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Wednesday, April 30

Skinwalker: Introduction

This scenario, “Skinwalker,” is from the Call of Cthulhu supplement “Dwellers in Shadow” by Michael Szymanski from Triad Entertainments. 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
  • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast Hero) played by George Webster
  • Sebastian “Caprice” Creed (Fast/Smart Hero) played by Bill Countiss

Skinwalker is a scenario that’s big on ideas and poor on execution. The presentation is a big jumble, which makes it difficult as a GM to follow. There are actually two protagonists here, a Navajo “witch” and the thing he has unleashed. Both have similar abilities that involve taking people over by wearing their skin. Which is pretty creepy…

This is another scenario where the main antagonist has a shapeshifting power that it never uses to its advantage. For example, the Skinwalker possesses a woman’s skin, but since he can’t imitate voices, this immediately takes on a comedic Bugs Bunny image of a mousy secretary speaking in a deep baritone and smoking a stogie. The human villain doesn’t seem to have much in the way of goals either, besides being evil. The excuse for why he does so many ridiculous things (like undressing and dressing his victims) is that he’s insane. But he’s apparently insanely dumb; the first thing the witch does is appear as a wolf and warn the agents off.

Really? Seriously? He’s insane, he kills people, but he’s going to WARN the heroes off before they even suspect him, like a cartoon villain? Screw that!

There’s also a suspect whom the PCs are supposed to investigate because, well, because the town folk think he’s a little weird. The shape-shifting villain doesn’t capitalize on this means of diverting the investigation; in fact, he doesn’t even seem to be aware of the association.

Then there’s the Skinwalker itself, which doesn’t seem to have a plan other than to reproduce. In fact, the scenario is a little too fixated on the birthing that will take days to happen, without providing a narrative climax for when it should. So of course, I decided the PCs are going to find it right when it’s about to give birth.

To make this scenario more interesting, I cribbed from a popular horror movie and had the witch and the Skinwalker go on the offensive. Once the witch is spotted dumping skinless bodies, he pulls out all the stops and tracks the investigators, trying to figure out which one has the skin that fits him best. He walks around town in a form suspiciously like the person he wants to frame for his crimes, intentionally throwing the agents off his trail. And things spiral from there.

One other convention that I used to represent Coyote’s influence: I decided in this episode whenever the shape-shifting critter was on their trail, Blade would hear a song on a nearby radio. And in this case, it’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra. Because Sinatra’s creepy. [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 5c: An Honest Game of Chance

Henry shuffled the cards again. “Your friend Edward has a new guest.”

Kham glanced in Edward’s direction. “Elijah Quelch,” he said with a sneer.

“You know him?” asked Ilmarė.

“Not personally. He’s a rival of an antiques dealer I know.”

“Good man, Falthar,” said Henry. “But Quelch…well there’s nothing Quelch won’t buy.”

“I’m becoming increasingly concerned about what Edward took on board the Shrike,” said Sebastian. [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 29

Wit & Wisdom

"Never explain--you friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway."


--Writer Elbert Hubbard, quoted in the Macon, Ga., Telegraph

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Thin Jack: Conclusion

The arrival of the police to arrest Vanvon interrupted their argument only for a few minutes.

Standing in front of the team’s trailer, Christine shook her head at Blade. “You did it again. You had to go and f**k everything up for me, didn’t you?”

Blade laughed. “Me? That thing was trying to kill you—WOULD have killed you, if it hadn’t been for me! You were so focused on the movie and your big break that you couldn’t see it was going to eat you!”

“You know, there is the possibility that it was mentally controlling everyone on the set…” began Guppy.

“Shut up,” they both snapped at him.

Guppy cleared his throat and went back into the trailer. [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 5b: An Honest Game of Chance

“Hey Kham,” said Henry, “isn’t that Countess d’Amberville?”

The Countess presided over the Salon du Masque. She floated from table to table, charming the patrons and making sure her guests were satisfied with the fine liquors.

Kham didn’t look over his shoulder. “Yep.”

Two heavy-set men in expensive-looking clothes entered the lobby. They looked around and headed for Egil’s table, who was watching Henry’s game intently from afar.

“Didn’t you two have a thing going?”

The two thugs stood on either side of Egil’s chair, leaning over him, and a soft but clearly heated discussion took place.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Tranco.” Kham drew another card. It was a Red Dragon. Damn. [MORE]

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Monday, April 28

Thin Jack: Part 8 – My Final Stand

When they arrived, they found the crew setting up at the saloon. Kalms was putting the finishing touches on the set. Christine was in a wig and make-up. She was wearing a plain nightgown as well as a pair of stylishly anachronistic high heels.

“What the hell?” asked Blade. “Why is everyone up so late? What is going on?”

“Listen, Blade. This is the big finale,” muttered Christine. “Now stay out of the way, we’re cramming to fill the final scene.” She caught sight of Vanvon. “What the hell happened to you?”

Vanvon looked ignored her. “They’re filming His movie.” He looked around wide-eyed. “Whether they want to or not.”

“Whose movie?” asked Blade.

“Jack’s,” said Vanvon. “This thing…it has control over everyone. Can’t you see? We’re powerless to stop it!” [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 5a: An Honest Game of Chance

Henry Tranco was a handsome man, with a carefully trimmed beard. His jet-black hair hung rakishly over one eye. He shuffled the cards again as Kham sat at the table.

“So you’re joining me after all,” he said with a ready smile. “Good to see you Kham. It’s been too long.”

Kham grumbled as he sifted through his money pouch. “Not long enough. I lost something very valuable last time.”

“Oh that’s right,” said Henry. “I remember now. Well, no hard feelings. I should warn you, this is a high stakes game.”

“I wouldn’t be playing if it weren’t,” said Kham. “My companion here is Beldin Soulforge.”

“Good to see a Solani dwarf who knows his way around men and gold.” Henry shuffled the cards again. “Welcome to the game.”

Beldin grunted over his mug.

Ilmarė sat down next to the dwarf with a huff. “Idiots.”

“Welcome, Osalikene!” said Henry with a grin. “I’ll take your comment as an assessment of the actors over there and not of my gaming companions.”

“Don’t be so sure,” muttered Kham. [MORE]

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Sunday, April 27

DVD Review: Dexter Season One

The ending of season one won't be a shock to observant viewers. It's not the actual ending that matters but the journey getting there. Dexter's narration is amusing and wry, his cadence just off enough that he comes across as disturbed yet functional. Surprisingly, the show isn't very gory at all. Dexter would probably be less sympathetic if we were subjected to every grisly detail. In fact, by cutting away from the most gruesome scenes, Dexter has to remind us that he's one of the bad guys - the Code of Harry is as much the anti-hero's code that we see in a multitude of other crime-fighting shows. It's a credit to the writers that Dexter is both a monstrous, damaged human being and yet still human. [MORE]

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DVD Revuew: Cube 2 - Hypercube

The special effects are minimal and the traps are less inventive than the first. Hypercube is more concerned about the possibilities of alternate dimensions than it is about killing people off, relying instead on the inevitable backstabbing. Although there is a tantalizing series of clues as to the true nature of the hypercube, it's a bit of a feint - figuring it out doesn't help the characters escape or give them much of an advantage. This is a refreshing twist for jaded moviegoers and a depressing downer for those who are looking for a satisfying conclusion. [MORE]

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Pyramid Article: The Psionic Assassin

My latest article has been published in Pyramid:

This prestige class for the d20 System will have you jumping at shadows. (Or maybe the shadows will jump at you.) [MORE]

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Thin Jack: Part 7c – The Thing in the Mine

It laughed. Then, grabbing Hammer by the throat, it hurled him into the darkness beyond the Hummer.

The Hummer! Guppy tore the door open and dove into the driver’s seat. The thing was standing in front of him.

He shifted the Hummer out of park and slammed on the gas pedal. The Hummer lurched forward, screeching its wheels as it thudded against the thing. There was a shriek as it was pinned against the entrance to the mine.

The Hummer protested, revving louder. He couldn’t push it any further because the mine entrance was too narrow.

Guppy threw it in reverse. The Hummer lurched backwards. Guppy peered over the edge of the Hummer. The thing was gone.

He kicked it into drive, but the Hummer didn’t get any traction. That’s when he felt it lift up.

“Mother trucker,” hissed Guppy. The Hummer winched up higher and higher with a shriek. [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 4: A Gentle Reminder

“Yes.” Kham leaned across the table. “But you seem to be missing something.”

Egil patted his robe down. “Oh?”

Kham grabbed Egil’s hand by the wrist. “A pinky!” Egil’s pinky was wrapped in a bandage. It was missing a piece above the knuckle. “What kind of trouble are you in, Egil?”

Egil gulped, hard. “I had originally hoped to bring you to speak on behalf of Lucius, but…”

“Egil,” said Kham. “What kind of trouble?”

“You recall how I paid you those past two times to investigate the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign?”

Beldin leaned forward, intrigued. “Yes?”

“Well, as you’ve pointed out before, the Brothers of Althares take a vow of poverty.”

Kham slapped his forehead. ”Egil, you didn’t.”

Egil rubbed the back of his head and nodded.

“What?” asked Beldin.

“He borrowed from a loan shark. And if I know Freeport, my guess is he borrowed from the most powerful crime boss in town—“

“Finn val’Borda.” Egil sighed. [MORE]

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Saturday, April 26

Thin Jack: Part 7b – The Thing in the Mine

Blade shoved Vanvon to his knees. Archive trained a handheld spotlight on Vanvon’s sweaty face. Hammer snapped on a pair of black leather gloves. He slowly screwed on the silencer to his Glock.

“What are you doing?” asked Vanvon.

“What I do best,” said Hammer. He crouched down. “Tell me what you were doing in there.”

“I wasn’t doing anything. What are you doing out here late at night anyway? It’s none of your damn business—“

Without looking, Hammer pointed the Glock at one of the tires of the Hummer and squeezed the trigger. There was a quiet thump and the squeal of air hissing from it.

“I’m going to ask you again: What were you doing in there?”

“You…” Vanvon swallowed hard. “I remember you. You attacked my set in Hollywood!” He blinked up towards the spotlight. “Who are you people?” [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 3b: Conversing With Talbot Estus

“Where did you come up with such an interesting play?” asked Ilmarė.

“Funny you should ask!” said Talbot. “I was inspired by The King in Yellow. Have you heard of it?”

“I assume you mean the book, not the character,” said Ilmarė. “Yes, I’ve heard of it.”

“I purchased a copy off of the famous Coryan playwright, Livius Carbo.” Talbot spoke with rising excitement. ”Legend has it that it was performed in front of an entire town; they rioted afterwards, burning the entire place to the ground. Can you imagine such…” he searched for a word.

“Fervor?” asked Ilmarė.

“Fervor, yes!” Talbot smiled at from beneath his mask. “What‘s your name, by the by?” [MORE]

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Friday, April 25

IN GENRE: Modern Dark Fantasy Adventure

I stumbled across an article about a certain play style that happens to match the style of our current Majestic-12 D20 Modern game, when I found this:

There are several basic protagonist types. There is the Naive Hero, thrust into a terrifying situation, who must rally and become, of necessity, a fighter. There is the Legacy Hero, who possesses a unique and powerful supernatural talent that makes them, willingly or not, an involved party in the battle between good and evil. There is the Scholar, often a scientist, occultist, or a member of a secret cabal, who possesses slight, but vital, knowledge about the enemy and how to defeat them. Finally, there is the Tough Guy, the military, police, or jock type character whose job is to battle monsters and sacrifice their life at dramatically appropriate times.
This isn't just an accurate quote, it's a dead on assessment of our current characters.
The weird thing is I didn't assign these archetypes, the players fell into them! [MORE]

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Thin Jack: Part 7a – The Thing in the Mine

“I still think we should have put the body in a freezer,” said Caprice as he shoveled another pile of dirt out of the makeshift grave.

“You mean the drink freezer?” asked Hammer.

“We could just tell people not to get any drinks,” began Guppy when Blade shushed him.

He pointed. Off in the distance, they could see the headlights of a vehicle pulling away. In total darkness, the driver couldn’t see what they were up to. Which was the point.

“That’s a Hummer,” said Caprice.

“Vanvon.” He nodded towards Guppy and Caprice. “Let’s go.” Hammer was still digging. “I’ll call you if we find anything.”
They took off in the direction of the hill where Vanvon’s Hummer was. [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 3a: Conversing With Talbot Estus

Drinks and food were laid out at The Last Resort for an opening night reception. Bobbin Brandydale, the hotel’s owner, played the role of maitre d’ himself, seating guests and taking reservations.

Bobbin greeted Kham warmly.

“Bobbin? What are you doing here?” said Kham in disbelief. “What happened to the Pale Plate?”

“I sold it!” Bobbin led them over to a table in the corner. “Milton Drac always suspected we were a haven for…” he looked at Ilmarė and Beldin, “dissidents. His men constantly hassled us. When Drac died, business boomed. Me and my brother Edgar threw our savings together and, well, here we are!”

“Wow,” said Kham. “I’m glad things are working out for you. We just got out of the Freeport Opera House.”

“How was the play?”

“It was a real riot,” said Beldin, nursing his head. [MORE]

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Thursday, April 24

Thin Jack: Part 6 – Jack Attack

When the others were gone, the agents were all that remained.

Guppy was staring at his hand, a strange device patched together with duct tape. It looked like a spotlight. “That’s so strange.”

“What?” asked Archive.

“I built this device…it’s an ultraviolet projector. I tried to aim it at Jack.” Guppy looked down at his hand again, as if it didn’t belong to him. “But I couldn’t. It was almost like…”

“Jack wouldn’t let us,” said Caprice. [MORE]

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The Last Resort: Part 2: A Riot

“She’s with me.” Kham flashed the symbol of the Order of Drac, a medallion with a ship on it.

One of the guards squinted at Kham, then at the symbol, then at Kham again. “You can have the bit ‘o fluff,” he said, shoving the elorii towards Kham. “She’s a bit too cold for me tastes.”

Ilmarė glared over her shoulder. “You’ll pay for that, human.”

Two guards dragged an unconscious Beldin out, bleeding from gashes on their arms and legs. It was a credit to Beldin’s restraint that none of them were dead.

The guard who had arrested Ilmarė spun on his heel. “Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Kham inserted himself between the guardsmen and Ilmarė. “Let him go, he’s with me too.”

One of the other guardsmen that held Beldin wiped blood off his chin. “Oh yah? I don’t care if he’s Milton bloody Drac, back from th’ dead and here t’save us all. The stumper nicked me good. He kin rot in the Tombs for all I care.”

Kham reached into his overcoat. “I had a feeling you’d say that.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 23

Thin Jack: Part 5 – Puppy Dog Tales

“So you named the dog Zander?”

“Yeah, and he’s really smart! Here’s your birthday gift!” He thrust the tattered gift-wrapped box into Blade’s hands.

Blade looked down at it. Guppy and Archive, in various states of wakefulness, looked on in amusement. Hammer and Caprice hadn’t yet returned from their reconnaissance mission.

“Are you gonna open it?”

“Oh, right.” Blade tore open the paper and opened the box. It was a belt buckle with several coyotes in an Indian-style pictogram howling at the sky. Bits of turquoise represented the stars.

Blade hefted it in one hand. “Is this…solid gold?”

“Sure is!”

“How did you afford this Alex?”

Alex grinned. “Mommy said I could save my allowance and I did and after you got me Zander I saved up all my allowances and then mommy said I could pick one thing and I did and here it is! Do you like it?” [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 1b: Opening Night

“The guard finally arrives on time for a change.” Ilmarė ducked the swing of a man’s cane. She vaulted herself onto the chair of one of the opera house seats and then flipped over the frothing man. She landed lightly on her feet…

Only to have one hand cuffed by a pair of manacles.

“Hey!” she shouted, but two other guardsmen grabbed her roughly by the arms and slapped the other half of the manacles on her wrists.

“Cor, we gots a wild one!” Three guardsmen closed in on Beldin. A fourth guard held the side of his bleeding head.

“I’d leave him be if I were you,” said Ilmarė. “Solani dwarves are sworn to protect humans. If he wanted to hurt you, you’d be dead by now.”

“Izzat right?” said a particularly ugly guardsmen with a sneer. “Well let’s see if the lil fuzzy stumper’s got any life in ‘em then?”

“What did you call me?” roared Beldin.

Ilmarė sighed. “I told you not to do that.” [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 22

Thin Jack: Part 4 – Sunrise at Midnight

Hammer woke up out of a dead sleep. A loud noise had interrupted his dream.

He rose, shrugging on sweatpants. The entire team had one trailer, and they were splayed haphazardly across the trailer’s floor, couch, and other furniture.

He nudged Caprice with one foot. “Get up Hotpants,” he grunted.

Caprice was instantly awake. “Wha?”

“I heard a noise.” Hammer strapped on his dual shoulder holster. “Since you and me are security, I think we should check it out.”

Caprice blinked the sleep out of his eyes, nodded, and grabbed his pistol. “What kind of noise?”

“A door slamming shut.” He pushed open the door to the trailer and the cool night air swirled in. “Let’s go.” [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Part 1a: Opening Night

The elf and dwarf were ushered in, pressed by the expanding crowd. Ilmarė’s eyes scanned the page.

“Oh no,” she said.

“What?” asked Beldin. He looked around, hand resting on the axe at his belt.

“Look at the cast list.”

Beldin stared at the piece of paper still in his hand. It read: “The part of THE KING IN YELLOW will be played by MR. TALBOT ESTUS.”

“We’d better go.” Beldin stood up to move, but then the orchestra stuck up a tune, the curtains rose, and the audience could do nothing but watch. [MORE]

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Monday, April 21

Thin Jack: Part 3 – The Saloon

Blade and the others collected the film.

"We'll leave the equipment, come back tomorrow, shoot the town and some of the scenes with Young alone," said Vanvon. "Jack Thorne will join us after dark and we'll shoot their scenes together."

Roberts glanced at the door to the saloon. "What's happened to Jack?"

"Yes, Derik, where is Thorne?" asked Kalms. He eyed Blade nervously. "And why won't he join us until night? Where does he sleep?"

"The earth in which he was interred, no doubt," said Roberts sarcastically.

"That's enough of that, Roberts," admonished Vanvon. "Now listen to me, all of you: for the remainder of the shoot, Jack WILL be Drake Robey. He will NOT break character, he will NOT answer questions as Jack Thorne."

"Will he answer questions as the vampire?" asked Kalms.

"Just leave him alone, Randy," said Vanvon. "The man will be absolutely authentic, without any phony effects. He'll be the vampire, we'll film it, and that'll be that."

Archive leaned in to whisper to Blade. “We’d better order garlic pizza for dinner tonight.” [MORE]

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The Last Resort - Prologue

“You must really be a good friend to Lucius,” said the dark-kin, Sebastian, over his shoulder.

Kham shrugged. “I owe Egil a favor,” he said. “Besides, deep down, Lucius is a good kid. I don’t believe he really killed anybody.”

Sebastian nodded. “You’d be surprised what we’re all capable of, when pressed,” he said solemnly. “But I understand your loyalty,” he smiled distantly at his dwarven companion, who was busy trying not to get sick at the other end of the boat. “Good friends are hard to find.” [MORE]

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Sunday, April 20

The Lazy Man's Guide to Constructing a Call of Cthulhu Adventure

Having game mastered my share of Call of Cthulhu scenarios for a modern campaign, I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot of bad scenarios out there. The ideas are always interesting...the execution is what suffers. My biggest problem is the lack of narrative thread, as if the author is afraid he'll ruin the game for the GM if he doesn't provide guidance to what happens next. I'm really a big fan of providing a plot outline as to what will happen in a scenario -- even if I only ignore it later. It seems many Delta Green/Cthulhu Now scenarios are travelogues, providing overviews of areas with schedules, NPCs, etc. but no actual means of resolving the events in question.

In some cases, there are major events that are exciting that, if the PCs do the "right" thing, don't happen at all. Which is just bloody stupid gaming.

Or to put it another way, if Luke just managed to kill Darth Vader the first time he met, we chuck that whole series. Or if someone just calls in a SWAT team on Jason/Michael Meyers in the first movie, we wouldn't have to deal with the rest of the horror. Or something important in the movie/book/television show we're experiencing and instead of actually having narrative conflict we reward players for avoiding the conflict all together...zzzzZZZZZ.

Look, I want PCs to be smart. But conflict is INTERESTING. If the PCs are so smart as to completely avoid the conflict, then what we have is a very boring scenario. Sure, the PCs are smart for staking out an area, framing the cultists, and ensuring their dastardly plan to destroy the world never happens...but that's hardly an interesting conflict. In fact, many of the scenarios dedicate quite a bit of time to when things go wrong -- implying that they should go wrong, because that's more fun.

In Nemo Solus Sapit, there's pages upon pages dedicated to what happens when Azathoth is summoned as the PCs struggle to survive. And yet the scenario awards agents for averting the ceremony. Puhleeze! Why would I as a GM let them avoid the most interesting part of the scenario -- the conflict?

That's why I love Sandy Petersen's handy guide to crafting scenarios: http://www.yog-sothoth.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=51&page=1

Don't let the title fool you. I consider creating piles of useless background about an area to be much lazier than providing a narrative thread for the GM to easily use. His substeps detail the work involved, ranging from "How can the plot be prolonged?" to "why don't the authorities intervene?"

But here's the really important part:
Every scenario should have a great climax.
It's the difference between killing the cultist before he casts his ritual, and killing him after he's summoned the huge monster. I want the huge monster to show up -- nay, DEMAND IT SHOW UP -- because running away from the monster, trying to defeat it, or being eaten by it is fun.

Mind you, there are times when I don't want the climax to be an either/or proposition of apocalypse vs. happy survival. But I demand a narrative climax, as do my players. CoC scenario authors get away with not providing it because old school gamers are used to crafting their own climaxes and plots. But good scenarios make it clear how things are going to play out, even if that's not quite how the scenario ends.

What shouldn't be rewarded, but all too often is in Delta Green type scenarios, is the coward's response. In essence, good guys are encouraged to not face threats directly, not deal with them face-to-face, cause that means loss of Sanity, and Sanity means eventual death. It's like playing Charlie in Charlie's Angels instead of the Angels...sure Charlie has lots of power. But you can't help but thinking he's kind of a douche for not handling things himself.

When I have to resort to movie plots for my narrative, the scenarios aren't doing their jobs.

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Thin Jack: Part 2 – Entourage

“But won’t this Vanvon guy remember us?” asked Guppy, his voice rising as he focused on the rotund outline of the director approaching. “We didn’t exactly keep a low profile last time.”

“Vanvon?” Kalms smirked. “I doubt he’ll remember you. He can’t remember anyone who ain’t an actor—“

“Who are these thugs you’ve brought onto my set?” bellowed Derik Vanvon.

Kalms’ smile vanished. He spun on his heel, all business. “Freelancers. After we lost a few of the extras I thought we could use the help.”

Vanvon appraised them with a squint. “Good, we’ll need to move up our filming schedule in any case. As long as they stay out of my way!” He stalked off, zeroing in on Allen Roberts, who was caught in mid-wave at Hammer. “You! Stop waving like an idiot and get ready for our next scene!”

Kalms chuckled and shook his head. “See?” [MORE]

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Chapter 25: The Last Resort - Introduction

This is one of a series of adventures in Tales of Freeport, "The Last Resort," written by Graeme Davis and (loosely) set in the Arcanis setting. It also includes elements from “Tatters of the King,” a Call of Cthulhu adventure written by Tim Wiseman. Finally, Three-Dragon Ante is an important part of this adventure. 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)
  • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
  • Kham Val’Abebi(val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
  • Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster

This adventure is actually a combination of two adventures, combining the prologue of Tatters of the King by Time Wiseman with The Last Resort. It required some tweaking.

First, I had to get the PCs back to Freeport. This commenced with a letter from Egil imploring Kham to return and act as a character witness on Lucius Roby’s behalf. It turns out that Lucius’ brother, Grahame Roby, accused him of the murder of his father and sister. Egil hopes Kham’s influence in Freeport can bail Lucius out from life in the Tombs.

As a result of Milton Drac’s death, the owners of the Pale Plate have finally had a turn of luck. Drac hated them, knowing that they sometimes harbored Freeport dissidents. When he died, the pressure was off and business boomed, such that the owners (Bobbin Brandydale and his brother, Edgar) decided to buy The Last Resort.

As a favor to the Brandydales, Countess d’Amberville (a madam of the Salon du Masque) decides to generate some of her own business. She proposes a masquerade at The Last Resort to kick off the grand opening of a new play debuting at the Freeport Opera House by Talbot Estus, titled “The Queen and the Stranger.” Since the play ends with a masquerade, and the Countess never takes off her mask, this seems fitting.

To start with, the adventure is very much a character piece, so I wanted the characters to be memorable. Rather than introduce a slew of NPCs that would be quickly forgotten, I decided to combine and replace several plots.

  • Plot 1: Thralen Vodric val’Ossan and Emric Ossan-Drac have returned, in secret, to lay claim to the Sea Lord’s throne. These two replaced a King and his daughter from some random nation.
  • Plot 2: Aljandros Haddon, who was last seen running for his life, moved to Freeport only to discover that his wife Imelda is having an affair with Thomas Rhymer at The Last Resort.
  • Plot 3: Henry Tranco, the only named NPC to remain basically unaltered from the original adventure, is hosting a high-stakes game of Three-Dragon Ante as a favor to the Brandydales to attract rich clients.
  • Plot 4: Two rival cults of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign believe Egil to be the Chosen One, someone whom they must sacrifice at midnight. Their lack of coordination shows just how badly disorganized the cult is with the loss of Milton Drac.
  • Plot 5: Speaking of Egil, we finally discover how he’s managed to pay the PCs up to this point. Hint: He borrowed the money from the wrong people, and said people want it back…with interest. Egil’s flat broke of course, so it’s up to the PCs (who technically were the beneficiaries of the money originally) to help him pay it back.
  • Plot 6: As proof of Emric’s claim to the throne, Thralen wears the Seal of Drac. The ring is not easy to duplicate. Little does he know that someone already knows he’s at The Last Resort and plans to steal it.
  • Plot 7: Captain Baldric, who happens to be staying at The Last Resort, is about to find out that Captain Wendron Krubach is not so forgiving about the theft of his treasure. Even though he’s dead.
  • Plot 8: Edward, who took over captaining duties of the Shrike, got his hands on something from the Valossan city (where Calactyte lives) that he shouldn’t have. He plans to sell it. The cargo has other plans.
Whew! I get tired just writing about it. [MORE]

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Saturday, April 19

Thin Jack: Part 1 – The Unknown Stuntman

GREEN GROVE, AZ -- Blade turned around in the passenger’s seat to address the team. Guppy was driving for once. Of them all, only Jim-Bean was missing.

Blade hesitated. “Where’s Jim-Bean?”

“Not here,” said Hammer. “I hear he got a royal dressing-down for appearing on public television.”

“But it was thanks to his idea that we were able to cover up the mission!” exclaimed Guppy.

Archive shrugged. “I don’t think Majestic-12 likes the idea of a bomb threat covered on national television.”

“They’ve got him doing paperwork, I bet,” said Caprice. “I spent two days straight at a desk filling that crap out thanks to you guys.”

“Yeah, we heard,” said Hammer with a smirk. “Drake said it was the only reason we weren’t disavowed already.” [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 7: Conclusion

“You have returned!” said Krisharr. “Asss wasss foretold by the prophecy!”

Cal returned to the village triumphantly, with Bijoux at his side. The corpse of Tomas Hariot was slung over his shoulder.

Next came Vlad and Dril, carrying sacks over their shoulders.

Kham sauntered by, along with the ever-graceful Ilmarė.

Finally, two figures brought up the rear. [MORE]

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Friday, April 18

Thin Jack: Prologue

Drake sat across from Blade, tapping a pen on the scratched wood. Drake’s desk looked as if it had been thrown out a window, dragged down the street, and then after it had broken apart, put back together in his office. Staring at him, Blade was suddenly conscious of Drake’s age. When Drake stood, he towered. But sitting, he looked like a tired, old man.

To Blade’s surprise, he didn’t immediately get a reprimand. “You look like s***t. How’s your pain?” he asked with his thick Scottish accent.

Blade swallowed. “I’m fine,” was all he said.

He wasn’t fine. Since that…THING had bitten him, the wounds never healed. They oozed all the time. He had to take anticoagulants to stop the bleeding, and that only slowed it to a trickle. He changed his dressing every night. [
MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6e: The Lair of the Necromancer

Sebastian pointed two fingers at Herbert, who stumped towards the helpless Cal. “Ustilo radius!”

Two entwined rays of fire engulfed the undead servant. “Hnnnnh!” said Herbert. Then he fell into a smoldering heap.

“Nooo!” shrieked Tomas. Beldin struggled out of the ground as Tomas raised one palm. “You killed Herbert! You vill pay for dat vith your LIFE! Algor…”

From across the field, Sebsatian knew he was doomed. He had seen Tomas use that same spell on his enemies before. A blast of ice would spew from his palm, flash-freezing anything in its path. And the only thing in its path was a dark-kin with no magic left to protect him.

“…conus!” Beldin charged into Tomas’ line of sight just as the spell went off. [MORE]

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Thursday, April 17

Wit & Wisdom

"You don't want to get in a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it."

--Bob Dole, quoted in Time.com

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Chapter 7: Thin Jack

This scenario, “Thin Jack,” is a free download from http://www.yog-sothoth.com/modules.php?name=Downloads&d_op=getit&lid=63 by Dr. Michael C. LaBossiere. 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
  • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast Hero) played by George Webster
  • Sebastian “Caprice” Creed (Fast/Smart Hero) played by Bill Countiss

Thin Jack is one of those scenarios that has so much potential but doesn’t really capitalize on it. Consider: we have an old Wild West myth about a creature that lurks in darkness and has a vulnerability to precious metals. A movie crew arrives but runs out of money mid-production until a middling actor digs up the legendary gold mine and the creature itself. Begging for the thing to spare his life, the actor forges an unholy deal with the creature and agrees to cover up for its feedings; in return, he keeps the gold and gets his movie made.

If you’ve ever seen Shadow of the Vampire, there’s so many more possibilities here. For one, the similarities between Thin Jack and a vampire provide plenty of confusing twists for the agents. For another, I love directors with god complexes, so wouldn’t it be more fun to have the director make the deal with the creature? Why not have the thing be PART of the story, the ultimate special effect? And finally, this is a Wild West film…surely there has to be a showdown at high err…moon?

This whole plot is of course completely outrageous, so it takes a bit of convincing to get the agents to be part of it. Since Blade already has a connection to his movie star ex-wife and he wants to stay in her good graces, this is another opportunity to prove he’s cleaned up and is worthy of seeing his son more than once a month. The team also rescued a famous Hollywood writer, Randy Kalms, who’s trying to get back into the business with this daring movie.

The “Gaunt” race is actually a psurlon from Monster Manual II. Psurlons are particularly interesting, because they have psionic powers like domination. Thin Jack is intentionally manipulating events such that he can be a star and go out in a blaze of glory, just like the song says.

I used Curse of the Undead, the first vampire western, as the movie that Vanvon is remaking. The film is suitably cheesy and intentionally keeps the villain off-screen enough that Jack has time to be horrifying when he finally does appear. There’s even a red herring thrown in. It’s a good thing I threw him in too; as I suspected, the agents didn’t wait for the entire film to play out. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6d: The Lair of the Necromancer

“Bijoux!” shouted Sebastian. “You’ve got to summon something to wake Kham!”

The fihali, ears flat against her head, was balanced on one of the ruined walls. “Onara’s creatures shun this place. I have no magic that will…wait a minute.” She reached into her belt pouch to pull out a small green snake. “Espion. I would ask for your help.”

The snake bobbed its head in response.

“Go,” she said, dropping it to the ground. “Find Kham and wake him.”

“That’s the best you can do?” said Dril in disbelief. “You sent a snake to save us?”

“Yig works in mysterious ways,” she replied. [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 16

Love's Lonely Children: Conclusion

Blade took a few steps into the passage and found himself in a large, dank chamber. One wall was brick, and from out of the hole wafted the fog and the sickly light. The hole was big enough for Blade to crawl through if he got on his hands and knees.

Blade kneeled down. He couldn’t see anything beyond the brick wall without crawling inside. He scuttled into the mist.

Behind the wall was a large room thick with the stench of sewage and decay. There on the brick floor lay an enormous figure, fat, naked, and glowing with a sickly light. No head was visible. Streams of thick, clotting blood poured from open mouths in the palm of each giant hand. A horde of deformed eyeless figures crawled and scampered around and over the glowing body, apparently oblivious to its presence.

The naked figured sat up, brushing away the small, tattered figures. As it lifted its enormous sallow bulk, Blade could see that the thing had no head. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6c: The Lair of the Necromancer

Beldin spit bile out of his mouth and charged around the brambles. Two large, very dead ogres stumped towards him with huge clubs in their hands.

“Come on!” shouted the dwarf with a feral grin. “I know how to fight your kind!”

The first ogre slammed downwards, but Beldin rolled tightly in a ball to the side and came up next to its leg. With a mighty swing, he nearly hewed the ogre’s foot off at the ankle. A living ogre would have been fatally incapacitated. But these were no living ogres.

The second one swung at Beldin, but it was too slow. Instead, it ended up smashing into the other ogre. Beldin took the opportunity to roll out of the way.

When he rose up, the dwarf hurled a throwing axe at the back of the head of the other ogre. Again, it would normally have been a killing shot. The ogre spun, Beldin’s axe still protruding from its head, and moaned in a feeble approximation of rage.

“I could use a little help!” shouted Beldin as the two ogres turned to face him. [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 15

Love's Lonely Children: Part 5 – The Hammonds Return

Blade swung the flashlight beam over Colin’s hunched form. He was moaning, hands over his head, body heaving. Blade wasn’t sure if he was throwing up or sobbing.

Archive and Guppy had their weapons trained on Colin.

“Guys,” came Hammer’s voice. “You’d better take a look at this.”

Blade took his eyes off Colin for only a moment.

The images came through in reverse order. The thing that he saw in the Cistron didn’t make any sense. It was too blurry for him to make out details.

“What is this?” asked Archive.

“I think that’s…Colin,” said Hammer.

Another picture came through, this one of a book. “Beyond a gulf in the subterranean night a passage leads to a wall of massive bricks, and beyond the wall rises Y’golonac…”

Blade tucked the Cistron into a pocket and drew a bead on Colin with his compound bow. “Put your hands up where I can see them.”

Colin’s moaning changed from one voice to the gibbering of two, shrieking and wheezing. His headless form swung around, palms spread wide, each punctuated by a screaming, fanged mouth. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6b: The Lair of the Necromancer

Tomas sputtered in rage. Half his army had been decimated in mere moments. “I’ll show you desecration! Atrum pampinea!”

Rubbery black tentacles sprang forth from the earth, entwining Ilmarė, Cal and Dril.

Kham dove to the side as a tentacle sprung up and then flipped underneath another one that nearly decapitated him with a violent swipe. He navigated through the briar patch of weeds and vines, sidestepping just in time to avoid a trapped skeleton’s swing.

He landed on his feet. Kham looked up, only to see a hunched man in gravedigger’s attire. “Don’t tell me, you’re the lackey.”

Herbert’s arms were over his head, gripping a large shovel. “Hnnnnh!”

Then the shovel came down on Kham and he didn’t see anything at all. [MORE]

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Monday, April 14

Love's Lonely Children: Part 4 – Inside the Hammond Home

When the door opened, a gust of foul-smelling air tinged with decay poured into the hallway. Manacles and wicked hooks dangled from thick chains. The chains seemed to strain toward an upside-down pentacle burnt into the wooden floor. The shapeless remains of black candles were carefully placed around the outside of the cryptic symbol, the floorboards stained with dried and drying blood and littered by decaying scraps of food, empty wine bottles, and a motley collection of whips and pincers.

A large axe, encrusted with blood, stood in the corner near a wooden lectern. Resting on the lectern was a tattered, dog-eared manuscript, obviously a photocopy, stapled down one side. Without looking at it too closely, Hammer took a picture with his Cistron.

He had all the evidence he needed to put the Hammonds away for life. That left one more room. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6a: The Lair of the Necromancer

“Uh, guys…” Kham had both of his pistols out.

Dril scanned the openings between the ruins with his rifle. “I see them.”

All around them, corpses in various states of decay shambled forward. Some were rotten to the core, leaving only gleaming white bone. Others still had leathery strips of flesh that hung off in great peeling sheets.

“How did we not notice them before?” asked Bijoux.

“An old necromancer trick.” Sebastian had his hands free, almost as if he were a gunslinger ready for a shootout. “They were buried behind us. Tomas is a Magister Mortis. He will be a formidable challenge.”

“That explains his armor, “ said Beldin. “I’m not sure how he can cast spells with it on.”

“He uses blood in some of his spells,” said Sebastian. “Let’s leave it at that.” [MORE]

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Sunday, April 13

Love's Lonely Children: Part 3 – Watching the Book Shop

Staking out the Hammonds’ Bookshop was not a difficult task. The team spent several boring hours watching people enter and exit the bookstore. Now and again Colin left the shop.

Around 2 a.m., Colin and Edith left the house and loaded a series of black plastic bags into the trunk of their car. With the trunk loaded and closed, Colin locked the front door of the shop.

Guppy took his eyes away from binoculars. “I think that’s a body…”

“That’s it, that’s what we need,” shouted Blade. He slammed on the gas.

The green sedan swerved, avoiding the van. The car accelerated and roared past and away. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 5: Tribal Huts

They all stood around the remnants of a tower. Though segregated from the ss’ressen, it provided a suitable resting place for Sebastian to finally meditate. The others took time to clean themselves by the river and replenish their supplies with what foodstuffs they deemed edible by non-ss’ressen.

“Did you notice?” Bijoux whispered to Ilmarė.

“Yes,” replied the elorii. “They all have sores on their bodies. Disgusting creatures.”

The ss’ressen of Cal’s village all had strange, black buboes somewhere on their hides.

Bijoux’s ears flattened. “I think they are hurt. In a way I cannot heal them.”

“That may be,” said Ilmarė. “That’s what they get for rolling around in the muck and grime all day.” [MORE]

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Saturday, April 12

Love's Lonely Children: Part 2 – Hammonds Adult Books

Guppy held up a magazine cover. It was a recent issue of the sadomasochistic magazine Dungeon, featuring a photograph of Colin on the cover. Though bound and gagged, enough of his face was visible for him to be recognized. Posed with him was a grossly obese woman dressed in black leather and carrying a whip.

“How much for this?” asked Guppy.

“Five dollars,” said Colin.

“I will give you two.”

Colin’s nose wrinkled. “I don’t know what country you come from, mister, but we don’t haggle here. It’s five dollars.”

“Fine.” Guppy put the magazine back on the shelf. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 4: The Ruined Temple

At the far end of the temple was a high altar with a statue of Yig looming over it in the form of an immense hooded cobra. The altar was heavily stained with blood and had clearly been used for sacrifice recently. In front of the altar stood a crude, stone-lined fire pit containing of ashes and burned bones.

The shadowy silhouette of a ssanu materialized out of the statue.

“Hello Kham,” it whispered. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Alissstar?” asked Kham. “You get around, don’t you?” [MORE]

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Friday, April 11

Love's Lonely Children: Part 1 – The Squat

“I think I found it,” said Archive.

The bedroom that was Kathy’s was little larger than a closet. A stained mattress covered most of the floor; the rest scattered with clothes, cosmetics, and assorted rubbish. A collage of faces cut from magazines and newspapers covered one wall.

Archive picked up a magazine. “Huh, Girltalk,” he said, reading the cover aloud. He opened it and winced. It was a pornographic publication featuring photos of naked men in various provocative poses.

Blade squinted at the cover. “Interesting. The sticker on the back cover gives the name of Hammonds Adult Books along with an address.”

Guppy picked up a photograph of three people: a weaselish man with thinning, ginger hair, and a grossly overweight woman. The shape of the third person was carefully cut out of the picture. Part of a storefront appeared in the background of the photo, on which parts of the words “Hammonds Adult Books” could be seen.

“I don’t know where the missing picture is,” said Guppy.

“I do.” Hammer pointed at one of the photos pasted among the montage of rich and famous faces glued on the wall. It was Kathy, in her schoolgirl uniform, her hair in braids.

“I guess we know where we’re going next,” said Blade. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 3a: The Ss’ressen Settlement

“The big one’s getting closer…” Dril tracked the ss’ressen with his rifle.

“Wait,” said Kham. He put himself in the chieftain’s path. “We’re friends!” He pointed at Cal, unconscious on the stretcher. “What’s the word for ss’ressen?”

“Cal said it was thepa,” said Bijoux.

“We’re friends of thepa!” said Kham. He held up the amulet of Yig. “See?”

There was a collective gasp. Then the ss’ressen lowered their weapons. After a moment, Dril lowered his rifle.

“Okay, we’re making progress. Now if I could just remember the words for ‘Please give us food and shelter.’”

“I will try to wake him again.” Bijoux pulled something that looked suspiciously like an onion from her belt pouch.

Vlad and Beldin lowered the stretcher. Bijoux waved the onion in front of Cal’s nostrils.

“Squeak!”

“I didn’t know Cal squeaked,” said Vlad.

“He doesn’t,” said Kham. “That can only be…”

“Squeak!” [MORE]

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Thursday, April 10

Love's Lonely Children: Prologue

Blade’s Cistron chirped. He picked it up. “Hello?”

“Jake? Jake, is that you?”

“Spider?”

“Yeah.”

“How the hell are you!”

“I’m…I could be better. Listen, I saw what you did with your ex-wife there. Good save.”

Blade frowned. The news reports had barely mentioned him. Drake made it a habit of keeping a running tally every time Jake’s name showed up, keeping a scorecard of his publicity. And Drake was never satisfied with anything less than zero.

“Uh, thanks. How’d you get this number? [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2e: Landfall

Dril struggled to stay awake. The marsh was warm and the repeated trilling of the tree frogs and other creatures created a strange rhythm that lulled him to sleep.

Something highly offensive assaulted his nostrils. Dril straightened up, rifle in hand. He wasn’t sure what explosive marsh gas smelled like, but he knew it had to smell different than the rest of the awful odors that offended him throughout the day.

He looked around. Dril knew that marsh gas could kill. If it were really marsh gas, there would be dead animals nearby.

Then he saw something that made him forget about the gas. [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 9

Chapter 6: Love’s Lonely Children - Introduction

This scenario, “Loves Lonely Children,” is from the Cthulhu Now supplement “The Stars Are Right” by Richard Watts. 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
  • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast Hero) played by George Webster

This is probably the nastiest scenario we played to date.

Love’s Lonely Children primarily takes place in a two-story hovel. But of course, that’s not how things go down. Once again, the PCs provided me a gift in splitting up (they seem to enjoy splitting up), creating a cinematic effect where Hammer investigates what happened at the house while the other three agents tracked the bad guys down.

I was surprised that the action moved beyond the house and that the agents didn’t move earlier. But in the end, it was even spookier. I used the scene from Fargo as my inspiration for the chase. For the huge Edith, I pictured Bonnie Grape (played by Darlene Cates) from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

There’s one problem with this scenario, and that’s the bad guy. Put plainly, unless the agents do something boring like calling the police without investigating the place themselves, or something totally psychotic like attacking presumably innocent people with no evidence, when the bad guy does finally show up the agents are dead meat. There’s one “out” that the scenario provides that I used as a last resort when it became clear that the villain was going to eat the entire party. I also used the round by round growth chart from Worlds of Cthulhu to deal with the mechanics of turning into…well, you’ll see.

We used the “Tower of Sanity” to good effect this game. At the end, Guppy’s player had to pull twelve times from the Tower—a very tense moment. It also proved my point about having sanity loss be more in the PC’s hands. If Guppy had failed his sanity check, all the agents would have been massacred.

Defining Moment: Hammer, without my prompting, split from the rest of the team to search out the cultist house. I went back and forth between the two scenes so that Hammer discovered the true nature of the thing in a picture just as the agents encountered it face-to-face. [MORE]

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Cut Troat's Gold - Part 2d: Landfall

The bat swooped in for the kill. Using his hind claws, he snapped the membrane between his two feet upwards, scooping the spider off the branch into the air in front of him. He flapped his wings forward to guide it to his gullet. With a gulp, it was in his mouth.

Two more crunches later and it served at Dracuul’s dessert for the night.

It didn’t taste like the other spiders at all. They were hairy and crunchy on the outside, and gooey on the inside. The spiders he normally ate were all legs, with the body barely worth the effort. In comparison, the marsh spiders were a veritable feast.

But there was something else. Dracuul knew it immediately. Poison. It wasn’t strong, because it was a spiderling, but it was bad enough. An adult could harm his master.

That’s when he saw them: dozens of spiders, hundreds…more than Dracuul knew how to count. More than he’d ever seen in his entire lifetime. Too many!

The marsh spiders ranged from tiny to one the size of his master’s head. The arachnids boiled out of a hole from one of the trees near where he’d eaten the spiderling. They were crawling in an orderly fashion down the tree, following a huge spider that must have been their mother. Crawling towards…

“Master!” squeaked Dracuul. “Master wake up!” [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 8

Dire Wavelengths: Conclusion

“Are you done using my van for your stupid personal problems?” snarled Drake, chewing Blade out for his actions.

“Yeah,” Blade said glumly.

“You’re going to turn Majestic-12 into COPS if you keep this up.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Look,” Drake’s voice softened. “I picked you, all of you, because you’ve dealt with some weird things in your past. So I expect you to deal with it. But you’ve got to do it in on MJ-12 terms. I want field reports. I want you to act like you’re part of an organization, or I will bounce your ass out of it. And nobody leaves MJ-12 alive. Do we have an understanding?” [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2c: Landfall

Kham surfaced with the unconscious Ilmarė. He spat out a mouthful of swamp water.

His companions were gasping for breath. All around them were bits and pieces of vegetation.

“Is she all right?” asked Vlad.

“She’ll be fine.” Kham leaned over Ilmarė. “She just needs a little mouth to—“

Ilmarė grabbed Kham by the jaw and shoved him away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

Kham rubbed his jaw. “So what were you all doing while I was rescuing the damsel in distress?”

“Fighting a rrhiillîissaa,” said Cal.

“A ree-WHAT-sa?”

“But it dove under the water just now,” said Beldin. His beard was dripping wet. “Maybe you scared it off.”

“Yeah, right,” said Kham. [MORE]

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Monday, April 7

Nick Ozment's Review: The Ruins

The premise is kind of creepy; the threat is unusual; the scenes of horror are gruesomely horrific. What this movie seems to lack is characters. Well, I’ll clarify that: It lacks characters who have any depth, characters who would be of any interest to us apart from the circumstance in which they find themselves. [MORE]

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Dire Wavelengths: Part 2 – The Soundstage

“I’M the threat? I’m trying to protect Christine from her crazy ex-husband!”

Blade turned to the security guard. “This is Carey Vora. He’s a real nut. She has a restraining order against him for stalking. I dealt with him years ago.”

Vanvon was still ranting. “Follow my direction and my camera will convince the world that even a SNIVELING idiot MILQUETOAST like you can be a hero.”

“You’re wrong,” said Carey. “You’re the stalker!”

Guppy rifled through the man’s bag. “Duct tape. A knife. A sock.”

“Looks like a kidnapping kit to me,” said Hammer.

“Miss Dee, since you seem INCAPABLE of delivering even a SINGLE line with conviction,” ranted Vanvon, “let’s continue with you doing the scene in DISHABELLE.”

There was the screech of metal overhead and the lighting above snapped. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2b: Landfall

“We’re lucky,” said Cal. “It’s not raining.”

With a shout, Vlad speared the shambling mound where its head would be. It collapsed into the water.

Dril was busy reloading his rifle. “You consider that luck?” he asked in disbelief. “That thing nearly killed Beldin!”

Vlad stood triumphant over the defeated plant matter, Vrosh’s spear crackling with electrical energy.

“The rrhiillîissaa is most active during storms,” lectured Cal. “They are attracted to the lightning.”

Vlad looked sideways at the spear. “Why is that?”

“Because electricity makes them stronger.”

“Ah, crap,” said Vlad. [MORE]

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Sunday, April 6

Shout Out to My Fellow Panelists

Just wanted to send a shout-out to my fellow panelists at I-CON. It was a really educational (and humbling) experience. Thanks for letting me blather on!


Scott Price
Scott has spent his professional life trying to make computers work for people by helping people play with computers. He helped the Math Forum create digital manipulatives for math students, built an IT Department during 6 years as teacher, dean, and IT Coordinator at Exploration Summer Programs, developed databases for non-profits, and performed quality assurance testing with Scholastic, Inc. Outside of 'work' he is writing a RPG setting based on an animated television series, plays in and runs AD&D groups, writes about hypertext on Textuality.org, and rarely passes up anything that can be called playtesting. He is thrilled to be able to admit all that in a biography. [MORE]

Dave "Fargo" Kosak
Fargo is one of the founding fathers of GameSpy, starting in 1996 when he helped company founder Mark "The Freshmaker" Surfas launch PlanetQuake. He left a job in the advertising industry because he couldn't stand saying good things about games he didn't like, and he's been a full-time writer and creative lead in the gaming industry ever since. Fueling the big move was a passion for online gaming and everything that the Internet brings to games: player interaction, multiplayer gaming, game modifications, tournaments, downloads... he gets all breathy whenever he talks about it, which, frankly, is disturbing. Fargo writes the longest-running column on GameSpy, a weekly humor column called PlanetFargo. He also publishes a daily World of Warcraft comic: Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth. [MORE]

Lindsey "Z" Briggs
Puppeteer, Actress, Puppet Builder, Webdesigner, Production Manager and many other such hats, Z. is a SUNY Fredonia and University of Connecticut Alum, and has since gone on to pursue her dream of Puppetry. She is currently performing as "Lottie Lamb" on the PBS kids show - "Seemore's Playhouse" [MORE]

Andrea A. Phillips
I'm a writer, experiential marketer, and game designer. Currently I'm engaged as lead writer and associate producer for Immortal Destiny, an evolutionary MMORPG. I am also actively searching for freelance gigs. [MORE]

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Gallery: Celebrity D&D Characters, Rolled by Readers

In honor of Gary Gygax, the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons who passed away last month, we've assembled a gallery of famous people as if they were AD&D characters. [MORE]

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Dire Wavelenths: Part 1 – The Excelsior Hotel

“Christine!” Blade shouted into the phone.

“Who is this?”

“It’s Jake. Listen, you’ve got to—“

“Are you drunk?”

“What? No—“

“I told you to stop calling me, Jake. I want you out of my life and out of Alex’s. I don’t need you to mess things up anymore. Things are just turning around for me.”

“But Chris…”

“Don’t call me again, Jake.” She hung up. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2a: Landfall

“Bah!” said Beldin, stumping along up to his chest in the muck. “Dwarves could survive in the swamp. They just don’t want to. The elder races knew where to make their homes, right Ilmarė?”

Beldin was answered with silence.

“Ilmarė?”

Everyone turned to look. There was only a small pool of bubbles where Ilmarė had stood moments before.

“Thûdhiis!” snapped Cal.

“What?” asked Dril.

“Quicksand!” shouted Beldin just before he too went under.

“Damn it,” shouted Kham. “Did we lose the elf again?” [MORE]

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Friday, April 4

Dire Wavelengths - Prologue

“But you’re not a delicate kind of guy, are you? Look, Jacob. I’m in a real bind here. We’re working on a timeline, so I’m going through the trouble of popping in and out of your head multiple times.” He gestured at the walls of the club. “I’ve got to say, there’s some pretty scary stuff in here.”

“Thanks,” said Blade.

“No need to thank me! I’m just trying to be helpful. I really want you back in your son Alex’s life. I think it might change things for the better, you know what I mean? And what’s more important than a father’s love for his son?”

Blade just looked at him.

“Nothing, that’s what. So here’s the deal: go to the Excelsior Hotel on the corner of Maple. Stop Christine from going to the movie set today in twenty minutes.” Alzis tapped his watch. “Time’s ticking buddy, tick-tock, tick-tock.”

“You said that last time,” said Blade. “Would it be too much to give me a little more of a heads up?”

Alzis looked offended. “Hey now, that’s no way to talk to a friend. I wasn’t going to tell you at all, but you’re going to be dead in a few weeks so I figured I’d…oops.” He put his finger to his lips. “Did I just let that slip? I’m sorry. You’re running out of time.” [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 1b: Starting the Adventure

“I had a vision that my tribe was in trouble,” said Cal in a gruff voice. “Something about a Chosen One. They need my help. I’m going to go visit my village.”

“I’ll go with you, Cal,” said Sebastian. “It’s not that far from here. If Kialee’s estimations are correct, it shouldn’t be more than two day’s walk.”

“Great,” said Kham. “Well, I’ll go too. There are rumors of pirate treasure in the Sulfur Marsh…”

“I’m in,” Vlad said quickly before Kham finished.

“Maybe we can get rich while Cal reunites with his family,” said Kham. “Or whatever it is lizards have.” He threw one arm around Beldin. “I’m sure Beldin will go too. Because he’s such a good friend. Isn’t that right, Beldin?”

The dwarf grunted. [MORE]

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Updated I-CON Schedule

“Digital and D20: Transitioning between Pen-and-Paper and Computer Games”
Saturday 11am
Old Chemistry 144

“Creating Compelling Characters”
Saturday 5pm
Old Chemistry 134

“Video Game Violence: Wind-Up or Release?”
Saturday 8pm
Old Chemistry 144

"The Economics of Virtual Worlds"
Sunday 10am
Old Chemistry 144

"Virtual Worlds: In Fact, In Fiction, In Future"
Sunday 1pm
Old Chemistry 144

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Chapter 5: Dire Wavelengths - Introduction

This scenario, “Dire Wavelengths,” is from the free D20 Modern supplement at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20modern/oa/20050503a 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:

This next short scenario is a continuation of the weirdness in Faint Transmissions. It delves further into Christine Dee’s life and the film she’s working on. There’s plenty to do here in such a short scenario: the tension between Jake and his ex-wife, Alzis and his weird instructions, the psycho fan, and the weird circumstances that might just end up saving (or ending) the world.

Really, this is the kind of gift-wrapped scenarios GM’s love. Without that tension and history, the scenario is a little bland. But with a combination of emotional conflict, daring action, and an unusual plot where the agents can’t just fight their way out of it, this little gem turned into a full-fledged soap opera.

Although I’m not so sure Blade felt too good about the outcome. [MORE]

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Cut Throat's Gold - Part 1a: Starting the Adventure

“Is that a lizard laying underneath the bar?” asked Ilmarė.

“Yes,” said Sebastian. “That’s Sticktongue. He’s both bouncer and mascot.”

Kham twitched. “I think one of the lizards just crawled across my leg.”

“Charming.” Ilmarė sniffed tentatively at a mug and then pushed it away in disgust. “If one touches me,” she fingered a knife at her belt. “I’m going to stab it.” [MORE]

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Thursday, April 3

Cut Throat's Gold - Prologue

“Well?” asked Ilmarė.

“No luck,” said Vlad. “The shopkeeper wouldn’t sell us any potions at all, much less anything else.”

“I tried to impress upon her the importance of the hero who stood before her,” said Dril, annoyed, “but the damn woman wasn’t interested.”

“Did you show her the dolphin pin that Thralen Vodric gave you?” asked Kham. The look on Vlad’s face jarred his memory. “Oh wait…I forgot. Never mind.”

“That’s about as useful as letting her know that he saved Moratavia from becoming part of Carcosa,” said Ilmarė. “Nobody but us remembers that.”[MORE]

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Faint Transmisions - Conclusion

Guppy watched the news on his Cistron.

“Reports indicate that Derik Vanvon, a director famous for the cult classic, Disciples, was on his way to shoot his latest film, Curse of the Undead, when terrorists attacked. Fortunately, his bodyguards were able to fend off the attackers, who fled the scene. Some in Hollywood claim that Vanvon created the event for publicity purposes…”

“It’s always terrorists,” muttered Guppy. “They see a man with dark skin and its terrorists.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 2

Faint Transmission: Part 1 – The Railroad Tracks

HOLLYWOOD, CA -- The railroad crossing was located in a once-prosperous neighborhood that was home to some light industry in its heyday. But times had changed, and the industry had moved away, leaving a struggling business district populated by Laundromats, dry cleaners, appliance repair shops, pawnshops, thrift stores, and corner markets.

A black AM General Hummer was driving towards the tracks. It had a business logo emblazoned on its sides that read “Organized Productions.”

“What are you doing?” shouted Guppy.

“We have to stop that hummer,” said Blade.

“How?” asked Guppy.

But he didn’t need to ask. Blade drove the van directly into the Hummer’s path. [MORE]

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Chapter 24: Cut Throat's Gold - Introduction

This is one of a series of adventures in Tales of Freeport, "Cut-Throat’s Gold," written by Graeme Davis 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)
• Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
• Bijoux (fihali druid) played by Melissa Tresca
• Calactyte (ss’ressen barbarian) played by Joe Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
• Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
• Kham Val’Abebi(val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
• Nauris Drilian (human rogue/ranger) played by Mike Best
• Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
• Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

This adventure is notable for the fact that it had nearly every player in the campaign, which makes things alternately confusing and exciting. Unlike previous adventures where I was surprised by how many PCs showed up, I was ready for them this time.

The PC levels ranged from 5th through 7th level (the adventure is for a party of levels 4-7), but I boosted every monster’s stats in anticipation for a much larger party. I used all the Challenge Rating calculation rules and was pleasantly surprised to discover they really do work. By the end of the adventure, things were grim and we finally had our first PC death. I’ll let you guess who.

This adventure is essentially a series of battles with not a whole lot of plot thrown in. As a result, the PCs took over (with eight people, they’re practically their own adventure!) and I let them run free with the role-playing. Then I beat the crap out of them with everything the Sulfur Marsh had to offer. Or not offer, as the case may be.

I’ve also learned the beauty of using terrain and weather to seriously disadvantage characters. When coupled with a monster or five, it turns a bad situation to worse. But that’s okay, there’s eight PCs, they should be able to handle it, right?

Probably the biggest challenge in running this adventure was convincing everyone to go. You’ll see that Dril doesn’t particularly like ss’ressen (as well he shouldn’t), that Sebastian sympathizes with the racial biases against them, and that Calactyte really doesn’t care one way or another. This is Cal’s adventure—it’s his home village, after all—but it doesn’t mean he is necessarily in control.

I used Saltmarsh from the DMG II, placed it in Milandir at the edge of the Sulfur Marsh, and renamed it Sulfurmarsh. The rest fit perfectly, right down to the lizardfolk embassy and the lizard-friendly inn. I use the DMG II more than I use all of the other core rulebooks combined.

A few things I learned: Death Masters (from the first volume of the Dragon Compendium) kick ass. Entombers are hysterical. And all those necrotic spells from Libris Mortis are really, really nasty.

P.S. Did I mention Death Masters kick ass? [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 1

I-CON!

Yep, I'll be at I-CON again this year:

“Digital and D20: Transitioning between Pen-and-Paper and Computer Games”
Saturday 11am
Old Chemistry 144

“Creating Compelling Characters”
Saturday 5pm
Old Chemistry 134

“Video Game Violence: Wind-Up or Release?”
Saturday 8pm
Old Chemistry 144

http://www.iconsf.org

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Faint Transmissions: Prologue

The Rising had barely finished setting up and performing a sound check when people began filtering into the room. All were dressed to the nines, though the attire varied. Some came in suits, others in dress reminiscent of Victorian England. Still others looked like doctors, bankers, rap stars, and gang members. They all gathered around tables, each with their own posse, which made for a crowded room. Nobody was dancing.

The Rising started to play, timidly at first. The men looked on, whispering amongst themselves. Spider wisely switched gears to songs you could talk around, although they still involved a lot of screaming. It just took longer for him to reach the screaming part.

Blade sat down. He was either having a moment of déjà vu or he was dreaming.

Something wet touched his hand. He looked down to see a coyote at his feet, panting and wagging its tail. It almost looked like it had a smile on its face.

Blade scratched it behind the ear.

The coyote woofed and then padded off out of the exit. Nobody in the club seemed to notice it.

"Oh good, you're here," said a smooth voice. [MORE]

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Herald of the Yellow King - Conclusion

Kham awoke slowly, days later, in bed within the castle of Duke Adolphos val’Tenson. Vlad, Dril, and Ilmarė stood over him.

“He’s awake!” exclaimed Vlad. He sat down on the bed. “How are you feeling?”

Kham blinked. “So it was all a dream?”

“Not quite,” said Ilmarė. “It seems we all collapsed just after we were summoned to deliver an apology to the oldest man in Milandir.”

“Collapsed?” asked Kham. “I wasn’t even drunk!”

“Others undertook the task for us,” said Dril. “They said the old storyteller died in his sleep the night before.”

“And the villages?”

“Derek’s Holding, Dunover and Brighton are whole and intact,” said Vlad. “I visited myself to be sure. The peasants are all tilling the land and living their lives as if nothing happened.”

“But something did happen…didn’t it?” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:26 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Fred Durbin Nominated for 2008 Locus Award

Good news for Fred! "The Bone Man" is on the LOCUS 2007 Recommended Reading List, and is a 2008 Locus Awards nominee!

You can go to the Locus website and cast our vote for it here: https://secure.locusmag.com/2008/2008PollAndSurvey.html

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:11 AM | 0 comments links to this post


Want more? Please consider contributing to my Patreon; Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and the web; buy my books: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, The Well of Stars, and Awfully Familiar.