Monday, January 27, 2020

The Florentine

Evlyn started up a project where folks would write up author avatars and the assorted Lovecraftian tomes they had authored. Since Evlyn has only recently returned to Twitter, I don't know if there's been any more talk or progress on it. Hopefully this will jumpstart other people to join in.

Domenico Frazzini

(b. 1460 d. 1516) 

Few details of Frazzini's life as a minor clerk in the Arte del Cambio survive. His poetry gained little traction in the Florence of his day and in the following centuries languished in obscurity. The fragments of his letters paint a picture of a man withdrawn from general social life for the company of a small circle of close friends, beset by fits of melancholy and chronic insomnia and with little love for the trade he found himself in. (From one of his letters: "How I hate the florin. I cannot think clearly with the clink of gold in my ears.") At some point in his early life he had intended to become a monk, but for unclear reasons chose a different path. Later documents contain spirited critique of church corruption. It was in the dreams and daydreams of the landscapes and inhabitants of fantastic worlds, and in the poetry inspired by them, that he found his great escape.

The date of Frazzini's death is known, but not the cause. It's suspected to be from complications caused by years of stress and lack of sleep.

Bibliography


The majority of Frazzini's works were destroyed during the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497. The surviving poetry and letters were left in the care of his close friend, Giacomo Betori. Of these,

The Little Dream Book / Piccolo Libro dei Sogni

  • Journey to the Moon - A comedic picaresque adventure wherein a peasant girl travels to the moon to free her betrothed, who was imprisoned there by horrible toadlike monsters. On her way she encounters a pair of Egyptian priests, an enchanted forest, a band of talking rats, and other such picaresque adventures. It is Frazzini's longest surviving work.
  • The Republic of Cats - A political satire where barely-renamed notable Florentines are rendered as cats deciding what to do while the owner of the house is away. Naturally, they come to no conclusions and all fall asleep long before the man's return.
  • The Androphagi - An account of the man-eaters who live "south of the world and below the world", as told by a visitor in their lands. The Court of the Marrow King is convened to throw a feast in the visitor's honor, and unable to contain his disgust the visitor flees through subterranean warrens, pursued by the Marrow King's soldiers and glimpsing even more horrific sights before reaching the safety of the sun above.
  • The Golden Lady - A short poem from Frazzini to his wife, expressing his affection and admiration for her. If nothing else, it seems that they were happy together.
  • Tambifilotopa - A nonsense poem describing the bizarre creatures that live in the enchanted forest featured in "Journey to the Moon".
  • Across the Burning Desert - A trading caravan is beset by water thieves, and the merchants find that the god they carry with them has gone silent. Ends in uncertainty as night falls and the moonlight reveals amorphous shapes among the rocks.
  • House of the Spider - The spider in question never appears, but the house and all its decrepitude are described in great detail. A pair of goat-eyed men from a distant duchy arrive to hunt down the spider (against the counsel of the townsfolk) and are last seen entering through the front door.
  • The Worms that Duel - A town suffers a devastating earthquake, caused by a pair of miles-long worms, one black and one white, fighting each other deep beneath the ground.
  • The Devil Arrives - A nameless Tuscan town is visited on Carnivale night by a man whose clothes are black are tar and whose scarf is red like a bloodied tongue. He offers boons to anyone who asks; those who accept the offer find themselves cursed by misfortune or madness. As he leaves, the man delivers a message from his "old master, blind, deaf and dumb" - but this is written in indecipherable scribbles.
  • Flight - An aging Frazzini in declining health describes his sleeping spirit flying out of his body and soaring over the lands he has explored in earlier years, holding on to a night's freedom before he must return to mortality.
  • Notes and Letters - Precisely that.

Editions

  • Original Manuscript - Handwritten. Everything that avoided the bonfire and made its way to Betori's care.
  • 1550 First Printing - Betori's grandson edits the surviving manuscripts into a single work and oversees a small printing of The Little Dream Book.
  • Translations
    • 1760 - Initial rediscovery and translation into English and French.
    • 1833 - Bowlderized run, no known surviving copies and they were awful anyway.
    • 1879 - A second, more faithful English translation. Treated as the standard, available on Gutenberg Project.
  • Modern translations
    • 1974 - A scholarly edition, with footnotes and everything.
    • 1999 - Republished version of the 1974 text.
    • 2017 - New English translation with the Italian on the opposing page. Has been translated into 9 additional languages. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Random Tables from Twitter: Part 3, Enterprises Edition

Buckle up folks, it's a double header via @imaginaryhallw1

d20 Things Underworlders Desperately Need

  1. Fresh fruits and vegetables
  2. Vitamin supplements (C&D especially)
  3. News and mail from the surface
  4. Soap, toothpaste, toilet paper
  5. Spices and seasonings
  6. Water filters 
  7. Canned food and dried goods
  8. Antiseptics and OTC meds
  9. Tampons, pads, birth control
  10. Underwear and socks
  11. Replacement computer components
  12. Smut
  13. Batteries, chargers, adapters
  14. Music, movies, games, books
  15. Up-to-date maps and guides
  16. Ammunition
  17. Camping supplies
  18. Magical reagents
  19. Memetic vaccinations
  20. Translators, doctors, therapists

d20 Paranormal Youtube Rabbit Holes

  1. Fleshcrafter beauty / workout vlogs.
  2. The Dero got into the  Indian nursery rhyme spam accounts again...
  3. Stygian Library explorations with the Book Club.
  4. Ynnian gardening tips.
  5. Those idiots trying to do the King in Yellow in 15 second clips.
  6. In-depth literary and lore analysis of Madotsuki's dream diary.
  7. Identifying underworld graffiti tags.
  8. That one guy who homebrews his own space mead.
  9. Clips from a popular delver podcast, animated in SFM.
  10. Official channel of the Lithic embassy at Bárðarbunga. The ambassador really loves his flintbirds.
  11. Livestream of a silent delver's campsite. They wear a mask and occasionally play the banjo.
  12. Mad scientists unboxing and testing new tools.
  13. Ghost hunter drama channels.
  14. Investigations into missing delvers, attempting to find what happened to them.
  15. Faerie sightings, plus the creepy fandom around them.
  16. Obvious serpentmen-created homunculi attempting social engineering
  17. People really into occult cryptocurrency.
  18. Underworld cooking channels
  19. Technomancer-modified Let's Plays
  20. Lo-Fi Cult Music Study and Chill Infinite Mix

Monday, January 20, 2020

Random Tables from Twitter: Part 2

The sequel to part 1.

d10 Dread Staves

(via @lithyscape)
  1. Hawthorn with a skull on top.
  2. Thin obsidian dowel.
  3. Petrified wood nymph.
  4. Dragonbone double helix.
  5. Elm with a hand of glory.
  6. Quicksilver needle.
  7. Hunchbacked spine.
  8. Pitchfork with a bloody history.
  9. Rusted drill shaft.
  10. A coiled diamond 

d10 Methods For Getting Out of Funks

(via @will_brunn)
  1. Exercise.
  2. Changing routine.
  3. Spending time with friends.
  4. Meditation.
  5. Getting more sleep.
  6. Playing with animals.
  7. Listening to new music.
  8. Have a good cathartic cry.
  9. Medication.
  10. Positive existentialism. 

d10 Ynnian Pathways

(via @macpheed)
  1. March of the Ladybugs - A red-and black carpet of beetles forms a roadway under your feet.
  2. Bramble Tunnel - The thorns tear at your clothing and skin. Take 1 Flesh damage.
  3. Topiary Road - Winding gravel lined with beautifully-cut images of your friends and family.
  4. Around-the-Vast-Oak - Walk around the trunk counter-clockwise, and you'll end up where you're going.
  5. The Garden Gate - An iron gate set in an ivy-choked brick wall.
  6. The Snake - A big old snake head. Walk into its mouth, its throat becomes
  7. The Deluge - Black, pregnant storm clouds burst open, washing players away to the next region.
  8. The Meadow - A wide field of grass and pale flowers under a bright midmorning sun
  9. Pond of the Sword-Naiad - A wooden bridge over a placid green pond. It's inhabitant has a 50% chance of chucking a magical sword at someone in the party.
  10. A Dirt Trail in a Darkened Wood - Nothing unusual but the shadows of your own head.

 d10 Art styles for Underworld Gangs

(via @cherok_a4)
  1. Lascaux cave paintings
  2. Hellenist amphora paintings
  3. Dogū figures
  4. Art deco
  5. Ukio-E
  6. Impressionist
  7. Brutalist
  8. Classical Egyptian
  9. Gothic stained glass
  10. Outsider art

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Random Tables from Twitter: Part 1

I've been feeling dreary and uninspired of late, so I took to twitter to get some requests for random tables. Here's the first batch.

d6 Reasons Lord Cobain and Lady Malton Confiscate all Horses of Visitors to the Stranded Isles 

(via @shutteredroom)
  1. Epona is worshiped here, all horses are hers by right.
  2. Very little can live here. The Lord and Lady have a taste for fresh meat.
  3. Those horses were theirs in the first place.
  4. It's a tradition dating back to the Iron Years. Just a formality nowadays.  
  5. They are specialized cavalry psychopomps. War ravages the waking world.
  6. They honestly don't know.

d10 Strange Potion Containers 

(via @anxietywizard)
  1. Insulated thermos
  2.  Hollow basilisk skull
  3. Cow's udder
  4. Miniature aquarium
  5. Portable puddle
  6. Quantum glassware
  7. Compressed beadlets
  8. Squeezed from a stone
  9. Psychedelic cactus
  10. Breastfruit

d10 Magic Bullets (for EE, obviously) 

(via @imaginaryhallw1)
  1. Gun-Saint fingerbones - Counts as blessed.
  2. Dissolvershot - Dissolves into mist after impact.
  3. Segmentation rounds - Bullets can split in two at a -2 to hit and 1 damage die penalty
  4. Moonlight bullets - As cold iron vs fae or ghosts.
  5. Needle ammo - Pierces armor.
  6. Plague rounds - Carries a disease, one per ammunition unit.
  7. Foamshot - Save vs stunning as it rapidly expands and hardens.
  8. Delayed reaction ammunition - Hits target 30 seconds after it is fired.
  9. Brimstone bullets - Catches fire on contact with air.
  10. The Legendary - A bullet that was used to kill a notable figure.

d10 Rumors about the Sea goddess' Temple 

(via @marshallbrengle)
  1. There are pearls the size of a fist down there!
  2. The rooms surrounding the sanctum are a gigantic puzzle.
  3. Yeah! Makin' out with merfolk!
  4. Access is granted only by casting fresh blood on the coral doors.
  5. The cyclops stonemason who built it still lives on-site.
  6. Rare fish swim through the corridors as if the air was water.
  7. It has been swallowed up by an enormous whale!
  8. Sludge spirits from local industrial cites infest and desecrate the temple.
  9. Priests of the rival earth god have been camping outside and issuing challenges for weeks.
  10. A star declaring a miraculous spawning has risen.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Organically-Grown Investigations

Take all this with a salt block: however good a game I might talk, I have never seen an investigative game to conclusion. But I think I have gotten the knack of beginnings for sandboxy investigation games after four sessions of Great Screaming Hell, (and a first aborted attempt at Esoteric Enterprises). If not a knack, at least a decent enough starting point to start refining. My own brand of mind goblins tends to burn out campaigns after a half dozen sessions or sooner so I don't know how viable it is for long-term investigations - I also tend to plan far too big and so folks never get to a proper answer.

Those caveats out of the way, here are some of my thoughts on the matter and how I set up the components of an investigation. I'll be diving into my notes for this one, so expect to see behind the curtain of GREAT SCREAMING HELL.

Avoiding the Mystery Box


You can throw all sorts of stuff into an investigative sandbox with no plan. That's cool, go wild. It helps to have a couple big picture movers-and-shakers out there but they can be buried under layers of other aspects.

In the aftermath of that initial burst it becomes necessary to do a bit of retroactive tissue connection. If X person did action A, whatever motivation they are revealed to have later on should be consistent with that action.

Inciting Event


Something has to kick off the investigation. Whether the players are proper investigators or just folks caught up in things, the best way to kick off the investigation is something big, mysterious, and in-your face.

Example: The players are ambushed by a monster while transporting a strange cargo.

Seeds and Threads


The core of an investigation. Seeds are the clues found during play, and Threads are the things that connect or expand upon those seeds. Simple enough. To ease up on work for the referee's end of things, the inciting event should open the door (If the players are birds, dump a bucket of suet on them), and further sessions can focus, connect, refine, and tie in new stuff. It's okay to come up with answers after the fact - I actually really like the mind game of tying together disparate parts into a whole. It's also okay that the players don't get those answers handed to them.

Basically, when prepping for your next session, make a bullet list of your available seeds and see where they might connect and lead, which ones might interfere with the players, and how thread (especially ones involving factions) will act and react to changes in the world.

Example: The first session of GSH contains a truckload (har) of seed questions.
  • Who is FRIEND? Why are they shipping the Box?
  • Who is Scipio? Why did they want the Box?
  • What was in the Box? Where did it come from?
    • [Behind the Veil: The box contained a Navigator, and thus the only remaining functional warp interface in the system. It was presumed lost or destroyed during the aftermath of the Zaibatsu's departure. FRIEND was apparently trying to get it out of Colony Central.] 
  • What was and what was up with the Beast?
  • What was up with the radio station?
I don't need to come up with all the answers to these at session 1 - but I do need to remember that the questions exist.

For the second session the players ended up investigating the radio tower. (As a strike against myself, this was not under their investigative power but me guiding things as referee), and moved right on in the third to the abandoned Weather Station. This brought with it its own seeds.
  • Dess Kartz' testimony  
    • He and his companions were attempting to recover the "Holy Interface" (IE, the cargo)
  • The android cult of the Church of Skin 
    • Had its own Interface (the  horrible thing in the garage)
    • Under investigation by both the tecnavi ship-mother in orbit around the moon, and by a couple of mercenaries of the Legio Africanus (Scipio's boys)
      • [Behind the Veil: I never decided if the Legio Africanus guys were killed by the tecnavi agent or by Lady Badgerlock.]
In session 4 the logic core is cracked open, revealing that the Church of Skin began after the androids were gifted with a carapace of some unknown creature by a man who came down from the High Desert, and that this was the origination of the cult and the breaking of the androids' programming.

[Behind the Veil: The carapace is actually from what would have been the central, overarching threat of GSH. Had this campaign continued, there would have been a thread pointing north to the Redoubts and beyond to the High Desert to find out the truth.]

[Behind the Veil: The radio tower was essentially a last-ditch effort by the Church to get the Interface. Something spooked them (a visitation by Lady Badgerlock) and in their panic they attempted to bootstrap themselves into their own Interface, hoping that they could grab the Navigator and use it to patch over the crippling flaws of their own and help them ascend to divinity]

[Behind the Veil: The Beast, Lady Badgerlock, and the Third Man are all members of the same group. Their plans and rivalries were not yet developed by the time things fell apart, though I had some imaginings that the Third Man had his own agenda.]

So you see the basic pattern. Scatter seeds, a thread or two become major developments, others are weaved in where they might make sense. Don't let new elements overpower learning more about what's going on with the current thread. Make sure new developments are consistent with what happened previously.


Taking it Forward


I hope to be running Esoteric Enterprises soon, and that'll be a good opportunity to put this all into practice once again. Perhaps get better at converting my own notes into usable-for-other formats - seeds and threads lend themselves well to flowcharts (or if I wanted to get really out there, something like a Twine story with hyperlinks all over...wait...wait a god damn minute)

BRB that Twine idea is taking off you are witnessing the creative process in real time. 


Thursday, January 2, 2020

LET'S LOOK AT: Some 2019 Shotgun Scenarios

This is a review exchange with mellonbread of the Green Box podcast of our respective Shotgun Scenario entries (Mine was TAKE-HOME CONTAINER, I'll get to that one later).

Secondary caveat is that I am critiquing as an outsider with little experience and a taste that often runs counter to the normal expectations of Delta Green so this is going to be even more shotgun-tone-poem opinion than normal.

Wives of March (cowritten)


A character piece - three women connected to MAJESTIC 12 with both reason and ability to go after Delta Green. They've got a lot of personality built-in, and would be a blast to run with folks who can really get into their characters.

The actual scenario is light enough that it feels superfluous. It functions, I guess. It's really just a timeline for what DG is doing during the proceedings. Again, totally dependent on the players and how deep they are willing to get into the characters because I could see it shining or flopping entirely on that point.

The Dream Merchants


Mostly setting in this one: a tiny village in Maine that is a stopover point for inhabitants of the Dreamlands. Got a really nice atmosphere - lots of good NPC descriptions and their interactions and desires. In that sense it is very much counter to the normal Delta Green setup and view of the world and as previous posts of mine have indicated it is indeed my jam.

DG's actual involvement is mostly a footnote at the end, so it feels like to really get the most out of this splicing in another scenario would be the best move. But as raw idea material, it's killer. I would absolutely dump this into Esoteric Enterprises.

Operation BIG STICK


This is pulled right from Disco Elysium. I am on to you, mellon. I know your game. I read your book!

A single simple setpiece, a setup for a conflict that can be spun out by a good referee. A very contained scenario. Lots of potential fun to be had with lost time and memory loss. Being familiar with the origin and the written-for-refs nature of the scenario I feel like some of the impact might be lost on me as the reader (this is an issue with the genre/medium, so it doesn't really count as a knock against it), but players going in blind could easily be taken for a wild ride.    

Who Killed the Case Officer?

A murder by a DG working group pinned on the local cult. Apparently also based on Disco Elysium, but I didn't catch that until I heard it on the podcast.

Provides a nice, easy to read list of relevant crime scene evidence. Rest of the scenario would be grilling NPCs for info, but with the hapless cult and the two guilty agents as those NPCs there's some fun ways things could potentially spiral out of control - best enemy for the paranoid maniacs of DG are other paranoid maniacs in DG.

Operation BUSCEMI SKATEBOARD (cowritten)

"It was actually nothing all along" is not always a great twist, but it works here. Setup is high school cultist getting into some real dark shit because her parents swear that's the only way to keep them safe.

This is wrong: the dark god has been dead for ages and the contact ritual is a whiff. You can talk your way to a sensible conclusion. That's good stuff. If players are sensitive to scenarios featuring sexual abuse, might be smart to warn them ahead of time.

Yomping (cowritten)


Band of civilian archaeologists on a Scottish highlands dig encounter bad weather and worse guests. There's a good bit of fluff setup, but the end result comes down to "players are stuck in bad weather, and they have to deal with some escaped inmates with brain parasites and/or deep ones, eventually a cleanup team shows up." This one didn't do a whole lot to pique my interest.

Une nuit à l'opéra (cowritten)


A wizard tries to flee to Canada using the Haskell Library and Opera House. The other players are split between Delta Green and M-Epic. Everyone's working against each other. Most of the scenario space is given over to premade characters, three for each faction. Very much in the vein of Wives of March, though with a more novel action seed. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much for me beyond "neat NPC list", though.

Bonus points for an opera adaptation of Shadow of the Torturer. That got a smile.

In general

All of these scenarios were very heavy on NPCs. The plus side is that all the NPCs were well-realized and have personalities which can easily stick in the ref's (or player's) head, which makes them easy to play. Downside is gigantic stablocks and no handy sidebars or insets or any formatting other than raw Wikidot, which makes them all terribly unpleasant to read at times. I do wonder what all these would look like in a different format.

BIG STICK, Dream Merchants, and Wives of March could be combined into a single scenario rather easily. That could be real cool.

Participating in the contest  was, if nothing else, a really eye-opening design challenge. Wrestling with a different set of expectations (which were often frustrating) was a nice break from the norm.

Still going to run right back into the embrace of Esoteric Enterprises, though.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Magical Languages (Sept Patreon Post)

Heaven's Vault

Magical Languages


One of the most ancient and more common folk magics, it is near impossible to find a community without at least one interpreter of magical tongues.

A character may know one magical language for each point of WIS bonus that they possess. (For games with higher modifiers, one language for every two points). A character who knows a language may always hear and respond to it, but may only successfully begin conversation with a successful WIS check LVL times / day. Human magical languages are the exception to this, requiring no roll.

Natural Languages

  • Of Birds and Beasts - A means of communication with all creatures typically lacking the ability of speech. some traditions split this further, so it is common to hear of the Language of Birds alone, or of The Language of Crawling Things or Of Fish and Sea Creatures.
  • Of the Deeps and Waters - Oldest, but fickle and forever changing.
  • Of the Earth and Stones - Slowest of all. The stones recall everything that has occurred upon them, but the recollection of even a single moment might take multiple days.
  • Of Fire and Coals - Flickering and short lived. Fire is swift and remembers little of what it devours
  • Of Tree and Flower - In many ways similar to the beasts, though much slower.

Human Languages

  • Of Wizarding Ways - A secret shorthand, either written so as to be invisible or incomprehensible to the untrained eye, that wizards use to guard their arcane secrets. Was once a mundane language, long dead, that the early unions of mages decided upon as the language of writing about magic.
  • Of Swords and Boots - The language of soldiers, trenches, and battles. A clipped, simple language, easy to speak and understand in times of chaos, but lacking a lot of depth beyond the scope of war.
  • Of Streets and Roofs - The language of the city, the means of speaking to its buildings and roadways.
  • Of Infants - Through this art, the smallest of infants can be spoken to as if a well-learned adult.
  • Of Taboos - Containing all the words we dare not say and ideas we dare not bring to light. A language of secrets and confessions.
  • Of Soft Touches - The language of intimacy. Practiced by lovers and lovers-for-hire.
  • Of Lies - Where everything said has a double meaning, and truth has no foothold.
  • Of Babel - The rare taproot of all human languages, which may be understood by anyone. 

Spiritual Languages

  • Of the Gods Above and Below - To speak with gods directly, without the need for a ritual intermediary.
  • Of the Spirits of the Dead - Speaking with ghosts, and to a lesser extent the material animated dead.
  • Of Good and Evil Spirits - To speak with spirits without the need of leaving a ritual offering.