Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Year In Wampus Country

It's difficult to believe this blog is a year old - or will be, come tomorrow.  What did we accomplish this year?

140 posts.  Not nearly as many as some blogs manage, but that averages out to almost three posts a week.  Not too shabby, I guess.

Over 33,000 pageviews.  This sounds fun but is such a corrupted statistic as to be meaningless.  Still, it's fun to see that number grow.

A whole mess of random tables, most of which are way more general than Wampus Country.

Introduced the discerning public to a strange blend of humor, fairy-tale wonder, and faux-American adventure.  Setting, setting, setting!

Helped with Secret Santicore.

Did some crazy posts with advertising mascots.

Kept the industry chatter and whining to a bare minimum (definitely a goal of mine for the blog).

Ran a regular Friday night game with only a few cancellations.

Experimented with running via play-by-post.

Produced 78 new spells for Labyrinth Lord.

Played D&D (okay, sort-of) with my son, which has been incredibly rewarding.  You guys understand he's responsible for a third of the content here, right?

Ran a contest, the fruits of which I need to finish!

Won a contest, the fruits of which should be out next year.

Guided 48 different player characters through the wilds of Wampus Country.  That seems like a lot to me.

And, most importantly, met several bushels of really great gamers, and played a ton as well.

It's been a wonderful year full of giant chickens, platypus heads, wacky witches, midget luchadors, sasquatches, oh so many giraffes (winged and plain), lumberjack giants, talking dogs, surly simians, several sorts of fairy, giant spiders with moustaches, and goodness knows what else.  Thank you.

Next year: more and better, onward and upward.

"And then, the adventurers managed to get their hands on a hot air balloon, and nothing was ever the same afterward.  Things just got stranger from there on out."

Monday, November 26, 2012

And You Think I'm Hexy

Above, a map of central Wampus Country, annotated with hex numbers.  Hopefully it's readable if you click to cast enlarge.  These are six-mile hexes; having this numbered hexmap should make things a tad easier for our players.

Some places of note follow.

0116  River-Town

1106  Charnel Caves of the Necronauts (zombie beaver damn entrance)

1308  Thistlemarch

1408  Saltvale

1507  The Mad Margrave's Keep

1509  Stairway to Nowhere

1609  Stump-Witch's gnarled grove

2211  Crumbledown

2216  Frogport

Predicted reaction from my Friday night group: "When we were at Crumbledown we were THAT CLOSE to Frogport?  DAMN."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Current Hooks and Rumors


This is general stuff and does not include PC-specific goals like “convince the Stump Witch to teach me new spells” and the like. This should be a good start for the holiday season.  Nor does this include what's going on in the play-by-post at the moment (as they don't exactly need 'hooks').  


A transient farm-worker who’s just returned from Saltvale reports there have been sightings there of a faceless, ghostly gentleman in a white tuxedo. The phantom has been seen in town a bit, but chiefly around the edges of civilization, in the forest, as though looking for something.

A guy I know heard from another guy that the Living Totem Pole out on the plains woke up and moved a bit a few weeks back. No idea what that’s about. Apparently the darn thing stomps around a couple of times a year; the Cloud Rabbit savages believe it’s some kind of god, and its movement heralds great strife or something. Their shamans go to the Living Totem to learn new chants.

North-east of Thistlemarch, farmers and travellers have seen several cloudfolk barges coming together; they seem to be sculpting a temporary island of cloudstuff, perhaps for a wedding or something, as they are wont to do. AIR TRANSPORT REQUIRED

Hexley, Lord Chuffington, who rules a group of mobgoblins, is attempting to build his own town from scratch. He is recruiting - and paying decent money for - people who know about construction, fortification, military matters, and basic trades. Any PC who wants to spend a week or two teaching mobgoblins how to do X should let me know, and they will be compensated accordingly for their time.


A group of Black Eagle tribesmen have been camped out east of town for several days now; they say they are questing for a man with ‘great medicine’ who can assist them with some sort of problem.

The Red Bear Lumber Company has an ad in the newspaper recruiting guards for its lumber camps; seems the sasquatches are on the warpath again after some imagined slight. There is a standing bounty of $100 on sasquatch heads.

A Mr. Simplebottom, serving interests in River-Town, is in Thistlemarch trying to hire an expedition to go to Massacre Mesa. (Massacre Mesa is a long way away, this would take the involved PCs off on an expedition tangent which may take them out of Thistlemarch-focused play for some time)

Local vegetable farmer Jimmy Stinkfoot, long in need of a bride, has had a dream in which he had a savage princess for a wife; he’s now poking around town asking if anyone will go steal him a princess from one of the several barbarian tribes.

Angry mandrill and former hench-ape Habanero Pete is itching to return to his people, the bander-log; but it’s a long journey for one baboon. He’s looking for a few companions to share the road in exchange for some small money and a guided tour of bander-log country.

The Mad Margrave, who operates that keep north of town, generally keeps to himself, and it is said he distrusts all witches; and yet, lately, several of the Margrave’s agents have make discreet inquiries regarding their liege’s need for the aid of a sorceror...


The Charnel Caves of the Necronauts (discovered by the Rat-House Bastards) have not been fully explored. There was a whole section of catacombs that lead who-knows-where, not to mention the creepy fire-thing in the Screamatorium. REQUIRES PRESENCE OR INFO FROM A PC WHO HAS BEEN THERE

The ruined city of Crumbledown may yet hold mysteries - there is an entire quarter dominated by the giant skull-wasps which has yet to be explored, and that area may contain more passages downward into the remains of the ancient city beneath.

Who poured that giant-size potion on Ernie Pyewackett’s chicken feed, leading to the Giant Chicken Incident? Nobody knows. It doesn’t seem like the style of any of the local witches or adventuring-sorcerors, so perhaps there’s a wizard skulking about in secret... (I have no idea what someone would do to track this down directly, I just wanted to make sure it was out there)


Saltvale is a dreary place where very little grows, as the ground is so damn salty. If you’re into dead trees, fog, and occasional zombie attacks, this might be the vacation spot for you. The local witch is Grammy Witherspoon, whose very gaze spoils foodstuffs. CLOSE

Crumbledown is a ruined city left over from Grandpa’s War. It is menaced by giant skullwasps and said to be haunted as well. Although the above-ground ruins are long-abandoned, there may yet be things worth salvaging from Crumbledown. CLOSE

Massacre Mesa, out in the badlands, features the vulture-men of Buzzard Gulch and assorted rocky desert hazards. Some folks go out that way to pan for gold. A religious commune built in the shadow of the Mesa ended in tragedy - twice - when all the people living there were found killed. EXPEDITION DISTANCE

Frogport lies at the heart of Snollygoster Swamp; it’s a fun little town populated by jazz-plaing frogs, river-travellers, ne’er-do-wells, and folks using the town as a home base to explore the Swamp and points eastward. The swamp itself is full of snollygosters (big lizard-things), swamp-ogres, and various other dangers, including rumors of a hidden tower where lives a wizard called the Swamp Hermit. EXPEDITION DISTANCE

River-Town is really a full-fledged city by Wampus standards, with a burgeoning river port, fancy clothes, white-washed townhomes, and the like. Within its environs are the Diamond Peacock (a famous brothel), the Silver Scorpion Casino, the Thunderbolt Brewery and associated Action Show, the Marvelous Menagerie, and some large tobacco plantations. EXPEDITION DISTANCE

Shining Lake is a massive inland body of water ringed by picturesque fishing villages. At the center of the lake, beneath the surface of the water, sits the domain of the magical fish-people, the Lake-born. EXPEDITION DISTANCE

And for the record, the hexes my son has been exploring are SE of Snollygoster Swamp, in the area called ‘Beyond the Bend’; but those are off-limits to other PCs right now :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Midway through the harvest, the civilized folk of the Wampus Country celebrate a day they call Thankstravaganza.  Neighbors and extended families all gather together for the dual purpose of expressing formal gratitude to every godling, mountain-fairy, basement-devil, and boojum that they can think of, and simultaneously stuff their faces with all manner of foods and liquors.

Although individual practice varies by family and town, the typical Thankstravaganza goes something like this:

1.  Gathering.  Get together a whole mess of people, including ideally both people you like and people you can't stand.  The whole point of Thankstravaganza is that "we're all in this together" - it's a community holiday, so invite your nosy neighbors and that guy who borrowed your good plow and never brought it back.  Being invited to someone's home for Thankstravaganza is not forgiveness for something you've done, and only a fool would think otherwise.  Critical mass for a good Thankstravaganza is twenty people or more.  If you can get a priest to attend, that's grand.  Some villages or towns manage to get several (competing) clerics in one place, which is always interesting later.

2. Gratitude.  As we all know, the Wampus Country is thick with gods, lesser gods, things that act like gods, things that wish they were gods, and things morons think are gods but aren't.  Thankstravaganza is a time for expressing gratitude to all of these.  Usually the patriarch or host will make a general speech about a mess of stuff for which to be thankful, and then each member of the party is expected to say a few words thanking a particular deity, helpful fairy, or personified weather manifestation (you hear a lot of the latter if the harvest was particularly good that year).  Once everyone has said something, the host will either give a final speech or defer to one or more priests in attendance, but the summation is always the same - giving thanks to every being and creature that might've been overlooked or forgotten in the previous expressions of gratitude.  Wording this speech to include everything is considered pretty important, lest some lesser, forgotten, or unknown godling ("Itchy Fernando, the Vermilion Burning, Lord of Underpants Rashes") happen to be listening and become offended.  Even the lowliest godling is not someone you want to offend. [1]

3. Gorging.  Now, the feast.  In some cases the host provides all the food, but it is more usual for everyone to bring something.  Fowl, beef, pork, vegetables, grains, breads, cakes, pies, everything.  Enough to feed an army.  If the guests manage to finish everything presented, you've done something horribly wrong; it is a sign of largesse and community fellow-feeling to over-provide.  While the guests are eating, it is customary for them also to quaff ridiculous quantities of beer, wine, ale, mead, and whiskey - sometimes all in the same glass. [2]

4. Games.  By now everyone should be sloppy drunk, belligerent, and ready to vomit at a moment's notice, which means it's time for group physical exertion.  While the younger children cavort unsupervised, the adults begin to arrange themselves in teams for the annual games.  The community comes together in "friendly" competitions - the individual games will vary, but it's typically something outdoors and rough, like rugby, flaming caber toss, skunder-ball, or Throttle-the-Goat. [3]  After an hour or so of this, presuming optimal levels of participation, everyone at the party will have either vomited, passed out, disappeared, cheated on their spouse, succumbed to a mysterious head injury, or been cheerfully shanked by one of their neighbors over an imagined slight. [4] Thus is the social contract renewed.

Eventually everyone wanders home and regrets attending, looking forward to the next year's festivities.


[1]  This is a serious warning.  More than one village or family line has ended up cursed by something ridiculous for want of including a simple "and thanks to every other being, seen or unseen".  The Moorblatts of River-Town all have carrots for noses, remember - you've seen the pictures in the Gazette.  I've no idea how Blanchard Moorblatt is going to get his daughter Beryl married off now, which is a great shame, as she is otherwise quite fetching.  Perhaps there is truly someone out there for everyone, and Beryl will one day soon find the vegetarian or snowman of her dreams.

[2] In Saltvale, it is traditional to serve at least one round of "Shazinger's Widowmaker", a concoction blending mushroom-beer, oak-aged whiskey, and lamp oil, served warm.    Ernst Shazinger himself was a serial adulterer and philanderer who murdered his paramours' husbands by soaking them in oil and setting them alight.  Once his crimes - and nocturnal meanderings - came to light, his own wife punished him appropriately, which is why a glass of honey-mead with sheep testicles in it is sometimes referred to as a "Mrs. Shazinger".

[3] If you need ideas for games to play, check out this random table of amusements.  Skunder-ball involves throwing surprisingly-hard chestnuts at another man's crotch at high speed and short distance; "Throttle-the-Goat" is a simple variation on the classic and well-known goat-choking games we all played at school, the main difference being the addition of darts, blindfolds, and the oldest man in town with his pants down playing multiple harmonicas.

[4] You'll note six options there.  It's a hidden random table.

There is zero chance I'm putting this here so I can find it again for Friday night's game.
It's a "turkimera", by the way.  Don't speculate further, you'll ruin it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

AetherCon Aftermath

Let's talk about AetherCon.

As you may know, AetherCon ran this weekend, all three days, as perhaps the first large-scale online gaming  convention which attempted to replicate all the functions of a meatspace gaming convention.  And there were a lot of issues with how it went down from which we can all learn something.

AetherCon was the brainchild of one gamer - Stephen - who wanted very much to create an online convention for everybody, to celebrate the love of gaming we all share.  No edition wars, no crap, just a mess of people gaming and talking about games.  It's a laudable goal, and we would do well to remember that when we're looking at what worked and what didn't with AetherCon this weekend.

Let me back up a little bit.  My involvement with AetherCon began months ago when I contacted the staff about running some games.  The first red flag was that the person I talked to had actually just quit the staff; they were kind enough to pass me the contact info for the right people, so I essentially said "Hey, I'd like to DM some Labyrinth Lord, let me know what to do."  Things ballooned from there.

Each time I talked with Stephen, it seemed he wanted me to do more, or do something different.  I wanted to run my LL game, he asked me if I could run something else.  They really wanted GMs for their announced tournaments (Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder), as well as GMs to run games on a particular list (which Stephen had judged popular, or classics perhaps).  I demurred, having no confidence in running a game with which I was unfamiliar, and no desire to do so besides.  I had a few vague ideas about some OSR stuff that could be really sweet in a con environment, but the cool reaction I got to Labyrinth Lord had me set my sights a little lower.

Stephen encouraged me to advertise AetherCon in general, which I was happy to do; most folks have no problem doing a little pimping for something with which they're involved.  He also asked if I would help out as a floor manager - meaning, at the time, hanging out in one of the chat rooms and helping to keep conversation going, help people find their games, etc.  I thought "why not" -- after all, I could run my games on Saturday and maybe take a floor manager shift on Sunday or something, right?

I asked if they had a presence on Google-Plus.  Despite having several people listed as their 'Social Media' staff members, they did not.  I encouraged Stephen to look into G+, lest AetherCon miss out on the gamers who 'lived' there.  He asked me to show him how to create a G+ page -- then asked me to go ahead and do it for him, which I did.  I even agreed to crosspost the con updates to the G+ page, which I did for some time, but my free evenings weren't sufficient for what Stephen wanted as far as 'regular posting', so that duty was handed over to someone else.  Whether that person continued the job or whether Stephen eventually did it himself, I've no idea.

Throughout this process, Stephen was regularly contacting me and strongly encouraging - some would use the verb 'pressuring' - me to ping on my friends (virtual and otherwise) to get them to sign up to play and run games.  "Yep, I've chatted with some people about it" was not a sufficient answer most of the time.  Stephen apparently believes strongly that direct personal contact and regular favor-asking is the best way to get things done, but I was not about to lean on my pals to make them do something in which they were not interested.  People who want to do it will do it; people who don't, won't.

Things got really crazy the past couple of weeks.  Somehow overnight I was "promoted" from "a floor manager" to "the guy in charge of the floor managers, oh, and recruiting enough of them, too".  This wasn't working.  I couldn't force people to GM, I couldn't force people to sign up to play, I sure as hell couldn't force them to be floor managers for this con.  The few names I was given of people who had already volunteered for the duty didn't pan out, they were generally unresponsive.  I can't help but wonder now if they, too, were pressganged into service and were just smarter than I am about ignoring emails.

Stephen then asked me to head up the chat-room installation effort which he had begun with the people at Mibbit; I told him I didn't mind being cc'd and being some kind of POC, but I had no experience with coding or configuring a chat-room.  I should've stood my ground or been more forceful, because - surprise! - next thing you know AetherCon is holding me responsible for configuring a mess of Mibbit chatrooms, and Stephen's asking me to do things with the tool that I'm just not certain can be done.  Communicating with the Mibbit POC was very difficult - they're in the UK and did not always respond immediately to emails, probably because this was 'extra doing-a-favor work' rather than a paying client.  Bottom line is, that process should have been started looong before it was.  There was a lot of last-minute running around, trying to bang Stephen's pie-in-the-sky vision against what the tech could actually do easily.  It was a freaking mess.  If the Roll20 guys were getting the same crap...

I was getting upset.  Depressed, even, because I didn't want to deal with all this extra stuff.  I just wanted to run a couple of games!  Each time I tried to express my frustration - and inability to get done what he wanted done - to Stephen, I'd get a reply like "this [the chat-room configuration] is your baby now".  Dropped in my lap, unbidden.  He claimed to be too busy to assist or help deal with the consequences of me being unable to get it the way he wanted it.  I had very limited time to invest in this stuff .  Where was the rest of the AetherCon staff?  That's a fantastic question.  I was never passed a spreadsheet or staff list with emails.  Any time I had an issue, everything went through Stephen, who was, to hear him tell it, working 24-7 on all aspects of the con.  I guess I believe that, because it helps explain what was happening.

Come the weekend of the con, I was exhausted from working a mess of hours and the stress of anticipating all of this going pear-shaped and catching shit for being unable to do the things I said I couldn't do in the first place.  Great feeling, right?  I didn't even have my scenario complete.  I was working on it post-midnight on Friday, for crying out loud.  Part of me didn't even want to run the damn games anymore - thinking about this swirling mess was making me sick.

On Saturday, I logged in to see how things were going, figuring I'd keep the main chatroom open while I prepped for my (noon) game.  Stephen wanted me in the backstage chat, helping out there; I told him no.  I had a game to prep, I had to eat and shower and see my family and all of that before getting into back-to-back sessions.  Thankfully I had access to the player database so my players didn't have to deal with all the "player code" crap.  I had some Roll20 technical issues and only two players show up for my session, so, after talking frankly with the players, we agreed to play the session another time.  I cancelled my 6pm slot for similar reasons coupled with some household stuff going on, but I have offered to run the scenario (or another) for everyone who was signed up.  I'm pretty confident that game will get run, actually, and because it'll get run in a plain Hangout and not during the most stressful weekend I've had in ages, it'll be a freaking great session.  So there's that.

What went wrong with AetherCon?  It was a good idea, right?  Certainly.  I guess it all comes down to implementation.  You can read about one of the vendor's experiences over here, but I can only speak to what I myself saw, no matter how much the stuff Skirmisher says rings true to my ear.

Here's what I think didn't work, generally:

1) Singular Vision/Lack of dedicated staff.  Stephen knew what he wanted, but he didn't have a team ready to assist him in realizing that vision.  Nor did he seem receptive to new ideas.  This is the biggest issue, it trickles down into everything else, and, I'm sorry to say, is a problem that may not be fixable - at least, the singular vision part.  Stephen had some very strong ideas about what games to run, how to do a tournament, even when ads should be shared in social media (I guess he read an article somewhere).   Fingers in every pie, and no bakers to assist, I guess.

Bottom line: you can't do an extravaganza as a one-man-show.  Get a dedicated team together early, let them play to their specialties, and actually take and accept suggestions for change and innovation.

2) Slavish attempt to replicate a meatspace con in virtual space.  What I mean by this is that you can't throw a vendor into an opaque room and call it a 'booth'.  Nobody can walk by and see the product laid out.  And the games?  Event codes, player codes that players had to show to GMs so they could be seated?  What is all of that stuff?  Is there a problem with impostors I don't know about?  And the attempt to mandate that GMs livestream their games?  Come on.

Bottom line: Accent what's unique and remarkable about an online con, providing new ways for vendors, GMs, con-goers to interact rather than building structures that mimic realspace.

3) Communications - internal and external.  AetherCon did a good job at some aspects of advertising, that's undeniable.  It did a crap job of communicating with GMs, players, and its own staffers.  The Call of Cthulhu tournament was cancelled like two weeks before the con; the registered players were informed of this, but staff sure wasn't, and no big announcement was made.  I wouldn't have known about that (fairly major) cancellation had I not had a pal signed up for the tournament.  Oh, and the respect thing comes in here, too - if someone volunteers for A, then enable them to do A - don't try to guilt them into doing B, then C, then D...

I don't, and can't, know what other difficulties Stephen and the other AetherCon staffers (from actual-staff through GMs) encountered over the past three days and the past nine months.  I salute their intent, dedication, and passion, and thank everyone involved - players, too - for the effort put forth.  There are lessons to be learned, both as a community (how to throw an online con) and individually (how to treat collaborators, how to say 'no' at the right time).

"Event code?  Sign-in?  Thirty minutes early?  Dude, I just want to play some checkers."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Strangers With Trains

Even if you don't play Risus: The Anything RPG, there are a mess of campaign setting ideas over here, thanks to the Risus One Page Challenge.

Periodically they'll throw out a topic - this time was 'steampunk' - and give people two weeks to submit a one-page version of a campaign setting riffing on that theme.

Now, I've never played Risus, although I've read it, and it's very very basic.  That's a good thing - it means folks who aren't deep into a game can still play along with these kinds of challenges.

My contribution was Rule the Rails, a little setting about psychic revolutionaries and their sentient steam-trains.  It will surprise exactly zero readers of this blog to see that Rule the Rails is a little comedic and draws inspiration from children's lit and TV...


"Crank up the speed!" cried Billy Zero, goading Slaughtermouse with a psionic shove.  As Engines went, Slaughtermouse was small and meek, but Billy had spent years training him.  He could hear the little Engine's cogs whir inside its brain-box, even as he hung his head out the window to see if the Syndicate train was gaining ground.

Billy quickly uncrated the steam-powered semi-automatic multi-harpoon he had bought from the Trenchcoats down at the docks.  This thing had better puffing work, he thought, as he wrenched the feed hose onto Slaughtermouse's auxiliary steam output.  The weapon hissed and jumped as it came to life in his hands.

Rounding the turn, a hail of bullets stuttered across Slaughtermouse's flank - the Syndicate kill-train known only as Black Seven was closing in.  Wiping a sooty sleeve across his goggles in a vain attempt to clear his vision, Billy Zero leaned out the window and brought the multi-harpoon to bear, waiting for the precise moment when he'd have a clear shot at his pursuer's cabin.

"Peep, peep!" shouted Slaughtermouse, eager for a kill.


It's silly and stupid and I kinda want to run some version of it.  That's normal, right?

All in all, the Risus One Page Challenge was great fun.  I saw the specs, had the idea at work, and just typed it up that night.  Looking back, I should've edited better, and I think I could have fit more 'stuff' on one page if I had layout options.  But pretty fun stuff.