Running Holmes at AR RPG Con

I only ended up with two players at the con, but one was one of my regulars, and the other was The Mixed GM, so we made it work. Players ran two characters and I ran a “hireling”.

This won’t be a full run-down, but some observations and remarks on highlights.

Both times I’ve run Xenopus, the parties have known that the sea cliff where Lemunda might be held was to the west, and both times the parties made a B-line west. Main difference, this time the party was insistent on dealing with the out-of-depth 31 HP spider instead of going around it. They didn’t kill it, but they eventually hurt it bad enough that it wasn’t going to mess with them.

The party wanted some extra muscle, so I pulled out a character sheet for a pirate I’d played in a couple other games. Following a bad ‘you had to be there’ joke, Crusty Jim became Trusty Jim. And any character named Trusty just HAD to betray the party at some point. It made for a pretty wild fight in the sea caves, as pirates kept pouring in and Jim tried to make off with both Lemunda and the contract for the reward for her return.

Crusty Jim was going to try to convince Lemunda that he was the only one there to rescue her and he was rescuing her from the party. She might have helped him row away and beat the party chasing him. This didn’t happen, because Crusty Jim has CHA 4 and is OBVIOUSLY A PIRATE.

Just for the hell of it, I ran Lemunda as a MU; she tried to Charm Person Crusty Jim when they were in the boat together, but he succeeded on his saving throw. Her class was never relevant from that point forward. The players were unaware this even happened. Oh well.

Using the Holmes wandering monsters chart can land you with some weird stuff, but I just went with it. There was no good reason for a bunch of Norse Berserkers to be hanging out, but they somehow joined the party. And one of them fought a character to the death for the right to have the +1 sword. He also guzzled a potion of growth that someone asked him to just taste, so for a few minutes, there was a 12′ Nord romping around with the party.

The climactic fight ended up being with a neutral party of mouthy elves who’d mostly rolled utility spells. A random encounter roll had placed the large elf party in the same room with the ghouls. Two sleeps would’ve been the end of everyone, but bad rolls and poor economy of action resulted in the players overcoming and looting some dead elves.

They never found the wizard or his tower. Therefore, I didn’t get to use the little monkey mini my GF loaned me.

They went through maybe half of the 18 pre-gens I rolled up for the con.

Even without playing it straight and throwing extra pre-gens at big problems, two characters would’ve reached level 2, a dwarf and a thief. If the adventure had been played straight and not like a con game one-off, it could’ve easily been more.

Mixed GM’s dwarf actually survived the adventure from start to finish.

With two players, Holmes’ wonky initiative ended up not being a problem at all.

Dammit, they went into the Rat Tunnels! I ended up having to sketch out additional rat tunnels…

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Short Reviews – Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp

Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

L. Sprague de Camp offers up something of a planetary romance with Finished, where I can’t quite tell if he just bungled his premise or was poorly spoofing Sword & Planet and Campbell ran it because he thought it would make the folks over at Planet Stories look like rubes.

Finished

Why do I feel like the genre is being mocked?

The truth may be somewhere in between. Finished is a mess of weird names and affectations, such that entire paragraphs barely register as coherent ideas expressed in English. De Camp is a smart guy who enjoys being smart, but he’s also a fairly decent writer who has done some really good humorous SFF that, while funny, didn’t quite dip into twee. So despite being a mess, there’s a damn good story at its core that makes me wonder why he didn’t work to tell it just a little bit better.

A planet in contact with the Galactic FederationTM is being kept at arm’s-length by the advanced space-faring culture; they’re just too primitive and barbaric to be granted access to the technical and philosophical knowledge of Earth (Ertsu). The planet has a perpetual regency: the “one king” of the planet is a revered and sacred mummy relic, and the princes of the planet rule in his name. The mummy is fraudulently taken off the planet, and the Prince demands the right to pursue it to earth to recover their world’s most sacred treasure.

Turns out, the theft was a sham. The prince allowed, nay facilitated, the theft of the mummy which could be stuffed with literature and technical manuals so that they might be smuggled back to his world.

There’s a large naval battle as one of the representatives of the galactic federation pursues the rogue prince, who fakes his death, faked a mummy (lost in the battle), and ultimately returns to his people with the promise of a new golden age.

Again, not a bad story, but it suffered greatly in the telling, and I would’ve much rather it be told by a Brackett or a Kline. It’s not something I can easily explain—not within the limitations of time I have for this column—so I can only suggest that you read it for yourself.

This is the last day of the Cirsova Issue 9 & 10 Kickstarter! Be sure to back today if you haven’t already!

Final Days of the Cirsova Vol. 1 Kickstarter

As of right now, we only need to raise another ~$600 in subscriptions. A big chunk of that could be covered by anyone who backs for the original line-art for Cirsova #8 by Benjamin A. Rodriguez.

sP2p1A98

Abe Strongjohn’s original manuscript for Magelords of Ruach, Misha Burnett’s handmade Book of Lost Doors boxed set, and the signed Adventure of the Incognita Countess by Cynthia Ward have already sold out, so this is our last big-ticket item at the moment.

Also, a few authors have offered to donate ebooks that will be included in addition to previous issues of Cirsova and subscriptions at the $20+ tiers. So far, we have confirmed Friend of the Magazine J.D. Cowan’s Grey Cat Blues. Others TBA.

New Fiction from Cirsova and Sky Hernstrom

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

Cirsova Magazine has four days left on its Kickstarter for issues 9 and 10.  Cirsova doesn’t mess around–issues 9 and 10 are paid for, but successful funding will allow the next issues to happen.  Cirsova is one of the best things to happen in the semiprozine and heroic fantasy space in the last several years.  There has been a minor boom in pulpy semipromags in the last few years.  Cirsova captures the spirit of Appendix N better than the rest.

Check out my reviews of issues one, two, and three.

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Tower of Zenopus – Shorthand

Mixed GM, I know you’re going to be at my table Saturday, so don’t read this! Or, at least don’t download my key for the dungeon map!

I love Holmes’ sample dungeon, but it’s a bit tricky to run straight off the page for a couple reasons. First, he doesn’t use what would become the established convention for keying dungeons crossword-puzzle style. Second, he’ll include several paragraphs of information describing the room and the treasure in it to add at the very end “there’s a monster in here that will attack you”.

So, for my own benefit, I boiled the whole thing down into two pages of key-notes, everything I need to actually run the Tower as a one off. I tried to put dungeon info in the order that it would be relevant to inform the party about it. General room description and any obvious monsters, followed by more detailed descriptions, followed by loot. In the past, I took a highlighter to photocopied text, but I think this will help with the issue of relevant order or room objects.

You can download my PDF here.

Cirsova’s Script for Batman #50

There are a lot of important things I probably should’ve been doing today, but in a fit of mania I wrote a 22 page script for a Batman Wedding. I hope you all enjoy this more than you did Batman #50.

Page 1:

Church sanctuary, wedding day. Members of the Bat Family and Justice League are seated in the pews in costume; Batman and Catwoman stand at the altar.

Narration: At long last, the day is finally here! The Wedding of Batman and Catwoman!

 

Page 2:

Panel One: Bat & Cat looking at each other in front of priest. Green discordant notes from the side

Priest: Do you promise to—what’s the organist doing?

Panel two: The organist is Joker.

Joker: I can’t believe you didn’t invite me to the wedding!

Panel three: Batman holds up Joker by the collar.

Batman: How DARE you!

Joker: Easy, Bats, you don’t want this wedding to blow up in everyone’s face.

 

Page 3

Panel 1: An explosion

Panel 2: Everyone in the sanctuary is coughing; there is mist everywhere.

Panel 3: Joker’s head is on the ground, looking up; it’s animatronic, because it had been a Joker doll.

Joker’s head: It would be a shame to spoil such a happy day.

Panel 4: Batman holding what’s left of the Joker automaton in one hand, covering his face with the other.

Batman: Joker gas! Quick, get everyone out of the church! Cat?

Panel 5: Batman looks back to the altar. Catwoman has passed out.

Batman: Cat!

Panel 6: Batman falls down.

 

Page 4

Panel 1: Batman, Catwoman, Robin (doesn’t matter which one), and Batgirl are pinned to a large block of ice.

Batman: Where… Where are we? Cobblepot!

Panel 2: Penguin, Joker and some Joker thugs look on at the captive Bat Family. It is clear that they’re in Iceberg Lounge. One of the Joker thugs has a freeze cannon.

Joker: I rented the place out for a reception! What do you think?

Penguin: If anyone asks, I’ll just say Joker forced me to do it. No one would believe otherwise!

Joker: It’s true!

 

Page 5:

Panel 1: Joker menaces the Bat Family

Joker: Don’t you think I wanted to be a part of this? I could’ve killed you, but I got you a gift!

Robin: You’re sick, Joker.

Panel 2: Joker turns, hand to his mouth, calling.

Joker: Ladies, bring in the wedding cake!

Panel 3: Penguin’s henchgirls, Jay, Raven, and Lark wheel out a large cake with a riddler “?” on top.

Joker: Doesn’t that look good enough to eat?

Panel 4: Mad Hatter pops out of the wedding cake holding a bridal veil.

Joker: I’ll bet you were expecting Harley Quinn! Jervis, come on out, and show ‘em what they’ve won!

 

Page 6:

Panel 1: Joker gestures to Catwoman, Mad Hatter approaches holding the veil out towards her.

Joker: We’ll have Catwoman back to a life of crime in no time! Get that on her and set her loose!

Panel 2: With the veil placed over Catwoman’s head, she looks on with a vacant stare

Joker (off panel): Now go and rob the nearest bank. Get yourself something nice for the honeymoon.

Catwoman: ~meow…

Panel 3: Joker thug shooting Catwoman with the freeze cannon.

Joker: Hit the reverse on that thing Freeze loaned us… and don’t hit Batman, we don’t want him getting out!

 

Page 7:

Panel 1: Catwoman scrambles away.

Joker: And off she goes!

Panel 2:

Batgirl: What are we going to do, Batman?

Batman: Don’t worry, I was expecting something like this. Hold your breath…

Panel 3: Everyone in the iceberg lounge looking around as gas seeps in.

Joker: Hey, what is this? Gas is MY shtick! No, don’t… pass… out… zzzzz….

 

Page 8:

Panel 1: Batman smiling

Batman: It pays to have someone working from the OUTSIDE.

Panel 2: The gas solidifies into Metamorpho

Metamorpho: Heya, Bats! Looks like these guys are down for the count with my sleeping gas!

Panel 3: Metamorpho is melting the ice with his powers

Robin: Thanks, Rex!

Batman: We’ve got to catch up with Catwoman. She’s headed to the 1st Bank of Gotham.

Panel 4: Freed, Batman is rubbing his wrists.

Batman: Can you and the rest of the Outsiders handle these clowns yourselves?

Metamorpho: For four volumes!

Panel 5: Batman has slung Joker over his shoulder.

Batman: I’ve had enough jokes for one day!

 

Page 9:

First Bank of Gotham, a towering edifice. Catwoman is climbing up the side in broad daylight!

Onlookers: Hey, is that the Catwoman?

Onlookers: What’s she doing?!

Onlookers: In her wedding dress, too!

 

Page 10:

Panel 1: The Riddler stands in front of TV camera crews in front of the bank.

Riddler: What’s black and white and robbing 1st Bank of Gotham on her wedding day? The Catwoman of course!

Panel 2: Batman grabs the Riddler; the cameras are still on them.

Batman: What’s your part in this Riddler?!

Riddler: The part I play is the part you say! Isn’t this your wedding day?

Panel 3: Batman has let Riddler go and walks past him.

Batman: I don’t have time for your nonsense. Batgirl, Robin, watch him!

Riddler aside to Batgirl: Even if it’s just an act, can’t you leave my face intact?

 

Page 11:

Panel 1: Catwoman breaks into the bank window.

Panel 2: Catwoman sneaks down halls of the bank.

Panel 3: Catwoman trying to open the Bank vault.

Panel 4: Catwoman still trying to open the Bank Vault, but looking surprised

Batman(from behind her): Stop! It’s over.

Panel 5: Batman lifting the veil off Catwoman; her eyes are clear again.

 

Page 12:

Panel 1: Batman and Catwoman standing in front of the vault.

Catwoman: What happened?

Batman: Mad Hatter put a mind control device in this wedding veil and told you to rob a bank.

Panel 2:

Batman: Joker must have hoped that if everyone thought you returned to a life of crime, it would be impossible for the Batman and the Catwoman to be married.

Panel 3: Catwoman looking downcast, turned away from Batman.

Catwoman: Maybe he’d be right…

Batman: Exactly…

 

Page 13:

Panel 1: An interrogation cell at GCP, Gordon stands next to Bullock and looks on at Joker, who’s in a straight jacket.

Gordon: There’s always more than meets-the-eye with Joker’s plans.

Panel 2: Joker grinning in the room.

Joker: It was all King Tut’s idea, I swear! He’s so funky!

Panel 3: Gordon looks frustrated.

Gordon: Do you think it’s even worth questioning him, or should we just toss him back into Arkham?

 

Page 14:

Panel 1: Gordon still standing there, but instead of Bullock, Clayface is standing next to him.

Gordon: You’re awfully quiet, Bullock…

Panel 2: Gordon looks in horror at Clayface.

Gordon: What are YOU doing here?!

Panel 3: Clayface moves in on Gordon.

Clayface: I got a bit part…

Panel 4: Clayface

Clayface: and I’m ready for my close-up!

 

Page 15:

Panel 1: A blast of a freeze ray from the freeze gun hits Clayface and knocks him away from Gordon.

Panel 2: Bullock holding the freeze gun.

Bullock: Some Asian lady with a sword said this was at the crime scene… good thing I hadn’t checked it into evidence, yet, huh?

Panel 3: Joker furious in the interrogation room

Joker: What? That’s it?! I was hoping for much more in the third act!

 

Page 16:

Panel 1: Batman is standing in front of the camera crews outside 1st Gotham Bank; Catwoman is looking down and is wearing cuffs beside him.

Batman: …and that’s why I’ve decided that the Batman and the Catwoman can NEVER get married.

Panel 2: Two-Face’s cell; Two-Face is watching the live broadcast on his TV.

Batman on the TV: Batman is a crime-fighter, and the Catwoman is a criminal.

Panel 3:

Two-Face: Why that no good double crosser…

 

Page 17:

Batman fires his grapnel with one hand, holding Catwoman in the other, and goes soaring off away from the press conference that’s formed around the outside of the bank.

Batman: It’s time she gets her just deserts.

 

Page 18:

A Gotham Courthouse.

Caption: Later that week…

 

Page 19:

Panel 1: Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle stand in front of the desk of a Justice of the peace wearing normal clothes.

Justice: Your paperwork is all in order, you’ve paid your license fee. Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne.

 

Panel 2:

Bruce Wayne: It may be awhile before Batman and the Catwoman can be seen together in public.

Selina: I’m hoping that we’ll be in private for a bit. Meow!

 

Page 20:

Panel 1: Bruce and Selina leaving the courthouse.

Selina: This was all brilliant, really…

Bruce: With Batman and Catwoman ‘officially broken up’, there’s no suspicion about the wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

Panel 2: Continuing down the steps

Selina: And that’s fine. It’s the man I’m marrying, not the costume.

Bruce: …Of course!

Panel 2 circle inset: Nightwing smiling and waving.

Nightwing: Thank God for that, right?

Panel 3: Selina looks lovingly at Bruce

Selina: You may now kiss the bride!

 

Page 21:

Panel 1: Bruce and Selina embrace and kiss.

Panel 2: The couple ride off in a car together

Selina (from inside the car): Our friends are all waiting for us at the little chapel we booked just outside of town.

 

Page 22:

Panel 1: Arkham Asylum

Joker narrating: What? That’s it?

Panel 2: Joker in his cell

Joker: No big twist ending? Batman and Catwoman aren’t getting married!? Everyone saw that coming!

Panel 3: All of the Bat Family + Catwoman waving.

All: Thanks for reading!

Batman: See you after the Honeymoon!

If you want me to have more time to devote to writing weird stuff like this, please don’t pledge to our Kickstarter for Volume 2! ;D

Disclaimer: DC owns Batman, all the characters, trademarks, etc., yadda yadda yadda.

Short Reviews – What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon

Castalia House’s back end is down right now, so I’m going ahead and posting this week’s Short Review here; we’ll get it mirrored up there once Markku gets us situated. What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

What Dead Men TellFor poisoning the well against the pulps, crusty old Ted the Sturgeon really needed to blow me away. And once we got past the first couple of pages of autistic rambling, Teddy only managed to tell a moderately interesting story.

Hulon, a film projectionist, recently wrote a piece for an obscure literary magazine outlining his eudaemonic philosophy: the future is uncertain and the now is so finitely small as to be inconsequential, so true security can only exist in the ossified events of the past—one’s past actions and accomplishments were all that one could truly hold onto, therefore happiness and security is derived primarily from what you are able to put into your past.

Well, this bit of thinkery draws the attention of a mysterious group who has transcended the laws of life and death! They appear to him as ghosts—movie stars who he’s certain are dead, but there they are in his theatre, plain as day! After approaching the third of these supposedly-dead movie stars, Hulon is informed that they are willing to test him to join their ranks. He will be placed in a chamber where he will meet death.

Hulon finds himself in a seemingly endless corridor, all alone except for strange balls of liquid that supply nutrient nourishment and dead bodies of old men that he happens upon at regular intervals.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the riddle, because that’s really all there is to the story: the endless corridor is some kind of umbilic torus, the body is the same body over and over again (it appears different because of different lighting [it cycles through the spectrum with each circuit Hulon completes] and because it gets banged up when illusion-creating gravity centered on Hulon changes and it drops to the floor/wall), and the ‘death he will meet’ is old age.

How did the gravity in the torus work to make it appear that the corridor was perfectly straight? Hulon admits he can’t answer that when he gives his answer to the riddle, and Ted doesn’t answer it either (‘oh, you’ll learn that and more in good time’ the cabal members tell Hulon).

What Dead Men Tell is a riddle-story; an atmospheric riddle-story with a worthwhile riddle (at least it wasn’t one of Asimov’s Black Widowers yarns), but I needed more. What were the stakes? The weirdo film projectionist is granted immortality and is assigned a girlfriend to instruct him in the ways of the new cabal he has been welcomed into.

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