Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Soldiers of Wampus Country

I figured it would make sense, and be a fun little exercise, to pull some pics and illustrations representing different character classes in Wampus Country.  For this one, we take a look at Fighters - specifically the professional sorts, rather than bar-room brawlers and frontiersmen, which we'll get to later.

Some of the fashions and nomenclature current amongst professional soldiers in Wampus Country are handed down from Grandpa's War.  In fact, some mercenary companies trace their lineage back to that conflict, and have kept the same name - Third Heavy Cavalry, etc - passing it from generation to generation, even if the once-honorable group has descended into brigandry and monster-hunting in the years since.

A veteran expeditioneer relying on his keen  hearing to avoid stumbling into owlbear territory.
Some mercenaries maintain the old ways of the knight-errant, fighting from horseback with spear or lance.

Marshal Plimpt inspects his company before leading a raid against the Yellowscale barbarians.
Light cavalryman; his distinctive turban marks him as a member of the  Howling  Sabres.
Always suave and fashionable, veteran warrior Hulbrecht Fontayne is more famous for his romantic conquests than his martial ones.  Coats mimicking his style are widely available.
Sargus Blackburne has refused to let his microcephalic curse impede his career as a myrmidon.
Some of the civilized warriors have taken to aping barbarian styles, such as this sword-for-hire.
Commander Appelbaum of the Mighty Seventh Rifles.
Lieutenant Plumdiddle retired from soldiering and now runs a small chain of chip shops.
General Louise "the Meat-Grinder" Flessen, field commander of the Three Stars mercenary company.
Veteran riflewoman of the Singing Magpies.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mascot Monday: Dawn of the Sloads

Ian has written of the mighty sloads over at Monstrous Television.

No death-wizard or Necronaut can say with much accuracy what, if any, are the connections between Wampus Country and that pocket of hell and death known as The Bleaklands, but know this: there are sloads in Wampus Country, and they are terrible.

Hidden amongst the thick woods south of River-Town, there stands the Untouchable Fortress, a massive construction of ether-stone which is sometimes invisible, sometimes intangible, and, most of the time, not there at all.  Within the thick walls of the Untouchable Fortress dwell three insidious sloads with designs on all of Wampus Country.  Only one young frog from Frogport stands against them...

The Fortress is castle-like and surrounded with a secondary wall some thirty feet in height; its ramparts are defended by brain-drained men and women, slaves to the sorcery of the sloads.  Upon each tower is mounted a swiveling cannon which fires crystalline spheres which shatter on impact, releasing d6+1 starving stirges.  Beneath the castle proper lies a maze-like dungeon which is home to the sloads. In addition, there is a large subterranean pumping-station which is slowly bringing fetid cavern-water (tainted with evil, no doubt) to the surface and transforming the area around the fortress into a swamp.

Whether they came via the Bleaklands or some other means, it is known that these three sloads are evil incarnate, and have turned their back on any nobility their species may once have maintained.  Each is more sadistic than the next, and all three are cruel wizards, ever-perfecting their dark arts.  Although few have seen the sloads in action, it has been suggested that they have the ability to chant in unison to summon powerful eldritch effects.  Each of the sloads has the ability to stand like a man (they are ogre-sized when fully upright), but they often lounge about on their bellies, as their tremendous weight is difficult to bear on their lanky frog-limbs for long.  Thankfully, each sload possesses a hovering lily pad (treat as flying carpet).

Bhood Greentooth (7HD sload with powers of a level 8 wizard) is the leader and 'face' of the amphibious triumvirate; it is he who commands the growing army of vacuous living zombies who are loyal to the sload cause.  Bhood wields a wand of fireballs and wears a torc of protection +2.

Wyz Many-Eyes (6HD sload with powers of a level 5 cleric) is Bhood's vizier, advisor, and sycophant.  Known for the dozens of small eyeballs which have sprouted across his belly and back, Wyz is a devotee of several Chaotic patrons and maintains shrines to both the Horned Baron and the Vicelords in his corner of the dungeon.  Wyz carries a spiked flail +1 and is often accompanied by a horrific, mutated wampus-cat with cobras for teeth.

Ur Mak Kruun (7HD sload with powers of a level 3 wizard) is a hulking brute who enjoys torture and maneating when he's not busy whipping slaves.  Ur wears a massive golden cestus on his left hand which does d8+2 damage and can deliver a further d6+1 shock every third round.  His brothers do not realize that he has secretly been talking with the Web of Darkness about a profitable alliance...even if it means big brother Bhood has to meet a bloody end.

The terrible sloads three, recumbent upon their flying lilypads.

A young frog of Frogport, one Digby (level 2 frog), stumbled upon agents of the three sloads, and has determined to take their organization down.  But he desperately needs help!  To that end, he has begun trying to build a network of contacts in River-Town and beyond, and taking on small tasks which may net him the resources necessary to mount an assault on the Untouchable Fortress.  He publishes ranting self-financed pamphlets "Evil Wizards Got You Down? Dig 'Em A New Grave With Digby" and distributes them wherever he goes; he has even begun wearing his motto on his clothing.  Most take him for a madman, but no one knows more intimate details of the sload operation than he.  Recently he has undertaken to explore the Terrible Towers of the Treacherous Turtles in hopes of securing allies, after reading in an ancient text of these man-turtles who hunt sloads across myriad worlds.

Digby's crusade vacillates between "destroy all sloads" and "shameless self-promotion".

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Magic Bullets

Running a D&D-like game with firearms invites an obvious question: what about enchanted firearms and ammunition? We have enchanted swords, why not magic revolvers? I can hardly blame my players for asking - and perhaps they're also understanding of why I've been avoiding the question.

To me it's a bit of a sticky wicket.  Given that in Wampus Country pistols and rifles are essentially reskinned bows, there probably ought to be enchanted firearms or bullets.  But at the same time, I don't want  things to turn into "who has the biggest plus on their revolver", either.

The compromise seems to be to allow for enchanted ammunition that is situational in nature, or difficult to acquire.  The sort of thing a character may wish to acquire when the opportunity presents, but won't want to waste by loading every day.  More like magic arrows, some with different effects.  And none of this stuff should be available in a store, of course - you should be getting it from fallen enemies, making it yourself, or something like that.

That's the vibe I want to impress into the game; bullets (and other things) are not necessarily magical because some bearded git threw a spell over them to that end; they're magical because of their origin and the care with which they were re-crafted into weapons.  So, to that end, here's a list of things a Wampus native might collect to get made into magic bullets, conveniently (and habitually) organized into a random table.


1 the gemstone eyes of an earth elemental, carved & filed
2 the strange silver nail-file you stole from that fairy-queen, melted down
3 the thighbone of an ancient undead creature, carved & filed
4 wooden bullets made from an old gallows which hanged a hundred innocent men
5 confectionary bullets made of peppermint, with a liquid core of the tears of a newborn baby
6 ancient brick from a fallen temple's altar, carved & filed
7 made from a shard of the shattered sword of a legendary hero
8 a round forged of cloud-stuff
9 bullets made from the housing of that strange metal spaceman who just tried to kill you
10  metal is mundane, but has been melted and re-formed in the fiery heart of a fire elemental several times
11 carved from the chitin of an ancient giant crab
12 a chunk of devil-horn, shaped and polished
13 mud from a magic mud-man pit, placed in a mold and dried at high noon
14 the tiny conical skull of a micro-fairy that just so happens to fit nicely in your rifle...
15 forget buckshot, this shell is full of a witch's fingernail clippings
16 the tooth of the oldest razor-maw in Snollygoster Swamp, stolen while it slept!
17 the promise-locket of a lost love, melted and shaped into a bullet
18 oddly-shaped thorns from the singing rose-bush in the mountain fairy's garden
19 chunk of a captured rainbow
20 bullets of blown glass, filled with the last breath of a dying man

When running a campaign, if we want magic to feel...well, "magical", the onus is on us to maintain that feel.  The tables in the books aren't going to do that for us - in fact, those listings rather work against the magical nature of the items they enumerate.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Breakdown: Phlick's Sketchbook

In the irregular 'Breakdown' feature, we take found art (usually historic illustrations) and translate them into something Wampusified.

Burgess Phlick was a well-known illustrator and sometime portrait-painter who died several years ago when his rowhome in River-Town was raided by a street gang (the Sweet Dandies).  His long artistic career produced numerous newspaper and penny-dreadful illustrations as well as a series of stunning landscapes; but of interest to us tonight are the drawings from his personal journal.

Some of his subjects were provided by Phlick's extensive travel across Wampus Country, in search of inspiration.  Others, however, are presumed to be a product of his heavy drug use; so well-known were his hallucinogenic proclivities that in some restaurants it is still customary to say "Phlick it up" by way of ordering extra mushrooms.  Sadly it is impossible for us to know whether Phlick, who was not magically trained, ever actually managed to send his mind to other places, such as the Midnight Sea or the Lands of Death - but some of the things he drew certainly suggest the possibility.

Left: Oorb Cracknettle.   Right: The Bat-Parson.
Oorb Cracknettle is one of the more severely mutated Lakeborn; luckily for him, one of his aquatic features is a pair of patagic wings beneath his man-arms, which appear to be a converted set of tentacles with skin stretched between them.  These winglets give Oorb the power of flight - well, more like controlled gliding, really - which has made his career as a second-storey fish (burglar) all the more remarkable.  Oorb displays no fear of heights (as one might expect of a fish), and he has perpetrated any number of daring heists over the years.  One time he leaped from the top of the clock tower on a five-dollar bet - and managed to circle the town once before alighting to collect his money.

The "Bat-Parson" was an eccentric priest named Rainville Fleurdemerde, but he preferred to be addressed as the Right Reverend Fist-of-Bats.  This oddball claimed that he had been given a vision by a divine creature resembling a bat-headed giant, and instructed to spread the word of the Bat and prepare defenses against the "surging of the serpent-men" (whatever that means).  Mostly the Bat-Parson ran up and down the street, flapping his "wings" (made from umbrellas) and ranting about the coming snakey apocalypse.  On two occasions he was caught in the courtyard of the River-Town School For the Blind, having climbed over the wall for the purpose of teaching the children to echolocate; he is no doubt responsible for the School's current policy whereby children who say "Ping!" get caned.  The Bat-Parson died alone and unloved in a gutter; but a recent expedition to the City of Mazes reports of a large stone statue there which is not unlike the beast in the Bat-Parson's vision.

Left: Hercule Gavial.     Right: The Contessa DeZebra.

Hercule Gavial is a respected sleuth who hails from Frogport, but has retired to River-Town in his dotage.  Twas he who solved the "Mystery of the Inside-Out Prostitute" as well as the mildly-famous "Case of the Six-Handed Murderer".  A few story-papers were printed detailing his exploits, likely embellished.  These days he spends most of his time drinking juleps on the porch of the Journey's End Hotel.

Equally interesting is the Contessa DeZebra, who may or may not exist.  Burgess Phlick wrote of her in his diaries, describing her as a "vibrant, dignified woman of a zebra", and the two dated for the better part of the artist's forty-third year.  According to Phlick's account, their relationship advanced in a predictable way, growing more serious until finally the Contessa confessed to him a secret which caused an argument and ended the tryst.  If the Contessa did exist, she was perhaps an exotic barbarian woman, or were-zebra or some sort of centaur; the illustration may be interpretive.  It's also entirely possible that Phlick ate a ton of mushrooms and started dating an actual zebra.

Left: Chief Zoort.   Right: Beasticus Gropp.
Chief Zoort, according to Phlick, was the lord of a tribe of savage (yet noble) elephant-men who lived under his sink.  On multiple occasions Phlick told friends that he could crawl under the sink and appear amidst a field of pink grass, where a cool breeze blew across a vast savannah under twin suns.  Zoort apparently told Phlick that everything he knew was a lie, the sky he could see was naught but a cage, and also that he should bet all his money on the double-zero at the leftmost roulette table next Friday.  The artist followed that third instruction, but lost a great deal of money, beginning a downward spiral which led to longterm depression.  Even in the days before his death, Phlick could be heard muttering something about elephants not knowing their left from their right in an [expletive] pocket dimension.  Investigations of Phlick's kitchen after his death yielded nothing.

The fierce battle-lord Beasticus Gropp, however, is definitely very real, and still alive today - in a manner of speaking.   A nasty, brutish sub-man, Beasticus led a life of brigandry, rising to command his own group of raiders-cum-mercenaries known as Gropp's Gut-cutters.  In this new role as a leader, Beasticus served several masters - whoever could pay best, and was willing to put up with the Gut-cutters' unscrupulous and murderous tactics.  On his last mission, however, Beasticus was turned to stone by a catoblepas.  Those who dare press their ear to his cold granite chest can hear a faint heartbeat - within his man-shaped mausoleum, Beasticus Gropp yet lives.  His followers have mostly scattered, but a few still hold hope that they will find a way - a sympathetic wizard, a bribe-able witch - to return their General to life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Platypus Factor

The G+ game of Wampus Country has been going pretty well of late, and I hope it'll continue to get better and better.  At this point I pretty much have a 'core' group of four players, with other FLAILSNAILS PCs joining on a rotational basis.  Just last week, we had another new player and PC, a Wampus-native illusionist of all things, so we'll see whether Abel (a failed novelist) ends up as part of the perceived-to-be-core crew or what.

The central focus of the party so far seems to be the lovingly-named Charnel Caves of the Necronauts, an old tunnel complex full of catacombs and such, one entry to which was hidden beneath the zombie beaver dam.  They've made two delves into the Charnel Caves - one into an ossuary where they faced a skelemental (quickly dispatched thanks to James Ironwall's magic spear vs undead); and the second, into the catacombs where they faced the Ghost Brides.  Now, the Ghost Brides themselves were all mortal death-cultists, but their leader, one Phineas Gristle, was a quite insubstantial gentleman.

Like all wise first-level-average adventurers, they ran the hell out of there.  But not before the cleric, Ornibus Jones, (rightly) thought it wise to use a scroll they'd just found - a scroll which seemed dedicated to banishing all things ghostly - at least temporarily - but also contained an unspecified curse effect.  Ornibus intoned the ancient syllables, and the spirit of Phineas Gristle hot-footed it out of the room.  Wary of his imminent return, the PCs beat feet.  A few rounds later...Ornibus had the head of a platypus.

Now, some players would have gotten upset about this.  Maybe not most FLAILSNAILS folks, as they're pretty gung-ho by definition, but some whining was definitely in the realm of (historic) possibility.  Thankfully, my Wampus Country players are awesome, and everybody rolled with it.  If a silly curse is a feature and not a bug, something's going right.  I hereby dub the ability of a gaming-group to roll with the punches in good spirits to be known as 'the Platypus factor'.  Either a player has it or they don't.

The player of Ornibus even went so far as to figure out how to superimpose a platypus-face over his own in the Hangout app - for which he duly received xp, of course.

The next session, the PCs decided to put a return to the Charnel Caves on hold in order to get their poor, unhygenic madman of a cleric un-cursed, which, sad to say, required a trip to see the Stump-Witch and frightening some meandering pink elephants.  Ornibus seemed relieved to have his 'real' face back after a witchy session of flesh-cutting with pinking-shears...but now the Stump-Witch has a nice sample of Ornibus' blood.  Wonder if that might come up later.

Returning to the sleepy frontier town of Thistlemarch, the party assisted some tailors with a rat problem - well, more accurately, a "bunch of rats in a man-suit" problem, and managed to slickly talk said businessmen into sponsoring Horvendile Early for an upcoming gambling tournament.  I'm desperately trying to figure out how I want to run that gambling tournament, but really looking forward to it.

More importantly, perhaps, the PCs now have a house that's ostensibly theirs, the former owner being either missing or eaten by rats (we're not quite sure which just yet).  Nothing wrong with a home base for low-level PCs, even if it stinks of torched rats.

What's next?  Presumably a geared-up return to the catacombs to kill the ghost of Phineas Gristle!  And at some point after that, collegiate wizard Chauncey Woolstrike needs to do a favor for a completely different witch...so it'll either be a trip to Saltvale or tangling with nasty little devil-fairies.  Something to look forward to, indeed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Earth, This Excavator!

Dave "Doomsdave" Morris (he of the koardinal bear) sent me some notes on a very Wampus-y prospecting wizard, along with some spells from his grimoire and a monster.  With Dave's permission, I have tweaked that a bit, added some stuff, and present the below.  All puns and allusions should be credited to Dave, and exhortations for him to keep writing and drawing stuff should go in the Comments section!

The wizard Geb-i-Haaz is long dead, but his legacy of earth-related magic lives on through his legend and the several copies of his magnum opus still in circulation.  Geb-i-Haaz, also known as the Mad Prospector, was very talented with sorcery related to the elements, particularly earth and air; perhaps there was no stone- or dirt-related spell he had not mastered.  The wizard spent the bulk of his life in the mountainous wilderness, digging for gold, platinum, rubies, diamonds, adamantine, mithral, and who-knows what else.  His wizard name (also written as Gabi Haze in some sources) is taken from extradimensional sources; he chose the name, his apprentice tells us, after locating a planeshifted pyramid buried deep beneath Big Eagle Mountain, in which he found marvelous secrets of earth-magic.

Locals referred to him as "tetched in th' head" for his eccentric ways, Geb-i-Haaz was occasionally willing to lend a hand to his neighbors.  However, when he was approached to join in the fight for Cadaver Canyon during Grandpa's War, he demurred.  The Mad Prospector was rumored to have constructed an extensive series of interlinked mine shafts, a subterranean labyrinth in which to store and protect the treasures he'd dug up over decades.  When Geb-i-Haaz finally passed on, his book The Miner Texarcana was located (or perhaps inherited), and copies have been circulated in the years since.  Although it is not supported by any material in the tome, legend has it that Geb-i-Haaz developed for himself a sealed spelunking suit with an air supply provided by a bound air elemental; this slave-elemental also powered the wizard's harpoon-gun, with which he defended himself.

One of the few extant photographs of the  Mad Prospector.

THE MINER TEXARCANA OF GEB-I-HAAZ: a manual of elemental digduggery
This quarto-sized volume is bound in muleskin and stitched with wampus-gut.  The cover is embossed with a sigil depicting a pickaxe crossed by a shovel, superimposed on a square surrounded by a unicursal heptagram.  A complete and accurate copy of this tome will include the following sections:

Theories of Earth Elementalism - contains earth-magic theory and notes on creatures of the earth-elemental plane.

Secrets of Claim-Jumping - Geb-i-Haaz knew a thing or two about taking from others, and having things taken from him; studying this chapter intensely for two weeks will increase a thief's skills one level permanently.

Practical Mineworking - several chapters on digging, bracing, mining, and the like.

The Miner Texarcana also contains a number of spells.  Some of these are explicit in the text and included by Geb-i-Haaz; these are explained below.  In other cases, those who discover a copy of the book may find notes on other earth-magic spells written in the margins or upon the endpapers.


Ore Dowsing (level 2, duration 1 turn) - The sorceror attunes himself to the nature of the earth and stone around him, and is able to discern veins or deposits of precious (gold, silver) or useful (iron, copper) metal.  The ore-sense is 100% accurate within a 30-foot radius; accuracy decreases 10% per extra 20 feet thereafter.

This Ain't Gold (level 2, duration 24hrs/special) - After casting this spell, the wizard may bite or lick an item of treasure to estimate its value within plus-or-minus 10%.  The ability lasts for 24 hours after casting the spell, or until the wizard has evaluated 10,000gp worth of items, at which point the effect expires.

Cave-In (level 3) - Functions underground only, as the dweomer calls upon earth-spirits of the deep.  The caster targets an area within line-of-sight and mentally triggers a cave-in displacing d4 cubic yards of earth/stone per level of the caster.

Handy Lil' Fellers (level 3, duration 24 hrs) - This summoning spell calls forth 1d6 Lesser Excavators per level of the caster (see monster description below).  The Excavators will dig as instructed, and can remove up to 10 cubic yards of earth/stone per day.

Lesser Excavators (very minor earth elemental creature)
HD 1     Attack/Save As: F1
The small, ball-like excavators are native to the planes of earth and related realms; they are spherical and crimson, with goggle-like eyes and tiny feet.  Excavators thrive on stone and earth, and can eat their way through it at a remarkable rate; it is for this reason they are summoned as digging assistants.  Although they are normally calm, excavators encountered in the wild can become vicious at a moment's notice.

Geb-i-Haaz, in spelunking-suit, defends himself against a wild Excavator (artist's rendition)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mascot Monday: Hound-priests of the Vicelords

This entry is a thematic follow-up to the previous post regarding dogfolk.

From time to time, particular dogfolk rise to prominence in the Wampus Country, either through their noble or nefarious deeds.  One such case is that of two dogs from the same litter who have come into wealth and some measure of fame by virtue of their devotion to their gods; these are the Hound-priests of the Vicelords.

The Vicelords, as most are familiar, are tutelary spirits of decadence and consumption - demon-angels of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, greed, and envy.  These Lords of Vice are unnumbered and typically referred to in the plural, as a group.  They have had many mortal servitors across the ages - panderers, hedonists, purveyors of zymurgical sorcery, and the like.  But perhaps none are so unusual as this pair of Hound-priests.  Both are dogfolk, possibly of distant Boxtoon extraction, but sharing the long snout, white coat, and small eyes typical of their immediate family line; and both are favored clerics of Vice.

Reverend Tater (Chaotic cleric 6) celebrates the Vicelords though excess; he is often drunk and throws lavish parties which feature binge-drinking, drinking games, gambling, and orgiastic revels.  Known throughout River-Town for these affairs, the Reverend Tater has a sprawling network of contacts, including both legitimate businesspersons and criminal enterprises.  He has made himself a thorn in the side of the Scorpion Cult, often sauntering into their casino (the Silver Scorpion) on a Saturday night and drawing a crowd by means of his celebrity; he then "moves the party" elsewhere, taking scores of customers with him.  He has a dark patch over his left ('sinister') eye.  Tater can cast any of the alcohol-related spells from The Arcane Abecediary as cleric spells of the same level.

Reverend Sureshot (Chaotic cleric 5) elects to worship the Vicelords through consumerism and profit; greed is both his motive and his chief weapon.  Sureshot maintains a small inner circle of merchant-cultists, each of whom is sworn to "The Goal" - an esoteric self-help concept suggesting that a business can also be a man and an idea simultaneously.  It is Sureshot's dollars which Tater often spends; the less-public brother may also be the brains of the operation.  He is well-known as both venture capitalist and ruthless loan shark, and occasionally butts heads with the cultgang known as 'the Smileys'.  Reverend Sureshot's coat is purest white, but he has crimson circles, a cultic symbol, tattooed and painted around his left eye.

1 - It only seems like there are two of 'em.  Really, there are seven, and the other five are in hiding, biding their time...
2 - Reverend Sureshot takes on dog form as a convenience; in private, he is a massive, winged monstrosity with slavering fangs and cloven hooves.
3 - If Tater bites you while you're drunk, you wake up as some kinda were-dog.
4 - Reverend Tater ain't really a priest - he sold his doggie soul to some devil or another in exchange for popularity and legendary boudoir skills.
5 - The hound-priests both have the ability to summon wolves out of the air - wolves made of dollars!
6 - Sureshot is already planning to become a lich.

Reverend Tater, in the midst of one of his epic parties.
Reverend Sureshot stands triumphant on a carpet stained with the fresh blood of cult-sacrifices.
Tater prepares to execute a callgirl who has seen too much.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Improv, Prep, the the Realms Inbetween

It may have something to do with a background in improv theatre, or working now as a teacher, but here's my confession: I am not a prepper.  I may, in fact, be a bit of an anti-prepper.

When I get ready to run a game, I don't have a stack of notes, flowcharts, printouts.  I don't have sticky-notes attached to the sections of the rulebook I know I'm going to need.  Mostly I have a handful of scrawls and - if I'm lucky - a vague map.

I don't get much enjoyment out of that kind of prep-work, I'm afraid.  Haven't in years.  It has something to do with time-crunch (and time-management choices), and years of reinforcement that "the way I do it" seems to work fine.  Now, don't get me wrong - when I'm running a tight mystery, I still have more notes than I would for a farcical sandbox romp, but I'm still on the lighter end of GM prep.  What I do enjoy is the language bit - working out NPC names that 'sound right', picking out NPC voices - and the imagery bit, thinking up descriptive phrases and turning them around in my mind for later use.

When Martin from Engine Publishing was looking for folks to review Never Unprepared: The Complete GM's Guide to Session Prep, I pinged him.  "If you're looking for a review of the book from a longtime GM from the minimal-prep/anti-prep camp, I might be your guy."  He kindly sent me a pdf of the book, but I feel now like the 'anti-prep' bit was over-the-top.

See, here's the thing - and it's a thing some people can't wrap their head around - there are different kinds of GM preparation.  It doesn't have to be hours poring over rulebooks and drawing maps and NPC relationship diagrams and all of that, yet that's the sort of prep that gets folks to say they're "primarily improv GMs" and create this (false?) dichotomy.  Even most improv-based, on-the-fly GM types are constantly doing 'prepwork' - brainstorming, recombining ideas, following scenarios to logical or illogical conclusions, envisioning set-pieces, reading for brainfuel, practicing extemporaneous description, and so forth.

In other words, the problem with the "prep problem" is the definition of "prep".

The good news is that Phil Vecchione, the author of Never Unprepared, totally gets that.  Now, improv-prep (for lack of a better term), only makes up one piece of the techniques and explorations in the book, but it's given a lot more credit and leeway than most folks have bothered with.  That's a good thing.

What Never Unprepared gives us is a breakdown of the stages of GM preparation, discussion of kinds of prep, and some talk about encouraging prep in a way that matches your own GMing style.  As a mostly-improv guy, there were some parts I know I'll get more out of than others (brainstorming & selection, the creativity heat-mapping which I'm totally trying this week, etc).  But while I read through the book, I was also thinking about a pal of mine from work who's a newbie DM for his 3.5 group.  He can use every damn page in this book; not just because he's a newer GM, but because he's a computer guy who likes process and procedure and organization (a bit like Vecchione himself).  And that's key - knowing who you are, your own GMing style, will go a long way toward helping you figure out what bits you can improve.  It's very easy for us to evangelize the bits we're good at (I'll gladly talk your ear off about the importance of on-the-spot creativity, memorable NPCs, doing funny voices and the like), but the fact of the matter is that good GMs draw from a whole range of techniques and are willing to practice self-improvement in all categories - even the ones they don't use as much.  (As I keep telling my adult students, it's wonderful to know what you're good at, but you can't leave it there.)

It makes total sense that different GM personalities will not only GM in different ways, but also prepare in different - sometimes contradictory - ways.  My work-buddy is never going to be confident running his game unless he feels like he has well and truly prepared.  He needs weapons at his fingertips, short-sheets, rules citations, printouts of the monsters, spare maps in case the party goes a-wandering, etc.  That's his personality.  Conversely, I won't feel confident running my game unless I understand the vibe of the setting, the general layout of the city, some of the cultures that I can play around with; and I want to know the NPC names and motivations ahead of time so I can flesh out personalities and voices in my mind (sadly, never on paper).  I can wing NPCs on the fly, but they're never as satisfying to me.  Which means I actually do prep, and I actually prefer some prep over 'pure pulling-from-the-arse on-the-fly improv'.  I keep ingredients in my head instead of in a notebook, but I still prepare those ingredients to make the cooking go smoother.

Never Unprepared is good.  No, it's really good.  When somebody recommends Robin's Laws, I roll my eyes a little, because I didn't much care for it.  But I like Never Unprepared; it's so full of good ideas and techniques that even if you don't use some of them right now, you might want them when you reread the book next year.  You heard me, reread it next year.  You'll change, your GMing style will change (even if only slightly), or perhaps you'll put down the game you're running now and switch to something a little different... regardless, a reexamination of your own process is in order, and Never Unprepared is a good start of that inward look.  The book is an easy read with a friendly tone, you can blow through it in an afternoon.  And you should, even if you're an experienced GM.

As I read through the book I kept coming upon bits where I reacted internally by thinking "this is nice, but I already know this part".  But then I'd examine the point more carefully and then realize "okay, I knew that...but I'm not actually doing it in practice, am I?"  I found excellent reminders of things which I know to be good-practice, but which I wasn't actually doing.  The techniques in Phil's book are sound and worth looking at, regardless the GM-experience level of the reader.

Perhaps that's the crux of my favorable recommendation, then.  I am an improv-heavy prep-in-the-brain GM, and have been for 25 years; I play lighter, old-school games in a semi-sandbox fashion; and I got great stuff out of Never Unprepared.  And at the same time, I want to give a copy of this book to my logical, procedural, robot-brained buddy newbie GM who's running every-splat 3.5 for his rather twinky-CharOp group...because I think it will help him, as well.  I still owe him some posts on on-the-fly creativity and "yes, and" principles, but the point isn't to turn him into me, or convert him from a paper-prep GM into a brain-prep GM.  The purpose of any GM advice is to provide options, tools, and techniques to help each GM develop their own style, their own bag of tricks, and to build confidence.  Never Unprepared can help with that.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's A Dog's Life

Although there are plenty of mundane, non-speaking dogs in Wampus Country - in use in all the usual ways as guardians, companions, etc - of more interest, perhaps, are the talking dogs.  Numerous subspecies of semi-bipedal sentient dogfolk make their home in Wampus Country; in many cases the different phenotypes also share a culture and consider themselves to be a tribe, clan, or 'pack'.  Regardless, all dogfolk can interbreed with both other breeds of dogfolk, and mundane (non-talking) dogs, leading to a great variety of canine types in the region.  Many dogs are absolute mutts, with a mix of dogfolk and "plain old dog" blood on both sides of their family tree.

The two best-known breeds of dogfolk are the savage Poggles and the honorable Boxtoons, as their interactions with civilized folk are the most polarizing.  Poggles attack merchant caravans and raid farms; Boxtoons, on the other hand, enlist in human armies and work jobs in town.

The best known of the dogfolk are the poggles, who live in substantial numbers in caves and dark forests.  Poggles are quite small, with smashed faces and eyes that appear to be on the precipice of leaping out of the creature's skull; they are generally black and tan.  They are backward, animalistic, and barbaric and can be quite dangerous en masse; however, on occasion one or two poggles are stolen from their pack and attempts are made to 'civilize' them.  While poggles adapt to technology easily and can be intimidated or cajoled into compliance with social norms in the short term, eventually they seem to return to type and degenerate back into vicious little devil-worshiping ankle-biters, as they are in the wild.  Many poggles are indeed Chaotic, and poggle shamans tell tales of a time in the distant past when they, the poggles, ruled the world by secretly influencing and controlling the powerful and wealthy in human society.  Some yearn for a return to a poggle-dominated world.

The squat but brawny Boxtoons do not display the Poggles' natural ability with traps and pitfalls, but they are loyal and friendly and can make great allies.  On many occasions young Boxtoon warriors have signed on as mercenaries, soldiers, or trouble-shooters, and every Boxtoon appreciates a good uniform.  Their pack mentality is strong, inculcating in them a solid sense of hierarchy and duty.  Boxtoon coats are typically black-and-white or a red-brown brindle, although all white Boxtoons are known.  The Boxtoons tend toward Law.

"Stubby" the Bounty Hunter operates between Thistlemarch and Frogport, making money on the small cases human manhunters overlook.
Childless, Mr. & Mrs. Houfbracket left their not-insubstantial wealth to Mr. Houfbracket's loyal valet Snowflake.
This boxtoon, known as "Boatswain Bitey", has served on various rivercraft  for nearly a decade.
Dogfolk look like dumb dogs to those without keen eyes; this has led to unfortunate incidents of oppression.

"...and then I fired muh pistol right at th' critter's face --"
"Yes, Howard, we've all heard the story a hundred times."
The first council meeting of the Inter-Regional Organization for Canine Welfare and Social Progress (Revolutionary Committee); their declared goal was to 'explore advancements toward a unified canine nation according to modern progressive principles'.  Moments after this photograph was taken, the meeting fell into chaos when an anti-progressive poggle threw a basket full of sausage in through a window.
The white Boxtoon on the right demonstrates his breed's famous loyalty by assisting a friend in need.

Note: all Wampus Country dogs count as kobolds for most rules purposes, including "can I play a...?".

Sunday, July 15, 2012

ENnies, You So Crazy

The ENnie nominations came out this weekend; you can find them here.

Compare that to the list of submissions, here.

Now no doubt some folks elsewhere will grouse about the absence of things like Weird Adventures or Carcosa on that nominee list.  Or pretty much anything OSR-ish.  I'm not going to complain about those particular products not being nominated, for two reasons: one, someone else could probably speak to those better than I, and two, their respective authors aren't out whinging about it (Trey is too classy and Raggi too 'because F U', I suspect), so who am I to steal their thunder?

I will, however, whine a little about Secret Santicore being left out.  There's a nice little pic of it on the right-hand side there, you can download it for free.  It's 100+ pages of short articles, adventures, random tables, illustrations, maps, and NPCs for use with all sorts of games.  Primarily OSR-type-stuff, but not all of it, and much of what's in there is easily adaptable to something like 3.5 or Pathfinder.  I was disappointed that Secret Santicore wasn't nominated for Best Free Product, and that's probably natural.

But it did get me thinking.  If the mighty Santicore wasn't in the judges' top five for 'Best Free Product', what was?  I had to see these things that left the gift-swapping beastie in the dust.

So I downloaded all five nominees for that category, and I've been reading through them.  Let's take a look.

Broken Chains
What is it?  A 32-page "preview adventure" for FFG's 40K roleplaying line that highlights the (then-) upcoming Chaos version of the game.
Is it pretty?  Yeah, of course, it's FFG and 40K stuff, of course it's got more of that same art and design.
What all's in there?  Short how-to-play summary, four pregenerated characters, and a 16-page adventure.
How's the adventure?  A handful of captured heretics bust out of stasis on an Inquisition ship to find that they've been asleep for centuries and their captors' vessel has floated way off course and the crew's descendants have gone feral.  Certainly a decent enough "let's get this party started" kick-off scenario.  The PCs have to deal with the Carrion Queen and her feral minions as well as a handful of Inquisition types who also (of course) have just popped out of stasis.  It's fairly railroady, but offers advice on how to push just the best bits of the adventure so you can blow through it in a single session (which makes sense to me for a preview adventure).  There are exactly zero maps of the ship in the adventure.

We Be Goblins
What is it?  A <20-page one-shot adventure for Pathfinder, meant as a preview of sorts for the 'Goblins of Golarion' supplement.
Is it pretty?  Of couse it is, it's Paizo.  It has little Paizo goblins everywhere.
What all's in there?  Four pregens and a short adventure.
How's the adventure?  The conceit of 'We Be Goblins' is that, um, you be goblins.  The PC goblins go after a possible store of fireworks on a beached boat, and in the process deal with some animals and a feisty goblin druidess.  It's cute if straightforward; there are funny names for everything, and there's a decent goblin-y vibe going on.  At least there are a couple maps in this one.  The takeaway: goblins dig fireworks, who knew?

Shadowlands Conversion Guide
What is it?  A ~30-page supplement introducing (very briefly) the Shadowlands campaign setting, along with the rules for adapting "standard Pathfinder" to the Shadowlands milieu.  You know that stack of campaign notes you handed your players that one time so they could make characters 'your way'?  It's that.
Is it pretty?  Yeah, it looks kinda like a Paizo Pathfinder product, which makes sense if you're doing third-party PF stuff.  Expectations and all that.  Some pretty continental maps, although there's a lot of ground covered in those maps.
How's the content?  The Shadowlands Conversion Guide covers everything you'd expect it to.  Here's the Shadowlands, here's the schtick.  Here's what our elves are like, and our dwarves.  Feats, racial powers, gods of the setting.  That kind of stuff.  I was hard-pressed to find something in here I wanted to steal, though.  One thing that caught my eye (ha!) was a bit about how spellcasters in this setting have glowing eyes, and the color of the glow indicates how powerful the mage is (ie, what level spells he or she can cast).  I thought that was pretty different, and there's a Paranoia gag in there somewhere.

Words of the Wise
What is it?  An eleven-page mini-adventure for The One Ring.
Is it pretty?  Sure, it's Cubicle 7.  Modern design, looks sufficiently Tolkien-y with the trade dress.
What all's in there? Just the mini-adventure.
How's the adventure?  There isn't much to it.  PCs go hunting, get jumped by orcs, have an audience with the elves, then fight orcs until Radagast shows up to save the day.  No, really, that's the way it's scripted.  There are no maps, but there is a nice drawing of an orc.  I don't have other One Ring products to compare this to, but I suspect it's meant as an aid for a new GM (sorry, 'Loremaster') -- either that or One Ring products are crazy wordy.  And railroady.  "So, gang, what did you think of that introduction to the One Ring game?"  "It was fun until NPC Theatre ended the scenario."

Dragon Age Quickstart Guide
What is it?  A ~35-page quickstart and adventure for Dragon Age.
Is it pretty?  Yep.
What all's in there?  Condensed rules and how-to-play, short adventure, five pregenerated characters.  What is it with only including four or five (usually four) pregens in quickstarts?  Can't you throw us six characters and tell us to pick four?  Sheesh.  Also includes a presumably-quite-useful summary page for use in-play (tables and such).
How's the adventure?  Big props for explicitly letting the pregens purchase extra gear.  Other than a few setting-specific notes (Elves are servants here!  Tee-hee!), the adventure is a straight-up escort mission for a noble.  There's a missing rope-bridge to be dealt with on the journey, some humanoids to fight, and a potential kidnapping scheme, followed by a giant owl (with a pretty cool illo, I must say) and more humanoids.

So here's the deal. What we have here are some decent, but not earth-shattering, quickstarts and mini-adventures, and every last one of them is quite nice-looking. I certainly have no beef with any of the publishers or their contributors. But really? An eleven-page mini-adventure is "better" than a hundred-page supplement? It can't just be the looks of the things - Secret Santicore looks fantastic and holds its own against any of these products design-wise, although some of the art may be tickling a different aesthetic.

A few ultimately-meaningless but cathartic rantish points:

* Secret Santicore has almost as much goblin-centric content as 'We Be Goblins'. Which just goes to show you how much gamers dig goblins, I guess. And, in fact, all that gobliny stuff in SS could be used quite easily with 'Goblins of Golarion', by the way.

* Secret Santicore contains more maps than any of the nominated products, two of which don't have any maps at all. Are maps out of fashion now? If you're running the Dragon Age adventure and want to locate the Arl in a castle, use the castle in Santicore. Ditto if your PCs want to track the darkspawn (or the orcs in Words of the Wise) back to their caves -- there's a cave complex waiting for you in Santicore.

* Vast swaths of Secret Santicore are statless or nearly so and could be used to fill out some of these anemic, boring railroads that are passing as mini-adventures. If you need extra encounters while your One Ring characters are tromping through the woods, they're in Santicore. If you want killer plants and mutant freaks to add to your time-tossed ship in Broken Chains, guess what? They're in Santicore.

Okay, that was cleansing. Done now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Goats Versus Owls

First a random thing pulled from my fundament during game-aftermath last session (guard-goats), and then some crazy half-owl things.


This hand-raised guard-goat, known as "Strumpet", lived to the ripe old age of three before losing her life in a tragic green-slime-related accident.  At the time of her death, she was getting pretty good at picking simple locks.
Ernie Pyewackett has a farm south of Thistlemarch; there, he raises and trains animals.  Although he has a number of fine dogs which he sells for a competitive price ($25 for a guard dog), most folk are far more interested in his guard-goats.  These critters are, to all appearances, normal goats.  Ernie insists that they're smarter than dogs and he trains 'em just the same; many goats develop very distinct - some would say eccentric - personalities over time, especially if their human owner is himself a bit of a weirdo (such as a gunslinger, explorer, or semi-professional brigand).  Guard goats cost $30 each (stats as normal guard dog).

1 - Lawful Clever
2 - Lawful Overprotective
3 - Neutral Stubborn
4 - Neutral Amorous
5 - Chaotic Daredevil
6 - Chaotic Destructive

1 - light grey, short-haired
2 - white and extremely fluffly long-haired
3 - black with a white blaze on its snout
4 - brown short-haired
5 - grey, long-haired coat done in dreadlocks all over
6 - black and white spotted or patches
7 - cream-colored, almost yellow
8  - inexplicably shaven; farmer will not discuss why

Although many realms have native owlbears, Wampus Country is very lucky in that it is home to a number of owl-derived species, owing perhaps to the genetic manipulation of an owl-based civilization in ancient times (it is supposed that the owls predate the apes in the march of history).  Here are a few.

Owl-dogs are devilishly difficult to train; they are willful, a bit cruel, and constantly hungry.

This owl-dog, called Mister Cranky, served as a wizard's familiar up until its master's grisly end in the City of Mazes.
"Fumble-face", a domesticated owl-dog trained for battle,  has consistently  missed every bite attack it has attempted.  His owner, a mercenary attached to Massey's Men, is considering barbecuing the damn thing.
Hairless owl-cat, stuffed, found in a lich's tomb.
An adult owl-bunny will eat thrice its weight in carrots and candy corn daily.
Owl-bunnies have become popular fashion accessories amongst the hoi-polloi in River-Town of late; although they fit nicely in a handbag, rumors that owl-bunnies can detect ghosts have not been borne out by experiment.
The only known living koaowla, Oogol the Crafty is a  skilled safe-cracker, second-story burglar,  and strangler, with a thousand-dollar bounty on his tiny head.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mascot Monday: Sagacious Rex

Many are aware that owl-kin once dominated the lands of Wampus Country, and that few remain; tales of owlbears and owlynxes and the like are well known.  Fewer know that a small number of sentient, talking giant owls still live in the region, the last of their kind, the apex of owl-kin civilization.  These solitary beings live in the greenwoods and the pines, in the fields and in the snow - each the size of a dwarf or child, strikingly intelligent, and in many cases capable of spellcasting [1].

The acknowledged oldest and wisest of these owls is known to humans as Sagacious Rex - the wise "king" of the owls.  His primary habitat is some distance north of River-Town; he has built himself a very lovely tree-house over the years through a combination of his own magic and favors paid by skilled craftsmen.  Sagacious Rex, they say, knows almost anything anyone would care to ask; certainly, he has never hesitated to provide an answer to a question when interrogated.  His intelligence and knowledge are unmatched due to long years of experience, and some time ago he spent the better part of a year at a university in the Western Kingdoms proving his worth and earning multiple degrees very quickly.

Some citizens of Wampus Country seek out Sagacious Rex in order to ask him personal questions; "should I marry this man?", or "will my parents disown me if...".  Others seek hidden knowledge: "where can I find the Crimson Scarab of Doom" [2], or "who has hired these assassins to harry me?"  The wise old owl does not, however, dispense his answers gratis; he must be plied with gold or sweets, and the thoroughness of his response will be based entirely upon the quality of the offering; a rare cupcake, for example, interests the owl far more than a pile of plain coins.

Sagacious Rex is a four-foot-tall white horned owl who generally wears thick spectacles (due to his advanced age) and occasionally a mortarboard (a souvenir from this time at university).  He is Lawful in bent, but will answer anyone's questions provided their gift is suitable.

Sagacious Rex enjoys a pomegranate lollipop.
People who ask poorly-worded or open-ended questions may find themselves disappointed with an accurate, but ultimately unhelpful, response.

[1] - these owls are essentially hsiao from Tall Tales of the Wee Folk.  Go ahead and play one, they're cool.
[2] - the foolish young man who asked this question did indeed find the Crimson Scarab of Doom.  He's quite dead now.  Things that have "of Doom" in their name aren't meant to be found.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Ongoing Saga, and Lessons Learned

One of my goals with Wampus Country was to run an ongoing campaign which might get some "West Marches"-style flair as time goes on - multiple coexisting groups, pickup games, drop-in drop-out, all of that good stuff.  We're not quite there, yet, but there's progress.  If I include the 'proto-Wampus' group from last year - and I suppose I do - we've had three "threads" occur on-camera in Wampus Country, and they're all pretty different.  Let's take a look at the different groups, the characters, and how it's gone down.


Last year, prior to jumping into the Hangout thing, I ran a Labyrinth Lord game via gchat (which had its own issues, as you can imagine).  Some of the elements (the town of Thistlemarch, a few NPCs, some monster concepts) first appeared here, so it's definitely Wampus-y, but I hadn't yet committed to the whole "screw it, let's go ahead an include firearms" thing at that point.  Still, I've been working on the assumptions that the actions of this crew did take place, probably six months or so before the opening of the G+ version of the campaign.  The player-created deities from this game have been folded into Wampus Country as well.

We had eight (!) players and characters, who were all first level:

Grom Baldursblade (dwarf) (this guy was seriously unlucky...all the time)
Roland (cleric of Gloriana) (priest of dubious morality #1)
Quincy the Arbitrary (cleric of Taronja the Eternal) (priest of dubious morality #2)
Thokul Gnome-kicker (fighter) (halberd! ostensibly in service to the halfling, yet trying to get him killed)
Grug (fighter) (essentially a barbarian type; Grug's tribe, the Black Eagles, became Wampus canon)
Sealor (thief) (pretty much fearless, and occasionally the only one talking sense)
Marworn (magic-user) (obsessed with collecting interesting spell components)
Oliver Duckworth III (halfling) (urbane, manicured dandy with a pony called 'Princess')

It was an interesting party, and running for them taught me a lot.  First and most important lesson - even first-level noobs can kick some butt, especially if there are EIGHT of them including two clerics!  Look at the fighting-power and potential staying-power in that mob.

I used B1 In Search of the Unknown with this run, and although we stopped the campaign before they completely cleared the place out, they came pretty close.  There were lizard-dudes beneath the halls and a couple of other things, but the memorable bits for me (besides licking the idol) were the animated female mannequin (which the players insisted on calling the 'tranny-quin') and the poggles.  Poggles are little kobold-guys who look like pugs, and they were all over the first level; the PCs grabbed one as a guide as well, an unnamed dogboy who'd had his intelligence amplified by some curious mushrooms.  The poggles are the origin of kobolds-as-breeds-of-dogs thing that's going on in Wampus Country nowadays.

Now since it's technically the same campaign and the PCs are all FLAILSNAILS compliant (not that it's difficult), I'm going to encourage any of these players who want to do the Hangout thang (in Wampus Country or otherwise) to do so.  I would love to see some cross-pollenation.

Hyperintelligent poggle befriended by the PCs (actual NPC illustration from game).  Being total bastards, the PCs never asked the poggle his name, which hurt him deeply.


When the Boy started playing with the maps and notes for my online group (see below), he wanted to play 'Adventure', too.  He rolled up a character and headed out into Snollygoster Swamp to try and capture a dinosaur.  Unfortunately he didn't grab one, but he did manage to run away from some presumably-goblins, then fight a swamp-ogre (and kick it in the crotch before again running away).  The whole adventure lasted about forty minutes, which is pretty good for his attention span.  We haven't run a second one yet, as I'm waiting for him to ask for it and don't want to force him into Daddy's hobbies; but he has been informed that there is a mission waiting for him (ghoulgoyles have stolen the World's Smallest Giraffe from the museum!) when he's in the mood.  There's also been some talk of Mrs. Wampus perhaps joining the Boy on an adventure one day.

Vallasen the Mighty (fighter) ("age seven, Strength seventeen").  Vallasen wears a chain shirt, red cape, and a newspaper hat, and is armed with cutlass and pistol.  He is accompanied by his trusty companion Wiggy-Bench, a sentient animated bench (and first-level cleric).  Wiggy-Bench has a more complicated backstory than many characters I've seen lately, and the Boy made it all up while we were waiting (on a bench) at the Jiffy Lube.  Kids are firehoses of imagination.

Vallasen the Mighty may not realize it yet, but the sinister Baron Van der Kluck has dark plans for Frogport...


Running Wampus Country via Hangout has been great - lots of fun, meeting new people, and some moments of memorable craziness.  We have a core group of 'native' characters who have been accompanied by various FLAILSNAILS guest stars in different sessions.

Horvendile Early (fighter) (gambler and pistoleer) - the voice of reason
Ornibus Jones (cleric of Sethet the snake god) - urine-obsessed holy-roller
James Ironwall (fighter) - James is actually a clone of an ACKS character from another online game; I'm looking forward to hearing in future about how the two Ironwalls have grown differently
Chauncey Woolstrike (magic-user) - university twit with a cricket bat

This crew has been joined from the FLAILSNAILSverse by the likes of Slin Zad (magic-user), The Colonel (mountebank), Thalia (cleric), Tsai Moff (sorceress), and...I know I'm forgetting someone.  Anyway, I never quite know who I'm getting in a given week, which can be exciting.

The adventurers in question have hunted pixies for bounty-money, conquered zombie beavers, and most recently poking around in some ancient crypts (hidden beneath the aforementioned zombie beavers).  Lots of humor going on in this game - Ornibus and his holy urine, Chauncey's twittery, and long-suffering Early and Ironwall playing straight man for the most part.  Double-entendre, bad puns, the whole deal.  Interestingly, although Wampus Country seems very silly on the blog - and is, indeed, fairly silly - the adventures this group have been on so far haven't been that intrinsically silly.  Okay, zombie beavers is weird, but not silly.  Not "lollipop-golem" silly, y'know?  We'll see what happens next.

Poor Ornibus Jones currently has the head of a platypus.


The plan is of course to continue the weekly online group.  I'd love to get another one going somehow, perhaps an "occasional" online game in a different timeslot.  It's difficult for me to play/run before 10pm, though, which limits things - especially if I don't want to be up til 1 on a worknight.

I've also toyed with the idea of hitting one of my (several) Friendly Local Game Stores and see about getting maybe a biweekly f2f group going there.

The other iron in the fire GM-wise is stranger...  some friends at work have a weekly 3.5 game (which, funnily enough, plays on Fridays just like I do) and they've invited me to sit in and DM for a session.  That's being worked on, but I think it's safe to say that whatever I end up doing will be Wampus-related.  The original request was "run something classic", but most of the classics won't run comfortably in one night.  At this point - since they've also expressed that after all this charop combat blahblah in their current campaign they might be ready for a nice roleplay-heavy investigation thing - I'm thinking I'm going to yank them into the Wampus version of fairy-land for a night.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wampus Country Summer Contest!

Even little blogs like this one can have fun contests!  The idea with this one is to get stuff from a bunch of people - adventure hooks, maps, NPCs, whatever - and put it all together into a pdf for everybody.

You know how when we were kids they'd make us write essays about "what we did on our summer vacation"?  This contest is all about that...except for someone else's summer vacation.

Read on for the details!


Wampus Country has had its share of popular story-papers, penny dreadfuls, and dime novels over the years, but by far the most famous was one of the first to achieve cultural saturation: Rumpscullion's Summer Holiday, a long-running serial adventure which was printed weekly in the River-Town Gazette for over two years.  The story of a dour gentleman and his wild niece careened wildly between frontier adventure, fantastic travelogue, gothic horror, and comedy of errors, due in part to its being written by committee (the 'author', J. Windham Glockenspiel, is widely assumed to be a pseudonym of the editors).  So well known was the serial that its eponymous protagonist has entered the Wampus Country lexicon - a 'rumpscullion' being a boring or mundane person who always ends up at the eye of the storm against his will.  The only constant characters in the saga are the following:

* Welliver Q. Rumpscullion, a fuddy-duddy of a bookkeeper who likes things to be 'proper' and 'squared away', yet always finds himself in some sort of trouble or danger.  He looks like the guy on the Quaker Oats box, only more plump and cowardly; Rumpscullion carries a swan-headed walking stick and wears a wide-brimmed hat.  He is both a good-hearted gentleman and a blubbering trouble-magnet.

* Miss Lulubelle Harch, Rumpscullion's wayward and willful niece, sent to live with "Uncle Welly" for the summer, that she might learn some manners from the proper country gentleman.  However it seems that Lulubelle has a knack for getting her uncle into - and just as often out of - strange and dangerous situations.  Athletic, fetching, handy with both dagger and pistol, and fond of picking locks with her hairpins.

Other characters in the serial come and go - bounty hunters, miners, barbarian chieftains, strange people from the sky, beast-men from the caverns below, and the like.  The ongoing story of Rumpscullion and his niece contains danger, combat, exploration, wonder, mystery, and a good bit of running away from things.

Today's historians in Wampus Country are faced with the disappointment that Rumpscullion's Summer Holiday was never collected in a single edition, and many of the hundred-plus chapters may now be lost to us completely.  There is a reward for locating and submitting missing chapters!

Which brings us to our contest, of course.


1) Go to this googledoc and select a chapter title, putting your name behind it in parentheses.  Note how vague these are.  If I get more interested parties than I have chapter titles, I'll add a mess more.

2) Write up a short summary (a paragraph or less will do) of what happens to Rumpscullion and Lulubelle in that chapter.  Don't worry about what order the chapters go in or what has come before.  There will always be missing chapters, so characters, locations, and items can appear out of nowhere.  Example: "Passing through the tiny faerie-door, Lulubelle and Rumpscullion find themselves inside a gigantic stained-glass egg, and must negotiate with its denizens - a pair of jackal-headed witches - in order to proceed.  Luckily Lulubelle thinks to bribe the witches with the star ruby she stole from the Clockwork Lion."  That's plenty.

3) Add to your summary paragraph something usable by a DM - an NPC, an item, a monster, a location writeup, a table, a spell, a map, an illustration, whatever floats your boat.  Play to your talents, or challenge yourself as you please.  The 'useful bit' should be related to your chapter summary, and the chapter summary should be related (somehow) to your chapter title.  You may include more than one useful bit per chapter if the spirit moves you.  If you include stats, please aim for old-school lingua franca.  I am fully aware that some overachiever will send me an entire dungeon or something, that's fine.

4) Send your stuff to me at erikisarobot AT gmail, with the understanding that anything you submit to the contest is thereby Creative Commons.  The deadline is August 1st - that's three weeks.  You may publish your entry elsewhere (on your blog, for example) if you wish.  You may enter more than once if you wish.


First, the judging committee (that'd be me, Mrs. Wampus, and the Boy) will select a handful of entries as "winners" based on their utility, awesomeness, Wampus spirit, and suchlike.  And what do you win?  In ascending order...

EVERYBODY (even non-participants, fie on them) gets the finished pdf of stuff. I'll assemble all the entries in whatever order makes the best sense and release Rumpscullion's Summer Holiday into the wild - chock full of monsters, spells, NPCs, maps, adventure hooks, and whatever other goodies people throw in there. I'll be doing several chapters myself as well. If the spirit moves, I'll flesh out some of the 'chapters' into actual story-chapters.

Several HONORABLE MENTIONS will receive custom random tables of the multi-column d100 Wampus Country variety (see here and here for examples). You name it, I'll cogitate on it. Very specific requests and genres out of my experience will take a little longer, but are fair game (the brain is a muscle which must be exercised with creative challenges regularly).

Two EXALTED WINNERS will receive a Wampus Country care package - a box of gaming stuff, fiction, utter randomness, toys, food, and who-knows-what. As well as a custom random table or similar.

And one lucky SUPERIOR MONARCH OF SUMMERLAND will receive the random table, a Wampus Country care package, AND a wicked keen DM's Travel Kit (aka a sweet duct-tape messenger bag handcrafted by this dude I know, stuffed with a handmade dice-box thing from me, and more random swag).

Sound good?