Cadavers: World Gone to Hell

As we speak, there is a Kickstarter project for a comics anthology I’ve contributed to. The anthology is Cadavers: World Gone to Hell and it looks like it’s going to be stunning.

The creator of the Cadavers comics is Matt Hardy, who used to be a customer of mine when I worked at a comic shop, then a friend when we realised our tastes were so incredibly similar. Matt has written three Cadavers comics with Ed Bentley, set in a version of Earth which sees monsters as refugees from another, spookier, Earth. There’s a lot about immigration, about race hate and the like, but it’s also a really fun read with some awesome-looking monsters as well. Like with X-Men, a subject I can and will talk endlessly about, it has fun stories and some deeper topics.

I was asked about whether I wanted to contribute to Cadavers and while I did, I also had to own up to not having read the initial Cadavers comics, mainly as I was scared I wouldn’t like them. Matt made it clear that he put a lot of weight in my opinion and I was terrified of that responsibility. Once I did, they were great and I instantly had ideas.

Look at that charismatic blob.

The first was about a blob seen in about three panels of Cadavers Issue One. Who was this blob? I thought they were a detective, down on their luck. The project I’d be writing for was a prequel, so we’d get to see the Blob Detective in their heyday.

Blob Detective.

With the incredible Russell Mark Olson handling the art and Rob Jones on the lettering, Blob Detective is so much more than I could have made it alone. It’s been a riot to create and to share the idea with others.

Me wandering back to my home… Or our protagonist in the wilds of Altrasania

The second idea was a kind of love story, set between two worlds. I have this plan for an anthology which is probably prose, where a second Earth appears and we explore the mundane lives of people on both worlds, looking at each other from so far away. Reading the back-matter of the Cadavers comics, it made that part of my brain twinge. I thought about a love between the normal and ‘spooky’ Earths, which could be one of the catalysts for the way the worlds get breached and the Cadavers enter in the main series. It was lofty and needed a bit of finessing, especially because I was playing with Matt’s cosmology. This story came more from moments stitched together like a Frankenstein’s Monster than how some stories just naturally fall together. I kept the remit for the cast specifically broad so the artist could draw anyone they wanted. Rory Donald’s exceptional artwork caught the landscape and the characters perfectly. This is again lettered by Rob Jones, who’s been great to work with on Blob Detective and I’m sure will be great when he’s done on this.

Even as I wrote Fractured I knew it wasn’t going to end well for my cast, but I still kept going, wishing for a better fate and knowing it would escalate to a quite brutal level. Sometimes you aren’t prepared to kill your darlings in such a graphic fashion…

There are several more stories in the Cadavers Anthology made by some extremely talented people. I’ve helped Matt with some of the logistics of what’s happening in the throughline story of the anthology and gone through a few of the scripts. There’s a lot of talent here and while I’m obviously biased as my work’s in the collection, I definitely recommend checking out the Kickstarter here .

This was going to be a brief story about my origin with writing comics, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Six – Your gaming ambition for the next year

Your gaming ambition for the next year

It’s time to get a bit David Cage.

But first, a few smaller goals. I’m managing to roleplay a bit more these days which has been an ambition of mine for a while, but I do want to try a bit more as far as one-shot games go. I’m also hoping to try more online TTRPGs.

I want to get better at ending scenes. I tend to let them run long, especially if the players are having fun in them or taking too long wondering what to do. When the purpose of a scene is over, cutting things short should be the action taken, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Then the David Cage goal. I want more emotional play in some of my RPGs. It’s easy to go funny in RPGs, and that’s fine. People can snark and quip against villains and the plot which is okay but can remove any emotional stakes. In running horror games, getting the group wrapped up and in the moment is great, but can easily be undone by a single pun. Beyond horror, trying to craft scenes with emotional resonance can be even harder. They often require a bit more openness and lowering of some barriers which can be uncomfortable. This is why the X Card and Script Change are great tools, as they make the game table a safer space for these kinds of experiences.

Some games like D&D don’t really need much of this, but it can enhance a game whether it’s a hack and slash or whether it’s something which needs emotional investment such as Bluebeard’s Bride and Where the Heart Is.

There are some barriers to this. The group are relatively new and unlike previous incarnations where work and employment created ties outside of the game, we don’t have much of that yet. This means there may not be enough trust to lower the barriers yet. We play in a public space, so sometimes players can get self-conscious. I admit I’m fairly emotionally guarded and lock down under some circumstances. This kind of veers into self-improvement a bit, and I hope that I can play and run experiences which can be open to emotional moments whether big or small, and that those tables remain safe places for all involved.

For people who are unfamiliar with them, Script Change is found here and the X-Card is found here. Get to know them and use them in your games.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Five – Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year

Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year

I played Fall of Magic at a mini-convention and it was a sublime game.

Games, especially con games, have people rush through things or dally and not reach the end of the story. The minicon in question, CabinCon, had previous games of Fate go incredibly awry before.

The group I played Fall of Magic with felt like a master class in role-playing, even with some opening uncertainty. The group cycled possibly a few too many times through the first location, but each scene told a small story. I played a kid who was a short aspiring squire. He would attack his reflection in the river with a stick, pretending it was a mighty sword. The group set forth and suddenly everything clicked into place. We were journeying in quiet moments, little scenes between the moments you’d normally see in an RPG. Wandering through old leaves, picking through the ruins of an ancient battlefield. It was very calm and very interesting. Our master, The Last Magus, was doing all of the quest relevant actions and we only helped when we had to.

Eventually, we reached the town where two of the group came from, where they were both still hunted. There was drama and tension, but it bypassed anything which slowed the story itself down. We wandered through the world, finding moments of sadness, drama and wonder.

We realised that time was almost done and we weren’t going to get to cross the sea, so everyone folded up their story in the location we were at, including my character’s confusion at seeing something as massive as the sea. The Magus’ skin was cracking throughout the game, with a pulsing blue light underneath. My character saw nothing beyond the sea, but with the clouds above, it started to look like it was pulsing along with what was under the Magus’ skin.

“What is it?” My character asked.

“Magic,” The Magus answered, bursting into blue light and flying over the sea. In this story, this was our destination, our quest. Sure, it was kind of corny, but in that moment it was perfect. It felt like it used a really tiny rule set and an extravagant scroll to make what had felt like if Studio Ghibli made a fantasy quest story.

I had to be quiet for a bit after that adventure. I think it had been one of the more lovely adventures that I’ve had. I could also see how you could go through that journey again, changing up who you are and how you react to the events on the scroll.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Four – Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

This is a really difficult one, because what I think of as an obscure game and what actually is can differ quite a bit.

I’m not the fastest person. When the d20 glut and slump was over and the dust settled, the big dogs were D&D and the (then) New World of Darkness. There were some games like Legend of the Five Rings and Spycraft which I considered ‘indie’ as they simply weren’t those two.

When I moved beyond those games for a few years, away from RPG.net and regular socialising with other GMs, I simply assumed the community went with me. I skipped Pathfinder, lost track of what the hell Onyx Path/White Wolf were going through and started following the RPG communities on G+. I got into The Gauntlet who are my benchmark for RPGs and started checking out a lot of their recommendations.

If not for them, I’d say Final Girl deserves some love, but it’s something they’ve raved about a ton. The same goes for Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. These are both stellar games and should be in the discourse more for the things they do. The same goes for Psi*Run, which one of my players brought up as a retort for what I love about 7th Sea. It does similar things of placing dice in different boxes for different results. It’s a really neat game and reflects a very specific, set challenge. You’re on the run, you have psychic powers and you’re slowly regaining your memories.

My choice for this is Cthulhu Dark. It’s a system which has been around for a while in a free, tiny format. It’s actually perfect for all you need in a Cthulhu game. Call of Cthulhu, like old school Paranoia, is a system which exists almost invisibly. People don’t really notice or care that much what it is. The story and the setting is king. Cthulhu Dark pares absolutely everything down to how you play the story and the rules help with that.

It uses a roll many, pick the highest kind of system which you see in games like Blades in the Dark and Spire. You’ll only ever be rolling a few dice unless you want to risk your stability (which is also their nice bypassing of the problematic ‘Sanity’). No matter what, you’ll always be succeeding to enough of a level where you’ll be able to progress with the story, even though often that’s a bad thing for a Lovecraftian character.

Making a big book of Cthulhu Dark is an amazing idea. As a challenge or a dare, Graham Walmsley made a giant book covering. The system is there, intact, but with a lot of tools including concentric drilling down into clarifications and variant uses of the two types of rolls (investigating, things other than investigating). It goes a long way into telling you ways to build mysteries and then has four scenarios in interesting settings beyond the standard 1920’s Arkham locations. So far I’ve only run the DLC scenario, “As Good as a Feast” which was a bonus for backing the project on Kickstarter, but it was the best GM’d Lovecraft system I’ve played. No one survived and the players became gloriously unstable as they turned on each other. I’ve heard some people complain that you’re always succeeding if the rolls won’t stop your progress, but actually they’re removing the logjam of failed ‘Library Use’ checks and driving you deeper into the horrors. If you roll badly, you get enough to carry on but not always in a good way. If you succeed too well, you might glimpse beyond the veil. Cthulhu Dark doesn’t pull its punches, despite being small enough to print into a bookmark.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Three – Which game do you hope to play again?

Which game do you hope to play again?

My gaming lack of attention span means I want to play a ton of things and the list of games I want to play shifts constantly. My weekly group have a few games lined up, a combination of returning favourites and new ones to try out. I’m part of a monthly 7th Sea game which may move into D&D for a bit, so I’m looking forward to that.

Hearts Blazing

I recently played Tall Pines and Hearts Blazing which were promising but didn’t reach their conclusions due to time constraints, so I’d like to return to them to see the games reach their proper end points. One of the main games I’d like to play again is Monsterhearts. It’s wonderful, trashy teen drama mixed with monsters. It’s the awkwardness of adolescence and figuring out who you are (or figuring out that you never actually will) made into a larger spectacle.

Monsterhearts

As far as new games I want to play, I have recently printed Trouble For Hire’s resources and it looks like it’ll be a bombastic take on games like Lovecraftesque where you all control one characters, only this time it’s got a dash of Mad Max in with it. I even have upcoming games I’m interested in, like Good Society, which is a role-playing game based on Jane Austen’s fiction. I don’t know how well that’d go down with my current group and I’ve not really got any great ideas for storylines for the game, but I still want to play it.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Two – Which non-dice system appeals to you?

Which non-dice system appeals to you?

Indie RPGS seem especially enamoured of alternatives to dice. There are tons of them out there and that’s no bad thing. It does make it difficult to just choose one, though.

I think Dread is one of my absolute favourite non-dice systems. The game itself explains the symbolism of the tower and how the tension of a horror story is replicated with the tension of pulling from the tower. It’s a game where a ‘pull’ (the closest its got to a die roll) can take ages, but unlike a slow player in Dungeons and Dragons taking forever to look through their options, calculate the optimal move and then simply doing an attack, it doesn’t feel that way at all. The game pauses, the world pauses and all eyes fall on the person pulling from the tower. It’s sublime.

I’m curious how this will apply to its kindred spirit, Star-Crossed, where you’re playing a couple of people who want to act on their emotions for each other, but can’t. The tower reflects the inhibitions of the characters, eventually crashing down but hopefully after you’ve both built up enough affection to make something lasting.

I’ve yet to play Time Cellist, but I’m interested in the idea of it using childhood games like mad libs, rock-paper-scissors and a cootie catcher to reflect being the kid sidekicks going aiding a time traveller in their adventures. I’m also curious about Archipelago and the related games, which use a few cards and interesting actions when you’re not running a scene, in order to provoke challenges and drama. The below image is from the free Archipelago-style game, Last Train out of Warsaw, by Jason Morningstar.

I’ll go into it in more detail soon, but hot off the press, I should also mention that there’s a Kickstarter going on for a comic I’ve contributed to. You can check it out here:

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-One – Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

7th Sea’s rolls are a little tricky, but I’ve really enjoyed the way in which they let players manipulate their levels of success and failure.

I talked about this briefly in my review on Who Dares Rolls, but basically you gather a bunch of ten-sided dice together and roll them, then make batches of the number ten. Normally in games you’re looking for a single number on a dice, the sum of all numbers or an amount of successes (e.g. amount of dice with 7 or more as a result). 7th Sea has you physically handling the dice, clumping them together into groups. There’s something quite satisfying about performing that action.

The menu of challenges and opportunities requires a little bookkeeping from the GM to list down what you’ve asked for and keep track of so much, but I’ve not found that too difficult.

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