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Review: The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

I bought this book years ago, back when it was first released. I recall reading it at the time and not particularly liking it. I was much more a traditional gamer back then, and I found the idea of my role-playing group playing themselves in the game to be very strange, and I did not care for how incredibly rules light it was. After all, the point of games is to inhabit a character, and how could such a simple system capture the complexity of a real person I know? Prior to giving away a copy of The End of the World: Rise of the Machines, the Full Metal RPG crew decided we wanted to give the game an actual play to decide what we thought of it collectively. Being the only one with a core book, I was on deck.

First up, we need to talk about the rules a bit. There are six abilities split among the three categories: Physical, Social, and Mental. Two per category. They roughly correlate to more familiar concepts in gaming. Vitality is Strength and Endurance. Dexterity is nimbleness and the ability to work with your hands. You get the idea. You a rating from 1-5 in each ability, and that is your target number to roll equal to or under on a d6.

There are no skills, instead under each category you have an advantage and a trauma. An advantage is something related to that ability that might help you on a roll. A trauma is something that might hinder you. Sticking with the physical category, an advantage would be Distance Runner, while a trauma would be Clumsy. These add a positive or negative die, respectively.

To make a test, you start with 1d6, then you can add a positive d6 if you have a related advantage in that category, and additional d6s if you have equipment, situational advantages, or assistance. Next you have to add in negative dice if you have a related trauma, or situational disadvantages like darkness or needing to rush the job. It helps to have different colored d6s for this reason. You make your roll. Any negative dice cancel out positive dice showing that same number on a one to one basis. After doing that, if you have any positive dice that are equal to or under your ability, you pass! Any uncanceled negative dice add stress under the category you rolled against.

Each of the three ability categories has a stress track. Three levels with three boxes in each level. As those boxes are ticked off, the player comes closer to death, or insanity, or whatever terrible fate awaits them. It is called the End of the World, not Uncle Fuzzies Fun Van, which… is probably also pretty terrible.

You can trade levels of stress for additional traumas, which is the death spiral of the game. As you gain more trauma, you roll more negative dice, leading to more failed checks and more stress until you die.

Ok, enough bookkeeping. What did we think of the game? Speaking for myself, I had an absolute blast running this. It was fun and frantic, which was only amped up given that we were play testing with a two-hour time constraint. Character creation was really easy. After all, who knows you better than yourself? With our sheets in hand, we started playing.

I opted to run the scenario covering the rise of Cthulhu, That Which Cannot Die. Right away that started things off in a pretty dire situation. The game starts at the very table you are sitting it, with the very people you are sitting with. This makes determining equipment fairly easy. What is there immediately around you that might be of use? From there, the players more or less drove the narrative as they decided where to go and what to go. I only had to act as the arbiter of the current state and function of the world. I killed myself as quickly and brutally as I could, because I do not like the idea of running a GM character and it set the mood for what was to come.

Pros:
The game is fun. It is great beer and pretzels game. I could easily see running it as a darker, more somber affair. It would make a good con game, as well. You can stretch or contract the timeline as much as you need to for one shots or a longer-term game, though you do need to keep in mind that it is very lethal.

The system, which I initially did not care for, runs really well and stays out of the way. Players can argue for or against positive and negative dice on checks and it works nicely. Provided you can keep failing forward, there is never a loss of things to do. It almost works like a background system from other games. The players know what they have studied and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and provided you are all keeping each other honest it is really easy to take test and determine outcomes. There were no arguments over the rolls as went, just people deciding what to do and then doing it.

The game understands what it is about and it delivers on that understanding. This is the end of the world. There is not going to be a positive outcome. Even if you survive, you may come to envy the dead as monsters or robots or aliens ravage what is left of civilization and struggle to survive in the ruins. Our game was dark and comic. It could easily be more tragic if run slowly and built up. If the idea of playing an end of the world scenario is appealing to you, then you will find something to like in this series.

You get five scenarios to choose from. If Cthulhu is not your speed, you can try on Quetzalcoatl, Ragnarok, Revelation, or Nature rising up to destroy humanity. They each offer their own set of challenges and awful ways to die. It is not a setting book, so you need to do some lifting to fit events and suggested scenes into your game, but that is remedied easily enough.

Cons:

This is going to turn off a lot of trad gamers. The game is extremely narrative, and the players are playing themselves, so you have to cede almost all control to them. That can be a very unsettling feeling for the traditional crowd. Combined with the really light rules and grim dark nature of the game, it can be off putting to people who want to smash monsters and take their loot.

The trauma system could get too real for people who are suffering from real, deep seated traumas. It is best not to drill too deeply there and let the players decided what they comfortable with putting down and dealing with. Players can always opt to play a character instead, which would be a fine solution. Depending on the direction you are taking the game, an X card may be reasonable to have on hand.

Other Thoughts:

Wrath of the Gods is unrelentingly brutal. Unlike other games in the series where you fight aliens or zombies or robots, you cannot fight the gods. The best you can do is keep running and staying one step ahead of the mayhem. I suspect Rise of the Machines would be a game where you at least stand a change of fighting back, whereas in Wrath of Gods if you decide to fight a Star Spawn, you are probably getting ripped in half.

Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I had a feeling I would enjoy it more returning to it with a fresher sensibility on what gaming is and what I want out of games, and I was not disappointed. It was a really good time and I would easily run this game again. In fact, I will likely pick up a couple of the other books in the line as well for future game nights. It is fun. It runs well. It is narrative. That checks off three big boxes for me right away.

I Believe in Star Trek

I sat down to write a discussion about Star Trek’s latest television series, Discovery.

This is what came out instead. I hope that you take something from it. As a piece it’s probably a more sentimental diversion than I am usually used to making. I just want to assure you as we depart that I’m not trying to jerk you around here, I guess this was just a thought that was waiting for the right time to be written, and once it began, it could not be stopped.

Alright, so Star Trek and I go back a long ways.

It’s been my theory for a long time that my father was some kind of undercover nerd. I have these memories, very early in my life of my dad calling me over to the couch and saying, “Watch this, this is neat.” and it was the old Star Trek that was on, the one with William Shatner. I have a similar remembrance of him introducing me to Doctor Who in this way, when it was repeats of the Tom Baker stuff filling out the Sunday afternoon time-slots on PBS in the early 80s.

Now, I don’t think that my dad was a nerd like me.

I don’t imagine for a second that he thought that I was going to go off all half cocked make a religion out of it like I did. And maybe he wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about science fiction with me if he could have seen into the future.

Later on, when I was a burgeoning adolescent carrying around role-playing books in my backpack and going to Star Trek conventions and arguing with people over which comic book artist was better, Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee (Todd McFarlane), my father would look at me with these stoic, skeptical eyes, as though I was an interloper, some strange alien that he had invited into his home. I remember him narrowing his eyes as I would walk by, this weird kid with ill fitting clothes, an affected vocabulary and brightly colored, yet esoteric priorities.

And, I mean, I get it.

My father was a man’s man. He loved the outdoors. He wore aviator sunglasses as he hiked up the sides of mountains. He collected rifles and loved to hunt and camp. He would work on cars barehanded, his sleeves rolled up exposing forearms covered in thick, coarse hair and black with motor oil. I think he saw himself as sort of a Hemingway type figure and he projected that well. It was difficult not to get caught up in his self mythology. Certainly, my mother and brothers saw him that way.

I have this memory, and it used to be crystal clear, but as I age it becomes continually more murky and indistinct. It’s of my father standing on the back porch of my childhood home, gazing silently at the horizon as the sun set, slowly smoking a pipe. As darkness fell, in the stillness of the summer night, all that you could see of him through the window was the small, burning ember.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think it ever occurred to my father that someone would try and make a passing interest in science fiction into a way of life. To him it was just sort of a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon: watch an old show and think about how weird things might  be out there somewhere far, far away from here. And, I guess I could say it became sort of “our thing” over the course of my life. It was the way that he related to me, as difficult as I could be to relate to, and I am grateful to him for it.

So, throughout the 1980s, when the original Star Trek motion pictures were being released, my father would make the time to take my brother and I down to the movie theater to see them. I remember the first one, so fucking long, the only one that is really, truly, a science-fiction film, and I was just a little kid squirming around in the uncomfortable theater seat, oblivious to what was actually happening in the movie.  

I have much more clear memories of him taking my brother and I to see “The Voyage Home,” (The One With The Whales) and “The Final Frontier” (The One Where They Meet God). When “The Undiscovered Country” (The Last One with the Original Actors Where They Are All Old), came out, he called my brother and I out of school and drove us from the remote, small town that we lived in at the time, to the capitol city an hour and a half away so that we could see the film on opening day. After the movie was over he took us to a record store where bought me a Public Enemy baseball cap. This was in 1991.

Now this is one of those weird moments where there is a difference between what I remember and what the historical record suggests.

It goes a little something like this: My father hated the institution he called “commercial television.” This was any TV in which shows are sponsored by advertisers in exchange for room to project advertisements during commercial breaks. My father was some kind of strange, muddled communist-socialist in his outlook, and he detested the concept that advertisers could pay for time to indoctrinate people through the medium of television, especially his children. So in my house, growing up, we were restricted to watching commercial free, public television.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was immune to this stricture. My father believed that the values presented in Star Trek (atheism, wonder at the vastness of the universe, science and order overcoming adversity, post-scarcity/post-racism social structures, vague-pajama-wearing-space-communism) were worth dipping ever so briefly each week into the teeming cesspool of crass consumerism. So each week, we were allowed to break our fast of commercial TV and watch a single episode of Star Trek.

Now, I remember this as being Sunday nights. A brief scan into the historical record however, suggests that Next Generation episodes premiered on Monday nights. This was at the height of syndicated television however, and it’s entirely possible that in the late 80’s/early 90’s the people of Arizona were getting their Star Trek nearly a week late. There was no consumer grade internet then, so I don’t think that anyone noticed or cared.

It was a special thing we all did, my brothers and my dad. We would gather around the television and watch the show together. Later, as my father drove us home from school, we would all three of us talk about what had happened in recent episodes. As I remember it, as a kid approaching adolescence I began to be drawn into the saccharine interpersonal relationships of the bridge crew, but my dad always wanted us to discuss the philosophical/ethical conundrums of each episode. Or the sci-fi-time-travel-paradoxes which were, as he put it, “neat.”

After Star Trek: the Next Generation went off the air in May of 1994, the center of that tradition kind of unravelled.

Deep Space Nine was not a good show, at least not in the way that Next Generation was, and we stopped gathering to watch it regularly. I was a teen ager when the terrible Next Generation movies started coming out and I went to see them with my brother, or with my friends, and in the way of a kid, I don’t think I even asked my dad to come with me, all young a flush with the desire to grow up quickly and assume the perceived freedoms of adulthood. I don’t know if it even crossed my mind.

The last memory of watching Star Trek and my father was the premier episode of Star Trek: Voyager in 1995. Paramount, the movie company that has owned the rights to the Star Trek franchise for decades, was launching a  new broadcast television station, with a new Star Trek show as it’s flagship program. I was all revved up to watch it, because, at least back then, I got revved up pretty easily over new stuff. I recruited both my brothers to watch the debut episode with me.

We were half was through the first episode when my parents came in on a commercial break.

“Your dad has something he needs to talk to you about.” my mom says. Okay we say, this already seemed a bit weird as we didn’t do this kind of stuff in my family.

My dad then explains very quickly that he hasn’t been feeling well lately and he’s been to see the doctor. It turns out that he has some kind of brain tumor and they are gonna hafta take it out. It’s going to be a long year, he says and he’s gonna hafta go to the hospital a lot. He’s gonna have radiation therapy. All this shit is gonna be very expensive kids, so don’t expect much for Christmas.

Worst case scenario, he might die.

After this my parents leave the room. The TV was on mute for the commercial break and during this informational update, the show had started again. We turn the sound back on but watch the remainder of the episode in silence.

I remember it not being very good.

In June of 2017 my father passed away after more than a two decades of declining health.

He had gotten the tumor out, and for a brief time, seemed like a new man. But I guess the radiation treatment got botched and it slowly ate away at him. It changed him from within. He also was a fan of the drink, my father. My mom is probably going to read this so I won’t belabor the point. I’ll just say this because I think it’s true: he was a good man with a huge heart that didn’t know how to best take care of himself. He left that to other people, and his foresight couldn’t have been better, because in the end they did the very best they could by him, and better than any one person has a right to expect of another.

The father I remembered was larger than life with a cutting intellect. He was sometimes wrathful but always kind. He had a soft spot for the losers of the universe, and he was remained hopeful for them,  he was never miserly with his time or money when it came to their requests. By the end of his life my father was confined to his bed, incapable of walking or caring for himself. His memory was patchy and he spoke slowly, in a voice that was weak and often raspy.

He became so much like a ghost before he even had a chance to die, a pale facsimile of the man that came before.

I don’t really remember our last conversations very clearly, he was so far gone by the end that our talks had become strangely remedial. I can tell you this however, in the final weeks before his death, I asked him what his favorite television show was, that he had ever seen, and he looked up, and I could see in his eyes that he was taking the piss out of me, and in a voice that had become fail with age and abuse said, “Star Trek.” And he smiled.

So what’s all this have to do with Star Trek Discovery, I hear you ask. Well, not much I guess. I was going to tell you all about the riveting shit that happened this season, and all my fresh takes now that the season is over. But all that got kind of lot in the wind up I suppose.

What it comes down to is this: when Discovery premiered, I twisted my brother’s arms into watching it with me. My mom has a bigger television so we decided to watch it, weekly, as a thing at her house. When my mom caught wind of this, she decided that she should make us all dinner. So somehow, completely by accident we created this tradition of meeting at my Mom’s house on Sunday night and eating dinner together and watching Star Trek. In a way that I can’t really articulate, Star Trek, of all fucking things, healed my family. It brought us together when we were slipping apart. It put us in the same room together, breaking bread and laughing and smiling and sure, sometimes getting on each other’s nerves. Star Trek somehow manged to heal us, and to take us back to a different place, a time when we were young and happy and the future was still open before us, and undiscovered country. And for that, if nothing else, I continue to believe in Star Trek.

I don’t really know how to close this out, so I’ll leave you with these words, some of Star Trek’s most important words. They were uttered first by Shatner, then later by Stewart. If you listen, there is something in them, some spirit, some message. I think that is a message my father believed in.

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

Full Metal Review: Fever Swamp

Fever Swamp is a hexcrawl adventure written by Luke Gearing and published by The Melsonian Arts Council which is also responsible for the creation and distribution of “The Undercroft,” the superlative Lamentations of the Flame Princess zine.

Fever Swamp weighs in a a breezy 26 interior pages, with game info printed on both the inside front and back of it’s hardcover. I discovered this book on Kickstarter back in say, October, when I was just beginning my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign that I ran up until very recently as part of a club at my favorite local game store. That adventure was a combination of The Croaking Fane, modified from it’s DCC stat line to accommodate Scenic Dunnsmouth, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess module. Both of those supplements had swamp themes and worked together well, so the concept of a drag and drop region that I could populate them in resonated with me.

The Kickstarter funded and delivered rapidly and on time with little to-do. I had actually sort of forgotten about the game when one day package from the royal mail showed up, I wasn’t even expecting it.

Before we begin I think it’s important to define the concept of the hexcrawl. A hexcrawl is a module that presents a map laid out on hexes for the party to explore. It’s smaller than a continent or a nation, but larger than the typical “village surrounded by woods” motif that we all know. A hexcrawl is like a module in that there are lots of hooks for the party to explore and encounter, but unlike a module in that there is no story or linear plot. As our friend Diogo Nouriga reminds us, the plot will unfold as the characters take actions.

The Pros:

The book is fast to read  and easy to use. There is not an over abundance of description, so you can get right to using it, right away. The proper nouns and important aspects of each set piece are bolded for easy reference as you flip through the pages. Rather than overwhelming you with info about the specifics of the setting, each new thing is presented in a sentence or two that allows you as the GM the freedom to come up with the details of what you want to do and how you want to present the subject matter.  

There are a wide variety of things to do in the swamp, with a robust random encounter table. There are wandering undead, cultists, tribespeople and outlaw enclaves along with the shit you would expect like alligators. The tribespeople, which in lesser hands could have been portrayed in a really problematic way, instead come off as eerie and strange adding to the feeling of the setting without making you feel like a bloody handed imperialist for including them.

Riffing on the horrific undercurrent of LotFP products there are ample opportunities for post modern takes on fantasy, and plenty of room for creeping horror, all the way up until the moment when you sick a gore-splattered hellraiser statue golem or shambling mound of undead on the party. I come away from my LotFP campaign bummed that I didn’t get to run the subterranean temple in Fever Swamp because I think I prefer it to the one found in The Croaking Fane.

The Cons:

I just want it to be said that I don’t have a lot of cons for this book and my first instinct was to just give you pros and say that’s that. I’m putting these in here for the sake of well roundedness and to help you, the listener, make a more informed decision.

First, the art in this book is serviceable. I’m not down on it, I actually kind of like it. I do feel like it undercuts the ambiance of the story, though. It reads a little cartoony at times and I wish that it had been darker, a little more brutal and challenging.

Next, some of the plot points are a little tropey.  I acknowledge that I was shoehorning two other modules into the map, and the venn diagram like overlap with those modules was one of the things that drew me to Fever Swamp in the first place. That said, it has in it a lot of the same stuff that these other books do. A sunken temple to a forgotten animistic creature god, a backwater cult that worships the deity that has forsaken them, for instance. Honestly, I had wanted to use the book more heavily, but as the similarities with other source material I was using started to mount, I had to draw it down.

My last point is peevish because it’s the absolute easiest thing to change, but the naming conventions in the book were not great. Again, it’s the easiest thing to change so it’s a small gripe. But if you are just flipping pages madly, looking for an NPC to throw in and you land on one of these dudes with the not great names…well look you can’t just use them straight out of the book is all I’m saying. Who knows, you probably won’t have the same problem I did. I ended up with a traveling-roma analogue named Sloane in a moment of weakness though and I wasn’t stoked.

Overall I give Fever Swamp a 5 out of five, my highest recommendation. If you love swamps, toads, cults, southern gothic, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, go out and buy this book. You can find it for sale on Melsonia.com for 16 pounds which is like 22 bucks or thereabouts these days. 

Death Frost Doom Review

Death Frost Doom is curious book with an interesting history. This adventure launched Lamentations of the Flame Princess back in 2009. Originally written by James Raggi, it was subsequently revised by Zak Smith/Sabbath. It is a clever, unique adventure, and unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Centered around a mountain from which a nefarious cult used to operate, Death Frost Doom quickly ratchets up the tension and refuses to let up. From the moment the players set foot near the peak of the mountain, littered with grave stones and on which a petrified and frozen cabin rests, they are confronted and challenged by a relentlessly bleak dungeon. This is a harrowing adventure, and one from which it is difficult to emerge while still calling yourself a hero.

I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, because Death Frost Doom deserves to be experienced. It is a work of art, but not some still life of flowers or prosaic rendition of people merrily strolling in the park. This is a Hieronymus Bosch painting, full of detail and color and terrible ugliness and absolutely in your face. It is designed to challenge you as a player. As a dungeon master it is plain FUN to run.

Originally designed to be system agnostic, you will need to do some lifting to port Death Frost Doom into the rule set of your choice. I ran it as an adventure for 13th Age after being thoroughly dissatisfied with Shadows of Eldolan, an adventure supplement for that game dealing with the undead. I wanted something rough. Gritty and confrontational. I found that in Death Frost Doom.

Pros:

  • The setting is grim. Dark. Bleak. You are investigating a tomb and it is a terrible and somber affair. This books oozes with darkness and despair. From the moment the players hit the grave laden landscape near the summit to their entrance into the greater tombs containing the secrets of cult at the core of the adventure, they are forced to interact with a relentlessly vile environment and the creatures responsible for its creation.
  • This is a beautifully written book. It is simply an enjoyable read. Despite being short, it is incredibly dense.  I ran it for weeks, and feel like it could have gone on longer. Ultimately, I was operating under a time constraint, but I’m satisfied by the time I spent with it. This is all the more impressive given that Death Frost Doom is digest sized and weighs in at a scant 64 pages. The authors waste very little of their limited resources.
  • The art serves the book well. The interior illustrations are great. The cover, while not a masterpiece of technical showmanship, complements the interior and highlights the frozen and bleak nature of the setting. On reading the adventure you gain a real sense of appreciation for how it was executed.
  • The story within Death Frost Doom rewards you for peeling back its layers. It is harsh and sorrowful and evil. This is not a Dungeons & Dragons style stomp the evil into the ground adventure. You get dirty. You find out things you would rather not know. Magic is bloody and terrible and awful and powerful. This cult is a real face of profane evil and not some thinly veneered bad guy that you need to confront because the story says so. There are numerous Chekhov’s Gun moments in this adventure, where an earlier scene or item is called back to in a way that imparts deeper meaning. When the party meets the sacred parasite, several things they saw and interacted with in the chapel impart additional meaning and depth to the scene. The entire chapel is just a masterpiece in slowly building horror and ratcheting up tension. You can run entire sessions just in that one room.
  • The adversaries is Death Frost Doom are grotesque and horrific in all the right ways. By the time the party enters the Tombs of Greater Repugnancies, they have encountered so much of the handiwork of these foul undead creatures that seeing them in person imparts gravitas and revulsion at witnessing their corrupted flesh. These monsters did this to themselves, and they revel in their vile debasement.
  • Value. Despite how brief this book is, you could easily use it to launch an entire campaign. For under $20 hardcover or less than $10 for a pdf you get an adventure unlike any other. It is hard to understate the utility of this book.

Cons:

  • There are some traps in the game that are decidedly Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Deadly and random. At times punitive rather than encouraging careful exploration. While that is fine for a Lamentations game, for other game systems/groups, you may need to dial these down. I label this as a con from a personal standpoint. Other people enjoy meat grinder style dungeons, but it is worth calling out so that you know what you are getting into. I personally do not like when merely touching something causes a 50% chance for each member of the party in the room to die. It is simple enough to remedy, which is ultimately what I did for my play through.
  • There is very little combat, until there is ALL the combat. The first half of the dungeon is a tense and atmospheric exploration. Then you have an encounter and all hell breaks loose. The pandemonium is great, but the tonal shift can really throw people off. The enemies are clearly a major challenge for Lamentations PCs, but you need to port them to the system of your choice and potentially dial them back if you want the players to have a fighting chance. I was running this game for new players and people familiar with more heroic systems.  Ultimately, I did weaken the enemies, like the traps, but even in that state, I received several comments about how harsh these opponents were.
  • Jokes. There are jokes in this book, and for the most part they fall flat. They undercut the horror and make a mess of an otherwise masterful tome. Ignore them when you can, because they really bring nothing to the table. The most egregious example of this centers around the organ in the chapel. Entirely too much space is spent on what happens when different songs are played on it, and the inclusion of modern music really took me out of the moment while reading. While Inna Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly is a great classic rock song with an incredibly indulgent organ solo, it is included solely so the authors can make a joke about moths pouring out of the organ and attacking you. The moment someone in my group starts talking about playing Hall and Oates You Make my Dreams like keyboard cat, I will stand up, walk into the bathroom, down two bottles of Xanax I keep for just such an occasion, and end it all.

I want to stress that Death Frost Doom is, at is core, a horror adventure. It will confront and challenge you. It is not pretty. It is not easy. But damn if it is not fun. I give this adventure my highest possible recommendation.

Top Taylor Swift Songs about the Old Ones

Taylor Swift is a musical chameleon who has spanned the country and pop genres and created several chart topping hits. She is a one woman tour de force, working as both singer and songwriter, her dulcet tones acting as the voice of a generation of young women. She is also a fiercely devoted cultist of the ruinous powers that lurk behind the veil of humanity, which can be seen by examining her music with a critical eye. Join me on a journey through her musical catalog and into the very eye of madness.

Wildest Dreams

This song is perhaps her most somber, dark work. In the lyrics she exhorts an unknown third party as follows:

I thought heaven can’t help me now
Nothing lasts forever
But this is gonna take me down
He’s so tall, and handsome as hell
He’s so bad but he does it so well
I can see the end as it begins my one condition is
Say you’ll remember me
Standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe
Red lips and rosy cheeks
Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams

This person she is addressing is, of course, Cthulhu, dead dreamer of R’lyeh. Taylor Swift realizes no heavenly force can protect her when he rises from his sunken sepulcher. She knows Cthulhu will “take me down” as he takes down all of humanity, proving that nothing lasts forever as all that is or ever was is unmade.

It should be noted Cthulhu is gigantic, truly immense in size. Further, in seeing its true face, Ms Swift’s mind will be shattered, and Cthulhu will appear eerily attractive in its horrid cruelty. The following line “He’s so bad but he does it so well” is a recognition of Cthulhu’s place in the pantheon of the eldest. Taylor Swift’s only hope is that once the dark work is done, once Cthulhu again returns to slumber that this monstrous creature remembers her in its dead dreaming. These memories will stand as the last tattered remnants of her existence.

Looking ahead she says:

And when we’ve had our very last kiss
But my last request it is
<chorus>
You see me in hindsight
Tangled up with you all night
Burn it down

The last kiss being, of course, when Cthulhu shoves her into its ravenous maw, tangling her flesh into its tentacles and devouring her completely as an eternal night falls and the world burns down around them. Truly a nightmarish vision of a grim future Taylor Swift is working to expedite. Absolutely haunting.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Another dark exploration of the hidden world just beyond the veil. The focus of this tune is Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos. A closer look shall reveal the hideous truth.

We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space. (What?)
Then you come around again and say
“Baby, I miss you and I swear I’m gonna change, trust me.”

Nyarlathotep is the deity most likely to walk the earth in the course of its grim duties. To do so requires forcing its immense bulk and power into a feeble human form, which it can only do for so long before needing to return to the stars once more, literally needing “space”. As the servant of Azathoth, Nyarlathotep represents disorder itself. It only stands to reason that in its human guise it told Ms. Swift it is “gonna change”, for it is change itself.

As the song progresses, we witness Taylor Swift becoming more erratic and angry, increasingly emotional at the fickle nature of this vile fiend. She practically froths as she sings “I’m really gonna miss you picking fights, And me falling for it screaming that I’m right”. Nyarlathotep is an entity of madness, who destroys the minds of those who it comes into contact with. Taylor Swift has obviously interacted with this malign force, at great personal cost to her sanity, which is why she wows “we are never ever ever ever getting back together, like ever”, for she knows doing so will destroy her utterly.

 I Knew You Were Trouble

Perhaps her least subtle ode to the old ones. It is no mere coincidence that one of the most popular remixes replaces Taylor Swift’s anguished cries with that of a goat, for I Knew You Were Trouble is an ode the Sub Niggurath, the Black Goat of the woods.

The song begins:

Once upon a time a few mistakes ago
I was in your sights, you got me alone
You found me, you found me, you found me
I guess you didn’t care, and I guess I liked that
And when I fell hard you took a step back
Without me, without me, without me

It is possible, perhaps even likely that Shub Niggurath came to Taylor Swift when she was alone in the woods, which she admits was the culmination of a series of mistakes. In its guise as a fertility god, we can imagine Shub Niggurath lifted her into the air with oily black tentacles to show her the teeming masses of its vile children. Finally, it released her, dropping her to ground before disappearing once more into the darkness, leaving her alone again. It must have been terrifying.

The chorus of the song starts:

I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
‘Til you put me down, oh

This confirms our suspicions about what occurred based on the first verse.  Taylor Swift feels shame at the languid embrace she experienced, and abandoned now that Shub Niggurtath has left her behind. Her shattered mind grapples with what she experienced during the brief moments of their encounter. As she wails near the finale, “And the saddest fear comes creeping in
That you never loved me or her, or anyone, or anything, yeah”.

Of course it did not, Taylor. Shub Niggurath is incapable of love, leaving only a swath of devastation in it wake. How nightmarish to be caught in those tides. How much more terrible still to hasten that end.

GenCon Vampire 5th Edition Alpha Playtest

Greetings, cultists and devotes. The Full Metal RPG ecclesiarchy  attended the most recent GenCon, the 50th Anniversary. Our merry company of rot and corruption answered the call of our good friends at the Wrecking Crew to assist in demoing the newest iteration of a game near to our black hearts – Vampire: The Masquerade

The alpha edition comes with a scenario to play through titled Rusted Veins, a coterie of characters for use in playing the scenario, and a new rule set. Written by Matt Dawkins, Rusted Veins takes you back to city of Gary, Indiana, used as the setting for the prior adventures “Ashes to Ashes” and “Dust to Dust”, and focuses on the machinations of the nominally Camarilla Prince Modius and his rival, the Anarch Baron Juggler.

Gary is an economically devastated city. It has passed through Late Stage Capitalism directly into Terminal Stage Capitalism. Situated firmly in the Midwestern Rust Belt, it is a town where there occurred a systemic breakdown at nearly every level: Governmental, economic, corporate, and social. Abandoned factories line the riverfront like tombstones denoting the death of the American heartland, and driving down any major street yields a view of decaying buildings stretching out before you like a mouth full of broken teeth. No one stays in Gary because they want to, they remain because they have to. For kindred it is much the same. Anyone with any skill or ambition left long ago for the more urbane destinations of Chicago or Milwaukee, leaving Modius and Juggler to their squabbles.

I will avoid discussing the plot in any detail, as I am almost certain they will make this play-kit publicly available at some point for you, dear reader, to experience. Suffice to say, it starts with a pretty basic fetch quest handed to the coterie from on high, and then things take a turn for the worse. Every group I ran through the scenario ended it differently. It was fascinating how people interpreted the characters and how they had them behave as they moved through the world. There are a couple obvious stand out characters with regard to the story, who are absolutely essential to have in the game, and two who suffer a bit in terms of agency and interaction with the main arc. You could easily not have them played at all and it would not affect how the scenario runs. The remaining two characters are what you make of them, and can either be along for the ride or a serious thorn in the side of others if they chose to be.

Rules Alterations

There are a couple key changes you notice right away when looking at one of the provided character sheets. First off, willpower is now rated 1-5, not 1-10. There is a new trait, Composure, that replaces Conscience, Courage, and Self Control. Finally, there is no more blood pool, only a series of check-boxes listed as Hunger. We will examine these topics in the subsections below.

Dice Pools and Success

Dice pools are assembled as usual, with an attribute + a skill giving you the total number of dice to roll. Different colored Hunger die are placed into the pool first, one a one to one basis with the characters current Hunger rating. More on Hunger below. You round out the pool with normal dice and roll. Anything showing a 6+ is a success, and difficulty is the total number of successes you need on a roll to achieve your goal.

A roll of two or more 10 results on your normal dice is considered an exceptional success. 10s no longer explode, and 1s do not cancel out 10s. The botch mechanic is gone.

If you come up one success short on a roll, you may Succeed at Cost. You accomplish your goal, but you generate a complication in doing so. It is up to the player and storyteller to determine what that means. For example, if you are breaking into a house, you may succeed, but you drop your wallet as you enter, leaving it behind.

Willpower

Willpower is no longer spent for extra dice on a roll. Instead willpower is spent to re-roll any dice you would like to on a roll. You can keep any dice that show a success and only re-roll the failures. Given how powerful this mechanic is, it makes sense the willpower pool is now smaller. It can have a huge impact on the game when employed correctly.

Hunger

Hunger is an abstract representation of the current state of the kindred you are playing. As you employ disciplines and heal, you make hunger rolls to do so. A roll of 4+ and you are fine. The power activates or you heal a point of superficial damage. On 1-3 result, you active your power or heal, but you first increase your Hunger by 1. This increases the number of Hunger Dice in your dice pool.

Hunger dice have a couple of mechanical ticks. A roll of 1 or 2 is called a Fang result. Roll two fangs, and you have generated a Compulsion. Compulsions represent your vampiric nature coming to the fore, and are aptly named. They represent a complication for your character and how that character interacts with others and the world.

In practice, complications either need to occur more frequently, or have their severity increased to have any meaningful impact on the game. I only had two complications show up in all five games I ran, and they had no real impact on how the characters worked beyond one of the Brujah being slightly more punch happy, and said Brujah was already pretty punch happy.

A roll of one or more 10 results on your hunger dice represents a Messy Critical. A Messy Critical is as close as the new system comes to a botch. You succeed at what you were trying to do, but at great cost to yourself. In one of my games I had a character generate a messy critical when attacking a police officer with feral claws. I ruled he killed the man, but in so doing got his hands stuck in the officers body armor and was going to have to spend time and take damage extricating himself from the situation. A messy situation when you are surrounded by his armed, angry friends and wearing him as a bracelet. An exceptional success always overrides a Messy Critical.

As a final note, having Hunger rolls, a Hunger meter, and Hunger dice all having similar names but representing functionally different things caused a lot of confusion among the players. I eventually went back to calling Hunger rolls Rousing the Blood from the pre-alpha rule-set, and that helped a lot. Hunger and Hunger dice are linked enough that keeping their names the same worked out well.

Composure

Composure is rolled to resist frenzy and spent to avoid compulsions. The compulsions encountered in my play-throughs were never bothersome enough to warrant spending composure to resist them. For frenzy, you roll your current composure, seeking to roll under your humanity for the die to be considered a success. Thematically, this works well, as it represents less humane vampires being closer to their beast, and thus more likely to frenzy. From a rules perspective, this is an inversion of the usual process and caused a great deal of confusion for my players when we encountered it.

Humanity

Humanity has has significant alterations. It is still rated 1-10, but gone are the Hierarchy of Sins. Instead you have Touchstones, which are three mortals who hold special meaning to your characters. Having a touchstone be damaged causes you to lose a humanity. Having a touchstone destroyed loses two. If you are responsible for the injury or death, you lose more. Embracing a human causes you to lose an additional humanity. The worst case scenario, then, is to embrace your own touchstone. That will set you back quite a ways on your humanity track. Effectively you can kill humans when feeding or in combat without any effect. It is up to the Storyteller to decide when your character does something so heinous that she wishes to impose a humanity loss for the action.

Other Rules

There are changes to Initiative and Combat, but I don’t want to bog down too deeply into those, as I consider them ancillary to a Horror game. Necessary, but not the primary focus. Suffice to say, combat is fast and deadly. Vampires can destroy humans easily. All is right in the world for people who want to rip off someone’s jaw bone and beat them to death with it. Celerity level 1 is almost comically broken in a gunfight. I am hoping someone takes a look at it and either addresses it with regard to multiple combatants or changes the wording entirely.

Final Thoughts

The new vampire promises to be very good, even exceptional provided they continue their strong writing and focus on noir urban horror. As the global jyhad rescinds into the background, a more personal struggle for survival in the final nights takes center stage. The world is relentlessly bleak and the future is anything but certain. Welcome to YOUR World of Darkness.

The Warlord’s Words

Greetings, I am the Warlord Amanda.

Here’s a quick run-down.

I was born n raised in Arizona, so I have a good idea what hell is like, and have been a geek since I popped out of the womb…literally.  Being named after Spock’s mother didn’t really give me a chance to be anything else, not that I would want to be anything else!!  I fell in love with comic books a little after I could walk, I know…I cringe when I think of a child with a comic book too.

I didn’t get into gaming until grade school.  Actually, I didn’t get into RPGs until grade school, I was playing video n board games way younger.  I’ve always been a geek, it was as natural as breathing, even though my childhood was spent during the age of bullying and horrendous geek shaming and stereotyping, I never wanted to be anything else.  I didn’t care that my lunch breaks were spent alone because I had my games, my comics and I knew I was smarter than everyone else, so who cared what the other monkeys thought?  I didn’t really meet like-minded people until high school, which is where my heavy rpg playing began.  Who was I playing with before?  Mostly my mom’s friends and the occasional Sci-Fi con game where I was the token kid.

Anyhoo, my point is I’ve been around the geeky block and kicked it’s ass repeatedly.  I’ve weathered the bullying storm when it was in high gear.  I am loving the new popularity of geekiness!!  My warlord status was earned…best to not forget that  =)  I will occasionally get tipsy, or drunk, and share some stories and/or insights here.  I raise my glass to you.

I am the Warlord Amanda…you may tremble now.

 

The 4th writing. . .

As Zalam recalled the night of his embrace, he burned with hatred. This hatred was scalding hot, so fiery that he could barely contain himself. He yearned to bury his blade in Claudius Giovanni along with the rest of the Conspiracy of Isaac. And topping that list, Augustus Giovanni. He breathed quietly to himself: “One day, I will have my revenge.”

The truth was that Zalam had never felt powerlessness like he felt that night, even back in his days at the orphanage. His twisted birth was at the hands of the orphanage. But the misery he had experienced during the Feast put that birth to shame. Just what kind of twisted abomination would be born from the Feast?

Zalam thought back to his recent dreams. Just who was the man in black whose hatred matched his? The power that man wielded seemed born from an infinite hatred that spanned eons. Zalam was no stranger to power born of hatred. For Zalam, his course seemed set. And yet, here he sat captured by the enemies of his enemies.

If only Zalam could convince them of his desire for vengeance and his alignment with whatever goals they had. He would use all his flowery language to speak on his behalf against the Conspiracy. He had to hate the Conspiracy more than his captors, after all, he was a victim of their depravity. And every night, he would forever wake with the marks of that depravity, reminding him of his impotence against their power.

Further, Zalam hated his new awakening. He hated his loss of control. He prided himself on being a monster, but a monster in control. Whatever they had done to him that night, they had taken his control. Zalam vowed to not lose himself again. Zalam would beat back the monster inside himself. He would control it. He would use it. He would allow it to rage only when it suited him.

And finally, Zalam thought of his fellow captives, all victims of the Conspiracy. He knew that he could not be alone in his desire for vengeance. Would his companions join him in his campaign of vengeance? If they would not, so be it. But if they stood in his way? They were as good as dead.

Warhammer 40,000 Armies Review

There is a lot of debate in the Warhammer 40,000 community about which army is the “best”.  Usually it depends on the current shape of the tournament scene scene, which codex was released most recently, and the scenario being played. I believe we can now call the argument settled, however. The best army is…

The Ultramarines. Period.

Smurf marines are the greatest army in the history of ever. They are the only Space Marine army that ever had their own Citadel paint color: Ultramarines Blue.

“But, Adam, that is clearly untrue. What about Dark Angels Green?”

Oh, you mean little bitch green?

“And Space Wolves Grey?”

Little bitch grey?

“But, Adam, I really like my army, the…”

Let me break this down for you:

Other Space Marines: Little bitches
Eldar: Pointy eared little bitches
Dark Eldar: Emo pointy eared little bitches
Chaos: Little metal band reject bitches
Tyranids: Little bug bitches
Imperial Guard: Little flashlight bitches
Necrons: Little bitch bots
Tau: Little anime bitches
Orks: Orks are pretty dope. They are all right.

It wasn’t always this way. There used to be room for debate, but what sealed the deal for me was this:

https://www.warhammer-community.com/2017/02/03/march-for-macragge/

Look at this shit. Feast upon it with your eyes. It is beautiful. Roboute Guilliman is back. He is here to fuck up everyone’s day. Lets just take a trip through his abilities:

He has his own special gear: the Armour of the Fates and the Emperor’s sword. That is right. He carries the sword of the Emperor of mankind. Does he need it? No. He can kill every other model in the game with his bare hands.  Look at this blonde haired, blue eyed, ubermensch looking fucker. I’m sure seeing this model gives Richard Spencer a boner.

He automatically passes all leadership tests.

He automatically wounds on all hits.

He automatically hits.

He counts as HQ, Elite, and a Troop choice.

His penis counts as a power weapon

He gets 400 attacks per turn. 401 if he is in close combat and can use his penis.

He cannot be wounded, ever.

He immediately claims all objectives on the board as soon as he is placed on it.

If the opposing player so much as looks at the model, they are struck blind.

If anyone in the gaming store fails to take a knee in reverence when you reveal the model, they are immediately killed.

You don’t deserve to field this model. No one does. He has changed the game forever. You field this model and everything dies everywhere. Game over.

Ultra. Marines.

Writing Number 3

When one has tread into the depths of both the criminal underworld and the occult, a sixth sense, an intuition is born. It was with this intuition that Zalam, newly awoken from a dream that he can only describe as fantastical and likely prescient in some fashion, that Zalam found himself with the strange desire to take a walk in the cold, damp air in the middle of the night.

At first, he thought about the dream. But he could make neither heads nor tales of whatever meaning was intended for him through the vision.  And when he hit the cold air, his intuition served him yet again as he saw visitors approaching in the middle of the night. Zalam secreted himself so as to not disturb these visitors and to yet observe their passing.

To his surprise, it was Lothar and a young, foreign girl. Zalam’s eyes followed the young girl. It was readily apparent that all was not what it seemed with her. As they passed Zalam, it seemed like she even saw him hiding in the darkness while Lothar was oblivious. And to Zalam’s surprise they entered not only the inn but went directly to Zalam’s room.

Zalam followed them, as they returned to their horse unable to find their objective who was at this point watching them and doing his best to listen to any clues as to why they sought him in the middle of the night. And son the most intriguing of discoveries. The young woman was dressed in clothes that certainly did not seem like they matched the cold. And he could not see her breath in the cold air no matter how hard he squinted. Lothar’s was readily apparent, but hers was nowhere to be seen.

At this point, Zalam made a choice. He revealed himself to inquire as to why they sought him. In truth, it did not matter what they said. He would seize on it for a chance to investigate this girl. Intuition can be a shockingly powerful thing. Who would know that with that one decision, Zalam would come face to face with the puissance he desires so greatly?

And so Zalam found himself in Castle Giovanni, a depraved manse in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of the depravity, the young girl, Nouri, revealed her true nature to him. Nothing could have prepared him for such a revelation! He knew how dangerous his situations was.  How could he not? But his goal was so close. And so he followed Nouri into the depths of the castle.

He was not disappointed. He saw monsters the like of which he hadn’t imagined could truly exist. He even incurred the wrath of one such monster only to have its hand stayed by one who calls himself Augustus. And what did Zalam learn of Augustus? He was in possession of everything he desired! Power over death! Mystical power over the dead! How could Zalam not crave what Augustus demonstrated? But Augustus laughed and denied Zalam this future that he wanted.  And after Augustus performed a divination of Zalam’s future, Zalam was left with one word, one name: Yocalo before he was rendered unconscious.

Old man, I hope you are one day in a position in which Zalam has something you desire. Then Zalam can merely chuckle and announce that such things are not for you.