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Friday 19 July 2019

"Turned To Stone" (scenario)

I often find myself thinking of role-playing campaigns as akin to seasons of a TV drama. Like any comparison it only goes so far, but typically you’ve got one or more big events growing in the background and then each session there’s often a problem that gets wrapped up neatly in an evening or two.

This scenario was one of those monster-of-the week episodes in our Immortal Spartans campaign. The Highlander-type concept allows us to zip through history, and in this case it was 878 AD and the player-characters were on their way from Constantinople to Wessex. I know what you’re thinking, and they did meet King Alfred, but that wasn’t the reason for the trip. They had to deal with a time-travelling weaponized AI that crash-landed in Mercia pursued by other factions in a future war and had ended up allying itself with a Welsh priest called Frych. Highlander meets Terminator meets 12 Monkeys sort of thing.

Anyway, en route they put in at Pylos, on the west coast of the Peloponnese and this is one of those single-session scenarios I mentioned. Its particular significance to the Spartans was that it had been the scene of a notorious defeat by the Athenians in 425 BC, so there were some old demons festering away there.


The characters put in at Pylos (west coast of the Doric peninsula) for re-supply. Note on the map that modern Pylos is on the mainland, and the site marked Pylos to the north is the ruins of the classical city.

They are met by Dioscorus, a local representative who takes them to their lodgings (his house) where they are soon visited by Brother Bruno (see below) and the Governor’s servant Mikos.

The governor of Pylos is an Italian, Malvio Buonarotti. He is concerned for his son, Joffredo Buonarotti, who lies paralyzed (a kind of sleeping sickness) because of an encounter with “the Gorgon” on Sphacteria, where he had swum on a dare from his friend Festus Kontostephanos, son of Lord Falkon, Controller of the Port Authority.

Joffredo is being attended by Brother Bruno and some lay brothers from the local monastery of St Cyriacus. Drops are administered to his eyes, which are open but unseeing. Brother Bruno believes “ossification is setting in; it would be well if His Eminence the Cardinal would say a benediction.”

Unlike the Governor, the monks believe in the Gorgon and say it settled here attracted by the blood of heroes, and to feast on their bones.

How long has the Gorgon been here? The local legend is that she originally inhabited the ruined temple of Artemis on Corfu, but that Pope Nicholas I exorcized her by cock-crow on his visit to the island in 860 AD, and that her spirit fled aboard a ship whose crew were all found turned to stone when it drifted into Pylos harbour.

The “Gorgon” is really a psionic with acromegaly, shunned by others so she fled to the island twelve years ago. She is inarticulate and somewhat mad, and would prefer to be left in peace, but if harassed will respond aggressively.

She can effectively turn invisible (using psionic power to achieve Stealth 30) and then unveil her face to her chosen victim. If two characters attack her at once, let them both roll, then resolve those attacks against each other. This is the power of confusion that she can exert, but after the first time characters get a Will roll to resist it.

Her first action is to wait until the characters have climbed up the island a way, then sink their boat and/or paralyze the boatmen.

If she is killed, that does nothing to help Joffredo - at least, it didn't in my game; you might decide to be more lenient. (And incidentally he is of course not turning to stone, whatever the superstitious Brother Bruno thinks.) 

Among various trinkets of no real value (threaded seashells, etc) she wears an old scratched-up amulet of Artemis Orthia, probably of Spartan origin. On the back, an acronym that stands as an abbreviation of a common Spartan proverb: “Your own hand use when Fortune you would call.”

Also on the island are low stone walls that may be the remains of the Spartan fort here. If they search around, Observation at -5 to spot a shield buried among the stones. On the back of it is scratched a prayer to Aidos, the aspect of Aphrodite dedicated to shame and modesty:
“Goddess, let me face injustice with the same disregard as danger,
Let me face dishonour with the calm I would meet death;
Allow my best actions to endure after I have fallen;
Though Man is mortal, smile forever on Sparta’s halls.”

Friday 12 July 2019

"Yes, I include roleplaying games in art!"

These days, if you want to get your work out there, you have to plunge into the world of social media. Recently I remarked how polluting and disappointing that experience often feels, and somebody said, "Hell is other people." But that's not it. I like people -- that is, in real life I like them. Some of my friends (OK, not many, but a few) support Trump and deny climate change, and I even like them, because in real life they're also warm, funny, provocative, caring, interesting, infuriating. All the things people are supposed to be.

But humans in other situations don't always come across so well. Driving on the motorway, for example. And you might say the arseholes who tailgate and make V-signs are just the vile minority, and I'm sure that's true of many of them. But I'm just as sure that many dangerously zig-zagging road ragers get out of the car at the end of the journey and promptly turn into perfectly nice people.

I used to commute out to Woking. At Waterloo, at the end of a long week, passengers would be scowling, snarling, barging past others in their haste to get on. Manners were in short supply. But those same people, getting off the train half an hour later, would be smiling, holding doors for each other, saying sorry if they bumped into you. Circumstances change us.

Somebody with a beer or a book in his or her hand can be pleasant company. Give them a pitchfork and a burning torch and you've got the makings of an angry mob. Social media too often works as the latter. So I liked this video by James "Grim Jim" Desborough because he absolutely nails what I think about all the intolerance, cult-justice and groupthink that sloshes around the internet. Or maybe it's just because I've always had a soft spot for a blistering full-on rant.

And for another take on games (computer games this time) as an art form, here's Ernest W Adams.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Lasciate ogne speranza

Edizioni Librarsi, who are the publishers of the Italian editions of Blood Sword and Fabled Lands, have revealed Mattia Simone's breathtaking cover for Cuore di Ghiaccio (aka Heart of Ice, as if you didn't know).
At last you see a streak of dark rubble against the dazzling skyline. You fear it might just be a line of hills or even a trick of the light, but as you approach on quickened footsteps it is possible to make out the details of brooding towers, empty palaces and gargantuan snow-bound walls. You have arrived at the lost city of Du-En.
You can find the English edition here or, if you're so hard up that you can't toss a few shekels to a starving writer, why not try Benjamin Fox's online version here? (And if you enjoy it, and can find the time to write an Amazon review, it all helps.)