Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 30 November 2019

Jonstown Jottings #2: The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—

What is it?
The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths is a short, two-session scenario set in Dragon Pass during Dark Season easily run as part of the Colymar campaign begun in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure and then continued in and around Apple Lane as detailed in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack

It is a twenty-six page, full colour, 7.76 MB PDF.

The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths is well presented and decently written. The internal artwork is okay, but the map is decent and the front cover is excellent.

Where is it set?
The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths by default takes place in Apple Lane in the lands of the Colymar tribe and then on the Big Starfire Ridge. Ideally, it takes place after the events of the scenarios presented in RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack when one of the player characters has been appointed the hamlet’s Thane. Alternative locations are given for the scenario in Sartar, as well as Prax, Grazelands, and Tarsh, should the Game Master decide to set it elsewhere as well as an alternative hook should one of the player characters not hold the position of Thane. 

Who do you play?
The scenario does not have any strict requirements in terms of the characters needed, but ideally, the player characters should include an Orlanthi worshipper and an Ernalda (or other Earth deity) worshipper. A Shaman may be of use as well.

What do you need?
The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths can be run using just 
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. If scenario begins in Apple Lane, then the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is recommended.

What do you get?
The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths is relatively straightforward scenario which begins deep into Dark Season with the villagers asking for the adventurers’ help in locating a boy who has been abducted by what might be a bogeyman or a demon out of folklore, a figure known as Krampus. Clues and legend point to a mysterious wall of ice on the Big Starfire Ridge, but getting there means venturing out into the worst weather of the year.

The main location for the adventure is the ‘Throat of Winter’ itself, a frigid cave system home to Krampus and his minions as well as one or two secrets that keep him—mostly—in the cave system. The incredibly cold caves have a dungeon-like quality, lots to explore, treasure to be found, and a trap or two as well as the monsters. Then there is the choice of the Krampus, the ‘half-goat, half-demon’ anthropomorphic figure of Central European folklore who Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, as the main villain, which essentially makes The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths a Christmas (in Glorantha) story. That may not sit well with every Gloranthaphile, but of course, ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’, and anyway, it is easy enough to change the name.

Nevertheless, the author presents plenty of background explaining who the Krampus is and what he does as well as what exactly is going on in the ‘Throat of Winter’. He also suggests means other than combat for dealing with the situation, but since that means dealing with a demon, the player characters do have to be careful if they are to gain anything from the situation. Various possible outcomes are explored, including one or two which will have long term consequences for the player characters and the surrounding region. The most positive outcome does feel a little too similar to that of the scenario in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure, so this should definitely not be run too soon after that scenario.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you are looking for a slightly festive scenario to run for your RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha at Christmas, or you want another scenario to run as part of the Colymar-set campaign from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack in and around Apple Lane, then The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths will be a solid addition to your campaign with nicely done background lore and wintery atmosphere.

No. If are not looking for a slightly festive scenario to run for your RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha at Christmas or a village-set scenario in Dragon Pass, The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths is unlikely to be of use to you.

Maybe. Some groups may balk at the obvious Christmas-theming of The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths, but that can be changed.

Friday 29 November 2019

Jonstown Jottings #1: Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—

What is it?
Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is the first part of campaign set in Sun County in Prax. It includes background for a remote region of Sun County and a complete scenario, ‘No Country for Cold Men’ along with six pre-generated player characters. Besides a gazetteer of the region, there is a quartet of maps for use with the background and the scenario.

It is a thirty-nine page, full colour, 3.69 MB PDF.

In general, Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is well presented and decently written. It does need another edit and the artwork is a little rough, but the maps are excellent.

Where is it set?
Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 takes place in Sun County, the small, isolated province of Yelmalio-worshipping farmers and soldiers located in the fertile River of Cradles valley of Eastern Prax, south of the city of Pavis, where it is beset by hostile nomads and surrounded by dry desert. Specifically it is set in and around the remote hamlet of Sandheart, where the inhabitants are used to dealing and even trading with the nomads who in the past have fought to gain worship access to ruins inside Sandheart’s walls.

Who do you play?
The player characters are members of the Sun County militia based in Sandheart. Used to dealing with nomads and outsiders and oddities and agitators, the local militia serves as the dumping ground for any militia member who proves too difficult to deal with by the often xenophobic, misogynistic, repressive, and strict culture of both Sun County and the Sun County militia. It also accepts nomads and outsiders, foreigners and non-Yemalions, not necessarily as regular militia-men, but as ‘specials’, better capable of dealing with said foreigners and non-Yemalions.

The six pre-generated characters include a banished Yelmalion noble, a local and  ambitious farmer’s son, and a Yelmalion tomboy whose ambitions are stifled by Sun County misogyny. Plus an Impala rider and scout who has lost his clan, a Lhankor Mhy Sage from Pavis County with a hatred of the Lunar Empire, and a mercenary, would-be Humakti from Esrolia.

Guidelines are given to create ‘quirky’ members of the Sun County militia in Sandheart. It includes character concepts, equipment, and a list of starting equipment and advises using the quick-start method of creating characters rather than the Family History method in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. (Primarily because the Family History method in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is not specific to Sun County.)

What do you need?
Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 can be run using just 
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha

Although not absolutely necessary, the Game Master may also find the supplements Sun CountyThe River Of CradlesPavis, and The Big Rubble to be of use in providing deeper background. Tales of the Reaching Moon Issue 14 and Tales of the Reaching Moon Issue 15 may also be of use for details about the fertility god, Ronance.

What do you get?
Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 includes a description of Sandheart, a hamlet built around a series of plinths, remnant structures from Genert’s Garden. It details how the attitudes of the local inhabitants are different to those of the rest of Sun County and how that affects their dealings with outsiders and the rest of Sun County. Full details of the militia, its equipment, and its duties are given, along with its notable figures, the magic of the plinths, and ‘Beaky’, a highly inquisitive Wyter.

The scenario ‘No Country for Cold Men’ continues the penchant in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha for terrible puns and pits the militia men against a well-organised band of drug runners with links all the way back up the Zola Fel River to the city of New Pavis. The drug is hazia, a highly addictive contraband euphoric herb grown along the valley of the River of Cradles and sold to traffickers who can make great profits by selling to users and addicts. The discovery of several dead riding and pack animals leads to a ragged caravan whose members seem reluctant to deal with the militia. This reluctance will probably escalate into a direct confrontation and from this the player characters will learn about the drug trafficking in the county. Following up on the clues revealed by the encounter, the militia men will track back up the traffickers’ route into the county, likely uncovering signs of corruption in the county, and giving the militia men an opportunity to strike against the criminals acting in the county. This is despite the fact that as members of the Sandheart militia, the player characters are very likely operating well outside of their jurisdiction.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you are looking for an interesting set-up, the opportunity to run a scenario in a more organised and civilised setting with player characters who have the authority and the duty to act in Sun County’s best interests—despite their less than upright and morally upstanding reputations. Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is an opportunity to run and roleplay a campaign that is very different to other RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha scenarios. Hopefully, Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 2 will develop the story and the setting much further.

NoTales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is not worth your time if you are running a campaign or scenarios set elsewhere, especially in Sartar as per ‘The Broken Tower’ from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure or in in and around Apple Lane as detailed in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen PackTales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 would be a difficult scenario to add to such a campaign.

Maybe. One of the issues with scenarios set in Sun County is that the dominant Light-worshipping culture of the Yelmalions is… “[X]enophobic, misogynistic, repressive and strict…” Some players may find this unpalatable, but that said, Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is about roleplaying characters who are either from outside of that culture or at odds with it to one degree or another. This sets up some interesting roleplaying challenges, as the player characters get to be noble and heroic in upholding the best values of Sun County, but still chafing against its dictats and constraints.

Monday 25 November 2019

Miskatonic Monday #30: Night of the Rising Sun

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

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Name: Night of the Rising Sun

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Arjen Poutsma

Setting: Shōgun-era Secrets of Japan

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 7.45 MB twenty eight-page, full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: A disastrous Dutch dinner at the end of the world before the ship leaves. 
Plot Hook: Everyone wants something off the island of Dejima.
Plot Development: Food galore, strange displays, secrets revealed, revenge, blackmail, smuggling, disaster...
Plot Support: Map of the island, six pre-generated characters, six plots.

Pros
# One-session one-shot
# Unique historical location
# Strongly plotted
# Potential convention scenario
# Six solid pre-generated characters
# Period art and cartography

Cons
Tightly plotted
# Poorly explained set-up
# Unfamiliar setting
# Not suitable for the new Keeper
# Works best with six players

Conclusion
# Unique setting
# Underwritten set-up
Solid one-session one-shot convention scenario

Sunday 24 November 2019

Your Own Tales of a Thousand and One Nights

After Monsters & Magic Roleplaying Game and Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game: Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space, the third roleplaying game from Mindjammer Press is Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked: Fantasy Roleplaying in a World of Arabian Nights, Argonauts, and Adventure!. Originally published in French by Studio Deadcrows, it is a roleplaying game inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, Greek mythology, and Crusader legends. The Capharnaüm of the title is a land at the centre of the ‘The Known World’, lying on the Jazirat peninsula, the meeting point for many trade routes, making it the strategic target for numerous powers over the last five millennia. These include the Agalanthian city states to the north whose leaders can only dream of the world-spanning empire they once were, whilst beyond them the barbarian tribes of Krek’kaos on the cold Northern Steppes cut through the mountains to regularly raid the warm and sunny lands to the south. Great trade in silks and spices from the east with Nir Manel and Asijawi have made the merchants of the Jazirat peninsula wealthy. The south, dominated by the dangerous Southern Seas, remains the province of only the maddest of sailors and criminals with nothing to lose. To the west, the worshippers of the Quartered God—the Quarterian nations—prepare their next Crusade of the Knights of the Quarter, whilst the continent of Al-Fariq’n jealously guards its secrets.

It is said that in the world of Capharnaüm the gods inspire both men and women, even said to have walked amongst them in ages past, but since the dawn of time, they have sent their agents, the dragons to watch over over men and women. They do more than that though, marking out those who have the potential to become great warriors and warchiefs, philosophers and thinkers, explorers, heroes, lovers, and more, to become the divine agents of the gods. Such men and women are born with the birthmark of a dragon’s claw upon their backs and so are known as the Dragon-Marked. This mark gives them great powers and potential, the ability to draw upon the stars themselves—known as Lighting Up a Constellation, but six centuries ago, the Dragon-Marked stopped being born. Only in the last few decades have the Dragon-Marked begun to appear again. It these Dragon-Marked that the players will roleplaying in Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked: Fantasy Roleplaying in a World of Arabian Nights, Argonauts, and Adventure!

A character or Dragon-Marked in Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked is defined first by his Blood, three heroic virtues—Bravery, Faith, and Loyalty, his Heroism, five attributes—Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence and Charisma, and which of eight archetypes he favours—Adventurer, Labourer, Poet, Prince, Rogue, Sage, Sorcerer, or Warrior. The three heroic virtues are rated between one and six, as are the five attributes, whilst Heroism is equal to the average of the three heroic virtues. A character will also have a number of skills, again ranked between one and six, gained from his Blood and the archetypes.

His Blood are his tribe and clan into which he was born or raised. The Hassanids, the Salifah, and the Tarekid make up the three Great tribes, and then there are Tribes of the Shiradim , the Agalanthian City States, and the Quarterian Kingdoms, each of which consists of three different clans. Now whilst the Great Tribes are the equivalent of the Arabic peoples of Capharnaüm, and the  Tribes of the Shiradim its Jewish people, the Agalanthian City States its Greeks, and the Quarterian Kingdoms, its Crusaders, these are not intended as exact parallels of own history. Rather they are fantastical versions designed for background and culture rather than as a source of bigotry and prejudice. This is something that the roleplaying game flags early on, making clear that the heroes or Dragon-Marked are beyond such attitudes.

Each of the setting’s eighteen clans gives attribute and skill bonuses as well as a path, a discipline that the character follows. This can be training, a school, a sorcerous college, mystical tradition, and so on, but is a discipline rather than a character’s occupation.  The character does not have to follow this path, but may instead rebel and study a path connected to his clan, but not of his clan. For example, those from the Clan of Yussef, Servant of Salif who follow the Path of The Saffron Dunes are merchants with great skill at Unctuous Bargaining when their constellation is lit up; those of the Tribe of Ashkenim of the Shiradim are elite warriors who follow the Path of the Red Lions of Shirad gain greater results when they Light up a Constellation and they enter a mystical trance; and the Occidentia of the Quarterian Kingdoms who follow the Path of the Occidentian academy of the Order of the Temple of Sagrada, are knight monks who gain a bonus to their combat skills or Sacred Word skill when they Light up a Constellation.

To create a character, a player selects a Blood, a Clan, and a Path, which will give the character his first path ability. Ten are divided amongst the three heroic virtues, which are then averaged to determine the value of his Heroism virtue. Six points are divided amongst the five attributes. Then instead of simply picking one of the eight eight archetypes, the player ranks according to how he sees his character. The first five grant bonuses to various skills. There is an elegance to making this choice, a means of the player signalling and emphasising the type of character he wants to play in the roleplaying game. A player also some free points to assign and lastly, rolls on the legends table to create dramatic background and storytelling aspects to the character. Lastly, the player answers some questions about the character’s involvement in recent events and determines his wealth and possessions.  The process is not complex, but it does take a little time as a player works through the various steps and it is supported by a good example.

Our sample character is Muhdati Sala, a thief and former street rat who defended Capharnaüm against the Quarterians on the Holy Crusade to retrieve the Mirabilus Reliquiae—the holy relic of Jason’s skull, the Quartered God—not out of loyalty to the kingdom, but of his band of thieves and the peoples who would suffer under the invasion. The leader of his band directed raids and guerrilla actions against the invaders. Towards the end of the war, he was captured and taken as prisoner. Whilst in gaol he learned to read and write and even compose poetry from a fellow prisoner. Since his escape and his long journey home, he has begun to look beyond being a mere thief.

Name: Muhdati Sala
Blood: The Children of the Souk
Path: Path of Aziz, Servant of Salif

Heroic Virtues
Bravery 4 Faith 2 Loyalty 5
Heroism 3

Attributes
Strength 2 Constitution 2 Dexterity 4 Intelligence 2 Charisma 3

Skills: Acting 2, Assassination 3, Athletics 1, Charm 2, Combat Training 2, Command 1, Elegance 1, Endurance 1, Fighting 2, Flattery 2, Intimidate 1, Intrusion 6, Music 2, Oratory 2, Poetry 3, Prayer 1, Riding 1, Save Face 1, Stealth 5, Storytelling 2, Survival 1, Thievery 5, Unctuous Bargaining 3, Willpower 2

Hit Points: 20
Soak: 5
Maximum Initiative: 3
Passive Defence: 11

Path Ability: Light up constellation on difficulty 9 INT + Thievery to recruit Charisma✕Loyalty henchmen

Archetypes: The Rogue, The Poet, The Adventurer, The Prince, The Warrior, The Sage, The Labourer, The Sorcerer

Legends: Crossed the lands of the Djinn unarmed to prove your love; of distant Hassanid origin; escaped from a terrible prison; read an original great manuscript owned by a thespian; fought a demon in astral space; the Muses whisper in my ear

Equipment: City clothing (three outfits), lockpicks, khanjar, jambiya

Mechanically, Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked uses six-sided dice in a ‘roll and keep’ similar to that of Legend of the Five Rings, Fourth Edition. Typically, to undertake an action, a character’s player typically rolls a number of dice equal to an attribute plus a skill and keeps the best results equal to the attribute, with the total ideally being equal to or greater than a difficulty set by the Al-Rawi—as the Game Master is known. An Average difficulty is nine, Difficult is twelve, Heroic is fifteen, and so on. So for example, if Muhdati Sala wanted to cut a purse from a passing wealthy merchant, his player would make a skill roll of ‘difficulty 9 DEX + Thievery’. Which would be roll nine dice (Dexterity plus Thievery) and keep five (Dexterity). One of the dice should be different colour. This is the Dragon Die and when a six is rolled on that die, a player can roll it again and again as long as it keeps rolling sixes. Another way to modify the difficulty of a task is to increase or decrease the number of dice a player rolls.

Managing to roll and beat the difficulty number only determines if the character has succeeded, not how well he succeeded. To determine that, the player looks the dice results which did not go towards the successful roll. Results of two or more generate points of Magnitude, a measure of how well the character succeeded if the roll was a success or how badly he failed if not. Generate six or more points of Magnitude and the character has achieved either a critical success or a critical failure. When determining success and Magnitude, the player can choose to keep the Dragon Die and count it towards his success or not keep it and use to add more Magnitude. 

A player can increase the Magnitude before rolling by having his character swagger. When a character does this, his action is done with great bravado, but the player reduces the number of dice he keeps and so actually making the task more difficult, but increasing the number of unkept dice, which generates more Magnitude. These extra unkept dice are known as Swagger dice. Of course, if the roll is failed, the order of Magnitude towards the failure is even greater.

Lastly, if a player rolls three or more dice with the same result, he is said to Light up a Constellation and have activated a Path ability. These results can come from either the kept or the unkept dice. Alternatively, a player can use points from his character’s favoured Virtue to Light up a Constellation.
For example, Muhdati Sala has spotted a mark in the Souk, a merchant accompanied by a bodyguard. The merchant appears to be carrying a heavy purse on his belt. The  Al-Rawi sets the difficulty at Difficult or twelve. So this will be a skill roll of ‘difficulty 12 DEX + Thievery’. Muhdati Sala’s player would roll nine dice (Dexterity plus Thievery) and keep five (Dexterity), but decides to make two of them Swagger dice. This means he is rolling seven dice and keeping three. The results are 3, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, and 6 on the Dragon Die. He rolls the Dragon Die again and gets another 6 and another 6 and another 6, and lastly a 2. This means that if he kept the Dragon Die and the best results, he would keep 5 and 6, and then 26 on the Dragon Die for a grand total of 37. Which is definitely a success.
However, the player wants to find out how well Muhdati did and looks at generating as much Magnitude as he can. He already has two Magnitude from the Swagger dice. He decides to switch the result of the Dragon Die to unkept dice because results of six generate two Magnitude, though only the first six counts, not the rerolls. This means that he keeps the 5, 5, and 6, which still generates a result of 16 and a success. It means that he has the 3, 5, and 5 from the roll which generate a point of Magnitude each, plus the two from the Swagger dice and the two from the Dragon Die, which gives a grand total of six Magnitude and a critical success. Lastly, there were four fives in the roll, so Muhdati Sala’s Constellation is lit up and so he has fifteen henchmen ready to help him…
So in this instance, Muhdati Sala does not so much sneak up on the merchant, but exaggerates the sneaking in a fashion that everyone else in the souk can see but not the merchant and his bodyguard. With a quick slice of the khanjar, Muhdati cuts the purse free from the merchant, and with a wide grin in front of everyone pockets a few coins before grabbing the rest and throwing it up in the air to the delight of the urchins which stream into grab the coins and cover his escape.
There is a cleverness to these mechanics, the Swagger dice in particular fitting the genre, but they there is no denying that they are not as elegant and are perhaps too stolid for the type of action-orientated, heroic style of play that Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked and its genre calls for. Extracting not one, but three pieces of information from the one dice roll and then having to work out the arithmetic of the success, the Magnitude, and the constellation is neither quick nor intuitive. It is also not easy to teach, so more than most roleplaying games, it takes time to get players to the point where they will work through these steps unassisted.

Combat uses the same mechanics, with initiative rolled for each round, and combatants allowed two actions per round, such as attack, defend, parry, cast a spell, and so on, whilst Brutal Attacks and Charging take both actions. The Combat Training skill can be used at the start of a fight to grant a character bonus dice equal to the Magnitude, and really skilled fighters can use two weapons. Damage is reduced by a character’s armour and Soak value, but should a character lose half of his Hit Points in a single attack, then he suffers a major wound. The combat system is designed to be both cinematic and heroic in nature though and to that end includes a couple of nice touches. One is that player characters do not involuntarily kill NPCs. Instead their players have to declare that they are delivering a coup de grâce. There is even an optional ‘Epitaph Rule’ which encourages a player to deliver a panche-filled phrase when dispatching a foe! The other is that opponents are graded according to the threat they represent and are treated slightly differently in combat. So Babouche-Draggers are the mooks of Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked and fight as groups, but are quickly vanquished, Valiant Captains are henchmen and are automatically eliminated from a fight with a critical success on an attack, and Champions are the major villains—infamous knights, princes of thieves, evil vizirs, and even fellow Dragon-Marked, who use the same combat rules as player characters. 

To be even more heroic, a character has access to three Heroic Virtues and his Heroism Virtue. They can be gained for intense roleplaying in keeping with the Virtue and lost for intense roleplaying against the Virtue, as well as actions such as saving another’s life, dedicating a poem to the gods, lying to save your skin, and letting someone disparage your gods without encouraging them to repent. The primary use of Virtue is to Light up a Constellation and activate one of a character’s Path ability, but higher Virtues grant an increased Heroism and that has more uses—to consult the Stones of Fate which enable the character to modify the narrative slightly, to make a double attack, to avoid a major wound, to avoid environmental and encumbrance penalties, and so on. What this means is that the more a player roleplays his character in keeping with the Virtues, the greater his Heroism and the more chances the character gets to be heroic.

As with everything else in Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked, Terpsichore, or magic and sorcery, is treated differently according to the culture. Agalanthian Chiromancers bake their spells into clay tablets which can be broken later to cast the spell, Jazirati or Saabi Al-Kimyati manipulate the alchemy of word and art, the Shiradi Sephirim practice a purely spoken form of sorcery, the Quartarian Thaumaturgists practice miracles rather than sorcery. Although several examples of Saabi workings, Shiradi covenants, and Quartarian miracles are included as examples, mechanically, in Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked magic is designed to be freeform, primarily improvised by the player who decides on a spell’s outcome, the Magnitude of a Scared Word skill roll determining the spell’s duration, range, number of targets, and so on. In the case of Chiromancy, the roll is made when the tablet is broken in order to find out how well the spell was baked into it. The basis of the magic is formed by three verbs—Create, Destroy, and Transform—and by learning elements such as Agility, Will, Sand, Proof, and more, which a sorcerer can incorporate into his magic, he can create a wider range of effects.

There is plenty of rich theme and flavour to this magic system and no doubt, there are players who will relish the opportunities for improvisation and flavour it offers. The improvisational nature means that a player should also keep notes about the spells his character has cast, literally creating his own spellbook! The system though is not going to suit everyone though, and in some players hands, it has, like the rest of the system, the potential to slow game system down as decisions are made and the aim of any one spell discussed.

As much flavour as there is in the mechanics, Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked, the setting comes alive in ‘The World of Capharnaüm’, a lengthy exploration of Capharnaüm and its five millennia old history. It opens with a series of beautiful maps of the various regions before going to present each of the cultures, nations, and peoples in no little depth. There is a wealth of detail here in what takes up of over a third of the core rulebook, indeed a surprising amount given that there is enough here to take up a whole supplement of its own. It is followed by ‘Al-Rawi’s Guide to Capharnaüm’, not just advice on running the roleplaying game, but exploring some of secrets and the signature elements of the fantasy of Arabia and One Thousand and One Nights. So it looks at the Djinn and Mirages, then Agalanthian Ruins left by their many invasions, and the gods of Capharnaüm. It includes a good set of monsters and adversaries, including animated statues and skeletons, Chimera, Djinn, Ghul, Golem, Roc, and more, all feeling as if drawn from the best of Ray Harryhausen’s filmography. Lastly, there is a look at the danger of magic and some of the setting’s secrets.

Physically, Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked is a stunning hardback book, drawn from an artist’s palette of sun-drenched rich browns, oranges, and ochres enlivened by sparkling blues and other colours. Some of the artwork is perhaps a little cartoonish, but all of it captures the fantastic and fantasy nature of this world of Arabian adventure. The writing in general is also good, though slightly odd in places, an issue with the translation in the main.

Tonally, it should be noted that being a translation of a French roleplaying game, Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked does deal with mature subjects, obviously differing faiths, but also sexuality, for example, the Path of Mimun enables its followers, known as Paper Virgins, to extract the heroic essence from they make love to. That said, the tone is never salacious, but always mature and measured, and the roleplaying game’s artwork is of a similar nature.

Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked does lack a scenario. This is really its only omission and really, there is such a great deal of background to Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked that the Al-Rawi should be able to develop something of her own. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to what a scenario for this roleplaying game looks like and perhaps what the designer had in mind.

Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked is a rich, deep, and enthralling treatment of Arabian myth, fantasy, and adventure, evoking the films of Ray Harryhausen. It aspires to be cinematic—and it can be—but the mechanics, though clever, are an impediment to achieving that, presenting prospective players with a steep learning curve in order to be comfortable enough with the mechanics for it to be cinematic. Overcome that, and Capharnaüm – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked: Fantasy Roleplaying in a World of Arabian Nights, Argonauts, and Adventure! is a fantastic fantasy, all ready and waiting for the players to make their Dragon-Marked the legends of Capharnaüm.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Fabulating from Beyond the Old School Renaissance

Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is a roleplaying game of retro-Science Fantasy inspired by the artwork of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean, the adventures of John Carter of Mars and Buck Rogers, and Barbarella. Published by Mottokrosh Machinations, it casts Aliens, Beasts, Constructs, Revenants, Royalty, and Ultranauts into the the past of an extreme far future and has them explore the fantastic and discover the wonders of an age unimagined. This is a future in which it is all but impossible to tell the difference between science and sorcery, between technology and magical artefacts, a future in which adventures can take place any when and anywhere. Mechanically, it has been inspired by a range of roleplaying games from Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game to The Black Hack and Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World, but the roleplaying game it feels closest to is Numenera, but the retro-future of Hypertellurians is weirder, more wondrous, and is more Swords & Sandals meets Ray-punk than the Ninth Age of Numenera.

A character in Hypertellurians is defined by three abilities—Brawn, Agility, and Mind. He will have Affinities and Buffers in one or more of these as well as a Defence value and a Drive and a Weakness. He will also have an archetype and a concept from that archetype, and they together will determine the character’s initial major and minor powers. There are six Archetypes—Aliens, Beasts, Constructs, Revenants, Royalty, and Ultranauts—each of which gives three Concepts. For example, under Beast, the three concepts are Shapeshifter, Gnoll Madam, and Learned Centaur. Each given Concept sets a character’s abilities, Affinity, Drive, Weakness, Advances—what Cosm powers a character starts with, and Equipment.

Every Hypertellurian starts two major and three minor cosm powers. For example, the starting powers for the Alien archetype are ‘Level Playing Field’, by which the Hypertellurian can raise and lower natural features—this requires a Mind check and costs the Hypertellurian one or more Mind points in damage, and ‘Phase’, by which the Hypertellurian can pass through solid objects. Again, this will cost him Mind points in damage. An Alien with the Aquatic Creature Concept will have ‘Bioluminescent’, ‘Deep Lungs’, and ‘Well Adjusted’, whereas a Royal with the Genie Without a Lamp Concept would have the powers ‘Different Down There’, ‘Spoken Like You Mean It’, and ‘Vox Furore Dei’, as well as the archetype powers of ‘Grace’ and ‘Rallying Speech’. As a Hypertellurian adventures and explores the Ultracosm, he may gain experience and learn or develop further cosm powers. These can come from within his own archetype or they can be taken from a general selection.

One issue here not really explored or supported in any depth is that of a player creating a Hypertellurian of his own design. The danger here is that any design could be too powerful or too weak, and perhaps a future supplement might address this as well as provide wider options in terms of possible starting powers and cosm powers.

Character creation in Hypertellurians is foremost a case of choosing Archetype and a Concept. A player is free to take the given options—Drive, Weakness, Advances, and so on, or choose more freely. Similarly, he can note down the values for his character’s abilities or he can roll for them or assign points. Alternatively, a player can devise a character from scratch, including Archetype, Concept, and so on, working out the details with the Game Master.

Captain Larissa Tosca
Pilot, Soviet Air Forces
Brawn 9 (-1), Agility 11 (+1) (Affinity 1), Mind 12 (+2)
Defence: 11
Drive: Justice
Weakness: Must always be the hero
Powers: Favoured, Know Things; Beloved, Ray Emitter, Wonders Never Cease
Equipment: Power of the People Beam Emitter, alms for the poor and innocent (who have suffered at the hands of capitalists), temperature controlled space suit, nozzled container of pressurised and condensed vapor, mini-skirt, picture of her family, picture of Lenin.

Mechanically, Hypertellurians is again fairly simple and designed for fast, character focused gaming. When a character wants to act, his player rolls a twenty-sided die, applies a bonus from an appropriate ability, and attempts to beat a given Target Number. This is set by the Game Master, but in combat is equal to the defender’s Defence value. It also uses the Advantage and Disadvantage mechanic of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and The Black Hack. Combat is slightly more complex in that characters have a choice of taking a Fast Turn or a Regular Turn. Actions within those turns include making an attack, moving, disengaging, performing a special manoeuvre, using a power, and so on, but if a character takes a Fast Turn, he only gets one action, but goes first, whereas if he takes a Regular Turn, he can take two actions, but acts after anyone who was going to, has taken a Fast Turn.

Combat allows damage to be transferred from mook to mook to allow player characters to take out hordes. Damage is inflicted directly on a character’s abilities, first Brawn, then Agility, and lastly Mind, although social or psychic damage might inflict damage on Mind directly. Damage can be reduced by armour, an affinity with a particular ability, a buffer, a power, and so on. When an ability is reduced to zero, then a Hypertellurian suffers trauma and the player rolls on the appropriate table—the Physical Trauma table for damage suffered by the Brawn or Agility abilities, the Mental Trauma table for damage suffered by the Mind ability.

Characters in Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm are meant to be dynamic, if not heroic, and that means unencumbered. Instead of his carrying around numerous bags and pouches—a task best left to servants, pak-yaks, and the like—a Hypertellurian can only comfortably carry a number of items about or on his person. Mechanically, this is equal to his Brawn and represented by a number of slots, and some items take up more than a single slot. So a light force shield which is projected from a ruby gem on a wrist bracer would take up a single slot, whilst a spiked maul would take up three slots. The encumbrance mechanics are simple, but have a couple of nuances. One is that heavy armour and heavy weapons are exhausting to use and cost Brawn to employ, so there is an emphasis away from lumbering slug-fests in combat in Hypertellurians. The other is that spellbooks—which anyone in Hypertellurians can read and cast from—also fill a single slot, but since magic is esoteric and complex, a spellbook only holds one spell. Some spells are given in Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, but a Game Master can easily plunder any other fantasy or Old School Renaissance roleplaying game and its supplements for more spells and equally, more magical artefacts. That said, spellbooks capable of holding more than a single spell are sought after in the Ultracosm.

At the heart of Hypertellurians is wonder—that of the Ultracosm, its awe-spiring places, creatures, and vistas—and Wonder. When the Hypertellurians encounter the amazing, the fantastic, the phantasmagorical, the Game Master hands out points of Wonder, roughly ten per session. This goes into a communal pool from which every player can spend for various effects. In combat, this can be to inflict a Brutal Blow, make a Called Shot, Charge, or Sprint. Typically, such use of Wonder in combat will trump the actions of others, its use being a Fast Action. Out of combat, this can be to suddenly Manifest Memory, reaching through the Ultracosm to manifest a relevant, experienced memory to gain a wildly beneficial effect; draw upon the Ultracosm to make a Marvelous Adaptation and become an expert in a skill or topic for a scene; Push Fate and gain a reroll on an action, though the Ultracosm will add a complication to the Hypertellurian’s future; or Recall Memory to gain a roll with advantage.

In addition to tracking Wonder going into the communal pool, the Game Master also tracks how much is spent. For every ten spent, every player character can take an advance. These can be to increase an ability, gain affinity or a buffer with an ability, or gain a new Archetype or Cosm power. Advances are either minor, medium, or major, and over the course of one hundred gained and spent Wonder, a Hypertellurian will gain six minor, three medium, and one major advance. Overall, this handles experience and experience in a simple, communal fashion.

Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm with solid advice for both players and the Game Master. For the former, this includes making sure that your character supports the tone and setting of the Ultracosm, supporting concepts of your fellow players, enjoying failure, playing beyond the character sheet, and so on. For the Game Master, it is to support the players and their characters, to say yes, to reveal rather than keep the scenario hidden, be informative, take pleasure in the game play, and so on. It is thoroughly good advice, pertinent to most roleplaying games, not just Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, and yet…

Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm feels underwritten in a number of places. Mechanically, for example, how does Manifest Memory work in play. There is no example, so the Game Master will have to adjudicate or decide. Although sample NPCs, monsters, and magical items are included, and there is a list of inspirations in the roleplaying game’s own Appendix N, there is the question of what exactly the Ultracosm is and what it looks like. There is also the visual inspiration of the author’s Pinterest page and the roleplaying does include a table of reasons why a diverse range of characters such as the player characters are together, but some more advice and help would have been useful, because as much as some Game Masters are going to find the freedom of the Ultarcosm exhilarating, others may well be daunted by it. Much of the problem stems from the emphasis upon creating characters in Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm.

One way in which to see Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is the fantastic of Dungeons & Dragons and the Old School Renaissance pushed a million years into the future or into the length and width of a cosm parallel to those fantasies. Indeed, the roleplaying game gives advice on adapting the characters to such worlds—every ten Wonder spent being the equivalent to one character Level in Dungeons & Dragons—and converting monsters and NPCs, and so forth. Thus the Game Master could take her Hypertellurians campaign up and down and across the Ultracosm, having her player characters visit or play through various scenarios Dungeons & Dragons and the Old School Renaissance (and other roleplaying games). Ideally, these should be weird, arch, or arcane, obvious publishers whose scenarios would probably fit include Lamentations of the Flame Princes and Hydra Collective LLC, but there are plenty of others from numerous different publishers. 

Another issue is the lack of a scenario in Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, if only to see what a Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm scenario looks like. Again, this comes back to some Game Masters are going to find the freedom of the Ultarcosm exhilarating, but others may well be daunted by it. To some extent, this can be offset by the Game Master looking for scenario herself, perhaps from those publishers listed above, but it would have been both useful and interesting to see what the author had in mind.

Physically, Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is a relatively slim tome, illustrated throughout with period artwork. There is a certain lurid oppressiveness to its look, but the artwork is never less than fantastic and inspirational.

Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is not an Old School Renaissance roleplaying game in the sense that it does not directly draw from Dungeons & Dragons and its advice for the Game Master is definitely contemporary. That said, its roots do lie in Dungeons & Dragons and the Old School Renaissance and it is able to plug back into it as much as it and the Ultracosm stands outside of it. Indeed, Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is a fantastic way to revisit the fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons as well as other genres from an entirely different place.

Friday 22 November 2019

Friday Fantasy: Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas

Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is one of four short scenarios for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess at Gen Con 2019, the others being More Than Meets the Eye, Menagerie of Exiles, and Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book. Written by Zzarchov Kowolski, the author of the highly regarded Scenic Dunnsmouth, it is like several other scenarios from the publisher, set in the early modern period of the opening decades of the seventeenth century. It is also a sequel to the author’s Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds, itself part of the publisher’s quartet of releases for Gen Con 2018. Unfortunately, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is not as upfront about this fact as it could have been.

Instead, the back cover blurb focuses on a story from the far future which although tying in with the overall background of the scenario, it is not really relevant to what the player characters will do in the scenario. Essentially, an interstellar robotic probe a thousand years into the future reaches a distant star system and scans it for habitable worlds. What it discovers will astound those it relays the information back to—and what it has discovered are the doings of the player characters on a moon very, very, very far away from Earth. Some five centuries ago…!

Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is not a scenario in the sense that there is a plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Rather it is a set-up where the possible arrival, and then definitely the presence and actions of the player characters will drive the action and the story. The set-up is this. It begins in Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds where an off-world missionary mission of Portuguese conquistadors has successfully used the portal in Hell to reach an icy moon called Nibu. There they are surprised to discover the city-state of Bwang-Quos with its sophisticated Stone Age technology clustered around a boiling sea of lava in one of the moon’s volcanic regions and inhabited by the descendants of Earth’s neanderthals who had been abducted thousands of years before by a race of Alien Wizards. The Alien Wizards are now long gone and are of course, revered as gods, which meant little to either the Jesuits or the Conquistadors, who being Jesuits and Conquistadors, set about bringing the Word of God to the heathens and plundering the wealth of the new world for crown and glory.

At the start of Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas, the conquistadors have conquered Bwang-Quos, have barely pacified the local inhabitants, thrown down their idols (of the Alien Wizards) and begun to construct a proper Catholic cathedral. However, the leaders of the off-world missionary mission are divided in their aims. The Portuguese conquistadors wants to pacify the Bwang-Quos and prepare against any resistance attacks, whilst the surviving priest wants to continue building a cathedral and create a bishopric of his own. The last remnants of the city-state’s royal dynasty has fled to an impregnable sky-fortress said to be the home of an incredible weapon of the gods, and there plots to throw out the invaders. Both factions in the off-world missionary mission would like to capture the last of the royal dynasty and take control of its famed weapon of the gods. Beyond the city, rebels and raiders have taken refuge in the bulrush marshes surrounding the city, there hiding whilst looking for opportunities to strike at the invader and planning to eventually drive them away. The resistance also wants to make contact with the royal dynasty and perhaps gain control of the legendary weapon to use against the invaders. Lastly, the tribes of Ice Barbarians who live in the tundra beyond the forests and bulrush marshes look on, waiting to see what will happen and hoping that the situation will eventually be to their advantage.

It is this febrile situation that the player characters are thrust. The likelihood is that they will have have arrived on Nibu via the portal in Hell—as detailed in Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds—and so will encounter the conquistadors first. Such an encounter is likely to lead to an alliance or an offer of work, either against the rebels or the Royal holdouts. Exploring the city-state will bring the player characters into contact with the local inhabitants, some of whom support the Portuguese, some of whom do not. They may even meet the rebels who might try and persuade the player characters to fight against the Conquistadors. Conquistador patrols and rebel bands are likely to be encountered in marshes. Of course, if the characters arrive by a different method, such as a magical mishap which lands them on Nibu, they may arrive anywhere of the Referee’s choosing and so meet the various NPCs in an entirely different order. Another option, would be for the players to create native inhabitants of Nibu and play as members of one faction or another. That though, would require further preparation upon the part of the Referee.

Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas provides sufficient detail about all of the various and pertinent factions and locations on Nibu, although there is scope for the Referee to create more of either. Only one location is described in any detail—Hawk’s Peak, the secret redoubt of Bwang-Quos’ royal dynasty—but it is not really a dungeon or adventuring locale in any sense. Surprisingly, none of the NPCs have stats, so it is left up to the Referee to provide these. Whilst it means that the Referee will need to put more effort into preparing the scenario, she can easily scale it to the Levels of her players’ characters. That said, they do have an advantage over the native inhabitants in being stronger and having access to metal arms and armour, and possibly firearms and magic versus the Stone Age materials of the Nibu inhabitants. The lack of stats also makes it easy to adapt to other rules systems, whether that is for the Old School Renaissance or not.

Physically, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is a slim booklet, tidyily laid out with an illustration or a map on every page. It needs an edit in places, but it both art and maps are decently done.

Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas describes itself as having the “...[C]lassic conquest versus liberation adventure going on…” and indeed, it has that. In fact, it actually has the classic conquest versus liberation adventure going on, because when all said and done, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is a fantasy/Science Fantasy reskinning of a classic conquest versus liberation situation from Earth’s own history, one contemporary with this scenario. That situation is the 1516 invasion of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish conquistadors and there are a great many elements in Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas which parallel the history of that invasion. 

With that parallel in mind, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas presents an interesting roleplaying situation in how far the players are willing to explore the strength of their characters’ religious beliefs. Certainly how far they are willing to side with an invading force before it abuts with our contemporary inclination to side with the oppressed… That said, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is of a limited utility. To get the fullest out of it, the Referee will need to have run Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds or found some other means to get the player characters to the distant moon, otherwise the scenario is not easy to add to an ongoing campaign. Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas has potential as one-off or some weird dreamscape, but this would require some development upon the part of the Referee.

Of limited scope and utility, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas is an interesting addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay range, but one that may not see a great deal of play.

Monday 18 November 2019

A Cthulhu Collectanea I

As its title suggests Bayt al Azif – A magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games is a magazine dedicated to roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. Published by Bayt al Azif it includes content for both Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition from Chaosium, Inc. and Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press, which means that its content can also be used with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Published in October, 2018, Bayt al Azif Issue 01 includes four scenarios, reviews of classic titles for Call of Cthulhu, new rules, interviews, an overview of Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying in 2017, and more. All of which comes packaged in a solid, full colour, Print On Demand book.

Bayt al Azif Issue 01 opens with an editorial, ‘Houses of the Unholy’, which manages to explore both the meaning and origins of the magazine’s title and perhaps suggest a possible scenario seed drawn’ like said title, from the life of eighteenth century novelist and antiquarian, William Thomas Beckford, and the infamous gothic folly, Fonthill Abbey. This would some development upon the part of the Keeper, but the editorial certainly provides some pointers. It is followed by ‘Sacrifices’, the magazine’s letters page, the missives here posted in response to the preview of the first issue, and ‘How to play’, by the editor, Jared Smith. This is serviceable enough, starting with the fiction and a discussion of the themes found in Call of Cthulhu, but it has dated given that it does not take into account the number of scenarios available from various publishers to help prospective players and Keepers started.

Dean Englehardt of CthulhuReborn.com—publisher of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia—presents ‘CthuReview 2017’, a look back from 2018 of the previous year in terms of Lovecraftian investigative horror and its associated segment of the gaming hobby. It covers the notable figures and their doings as well as the various publishers, projects, Kickstarters, and more. It is a rather useful overview which nicely chronicles the year keeps us abreast of anything that we may have missed or forgotten. It is notable for including several Kickstarter projects which have to be fulfilled.

In terms of gaming content, the first scenario in Bayt al Azif Issue 01 is ‘A Conspiracy in Damascus’, again by Jared Smith. It casts the investigators as members of the Diwan al-Barid, the courier service of the Muslim caliphate in the eighth century, tasked with discovering the nature of a large object a group of Bedouin from an unknown tribe transported to the city and then transfered to a local merchant who bribed a guard to let it pass through uninspected. This is a swords and sand investigation, with opportunities for roleplay and combat and a nice feel for the history of the city which goes all the way back to Roman era. This period of history, post-Cthulhu Invictus, but pre-Cthulhu Dark Ages is is sadly unexplored in terms of Lovecraftian investigative horror, so this scenario is to be welcomed. That said, advice is given on how to adapt it to other periods, including Cthulhu by Gaslight and the relatively recent here and now.

The second scenario is also by Jared Smith, as is the third. ‘Double Dare’ is a modern-set, single-night one-shot scenario, initially written for play on Halloween. It casts the investigators as teenagers, bullied into spending a night in a reputedly haunted schoolhouse on Halloween. This is a thoroughly creepy piece with a constricting mechanic driving the narrative, necessary for a one-shot. Not a scenario for anyone who suffers from automatonophobia. This also benefits from a good handful of handouts. The third scenario. ‘Overdue’, is a short, fifty-entry solo adventure set in the library at Miskatonic University where the player character is a custodian, cleaning and tidying up after the students and academic staff each day. Of course, nasty thing are afoot as the library lives up to its terrifying reputation. This is a short, brutal scenario, stripped down in its mechanics to really just sanity, but easy to replay if the investigator dies.

The fourth scenario, ‘Easier to Fill the Ocean with Stones’ is written by Rich McKee rather than Jared Smith. This is set in Vietnam in 1968 and sends the investigators into a war zone where American forces may have committed an atrocity. Tasked with determining what happened, the investigators must chase after the potential perpetrators as North Vietnamese and other forces descend on the region. This is a murky, messy scenario and suitably so. It can be run on its own or adapted to run with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game or The Fall of DELTA GREEN, made easier by having GUMSHOE System mechanics.

Stu Horvath offers two reviews under the ‘Vintage RPG’ title, one of Arkham Unveiled, the other of Escape from Innsmouth. Each is only a single page, and unfortunately, with both pages in each case consisting of more pictures than text, there is little depth to either. Disappointing in both cases when really two pages could have been devoted to either and even then neither would have been  explored in sufficient depth or thought. Fortunately, Jason Smith’s ‘Sites of Antiquity’ more than makes up for it, exploring the much re-purposed archaeological site of Husn Suleiman, as well as suggesting some Mythos connections. The inclusion of actual photographs of the site and a map adds to the verisimilitude. Equally, Catherine Ramen’s ‘Rebooting Campaigns with a Modern Sensibility’ is just as good, if in a different way. It highlights some of the prejudices and discrimination present in the classic period of the 1920s (and elsewhen) and thus, if unintentionally, in Call of Cthulhu and its supplements, and then addresses how to adjust what has always been a historical game by increasing diversity and representation. A welcome companion piece to Darker Hue Studios’ Harlem Unbound: A Sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu and Gumshoe Roleplaying Games.

The full title of ‘Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon’ gives away the subject of Zach Howard’s article. It is a good history of the Cthulhu mythos in the hobby prior to the publication of Call of Cthulhu in 1981, and again, a good companion piece to the more recent The Making and Breaking of Deities & Demigods by James M. Ward.

There are two interviews in Bayt al Azif Issue 01. The first and longer one is ‘Going Rogue – An interview with Rogue Cthulhu’. This is a team of Keepers and scenario authors who run their creation at conventions such as GenCon and elsewhere. Based and operating solely in the USA, this is a good look at the fan side of the hobby and Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying. It gives the team their due and highlights how the fans bring Call of Cthulhu to life. Sadly, the interview with Chris Spivey of Darker Hue Studios in ‘Harlem Renaissance’ is half the length of the other interview and as informative as it is, the length of the first interview does leave the reader wanting more. 

Jensine Eckwall’s ‘Character Creation’ is the first of two cartoons in Bayt al Azif Issue 01. It is short and sweet, but the horror is decently done. The likewise short ‘Grave Spirits’ takes the central character of a doctor into Red Hook, but lacks the punch of ‘Character Creation’. Hopefully future installments will develop from the set-up presented here. Lastly, ‘Run for it! – Random Tables for Chases’ provides obstacles, hazards, and barriers for chases on foot. This is very useful article, handily supplementing the chase mechanics in Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition.

Physically, Bayt al Azif Issue 01 lacks polish, having the somewhat rougher feel of a fanzine. In another publication, this might be seen as charming, but here it is more something for the publisher and authors to strive to overcome. It could also benefit from a better choice and use of artwork, some of it feeling as if it is there because the designers could rather than because it is suitable. In general, the layout of Bayt al Azif Issue 01 feels inconsistent and could do with a stronger layout style.

Ultimately, the originality, and in some cases, the unique nature of the scenarios make the first issue of Bayt al Azif worth the price of admission and all come with pre-generated investigators ready to download, whilst many of the extras are informative or useful, if not both. If this first issue lacks polish, then that means that future issues can only look and feel better, for Bayt al Azif Issue 01 is a solid first issue. And that bodes well for Bayt al Azif Issue 02