The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age by Frances A. Yates: Fascinating bits, even if I suspect a lot of Yates’s scholarship might now be outdated, especially where concerned with the Rosicrucians. But otherwise the book shines in so many other ways: the popularization and influence of kabbalah and alchemy on Catholic reformers and Shakespeare, the Arthurian cult and how that got applied to Queen Elizabeth (makes me want to read Spencer’s The Fairy Queen), and the weird history of early Protestantism makes this worth tracking down.
The Hospital Ship by Martin Bax: The crew of the hospital ship travels from port to port tending to victims of unknown civil disturbances. No one knows what’s happening, because the radio operator is slightly mad. And then the ship enters the Mediterranean and finds nothing but crucified bodies waiting for them on the piers. A 70s brit-lit novel curiosity, a bit apocalyptic new wave SF and a bit Graham Greene – all shuffled together with pages from a medical textbook. I liked it but it’s not a book I can really recommend, unless any of the above sounds neat. Where I think it ends is in showing two ways humanity can go forward: a mechanistic way and a compassionate way.
Godmother Night by Rachel Pollack: Imagine Neil Gaiman’s American Gods except as a lesbian love story that riffs more on fairy tales than mythology. This was the first fiction book in a while I had to set aside for a week because the events in the plot started to get too intense. Pollack’s three for three with everything I’ve read by her being really, really good. I downloaded her latest and hope to read it in the next few months.
Look at that cover though! It’s so much a Sandman cover you can almost pinpoint the month in the 1990s when the book hit. Not to say Pollack’s ripping off Gaiman, I just think both came to the same place independently of each other.
Kill the Boss Good-by by Peter Rabe: Syndicate boss Tom Fell cracked up and went to a sanitarium leaving his lieutenant Pander in charge. Now Fell’s back and wants to get back in charge, but Pander has other ideas. A simple straightforward crime novel, but an enjoyable ride all the same. Rabe was one of the steady producers of Gold Medal novels, the same paperback original line that published Jim Thompson and David Goodis and others. Rabe also was a psychiatrist by trade and this makes the bits when Fell’s having a manic episode read as observed details. There’s a Black Lizard reprint that might be possible to find or the Starkhouse reprint I read.
Adventure the Fourth: Saint Atsun’s Day
Boulder the Templar’s order needed him to escort the remains of Saint Atsun from the city docks to the small chapter house the order maintained elsewhere in the city, a task not only complicated by the threat of evil apostate knight, Sir Osric, but by the fact that getting a wagon across town can be a chore on the best of days.
Characters included Oscar Gordon, Wilson, Ahthera, Micah, Boulder, Geth (one of the Rogue/Mage playbooks – the Dilettante?), and Haragrin (a Young Warlord).
I always wanted to run the old Slayers of Lankhmar module (actually more its sequel Avengers in Lankhmar) and this was my riff on that. Also I really like the Road Warrior. I handed the players the city map, showed them where the docks were and where they had to go, and sat back. For each district in between I had a series of timed encounters. There was a whole bunch of possible events: a cult parade, a naval press gang looking to abduct crew, a belligerent band of barbarians searching for a lost companion (he’d been press ganged), a cursed pilgrim, and a belligerent drunk of a wizard named the Dread Mancuzo. Depending on time of day and which streets the players went down determined what they encountered.
The party avoided most of the above save for one trap by Sir Osric’s goons (Micah hopped on the horses when they bolted, removing his shirt in case any ladies might be watching), a pie eating contest (Wilson’s wendigo side manifested here when he won the contest, swallowed the contents of a garbage pail, and tried to eat one of the other pie-eating contestants), and the Dread Mancuzo who they found in a partially ruined tavern harassing a serving girl. He started to drunkenly lob fireballs about. Oscar knocked him out and Ahtera managed a well-placed kick to his nuts. Oscar then hired the harassed serving girl to help out around their headquarters.
Of course Osric was waiting for them at the chapter house where there was a big showdown. No one died although Oscar took an arrow that put him out of the fight, and Mancuzo would return in the next adventure.
Oscar and crew fought a ghost, bought a house, and set up shop as monster-therapists.
Adventure the Second: Tooth Soup
Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Ahtera, and Micah (now Micah) investigate the horrible deaths at a local bathhouse. They discover a secret passageway into the city sewers and learn the bad way that the tunnels serve as the lair for some magic-warped monstrosity. This adventure was a way to point towards the undercity as a potential area for dungeon-delving. The party encountered hints to other things such as a Midian-like community in the sewers, but never followed up on it. There was lots of running around, slipping into dank water, and jokes about poo gas. The monster was basically the creature from The Host. No one died.
Adventure the Third: The Mold Dwarf’s Due
An Elfin prince exiled to the city hired Oscar Gordon to rescue his mortal child from the evil Volod Brothers, a trio of mold dwarfs. The Volod’s have plans on selling the child once they return to the Twilight Realm, and some ancient truce prevented the prince from openly stopping the dwarfs. The party consisted of Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Micah, Ahtera, Wilson, and Nibless (Nibbler?).
First the party had to enter the fairy realm via a portal in the city park (Micah got charmed by a dryad and had sex with a tree, when he wouldn’t leave the tree Boulder punched him out), then they had to traverse a corner of the Twilight Realm (Wilson the Village Hero ate some cursed food and unbeknownst to him slowly began to transform into a wendigo over the next few adventures). Finally they caught up with the Volod Brothers and their thrall-borne carriage. The kid was rescued but the Volod Brothers survived, and Nibless, got killed in the fight. I only remember this because the guy that played Nibless was two for three with his character fatalities.
Also this was the adventure where the Beyond the Wall playbooks became tragic like an After School Special. Not that this was a bad thing.
Nibless and Wilson had the backstory of being childhood friends that had a small village adventure and now have come to the big city together. And what happens on their first adventure: Wilson gets cursed, and Nibbless killed (although I think his fate was even worse than that. He was incapacitated in the fight with the Volods, but had stabilized at 0 HP. Unfortunately he was too far away to be rescued when the rest of the party ran, so… it’s best not to think of his fate, left for dead and abandoned by his best friend in the Twilight World.)
I found my old notes from the game I ran back in the summer of 2014.
That’s like a century ago in RPG campaign years.
This game went on after the end of the Vaults of Ur game (Dennis Laffey at What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse did a great job documenting that game) and was a real live face-to-face game. Most of these players have left Korea since then, one of the problems with running a game for
migrant workers expats. Trying to remember who played who from the initiative rosters scrawled in the margins has been fun.
We met once a week at a local coffee shop and used Beyond the Wall as our system. It was a city campaign and I riffed heavily on the 1st edition AD&D Lankhmar supplement, the map from the Mongoose supplement, and Trey Causey’s Weird Adventures. One of the regular players ran a cleric (Oscar Gordon) that wanted to be a therapist to monsters, and that provided the tone for the adventures: very episodic, monster-a-week flavored, using small self-contained dungeons. Sunday night, I’d post five potential clients offering Oscar Gordon and his crew various jobs, and they’d decide which one to take. Often a client or two stuck around for a week or two.
It was an open table game and I run hot and cold on that format since an open table isn’t really tenable as a format for a long term campaign. It’s more a stage the campaign goes through as it finds its legs. Ultimately, the game will coalesce around a core of regular players and the openness as a trait will fade away. Also, you’ll have situations where players who have invested time in the game over weeks will resent when one of the non-regular players shows up with a buddy, and the buddy spends the whole game being a pest for their own amusement. In the end we had two or three core players who showed up week-to-week and a roster of maybe five or six other potential players who would stop by if their schedules permitted.
The roster was something like this:
Oscar Gordon (a Devout Acolyte), Boulder (a Templar), Ahtera (The Nobleman’s Wild Daughter), Micah (the Young Woodsman), and Wilson (the Village Hero) were all fairly regular. Nibless, Geth, and Fellborn were all some variety of magic-user run by the same player who had awful luck, and Haragrin and Ekniv were fighter-types and random drop-ins for a session or two who were friends of other players.
As with everything else in life I’d do it differently now, but that said I’d resume this campaign next week if I could.
Anyway, over the next week or so I’ll post write-ups of the adventures we ran. They were a lot of fun.
Adventure the First: Every Haunted House, a Home
Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Ahtera, and Micah (although he was named something else early on) arrive in the big city and decide to look into reports of a missing noble last seen exploring a haunted house. They spend half the adventure doing a careful room-by-room search of the house, find the noble (dead), and then accidentally activate the haunt when not-Micah tries to rob something. Neat gimmick with this adventure was to have the players explore the whole dungeon, encounter nothing at first, then have the monsters appear once they were deep into it (zombies, skeletons, a living statue, and the ghost of the necromancer who originally owned the place). Everyone survived, and Oscar Gordon used his reward money from the dead noble’s family to buy the house and set up shop as a monster-therapist in the city.
And so it began…