Thursday, July 31, 2014

REVIEW: The Hate God, by Festus Caber

 
The Hate God sprang Athena from the mind of noted werewolf translator Festus Caber six months after the release of Coils of No Peace. Adder Entertainment had been on a roll ever since Sight of Slime but they trended in a Lovecraft direction. Caber brought a new boogie, still keeping a cosmic horror hell-is-everything-even-me brush but wielding strokes honed in his understudy, covering the underground autosegregation of Montevideo collage.

Do yourself a favor and dine on a full plate of Festus Caber if you've been too picky til now. Conan the Barbarian fought an ape and mostly didn't get killed but barely and he had all the benefits of getting made up in Texas. Festus Caber beat five racists with one of their own shoes to protect a piss-in at Berlin Wall. On vacation.

We'll come back to that word "collage" in a minute.

The Hate God is about the inevitable slide of every anxiety and inconvenience into body horror. It's about living yourself to death and the wheel the Inquisition broke you on and the machine of paper and the business transactions of praying. You meet the ultimate villain at the beginning of the module. You work for him. And he wants you to kill an optimism wizard.

In theory.

The first temple has a dedicant who perceives the decay and age of those around him and of his own body and faculties in real time, not the occasional collation of gradual change into a shift in perception but the constant churn, boil, and wither. He gives his life by the pint to save souls in stone. The Hate God has such wonders to bestow on you should you survive.

If you didn't want to stick your hand in the thresher to see it spray you would have bought seven pillows.

Caber had a habit at cons of playing one game, no matter how many games he played. Unless you played at more than one table you'd never know it, but if you drank with him and Sunday and he always drank on Sunday and only Sunday then he laid out what was REALLY going on. The big picture. HBO has a whole show about this and titties right now.

That's what his thesis is here. The guide to using the tables and dungeons in The Hate God is contemptuous of itself second only to anyone expecting an actual destination or denouement. This wasn't really an early sandbox because the conclusions were foregone and several tables floated between locations like cheat ghosts. There is a line between player punishers and fuck you gameplay and Caber comes down on the side of Astroglide here. It's not pointless deck-stacking though. If the party and the player of the second-to-last character to die don't figure out the real story - not what they did but what they made happen - then they'll put it together when the last player alive realizes the runner up just invented dynamite.

Hey fuck you. It's not a space ship. And if you've never staked a crypt of vampires with sticks of dynamite then Ants in the Pants is available at many shitty stores the world over.

The Hate God wants you to know the world moves and changes faster than your brief, petrified life. Not the other way around. Things seem constant because you're only looking at you. The only constant is Hate. This cosmology is also my favorite non-Tolkeinian explanation of traditional RPG elves and also why Drow are so boring so borrrringggg.

Aside from the ramgoblin that eats saving throws, which to be fair Caber lifted whole from A Tunnel #3, The Hate God's world isn't designed against players. It's designed to make the players turn the world against them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things

It Is OK For A Thing To Be That Thing And Not Another Thing.

You may not like that thing, or have any use for that thing, but when someone asks "I want to workshop this thing I made, what does everyone think?" answering "It's not another thing" is the opposite of helpful. It's aggressively dismissive really. "Never mind you and your thing, let's talk about this other thing I want to talk about."

Someone makes a lamp. Maybe it's a shitty lamp, maybe you don't need a lamp, maybe you're full up for lamps, maybe you can't afford this lamp. "I'd buy that if it were a RUG" is signal noise. Purposeful signal noise. There's dropped calls and there's knocking the phone from someone's hand, y'dig?

I understand that the rug people don't see it that way. Some seem to want to help us poor people who are interested in lamps. Some people seem genuinely threatened that we would talk about lamps openly. Like we're out to offend everyone by not just making everything rugs. Or worse, something like "A lamp shocked me once, so I would never use a lamp again."

Now, my taste includes both lamps and rugs. So I'd never find people trying to weave a nice rug and shit on them for not making a lamp, or vice versa.

But sometimes...sometimes...a thing can just be that thing. A lamp can be a lamp, a conversation about lamps can be a conversation about lamps, a conversation about loving or improving or building lamps can be THAT and not an invitation to talk about something else or to slag off on lamps or...anything else.

I'm not entirely sure if this can be broadly applied to any specific interest I have...Probably not?



Additionally, a thing can be a thing without being EVERYTHING. This is similar to but distinct from the above, and is one of the biggest reasons I just can't get into Tumblr.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Deep Carbon Observatory Is The Game Module Nikolai Gogol Would Play And Let A Baby Starve To Death Then Feed It To A Machine


http://www.rpgnow.com/product/131801/Deep-Carbon-Observatory

He'd be a Thief, unless your rules had Paladins, and then he'd be a shitty paladin.

It is not the job of a critique to convince you to buy anything. Fuck you. Buy this thing. Will you like it? The phrase "There's a flood and your PCs are compelled to investigate!" is not in the module because it got in the way of poison and rules for the stairs, and because doing awesome things is taken as granted in your players. You have all available information to consider whether that's your kind of purchase now. This is not a pitch for the thing.

The thing is not the pedigree of its creators. If you don't know these people, +Patrick Stuart +Scrap Princess +Alex Mayo, you should stop reading this. Go spend the next ten minutes with them, with their works, and you'll certainly buy the thing without me buzzing in your ear.

The thing is not about me. I wish it was. I'm a follower unfortunately, and while this kind of material and quality and publishing effort are things I aspire to it's a disservice to artists everywhere to let that kind of shit get in the way. That said this book makes me want to WORK instead of just IMBIBE.

The thing is not YouTube or a GeoCities message board so if you see someone review it and go "wahh some typos" strangle that person. It happens and it'll be dealt with I've no doubt. It doesn't matter. Shut up.

Now what exactly is this thing? I said "module" in the title and I suppose I stand by that but it's as much a setting to itself as something like Carcosa or Quelong and it's explicitly not filled with enough advice on DMing to make it as valuable as any chapter or WHOLE BOOK I've read on DMing...the advice is: use the stuff in the thing, do it evenly and inventively, in a way that entices players to look at/use more of the stuff, in a balance that skews slightly toward awesome. (If you need more than that this book will not help you much.) It could be run fairly linearly or fairly sandboxy, depending on your proclivities. Module seems fairly reductive, though, because most modules I think of tend to be little books about people you don't care about who are certainly more important than anything your players are doing or adventures that read like Mad Libs about killing farmers.

There's no Acererak or Sephiroth. There's nothing that turns all the candlesticks back into butlers. There's no scheme to run the people of Carrowmere off their land and your party are not Meddling Kids.

Any chapter of this would serve as its own excellent +One Page Dungeon Contest entry, but I'm glad it doesn't. More room for fun.

Everyone in this book is alone, terribly close together, getting hedgehog-dilemma'd and generally getting crushed by the fact that this event and the world it inhabits are bigger, simpler, stranger, and older than you, and does not give a fuck about you or really anything in particular. Cities rise and fall, as do dams, and you have no part in that. You're in the aftermath. People have little, everybody wants something different, nobody can give it to them, and there's a fortune up for grabs. Maybe the future of the lands.

Really good RPG books tend to be filled with things you want to steal as much as possible to make a hundred different little corners of your game better OR a world and perspective complete and distinct enough that you want to live in it and wallow in it and realistically you could do nothing but that with a group for three years and never find the edge of the map (in terms of what can be done with that kind of setup, the map may literally have edges, the edges may literally Be Tygerf). Surplus to requirements but always nice are fun mechanics. This book has all of these so I'm prepared to call it a great rpg book, if this surprises you go back to paragraph 3 do not collect $200.

So let's talk about the nuts of Deep Carbon Observatory, by which I mean let's discuss the fact that there's more material than you'd find in bigger, more expensive, more "serious"/"real" RPG books before you even GET to the actual Deep Carbon Observatory. The observatory itself is a catalogue of unease and it's disorienting and doesn't ever say "this place makes you sad" but there's a grinding drear going on in the background that means even if you find the riches within you're going to be a thinner, more harrowed individual than before. No I don't mean your characters.

Let me talk for a minute solely about the illustrations and maps because the biggest thing Scrap's art has always carried, to me, and what makes it so evocative is that sense of immediacy, and therefore vigor and vitality, therefore realness. Realness of atmosphere, particularly, and Scrap's probably the best pick for this kind of material. We don't need to test the printers of the world and their capacity for black. Everything here is damp. Everything here is shapes. Everything here comes from an aesthetic beyond the Star Trek alien "human-but-with" model. Illos and prose.

I have specific and limited criteria when discussing layout: I want it to be clean, I want to be able to find what I'm looking for, I want to have plenty of room for when your monster stats are so obviously wrong to write in amendments, and room to doodle. This book satisfies all that. I can also be something of an index snob and this book, while lacking one, is (as a PDF) bookmarked to bejeezus, which is the next best thing AND a module I want to see. Things like layout fall into the same area as editing to me where unless you really look at it and go "Oh this is great editing" you shouldn't notice it. That may come off as a backhanded compliment but it's not intended as such. I do want to note that, in keeping with my comments above that any PART of this thing would be enough, I like how this information is separated by chapter into basically individual sub-modules.

I like that the book opens with getting the players involved via hard decisions, where any choise they make means they lose somehow or that someone is mad at them. This is my favorite way to run, competing domino topples. I like that there's a timetable and forces acting against the party they may never know about. I like that even if you prep all this and your party says "FUCK no" everything they DIDN'T do comes back to bite them directly in the ass. I like that the book gives you ways to look at traditional D&D Underdark and its races in an interesting way without that reeeeally seeming to feel like the POINT of this all in any real way. I like that words like aboleth and bulette are used for familiar reference, even though clearly you're going to need to keep some stranger words handy just in case you have some MM study at your table. I like that the golems are represented as a way to tangibly reward your players at the table, which is neat, but also that their 'reward' is a huge pain in the ass and doesn't help much in itself, which is doubly nice.

I envision a world where people have shirts and stickers expressing their pride in even getting this adventure started before their party gets itself killed or distracted. I Survived Carrowmore. Where dead kings kill for disobedience, shouting orders none understand. Where everybody sits up and goes not just "Man I want to party (as in be in one) with these guys" but also "I want to RUN for these guys" and make stuff for these guys and listen to these guys I never woulda known of them without this! Everything huge dies, everything small is waiting, and all gold and gods are grist. Deep Carbon Observatory can give me that world and it has talking skulls in it. I want to run it, play in it, old school D&D, brand NEW D&D, I want to make people buy this book so I have more people just to TALK about it with. And I want to read it over.

'Scuze me.