Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Death Frost Doom: Horror Movie Edition

BOOM - somehow you've made it to the graveyard. It's dark and blue and there's that perfect stillness of snow and moon and dead trees. Expectant. Waiting. You're the only thing moving, and you can't imagine it was ever any other way - except - that angel statue praying at you. Did it just look away? Did it glance at your face?
You look up over the expanse of the graveyard, to the peak. Each grave not staring- no, nothing so vulgar - but aware of you. Expecting you. Hoping you'll  -
Hey, that shack at the top is pretty small. That can't be where all that stuff we heard about is, right?

(the endpapers/maps)
"Hey guys, there's a shaft!"
The clueless stumble about, flashes of graveyard, flashes of cabin, the mundane made frightening by time. NOW TUNNELS - I see them running, the clueless ones, from what they've unleashed. Screams. Glimpses of monsters. Was it right, or left? There are so many tunnels. We know where we're going to die - FADE TO BLACK.

The title lights up the screen in a diseased white, the font inevitable, trypophobia triggered -



That's my best attempt to relate the cinematic synesthetic experience I have flipping through the new edition of Death Frost Doom, from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The new edition reimagines and doubles down on every element of the graphic presentation of this OSR Classic that "launched a 1,000 screams", and I couldn't be happier about that. One of the feelings the original PDF* evoked in me that reminded me of older TSR D&D material was, "But how the hell do I use this stuff?" I could tell there was great stuff in there, but it took a lot of parsing uniform blocks of text to piece it all together.

This new edition is easy to read, easy to parse, nearly runnable from the book - which is a high accomplishment for such a dense adventure, and especially one so idiosyncratic. Zak Smith's rewrite and Jez Gordon's art, design, and cartography make it clear just how much this adventure is fission, is a haiku, is a small thing from which years of DnD (death and doom?) can flow. There's so much here, and now it's in a form my visually-oriented and ADD addled brain can make prime use of. Zak writes in such a way that James Raggi's original ideas shine; the original was so charming and unique and so fitting for a mood that's hard to capture in RPGs that I kept coming back to struggle with it's uniform blocks of text and haphazard maps. This new edition keeps that charm, uniqueness, and mood, but lays all the wonders of it out before the reader.

The edges are sharpened, the grip re-tooled, and now this baby can really cut!

Jez Gordon's new art deserves a lot of praise as well - his graphic and cinematic illustration style gives each thing it's own character while maintaining the grim mood throughout. The wealth of art in this book alone is worth the price tag.

I do have some affection for the original art - it's reminiscent of Stephen Gammell's art from Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark- so I'm glad it's included on some pages at the back of the new edition. James's commitment to crediting and honoring his artists even as things get revised is laudable.

* (I wasn't OG enough to be around the scene when the first print happened)

If you're an LotFP adherent but you've had enough of wacky magical machines, bent towers, and gooey gods, check this out.

A lot of LotFP adventures have elements that stray to the Army Of Darkness zone - stuff is wacky but can kill you. In comparison, this is much more Evil Dead I or the scary stuff of II - much darker, more a horror movie, and full of grot.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reliquum Monstrum

Some monsters I thought of years ago, put on a map, no one went there.
I drew them a few months ago, and am rewriting them better now.

HD: 2
AC: as Chain Mail; tongue as Plate Mail
Move: 1/2 speed of running human. Flight. Hop 5ft vertically and horizontally. 
Attacks: Tongue slap (1d4), Special
Special: The Batrachian will attempt to steal food and shiny objects from above with it's long, sticky tongue. If it makes a successful attack against an object, the object is held as if with Strength 18. The Batrachian may immediately retract it's tongue on any round it hasn't moved or attacked. (For instance, it could position itself quietly hovering over someone one round, then dart it's tongue in and steal a gem or rations the next round; OR move into position and stick it's tongue to something, then retract it the next round.)
On the round after a successful tongue slap, they will rip their tongue off painfully (1d4+1 damage, target -1 to rolls next round)
They fly with a Stealth of 3 (on a d6, or slightly less than 50%)

HD: 3+2
AC: as Leather + Shield
Move: 2x human (flying), 3/4 human (walking)
Attacks: 1d4 (claws), 1d6+2 (beak)
Special: The Hachetbeak's beak attack can cause extreme wounding or damage to armor - see below.
# on to hit die
If target wearing metal armor
If target wearing non-metal armor
If target unarmored
No additional effect
AC reduced by 1
Wound will bleed 1hp/rd until healed
See above
See above
Roll 2d4, one is for duration in rounds
D4: 1: R arm disabled
2: L arm disabled
3: blinded
4: knocked unconscious
AC reduced by 1
AC reduced by 2
as 18 but turns instead of rounds
See above
See above
As 18 but lasts until extensive bedrest or advanced healing magic

(in addition to damage)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

RPG Voldenort Makes Me Think About Plants

...and now I make you think about plants.

+Zak Smith 's post/poll about plants got me thinking about a problem with plant monsters and other things I run into while DMing sometimes...

So plants. In "non-civilized" places, IE outside of town, mundane plants are often ubiquitous in the pre-industrial or post-apocalyptic type of places adventurers travel through to have their adventures.

Plant-monsters can be terrifying because they can hide in plain sight. The plant-monster, consciously or instinctually or incidentally, is hidden by non-monstrous plants until it acts in a way that violates the observers' assumptions about plants. You don't know what's dangerous or not dangerous til you're in danger, or if you've survived this particular danger in the past.

This is an ideal situation to create when DMing. The problem?

In visually immersive media (movies, video games, etc), you just show the background of plants-on-plants. The background noise from which the monster emerges, the normality which that specific type of monster violates, is instantly communicated visually. When the plants starts monstering, or like spraying seeds into your wounds, or whatever, the thing that shouldn't be moving moves, it creates a sense of horror. Something is wrong with the world, and it's being wrong all over you.

In a pen n paper RPG, the economy of communications often means you're not telling players every detail of the scene, only generalities and what they ask about specifically. When a monster shows up, even one like this, it doesn't produce horror so much as "another monster" and "oh shit it did damage to us before we noticed it."
Even with seasoned DnD monster killers, were they actual people seeing a weird green-haired lady pop out of a flower then realizing they have been walking through flowers a while and they don't know which ones have green-haired ladies and is she magical, poisonous, explodey? There would be far more of a sense of horror and nature gone wrong or at least forces-bigger-than-us-beyond-our-immediate-understanding.

This may be a trapping of DnD instead of like, Call of Cthulhu, and maybe I need to find more horror games to play in (someone with magically the same schedule as me start running horror games on G+ y'all).

The best horror-feeling situations I've experienced in DnD, as player or DM, were, like all the best results of DnD, emergent rather than planned. That's for the best, but the reason we tweak and tweak is to massage that emergence toward the results we want to happen most often.

DnD, sadly, is not a visually immersive experience. When done well, it veers between party-with-friends and collective-immersive-imagination. The visual experience is inside - sure, aided by pictures the DM shows you, minis on this Amazon box facing minis on that piece of painted styrofoam, every fantasy painting you've seen, etc - but it's not the same as wandering through a strange forest with pals and a plant suddenly opens to a face and says "Who the fuck are you and what is your nutritional content?"

Ugh fuck what was my point? I think it's to think about tools to capture this wrongness and innate hiding in plain sight that serves certain things like plant monsters in a way that's not relevant to other monsters. Methods to try and make up for the fact that characters have senses and players have senses and you're trying to account for the imaginary side of that equation and sometimes there's not a great way to make up for it.

Part of this in DnD revolves around your skill as a writer (prep before the game) and improvisationalist (gauging how to describe the stuff to your players to get across what they'd notice and what they wouldn't so they can react with meaningful choices).

It's also fighting that "monster" role any player will get in their head after a certain amount of time playing DnD, especially dungeon crawls. Like the serial monogamist trying to fit every person they date into the boyfriend or girlfriend role in their head, the players sort those they meet into NPC and Monster. I try to blur those lines often, with limited success, but if you have any great tools for that, let me know.

The thing to do when in doubt is describe what's happening to the characters and let them get themselves into more trouble, of course.