Monday, September 21, 2015

Numenera Status Tracker

I've recently started running Numenera for my Friday night gaming group. We're all having a good time exploring the Ninth World.

One thing I noticed, however, is that the players are constantly erasing and redoing their current stat pools, particularly when in combat or burning points to apply Effort. After just one session, their stat blocks on their character sheets are a mess.

So, I decided to whip up a Status Tracker to take the brunt of the erasing and rewriting. If you run out of space or burn through the paper, just print out another one (two per page) and fill in your stats – you don't have to rewrite your whole character. You can get the PDF of it here.

Warning: I'm apparently on a hexagon kick...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Amazing Sinbad (Glue)!

Go ahead! Try to break that bond!
"Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right up and witness the one glue for bonding everything to everything else! Canvas! Cork! Glass! Leather! Metal! Rubber! Stone! Vinyl! Wood! You name it and this product will stick to it! And it will do it in 30 seconds flat! How strong is the bond you ask? Not only will it hold aloft a construction worker glued to a girder by his helmet, but he can be riding a motorcycle at the same time! That's right! It will hold up to 2000 pounds! And can you believe this miracle glue is non toxic?!? You there! Watch as I cut this vacuum cleaner belt and repair it with our wonder glue. Try to pull it apart....."

That's not exactly the pitch the salesperson used to get me to stop and look at Sinbad Glue, but it might as well have been. And it still would have been free of marketing lies and half-truths.

This sales pitch happened at the Sinbad Glue Corp. booth at Gen Con – the Google tells me it was 2006 – the only year that Sinbad Glue Corp. was at Gen Con. Fortunately, I happened to be there and happened to walk past their booth. It didn't take much for the woman to convince me this was a superior cyanoacrylate "super glue".

I have just purchased my fourth bottle.

For those of you familiar with "super glues" and good at math realize that I've had three bottles of CA glue in nine years, when it should have been a bottle of glue each year minimum, probably quadruple that. Honestly, I have tried several brands from the generic "super glues", to better quality glues, such as Gorilla Glue's version, to hobby CA glues, like Zap. Although some are decent glues, they all cured in the bottle once opened. I didn't even take the Gorilla Glue out of the package before it cured! If you check the wikipedia entry on cyanoacrylates (go ahead, interesting stuff), it says the shelf life of CA glue is about one year from manufacture, or 30 days once opened.

Sinbad Glue Corp. boasts that their cyanoacrylate has an incredibly long shelf life of 3 years, opened or not! I can attest to that statement – after all, I'm only on my fourth bottle! Further, they say if you store it in the refrigerator, it will last indefinitely.

As a side note, even the bottle design is clever! There is a steel pin in the cap that keeps the nozzle from clogging. If you keep the tip of the bottle clean, you shouldn't have a problem with the cap sticking, but they suggest applying their Sinbad Gloves product to the tip to prevent it altogether. More on that later.

But how's it work as a CA glue? Simply fantastic! Just as they claim, it will bond in about half a minute (less with their accelerator) and will bond pretty much anything. I use it for assembling tabletop miniatures of all materials. I'm sure there are some things it won't work on (maybe acrylic?), but I haven't found out which yet.

Here are some more facts from their website:
  • Shear strength of 1,000 lbs. after cured. 
  • Holds up to 2,000 lbs. 
  • Non-toxic. 
  • Dries clear. 
  • Waterproof.

By the way, it won't fog plastic. This is huge! If you've ever tried to glue clear plastic windows into a toy or model, you know that fogging is a legitimate concern.

Okay, so what's the downside? A 20 gram bottle of Sinbad Glue will cost $20 plus shipping & handling and is only available by calling them or direct from their website:
In their defense, they say, "It takes an average person 3 years to use up the glue." That may be true for someone doing regular household repairs, but after 3 years of gluing miniature arms and heads on, I only use about half a bottle. And sure enough, after that time it starts to get thick and stringy and loses some of its strength. So, I have to buy another bottle.

That's not to say it's not worth $1 a gram – it's worth every penny – I just wish I could buy it in 10 gram bottles so I wouldn't be tossing so much of it out.

The "Value Pak"!
To get the best bang for your buck, they offer a "Value Pak" which includes their whole line of anything to do with cyanoacrylate glues:
  • 20 gram bottle of Sinbad Glue - The best CA glue you can buy!
  • 1/2 ounce bottle of Accelerator - The pump sprayer cap allows you to prep a surface for immediate bonding or to accelerate the glue bond while holding two items together.
  • 10 gram bottle of Sinbad Filler Glue - A very thin version of Sinbad Glue. The company intends you use it with the Sinbad Filler to seal leaks in pipes. I use it for flowing into hard to reach gaps and for stiffening cardstock and wood.
  • 1 ounce bottle of Sinbad Filler - Essentially glass micro-beads. You can use it as snow on miniature bases!
  • 2 gram tube of Sinbad Glue Gel - A thicker no-drip CA glue with a slightly longer working time. Has some gap-filling properties.
  • 1 ounce jar of Sinbad Gloves - A water-soluble cream that you are supposed to apply to your hands. Once dry, it prevents CA glue from sticking to the applied area. When done, simply wash it off. They also recommend coating the tips of your glue bottles with it to prevent the caps from sticking. In use, it feels kind of weird on your hands and I always forget to apply it anyway.
  • 1/2 ounce bottle of Debond - In case you do stick things together unintentionally, you can use the brush in the cap to apply it to the problem spot. It does say it takes two hours to work, tho...

So, there you have it – Sinbad Glue – my favorite cyanoacrylate glue of all time!

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gen Con 2015 Recap

This year's Gen Con was fantastic (and crowded) as usual! However, it's been over a week since Gen Con ended, so forgive me if the details have faded a bit. You won't get all the games played and meals eaten as much as in my Gen Con 2014 Recap.

You know you're at Gen Con
when you got your badge!
Eight of us arrived in Indy early afternoon. After sorting out rooms (the hotel pre-registration in January was a nightmare, BTW), we went down to Will Call to grab our badges, coupon books, and bags. We then indulged in tasty food (and slow service) at Granite City Food & Brewery.

Afterwards, we scurried back to the hotel to grab a table and get to gaming. I forget what all was played, but Brad finally got to try out Arctic Scavengers. This time we played with the Medic cards, which made purchasing cards from the common decks much easier.

Initially, I had a ticket to the 10 AM Privateer Press Speed Painting Event, but wanted to check out Evil Hat's "State of the Hat" address, so I talked my buddy Mike into giving speed painting a try. This had an interesting repercussion.

So, I attended the "State of the Hat". Evil Hat has their own breakdown on their site, but here's what I took note of:
  • Fate Accessibility - Elsa Henry of Feminist Sonar announced her handbook "for bringing characters with disabilities into games and players with disabilities to your table, using the Fate system as a lens for both."
  • Fate of Cthulhu - Think Terminator, but replace Skynet with Cthulhu.
  • Portal Jumpers - A kid-centric game along the lines of the 80s cartoon, Dungeons & Dragons, utilizing the Apocalypse Engine. It's my understanding that they will be revealing several worlds over time - fantasy, space, dinosaurs, etc.
  • Kaiju Incorporated - From Evil Hat's page: "A satirical setting about corporate excess and profiteering in the wake of wide-scale kaiju attacks..." Will be released as both a card game and an RPG.
  • The Dystopian Universe Roleplaying Game - A Fate-system RPG based on Indie Boards and Cards’ games The Resistance and Coup.
  • Dresden Files Accelerated - There was a discussion of using "Mantles" as part of character creation.
  • Bubblegumshoe - Veronica Mars-like teenage detective RPG using Pelgrane Press' GUMSHOE system. It's been enhanced with relationship mechanics and a fun layout. You can bet Kenneth Hite is involved.
  • Dresden Lives - The Dresden LARP continues to evolve.
  • Majestic 12 - A supplement for the Atomic Robo RPG with new comic art! I'm looking forward to this one.
  • Young Centurions - A young adult prequel to Spirit of the Century using Fate Accelerated.
  • Do: Fate of the Flying Temple - A Fate version of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.
  • War of Ashes RPG - To sum up in two words:"Muppet wars". It's a loosely Fate Accelerated RPG based on Zombiesmith's miniatures game and capable of using minis. It is in the process of being printed, due in October, and they are taking preorders.
  • Shadows of the Century - Spirit of the Century takes on 80s action TV. It is currently in alpha playtesting. I'm SO excited to get my hands on this!
  • Blood on the Trail - Vampire Oregon Trail anyone?
  • Don't Turn Your Back - Card game based on the Don't Rest Your Head roleplaying game. Just starting to ship to Kickstarter backers.
Say it: "verdigris"
I had to leave "State of the Hat" early as I had another Privateer Press Speed Painting Event at 11 AM. There were some extra seats, so Mike decided to purchase two of them and speed painted TWO miniatures in 45 minutes! I did some nice burnishing, verdigris, and rust effects, but they did not impress the judge.

After that was a quick run into the exhibit hall to hit up the Games & Gears booth for my Gen Con Collectors Brush Set that I preordered. They were kind enough to let me upgrade my set so I could get Mike a set of synthetics, a towel, and some brush soap. While we were there, we ran around looking to take advantage of some of the coupons.  Imagine my surprise when we ran into Trace Beaulieu and Crow of MST3K fame. I totally didn't realize he played Dr. Clayton Forrester!
Trace, Crow, and me!
Trace is starring as the human in the VERMIN Web Show, which just got funded on Kickstarter!

"El Toro"
Mike and I couldn't stay in the exhibit hall very long as I had a ticket for the 2 PM Reaper Speed Painting Event. Mike decided to sit in on this one too. There was some sort of mix-up and we were given clay golems from the Bones line to paint instead of a primed metal pirate. It was difficult trying to paint mounds of flesh and still stand out from the crowd. I decided to paint mine as a luchador complete with an "El Toro" tattoo on his back. Mike painted his as the grown up version of the Coppertone Baby. Surprisingly, I came in second place, beating Marike Reimer! Marike is a real good sport and gave everyone who placed above her a $10 gift certificate to the Dark Sword Miniatures booth.

I couldn't celebrate too long, as I had the "Airbrush Techniques Q&A" class with Angel Giraldez immediately after. It was amazing seeing Angel work up a miniature from a black primer coat to clean highlights with just an airbrush. Immediately after that was "Highlighting & Shading, The Next Step to Competitive Painting" with Golden Demon winner Dennis Smith. I was able to follow what Dennis was doing, and actually achieved some decent highlights on the provided Infinity miniature (pictures don't do it justice), but I was not keen on the color choices – the red came out more orange when we were done.

Since this was my busiest day, the rest of the evening was a blur, but I'm sure I had a Greedo sandwich from Der Pretzel Wagen. Unfortunately, they forgot the wasabi horseradish!

At 10 AM, I participated in the only hands-on class I could get with Angel Giraldez: "Painting with Angel Giraldez: NMM". It was my first time trying Non-Metallic Metals under instruction, so it came out surprisingly well. It turns out it's pretty much highlighting up to white. The Non Metallic Metals Set from Vallejo made it relatively easy. I should post a photo...
Angel Giraldez's work on the left, my attempt on the right.
I spent the rest of the day walking the entirety of the exhibit hall, even handing off my 2 PM Reaper Speed Painting Event ticket to Mike. I bought surprisingly little this year, but I did pick up a slightly dinged up copy of Machikoro from CoolStuffInc based on recommendation alone.

Upon leaving the hall, I made arrangements to meet Brad, Scott, and Kristin at Mikado Japanese Restaurant for sushi. Even though they are contemporary sushi, the fish was good and their Seafood Puff is to die for! Yum!

After returning to the hotel and staking out a couple of tables to game on, I followed the ENnies twitter feed. Even though Dungeons & Dragons swept most of the categories, I was happy to see Evil Hat Productions (Atomic Robo The Roleplaying Game), Monte Cook Games (The Strange, Ninth World Guidebook), Modiphius Entertainment Ltd. (Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War, MUTANT Year Zero The Roleplaying Game), and Kenneth Hite (Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, Ken Writes About Stuff Volume 2) get some lovin'.

Around that time, you could clearly see fireworks from the window of the room we were gaming in. It was part of a nearby baseball game, but I like to think it was Gen Con's way of saying hello.

Even though we had planned to play Fiasco Wednesday night, Friday was the first time we actually got a chance to. Mike and I wanted to see how Fiasco would handle cyberpunk, so we played the Hard Wired Playset by Alex Mayo. Sadly, it wasn't the best attempt as half the table wanted to do J-pop cyberpunk while the other half wanted to do dark and gritty cyberpunk. I will give Rich credit for staying in character and shooting the kneecaps of two other PCs in the first go around the table, particularly since he hasn't roleplayed in years.

Saturday started with another 10 AM class: "Freehand with Marike Weimer". Found out two interesting things about Marike: 1. Her Real Life Job™ is IT-related (as is mine) and 2. She takes quite a few clever shortcuts when painting miniatures, not that you'd know it. Her freehand is impeccable. Go ahead, check it out. Here's her website again.

After her class, I decided to drop in on the Games on Demand room and see if I could pick up a 2-hour game. Note for newbs: you need to sign up for games at the table in front of the room and games cost generic tickets, generally two. I did none of these things. I wandered in looking for Will Hindmarch to see if I could drop in to his Project: Dark game. Will kindly let me know his game was full, but his buddy Cory was available to run a game and runs them well. So, I stopped by Cory's table, and he let me know I was a newb and how to get things sorted out. At the registration table, under Cory O'Brien (I'm pretty sure this is his website), was listed Fate and Leverage. I chose Fate as I'm always interested in seeing how other folks run it and headed back in. Eventually, the table filled up and we jumped into an animorphic pirate tale full of swashbuckling and shenanigans! Cory does run a fine game, and started by canvassing the players for a list of 'Pirate Codes' unique to our ship – breaking one of these codes created a one time boost against you. Unfortunately, my two hours went quickly so I had to leave. But, I left the metal golem stuck with a "tangled in rope" aspect with two free invocations.

The reason I left early? Another Reaper Speed Painting Event at 2 PM. The miniature as a fur-clad female druid and I tried some of the NMM skills I picked up, but no win for me.

Brad picked up Poop: The Game for my lovely wife who finds humor in all things scatalogical. It's kind of like Uno, but there's a toilet/flush mechanic that can return stacks of cards to your hand and keeping you from going out.

Shortly after, I got a text from Keith Potter, one of the Chicago Area Game Writers Colloquium (CAGWIC) guys, asking if I'd be interested in hosting a Fiasco game for a few friends. We were also able to snag another CAGWIC member: PK Sullivan. I secured a game table at the JW, we decided on the News Channel Six Playset by Chris Norwood, Ken Coble, and Tom Gurganus, and ran with it. I played, Bruce Bauer!, the grizzled veteran news anchor just looking to retire after 60-some years. Keith played the Arts and Events reporter, Olivier Devereaux, who had been around as long as I had, but was having the best time of his life and looking to keep me around for company. His roommate, Jeff Flynn, played by Bear, was an unscrupulous bookie and all-around crook. On the other side of me, PK played the young, fresh-faced rookie, Rob Bolton, with a proper education looking to make it big. He had ousted the previous weekend anchor, Drake Dunbar, played by John, who had slipped into a drinking habit after losing his job of 15 years, wife and kids. The game was rife with ballot-box stuffing, horse racing scandals, and even Rob punched Bruce ON-AIR. Loved it! Easily in my top three favorite Fiasco games!

After bidding my CAGWIC friends adieu and taking a quick breather, I sat down for a full night of card and board games. Specifically:

  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig - A tile placement game where you purchase rooms to build a castle worth the most victory points. Players take turns as the Master Builder who sets the prices for the room tiles. It was fun and I won the game (never mind Jose bumping the score track), but I found myself trying to build the perfect castle. Is there a solo mode?
  • Red7 - A card game that looks like Uno, but is so much more intricate. Each card has a number, color, and rule attached to the color (and an icon that does special effects for the super-advanced game). The object is to follow the current rule but be higher than the rest of the table by number or color – red being high on the ROYGBIV scale – thus Red7 is the highest. If you cannot play a card to follow the rule, you can change the rule, or both. Yeah, it's tricky. I was just starting to get the hang of it and would like to try Red7 again.
  • Tricks & Treats The Card Game - What a way to come down from Red7. You lay out several trick-or-treat baskets, randomly and secretly determine which is your basket, and then play candy cards on top of the baskets, trying to get the most candy at the end without letting on whose basket is whose. Aimed at a younger crowd, methinks.
  • Chopstick Dexterity MegaChallenge 3000 - The premise of this Kickstarted game is simple: fill a large bowl with 25 wooden food pieces (in five colors and five shapes), flip over a cardboard token with a picture of a piece of food, and use chopsticks to grab that piece of food and drop it into your smaller dish before the other players do. In reality, it's a mad frenzy of chopsticks jousting, food flying, and bowls clacking! The box says it takes 15 minutes to play. It took us half an hour to get through 10 of the cardboard tokens and we were drenched in sweat. 
Sunday, we packed up the cars, checked out, and headed to Steak and Shake for a surprisingly quick breakfast. Then it was back to the exhibit hall for one last shopping spree.

I headed to the Geek Chic booth to pick up a new "Cowboy" mustache monocle/necklace for the wife. Then I picked up the 3rd edition rulebook for the Infinity tabletop miniature wargame - the art is gorgeous! While I was at the Infinity/Corvus Belli booth, and since my regular gaming group is playtesting the Infinity RPG, I picked up some Infinity Tokens from the Warsenal folks who were sharing the booth. In talking with them about the Infinity RPG, they mentioned that Corvus Belli would be producing miniatures for the Kickstarter when it launches. They just happened to announce the miniatures at Gen Con. Check out these beauts:
I got a chance to thank Angel Giraldez and shake his hand one last time before he had to leave. Before I left the booth, I had to snap a few pics of this gorgeous piece of scenery/terrain:

Finally, at 2:30, was the Reaper Speed Paint Final. We painted the same miniature we had for the final last year, so I decided to go with lighter colors. I did not win. Alas.
And with my brushes, gaming bag, and fresh purchases in hand, we left Indianapolis; Gen Con 2015 came to a close.
Obligatory Speed Paint Finals Photo
Courtesy Pete

Friday, May 8, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study of the End - Part 2)

Ahnenerbe Team M have discovered that the Black Sun is planning on tearing a hole between the Waking World and the Dreamlands to allow the physical Black Sun to pass through. This comes with all sorts of problems, so the team had successfully followed a large contingent of Black Sun operatives to the Beerenberg Volcano on the Norwegian island of Jan Maynen and plan to stop them.

Let's Meet Tonight's Cast of Characters

Oberst Maximillian Loeb - The soldier
Gertrude "Gerty" Hoffman - The archeologist
Gerulf Fuß - The veteran
Dr. Klaus Heidelberg - The doctor
Yu Wong - The occultist
20 German Soldiers uner Oberst Loeb's command

The Exarch, Reinhardt Weissler
His two Die Toten bodyguards
Ten Novices
Albrecht Lohmann, Prior of the Black Sun
Three Canons
Two Norn Dreamers
Astrid Urner, Prior of the Black Sun
20 Fanatical Black Sun Infantry, broken up into five groups of four, two of which are machine gun nests
Four members of the Fraternity of the Inner Light (basically specced out as more competent Norn)

The Fab Four

As the players started trickling in for the evening, I took the opportunity to play out what was going on with Yu Wang. As mentioned previously, Yu took a side track which lead him into four men in red robes sporting parkas with British flag patches.

As Yu gets closer, he notices they are wearing gold crests and sees their eyes are closed. The crest depicts a grail and a rose-wrapped cross set against a tower on a hill. Yu notices the men, despite standing, appear to be in REM sleep.

As he debates whether to kill the four Allies or not, a distinctly British voice enters his head: "I say, ol' chap, are you here to help or hamper the ritual?"

Yu ponders for a moment considering the intent of his mission, "hinder."

"Care to join us?"


"Then close your eyes..."

Yu does as instructed and awakes in a mirror world lit by the dark rays of the Black Sun. Four Brits stand next to him, their red robes bright against the grey of the Dreamlands. (And sanity check, please!)

At this point, I handed Yu's player the stat card for the Fraternity of the Inner Light, told him they are his to control, and they would act on his turn.

A Message from Our Sponsors...

For this massive conflict, I decided to use the Balsera Initiative System, as we had been doing up to this point.
Balsera Initiative System -
A method of determining the order characters act during a game round in which the obvious character to go first does indeed start the conflict, that player then selects the next character to go, that player selects the next, and so on until every character has had a chance to act. Whoever went last chooses who goes first next round – which can be themselves.
It is my understanding that Leonard Balsera came up with the system, shared it with Fred Hicks, who then passed it on to Margaret Weis Productions for use in their Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game. I am not calling anyone out, just giving credit where credit's due. If I am wrong, please correct me.
As you'll see in the recap below, with this many participants, it's hard to remember all that happened. In hindsight, it may have been easier to use a round robin initiative.

Lights, Camera... 

With all the players present, it was time to get the final big conflict rolling.

Heeding Gerty's warning that they had less than a minute to disrupt the ritual, Oberst Loeb commands his first squad to setup the mortar and begin firing on the stone circle in the middle of the caldera. He then sends two squads each to assault both ends of the line of Black Sun soldiers guarding the opening of the caldera.
Yu and the Fraternity of the Inner Light leap over the rim of the volcano and into a surreal scene — what appears to be ghosts of friends and foes alike. However, he sees two very tangible entities in SS coats heading straight for the mortar team. Yu chases after them, realizes the enchanted daggers have made it to the Dreamlands with him, and sticks one of the Norn in the back. It hisses at him but continues on its task.

The Fraternity of the Inner Light, seeing Loeb's ghost squads walking into the arc of a machine gun nest, whispers in the gunners' ears, "LEAVE." One of the gunners gets up and walks out of the caldera, sliding into the Arctic Sea.

Pretty much everybody holds back waiting for the mortar strikes. The first shell goes wide, causing most occupants of the area to hit the dirt rather than suffer casualties.

Both sides of infantry continue to whittle each other down, but Loeb's groups want to win more.

Albrecht Lohmann sends two of his Canons to deal with Loeb's two groups on the left side — black flame shooting forth from their hands as the are granted the Blessing of the Black Sun.

Gerulf is not pleased with that display so he charges in, knife in one hand, pistol in the other. He slashes the first Canon with reckless abandon, downing him.

Dr. Heidelberg takes a few aimed shots at the machine gun nests, helping out the Fraternity of the Inner Light as they whisper the gunners into unintentional suicide.

Yu continues stabbing at the Norn. This does not stop them from using whispers of their own to convince one of the mortar team to pull a gun on the rest. Oberst Loeb commands him to stand down. In a haze of doubt, he does.

The second mortar round goes off, inflicting casualties on both sides.

Impatient, Gerty runs in and heads straight for the summoning circle. Astrid Urner steps in front of her, warning her that she cannot stop the ritual, but that she will also not kill Gerty out of respect for Mina Wolff.

Gerty shoots at the old woman who is surprisingly spry and gets out of the path of the bullet. Astrid counters by knocking the pistol out of Gerty's hand with her Black Steel cane.

The Canon near Gerulf takes a step back and casts Wither Limb. Gerulf's knife arm desiccates and shrivels before his very eyes.

Gerty rushes towards the circle of Novices and, out of desperation, strangles one of them. As she moves on to the next, one of Die Toten step up, slashing her gravely.

Oberst Loeb commands the mortar team to stand down and marches into the fray. Albrecht Lohmann spots his equal and they begin trading pistol shots.

The Norn Dreamers successfully convince one of the mortar team to shoot another, killing him. Yu fells one of the Norn, its partner turns on him.

With the Black Sun infantry suffering huge losses, the Fraternity of the Inner Light moves on to the Novices, convincing them that the words they are chanting make no sense, and they are left stuttering and confused.

Gerulf sidesteps another gout of black flame from the Canon, and responds handily with his good arm.

Astrid Urner, seeing a couple of the Novices drop out of the chant, steps in and picks up where they left off. Unfortunately, it's not enough to stop the two-pronged attack of the whispering Fraternity and a strangling Gerty.

The ritual is stopped with mere seconds to spare – the sound of thunder in reverse as the tear between worlds seals.

Reinhardt Weissler, wakes from the chant, sees that he's outnumbered and defeated, and pops out of existence, his Book of Eibon dropping into the snow.

Was There a Plan B?

There's a lot of 'ifs' here, but if the ritual did go off as planned and Yog-Shoggoth was released into the waking world, Astrid Urner has a spell to send it back. IF Gerty hadn't gone off on the old gal and IF they had come to an understanding, Astrid may have been able to see the errors of her ways and cast the spell – IF the rest of the team could keep Yog-Shoggoth off of her while she was casting, IF they didn't lose their sanity first.

There's some joke about trying to get the genie back into the bottle that applies here...


Oberst Maximillian Loeb
Oberst Loeb arrests Albrecht Lohmann and Astrid Urner for committing treason against the German Fatherland. The remaining Black Sun members are executed on site and dumped into the Arctic Ocean. Maximillian still does not believe that the occult exists.

Gertrude (Gerty) Hoffman
Gerty continues her study of all things archaeozoological, adding the study of the occult to the mix. She regularly visits Astrid Urner in prison to further that goal.

Gerulf Fuß
Gerulf regains full use of his arm. He goes into retirement for a second time. For the last time.

Dr. Klaus Heidelberg
With the assistance of the Fraternity of the Inner Light, Dr. Heidelberg captures a Norn and made it permanently dream. He continues studying its brain tissue for as long as it will survive.

Yu Wong
Yu, realizing there are better teachers than what the Ahnenerbe can provide, convinces the four members of the Fraternity of the Inner Light to take him under their wing.

Astrid Urner
Astrid receives visits from Gertrude Hoffman almost daily. Although they still carry animosity towards each other, she sees a kindred spirit.

Albrecht Lohmann
Rots in a German prison.

The Exarch, Reinhardt Weissler
Nobody has seen Weissler since the events on Jan Maynen. There are a number of rumors that he returned to the Dreamlands and Nyarlathotep has resumed whispering in his ear. There are an equal number of rumors that Nyarlathotep has consumed him.


Gerulf walks up to the railing of the ship during the trip back to France, Weissler's Book of Eibon under his good arm. The first moonlight in eight days glints off the water. Without a thought, he tosses the book over the railing and walks away. As he turns, a single slick tentacle, slips out of the water, slides around the book, and pulls it to the depths.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study of the End - Part 1)

It's been a couple of weeks since I ran this particular session, so bear with me if it's a tad disjointed.

One More 'R' - Research

Where we last left off, the PCs set up shop in a German-held base in Northern France for two weeks. They took this time to study their newly acquired Book of Eibon and to get a better grasp of what was going on.

Based on what they wanted to do, I had the players roll their appropriate skill, and doled out "facts" based on how many shifts they got – while not keeping any information that would prevent forward progress.

Oberst Loeb pulls all his military contacts, rolls well, and finds out all he can about the NON-occult side of the Black Sun (anything not in parentheses).

New "Facts" about the Black Sun (most of these came out of the Achtung! Cthulhu Fate Keeper's Guide):
  • Reinhardt Weissler starts The Order of the Black Sun in 1921 (after disappearing in 1890, learning under Nyarlathotep in the Dreamlands, returning after 25 years, and joining the Thule Society)
  • (The actual Black Sun is Yog-Shoggoth trapped in the Dreamlands by the Hyperboreans)
  • (The goal of the organization is to bring the Black Sun into the waking world)
  • The Black Sun and the Nazi Party join forces in 1933 under the Ahnenerbe
  • Heinrich Himmler takes oversees it in 1935
  • In 1936, Weissler shuts himself away for six moths to study all the accumulated manuscripts - Mina Wolff takes over in his stead, studies the accumulated physical artifacts, and starts the Nachtwölfe
I also answered any organization questions Loeb's player had, such as: Where is their base of operations? (Wewelsburg Castle) Who's in charge? (Weissler and his Priors) Etc.

In a drunken bender, Gerulf keeps his ear to the ground for rumors. He rolled okay, so I gave him the first two items below:

Miscellaneous rumors:
  • Some personnel have been asking about the PCs
  • Small groups of American special forces have been spotted in Northern France
  • Black Sun patches have been seen on some uniforms on base
  • A large German force has deployed via tramp steamer from the French coast
Gerty, Yu, and Dr. Heidelberg take turns reading the Book of Eibon and researching related information, specifically Hyperborea. I wanted to make sure they got ALL of the following information, so I handed it out according to their rolls and questions:

New "Facts" about Hyperborea: 
  • Hyperborea existed 40-45 million years ago in the Eocene Epoch
  • It was all forests and jungles then - most fossils from that time are buried under ice now
  • Since then, Magnetic North has shifted approximately 5º N and 95º W
  • Black Sun leaders believe they can bring the actual Black Sun into the physical world by creating a tear between the two worlds with the Dread Equinox spell.
  • This must happen in Hyperborea on the day with the longest night – the Winter Solstice
  • The Northern Winter Solstice is December 21, 1942 – in TWO DAYS
Based on the "Wo ist Hyperborea?" page of the Torn Notebook Pages, the players were pretty convinced that Hyperborea is/was located at or near the North Pole. Knowing that Hyperborea's Magnetic North Pole has wandered approximately 5º N and 95º W, they just needed to find out where the current Magnetic North Pole is (in 1942)...

More Props! (...or Too Much of a Good Thing)

That's where this paper on The Harmonic Analysis of the Earth's Magnetic Field, for Epoch 1942 comes in! It spells out 1942's Magnetic North Pole at approximately 76º N, 103º W. I printed out an abridged version of that paper and handed it to the players. Unfortunately, there were so many other numbers and formulas, the pertinent data got lost in information overload. What I should have done is taken a red wax pencil and circled the specific pertinent information in the table on the second to last page (page numbered 429).

Taking the Magnetic North of 1942 of approximately 76º N, 103º W and subtracting the 5º N, 95º W shift of the Hyperborean North Pole, that puts the its current location at 71º N, 8º W. Cross-referencing those coordinates on this lovely diagram from the same paper:
It puts it on that little fleck in the ocean – otherwise known as the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen:
Sadly, two of the players had iPads and punched the coordinates into Google Maps and got a very accurate blip in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Once I scrolled them over to Jan Mayen, then everybody got a wiki-history lesson. Ah well...

Aaand They're Off!

Now knowing the presumed destination of the Black Sun faction and having a two-day clock ticking down (the iPads said it would take four days...), Oberst Loeb gathers up a detachment of 16 infantry, a couple of trucks, and supplies and heads to the nearest German-occupied naval base in France.

Gerty and Yu decide to hang back another three hours to get as much out of the Book of Eibon as they can.

Enter the Basterds

At this point, the Black Sun knows that Team M has picked up the torch from Team K (Nachtwölfe) - both from spies on the base and the earlier weird radio call.

As such, they have once again tipped off the Inglourious Basterds and have them waiting in ambush for Oberst Loeb's small platoon.

I'll be honest with you – this was a mess. The scene was awkward. I started with "let's narrate" and it devolved into turns. I forgot mob rules for Loeb's infantry. Since two of the PCs said they were hanging back for three hours, I held them to it and the players didn't participate. And the payoff of using the Basterds didn't materialize. The only result was thinning out Loeb's platoon. Mess.

Best I can do is: mental note; future reference.

Back on Track

Upon reaching the German-occupied naval base, Oberst Loeb reinforces his troops to 20 and acquires a boat, setting course for Jan Mayen.

During the trip, Gerty, Yu, and Dr. Heidelberg finish learning what they can from the Book of Eibon.

Here's a nice German map of Jan Mayen:
As they get close to Jan Mayen, they can see flashes of light scattered around the saddle of the island. They decide to land the party on the southern end between Leuchtthurm Klippe and Cap Traill. The captain stops the boat outside of the reefs and sends everybody in via rowboat.
Once ashore, Oberst Loeb sends a team to scout ahead. They discover the aftermath of what appears to be a skirmish between Black Sun and British forces. British boats are still waiting on the North side of the island, but they also see a row of torches climbing Beerenberg Volcano.

Once it's safe to cross the saddle, Oberst Loeb orders everybody to follow the torches, and so the climb begins. Just below the lip of the caldera, the heavily beaten path turns North. However, a small trail also heads East. Loeb orders the group to follow the bigger path, Yu, however, stealthily peels off from the group and heads East.

Maximillian Loeb peers around the broken edge of the caldera and sees another platoon of infantry, various Black Sun officers and enforcers, and a circle of stones with ten robed figures being led by some sort of high wizard, just as he begins to lead them in a chant!

Gerty exclaims to Loeb that they have about a minute before all all hell breaks loose! Oberst orders the mortar team to set up...

Meanwhile, Yu comes upon four figures wearing red robes under their Union Jack emblazoned parkas. They don't notice his approach...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Riding the Atomic Highway

In honor of the impending new Mad Max movie, our regular gaming group played Colin Chapman's Atomic Highway this evening AND HAD A GREAT TIME!

Atomic Highway uses Radioactive Ape Design's V6 Engine system. The V6 Engine utilizes sets of 7 attributes and 20 skills. When a die roll is called for (and they make a point of saying, 'only when necessary'), you choose the appropriate attribute and skill that apply. You roll a number of six-sided dice equal to your attribute, with the goal of rolling sixes. Each six counts as one success and you can spend your skill level to boost lesser dice results into successful sixes as well. Also, natural sixes explode, allowing you to roll them again. R.A.D.'s website has an example of this elegantly simple system.

Character creation is a matter of using a point-buy for attributes and assigning skill points based on your character's background. Start by spending 18 points, one-for-one, across 7 attributes, three of which – Muscle, Tenacity, and Toughness – determine your Health. Next, determine how your character was raised and what life path they have chosen. Each Rearing and Pursuit provides a set series of skill levels, clothing, and gear. You get some extra skill points to fill in any gaps, name your character, and go!

We ended up with:
IDK - A Bartertown Outrider with her own motorcycle with sidecar.
Kalvin - A Remnant Scavenger - Think a vault dweller from Fallout.
Kel - A Nomad Beastmaster with dog Rex and horse Pal.
• We also whipped up a Feral Pit Fighter as a spare.

We jump in with both feet as Kel is tracking down the people who killed and absconded with the rest of his nomad clan when he comes across IDK and Kalvin scavenging some ruins. A short conversation is had just before being interrupted by the sound of a car engine and hardcore hip hop. They scatter to the shadows, Kel taking the high-ground. As the car turns the corner, Kel sees the occupants are marked up in clown makeup – he knows these are members of the raiding group that took his family away from him. He lines up his rifle on the driver and takes the shot...

With the called shot and cover from the car frame, Kel needed three successes and I only rolled one of them. Fortunately, the V6 Engine includes a nice little feature: Fortune Points! Like Bennies or Fate Points in other systems, they give you a little extra oomph. Each character starts with 5 Fortune Points and they can be spent on things like free successes, tweaking the plot, damage mitigation, etc. Since I wanted this opening shot to have some narrative weight to it, I burned a couple of Fortune Points, got my three successes, took out the driver, and sent the buggy crashing into a building.

A few more of the hip-hop-listening, clown-makeup-wearing raiders show up, but IDK, Kalvin, and Kel (and Rex!) make quick work of them. An interesting night camping, blowing up a building, and a game of chicken later, we wrapped the game for the night.

We decided we really like the system. Combat (particularly with vehicles!) can be deadly, but not as bad as some systems. Characters feel competent as the Fortune Points allow you to save your bacon if you need to and accomplish some amazing feats if you want to. This is all wrapped up in a slightly campy package that really captures the feel of renegades out on the post-apocalyptic open road. I look forward to playing it again.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study of the Dead)

When we last left off, our team of investigators had found Gaspard du Nord's burial chamber and were greeted by his undead guardians - Les Morts.

Him Who Casts the First Stone...

I figured the three who approached the sarcophagus, should get a reaction action first. Then the guardians. Followed by the remaining two.

Gerulf immediately picks up a brick and smashes the nearest one in the mouth. The dried flesh scrapes off revealing the jawbone underneath (sanity check).

Gerty looks them over, trying to cross-reference her studies, and identifies their weaknesses (sanity check). This was intended as a Create Advantage action, but I rattled off their resiliences instead, which I could have worded as aspects.

Yu decides his main goal is to obtain their daggers (feeding his obsession for artifacts). I thought there was a rule spelled out in the Fate Keeper's guide for grappling, but I couldn't find it. So we decided to do it as two separate Create Advantages: the first was to leap up on the sarcophagus to create a height advantage, the second to parry the height advantage into a disarm. Yu leaps up on the sarcophagus and creates Height Advantage with one free invoke.

The guardians attack Gerulf and Yu; knives slashing at their winter coats (causing stress - Yu spends his free invocation early to avoid a consequence).

Dr. Heidelberg bolts and runs up the stairs looking for a cross (no sanity check).

Oberst Loeb, heeding Gerty's discovery, hits the nearest Les Morts with the butt of his submachine gun, lining up the shot for Gerulf (tie, gaining a boost, and handing it off to Gerulf - sanity check).

Gerulf hits it square in the chest. He hits it with such force, its arms go wide and it lifts off the floor, looking like a dark angel ascending to heaven. Instead, it hits the back wall, its flesh crumbling to leaves, bones clattering to the floor (sanity check).

Yu continues to spar with the other guardian, trying to disarm it – literally if need be. We both burn up our Fate points (sanity check).

Max runs up to it and caves in its skull in with the butt of the submachine gun (sanity check).

I believe everybody lost a little bit of sanity.

We Finally Meet Gaspard

With some elbow grease and a puff of ancient air, they crack open the sarcophagus. Inside they find the small desiccated form of Gaspard du Nord, clutching the Livre de Eibon to his chest, a bronze disk at his feet. (Since the Book of Eibon is what the PCs have been looking for, I actually put together a short synopsis and modified spell list as another prop.)
Wheels of Eibon - Variations on a theme
I love it when players sketch in-game items.
Dr. Heidelberg does another field dissection and finds nothing unusual, but, despite Oberst Loeb's request, he can't explain Les Morts.

Oberst Loeb radios command to let them know the Book of Eibon has been found and they are on their way to deliver it.

A Colossal Hole in the Story

The team gathers their things and discusses whether to visit the dig site along the river. Initially, the team was considering being thorough. But the safety of the Book of Eibon and the completion of the Mission took precedence. However, Gerulf and Yu demand they at least check it out, so Oberst Loeb agrees to let them do a bit of recon as long as the rest of the team is concealed and ready to make a getaway.

Lapel patches on the German soldiers
They get to the the road leading to excavation site, park in the tree-line, and let Gerulf and Yu sneak through the woods to check it out. The excavation site is about as large as a Fußball (soccer) field. German soldiers wearing interesting lapel patches are ordering around French workers at gunpoint. A much older, stooped version of Gerty seems to be leading the group. They look to be digging up gnarled white tree trunks and loading them onto a flatbed truck. Gerulf realizes they are colossal humanoid bones and immediately decides they need to be destroyed or reburied. He works out a plan with Yu to create a distraction: Yu is to open the valve on a nearby fuel truck and set the fuel ablaze while Gerulf gets to the flatbed carrying the bones. Yu deftly sneaks into position and starts the fuel flowing. Gerolf, on the other hand, alerts a soldier and has to knock him out cold. As they are doing this the old woman excitedly calls for the crew to bring something up to her. From this distance, it appears to be a slab of mud. Yu lights the fuel, hurries over to Gerulf, and is surprised to find out they aren't leaving by the flatbed truck full of giant bones. Rather, Gerulf has turned the wheel and jammed the accelerator sending it into the massive grave. The old woman clambers into a truck and it speeds away. Gerulf and Yu sprint back through the woods to get back to the team.

Oberst Loeb, Dr. Heidelberg, and Gerty hear a massive crash and see a roiling fireball erupt beyond the tree-line. This is followed by a truck tearing out of the woods in the opposite direction and then the two troublemakers. They scramble into the truck, Loeb maneuvers it around, and they give chase just as German soldiers run up to the edge of the road and leave bullet holes in the truck. Sadly, they lose the old woman and her muddy prize.

As they are speeding through the town roads of rural France, they get a call on the radio. Klaus answers and relays the conversation to Oberst Loeb as he frantically tries to find the other truck. They are told that the search for the Book of Eibon was a two-pronged mission, with two groups searching France to increase their odds. Apparently, Ahnenerbe Team U just radioed in to report they had found the Book of Eibon as well. However, apparently they are Black Sun members, they have gone off mission and have decided to keep the book for themselves. Team M (the PCs) are now charged with trying to find them, find out what they want the book for, and stop them. But, why would Team U call in to report they've gone rogue? To gloat?

Unfortunately, they lose the other truck. So Team M drives into Northern France – German occupied territory – find the nearest German military base, appropriate lodging and supplies, and begin studying.

A Little R & R (Reading & Rituals)

I allowed character advancement at this point. Finding the Book of Eibon seemed like a Significant Milestone [reshuffle skills or stunts, +1 skill point, recover severe consequences (there were none)].

Gerty, Dr. Heidelberg, and Yu Wong dove into reading the book, although Dr. Heidelberg waited a week to study the others and take copious notes before reading himself. In order to read the French manuscript, Yu picked up the Polyglot stunt and Dr. Klaus Heidelberg updated his trouble aspect to: I won't let a little thing like morals, conscience, or language get in the way of my pursuit of knowledge.

Despite the rules saying it takes months of study to absorb the dark scribblings, I gave them two weeks, costing a sanity point each week, but gaining the Mythos skill at Average (+1) and a spell for each week studied (i.e. Klaus only learned one spell).

During this time, Loeb pulls his contacts to find out all he can about the Black Sun and their interest in the Book of Eibon. He hears that there is an actual Black Sun and the organization wants to bring it into this world. He still thinks it's all hogwash and fairy tales, but as long as they believe it, they can be dealt with.

Midway through the two weeks, Gerulf barges into the team's study room and gives a drunken monolog about how the occult is not something to be dabbling in and all artifacts should be destroyed. It was fantastic!

Game Notes

As full of information that the Achtung! Cthulhu books are, the organization leaves something to be desired. And the index is of no help. For example, Gerty has the Polyglot stunt, but we couldn't find it again for Yu (it's under Languages, p. 60 of the Fate Investigator's Guide PDF). Also, I thought there was a blurb about grappling, but couldn't find it until I searched the PDF (it's hidden in the Mythos Creatures section, p. 197 of the Fate Keeper's Guide PDF).

Another minor but important note is that the some of the listed stress boxes have numbers attached to them. They are hard to see (especially for older eyes) and easily forgotten. Combat with particular baddies will last a bit longer if the numbers are heeded.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study in Auvergne)

Last week, we had our first full game session of Fate Achtung! Cthulhu. This will be a quick game recap and some post-game comments.

En Route to Le Mont-Dore
I'm sure I'm on some watch list now after
doing Google research for this mission dossier.

Oberst Loeb receives the teams orders. A previous team of Ahnenerbe researchers were attacked. Their last known location is the Cistercian Monastery in Le Mont-Dore. Loeb's team is to drive to Le Mont-Dore, find the other team and assist them. Failing that, they are to pick up where they left off on their mission: to find the Book of Eibon.

The team makes the long drive to Le Mont-Dore through the snowy winter of 1942. Le Mont-Dore is a tourist town located in the Dordogne River valley and, as such, shuts its doors in the winter. As the monastery is not on the map, they bang on the door of one of only two houses with lights on. An elderly lady who looks like she's lived there all her life answers the door. Although intimidated by Oberst Loeb's scarred countenenace and German uniform, she wants no trouble and points out where to go.

After winding deeper into the valley and up one side, they spot Ahnenerbe Team K's truck parked in front of the smashed entrance to the monastery. It appears, many years ago, a large boulder has ended up in the front of the building with no easy explanation.

They enter the monastery foyer; wet footprints indicating recent activity. As they head into the chapel, they find Team K – scalped. Sturmbannführer Koch is pinned to the cross with his head smashed in. Everybody rolled a sanity check and all took a Will drain. Gerty lost a point of sanity.

Once they get a hold of themselves, they search the scene. Oberst Loeb checks Sturmbannführer Koch's body and finds a torn-out notebook page with a list of locations and a bloody thumbprint, stuffed into Koch's pocket. The blood is dry.
Gerty and Yu check the room and find the torn-in-half notebook page referencing Gaspard du Nord. It has fresh spittle on it.
Dr. Heidelberg does a field autopsy of the scalped individuals and determines they were shot to death before being scalped. He also finds a magazine of 9mm bullets, stamped SS, surreptitiously stuffed into one of the soldier's pockets, and a leather bookmark laying at Koch's feet (I added the bookmark to indicate a book was taken).
Gerulf starts checking side chambers for any signs of digging.
They all get a sense of what happened in the scene — there was a surprise shootout, Team K was killed, then scalped, and their research taken — and setup camp in a side room.

I compelled Yu's Overenthusiastic to a Fault to stay up all night searching the entirety of the monastery. He ends up in the catacombs and discovers them hastily overturned with nothing useful to be found. He spends the next day Exhausted.

The next morning, they break camp and head back into town to question the old lady. Overwhelmed, she invites them in for breakfast. She recalls that two days before she heard one truck pass and two trucks came and went yesterday, but she didn't bother looking outside particularly since there's been more activity once the Germans arrived in France.

The team rouses Yu from his slumber in a comfy chair and takes their leave. Just as they get to the truck, a band of French Resistance surrounds them. They demand the Germans leave town and stay out. Since Gerty is the only one who currently speaks French, she tries to ascertain if they were the ones who dispatched Team K and, if not, who did. A battle of wits ensues. As the heated discussion goes back and forth, Dr. Heidelberg takes a read of their body language (creating an advantage). He whispers his analysis in Gerty's ear and she handily turns them to whimpering fools. They reveal that the later of the two trucks passing in and out of town yesterday was German (they were still recovering from a drinking binge when the first truck rolled through). When questioned about the monastery, they shudder and claim they've never been there as it's haunted.

Bibliothèque du Clermont-Ferrand

Exhausting leads in Le Mont-Dore, the team heads to Clermont-Ferrand – the nearest town with a large enough library to do research. At this point, the props come out!

No rolls were needed and I did very little prompting ("What books are you looking for?", "C.A.S. look like they could be initials."). They sussed out all the clues, surmised that Gaspard du Nord is buried in Vyonne Chapel, and compared maps to find its most probable location: La Bourboule.

...And Back Again (to La Bourboule!)

The team drives back to the Dordogne River valley, and into La Bourboule. As they enter the Chapel, Yu senses the priests are acting like they are protecting a fugitive. They say nothing. Based on the notebook page they found, Yu suggests the team takes the stairs under the cat-headed griffon gargoyle and check the roof. Up top, they find nothing unusual, but do notice a excavation crew in the distance digging up the river shoreline – in the middle of winter (this was actually ret-conned in later).

The team then takes the stairs down to the catacombs. As they do, the priests bustle to the altar and start praying loudly. The catacombs also look like a dead-end, but Klaus finds a loose brick and a possible hidden chamber. The group heads to the truck to retrieve picks and shovels. As they return, the priests get louder; the Latin coming hard and fast.

They break through the wall, a cloud of ancient dust revealing an arch-ceilinged chamber with a stone sarcophagus. There are tall bronze braziers at the head and foot of the sarcophagus, and bowed, robed statues on either side. As Gerty, Gerolf, and Yu approach, sanity checks! Oberst Loeb and Yu succeed with style, but Gerolf and Dr. Heidelberg miss by three, taking a noticeable hit to their mental stability.

The "statues" are undead guardians under centuries of dust. They turn towards the intruders, skin cracking and flaking away as their lips part, "Who disturbs the resting place of Gaspard du Nord?"


Post-Game Notes

Here are some things that came up during and after the game:

• I prefer to do the sanity checks before the horror reveal as it ramps up the tension and doesn't dilute the impact of the scene by introducing rule mechanics directly afterwards.

• There was some concern that, since Gerty is the only who speaks French, she got more interaction and "screen time". I pointed out that almost everybody still had open aspect and stunt slots that could be utilized to give them the ability to speak French. However, given that option, still nobody wanted to do so. So, I guess playing their character as is is preferred, and that's fine.

• They are getting an idea of how creating advantages gives you aspects you can stack. Dr. Heidelberg was the first one to "get it" when he read the body language of the French Resistance to help Gerty out.

• Going against my own plan, I forced Bort-les-Orgues as the destination of Vyonne Chapel. Initially, Oberst Loeb chose La Bourboule as the chapel location. I should have said yes, and ran with it. I have changed the recap above to include Loeb's choice.

• Prior to Fate Achtung! Cthulhu, we played Fantasy Flight Games' new Zombie Apocalypse RPG under their The End of the Worrld Roleplaying Line. Although we had fun, the system felt clunky. As such, there was a comment on how Fantasy Flight Games could have done well licensing Fate for their new line.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study in Fate)

Last week we had our first Fate Achtung! Cthulhu play session. None of the players had tried Fate before (well, one player had tried a sample combat in Spirit of the Century and was unimpressed). I have played and run several Fate games, but I have not run any Cthulhu or horror games prior to this one.

A Note on Nazis

I want to point out that the group has decided to play a team of researchers working under Germany's Ahnenerbe. The Fate Keeper's guide addresses this (p. 15 of the PDF, or p. 135 of the softcover) and suggests against it, but provides the resources to do so. As a group, we discussed it and agreed to tread lightly. To the players' credit, we ended up with two disgruntled veterans of the Great War and three civilians taking advantage of the German War Machine to further their own ends.

Character Generation

For the most part, we did character generation by the book. To facilitate this, Modiphius provides a handy character creation worksheet!

Although we did the phase trio (Life Before the War, Getting Noticed, and Crossing Paths), I asked the players to hold off on choosing aspects at that point. Ryan Macklin, who developed the Fate edition of Achtung! Cthulhu, wrote an article on Decoupling Aspects from Phases that basically says: Do the character creation phases, but don't tackle aspects yet. Once you have a character background, then fill in some aspects, with the option of leaving some blank to fill in during play.

Once we had full backstories and crossed paths, some of the players decided to use that information to create aspects. I did require at least the High Concept and Trouble aspects.

Here's what we ended up with:

Oberst Maximillian Loeb - The soldier
Maximillian started his military career almost missing end of the first world war, losing the opportunity to prove himself to the Fatherland. Between the great wars, he would take any assignment in order to further his career, even if that meant testing experimental weaponry. Unfortunately, one of those experiments backfired, scarring his face and derailing his plans of promotion. Despite his protestations, he now finds himself in charge of this rag-tag bunch of civilians.
• Grizzled veteran of the Fatherland.
• These scars keep me from claiming a soldier's glory.
Dorothea Bate –
The inspiration for Gerty.

Gertrude (Gerty) Hoffman - The archeologist
Gerty has been interested in the natural sciences since she was a child. Her fieldwork has only been interrupted by her studies. Her paper on Archaeozoology got her noticed by the Ahnenerbe. For better or for worse, she's found an outlet for her knowledge in the them.
• German pioneer of archaeozoology.
• I'm a woman in a man's world.
• I learned my social graces in the field.
• Science is my religion.

Gerulf Fuß - The veteran
Gerulf also fought in the first world war and was also scarred. However, his scars were more of the mental variety. He had witnessed some unnatural horror that wiped out the rest of his unit and left him with one eye that permanently peers into the Dreamlands. After several years of drinking, fighting, and therapy, he's sociable again, more or less. The alcohol seems to help.
• (Hard drinking) Great War veteran with an Eldritch eye.
• Don't take my bottle.

Klaus Heidelberg - The doctor
Dr. Heidelberg is well known in psychiatric circles, both for his understanding of the brain and his unorthodox methods. He is driven to know how the human mind works, particularly in the presence of occult phenomena – even if that means studying the brain directly. The Ahnenerbe seem to provide plenty of subjects.
• Neuropsychiatrist studying the effects of the occult on the brain.
• I won't let a little thing like morals or conscience get in the way of my pursuit of knowledge.

Yu Wong - The occultist
Yu started as a clerk in a warehouse cataloging artifacts for a national museum. What started as a passing interest in the occult turned into a full-fledged OBSESSION. During that period, the museum's curator was lost in an accident. Fortunately for Yu, he's just been assigned to Germany to protect Japan's interests in matters of the occult.
• Japanese Mythos Occult Enthusiast.
• Overenthusiastic to a fault.
• Always looking for an opportunity.
• Nothing is an obstacle.
• Blissfully arrogant.

Some post-character generation notes:
1. It's still difficult to explain exactly what aspects are, what they do, and how to use them. I find it's best to show though in-game example.
2. There's more fiddly bits and a longer skill list in Fate Achtung! Cthulhu than in Fate Core. It would be helpful if everybody had at least a digital copy of the Fate Investigator's Guide, which could be cost-prohibitive for some.
3. At least one player got the "role-playing comes first!" intent of the Fate system.

Sample Combat

I always like to start a Fate game with a quick conflict – it gives players a chance to become familiar with the rules and it starts the game off with a bang. This time, I tried to get in as many Fate concepts as I could.

So I had Oberst Loeb gather up the group and "extract" the last member needed for the team – a veteran of the Great War who was accidentally "gifted" with the ability to see into the Dreamland. Unfortunately, he's a fan of the bottle, was well into it by the time the team showed up at Die Milch Mädchen, and someone had tried to take it away from him...

Compelling an aspect (decision-based): To start things off, I compelled Gerulf with, "You have the aspect, Don't take my bottle. You've had too much to drink and the bartender is trying to cut you off, so it makes sense that you'd lash out at him. This goes wrong when a whole bar brawl breaks out." and offered him a Fate point (in this case an empty 9mm Luger shell casing). He took it with a grin.

Situation aspects: Then I established the aspects on the scene: Bar brawl, Broken glass, Wet floors. They were invoked once or twice.

Physical Conflict: Throughout most of this scene, Gerulf is going toe to toe with other bar patrons and making quick work of them. Since this is one of the more common situations, I'll leave it to your imagination to fill in the fight sequences.

Mental Conflict: Once Oberst Loeb and the team shows up, Oberst commands the German soldiers in the mix to quit brawling and stand at attention. I asked the player if he wished to make it an aspect on the scene or to directly affect the soldiers. He chose the latter. For simplicity, I made it an opposed check: Provoke vs. Will. With his Stand to Attention! stunt, Oberst Loeb gets a +7 versus the soldiers' -1. Eight soldiers immediately stop fighting. One of them gets smashed over the head with a bottle just as he clicks his boot heels together.

Create an Advantage: Since Oberst Loeb is now the center of attention, one of the more inebriated patrons decides to splash a beer on him to try to bring him down to the rabble's level. The drunkard rolls Fight and Loeb actively opposes with Athletics. The player decided the defense was an instinctual sidestep and didn't invoke any aspects. Unfortunately, he rolls low and the drunkard hits his target placing Looks Foolish on Oberst Loeb. He ignores the attack and marches his way through the brawl to speak with Gerulf. Sadly, I never got a chance to compel the advantage later.

Refused Compel (event-based): Once Gerty realizes Oberst Loeb is talking to a friend of hers (Crossing Paths phase), she crosses the room as well. Since the room is packed, I tried "You have the aspect, I'm a woman in a man's world and you just happen to be in a room full of drunk uninhibited men. So it makes sense that one of them tries to get his grubby mitts on you preventing forward progress. Damn your luck." She refused the compel, paid the Fate point, and responded with, "I knee him in the nuts." He goes down like a sack of potatoes, marking the beginning of a string of ball crushings.

Teamwork with NPC mobs: Since single individuals are no match for Gerulf, a couple of them team up and tackle him mid conversation with Oberst Loeb. Together, they were able to do five shifts of damage, which brings us to...

Taking a Consequence: With five shifts of stress coming at him, Gerulf decides to soak up three with his third stress box and take a Mild Consequence. I decide the brawlers inflict a Pummeled (Battered may have worked better) consequence on Gerulf.

Yu finally ends the combat with a well-placed karate chop, Maximillian convinces Gerulf to join the team through some lovely roleplaying involving duty to one's country, and the team returns to base where Oberst Loeb receives the team's orders...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study in Props)

I posted this image to the Fate Core Google+ Community with the lead-in "Here are my props for tonight's Fate Achtung! Cthulhu:"

This generated quite a bit more interest than I expected, including requests to see notes, images, and recaps of the game.

So here goes!

For starters, let me say that this is my first time running a Cthulhu game (or any horror game for that matter), so my knowledge of Cthulhu Mythos is weak. Fortunately, the folks who worked on Achtung! Cthulhu put a lot of work into all the historical and mythos research. I was able to put together a solid plot outline with only the core Investigator's and Keeper's Guides (well and a bunch of Googling, which probably put me on some watch lists...). Understanding the plot will show how I arrived at the props.

The Plot (oh, and Props)

In 1935, Heinrich Himmler founded The Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society, or Ahnenerbe, to research, recover, and revive Germanic traditions by studying several cultures around the world. The various expeditions undertaken by the Ahnenerbe made it the perfect organization to look into Himmler's interest in the occult as well.

According to the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide, in 1933, Himmler united the Order of the Black Sun, a group of occult scholars (with their own agenda) under the Nazi flag. Once the Ahnenerbe is established, the Black Sun took the helm of occult research. However, another subgroup, Nachtwölfe, splintered off from the Black Sun focused on what technology could be developed from occult artifacts. There is an unsteady truce between them, but some artifacts cannot easily be categorized as either arcane or technological (p. 73 of the Keeper's Guide PDF, p. 193 of the combined softcover book).

Enter the Book of Eibon, a spell book written by the Hyperborean wizard Eibon and translated by a handful of scholars - all manuscripts of which have been hidden or lost. If the Reich gets their hands on a copy, they could theoretically turn the tides of war in their favor. So, the Ahnenerbe send out teams from both the Black Sun and Nachtwölfe.

Unfortunately for Nachtwölfe, the Black Sun wants all the glory - and, well, to unleash the Valley of the Black Sun into this world. To further this end, they have let slip the current location of the Nachtwölfe team that's searching for the Book to... well... what the heck... The Inglourious Basterds. Bear with me here, this is alternate WW2 and there's nothing saying there wasn't a savage band of American soldiers scalping Nazis...

So, assuming you buy that, the Nachtwölfe team has a lead. There's a legend about a necromancer named Nathaire who builds a giant out of corpses. He is stopped by another necromancer named Gaspard du Nord. There is rumor that Gaspard is one of the scholars who translated the Book of Eibon to French. The team is checking out a monastery in La Mont-Dore that matches a description from the legend just as the Basterds rush in and start taking scalps.

After the Basterds leave, the Black Sun sweeps in, takes any remaining notes and leads, and picks up the trail without getting Nazi blood on their hands.

This is where the players come in. They are tasked to go to the monastery, find the original team, join them if possible, and continue the quest for the Book of Eibon.
A Note on Nazis

I want to point out that the group has decided to play a team of researchers working under Germany's Ahnenerbe. The Fate Keeper's guide addresses this (p. 15 of the PDF, or p. 135 of the softcover) and suggests against it, but provides the resources to do so. As a group, we discussed it and agreed to tread lightly. To the players' credit, we ended up with two disgruntled veterans of the Great War and three civilians taking advantage of the German War Machine to further their own ends.
Since I am sending them into France in December of 1942, I needed a map. Doing a Google image search for "France occupation 1942", I get this:
I dropped that into a simple image editor (in my case, Preview on a Mac) and cranked up the sepia filter to give it some age.
Fortunately for the PCs, the Black Sun overlooked a few clues. The first is a torn notebook page referencing Gaspard du Nord and the story "The Colossus of Ylourgne". The leader of the Black Sun team finds the idea of a "good" necromancer ridiculous, tears out that segment and spits on it, leaving it behind. Also, the head of Nachtwölfe had just enough time to tear out and pocket the page listing his leads to where Hyperborea may be located.
For the torn notebook pages, I simply Google Translated a few important phrases, practiced handwriting that looked more driven (and less like mine), wrote them on actual notepad paper, and tore them. For the bloody thumbprint, I did a Google Image search and printed that on the note paper before writing on it.

Here's a PDF of the Torn Notebook Pages.
Hopefully, that first scrap of paper has the PCs looking for Gaspard du Nord's resting place by checking libraries for a book or story called "Le Colosse de Ylourgne." Which is a French "translation" of Clark Ashton Smith's short story, "The Colossus of Ylourgne".
You can find a copy of it here: To make the hardcopy, I basically munged the text through Google Translate, tidied it up in Word, exported it as a PDF, and used Adobe Reader to print it as a booklet on some brownish paper. Here's my version: Le Colosse de Ylourgne. This booklet I will then tuck into an old book a friend gave me (sadly, it is only about steam power and not the occult).
Since my players do not read French and I want them to focus on specific parts of the story, locations Gaspard du Nord visited in particular, I decided to leave a note as if another researcher has headed down this path before. This "poem" (which is really just passages from the short story) gave me what I needed.
I modified it a tiny bit, changed it to some handwriting font, and printed it on a 5" x 7" sheet of notepad paper. Here's my version of the file: Gaspard du Nord. This, I tucked into the short story booklet.
I figure while they are searching the library, another character will find this excellent map, done by Tim Kirk, inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's stories:
I also slapped a sepia filter on this.
Now, and here's the leap of faith, the players just have to pick out Gaspard du Nord's favorite locations on the Averoigne map and try to cross reference them with actual places in Auvergne.
As such, they will need some reasonably decent maps of France showing the land features of Auvergne. After some more Google-fu, I found these lovely specimens:
I printed them out on larger paper (11" x 17"), trimmed them up, folded them (the first pleated like a road map, the second folded down the middle like a book), and scraped a sharp knife along all the edges and folds to prematurely age, rough up, weaken, and tatter them.
I'm hoping the players decide to select the curly source of the Dordogne River as their place of interest, but (WARNING: Sneaky GM Trick) will go with whatever they decide. (But to help them, I included a tiny hint from the first clue: the "...ogne-Fluss" along the tear in the page.)
Sadly, I have been unable to find a good map of Auvergne that shows towns, major roads, and land features (Google maps is terrible at doing land features). The best I've found so far is, but it's far too modern a map, so I'm still looking for better.
Following up on snippet from "The Colossus of Ylourgne" should give the PCs some clues as to where Gaspard du Nord is buried. There they shall find a his copy of the Book of Eibon.

Meanwhile, the Black Sun is digging up where Nathaire is buried and they find their own copy...

The rest needs to be fleshed out, but the plan (and where the second torn notebook page comes in) is that Black Sun and the PCs are racing to find Hyperborea - The Black Sun, to break the Hyperborean seals preventing the Valley of the Black Sun from entering our world, and the PCs hopefully to stop them. The spell will require 24 hours of darkness so that means a trip to the Arctic Circle, conveniently on December 21, 1942.
Fortunately, searching Wikipedia for Hyperborea, you can see this lovely map:

Look at that interesting red circle...