- Algernon Blackwood’s The Empty House—Monday, November 24th, 2014
An elderly researcher sends a telegram to a potential psychic to investigate an evil house, now empty and unsaleable. I had thought that the basic plot line began with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but the similarities to Algernon Blackwood’s 1906 The Empty House were obvious from the first paragraph, when he starts describing how some houses, like people, can be evil.
Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.
Of course, in his older style Blackwood goes on for a page and a half to describe what Jackson managed brilliantly in a single paragraph. The opening of The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best hooks ever, despite breaking rules about agency and obscurity.1
The Empty House is a short story, very short, really just a haunted house described by the two witnesses. Whether or not either of the witnesses are psychic doesn’t figure in beyond as a speculation as to being why the effects of the house are so physical around them. Nor is the idea of psychic research expanded upon beyond being the impetus for the aunt wanting to enter the house with her nephew. But if you’re interested in the development of the Jacksonian haunted house, you’ll want to read Blackwood’s story.
I found it in Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, which I recommend if you enjoy older horror, such as Lovecraft’s. Blackwood was an influence on Lovecraft as well as presumably on Jackson. Also among these stories are his John Silence character, a psychic detective who, with a bit of tweaking, could be a model for a haunted adventurer.
The stories are presented chronologically as written, according to the introduction2, and so the writing style improves as you move through the collection. If you aren’t interested in old stories for their own sake, you might start with The Wendigo or especially The Other Wing, which is where they really begin to turn eerie.
- Mayfair Games remembered—Saturday, October 18th, 2014
I was recently in Richmond, Virginia, and, wandering up Cary Street looking for record stores and bookstores, ran across a game store called One Eyed Jacques. They are mostly board games and card games, but apparently at one time they specialized in RPGs. I’m guessing this from the non-lit Mayfair Games neon light in their display window.1
I have a few Mayfair game books from back in the day, and picked up a few more during my eBay spree several years ago. I played in one of their Role-Aids adventures, about a Clockwork Mage, back in college. It was a wacky adventure involving magical clockwork androids and the missing wizard who created them.
They made their own games, too, however, and were especially known for their Chill horror role-playing game and for the DC Heroes superhero role-playing game licensed from DC. DC Heroes was a bit of mathematical genius, where all numbers were interchangeable and within any scale +1 meant twice as big, bad, or whatever. This allowed relatively similar numbers to model everyone from Superman to Robin.
But it also meant the numbers across measurements could be compared: a 7 strength could throw a 5 truck for a distance of 2. A 5 speed would take 2 units of time to go a distance of 3, and so forth. It was an impressive mechanic.
- New, improved Helter Skelter!—Saturday, September 13th, 2014
Helter Skelter is now in the new format. It has a nice new PDF with a table of contents. The resources file remains the same, but is more prominently linked on the adventure’s web pages.
For our group, Helter Skelter was a turning point in the sandbox. The characters had consulted an oracle—an ancient bean-si—in the mountains and decided to go to the first city. They didn’t yet know what it meant, but the oracle told them to consult Red Jack. Red Jack led them to The Road.
On their way to the Road, they went through the Song of Tranquility adventure from Fight On! #7. Song of Tranquility’s working title was Skeleton Crew. I wrote it because I realized that Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had the wrong feel for what they were doing. I’d still love to run Expedition at some point. I’ve never done that adventure, either as player or DM.
The Road led them to The City. That adventure will come next, I think. But probably after I redo the Encounter Guide and Arcane Lore.
The really cool part of this adventure turned out to be the matchbooks, which are meant to be introduced during an earlier adventure to draw the characters into the right doors. The newspaper wasn’t too bad either: it really does look real. Helter Skelter contains the coolest ephemera of any of my adventures, I think.
- New, improved House of Lisport!—Saturday, September 6th, 2014
I just uploaded the new version of The House of Lisport. The accompanying PDF now has a table of contents as well as some links between content. And of course is in the new 9x7 format. Maps are integrated into the text; they continue to be in Inkscape for wide editability.
The House of Lisport is the second “new” adventure, after Lost Castle of the Astronomers, and the first that I wrote specifically for this group. It’s an idea, however, that I had bouncing around since seeing The Ghost of Mistmoor in Dungeon #35 back in 1992. Mistmoor purported to be a haunted house, something I’ve always had a soft spot for, in the gothic tradition; the actual implementation was a bit on the silly side, however, including a pair of thieves using a portable hole as a toilet trap. Even in Monty Haul campaigns, a portable hole was a big deal. The amount of treasure the hole could potentially bring in by risking losing it was dwarfed by how much the hole itself was worth.
I was even willing to put up with that, however, and saved this adventure for years in the hopes of someday running it. When it came time to actually run the thing, however, on reading through it I realized it was somewhat of a railroad: players needed to do and know exactly the right thing in order to complete the adventure, and there wasn’t any adventure if they didn’t complete it.
So I went back to basics and built The House from the ground up, so to speak. First, I wanted to use a real English mansion, so I went online to find the maps for one, ending up with Montacute House, simplified it, and went on to fill it up with all the clichés of years of Poe, Scooby Doo, and other haunted houses. Even the title is a steal from The House of Usher.
I also tied it heavily into the history of the area; more than any other adventure, it uses the past of Highland to explain why things happened the way they did. I even modified it a bit: the whole idea that there are abandoned towns up and down Fawn River comes from this adventure.
And the fact that it’s near Fork meant fleshing out that city, as well, turning it into Highland’s own stripped down Las Vegas—something which led directly into Helter Skelter, the next adventure in the series.
- Dwimmermount is here!—Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
I just received the Dwimmermount Map Book and Labyrinth Lord-compatible hardcover today. I’d almost forgotten about the Kickstarter—I joined in early April 2012—but it looks like it was worth the wait. The hardcover is 399 pages, so I haven’t had a chance to do more than glance through it, but it looks damn cool so far. The back cover has a price on it indicating the hardcover is likely to retail for $40 once it comes out publicly. If so, it’s a steal. This thing has everything: fungal groves, crystal caves, anvils of fire, and of course, brain demons!
The appendix of new magic items and monsters covers pages 317 to 373. That’s a lot of cool shit.
Update September 6: I just received the Dwimmermount Illustration Book yesterday. It’s also cool. The map book is $20 and the illustrations are $10; technically, that brings the total cost to $70. However, the additional books are not necessary. And the main book itself provides so much adventure, that you’ll have plenty of time to decide if the additional expense of the extra books are worth it for your group.
- New, improved Vale of the Azure Sun!—Monday, September 1st, 2014
I just uploaded the new version of The Vale of the Azure Sun. The accompanying PDF now has a table of contents as well as some links between content. And of course is in the new 9x7 format. Maps are integrated into the text, and, most importantly, maps are now in Inkscape SVG format instead of AppleWorks. This is the last of the AppleWorks map sets. The later adventures, even though they use the old Word format, at least have Inkscape and Scribus resource files. Because of that, both Helter Skelter and House of Lisport should be easier to get into the new Nisus format.
The Valley of the Blue Sun/Vale of the Azure Sun is one of my very earliest adventures. I wrote it back when I played the 1981 Purple Box version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. That box came with Module B2, The Keep on the Borderlands. It’s hard to imagine a better adventure to train new dungeon masters on. I was especially fascinated by the Mad Hermit domiciled in a “huge hollow oak”. I decided that the hermit was the guardian of a wild and crazy—and dangerous—world. Back then it was, literally, an underground valley, tricked out with strange plants but not an actual other world. The dragon at the center of the caverns was a huge creature who really had no way of getting in or out of his lair.
This may have been my first adventure, and throughout my limited Basic/Expert tenure, I continually revisited it, because it was part of the Keep.
When I was looking for a change of pace after Lost Castle of the Astronomers and Haunted Illustrious Castle, I remembered the old valley, pulled out my ancient tractor feed notes, and decided that it fit Gods & Monsters even better than it fit D&D. Dragons are more subtle, and I’d already been thinking about sorcerous pocket worlds because of Merle Davenport’s Magic Garden and Grant Morrison’s Danny the Street.
- New, improved Haunted Castle!—Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
I’ve just uploaded the new, easier to read and use version of my favorite adventure, Illustrious Castle. This also means that the PDF is improved: besides being in 9x7 format for easier reading on a computer screen, the PDF contains a table of contents and some links back and forth between content.
Further, I’ve integrated the maps into the text; note also that the maps are now in Inkscape format for easy modification. You can download all of them as part of the zip resources file for the adventure.
Unlike all of the rest of the Gods & Monsters adventures except The Vale of the Azure Sun, this adventure is from the elder times: it is an early adventure I originally wrote for AD&D, and have enjoyed it so much I have continually used it since them. Back then, it was Castle Oberon; later I added the library town and turned it into Illustrious Castle, noted that the castle was haunted and added the Haunted appellation.
When we restarted our gaming nigh on ten years ago, and I needed a second adventure for the group, this is the one I pulled out of my bag of tricks. We had as much fun with the town as we did with the castle!
- Chaos and Order in IT—Thursday, July 24th, 2014
“Few people notice this, but for IT groups respect is the currency of the realm. IT pros do not squander this currency… The amount of respect an IT pro pays someone is a measure of how tolerable that person is when it comes to getting things done, including the elegance and practicality of his solutions and suggestions. IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.”
That’s as succinct a description of the chaotic moral code as you’ll find in real life. Self-ordering hierarchy based on the needs of the current problem outside of the needs of any imposed hierarchy.