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Category: Gaming

Hexhounds: Session Notes

I’m not even going to try and make sense of these. And, um, sorry about the handwriting. You’ll note that early on I just filled up index cards; later on I got smart and started dating them. If/when I do this again, I’m going to date every single index card I use — some of the threat clocks in particular are totally mysterious to me and I’d love to know which sessions they’re associated with.

Sometimes I meticulously recorded downtime actions. Sometimes I did not.

One might think that the Hexhounds never talked about anything but moral transgressions and Dock’s love life; that would be untrue. I just found those kinds of quotes really funny so I wrote them down more often.

Hexhounds: the Characters

Let’s look at some ephemera! We’ll start with the character and crew sheets. This first chunk is the crew in its current configuration, with Crowl possessing Helena and a Hawkers crew sheet. If I had to guess I’d say we played around sixteen sessions.

Now the original versions of — OK, it’s complicated. Sal was playing Cassilda, who was possessed by Crowl. When Sal decided to switch characters, she decided that Crowl was now the main character and they’d be possessing someone else’s body. In the end the host was Helena, mistress of an extensive information network.

The change from Shadows to Hawkers was much simpler. At one point, we realized the crew was more interested in selling mushroom wine than they were in selling secrets, and we just shifted the crew type over. I let them shift their advances to new choices.

Finally, here are the first of a whole bunch of index cards. These were my notes on the PCs and their close affiliates. Neither of Sal’s characters got good index cards because she started playing in the third or fourth session and I neglected to jot things down. I didn’t wind up referring to these a lot so it made no practical difference, but I wish I’d used them more.

Man, I didn’t use the crew’s enemies much. There was always something else going on! I should have pulled Celene in for the final few sessions now that I look at these again — see what I mean? I didn’t use these to refresh ideas as much as I wish I had.

Clive was this Skovlander thug whose mind was horribly damaged when the crew threw him into an extra-dimensional space for a few days. They felt pretty bad about it so he wound up living in their lair for a long time.

Astrid and Serk were Skovlanders actually living in Skovland. Astrid was a spy in a noble household, who didn’t wind up being particularly central. Serk followed the crew back to Doskvol and kept getting in trouble. Urchins!

Hexhounds, a Blades in the Dark Campaign

“They were four total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. An orphaned cultist, a disgraced sailor, a fallen noble, and a demon. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls and touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.”

Last night we wrapped up a Blades in the Dark campaign that had started on July 3rd, 2018. Sixteen months is not forever by some standards, but it’s a solidly impressive run compared to my usual track record, and it goes into the books as one of the three best campaigns I’ve ever run. (Huey Long’s Men of Action and Orlando Trash.)

Doskvol Illuminator

I got a wild hair today and hacked together an issue of the Doskvol Illuminator from my Blades in the Dark game. It took a couple of hours but even for an incompetent graphic designer like me it wasn’t too hard.

The tools: Apple Pages and the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society Font and Prop combo pack. The pack comes with a sample newspaper with notes on typography — all you need is that plus a reference plus the fonts, along with any program that will let you shuffle blocks of text around and draw lines.

The advertisements are mostly just from Google searches on “Victorian advertisements”. It takes a bit of poking around but you can find useful things. The tricky bit was cropping out inappropriate locations: there’s no place called St. Louis in the city of Doskvol.

That plus several hours gave me this PDF, or enjoy the partial image below. If I can do it, you can do it.

Review: Hideous Creatures

Pelgrane Press: $50 (print plus PDF, the PDF only version will be released in a couple of months).

Hideous Creatures feels like kind of an under the radar release, perhaps because it’s about 50% made up of previously published Ken Hite monographs. At a quick glance, the main text is exactly the same as you got if you bought the monographs, although the book does add a fun handout for each creature. So there’s some retread factor there.

I got it because, you know, Pelgrane and my wallet. And there are sixteen new creature write-ups! How could I resist?

I am super-glad I did not, because having all of this in one place is amazing. This is one of the best sourcebooks released for Cthulhu mythos gaming ever, and I mean for any system. The stat blocks are for Trail of Cthulhu but they’re the least of what Hideous Creatures offers.

What you get for each creature:

  • A few paragraphs of blurb
  • Game stats
  • A list of abilities you might want to give your version of the creature, so nobody knows what to expect (mostly not tied to any one system)
  • Variations: half a dozen to a dozen origins and attributes of the creatures, many of which contradict each other
  • A list of ways in which the creature has been represented in world mythologies
  • A list of clues the creatures might leave, one for each Trail of Cthulhu ability, but fully useful for any system
  • A few scenario ideas
  • A bibliography
  • A handout

So you’ve got seven or eight pages of solid material for each and every creature, and because Hite and his collaborators focused on variations, it’s immensely flexible. Here’s a bit of the chapter on ghouls, for example.

In the interests of respecting copyright, I cropped that excerpt — get the book if you want suggestions for making ghouls look like jackals, coyotes, flies, or worms.

Are we done? Nah. There’s a chapter at the end about creating or customizing creatures. It’s short but good: Hite covers both how to make creatures horrific (did you know that Lovecraft used catachresis and cubism to evoke horror of the unfamiliar?) and how to generate Trail of Cthulhu stats.

Finally, at the very end, there’s an index. Headers for the index include: “Creatures of Fathomless Space,” “Creatures Who Serve Wizards,” “Creatures of Transformation & Corruption,” “Hideous Creatures By Country, Culture or Region,” and many more. So that’s about a perfect index.

This book is relentlessly useful and evocative, both at once. Seriously worth buying.

One-Shots: Delta Green

Said I: “Oh, I’ll just grab the winning entry from the 2018 Shotgun Scenario contest and find some pre-gens from somewhere and that’ll be my Delta Green one-shot.”

And then I said “Hm, there’s no Northern California town called Rama, but the Klamath National Forest is real. What real town could I use instead? And while I’m at it, let me outline a few NPCs so that I’m not coming up with them on the fly, and let me extend the scenario just a bit, and…”

So while the result is certainly still Marco Menarini’s fine scenario, I have added around 3,500 words which will make it easier to run.

A tools note: I did most of the writing on my 2018 iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard Folio, and it was a superb experience. This is the first time I’ve really felt like an iPad could be my travel computer.

One-Shots: Feng Shui

I’ve been accreting a Las Vegas Feng Shui setting since we lived in Austin, where I ran a couple of sessions of Feng Shui set there. The idea stuck and I really liked Jay Ackel, PI; the Chairman of the Board; and a few other NPCs. I also enjoyed working with a primary faction conflict consisting of two Ascended factions. California is home of the bears, right?

So it’s been slowly gaining mass since then. I have a Scrivener file that gets a little more weighty every time I open it up. That isn’t all that often, mind you. Regardless, if I’m gonna run a Feng Shui one-shot, it’ll be in my Las Vegas.

Rather than write up an adventure I decided I knew the setting well enough so that I could just write an oracle. It’d work as a skeleton for any city, although you’d have to replace a bunch of People and Locations entries, plus a couple of the McGuffins. If you’re interested, grab the PDF here.

Let’s do a quick test run:

The Widow’s Regalia

I just sent my Blades in the Dark players a summary of one PC’s research, since he finished up a long-term project clock during the latest downtime. Useful knowledge: Setarra is Dock’s chosen friend from character creation, and his long-term demonic patron. Last session, Dock performed a ritual which shows him the history of an item in order to break into a safe. As a perhaps fortunate consequence of the ritual, he learned that the a powerful set of demonic relics woven through the story to date was originally Setarra’s, and she wants them back.

On the regalia: actual possession of the belt is exactly the key you need to unlock the ciphers in Violette’s husband’s library. (Not a fun experience per se; this is a really dark set of tomes. Human sacrifice, techniques for raising the ambient level of misery in a neighborhood in order to encourage deals with demons, that kind of thing.)

The Regalia is made up of five items:

  • The Widow’s Collar (necklace)
  • The Widow’s Cuffs (bracelets)
  • The Widow’s Shackles (boots)
  • The Widow’s Leash (belt)
  • The Widow’s Shroud (dress)

The Hexhounds stole the Collar for the Attic. You heard on the streets that the Attic got their hands on the Shackles. Lisette the gambler lost her final tournament game, with some assistance on your part, and that put the Cuffs in Lord Scurlock’s hands. You currently have the Leash. The location of the Shroud is completely unknown.

Apparently Dock now knows some things about the origin that nobody else knows, so that’s exciting. Various scholars have assumed that the Widow was a demon of some sort, but nobody’s attached the name Setarra to the story. It’s widely thought that the paladin who fought the demon, Bran, is just a metaphor for the strength of humans in the face of temptation, because everyone knows paladins never existed. Dock knows his history; this would mean that the theft occurred well before the Cataclysm, which was a thousand years ago. Given his knowledge that the paladin really did exist, it’s pretty easy to piece together the next steps — once Bran got his hands on the Regalia, he carefully scattered it to the ends of what is now the Shattered Isles. The individual items used to live in monasteries, temples, churches, and so on. Since then, well, a thousand years of thievery and danger and murderous ghosts do a number on your ability to protect dangerous demonic artifacts.

It is definitely the case that letting a demon assemble all five of the items is a recipe for disaster. They are sort of thaumaturgical batteries when they’re apart; making a set of three or four is no big deal, it’s a linear addition; but getting all five together is potentially world-shaking. Setarra’s threats in the vision are not mere bluster. Perhaps she’s mellowed over the millennium? Also: useful for demons, overwhelming for humans. Trying to channel that much power through a mere human body is not a good idea. 

One-Shots: Beyond the Wall

My folder for Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is complete. This is an OSR D&D-like game aimed at super-quick pickup and play. The concept is that the PCs are all friends who grew up together in a small village, and the cool character generation twist is that you work through a four-page story path playbook to figure out your history and your stats.

For example, in the Self-Taught Mage playbook, you get to a bit where you find a tome of magic. Let’s say you roll a 2 on 1d6: the book was written by a famous bard who travelled far and wide. You get +3 Charisma, and add Survival to your skill list. You then roll 1d6 to find out what kind of mage the bard was, and you get a 3 — the bard was a summoner of dark spirits. This means you get +2 Intelligence, and you learned a specific selection of spells.

I love this. It means every characters has a story grounding their stats, and it means you’ve got that random oracle goodness which sparks so much creativity. It also explicitly generates connections between the characters and, in several places, generates the details of the village in which the characters live.

The scenario packs are similar, with the additional twist that you fill out blank spaces on the random tables with details generated while the players are rolling up their backgrounds.

Thus, it was easy to prep this one. I printed out the playbooks and scenario that came with the base game, indulged my materialism by buying a stapler, stapled stuff together, and voila: done.