I love this picture, painted by the great Larry Elmore. I was fortunate enough to meet him at Gen Con in 2012, and I bought this signed print from him. It was the cover art for the second edition of the Star Frontiers RPG, renamed Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn. Until then, the only sci-fi RPG of note was Traveller, which many people found somewhat inaccessible. This game was marketed to a younger crowd, and the system was much less complicated than Traveller (which isn’t really saying much).
A separate, compatible game, Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks, was released a year later in its own box, and dealt specifically with spaceships and space combat. Although it also had roleplaying elements, it was a spaceship combat wargame that used cardboard counters on a hex mat. I played a lot of Alpha Dawn but only dabbled in Knight Hawks. (We really just used the rules for ship design.) Both games enjoyed a decent amount of product support in the form of adventure modules and articles and scenarios published in Dragon Magazine.
The real draw of Star Frontiers, at least for me, is the setting. It takes place in a region of space known as The Frontier, where the boundary of known space meets whatever else is “out there”. Players create characters from four playable races: Humans, who are pretty much like us, but live longer; Vrusk, a race of insectoid beings that resemble mantids, only without the big claws; Dralasites, an amoeba-like race that can change their physical form; and Yazirians, a race similar to flying monkeys, only with anger issues.
These races worked together almost immediately, freely exchanging information and technology, sharing scientific advancements and generally getting along. They formed the Pan-Galactic Corporation (PGC), a massive conglomerate that, like it’s name implies, spanned the galaxy. They even developed a language called Pan-Galactic (PanGal) that all four races could speak which allowed them to effectively communicate, given their differing anatomy and communication methods. It was a pretty good time.
Of course, good times don’t last forever, and another alien race, known as the Sathar, suddenly attacked the Frontier with what seemed like the intent to destroy everything the PGC had built. The Sathar are a wormlike race with strange telepathic powers who are aggressively xenophobic. No one knows much more about them, because any Sathar will kill itself rather than be taken captive, and they’re not much for chit-chat. To combat the Sathar threat, the PGC formed a combined military force called the United Planetary Federation, or UPF (not to be confused with the United Federation of Planets, which would have probably got TSR sued by the Star Trek guys over at Paramount). The UPF managed to drive the Sathar back to wherever they came from, but not for long.
Knowing that they can’t take the UPF in a fight, the Sathar have since turned to espionage and treachery to topple it from within. Sathar agents from all the frontier races actively work to undermine the UPF, so the UPF created another organization: Star Law. Star Law Rangers travel the galaxies looking for these agents in order to bring them to justice.
And that’s Star Frontiers in a nutshell. The published adventures assume your players will work for either the PGC or Star Law; but nothing says you have to stick to that. You can be pirates, privateers, salvage crews, planetary explorers or even military agents of the UPF. I’m pretty sure my group was a group of mercenaries, because it was the 80’s and I live in America and that was pretty much every movie of the Reagan era; but the game actively discourages this. The first adventure, Crash on Volturnus, effectively strips your characters of all their weapons and useful equipment right at the beginning, forcing them to survive on a hostile planet using their wits and diplomacy; a big departure for groups used to kicking in doors, killing everything in sight and looting the bodies.
There are a couple of big problems with the game. The system is a percentile-based system: roll under your attribute or skill and you’re successful; over and you fail. Pretty standard for TSR boxed games of the time, and still used by many games today. That being said, the system is sometimes a bit more complicated than it needs to be, especially where skills are concerned. Each character can picks a Primary Skill Area, such as Military or Science. Each one of these PSAs have a group of skills under their umbrella, each with a rating of 1-6. Each of these skills are improved individually and usually offer a 10% bonus per level of the skill. The problem is there are too many skills, so advancement takes a long time.
Combat is another matter. It takes forever because of clunky design, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand in games, both as a player and GM, it’s combat that drags on forever (J’accuse, 5E!). There are a ton of different weapons in Star Frontiers, each of which does a different type of damage (electrical, energy, sonic, projectile, etc.) There are an equal amount of defensive suits and screens, all of which are usually effective against only one type of damage. Having the right defense for the right attack is tedious and pretty much down to luck; but equipped properly, your characters can trade shots all day with little danger of dying. Even if not properly equipped, your characters can take a few shots before they have to worry, because most weapons that aren’t energy weapons do shitty damage.
Energy weapons and defensive screens use power tracked by Standard Energy Units (SEU). Tracking SEU use is a bit of a chore. In the case of weapons, the damage you inflict is directly proportionate to how many SEU you expend. For example, a standard laser pistol has a damage rating of 1d10 per SEU (max 10 SEU), and a standard ammo clip contains 20 SEU. That means you could get twenty 1d10 shots out of a clip, or you could burn the entire clip in two 10d10 shots before you’d need to reload.
Either way, you’re unlikely to kill your target. Most characters have an average of 60 hp (their Stamina score). The average d10 roll is a 5.5, rounded up to 6. I suppose it’s possible that a character could burn 10 SEU (10d10 damage) and get a result over 60, which would kill someone with 60 hp (assuming you hit), but it’s unlikely. It becomes even more unlikely when you factor in defensive screens and suits, which will reduce the damage even further. Why anyone would bother shooting a 1d10 shot is beyond me. Even at maximum damage (10) that’s not enough to be more than an irritation. If the target is wearing any kind of defense whatsoever, forget it. You’re just wasting ammo.
Both these issues are easily fixable with some house rules which I use. First, I cut down the number of skills. The military PSA as written, for example, contains a separate skill for each type of weapon, which is ridiculous. Is it safe to assume that military-trained characters know how to shoot all kinds of guns? Yeah. I’d say so. So let’s just group all those separate skills together and call it “firearms” skill. For combat, no more adjustable shots based on SEU use. Laser pistols, for example, do 5d10 damage and a clip contains 10 shots. That makes them more dangerous and more effective then they are in the rules. I use two types of defensive screens: energy and inertia, not an individual one for every conceivable type of attack. Inertia protects against projectiles and explosives, energy protects against electricity, energy and sonic attacks. Two screens, no more. Same with suits. One for energy, one for inertia. Mix and match as you like, but no more nonsense.
It should be noted that combat in Star Frontiers was probably not intended to be deadly. Like I said, it was marketed to a younger crowd. There are plenty of non-lethal weapons in the game: stunners, needler guns, and the iconic doze and tangler grenades, which render an opponent unconscious or immobile, respectively. The equipment lists are both futuristic and a bit dated…for example characters are often equipped with a chronocom, which is a wristwatch/ video communicator with a range of…wait for it…10 whole kilometers! It’s an amusing reminder of when the game was written, long before cell phones were commonplace or the internet even existed.
I’m not the only one who has a love of Star Frontiers, not by a long shot. There are two fanzines that are regularly published: The Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer, both of which have a ton of fan-generated content that’s worth looking at. Both of these zines used to be free, but now they’re available for sale at (sigh) DriveThru RPG. The original Star Frontiers rules are also available there in PDF and Print on Demand format.
Up next: a short coda to the Star Frontiers posts, as I discuss…the miniatures!!!!
Back in the 80’s, during the heyday of roleplaying games, TSR Hobbies released a ton of RPGs in addition to Dungeons & Dragons: original properties like Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, and Gangbusters; and licensed games like Marvel Super Heroes, Indiana Jones, and Buck Rogers. These games were sold as boxed sets, just like the Basic and Expert D&D games. With the exception of Indiana Jones, the rest of these games were successful enough to warrant at least a second edition (some, like Gamma World and Gangbusters, would get more than that) in addition to a line of adventure modules and sourcebooks.
I never played Gamma World or Buck Rogers. I played Boot Hill, Gangbusters and Top Secret, and I enjoyed them all very much. I played Indiana Jones, and…well…let’s just say I played it. But my favorites, hands-down, were Marvel Super Heroes and Star Frontiers. I love MSH so much I still play it. In fact, I just ran Marvel Super Heroes in February for a group of Instagram friends over on my Discord server. I also planned on running Star Frontiers last year, but it never happened. The last time I played the game was a few years ago; but it wasn’t technically Star Frontiers. Like many of these 80’s TSR games, the system was a bit basic and we wanted more, so my friend converted it to GURPS. It was a lot of fun to revisit the setting, but we didn’t play for very long.
A couple of years ago, I heard a new version of Star Frontiers was in the works and I grew excited; at least until it turned out to be a racist, homophobic shit show of a game.
Here’s a summary, best as I can deliver it. Keep in mind, this is my opinion, and my knowledge, such as it is, may not be 100% accurate. If you really want to know, check the internet yourself.
TSR Hobbies, the original company that published Dungeons & Dragons, went out of business in 1997, and was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the company that, until then, was most famous for publishing Magic: the Gathering. WotC was later acquired by Hasbro, and is a shitty company with a history of trying to fuck over creators, but that has no bearing on the rest of this story. It’s just me stating my opinion.
Anyway, back in 2011, Gary Gygax’s sons, Luke and Ernie Jr., along with another guy started a company called TSR Games in order to publish a new Top Secret game. Apparently, Luke and the other guy missed a trademark filing date in 2020, so Ernie Jr. filed for the TSR name and the two brothers cut ties with each other. It seems to be a bit acrimonious, as now there are two companies with the TSR name run by two brothers who apparently don’t much like each other. WotC doesn’t seem to like either of them, either.
While promoting his new company, Ernie did an interview where he made racist remarks about Native Americans, mocked Trans people and people who support them, and implied that being anti-racist is bad; and people who agreed with him should be very happy with “his” TSR. It got so bad that his brother Luke and a ton of well-known names in the hobby industry, like Jeff Dee and Skip Williams, officially cut ties with Ernie Jr. Larry Elmore even returned money Ernie had paid him for work he had done already.
Which brings us to Star Frontiers. Ernie Jr. decided he was going to revive Star Frontiers, and came up with a new game called Star Frontiers: New Genesis. A playtest doc for that game leaked and…well, shit. It wasn’t the Star Frontiers game of old, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of explicitly racist stuff in it, like how Humans are now split into sub-races, one of which is inherently superior to the other in every way. One of these sub-races is described as Nordic, and the other is described as Negro. Care to take a guess which one is said to be the superior race by racist asshole and known Caucasian Ernie Gygax, Jr.?
Wizards of the Coast has filed a lawsuit against Ernie’s TSR, not wanting to be associated with his bigotry and apparent assholishness. They want to make sure the game never gets published; and they claim they are the true owners of the Star Frontiers IP and the TSR logo, both of which they purchased when they bought the original TSR back in 1997.
My feelings on censorship are well-known. I think it sucks. I feel that Ernie Gygax, Jr. can say whatever shit he wants, and that includes racist, transphobic stuff. He can make games about it and publish them, and if people want to play them because they share his racist, transphobic, alt-right views, they can.
Unless, of course, WotC owns the trademarks. In which case, fuck Ernie Gygax, Jr.
Well, this was supposed to be a post about my love of the OLD, ORIGINAL, not intentionally racist Star Frontiers RPG, and I have veered off the mark. Guess I’ll make this a part 1 and talk about the game I actually like in the next post.
Well, 2023 is here, and it’s time for a look back at last year’s resolutions and what I accomplished; then it’ll be time to set some new ones. Last year wasn’t great, in particular I had a pretty crappy third and fourth quarter, to be sure. Still, I managed some things better than others. So, what were my resolutions, and did I meet my goals? And what do I want to do in 2023?
More Roleplaying Stuff: Goal met. I wanted to post more stuff about RPGs last year, and I did. I posted a couple of Character Studies for Call of Cthulhu and Star Trek Adventures; I started a review/repair post for old adventures that I want to continue, starting with the Call of Cthulhu classic “Trail of the Loathsome Slime”; I started my own homebrew game, The Hub, based on 1970’s street crime movies like Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon, set in Boston; I wrote a post about the utility of swapping systems from games to use in other games, and I bitched and moaned about censorship, the double standard and general hypocrisy over at DriveThruRPG.
I wanted to do more, and in the coming year, I will.
As far as actually PLAYING RPGs, 2022’s gaming plans didn’t turn out the way I expected. Out of five one-shot games I planned to run, I ran exactly zero. That’s not to say I didn’t run games (I did), they just weren’t the ones I planned on running. Instead, I ran a couple of Star Trek Adventures sessions to introduce the game to new players. I ran a Call of Cthulhu scenario for Halloween, and I even ran a couple of sessions of my own homebrew 1970’s Boston street crime game, The Hub. I ran a short-lived Mutant: Year Zero game for some friends before I came to my senses and decided I don’t enjoy being aggravated (and I don’t mean by the game); but the main thing I ran was a monthly Witch Hunter-themed campaign using Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
I plan on running a new campaign and more games this year, and I have posted my 2023 Gaming page; so check it out if you’re interested in playing some RPGs. I also opened up my Discord server to new players and hobbyists. (Yesterday, I even got to have my first Discord conversation with none other than Dick Garrison himself, Roger Webb! I know, pretty cool, right?) Drop me a line if you’re interested in joining the server.
Painting Challenges: Goal met (kind of). I took part in Fembruary, Forgotten Heroes, and Deadcember (over on Instagram); and I hosted Monster May(hem) again. Then the world went to shit for me smack in the middle of Dave’s Season of Scenery, and I had to bail on it completely, after first abandoning my idea to finally build my Deep Space Nine model. The one challenge I’m amazed I was able to complete (and on time, every time!) was…
One Character a Month: I didn’t host it this year, but I took the opportunity to paint all old-school metal miniatures for this challenge. I’m pretty happy with the results.
Here’s a group shot. Top left to bottom right: January through December.
This year, I will absolutely host Monster May(hem) again, and I hope to take part in all the other painting challenges from last year, including the Season of Scenery, dammit. In addition, I am continuing the Character of the Month personal challenge, but this year I’m making it all demi-humans! Tom is also hosting the challenge again (he calls it #paintanadventuringparty); but his take is a bit different. Remember the old Ral Partha 3-stage characters? He’s doing that: paint a character as a rookie, experienced and veteran version. That’s a bit too much for me to commit to, given my other projects, but YMMV. Drop him a line if interested!
More AARs: Goal not really met. I started my Star Trek gaming project, The Pawn, all the way back in March. The premise of the project was to tell a story based on the results of games played. Well, I definitely told a lot of story so far; but I only managed to play ONE underwhelming AAR before I took a break and never got back to it. We left Lieutenant Barclay in a precarious position, pursued by Romulans on the ice moon of Varuna 3; and we left the rest of the Enterprise-D heading back to that system after almost starting a war in the Neutral Zone. Will I get back to it? I sure hope so. I have a lot more story to tell. Just need to find the time. You can enjoy what I did manage to write thus far if so inclined. All the posts are tagged “The Pawn”.
I also planned on getting back to my Green Hornet game, and even a new Christmas scenario featuring The Crimson Hound again…but you see how that turned out. This year I want to return to both those games and some Super Mission Force; but we’ll see what the cards hold. In the meantime, I’m living vicariously through Matt, who posted a shit-ton of AARs on his site last year!
Personal Projects: Goals partially met. I had two: paint my Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures and make 2022 the Year of Pop Culture. I managed to paint The Bespin Gambit and one expansion (Bossk), but I still have a couple of expansions to paint before I can call that set all done; then it’s on to Hoth or Jabba’s Palace for 2023, I’m not sure which one yet.
As far as the Year of Pop Culture is concerned, I painted a lot of pop culture miniatures in 2022; but nowhere near what I wanted to. So, the Year of Pop Culture continues into 2023; where I suppose I should consider renaming the challenge, since it’s more than a year.
That Cthulhu Jawn is an actual-play Call of Cthulhu podcast set in 1980’s Philadelphia. I discovered the podcast through Instagram and It’s a lot of fun. George, the GM, contacted me a couple of months back and asked me if I do commission painting. He’d seen my IG account and liked my work. I was quite flattered that anyone would think my stuff is good enough to pay for, and I told him so; but I offered to paint some miniatures for him for free if it wasn’t too big a job. It wasn’t.
George wanted these two miniatures painted for his players’ characters in a different game (I can’t remember what). I think they’re 3D prints from HeroForge. I didn’t think to take any “before” pictures. so this is the finished product. George picked the colors.
Anyone who knows me knows I need little if any excuse to paint a dwarf, or at least a dwarf miniature. I like this guy.
The minotaur was not so much fun. I admit I’m not really a fan of this miniature, but once I started rolling it came together pretty quickly.
The axe handle had broken off at some point below the hand , leaving him with a comically-short, massive cleaver. I fixed it with some plastic rod and green stuff. (The benefit of never throwing anything away is that I had the correct diameter rod at hand.)
One of the questions I never thought to ask is why these two very different characters are adventuring together. They seem an unlikely pair. Now that I think about it, the dwarf’s gun and wrench and the minotaur’s weird jet-pack thing give me a Spelljammer vibe. Maybe I’ll ask George if I remember.
As you may know, the last few months have been somewhat trying for me. George had to wait a bit for his miniatures, but at last they are finished and are winging their way home to him via the United States Postal Service.
Also leaving Dead Dick’s Tavern after an extended stay: Owen’s miniatures! This almost four-feet high stack of Plano boxes contains hundreds of classic Ral Partha and Grenadier miniatures, as well as a fair amount of other manufacturers. Several years ago (for those who don’t want to follow the link), my good friend Owen gave these to me; as he was done with painting and just wanted the space. I’ve been holding onto them ever since, hoping he would take them back. I even painted a few of them and posted them here to taunt him with his own miniatures.
It didn’t work. He really was done.
A couple of weeks ago, he asked if I still had them. Of course I did. He said that if I was ok with it, and if I still wanted to get rid of them, I could give them to his niece. She grew up watching her uncle play roleplaying games and paint miniatures. She’s in her 30’s now, running games of her own.
Of course I was ok with it. I’ve always said these were never my miniatures. They were Owen’s miniatures, I just held onto them for him. I told him that if I couldn’t give them back to him, then I would gladly pass them on to the next generation of Owen gamers, and I did.
I have a Discord server. I use it primarily to run roleplaying games online. Should you ever wish to play in one of my games, you will need to join my server. It is not a public server, because public servers are quickly overrun by dickheads, trolls and spammers.
I dislike both dickheads and trolls, and I despise spammers. I do not want them on my server. Thus, one cannot actually join my server unless I will it.
Lately, I was thinking that in addition to running RPGs, maybe I could use the Discord server to connect with my hobby friends; specifically miniature painters and wargamers. I think I may set up a video channel in the server for when I paint. Anyone could drop in and hang out, shoot the shit, maybe even paint some miniatures at the same time. Might be a good way to motivate others and to show off what we’re working on.
So, if you want to join my Discord server, you need to have a Discord handle. You get one by joining Discord, which, of course, is free. Once you have that, drop me an email (email@example.com) with your handle and I will extend an offer of Discord friendship to you. Accept, and once we’re Discord friends, I can invite you to my server, where the pleasure of my company and the company of other like-minded miniature addicts awaits you.
(PS: I would assume it goes without saying that anyone who frequents this blog is invited, but just in case that wasn’t clear: if I know you, you’re invited.)
Superman (S): Hello, come in. Please, sit down. The Crimson Hound, is it?
The Crimson Hound (CH): Yep, that’s me.
Wonder Woman (WW): Greetings. Thank you for coming in.
CH: No problem.
S: So, er…uh…Mr. Hound…you’re applying for League membership.
CH: That’s right.
Batman (B): Take your feet off the table.
CH: Oh. Sorry.
S: We’ve reviewed your resume, and we have a few questions.
CH: Shoot, Supes. I’m an open book.
WW: Well, it seems as though you haven’t been active in some time. You last superhero job was…well, almost a full year ago.
CH: Yeah. Well, there was that stuff around Christmas, but that wasn’t “official”. Anyway, I’ve been taking it easy. You know, having a nice long soak in the bubble bath that is me.
CH: Yeah. A vacation. I mean, everyone needs a break now and then, Bats. You can’t expect to be a force of vengeance and justice every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You’d have to be batshit crazy–a really obsessive asshole– to do that. Am I right or what?
WW: Um…anyway, what do you think you bring to the team? How do you usually deal with evildoers?
S: We encounter a lot of evildoers, you know. It’s important we can work as a team.
CH: Yeah, I assumed. Well, I usually strike terror in their hearts, then I beat the living shit out of them.
S: Right…ummm…ok…well…that’s great, but…
WW: It’s just that…uh…
B: That’s what I do.That’s my thing.
CH: Oh. Sorry. I should have explained better. By “beat the shit out of them”, I mean I rip off their heads with my bare hands, then I drink their blood.
CH: So, do I get the job?
It’s been a while since my buddy Bruno has published any new Crimson Hound content on YouTube. This is me, slapping him in the face with the metaphorical glove.
As many of you know, I am an avid roleplaying gamer; by which I mean I have played many, many roleplaying games over the last forty years of my life. When I run games, I tend to run my own adventures and campaigns rather than published modules and/or scenarios; but there are some notable exceptions, and I own many hundreds of published adventures for dozens of different game systems. While some are exceptional and fit to be run as-is or with little modifications (I’ll do posts about them, too), others are useful sources of ideas; providing inspiration for new scenarios. Failing that, one can often find characters, monsters, traps, story elements and the like to unabashedly steal for your own games.
Some, though, are just bad.
Please note that this isn’t meant to tear apart published adventures or shit on someone else’s work. Many of these adventures were written in the early years of rpgs, many were written by inexperienced writers, and some just haven’t aged well. Even the most poorly-written adventure might be salvageable; or at least may contain good elements that can be used elsewhere.
In this series of posts, I will focus on some of these bad adventures; providing a summary of the adventure as-written, why I think it sucks, and what I would do (or in some cases, have already done) to fix it. I will be highlighting adventures that have been published in hardcopy by a gaming company as opposed to the current trend of community-created content available in electronic PDF form; not because I have anything against that stuff, but because I don’t own as much of it. What you will find here mostly are classic adventures for a variety of game systems, most likely published during the 80’s, 90’s or the first ten years of the new millennium.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I will be spoiling the shit out of these adventures, so don’t read my post if you’re going to play in one of them or want to read it yourself.
Let’s kick things off with a pretty bad adventure for one of my favorite games: Call of Cthulhu.
Trail of the Loathsome Slime (1985); by Marcus L. Rowland, published by Games Workshop
Synopsis: The year is 1983, and the investigators are contacted by “their good friend” and occultist, Walter Corey, who says he’s found something that will blow their minds; but of course won’t tell them what it is over the phone. The investigators show up at Corey’s house to find him murdered.
The previous year an ornithological expedition ship disappeared somewhere near the Falklands and it was assumed it was a casualty of the British-Argentinian Falklands conflict. Corey started dreaming about the ship and its crazed crew and published articles on his dreams. Then he bought a diary at an auction; a diary of a cultist who was executed back in 1927, who buried a chest on an island somewhere in the south Atlantic. Apparently, the mere purchasing of a diary is a newsworthy item, because news of the purchase appears in the papers and is seen by Arnold Rothman, the grandson of a fellow cult member from way back. Rothman had been serving aboard the missing ship for years, looking for that chest every chance he got. Last time, though, he broke his leg and couldn’t make the voyage where the ship was lost, so now he’s going to join another ship. He thinks that diary might hold the clues to finding the chest once and for all, so he broke into Corey’s house and killed him for it.
The investigators are supposed to discover Corey’s notes on the deciphered diary, drop everything and immediately book passage on a new ornithological survey ship to the Falklands. This new survey ship is a replacement for the old ship, because birders gotta bird. The PCs have to interview for the positions, either as scientists or crew, and there’s a decent chance they won’t be accepted. Oh yeah; this happens to be the same ship that Arnold Rothman is now serving on as second mate, too; although the investigators have no idea he’s the murderer of their “good friend”.
On the way down to the Falklands, there is an outbreak of ergot poisoning that drives most of the crew into a homicidal rage. The science team (presumably including most of the investigators) is unaffected, but they have to fend off seven crazed and murderous crew members. There are a couple of rifles and shotguns aboard, but not much else; and many of the crazed crew will try for those. Since this is for the original version of Call of Cthulhu, there’s a pretty good chance that some investigators will die before they reach the island. Whatever the case, Rothman isn’t affected either; and he runs the ship aground on Griffon Island, the site of the lost chest. Once there, the investigators and any surviving, non-crazy NPCs soon find that someone smashed the emergency radio and all their food supplies were stolen somewhere along the journey. The island is deathly quiet and mostly deserted. The reportedly huge penguin population has been decimated, and slime trails crisscross the island.
Seems like their “good friend” Corey wasn’t dreaming about the past…he was having visions of the future!
The investigators can go exploring, either on foot or using the ship’s unarmed helicopter; but it only has a range of 160 miles. (Griffon Island is 600 miles away from the nearest land, which is the Falkland Islands, so they can’t just fly away to safety.) They can also follow Rothman, who leaves the ship on his own to go looking for the chest. Either way, they soon discover a series of caverns beneath the island that were used by the former cultists. The chest is here; it contains a blasphemous mythos tome and a couple of magic swords, not the treasure Rothman was hoping for. The caverns are filled with loathsome slime (hence the name of the module), which is a by-product of the guardians of the chest: two shoggoths.
Yes, that’s correct. Two.
The investigators are now free to leave the island. assuming they can deal with a stove boat, a crazed second mate, a mostly-dead crew, no way to radio for help, a helicopter that won’t make the flight, no food and two–yes, two– shoggoths.
Commentary (why I think it’s bad): Ok, let’s start at the beginning. There’s no reason for their “good friend” Walter Corey to be in this adventure at all. He’s there to get killed and vaguely point the way to the island. That’s it. The big reveal that his dreams are precognitive and not dreams of the past doesn’t add anything to the story.
Second, the outbreak of ergot, at least as written, carries the very real possibility of a total party kill (TPK) outcome before they even reach the island. Since it’s Call of Cthulhu, most of the investigators are likely to be academic types with poor combat skills (if any); going up against manic crewmen with limited (or no) weapons is likely to result in multiple PC deaths.
Third: Speaking of the investigators, if, in keeping with early Call of Cthulhu, they are predominantly academics and “regular people”, they really have no opportunity to use their academic skills other than the beginning of the adventure to track down clues in Corey’s apartment and find out a bit about the cult. Once they’re on the boat, there’s not much to do except get killed by the crew, or get to the island and get eaten by the shoggoths.
Finally: TWO shoggoths?! It’s official: no one is supposed to survive this. It’s just not possible. There is very little on the boat or on the island that could even significantly harm a shoggoth, never mind kill it; and once again, there are TWO of the monsters on the island.
Sandy Petersen himself did a phenomenal YouTube video on why shoggoths are so dangerous. It’s well worth a watch. To summarize: they’re fast, massive, indescribably strong, almost indestructible and they’re as smart as the average human. They’re also very capable of one-shot killing any player character (or group of investigators) with ease. Some of them even know spells. In this adventure, there are a few drums of helicopter fuel that the investigators can use to make Molotovs (or detonate the drums). Those are probably their best bet, but hardly guaranteed to work. What guns they have are effectively useless, and the magic swords, while capable of causing damage, would require someone to get close enough to a shoggoth to hit it with a sword. (Good luck with that.) Unless the players are using established investigators with access to damaging spells, they might as well just let the shoggoth roll over them and get it over with.
How I’d fix it: There are some modification suggestions included at the end of the adventure. I’ll cover them at the end.
What would I do?
I’d use pregenerated characters with relevant skills, or make sure my PCs had them if they were using their own investigators.
Forget the whole Corey character. He’s a useless plot device. Why not just make the investigators start on the boat, perhaps on an unrelated expedition of their own? This means no auditioning for berths aboard the ship, which is a process they can fail, grinding the adventure to a halt before it starts. One of the NPC crew (Rothman) then steers the boat off-course in pursuit of his own treasure hunt; or perhaps the rest of the crew is in on it, too. They just needed a boat, and now they have one thanks to the academic expedition they signed on as crew. “Stay out of the way, eggheads; and you won’t get hurt.”
If you want to keep the ergot poisoning (I wouldn’t, but YMMV), then give the PCs a fighting chance against the crew by giving them weapons; or at least an opportunity to reverse the effects of the poison. (Yes, I know real ergot poisoning has no antidote, but real ergot poisoning doesn’t happen overnight and turn you into a crazed murderer, either.) To continue the above example, maybe the PCs can try to regain control of the ship somehow, which may result in them running aground on the island; or maybe convince the crew they can help find the treasure; maybe by reading a manuscript or map in a language none of the crew can understand.
Either use a different threat entirely or lose at least one of the shoggoths. One shoggoth is more than enough challenge for ANY group of investigators, never mind a group that has poor weapons and is probably already missing a few members because they fell victim to a homicidal boat crew. I can’t imagine any group of investigators in similar circumstances who could survive an encounter with two, so unless going for the almost-certain TPK is your intent, give your players a chance.
The suggestion given at the end of the adventure is to include a crashed Argentinian fighter jet that the investigators could conceivably repair and fly, or strip for missiles to combat the shoggoths. Dumb.
Another suggestion: in the event the party is exceptionally strong and has no problem defeating the shoggoths (!), have another outbreak of ergot on the return trip, assuming they can refloat the boat, or they get rescued somehow. This seems unfairly harsh in a series of unfairly harsh events. In other words, it doesn’t sound like much fun.
Trail of the Loathsome Slime isn’t a horrible adventure; it just needs a bit of streamlining and balance. It’s worth noting that this was published in the very early years of Call of Cthulhu; and would have been seen as something of a novelty as it was a modern adventure (for the time) and not set in the 1920’s. Making it a Pulp Cthulhu adventure would increase PC survivability (by a lot); it would also be interesting to update it to the modern 21st century.
This is a long one. As such, I don’t expect it will get read by anyone born this millennium; so for those of short attention span: TLDR: I hate double standards.
Although I can’t believe anyone who reads this blog wouldn’t know this already, DriveThruRPG is one of several sites (through the parent company of OneBookShelf, Inc., or OBS) that make up a huge archive of downloadable and print-on-demand RPGs, miniature games and game aids. In addition to hosting the DM’s Guild (for all things Dungeons & Dragons) the Storyteller Vault (for all World of Darkness stuff), and Wargames Vault (for miniature wargames), DriveThruRPG allows anyone to create, market, publish and sell their own games, and/or in many cases (such as through the Miskatonic Repository) create content for established games, subject to licensing restrictions. Many, many independent creators use DTRPG to market and sell their work, and many of the most creative people in the industry rely on it to make a living. I shop there quite often.
Without question, OBS has a monopoly on electronic RPG sales and distribution. This makes them extremely powerful. Last week, DriveThruRPG has released some new product standards and publisher conduct requirements, and boy, do they suck. These new standards and practices will severely curtail creativity and will almost certainly result in many creators having their content edited, restricted or outright de-platformed based upon vague requirements put in place specifically to limit the use of the site by creators DTRPG doesn’t like. Take a look:
Neither your Work, description, nor any promotional material, including blog posts or press releases, may contain racist, homophobic, discriminatory, or other repugnant views; overt political agendas or views; depictions or descriptions of criminal violence against children; rape or other acts of criminal perversion; or other obscene material without the express written permission of OneBookShelf.
You may be thinking: sounds good! I dislike all those things! They have no place in our hobby! Right? Sure, on the surface. But think about it. Those are some pretty fucking vague product standards. What are “other repugnant views?” What is “other obscene material?” What is the definition of obscene and/or repugnant, and most of all, who decides what meets this criteria?
What if I want to make a US Civil War RPG, or even an adventure for any game that is set during the Civil War? How do I avoid “overt political agendas or views” in that work? How about racism? What about if I set it during the civil rights era? Or the Crusades? I would think racism would be a topic that would figure prominently in those settings. Can my pulp adventure have a Nazi villain? If a gay NPC gets murdered in my Call of Cthulhu investigation, is that homophobic? What about if a kid gets bullied in one of my games? Is that criminal violence against children? Apparently, I need written permission from OBS to even consider including any of these if I hope to sell on their site (which, again, is the only game in town); and I can’t even talk about it on MY OWN FUCKING BLOG.
It gets better:
Hostile Marketing: Our policy regarding potentially offensive content (see Product Standards Guidelines) reported by customers is to deactivate such titles while they are being reviewed. Publishers who deliberately court controversy by making public declarations or accusations of censorship resulting from this process in order to draw attention to their products will be considered to use hostile marketing.
Publishers who direct or support public accusations of impropriety or censorship toward OneBookShelf when their controversial titles are rejected or removed from our marketplace will also be considered to use hostile marketing.
This behavior will not be tolerated. We have adopted a strict one-warning policy for those who engage in hostile marketing: The first incident will prompt a warning, and after a second incident, their accounts will be removed from our site permanently and immediately.
In other words, if DTRPG pulls your stuff for review after “reports by customers”, you can’t complain about it publicly. If DTRPG bans your stuff, you can’t tell anyone about it or bitch that it’s unfair, because doing so might draw increased interest to your product, and DTRPG doesn’t want that because they think it’s bad and they don’t want you to sell it. If you think DTRPG’s policies about censorship and their arbitrary enforcement and definition of same are unfair, shut the fuck up and take it; because if you talk about it on DTRPG or anywhere else, like on your personal blog, YouTube channel or Facebook page, they’ll warn you once and then you’re out on your ass. You are officially de-platformed.
Let’s apply an example with DTRPG’s new guidelines in mind. DTRPG makes mention of “potentially offensive content reported by customers”. Let’s say I write an adventure that someone doesn’t like because it contains something they find offensive. Or, better yet: let’s say I write an adventure, and someone who doesn’t like ME (hard to believe, right?) for whatever reason (maybe I fucked their mom) finds out about it. They complain to DTRPG and say my adventure contains “repugnant views”; so DTRPG pulls my adventure for review.
Here’s what happens next: While DTRPG is reviewing my product for undefined “repugnant views”, it’s not available on the site, and it’s not getting sold. If this is in the first week of release, this probably has a catastrophic effect on my profits (most products on DTRPG sell most during their first week of release, when they’re still considered “new”), regardless of whether or not DTRPG eventually decides that it contains “repugnant views” or not. So, that sourcebook or adventure or game I spent the last 6 months or two years or decade writing might turn into wasted time and no money.
DTRPG supposedly reviews it. I have looked, but I can’t find anything anywhere about how long this takes or whether they even have to look it over in a timely manner; so I guess it takes as long as it takes. In the meantime, I can’t complain publicly about how my product was pulled or publicly question why it was pulled. I can’t protest that I’m being targeted or that DTRPG is censoring my content. I can’t even use the fact that it was pulled or rejected as a mark of infamy (i.e. “Banned from DTRPG!”; bad publicity is still publicity) to drive sales elsewhere (even if I’m selling it ON MY OWN SITE). I have to shut the fuck up and take it, or risk being de-platformed forever from the only real market in town.
Quick reminder: this decision is based on feedback as “reported by customers.” Well, let’s imagine for a moment that people are assholes, and that they do asshole things like abuse social media to review-bomb a product and/or service because they dislike the person who owns it or who is responsible for its creation. Never heard of this? Go visit Yelp and take a look around for a few minutes. I’ll wait.
These policies were allegedly created in response to a creator named Venger Satanis, who apparently espouses some right-wing stuff in his work (like anti-abortion views) and supposedly often complains about DTRPG censorship as a way to promote his material (or as DTRPG calls it, engages in “hostile marketing”). Despite him having some degree of fame in the hobby community (certainly more than what little fame I have), I am not familiar with Venger Satanis, nor do I give the smallest shit about his viewpoint on anything; but the brass at OBS seems to lean pretty far left, and thus these “anti-repugnant” policies have supposedly been enacted due, at least in part, to his purported chicanery.
Regardless, this is censorship, plain and simple; and whether Venger Satanis is guilty of what they claim or not, it affects more than just him. It affects every creator (though not equally, see below); but it’s aimed squarely at “problem” creators (like Venger Satanis) and people who write what they want, who don’t feel like they need to hold your hand if you’re an adult and who defend the right of others to do the same; guys like James Edward Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and “Grim Jim” Desborough (PostMortem Studios), to name but two. Both of these guys recently and immediately took a public stand against these policies, both have a lot to lose by doing so (since criticizing DTRPG publicly is now against the rules), and both have my support and admiration (whatever that’s worth) for standing up and saying that this is bullshit, even at the risk of being excluded entirely from the DTRPG market.
Book-banning and limiting free speech has traditionally been the domain of right-wing, often evangelical assholes (at least for most of my life), but the pendulum has well and truly swung. How about that double standard? Here’s an example that’s getting a lot of traction at the moment. Thirsty Sword Lesbians is a newish game published by Evil Hat Games (creators of Blades in the Dark) about thirsty sword lesbians; and they unequivocally and unapologetically state in their book that there is no such thing as an apolitical game. I certainly agree. All games push an agenda to some extent. It sure seems like the folks at Black Hat are promoting overt political views through this game, and not the conservative, evangelical kind. But it seems they don’t have anything to fear from OBS. No one is censoring Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Why the fuck not? OBS’s new standards state clearly that any work must be free from overt political beliefs or views, and this game isn’t hiding its agenda at all. What would they say if OBS told them they COULDN’T sell Thirsty Sword Lesbians on DTRPG? I’m betting they wouldn’t be happy, and they’d likely rail against the censorship. Guess some overt political views are ok, though. Since OBS’s policy is so fucking vague, make sure to ask their permission first to make sure you hold the right ones.
Evil Hat Games goes on to say that if you don’t like their politics, don’t buy their games. Once again, I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. This is exactly how I would handle material made by creators who espouse beliefs I find repugnant, or people I can’t abide. I won’t support them by turning my money into their money. But I am not in favor of censoring them–that’s someone else deciding for me.
To be clear, I’m not calling for anyone to censor Thirsty Sword Lesbians. This is not an indictment or criticism of that particular game (I’ve never played it, so how can I criticize it?) or its creators, or their agenda. I won’t buy that game (or games like Monster Hearts, Tales of Equestria or Mouse Guard) because I have zero interest in playing it; not because I disagree with Evil Hat’s political views. I have nothing against lesbians, be they of the thirsty sword variety or otherwise, but neither am I interested in roleplaying a swashbuckling lesbian. I don’t disagree with Evil Hat’s political views, I disagree with OBS’s selective enforcement of their own rules to promote a one-sided agenda and exclude creators who may not agree with it.
I am all for the creation and development of independent and small press games. I think it’s a good thing that diversity, inclusion and BiPOC and LGBTQ issues (and players) are enjoying more and better representation in our shared hobby. It’s long overdue; and I should know, because I’m fucking old; but even if I disagreed with the political views of the game’s creators (which, one again, I don’t), it doesn’t mean I think the game should be censored. Who the fuck am I to say that?
Here’s what I think should be censored: anything defined as illegal; and anything that spreads misinformation that is a clear danger to society, like saying that bleach injections are a good way to fight COVID and not an absolutely certain way to kill yourself. That’s clear. That’s not vague or arbitrary. That consideration should go both ways; but that overt double standard is there, and it is hypocritical, as all double standards are. (Certain people have been trying to run Lamentations of the Flame Princess out of business for years, using actual hostile marketing, not that bullshit DTRPG defines as hostile marketing; but that’s another story that you can look up, if you want.)
Like I said, I don’t know Venger Satanis or his work; but if he’s really that far to the right in his views I likely have nothing in common with him other than the fact that we both play games. Just because I’m liberal-minded doesn’t mean I think only those of like mind should have the right to publish creative works that must reflect similar views; and just because DTRPG seems to lean the same way I do doesn’t make what they’re doing right. Censorship is the death of creativity, and arbitrary censorship is the nail in the coffin; which is something I said in a recent YouTube comment and something I firmly believe.
Would saying these things get me banned over at DTRPG? Maybe so, because someone will be offended that, although I’m supportive of “their” cause, I’m not supportive enough. Yeah, I consider myself pretty liberal; but there are fucking limits. Just because all orcs are evil in my D&D game doesn’t mean I’m a racist. That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Why? Because, at the risk of offending orcs everywhere, orcs don’t actually exist. I don’t equate fictional monsters with real-life racial groups, because THAT would be racist. Just because I would rather play Lamentations of the Flame Princess than Monster Hearts doesn’t make me anti-queer; it means I like OSR games and don’t particularly like Powered by the Apocalypse games; and that I’d rather play a gritty character like Solomon Kane than play an angst-ridden, sexually-conflicted teenager who has no control over who or what turns him on (and no, that’s not an ignorant stereotype of queer people, that’s an actual fucking game mechanic in Monster Hearts). Just because I don’t find men (other than Roger) sexually attractive does not make me homophobic, it makes me (mostly) heterosexual.
I lean pretty far to the left, sure; but everything is so polarized nowadays, you are the enemy unless you are completely on-board with someone’s viewpoint, regardless of any other common ground you may share. Example: after I posted this, a hobbyist whose work I (still) greatly admire sent me an immediate email in response. He said if I actually believe that stuff really happened as it was shown on TV, he couldn’t help me. He also said that because of my views he would never visit my blog again, despite, up until then, finding my blog entertaining and enjoying my work.
Naturally, I was devastated and cried for weeks. (Not really.) In truth, I got annoyed (it doesn’t take much) and thought: go fuck yourself, you pompous, patronizing asshole. I never asked for your help. Yes, I believe it really happened as it was shown on TV, because I have eyes. A year and a half later we’re finally having hearings about it and it was way worse than most people thought. Of course, you likely watch nothing but Fox News; so you probably don’t even know there are hearings going on. Pay attention instead to the slow death of sports due to transgender athletes and rail against the injustice of it all, because that’s the really important stuff. (And yes, because someone out there will be offended because they think that I think that transgender athletes are more important than the death of Democracy, that last sentence was fucking sarcasm.)
Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. That’s been simmering for a while. Of course, that guy doesn’t come here anymore, so he won’t see it. (Right.)
Anyway…folks may say that DTRPG is not a guaranteed free-speech forum, it’s a private company, and they can do whatever they want. They’re right. Just like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby can (and do) support anti-LGBTQ legislation, as is their right. If you don’t like their politics (I sure don’t), don’t give them your money. There are other places to buy a fucking chicken sandwich and a box of crayons. In this case, though, OBS is pretty much the only game in town if you want electronic distribution for your gaming product, or if you want to buy digital RPG content. There’s no significant competitor, and they are a site whose entire business model is based upon soliciting the creativity of gamers and game designers. Now they’re saying “feel free to create, but only create what we’re ok with. We won’t concretely define what that is, so ask us first to make sure it’s ok. Make sure you don’t offend us, and God forbid you complain about us anywhere.”
They can do that, because they’re a private company. But they’re also pretty much a monopoly. They ARE the market for electronic and community-created gaming content. If you want to sell your stuff successfully, you’re gonna have to deal with them, and kiss the fucking ring.
That’s kind of bullshit.
UPDATE:So, it’s already starting. Miguel Ribeiro, a talented game creator and reviewer from Portugal and co-host of The Red Room YouTube channel has had one of his products removed from DTRPG already, because it received ONE complaint “from a customer”. Someone doesn’t like the title and/or content of his game; but they had to really go looking for it to find it in the first place, as it’s labeled as adult content already. More likely, they don’t like Miguel, as he’s a pretty opinionated guy who…surprise!…doesn’t tow the line.
He has posted this video about the DTRPG situation, and he’s effectively breaking their rules by talking about it at all. Nonetheless, he has my wholehearted support for doing so. Fair warning: Miguel may be a gifted and prolific game designer; but he needs to reign it in as a broadcaster. He has the SUPREMELY ANNOYING habit of interrupting and talking over his co-host all the time.Don’t let his message get lost.
A brief interlude from Star Trek for my Character of the Month, and to show off my mad organization skillz, brah!
For Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram, I present my Character of the Month from Ral Partha: The Cloaked Assassin, by sculpted by Bob Charrette, from their Fantasy Adventurers range (03-058).
I’ve had this fellow for thirty years or so; another occupant of my pile of shame that I never got around to painting. He was, however, primed white, so I must have at least intended to paint him at some point. I primed him black over the white before I painted him this time, however.
I’ve never been a big fan of putting assassins in adventuring parties. In my mind, assassins should be either adversaries to the PCs or something else entirely, not a character class. Why would an assassin go on an adventure? They have a pretty limited skill set: they know how to kill people. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to stick to what they’re good at? Garroting someone in an alley seems far safer than kicking down a door in a necromancer’s crypt and fighting his undead minions, doesn’t it?
So, let’s call this guy a thief instead. Or rogue, if you prefer the current nomenclature of D&D 5E.
This was my painting desk up until a couple of months ago. Although you can’t really see them, most of my paints sat on a pair of old spice racks. These cheap plastic racks were not designed for paint (duh), and I often had the annoying chore of picking up paints from the floor, where they had fallen between my desk and the wall after being knocked over or jostled from their precarious perches on the too-narrow racks.
Something needed to be done, so a new rack was constructed from XPS foam. This one measured the entire length of my desk and was designed to fit flush along the wall. The shelves were intentionally made wide enough to accommodate multiple rows of bottles of all different types, from dropper bottles to pop-tops to even the dreaded (and hated) old-style Citadel twist-off paint pots.
Here’s what it looks like now. Although I would have been content to just slap together some pink foam and use it as-is, my better half flatly refused to even consider such a stupid idea and wouldn’t allow it. She painted and wrapped the whole thing in adhesive shelf paper, so now my paint rack looks like it’s made of solid marble.
I love it. No more falling paint pots. Room for all may paints and then some (which just means I will fill the space eventually). Naturally I took photos because I know it will not look like this for long. So far I’ve managed to keep it tidy.
But wait, there’s more! I decided to take this opportunity to organize my gaming closet, too. So, here it is!
Thirty-plus years of roleplaying games on the left side.
Board games and RPG boxed sets in the middle.
More board games, miniatures games and terrain (including a Mighty Fortress!), and collectible card games on the right (last played circa 2004 or so).
Last but not least: the pile of shame; or as I like to call it: the Insanity Pile. Old miniatures, new miniatures, abandoned projects, projects I know I will never get to but won’t say are abandoned, projects I intend to get to one day, and projects I will actually work on. The plastic cases at the bottom hold Owen’s miniatures; the white boxes on the second shelf are mostly Heroclix, and all the shit you can’t see behind what you see here is mostly bitz on sprues and unopened armies and units for 40K and WFB. On the Naya rack is unpainted Plasticville scenery and most of the High Elf Army I’ll never get to. And of course, on the top are all my old-school miniatures, some painted, some not. The plain cardboard boxes hold various projects, including what I have left from last year’s order from Wargames Terrain Workshop!
Gotta say, I like this organization thing a lot. This stuff was all over my basement, and I got tired of hearing about it. I took these pictures to remind me what it’s like to be responsible and put away my toys.
They also make it clear that I really need to get rid of stuff.
I can’t resist a huge sale. Modiphius’s US store had a sale at the end of last month; and there were some ri-fucking-diculous deals to be had. Here’s what $70.00 US got me:
The John Carter of Mars RPG Slipcase set: contains both the Core Rulebook and the Phantoms of Mars Campaign Guide: $21.00. Regularly $105.00!
The John Carter of Mars Narrator’s Toolkit and GM Screen: $7.00. Regularly $35.00!
The John Carter of Mars Player’s Guide: $6.00. Regularly $28.00!
In addition, I picked up the Helium Dice Set and the Landscape Location Deck. Usually, I’m not a fan of special dice and/or add-ons like this deck, neither of which you need to play. But, at $4.00 and $5.00 respectively (regularly $17.00 and $21.00), I figured what the hell.
While I was at it, I picked up some Achtung! Cthulhu fiction for $3.00; and EIGHT Deep One metal miniatures for the low, low price of $6.00!!!! (Regularly $14.00 and $28.00!)
That’s a total of $52.00, regularly $238.00! That’s 78% off the total! Makes the $18.00 shipping charge seem pretty worth it, considering I ALSO get the digital PDFs of everything (except the dice and the miniatures, obviously)!
Of course, like most of the games I buy nowadays, I doubt I’ll ever play this. The Achtung! Cthulhu fiction will definitely get read, and I will certainly paint the miniatures; but I don’t have high hopes for playing a John Carter game. Most of my friends aren’t familiar with the characters and setting, and those that are familiar are not particularly interested. Still, I’m a huge Burroughs fan, and, like most Modiphius stuff, these books are simply gorgeous. They are laid out in landscape orientation, and the artwork is some truly stunning stuff.
Time for a visit to Barsoom…even if it’s just to find out what Carrion Crow‘s been up to on his periodic jaunts to Mars. I have a feeling this is going to make me want to dust off my copy of A Princess of Mars…