Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Setting thoughts - Combining Harrow Home and the Library

Thanks all that have voted so far on the setting concepts poll over there in the right column.  So far the Harrow Home Manor idea and the Library of De La Torre idea are leading the way.  So the natural thought is, how easy would it be to combine the ideas?

One of the interesting historical bits about the Yorkshire area in the real world is that there are many ruined abbeys and priories around the moors.  The ruins date back to an event related to the rise of the Anglican Church called the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  In the 1530's, word went out throughout England that monasteries devoted to Catholic orders were banned; the monks were told to convert, retire, or in cases where they rebelled or resisted, were executed or imprisoned.  The monasteries were sacked and stripped, the land was sold off, the libraries were burnt.

I developed a history for the site of Harrow Home Manor that traces the use of the site from pre-Celtic times all the way through the 'modern' day (1620's), identifying how the site changed hands from Celts to Romans, Saxons to Vikings, Normans to Tudors, and so on.  The site has been home to a chapel and church at multiple times during its two thousand year history.

The prevalence of churches and monasteries around the edges of the moorland attests to the existence of an ancient, slumbering evil that called for vigilance amongst a secretive order of clergy that understood the threat, and kept records and histories.  With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the official cover for this secretive order, as regular Cistercians, was stripped away, and a few of the monks barely escaped with whatever records or accounts they could manage before the long arm of the king tossed the rest onto the flames.

Or to come at it another way:  now it's the year 1620, at a tavern in one of the growing trade towns like Scarborough or Pickering.  A local merchant recently bought a property and discovered a store of scrolls and illuminated texts hidden in a secret cellar chamber, describing a mysterious order of monks from 80 years prior (the Ordo Fratrum Advigilo*) that warned of a sleeping evil beneath the moorlands, and documents note the various places where they had discovered entrances  and caves leading into the miasmic depths.  Never mind the superstitious claptrap, says the merchant, the texts describe treasure brought into the depths in bygone ages!  Celtic torques, Roman standards, Viking hacksilver, crusader gold!  As the merchant sits across the tavern table from you, he offers a deal:  he'll grant access to the secret library he now owns, and will provide a bit of funding towards adventuring gear and equipment, in return for a cut of the treasure.

Voila!  It combines the info-dump and target-rich opportunities of the Library of de la Torre, and the small micro-sandbox and tightly themed gothic megadungeon of Harrow Home Manor.  As I think through the implications, I'm imagining this adventure would be much more "handout intensive" like a traditional Cthulhu investigation rather than your standard dungeon, merging some of the best parts of both experiences.  Who was that monk who stashed the collection of rare scrolls 80 years ago during the chaos of the Dissolution, and are there any other secretive members of the Ordo still lurking about, watching for signs and portents?  The theme of "vigilant watchers for the return of evil" even has echoes of Tolkien, or D&D standards like the Temple of Elemental Evil and the villages of Hommlet and Nulb.

*If anyone out there is good with Latin, I'd appreciate any correction to the name for the order - it should be something like the Order of Watchful Brothers or some such, only in proper Latin.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mythic Monday: The Tarrasque

Wow - it’s been a while since I've posted a monster for Mythic Monday - my well of inspiration has taken me to other places these many months.  This past weekend, churches everywhere celebrated the feast of Pentecost, and my readings last week referenced dragon floats used in religious celebrations and feasts in Spain and southern France.  In following the lead back to its source, I was brought to the legendary Tarasque (or Tarrasque, in D&D).

Take a moment if you like, go hit Wikipedia and read up on the Tarasque.  Otherwise I'll paraphrase briefly:  Born of a middle eastern fire monster and the biblical Leviathan, the Tarasque was a 6-legged dragon that terrorized 1st century southern France before it was subdued by St Martha, a holy woman that pacified the creature while approaching it bare foot, in a white dress, and wielding a flask of holy water and a cross.  Then the villagers chopped it up (and renamed their place Tarascon).  Prior to its subdual, the beast was nigh invulnerable due to its armored shell.

The version of the dragon that shows up in Corpus Christi celebrations and the religious festivals is called a Tarasca, and a quick google search will show a handful of nifty Tarasca floats and wood carvings - here's a collage so you can see what I mean.  I like how they all have the signature turtle shell back and those big freaky mouths.  Some of the old woodcuts display the Tarasque with legs sticking out of its mouth, mid-meal.  We don't have too many festivals here in the States where people roll around man-eating turtle-backed dragons.  :sigh:

Images of various Tarascas
There are some bits of the story that are intriguing.  What is it about the theme of innocent maidens assuaging the most terrible of beasts?  I've read psychological theories of predatory monsters, how they call to mind primordial fears of being hunted by animals, or Freudian taboos of cannibalism, but I don't recall coming across an explanation of the 'beauty taming the savage beast' motif.  I just know if a gamer wrote the story, an unarmed cleric facing down such a monster with a vial of holy water wouldn't even count as an appetizer.  Bye bye village.

The tarrasque is a fascinating monster to put in a campaign; it lies dormant for years at a time, wakes up, depopulates an area, then stumbles off to find a good sleeping spot until it's time for the next eating binge.  How cool would it be to put a depopulated area into your low level sandbox… "Oh yeah, there used to be people here, but then the Tarrasque came through a few years ago, and folk are slow to move back… who knows if it's going to wake up near here again sometime soon?"  Sages would try to chart and predict that kind of thing on the calendar; kingdoms would plan evacuations around the imminent waking of the sleeping Tarrasque.  Plus, the Tarrasque is one of those awesome creatures to put on your monster kill 'bucket list'.  "Some day, I'm going to slay that stupid Tarrasque.  It ate my village."

Check it out, though, there's one amazing power of the legendary Tarrasque that didn't get copied over into D&D lore.  I try to keep the blog somewhat on topic and clean, but this is too funny to ignore:

And when he is pursued he casts out of his belly behind, his ordure, the space of an acre of land on them that follow him, and it is bright as glass, and what it toucheth it burneth as fire.
--The Golden Legend

When the Tarrasque "has a movement", so to speak, it burns down acres at a time.  And it uses this as a defense mechanism.  Unholy flaming shit.  You can't make this stuff up.

To my fellow Americans, enjoy your Memorial Day holiday, be sure to thank a veteran for their service, and I'll see you guys again shortly with more ideas on the Harrow Home Manor.

I almost forgot - the Tarrasque shows up in Monster Manual 2 for AD&D... I know many of those monsters are reprints of modules, does someone know if there is an earlier source for the Tarrasque in AD&D?  Thanks for any insight!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Picking the Next Setting

I've had a setting project on and off for over a year now called the Black City - most long time readers have come across Black City posts, I'm sure - and I'm expecting to send some adventurers into the Black City sometime in the next few weeks, hopefully after we wrap up the current Cthulhu scenario.  The Black City is a mix of Vikings and science-fantasy and Lovecraftian aliens in the frozen north.  It's got plenty of weird stuff, but one thing I miss is the classic gothic horror elements that don't quite fit.  Furthermore, I've been searching for something that would work well in the 17th century (1620's or so) as an early modern setting for D&D style adventures, but with a splash of guns and rapiers instead of heavy plate and battle axes.  So while the Black City moves into active play, I'm about ready to add a second project to the queue where ideas that don't fit into the Black City campaign have a place to go.  If my Black City pace is any indication, this next setting will be ready to play around 2014 (kidding, I hope).

The early modern  has a different set of challenges than the microcosmic "points of light" trope in a purely fantastic setting.  It's a populous age with more long distance travel and potentially less space for monsters; depending on the approach, it likely requires more than hastily sketching out the home town village and the local dungeon filled with orcs and goblins.  I'm going to step through some of the ideas I've been considering and point out my view of the challenges.  Maybe even the dear readers can help me choose.

Library of De La Torre
The idea here was that a famous adventurer in the mold of Solomon Kane has recently passed away, bequeathing a library or journal to the party at the start of the campaign.  During his career, this adventurer had explored dungeons and tombs and combated horrors in the dark corners of Europe, but much of the treasure was still left behind.

The library is a platform to do an info-dump, seeding a target rich environment, since the players would get leads to various adventuring sites right at the campaign start and could engage in a highly player-driven campaign.  Contrasted to the typical micro-sandbox, I was calling it a "wide area sandbox".

Would require wide-area maps of 17th century Europe created, high level background on many areas of Europe during the 30 years war, and systems to facilitate mundane travel, staying at inns, and so on, including how to keep travel interesting.  Too much historical research is a risk.  A dozen or so one-page dungeons for distant adventuring sites would be needed.

Colonial Hex Crawl
Reading some accounts of Dutch New York and French-Canadian fur traders from Montreal got me thinking how early 17th century America was basically a dangerous hex crawl to the European explorers.  The concept here would be to sketch out a few Dutch settlements and trading posts as home bases, and build a sprawling hex crawl that covers New York through the Great Lakes - a blend of wilderness and Iroquois and Algonquin territory and competing nations and traders.

American folklore and mythology is underrepresented in gaming materials and there's a great chance here to build out a horror mythology in the new world similar to Lovecraft or Stephen King, just placed much earlier in the country's history.  Plus I live right in the area these days.

Hex crawling can be inherently dull.  The exploration challenges of traveling by canoe, portaging from river to river or past waterfalls, camping, seeking out new settlements for trade and negotiation, seem much more exciting in my head than I think they would play out on the table; there's great risk here in building a campaign solely around such a hex crawl.  Meanwhile, traditional dungeons would be unusual in the new world - although I can envision some strange cave complexes like in the story, The Mound.

Telecanter has been putting up a lot of interesting travel "mini-games" for creating resource challenges during a hex crawl, and small systems like that could be created to make basic travel by canoe a little more interesting than purely narrative.

Goblins of the Spanish Main
This idea started as an example of how a non-standard setting (in this case, island hopping during the age of piracy) could be adjusted to fit the tropes of D&D despite the assumptions of the game.  It got some interest in the comments and ways were identified to manage a few of the problems with being part of a ship's crew, so I'm bringing it back here for more discussion.

D&D never has enough pirates.  Or ninjas.

I've given zero thought to placing a megadungeon in the Caribbean, although going with a 'lost Atlantis' angle might be interesting, or making it related to the fantastic ruins and mythology of Mesoamerica (or both).  Systems to support the swashbuckling flavor could be developed - shipboard combat and swinging on ropes, fighting in the rigging, that kind of stuff.

Harrow Home Manor
Harrow Home is a crumbling manse on the Yorkshire moors, on a remote heath of northeast England.  It's the center of a small gothic sandbox in England (as opposed to placing it in Transylvania or central Europe) and the dungeons would be home to factions of treacherous wizards and undead sorcerers competing over arcane lore.  An ancient sleeping god akin to one of Lovecraft's "great old ones" slumbers beneath the moors, awaiting the time it's reawakened by the cultists to spread death and madness across the world.

This is the closest to the traditional D&D sandbox - a limited sized region, a small set of villages, abbeys, and coastal towns, and a rugged interior surrounding the titular megadungeon ruin.  What makes this megadungeon "different" is the number of treacherous, insane, wizards and cultists that haunt the cavern depths beneath the old ruins, drawing inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, CAS, and similar authors.

D&D is fairly well-suited for this type of setting, I don't see any major issues.

So there you have it - those are the different ideas bouncing around Beedo's head.  The funny thing is, none of these are exclusive - I could develop my own vision of a "Gothic 17th Century" and place all four of these campaign ideas in the same world over time - so it's really just a question of what to develop first.  Someone on the LOTFP message board mentioned that War Hammer Fantasy uses a dark/fantastic version of early modern Europe, so I'm thinking I should check that out some time for ideas as well - they recommended WFRP 1E.

Seems like a good time for a poll, too - which of these settings would be interesting to read about?  Or drop a note in the comments.  Thanks!

Monday, May 21, 2012

More Thoughts on Harrow Home Manor

The initial idea for Harrow Home Manor is here:  Harrow Home Manor.  I've been casting about as I consider various ideas for an early modern, horror/adventure setting for D&D, and Harrow Home Manor was the latest.

I'm seeing a great opportunity in placing a site where there's a lot of history, and certainly the British Isles qualifies as rife with it.  Deep beneath the Yorkshire moors, I'll place a sleeping, pre-Celtic god-monster, the inspiration for monstrous myth figures like Balor or Crom Cruach from Irish Myth.  The monster has awoken at different times to bring death and madness to the surrounding lands, and grant obscene powers to its scant worshippers.

Conflict against otherworldly forces has raged on the site time and again, such as when the Pictish worshipers of the beast were driven off by the Celts; the site was sacred to the druids, and then taken from them by the Romans.  A church was placed there for a time, following the early Dark Ages practice of coopting pagan sites with Christian chapels, but the scant population didn't support a church on the remote heath and the land was claimed by a sorcerer in the late Medieval period after the church fell into abandonment.

Taking a cue from "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", a distant relative from a southern city inherited the property in the 16th century, restored the fallen manse, and began exploring the dungeons and crypts beneath the ruins.  Discovering a cache of sorcerous lore, the descendant restored one of the Medieval wizards to life and the great project was resumed.

As mentioned in the earlier Harrow Home post, the restored wizard set about gathering from the corners of Europe those few bearers of forbidden knowledge that had thus far escaped the fires of the Inquisition, bringing together collaborators on the great project, to awaken the sleeping god and restore the world to the madness of a bygone age.  The lure of power corrupts, and the gathered host factionalized and fell to destructive infighting once it was clear the project would take extended effort to recover the lost secrets of waking the sleeping god.  Less than a century later, Harrow Home is again a crumbling ruin with an evil reputation.

The part that's interesting to me about this mega dungeon approach is how it can be made "character driven".  I can develop portraits of these powerful, insane, gothic figures, and populate the tombs, crypts, caverns, and depths with the fruits of their mad schemes and revenge plots.  There's the sorcerer, burned at the stake or beheaded and returned to a mere semblance of life through undeath, who uses mortal pawns to kidnap the descendants of the handful of Medieval knights that ended his existence the first time, 200 years earlier.  His revenge plot spans centuries.

There's the Carpathian blood-drinker, bored with life in the dreary caverns beneath Harrow Home, who has taken over a local abbey and changed the rites and rituals to fit a religion more to his tastes.  One hazard in the dungeon is the body parts of the severed sorceror, the crawling hands and arms that scurry around the dungeon looking for the sorceror's head.  When the wizard proved too difficult to kill, his enemies had him dismembered and scattered.  His head lies in a trunk, thrown into the bottom of a well.  He's quite angry.

And so on.  Lots of mad, bloody wizards, lots of fun little stories.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Converting Call of Cthulhu to Trail, an Example

Folks had mentioned they'd like to see notes on converting Call of Cthulhu adventures to Trail of Cthulhu adventures, and how I converted one of the recent scenarios I ran, "Mister Corbitt".

As a preface, I think it's valuable to take a step back and look at the philosophical differences between the games.  In Call of Cthulhu, most attempts at information gathering require a skill roll - a spot hidden check, a social check, a read language check.  Trail takes a different approach, categorizing information as either a regular clue or "core clue".  Core clues are necessary for the investigators to move forward to progress through the mystery, so there's no roll - they automatically get them if they have the right skills.

A scenario can be diagrammed like a flow chart, and a flow chart is basically a dungeon - like these examples: mapping the investigation like a dungeon.  In other words, a scene or location where something happens is a room, and a clue is the door or passage that leads to the next room.

Let's say there are 3 pieces of information at a murder scene; 2 provide insight into the murderer's identity and will give the players facts to puzzle over, but 1 of them provides information that ties this crime to a second murder, which is another scene possibility.  In this situation, I'd treat the clue that leads to one of the other scenes as a free "core clue" and the other two clues would require spends and player choices.  (In Trail of Cthulhu, players manage resource pools over the course of the scenario, spending points to use their ability to get nice-to-have pieces of information - thus called "spends").  Of course, I'm assuming here that in future scenes there will be additional opportunities to pick up bits about the murderer's identity.

Once you equate core clues to mean, 'provides the way to get to the next scene', it's fairly easy to convert Call of Cthulhu scenarios to Trail on the fly; as the group encounters opportunities to pick up information, you just answer this question - do they need this to get to the next scene, if so, it's a core clue, otherwise they'll find it with a resource spend.  I do recommend converting monsters and key NPC's in advance, just because the numbers are different and you'll want them handy for the action scenes.


If you happened to read our game reports on Mister Corbitt (here is Part One and Part Two) I added a handful of scenes up front to make the investigation work with the campaign frame - police detectives and consultants working for a special crimes division in New York.  Corbitt is still a creepy guy spied on by a neighbor across the street, but instead of the neighbor being a PC, the neighbor is a teenage babysitter.  A cop investigates Corbitt's place after the babysitter's call, gets dosed with some of Corbitt's psychotropic substances, and gets mauled in the city by one of the interdimensional beings From Beyond that are visible to those using Corbitt's drugs.  From there, it had the opportunity to become a case for the players, and they did some preliminary scenes interviewing witnesses to the cop's murder, visiting the morgue, doing lab work, doing some narcotics and botanical research, and speaking to the police dispatcher, all before getting to the regular start of the scenario.  Worked out fine.

Here are conversions of some of the mechanical bits:

The Orange Vine
The orange vine is one of those substances that can bring on psychotropic visions of Beyond, and draw the attention of dimensional beings.  Instead of a roll, there would be a spend opportunity to see Beyond if anyone experimented (I'd use spends in occult, theology, or art).  Seeing Beyond grants +1 Mythos, and requires a stealth check (difficulty +1) to avoid being noticed by a dimensional being.  Escaping the vision entirely is a stability check difficulty 6.

Dimensional Being stats:
Athletics 10
Health 10
Scuffling 21
Hit threshold 4
Alertness +1
Stealth 0
Attacks - 2 claws, damage +1
Stability loss +1

The Purple Flower
The other nasty bit was the white and purple flowers in the green house that spray a cloud of pollen that forces rapid decomposition of organic matter, dissolving anyone in the cloud - really nasty.  I made it a Sense Trouble to notice the flowers moving (difficulty 8) and a Flee or Athletics to dodge the cloud and escape (also difficulty 8).

Here were stats for the things in the house:

Scampering Woman-Thing
Athletics 9
Health 5
Scuffling 10
Hit threshold 4
Alertness 0
Stealth 0
Attacks  knock down, damage -2, simple athletics check to stay up
Stability +1

Man-Bagari, the Child-Thing
Athletics 9
Health 20
Scuffling 16
Hit threshold 4
Alertness +1
Stealth -1
Attacks - up to 3 targets, damage +1
1 grapple, automatic damage each round from bite suck
Stability loss +1

I feel like there's a bit more to say on running Trail of Cthulhu, so I'll get my thoughts together and put up another post this week - like how do spends and general abilities work at the table, how did my players do with the system, is it still frightening when the players have more control on their successes, that kind of stuff.  I'll be back with part 2 later in the week.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

SCD Game 3 for Trail of Cthulhu: The Eyes Have It

Cast of Characters

Detective Snyder, officer in the SCD (police detective):  Smitty
Father Vinny, trained psychiatrist and church exorcist (clergy):  Mike
O'Grady, burglar turned SCD informant (criminal):  Adam
Trevor, professional occult debunker (dilettante):  Keyser

Game 3 of our side trek into Trail of Cthulhu.  This scenario is quite a bit different than the first - I wanted to dip into something that involved tracking down old books, forbidden knowledge, and an intriguing mystery, to emphasize clue gathering and investigation.

Time passed since the previous investigation concluded, so we did some wrap up.  After his mind-warping experience at the hands of the sorcerer Corbitt, Trevor needed a stay in the hospital, then time out on his yacht. Both Trevor and Father Vinny pored over the pair of eldritch tomes they recovered from Corbitt, which contained spells and rituals such as 'call forth the dark one' or 'bring down the air walker'.  The party joked:  Snyder is the fighter, O'Grady is the thief, Father Vinny is a cleric, now Trevor is a magic user.  Even in Cthulhu, they made a D&D party.

Trevor's book was a 17th century tome, True Magick, and he learned that one of his social contacts, a man named John Scott, had familiarity with old tomes and grimoires, and helped him read faster.  Scott is a luminary at the Silver Lodge, one of Trevor's social clubs.   (In game terms, Scott and the Silver Lodge act like a dedicated investigative pool for poring over old tomes faster).  The parent organization for the Silver Lodge is the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, a fraternal organization of seekers into esoteric knowledge; old time Call of Cthulhu players may be familiar with some of these names, so let's keep direct spoilers out of the comments - just seeding some interesting characters into the background of the campaign in case we do more than one-shots.  Plus it gives the group an awesome resource.

The new session kicked off with a phone call from another detective, Kroeger.  "This is a weird one Snyder, one of those crimes the boss is going to want to keep out of the papers.  That makes it more your area than mine.   You'll see what I mean when you get here."

A book to die for...
The crime scene involved the eyeless corpse of a Fordham student whose neck was also slashed.  After the forensics, evidence collection, calming the landlady, tracking down the skeevy roommate/suspect, following up on contacts at the university, and so on - all the good detective/gumshoe type of stuff - the unusual clues the group was left with were these:  the dead student, Geoffrey Hill, was obsessed with a book of bad poetry called The Invisible Path, such that he'd taken it out of the library continuously for 4 months.  He had been trying to buy a rare copy from a Providence bookseller.  The library copy, and his diary, were apparently torched in the fireplace after he was murdered.  The killer doesn't like bad poetry.

A second murder was called in from Brooklyn at a low rent tenement, a corpse that had sat undisturbed for a few weeks and began to stink.  Snyder's group got the case because it was another body where the eyes were crudely gouged out and the neck slashed, another ritual type killing.  After forensics, evidence, an autopsy, and so on, the accumulated facts indicated this was 'Jim Brown', professional burglar, and a pair of archaic tomes were found in his belongings (an English translation of De Vermiis Mysteris, and Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan).  The books had book plates indicating they were the from the library collection of a Providence, RI industrialist.  Mister Brown had been shot recently, and there was evidence he was holing up to recover from his bullet wound before the killer caught up with him and took his eyes.

After a call to Gollam & Sons, the rare book dealers in Providence, the party found themselves packed and riding the train to speak with the book dealers and also pay a visit to Mister Lewis Holland, the Providence industrialist who previously owned the copies of De Vermiis and Thaumaturgical Prodigies.  Trevor and Holland knew each other socially through yachting competitions, and felt that would be a suitable introduction.

At Gollam & Sons, they learned a bit about the student's mysterious book, The Invisible Path.  (The players had tried unsuccessfully to find a copy at some of the other university libraries in the city).  The book was written by a bad 19th century local poet, Martin Bellgrave, a wastrel that squandered a family fortune in the 1870's and ultimately degenerated into substance abuse.  But the book was notorious locally; while it was sought by collectors outside of New England, that local industrialist, Mr Lewis Holland, had bought nearly every available copy some 30 years ago for his private collection, draining the market.  Gollam & Sons still hadn't found a copy for the deceased student.

The book shop had a small list of extant copies, mostly in a few well known public or university libraries that weren't selling their copies, and a private copy in the hands of a local farmer that the shop was trying to purchase.  The group jotted down the list and decided to go visit Holland.

After arrivals and introductions, they waited in Holland's spacious library, served refreshments by the butler while his master returned from an afternoon drive - testing his latest sporting motor car.  The library was filled with scientific and engineering references, none of the rare occult books that were known by Trevor to be part of the storied Holland Collection.

O'Grady picked the lock on an adjacent door, letting himself into a private study that held Holland's rare books.  Beyond shelves of rare tomes, there were dozens of copies of The Invisible Path, neatly lined along the bottom row.  O'Grady surreptitiously filched one and quickly hid it in the small of his back, as the roar of a returning motor car rumbled on the gravel outside.  He quickly locked the study and stepped out.

Holland arrived, removing his driving scarf and goggles, and he and Trevor went off, bragging about their respective boats and discussing that summer's boating cup competition.  The group was invited to stay for dinner, although Holland apologized that they'd have a guest that evening - he was currently employing a private detective, to help track down some stolen books.  His man had some news about the burglar and was coming in to make a report.

That's where we stopped for the evening .  There's a killer out there, the victim's eyes are gouged out, and the connections between the two victims are scant.  One of them stole books from Holland; Holland collects copies of an odd book of poetry called The Invisible Path; the dead student was also obsessed with that book.  Now that O'Grady was able to pocket a copy, they're eager to read it and see what the fuss is about.

*Image is from "The Book" in Pelgrane's Arkham Detective Tales

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Adapting D&D to the Early Modern Settings

Lately I've been looking at criteria for a good D&D setting because I knew I had a few ideas kicking around, and I wanted a structure for looking at the opportunities objectively.  I'm intrigued by the idea of a D&D setting in the early modern period, but when bouncing the settings up against the things that make a regular D&D setting great, some issues emerge.  Let me know if you agree.

Here's the check list I'm using to see how well the setting match the needs of the game.  Some of the items involve what adventurers do or need, some are institutionalized in D&D's mechanics:
Adventures and Frontiers, Autonomy, Dungeons, XP for Gold, Treasure and Magic Items, Classes and Levels, NPC Classes and Levels, Alignment, High Magic, Humanoids and Monsters, The End Game, Demi-Humans, Clerical Magic, Vancian Magic

There should be no problem with adventures, frontiers, player autonomy, or even placing dungeons in the early modern age; the big change you notice is they need to be more remote or isolated.  XP for gold might seem a bit fishy - in an age with nation states, would private individuals amass vast fortunes through sacking old ruins?  I just have to stop and remember Spanish galleons loaded with treasure, and I can see the XP for gold mechanic still working out in early modern.

Regular D&D tends to assume that high level characters become rulers, there's a correlation between battlefield prowess and domain rulership.  History is littered with guys like William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, and so on, that had great personal power which translated into careers of conquest and political power.  That paradigm, which works so well for D&D games at tech levels of the Medieval period, Dark Ages, or Antiquity, seems to break down in the post-Renaissance world.  I'm sure one of the talented students of history out there could explain what changed that diminished the political role of the battlefield hero.

You can argue a D&D game in early modern needs to be somewhat low magic, otherwise you have the problem of magic warping the setting.  Humanoids and monsters are rare or nonexistent, for the same reasons.  But doing an "alternate earth" with humanoid races mixed in with humanity would be pretty interesting - perhaps take an approach like Trey's Weird Adventures.  But I'd avoid a high magic setting with a Renaissance or later level of technology - I've seen that before, and it looks like Mystara, or perhaps Eberron.

There you go - take a game like BX D&D, reduce the amount of magic, make monsters rare, and remove the traditional end-game, and you end up with a view of D&D like Jim's LOTFP.  Funny stuff.  The only other major adaptation to is to swap the gold standard for something fitting to the age, like the silver standard used in LOTFP.  Now that LOTFP will have an upcoming firearms supplement, it's the perfect fit for one of these campaigns.

This is a bit of an odd post, as I started by wondering what needed to change for D&D in early modern, and it became clear LOTFP is already there.  However, how do you feel about ditching the traditional view of domain rulership and conquest for sliding D&D play into a setting themed against a later age?  I've always like knowing there's an "end-game" out there, where D&D crosses over into a different style of play and there's a natural point for retiring characters.

Referring back to an old poll here at the Lich House, only 23% of the readership at the time were concerned that their campaigns supported a high level end-game:  Beedo's hierarchy of campaign needs and then the associated poll results.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Harrow Home Manor

I've been casting around lately for an early modern setting that would work for D&D, something with guns and flashing blades.  My recent interest in distilling the essence of a good campaign setting has been bent towards this goal, and further evidenced by some of my recent ideas such as the "Colonial Hexcrawl" or "Goblins of the Spanish Main".  Fear not for the Black City, it trundles towards playtesting, hopefully as soon as after our next Cthulhu scenarios (unless the players clamor for more of the AD&D game first).  But since I'm tossing things against the wall, here’s another early modern setting kicking around the cranium:  a sprawling Gothic ruin I call "Harrow Home".

When the fires of the auto-da-fé burned across Europe, witches and warlocks gathered in the highlands of dread Albion to escape the noose and pyre.  The cellars and dungeon beneath the old manse were greatly extended downward into the earth, giving these foul necromancers solitude far from the prying eyes of the church.  In time, fewer and fewer visit were made to the little villages beyond the moors, and Harrow Home fell into disrepair.  But the old manor was never truly abandoned.

100 years have passed, and the  castle manor has tumbled into ruin.  But the moorland surrounding the fallen manse has an ill reputation.  Shepherds go missing on the moors, and travelers disappear by night.  Dark deals are consummated at lonely cross-roads, and it's not uncommon for a hunter or farmer to discover a new cave entrance where none existed, with a reek that seems to come from the pits of hell itself.

The dungeons and caverns beneath Harrow Home draw inspiration from gothic horror and place it in the early modern setting.  Source materials would include the tales of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft's story "The Festival", and the classic black and white horror films of the 1930's.  The byzantine politics and tortuous relationships of the wizards living beneath Harrow Home recall classic D&D adventures like Castle Amber, Tegel Manor, or Mervyn Peake's excellent novel, Gormenghast.  I might even watch Clive Barker's Nightbreed again.

The back story of occult characters and families retreating to the haunted moors of Elizabethan England provides a fiction to populate the depths of Harrow Home with ghoul cults and witch's covens, servants of the mummy, soul-jumping body thieves, devil worshipers, degenerate serpent people left over from Pictish times, and perhaps even the odd vampire from the Old Country or a mad scientist bent on re-animating the dead.  What's not to love about it?

Next up, I think I'll match a few of these ideas up against my 'criteria for a good campaign' and see which one has the most promise.

*Image is Slain's Castle from here, with a simple sepia filter applied

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Crowd Funding Revolution Continues

What an interesting turn of events has developed in our part of the hobby!  In the space of just a few years, do-it-yourself publishers and small presses have gone from creating home made PDFs available with print-on-demand services, to full-blown print runs funded in advance through crowd-funding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  The need for an overarching corporation maintaining the game is quickly dwindling.

There are plenty of interesting funding campaigns underway for some upcoming games.  Here are a few I'm watching:

Barrowmaze 2
I loved Barrowmaze 1 - there's a review kicking around on the blog here somewhere - (Review of Barrowmaze) - so I'm looking forward to the sequel.  This one is already funded, but gets over in June - I'll be signing up for at least the PDF.  I find I actually like putting megadungeons in binders (easier to lay flat) and just writing notes on the map and margins of the print outs.  I don't think I'd do that to a nice hardcover.

Rappan Athuk
Holy moly!  An old school product breaking the $75k marker.  Ah, on closer look, you can see it's split between Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry.  That right there gives you an idea on the popularity of Pathfinder.  I would love to have a copy of Rappan Athuk, but I don't know if I can see myself spending $40 for a PDF.  This is one to pop a reminder on the calendar to see how my funds are looking in late June and decide then if the hardcover is worth it.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
I've been clamoring for a hardcover copy of the LOTFP rules, so this one is a must-do.  I'll have to chat with my group if anyone else wants a copy of the hardcover - the deal where you get 4 copies for a group is enticing.  Here's the main thing:  I'd love to see the Ken Hite LOTFP adventure get funded, so expect to see me make some noise as this one gets closer to D-Day.  Maybe we'd see more premiere horror adventure creators dip back into the world of D&D and bring the fear.

Weird West Miniatures
I have no interest in lead painted miniatures, but this is a fascinating campaign because it shows the democratization that's happening with production - we're seeing dice, miniatures, all sorts of nifty gaming accoutrements getting created without a big company sponsor.  Even if you don't want the miniatures, there's an option to get the Weird West book printed and sent out.  I'll be sending $5 that way.

What are the downsides of the crowd-funding madness?  The first issue I'm seeing is wallet fatigue - I've got a limited gaming budget so I have to be selective.  There's the risk of vaporware.  I haven't heard of a major campaign that failed to deliver anything, but the risk is out there.  Which project will be the first to go 'poof'?  I'll probably stick with publishers that have a track record of success, or invest at the lower levels if it's a product in development or a newer publisher - just common sense precautions.

I'm also seeing more established publishers and authors moving to the crowd funding.  I keep thinking it's only a matter of time before Chaosium or some of the other Cthulhu publishers start pre-selling or funding their print runs this way, too.

The crowd funding revolution is a big problem for WOTC.  If their stated goal is to develop a future D&D that appeals to old school players, it's got to be good enough to lure us away from rules that work, and the wide choice of adventures and published supplements for those rules coming from DIY and self-publishing campaigns.  I just don't see it happening.  Creation by committee (or public tally) doesn't work.  I hope they're successful, because retail and big box stores are ways to reach new gamers, and the big companies have that reach.  That 5E open play test is in a few weeks; it will surely be worth perusing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

D&D Campaign Criteria Redux

I've been trying to articulate criteria on what makes for a good campaign setting for D&D to make it easier for me to determine which of my half-baked campaign elevator pitches have a chance.  The list is evolving to be a blend of what makes for good adventures, and what are the mechanics in D&D that imply things about how the world works, that should also be addressed.

After yesterday's thought experiment on "Goblins of the Spanish Main" - a suggested D&D setting placed in a fantastic version of the Caribbean - I can add some more things to the list.

The fundamental unit in D&D is the small troupe of adventurers, the party, and enjoyment of the game requires a great degree of party autonomy.  Regardless how players choose their plot hooks or go seeking adventure, before the action gets going, they need to be on their own for planning, strategy and decision making.

Adventures and Frontiers
Advancement in the game is based on wealth acquisition, so the default mode for adventuring is looting.  There's also combat, so the wealth tends to be guarded by something.  Unless it’s war, fighting other people is usually against the law, but that doesn't apply to monsters.

Combining these elements quickly brings in to focus why the monster filled hex crawl or dungeon crawl is such an ideal adventure structure; it allows a small troupe of adventurers autonomy to loot and battle monsters while acquiring wealth.

For that reason, a good campaign setting needs to have that dividing line between civilization and the wilds; the border areas beyond civilization are the lawless frontiers that support classic D&D style adventures.

People have certainly tried to take D&D's rules engine and use it in other contexts - urban noir investigations like Eberron,  Game of Thrones-style political intrigues, horror games.  I can't say how well they all work, but that does seem to be getting away from the core D&D experience or exploring and looting.

One other item to add the list is Treasure and Magic Items - in addition to explaining the existence of dungeons, the fiction or story behind the setting needs to address why they're filled with gold coins and magic sword.

So my revised list of setting criteria to address or explain is looking more like this:

  • Adventures and Frontiers
  • Autonomy
  • Dungeons
  • XP for Gold
  • Treasure and Magic Items
  • Classes and Levels
  • NPC Classes and Levels
  • Alignment
  • High Magic
  • Humanoids and Monsters
  • The End Game
  • Demi-Humans
  • Clerical Magic
  • Vancian Magic

I added one more regarding NPC classes and levels.  It's fairly important for the referee to consider the demographics of adventurers and the nature of classes and levels in the campaign setting.  A decision needs to be made whether the populations of the world are mostly zero level people, or whether characters with classes are fairly common. There's quite a big difference if the world is rugged and medieval, where most rulers are also field generals, so lords and nobles are high level fighters.  Are clerics common, meaning healing is common and folks come back from the dead?  Think how different a PC cleric would be perceived if clerics were extremely rare and their spells were miraculous?  Certainly the default approach - as seen in various published settings - is that rulers are powerful and high level, and clerical and arcane magic is common.

Anyway, that's a big topic - whether the rules and capabilities that apply to PC's also govern the NPC's in the world - I just wanted to point out why I'm adding it to the list as something the designer should address.

Thanks everyone who chimed in on the list the other day, or gave some feedback to "Goblins of the Spanish Main".  I don't know that I'm done, I'll probably toss out a few more elevator pitches or thought experiment settings to test the list further and apply some word smithing.

You can see why "points of light" is such an enduring campaign frame for D&D; a fantasy dark ages setting after the fall of a great empire provides justifications for frontiers, lawlessness, dungeons, treasure and loot, and self-made rulers.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Goblins of the Spanish Main

Yesterday, I was suggesting some elements that are core to D&D that need to be addressed by the campaign setting.  The more of these elements that work in the setting "as is", the better is the fit between the setting idea and D&D; the closer it is to a core D&D experience.  Just to try it out, I thought I'd come up with a random half-baked idea and see how it tests as a D&D setting.

Yo Ho, me hearties!  Let's set sail for a fantastic version of the Gulf of Mexico and trawl the waters of the Spanish Main during the golden age of piracy - buried treasure, bottles of rum, and 15 men on a dead man's chest.  And monsters.

First up, dungeons and adventure sites.  How could you handle dungeons in a "saltbox"?  Exploring a wild stretch of sea, it's got to be sprinkled with islands.  Each island could be a simple hex crawl.  You could arrange the islands by distance, such that the furthest islands are more dangerous - a bit like dungeon levels.  Some of the islands themselves could have a few simple ruins on them, or basic sea caves.  You're not going to have anything quite like a traditional dungeon, though you could have ancient Atlantean ruins or something similar.

I don't see any problems using the following D&D tropes on the Spanish Main - classes, levels, alignment, high magic, and XP for gold.  One could even place demi-humans back in folkloric Europe and have the odd halfling, dwarf or elf in a crew.

It's not hard to imagine populating the mythic Caribbean with various monsters from the bestiaries, both sea monsters of nautical lore and monsters appropriate for the tropics.  A dinosaur-filled "lost world" like the Isle of Dread seems de rigueur.  What about two-legged opponents?  There'd be no end of foreign nationals, opposing pirates and buccaneers, or hostile natives that could be found on the islands - assuming you want to stay away from using traditional D&D-style humanoids.

If you cared about "domain level play", what would the end-game be like here?  Maybe mid-level to high-level characters buy their own ships instead of building castles.  I seem to recall Pirate Lords are like 11th level fighters in the Expert set, so you could adapt the end-game to a maritime milieu.

Actually, the biggest issue I see in adapting the tropes of the D&D campaign to such a setting is the fact that those NPC ships are commanded by high level characters!

The party is the unit of autonomy and exploration in the dungeon, and the idea behind the setting needs to support these small groups of picaresque adventurers setting out to scrabble for loot.  It's a bit hard to plan your own capers when you're on board a ship commanded by someone else.  This could be a fatal flaw.

Maybe the adventuring "unit" in such a campaign would be the longboat - just large enough for the players, their gear, and retainers, and once they get to shore they're on their own to plan and explore.  From that perspective, the ship becomes the local "town", the place the adventurers return to drink some rum, hear rumors, and plan their next expedition.  A tidy sum of loot is "taxed" back to the captain.

That's a potential solution - still doesn't provide a satisfactory solution for piloting the ship and crew from place to place, or how combat on the high seas would work when the players are a small group of pirates on a much larger ship.  I've got to think about it some more - the list was skewed towards mechanical elements and adherence to a core D&D experience, but there clearly needs to be some things on the list that address these non-mechanical concerns, like the importance of planning, autonomy, and small group play in the setting.  Playing the role of minions at the whim of a high level NPC is not a great recipe for D&D.

*Picture is NC Wyeth Treasure Island

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Criteria for a Good D&D Setting

I'm always kicking around these "elevator pitches" in my head for some upcoming D&D setting.  I develop bas cases of the Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder… ideas accumulate in the back of my brain like flotsam and jetsam.  Just to get them out of there and put them down on paper, I created a section of the blog, The Junkyard, just for dumping ideas (hopefully, it becomes my place to go scavenge for ideas in the future).  Like the man said, an idea is the most resilient parasite - it's impossible to eradicate - but maybe you can park it somewhere to cool off.

One of the problems with these half-baked settings mash-ups is that once you take them out and really look at them, half the time I realize they're not really good fits for a D&D campaign after all.  Which kind of begs the question, What are the criteria for a good D&D setting?

You would think that some hoary elder of the D&D blogosphere would have established the definitive criteria for the ideal D&D setting some time ago, but alas, I cannot seem to recall seeing such a list.  Don't get your hopes up for seeing one here.

The problem is this:  Dungeons & Dragons is a game, with elements that appeal on the level of a game.  It also generates fantastic stories.  I'm not a story-oriented DM; my D&D style is to throw stuff on the table, play the game, and the story is what you have after all the game elements come together after a night of play.  But somewhere along the line, a lot of us started treating D&D more like an emulation of fantasy literature, and less like a game that had some fantasy inspirations.

The problem of designing a good campaign setting requires coming to terms with the game-oriented elements of D&D, and making sure they work in the context of the setting.  Many times, house rules and similar changes are foisted on the game to minimize or remove game elements that are perceived to get in the way of the fiction.  Sometimes these changes to D&D are only cosmetic, but other times they're major surgerry.

Let's start with the perspective that D&D is Always Right.  If that's true, what are the core game elements that need to be accounted for in the setting?

Here's the list I have so far:

Let's face it, a D&D world is crawling with these underworld locations filled with traps, weird magic "specials", monsters, and lots and lots of loot.  Ideally, the setting should support a mega dungeon concept, too.  Where'd they come from?

Classes and Levels
The D&D world is one where there are clear demarcations between different approaches to adventuring, as embodied by the four base classes, and where experienced characters and rulers wield vast power compared to their zero-level brethren.

Powerful and far-reaching game effects are keyed off whether someone is good or evil, or at a minimum, Lawful or Chaotic.

High Magic
The D&D world is one where folks with the requisite intelligence (and perhaps money) can study magic, learn to fly around, and toss fireballs.  You can come back from the dead, too, if you know a high level cleric with a good wisdom.

Humanoids and Monsters
The wilds are crawling with talking, anthropomorphic furries that want to eat people.  Just where do all those humanoids and monsters come from?

XP for Gold
The whole paradigm of gold = experience means there's likely an "adventurer class" in society that specializes in exploring old ruins, and successful adventurers can amass fortunes in wealth.  Which brings me to my next point...

The End Game
Default D&D assumes an end-game where high level characters can take their vast fortunes and carve out small kingdoms with their many followers.  This implies a degree of wilderness or borderland, ideally in the form of a hex crawl.

Characters in the D&D world rub shoulders with these curious pseudo-humans with pointy ears and funny accents that live in the woods or the hills.

Clerical Magic
The default D&D setting assumes clerics gain their powers from deities, which implies quite a bit about the nature of the cosmology and humanity.

Vancian Magic
Spell books, spell memorization, and flashy combat magic create a set of expectations about the world and how arcane magic functions.

Please suggest more to add to the list if there's some I missed.

My goal is to have a small checklist of things to address when I'm kicking around alternative campaign ideas.   It'll help keep my ideas grounded, or at least ensure I'm addressing core elements of the game or developing suitable equivalents.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SCD GAME 2 - Showdown on Beacon Hill

Previously:  The strange murder of a beat cop led the group to a house in the Bronx belonging to Bernard Corbitt, a mild-mannered gardener and good neighbor… who apparently harvested illegal body parts from a run-down Hell's Kitchen hospital and patched them together in the basement using re-animator fluid.  The first report is here:  SCD game 1, An Arm and a Leg

Cast of Characters

Detective Snyder, officer in the SCD (police detective):  Smitty
Father Vinny, trained psychiatrist and church exorcist (clergy):  Mike
O'Grady, burglar turned SCD informant (criminal):  Adam
Trevor, professional occult debunker (dilettante):  Keyser
Meg Meadows, forensic scientist:  Olivia

When Game 2 started, Corbitt was in lock up and the group returned to his house to look around.  "This is a horror game, so it would be best if we split up," quipped one of the players.  Well said.

But first, they waited for the arrival of Meg Meadows, a forensic scientist with botany experience called in by Detective Snyder.  Meg had the chance to do some library research before driving over, and was able to give a report on Corbitt's import business, his wife's obituary, and the death of his father, all culled from the archives of the paper.

Then Meg and O'Grady went to the dark greenhouse while the others searched the house itself.  In addition to finding various narcotic's plants, Corbitt was growing some otherworldly plants like a white-flowered bush that sprayed pollen at them.  They fled before they were coated by the spray and reduced to a rapidly decomposing pile of fertilizer.

In the house, Corbitt's study was piled with interesting books - a Sanskrit tome named The Key and the Gate, covered in cobra skin; a 17th century grimoire on devil worship, True Magick; Corbitt's botanical notes; 14 years of Corbitt's journals.

While the players got the dramatic approach to learning the facts - handouts and madness-tinged 1st person journal entries - here's the basic fact dump:  Corbitt became a worshipper of a Hindu demon called Rama Sekva on a trip to the wilds of India; Rama Sekva ate his father but granted Corbitt power as a wizard.  Corbitt was a failed med student that knew enough about pharmacology to eventually synthesize Soma, a drug that allowed him to commune with his demon god.  Rama Sekva's guidance helped him create the alchemical formulae to graft together dead flesh into living constructs.  Worst of all, the demon spawned a child on Corbitt's wife, who died in childbirth; the horrible thing was still living in the basement, and Corbitt was grafting body parts onto the child as it grew!

The descent into the basement revealed the creepy alchemical lab, the rudimentary surgery with it's operating lamps and bone saws, and the whimpering gurgling sound coming from a hidden panel in the basement's false wall.  In the secret room behind the wall was this thing:

The Child-Thing, from Mansions of Madness
It gurgled toward the players, "Papa, Papa…" blowing out of its sphincter mouth, and they started blasting it with pistols.  It barreled through the door, grappling with multiple limbs and attempting to slurp flesh off the bone using those sphincter mouths.  There were sanity rolls, stability checks, guns blazing, and Trevor the dilettante running the thing through with his sword cane.  O'Grady needed quite a bit of first aid after getting pulled into one of the mouths and slurped.

"We need to burn this place to the ground," was Snyder's opinion.  I've observed that arson is a Cthulhu gamer's good friend when they need to hide evidence of occult horror from an innocent world.  While the group loaded Snyder's trunk with things they wanted to salvage from Corbitt's house, like the rare books, a message blared over the radio - "Corbitt is on the loose!  Floyd (the desk sergeant) is dead, Corbitt's stolen a car, and be on alert, he's probably on the way home!"

In the journals, Corbitt had mentioned a few times that the when the time was right, he'd climb to the top of Beacon Hill in the nearby Jamaica Park north of Fordham and call out to the thing's father, Rama Sekva, to return to the world.  Lightning and flashes of light swirled to the north in the area of the park, and the group piled into their cars and sped off into the night to stop a summoning.

Snyder was an excellent driver, and Trevor sprinted up the side of Beacon Hill; the other guys weren't as athletic.  Meg and Father Vinnie followed in the other car.

Trevor avoided looking at the swirling vortex above the hill where the six-armed god slowly descended a wormhole tunnel toward the mortal plane, and he stabbed Corbitt with his sword cane.  The sorcerer, oblivious to the intruder while he chanted the sanskrit spell, was only grazed by the thrust, and he turned to face Trevor.  By the time the others got near the hill top, Trevor was on the ground, blood coming out of his eyes and nose because Corbitt was cooking his brain by revealing to him the last syllable of the Dread Name of Azathoth.

Snyder dropped to a knee, took careful aim, and shot the sorcerer in the head before he could completely fry poor Trevor's mind.  O'Grady managed to avoid looking up into the vortex and seeing the 6-armed demon quickly scurry back along the tunnel like a spider, and with the death of Corbitt, the unsustained ritual dissipated into the night air.  Case closed, except for the clean up and filing the false reports with the department.

That's pretty much where we needed to end things - it was getting late.  I took a quick straw poll to decide if we should resume the AD&D game for a bit or play another Trail of Cthulhu scenario set in the Big Apple, and the group voted for another Trail game.  So it'll be at least a few more weeks before we get back to Gothic Greyhawk.  See you next time.

Keeper's Notes:
This was an adaptation of "Mister Corbitt", from Mansions of Madness (a Chaosium book for Call of Cthulhu).  If folks are interested, I'm glad to put my Trail conversion notes together, but it was pretty basic stuff.  Since these are meant to be episodic one-offs, we'll probably run something from Stunning Eldritch Tales or Arkham Detective Tales next.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Viva Los Vengadores, Amigos

Are any readers out there IT consultants who travel most of the time?  After spending the better part of last week in Mexico City living out of a suit case on an implementation, I can appreciate the strain.  Despite a week sans children,  I didn't get in any blogging.  I did make it out to Teotihuacan, however, so I'll have some nifty photos to post in the next day or so.

Made it back last night and the family had reserved tickets for The Avengers - or should I say, Los Vengadores.  It really is a great superhero movie.  Ensembles are difficult to pull off, but The Avengers was excellent; it's hard to tell if The Avengers worked so well for me because I saw all the solo movies or the script was just that good.  The Hulk stole the movie for me with his blend of horror and laughs, and I really loved the new direction for the character.  Mark Ruffalo brought a degree of weariness to the portrayal of Banner that emphasized the anxiety of trying to hold back a monster.  Hulk is the modern wolf-man.

My only gripe was a bit of minor nerd-dom.  The Chitauri are the "ultimate universe" version of the Skrulls, so I kept expecting to see some shape changing Skrull infiltration.  Hopefully they're just holding that back for the sequel.  It's a bit puzzling how the movies have all been themed after the "ultimate universe".  I guess it's due to the edgier, updated costumes and accelerated story lines.  Why else would they insist on calling it the tesseract instead of the Cosmic Cube?  Very cool that the mysterious voice instructing Loki at the beginning of the movie was the big T-Man himself.

Gaming posts to resume shortly, starting with a recap of our last Cthulhu game.