Roleplaying Game

4

Welcome to Lovecraft Country! This series of sourcebooks, edited by the late, great Keith Herber, is one of many high water marks for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu line and heralds the start of its 1990s golden age. Disclaimer: I love these books so very hard.

Arkham Unveiled was first, written by Herber and published in 1990. It details, block by block, H.P. Lovecraft’s famed witch-haunted town of Arkham, MA, home to Miskatonic University and no shortage of terrible mysteries.

This is an ambitious book and I can’t think of any RPG sourcebook project quite on the same scale as Lovecraft Country. When I said block by block, I wasn’t being facetious – the book details every noteworthy building, person and secret within the city limits, from Keziah Mason’s Witch House to Herbert West, Reanimator. This is everything you need to run scads of games in Arkham, even after you’ve finished the four pre-written scenarios included in the back. The book also includes, in true handouts-loving Chaosium fashion, a lovely reference map for players and a copy of the local newspaper (this is silly, but it also blew my mind when I saw it as a kid).

That said, Arkham Unveiled is a touch on the dry side, perhaps necessarily so, as it is the first example in a new kind of sourcebook. It does provide a solid foundation for the other volumes in the series, which get increasingly wild (I should mention that I covered the final and perhaps best sourcebook in the series, Escape From Innsmouth, back in October).

Also of note: the series was revised, expanded and reprinted in the early 2000’s. In Arkham Unveiled’s case, it was reissued under the name H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham. The 1990 edition is superior – the 2003 edition does switch out one of the scenarios, but is bogged down with a section that makes the book compatible with the loathsome D20 system and features hideous 3D videogame-style character portraits. Avoid.

Seafaring: Ship

A ship is more than simply a means of transportation. Every ship has a soul and stories to tell.

Aesthetic (roll 1d6):

  1. Sleek lines like a shark
  2. Furs and rough hewn wood
  3. Bright, prismatic colour
  4. Gold leaf and ornate carvings
  5. Black tar paint
  6. Bold monochrome military colour

Weapons (roll 1d6):

  1. A battering ram
  2. A ballista
  3. Black powder cannons
  4. Harpoons
  5. Casks of seafire
  6. Flaming darts

History (roll 1d6):

  1. The original captain had secret passages built throughout the decks.
  2. She was once sunk, then raised and refitted.
  3. She has fought on two sides of the same war under different captains.
  4. Repairs on the hull were made from wood from a cursed pirate ship.
  5. Nobody knows her original port of departure.
  6. A big red and black parrot is the only surviving member of the original crew.

Quirk (roll 1d6):

  1. The crew swear on their lives that there’s a skeleton who lurks around below decks.
  2. The ship bears marks of a kraken attack.
  3. All the lanterns burn blue or green.
  4. The lookout never comes down from the crow’s nest. Ever.
  5. The ship is never visited by gulls.
  6. The ship seems to be afraid of storms, developing a strong list whenever one appears on the horizon.

Figurehead (roll 1d6):

  1. Mermaid
  2. Pig
  3. Grim Reaper
  4. A Deity
  5. Sea Captain
  6. Demon
Seafaring: Crew

A captain cannot run a ship on their own!

Race (roll 1d6):

  1. Humans, elves, and other common races
  2. Orcs, goblins, and other hated creatures
  3. Tiefling, drow, and other mistrusted people
  4. Dwarves, halfling, and other stout folk
  5. Dragonborn, gnomes, and other uncommon people
  6. A great mishmash of races

Attitude (roll 1d6):

  1. Cliquey, divided
  2. Brutal, prone to brawling at the slightest provocation
  3. Cheerful and supportive
  4. Highly regimented and disciplined
  5. A chaotic, homogenous, and single-minded rabble
  6. A lazy, undisciplined heap of bodies

Feature (roll 1d6):

  1. They all wear a uniform
  2. All crew members are skillful at boarding ships
  3. Everyone is middle aged or older
  4. Many crew members keep pets
  5. The crew is divided evenly among genders
  6. The crew is vitamin c deficient

Song (roll 1d6):

  1. A cheerful shanty
  2. A mournful lament
  3. A bawdy tune
  4. A surging battle chant
  5. A penitent hymn
  6. A whistled call and response

Notable member (roll 1d6):

  1. A Secret-Keeper who can track down any scrap of truth
  2. The Cook who can cure what ails you
  3. The Little One who knows all there is to know about surviving
  4. An Old Hand who can tell tales no one else remembers
  5. A Shackled Prisoner who will pay any price for freedom
  6. A straight-up, honest to god Bear

A continuation of a series

7

I got the first Spelljammer box as a birthday gift back in 1990, and because of my birthday’s proximity to Christmas, I associate the two. The connection I feel between D&D’s space fantasy setting and the holidays is spurious at best, but this is my roleplaying game Instagram feed, so.

Anyway! Spelljammer is weird. I love Spelljammer to itty-bitty pieces, but it is ridiculous. The ridiculousness might actually be what makes in great, kind of like the movies in MST3K.

Space travel is possible in the D&D universe by means of magical artifacts called Spelljamming Helms. Space is depicted using a version of the Ptolemaic system, with planets contained within crystal spheres and connected by an elemental gas called phlogiston, that serves as a kind of interstellar ocean. There are dozens of spacefaring races in Spelljammer, all with their unique (and often silly) ships themed to their physical appearance. There’s a lot of Jules Verne here and things that would have been called “steampunk,” had the term been widespread at the time.

Spelljammer was a hugely ambitious campaign setting and served as the launch setting for the AD&D 2E in 1989, if you can believe it. (I can’t imagine something as weird as Spelljammer coming out today at all, let alone launching something.) Conceived by Jeff Grubb, one of the key design goals of Spelljammer was to connect all the existing TSR campaign settings – thus Krynn, Toril and Oerth are all places Spelljammer characters can hail from and visit.

Jim Holloway’s art and ship designs define the box set – he’s great at balancing the cool and the doofy in a way that is appealing. That falls off with future supplements. In a historical context, this is TSR’s first real high concept setting, but they hadn’t yet figured out how important a strong aesthetic was in anchoring a setting like this for players. In this way, Spelljammer is a clear, if flawed, stepping stone to settings like Dark Sun and Planescape (which was Spelljammer’s philosophical replacement as the connective tissue between all TSR worlds), both of which fuse high concept material with strong visual style.

Seafaring: Captain

Every ship needs someone in charge.

Race (roll 1d6):

  1. Human
  2. Elf
  3. Half-Orc
  4. Centaur
  5. Teifling
  6. Gnome

Nickname (roll 1d6):

  1. Anchorless
  2. Pelican
  3. Misty
  4. Moonrider
  5. Farseer
  6. Mapmaker

Background (roll 1d6):

  1. Navy
  2. Merchant
  3. Shipwright
  4. Galley Slave
  5. Pirate
  6. Inexperienced

Attitude (roll 1d6):

  1. A cruel taskmaster
  2. A cheerful drunk
  3. Stern but fair
  4. Lazy and uninvolved
  5. Conniving
  6. Preoccupied with plans and maps

Feature (roll 1d6):

  1. A clever animal familiar
  2. Tattoos everywhere
  3. A tremendously elaborate costume
  4. A hook hand
  5. A patch eye
  6. A peg leg

A continuation of a series

1d10 Shops #TableTuesday
  1. Pet Shop - This isn’t just any pet shop. This pet shop sells only creatures of reptilian origin. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and monitors. Being related to his product, doesn’t phase the lizard-folk shop owner.
  2. Wine Shop - Filled from wall to wall with wines from the ages. Some wines in the shop were created by great lords while others were made by orcs and goblins. The owner is a crotchety old man whose teeth have been stained by years of daily wine drinking.
  3. Hat Shop - Top hat, bowler, beret, bonnet, and turban. This shop has them all. If you need something to cover your head, Miss Wemblmore the halfling has what you need.
  4. Spice Shop - Spices have been an important part of society. These spices have all sorts of uses. Most pertain to flavoring foods, but some can be used medicinally and others magically. The shop keeper hails from far away lands and boasts stock representing her homelands.
  5. Furniture Shop - If you are looking to furnish a hovel, home, manor, or castle, furniture is a must. Making sure that your home has the proper furniture starts with picking the lumber and hiring the proper carpenter.
  6. Bone Shop - Entering a shop that sells bones can be a bit of a disturbing experience. Seeing the shopkeeper can be downright traumatizing. Goblin skulls, orc teeth, horse femurs, and tiefling jaws all find themselves in use in one way or another. Watch your back in the shop, no one knows where the shopkeep gets the human toes.
  7. Fruit Shop - Delicious, juicy, and colorful, this fruit shop boasts all the local produce you would see in a market. In the back of the shop they stock special fruits only found from far away and magical lands. Fruit that comes from living breathing trees, fruit that sprouts wings and flies, fruit that drips with liquid magma when cut open. This shop has it all.
  8. Adventurer Shop - A shop with a single book inside. Within the book is a list of names. Each name corresponds to an adventurer ready to go on a quest, for the right amount of coin. There is no shopkeep and the book mysteriously cannot be moved from its central pedestal. 
  9. Statue Shop - Each statue has been carefully and skillfully carved from dozens of materials ranging from wood to platinum. Perhaps a skilled artist could convince the shop owner of hosting his work in the shop to sell. 
  10. Seed Shop - If you want to start a farm, grow a tree, or observe the process of life, these seed will provide more than enough for your needs. Many seeds are of unknown origin and effect. Take a risk and reap the potential reward of your unknown crop.