Review of Cults of Chaos

I was quite affected by my first viewing of the Wicker Man (the original thriller, not the comedy starring Nicholas “not the bees!” Cage).

I didn’t relate to the protagonist;  a stodgy, puritanical officer of the law. His stern, no-nonsense  demeanour – mixed with flashbacks of painfully familiar church attendance – was steeped in a predictable banality.

When contrasted with the strange, pagan villagers, I felt more empathy towards the latter. Sex positive nature lovers will always be more appealing to me than modern, urban sterility.

Then again, I’ve always identified more with movie and cartoon villains as a child. They always seemed more… Alive and vibrant. Sensual, perhaps.

Anyway, coupled with my ever-increasing interest in the occult and pagan spirituality, I was very eager for Cults of Chaos. Here was a book that promised a more historical take on occult organizations. At least, how people in the real middle ages thought of them. Written by a supposed actual history buff and occultist. I was rather excited.

Did Cults of Chaos disappoint?

cultsofchaosRPGPundit and Dominique Crouzet’s official supplement for Dark Albion (a mostly system-agnostic take on historical fantasy in 16th century England) is 92 pages of densely packed material to generate all manner of Satanic Chaos cults. What sets it apart from the many other books out there already covering the same subject is the ever present feeling of historicity. Despite having the Judeo-Christian serial numbers filed off and replaced with the forces of Law (the Unconquered Sun and Chaos), it still oozes a real world feel.

Perhaps an actual cultural anthropologist or historian might find plenty to nitpick but for a casual history / occult buff like me it seems genuine. Not in an offensive way to any faiths, mind you: this book isn’t meant to be an accurate portrayal of authentic pagans, Wicca or whomever. It seems to be based more on real world perceptions (or misconceptions) and fears about “Devil” worshippers.  The author sure seemed to have done his homework.

As an aside I think that the author – whom I believe is a devout Christian and spiritualist – didn’t sensationalise the subject matter or approach it with an adolescent heavy metal band type of brush. Sure there are some gruesome and disturbing details but never in an exploitative or “aw yeah” sort of way.

product_thumbnailJust like Dark Albion, Cults of Chaos is densely packed with historical artwork. It goes without saying that this adds to the eerie, historical feel. I noticed a few modern illustrations though, which, while technically competent, felt a little out of place. Not a big deal, though.

The layout, graphic design and typography are all top notch. Even if text wraps around the outline of some art pieces, it is never to the detriment of readability.

What I really liked was the approach on presenting different types of cult-generators for the social class levels of the setting (pseudo medieval Europe). Any generated cults felt better matchedto different settings or contexts. Hugely useful for many different tiers of play: from creepy rural villages, secret guild societies in urban settings and decadent, bored noble conspiracies. All of which can be tied into actual historical events and figures.

There are so many opportunities for mystery, intrigue, tragedy and horror in these tables. My mind still reels from the inspired possibilities. You could even end up with:

  • a manipulated peasant cult that worships a false deity and led by a scheming noble who’s embroiled in difficult wartime politics.
  • Or a merchant guild who’s most successful members made a doomed pact with a devil who’s actually just a nature deity who wants revenge on the descendants of those who destroyed her forests.
  • Or a town making offerings to a totally benign Arcadian (i.e. Greco-Roman) god of agriculture in exchange for ensuring a successful harvest: but they’re under heavy scrutiny by witch hunters because of a series of unrelated serial killings by a mentally ill mortal man.

I was hugely impressed.

Cults of Chaos is a worthy addition to any Referee’s library because of how useful it could be to a diverse range of games: from 20th Century Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (any edition) or even more high fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons (for any edition or any of its derivatives / retroclones).

So no, Cults of Chaos didn’t disappoint. I only wish it were longer. Otherwise it’s a great book and I’m very glad that I acquired it.

You can get Cults of Chaos at DrivethruRPG or Lulu.

Review of Universal Exploits

Universal Exploits is the second supplement for Alpha Blue (the first being Girls Gone Rogue). It is chock full of random tables, setting fluff and adventure seeds. The content is system-agnostic, meaning that you could use it for any science fiction RPG out there. Tone-wise, it’s probably more suitable for comedic, tongue in cheek, R- or X-rated campaigns.

It contains lots of sexual material. Sometimes there’s a bit of a strange juxtaposition of cheesecake or pornographic art alongside rather tame, rather serious content. It’s quirky, that’s for sure. Definitely not for those who object to cheesecake art, nudity and sleazy sexual themes.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the PDF version of Universal Exploits by the author. I’ve reviewed other works by Venger, including Alpha blue: Review of Alpha Blue. I had donated two illustrations for Girls Gone Rogue, but I’m not officially affiliated with Kort’thalis publishing.

The cover has retro-inspired art that I’ve come to expect of the game so far: a scantily-clad woman, a reptilian humanoid (who looks a bit like Bossk the bounty hunter) wielding a laser sword and a guy who sort of resembles Snake Plissken (sans eye-patch) trading laser fire with an  opponent who’s off-screen. There’s also a spaceship conspicuously entering a cave for some added raunchy symbolism. It’s nicely done and appropriately cheesy for the genre.

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The Index of the PDF has actual clickable links, which is great! A very welcome functionality for the medium.

The layout and typography are handled well. Everything was easy to read except for the occasional subheading which was white text with thin black outlines. I always have trouble reading those, especially when the font is all caps and heavily stylised. Otherwise it was great and the watermarks didn’t interfere with readability.

The biggest change in this book compared with previous publications from Kort’thalis is that it has some colour art inside. I think that this is a first for them. Featured are many familiar artists from Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue. Lots of aliens that go from grotesque to light-hearted and cartoony. Also nudity. Lots of it. And sex. One of the artists has very strong technical qualities but his subject matter (silicone-enhanced porn models) kind of grossed me out with how over-the-top they were.

The full-page artwork was particularly striking and memorable. I’m also a fan of the masked robotic sword-wielding guy. Not sure who that is, but he has a very cool design.

After a few pages of humorous prose the book begins with some new rules for the Alpha Blue roleplaying game. We’ve got things like handling extremely poor chances of success, an addendum for ship to ship combat, banking extra (wasted) damage for use on other targets, long-term effects of cryo-sleep, handling xenophobia, unarmed combat and some extra bits of stuff for character creation. This material, especially the tables, is what I like the most about Venger’s works. Short, sweet and easy to consume. Also very usable in other games: a virtue in RPG collecting, in my opinion.

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We also get some stuff to better cement and detail the campaign setting: big governments, space travel time, sci-fi horror, cloning, drugs, alien worlds,  and domain management. There’s a lot more: my point is that this book has an impressive amount of idea-generating content. Some goofy and gonzo, some of very specific and raunchy utility (e.g.: “cock-blocking”?) but all of it inspirational and entertaining to read.

The latter part of the book starts off with some GM advice. Venger has proposed some scene-based structure to a gaming session. If you’re an advanced GM, this might seem a bit obvious but it still might prove to be useful in a pinch or if you’re not feeling very improvisational some evening. Don’t worry; it happens to us all eventually. GM impotence is a nasty thing. So it’s a good addition to the book.

Next he covers some other techniques, such as “Leading the Witness” (sort of a “gotcha” bait and switch to entice the players into action and keep them on their toes) and”Getting there” (communicating with players to determine their actual wants and expectations). Again, good things to codify and discuss.

The book contains several adventure seeds with brief setups, some background information (which all adds to Alpha Blue’s setting, broadening the scope quite a bit) and even a few other random tables to generate encounters and side effects of exposure to things like specialised drugs or weird environments. Even if you never ever plan on running these adventure seeds, you’ll find plenty of interesting material here for re-use elsewhere. Of note is a handy little table  buried deep in this section to generate NPCs quickly. This one is so simple but useful that when I next run Alpha Blue, I’ll be printing this out and sticking it on a 4 x 6 card.

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Lastly (and somewhat out of order; I’d have put this at the beginning) is a quick and dirty table to generate random territories (planets, moons etc…). Also very handy on a Sci-fi game night if you forgot your copy of Star Without Numbers by Kevin Crawford.

The book also contains a neat 2-page character sheet by James V West: the cool thing here is that we’re provided with 2 versions: one is full colour with textured watermarks and a black and white print-friendly version. That’s awfully cool, actually.

Lastly are  a handful of blueprints/floorplans for some nifty space ships. Again, these are of high quality and are very usable in any science fiction game. I’d easily pull out the ‘Iron Pigeon’ for my next Firefly-esque campaign.

Conclusion

This is probably one of the nicest-looking products Venger has ever produced. The layout and design are top notch for Kort’thalis Publishing (or many other indie publishers, actually). As usual, buyer beware: this book is raunchy and gonzo. Lots of imagery and content with nudity and sexual themes that will not be appreciated by certain audiences.

Universal Exploits is available on DriveThruRPG behind the Adult Filter (as it should be; Alpha Blue is totally R- or X-Rated entertainment).

 

Back from the dead

The ‘Lounge has been on hold for a while due to summer vacation and social media burnout. But I’ll be writing again very soon.

The biggest update is that I’m merging two of my projects (King of the Grey Isles and Curse of the Warlock) into a single, huge roleplaying game adventure setting called Curse of the Grey Isles. This will be my pet project for the remainder of 2016 and I’ll be reaching out to my friends for help (writing, art and proofreading).

Another big update is that I’ll be moving my site over to my new one called Artax Design. Nemo’s Lounge will cease to exist by this time next year.

Sadly Conquerors of the Cosmos will be cancelled. I had lots of great ideas, but other people in the gaming community were quicker than I was. I’ll be releasing bits and pieces of it to Venger Satanis as free fan-supplements for the next edition of Crimson Dragon Slayer.

Take care and good gaming!

Ditching gold: D&D 5e Wealth attribute

I’ve been tempted to create a Wealth attribute, determined as you would any other attribute. Note that this is not for people who are entirely happy with counting imaginary coins and being nice and exact with their fictional game shopping.

You’d roll Wealth to buy things. The cheaper and more common, the lower the DC.

Treasure can lower the difficulty to buy something. The greater the treasure, the lower the DC gets (the treasure gets expended, though). A palace, galleon or rare artefact would be priceless for typical PCs without treasure, high rank in the nobility or whatever.

A good Persuasion or Haggling check could give you Advantage (or certain in-game issues, like rarity, guild exclusivity, racial or nation tensions could give you disadvantage).

Other factors

  • Titles or rank (game rewards) can rise Wealth. Loss of face or in-game bad things can reduce it.
  • You could deliberately reduce Wealth to lower the DC of a to-buy roll.
  • The attribute bonus of your Wealth value reflects the quality of your living expenses in town.

I haven’t really thought this through, nor play-tested it, but I would like to.

Featured image by D.A. Trampier

Some simple D&D 5e house rules

Most of these I came up with while running a successful year-long campaign:

Average Damage

Instead of rolling damage dice, I just use the average value listed in the Monster Manual. This has a few benefits: it’s faster, still within the rules and players don’t usually care at all. Critical hit? Use average damage plus a die roll. Or just double that average damage value.

Adjusting Monster HP

To make a monster easier to kill (eg: to make a band of mooks, portray a wounded or weakened foe, to speed up a lagging encounter or to lower the difficulty setting if the PCs are having lots of bad luck), give the monster its minimum possible HP. To make a tougher monster, go maximum (or close to it).

Diversify monsters by re-skinning

Use the stats of something simulating the effects that you like and change the descriptions. Change fire breath to death ray or cold resistance to poison resistance. I’ve re-skinned a giant aquatic psychic sea monster into a sentient evil tree and no one noticed.

Players reward Inspiration

Takes some extra work away from the GM who usually has enough to worry about already. Also, the GM gets to avoid giving the appearance of playing “favorites”.

Critical hit damage

Try this: apply maximum damage of that weapon plus another dice roll. So, for example, a short sword would deal 6 + d6 damage (not counting ability score bonuses). Makes each critical hit feel rewarding.

Extra effort

Player fails a skill check. Let them take a level of exhaustion to get a solid pass to represent tremendous effort or strain.

Featured image: Pillars of Pentegram by Larry Elmore

Trilobites

Here is an old article that I never published for Koru. It focuses on an optional humanoid race evolved from Trilobites (which are the most numerous wild animal on Island World.

Even though it’s a bit rough, and likely will change a lot when the final book goes it, it’s worth checking out!

The Trilobite folk are bipedal humanoids who share an ancestry with the most common arthropods on Koru. While there are three varieties, each with some major distinctions, they all a set of hard, segmented plates going down from the top of their heads down their backs and along their short tails. While they have lost most of their ancestors’  many limbs they have kept the ability to roll up into a hard, armored ball for defence and mobility.

Trilobite_spines

There are three “types” of Trilobite-folk. All three are Amphibious, have Natural Armor (of varying degrees) and can roll up into an Armor Ball.

1. Deep: these are the ones who most resemble their ancestors: they are shorter than other humanoids (roughly 3 to 4 feet tall) and have four sets of limbs. They can assume a bipedal stance by standing on two sets of “legs”. Their insect-like hands are completely unable to use tools or weapons designed for human hands, but their hard chitinous armor allows them to naturally replicate just about any basic tool. Their Natural Armor is the toughest (Plate Armor). A choice for players who wish to be very non-human and alien.

2. Tidal: Their Natural Armor holds the middle ground in terms of hardness (Chain Mail). A choice for players who wish to be unique but still relate-able to near-humans, like Dwarves, Gnomes or Halflings.

3. Shallow: the most human-like of this folk. Their dorsal armor is slimmer and more flexible, allowing them greater mobility at the cost of less protection. While they still possess two sets of arms, the lower pair are almost completely vestigial: too small and weak to perform any arduous tasks beyond lifting small objects. Their faces are almost completely human except for their segmented irises and their mouths which, while closed, look small, but while opened completely split open the lower halves of their faces into long mandibles and maxilla “fingers”. Their hands, are slimmer and more flexible, allowing them to use human tools. Their Natural Armor is the least hard (Leather Armor). A good choice for players wanting to be very nearly human but visually different with minor differences to set themselves apart, like Elves, Half-Elves or Half-Orcs.

People of the Tides

As with the slow movement of the moons and tides, these people have profound ideologies around peaceful and deliberate lives. They rarely act hastily or without some deliberation beforehand.

Plate-VII-Ordovician-Trilobites

Stats

Labyrinth Lord (or OSR game of choice)

As Dwarves, except replace their racial abilities with the following:

Their unique physique prevents them from being able to use weapons, armor or tools made for human use. However their limbs function perfectly for most tools needed for hammering, cutting, digging or scraping (they do not need tools for most tasks).

Armored Shell: Trilobites have a natural AC of 5 from the tough shells on their backs.

Amphibious: Trilobites can breathe equally well underwater as above land. However prolonged exposure to a dry environment will have consequences on their health. Reduce each of their saving throws by 1 for each entire day spent away from a body of water large enough for them to be fully immersed.

Armor Ball: Trilobites may roll up into a tough ball. This form makes them nearly invulnerable (Armor class of 4) and their movement speed of 150′(50′). However they cannot perform any actions except rolling around and smashing into things (attack as a war hammer, dealing 1d6 damage).

Dungeon World

Coming soon

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