

As the warmth of the castle welcomed them, the strangeness of it was oddly repulsive. The ceilings vaulted thirty feet above them. The stonework was mostly black, and everywhere yellow candles flickered, casting a haunting illumination.

“This hall is definitely larger than I remembered,” said Vlad.

Suddenly, mist erupted from a wall. It swirled and caressed like a living thing, soundlessly moving over the stone. When it cleared moments later, the wall became an archway.

“Let me guess,” said Kham, “that’s our invitation.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, March 26

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 8c – A Little Extra Help

Guppy brought up the floor plans of the police station. They sprinted for the weapons room.

More gunfire erupted down the hall. Police officers fell, screaming in pain.

After another moment, Guppy unlocked the security door to the weapons room with a few taps of his keyboard.

“Remind me to buy a deadbolt lock on my apartment door,” said Hammer, awed by Guppy’s ease at hacking highly sophisticated security protocols.

They grabbed whatever they could find; shotguns, assault rifles, pistols.

“Is it just me, or does it seem like this room is a bit empty?” asked Jim-Bean.

“I know you have it!” shouted Masterson’s voice. “Give it to me!”

“Oh crap, it’s after us,” said Guppy. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4c: Returning to the Castle

The effect was instantaneous. Ice exploded in a great geyser of black water, churning up a froth that caused a chain reaction across the ice. Spider web cracks appeared in a halo around the creature and then gave away completely, sheering a hunk of ice downwards into the rushing moat. The lobster-fish monstrosity slipped down one side and out of sight.

“Thank Althares,” said Kham. “We got—“

The thing broke water at the far end of the chunk of ice, rising with a great whooshing noise. It rose vertically, towering overhead, blocking out the sun. The claws reached forward. The beast, in all of its monstrous glory, fell onto the ice with a shattering crash, narrowly missing Kham. It drove the far end of the ice underwater; the river sucked hungrily at it.

“Kham!’ shouted Ilmarė. “Hold on!”

“To what?” Kham shouted back. The tentacles whipped from side to side. Kham floundered backwards away from it.

Kham clung to the top of the ice sheet for dear life, even as it began to tilt downwards. [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 25

Wit & Wisdom

"Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them." -- Samuel Butler, quoted in NYTimes.com.

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 8b – A Little Extra Help

“Great, so we’re stuck in a police station with a basketball-sized alien ship,” said Jim-Bean. “What should we do, kick it out of here?”

“That’s soccer,” said Hammer. “You dribble a basketball, you kick a soccer ball.”

“You mean football,” said Jim-Bean.

“No football is a—“

“I know what a football is you bloody yank,” muttered Jim-Bean.

“This isn’t helping,” said Blade. “Let’s get it out of here. Jim-Bean, you hold it, we’ll try to stand around you and block their field of view.

“What should I do, shove it under my shirt and look pregnant?” asked Jim-Bean sarcastically. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4b: Returning to the Castle

“Well, that can’t be good,” said Kham.

The drawbridge, which once spanned a twelve-foot moat, had become a marble bridge crossing dark, mist-shrouded waters. Snow swirled about the long bridge spanning the distance between the castle and land.

As they cross the bridge, Ilmarė lifted one finger. “I hear something.”

Suddenly, from just ahead of them, the icy surface of the water exploded into movement. Four long tentacles whipped out of the water, reaching over the span of the bridge. They frantically flailed towards Vlad.

“Get back!” shouted Ilmarė. [MORE]

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Monday, March 24

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 8a – A Little Extra Help

They arrived at the West Hollywood Police Station. Hammer and Jim-Bean arrived later than the rest.

“What took you guys so long?” asked Blade, irritated.

“We made a side-trip,” said Hammer.

“Picked up a little toy,” said Jim-Bean.

The tip of an odd-looking sphere was visible in the rucksack Jim-Bean carried with him everywhere.

“What’s that?” asked Guppy.

“A toy. Like I said.” Jim-Bean jostled the bag and the toy went off, singing Old McDonald Had a Farm entirely out of animal noises: Meow, bark-bark, meow-meow-meow, moo, bark-bark-bark-bark-bark!

“You bought a toy at four in the morning?” asked Archive.

“I didn’t say I bought it,” said Jim-Bean.

Guppy eyed the sphere. “That thing looks a lot like the sphere we found.”

Jim-Bean winked back at him. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4a: Returning to the Castle

The snowfall had become blinding. White was everywhere. The unforgiving wind whistled and shrieked around them. Whenever they felt like resting, the wolves caught up to them, circling and howling. It made for a great incentive to keep moving.

“Aren’t you cold?” Dril shouted at Ilmarė. The elorii traveled with only a thin, hooded cloak to protect her from the elements.

“I am a child of Osalian,” said Ilmarė. “I have nothing to fear from him.”

“Look!” shouted Kham. “Everyone look this time, I want to be sure I’m not going crazy!” [MORE]

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Sunday, March 23

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 7b – A Body to Die For

Guppy and Archive were investigating the vehicle. “Hey, I found something!” shouted Guppy over the comm.

“What is it?” asked Blade. He was distracted, trying to eye every police officer at once, who were in turn glaring at him.

“There’s this weird transparent basketball in the back of the car,” said Archive.

“Probably the thing’s ship,” said Guppy. “Hey, wait…uh oh.”

“Uh oh?” asked Caprice on the line. “What do you mean by uh oh?”

“It’s beeping,” said Guppy. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3e: The Village of Brighton

Dril came in from the cold.

“Well, they got to the horses. Looks like they poisoned them.”

Vlad punched the table. “Damn it!”

“How long will it take to walk back?” asked Kham, dreading the answer.

“If we leave now, we should be able to get to the castle some time after nightfall,” said Vlad. “But that’s just an estimate, I’ve never walked it before.”

“We’ve got to get to Duke Adolphos before Cael does,” said Ilmarė. “He’s probably on his way right now.”

“Let’s gather up all the supplies we can find,” said Vlad. It was left unspoken that they wouldn’t be taking any food. “We’d better get moving.”

“There’s more bad news,” said Dril.

“More bad news?” asked Kham.

A howl spoke for Dril.

“The wolves are back.” [MORE]

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Saturday, March 22

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 7a – A Body to Die For

Caprice offered Guppy his interlaced hands as a step up. “Through the window on three. Ready?”

Guppy looked at him uncertainly. Then, placing one foot on Caprice’s hand, he hoisted himself on.

“One.” Guppy shattered the glass with his pistol.

“Two.”

“Three!”

Guppy dove through the window and rolled, slamming into the door of the office on the other side.

Archive opened the door from the other side of the hallway. “There’s a front door you know.”

“I knew that!” shouted Guppy, dusting himself off. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3d: The Village of Brighton

Kham was emptying the contents of his shoes into a hole on the second floor. He had long ago voided whatever was in his stomach. Whenever he was convinced he had nothing left, nausea overtook him again.

Kham’s head went back down into the hole. It didn’t smell all that great either.

Just as he leaned down again, he heard something thunk above him. When he looked up, a meat cleaver jutted out just above his head.

The plump lass who had asked him to dance hours before yanked it out of the wood.

“Nrrrraaaah!” she shouted. Her eyes were crazed, mere pinpoint pupils in a sea of white. She kicked the door closed behind her.

“Look, I know I’m not a great dancer but—” Kham stumbled backwards as she clumsily swung at him again. [MORE]

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Friday, March 21

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 6c – I Want This Car

“My Ferrari!” wailed Jim-Bean. “My poor, beautiful Ferrari!”

Hammer rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t yours to begin with.”

“She had such a brief life!” sniffed Jim-Bean. “Oh well, it was a great fling.” He took out his badge and tried to make a vehicle stop.

The driver peeled out around him.

“Good luck finding a car at two in the morning,” muttered Hammer.

A muscle car pulled up. It had tinted windows and music booming so loudly the agents could feel it in their chests.

“Get out of the car,” shouted Jim-Bean, flashing his badge. “I’m a federal agent and I am commandeering your vehicle.”

The electronic tinted window slipped down to reveal a man with a backwards cap and hooded sweatshirt. “Yo, homie. I feel bad for you man, but you are NOT takin’ mah car…”

“I don’t have time for this,” said Jim-Bean. He unslung his HK-G36 from over his shoulder and pointed it at the man in the car. “Give me you car. Now.”

The windows opened and suddenly Jim-Bean was facing down four pistols. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3c: The Village of Brighton

As the door swung open, Ilmarė beheld a sickening sight. It was clear that the home had undergone a drastic change recently. All the furniture was removed. The room was freezing cold; ice and snow was packed all around the floor, much of it bloodstained. In one corner of the large room stood a worktable, behind which stood a rack of mallets, hooks, knives, cleavers, and saws. In an opposite corner were several barrels that reeked of brine.

Ilmarė swallowed hard. She inspected one of the barrels. After a moment, she tried to pry open the lid with her thinblade.

It was stuck. She wrenched harder. Just a little more…

Something wet dripped on her shoulder.

Ilmarė looked up. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 20

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 6b – I Want This Car

“Some guy is dead in the parking lot with his pants down. Get this, he’s wearing a Ferrari jacket.”

“So it dumped the Ferrari and the body and grabbed new wheels…” postulated Caprice.

“And a stripper,” said Archive. “There’s one thing I didn’t tell you guys. This thing likes women. The prostitutes that Kenneth Braverman killed were sexually molested.”

“Great,” said Blade. “As if this wasn’t disgusting enough.” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3b: The Village of Brighton

“I’ve got to tell you,” Kham tore off a piece from a loaf of bread and popped it in his mouth. “I could get used to this life.” He washed it down wine.

Ilmarė wrinkled her nose. “You eat far too much meat.” She picked at the cheese platter as ox stew was served. “They serve it with everything.”

“You’re in my country now,” said Vlad with a smile. He took a generous helping of stew. The gibbets of meat steamed in his wooden bowl. “It’d be only polite to eat something.”

Sausage with bread was placed on the table. Dri speared a sausage with his knife. They weren’t supplied at the table; in Milandir, one was expected to bring his own knife to dinner. “Where are the plates?”

Vlad cut a trencher in half that was set between them. “That’s your plate,” said Vlad. “The bread absorbs the juices. You can eat it when you’re done.”

The final course was a serving of roast beef. Vlad carved the meat and offered it to Ilmarė. She passed it on to Dril, who sat next to her.

Dril looked at the meat curiously. “Actually,” said Vlad, “Ilmarė should cut the meat and serve it to Dril.”

“I serve no one,” said the elorii with a sneer. [MORE]

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Wednesday, March 19

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 6a – I Want This Car

“Perfect,” said Hammer. “Now we’ve got him.”

Blade arched an eyebrow. “How?”

“Just wait for the credit card to flag,” said Hammer. “If this thing is as reckless as we think it is, it’s not going to bother to cover its tracks.”

“Great idea,” said Blade.

Jim-Bean rifled through the desk of the car dealer and picked up some tagged keys.

“What are you doing?” asked Caprice.

“The van’s too slow,” said Jim-Bean with a grin. “We’ll need something a bit faster.”

Jim-Bean twirled the keys in his hand as he sauntered towards a sleek black Ferrari, whistling as he went. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3a: The Village of Brighton

At long last, they saw the village of Brighton through the falling snow. Smoke rose from most of the chimneys and people were moving about chopping wood, running errands, and tending to chores. While smaller than Derek’s Holding and Dunover, Brighton boasted larger and better-made furnishings.

Kham sniffed the air. “I smell fresh-baked bread,” he said.

“Do you ever think of anything besides your stomach?” asked Ilmarė.

“Sometimes a little lower,” said Kham. [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 18

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 5b – Mouth to Mouth

Blade turned to go. Guppy’s Cistron rang.

Blade looked at him expectantly. “Now what?”

“Three murders at a Ferrari dealership,” said Guppy.

“Fast cars, loud music…” Jim-Bean snorted. “Just add in women to the mix and that could be me!”

Blade shot him a glare as he stalked his way to the van. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2f: The Village of Dunover

As the mounts and sleigh began traveling the road away from Dunover, something strange flashed in the corner of Kham’s eye.

A large building of black stone, maybe three stories high, with an adjacent tower even taller, sat at the bottom of a cobblestone path off the main road. It was impossible to have missed such a thing on the way into the village. The structure was like none he had ever seen.

Kham called out to Dril. “Do you see that?”

A gust of winter wind blew, filling the air with a cloud of icy snow.

“What?” When Dril looked, all the end of the cobblestone path was an empty snow-covered field, with the silent forest beyond. He turned back to Kham. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Damn it, I saw something!” said Kham. “And it’s not because of Fleshripper either!” [MORE]

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Monday, March 17

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 5a – Mouth to Mouth

A “The chopper’s heading there as well. Take a look at this video.”

Guppy brought up black and white security camera footage.

A non-descript looking man in a trench coat walked in, surveying the room in much the same way the witnesses had described Gutierrez surveying the gas station. Then, as three armed guards carrying bags of money walked towards the exit, he unleashed a series of shotgun blasts. All three went down. A fourth guard came from behind, but DeVries whirled and shot him dead.

People ran screaming, all silently in the world of video surveillance. DeVries nonchalantly picked up the money and then he turned to face the video camera.

The face of DeVries stretched into a smile. Then he shot the camera.

“The son of a bitch is toying with us,” snarled Hammer, in the seat next to Blade. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2e: The Village of Dunover

Old Mother Esther continued to putter around the kitchen while she talked, setting a place setting for each of them around the crowded table.

“The bard came a few days ago,” she said. “He was a handsome man, dressed in the colorful cloak and tunic of the bards from back when I was just a little girl. My grandson told me he wanted to tell stories to us.”

“I bet he did,” said Kham.

“Everyone was so thrilled, we gathered together in the big barn, making it up like a theatre. Everyone was there. He told maybe five or six stories, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. My hearing isn’t what it once was.”

“You don’t say,” grumbled Vlad. [MORE]

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Sunday, March 16

Puppet Show and Shaow Plays: Part 4b – Santana’s Run

The thrum of the helicopter pounded around the team’s earphones.

“The car that it stole was found at this gas station,” said Hammer. The helicopter was coming to a landing nearby. It was one of the advantages of Arizona. The landscape was flat as far as the eye could see.

“Ready?” asked Blade. Everyone had their pistols out. They nodded. “Go!”

The team hopped out of the chopper. Confused gas station attendants and tourists screamed.

“Everyone DOWN!” shouted Hammer, flashing his badge. “We’re federal agents! Down on your knees, hands on your head!”

They corralled the people who were there. It was a large gas station along I-10 West, but it was the only gas station for miles around.

“Is this everybody?” asked Blade.

“Yep,” said Hammer.

“Not quite,” said Jim-Bean. “There’s a corpse with his mouth open in the car over there.”

Blade pointed at one of the attendants. “You’ve got video cameras here, right?”

“Uh, yes sir?” asked the pimply-faced teenager.

“Good. I want to see it.” Blade turned to the others. ““Find out what they saw. I want an inventory count of every car in this station. Nobody leaves until we check them out.” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2d: The Village of Dunover

“Well, there’s definitely someone inside.” Dril’s ear was pressed against the front door. “I can hear movement in there.”

“Hello?” shouted Kham, pounding on the door. Blood drenched his boots and mixed with the snow wherever he stepped.

“Maybe you’re not the best person to answer the door,” said Vlad. “Let me try.” He knocked on the door again. “I am Vlad Martell, Bailiff of Duke Adolphos val’Tensen. I have been sent to ensure your safety. Please let us in, you will not be harmed.”

“Quintus would be proud,” said Kham with a smirk. He wiped Fleshripper off in the snow. [MORE]

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Saturday, March 15

Sharing the Hobby the Right Way

Gamers talk a lot about bringing new gamers into the hobby, but Nick Ozment is actually doing something about it. He could teach White Wolf a thing or two.


This 4-session class introduced participants to D&D. They created their
characters and completed an adventure. Thank you to Wizards of the Coast for
their kind donation of supplies and Nick Ozment for volunteering his
time.

Go Nick!

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 4a – Santana’s Run

“We think the murderer might be a woman.”

“Hell, you city slickers don’t know nothin’, do ya?” Garrett shouted into the phone. “My boys got a bloody print off the bones in the cave. And it ain’t no chick.”

“Who is it?” asked Blade. He was losing patience with the man’s ego.

“Master Sergeant Emanuel Santana. He’s a real bad ass too. Deserted the U.S. Army Special Forces in 1972 while on leave to attend his mother’s funeral. He was on detached duty to the CIA’s operation PHOENIX in South Vietnam. This job’s got the U.S. Army CIC, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and the CIA all over it.”

“Great,” said Blade.

“You wanted night vision goggles? You got it. This case is now an oh-fish-SHAL federal investigation. You boys can keep it.” He hung up.

Blade sighed. “This investigation just got a lot more complicated.” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2c: The Village of Dunover

“Hello?” shouted Vlad.

The house appeared shut and intact, but Vlad received no response.

As they approached the house, they were assaulted by a cacophony of animal-like screeches and howls. A group of naked, filthy villagers rushed from around the corner of the building. They growled and slavered, charging forward with lust and murder in their eyes.

“Try not to hurt them!” shouted Vlad. “They’re Milandisians!”

Ilmarė sighed. “Fine.” She pointed at a cluster of the crazed villagers. “Îdh!”

Four of them stumbled in mid-step and collapsed into the snow, unconscious.

Dril pointed at Kham. “You may want to tell him that.”

Kham had dismounted and was swinging Fleshripper overhead, shouting like a madman. It was difficult to discern who was crazier: the villagers or the val. [MORE]

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Friday, March 14

White Wolf's Petty Tactics

Some marketing genius at White Wolf bought into the partisan tactics we read so much about on the Internet and thought that people who don't want to play D&D 3.5 would be so pissed as to trade in their PHBs for a brand new copy of the Exalted RPG rather than upgrade to the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Read more at http://secure1.white-wolf.com/graduateyourgame/

Which is a fine idea unto itself. Except that the marketing campaign is predicated on the notion that you're "graduating" complete with a certificate. Cause, you know, people who play D&D are emotionally and socially retarded.

Here's the thing. Gamers aren't an either/or lot. They can't be. The gaming population is too small. The grouchy jerks I tangle with on the Internet occasionally often aren't actually PLAYING the games they so righteously defend. Or to put it another way, the asshole telling you the one true way to play his game is probably not actually playing it at all.

So listening to those people is a mistake, and it's that kind of thinking -- that you only play ONE kind of gaming system -- that leads to this kind of pathetic marketing ploy. On top of that, the notion that editions actually stopped being played is equally fallacious. RPGs don't have expiration dates. They can be played forever. Any game that's been sufficiently published in large quantities can live on through inertia alone. So it's likely there will be people still playing 3.5 and NOT moving to 4.0. And they will also happily play Exalted.

But here's the real stickler, the thing that really pisses me off...from http://secure1.white-wolf.com/graduateyourgame/retailer.aspx
Retailers must take all D&D 3.5 Player’s Handbooks that are exchanged, tear out the pages, and return the full cover with the consumer forms using the return label provided in the book kit. Note: Returned book covers must be post-marked by June 30th.
We will check the returns against the participating retailer list, making sure the number of returned book covers matches the quantity of Exalted books requested. For copy of Exalted you receive that does not have a corresponding D&D 3.5 cover, you will be charged an additional $20.

This is spiteful, petty, wasteful, and disgusting in our eco-conscious times. These books are being torn up? Hell, I don't care if you hate D&D. But you don't need to literally destroy books to promote your own product. For shame, White Wolf -- you turned a promotion of your own game (reasonable) into an insulting, degrading slap on the very people you're trying to recruit (unreasonable) and worse, are destroying perfectly good books out of spite (just plain stupid).

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 3b – The Sacred Cave

The cave was windblown and dark, but it twisted and turned.

“Guppy, Caprice you two stay out on watch out here,” said Blade. “The rest of you are with me.”

They crept slowly, shifting their flashlight beams to and fro like searchlights in a fog. Blade’s foot hit something and it skittered across the room, echoing as it went.

“Oh, that’d be the skull…” began Jim-Bean.

Blade turned the beam on the source of the sound. There were three bodies. The first two were little more than knife-marked bones. The third was drained of blood and partially devoured.

“…of a victim,” he finished. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2b: The Village of Dunover

As they approached the village, it was clear that all was not well long before they arrived.

A murder or ravens circled overhead in the distance. Strange shapes littered the fields and roadside nearer the village. The ravens were gathered around some of the shapes, working hard to remove strips of flesh.

“Don’t tell me…” said Kham.

Ilmarė blanched. “More dead villagers.”

The villagers all lay dead, each as naked as the day they were born. The bodies were filthy, with mouths, hands, and feet caked with dirt.

Dril hopped down off of his horse. “Strange.”

“Could this get any stranger?” asked Kham. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 13

THE URBAN ARCHIPELAGO

Prescient and well-stated, if a bit inflammatory: http://www.urbanarchipelago.com

Take a look at the second map. This map shows a county-by-county red/blue breakdown, and it provides a clearer picture of the bind the Democrats finds themselves in. The majority of the blue states--Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware--are, geographically speaking, not blue states. They are blue cities.

Look at our famously blue West Coast. But for the cities--Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego--the West Coast would be a deep, dark red. The same is true for other nominally blue states. Illinois is almost entirely red--Chicago turns the state blue. Michigan is almost entirely red--Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo turn it blue. And on and on. What tips these states into the blue column? Their urban areas do, their big, populous counties.

It's time for the Democrats to face reality: They are the party of urban America. If the cities elected our president, if urban voters determined the outcome, John F. Kerry would have won by a landslide. Urban voters are the Democratic base.

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Exit the dragon master

Finally, Gary Gygax's passing gets a respectful treatment from a journalist: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/exit-the-dragon-master-793150.html

It is all too easy to laugh. The lazy reporter says to himself "Gygax, silly name, lonely geeks, wizards, monsters, sub-Tolkien nonsense, Billy-no-mates with imaginary friends" and out come a thousand sneering words. Job done.
Amen, brother. Amen.

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Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 3a – The Sacred Cave

The vision struck Blade hard. He was standing naked under the night sky in the chill desert mountains. A coyote howled.

He turned to see a large coyote staring down at him from a nearby boulder. The coyote tossed its head, turned away, and led him toward the cave. With the coyote in tow, they wended their way down fissures in the mesas and rock hills until they arrived at a cave mouth, from which ran a shallow stream.

Blade’s nostrils were suddenly assaulted by the smell of blood—the stream was running red. The coyote howled mournfully. Blade got the sense that something dark and malevolent was stirring in the cave.

Wind, with the stench of abattoir, rushed from the cave mouth as a flailing shadow began to emerge…

Blade snapped out of the vision as the van struck a large cactus.

“What the hell!” shouted Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2a: The Village of Dunover

“Speak not of what you witnessed,” Adolphos said with a frown. “It will be a small matter to replace the peasants once spring comes, but a more difficult one if the lands get a reputation for being cursed.” He leaned closer to Vlad. “Or rebellion.” He straightened up and spoke louder for the benefit of those eavesdropping. “Leave at once and travel with all haste. I’ve instructed the stable master to issue you two mounts, a sleigh, and a horse to pull it as well. Come directly to me upon your return.” He leaned forward again. “Report to none but me. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, your grace,” said Vlad.

“Excellent. I expect you back in time for the Yule celebration in five days. Some of my guests might inquire as to where my Bailiff is, and I don’t wish to explain your absence.”

He nodded to Vlad with a serious look. Then he returned to his herald and the preparations for the Yule celebration.

Once Vlad was out of sight of the Duke, his shoulders sagged.

“Amazing,” said Kham. “He’s like a Milandisian version of Quintus.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, March 12

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 2c – The Begay Ranch

Soon a swarm of police personnel were on the Begay ranch with a bulldozer.

The agents were huddled around in a circle, all except for Blade, who stood off to the side with Colorados.

“Forensics found multiple needle-like wounds in all the carcasses so far,” said Caprice, shouting over the beeping of the bulldozer backing up. “They pierced the heart and lungs of all the humans the sheep.”

“Blowgun darts?” asked Archive.

“Don’t think so,” said Caprice. “But there was traces of a tranquilizer evident in all the carcasses’ nervous systems.”

“What kind of tranquilizer?” asked Guppy.

“Don’t know,” said Caprice. “It’s not anything that exists in nature.”

Jim-Bean took a deep breath. “Well gents, I’d say that since this seems like less than your usual serial killer on the loose, who also has a fondness for sheep, we can safely assume that there’s something a bit paranormally off about the whole situation, yes?” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 1e: Derek’s Holding

Kham crouched and eased back his coat so that he could have easy access to his pistols. When Kham had faced off against Zainat Zameri, he wasn’t ready. Kham found it ironic that it was literal wolves he was dueling; he had much more experience with the kind that wore human clothing.

There was another howl, off to his right. Kham tried to concentrate on his breathing. He had a split second to react once he saw the bloodstain from where he tagged the alpha wolf the first time. One second too late and he would end up like Vlad…only this time they would shatter him like a fragile sculpture and eat the bloody chunks.

Kham had been a statue before. It wasn’t so bad.

He spotted a flash of red through the blinding snow. The damned thing was actually zig-zagging, completely unhindered by the knee-deep snowdrifts. They were a lot smarter than he thought.

Another wolf howled behind him. Kham would not be deterred. He knew enough about wolves to understand that his standoff against the alpha wolf was all he had to worry about.

Snow churned up in short bursts as the alpha wolf closed the distance at maximum speed.

Kham kept his hands steady, fingers twitching over the holsters. Steady… [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 11

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 2b – The Begay Ranch

Caprice stood alone under the watchful eye of Guppy and Jim-Bean. They followed him around the property, pretending they weren’t. He knew they didn’t trust him.

Caprice was focusing on the vultures. They were circling in a particular area.

He positioned himself beneath them. Then Caprice looked down at the ground.

The ground beneath his feet was damp and spongy. It didn’t feel right.

Caprice reached down and scraped away some dirt with one hand. It came away easily, too easily in the arid desert air. It was if an animal had been digging there.

Perhaps encouraged by Caprice’s actions, Jim-Bean and Guppy pointed excitedly at the ground. Then they left.

Caprice returned to digging. He was sure he was onto something. The dirt was harder in some parts, hard enough for…

He wiped away some more soil, only to reveal something bone white.

Behind him, Guppy returned with two shovels. He and Jim-Bean started to dig at another spot.

Caprice kept digging with his hands. He pulled up great clumps of dirt. The white, hard mass was a skull.

“Mother trucker!” shouted Guppy. He stumbled backwards from where he had been digging. Jim-Bean turned away and retched, hunched over on his knees.

Caprice stood up. “What is it?”

“Bodies,” shouted Guppy. “I think it’s…the Begay family…” He dropped the shovel.

“I think I found a grave too...” Caprice looked down at the dirt where he had been digging. The recently unearthed soil was a different color. Now that he knew what it looked like, it was easier to spot from far away.

“Sorry, didn’t copy that?” asked Blade over the Cistron. “Did you say you found a grave too?”

Caprice’s eyes widened as he looked out across the ranch. “I may have underestimated…” was all he said.

Dotting the landscape were dozens of mounds just like the one he had dug up. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 1d: Derek’s Holding

“What the hell happened to Vlad?” Dril helped lug Vlad’s flash-frozen body into the hut.

“Winter wolves.” Ilmarė stood at the center of the hut facing the doorway, her bow drawn. “They can breathe frost. I think there were three of them.”

“But they had the advantage,” said Dril. He unshouldered his rifle. “Why did they run away?”

Kham, leaning on the doorframe, reloaded one of his pistols. “They’re reloading.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it.” Kham reloaded another of his pistols. “They could have killed one or two of us just now, but we would have killed a few of them as well. The wolves are eating snow so they can spew their breath at us again. They’ll keep it up until we make a mistake.” He nodded towards the unforgiving snowstorm outside. “They can afford to be patient.”

“Well we can’t.” Dril tipped a healing potion up to Vlad’s frozen lips. “Vlad’s in bad shape. In this snow, we can’t even see them until they’re right on top of us.”

“And it reeks of wolf in here.” Ilmarė wrinkled her nose.

“We’re in their den,” said Kham. “To the wolves, we’re the intruders.” [MORE]

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Monday, March 10

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 2a – The Begay Ranch

“Blade? Jake Blade? Is that you?”

Archive huffed with the realization that the man could speak English. Hammer just smiled.

Blade smiled and shook his hand. “Yes?”

“Name’s John Rope.” He took Blade’s hand and pumped it. “You should have beaten Rodriguez in that match, man. You were robbed.”

“I know,” said Blade. “But that’s old news. What can you tell me about the Begays?”

Rope nodded. “Victorio had complained that someone was stealing his sheep these past two months. They were disappearing without a trace. Even coyotes leave carrion, but whatever this thing was, it did not. The night before he disappeared, Victorio told me he was going to sit out all night with his rifle until he caught the culprit.”

“Thanks, that’s helpful.” Blade flashed the man another smile. “If you remember anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact the police. They’ll get in touch with us.”

“Will do, Blade.” As they walked away, he called over his shoulder. “What that whore did to you, sucked, man! You deserve better than Christine Dee!”

Blade’s smile disappeared. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 1c: Derek’s Holding

Ilmarė and Vlad ran outside into the snow, weapons at the ready. The snow whipped up, making it practically impossible to see anything but white and gray.

“Vlad!” shouted Ilmarė over the howl of the wind. “We have to get inside! Staying out here is suicide!”

“You don’t understand.” Vlad shielded his eyes from the snow. “These were Milandisians. I owe it to them.”

“Stupid human,” muttered Ilmarė. She turned to go back inside…

And came face to face with a pair of crystal blue eyes and a white snout. The snow-white wolf was five feet tall at the shoulder.

The wolf’s lips curled backwards to reveal teeth dripping with gore. Ilmarė slowly reached for her elven thinblade. [MORE]

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Sunday, March 9

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 1b – Welcome to Phoenix

They passed a road sign that pointed to Route 70, southbound.

“This Road 70 sounds like a bad place” said Jim-Bean.

“They call it the Devil’s Highway,” said Blade, driving the van.

“How do you know that?” asked Guppy.

Blade never took his eyes off the road. “Because I used to live here.” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 1b: Derek’s Holding

“Wolves.” Dril pointed at the bodies. They had all been fed upon, some to the bone in places. The entire room carried the stench of a wolf den.

Ilmarė wrinkled her nose. “So the wolves killed them all.”

“No,” said Dril. “I’ve broken into a few of the other homes. There are scratches and gnaw marks on some of the doors, but they didn’t get in. You’re right about one thing though: they’re all dead.”

“Dead of what?” asked Vlad.

“I’m not sure,” said Dril. He turned to look out the doorway. The snow fell heavier than before. “They were all frozen solid. Every corpse had a swollen tongue, sunken eyes, and cracked and broken skin inside their mouths. It’s almost as if they died of thirst.”

“How is that possible?” asked Vlad. “We passed a well coming in.”

Dril shook his head. “That well has been filled in. There was something else too…not a single container was in anyone’s home. No cups, no pots, no water skins, nothing.” [MORE]

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Saturday, March 8

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays: Part 1a – Welcome to Phoenix

“Got some tobacco I can chew?”

Garrett looked at him sideways. Then he reached into his pocket, took a chunk out of a tin, and handed it to Caprice.

Caprice slowly shoved it into his mouth and chewed. He tried to keep from tearing up. After a few seconds, a suitable glob of something nasty was in his mouth.

Imitating Garrett, he spat on the ground. A gooey wad slipped over his lower lip, trailed down his chin, and then plopped awkwardly at Caprice's feet.

Colorados stifled a laugh. Garrett just stared at him. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Part 1a: Derek’s Holding

The trip to Derek’s Holding took about two hours of travel. Snow began falling steadily and the weather worsened as they got closer to the village. It was a cold and uncomfortable trip, even on horseback.

Derek’s Holding was a collection of about twenty modest dwellings. The homes had thatch roofs, stone walls, and dirt floors. Snow-covered fields surrounded the village and a well was at its center.

“That’s strange,” said Ilmarė.

“What?” asked Vlad.

“There’s no smoke coming from any of the houses. Not a single fire in the village is lit.”

“Oh well, I guess no one’s home,” said Kham. “Can we leave now?” [MORE]

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Friday, March 7

Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays - Prologue

Within moments, an army of ants was marching across Sebastian’s sneakers and socks. The first sensation he felt was like a tiny pinprick. The pinch faded quickly enough, but it was immediately replaced by a severe burning, as if someone lit a match and touched it to his calf.

One bite was unpleasant enough, but the red fire ants attacked en masse. Hundreds of ants were evacuating the colony, swarming up Sebastian’s leg, and piercing his skin with their mandibles. The sensation caused by hundreds of bites was agonizing—like his legs were on fire.

It all happened in a matter of seconds. Sebastian looked down and realized his legs were swarming with bugs. He desperately tried to swat them off—but every handful that he swatted away were replaced by hundreds more, and making contact with his hand just gave them another surface to infest.

“MICHAEL!” Sebastian shouted at the top of his lungs. “GET OVER HERE!” [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King: Prologue

“The delegation reminded me that I swore to uphold this proclamation when I took possession of these lands.” The Duke shrugged. “I have no memory of such a thing, but it seems they have my signature on a document stating just this.” He sipped his goblet for a moment, obviously annoyed. “The old man is very respected in the village. In fact, he is the oldest man in all of Milandir. He has seen more than a hundred winters, if you believe his claims. Some sort of pagan mystic or poet, claiming the tree—an oak I think—was sacred.” Duke Adolphos rolled his eyes. “It’s drivel, I know, but he’s demanding and apology and it seems the whole of the village is behind him. That is why I summoned you here.”

“He summoned Vlad all the way from Freeport to plant a tree?” asked Kham. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 6

Chapter 3: Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays

This scenario, “Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays,” is from the Call of Cthulhu supplement, “Delta Green,” by Adam Scott Glancy. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Joe “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero) played by Joe Lalumia
• Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
• Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero) played by Joseph Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
• Kurt “Hammer” Grange (Fast Hero) played by George Webster
• Jake “Blade” Iron Shirt (Strong Hero) played by Matt Hammer
• Sebastian “Caprice” Creed (Fast/Smart Hero) played by Bill Countiss

This is one of those scenarios that should never have been in the main rulebook for Delta Green. It features a body-hopping alien known as the Traveler (yay!) who has no “goals other than an ongoing orgy of violence and mayhem” (boo!). So right from the start, our bad guy is a one-shot cipher. More importantly, the alien is a shapeshifter that hides in the bodies of other people. It has no other purpose? No weird character traits? There’s not even the slightest hint in the scenario as to how to run the Traveler when it’s taken over a body.

The other problem is that the scenario involves a BODY-HOPPING ALIEN. But instead, we end up with the thing hiding out in the desert where there are NO PEOPLE WHATOSEVER; in essence the alien picks the dumbest location it can find to hide out in and stays there. If it was really true to its “orgy of violence and mayhem,” surely there are better areas to hunt than the Arizona desert?

Then there’s the Coyote spirit. Basically, the Traveler eats three shamans, one of which manages a prayer to Coyote, the trickster spirit. This Coyote spirit then SHOWS UP and harasses the Traveler, giving the investigators clues to help track the alien. Or to put it another way, it’s a heavy-handed, genre-breaking attempt to give the PCs advice from a supernatural cause that has no place in a Call of Cthulhu setting. The answer to this is, “if you are concerned about the cosmological purity of CoC’s no-gods-but-those-of-the-Mythos approach, you’re welcome to assume that Coyote Spirit is a manifestation of Valor’s magical energy or willpower, and that it will dissipate when the Traveler is defeated.”

Seriously? What spell is this? How do PCs get a hold of it? What blasphemous tome did this shaman learn it from? The presence of a Coyote spirit is far more than messing with the mythos, it’s not playing by the rules of cultists, spell casting, and creepiness in general that is Cthulhu. The presence of Coyote had everyone convinced that there was a were-coyote running around, which made more sense because, you know, that was at least slightly creepy and seemed to fit better with the Cthulhu setting.

Fortunately, I knew this was coming. One of our agents just happens to be a Native American from that region, and I wrote it into his background that he has a connection to Coyote (he has a tattoo of a coyote and considers the animal his spirit totem). This provided some great moments that made Coyote more of a bizarre poltergeist of Blade’s ID than…you know, a spirit who saves people, White Wolf style. Still, it confused the players even if Coyote had a good excuse to exist.

Once the Traveler realizes its cover is blown, I decided it should run for it by stealing a car and rapidly hopping between bodies (as opposed to what the bad guy does in the scenario which is “flee the area on foot…rather than steal a car”). And it was going to flee to a big city filled with Lovecraftian horrors. Also known as Hollywood.

I know what you’re thinking: that sounds a lot like the movie The Hidden.

That’s exactly what my players said.

They were right. :)

Defining Moment: The defining moment in this scenario is when Blade called his shaman and the cell phone rang. That was NOT planned at all; it just worked out that way. Read on to see what I mean. [MORE]

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Chapter 23: Herald of the Yellow King

This is the second in the Ripples from Carcosa series of modules for Call of Cthulhu, "Herald of the Yellow King," written by Oscar Rios and (loosely) set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
• Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
• Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer
• Nauris Drilian (human rogue/ranger) played by Mike Best

This adventure was originally created for Call of Cthulhu, so it’s always an interesting exercise in converting it over to a D20 system. For one, Call of Cthulhu has plenty of combat (at least as much if not more so than Dungeons & Dragons), but doesn’t deal with any details. So when insane villagers attack, they’re just assumed to attack from nowhere. When the monster fights the PCs on a bridge, you have no idea how wide the bridge is, etc. To rectify this, I built the various villages from the ground up with paper miniatures. This helped tremendously, especially in the first encounter.

What’s so refreshing about Call of Cthulhu adventures is that they’re not afraid of putting characters into dire moral quandaries, often with no means of getting out of it. There is no “right” choice in many cases.

I did a lot to beef up this module for a party of 4th through 7th-level characters. Wolves became winter wolves, villagers became 2nd-level commoners with the maniac template (from D20 Modern), and the Spawnling of Hastur became a Chuul (which nearly ate the entire party).

Isolated, with almost no healing magic, no means of reequipping themselves, and alone in the wilderness, we learned very quickly that our party isn’t just bad in dungeons…they can barely survive in the wilderness. With a relentless snowstorm dogging their every step, in a frozen land where losing your horse can be a death sentence, the party suddenly realized why it’s so important to have a warm fire and a roof over your head. In that regard, I think the adventure was definitely a success.

That, and they’ve lost a taste for beef stew. BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA. [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 4

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008: Rest in peace, Dungeon Master

Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and one of the fathers of tabletop role-playing games, died on Tuesday at the age of 69. He had suffered from heart problems. [MORE]
It's thanks to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's colossal work that I am the person I am today. Gary was an active member of the online communty, always happy to dispense advice or provide a wry comment on the state of role-playing, which continued to evolve in ways he probably never expected. He was the progenitor of an entire gaming revolution, and he lookd upon the millions of gamers he spawned like a proud parent. The community reciprocated with love and support whenever we received reports of his failing health. His passing was completely unexpected; though Gary had been sick on and off, no one could have foreseen this.

Rest in Peace, Gary. May you avoid a bad roll on the reincarnation table.

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Lethal Legacy: Conclusion

“So he’s not publishing the book after all?” asked Blade.

“Nope,” said Archive. “I convinced him to hand over the draft of Yuggoth Creatures to me. The first thing I’d like to do is investigate the original Labib Home for Children. Randy’s contacts suggest that it continued to operate as a cult for quite awhile afterwards, and was connected to a little girl’s disappearance. We could do a lot with this information…”

“We’re going to have to keep an eye on the Kalms family,” said Hammer. “They know too much.”

“Where do you think they got all that information about the occult from?” asked Guppy.

“Mary, of course,” said Hammer. “She was married to Drebbers. After the divorce, she must have kept mum about what she knew for awhile until Randy was down on his luck and need to write a new book.”

“So the real secret source was his wife all along?” asked Blade. [MORE]

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Madness in Freeport - Conclusion

“Squeak?”

“Did you say something?” Ilmarė asked Kham.

Kham blinked back at her. “What?”

“I thought I heard you say something.”

“Not me,” said Kham. “I was just—“

“Squeak?”

Beldin peered at Kham. “That definitely came from you.”

Something wriggled in Kham’s coat. Kham lifted a tiny serpent out of the folds of his pockets.

“What the…”

“Khaaaam,” said Ilmarė. “What did you mean by ‘precious cargo’ before?” [MORE]

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Monday, March 3

Nick Ozment's Book Review: World War Z

That is the power Brooks wields, and in so doing he makes a contribution to gothic literature as powerful and as timely for the twenty first century as Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde was for the nineteenth or Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby was for the twentieth. By tapping into viable fears and present dangers, Brooks instills his imaginary bogeymen with real terror and menace. These are our worst fears given tangible form, dressed up in mythical drag: walking corpses bringing infection to our homes, invading our safe havens and reminding us viscerally with their dripping flesh and ravaged skulls that in the world we live in, there really is no such place: no haven is truly safe. [MORE]

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Lethal Legacy: Part 10 – Dining Room

“The power’s out,” said Randy, distraught over his missing son, “but at least we have the generator.”

There was the sound of a distant explosion. Then the lights went out.

“That’d be the generator,” said Scott with a sigh.

There was the sudden sound of tinkling glass. One by one, the glass shattered around the barred windows.

“What is going on?” shouted Belinda, covering her ears.

Guppy ran screaming into the bathroom and locked the door. [MORE]

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Madness in Freeport - Part 24: The Yellow Sign

Milton Drac, Melkior Maeorgan, and a ssanu stood in front of the platform. The tower shook ominously, and the platform and column began to glow with a bright, yellow light. The stone throbbed with magical power as a beam of light shot through the crystal and out into the night sky. It blinded them for a moment

“As I said,” said Drac, “you are too late. The Yellow Sign is now corrupting the minds of all those fools in the harbor below. Soon they will leave here and spread the glorious madness of the Unspeakable One throughout all of Onara! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

“I don’t believe it,” said Ilmarė. “He’s monologing.” [MORE]

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Sunday, March 2

Lethal Legacy: Part 9 – The Generator

“Luke!” shouted Hammer.

“Luke!” shouted Blade.

They struggle through the snow in the direction of the generator shack. It wasn’t hard to find, because it was on fire.

“Son of a bitch!” shouted Hammer. They jogged towards the shack.

The blowing snow was keeping the fire from spreading, but the entire shack was engulfed in flames. The generator was destroyed.

“I sure hope Luke’s not in there,” said Blade.

Suddenly Blade turned and aimed his bow at Hammer.

“What the—?” shouted Hammer. [MORE]

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Madness in Freeport - Part 23: The Tower Stairs

N’tal threw off his robe and flew into the air. The other ssanu drew their bows.

“Uh, I don’t remember you saying anything about the snakes being able to fly,” Vlad said Ilmarė.

“I didn’t,” said Ilmarė. “He’s a sorcerer!”

“I am indeed, ssslave,” hissed N’tal. “Now feel the might of a true sssanu: Incendiariesss globusss!” He pointed and a pea-sized ball of flames flew towards them.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Vlad knew the spell. He’d seen it once before, when the insane elorii Neyadis had nearly slaughtered his companions with a fireball. He had to get in front of it… [MORE]

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Saturday, March 1

Lethal Legacy: Part 8 – The Foyer

Guppy ran out of the room screaming towards the front door. Blade ran after him.

He plunged his head into a nearby snowdrift. Blade stood protectively over him, keeping watch.

With the fire out, Guppy looked back at Blade. “That was close! I think it can set people on fire…” Blade was staring, transfixed, over Guppy’s shoulder.

“Oh crap,” was all he got out. The thing grabbed Guppy by the head and hurled him back into the house. He smashed through a window into the foyer. [MORE]

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Madness in Freeport - Part 22: Lair of the Gibbering Mouther

Kham scrabbled out of the trapdoor and circled around to one of the pillars. His comrades watched in disbelief as Kham ignored the imminent danger; without the benefit of sound, he never even saw the gibbering monstrosity.

Ilmarė shook her head and then pointed at the amalgamation of eyes and teeth. Vlad and Beldin advanced on it.

The cone of silence dissipated.

“Good news guys,” said Kham. “I found some ladder rungs inside this pillar!” He pointed at one of the open pillars.

Eyeballs and teeth were scattered all over the place. Vlad and Beldin were spattered with gore. Ilmarė glared at him, hands on her hips.

“So now we can…climb…oh…” [MORE]

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