File the Serial Numbers Off

I’ve said in the past and on numerous occasions that I don’t want to see stories about elves or stories where Cthulhu shows up. Even in a good story, when these sorts of elements are used and borrowed, they end up detracting from the story in my eyes.

If you’re not filing off the serial numbers of these things, it’s either because you’re lacking creativity and hoping to rely on established tropes or you’re hoping that by connecting your piece to those related tropes that you can elevate your writing on the merits of the reference. Or somewhere in between. There are shout-outs, yes, and these can be great – Shub Niggurath as the final boss of Quake or the hipster cultist shouting “Ia, Cthulhu!” before the fat Italian editor gets murdered in Foucault’s Pendulum were AWESOME. But if Quake had been a parade of named monsters from Lovecraft as opposed to horrors that FEEL Lovecraftian, or if Umberto Eco had peppered his book with lots of “LOL, Cthulhu, amirite?” it would’ve drastically reduced the effectiveness of the references.

But more than that, have some faith in your creativity! If you’re damnably insistent on writing elves, fine, but if you want to go the “our elves are different route”, which face it, everyone does these days, take a pinch of that creativity that makes your elves different and call them something besides elves. If nothing else, calling your elves something else, even calling them Morves or Velse will be an improvement, because people won’t look at it and say “oh, look, another elf story!”

And eldritch horror monsters? Why Cthulhu or one of the other big-name badguy’s from the Mythos canon, unless you’re trying to coast on the popularity of Cthulhu (and there are folks who will read anything Cthulhu, but that’s not the point)? Name your own big bad evil scary monster god. Sure, he can be Cthulhu, but if you call him something like Uhlthuc you can fool folks into thinking you’re some kinda original writer guy, or something!

Don’t use elves or Cthulhu as a crutch! Yeah, I know that Cthulhu is a cottage industry, but I can tell you right now that your stories will improve by at least %15 or your money back if your evil monster beyond the gates is Uhlthuc and your similar-but-different elves are ‘the Velse’.

(Note: If you submit a story using the names Uhlthuc and ‘the Velse’ and I accept them on merits of story, I reserve the right to withhold the per-word bonus on the first 2500 words; file those serial numbers off harder!)

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Cover 5 Reveal + New T-Shirt Designs Up

Cover Art is done for our Spring Eldritch Earth Issue!  Featured cover story is Darla of Deodanth by Louise Sorensen. Art by Benjamin A. Rodriguez.

Issue 5 Front Cover.png

We will probably begin taking pre-orders sometime next week.

Also, all Cirsova covers are now available at our Tee-Public store.

The Darla of Deodanth design will be discounted for a couple days, so grab it while you can!

Shadow Over Alfheim – Pt 12 – That’s All These People Want… POISON!

Things took a grim and brutal turn in underhalls of the ancient elven metropolis in our last session. It should’ve been a Total Party Kill, in all likelihood, but I’d really hate to do that when one of the players was out sick. And maybe I’m too damn nice?

The party descended the spiral corridor down to the second level of Malek. The party still seems convinced (mistakenly) that whatever they need in this Dungeon is probably in the Ant nest, but went downward because they are still convinced (mistakenly) that the talking stone face was giving specific rather than generic advice on how to defeat the ants. Some throwaway rhyming lines listing things that are helpful fighting monsters in D&D that included mention of magic rings had them sold on the idea that there was some sort of ring of giant ant removal somewhere at the bottom of Malek.

Anyway, following the right hand rule, the party hit the south bend of level two, which is more or less empty until it turns back north again. Disaster struck the party in the form of a random encounter just as they turned north. The Cleric and Thief stumbled over a nest of pit vipers. 8 pit vipers. They also both immediately failed their saves vs. poison. I checked the listing for Pit Vipers. Save vs. Poison or die. Man, I thought, that’s rough; I’ll let them make it to the end of the encounter before the venom works its way through their system and see if they have any options. At first, the party only was fully aware of the two snakes that had bit the Cleric and Thief. The Thief, following his “burn this place to the ground” strategy that he’d begun applying to small vermin, torched the viper nest, sending the remaining half-dozen vipers into a biting frenzy. Very luckily, the party killed these and survived the rest of the vipers’ low attack rolls.

Given a moment to assess the situation, the Cleric and Thief both understood that they were dying and there was very little that could be done for them. Minor magic healing could cure the wounds but not counteract the necrotic toxins slowly killing them. Tourniquetes were applied in an attempt to slow down the poison, but it was concluded that amputation would be just as bad, if not worse, as dying. The Monk, however, pointed out that they’d milked poison before and might be able to create some sort of anti-venom on the fly; given than the monk’s shtick for how I built him is to make non-magical anti-death-poison stuff as well as slow-acting heals, I allowed that if he made a successful roll, that he could use the venom they’d milked and some of the alchemical equipment they’d salvaged to make an anti-venom. As they weren’t attacked during the time it took to make, I allowed that he successfully created a counteragent, though both the cleric and thief took substantial damage due to tissue necrosis. This was enough to “kill” the thief; after being brought back above 0 HP, he’ll have a permanent limp hampering his combat movement rate. So, now he’s a one-eyed limping goblin.

Why the party thought it would be a good idea to press on at this point is beyond me, but they did, finding first the empty stink room, then the room with more freaking snakes. The party’s response to this other viper nest was to immediately try to torch them. Luckily, these vipers were fewer in number and failed their morale save. But as this was going on, they were spotted by some wandering accursed elves, who made a mad dash at them. At this point, the thief, dying to make a sneak attack on something, ducked behind the corner of the room where they had just torched the snakes, while the other party members backed off and made ranged attacks. The cleric went down from the paralyzing strikes, and the Thief rolled a 1 on his sneak attack, but the others, including the goblin ranger who made his save vs. paralysis, managed to kill both elves.

Still determined to press on, the party found the room with the grey ooze. Grey ooze is a particularly nasty monster which is damn near unkillable for a party without an arcane caster. Anyway, the thief pokes at it with a stick (he really should’ve learned by now). Though he’s able to usher the others out of the room, before he can leave, the ooze manages to get on his arm, causing ridiculous amounts of damage. At this point, the party says “time to go” and carry the dying goblin thief out of dungeon. They find an entire squadron of goblins, presumably those who’d been dogging them upon their arrival at Malek, massacred, butchered, disemboweled and gnawed on. Among the dead goblins are also the scattered bones of larger humanoids.

The thief’s melting glove is removed along with all of the ooze cleric and monk are able to get off. A potion of healing is poured down the thief’s throat, but it’s not enough. The monk covers the thief’s burned arm with salves. The party finds enough combat-anti-septic paste among the remains of the massacred goblins to come up with something with 1/2 efficacy of a cure light wounds to bring the thief back to 1 HP.

While this is happening, the Thief is having a traumatic near death vision: an angry elven mage points at him and shrieks with hatred. When he regains consciousness, the thief finds that the bracelet he stole from Nuromen’s maze is on his wrapped, burned arm, though he could’ve sworn he’d sold it. A strange tinkling music begins to emit from the goblin ranger’s pack. The strange puppet that had once belonged to Nuromen’s daughter has begun to dance on its own in a wriggling fashion inside the ranger’s pack.

Upon returning to Alfort, the party is greeted by an atmosphere of dejection. Plans for the construction of the harbor seem to be in jeapardy, the church does not seem to offer the people much comfort, and the gloom of defeat seems not limited to the party but to the whole of the town. Things are bad. Even I’m not sure just how bad, yet. But to get a small indication of how bad it might be, the Cleric learned that the home of the mage under whom the the party’s now-departed elf was studying has been burned to the ground. Taramedes was burned up inside along with all of his scrolls and spellbooks, including Nuromen’s.

It may be awhile before my next Alfheim update, as we won’t be meeting again until the new year. In the meantime, I still ought to have plenty of content to write about, I’m sure. Soon, I’ll have some time to devote to MYFAROG when I’m not making home-made Enderman plushies by hand. I might talk some about the card games I’ve been playing, but I don’t know that there’s much to say other than that I’ve played them. (Props to both Cthulhu Gloom and Cthulhu Fluxx for sticking to Lovecraft and not including all of that fan-wank by subsequent mythos writers. There, that saves me a long rambling blog post on the subject.)

Lastly, screw people who talk about the need for greater diversity, inclusivity and access in the game markets out of one side of their mouth and praise the takedown of James Desborough’s product from DriveThru out of the other. If you care about keeping access to avenues of publication open for all, be sure to politely express your concern to DriveThru.  You can also throw a few bucks into the art scholarship he is offering. Regardless of what you think of James, the games he likes or the games he puts out, unlike the folks who are trying to run people out of the industry, he’s actively encouraging and supporting people to get into it.

Carcosa

So, I finally got around to reading the infamous, notorious, legendary, hideously eeeeevil and scary grimoire of doom, death and blaspheme known as “Carcosa”.  And I’m left sort of scratching my head.

Now, I’ll go ahead and say now that the version I’ve read is the original “Supplement V: Carcosa” white book for OD&D, and not the LotFP re-release, which I’m sure is brilliantly bound and glossy and full of gross and degrading illustrations of horrible things happening.

I’m someone who reads settings and modules as ‘literature’, i.e. absorbing the story and narrative as much as, if not more than, for actual game content (though as a professional technical writer, the mechanical presentation is of some interest to me as well, which could be why I hate the old Gary books).  Somewhere, I once read that a well written module or setting reads like a good story.  Anyway…

Carcosa, despite its premise, is actually pretty bland.  Boring, really.  The class limits of Fighting Men & Sorcerers only, as well as Sorcerers being capable as fighters, just with the ability to use rituals, is kind of interesting mechanically, and the I do like the experimental hit dice system, but those are about the only parts that fascinate me.

The Sorcerous rituals are all very specific in their purposes, limiting their usage to a specific location on the hex-map and often to some completely impractical end (such as being able to say “After wallowing in slime for 8 days, the sorcerer’s head spins like a top and he can hear gurgling from the far corner of the universe.”). The ritual list is actually fairly repetitive and uninteresting, especially when you forget that they’re all preceded by a human sacrifice, usually involving “Go to hex _____, wallow in some miserable task for x days, colorfully named horror is banished/tortured/imprisoned/bound”.  I’d note that because of the binding rituals (which don’t require human sacrifice or your character to be particularly evil to use), there’s almost no reason NOT to play a sorcerer in a world where some slimy god is hiding around every corner.

There are several races of men, all defined by color, but little else.  This affects certain types of elemental weaponry for purposes of damage reduction or increase.  Other than these minor mechanical differences, there are no distinctions between the races (except for the see-through bone men).

The alien artifacts section would’ve been a lot to gush about if I hadn’t already kind of burned out on reading Supplement V by the time I’d gotten there.  Really, though, a lot of them feel like half-fleshed out SCPs.

The monster list is a roll-call of various Cthulhu beings rewritten for Carcosa and not organized in any sensible way (but hey, it’s homage to the white books, so it’s hard to complain about poor organization… but I will).

The Hex-map is another exercise of my attention span, largely populated with generic encounters (which is really harsh to say about Cthulhu monsters!), generic towns of _____ colored men lead by *name from the random Exalted deathlord name generator*, and the occasional “This is the place where x ritual must be learned/cast”.  Even playing this, you’d be better off ignoring the hex-map key and coming up with something on your own, as there’s so very little in the key to actually build on.

I like the concept, and I wish I had better things to say about this, but as a stand-alone work, there isn’t a lot good to take from Supplement V that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, and with the legwork a DM would need to make a Carcosa game work, you may as well start from scratch anyway.