Saturday, 10 April 2021

The Infamous Blackie Powells

Blackie Powells is a pirate who committed a series of daring but inexplicable crimes. He kidnapped a theatre troupe. He burned a logging camp. He smashed a dam. He was the puzzle and the laughing stock of the kingdom until his master plan came together and he made off with a good portion of the royal treasury.

"He kidnapped the actors so he could dress his men in their town guard costumes... he burned out the loggers so the river would be choked with logs and the ferry couldn't operate.. he smashed the dam to lower the water level and expose the old ford. It's genius!"

That was a generation ago. Blackie's reputation has grown and grown because since that time, people have been blaming their failures on him. No, I didn't fall asleep and let the flock wander off -- Blackie took them! Of course I made all the pots you ordered -- but I watched Blackie himself throw them all down the well! Blackie held me at knifepoint just to let the loaves overcook!

What crime did Blackie commit here (2d12)?

  1. Stole
  2. Burned
  3. Seduced
  4. Painted
  5. Undermined
  6. Disguised
  7. Forged
  8. Pickpocketed
  9. Delayed
  10. Framed
  11. Drugged
  12. Rebuilt
  1. A noble's daughter
  2. A herd of cows
  3. A farmer's cart
  4. A blacksmith
  5. A barn
  6. A boat
  7. A fisherman's wife
  8. A stone keep
  9. A town guard
  10. A flock of crows
  11. A cabinet
  12. A stables
In order to (2d12):
  1. Hide
  2. Impersonate
  3. Replace
  4. Steal
  5. Destroy
  6. Surprise
  7. Rob
  8. Trick
  9. Abduct
  10. Antagonise
  11. Redirect
  12. Corrupt
  1. A magistrate
  2. A guard troop
  3. A wealthy merchant
  4. A baker's wife
  5. A trade guild
  6. A church
  7. The baron's children
  8. A widow
  9. A bardic trio
  10. A hunting party
  11. A tax collector
  12. A royal herald

The truth, if the characters manage to discover it, is a bit different. Blackie Powells retired and lived a quiet life after his big heist. Now he's an old man in a house too big for him, being gently bullied by his three adult daughters. They won't let him have strong drink, or red meat or salty cheese! They want him to drink spring water and eat leafy greens and walk outside in the sunshine for an hour every day! In fact, if the characters can help with his scheme to get away from them, he'll give them a share of the remaining gold. He just needs them to commit a small list of inexplicable minor crimes...

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

One Page Game: Troubleshooters

Every cyberpunk game I've played has been gear porn. The main interaction with the ruleset has been counting up the bonuses provided by gear, cyberware and drugs for specific tasks. Troubleshooters is more or less written to be a game that ignores everything else in favour of counting bonuses.

Because when the cop cars are burning, bullets are flying and you hear choppers closing in, you really want to know if you can put a hole in the durak with the smart sight using the garbage truck as cover before he puts one in you, ya prav, druz'ya?

Get it here.


Monday, 8 February 2021

The Why of You

You're a(n)...

  1. Strong-limbed champion
  2. Agile sneak
  3. Delver into mysteries
  4. Compassionate believer
  5. Keen-eyed nature lover
  6. Skilled crafter

Raised by...

  1. Loving parents
  2. Disinterested relatives
  3. A cruel master
  4. A troupe of travellers
  5. Despised outsiders
  6. Yourself, mostly

Who suffered...

  1. Poverty
  2. Illness
  3. Oppression
  4. A natural disaster
  5. A personal betrayal
  6. Singing out of key

Which caused...

  1. The loss of loved one(s)
  2. Shame and banishment
  3. A sudden reduction in circumstances
  4. Back-breaking labour
  5. Madness
  6. A loss of personal confidence

And led you to...

  1. Take revenge
  2. Turn your back on your people
  3. Commit crimes
  4. Throw yourself into your studies
  5. Search for a personal truth to live by
  6. Rely on yourself alone

Which caused...

  1. The community to change its ways
  2. Your loved ones to change how they feel about you
  3. Sudden attention on you from an unexpected source
  4. Condemnation
  5. Praise
  6. An unexpected self-discovery

And now you...

  1. Protect the weak
  2. Work only for your own benefit
  3. Live as a rootless wanderer
  4. Fight evil
  5. Minister to others
  6. Follow a cause


  1. You're reminded of yourself.
  2. You believe in something more.
  3. It satisfies a need you don't understand.
  4. You want to achieve something great.
  5. You need to repay a debt.
  6. It's the best way to live!

Sunday, 31 January 2021

The Why of Caravans

Not that sort of caravan.

This caravan is coming from:

  1. The provinces
  2. A farming community
  3. A mining town
  4. A fishing village
  5. The coast
  6. A neighbouring country

And headed for:

  1. A market town
  2. A temple
  3. An outpost
  4. The capital
  5. The border
  6. A ship


  1. Tools
  2. Candles and lamp oil
  3. Medicines
  4. Textiles
  5. Furs
  6. Tribute from vassal states

Most of the travellers are:

  1. Traders
  2. Pilgrims
  3. Settlers
  4. Armed guards
  5. Guides
  6. Porters and animal handlers

But there are also a few:

  1. Healers
  2. Mercenaries
  3. Scholars
  4. Priests
  5. Entertainers
  6. Mysterious travellers

They are:

  1. Friendly
  2. Nervous
  3. Suspicious
  4. Hostile
  5. Hurried
  6. Secretive

A danger they faced along the way was:

  1. Bandits
  2. Bad weather
  3. Poor leadership
  4. Got lost
  5. Difficult terrain
  6. Internal strife

And before they reach their destination they expect:

  1. Disease
  2. Low supplies
  3. Hostile locals
  4. Toll roads and heavy taxation
  5. Supernatural threats
  6.  Difficult navigation

Saturday, 23 January 2021

What if we kicked Cthulhu's arse? - part 2

Part 2: The bad stuff.

Read part one of this article here.


The world is freezing. Ithaqua is spreading his influence from the poles, extending great sheets of ice down across North America and up through Australia. The seas are beginning to ice over. Greenland and Siberia are uninhabitable. Scandinavia is gone. Maybe Ithaqua is taking revenge for Cthulhu, maybe he just sees an opportunity to take over now that we're enforcing Cthulhu's sleep.

It isn't normal cold. The UN has tried to reverse the cooling by launching giant orbital mirrors to collect more sunlight, and pumping heat-retaining chemicals into the atmosphere. They made no difference. Every year the ice walls eat away another hundred kilometres of arable land.


The most immediate threat to the world is the people given the job of protecting it. Stolid and unimaginative as they are, November agents get repeatedly exposed to influences the human mind isn't built to tolerate. Counselling, drugs, working in pairs and in some cases specialised forms of brain surgery aren't always enough to keep them stable. Some go independent, striking out on their own to fight the mythos without government backing or approved methods. Some go rogue and sell their skills to organised crime. Some go mad and turn cultist. Those are the most dangerous, using their knowledge and contacts to threaten the world instead of protecting it.


Despite November's suppression of mythos knowledge it leaks out, corroding human sanity wherever it comes in contact. Cults tend to fall into two distinct patterns. The first spring up when the right kind of mind reads the wrong kind of book and begins actively recruiting followers. Extremist, hysterical, violent, they burn out after a few months - destroyed by the authorities. The other sort of cult forms when someone with a plan begins searching out mythos knowledge. Patient and calculating, they often spread for years before November even becomes aware of them. These cults are more dangerous by far, because they're patient and work towards a goal without distraction. The leaders have made a cynical choice to gamble the fate of the whole species for personal gain.

Deep Ones/Shoggoths

With Cthulhu neutralised, the Deep Ones have broken into opposing factions. They worship Dagon, who is an avatar* of Cthulhu. One faction wants to restore Cthulhu, as their god's god. Another wants to elevate Dagon to take his place. The third (and currently largest) faction wants to keep the status quo, using human breeding stock to revitalise their race. The human hybrids make up the largest percentage of the zealot factions, and are far more active.

So far no one faction wants to break with the others and go it alone, so there's a veneer of unity. In secret, all three are taking action to further their own goals. Both zealot factions want access to the human accumulation of mythos knowledge, and with shoggoths at their command they're a formidable force. After losing several archive buildings, it became necessary to shift the others into low Earth orbit. The authorities don't want open war with the Deep Ones if it can be avoided, but the shifting balance of power between their factions makes negotiation difficult.


Ghroth has changed course and is now heading directly for Earth. What it intends to do when it gets  here is anyone's guess. Even if it does nothing and simply passes through the solar system, the results will be catastrophic. The passage of a planet-sized creature will disrupt planetary orbits and cause hurricanes, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions the likes of which the world has never seen before. Its speed isn't consistent, so estimates on its arrival vary between five and 20 years.


The beings of the plain of sound need very precisely-modulated matching sounds on this side of the dimensional divide to cross over, but it turns out the cracking of splitting ice sheets is close enough. They've been able to cross over on their own in the colder regions, and travel south by sticking to the hospitable areas of Earth's sound-scape.

What they want from us is the human vocal apparatus. Jaw, teeth, tongue, lips, some of the throat lining, vocal cords and a lung. Their technology can remove the organs without killing the 'donor'. So far all the victims have been displaced refugees without much in the way of documentation or community, so November investigation has been hampered.

What to do with this?

My first idea would be to run a slightly more optimistic Call of Cthulhu game. You, the characters, are probably going to die horribly but the human race isn't necessarily doomed.

Or if grimdark is the mood for the game, it might be fun to say that the human race has been extraordinarily lucky for half a century but now it's over and the Great Old Ones are pissed at us.

* My personal interpretation. Your Mythos May Vary.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

What if we kicked Cthulhu's arse? - part 1

Part 2 of this article is now up here

A campaign idea that starts from the point where we win the Cthulhu Mythos.

Mythos fiction is some of my favourite fiction, but you have to admit it's dark. The setting comes with the explicit knowledge that some day, probably sooner rather than later, the stars will be right and the Great Old Ones will rise. The human race will collectively go mad under Cthulhu's psychic influence and turn on each other in ecstatic slaughter.  If we survive at all, it'll be as just another lowly servitor race to Big C. And with the Mi-Go interested in Earth's resources, shoggoths hating us for not being them, Lloigor malice, Nyarlathotep's games, etc.... that's probably the best outcome we can expect. Dark.

Something I enjoy is taking nihilistic settings like this one and extrapolating what they would be like if we solved all the existing problems. And introduced a few new ones so they're still interesting to play.

Your mythos may vary. There have been so many writers involved that you have to to pick and choose. Lovecraft gets in, obviously. Also Ramsey Campbell, Frank Belknap Long and August Derleth (although I don't give any credence to his shuffling of Great Old Ones into neat elemental associations).

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Cursed items

A list of six cursed items that do exactly what they seem to do.

My concept of cursed items isn't objects that stick you with a negative modifier and can't be put down - although those have their place. It's perfectly serviceable items that perform a valuable function in a way that compromises the character's values.

Admittedly that's not much of a threat to murderhobo characters. But the caveats for these items should at least make non-chaotic players pause and then avoid the GM's eye while mumbling about the end justifying the means!

1. Death Holds No Secrets

A gem-studded collar that can temporarily revive a being dead for less than INT bonus days and no more than user's level+INT bonus HD to answer three questions in full. The being can save vs Magic to resist. After the questions have been answered, the collar returns the being to its rest.

After Death Holds No Secrets has passed out of range, there is a 3-in-6 chance of the being reviving again as a hostile undead with HD up to user's level.

2. Stand-Alone

A sword with faceted obsidian inlaid in the pommel in place of a gem. It allows the user to reduce the closest ally NPC's STR bonus by 1 in order to gain the same bonus until the end of a combat. The borrowed strength does not return to the NPC.
(Technically, the effect should apply to PCs as well. Would you want to be in that game? I wouldn't. I wouldn't want to be the same building.)

3. The Uneasy Crown

A simple gold crown, decorated with gold wire and rubies. This item only works if placed on a second person's head by someone who knows the passphrase, 'uneasy is the head'. After that, if the crowned one gives an order anyone with a lower charisma modifier will carry it out automatically, provided it isn't dangerous to them. (Save vs device to resist.) Each time an order is given, the crown tightens slightly. It cannot be removed until the person who crowned the wearer speaks the passphrase. That person is immune to the crown's effects. After being removed it cannot be used again by the same wearer. It will immediately tighten until it's too small to place on their head.

4. The Mirror Gem

The owner of this gem can enter a magical sleep and possess whoever wears the gem. The possessed wearer will look and sound like the owner, and has no will of their own while their actions are being directed. The wearer takes 1d4 HP damage each week they wear the gem. That damage can never be recovered.

5. Man-breaker

This is a lash with a core of hardened clay in the hollow handle. Each time it's used on a person, the victim loses a point from either INT, WIS or CHA and gains one in STR or CON. Over time their skin becomes more and more clay-like until they lose their last point of mental attributes and transform fully into a clay golem, good only for manual labour.

6. Persuasion
A narrow chain, with spiked links. If one of the spikes is used to nick a victim, the entire cord will slither inside through the wound and coil around their bones. From that point, if they refuse to follow when ordered to the chain will constrict, causing awful pain. Persuasion leaves a body the way it enters, but causes a lot more damage in the process. Most die.