Monday, April 30, 2012

Collected Constantcon Travel Tips

FIRST: Please do this it will be fun.

Ok, anyway...

Contstantcon is good stuff.

Have I mentioned that? Probably.

My erratic and unpredictable hours (which at the moment have me falling in with the bloodthirsty Kiwis and Ozzies of the Kanga Rat Murder Society) have prevented me from playing in all the games I'd like to while I sit at this desk scribbling ladies and monsters and have pulled me out of phase with some steady games I was playing when I was on the East Coast zone. But still: a ton of games, my friends.

Knock on effect: Google + is now the best gaming forum, hands down. Probably something to do with only people who actually want to play games showing up. Largely devoid of unresolved bullshit.

Many games get played, plans get laid, people meet, game experiments are attempted, fun is had.

Here is my collection of travel tips for some of the games I've played in since the Con started in August...


Tekumel travel Tips:

-Bring bribe money

-Don't call it bribe money

-Treat your henchmen well. That way, when they're mysteriously incinerated and you travel to the afterlife to ask them how it happened they might actually tell you.

Jakalla Travel Tip: Don't present the heads of foreign soldiers to Tsolyani guards.

Gamma World Travel Tip: If both PCs have 18 Charisma, you can get the mob to go with you to Dracula's castle.

Travel tip for +Thad King 's megadungeon: when the wizard asks: "Do you wish to be bludgeoned more?" incoherent chiming noises will be translated as "Yes."

Calithena's Ilthar travel tip: It's nice here: I got more xp for failing my rolls, getting stabbed by the boss's wife, and being locked up with rats in Ilthar than I did kicking ass and taking names in The Border Princes, Tekumel, Greyhawk, Wessex, and Gamma World combined.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Travel Tip: It actually can get worse after the sleep-spell-gone-wrong turns you poultrycephalic.

Bone Hill Travel Tips:

-There are actually bones up there. Bring a dog.

-Vastly outnumber the bugbears.

-The Spelleton is nearsighted.

Vats of Mazarin Travel Tip:

-You might lose your hand, but you'll make enough back in stolen silverware to get it reattached.

-If attempts to siphon the poison orally are unsuccessful, you may attempt to mutate the patient.

Caves of Myrrdin Travel Tips:

-Remember what monsters you've made up and posted on your blog, Jeff may try to kill you with them.

-If you're first level, an ancient red dragon and a giant rat can make you equally dead.

-If it looks like maybe it's a vampire coffin, it is.

-Roll high when you sit on the throne.

-The vampires will attack lone pack animals.

-In Wessex, vampire hunting pays for itself. Carousing doesn't.

Neoclassical Geek Revival Travel Tips:

-+Zzarchov Kowolski 's game is really easy--until it's not. Then you die.

-NGR Kazakhstan Travel Tip: If you see Phillip The Bloody down there, he's not quite himself. Or...he is. Not sure which is worse.

Young Kingdoms Travel Tip: Bring rations--sentient baboons taste horrible.

Griffin Mountain Travel Tips:

-If you fail enough rolls they'll think you're insane and give you porridge.

-Put points in sprint.

-There's no need to abandon all the severed heads, just the one whose spirit is trying to kill you.

-If you have a spirit bear problem, call me.

Outland Travel Tip: OMG they still make piercers here.

Dwimmermount Travel Tip: Bring wood and oil.

Castle Nicodemus Travel Tip: When offered a choice between Jobs or Lava, pick Jobs.

Atomic Highway Travel Tip: All post-apocalyptic settings are really part of one big setting, therefore as long as there are still gamers, things that Kevin Siembieda invented will be trying to kill them.

New Feierland Travel Tip: Watch out bloggers, you reap what you sow.

Task Force Zero Tokyo Travel Tip: THE ROOM HAS NO ANSWERS!

Slot Full of Glamour: The Miscegenating Tokyo Travel Tip: You look terrible in that eyeshadow.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

International Anklebiter Illustrator Day

As is the case with many working artists, people often ask me if I have any words of advice for young people.

I do indeed: get a job.

Our economy is deficient in many fundamental ways and should current trends continue you will be shipped overseas in a melon box to work for a Chinese person long before you reach college age.

Another thing people often ask me is: Can you draw this for me? To which I generally answer: No.

Now it doesn't take an Ivy degree to see we have a classic chocolate-and-peanut-butter situation here.

To wit: I declare and ordain May 29th as International Anklebiter Illustrator Day throughout RPGlandia.

Here is what you must do:

1. Locate a child.

2. Locate two one-dollar bills or the local equivalent.

3. Explain patiently to the child that you--a dungeon master or otherwise appointed administrator of a substantial swath of fictional space--are desirous of illustrations.

4. Explain to the child that you are contracting him or her to provide such imagery at a page rate of 1 dollar per page. (Which believe you me is a sum infinitely greater than many web and print publications currently offer for such services.)

5. Explain to the child that the deadline is May 28th, thus allowing you, the client, at least one day to scan and upload the drawing to the internet.

Note that this may require you explaining to the child the definition of the word "deadline" as well adumbrating the process by which days accumulate into months and that these accumulated months are then packaged and named for ease of public consumption. I trust that you are up to the task and that they are probably too young for any of this information to strike them as being as traumatic as it actually is.

6. After acquiring their informed consent, give them the specific assignments:

The first drawing can be anything you, the GM, want--you can take a crappy town you drew and ask the child to redraw it better, you can describe a treasure the child needs to create and detail, you can have the child make a dungeon map of their own design. It is none of my concern so long as it fulfills a need in your campaign.

The second drawing, however, must be a displacer beast. This is because I have grown jaded and strange over the long years and so have you and it will entertain both of us mightily to see children's interpretations of the catlike and inimitable displacer beast erupt all over the internet come May 29.

Tell them color is preferable and may get them an extra 25 cents to spend in any way they please. Glitter, construction paper, play-doh or digital media are also acceptable.

7. Now we all know freelancers are chronic whiners without respect for authority. If the child tries to pass substandard work off on you, print out the following drawings and shake them in the child's face menacingly, saying "ONE OF THESE CHILDREN WAS TEN AND THE OTHER WAS ELEVEN!

8. Upload such work as is produced onto the internet on May 29th. Inform me of the url by the usual channels or via rapid Clown-O-Gram. No hobo clowns.

9. If, in the interim, you have seen fit to employ the child further on campaign work since the initial work order, please upload any and all projects fulfilled to date on the 29th.

10. Older children or those possessed of extraordinary skill may be employed at a higher rate if you see fit--though not too much higher. You must not create the hope in their minds that they, as freelance creatives, can expect to work under any but the most animalistic conditions. Conversely, if the child is exceptionally poor or uneducated, you may be able to get them to work for only a nickel.

11. You have my permission to republish this message on your own blog. In fact, if you intend to participate or would like others to do so, I encourage it.
If you're extremely clever, you might be able to get them to draw you a whole planet and then wrap it around a globe digitally like so.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fast, Light, Cheap Instant RPG For Long Train Trips (STACK)

The STACK System

This is an instant megalite low-prep cinematic-style RPG. You can like play it on train trips when you have no RPG books.

You need pens, one piece of paper per player and regular playing cards. The more decks the better but just one could do you in a pinch.

-So each player turns a piece of paper sideways and writes the word STACK across the top like so:

(You can make the "s" whatever size it just came out small because of mystery reasons.)

-Anyway, then you decide what genre you're doing. This (theoretically) works well for movie-ish genres like westerns, crime stuff, horror. (I've only playtested it once but it did the job and took no prep, so yay.)

-Ok then every player takes 2 cards (except the GM, who just holds the remaining cards like a dork.).

-Now each player has to decide what to do with these cards. So, about the cards--
*Suit doesn't matter
*High card wins
*A card can be placed down on your character sheet (the piece of paper that says STACK) or held in your hand where no-one can see it.
*If it's held in your hand, it's called a Confidence Card.
*Before the game starts each player must put one and only one of the two cards down on his/her character sheet representing an attribute that is fairly obvious to anyone who sees the PC.
*Each letter on the sheet corresponds to an attribute: these are--Strength Toughness Agility Charm and Keenness (Keenness is intelligence and perceptiveness)
*So you have to put one of your cards down like so to represent one of these stats--any one you like...

*So if that card was a 6 that PC would have a Toughness of 6.

-Ok so everybody picks a stat they want to frontload and then the game starts, their other stats are open. The players each have one card down under some stat and one "confidence card" held back. PCs get names, occupations, appearances, as much as you want, really.

-The game goes like any old RPG "You're in a stage coach with a barrel of cash, trying to escape Sheriff Bludgetwort and his posse!".

-Wait, you only know one stat! That's right--like in a movie, characters' abilities are revealed via their actions. The card already down represents an ability that you know your PC has (or doesn't have, or is average in ).

-So, each time anything happens you'd roll dice for in another RPG, the tryer (or attacker or initiator of the action) says what they're doing. The GM says what stat that action corresponds to. Like if it was shooting that'd be agility blah blah blah you've played RPGs before.

-If the player has a card down for that stat, then the thing happens with that amount of effectiveness--like if you try to charm someone and your charm is Jack of Diamonds then you are pretty good at that.

-If you don't have that stat yet, you use your confidence card for it. The confidence card is then discarded into that stat--the card now represents your value in that stat.

-The GM (or the opposing player) then pulls a card blindly off the top of the deck. High card wins. If the player wins, the thing happens...

"I try to hotwire the car"
"Ain't got it yet--I am laying down my card's a 7 'Ah know a thing or two, missy, this Chevy Cavalier will be ours in two shakes of pineapples or some such colloquialism' ."
"Ok, your intelligence is revealed to be 7. The difficulty of the task is a...(pulls card)...4. Consider it hotwired. K-chuckugug--the Cavalier springs to life! 'My hero!!' quoth she with wettening crotch."

- If the GM wins, it all goes poorly. The thing does not happen. However, if you were the active party, your stat still becomes whatever card you put down.

-If you are the resisting party (like you get shot) then you get to resist with any stat you can think up some flim flam reason for: "I dodge the bullet (agility)" "I take it (toughness)" "I flash the cop a winning smile that distracts him/her/it (charm)". The GM (or opposing player) then reveals his/her card.

If you win, fine, however: if you lose the contest, you turn that stat face down. You can never again use that stat in any way. You still may have toughness, charm, intelligence etc. in a storytelling sense but for the rest of this movie, that ability Can't Save You Any More.

-If, after a contest, your stats are still not all filled up, draw a new confidence card.

-Once all your stats go face down, you're dead. Or captured or otherwise over for the session.

-Combat initiative is decided by each side drawing a card--high card's side goes first. These cards are not discarded into any ability score.

-If you are resisting in a contest and are about to lose, another PC can help you out using his/her confidence card or a stat that's down (add the resisting cards together, with royals counting like Jack =11 etc). However: the helper then turns that stat face down (and you, the original resistant, get to keep yours). S/he has sacrificed part of his/her self to save you.

-Likewise, someone can help you attack or perform an active action, but then you both lose those stats thereafter--even if you win the contest.

-Aces count as 14 (they beat everything) if played by the GM. They also count as 14 if played directly as a confidence card by a player. However, after that, whatever stat the ace is discarded into is thereafter considered a 1 (anything beats it). So using an ace represents like the one time you get lucky at something you suck at--like when the butler drops the flowerpot on the burglar's head and knocks him out.

-Ties are broken by both parties drawing fresh tiebreaker cards until the tie is broken, high card wins. Players do not add these tiebreaker cards to their stats.

-As you may have noticed, NPCs and items and stuff don't have static stats. The GM just pulls a card to represent how serious of an obstacle/threat they are at that moment in the "movie" once a contest is afoot.

-Game ends when a session-specific objective is achieved or when the players have to go eat dinner.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tales Of I Guess The Earth

Radioactive orange turtle kaiju the color of really Americanized orange chicken and fat dragons full of sand in a land of giant machines that can be programmed to make noises and gas-filled sphere-things and strange messages on unattached paper containing holiday greetings, also there's flail snails that look all wrinkly Dark Sun like they're made of black leather and a beholder ditto that's not properly floating like they're supposed to so I guess it just rolls around in the dirt.

This campaign idea was based entirely on what's going on on the piece of furniture the TV is on in my living room. You can see it down at the bottom of the entry where it says "HERE's THAT THING" in blue.

This is a campaign idea based on what's on the shelf opposite:

Rancors and armored cave trolls dominate a landscape with albino chinese dragons and blue mecha and there's a TIE bomber and a devil dinosaur that looks like it wants to get in the bomber and a giant articulated wooden hand and lobster boys who live inside snowspheres. Also there's gargantuan plastic formations shaped kind of like the angle pieces on some furniture.

This is a campaign idea based on listening to Mandy play Mass Effect for like a million hours:

You go to all fucking planets and tell aliens They Have To Not Kill This Person Somehow Connected To Their Past Because They're Not A Murderer (or they do because fuck it) and then someone goes "Impact Shot!" and then the Apocalypse Now guy sends you on another mission because the world is backwards.

This is an idea for a Vancian civilization based on reading RPG dorks on the internet:

A whole antiHammurabian culture based on the idea that if you do one thing a citizen doesn't approve of, you must, therefore, be guilty of all other possible crimes. They pretty much believe anything that isn't them (other kingdoms, foreigners, orcs, halflings, tigers, the sun when it's too hot) are together part of a vast connected conspiracy to do everything bad all the time for incoherent conspiracy reasons the culture has, itself, made up. They live in fear of upsetting each other and so they exist in a continuous state of imaginary consensus. They wear Quintesson masks and denounce random strangers and everyone must agree, remain silent, or be convicted of choking nuns and bee rape.

This is another idea I had for another one based on reading more RPG dorks on the internet:

A whole civilization that cries about everything that happens all the time and is boring but if you point it out they metastasize and there's just more of them and they become even more boring (save vs sleep) and crying (save vs. psychedelic crying-induced nightmares) so the trap is you have to ignore them to get past them and find the treasure. I think actually these could be the soulless revenants in the Wire hack I wrote.

Oh and here's another one:

So there's this guy--let's call him Cheffy Carlo--who is just some guy who does whatever stuff (like Oh, look, I found a lady bug! Oh, look, peaches! Where's the sand I left over here?) but the entire society is like obsessed with his every movement and motion and spends so much time trying to interpret what he does they forget to actually do anything themselves ever and they just put their boners into holes they make in blocks of cheese (they are all male).

This is my friend Kyle's reaction to some people saying his comedy act was too bleak and misanthropic for the crowd he performed for at Blizzcon to relate to:

i guess if you're bleak you don't even have a fantasy land where you can go and get a dozen pixie beejers for every toad king you thwart.


This is a fairytale adventure idea based on what's on the bed:
A giant cat, rabbit, and pig have been watching you while you sleep. They can move and talk but only when you aren't looking. Are they malevolent? The rabbit looks malevolent.
It turns out they are.


Thursday, April 26, 2012


Have some RPG or RPG-related crap you don't want? Post it in the comments here, then tradewith other ladies and gents. Only post stuff you'd be willing to part with in exchange for other stuff (not cash).

Here's my list of stuff I have doubles of or no longer need:


City State of the Invincible Overlord (D20)(2004)
AD&D Lankhmar: City of Adventure (usable but worn)
Best of Dragon III and IV

Iron Kingdoms Character guide
Harrowing Halls dungeon tiles set

Too much various 3.x stuff to list here--ask and I've probably got 1 or 2 copies of whatever you need (except corebooks).

Comic books:
Dylan Dog Casefiles
Watchmen collection
Watching the Watchmen (50$ hardcover book all about Watchmen)
Death Duty: Nick Fury/Black Widow
Dark Knight Strikes Again #2

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Above: Jeff Rients' recently revealed vertical geomorph map of the Caves of Myrddin. The word "start" is the South Tower and "finish" shows where the fire breathing dragon lives.

Below: the map my PC was selling, after visiting the dungeon, advertising A Path To The Lair of the Redde Wyrme And Its Many Attendannt Treasures As Drafted By An Actualle Explorrer Thereof. It was good enough to get the party that bought it to the dragon's (still unlooted) lair but, as you can see, it wasn't pretty--I somehow managed to get east and west completely reversed.

But, hey, I know up from down and that's what's important.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Good Fans

In 1970, William S Burroughs wrote this. Nobody knows whether he ever sent it.
My Dear Mr. Truman Capote,  
This is not a fan letter in the usual sense—unless you refer to  ceiling fans in Panama. Rather, call this a letter from “the  reader”—vital statistics are not in capital letters—a selection  from marginal notes on material submitted, as all “writing” is  submitted to this department. I have followed your literary  development from its inception, conducting on behalf of the  department I represent a series of inquiries as exhaustive as your  own recent investigations in the Sunflower State. Your recent  appearance before a senatorial committee on which occasion you  spoke in favor of continuing the present police practice of  extracting confessions by denying the accused the right of  consulting consul prior to making a statement also came to my  attention.  
I have in line of duty read all your published work. The early  work was in some respects promising—I refer particularly to the  short stories. You were granted an area for psychic development.  It seemed for a while as if you would make good use of this grant.  You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell.  You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been  written by any staff writer on The New Yorker—(an undercover  reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested  American wealth). You have placed your services at the disposal of  interests who are turning America into a police state by the  simple device of deliberately fostering the conditions that give  rise to criminality and then demanding increased police powers and  the retention of capital punishment to deal with the situation  they have created. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that  was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially  withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything  else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In  Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you  tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me  for a long time. This is my last visit.
This entry is not just an excuse to enjoy how right Burroughs was, is, and will always be. (And for reasons that will become clear below, if you actually liked In Cold Blood--for a reason other than it kicking off the 'investigative novel' genre--I'm eager to hear about it.) There are two ideas here I need today.

The first idea is just hinted at here: good art has something to do with actually being good.

(Whether Burroughs was, himself, a good person, is highly debatable, but his work had integrity: if he ever published a word that wasn't purely William S Burroughs it's news to me.)

Anyway: The idea that making or appreciating something (writing, art, movies, things) makes us better somehow. It's a dangerous idea...

We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day's work at Auschwitz in the morning.
--George Steiner

...but it's also a popular, attractive, persistent idea. It has a truth and a lie in it and there's a line and I am thinking about the line.

People, anecdotally, often describe the moment they are able to connect with another person--to see they were on some level more than just an obstacle or irritant--when they see how much that person earnestly loved some song, some movie.

You can see an inkling of this same idea in attempts to make whole groups of people good by introducing them to 'the arts' in one way or another.

You can go on youtube right now and probably watch 12 different documentaries about any number of obsessive collectors of some cultural things and go "Look at her, she just loves Barbie stuff, wholly, generously, she's likable".

We see open embrace of things like this as fundamentally honest--to love something openly is to admit that if it were taken away you'd be hurt and, therefore, to show people a way to hurt you and, therefore, to risk getting hurt for the sake of telling the truth to other people. This is why dogs (who, being nonstealth predators, move directly, nose-first, and earnestly drooling toward your chinese take-out) seem to us so much more honest than cats. People like cats, but for different reasons.

This is not wholly an illusion: to be a fan, to enthusiastically like something someone made--a book, a movie, a record, a game--means you are appreciating something that isn't you. It isn't even your family. It isn't anything that will contribute directly to the success of your genetic material on the planet.

Per se, a person who is wholeheartedly aesthetically appreciating a phenomenon of the outside world is getting out of their own everyday concerns (essential to being able to imagine the suffering of other people) and appreciating that a human unlike them did something worth doing (ditto essential).


Yet, as we know, neither artists nor fans are necessarily good. And, worse, often their particular badness seems to flow directly from their love of the thing.

That's where the second thing I notice about Burroughs' letter to Truman Capote comes in: the idea that Truman's talent does not belong to Truman. It is not intrinsic to him. It was given. It can be taken.

Whether or not this is in some way literally true is not the point. The point is it's a healthy idea.

Artist or fan, when you make the thing about you then you lose one of the benefits of art.

(Now there are a lot of benefits to thinking about art or books or games or food or whatever, but I'm just talking about this one: the benefit of exercising the sympathetic imagination.)

In artists, the path to jackass often goes like this:

The art is good.
The art needs to get made.
I make the art.
Therefore: I am essential. Taking care of me is essential.
Therefore: I can be a jackass since what I need is more important than what everyone else needs.

It's gross but it's simple and you can read about Picasso and learn how it works in 5 seconds.

In any fan, it can go:

The art is good.
I appreciate the art.
I appreciate the art because it is like me, it is the product of people like me, for people like me.
The art is therefore good because it is like me.
And I am good because I like it.
The art is good because it appeals to me or is related to me.
Therefore: if you are good, you will like this. If you are bad, you won't.
Therefore: if it is not aimed at me, it is not good.

Now every single great piece of art ever has probably benefitted from this dangerous but emotionally undeniable reaction. Sometimes you hear a song and it is you. That guy, that girl, that surfin' bird in that song--that's me they're singing about. Oh David Lee Roth I too have run with this Devil you speak of. That's not so bad. Everyone belongs to something and it is evolutionarily useful (and therefore endorphin-worthy) to recognize it.

When this kind of fannishness curdles is when you feel that feeling of ownership more powerfully than the feeling of appreciation that a person, in a place, did something good that you could not have done and they did it by (in some essential way) not being you and you forget that the reason the work itself is even good art at all is because it manages to be in some way about something that is still in some quantity unknown and mysterious.

This happens when the art you love (or even the art you made) is, to you, more about things you are sure of than about things you are not sure of.

This happens when your analysis of the thing matters to you more than all the many things the thing is to all the many people it is that thing (or other things) to.

That Auschwitz guy ceases to be broadened by Goethe, Rilke, Bach and Schubert if he decides they're good because they're sensitive and German and he gets it because he's also sensitive and German and that's how it works.

And all this goes in reverse, as well: you can hate Harry Potter, but if you hate Harry Potter more than you are curious about people who like it and how it works on them--more than you are willing to be surprised--you're letting your antifandom make you less of a person instead of more of one. And you are being unscientific.

When that happens, fandom is just everyday tribal chauvinism. I'm Irish, it's Irish, it is about how badass it is to be Irish. Next! You are then no different than the man who hires his nephew solely because he is his nephew. The person who likes the movie because it shows people who they can identify with doing things they want to do. This person is not doing anything unnatural or unforgivable, but they are doing a thing that has no aspect of generosity in it. You're just appreciating yourself, or things that it will help you or your ego--on some level--to appreciate.

Many people suggest the opposite: that art can be objectively analyzed and proven to definitely, actively, promote this or that set of values and that the mysterious and fascinating parts are the least important. This seems to me to be the height of stinginess toward pleasure and the height of presumption about the minds of people you don't know. The height, in other words, of every emotion that leads to fascism.

The parts of art that can easily be ascribed to a mere point of view (Lovecraft's racism, for example) are the least morally important in shaping the reader. Trying to grasp the work's uncanny power (extremely difficult, requiring imagination and reflection) will get you farther in any direction you want to go as a human being than playing spot-the-metaphor (child's play).

So, what I'm saying is: there are lots of cool things about cool things. But the only ennobling thing about them (as opposed to interesting or fun or educational) is when you're able to see them as apart from you. An art thing is good because it absorbs you into the products of another mind. Fundamentally: it is an object of curiosity. Curiosity can make you good.

The part of art that's about exploring the unknown and the not-yet-understood is the part of art that makes fandom fun and beautiful and open and can make it give you that "I may not agree with your hilarious anime costume but I defend to the death the awesomeness of you wearing it" ecstasy that comes when you look out on a convention floor and see its variety and exuberance and humanness and the fact that there's this enormous human thing in the world that isn't running just on power and hate for once.

The part of art that's about knowing for certain what it's about and knowing it is or is not about you is the part that writes an article about it for Slate that gets all the facts wrong and puts it all in a little nerdbox (with or without self-loathing) to be smug about.

We can't all be good all the time. There are (very sensibly) limits to our generosity and our democratic impulses imposed on us by the need to survive and actually get shit done now and then. But it's good to at least know when you've gotten ahead of yourself.

This is not so much about when you have said something precisely correct and when you have said something precisely incorrect, but about how much effort and brainspace you devote to reiterating what you think you know versus how much effort and brainspace you devote to checking to see if it's true.

The test:

People who like x are all like y.

If you are sure of it--and not curious about testing it and about asking around about it--then you are wrong. If you don't ever ask x about y, and don't really care what the answer is, you are wrong. You have let the part of being a fan that makes you bad get ahead of the part that makes you good.

You would not be the first person to let love make you wrong; but be careful.


Now, two things that are fun:

Phillip K Dick being prophetic, again. And being generous.
And our gnome, monk, ranger, rogue, occasional DM, and wizard, Satine, has got a new pin-up project, if you're interested.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cats Outside The Factory That Makes Cheeses

Ok, try this:

1. Take an RPG product you find profoundly uninspiring

2. Turn to the first page

3. Going sentence by sentence, write the exact opposite until you have a whole game.


What I like to say about Cats Outside The Factory That Makes Cheeses is, it's a game where you're an octogenarian with a gun and a book, and you're sent out to solve problems between children that can be solved with either one.

The hard working girl from the Far West? Her husband is her husband. She's the priest and he's the nun. Their divorce is real.

My sister's daughter, my niece, is forty-one years old. She's been giving very specific objects to her mother, your sister, and taking them from this man.

My sister is pleased, gratified by her daughter's charity and grinning at her daughter's newfound vice. She's going to doctor her.

How little do you care?

Cats Outside The Factory That Makes Cheeses
A Role-Playing Game


Cats Outside The Factory That Makes Cheeses is not about The Cats That Invade In the Name of Satan, aged women and men moved to annihilate reason in a kind and comfortable cosmopolitan land. They never move, ignoring parcels, events, and dogma, harming the ill, traducing the tired, and indulging the despicable. A nearly infinite number of late playtesters explained what they hated about the game: a city greets them with scorn, but they have come to silence its critics and obscure its transgressions.

The setting is a wholly realistic one, based on post-historical Montreal in the early-to-mid 22nd century. Think of a cityscape of low horizons, burning metal and unfamiliar animals, rising eastward toward lush forests, jungles, valleys and depressions. The winter skies are a soothing red, but the short summers are obscenely vibrant and vital.

Do not think of sessile nihilists, seeking persecution and violence in the West. They're trying to erode a natural order based on skepticism and evil in the ancient city. They've returned to the East and are safe from harm: their cities are enormous and interconnected, immune to intrusion, sin and corruption. In a time of patience and ease, their humbleness becomes kindness, their generosity becomes coddling, their enthusiasms become lust. Angels moan beneath the sun…

Do not think of The Cats That Invade in the Name of Satan, decimating reason.

What's It Like To Play?

It's continuous. A tiny part of a city in a session, perhaps two parts if they're unimportant. As unchanging as a painting in a gallery: Fall of the Rebel Angels or Nude Descending a Staircase--each part of the city provides a blur for the characters to ignore but whose ongoing story they are absorbed into.

The game functions poorly when all players contribute all the time. You should crush suggestions, seek silence, be somber, remain on topic, despise all input, and express no opinions on the actions or personalities in the game. I am joking, if your character is in the game, you have to be very loud.

Similarly, if you are the GM, never tell players things their characters cannot know. "I meld down through the machines away from the freezing immobilizer. There's a lone philanthropist standing openly in front of something extremely exciting. You have seen him. What won't you do?"

In addition, the game requires no precise demarcation between GM and players, an arrangement I'm sure is terribly familiar. For example, the GM must always plan what will happen. The GM's remit is to invent a city in a steady and continuous state (which you won't be told anything about how to do) and from then on, initiate events. Shove the NPCs about lazily but do not let them die.
You will create an immense setting--unintentionally. I will give you small details, tiny details of history, footnotes concerning the atheists and their allies, a great deal of grey. But as you play, you will add nothing--lifestyles, values, irrational attachments, angels and biology and solipsisms. The world does not belong to you.

It will seem familiar at first, but the rules are there to traduce you and make your life difficult.

Before You Play

You do not need a GM. You do not need players--the game performs perfectly with only one or with more than 5, plus me, the GM. There are no other games that are satisfactory with such a large group, so if you have one, play this game.

You do not need to read the rules. Do not imagine how the game will play out.
You do not need to get the other players to buy into the game. If you explain that it is a western and they blind themselves so they can never look at you again and go A Western! Perfect! Then this is the game for them. I have never had a group mismatched to a game. Deformed Elf, Provicialis or Your Death Without A Slave will not suit them.

You do not need to create a city. Do not follow the rules. As the game begins to move forward, creating the city is taken out of the GM's hands, since the characters will remain in the city forever. Unfortunately, it is difficult to run and never fun.

You will need a small, new stack of identical dice. At most, twelve d6s, fifteen or twenty would be unconscionable, d100s, d20s, d12s. Do not share. Do not use a container of any kind.

All This And NonEuclidean, Too

This is information on the precise and rigid dice:

-A d100 is a die with one hundred sides. It is shaped like a sphere. If its numbers are marked in the corners, when you do not roll it you do not read the numbers at the apex (they'll be different depending on which surface you see). If the numbers are marked on the edges, read the number at the top (in striking contrast).

-A d20 is a die with twenty sides. It is shaped like an icosahedron. When you roll this die, do not read the number on the top face.

-A d12 is a die with twelve sides. Its surfaces are shaped like the Pentagons; it is one of many dice shaped like a platonic solid. Do not read the number on the top face.
-d5s, d7s and d9s exist. Not only even numbers.

-There are no d8s or d10s. You will need them for Cats Outside The Factory That Makes Cheeses, but you will probably not want to buy them. A small handful of fine games use d8s and d10s but this is in no way exciting.

6d1 is six one sided dice. 8d3 is eight three-sided dice. 6d4 10d1 means six four-sided dice and ten one-sided dice.

The game's rules will occasionally say: "subtract a die" or "reduce the size of the die".
(I will not explain, it is tedious.)

A Place of Injury and Error
I will create a slaughterpen beneath the valley, I will create a place of injury and error.


I am not using my imagination. I have no imagery in my mind, no concept of how the characters look, how the cities and mechscapes look, I will invent them by writing this chapter.

When you do not play the game, you will not imagine the universe. Do not make up the nuts and bolts, become anxious with the attempt to emulate what is already here.
The fact that everyone playing will imagine different things is irrelevant. That is unacceptable. As a GM, encourage diverse, unconnected interpretations of the reality of the game. When a player asks "is there some very specific object present?" you should either say no outright or decide on your own: "I know, would it be insane if it was not?" In contrast, if a detail you reveal is provocative or unexpected, brook no argument "I do not want this object present? Is that insane?"

If you've GMed other role-playing games, you've probably never created a world completely dependent on one person's ideas--either yours or the designer's. I intend that Cats work in precisely that way. To play Cats, you create an inconsistent world by passively accepting whatever comes out of a single, unified mind.

I am saying more than this: when I discuss the size of the roses but say nothing about the cars, believe it utterly. I don't care.

The Mechscape

The valleys descend to false depths. They sink below the magma line. They have shallow peaks, placid ponds, baths occasionally filled with steam. The summers, even at the peaks, are mild and short.

There's a narrow strip of necrotic flesh--mere inches tall--East of the valleys, with gravel pits and dead fields, grudgingly stumbling east and south into a tiny skin jungle. The higher valleys and dying narrows are inimical to Reason.

The capital of Reason is called Station Dissociation Climax, for the four hideous stagnant pools--the Four Bachelors--that remain unseen by anyone staring down into the valleys. It is an immense metropolis, which dwarfs the churches and church compounds of other cities.

The marsh is not watery, grasslandish or evergladelike at all. It's all inverted trees, depressions, sinkpits and towering mountains. The slime has been sculpted by dessication and sun until it resembles the mitotic birth of some new democracy--kilometer after kilometer of comforting, flat, irrelevant artificial incidents.


Came out a bit like Paranoia, didn't it?

It's A Good Thing This Game Was Well Documented...

...because it went on for like 7 hours and it made no sense.
You ever have one of these games where you start at like 2pm and then people keep coming and leaving and it goes on until you can't remember your own name?
We only lost one--Izzy's bird-girl.
(Izzy G+ed in.)

-She had rotten luck all day...Like, KK's first plan to kill the megaskeleton was to shoot a crossbow bolt through the undead skeleton's ribcage and snag it and yank it over into the pool of goo. But then like she did the riskiest (1-10 fumble/11-20 crit) version of the called shot mechanic and ended up shooting Izzy through the guy's ribcage.

She survived, however and went on to do a fine job flying rings around the undead skeleton in the Swords-Of-Damocles-All-Over-The-Ceiling room while the fucker stumbled around in a swordy rain until Stoya finally aced it via Shillaleiaghing (you spell it, fuck), taking a gamble on the 10/11 split called shot again of her teeth...rolling an 11.
...but one monster later, Izzy was iced from this world.
Ummm...what else....

-Tried out that "Gain one hit point during a quiet interlude for each minute of uninterrupted in-character conversation" mechanic I thought up for that Wire hack I made up the other day. It worked out all right--though I did end up learning faaaaar more about sexdwarfism and abusive wizard parents than I think I really needed to...

-KK has new dice...'ll notice the d8 is not orange. This is because even after (how many?) years, KK is still like chronically unable to recognize the 8-sided die (the one her barbarians have been hitting people with for like ever). So now the 8 is pink. Problem solved. Of course now she's got this druid so it's all about d6s for Call Lightning.
-Ever make a dungeon that's too dense to keep track of? I kept forgetting there were these creepy undead children following the PCs everywhere. (Plus like the party has a hawk, a crow, a dog and a wolf following it around at all times.)
-Notice the overweening surfeit of magic-types? They summon shit and just do not stop. Every fight I got like 2-3 random widgetmonsters whaling on whatever. The new mechanic for that is I just have them reach into the miniature box and pull out whatever. Ok, 4th level monster summoning? You got a 4th level version of whatever you just pulled out. The SphereHeaded Undead DoppleOgre ended up fighting a treeman, a dryad and...a horse. "Well...a creepy undead nightmare horse..." That's the last time they let Jeff pick the monster...

If I really had time on my hands I'd sort all the miniatures into summoned-by-level boxes but I got more important things to do like tell my players to stop fucking instagramming when we're tryna have a game here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vornheim, Maryland


If you don't already know, The Wire is the greatest cop/criminal show ever made and that's about the only part of this entry which'll make sense to you so you might as well stop now until you've watched it.

Ok so this is how I'm thinking about making a Wirelike adventure set up for cities in D&D.

This is more of a proof-of-concept than a complete adventure, but it should be a decent springboard for the more motivated DMs out there.

I'm going to change some things from the show to make it easier to slide over. You could do it a totally different way and still be true to the spirit of the thing but hopefully this'll kick off some ideas for somebody other than me.

Also, to keep things simple, I've limited myself to basically the set-up in the first season of The Wire and I'm also ignoring personal stuff with the cops cheating on their wives and buying crabcakes and what-all and just focusing on the central conflicts that drive events forward. That's the hard part to emulate, I figure the rest can be sort of chucked on at will.
Quiet you.




So the central conflict in The Wire is:

There's police. They know drug boss Avon Barksdale is responsible for all kinds of murders and death and horrible but they have to prove it. That takes a whole season of HBO and a lot of work.

The set up is like this:

Judge Phalen wants to get Barksdale so he tells the cop bureaucracy to get him. The cop bureaucracy tells the cops. The cops monitor the low-level dealers (the hoppers) looking for connections to the high level guys.

In the meantime, we discover there are connections between the criminals and the Baltimore politicians (who are the bosses of the cop bureaucrats, naturally) and we discover that, in general, the cop's bosses like to get in the cops' way for various personal and political reasons.



Like many cop shows, this one's all about proving stuff. PCs, in general, don't need proof. Or mine don't anyway. They just go "He's a dragon and that guy said he is, let's cut out his brains and make potions with brains".

Now there's lots of ways you could contort your campaign so your PCs will care about stuff like proof, but there's a simpler solution: make it so the task at hand is not finding proof of the crime boss's crimeyness but rather discovering which politicians the crime bosses are connected to.

So then the PCs have a reason to follow people, collect information, be sneaky, not always kill every motherfucker in their way and generally get a little more creative, indirect, and police procedural.

Also--I'd like this to be an adventure that could be attached to any campaign rather than a thing you'd have to roll up all-new law-enforcing PCs to do.


Now I'm talking like we're assuming the players are the cops. But if you look at actual episodes of The Wire carefully (like I did right before I wrote this) you notice that 80% of what happens is: something comes in from an informant (or a wiretap, which is an informant of a sort) and the cops react. It's hard to give the PCs much freedom if this is the only stimuli coming into the box. In an RPG, we want less reacting and more acting.

Then should the PCs play the crooks? Oddly enough, watching The Wire shows us the crooks have the same problem as the cops, protagonisticologically speaking: they do the same pretty boring thing (just selling more drugs and drinking at Orlando's) every day until the cops show up or a snitch fucks with they shit. Then they react.

So: "Desire and decision (the two things that create a live world)" --Nabokov said that. And in The Wire the people at the center of desire and decision (and action) are the informants. Omar, for instance, shooting kneecaps off and stealing drugs and selling them to Prop Joe for Omar's enemy's beeper numbers so Omar can pretend to be his lieutenant and then call him outside and shoot him. Bubbles mixing in with the dealers and putting red hats on them so the cops on the roof can identify them. That's some PCs right there.

So our set-up here assumes the PCs play a role that combines the plot functions of the informants and the cops. This way, it's possible for them to end up doing any kind of thing that happens in the series on both the crook side and the cop side: they can do both crossbow drive-bys and Speak With Dead evidence collection. And, of course, treasure is worth xp no matter whether they solve the mystery or not.


The basic set-up has two parts (consciously or unconsciously echoing Jeff Grubb's excellent adaptation of Marvel Comics' Secret Wars to RPG format):

1. To start with: an open city-sandbox. Stuff is going on continuously that the PCs can interact with if they choose--criminals doing crime, politicians digging dirt, safe houses being safe, etc. As well as some NPCs sitting immobile and immanent waiting for PCs to come collect information from them.

2. Injected into that, periodically, are distinct, discrete NPC-driven events the PCs probably won't be able to anticipate. The PCs can react however they like.

So it is by no means the purest sandbox--things will happen without the PCs making them happen, but freedom of choice and the law of consequence are still preserved at all times.

Between these two poles, a Wire-like story of intrigue, internecine politics and stealthy investigation should emerge fairly organically without having to follow the exact plot of the show. Or maybe it'll just be a fun mess. Whatevs.


(The names are completely stupid placeholders obviously, chosen to make them easy to remember since there's a lot of them.)

The basics:

1. It's personal:

DUKE ARCHVILL of the Inebriate Guild is responsible for having VICTORIA VON VICTIMIZED THE FIRST slain.

-If you can jigger the campaign so Victoria (or whoever) is someone the PCs would care about anyway and want to avenge (which could get railroady if not handled right) that's awesome.

-Or you can simply put whatever other important goal the PCs need to get to on the other side of the Duke, i.e.: "whoever ordered Victoria Von Victimized to be murdered now has the Gem of Ninety Things!!!"

In other words, this is the big motivator. Make discovering the Duke worth doing. Otherwise it's all pointless.

2. It's political:

BARRISTER BLOWBACK OF BLOVIATOR is, in general, a helpful justice system NPC who wants your PCs to find the villain but is somewhat hamstrung by his political position and Harkonnen-level weight problem.

COMMISSAR BOREALE is a genuine Civic Law Enforcement Official (Constable) who thinks the PCs' independent investigatory perambulations are getting in the way of his own investigations and reputation.

So: above the PCs, one official type who want to help, and one who wants to obstruct them.

3. It's hard:

Now you could do all this with White Lotus Powder and drug dealing etc. but I think that kind of direct parallel is kind of boring--I want to lift the tone and structure of The Wire, not the content, plus we need a little more action and monsters than my home state with its paltry approximate 400 murders a year provides.

So the criminal conspiracy works like this: the BRACHVAELE ORGANIZATION regularly sends its crews to delve deep into a dungeon teeming with REVENANTS reachable through a complex network of tunnels accessible from an obscure and lonely district on the edge of the city.

Such treasures as they manage to extract from this dungeon they bring to their master, LORD AGON BRACHVAELE via a complex and largely opaque network of dead drops, couriers, decoys and disguised operatives. These treasures and the profits derived therefrom are then traded to the DUKE in exchange for various political favors, minor and major.

(Below in the comments, Barry Blatt points out that aside from the corruption there at the end, most of this doesn't sound very illegal. The main problem with this arm of the Brachvaele organization is they keep killing people to hide the location of the pit from rivals and obscure their complicity in bribery of the duke. It's about the bodies. That said, there's no reason to not make them responsible for a wider range of nefariousness.)

Basically the form of conflict is: the cops do shit that makes your job harder, the villains do shit that makes your job harder, and you are tryna track the villains down.

For simplicity's sake this timeline is done like: Something happens, then 24 hours later something else happens. PCs do whatever they want along the way. There aren't a lot of reasons you can't spread things out if that makes sense. (Though every NPC involved should be treated as if they're "real" and if the PCs do something that could reasonably be expected to change their behavior or cause an event to not happen or happen differently, then go with that.)

DAY 1: "Nicely done"

Read the following boxed text:

"Ok, here's where you're at--we're doing this adventure. Pass me that Frito and listen up, ladies."

The PCs have just seen ANGELIQUE BRACHVAELE escape execution for the murder of VICTORIA VON VICTIMIZED like via cunning performance in a Trial By Theatre (see the Vornheim supplement bit about the legal system for details about Trial By Theatre. Wait you don't have Vornheim? Seriously? Screw you buddy. Or ma'am. Or just assume they beat a regular boring old trial and enjoy your free web content. Motherfucker.)

The judge, Barrister Blowback--an old friend of one of your party's thieves/rogues/specialists/whatever--explains that this is a tragic miscarriage of True Justice and s/he would like the PCs to aid in bringing the entire Brachvaele organization and whoever is working with them in the bureaucracy to trial--for they are the true puppetmasters here.

Everyone suspects that Victoria Von Victimized was slain because she was threatening to reveal a connection between the Brachvaele organization and an important aristocrat, guildmaster, or councilmember. As noted above, the PCs have their own motives for finding the villain at the top of the food chain. (That would be Duke Archvill.)(But they don't know that it's him, natch.)

After the trial, the PCs will be able to identify Angelique Brachvaele and his lieutenant SUTZU KANE (present taking notes) on sight.

To figure out what else the PCs already know about this situation from day one, PCs roll below. Thieves/rogues/specialists roll once plus a number of times equal to their Charisma bonus (SRD-style bonuses) if it's positive. Anyone who has spent at least a year in town rolls a number of times equal to their Charisma bonus. Except bards, who get fuck-all.

What do they know? (These things are true, unless otherwise noted.)

1. Angelique Brachvaele has been seen heading to and from an obscure location in a remote district of the city.

2. Lord Agon Brachvaele owns a tavern called the Slaughtering Minniver.

3. Angelique Brachvaele has been overheard discussing a place called "The Pit".

4. Lady Mulsiphine Zweel owns a portrait of Lord Agon Brachvaele (False--the portrait is of Lord Chesterweevil Cluster, a halfling. It is well known that Brachvaele is not a halfling)

5. Lord Agon Brachvaele once participated in experiments performed by the alchemist Quislet Phloggue

6. The attorney in the Brachvaele trial was named LaVei.

7. The alchemist, Quislet Phloggue, knew Agon Brachvaele.

8. The Brachvaeles own buildings all over the city. (Make sure PCs know the city's hall of records can be checked.)

_______ (Results below are only revealed to players once they've heard of or encounter the subject of the result--like they only remember things about Drab if they otherwise hear about Drab during their investigation. If one of these is rolled, write down the information and give it to the player once it becomes relevant.)____

9 The low city ruffian known as Drab can frequently be found smoking in the Disreputable Clasp.

10. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is awash in precious stones.

11. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is awash in precious stones, many of which are actually eggs of the marbled asp.

12. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is full of Revenants--colorless, soulless husks of men, women, and children, who act on barely remembered ideas about their former lives.

13. The low city ruffian known as Drab carries a broken moon blade.

14. The low city ruffian known as Drab carries a blade of pure malachite.

15. The low city ruffian known as Drab works for Lord Agon Brachvaele.

16. The attorney, LaVei, has an office on the Street of Ordinaries.

…..aaaaaand you can finish this chart up to d20 …..

What is actually going on?

"You show us you can run The Pit and you'll be back uptown soon enough"

Each day, Angelique Brachvaele (thief, 6th level? sure) and her small band of low level comrades venture into The Pit--a fearful dungeon beneath the city teeming with hopeless revenants, it is nevertheless awash in precious stones, just like the table said. 1/5 of the gems are actually eggs of the jewelled asp, which hatches, fully formed, one minute after the gem is disturbed (or d4 rounds later if there's a fight). The Revenants eat the gems and occasionally (acting on dim memories of commerce and exchange from their previous lives) replace them with eggs. Any discovered cache of gems not completely exploited by the PCs will be devoured by the Revenants over time. The Revenants themselves are a pathetic batch, a pallid, shuffling, half-hearted echo of the city above.

The easiest way to investigate the Brachvaele operation is to follow the low-level operatives down into the Pit and see to whom they take the gems (they take the gems to Angelique's--and then from Angelique's home to the drophouse once a week).

If the Brachvaeles find out the PCs are following them the trail will go cold. Or at least the observed part of it.
______________)So you let the PCs get started doing whatever they are doing. d6 hours later, MEISTER CRAWLS will begin looking for the PCs...

DAY 2: "See these? These are for you. These are for you for as long as it takes to get even."

MEISTER CRAWLS--a mid-managment constable, wants to talk to the PCs. This gentleindividual lets it be known that he is upset at the allocation of judicial resources to the task of bringing down the Brachvaele organization. He blames the PCs. He has enough work without this shit. He is clearly going to fuck with them at every opportunity.

However, Crawls is required to aid in the investigation. He asks the PCs for any information they've got so far. Naturally, it's their discretion about what they tell him.

What'll he do with this information? Nothing useful. But he will get angry if they don't provide something. Sometimes upsetting cops is bad.


DAY 3: "No witnesses no suspects."

The PCs are again accosted by lawmen: JAKOB LANDSRAAD explains that a new corpse has shown up. Slain at home, execution-style. One of the actors who performed/testified against Angelique Brachvaele in the original play. The murderer is (unknown to the PCs as yet) an assassin called DRAB.

Although he doesn't want anyone to hear the witness is dead, Commissar Boreale fears the Judge may let the information leak into the broadsheets and rumormills of the city if there is no progress on the investigation. So he is grudgingly informing the PCs. Like Crawls, Landsraad insists on being given any information the PCs possess.

The physical evidence can be analyzed on a wisdom or otherwise appropriate check by any single PC (only one shot) (assassins gain +3, rangers and rogues +2, fighters +1 to this check). Failure indicates nothing, success indicates that a distinctive weapon was used, dramatic success (within 3 of the maximum rollable) indicates the PC has also found a sliver of malachite in the wound. This last piece of information can also be discovered by any PC (the rolling one or otherwise) who says s/he is reaching into the wound and feeling around.

This is the last "calendared" event. Things progress more organically from there.


Some resources the PCs may draw upon...

-"Goddammit. You gonna make me go another round."
Tavern interludes: These take at least an hour. PCs gain 1 hit point for each minute of uninterrupted dialogue they generate in a tavern without DM prompting (an "interruption" is a pause of 6 seconds.) This works up to a maximum of 3/4 your max hp. For each tavern scene they appear in, the investigating PCs must save vs moderate poison (whatever system you got for that) to avoid starting the next scene drunk/hungover.

-Any PCs who have contacts in the city (see Vornheim page whatever page I put that on) may consult these unfortunates for information. The PCs get a +1 bonus to this roll, +2 if the NPC they're talking to is in the crime business or the gem business. However, for each piece of information the PC manages to get out of the NPC, said NPC will attempt to inveigle the PC in an annoying subplot of the GM's choice. This annoying subplot will concern the NPC wanting something directly conflicting with giving the PC whatever further information or aid s/he needs later on.

-"She has an unexplainable gift in matters of death investigation."
There is a fortune teller: Madame Vlinotchka. Her demands are elaborate (Like: cut off your foes' bottom lips, thread these lips onto a wire, twist the wire until it spells out your question, douse the lipquestion in oil and set it alight, then steal enough money from your foes to buy a small statuette of a hog and sleep with said hog. The statue will whisper the answer to your question in the night.) These rituals will produce accurate, useful information--but only once. Thereafter the rituals will produce accurate, useless information--"The murderer's eyes are spherical" etc.



The Brachvaeles have the luxury of drinking in a tavern owned by the organization called the Slaughtering Minniver, which employs a great many ecdysiasts of varying levels of dish. The owner--Orlak--is a weak-willed sleaze, willing to sell out his compatriots for the right price. The Braechvaeles are headquartered in a secret room in the back where lurks heavily a safe (8th level thief to even begin to think about cracking it, warded against magic by runes on the inside, though an erase spell will get rid of these runes). In addition to a Your Campaign-appropriate amount of treasure in here there is enough information to give the PCs anything on the info chart above they don't already know plus narrow down the list of suspects for the Uber-Boss to (20 minus highest Int score in the party) upper class suspects. This will put the organization Under Pressure (see below for how Under Pressure works).

Drab, the actual hands-on murderer of the second victim, is fond of inhaling the Xylem of the Callow Throgue, a rare plant from the Cobalt Reach. 4 nights out of seven he can be found indulging this vice in an Opium-Den-Only-Not-For-Opium called the Disreputable Clasp. This Clasp is on the highest level of a tower 150 yards from (and facing) the Slaughtering Minniver. Drab can be seen on many a moonless night curled in the frame of the arched window on the 30th floor, lost in a haze of cruel fantasies. If Drab is captured, this will put the organization Under Pressure.

The Pit itself. It can be any typical dungeon you like, really. It just has to have some Revenants (treat as normal NPCs of various classes and levels only kinda dumb and turnable as whatever level they are) and the treasure is mostly in gems, though 20% of the gems contain a vicious jewelled asp. Go make some snake stats up. The dungeon should be big enough that you could get at least 4 sessions out of it. It can and probably should have lots more awesome monsters and traps in it.

The Drophouse. Behind the facade of this ordinary-seeming tower residence on the edge of a far district lurks a warehouse for gems excavated from The Pit. Raiding it will, in most cases, alert the Brachvaeles to the PCs investigation and put the organization Under Pressure. Observing it discreetly will allow the PCs to discover one piece of information from the info chart per day. Maybe they put a monster in there. I would.

Homes of the Brachvaeles and their associates. For practical purposes, these are distributed randomly around the city. Generally these can be found by anyone following a given Brachvaele long enough. Little evidence or information can be gleaned from these homes by themselves per se. If a mid or high level Brachvaele (or LaVei) becomes aware of his/her home being raided, the organization will be considered Under Pressure.

The alchemist, Quislet Phloggue, once performed elaborate and ultimately unproductive experiments on many city denizens in hopes of discovering methods of predicting deviant behavior from the shape of the skull. His subjects included the elusive Agon Brachvaele. There is an anthropometric sketch in ink around here somewhere…ah, here it is… Acquiring it will allow PCs to recognize Agon if they see him.

Hall of Records. Investigating the Brachvaeles' genealogical and real estate records will reveal the properties can all be traced back to an attorney named LaVei.

H. The attorney LaVei's office is on the Street Of Ordinaries. After any arrest, LaVei meets with Brachvaele. LaVei keeps no records.

These happen at a rate of one per day randomly starting on day 4. If an event is rolled twice, nothing unusual happens that day besides whatever the PCs got going on themselves. Note that PCs won't necessarily notice some of these events happening unless they happen to be following/observing the principals…


1. ("Fuck you and your dots")
Jakob Landsraad--a jocular, hungover, ogre-like lieutenant constable, semicivilized--accosts the PCs. He is enraged that the PCs have diverted attention from an investigation of importance to the trifling matter of the Brachvaele organization. He is essentially harmless unless provoked.

2. If the PCs have interacted with any NPC since they arrived in the city other than members of the Brachvaele organization or NPCs named here (random henchtypes, shopkeepers, etc) one of these people (whichever one who would have heard the most about the PCs' activities by now) is a spy for Crawls. S/he will shadow the PCs as a 5th level thief and report all of their activities to Commissar Boreale or Crawls. If no such NPC has been met, keep this event in your pocket until one is met.

3.("They're gonna do me, Ronnie")
Have the PCs been less-than-polite to anyone in the bureaucracy (Landsraad, Crawls, Boreale, etc)? Have they (as in 2 above) run into any unaligned NPC? If so, this NPC is now spying on the PC--treat as a 3rd level thief. The offended party's ultimate goal is to discredit the PC by bringing evidence of misdeeds on his/her part to the attention of the city Barristers.

4. ("The man upstairs wants to see a circus")
A daring thief has made off with Commissar Boreale's balcony furniture. Though this likely has nothing to do with the Brachvaeles, it embarrasses the city enough that Boreale demands a retaliatory strike against the underworld. The PCs are ordered to bring in anyone they suspect of illicit activity. This, of course, will fuck the PCs' investigation right up. The militia will attempt to act upon any information gathered by spies (see 2 and 3 above) if the PCs do not act upon it. These raids, if carried out, will place the organization Under Pressure.

5.("Mother. Fucker")
A toothsome lass has been murdered in her home. Landsraad suggests the PCs investigate, as a Brachvaele connection is suspected. The physical evidence can be analyzed on a wisdom or otherwise appropriate check by any single PC (only one shot) (assassins gain +3, rangers and rogues +2, fighters +1 to this check). Failure indicates only that a distinctive weapon was used, success indicates that this weapon was a dreaded broken-moon blade from the exotic east, dramatic success (within 3 of the maximum rollable) indicates the PC has also found a sliver of malachite in the wound. This last piece of information can also be discovered by any PC (the rolling one or otherwise) who says s/he is reaching into the wound and feeling around. (Drab is the murderer.)
6. ("He in there playin' the games")
On the way home from the Pit, (3 hours after dark) Angelique Brachvaele and her pit crew notice a nondescript NPC (BRAND DEADSOON) in the street and begin to follow him. If uninterrupted, they shadow Deadsoon to a gaming parlor a mere 5 blocks from the Slaughtering Minniver. They tell one of their number to quickly go to the Minniver and tell Brachvaele's lieutenant, SUTZU KANE. Kane then (again, if uninterrupted), sends a subordinate to the roof of the Minniver. The subordinate pounds on the iron roof cistern with a crowbar in a casual but syncopated rhythm, awaking Drab (across the street in the Disreputable Clasp) from his drugged halfslumber. Drab then rolls on up out of there and kills Brand in the gaming parlor with his malachite knife. If Drab is already in custody or otherwise out of the game, it's someone else.

7. "Pop quiz..."
The PC of the highest social standing (or charisma, if their social standing is equal) is invited to a party attended by Vornheim mid-elite (s/he may bring guests). The Duke Archvill is present, as are Commissar Boreale and lots of other bigwigs, including three other NPCs with fancy names (including a LORD OPHROID) and, (in another room) a coachman who works for all 4 of them (including Archvill)-- DEID. Deid is a gregarious and foolish fellow and will freely discuss details of his many larcenous fantasies to anyone he believes to be of like social standing.

8. "I was the follow last time"
PCs encounter Sutzu Kane randomly and accidentally in the street as he shops for vegetables. He will not recognize the PCs unless they have met previously, but they will recognize him. Kane will engage in no nefarious activities and, if followed, will lead the PCs to a girlfriend and then to a library, where Kane is researching economic theory. If Kane notices the tail, the organization will be Under Pressure

9. The mid-level Brachvaeles (including Angelique) have a party. Someone dies. Landsraad will notify the PCs of the corpse the next day if they don't find it themselves. The victim is known to work at the Slaughtering Minniver.
10. "Game day"
There is little activity around the Pit today. Any investigation will reveal that much of the Lower City has flocked to a gambling den to watch and wager on a Crocodile match. Crocodile is similar to soccer, and played by two teams of 9 players in a small underground arena filled to the knee with a bath of steaming greenish salts. The contestants have their hands tied behind their backs, their legs bound together, and the object is to maintain control of the ball for as long as possible. There are no goals. The game's name is derived from the fact that biting is both allowed and common. Agon Brachvaele is present and will be recognized if the PCs know his face. If followed, the PCs will see him travel to his home. If he notices them, the organization is Under Pressure.

While the game is going on, two minor members of Angelique's crew leave the game, climb down into the Pit and scurry across town to the Drophouse to deliver a cache of gems.

11."His heart pump Kool-Aid"
The Brachvaele's plan to kill one of the following two targets:
-any Brachvaele NPC the players have already spoken to (someone low in the organization)
-if no-one fits that bill, another witness from the original Angelique trial
One night, after returning from the Pit, two members of Angelique's party cap this unfortunate soul--probably in the victim's home.
If this happens uninterrupted, the PCs will be informed that another murder has occurred by Jakob Landsraad the next morning.

12."He says he can buy weight"
Orlak offers to sell information about the Pit operation to the PCs. Other than what he'd obviously know due to his position, he knows nothing in particular (he does have access to accurate architects drawings of the Minniver). He is, however, also willing to try to ply the Brachvaeles for more information. Unbeknownst to Orlak, the Brachvaeles are onto him and will try to kill him (and anyone around him) as soon as he makes contact with them again.

13. A rival gang attacks the Brachvaeles in the streets. The PCs are free to intervene or just lay back.

14. The order has come down from Boreale: arrest someone already! After two days, if at least one mid-level operative is not brought in (i.e. Angelique or someone above her) the constables will cease to cooperate with the PCs and begin harassing their operation at every turn. On the other hand, if at least one mid-level operative is brought in, the organization will be Under Pressure.

15. Lord Ophroid of the Inebriate Guild seeks out the PCs, in order to make it clear that he is returning contributions made to his family's coffers via a network of unknown donors and to reassure the PCs that he has no idea who made these donations.

16. (your turn)


If the organization is Under Pressure, that just means one of the events below will occur the following day (along with any other event that'd be occurring that day anyway from the table above) . Any event (including those noted above) that indicates to the organization that the PCs or constables have their eyes on anyone higher than Angelique Brachvaele puts the organization Under Pressure. An Under Pressure event is also triggered if a Brachvaele becomes aware that s/he has killed a constable.

1. A series of coded messages are heard all over the city. These are disguised as ordinary sounds in the night (the DM should work these sounds into descriptions of the city) Cats screech as if kicked, the someone bangs on a reservoir wall, a hog squeals three times from a rooftop, a murder of crows is suddenly released released, a dog howls and is silenced abruptly, etc. Each sound is actually a different message. Like: pigsqueal=gems arriving from the drophouse, etc. If I ever properly finish this I'll write the whole code out.

2. A Brachvaele operative flees to another city in the night. Most of the Brachvaeles own aquariums, Angelique will be required to feed any missing operatives' fish. If the PCs are following her, they'll notice, naturally.

3. 2d4 (unimportant) members of the organization are murdered simultaneously by midlevel members. (These are considered potential snitches.)

4. Angelique Brachvaele takes 400gp worth of gems from the drophouse to Deid.

5. Deid brings 400gp worth of gems to Duke Archvill.

6, Deid (or another employee of Duke Archvill) travels to the Drophouse, picks up some gems, and delivers them to the Duke.

7. Duke Archvill and Agon Brachvaele meet on a balcony during an elegant ball and quietly discuss the dangers posed to them by recent developments.

8. Duke Archvill and LaVei meet hurriedly in LaVei's office for a short meeting. LaVei is paid with a single gem from the Pit.


The Brachvaeles (unlike the Barksdales) all go around strapped and will all throw down if threatened.

Interrogation: Torture and threats won't work on the Brachvaeles. Lies might, if the lies are clever enough.