Blog

Call of Cthulhu, final edition

I went in on the Call of Cthulhu 2E kickstarter and they finally got the box to me.

What's in the Box, What's in the Box?

It is tightly packed.

The dice they include are kinda crap, sub-Chessex dark sparkly things, but that's expected. Instead get some good dice, GameScience or precision metal dice, OK?

The world map is fantastic, very thick paper, map of Arkham on the back. There's an all-new Keeper's Screen, which seems entirely useful, tho it's 3 landscape pages, not 3 portrait like my usual Wall of Fear and Ignorance. A new size comparison sheet, 4 pages across now, everything from Mi-Go to "Mighty Cthulhu". 4 old-style character sheets, hardly enough for the casualty rate you're really gonna have.

Main book (96 pp) and 1920s Sourcebook (36 pp) are stapled up like the originals. Treat gently, but it'll lay flat. Gene Day cover & interior art looks great, not the usual low-rez scans printed out badly. It looks as good or better than it did 40 years ago.

I suppose now I should've got the Deluxe box, I have those extra 5 supplements in some form but not in these nice reprints.

Over the days to come I'll read the books in detail again, and get to run it sometime, but I'm so happy just to have the right edition.

Cthulhu and Me

I've been playing & running this game since the early '80s, discovered H.P. Lovecraft almost simultaneously with the game. Over time, I came to appreciate Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and earlier writers, far more than the mid-century ripoffs and wannabes like August Derleth and Lin Carter, and only tolerate some later wannabes like Brian Lumley (and certainly Mike Mignola uses a lot of Mythos in Hellboy, but it's a very different thing). There are good later Mythos writers, but few and far between. Obviously Lovecraft's personal beliefs were pretty offensive early on, and while he got less awful later on (post-New York), he'd be an asshole in modern terms… but he wasn't modern, he's dead, and the books are the books.

There's a new 2-volume collection, The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, by Leslie Klinger. I highly recommend these. I don't have an equally good CAS or REH recommendation right now, but maybe in time.

Call of Cthulhu, for all that it has some flaws, does a remarkably good job of simulating the horror stories of a depressed New England lunatic who sees monsters in everything, and the monsters do not care that we exist.

So that's the good part.

CoC then and much more so now, has a lot of Derlethian nonsense in it, waving Elder Signs around like crosses at Dracula, Greek/Persian "elemental" magic and demons and gods interested in Humans, all that bullshit. There's been some attempts to remove that, and Chaosium has stolidly ignored them and added more crap. The last edition of CoC I liked at all was 5.5, and 7.0 is very different in some annoying ways. It's gone from a small game to a big game, bloated up like late-model Elvis. I just wanted that original, fairly svelte game back.

There's other issues. Sandy Petersen, game designer and devoted Lovecraft fan, shares some of Lovecraft's pre-New York personal beliefs, and adds all new bigotries of his own. So I'm ill-inclined to give him money for anything; this was almost a ransom. Now the thing I want is in my hands, I can wash my hands of him forever. The new Chaosium's lawyers and delusional "open (but not really) license" BRP, I want to stay as far away from as possible.

Lost Infrastructure of the 20th Century

Horrific picture from Larry on ADDN:

Now I'm wondering what other kinds of infrastructure of my yout' no longer exist. Growing up there were always old-timer stories of "oh we used to have horses and play hoop-and-stick! A live theatre show cost a penny!", but they never had useful tech and then lost it.

Mentioned earlier today: Party lines. Rotary phones. Phones only owned by Ma Bell. Landlines. Telephone girls.

Newspaper vending boxes, probably all owl nests now. Newspapers; I used to get a weekly big city paper, alt press paper, and sometimes a daily trash paper (USA Today & the like, for mediocre perspective, and I could do the crossword in <30 minutes). Print magazines, used to be the monthly delivery of all information. Books. I say I'd miss books, but honestly I buy only ebooks now, I have thousands of books in my iBooks & Dropbox, a much smaller physical bookshelf now.

Card catalogs are gone. I spent so much time with a little golf pencil, index cards, and flipping thru the catalog looking for a book, writing down Dewey numbers, then go hunting the shelves. Microfiche. Reference/research librarians. Libraries are under attack from the usual suspects aka the GOP, maybe they won't make it.

Vinyl and cassette tapes have made a temporary, improbable, and really stupid comeback, but once the fad ends they'll vanish forever. SONY MiniDisc. 8-Tracks. Reel to reel (had a brief fad again after Pulp Fiction). VHS (a few online art projects like FORGOTTEN_VCR and RedLetterMedia's "Best of the Worst" aside). I have to check if my VCR still works.
Do you even know how to be kind? R E W I N D
DVDs. There's just streaming you can't even keep, and Blu-Ray with parasitic Java programming, you can't just watch a movie without it spying on you online.

Television. Apparently there's still non-streaming, "cable" and "over the air" (but digital, not analog signal), constantly NCIS and "reality TV" with ads every 10 minutes selling laxatives, painkillers, and Gold Bond Medicated Powder. But that can't last long, all the Boomers will be dead soon and nobody else cares. Projected movies. Plays in theatres. Vaudeville. Nickelodeons (not the kids series).

Videogame arcades. Pinball machines. Computers that boot up instantly and are useful when you turn them on.

Radio. It's just right-wing hate speech radio, and a few oldies stations. And "oldies" now means "greatest hits of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and today" as one near me says; but don't worry, they don't really play anything past 2000. That's a biz model headed for death. Radio dramas have been dead for 70 years. Rock & Roll has been dead a while, there's still old bands playing it, but not many new.

Malls. If you can order everything online, why go "shop" and maybe hook up with a cute person?

Schools are obviously a bad idea. Chalkboards are gone; nobody's beaten erasers or choked down chalk dust in years. One-room schoolhouses died out when schools became about training industrial workers to sit down and take it, and now we obviously can't cluster up kids. Individual education, or none at all, just like in the dark ages.

Work offices are going to be gone soon. It's easier to deliver to customers (using underpaid gig workers, or soon drones), and work from home with chat and videoconferencing.

Trains and trolleys are long gone, except as tourist attractions. Once the schools and offices remove the need to drive around a city every day, it's gonna get awful quiet. No more cars, highways, streets, street lights, skyscrapers, planes. Ships are probably still needed to deliver from factories to target continent. Zeppelins could make a comeback, they use less fuel.

The Earth will go dark again. Little campfires as we all live out in the boonies with a single glowing rectangle or a cable into our skulls. Global economy reduced to swarms of drones delivering goods from robotic factories, until the owners, now on Mars, shut them down and all the lights go off.

Internet Archive Favorites

Part of my workflow with Internet Archive is to favorite things I go back to a lot. But the fav page there is nigh-unusable, it lists in order from most recent fave to oldest, including duplicates (Huh?), and even sorting by title doesn't put related things together. So I made a tool, and generated
Internet Archive Favorites which I'll update every so often.

My first attempt was simply scraping an RSS feed, but they only publish the last 50 faves! Bogus! Even if I cached them, I'd still have to check it often and reorganize things. Then I learned they have a developer interface, usable with an ia script or right from Python, which is more useful. It's slow without caching, but after first run it's very fast, mostly 1 API call.

Read the docs at the top of the script, look at the example config file (almost a Markdown outline, but I do some clever/stupid things in it). As usual license is BSD, an ye harm none, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

Now all I have to do is write a cfg file:

The stuff I've found that I like on [Internet Archive](https://archive.org), loosely sorted.

## Retrocomputing

+ Basic_Computer_Games_Microcomputer_Edition_1978_Creative_Computing
+ More_BASIC_Computer_Games
+ Basic_Computer_Adventures_1986_MS_Press
+ Best_of_Creative_Computing_Vol_1_1978_Creative_Computing_Press
+ creativecomputing
…

% archive-fav-extract.py -q mdhughes

And it makes a nice html file, tells me about any errors, and I paste the output file into a wordpress page.

What I'm Watching: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S1E04

I'm not gonna post every ep. S1E03 was a nice normal medical disaster ep, TOS had a bunch of those, every planet's full of plagues. Backstory for Number One and a bit for Dr M'Benga.

S1E04 is a little more involved.

**SPOILERS***

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20

Why are they waiting to the final weeks to deliver AIR FILTERING to a shake-and-bake colony? How about you plan ahead a year and then there's no JIT emergency?

"I'm not going to let some doctor inside my head to try and fix me. I'm not broken, I'm fine." —Someone who is the opposite of "fine"

Oh, it really is Acheron LV-426 down there. Including Fig "Newt"-on. "The monsters come out and click at night. Mostly." Kid is never seen again. I really wanted the Gorn to get on board, have a crew hunt in lower decks, Fig escapes and Number One comes in with an exoskeleton and BFG "get away from her, you BITCH!" Anyway. We still haven't seen a Gorn.

What we do get is a submarine battle against a destroyer group.

Singh: "I will make that adjustment. But I will not lie to them." Ash: "…about their chances. But, they have my sympathy."

"Ortegas, full stop": You can't full stop in an orbit, inside a gas giant. Newton's physics still apply here.

It's the Galileo Two (the same shuttle survives 10 years?!) Never send all your good officers on a suicide mission. And don't do therapy when you're supposed to be scouting! The Gorn apparently still use signal lanterns and morse code on their FTL starships; keep banging the rocks together, lizards, you'll invent encrypted radio someday.

"Suit up, strap in", says a man on a bridge with no seatbelts. I wouldn't even want them to develop seatbelt or non-exploding control panel technology now, they never had it on TOS, but don't lampshade it, maybe?

The actual ship battles are pretty good; they've learned a little bit to fight in 3D space, to think about the ships as spaceships and not wet navy battlecruisers. It's not perfect, their physics is total nonsense, but it's so much better than almost any Star Trek's ship fights.

★★★★☆ Either lean a little more into the Alien ripoff, or more into Das Boot.

Dungeoning & Dragoning and My New Rules, No Clerics Allowed

So I have, uh, three tabletop RPGs in development right now. One's a little corporate sabotage game, inspired by Severance, Brazil, Paranoia… One of my mini horror games with poor long-term survivability, but neat premise, should be fun.

Second is my sword & planet RPG, still needs a lot of work for space & time & dimension mechanics; it works great for fantasy swordfighting but that's not the whole point. I considered using variant Traveller/Cepheus Engine for this, but the tone is not "grizzled vets play Elite", so I'm off in my own direction here.

Third is yet another in a long series of D&D house rules that become their own OGL game, and that's what I'm on about today. In replacement for my overly-variant and overly-3.x-mechanics Stone Halls & Serpent Men, or handwritten Olde House Rules. Name to be decided later.

I've been reading a lot of the very oldest games & magazines, and really getting in the space of "what does this game need instead of what Gary published?"

  • New rules, basically OGL, spells & monsters are mostly stock from Swords & Wizardry White Box SRD, but some have partial to total rewrites. A handful of entirely new monsters, or takes on mythical/literary monsters. All new encounter table! I'm only using d20, d6 dice, and things you can do with those.
  • Stats change Wisdom to Willpower (WIL). Stat bonuses are B/X-ish, -3 to +3, which works with a d20-based mechanic. Saves & skill rolls are all based on stats.
  • HP start a little higher, Classed types get their CON score as base, but only d6 +/- 1 HD per Level. Somewhat like Arduin Grimoire. With limited healing, you need a bit more buffer between alive/dead. If you hit 0, you make death saves at penalty and probably die soon, but it's possible to be knocked out & captured like John Carter et al. do in every book.
  • Species are Human, Dwarf, Wood Elf, Beastfolk. As previously noted in The Thing About Orcs, I don't do kill-on-sight intelligent beings. You can have wars against hostile tribes, but the Badger Beastfolk who runs the bakery is not at war with you. High Elves are, as usual for me, The Big Bad (as well as Serpent Men, because I'm a Kull fanboy). No "dark elves", "half-demon goth chick", "dragon scalyfucker", "hobbit", etc. species. As I noted in Orcs, Humans-only doesn't work well without cultural markers that are harder to explain.
  • Classes are Fighter, Thief, Magician, and Spellsword (mediocre warriors with mediocre magic). No multi-class, no Clerics. Not doing anything fancy with career paths. Other than a few more experience options, and "Orgies, Inc" style pay-for-EP, it's a normal experience system! Who knew I could do that?! Should be interesting at least for this game.
  • Magic has a number of hard limits, which will make you invest in traditional fantasy accoutrements like flying mounts and magic potions instead of being superheroes with pointy hats. It is Vancian, in the sense that I've actually read Jack Vance so it works like that. Minimized spell/item creation rules, but there is some support for stuck-in-a-tower research campaigns.
  • Adventuring rules are simplified quite a bit, down to what I actually do in play; the more complex mechanics in SHSM rarely got used, the simple stuff does.
  • I may just pull the Inspirational Media (aka "Appendix N") chapter from SHSM and post it as a page. That media list is what I mean by "pulp fantasy".
  • Currently it's about 32 pages, not too densely packed, might be a bit more if I include more setting detail; certainly not above 48 pages, which seems a fine oldest-school size. Not bothering with art except the cover? I don't think so. Literature doesn't need interior art, use your imagination.

No Clerics Allowed

The lack of Clerics is contentious, but Delta's DND and Binder Full of Notes share my arguments.

I don't see heroic Clerics in any of the pulp swords & sorcery I like. There's Priest-Magicians in Moorcock's Elric stories or Thieves World, and they're the baddies. New campaign world is more like Fritz Leiber's Nehwon, where at best the few priests seen are charlatans, at worst cultists. The only historical place they come from is Archbishop Turpin from La Chanson de Roland; even Le Morte d'Arthur has only knights who praise their god, not magic Clerics. The only fantasy Cleric I can think of that I like is Duncan from Deryni Rising, and he's a secretly-apostate priest who uses black magic to save his people from Christian Human genocide!

They don't appear in Chainmail (Heroes & Wizards), or Dave Arneson's games (Adventures in Fantasy has skill-based fighters, who develop faerry[sic] magic skills later). The only reason they were ever in the game was Gary had an annoying vampire PC, and rather than do anything OOC (unaware that Rousseau had published The Social Contract in 1762), he made a grudge class for someone else.

Getting rid of Clerics makes Undead terrifying, and I love the Undead but don't love turning the undead. You don't have a living body shield who can just turn Undead all day; a Magician's Protection, Area spell lasts a few turns and only delays your murder or waiting for sunrise. Healing becomes slow (high-Level Magicians can cast 1 healing spell per day) or expensive (potions and scrolls), which encourages you to creatively avoid combat, not wade in and heal later, unless you have superior power. No raise dead, resurrection, or restoration (tho "level drain" has a different meaning in my game).

The super weird part of Clerics in D&D is they're based very heavily on Medieval Catholic priests; they carry crosses (not "holy symbols") in OD&D, they use "blessed holy water", their miracles are all based on Jesus stories, their hierarchy is based on the Medieval Catholic Church (with some weird level titles). But then they do nothing related to the Church! Because they're just Van Helsing minus the science.

The thing that stands out to me most is they have no interaction with Faerie or other gods. Historically and in myth, The Church ordered Christians to mass murder any Pagans who wouldn't convert, and fought endlessly to genocide/unexist the Little People, the Fair Folk, the People Under the Hill, Trolls, whatever you call them; their worship barely survived at all in Iceland, Finland, Norway, they're just "fairy tales" now. The worlds of Law (Christianity) & Chaos (Faerie) are openly at war in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts & Three Lions. Clerics should be all carrying iron staves and fighting against the Fey. They do in Ars Magica. But it's never come up in D&D?

Blackmoor/Eldritch Wizardry/AD&D added Druids (historically, more Sage political leaders than lightning-throwing Poison Ivy/Captain Planet superheroes), who should literally be at bloody war all the time with Christian Clerics, but everyone's copacetic, it's an ecumenical matter. Church and Holly Grove are next door in the tiny village of Hommlett. They have Clay Golems, explicitly based on the Golem of Prague, made by Clerics instead of Jewish Rabbis (again, Sages, not magic Clerics except in some Torah stories). What. I do use Golems, I love "programmed clay/flesh/iron machine goes crazy" stories; but the religious issue is impossible to resolve.

If I cared one whit for religious ceremony and all that, well, you can still have religions without Clerics, as seen in our world. They can be non-Classed, Thieves (most appropriately), or Fighters, or even Magicians if you don't mind the cognitive dissonance. But the only old-timey-religions that have ever been in my games are demon-summoning cultists Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!, or fascist Templar priests, who are more political than religious.

So, the gameplay is better without Clerics. The world is much better (more like the pulp S&S I want) without Clerics. Even in a historical setting (which I very much do not do), Clerics shouldn't have superpowers.

Why Not 5E?

Because I don't need 1000 pages of corporate rules to tell me how to move down a corridor, check for traps, fight or flight. I really hate the superheroic power level. It's nearly impossible to disentangle the healing rules from it.

What I'm Watching: Love+Death+Robots S3

Previously, S1 part 1, S1 part 2, S2.

Short season this time. No spoilers?

  • Very Pulse of the Machine: Beautiful, adapted from a fine story by Michael Swanwick, which you should read everything he writes, especially Vacuum Flowers. ★★★★★
  • Mini-Dead: Horrific subject run at high speed and tilt-shift makes it adorable. ★★★★½
  • Mason's Rats: Mercilessly bloody, esp if you have any sympathy for rats. I do not, but some kind of accommodation with the enemy must be made. Neal Asher story. ★★★★½
  • Kill Piss Kill: Call of Duty garbage that starts with an asshole pissing at the camera and gets worse. Didn't finish, hate it, everyone involved should be composted. ☆☆☆☆☆
  • In Vaulted Halls Entombed: Call of Duty vs bugs & Cthulhu. Writing's a little better than the shit medium deserves. Alan Baxter, who no shit calls himself "Warrior Scribe", "The Lord of Weird Australia". Wanker, but not the worst modern Mythos story. ★★★☆☆
  • Jibaro: Mount & Blade battle between a jewelled Siren and a bunch of knights… but one is deaf. And you want what you can't control. Excellent illustration of D&D encumbrance penalties. Very pretty. Written/directed by Alberto Mielgo. ★★★★☆
  • Swarm: The Bruce Sterling story! Kind of overly gross, dark, uncanny valley graphics, but the aliens look great, the Nest is nearly complex enough to be the Swarm. Doesn't flinch from the story ending. ★★★★½
  • Bad Travelling: Neal Asher again. Sailors deal with a bad case of crabs. Good story, CGI looks potato-y like the old videogame Summoner, characters except the navigator are moral & personality voids. It's the 3rd of 3 short stories in the Jable Sharks world, but only one adapted. ★★★★☆
  • Three Robots: Exit Strategies: Scalzi tries to be politically correct. He will be first to be killed and eaten after the apocalypse, as we all hate smug jerkoffs. I almost appreciate this one for letting my contempt for Scalzi reach a new low. ☆☆☆☆☆

This season there's not a single female writer, 2 directors are women, but one is of that CoD shit, earns a demerit to the female side.

What I'm Watching: Star Trek SNW S1E2

Second episode greatly improved on the first. I guess I'm subscribed and watching this. Nobody is more surprised that Mark liked a modern Star Trek than Mark.

SPOILER TIMES

2239
2240
2241
2242
2243
2244
2245
2246
2247
2248
2249
2250
2251
2252
2253
2254
2255
2256
2257
2258
2259

Mostly liked.

The Captain's dinner was bad. A) I really really dislike their "casual" being mostly 20th C stuff, obvs Pike's old-fashioned, but it's too retro. TOS set a clear standard that the fashion & music & entertainments of the future are NOT just rehashed pre-apocalypse stuff. B) Ortega's gutter trash look is completely inappropriate for Starfleet, even casual. James T. Kirk wouldn't put up with that kind of disrespect to the service. C) The grilling/hazing of Uhura is poor team-building, but also everyone goes on at length with bad writing nobody would ever say. Very cringey first act.

The comet/alien artifact is fantastic, though. Great design for it. Alien thing that is actually alien and inscrutable. A seemingly simple problem, in TOS it would probably be a Prime Directive violation, but they just set up the PD last episode, so here they can just fix it. Except it's not that fixable.

Uhura gets to use linguistics (kind of a useless skill when you have a Universal Translator) and singing, tho she mostly hums. But she can carry a tune. Sam Kirk gets to be "the guy we zap or knock around because he can't die until TOS" for this series. Spock and Singh just stand around and be useless, but Spock & Uhura (and a bit with Nurse Bleach-Blonde Chapel) actually are funny, there's good writing here. Did they borrow writers from Lower Decks?

The alien menace is kind of ridiculous, bad face on the screen, weird shapeship that doesn't make a lot of engineering sense. For "advanced" aliens they have incredibly bad aim and weak, standard-issue plasma torpedo weapons. In Star Fleet Battles terms, they're like one of the minor races, no new tech but a bigger ship, any good pilot can beat them with a stock Heavy Cruiser.

The natives on the planet are barely seen, little fake camp pounding grit, hard to believe there's millions of them. If they're the reason you're doing this, at least show something sympathetic.

I really hope this doesn't turn into "every alien thing has TIME POWERS", because I'm annoyed by that already.

★★★½☆ but keep in mind I'd rate all of TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT, PIC, & STD ★☆☆☆☆ to ★★☆☆☆ with only rare ep exceptions, so this is some high praise from me.