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Battle of the Bands

This is what happens when it’s late at night, I’ve been working on servers for eight hours, and I haven’t had enough caffeine.

I get this desire to run a game about inter-planetary war; one between people based on Boston album covers vs beings from Journey album covers. I see them doing battle over the landscape of an Asia album cover. Hey, it can’t be any stranger than the time Journey got their own Atari 2600 game.

But what system to run it with…

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Science Fiction, Weirdness

 

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More Adventures that Write Themselves

Greetings Programs!

(blows dust from the belfry)

This past weekend my amazing wife and I celebrated our anniversary in our usual way; we picked a state park and slipped away for a weekend of hiking and relaxation. We’ve been doing this for a number of years now and this is the first time we’ve gone back to a park we’ve previously visited. The camp is Carter Caves State Park in eastern Kentucky and it offers several lovely trails, plenty of flora and fauna, and a number of cave tours.

There are also plenty of stories to be found, and where you find stories you find adventure seeds.

This early in the season they only have two of their cave tours open. One of these is the Cascade Cave, which is also one of the longest tours and features large chambers and impressive geological features. Cascade Cave is several miles from the park’s lodge and was originally privately owned, with people touring the system since the late 1800’s. This is an active, living cave system with formations still growing and water in abundance.

In the early 20th century the owners of Cascade Cave sought to take full advantage of the system as a tourist destination. First they excavated the entrance, which previously required people to crawl to reach the larger chamber beyond. This larger domed chamber they dubbed “the ballroom”, and making good on the name they would hold dances in it. During prohibition the ballroom took on another role, becoming a subterranean speakeasy.

During this era there was fierce competition to put on the longest and most impressive cave tour. The owners of Cascade realized that the system extended far beyond the Ballroom, so they carried out further excavations. Their efforts succeeded in opening up a much longer system of tunnels that include many beautiful features, including a section where the river flows in and continues to carve out the rock to this day. Occasionally the competition would take a dark turn, with cave owners hiring toughs to break into their rivals’ caves and commit vandalism, carving graffiti into the walls and shattering millennia-old formations, and there is some evidence of this happening in Cascade.

The owners also built a lodge on the surface, directly above the caverns. They sunk a hole down to the cave to use as a ventilation system. By opening up the connection they could draw up the cool air from the cavern, providing natural air conditioning to the lodge. They also sunk a pipe down through the same hole, which they used to pump sewage from the lodge through the cave and straight into the river.

Eww.

They made one further attempt to expand the Cascade Cave tour, having realized that there were even more tunnels reaching deeper into the earth. However this time they used dynamite and the results were not what they’d hoped. Instead of opening the tunnels they caused a massive collapse, burying the deeper caverns for all time. It was a terrible mistake.

Or was it?

“they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Durin’s Bane.”

-Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

To the gamer’s mind this all makes perfect sense; opportunistic people delving into closed caverns, holding drunken revels in subterranean chambers, building a hall above the underworld realms and making use of it in such a crass fashion. All they need to do is name the lodge “Heorot” and we have the setting for a modern-day Beowulf.

Were the vandals really sent into the caverns by a bitter rival? Were they cultists out to shatter ancient seals that kept something imprisoned? Or were they incautious adventurers who came to stop the terrors from being unleashed; adventurers who tried and failed, then disappeared leaving no trace except for a disturbingly suggestive set of flow stone formations that an old guide swears weren’t there before. Was the misadventure with the dynamite really an attempt to open the deeper caverns? Or to seal in some subterranean horror, woken from the depths by people venturing too far beyond the sun-lit world.

That’s for your players to find out.

CavernGate

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy, Gaming, Horror, Spooky Stuff

 

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More Naturalist Nightmares

Our local NPR station has a fun feature called “The 90 Second Naturalist“.

This is a short done by Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens and each day he shares some fascinating info about the natural world. It’s a ritual in our family to listen to it right before the kids go to bed. Two recent episodes set my gamer’s brain to twitching.

The first was about cone snails, two species of which, “have turned insulin into an underwater weapon.” Cone snails are predators who hunt fish for prey. These snails release a cloud of “weaponized” insulin which the fish suck up through their gills causing their energy to plummet and effectively paralyzing them. Unable to swim away they become an easy meal for the slow moving killers.

Let’s think about that a little more deeply; These species have turned a chemical we all need to survive into a weapon. It doesn’t knock the victim out, it doesn’t render them senseless, and it doesn’t dull their nerves. It saps the energy out of them so they can’t flee from the killer they can see moving inexorably closer to them. Slowly. To devour them. At a snail’s pace.

I do not share such thoughts with my children before bedtime.

The second story that caught my attention was about black widow spiders. It turns out that the black widow’s venom has evolved rapidly and is much stronger than necessary for eating insects. The black widow is capable of killing larger prey, such as small mammals and reptiles. Scientists think that this powerful venom is natures way of expanding the spiders’ menu.

If this news isn’t unsettling enough the episode goes on to say, “scientists have discovered that the spiders are even crafting stronger webs to handle ever-bigger prey.”

We have this image of Mother Nature as some kind, benevolent caretaker of the Earth when in reality she’s a cackling mad scientist, constantly developing new horrors to unleash into the world.

The 90 Second Naturalist airs every weekday on WVXU/WMUB and can be heard on the web at this link.

 

 

 

 
 

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Bugs Are Cool

Behold, the Cyphonia clavata, otherwise known as the ant-mimicking treehopper.

Which, incidentally, is awfully fun to say.

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from Livescience.com

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from Livescience.com

 

What you are seeing is an insect that has evolved to look like an ant walking backwards. The treehopper’s eyes can be seen on the left of the picture, so to a predator it looks like the advancing treehopper is a retreating ant.

Being a gamer and prone to grisly ideas, when I first saw the image I thought the treehopper would kill an ant and wear its corpse as a shell, much like the disguised Mi-Go in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, but the reality is even more cool. The treehopper has evolved so that the same mechanisms that grow its wings create this amazing piece of camouflage, allowing it to grow the helmet-like ant mask as part of its natural body.

Science fiction and fantasy games are full of insect-based life forms, such as the Thri-kreen of Dungeons & Dragons or the Vrusk of Star Frontiers. Imagine the discomfort your players will have when they encounter a friendly race of insect people who grow shells that make them look vaguely human. Beings who believe that wearing this grotesque parody of our species is a tribute to us, a sign of friendship.

Then as soon as the characters become comfortable with this bizarre practice, have them encounter one of these creatures whose carapace vaguely resembles someone they know. Someone they haven’t seen for a while.

 

 

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Charles Darwin Pulls Off The Mask…

This is a cool image from Dungeon Inspirations, the walking stick of Charles Darwin!

 

There’s a cool short write-up about the walking stick at the Dungeon Inspirations site and I recommend going to take a look.

I’m a rather big fan of science and hold Charles Darwin in high esteem, all the more for him having such a cool walking stick. But I can’t help imagining a scenario where he holds this staff aloft, lightning strikes, and is revealed to be Orcus, Demon Lord of the Undead in disguise.

I’m sure the reasons for this masquerade will become clear after his new tome comes out, Undead, Demons, and Unnatural Selection.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Cool Stuff, History

 

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The Hills Rise Wild!

Happy International Tabletop Day!

Tim over at The Savage Afterworld has sponsored a Blog Hop as a chance for us to celebrate some of our favorite boardgames. For my entry I’ve picked an old favorite, a game of mayhem and madness, The Hills Rise Wild! Released in the year 2000 by Pagan Publishing, this is a light miniatures wargame pitting up to four Lovecraftian clans against each other in a violent battle for the sake of their favorite Elder God.

“It’s an inbreed, corpse-fed, blood-red bonanza! Old Wizard Whateley kicked the bucket! And his precious copy of the Necronomicon, a book of powerful magic, is up for grabs.”

“Pit your team of drooling horrors against your friends in an all-out battle of bullets, brawn and brains.”

-The Hills Rise Wild! Back cover

Full disclosure; I was a playtester for this game.

No, that’s not even close to full disclosure. Pull up a seat while I digress.

It was a golden age for our gaming group; a time when we were still gaming regularly. Not only did we have role playing games on the weekend but a group of us also played in a weekly board game night. For over a year this was a sacrosanct ritual, a break in the week’s doldrums not to be missed. One evening a friend said he’d signed us up to be playtesters for this crazy new game Pagan Publishing was working on. Being old hands at Call of Cthulhu and well acquainted with the company it wasn’t hard to get us to agree to test it out.

And test it we did. For several months this game took over our weekly gaming night, not simply due to a sense of obligation but because we were having so much fun with it. Writing up our after action reports was part of the fun and seeing anything we’d pointed out show up in the next set of rules filled us with more joy than a ghoul in a graveyard. There are in-jokes coined at our first gaming session that still live on with our group* and for years after the game was released it hit our tables with frequency. Somewhere my friend still has the original playtest packet.

In The Hills Rise Wild each player takes control of a familial clan devoted to one of the Elder Gods; The Whateley Clan, the Marsh Clan, the DeGhoule Clan, or the Cult of Ezekiel. The game board represents an old backwoods New England village with the locked Whateley Mansion in the center. The goal of each clan is to search the village for the magical Whateley Seal, use it to unlock the mansion, find the Necronomicon inside, and escape with it back to their summoning circle. With it they will try to summon their Elder God of choice into this world, ushering in an age of madness and death.

Meanwhile the other cults are trying to do the same thing and everyone is armed to the teeth with guns. And bombs. And spells. And… other things. The blood flows quickly and in great quantities.

I love this game.

The map is made up by several thick cardboard squares, lain out by the players at the beginning of the game and adding a level of variety to each session. The artwork was excellent for the time, winning the 2000 Origins Award for Best Graphic Presentation, and it still holds up well today. The characters are represented by cardstock standies with nice representations of the characters. There are also a lot of little chits to represent items or statuses like Stunned or Slammed. Let me say again, lots of little chits.

Do not sneeze on the chit pile. You’ll be finding them for days. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

The Hills Rise Wild is not a board game in the way we look at them today. It’s a fusion of board games and light miniatures combat, taking some of the best elements of both to give the players a fun game that moves fast and rewards tactical thinking. Some of these elements might give a modern gamer pause; Movement uses a tape measure? Clan sheets meant to be printed and written on? The game uses damage tables!

Specifically both a regular damage table and the iconic Brutal Damage Table with such popular results as “Say Goodnight!”, “Have a Heapin’ Helpin’ o’ Hurt!”, and the ever popular “Daddy’s Home!”

It’s also possible for nobody to win the game. On more than one occasion we’ve ended with everyone dead, or the only ones left alive being characters who cannot cast the summoning spell.

The game has been out of print for a long time, but copies still pop up on a regular basis so it shouldn’t be too hard to track one down. You can usually find them for close to the original price of around $40. That’s cheap by today’s standards though at the time it was one of the more expensive games available. An expansion was planned for the game called the Reanimated Clan, which would have added Herbert West and zombies to the game, but it never made it to publication. That’s a shame because we playtested it too and we really enjoyed it.

I would love to see a new edition of The Hills Rise Wild and I think the time is perfect for it. Board gaming is going through its greatest golden age right now and urban fantasy, zombies, and H.P. Lovecraft are all hugely popular. The price points and modern production values could allow for including some impressive miniatures and there are some places where modern design ideas could be incorporated into the game. Add to that the ability to leverage the Pagan Publishing name with Kickstarter and a new generation of Hills fans would be spawned.

But until that day comes I suggest you track down a copy, get a few friends, and start coating the field in blood. You won’t regret it.

HillsRiseWild

*Beware the curse of Slippy Finn!

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Special thanks to Tim from The Savage Afterworld for putting on this Board Game Blog Hop! Make sure to check out the other entries at the links below.

And by all means, have a great day of gaming!

The Savage AfterWorld — http://savageafterworld.blogspot.com/ — Escape: Zombie City by Queen Games

Channel Zero — http://www.channel-zero.net — Thunderstone by Alderac Entertainment

Fractalbat — https://fractalbat.wordpress.com/ — The Hills Rise Wild by Pagan Publishing

The Gibbering Gamer — http://www.gibberinggamer.com – Dragon Dice by SFR (formerly TSR)

Random Encounters (From Ohio) — http://randomencountersohio.blogspot.com – Nano Bot Battle Arena by Derpy Games

Troll in the Corner — http://trollitc.com/author/neilrobinson/ — Star Realms by White Wizard Games

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2015 in Game Design and Mechanics, Gaming, Horror

 

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Save vs Cute

I recently found this. Apparently my ten year old daughter decided to write a character sheet for her gerbil, Pudding.

PudStats

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming

 

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