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Tag Archives: HP Lovecraft

The Collect Call of Cthulhu

Aaaaand, we’re back.

Hope everyone has had a good holiday season. I know I have.

One of the big treats I had was getting my first taste of the new 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu. I’ve been playing CoC since 3rd Edition and it has been one of the mainstays of every gaming group I’ve been in since high school, so I jumped at the chance to try out the latest incarnation. Due to the production problems at Chaosium the book still isn’t loose in physical form, but our keeper has a .PDF copy. Unfortunately this means I didn’t get to thumb through the rules, so my impressions are based on my one session as a player, but even so I think I have a good handle on where the game has gone.

The Good:

Call of Cthulhu is a tight, easy, excellent rules set and has had few significant changes over the years. New editions made some tweaks, but more often than not consisted of including additional source material and re-organizing the existing rules. With very little effort you can pick up an adventure written for 1st Edition and run it using 6th Edition rules. When I heard that 7th Edition would be making more changes than all the previous editions combined I was concerned.

However, making more changes than all the previous editions combined isn’t a very high bar to cross, and I am happy to say that I quickly fell right into the new system, even without having read the book myself. For an old hand at CoC, looking over the new character sheet is enough to clarify most of the changes and I’m pretty sure that I would be able to convert older edition material on the fly, with only a bit more effort than I could previously. This is the single most important thing I can say about 7th Edition, that it is still backwards compatible.

Changing the basic attributes to percentiles was a good move. It keeps them in line with the derived attributes and codifies the way many players were already doing attribute checks.This combined with opposed roles for tasks has replaced my beloved Resistance Table, but even I must admit that it does streamline the game. Plus the opposed role mechanic is such a staple in modern RPGs that it’s easy for gamers to pick up.

They also trimmed down the skill list on the character sheet, which was a good move. A lot of the entries on the old character sheet just took up space and were rarely used, and in traditional form the new sheet has plenty of blanks to fill in skills not already listed. I don’t know if the trimmed skills are still in the book or not, but pruning the list definitely cleaned things up nicely.

The Bad:

“Bad” is really stretching it. It’s more, “The Not Really Liked”.

The addition of a penalty die to rolls. Under certain circumstances, or if your character decides to try multiple actions, an additional D10 is rolled. This additional die counts as another “tens” die and the penalty means you take the lower of the two rolls for your result. For example, I roll two “tens” dice and get a 7 and a 3, with a 2 on the “ones” dice. My result is 32, using the lower roll. My guess that this mechanic, like the elimination of the Resistance Table, is meant to streamline the game so that you don’t have to look up penalties, but the impression that I had was that it makes the results a lot more swingy. It also makes it harder to determine what chances to take, which is an important consideration in a game like CoC. If you give me a 15% penalty on a roll, then I have a concrete figure to judge if the risk is worth it. But with a penalty die I have a harder time judging. I would love to see some figures on how using a penalty die changes the probabilities for your results, but that’s well beyond my own math skills to figure out.

I get the feeling that the penalty die was meant to offer more choices for the players, but on my initial experience with it I found it confounding.

The Meh:

Instead of being a set attribute, Luck is now a spendable asset pool. You spend them like Magic Points, but to adjust die rolls instead of fueling spells, and like SAN points you can regain them from surviving adventures. This is nothing new in game design and it does give the players an extra edge for survival, but was that necessary for a game like Call of Cthulhu? The place where I do see its value is for investigative skills, for those times you really want to nail the Library Use or Spot Hidden role so you can move an investigation forward. It’s in combat that it rankles my old school CoC heart. I am happy to say that in practice I don’t think it will remove the sharp fear of mortality that CoC players have known and loved over the years, death is still omnipresent, but it does blunt it a bit. That’s why I list this as a “meh” instead of “bad”.

They’ve also added a graduated success result mechanic. CoC has always had a critical success for combat rolls, via the Impalement result for getting under 1/5th of your skill. Making this an across the board critical success for all skills was a no-brainer and codifies what many of us were already doing in play. However they’ve added a Hard Success result for rolls under half your skill. I’m still learning all the implications of this, but it seems unnecessarily fiddly. I don’t see what it adds to the game. Maybe it’ll become more clear once I’ve played more, or once I read the manual, but for now I’m ambivalent at best.

The Summary:

All in all, I had a good experience with the game. There is nothing here that makes me want to run out and get a 7th Edition manual for myself, but I am happy that I’ll be able to sit down at any game of CoC and still know how to play, requiring only a glance at the character sheet to tell me which rules we’re using. I’m happy that I can buy new source books and know that I can use them with my pre-7th Edition rules. I’m happy that if I do switch to 7th Edition I’ll still be able to unleash horrors on my players from my library of older edition books.

Cthulhu1

My 3rd Edition tome, battered like the souls of my players.

 
 

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Delta Green

Delta Green is coming back!

This isn’t exactly a surprise, there’s been word that a new Delta Green was coming out for a while now, but the official press release has some answers to questions I’ve been curious about. Most importantly, what rules set it will be using. The old game used Call of Cthulhu as its engine, but word has been that the new Delta Green would be a stand-alone game.

According to the press release, the main game will still be based on Call of Cthulhu’s Basic Roleplaying Game system. They don’t specify if it will be 6th or 7th Edition, but my money is on 7th edition. However there will be another sourcebook called “The Fall of Delta Green” set in the 1960’s, written by Kenneth Hite, and using the GUMSHOE rules.

Delta Green was originally released in the 1990’s by Pagan Publishing as a massive sourecebook for Call of Cthulhu. The players take on the roles of agents who are members of a conspiracy within the US Intelligence community, one whose members put their lives and sanity on the line to hunt down and destroy elements of the Cthulhu mythos wherever they can and at any price. Delta Green agents know that they can never win against the mythos, their goal is to hold off the coming annihilation and buy humanity a little more time in the sun.

Delta Green had a strong following and was supported by a number of sourcebooks and some wonderfully bleak novels. I’m pleased to see that a new edition will soon be unleashed into the world.

 

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2015 in Gaming, Horror

 

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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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19th Level Reviews Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

The blog 19th Level has done a nice review of Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition.

I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu since 3rd Edition was the new, shiny hotness. The game has been a staple of our group for decades and we are deeply invested in the system. One of the things I and my group have appreciated is that all six editions have been compatible. Rules changes have been minor and the differences between some editions has been little more than organization and clarifications. I could pick up a book written for 1st Edition and use it in a 6th Edition game with ease.

When we heard that 7th Edition would be making significant rules changes my group and I were concerned. Thoughts of the D&D edition wars came to mind and the specter of that game’s 4th edition were hard to shake.

However 19th Level’s review has helped ease my sanity-deprived mind. While the changes described are significant, it sounds like the core of the game remains intact and that while conversion will take effort, it will still be possible. Unlike new editions of D&D, where compatibility after 2nd edition is virtually non-existent, it appears that Call of Cthulhu will still allow you to mix-and-match your old horrors with new offerings.

Make sure to give his review a look!

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2014 in Gaming, Horror, Reviews

 

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Lovecraft Was Right!

I knew that ancient cephalopods were much larger than their modern decedents, but I had no idea they were this much larger!

Ia! Ia! Indeed!

I wonder if H.P. knew about these monsters? He was certainly well read enough for it to be possible.

ancient_cephalopodsSmall

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in Cool Stuff, History

 

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Happy Halloween!

To celebrate, here is my favorite adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods”.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Horror

 

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Gaming Fodder From Snopes

I’ve been a fan of Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Page, since they started in 1995. Thanks to them I’ve been able to allay many fears and rumors rolling around the internet. Occasionally I’ve been surprised to find out one of the stories cluttering my inbox happens to be true.

The last few days have turned up a couple new urban legends that caught the attention of my game master’s brain.

The first is something that reads like a player’s handout for Call of Cthulhu.

A team of archaeologists working for the Australian National University, who were proceeding to an excavation near the sandstone rock formation of Uluru, has unearthed the ruins of a large precolonial city dating back to more than 1500 years ago. The important number of tombs and artifacts already discovered on the site suggests that it could have been the capital of an ancient empire, completely unknown to historians until now.

Professor Walter Reese, in charge of the site, claims that the extent of the site and the superposition of various layers of constructions, suggests that it was occupied for 400 to 500 years, from approximately 470-80 AD, up until the 9th Century. He believes that the city could have held between 20000 and 30000 inhabitants, making it the most important center of civilization in the Southern Pacific at the time.

-Text from urban legend Ruin Nation

It turns out that this story comes from World News Daily Report, one in a long line of fake news sites trying to imitate The Onion. However any Lovecraft fan worth their salt recognizes this as a clue to the location of the lost library of the Great Race of Yith, as described in The Shadow out of Time. Sounds like it’s time to send in a Delta Green task force to deal with those pesky archaeologists before they release something truly unfortunate. Hopefully all the scientists are what they appear and that none of them are possessed by the Great Race, otherwise it could get complicated.

The second is related to my recent post on post-apocalyptic gaming. The urban legend claims:

SPIDERS HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM A DNA LABORATORY LOCATED NEAR THE WOLF SANCTUARY ON ANTIRE RD !

Government testing on DNA has produced these spiders in a Laboratory in Missouri. Unfortunately they have been located off Lewis Rd just west of laboratory and seem to be breading in the wild much faster than when captive.

Government officials are doing all they can to try to eliminate these spiders but can offer no guarantees. They could be popping up in surrounding neighborhoods west of the siting (Eureka, Pacific, Union, and St. Clair) within weeks.

What we have in our favor is that winter is approaching and hope to slow down the migration no further than St. Clair before the cold hits.

If you see these stay indoors and call the local police. They have been informed on procedures of capture and contact of the local governing agency.

-Example text from urban legend Mutant Spiders in Missouri.

The story, with all it’s potential for adding to a Mutant Futures bestiary, is false. However the surprising thing is that the accompanying pictures are real.

We’re going to need a bigger shoe!

That’s not a photoshop job, it’s not a model, it’s not even forced perspective. Thankfully it’s also not an arachnid. These rather hefty bits of nightmare fuel are Coconut Crabs, the largest species of land-based arthropods in the world. They’re not aggressive, eat mostly fruits and nuts, and are closer relatives to the Horseshoe Crab than anything found in Tolkien’s Mirkwood Forest. Still, that shouldn’t hold you back from using this as a hook for your next Gamma World game.

It is comforting to know that these huge crabs aren’t really giant spiders. However they do remind me of something else, something not quite as non-threatening…

garthim

Garthim!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Weirdness

 

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Of Sunken Cities and Weird History

While Listening to this week’s edition of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast I learned a fascinating bit of history.

In Suffolk County, England, there used to be a thriving port town. Once it was a seat of power, serving as the capital city to the Kingdom of the East Angles, but the city’s doom was sealed on New Years Eve in 1286 when the mouth of the river was buried in silt during a three day long storm. The North Sea then began a slow but relentless assault on the city, swallowing up more land each year.

That city’s name is Dunwich.

“In the Roman period the shoreline was at least 2,000 metres further out. The town’s slow death began in 1286 when a three-day storm which started on New Year’s Eve wrecked much of the settlement and blocked the river mouth. Further storms silted up what had been an international port, destroying the town’s prosperity, and the erosion of the coastline was remorseless. As recently as 1736 All Saints was a handsome church with a tall tower: by 1912 only the ruined tower remained teetering on the edge of the cliff, and now nothing remains on dry land.”

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

At this point the minds of H.P. Lovecraft fans are racing with possibilities. Given his Anglophile nature I would be surprised if the connection to The Dunwich Horror was a coincidence, though as yet I have not found any evidence of him referencing the real Dunwich.

On a personal note, as someone whose country wasn’t founded until 1776 I find it fascinating to see the term “recently” used in regards to the year 1736. In the United States we have a far more limited perception of time.

The town has other interesting history that makes it perfect for gaming. There’s a legend that you can still hear the bells of All Saints’ Church, abandoned in the 1700’s and which finally tumbled into the sea in 1922. According to Wikipedia, “A single gravestone still remains (as of 2011) around 15 feet from the cliff edge…”

This gives me the image of graves pouring out from the cliff face, spilling their contents into the North Sea. It’s a vision that strikes me as very William Hope Hodgeson-esq.

There was also a stronghold of the Knights Templar in Dunwich:

“thought to have been founded around 1189 and was a circular building similar to the famous Temple Church in London. When the sheriff ofSuffolk and Norfolk took an inventory in 1308 he found the sum of £111 contained in three pouches – a vast sum. In 1322, on the orders of Edward II, all the Templars’ land passed to the Knights Hospitallers. Following the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1562 the Temple was demolished. The foundations washed away during the reign of Charles I.”

-Wikipedia entry on Dunwich

Why was the temple demolished? Were the Templars hiding something in its vaults? Something the Hospitallers later fell prey to? And is it still there, sealed within catacombs long buried beneath the silt?

This just screams out to be a pulp adventure or Delta Green operation.

In 2013 The Guardian ran a story about efforts to map the submerged city using acoustic imaging, giving archaeologists an unprecedented look at the remains.

“Although the ruins are only between three and 10 metres (9.8ft to 32.8ft) below the water, visibility is atrocious. Prof David Sear, of the geography and environment department of Southampton University, who led the project, described the Didson acoustic imaging used as “like shining a torch on to the seabed, only using sound instead of light”.

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

That’s certain to upset any local Deep Ones who have taken up residence.

Below is a map from the Atlas Obscura entry for Dunwich. I love the map insert about the lost Saxon churches. Maybe the storm of 1286 was caused by ritual warfare between the lost churches, where beings far older than the Christian faith were worshiped in hidden sanctuaries. Lovecraft’s story The Festival comes to mind.

Perhaps this is what drew the Templars to Dunwich, the storm being summoned by the Order to annihilate the heretics. Or to remove them as competition for the affections of blasphemous gods.

However you look at it, the sunken city of Dunwich is overflowing with possibilities.

DunwichMap

 

Image from the Atlas Obscura

 

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Let’s Not Read It Out Loud

The Houghton Library is Harvard’s repository for rare books, and they have an important announcement to make.

“Good news for fans of anthropodermic bibliopegy, bibliomaniacs and cannibals alike: tests have revealed that Houghton Library’s copy of Arsène Houssaye’s Des destinées de l’ame (FC8.H8177.879dc) is without a doubt bound in human skin.”

-Houghton Library Blog, June 4th 2014

Yay!

Wait, are we sure this isn’t the Miskatonic University blog?

Also, I challenge anyone to read that quote and not hear Professor Farnsworth’s voice.

The high-weirdness of this story is only beginning. Published in the 1880’s, the skin used for the book was taken from a woman who died of apoplexy in a French mental hospital. The book’s title, Des Destinees de L’ame, translates to, The Destiny of the Soul, and contains meditations on the soul and life after death. It was given as a gift by the author to a friend.

“No, really, you shouldn’t have.”

-Imagined Response of Friend

The author was quite the connoisseur of books, particularly of the fleshy kind, as he had at least one other in his collection to compare it with.

“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman. It is interesting to see the different aspects that change this skin according to the method of preparation to which it is subjected. Compare for example with the small volume I have in my library, Sever. Pinaeus de Virginitatis notis which is also bound in human skin but tanned with sumac.”

-Houghton Library Blog, May 24th 2013

Tanned with sumac, that is so 1870’s.

Let’s recap, shall we? A prominent New England university has a book in their special collections library that is bound in the flesh of an asylum patient and contains writings about souls and the other world.

And some people think Library Science is boring.

Unfortunately the text of the book is not available for online reading. Actually, that’s probably for the best, all things considered. However you can view a high resolution image of the cover. You can even zoom in! Nice and close. You can scroll across the surface of the book’s smooth, elegant flesh. Looking at every pore…

All you have to do is Click Here.

Don’t forget your SAN check.

Image from http://www.pdclipart.org/

 

 

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Good Weekend for Gaming

It was a nice weekend for gaming.

Saturday my son was in the mood to play some games, so I convinced him to try Sentinels of the Multiverse. He can be picky about trying new games and in the past he’s been reluctant to try this one, but this time he was intrigued. So we whipped out the cards and went to work. He played The Wraith and the might Ra while I ran Legacy and Omnitron X, and we engaged the nefarious Baron Blade in combat. The Baron put up a good fight, but in the end our heroes triumphed over evil. My son loved the game!

I’m a big fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse and I’m delighted that my son has taken to it. Plus the next time we visit Dad in a Cape, we can play with him and his girls, who are all big fans of the game. Five player Sentinels for the win!

After our superhero antics my son wanted to play Nuclear War and my daughter decided to join us. Another first! She is also rather picky about games and had been uninterested in this one, but this time she gave it a try. It was the first time she’d played and she did quite well, dropping bombs with glee from her Orbital Space Platform. In the end there was a wonderful chain reaction of final strikes, leading to everyone being vaporized in atomic fire.

On Sunday we squeezed in our weekly G+ Hangout game, though it was abbreviated due to Mother’s Day activities. Still, it was a welcome does of gaming, as my face-to-face group hasn’t met in over a month. The current game is Call of Cthulhu, based initially in 1985’s Miami, Florida. Our characters are now lost in the Dreamlands. Having escaped the doomed city of Sarnath we’ve learned that we may actually be natives of the Dreamlands who were sent to Earth for protection. We may be the only remaining members of three royal houses.

Initially our goal was to get back to Earth, though my character is now considering staying in the Dreamlands and being royalty. However at the end of last night’s session we followed an Ultharian cat through a portal into the realm of Bast. Are we still in the Dreamlands? Are we about to be made into squeaky toys for a cat goddess?

That remains to be seen.

The Wraith(1)

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Gaming

 

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