Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Step Beyond Context

My first novel A Step Beyond Context is now available to download from Amazon (, .com and so on).

It's the tale of a woman who leads a variety of lives across a variety of different worlds and what happens when she walks away from the dystopian cyberpunk city where she makes her living as a mercenary computer hacker and returns to her life as a Regency lady to attend a social occasion with her family.

Once there she needs all her skills and experience to get to the bottom of an accident that might have been murder and to deal with family intrigues and secrets that could turn everything upside down.

Talking ravens and a poetic necromancer,
Jillbots and Jackbikes,
Regency Dandies and Cybered up Pit fighters,
and a pressing need for elbow length gloves.

Amazon Link

I really hope you'll enjoy it and if you do please leave a review and spread the word!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Where is Everyone At?

For no real reason other than the growing impatience with myself for not keeping this blog updated more often I thought I'd pollute the pages with a brief run down of the campaigns I'm running at the moment.

In no particular order

Knight City Falls
(Cyberpunk - originally Fate Core, now a homebrew hack)

Grey "8.73" Stevens, quirky network troubleshooter for the Threshold Corporation has recently returned from a nerve wracking trip to the slightly less totalitarian Hong Kong on the edges of the entirely Orwellian China nearby.    There he located the oblivious daughter of the last generation's most infamous (and deceased) Netrunner who still seems to be actively attacking Threshold.

Aisha, the daughter of Grayson Mason, had fallen in with a group of activists hoping to score a propaganda coup against the regime by disseminating seditious material into a scheduled propaganda broadcast.   That whole thing was a set up of course but Grey and his team managed to save Aisha - if not her team - and extract her to international waters.

The Sundered Seven
(Slightly Lovecraftian Sword & Sorcery - originally Fate Core, now a homebrew hack)

Lord Adriel of Genlith has avoided being framed for the murder of a young noble of a rival family and discovered that the victim was involved in a political intrigue against House Genlith.  He's now trailing his coat as a potential contact for the conspirators by dropping hints of his own dislike for his family.    His servant InyĆ« is still struggling with the problems of having a mental contact with the Prince of Carcosa and the increasingly prevalent sensation that the world around him is just a play being put on in that imaginary realm and he is somehow both character and actor.     In the closing moments of the last session the dreadful Baron Lokran stormed the inn in which Adriel and InyĆ« were staying with a mob of cut-throats.  Lokran's plan was to kill Adriel in dreadful ways in revenge for Adriel's aid in securing the escape of the woman who had half killed Lokran during an encounter years earlier.    The scene ended with wounds on all side, but Lokran pinned down and Adriel cutting open his throat with barely a flicker of remorse for putting down that mad dog in human form.

Red Shift
(Night's Black Agents)

Hans and Rowan, burned spies, have reached Istanbul on the night of the coup of 2016.   They found themselves in the middle of a conflict that seems to have been building for ages between the desert demon Gallu and his undying sorcerer minions on one side and the newly loosed Dracula and his Grigori servants on the other.   Operation Edom who had thought Dracula was on their leash is quickly learning how wrong they were.

Our heroes have managed to track down one of Dracula's earth boxes in Istanbul and sterilised it - but they know that five more were brought into the city in preparation for his escape.

And just who are "The Crusaders of the Star" - a modern occult group claiming Templar roots - that also have a new presence in the city and have found themselves in Dracula's crosshairs?

The Keyholders
(Was Trail of Cthulhu, now Cthulhu Confidential)

Daniel Crowther, detective of the Boston PD, now on extended sick leave after the trauma of taking down the bestial "Boston Devil" serial killer prior to the start of the campaign, is trying to make sense of the new world he is finding himself involved in.   From a simple missing person enquiry that led him to Arkham and to the strange bloodline of that particular person he learned of the break up of an old Hermetic Order based in Providence.    Following the trails of the former members he has found each has pursued the teachings of that Order in their own way.

Crowther has learned stories of ancient races of the earth that predate man, of the dangers of the Jansky Hiss at the heart of this galaxy (and why the strange fungus creatures wanted to shut down the radio telescopy experiment that was learning of it), of the dangers of writing arcane lore into play-form and then performing it in a strangely changing city (And just how did Crowther walk through the under-river tunnel.. which was not even completed in 1933... mind you neither was the public suicide booth in the park near the Obelisk).    Currently he is working to close down what appears to be a twist in time and space in a new hermetic lodge in New York opened by two of the men he was tracking down (now vanished) and the younger members of the cult are referring to him as  Magus.   Which is clearly insane... until Crowther realised just how much more of this crazy stuff he knew than these initiates.

The Death of David Wychwood
(Cthulhu Confidential)

Due to start shortly - the unexpected death of a likeable young man in New York and the confusing aftermath of questions and recriminations, leads somewhere very strange indeed.   Old old secrets and conflicting choices await.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Night's Online Handouts

Since the valiant heroes in my Night's Black Agents campaign ended up battered and bruised and in need of recuperation after narrowly escaping an Edom ambush, I decided to give them a bit of an information dump so that by the time they were fit to move again they had a few more leads.

In the spirit of modernity though instead of my usual faked up newspapers I decided to fake up news websites.    The trail began when a contact of theirs from Denmark, warned by them in an earlier adventure of the arrival of a military plane from the UK, contacted them with some information and relevant links.    First he let them know by text message that a source of his saw a strange container being unloaded from the transport and put on a truck heading southward...  and then on a train moving from Hamburg eastward through Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul.

They found the rest themselves and managed to piece together a narrative...

Freak storms strike Flensburg, Neumunster, bring traffic chaos.
30 May 2016
Several areas of northern Germany experienced unusually violent rainy and stormy weather this weekend with unforeseen flooding and the closure of many roads.   The storm front moved southward from the Danish border bringing high winds and driving rain that overloaded storm drains and caused chaos to travellers.  Particularly badly hit was the area north of Neumunster  where the major A7 road was entirely closed from 19:00 until after midnight due to high water levels.   Traffic diversions onto minor roads proved unsuccessful due to the volume of traffic and the spreading floodwaters.    The extensive car parking space at the Autobahnmeisterei Neumunster was soon full to bursting and all rooms at the travel hotels were taken up.    Thankfully no major accidents were reported during this unprecedented storm and by the early morning the weather had cleared up enough that emergency measures could be lifted.

Police search for escaped patients.  “No need for public concern” – Police spokesperson
31 May 2016
Up to a dozen patients of the Dosenmoor psychiatric hospital are believed to have left the secure ward of that institution during the storms of 30 May.   The lightning storms in the area had overloaded the local power grid and the hospital lost power for approximately three hours.  It was only after power was restored that these patients were found to be missing.
Local police joined hospital staff in searching for the missing patients who were described as “no danger to the public” but who were considered themselves to be at risk due to the adverse weather conditions.    The majority of the patients were found safe and well within the grounds of the hospital shortly afterward and other than requiring dry clothes and a warm environment were none the worse for wear.   Only one patient remains uncounted for at this time.   Mr Markus Kollman, 42, is described as a man of medium height and build with unkempt dark hair and blue eyes.   He is not considered dangerous but police urge anyone encountering Mr Kollman to contact them at once so that he can receive necessary care and be returned to safety.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ssssh, it’s Confidential

Regular readers of this irregular outlet for my musings will know that I’m a big fan of the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press.    I’ve got a year-old Night’s Black Agents campaign that shows no signs of slowing down just yet, and a Trail of Cthulhu campaign that is letting me indulge my fantasy of being remotely as good at drawing together Lovecraftian strands into a single narrative as Alan Moore has been in “Providence.”   I’m not, but it’s fun trying, and the Gumshoe system has supported it brilliantly.

I recently picked up the PDF copy of the latest iteration of the system, Gumshoe One2One, in the soon-to-be-physically released CthulhuConfidential.  Gumshoe One2One aims to bring the Gumshoe experience to the specific situation of one GM and one player.  In doing so it’s had to address the usefulness of the pool point system for General Skills and also the often fudged issue of character demise or debilitation in a single player setting.   My Trail campaign has always been just me and a single player, so I was interested to see how this would work out.

I haven’t been disappointed – at all.

The system streamlines the use of Investigative skills (I won’t go too much into how the original Gumshoe system works, that stuff is easily found) by abandoning having a rating in the skill and simply either having the skill or not in order to determine whether core clues can be found by exercising the skill.   To replace the original method of having points in those skills that can be spent for extra benefits, each character now starts with a number of Pushes that can be spent on any investigative skill.  Pushes can be earned back during play by particular successes (I’ve also found myself handing them out in response to particularly inspiring moments of roleplaying by the player – not Rules as Written, but hey, I’m a maverick free spirit living on the edge etc).

General skills now have a rating of one or more dice to determine aptitude.    I was initially unsure about this but in play it really works – and it has the advantage of not requiring book-keeping.   One thing that was a tiny irritation about original Gumshoe was the need to keep tallies of point spends for each General skill as they were used.   Since my NBA campaign takes place over Roll20 this wasn’t much of an issue as the NBA character sheet I use on Roll20 does it all electronically, but the Trail Campaign is mostly face-to-face and required pencil and eraser work which was sometimes unwieldy.   Gumshoe One2One does away with the need even for this, nor is there a need to track dwindling Health or Stability scores as these like other conditions are now handled by gaining Problems and Edge cards.

Problems and Edges are picked up during play for passing or failing particular challenges that arise.   Some are one use bonuses or penalties, others linger around giving longer term advantages or hindrances.    Some, like particular injuries or sanity blasting shocks, may spell the end of your character IF they are left undealt with at the end of the adventure, so there are still some very real risks but unlike in a traditional rule set they won’t bring the game to a disappointing and premature end.    Any Lovecraftian hero has to survive long enough to record, in real time, a diary entry of his demise after all.

So far I’ve run a few sessions of Cthulhu Confidential, each with someone different, each time over Roll20.   I’ve had to do a little more prep work than normal in creating the Problem & Edge cards but this diminishes each time as with some careful rewording many of the cards can serve double duty in later adventures.   I’ve also created a Paint.Net template for creating my own cards that allows single click visibility of the various “tags” that may appear (including a nice Elder Sign graphic for Mythos shocks, Blood Splatters for injuries etc) which helps streamline creating my own adventures.

Two of the games I’ve run are straight from the rulebook – featuring pre-made characters and beautifully detailed settings, and they went down really well – with feedback from the players that they would love to continue playing those characters and the game in general.   I don’t often run pre-written adventures but these have really captured the feel of the hardboiled Mythos genre perfectly.     I’m always more comfortable running my own stuff though and in a leap of devil-may-care courage I’ve switched my one-player Trail campaign to using the new rules.  Two sessions in and it already feels comfortable.   It’s also given me some work in rewriting adventures I’d already planned to take into account the new system, but that has been less trouble than you’d think and it’s been fun working out how to switch certain encounters to the new way of doing things.    Combat especially becomes less gamey and strategic and more about character choices and narrative resolution – something that I think suits single character play better anyway, and I’ve never been a fan of characters getting into protracted shoot-outs with unnatural entities anyway.  Surviving rather than sharpshooting seems much more appropriate.

In summary then – Cthulhu Confidential presents wonderfully rich and detailed settings for play, some great and detailed characters (Viv’s player enjoys shipping her with various of her sources…  Sources being allied NPCs that the PC can draw on for assistance with certain investigative skills) and three great adventures to get you started.    The rules really suit the more intense style of play that the one on one situation generates, and the lack of required book-keeping makes it great for online play.     It may prove slightly harder than normal to wing situations and challenges than other games but I think this may be just a learning curve thing – and having a number of generic Problems and Edges to hand out will probably overcome this – if your PC decides they really want to shin up the rickety drainpipe you could make it a quick pass/fail test after all, but having a generic “You fall and injure yourself” Problem and so on gives you the chance to add more depth on a moment’s notice.

Would I recommend it?  Oh hell yes.    If you like intense play, Lovecraftian horror, or just the chance to tinker with one on one play in general go get it now.

How long before someone releases a Gumshoe One2One hack for “The Haunting”?      (mine is about halfway done…)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Campaign Tarot - #TrailOfCthulhu

I'm quite pleased with the latest iteration of my Roll20 "home screen" - this time for a Trail of Cthulhu campaign.    Rather than repeating my Incident Board idea from my Night's Black Agent's Campaign I've gone more for a classic desk-top look with cards representing the key locations and characters appearing in the episode.

This one is set up for the end of an adventure in which valiant Boston cops take down "The Boston Devil" a cannibalistic serial killer after gaining advice from (real life) anthropologists Richard Speck and Gladys Tantaquidgeon whose likenesses appear at the top-centre of the layout and who first introduced the investigators to the concept of Wendigo...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Soul Stone of Kulthai - an adventure of Barbarians of Lemuria

When a group of heroes set off in search of wealth and vengeance against a sect of foul Warlocks they are called on to free a warrior's soul from torment.   Things get nasty.

Soul Stone of Kulthai is an adventure and micro-setting for Barbarians of Lemuria.   The PDF link is HERE.   Take, change, use and abuse it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Ink Dipped Wand

Some words from the Sage of Northampton, as recorded in an interview here which bear repeating:

The Bardic tradition of magic, when satires were justifiably more feared than curses and when the creator was respected as a powerful magician rather than as someone getting by out on the fringes of the entertainment industry, is one that today’s artists, occultists and writers would do well to reacquaint themselves with. You can kill or cure with a word. Get off of your knees.

Sir Terry Pratchett commented through one of his many characters that the human race has a design fault - we bend at the knees.   Today there are a great many forces designed to trick or coerce or simply brutalise us to our knees, because it is only then that the stunted troglodytes who seek to rule us can believe themselves greater than we are.   I suspect that those forces are on the edge of increasing their hold on the world and on the power structures that will give them more authority.

Don't let them.   Don't let them get away with a word, not one single word, that says the world is other than it is.   Every word unchallenged is a word carved in stone.   Speak the truth, speak, sing, paint, carve and dance the truth even in the face of those shouting for you to stop.   Picture the world that we should be living in and make it happen, step by step, thought by thought, brush-stroke by brush-stroke and share it.  Don't allow anyone to trick you into thinking the world thinks as they do in order to silence you.   Your neighbour may be silenced too and thinking they too are the only ones who see the truth.

Let no one build walls to divide us, walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us; we live together or we die alone