Wednesday, March 29, 2017

[CRIT] Montezuma's Revenge

I was about to put my game of Lamentations of the Flame Princess – and thus the excursions of the Five-Hour Energy Denver Mattress Explorers of the University of Amsterdam (FHEDMEUA, I guess?) – on hold, but a very enthusiastic showing at last Sunday’s session made me decide otherwise. In fact, the players want to show up next Sunday at 9:30 AM, since I have a beerbust at the Wrangler to attend over our normal gaming schedule.
Has anyone else ever heard of tabletop roleplayers chomping at the bit to game that early? I know I haven’t.
I consider my LotFP game to be my “wing-it” game, and I pride myself in how well I’ve been winging it so far. But as it turns out, Maze of the Blue Medusa isn’t something to be winged. So I’ve kept busy by developing plotlines in Amsterdam 16XX, keeping the party occupied while I finished reading the damn thing.
This plotline in particular is extrapolated from the decadent world implied in Kiel Chenier’s Blood in the Chocolate.

The Seed

La Venganza de Montezuma – a caravel owned by Spanish chocolate merchant Anselme D’Cruz – pulled into the Amsterdam harbor, dumping thousands of gallons of Mesoamerican chocolate drink into the water through a breach in its hull, obviously caused by corrosion.
Anselme had his crew scrub the ship clean before abandoning it at a dock to rid of the evidence. What’s odd is how frantically the crew was scrubbing the ship – skin peeling from bone in the damp – and how suddenly they got up and left in unison, with purpose.

The Weird Truth

There is a curse upon the chocolate. Anselme wanted to crush Lucia through the power of cheap labor, but instead of using slaves in West African plantations, he cherry-picked a ship full of Mesoamerican slaves to build a plantation of his own.
Unfortunately for Anselme, cocoa doesn’t grow that far north of the equator, so he forced one of his new slaves – a high priest of Chalchiuhtotolin, the god of disease and plague, Clementé – to beg his gods for cocoa growth, or to forfeit her miserable life. The cocoa did grow, but Anselme did not make any specifications as to the ingredients used in the chocolate drink. Clementé, being a proficient alchemist, used this to her advantage.
On the way to Amsterdam to offload the first shipment, Anselme’s chocolate drink grew black and tar-like, and began leaking from the seams of the barrels, rotten. Anselme was furious, but didn’t consider jettisoning the product; in his greed, he thought he could still pass it off to his uneducated buyer, even when it had melted a hole in his ship (the pumps were able to handle the breach). Anselme kept a steadfast exterior, but took to Mesoamerican mythology to satisfy his superstitions in secret.
The knowledge he consumed in paranoid isolation on that voyage transformed him into a perfect receptacle for Clementé’s schemes.
By the time La Venganza de Montezuma reached the harbor, the infection had taken hold on its crew, and Anselme realized what he had wrought; historical precedence in the Black Plague gave Anselme and his crew reason to abandon ship. All Anselme could do was ditch the toxic substance in the water, scrub the ship clean, and wait out in the country until this all blew over.
Anselme did not plan on taking up the mantle of a cultist of Chalchiuhtotolin, but his slave interpreter Xiomara was Chalchiuhtotolin’s whisper in his ear, influencing the formation of The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl. Anselme became the puppet-prophet that Clementé had promised.

The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl

A caravel like La Venganza de Montezuma is commonly crewed by 25 people, while also transporting 100 or so slaves.
First, the slaves: they are in on Clementé’s plan for revenge. When they are purchased by new masters, they bide their time until using stowed vials of Anselme’s chocolate to infect them with the disease. Once free, they band together in cabals, striking high-value targets at night. These could be meddlers in their affairs, particularly cruel Dutch, or merchants who won’t acquiesce their holdings.
The first mate is Landsknecht Gabi Sorge. She is wary of Xiomara, and the 3 other Landsknechts she brought onto the crew will follow her until death. She will be ousted from the crew before it officially becomes a cult, after which she may seek the characters’ assistance. They are never seen without their shiny plate, masterwork weapons, or peacocky fixings.
Anselme’s navigator and VOC representative Harm Teunissen betrays his duties to the company in order to make a king’s ransom off of the cult’s operations. As the chocolate plague continues to decimate Amsterdam, Harm will ensure that holdings remain protected and that services continue to run, so long as he gets a lion’s share.
Xiomara was brought on as a slave interpreter, but is in actuality Clementé’s lover. They share a bond that is near-telepathic. Clementé entrusted Xiomara with a ritual known as Chalchiuhtotolin’s Receptacle: the victim (typically a “prophet” like Anselme) is completely dismembered – including the removal of eyes and tongue – and becomes an undying test tube for alchemical products, which can then be excreted from the victim on command. Xiomara can not only synthesize an antidote for the cult (and for Harm to pilfer and sell), but can come to control the plague as the victim cultures a connection to Chalchiuhtotolin, their brain eroding as they become a veritable cosmic oracle.
There are 18 sailors who are well trained and booned, being crew aboard a slaving ship and the devouts closest to Anselme and Xiomara. They have been totally brainwashed, but giving up one’s free will to Chalchiuhtotolin has its benefits.

The Plague

If a character comes in contact with Anselme’s chocolate or infected creatures, they make a saving throw against non-magical effects. If they fail, their stage of infection increases every 3d10−3 days:
  1. Incubation; no visible symptoms.
  2. Bubo appear all over the body, squirting infectious chocolate drink when tampered with (or if the host takes damage). The bubo are painful, removing Ability modifiers from Armor Class and counting for 1d3 encumbrance points.
  3. The character also begins to be wracked with seizures. When a player rolls a 1 on a die (besides damage), their character loses their turn and is considered helpless.
  4. The character’s entire body becomes soggy with chocolate gangrene, losing a point from all ability scores each day during this phase. These points cannot be restored except through greater magic. Touching the character is infectious, as their debilitating diarrhea is actually near-continuous expulsion of the chocolate drink.
  5. The character explodes into infectious vapor. The immediate area becomes permanently tainted, and all creatures within 30’ get the plague without a save.
In addition to the above symptoms, if an infected individual sees chocolate, they must make a non-magic saving throw, or they will ravenously eat all chocolate in sight. Given enough chocolate, they will eat until they explode. These hysterics cannot be stopped until all chocolate is removed from the premises.


Every 1d3 months, the disease evolves, rendering useless whatever cures for the disease have been used so far. Cure disease works, but not on a mass scale, and whoever is caught using it may be mistaken as an agent of the pestilence.

As the Plague Spreads

All this should be ever-so-painfully slow and subtle, window dressing that will continue to accumulate as the characters ignore or succumb to it. Amsterdam’s total annihilation would only result after at least a year, and that’s assuming total inaction on the party’s behalf.
  • As the plague ravages the economy, Harm restructures it in Anselme’s favor. This could mean anything from buying out entire services overnight, to peddling a “cure” in exchange for assets (which is really just Xiomara delaying the inevitable).
  • Martial law descends upon the city as people are prevented from entering or leaving, bodies are burned, and a clumsy investigation begins to tear the player’s investments and investigations apart.
  • Anselme’s cult grows. Pestilence is god now, and if properly worshipped, perhaps the plague can be survived. The presence and operations of the cult become increasingly bold, culminating in Clementé’s arrival from Spain to sit at the throne of her new domain.


  • A waste management company has been contracted out to scrub the sticky mess from the harbor and the waterways before it attracts more pests. What happens as they interact with the toxic sludge? What is the extent of the seepage in Amsterdam?
  • The old crew of La Venganza de Montezuma are holed up in a rural inn, far away from the epicenter of the disease, performing strange rites in the forest by night.
  • Customer Filibert van Achtoben has yet to receive his shipment of chocolate drink. He knows Anselme is in town, and is looking to hire debt collectors.
  • Lucia de Castillo (of Blood in the Chocolate fame) cannot allow this middling plague to interfere in the reputation of chocolate, and will exercise her will through massive bribes to the VOC. She may even use the meddling characters as her fall guys. Alternatively, The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl may pin the blame on her, being an aristocrat who enslaved and mutated many of their brethren. Either way, French merchants will pounce on the opportunity to finally bring Lucia to her knees.
  • Famed explorer Reinold Penner – irritatingly handsome, heroic, and philanthropic – may voyage to Mesoamerica in an attempt to find the cure from a tribe he once visited. This could lead to a version of World of the Lost that is teeming with jungle and sparsely populated with Aztec tribes.

Friday, March 17, 2017

[KINK] On Leather

I realized that my blog has been mostly CRIT, and not very much KINK. With the Mr. Leather Colorado 2017 competition coming up tomorrow, I figured I should break that trend and start posting content for the other side of the ampersand.
During my preparation for the competition, I’ve been asked questions that I’ve never had the answers to; that is to say, I knew the answers, but had to take a good, hard look at my lifestyle and my values in order to articulate them.
I decided to put these questions and answers into a blogpost because it serves as a great reference for newcomers as to what Leather is and means. Just keep in mind that Leather is what you make of it; my own or my community’s interpretation of Leather could be different than yours and that’s okay.
If you plan on competing for a Leather title yourself, there are a few more questions that the judges will expect you to answer. I won’t answer them here since they’re especially subjective and not relevant to the reason why I’m making this post, but I will list them:
  • Tell us something unique about each of the judges!
  • Various questions about Leather history (I read Jill Carter’s Leather Titleholder Manual in preparation for the contest, and the answers to the questions she posits on pages 17-18 are good to know).
  • Pick three of the previous people who held the title. Tell us something each of them did that you liked, and something each of them did that you would do differently.
And remember: at any Leather title contest, you should focus on having fun. If the judges think you’re the best fit for the title, they’ll choose you. If not, it’s nothing personal; the “best fit” is determined by the needs of the community and the opinions of the judges. And if you don’t win, you should continue to serve and represent your Leather community as if you had!

Tell us about yourself!

Short Version: I’m Superhorse, a submissive, masochist, and ponyboy. My sponsors are Voodoo Leatherworks and the Marquis Lifestyle Center.
Long Version: I’m Superhorse, a submissive, masochist, and ponyboy who has been in the Leather community for 3 years.
I’ve been a member of Voodoo Leatherworks for the same amount of time, and serve it as an all-around workhorse and as a member of its Leadership Council. I’m also on the board of the Marquis Lifestyle Center (MLC), a new nonprofit dedicated to providing BDSM education to physical health, mental health, and law enforcement professionals so that they can better serve members of our community.
Both Voodoo and MLC are my sponsors for CLF. I owe to them much of my growth and involvement; I barely recognize who I was 3 years ago, and I’m pumped to see what new waters this next year will lead me to!

What is the one question you hope we don’t ask you?

I hope you don’t ask why I’m up here with only 3 years of community experience. Because when I look back on those 3 years, it certainly feels a lot longer:
I came out of my shell; realized my dreams of being a pony; was introduced to kinks I never knew I had; became involved with Voodoo by running the front counter, running petplay events and game nights, and becoming a member of the Leadership Council; worked numerous outreach events at bars, conventions, and lounges; participated in beer busts, the Exile fetish ball, Thunder in the Mountains...
I’m sure I could stand up here and keep rattling off ways in which I’ve grown and served my community over the past 3 years. You could take my years of experience at face value, but to me, the person I was before then feels like a lifetime away.

What does submission mean to you?

A submissive and a dominant is like a sword and its wielder: What is one without the other? The sword is a tool that will help its wielder accomplish its goals, but not if it’s wielded improperly or banged against rocks. Each sword is forged differently, and in the hands of a competent wielder, they both find fulfillment. Together, they accomplish things that neither could on their own.

Why are you a ponyboy?

Pony play was the kink that drew me into the Leather lifestyle. To be honest, it’s because I’m a huge showoff. I love being strictly disciplined to trot and whinny perfectly, even more perfectly than the last time I played. I will train until my muscles are jelly if it means I’m turning heads with my dressage and fabulous tack.
The only real place to practice ponyplay is in my local parks. Obviously I have a huge exhibitionist streak, and luckily my handler does to. People are more interested and entertained than shocked or freaked out, which means every scene is filled with positive vibes for us.

What does Leather mean to you?

To me, leather means exactly what the material means: it’s a timeless material that takes many shapes, forms strong bonds that last for lifetimes, and is extremely fucking sexy. So when I don leather, I am representing the many facets of this diverse community, I’m carrying with me years of history and tradition, and I’m wearing my sexuality and my lifestyle quite literally on my sleeve. It only makes sense that the members of a community so rooted in leather would take on its properties.

What are Leather values?

To me, the main leather values are pride, community, and intensity:
  • Pride: Above all else, to be Leather means never compromising a part of your identity for any reason. You may think that “integrity” would be a better word, but how can you have integrity if you can’t acknowledge every aspect of your identity without shame?
  • Community: Without community, having pride is much harder. Leather is composed of minority groups that are marginalized individually and under the umbrella of Leather. I’ve heard Leather referred to as a family more often than as a community.
  • Intensity: This is why we’re all here in the first place! The imposing look, the cracking of whips, the overloading of all of our senses. At the end of the day, none of this matters if it isn’t fucking sexy. Which it so very much is!

Why are you competing for the Mr. Leather Colorado title?

I’m competing for Mr. Leather Colorado because I want to wear my Leather on my sleeve for those who can’t. Identifying with our community can still result in the loss of jobs, housing, and families; it can result in life-changingly negative experiences with health professionals and law enforcement.
One of the things I’m passionate about is serving the greater community around us so that they’ll serve us in the same capacity. And a lot of that comes down to visibility. But there’s a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity to be visible. It’s a titleholder’s responsibility to represent them.

What makes you qualified to be Mr. Leather Colorado?

Sometimes it’s hard for me to comprehend the amount I’ve done and changed in the 3 years I’ve been involved with Leather. And I don’t see myself slowing down, whether or not I win the title. I have huge plans for how I want to serve the community, and I have the momentum to see those plans through. I see Mr. Leather Colorado as a natural part of this trajectory.

If you win the Mr. Leather Colorado title, what do you plan on doing with it?

When I was taking a drive up to the family cabin in Craig, Colorado, I looked at the FetLife groups for each town along the way. Steamboat Springs had 240 registered users, but no events and no places to go. This trend continued for every city I travelled through on the Western slope.
If I win Mr. Leather Colorado, I really want to emphasize on the fact that this is a state title. I’d start by bringing more Leather down to the Springs, where Voodoo Leatherworks has already laid a great foundation; then to Pueblo, where a lot of our members commute from; then along the western slope, travelling northward. Simple events like beer busts, tastings, education, and outreach could be all these communities need to get the juices flowing.

Some people think that there are so many titles that they lost their value. Thoughts?

There could be as many titles as stars in the sky, and they wouldn’t lose their value. A title’s value is determined by the stock that its community places in it. If there is a title for a community of ten people, it’s just as valid as a title for a community of a hundred thousand.
Titleholders are elected because they can do what their community needs at that given time. They also represent their community, show why their star is important among those thousands of other stars. They are their community putting their best foot forward. As long as titleholders do these things, their title is a valid one.

How would you introduce Leather to somebody brand new?

I remember when I was first introduced to leather: it involved two different nights of sitting outside the dungeon for half-an-hour, sweating through my clothes, before turning around and going home. I find that most people are like that, and I think the reason is because of how intense we are: how we dress, the things we do, the ways in which we carry ourselves.
The first thing I tell new people is that it is intimidating. But that’s part of the fun. Leather is a celebration of that intensity! That apprehension you feel when you’re new is less raw intimidation, and more being on the precipice of realizing your most taboo fantasies. When I tell them that, that fear starts to convert to excitement.

Some people think that pride parades are becoming more like protests. Thoughts?

The queer liberation movement began with the Stonewall riots, a violent protest that fought against institutional violence. The “validity” of queer identities are still being debated in our federal government and society at large. I think the idea that pride parades are becoming like protests is the wrong approach: being visible as a queer is an act of protest; it’s the best weapon we’ve got against institutionalized violence.
The pride parade in Colorado Springs is cordoned off to a section of the city that nobody goes to. It goes through a rotten part of town, beneath a bridge, to a park that nobody knows how the hell to get to. And if pride parades and queer communities are complacent, that’s where we’ll stay.

Monday, March 6, 2017

[CRIT] D&D 5e Gold-for-XP

This is a spiritual successor to my post about how I give out treasure in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. In that post, I stated that DMs can use the LotFP table for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition by simply increasing the denominations used by one step.
The thing is, the LotFP table uses Moldvay’s assumption that three-quarters of a character’s experience points come from treasure. Now that my Dungeon Master Casey is using gold-for-XP in 5th edition, I thought I’d revisit this table and remake it to fit the expected experience point rewards in D&D 5e.
The main difference between Basic D&D and D&D 5e is that the burden of experience rewards isn’t placed on the monsters, but on the characters. Since the XP value of monsters is based on their challenge rating instead of on their hit dice, the Dungeon Master’s Guide has the DM construct encounters based on an XP budget determined by the level of the party, and those encounters are meted out based on what is considered a “full adventuring day” for that party. Essentially, Basic D&D is concerned with how powerful a monster is, while D&D 5e is concerned with how powerful the party is.
Taking this into account, the amount of treasure that the party receives also must be based on their level. Tankschmidt gives us a breakdown of the wealth a party is expected to accumulate throughout their level advancement (DMG 133). This table assumes four party members, even hoard distribution, and no individual monster treasure.
Expected GP (cumulative)
Expected GP (cumulative)

The simplest method would be to replace the Character Advancement table on page 15 of the Player’s Handbook with Tankschmidt’s expected wealth table. Then, a DM could easily use the individual treasure and treasure hoard tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to mete out gold at a suitable pace. This assumes that players will no longer receive XP from monsters and challenges, which I prefer: monsters and challenges are obstacles to a reward, not a reward in and of themselves.

How Gold-for-XP Works

Gold-for-XP has been implemented in the different ways throughout D&D’s history, including its re-imaginings by the Old School Revival movement:
  1. Every gold piece a character receives counts towards experience points on a 1:1 basis.
  2. As above, but only treasure recovered from uncivilized areas, abandoned areas, or creatures that have no actual use for it counts towards experience points.
  3. Every gold piece that a character spends counts towards experience points on a 1:1 basis.
  4. As above, but only treasure spent on frivolities (such as carousing) and/or great investments (such as building a keep) count towards experience points.
  5. Characters purchase XP on a 1:1 basis.
Let’s quickly go over what works for D&D 5e and what doesn’t:
  1. Works. When you get the treasure, you get the XP. Makes perfect sense if you use the expected wealth table above as the new Character Advancement table.
  2. Works. This means that in order to advance, the characters have to push themselves to extremes. No robbing caravans or taking rewards from kings to level up; they have to constantly forge dangerous frontiers in order to advance, which is very in-line with D&D’s themes.
  3. Kind of. The wealth characters get doesn’t convert to experience points until it’s spent. But if the DM doesn’t have a lot of sustainable options for you to spend it on, this can quickly become a mess.
  4. Kind of. This would be a better version of #3 since it narrows down the type of purchases characters will be making; it makes perfect sense to spend swaths of money in ways that can alter the game world, provide opportunities for roleplaying, even plant seeds for an adventure. However, characters will have to be generating more wealth than what’s expected for their level if they’re going to resupply and take care of adventuring expenses. Additionally, lower levels might prove tough unless the DM scales what is considered “frivolous” and “risky” as the party advances.
  5. Doesn’t Work.* Unlike #4, the expected wealth for characters must be spent on… nothing! This option forces parties to grind out more wealth than is expected of them with nothing to show for it. Also, throwing money into a bottomless pit doesn’t make thematic sense for character advancement: #1 has dragging treasure out of a dungeon; #2 has forging new frontiers; #3 has carefully investing wealth; #4 has world-changing spending binges. #5 either feels like purchasing levels at best, or like squandering money at worst, both of which sour the thrill players should get when gaining a level or claiming a horde.

*The Milestone Method

Casey is implementing an experimental advancement system in his game, an unholy merger of gold-for-XP and milestones. Basically, he uses #5, but when the characters toss money down the bottomless pit he has them describe what they’re doing with it. It could be anything: buying a shabby house in the upper slums, moving the extended family out of poverty, improving safety conditions on a main trade road, and so on.
This is cool because it solves a number of problems not just with #5, but with other gold-for-XP methods:
  • Buying XP is a huge investment, and having that investment feed into game-changing stuff fulfills the “world-changing spending binges” of #4.
  • What the characters buy is player-defined, which removes the mess of #3; the DM doesn’t have to invent prices or sustainable investments, the players just do it. The kicker is as XP thresholds rise, so does the potential of the characters’ investments.
  • Advancement under #5 takes up all of a character’s expected wealth, but because characters get game-altering milestones in addition to advancing, they’ll be willing to take risks to increase their income. This fulfills #2’s expectation of forging new frontiers.
  • This removes the “bottomless pit” effect of #5, which adds an extra heft to what advancement means. It doesn’t mean defeating challenges or hauling treasure, it means completing goals that are important to a character and furthers their development.

Why Gold-for-XP?

My D&D 5e house rules were written in an attempt to replicate the meticulous resource management and streamlined mechanics seen in TSR- and OSR-era Dungeons & Dragons. Gold-for-XP is one such mechanic that I’ve always wanted to implement, because I have a deep appreciation for what it does to the game:
  • Provides a Drive: Sometimes it can be difficult to get the players to go along a certain path. But I’ve found that when treasure is essential to advancement, the players dive right in; offering large piles of treasure is an easy and sure-fire way to get them to play along.
  • Promotes Creativity: Restrictions promote creativity. If the players have a constant, static objective in mind, they will come up with all sorts of clever ways to achieve it. Introducing obstacles to that objective becomes second nature for the DM to implement and the players to circumvent. Having one goal post to worry about makes for a tighter game.
  • Makes Decisions Harder: But the blinders that a single goal places on the players allows the DM to brew up some nastiness in the background. Once that nastiness comes to a head, the player will have to make a difficult choice: protect the caravan, or get the gold? Get rid of the rat problem, or get the gold? Overthrow the king, or get the gold? And every time the players choose gold, the DM gets enough ammunition for ten campaigns.