Away from Desk

November 29th, 2012

I leave for vacation today, so there will be a short hiatus here at Ménage à Monster while I head south to absorb as much heat as I can to fortify me through the winter and maybe take a little of the glare off my Gollum-like pallor.  The timing couldn’t be better actually – Toronto got its first dusting of snow last night.
So what’s in store when I get back?  There’s more excellent It Came from Toronto After Dark films, including Dead Sushi, American Mary, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (to name a few of my faves).  There will be another installment of both the Shackled City conversion for Pathfinder and Classic Monsters.  Finally, I also plan to return to the long neglected Monsters of the Hyborian Age series.
So lots of stuff in the pipeline as long as nothing bad happens to me while I’m in the Bermuda Triangle… according to a quick roll on the random encounters in the dimensional triangles table of Rifts World Book Two: Atlantis, I’m going to have to deal with “Sea Monster: A Giant Octopus!!” (yes, Mr. Siembieda used two exclamation points).  So barring any tentacle nastiness, posting will resume in a fortnight.

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Resolution

November 23rd, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Resolution

When Michael receives a disturbing video of his childhood friend Chris in the throes of meth psychosis, he decides to track Chris down and give his estranged friend one last opportunity to clean up and seek treatment for his addiction.  Michael finds Chris in a derelict shack in the middle of nowhere and executes his plan; he handcuffs his friend to the wall to wait for the seven days it takes for the meth to leave Chris’ system.  At the end of that time Chris can decide whether or not he wants to accept rehab.  In the meantime, some sinister force is toying with the friends, leaving them a series of clues that seem to tell a story.  A dark mystery is about to unfold…

Intelligent, Creepy, and Funny – Like a Club Sandwich of Awesome

I find it very difficult to give Resolution a description that does the film justice.  It’s creepy, but it isn’t a straight horror; it’s often hilarious but isn’t a horror comedy either; and it ties everything together with some compelling character drama… not a film that’s easily pigeon-holed.  If this review seems annoyingly vague at times, that’s because Resolution is also a film that hinges on a mystery and going into some of the details risks spoiling the movie’s best parts.    Indeed, Resolution is a bit like the show Lost, except the ending was actually good and looking back all the weird little components of the story made sense.
The strength to pull that feat off lies in the writing and directing duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (hard to believe they teamed up making beer commercials).  The film is very smart, but never pretentiously so, and is subtle enough that it avoids the temptation to call it out to the audience and say ‘look what we did here’.  It’s that subtlety that gives Resolution the re-watchability of a Memento or Inception.
I was impressed with the naturalistic dialogue, which is important since it forms the backbone of a film that spends a lot of time with two characters in a room.  After the screening the filmmakers were asked if it was primarily ad-libbed, but apparently almost everything came from the script – a testament to Benson’s ability to write authentic dialogue (he could get a lot of work as a script doctor).  That might not seem like a big deal, but the writing goes a long way in making the whole thing believable, which is one of the qualities that helps bring all of Resolution’s parts together.
It doesn’t hurt that the script is in the hands of the film’s two stars, Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran.  The chemistry between these two guys is perfect and convincingly captures the genuine affection between old friends as well as the baggage years of addiction can burden a relationship with.  In spite of each of the characters’ problems they are instantly likeable, punching up the drama of their turbulent friendship and investing the audience with concern for their well-being when things take a darker turn.  They are also hilarious.  Given that the film deals with meth addiction and doesn’t turn it into a joke, it doesn’t seem like there would be a lot of room for humor; surprisingly there’s quite a bit and Cilella and Curran pull it off brilliantly.
Resolution is definitely a slow burn in terms of pacing, but I never found myself getting bored (and at this point in the festival I was pretty sleep deprived, so kudos).  The layers of the mystery are added on at regular enough intervals, drawing the viewer in deeper while getting progressively creepier.  There is a steady buildup of intensity with the appearance of some truly memorable side characters breaking up the dialogue between Michael and Chris into digestible chunks.
Resolution is highly recommended.  Watch it with a friend; because it’s the kind of film that you’re going to want to discuss with someone as soon as it ends (it’s killing me not to discuss the spoilers).

RPG Goodness

During the Q&A the filmmakers revealed that part of the reason they made Resolution, was because they were dissatisfied with traditional ‘cabin in the woods’ type horror movies.  In their experience, the only people who went out into the wilderness to spend the weekend in a shack were meth heads and religious weirdoes, not frat boys and bikini models.  This struck a chord with me and made me think of the kinds of NPCs that adventurers would run into as they traipse through sewers, hang out in graveyards, and camp in crumbling ruins (there is a great scene in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station that demonstrates this well).  Sure there are captured villagers to rescue and slaves to free, but, let’s face it, adventurers are pretty liminal characters who spend most of their time in places that well-adjusted and self-respecting people wouldn’t, so most of the people they’ll meet on their travels are going to come from the fringes of society.  The problem is, when a random encounter is rolled or I’m planning on inserting an NPC into an adventure that isn’t central to the plot, I find my mind reaching for convenient and easy ‘stock’ characters (wily merchant, friendly barkeep, bullying guard, etc.).  Resolution has some great side characters, and much like NPCs in a D&D adventure, not all of them are integral to the plot of the film, but all of them are what I like to call ‘memorable weirdoes’ – not a stock character in the lot.  In order to help foster the kind of creepy atmosphere that Resolution cultivates I present the following random sampling to draw from when memorable weirdo NPCs are needed (I’ve kept them as rules neutral as possible so they can be grafted onto any NPC statblock the DM has).

Memorable Weirdoes

  • Green Thumb: An attractive spellcaster has set up permanent camp near a hidden grove of yellow musk creepers.  She reeks of a strange, musky perfume.  Her lover was killed by one of the plants years ago and she is convinced his soul still remains in the dangerous growth of vines and flowers.  She lives now only to lure others into the grove to become infected with the creeper’s seeds and be transformed into yellow musk zombies – which she believes are short-lived reincarnations of her lover.  She is friendly but reserved with strangers, reading them in order to discern what deception will convince them to enter the grove unprepared.
  • Grave Diggers: A group of five sullen laborers are at work with shovels and picks digging evenly spaced, deep holes in a clearing.  Nearby is a mule drawn cart stacked with lacquered, darkwood coffins.  The gravediggers are standoffish and tight lipped about what they are doing.  Unbeknownst to them, the coffins contain a coven of staked vampires.  They were paid good coin by an elderly patrician to bury the coffins and given a map to this specific location.  The patrician’s family succumbed to vampirism and he couldn’t bring himself to completely destroy them.  The clearing has sentimental meaning to him, and he plans to visit in the future to pay his respects.
  • Mad Hermit: Amidst the chaotic wilds a lone hermit tends her incongruously orderly garden.  Her clothes are threadbare but clean and her long grey hair is bound in a single braid down her back.  She removed herself from civilized society many years ago to live a life without compromise or negotiation of any kind.  She will not speak to the PCs (or interact in any way) unless they speak to her first.  She speaks only in statements and any interaction that involves an exchange or offer of quid pro quo (which she considers a compromise) makes her progressively angrier.  The hermit is a wealth of information about the area, but gleaning that treasure is difficult at best.
  • The Mushroom Growers: Three wild-eyed, unkempt men with mud on their clothes and filthy hands grow hallucinogenic mushrooms in a nearby cave.  They are friendly to strangers, offering to share their campfire and provisions, but become cagey and paranoid if asked what they are doing in the wilderness.  They are fiercely protective of their discovery – they believe that eating the mushrooms allows them to perceive beyond the planes to the heart of reality.  Normally they grow the mushrooms on the carcasses of dead animals, but if they fear their discovery is in jeopardy are not above adding a few humanoid corpses to the pile.
  • The Narrator: A cloaked figure sits cross-legged in front of a large, heavy bound tome reading aloud.  He appears to be narrating the story of his life, describing in flowery prose the sights and sounds of the wilderness.  If the PCs approach, he includes them in his narration, even quoting their speech a few moments after it is uttered.  The cloaked man will not respond to the PCs and will not stop narrating, even if threatened with violence.  If attacked he does not defend himself, and uses his last breath to describe his own death.  The book that he appears to be reading from is blank.
  • Hunting Party: A party of young, decadent nobles crosses the PCs’ path, laughing loudly and drinking freely.  They are a hunting party, complete with local guide, porter and tracking hound.  They are moving cross country in pursuit of some animal, but are evasive about the nature of their prey.  If the PCs seem of similar social station and like mind the nobles invite them to join in on their hunt.  If not, they are rudely dismissive.  Tired of hunting for bear and boar they abducted a young pickpocket from a nearby town and released him into the wild.  They are eager for excitement and diversion – if the PCs agree to the hunt the nobles are willing to wager a large sum of money that their hunting party will find and kill the boy first.  If the PCs antagonize them, they are quick to fight but even quicker to back down if the fight turns against them.
  • The Gift: The PCs are approached by a mephit, leprechaun, or similarly devious creature.  With as much sinister fanfare as it can manage, the creature offers to grant a single wish to the group.  Suspicious PCs will likely suspect caveats, of which the creature is entirely forthcoming: the universe must be balanced, so a stranger will have to pay the price for whatever the PCs wish for (i.e.: if they wish for gold, someone will lose a like amount); and the bigger the wish the longer it will take the creature to complete the task (even a small wish is not instantaneous).  In reality, the creature has no power to grant wishes, but loves to torment burgeoning heroes with moral dilemmas (as well as fostering strife between friends).
  • The Hunted: A woman stumbles across the PCs’, her clothes and skin branch-torn.  She is on the run from a horde of monsters and is desperate for help.  The hounded woman is half-starved and looks as though she hasn’t slept in days.  If the PCs agree to help her she describes a menagerie of fantastic creatures that have been pursuing her for the past few days.  There is no sign of the monsters at first, but after the PCs bed down for the night their camp is attacked by a random assortment of creatures that explode in a shower of ectoplasm when slain.  The woman’s subconscious harbours tremendous psionic power, which manifests the monsters as a latent suicidal urge every time she goes to sleep.  The monsters will continue to attack every evening, until either she dies or somehow manages to come to terms with her inner demons.

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Citadel

November 16th, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Citadel

After losing his wife to a violent assault from a group of hooded youths, Tommy is left to raise their daughter on his own.  In the aftermath of the crime, Tommy is gripped by crippling agoraphobia, convinced that the ‘hoodies’ are waiting outside to steal his daughter.

Pure, uncut, 100-proof, fear.  Plain and Simple.

Citadel was simply the most frightening film of Toronto After Dark.  This movie is proof that there are untapped, original voices in horror and if that doesn’t sell you on this festival gem, I don’t know what will.
While completely different in terms of story and theme, Citadel in many ways reminds me of last year’s Abesntia.  Both films were made on modest budgets, but don’t look like they were; both are almost bloodless but still very threatening; and both left me very creeped out (both also have terrifying pedestrian tunnels – honestly why do city planners keep making those?).
There is a perfect storm between writer/director Ciaran Foy and lead actor Aneurin Barnard that captures an atmosphere of absolute dread and makes Citadel so effective.  If you have ever been the victim of crime, or lived under the threat of violence, there is a certain kind of fear that infects your life.  I can’t remember a movie that captures this quality quite as well as Citadel does.  It’s hardly surprising that Foy himself was a survivor of random gang violence.  He really lays it out in Citadel, and there are scenes that feel so raw and exposed they’re hard to watch (the group therapy session with the counsellor speaking about re-victimization struck a chord).  Despite fear being the stock and trade of horror films, rarely do they feel so genuine.
I mentioned the film is relatively bloodless, which will disappoint gore hounds, but that doesn’t mean Citadel is non-violent.  The portrayal of violence in the film is like a car crash: it happens quickly, with no fanfare and no spectacle.  What makes it so shocking is the horror of how utterly mundane it is to snuff out a human life.  It stands in such stark contrast to the theatrical deaths of other horror films and Foy smacks you with it right in the gut.  It’s used sparingly, but the threat remains, driving home the fear in Barnard’s performance (and I’ll tell you it stuck with me on my late night ride home alone on the subway).
The ‘hoodies’, Citadel’s villains, are well done and frightening.  Foy wisely leaves them as enigmatic, violent question marks for most of the film.  One of the signs that I am getting older, is that I find myself suspicious of groups of loitering teenagers.  I am sure that I’m not the only one, and the film plays nicely into that particular irrational fear (at least I’m not so old that I don’t think it’s irrational anymore).  When he does reveal the nature of the hoodies, the payoff is worth it.  Foy creates a nice urban mythology and social commentary all in one.
What must be the worst social housing development in Glasgow provides an excellent backdrop for the story and Foy puts it to good use.  I’m struck by how post-apocalyptic visions of urban decay have become in recent years (Crave, also in the festival, uses Detroit for similar effect).  A sign of global economic crisis perhaps?  Oh, and as I mentioned earlier Citadel pushes one of my fear buttons by including a very scary pedestrian tunnel (seriously, put one of those in your film and you are guaranteed to raise my anxiety level a notch).
Citadel is highly recommended.  It’s the kind of film that will have casual fans and jaded horror afficionadoes alike looking over their shoulders long after the credits roll.  I can’t wait to see what Ciaran Foy does next.

RPG Goodness

The hoodie creatures in Citadel are freaky, and reminded me of one of D&D’s creepier monsters, the semi-obscure meenlocks from Fiend Folio (just in case there was any question that I’m always thinking about D&D monsters).  The movie is excellent, but if that wasn’t enough of a pull to get you to see it, if you ever even think of running an encounter with meenlocks, Citadel is the blueprint.  While the hoodies don’t really share the insect look of meenlocks, the stooped, shambling throng of random violence that Foy presents paints a perfect scene to steal for the tabletop.  Add in the baby snatching plot (and a disturbing origin story) and you’ve got a pretty nice self-contained adventure.  In fact, the kinship between the hoodies and meenlocks is so strong that I wonder if there isn’t some common folklore that the creators of both creatures were drawing on (or the less likely but more intriguing possibility that Foy was inspired by D&D – without giving any spoilers there’s a connection between the 2e version of the monster and a certain scene in the film).  Internet legend holds that the made for TV film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was the inspiration for the meenlock (and the case is pretty strong), but I wonder if there isn’t also something older in its DNA?
My first instinct was to update the meenlock for the Pathfinder edition of the game, but I decided to stick with Citadel’s monsters because there’s an aspect to them that is extremely common in horror films (and nature) that I’ve never seen in D&D and wanted to try and re-create myself – the ability of predators to see (or smell) fear.  In fact it’s such a common (and awesome) motif that I can’t believe I haven’t seen a mechanic for it in any rpg that I’ve played.  Based on the way the ability works in the film, I figured that the mechanics for the faerie fire spell were a good place to start.  The ability to see fear wouldn’t be that useful without the ability to instill it though, so any monster inspired by the film would also have to have a fear aura…
Just a word of warning, even though I’ve adapted the mythology of the film for a fantasy setting (as well as changing the name – ‘hoodies’ just doesn’t seem to fit)it contains serious SPOILERS for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet – and why haven’t you?

Hoods

“There was something about the way the gang of small, ragged humanoids lurched and jerked towards him that the captain of the watch found threatening.  They concealed their faces beneath a collection of grimy cloaks and hats but he could see their shrivelled and misshapen hands reaching for sticks and loose cobblestones.  The captain had seen his fair share of combat and still these creatures unnerved him more than a charging ogre.  Maybe it was how the one on the left, although stooped and twisted, reminded him of the Wainwright boy who had gone missing not a fortnight ago…”

Hoods are violent fey creatures that thrive in the worst slums of large cities, infesting abandoned buildings and emerging at night to terrorize locals and kidnap the young.  In their darkened lairs they cultivate a loathsome black mold that serves as both a foodstuff and a method of propagation.  Force-fed to their captives, the black mold slowly and irreversibly transforms its victims into stunted, twisted versions of themselves, new members of the next generation of hoods.  If their nest is not found and destroyed, a hood infestation can spread across the whole city, ultimately causing its collapse.

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Lloyd the Conqueror

November 2nd, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Lloyd the Conqueror

College student Lloyd and his slacker roommates are on the cusp of losing their financial aid, all thanks to a failing grade in the dastardly Derek’s English Lit. class.  Taking advantage of their misfortune to further his own twisted goals, Derek offers the trio a deal: they can pass the course if they agree to join Derek’s LARPing (Live action Roleplaying) league.  With the help of the sage owner of the local game store, a beautiful martial artist and a full complement of foam weaponry, Lloyd must navigate this new world and put an end to the dark forces of the evil Derek.

These are the Lines You Will Hear at Game Tables for the Next Year

Lloyd the Conqueror isn’t perfect, but at its worst, its heart is in the right place, and at its best it will have you laughing your ass off.
I’m not a LARPer myself, but given that I write a blog about rpg monsters, I’m no stranger to nerdly pursuits, so I know how ridiculous my passions can appear to the outsider.  Even given the natural rivalry between tabletop and live-action role-players I didn’t want to see Lloyd kick sand in the face of my brothers in arms.  A few cheap shots aside, I was impressed with how writer/director Michael Peterson handled the subject matter.  Hanging out with your friends and pretending to be an elf (whether dressed up or gathered around a kitchen table) is inherently absurd and rather than just pointing and laughing, the film runs with it wholeheartedly, taking it to its ridiculous extremes (and no one’s better at laughing at themselves than nerds).
Lloyd is the typical nice guy hero, familiar to anyone who’s ever seen an 80’s comedy, trying to grow as a person and get laid in the process.  That journey provides a solid framework and gives the film’s secondary characters a chance to shine.  Derek, the villain, played by Mike Smith (familiar to fellow Canucks as Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys) is suitably mustache twirling and over the top.  He’s got some great lines, but the true comedic gold of the film is concentrated in comedian Brian Posehn’s character, the wise game store owner who takes Lloyd under his wing and acts as Yoda to his Luke (though anyone who’s seen the film should know better than to compare ‘epic fantasy’ to Star Wars).  Posehn delivers classic lines in trademark deadpan style.  I wish the rest of my gaming group had been at the screening because they are not going to know what I am talking about when I repeat Posehn’s jokes ad nauseam at our next session.  Harland Williams is also hilarious in a scene stealing cameo role as a Vulcan (completely unscripted according the Q&A after the screening).
The problem is that these guys are so funny Lloyd’s roommates end up seeming dull and flat.  As Lloyd’s comic foils these characters are wasted and I hate to say I spent most of their screen time awaiting the return of Smith, Posehn and Williams (the unicorn was pretty awesome too).  It might just be the gamer in me, but I also wanted to see a little more of the imaginary setting the LARPers adventures were set in (there’s a pretty sweet looking map of the city in full old-school style during the opening credits).  There’s a lot of random banter but you never really get the impression of how the world hangs together as a whole (now I’m absolutely sure that’s the kind of thing only a gamer would worry about).
The big action sequences are suitably silly and fun, simultaneously mixing the melodrama of high adventure with the absurdity of throwing little tinfoil balls at people.  The thing that’s most surprising about Lloyd though, is that it made the whole hobby seem like a blast… I came that close to reconsidering my opinion about running around in the woods with foam swords (I didn’t change my mind, but I doubt any movie would).
Lloyd the Conqueror is recommended for a night of shameless nerding out.  It’s a must see for rpg players of all stripes – you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t get the reference when someone in your group asks for the ‘1000-sided die’.

RPG Goodness

There’s more for gamers to take away from Lloyd the Conqueror than just a boatload of in-jokes.  At its heart, the film is about a group of friends getting together and bonding while playing let’s pretend.  Amidst the edition wars, simulationist vs. gamist arguments, and sandbox vs. adventure path debates it’s easy to forget that, and I’m happy Lloyd the Conqueror is there to remind me why I’m so passionate about this hobby after so many years.  It may sound corny, but the friends I have made through gaming have been the strongest and longest lasting in my life.  At the risk of waxing poetic, I think that we reveal a lot about ourselves when we pretend to be other people (there’s a Shakespeare quote in there somewhere).
One of the things I’ve always loved about D&D is how much the game has supported that ‘anything you can imagine’ attitude.  Like Lloyd the Conqueror, Gary Gygax fully embraced the absurd nature of the game when he created D&D, but always presented it as-is rather than as a joke (since really, the entire game could be taken as a joke).  Sometimes the results stayed in the realm of the absurd, such as the pair of adventures based on the writing of Lewis Carol (Dungeonland and The Land beyond the Magic Mirror).  What I find really interesting are the other times, when the absurd became canon and a ‘serious’ part of the game.  The thoul is such a case, one of my favorite monsters from B/X D&D.  The name first appeared in the ‘little brown books’ of OD&D as an entry in the monster table, but wasn’t given a detailed write up.  The reason for this is simple, it was a typo.  However, fans of the game demanded to know more about the creature, and rather than admit the mistake a new monster was invented for the game (a magical crossbreed of hobgoblin, troll and ghoul).  It is in that spirit that I present the krakentroll, born of a few lines of throwaway dialogue from the film but never pictured (at least I don’t think it was – it’s hard to tell with the LARP costumes).  I’m pretty sure the word ‘kraken’ was used to invoke the otherworldly and give the monster a Nordic flavor, not actually associate it with the giant squid monster of the same name… but where’s the fun in that?

Krakentroll

Lumbering monstrosities with rows of shark-like teeth and barbed tentacles for arms, krakentrolls are creatures of insatiable hunger and capacity for violence.  Krakentrolls share the regenerative power and strength of common trolls, but are possessed of a wicked intelligence.  Tribes of their lesser brethren often gather to worship a Krakentroll as a living god, scouring the land for tributes of meat.

Lore
Nature DC 20:
The first krakentrolls were created in the aftermath of the battle between the gods Deep Sashelas and Panzuriel.  When the elven deity severed Panzuriel’s foot, his troll soldiers, overcome by hunger, descended on the limb and devoured it.  The deific flesh reacted with the troll’s natural regeneration and twisted them into new, more powerful forms.
Although they have many aquatic features, krakentrolls are just as comfortable on the land as they are underwater.
Nature DC 25: Elder krakentrolls are rumored to have the power to invoke Panzuriel and call down vengeful storms capable of capsizing ships.

Krakentrolls in Combat
Krakentrolls are deceptively intelligent, using strategy far beyond what one would expect from a troll.  Their favorite tactic is to distract enemies with a savage mob of followers while the krakentroll lies in wait.  Once their foe’s resources have been depleted, the krakentroll wades into combat, destroying leaders and healers first to prevent its prey from mounting a counterattack.

It Came From Toronto After Dark: [Rec] 3: Genesis

October 30th, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

[Rec] 3: Genesis

It is the happiest day of Koldo and Clara’s lives as they celebrate their nuptials with a lavish wedding reception for a huge crowd of friends and family.  Unfortunately, one of the guests has brought more than just a wedding present – he’s infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into flesh eating zombies!  In the chaos that’s unleashed Koldo and Clara are separated, beginning a desperate fight to reunite the lovers.

Funny, Scary, Bloody, Fun.

[Rec] 3 is a radical departure both in terms of format and style from the previous films in the series, so there are bound to be some strong feelings from fans of the franchise on this one.  Now, I am a big fan of the first [Rec], it scared the hell out of me, so when I heard that the latest installment in the series was a comedy, I was wary.  That said, [Rec] 3 really surprised me, not only for how much I liked it, but for how scary it was.
First, I should talk a little about what makes [Rec] 3 so different from its predecessors.  In spite of being the third installment in the series, [Rec] 3 doesn’t pick up the storyline from the first two films, although it is set during the same zombie outbreak (it’s not a prequel either, don’t let the ‘genesis’ in the title fool you).  You definitely don’t need to have seen the first two films to enjoy this one, but [Rec] 3 does add to the mythology of the franchise’s zombies (which is a smart move, making the film accessible to newcomers and rewarding for fans).  The biggest change is in format and tone.  While [Rec] 3 begins in traditional ‘found footage’ mode (as with the previous two films), once ‘the zombies hit the fan’ it switches gears from first person to third person POV in dramatic fashion.  Given that writer/director Paco Plaza uses the opportunity to poke some fun at the conceits of the found footage sub-genre, I get the impression he was feeling a little constrained by it as a storyteller.  The first [Rec] films, while they have their humor, are pretty serious affairs (deadly serious).  [Rec] 3 on the other hand, proudly flies the tongue-in-cheek banner, with plenty of laughs aimed at lampooning all the foibles of modern day wedding ceremonies (the choreographed bride and groom dance, family relations, the politics of wedding invites) and over the top kills.
As funny as the movie is though, it’s not a straight ‘zomedy’ like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland either (where much of the humor comes from the zombies themselves).    The zombies in [Rec] 3 are (like its predecessors) truly scary.  For every scene I laughed out loud, there was a jump scare or tension filled chase that had me gripping the armrest.  That weird mix of laughs and scares carries on the tradition of films like The Evil Dead and Return of the Living Dead (which as a kid I didn’t realize was a comedy at all).  Perhaps it’s better to classify [Rec] 3 not as a horror/comedy, but as a horror and a comedy.
The action is bloody and well executed and, I have to be honest, as much as I like the immersion of found footage, I didn’t miss the shaky cam at all when the screen was filled with nice big shots and fantastic set-pieces.  Plus, seeing wide eyed Leticia Dolera as the blood spattered bride with a chainsaw giving it good to the undead (in heels no less) is worth the price of admission (and got a suitable cheer from the crowd at TAD).
In between the blood and chuckles there’s also a love story lurking in [Rec] 3.  Apocalypse movies, especially zombie ones, have a tendency towards cynicism (what with them being about how our society and morals are built on a house of cards).  Maybe that’s why I found the unabashed romantic elements of [Rec] 3 refreshing and sweet – even parts that in another light would have been a major downer.
[Rec] 3 is recommended, and would make a great double bill with Return of the Living Dead for a night of light hearted Halloween viewing.  Die-hard fans of the first two [Rec] films will have a problem with [Rec] 3 if they are looking for more of the same.  However, if they watch with an open mind and are willing to let the shaky cam go, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun this latest installment is.

RPG Goodness

The undead of the [Rec] series are very different from the monsters of traditional zombie films.  Although they spread their plague through biting, implying some kind of biological virus, they trace their origin to a supernatural source, a victim of infernal possession.  This brings the zombies of [Rec] 3 more in line with the undead of D&D than any movie I have seen in a long time, and I have to admit that gave them an undeniable appeal.  There is even a scene in the movie where a priest ‘turns’ the zombies using prayer (for all intents and purposes) so, at a minimum, gamers get to watch the Cleric’s signature ability on the big screen.
The explicit link between the demonic and the undead in [Rec] 3 got me thinking.  In most folklore, demons, vampires, ghouls and ghosts are all a part of what could be called the ‘spirit world’.  I really like the flavor of having a close relationship between that group of monsters (call it spooky), even though as a DM I think I have been moving farther and farther away from it over the years (subconsciously encouraged by later editions’ emphasis on monster ‘types’).  That’s a shame, because the classic D&D cosmology (pre-4e ‘great wheel’) can totally support it: the spirits of the departed move to the outer planes where they are eventually fashioned into fledgling demons and devils, sent back to the Prime Material to torment and haunt the living (while those that fail to move on become trapped on the Prime as undead).  It’s definitely an approach I will use the next time I run encounters that centre on possession (is it a ghost or shadow demon’s use of magic jar?), haunted houses (the lair of a vampire or bone devil?), or cemeteries (stalked by a pack of ghouls or grave oozing lemures?).  It helps that in most editions of the game demons and devils can be turned like the undead (either explicitly in the turning rules or through the application of the right feats).
[Rec] 3’s priest turns the zombies in a very creative way that I’m sure any Cleric player will be jealous of.  Given the limited selection of channelling feats in the Pathfinder edition of D&D, I thought I would add a few in the spirit of [Rec] 3.

New Channelling Feats for Pathfinder

Far Channel
You can unerringly throw your holy symbol to affect creatures with your channelled energy across the battlefield.
Prerequisite: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: When you channel energy, you can choose to center the burst on a space up to 50 ft. away that you have line of sight and effect to instead of on yourself.  Use of this feat does not return the holy symbol to your hand, it must be retrieved normally.

Reliable Channel
Your practice channeling energy makes the results more predictable and dependable.
Prerequisite: Channel energy 4d6.
Benefit: When you channel energy to heal or inflict damage, you may reroll any result of 1 of your channel energy’s healing or damage dice.  You must keep the result of the reroll, even if it is another 1.

Widen Channel
You can concentrate the power of your channel energy to affect a larger area.
Prerequisite: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: When you channel energy, you can expend 2 of your daily uses of that ability to create a 60-foot radius burst instead of a 30-foot radius burst.

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Crave

October 23rd, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Crave

In the grimy streets of Detroit, freelance crime photographer Aiden listens to his police scanner and tries to eke out a living documenting the aftermath of the city’s most violent crimes.  To escape the bleak realities of his life, Aiden retreats within his own head, filling the time with elaborate revenge and power fantasies.  After a chance fling with the beautiful Virginia, and a firsthand brush with crime, the barrier between Aiden’s fantasy and real lives begins to crumble.

Dark Crime Drama Takes You through the Looking Glass

Crave is the kind of film that could have flown under my radar with its understated trailer, and I’m glad it didn’t.  The film has already won awards at both Fantastic Fest and Fantasia, and I hope it wins more.  Crave has the potential to attract a wider audience than most genre films and, in my view, it deserves this attention.
Writer/director Charles de Lauzirika clearly infuses Aiden with a healthy dose of Travis Bickle DNA (even going so far as to have him practice comebacks in front of a mirror), but there’s more going on here than a simple tribute to Taxi Driver.  There’s a black humor in Crave that sucks the audience in, convincing you to go willingly on Aiden’s journey before realizing it’s too late to turn back when things start to get crazy.  The best way I can describe the relationship between these two films is to use analogy: Crave is to Taxi Driver as Brazil is to 1984 (clear as crystal, right?).
One of the things that makes this humor work so well is how easy it is to identify with Aiden.  Who hasn’t used fantasy to escape the powerlessness of everyday life (given that this is an rpg blog, I’m guessing that most people reading this will agree)?  The casting of comedian Josh Lawson was an excellent choice, as he brings a kind of sarcastic and awkward charm to the character that makes him instantly likeable, even when his fantasies are of the bloody variety (later in the film it’s another story, but by then it’s too late – de Lauzirika has you).
Ron Perlman also gives a standout performance as Aiden’s only friend Pete.  It’s a very different role from the big bombastic characters he is usually cast as.  As much as a fan as I am of Perlman’s, his subtle take on the worn down police detective was refreshing and reminded me how great an actor he is (as opposed to just being awesome).
De Lauzirika does a great job distinguishing between the violence of fantasy and real life.  He contrasts the gloriously bloody, over the top action of Aiden’s mindscape with the unceremonious and bland crimes of the mundane world, giving the latter a tragic hollowness.  Set against the almost post-apocalyptic backdrop of Detroit it reinforces our desire, like Aiden, to escape into fantasies of our own.
Finally, I have to commend de Lauzirika on the use of ambiguity in the film.  Flipping between the real and the imagined, the viewer is often left to decide what is what on his or her own.  Now, I used to be a big fan of ambiguity like this, but I’ve been burned so many times by bad storytelling (yes that’s right J.J. Abrams. I’m talking about Lost).  Crave defies this trend and does ambiguity right, neither as a cop-out nor a cheat, giving the audience the tools it needs to decide what is real when Aiden cannot.
Crave is highly recommended for fans of crime thrillers and dark comedy.  Keep an eye on this one; it’s got the potential to be the next word of mouth independent hit.

RPG Goodness

Crave plays with viewer perception and the boundary between fantasy and reality, subject matter that most rpg players should be intimately familiar with.  The way Crave handles that boundary, by embracing ambiguity, is a lesson gamemasters can use at the table.  There has always been a struggle in D&D to differentiate between player knowledge and character knowledge, particularly when it comes to things like saving throws, illusions, and the use of ‘meta’ information in game.  Instead of ineffectually trying to crack down on meta-gaming (although I do discourage it), I’ve found a few techniques that, like the film, embrace the ambiguity of the boundary between player and character:

  • Dice: When players hear the roll of the dice from behind the DM screen, it is a hard to resist cue that something is about to happen in the game.  Players won’t necessarily start taking defensive positions, but they will be a little more wary as the game proceeds.  One method I used to use was to just pick up and roll a bunch of dice at random times to subvert this expectation.  What I have found that works even better though, is to choose specific times when you want to increase the tension and roll a die then.  Instead of subverting the meta reaction it channels it, and can be useful in subtly setting the mood.
  • Mapping: Drawing a map of the dungeon (or sewer, or hedge maze or whatever) is a strange boundary crossing activity, since the characters in the game are considered to be doing it while the players outside of the game do the same.  Since, for ease of play, the DM gives the players the exact dimensions of the chambers the characters are exploring, finding secret rooms or uncovering other mysterious dungeon features can become glaringly obvious when looking at the map (“hey look at that perfect room shaped space over there”).  Sometimes (not always – that would be annoying) when I want to play with that ambiguity, I’ll purposefully give slightly incorrect information when describing a room (call it ‘the unreliable narrator’).  It’s important to give a hidden Perception check for the character doing the mapping to notice the discrepancy – this gives an in-character replacement for uncovering secrets to out-of-character map examination (“wait a second, I only assumed this room was 20 feet long based on the size of the house, its actually only 15 – I think that back wall might hold the corpse of the murdered Countess!”).
  • The Battlemat: If you play with a battlemat and miniatures (as I do), there is a strong meta-game assumption that anything you draw on the mat is terrain and anything you use a miniature to represent is a potential threat (or monster).  Like rolling the dice behind your screen, you can manipulate this assumption to either lull the players into a false sense of security or increase tension and paranoia.  For example, in a recent adventure my players faced off against an animated, undead throne.  While its description was kind of gruesome, the players didn’t see it as a threat because I drew it out on the battlemat as a piece of furniture (and it created a great jump scare when it started to walk across the room).  Likewise, whenever the party finds the long dead corpses of past adventurers (there seem to be a lot of those in adventures), I like to throw skeleton miniatures onto the mat to show their position.  Rather than the players just glossing over the corpses as containers for potential loot, the whole scene suddenly becomes sinister and ominous – are those just dead bodies or are they going to sit up and attack us for disturbing their rest?

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Grabbers

October 21st, 2012

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Grabbers

Nothing much happens in the small, Irish village of Erin, and that’s just the way chronic alcoholic police officer Ciaran likes it.  Unfortunately, that’s all about to change.  Ciaran has just been assigned a new by the books partner… and the island is being invaded by a swarm of bloodsucking alien tentacle monsters.  The good news is that the aliens are deathly allergic to alcohol.  So the question is: can Ciaran and Lisa get the whole town drunk in time for the invasion?

A Throwback in All the Best Ways

Grabbers is a delightful throwback to the monster comedies of the 80’s, combining equal measures of lighthearted fun and menace.  It doesn’t really break new ground, but it’s territory I haven’t visited in a long time, and Grabbers navigates it perfectly.
The film is immediately comparable to Tremors (itself a throwback), and not just for occupying the same niche and having a similarly tentacled monster.  Grabbers takes the best parts of Tremors and transplants them to Ireland: suspense cut by funny kills, lots of playing with cultural stereotypes (Irish instead of the American Southwest), colorful personalities, and great back and forth between the two main characters (OK, the film’s name also seems to be taken from the ‘graboids’ of Tremors as well).  But here’s the important thing, Grabbers isn’t just a Tremors rip-off.  Aside from the change of scenery, Grabbers has a very distinct personality and brand of humor.  When was the last movie you saw where the only way to defeat the monster was by getting drunk?
A slight aside.  Acting drunk is hard, especially ‘funny-drunk’ (faking it I mean – getting drunk is incredibly easy… and fun).   If it’s not done right your film can turn from hilarious to stupid in a heartbeat.  Given Grabbers’ kind of ridiculous premise, it would have been easy for the whole thing to descend into Ernest Goes to Camp-ness.  Fortunately the actors pull it off, with some truly hilarious scenes and actress Ruth Bradley delivering some choice lines.
The romantic sub-plot is also well delivered.  Ruth Bradley and Richard Coyle have great chemistry, which adds a nice dimension to the whole buddy cop thing.
The titular monsters of the film are well realized and look good (even if they are mainly CGI).  For a smaller budget picture, this is an achievement (one that made for SyFy films rarely accomplish).  Though not perfect, the aliens never come off as so cheap that they take you out of the action of the film.  That’s important because, like the creatures of Gremlins, Critters, and yes Tremors, they provide just enough horror and suspense to keep things from getting too goofy.
Grabbers is recommended for a night of good old fashioned monster fun.  It’s the perfect film if you’re in mixed company and need something accessible for varied tastes in horror.  For fans of Tremors (or Gremlins or Critters for that matter), Grabbers is a must see, and a much better inheritor than any of the sequels those films spawned.

RPG Goodness

Horror comedies are a great inspiration for rpg games.  Inter-party conflict is the stuff of buddy pictures and any game that presents owlbears and gelatinous cubes as serious enemies makes the manoeuver from silly to scary commonplace.  Even some of the most dramatic and sober campaigns I have played in featured goofy table talk, full of pop culture references and lines from movies (not to mention the link between Monty Python and D&D is practically cliché).
I think the real lesson monster comedies have to teach DMs is how to handle the inherent absurdity of the game.  The lesson: play it absolutely straight.  The monsters in Grabbers or Tremors never try and ‘act funny’ themselves.  The humor comes from ridiculous situations and character interaction (in game terms: table talk and PC actions).  There’s no need for the DM to joke things up on their end.  An encounter with a vampire can inadvertently generate laughs and something seemingly silly like a fight with a mimic posing as a table with a birthday cake (an example from one of my own campaigns) can be absolutely terrifying.  In Dungeons and Dragons terms, I think a fight with a grabber could go either way, with a drunken party making all kinds of poor decisions and flubbing skill checks (as in the film), or as a gritty tactical battle that incorporates elements of many of Pathfinder’s alternate class archetypes (like the drunken master and drunken brute).  With that in mind, I present the grabber for the Pathfinder edition of D&D.

Grabber

“Slithering out of the water is a rubbery, black mass of ropy tentacles.  It rolls forward with a wet flopping sound, a horrible barbed tongue flickering out from the centre of the beast’s mass like a bullwhip.”

Grabbers are a race of ravenous, aquatic blood drinkers from the same destroyed world as the akata, where they occupied a similar, aquatic niche in the planet’s food chain.  Chunks of that dead planet cross the dark tapestry as asteroids, making planetfall and releasing grabber eggs into oceans and lakes.  Once hatched, grabbers relentlessly hunt warm blooded life, travelling inland in search of prey on rainy nights.  When compressed, a typical grabber is 2 ½ feet in diameter and weighs 150 pounds.

Juvenile Grabber
Juvenile grabbers have the young template.  Freshly hatched grabbers look like short stubby worms, but still possess the dangerous tongue and blood drinking of their adult form.

Giant Male Grabber
These creatures have the advanced and giant templates.  Female grabbers are far more common than the male of the species, which can grow to enormous size and appetite.  Female grabbers abandon their egg clutches in shallow water or on sandy beaches, leaving the males to protect them from predation – which they do zealously.

Toronto After Dark Returns

October 18th, 2012

The fall is awesome.  New TV shows, Halloween, horror movies, and the fantastic genre film festival, Toronto After Dark.   The festival gets underway tomorrow, Oct. 18, and unleashes nine nights of mayhem on the city.  Once again I’ll be in attendance, reviewing every film, searching for gaming inspiration and extracting the gooey rpg goodness from the centre of each one.
If you’re in the GTA this week, Toronto After Dark is definitely worth checking out.  One of the things I love about this festival is the crowd.  Seriously, if you’re planning on seeing any of the films in this year’s lineup later on, don’t wait.  Sitting in front of your TV or computer screen can’t compare to the experience of a theatre packed with energetic fellow genre geeks (when it comes to film festivals, we Torontonians are very quick to shed our up-tight and reserved image).  Here are the films I’m most psyched for:

American Mary (Oct. 18)
“A medical school dropout enters the seedy world of extreme body modification”.
I love to be creeped out by body-horror films (I’m not sure what that says about me), and the trailer for this entry into the category shows a lot of promise.

Lloyd the Conqueror (Oct. 21)
“Three college students try to bring down the reigning champion of the local Live Action Roleplaying tournament”. 
A comedy about rpgs?  I’m there (even if I don’t LARP personally).  That Brian Posehn is involved gives me hope that it will be more of a case of laughing with us, than laughing at us.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (Oct. 21)
“An amnesiac soldier must stop a legion of renegade UNISOLs bent on revolution”.
I totally missed the last universal soldier movie, so I’m eager to catch up with Van Damme and Lundgren in a nice, straight actioner (Expendables 2 was a little too liberal with the ham for my taste).

Sushi Girl (Oct. 24)
“A gang of violent criminals reunite over dinner to settle old scores”. 
A simple enough premise ready to be filled with stylish gun violence, slick dialogue and over the top characters played by a who’s who of genre favorites including Mark Hamill, Tony Todd, Michael Biehn, Sonny Chiba and Danny Trejo.  Hell yes.

Wrong (Oct. 25)
“A man tries to track down his missing dog”. 
I am a huge fan of Quentin Dupieux’s last film, Rubber.  It was a crazy, absurdist fantasy that can best be described as a Dadaist horror comedy.  Based on the trailer for Wrong, it looks to follow suit (though maybe a Dadaist thriller comedy instead?).  I’ve cleared out the clutter and my mind is ready to be blown.

Random Encounters: The Shackled City for Pathfinder (Chapter Three Flood Season)

October 5th, 2012

Currently I am running a Pathfinder campaign for my gaming group, and since I never got the chance to use my copy of The Shackled City hardcover while we were playing 3.5 I figured it wouldn’t be too much work to convert to ‘3.75’.  In spite of Paizo’s claims of backwards compatibility, you can’t really use 3.5 D&D adventures off the shelf for Pathfinder.  Most of it works, but the monsters and NPCs in particular are too weak to be a real challenge to a party of Pathfinder characters.  Converting the stat blocks isn’t impossible, but it does take time, and since I’m doing the work anyway (I’m a bit of a stat block perfectionist) I thought I would share (click on the pictures at the end of the article to download PDFs of the updated stat blocks for all the monsters and NPCs as well as some additional handouts I created for the third chapter).  You can find a conversion of the first chapter of the adventure path, Life’s Bazaar, as well as Pathfinder-style versions of the Greyhawk gods here, and the second chapter, Drakthar’s Way, here.
SPOILER ALERT
Obviously there are a ton of spoilers here, both for the campaign and the adventure.  So if you plan on playing in The Shackled City, peeking ahead is going to ruin a lot of the fun.  If you are one of my players, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t read any further.  You’ve been warned.

Flood Season

The following changes should be made to the adventure for it to play smoothly using the Pathfinder edition of D&D.   Click on the pictures at the end of the article to download a PDF of Pathfinder stat blocks for every NPC and monster in the adventure (when I DM I like to have the monster stat blocks in front of me, instead of having to flip to the back of the book or shuffle through Bestiaries), as well as a few additional handouts useful to the adventure (some handbills advertising Flood Festival events, double-sided invitations to the Demonskar Ball, maps that the PCs can buy to aid them at the Lucky Monkey, the symbol of the Ebon Triad, and an excerpt from Skaven’s scroll detailing the kopru civilization).

Event 6: Meet the Competition
I added a class level to each of the Stormblades to maintain their original CR.  Since there isn’t a Swashbuckler base class in Pathfinder I made Cora Lathenmire a Fighter – with her choice of feats and skills she will still be able to take levels in the Duelist prestige class later in the campaign.

Inside the Lucky Monkey
M1. Common Room
I added a level to both the alleybashers and the hillfolk to maintain their CR in Pathfinder.  I also slightly altered the hillfolk to give them more of an Olman flavor (the jungle barbarians that live in this area of the World of Greyhawk).  I traded out their masterwork longswords for obsidian war clubs (with the stats of a masterwork warhammer), but kept their armor (assuming they had acquired chainmail through raiding or as payment from Triel).  If you want the Hillfolk to be more of a traditional European barbarian, just give them longswords.

M21. Courtyard
The hill baboon was never updated in any of the Pathfinder books, so I replaced them with advanced chimpanzees, but kept the description and flavor.

M27. Kitchen
Tongueater was a mess.  As originally presented, Tongueater was an infected lycanthrope, which adds a needless amount of rolling for the DM and doesn’t really add anything to either the story or the game – so I changed him into a natural lycanthrope.  The second problem was that Tongueater was given levels of Barbarian, a class restricted to non-lawful alignments (and Tongueater is LE), so I switched these out with levels of Ranger (and took the two-handed weapon combat style from the Advanced Player’s Guide to keep him as a falchion wielder).  Finally, the way CR works with lycanthropy and class levels is slightly different in Pathfinder, so he wound up with 5 class levels instead of 3.  Even after all these changes I still think that my version of Tongueater maintains his core identity – a ferocious melee combatant able to tear through PCs quickly.
For DMs interested in a little more flavor than ‘120 pounds of loot worth 4,500 gp’ I broke it down as follows:

  • A large painting of the setting sun on a far horizon with a darkwood frame (taken from area M15); 300 gp; 5 pounds.
  • A case of 12 bottles of fine wine from the Holds of the Sea Princes; 10 gp each; 18 pounds total.
  • 4 bottles of Keoish brandy; 20 gp each; 8 pounds total.
  • Assorted silverware; 100 gp; 10 pounds total.
  • A pair of gold candleholders, elegant in their simplicity; 100 gp each; 2 pounds total.
  • Silver dinner service, embossed with native Amedio fruits and animals; 500 gp; 7 pounds total.
  • 4 golden monkey statuettes with chipped emeralds for eyes; 500 gp each; 15 pounds total.
  • A sea chart of the trade winds of Jeklea Bay and the Northern Azure Sea; 200 gp.
  • A letter of bond for Maavu’s Imports; 500 gp (a great set-up for the next chapter).
  • A lapis ornamental comb; 75 gp.
  • A silver mirror with folding cosmetics plate; 50 gp.
  • A small bottle of spicy smelling perfume oil; 25 gp.
  • 7 moonstones; 50 gp each.

M39. Battlefield
Switch out Sarcem’s 3.5 style periapt of Wisdom +2 with a Pathfinder headband of inspired Wisdom +2 (since the item is a headband, you might consider keeping it with Sarcem’s head in area M27.).

M43. Well Room
I added an additional class level to Shensen in order to maintain her CR, following the guidelines for her advancement in the appendix of the hardcover.

Event 10: Information for Sale
I added an additional class level to Artus in order to maintain his CR.  I interpreted his high ranks in Use Magic Device as an interest in magic so I gave him the Rogue talents of minor magic and major magic.

The Kopru Ruins
K7. Nightmare Beach
The skulvyn has never been updated to the Pathfinder game so I replaced it with a fiendish bunyip.  It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s fairly close (and I get the impression the skulvyn was chosen only to showcase the then-released Monster Manual II).

K8. Kopru Lair
The kopru has never been updated for the Pathfinder game, but rather than substitute another monster I decided to rebuild it using the monster guidelines in the Bestiary (as the race plays such a central role in the adventure).  Since it’s essentially a new monster for the game, I included the extended stat block in the PDF (and now that the work is already done, the kopru makes a perfect candidate for the next installment of Classic Monsters).

K13. The Gauntlet
The Reflex save DC for the pit trap here should be DC 20, as that is now the standard for all pit traps regardless of CR.

K16. Workroom
The mud slaad has never been updated to the Pathfinder game (and won’t be by Paizo as slaad are considered WOTC intellectual property) so I replaced it with a cerberi.  This is a case where I think the replacement works better than the original.  Thematically, the cerberi is a better fit for the role of leftover mystic guardian.

K24. Skaven’s Parlor
With arcane lock, the Disable Device check to pick the lock is DC 40 and the door’s break DC is 38.
I added a class level to Skaven to maintain his CR.  In 3.5 diviner Wizards only had a single opposition school, in converting Skaven to Pathfinder I added the opposition school of conjuration as that didn’t have any effect on the spells he had memorized.
In addition to the scroll on the kopru (included in the PDF of handouts) Skaven’s collection of esoteric books contains the following:

  • The Last Will and Testament of Lawethika of Ket
  • Ruminations of Charnel Fulminations
  • The Hours of Tintinnabulatory Twilight
  • Fragments from the Digested Notebooks of Tenrast Inktongue, a Blackmailer

K25: Skaven’s Bedchamber
With arcane lock, the Disable Device check to pick the lock is DC 40 and the door’s break DC is 38.

K27. Spider Nest
Spiders are one of the monsters that went through a lot of changes between 3.5 and Pathfinder, messing up the sizes and CRs of the spiders presented in this adventure.  In order to maintain CR replace the small spiders in this room with 2 spider swarms.

K30. Webbed Cavern
In order to maintain the CR of this encounter, replace the medium and large monstrous spiders with 4 giant spiders and 1 giant black widow.

K31. Ettercap Lair
This room should have 3 ettercaps for the given CR.

K32. Harpoon Spider Lair
The harpoon spider has never been updated for the Pathfinder game (and I suspect it was included in the adventure for the same reason as the skulvyn), so I replaced it with another intelligent arachnid foe, the phase spider (which could just as easily be worshipped as a god by ettercaps).  I made two slight modifications to the phase spider’s stat block to better reflect the adventure.  I changed its alignment to NE to reflect Skaven’s corrupting influence on the creature and I gave it Common instead of Aklo, since there is no Greyhawk equivalent of that language.

K33. Trapped Chamber
The poison on the spikes should read as follows:
Medium Spider Poison—injury; save Fort DC 14; frequency 1/round for 4 rounds; effect 1d2 Strength damage; cure 1 save.

K36. Triel’s Chamber
I added a class level to Triel to maintain her CR.

K41. Bloodbath
The bloodbloater ooze has never been updated for the Pathfinder game so I replaced it with an amoeba swarm.  While technically the amoeba swarm could crawl out of the pit in search of food, I assumed their preference for an aquatic environment and regular feedings would keep them in the pit.

K50. Undead Ogres
The pair of ogre zombies are slightly below the target CR, but the skeletal tyrannosaurus in area K48. is so brutal it more than makes up for it.

K52. Cult Treasury
The spawn of Kyuss have never been updated for the Pathfinder game so I replaced them with a pair of giant crawling hands.  I’ll admit it’s not a perfect fit, but the giant crawling hands are the right CR, and their pus burst has a similar gross-out factor as the spawn of Kyuss’ worms.
The poison on the chest should read as follows:
Nitharit poison—contact; save Fort DC 13; onset 1 min.; frequency 1/min. for 6 min.; effect 1d3 Constitution damage; cure 1 save.

K55. Undead Minions
There should only be 6 zombies in this encounter for the target CR.  Just so these monsters wouldn’t seem exactly the same as the zombie ogres in K50., I used the plague variant included in the Bestiary (plus, I hoped they would make up for the missing spawn of Kyuss in K52.).

K56. Tarkilar’s Cavern
Huecuva work very differently in Pathfinder then they did in 3.5 so it was next to impossible to do a straight conversion of Tarkilar.  Instead, I rebuilt him from the ground up.  Starting with a standard huecuva, I added class levels of Cleric until I hit the target CR (adding class levels also gave the huecuva a bonuses to its stats, which I used to replicate Tarkilar’s original stats as closely as possible).  I also fiddled a little with the standard racial skills and feats of the huecuva in order to better emulate the original Tarkilar.  Finally, I allowed the huecuva’s disease to be spread through the creature’s weapon attacks (it is wired directly into his flesh, so the spiked chain is probably filled with all sorts of disgusting bits of rotting gnoll flesh).

Strip-show Part One: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Stripping Miniatures but Were Afraid to Ask

September 27th, 2012

I may only be a competent painter, but a few years of buying used miniatures on eBay (as well as reclaiming some golden oldies from my own collection) has made me an expert stripper (of miniatures – my burlesque skills leave much to be desired).  Since I’ve been meaning to write more about miniatures, and I just finished cleaning up a batch of old lead, I thought I would share my wisdom (if by ‘wisdom’ I mean ‘trial and error resulting in stained sinks, melted plastics and burnt fingers’).

Trial and Error

For my earliest attempt at stripping paint, I grabbed the first thing I found in my closet that looked like it would do the trick – furniture stripper.   This did the trick alright, and fast, but it also completely melted the little plastic shield and crossbow that was attached to the miniature (a poor veteran of Ruglud’s Armored Orcs).  The leftover goop was also problematic since you shouldn’t exactly poor furniture stripper down the drain.  Seeing as how many miniatures made after ’89 have plastic parts and bases, furniture stripper (as well as any kind of paint remover or turpentine, since they have the same problem) was out.
A quick perusal of the internet revealed two likely candidates that would remove paint without harming plastics: Dettol and Simple Green.  Unfortunately, in Canada Simple Green has only just become available and Dettol is hard to find.  In looking for an alternative, I learned that it was these cleaners degreasing properties that made them such effective paint strippers.  Around this time I had moved apartments, which meant a whirlwind of cleaning and cleaning products among which I found the ‘Andre the Giant’ of household degreasers – oven cleaner.  I figured what the hell, and tried it out on a guinea pig I wouldn’t mind melting (a poorly painted henchman from the Advanced Heroquest boxed set).  Lo’ and behold, it stripped the paint without harming or softening the plastic underneath.
In the years that I’ve been using oven cleaner to strip miniatures I’ve found that it has no adverse reaction with hard plastic miniatures (old or new citadel plastics – though I have yet to try it on finecast), shields, limbs, or bases (both black plastic and clear plastic flying bases).  I’ve even forgotten batches and left miniatures soaking in oven cleaner for a week with no effect (other than paint removal).  Oven cleaner also weakens the bond of super glue, and with a bit of wiggling, most multi-part models can be easily broken down into their parts (a big bonus if you don’t like the pose the previous owner put the figure in).  The only thing I haven’t had success stripping with oven cleaner are pre-painted figures like Heroclix and D&D miniatures – it doesn’t harm the figures, but it also doesn’t affect the paint at all (for stripping these kinds of minis stay tuned for Part Two).
I may not convert the Simple Green enthusiasts, but oven cleaner is at least a viable alternative.  Here’s how I do it:

Stripping Miniatures with Oven Cleaner

Oven cleaner is a lot safer to handle than something like furniture stripper, but it’s still potentially dangerous and should be treated with care (no matter how much its lemony fresh scent lulls you into complacency).
What You’ll Need: a spray can of oven cleaner (go for the cheap stuff, ‘extra strength’ if possible), a sealable glass jar, rubber gloves, an old toothbrush (you can reuse it for your next batch of minis, but don’t even think of putting that thing near your mouth again), and something pointy (I use a Citadel modelling tool or a toothpick).  You are going to want to perform this operation in a well-ventilated space, with a sink you won’t get killed for accidentally staining (like a basement laundry sink).
I know what you’re thinking, ‘gloves are for pussies’ – sure, oven cleaner won’t immediately burn your skin like other paint strippers, but it’s still pretty harsh.  Harsh enough that I wouldn’t think of touching it without gloves on, and this is coming from a guy whose parents washed his hands with turpentine when he was a kid.


Method:  put the miniatures to be stripped in your jar (I usually do 4-6 at a time, but any number is good as long as the jar isn’t filled past the halfway point).  Don’t worry about removing shields or bases if they are attached to the mini or covered in gunk, the oven cleaner will help to loosen everything up so that after cleaning, your used miniatures will look like they just came out of the blister pack.
Put on your gloves and start spraying oven cleaning foam into the jar, over the miniatures, until the jar is full.  Don’t stick your face right over the thing or you’ll get a snootfull of caustic gas – green dragon breath anyone? (I only pass on what my own stupidity has taught me).  Seal the lid and wait a few minutes.
The foam should have settled into a sludge at the bottom.  Repeat a few times, sealing the jar in between each coating.  Don’t worry if that bottom sludge hasn’t completely engulfed the minis – after a few sprays, even the exposed minis should be coated with a layer of the stuff.  Seal the jar again and put it away some place kids (if you have any), significant others (if you have any), and clumsy people (you- if you’re like me) won’t knock it down.
Give the miniatures a few days to soak.  Put on the gloves, open your jar and remove your miniature, which by now looks like the leavings of a gelatinous cube.  Using your old toothbrush, gently scrub the surface of the miniature, trying to get into all the nooks and crannies.  Scrub away from yourself and downwards – this will prevent sludge from flying all over you (and your eyes) and bespeckling the wall behind your sink (again lessons learned only through trial and so many errors).  If the miniature has a shield or other parts, they usually detach at this point, so be careful not to send them down the drain.  Rinse the whole thing in warm water and inspect the mini to make sure you’ve gotten all the paint off.  Sometimes you’ll have to go over it again with the toothbrush, sometimes the paint (or a cap of superglue) is stubborn and needs to be scraped a bit with your pointy object (toothpicks are your safest bet).  Rinse again and leave it on a sheet of paper towel to dry.
When you are done, rinse out your jar of any remaining goop, being careful it doesn’t contain any small pieces (like crossbows and shields) that detached during the soaking.  Even if you’re using a laundry sink you should also rinse it out afterwards, otherwise detached paint particles have a habit of sticking to the sides and are a pain to get rid of once the dry on.
Voila – you’d never know that batch of minis you got off eBay once looked like the product of a fresco ruining grandmother (listed as ‘pro painted’ of course).  In part two I’ll tackle removing the paint from pre-painted miniatures (which also sometimes look like they were painted by the previously mentioned grandmother).