Not really gaming related, but a damned good life motto, you cam find our new tee shirt and mug designs on Zazzle.

When in doubt, turn up the wick!

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The latest pulp adventure from Black Campbell Entertainment is out and marks our first in the second wave of adventures for 1930s pulp games.

Mexico, 1938: The discovery of a mythical tecuanes, a were-jaguar, on the grounds of a henequen plantation in the Yucatan leads a group of adventerers and scientists into the hazardous cave complexes under the jungle in search of its origins.

Secret of the Jaguar Temple is out for the Ubiquity Role Playing System (the system powering Hollow Earth Expedition) and Fate is now available on DriveThruRPG with cover art, once more, by the excellent Bill Forster.

Jaguar blurb

We had a week off as half the group was off on travel, but this week we picked up right where we left off. (Recap here.) The characters aided the village of Dal Owyn with their medical skills and Myrddin with outright magic to heal one of the villagers Fianna had shot through the leg with an arrow. While they were about this, Faolin (in wolf form) had slipped away to change back to human and get dressed. As they were finishing helping the villagers and trying to explain what had happened to them, Aiden’s father and the clan leader, Brann, arrived with Aiden’s cousin…Aiden, who had been killed in a case of mistaken identity by the pair of assassins hunting for him.

This led to a confrontation between Brann and his brother Gwynn, father of the dead boy. What had his son done to bring professional assassins, magic-users, upon them!?! The prefect, Ardanus Britannicus intended to find out. With the aid of Fianna and Faolin, they woke the assassin they had critically injured and questioned him. “The boy — he doesn’t even know who he is, does he?” the man asked. He’s being hunted because o who his father is. But Aiden understood his father to be a simple Roman soldier. It’s who he is now that matters, and that is why Tribune Gallicius — a member of the court of the “King of Britain”, the comte britannicus, Magnus Maximus. Why would an adviser of the most powerful man in Britain be looking to kill as 15 year old boy? Because his father is Quintus Marcellus Quadius Corinthanus Augustus: the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire!

They speculated on why they might be worried about the boy. Since the battle between demons and angels at the River Styx (the denouement of our first D&D game), and the release of the ancient gods and creatures into the world, Marcellus had been appointed the eastern emperor at the death of Valens by his friend Gratian, the western emperor. Marcellus successfully turned the Gothic invasion with the aid of the Olympians that had returned. This secured his position in Constantinople, but it also caused the Eastern Empire to begin sliding back to paganism. Here in the Western Empire, Nicaean Christianity was still the official religion — one to which Magnus Maximus and his uncle, the famed general (and in the real world the man who would have been the Eastern Emperor), Theodosius ascribe.

Aiden’s parents affirmed that he and his mother were sent into hiding because Marcellus could not protect them in Britain, and could not safely transport them to Constantinople. They kept the secret from him, and the tribe, to keep them all safe. This revelation nearly led to a fight between Brann and Gwynn, but this was mitigated by some enchantment on Myrddin’s part.

After a burial and wake that evening, the party traveled to Corinium, Aiden going against his parents’ wishes. People are hunting him; they thought it too dangerous. Myrddin has taken an interest in the boy, whom he suspects has a destiny. The siblings Fianna and Faolin wanted to shop for clothes and other things, now that they have money for the first time. The prefect wanted to check in with his tribune in town and get a lay of the land.

There was some character interaction bits, but Prefect Britannicus learned quickly from the tribune that things are happening in Britain and the empire. The soldiers are calling for a vote about Gratian, whom they see as having abandoned the faith, and to select Magnus Maximus as the new emperor. He is aware of the murder, that they captured one of the miscreants, and that the boy they were hunting is still alive. He orders Britannicus to bring the boy to him, but the prefect is suspicious of the motives. This moment played into several of his flaws — his contrarian nature, his sense of honesty, and his duty as a Roman officer. Torn by what to do, he agreed, but the tribune thinks he is playing for time.

The conversation was overheard by Myrddin, who was using a crow to spy on the meeting. As soon as Britannicus left the room, the tribune ordered the escaped assassin, a cambion (half demon) to hunt the boy down. With this knowledge, he found the rest of the party right after Britannicus had, but Aiden noticed there were Roman troops watching them. Something is afoot? Reacting to the perceived danger, Fianna drew her bow on Britannicus; did he mean them harm? The action, however, spurred the legionnaires into action and we ended the night with the party surrounded by trained Roman soldiers, Fianna holding another character (the prefect) at arrow point, and Myrddin spotting the cambion lurking above them on the rooftops.

Originally, I wanted to do a slower burn on this campaign, but the pacing so far feels better. The gang is thrown together, a mystery leads to a conspiracy of imperial scale, and they are suddenly on the outs with the legitimate authority. Now, maybe I should have a plan for where we’re going…

So, we got the second volume of our late antiquity campaign going. The intro was riffing off of the introduction from the first volume. Where the characters in the first game had been waking up to a still snowy winter day on the Germanic border line, this one started with a foggy, drizzly spring morning in the woods and rolling hills of the Cotswolds. The characters were dropped in media res, hunting a party of sheep reavers who had stolen a sizable flock from a local landowner. The party was lead by Sigmon Hallig, a disgraced Saxon ship captain turned bounty hunter and tough for hire, and a group of Celts out of Dal Owyn, including Aiden mac Quint, the unwitting son of the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, and who was regretting having loaned his fine cloak to his cousin, Aiden mac Gwynn, for a romantic tryst. While tracking the sheep thieves, they stumble onto a brother-sister pair who are on the run from the destruction of their tribe and village over the mountains in Wales (this is the huntress Fianna and her brother the werewolf Faolan) who glom onto the party, having seen the large party of sheep reavers the night before.

They found the men, a group from the nearby O’Dwyn tribe, and set on them stealthily, but a botched test on Aiden’s part alerted the thieves and the fight was on. (This was our first chance to see how the combat rules for the game system we’re developing works.) Straight off a couple of the O’Dwyns let fly with arrows from their bows, but either missed or did negligible damage. Fianna returned fire with the shortbow and get a spectacular hit, almost taking the reaver’s leader down to zero hit points. Sigmon made short work of one man with his axe.

Another O’Dwyn hurled a 12 lb kettleball at Fianna, scoring a hit dead center and dropping her like a stone. Aiden missed a return shot on the man, but Fianna having barely passed her stun test, managed to return fire and drop the guy before deciding to take a turn to gather her strength. Angered by his sister’s injury, Faolan scooped up the kettleball and got a great roll, smashing another guy’s head.  (The player liked the result so much, he started carrying the kettleball.)

With four of twelve guys down, they were able to convince the rest of the reavers to surrender. They spent some time collecting the sheep — Faolan proved uncannily good at this — and took the lot back to the local Roman outpost on the Fosse Way which runs from Corinium north to the border with Caledonia. There they met the local prefect, Arden mac Wynn, and the local representatives of the landowner. The prefect had some issues: theft isn’t a “direct affront to the empire” so it’s usually a matter of making the miscreants pony up twice the value of the stolen goods (quite a bit in this instance.) The O’Dwyn’s can’t pay, so he sentences them to debt slavery under the landowner. As for the bounty hunters, collecting one’s property with violence is an accepted thing locally, but is a gray area for Roman law. He decides to let the matter slide, rather than stir up trouble with the tribes.

The characters are suddenly flush with reward money and the siblings decide to travel to Coriniun to buy clothes and other necessities. (They were wearing scraps, and stole clothes from the people they’d killed.) At the small inn that serves the outpost, the characters met Myrddin Cam, the alias for Myrddin Wyltt (or Merlin.) There was some character building moments, and we ended the first night there.

The second session saw the group walking down Fosse Way toward Corinium and Dal Owyn, a hilltop village about halfway. The prefect had remained at his post until a runner brought two messages — the tribune in Corinium is recalling him for a meeting, and there’s a body next to the road under the Colm Bridge, tied to a tree. Murder is definitely under his authority and he heads down with his cohort of soldiers and his fir bolg slave, Fennis, to investigate. The group arrives about the same time at the bridge, where they find a young man beheaded, and obviously having been tortured. They can identify the body from the cloak: it’s the “other” Aiden, his cousin!

They investigate the scene, determine there were at least two assailants that left, heading south but using the forest as cover instead of the road. Both look to be decent sized men, judging from their footprints, but one is light, barely making an impression on the ground, and his foot prints disappear for yards at a time. Myrddin, meanwhile, got a chance to test-drive the magic rules, using divination to try and see into the past and discover what happened. He sees the attack by two men, both fairly large, and one who is strangely blurry; the assassin is able to block the Sight! They’re dealing with some kind of magic user!

With Sigmon urging them on to take revenge and the prefect coming along as the legal authority, they track the two to Dal Owyn — Aiden and his tribesmen’s home! The town is strangely still behind its wooden palisade, but as they approach, the townspeople — men, women, and children — pour forth to attack them! They seem not to recognize Aiden, and they aren’t responding to his cries. Trying not to severely injure anyone at the prefect’s order, Fianna and Aiden exchanged arrows with the one of the assassins, while Myrrdin entered the town from a different gate on the prefect’s horse to find the second assailant — a winged, dark-skinned man, a cambion, like himself.

Sigmon, Faolan (who changed into wolf form unnoticed), Aiden, and the prefect did their best to take out the townspeople without hurting them badly. This led to one of the funnier moments when Sigmon picked up the prefect, who was using his shield to batter people, and used him as a battering ram to drop a half dozen people. The spell over them was finlly broken when Myrddin and the cambion started throwing down on each other, the cambion conjuring fire bolts, and Myrddin enchanting the birds to attack the guy, while also causing a wind storm to distract him. He did learn that the assassins were after the boy, Aiden, because of who his father was; they had been mistakenly directed at his cousin.

The magic is proving powerful because it isn’t limited to spell books, simply what they describe wanting to do, but the damage levels are relatively low. Despite that, the cambion almost managed to put Aiden and the prefect down with a blast, but for the use of plot points to clear damage. A few arrows injured the cambion badly enough that he flew off and abandoned his injured companion.

We ended there, with a captive in custody and a confused town of people. Who is after Aiden, and why? Who is his father? He was told he was a simple Roman soldier (which was true at the time.)

So far, the campaign seems off to the strong start, with an oddball group of characters who will steadily have to come together to ward off their enemies right as the Romans are about to pull out of Britain.

So this week, the crew is getting together to fire up the next chapter/season/volume of our late antiquity fantasy game. The first run was set in AUC1125 (375AD) and revolved around a group of people that came together during a raid on their caravan, got tapped by Emperor Gratian to sound the tribes in Germania, and found out they were all destined to come together to help fight the forces of evil. You know, that ol’ chesnut. It wound up with a finale that included angels and demon hordes leading people into battle to stop Satan from “opening the veil” so he could attack Heaven. What they wound up doing was releasing the ancient gods back into the world, which put paid to Satan’s plans (and Yahweh’s) pretty smartly.

We’ll be picking up the action eight years later in Britannia, on the eve of Magnus Maximus pulling every Roman and foederati troop he can lay his hands on out of the isle for a coup attempt on Emperor Gratian, who gave the Eastern Empire to the leader of our party in the last game, and who — supported by Olympians — has restored paganism to the Eastern empire. Magnus, and his uncle Theodosius (the real eastern emperor at this time) are supporters of Nicean Christianity and want to crush Gratian and Marcellus (now Emperor Marcellianus) and get the thrones they feel are rightfully theirs.

The characters include: Aiden mac Quint, Marcellus’ son by a Celtic (elven) woman while he was stationed in Britannia; Sigmon Hallig, a disgraced Saxon pirate captain who now hunts bounties and acts as protection muscle; Arden mac Wynn, the Briton prefect for the Romans in the area near the Cotswolds; Faolan mac Anyn, a druid who has been cursed to lycanthropy on the full moon, but who can control his shapeshifting the rest of the time; his sister, Fianna, a huntress; and lastly Myrddin Wyllt…a young Merlin who is interested in the future of Aiden. The campaign, like the last one, will start small scale — local missions and mysteries (we’re starting with a murder mystery), and building out to include the imperial politics of Magnus turning on Gratian, which will eventually take us to Gaul and Germania, and perhaps to a meeting with Aiden’s father in Constantinople.

The first campaign was run in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but after the nostalgia of playing D&D again (and in a set of rules so close to the old AD&D, but improved) wore off, I started to remember the things I didn’t like. Magic is weird, really. I never liked the Vancian style of spellbooks. Sure the warlock class got much closer to my idea of how magic should work, but it was, to put it mildly, fiddly. All of D&D is crammed with rules for almost every occasion, and I threw a lot of it out to keep it simple. The other thing — the healing of D&D drives me f@#$ing nuts. Hey, I almost got my arm chopped off, but a 15 minute nap and I’m good as gold. A lot of this is an artifact of the X number of encounters/day model of dungeon crawling. It simply didn’t fit the more gritty atmosphere I wanted.

What to use? Runequest 6/ Mythras? It’s got some good stuff, and their Mythic Britain sourcebook is absofreakin’-lutely outstanding. It’s easily one of the best sourcebooks for a game I’ve read, and I pulled a lot from it, even though its setting is about a century later than where we are. I don’t know the system that well, and don’t want to read a big-a@$$ book right now. The One Ring from Cubicle 7. Also good, but I would have to relearn it, and it’s a bit too high fantasy for me. Don’t mention Palladium; it was a hot mess 30 years ago and hasn’t much improved. Fate? A possibility that I entertained for a while. I even picked up the Fate System Toolkit and a few fantasy oriented settings on DriveThruRPG, but none of them quite did it for me…but they were close. Savage Worlds is another that was considered for a moment, but I find the system too quirky and I hate the exploding die mechanic.

Eventually, I started looking at the game system that I’ve been slowly putting together for our publishing house, Black Campbell Entertainment. It’s got a lot of inspiration from various sources, but the core mechanic is very simple and with a bit of tweaking, would work for fantasy. Hell, we need to playtest it…so, tomorrow, I start running a game with the first game rules I’ve had to write in six years. The last time I did this big a rules project was in the ’90s. It should be interesting to see how it goes and if the players respond well. If not, well, Fate or D&D would both work well.

The party reached Morteus Das, the City of Dead tonight. The city was found to be crumbling, the buildings twisted and ruined, and there were several wrecks of skyships that had crashed at various times. Zelansky decided they would land outside the city, upon seeing that. They could see the Black Gate in the center plaza of the city, a gate large enough for battalions to walk through, for tanks and other materiel to drive through. Around the walls of the city, small, desperate settlements with movement. The great X of canals that carved through the city have been dammed, preventing flow into the city and a wide circular canal hems the city in. Even though the land outside the ring canal is green and as fertile as Mars gets, the settlements on that side of the canal are abandoned and in disrepair…why? The feeling of despair, loneliness, and danger permeate the air, and Veitch hears in his head, “I knew you would come! I am so looking forward to meeting you, my boy.”

Before Warm Winds could land, however, Davira — one of the Martians fronting the mission — ordered the captain to hold a few dozen feet over the ground. Streaming from the settlements around the walls of the city were hundreds of Martians, offering relics and other junk in trade for food. They had crossed one of the bridges over the ring canal, and as they approached, the party could see signs of “Martian plague” — a disease combining the worst elements of dementia, leprosy, and proteus syndrome: mis-shappen from their disease, poxed, limbs eroding, the denizens of the settlements around the city tried to beg supplies, and became increasingly erratic when they were not heeded, most shuffled back to the city as the symptoms of their injuries or illnesses took hold. Only one remained to warn them away from the city, but in terms that I knew would provoke the characters with curiosity flaws into investigating.

Zelansky was not so certain their mission to the city could be successful. The gate was larger than they anticipated and most likely could not be moved, if the city had some kind of effect that disabled vessels. The people were diseases and hostile. He considered taking the marines and pushing into the city in force, but Captain Smith, the marine commander, suggested against it. They had no way of knowing what they were walking into. In the end, he decided on a small reconnaissance mission comprised of the party and Cointreau’s grodh servants, Gruhl and Zhargo, and the enigmatic Silent Watcher, an elosi. They knocked up a small 10-man boat from wood and canvas, and entered the city under cover of darkness.

While inside the city, they realized their compass gave a true direction, seemingly toward the center of town. They stopped to radio the ship, but found themselves attacked by a prehistoric-looking creature with six legs, a hammerhead with a lamprey-like mouth, and a tail studded with spikes which it used to nearly kill Post. Post found his heat ray rifle, and Veitch that his coilgun were non-functional! The oridium bullets in their pistols did not produce blaster blots, but instead looked more like dull tracer rounds. At this point, O’Bannon, armed with a BAR .30 from the marines, cut the beast down with a long burst. This, however, brought the attention of the city’s denizens, and they had to slip away before a throng of Martians found them.

Their compass led them to the palace of Morteus himself, and inside they foudn the throne room, with the infamous Sundered Throne, broken in the war between Atlanean God-Kings. They were greeted by Kallas, the Martian from the riot when they were landing. He knew they would come; the Black Gate is their only way home to Earth. Silent Watcher added that Veitch can activate the gate, and Cointreau has been touched by “one of them” and she — they knew instantly he meant Morana, the would-be empress of Atlantis, and “Queen of Shambala” — would answer their calls to open the gate. Once done, they will be able to leave this world with their followers. Kallas proceeded to monologue for a bit, with the shadows of the throne room thickening around him, until they seemed to be wrapping him in tendrils that worked inside of him…then he seemed to big for his skin, eventually exploding open to reveal a 12 foot tall, four-armed god much like Shiva — dark skinned, wild-eyed. Morteus himself!

Cointreau dropped a smoke bomb and the party ran for it, with the followers in hot pursuit. Pin-Li got to do some chop-socky on a group of them, while Cointreau used one of his pistols to knock over one of the brazers lighting the room and cut off some of their pursuers behind a wall of flame. They found themselves in the central plaza, in front of the ornate and enormous Black Gate, and the monstrous sacrificial altar, shaped like a horribly shaped head and set of jaws made out of obsidian that stood in front of it. The Martian followers of Morteus slipped into the plaza from all sides. they were surrounded! Zelanksy order Gruhl and Zhargo to take a message to the ship, informing the marines to return to the safety of Sigeus Portus, where they had set up a communications relay with an orichalcum-powered radio. Cointreau, meanwhile, reached out with his mind, calling to Morana for help (and with some style points, got a great roll.) Suddenly the gate opens!

Zelansky yelled for Veitch to visualize the labs back on Earth, but Silent Watcher suggested another place — somewhere desolate and empty, a plain with brilliant stars overhead. Veitch realizes he is planning on trapping Morteus! He focused on the image in his mind and when Morteus plowed past them to go through the gate, Silent Watcher ordered him to “close it!” Where did he go? Silent Watcher’s thoughts assured them he was someplace “safe.”

Veitch reopened the Black Gate and they dove through to escape the closing ranks of enraged cultists, landing in the facility in Los Angeles, but without the grodh or Silen Watcher. The marines…they are stuck on Mars. And Erha’s father remains stuck in Shambala or Atlantis, or wherever he is.

That was the close of our current run of Hollow Earth Expedition, while we swap over to our Roman fantasy campaign. To try and mesh the flavor of the campaign and capture the types of magic from Celtic and other period myths, we are moving from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. to a new set of mechanics to see how it goes. (If it doesn’t we can always return to D&D.)

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