Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Turkey Day Approaches

For a RPG and food blog, I don't have much to say about food here. So, time for the second blog about food, celebrating Turkey Day. I apply that old school, DIY attitude to making food, making delicious stuff with both traditional and new methods.

So for this, I have decided to do something different with the turkey. See, I have a sous vide thermocirculator I got for myself as a graduation gift. It's a really handy device that lets me cook things in sous vide. What's sous vide? Well, it's when you store a food item in a ziplock bag or other plastic bag, then cook it in water that is kept at a certain temperature. It keeps the food at a constant temperature and lets you fire and forget, working on other stuff. To learn more, you can go to ChefSteps or Serious Eats for more information.

So I've been rocking that and have decided to sous vide the turkey pieces. This is to ensure correct cooking time, maximum juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. In addition, dark meat cook to a higher temperature than white meats. Cooking the breasts together and away from the thigh quarters ensures that the breasts don't end up dry and boring. So starting, I needed the turkey.

I made a bit of a mess here.
I went with a young turkey because I'm only feeding three people. So it'll be enough, especially with sides and such. With this, I broke down the turkey carcass into quarters. Two leg quarters and two airline breasts. One thing that was disappointing was that the company that pre-trussed the legs screwed up the skin on the tips of the turkey breast. Shame, as I really wanted it to cover the whole breast for searing. No worries though, we can manage.

Top two: Leg Quarters; Bottom two: Airline Breasts
An airline breast is a breast cut that retains the forewing bone. This was mostly for looks, so that it'd look the same as the leg quarters. Sadly, I screwed up the skin on the bottom left turkey breast. I'm getting out of practice. I also removed the thigh bone from the two thighs up top. Again, this was for symmetry and also for ease of slicing when I serve everything cooked up.

From this point, I seared all of the turkey pieces on a cast iron pan for maximum browning! Did it for a minute skin side down so that we can get the skin nice and crispy, then took it off. While I'm getting all of this prepped up, I have the thermocirculator heating the water to 167 F. Once the turkey pieces were seared on their skin side, I put each piece in a separate ziplock bag. In this bag, I also put olive oil, salt and sugar to brine while cooking, and some herbs. For salt and sugar, I like to go 5 parts salt to 2 parts sugar. Then I cover the pieces of meat with them fairly heavily. For herbs, I like rosemary and thyme with a bit of sage. Can't go wrong with that.

Now, we have our four bags, each with their flavorings and their turkey quarter. I elected to do the legs first, but you can start with the breasts. Here are the turkey leg quarters cooking in the sous vide hot bath.

Nice browning on these bad boys.
These suckers will be in there for seven hours. Plenty of time to kick back and relax, maybe plan out the sides. When they are done, I put them in an ice bath to bring down the temperature, then store them in the fridge until Thanksgiving. Because they are already cooked to the temperature required for doneness, it's all a matter of reheating by searing it again. I'll show you what I do with them on Thursday. From here, I repeat the process, but bring the temperature down to 131 F and do the breasts for eight hours. 

Thing is, now I have a carcass laying around. And with that, plus the wings and thigh bone, and all of the other offal (neck, gizzard, heart, liver), I still have a lot of stuff lying around. Do we through that away? Hell no. Throw it all into your biggest stock pot, throw some whole carrots and halved white onions and celery, fill with water, and put it out to make turkey stock.

DIY applied to cooking.
In mine, I also threw in some garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. I love that extra flavor. The stock stays on a simmer for 6-8 hours. You can also roast your carcass for extra flavor. I like to put my oven to 225 F and then place the stock pot in there to cook for eight hours. After that, strain it and cool it off so you can store it for later. I will be using this for gravy, but you can also use this to flavor your rice instead of using just water. Or make an awesome turkey soup. Or turkey polenta/grits. Maybe a turkey flavored gastrique.

That's the start of my Turkey Day. I plan on having some pictures and actual recipes of the sides in the coming two days. I'll also post up a picture of the finished turkey stock later. Until then, have a great Turkey Day!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Atlas Map of South Western Thivola (WIP) plus Campaign Stuff

With my 5e/ACKS mashup coming in less than a week, I've been taking a lot of the side work I've been doing the last couple of weeks and getting it all together for Session 1. Setting notes, NPCs, towns, people, monsters... I have quite the treasure trove of stuff ready for this game. While I've played 5e, I have only ever run it once, so I haven't gotten into creating my own races and such yet. Still want to get my sea legs with the current ruleset before I start creating. But I imagine it won't take too long.

Below is the Atlas sized map for South Western Thivola, the continent inspired by South America.


This map in particular is inspired by the Chilean-Argentinean area where Santiago is. The north western part becomes a desert due to the coastline mountain range blocking the trade winds and due to it getting ever so closer to those Horse Latitudes. Further north, there is a plateau similar to the Altiplano. I plan on having a variety of deserts up there. The barren wastelands, the dried up lake turned salt flat, and some sandy dunes. The mountain range is Etapu's Spine, named after the people's founder god of the earth and forests, Etapu. I plan on widening it some more as it goes more south. On the other side of it in the north lie the beginnings of sub tropical wet forest. Further north and east, I'll probably put in some more rain forests and swamps.

As you get more south, the terrain, climate, and vegetation changes to be more green and hilly. The mountains get closer to the coast. The climate becomes more temperate with Mediterranean summers. More rivers and some swamps here and there. This is where the players will be starting their adventures. On the other side of Etapu's Spine, I plan on widening the mountain range to be about 200 mi wide. Very much a montane/alpine area. Then, it will lead to a more arid, steppe-like area of nomadic tribes and such before hitting the coast on the other end.

From here, I have a great variety of terrains and climates that will make exploration and travel interesting to the players. While they will be starting in something a bit more familiar, they can end up in some deserts, rainforests, alpine, or even tundra. All in a geographically close area.

I do have more zoomed in maps for campaign use. I have a Regional Map with small 6-mile hexes that create large 24-mile hexes. I also have a Provincial Map with small 1-mile hexes that create a large 6-mile hex. And finally, I have the Local Map, which just focuses on a single 6 mile hex broken up into 43 1-mile hexes and half/third hexes. Below is a mostly finished Provincial Map. The players will be starting in the large triangle.

I'm bad at coloring within the lines
You can see that from the center to the upper left, my style of drawing changed drastically. I went from doing more symbolic mapping to more iconic mapping. I may redo this at a later point to keep the style consistent and to use a hex map that isn't so dark.

While this campaign is using 5e for the basic rules, I've been using ACKS for a lot of the nation building. You'll notice in the Atlas map that there are some pencil marks that encircle certain areas of the map. These are provinces of the empire ruling over the northern area. The cities are the capital holdings of the nobles in charge of these provinces, built up by ACKS's empire building rules. It was pretty interesting putting the rules to work. Setting up populations and big cities and the empire's metropolis capital in the mountains. The players will be adventuring on the frontier area, away from a lot of these big cities. However, with enough travel time and horses, they can get to one of the capitals in four days. Great if they want to buy and sell expensive stuff, or want more urban adventuring and a break from the wilderness.

I'll get more into detail with the mapping and campaign as the week goes by. Till then, let me know what you think about the maps. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Running a Game Finally

So for the first time since the move in early October, I'm going to be running a game for some friends online. While I did want my first game to be face to face, it's still nice to get to GM again. And there is still time open to run a game in real life.

So the game of choice is 5e. While I'd prefer to try and run ACKS, the players are more familiar with 5e. And right now, given their revolving door of GMs and failed games, I think they could use some familiarity to ease their fears that my game will tank after a couple weeks.

So the question now is... what to run?

I have a setting I've been using for a couple of years now. It's based on a fantasy styled Caribbean, inspired by much of the folklore and cultures therein. While I like it and will continue to run games there, I've decided to expand the setting more. Inspired by South America's cultures, folklore, and terrain, I want to do something set there. 

The terrain is a big thing for me, because I love exploration. And South America has a great amount of varied, extreme terrain. Huge mountains, large deserts with the largest salt flat, massive rainforests... it's really exciting.

I've also been reading a lot about the different folklores and peoples there, which has been really fun. Great inspiration. It's helped me decide what I want to do for the campaign.

Here are the two ideas I have for it:

1. War has ended, but the continent is in turmoil. Ka Macha, new leader of the great Rational Quencha Empire, has won the civil war and now owns the empire. However, he now has to succeed in holding and repairing the land that is shattered by famine, violence, and hate. The players are currently paid body guards for a nobleman who is being sent to a fort hamlet as an act of reclaiming and repairing it for the Quencha Empire. 

This sets the players on a set goal at the beginning, but then opens it up to the sandbox a little later. I prefer easing players into the sandbox because I find that those that aren't used to it do freeze up a bit. After the initial adventure, they can leave the noble's service and do their own thing. Since this is also on the frontier, there is plenty of open wilderness to explore, take over, and own for the players. But for those that aren't interested in wilderness, there is the town and its people that they can interact with. 

2. The great Quencha Empire has consolidated its holdings and now seeks to add other tribes and city states into their control. The players are scattered tribes and bands, each driven from their lands into the great and terrible rainforests. In this, the players unite the squabbling tribes into one great kingdom to oppose the mighty empire.

This is a sandbox game with a sort of goal oriented metaplot. While it is a bit more buy in, I feel it's open enough where the players can still do what they want if they decide to take a break from being rulers. Plus, from a personal perspective, it turns the Law = Good Guys Chaos = Bad Guys around some as now, the players are the barbarians and beastmen dealing with adventurers and would-be conquerors driving them from their livelihood.

I'm leaning more towards the first one, though I do like the second one a lot. Tell me what you guys think. Also, for anyone that knows more about South American history, culture, and folklore, I'd love to know more about it for more inspiration. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tension, Stress, Fear, And Fatigue

I've been wanting to do a mechanic for stress and tension in the game to add a bit more atmosphere to my games while having mechanical bonuses/penalties for such things. In making this, I'm looking at something that is easy to run and adjudicate and adds a bit of difficulty and nuance to adventuring. An extra complication to consider before setting off into the great wilds. Much of this is inspired by Darkest Dungeon, a really great game where stress and fear play a big part of adventuring. Some of the rules part and rules decision is inspired by Goblin Punch's sanity rules here as well as the rules in Torchbearer. A lot of this is also inspired by reading my brother's journals about fatigue and mental stress and how the two combine. Here we go!

Fatigue

Fatigue is when your character pushes themselves too hard mentally and physically and their body suffers from it. Forced marches, constant adventuring, dungeon delving, starving themselves, staying up for 24+ hours... these are all physically and mentally taxing on a person. Whenever someone overdoes it and fails their Constitution save, they become Fatigued. Fatigued means you gain a -2 to all d20 rolls made.

A character can still continue to go even when fatigued. Caffeine, adrenaline, and stim packs could be very useful for keeping you up. Every hour you spend doing something while Fatigued, make a Constitution check (DC 10 + 1 for every additional hour active). Failure means you are Exhausted. You take -4 to all d20 rolls and can only move up to half your speed. You also lose your Dexterity to your AC.

If the character still keeps going while Exhausted, then they make the same Constitution checks as before (DC 10 + 1 for every additional hour active). Failure means you are Disabled. You take a -6 to all d20 rolls. You can't make any physical action without making a Constitution check. People that attack you automatically hit. If your GM does coup de grace, then that can happen to you. You're just a human lump at this point, and every hour spent awake or active forces a Constitution check like normal. Failure means you die of exhaustion.

Getting rid of Fatigue generally requires a couple hours of rest. Getting rid of Exhaustion is a whole day affair of rest and relaxation. Getting rid of Disabled is a week minimum of bed rest and some medical attention. 

Tension


Adventuring is a dangerous and stressful career that can be cut short if you don't keep a level head. Any time you encounter something that can make you uneasy, cause some stress, or surprised/shock ed, you gain a point of Tension. This is like a tally mark. Things like seeing a dead body, or the lights going out on you, or hearing the sounds of a crazed monster in the woods at night can all add Tension. Then, the players that gained the Tension Point roll 1d20 + Wis, against a Target Number of 10 + the amount of Tension points. If you meet or beat the TN, your character is fine. If you roll below it. then you get Stressed. Most scenarios should really only give 1 or 2 Tension Points to each player, but some truly gruesome and horrific stuff could give 3 or more.

Stressed

When your character gets Stressed, they have a sort of minor breakdown. They might panic a bit, need to sit down, or vomit. That's up to the character. A Stressed character becomes Fatigued. Being Stressed doesn't go away until you take a couple hours to chill out and relax, generally away from the thing causing stress. Every time your character fails a Tension Roll, they get more Stressed. This becomes Exhaustion, then Disabled, then Death. Eliminating these stress levels can take much longer.

Being Stressed can also be a form of fear, depending on the situation. This works out like normal Stressed, only with some different reactions. Generally, reactions to being stressed out go under the four F's: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn.

  • Fight: You engage the source of fear in combat, with disregard for the situation.
  • Flight: You panic and flee away as fast as humanly possible, leaving behind anyone
  • Freeze: You are paralyzed with fear and cannot move, hoping that the thing doesn't notice you
  • Fawn: You beg, flatter, or try and reason with the source of fear, praying it will spare you.

A player can choose which action their character takes, or you can roll randomly. I prefer the former, but they have to commit. Sometimes one of the F's works out. Other times it lands you into trouble.

A GM can give a madness to players. This is optional and there are plenty of sites and books with examples, from manias to phobias. I'd suggest picking one that fits the situation, instead of rolling.


Reducing Tension

It's hard to reduce Tension while you are in the scenario causing it, but it is possible. If out adventuring in a dungeon or wilderness, taking a break to shoot the shit with your fellow PCs and NPCs can help drop it by 1 or 2. Finding a safe spot to rest also helps. In a more urban, social adventure, maybe taking an hour or two in the castle courtyard can help you find your center before tackling the corrupted vizier, dropping your Tension down 1 or 2 points. These also make great points for roleplaying with your compatriots, or other friendly NPCs that you know. Leaving the scenario that is causing Tension lets you reduce it all to 0.

Adrenaline Rush

Tension isn't all bad. When the chips are down and you need a boost, you can activate your Tension and get an Adrenaline Rush. For a number of rounds equal to half of your Tension Points (round up, minimum 1 round), you gain advantage on all attack rolls and ability checks. In addition, you ignore all Fatigue effects for these rounds. At the end of your rush, however, you are immediately Stressed out and gain a level of Fatigue. If you were Disabled and did an adrenaline rush, then you die. You pushed your body too far.

Jaded

Adventurers that survive have seen it all and don't get as easily spooked as veterans as they did when they were novices. When players survive a tense scenario or adventure, they can become jaded. That same scenario won't give them any Tension Points. So a player that keeps a level head while getting attacked by zombies won't get Tension Points when encountering future zombies. The only way to affect a jaded individual is escalating the scenario. So a jaded character won't get tense when being attacked by zombies, but maybe seeing them slaughter an entire village trapped in a church might. Fighting ghouls may be fine, but seeing a ghoul drag off your good friend while he's screaming and begging for help will make you Tense. It's all about context, and I encourage GMs not to overly abuse it.

Design Notes

One thing people might notice is that I've created the Fatigue, Exhausted, and Disabled conditions and tied them to stress and fear. Why is that? Well, my brother was once a Marine and I remember reading and hearing him talk about the humps and the fear and tension of being out in Afghanistan. And one thing that stuck from him and other soldiers is how the fear and fatigue really go hand in hand out there. So that's why I united the Fear/Stress mechanic with Fatigue. It simplifies the mechanics and I can use the Fatigue model for other things, like a project I'm working on for clerics.

In addition, I was looking for something a bit less drastic and more down-to-earth with these mechanics. I didn't want random madness tables or sanity scores. Just something a bit more low key.

These rules have been used in one game and were okay, but not enough to test them out. I think they work fine, but I can't wait to put them through their paces more. Tell me what you think about them, and any changes to the ruleset.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bound in Ruin

"This post is inspired by the Pan-Dungeonism belief discussed over at Hill Cantons. The blog has some great stuff that has really inspired my hexcrawls. Lots of good stuff here to look at, but the Pan-Dungeonism has really struck a cord in my meat noodle, so here we go!"
All things die in the end. People, animals, even the gods themselves will fade away into the afterlife. This has been the way of the world for eons upon countless eons. Though we ourselves have never set foot upon the blessed paradise of Heaven nor the blasted halls of Hell, we know well that our souls make their long trek home with the guidance of grim, sullen-eyed psychopomps.

And yet, who says that creatures and man are the only ones that descend to oblivion?

There is a tablet from an ancient age when men huddled in mud huts for warmth, and the riddle of steel still hung unanswered in the minds of artificers. Written by pressed reeds is a tale of a world of ruins. An entire universe containing the spiritual remnants of civilization. Ancient ziggurats and step pyramids litter the world as testaments to the ephemeral nature of man. Sullen-eyed spirits troll the blackened wasteland, scavenging for information, architecture, or souls hiding in the rubble from damnation.

There is much to pick from the carcass of civilization. Pieces of broken technology can be found and with the right knowledge, refurbished and reused. Lost knowledge can be discovered and traded for the right price. True names, missing people from one's lineage, architecture secrets, lost treasure... the realm of Ruin is the multiverse's landfill. And if someone could find a way to travel there like the ancients were able to, then they can truly make one man's trash into their own treasure.

But how does one make it into the World of Ruin?

There is the current belief that all places of ruin in our world can lead to the World of Ruin.  Places of decay and destruction... like a dungeon. Ruined temples and keeps, old forts from wars long done, steadings razed to the ground, and crypts and tombs can all take us to the World of Ruin with the knowledge of the right ritual to open up a sinkhole in reality. Entering the World of Ruin through these sinkholes is believed to take you to a mirror image of the dungeon you were in, as it sinks further and further into oblivion. From there, it is theorized that you can travel to other sinking dungeons and come back to the real world in its mirror image. You could start your adventure in a ruined temple in a desert and end it at an ancient alien city frozen in the South Pole. All dungeons in the world are connected by the World of Ruin as a sort of network of crumbling dungeons. The implications of travel are incredible to those looking to exploit it. Colonization, military mobilization, trade. All can be improved if these sinkholes were mapped and the ritual was discovered.

Even without the ritual, dungeons can, after a time, have natural sinkholes form. The older the dungeon is, the further it has sunk into the World of Ruin and the greater a chance that one or even more sinkholes into the World have spawned inside. There have been tales of adventures that have traversed between two dungeons in completely separate continents via these portals. But when taken back to the dungeon, the sinkholes have disappeared. Do they only appear for a small amount of time before vanishing? Do these portals change locations for each adventurer that enters the dungeon? Or is this just another case of adventurers telling tall tales?

Friday, October 28, 2016

First Map in Years

It's been a good couple of years since I've done any kind of D&D mapping on the computer. With the move into a bigger home, I am able to carve out my own little space for work on art, D&D, and writing. With that, here is my first map in three years. I present The Ruined Keep. The concept and layout was done with my random dungeon dice generator, then I simply embellished and drew it out.


A link to the full sized version is here. Looking for any and all critiques from viewers. I hope to get back into drawing again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Favorite Monsters

These last two weeks have been pretty tough. We had the hurricane, then packing and the move. A lot of cleaning because of disgusting squatter, but they are finally gone now. Then food poisoning. Then car troubles. The ride never ends. But, the house is coming together, and though I am bedridden, I can at least blog about my favorite monsters.



Devilfish: I'm a sucker (hehe) for mollusks and devilfish are pretty cool. Their ink can make underwater fighting even more dangerous than it already is. And they have poisonous demon blood. What's not to like?


Aboleth: Aboleths Are a great mastermind monster with a cool look. Primordial fish body and tentacles with three weird eyes, plus I love their sort of angry, antideist bent. Makes perfect villains against your party cleric.


Grell: I seem to have a thing for creatures with tentacles. The grell was a creature I used in my first foray into DMing. It was a creepy looking creature, with some nasty barbs that make mince meat of your PCs. Even when playing PF or other games, I still like to use the grell in my games.


Lizardfolk: Going more humanoid, I've always liked lizardfolk. They feature prominently in my own homebrew setting, only I let them shoot blood from their eyes. Lizards are great, especially if you go with the more conspiracy theory bend of secret reptiloid masters lording over the populace. Though that seems more in the realm of serpentfolk.


Lamia: This is a more recent one that I used only a year ago, but the encounter was so memorable that I've grown to love the cursed beast. Have a pride of lamia stalking the PCs while they are out in the wilderness. It can really make players super paranoid. Plus I like cursed beasts.


Werewolves: Speaking of cursed beasts, I love werewolves. Werecreatures in general are all awesome, but werewolves are definitely my favorite. While I don't have them all evil, I do make sure that those afflicted by lycanthropy are cursed and as such, are absolutely dangerous and murderous like a rabid animal. Only by taking a ritual of killing and eating a virgin child under a full moon lets them control their change, but after that, they have succumbed to their predatory instincts and treat people like food.


Wyverns: I like big creatures that really make us embrace the game as a fantasy setting. Hydras and such are great, but nothing beats a good old fashioned dragon. Since most dragons are pretty far up in Challenge Ratings, I like using wyverns as a sort of low level, baby's first dragon kill. Mind you, they are still dangerous with their barbed tails and vicious demeanor. But they are fun to use, especially as potential mounts.

Also it caused a pretty hilarious argument over the pronunciation of the word wyvern. Gotta love nerd fights.

Anything Spider Related: Giant spiders rock my socks. The web weavers are great, but I like the more proactive wolf spider or tarantula. Ogre faced spiders make great ambush predators, and trap door spiders add an awesome mix of traps and monster fight. Imagine your players fighting a wolf spider with babies on the abdomen the size of small dogs. Now imagine them all swarming you as you fight their momma. Creepy

Ghouls: I have been dealing with ghouls since I was a kid. My dad would run us through dungeons and I remember one being somewhat Aztec themed that was infested with ghouls. Since then, they are pretty much in all of my games. I like them because they can fill in the vicious, fast undead role while simultaneously being a possible ally (or at least, parleyable ally) NPC. My ghouls are somewhere in the middle of 28 Days Later zombie and H.P. Lovecraft macabre civilized anthropophage.

Those are my favorite monsters to use. What are ones you guys like to use and how do you use them?