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Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Sunday, July 17, 1994
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
Kolchak: The Wrong Goodbye (a Daredevils adventure)—Wednesday, June 12th, 2024
Kolchak: The Wrong Goodbye social media: Social media shortcut image for the Kolchak/Daredevils adventure, The Wrong Goodbye.; adventures; Daredevils RPG; Kolchak: The Night Stalker

UFO magazines from the seventies and very early eighties are a treasure trove of Kolchak adventure ideas. This isn’t surprising, since Kolchak is set in the mid-seventies and Kolchak’s peculiar logic is very similar to the peculiar logic of paranormal “researchers” of the era. It’s very often conclusion first, data second.

The idea for The Wrong Goodbye (PDF File, 2.3 MB) came from an article in the April, 1980 issue of Beyond Reality about Russian psychic research.

Top Soviet scientists maintain they are well on their way to telepathic communication with cosmonauts in deep space. They warned that if their country masters that art of direct mind-to-mind communication, they could use it for military purposes. Soviet scientific researchers carried out top secret experiments for a two-year period between 1975 and 1977 in which electrodes were placed on the brains of freshly killed rats. The rodents’ brain activity was then recorded. This activity was stimulated when a psychic projected thoughts at the dead animals.

I don’t see how you can read that second paragraph and assume it’s about the first paragraph. If Soviet psychics were stimulating the brains of dead rats that’s a lot more sinister than talking to orbiting astronauts.

Given its already strange implications, I used the article mostly verbatim. All I did was drop the years by two to make the events fit the 1976 year of the adventure. I’m running these annual adventures sequentially so that the repeat characters in the game can reference previous adventures. I’m running them a year or so after the events of the series so that players can reference the series.

I ran this adventure at the 2023 North Texas RPG Convention. It’s mostly a skeleton, but a detailed one. This is the first Daredevils adventure that I made from scratch. The others came from Fantasy Game Unlimited’s adventure compilations. I used the first one, The Body Vanishes almost verbatim, with only a minor reskin to move it to Chicago, update it to 1976, and replace the NPCs with Kolchak’s contacts. The second, The Powers of Dr. Remoux I heavily modified, to the point where all I was using was the basic idea and framework. That basic idea was further influenced by an article in another UFO magazine, and also from 1980!

The best gaming is being left to yourself—Monday, April 29th, 2024

“It’s a shame that we use so many extant terms from places like creative writing and theatrical improvisation in order to describe the act of table-top role-playing games. We do have our own jargon, but most of it is fun, whimsical, and more than somewhat esoteric. Or, to my chagrin, it’s borrowed from the video game industry—which wouldn’t exist in its current form without D&D in the first place… What we do at the gaming table is neither fish nor fowl.”

“Conversely, a game doesn’t have to resolve itself, doesn’t have to answer every question, account for every hanging plot thread… If you read a novel and it swung focus around like a typical D&D game, you’d throw the book across the room within a few chapters.”

Variant Species: The Golden Servant—Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024
Ruggiero rescuing Angelica: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s 1819 Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica, from Pursues and Andromedia.; paintings; Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres; Perseus

This is the sort of focused, almost zoned-out, look that Golden Servants often have when performing even a self-set task.

A Golden Servant is a summonable creature, something that sorcerors will summon to perform specific tasks. It’s also a new species alternative for Gods & Monsters players who choose the Species specialty for their character. The Golden Servant is perfect for sporadic players: when the player doesn’t show up, it means the character has been summoned away by some far-away sorceror.

The Golden Servant is much like most such summoned creatures: it tends to be literal, it tends to want to discharge its task with the least amount of work possible, and it tends, paradoxically-but-not-really, to be focused on that task to the point of ignoring any ancillary events happening around it.

While the Golden Servant has free will in how it discharges the task, it rarely takes into account morality; that simply never occurs to it. Unlike all other character species, the default for the Golden Servant is to have no moral code. Where for most player characters realizing that moral codes mean something important in the universe is part of the long-term adventure of Gods & Monsters, it is gaining a moral code that might be part of the long-term arc of a Golden Servant player character.

Like androids in television shows—going at least all the way back to Pinocchio and most commonly known today, probably, via Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation—the arc of the Golden Servant is about becoming human first. Recognizing that there is a morality beyond expedience comes later.

Golden Servants are physically elite, which is part of why they’re in demand as summoned servants. Golden Servants have a +1 to Strength, Agility, Endurance, Charisma, and Intelligence. They have a penalty of 2 to Wisdom.

Golden Servants have as their preferred archetypes the Warrior, Sorceror, Thief, and Monk. That is, they can pretty much move in and out of every archetype except Prophet.

Size is medium—Golden Servants look human, which is another reason they’re in demand. Golden Servants can blend into human gatherings without arousing suspicion. They get their name from their physical perfection, not from their skin color, which is as varied as the human race. Part of their physical perfection is, however, a slight bronzing of the skin, as if perfectly suntanned at the beach. If a Golden Servant were tasked with the completion of some task on a California beach in the fifties, no one would be able to tell them apart from a stereotypical surfer from a beach movie.

Kolchak’s Cold January at North Texas 2024—Monday, March 25th, 2024
Daredevils Character Sheet: Tony Vincenzo: A Daredevils character sheet for Anthony Vincenzo of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.; Daredevils RPG; Kolchak: The Night Stalker

A sample Daredevils character sheet, this is Carl’s long-suffering editor, Tony Vincenzo.

Yes, I will be running another Kolchak game at North Texas this year! It will be Saturday morning at 9 AM.

“January, 1977. Record cold temperatures have scientists talking about a new ice age. Cold in Chicago is nothing new; neither is cold-blooded murder. But what happened in Chicago that January was so unprecedented, so outrageous, that even now I fear to reveal the chilling truth.”

I’m excited about this game. I ran a test version for my local group at the beginning of the year. One great scene involved former gang member Lila Morton and Romany fortune-teller whose brother is a martial artist Maria Hargrove protecting 74-year-old Ojibwe shaman Charles Rolling Thunder from chupacabra (their word, not mine) in downtown Chicago in January!

There are a lot of pregenerated characters available; you can choose from most of the regulars and many of the guest stars of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker television series:

  • Ryder Bond (Firefall)
  • Jack Burton (Primal Scream)
  • Emily Cowles (Regular cast)
  • Leslie Dwyer (Mr. R.I.N.G.)
  • Janis Eisen (The Energy Eater)
  • Jim Elkhorn (The Energy Eater)
  • Paula Griffin (The Werewolf)
  • Maria Hargrove (Firefall)
  • Carl Kolchak (Series lead)
  • Ali Lakshmi (Horror in the Heights)
  • Monique Marmelstein (Sporadic cast)
  • Lila Morton (Chopper)
  • Charles Rolling Thunder (Bad Medicine)
  • C. Evan Spate (Demon in Lace)
  • Agnes Temple (Bad Medicine)
  • Pepe Torres (Legacy of Terror)
  • Ron Updyke (Regular cast)
  • Tony Vincenzo (Regular cast)
  • Bess Winestock (They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…)
  • Rosalind Winters (Demon in Lace)

If you’ve been to a previous game, you’ll have the opportunity to continue the same character.

While the listing has it as “77 Lost Worlds”, we’ll be using the Daredevils rules from Fantasy Games Unlimited. “77 Lost Worlds” is the first in the list, and used to be the default entry, with no option for games not in the list, which Daredevils is not. It used to be that you could see a lot of games under “77 Lost Worlds” that were not using that system.

Flashing Blades at NTRPGC 2024—Monday, March 25th, 2024

I’ll be running a game of Mark Pettigrew’s Flashing Blades at 6 PM Wednesday at the North Texas RPG Convention this year. There will be pregenerated characters among the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guard—and maybe a few odd men out—working together and competing for the spoils of victory in the famous Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris in 1637!

I’ve had my eye on Flashing Blades for a while now. But a combination of finally reading Cyrano de Bergerac and browsing through old Dragon magazines—and seeing the ads for this game—convinced me to pull the trigger and buy it from Fantasy Games Unlimited.

I’ve owned En Garde for decades, and have only played it once, at North Texas. It was fun, and Flashing Blades looks like it will be even more fun. (It looks like someone is running En Garde again this year.)

An English spy has stolen French naval documents, compromising France’s strength on the seas! More importantly, the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards are vying to restore the documents and capture the spy before their rivals. Get ready to swing from the chandeliers, fight the Cardinal’s guards—or the King’s musketeers—and outwit the enemies of France in Mark Pettigrew’s game of adventure, intrigue, and… flashing blades!

I’m going to be honest here. As simple as this adventure is, we will probably not finish it in four hours, although that depends on how many people sign up. The adventure is just an excuse to get into brawls, cross blades, and throw furniture around.

I’ll have more information here later, but (a) there’s no need for you to know the game rules, and (b) pregenerated swashbucklers will be provided. So if you’re in on Wednesday night come in and cross swords!

Gygax and Lakofka on Wargaming in 1969—Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

I’ve been scanning a lot of old cookbooks lately; while I’ve written a script to help streamline the process, the scanning itself is limited to the time it takes the scanner to draw in each page, page by page… by page… by page. This leaves me bored for very short periods during every scan.

This morning as I write this, I used that time to search on some of the related vintage cooking topics that interest me: Eddie Doucette, and quiet ovens. But having exhausted that, and because I’d just finished putting The Cult of Gygax to bed, I typed “Gary Gygax” into’s search field.

It is apparently an uncommon name. Almost all of the hits were for the Gary Gygax we’re familiar with. I was surprised, however, to see hits from 1969. It turns out to be a fascinating wire article1 that appeared over the 1969-1970 holiday season, predating Dungeons and Dragons. All of the hits were for that one article; it’s the only hit on his name pre-Dungeons and Dragons.

Game Provides the Way To Shape Our HistoryThe Sedalia DemocratDec 22, 1969
History Is Rewritten By Avid WargamersThe Waxahachie Daily LightDec 23, 1969
History is Rewritten by Avid WargamersCarroll Daily Times HeraldDec 24, 1969
Wargamers Replay Historic Battles to New ConclusionsBeckley Post-Herald/Raleigh RegisterJan 4, 1970
History Being Rewritten By ‘Wargamers’Colorado Springs Gazette-TelegraphJan 10, 1970 doesn’t archive every newspaper, and their OCR is often incorrect, so it probably appeared in others as well. For example, two of the newspapers above didn’t come up in my initial search for Gygax, but only when I did a search on the author of the piece, Jim Crossley, to see if he’d written other articles on gaming. Which he appears to have not.

On a Cult of Gygax—Wednesday, December 6th, 2023
The Grand Game Master: Gary Jackson let me down!; game masters; Gary Gygax; cartoons; Knights of the Dinner Table; KoDT

“You can’t go around tampering with dragons. They’re sacred!” (From Knights of the Dinner Table #1, By the Book)

I recently re-read the Dungeon Masters Guide and was struck by how much it treated the reader as an equal. Gygax not only expected great things from his reader, he expected that his reader was inclined to greatness. When you expect strong opinions from readers, you can safely express strong opinions yourself. You don’t have to hold back out of fear of being taken too dogmatically.1

Reading the DMG again made me wonder about the legendary “Cult of Gygax” that supposedly permeated D&D fandom during Gygax’s tenure at TSR. The cult is exaggerated to great effect in Jolly Blackburn’s hilarious Knights of the Dinner Table, with the fictional Gary Jackson even returning from the dead at one point!

I’ve been haphazardly discussing the cult and Gygax’s alleged dogmatism in Alarums & Excursions, but what got me thinking about the cult—or the idea of the cult—in a way that allowed me to get my thoughts down (somewhat) more clearly was a recent blog post by James Maliszewski on Grognardia:

Also notable is the way that Mentzer, who provided this issue’s answers, mentions that he agrees with “Gary” on this point—another example of the Cult of Gygax that was popularized in the pages of TSR periodicals.

Mentzer was writing a rules clarification column, and what he wrote was in response to a reader wondering about a particular interpretation of an AD&D rule:

Wondrous Weapons of Ancient Days—Wednesday, October 18th, 2023

Wondrous Weapons, by Joseph Weingand, is a collection of weird and often unusable weapons for fantasy games. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into old-school treasure and old-school play styles.

Wes Crum’s front cover is very reminiscent of Dave Trampier’s treasure illustration in the AD&D Players Handbook, in that there are a variety of emotions expressed on the character faces. It is less technically adept than the back cover (and far less than even the worst of Trampier’s illustrations) but also more fun than the back cover. Neither are up to the level of Trampier, of course.

The entries use the Judges Guild universal system to present the stats of the weapons, but without the one-or-two page explanation that usually accompanies it. And you really do need the explanation to decipher the stats. What is an INT of 184? An ALN of NEX or NGC?

These were not easy to decipher without the conversion summary. An INT—or intelligence—of 184 means an intelligence of 18, which can be used four times a day “without checking for stress damage”. The ALN is the alignment, and it’s vaguely Freudian. The first two letters indicate the alignment that most AD&D players would recognize. The third letter “indicates only a suppressed desire”. So, NEX is Neutral Evil with no suppressed alignment, while NGC is Neutral Good with a suppressed desire to be Chaotic.

The proliferation of universal systems was a fascinating byproduct of the times. They were rarely universal. They were meant solely to make it easier to convert to AD&D without saying AD&D. You can see that in Wondrous Weapons, where the stat numbers—mostly intelligence—tend to be in the 3 to 18 range. And, of course, the use of an alignment system of Chaotic/Neutral/Lawful and Good/Neutral/Evil.

The need for a universal system that really only applies to one game, when publishing supplemental material, appears to have been based on either a poor understanding of copyright law or a very good understanding of the litigious nature of the gaming industry. If you’re a small company, after all—and Judges Guild was very small—knowing you’re right doesn’t matter if you have neither the money nor the inclination to defend yourself.

Most early gaming companies were gamers first, companies second. A letter from a corporate lawyer, especially in pre-Internet days, was a very frightening and demoralizing experience.

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