A good background story

Before the lockdowns started, a friend of ours ran Berlin – The Wicked City from Chaosium. She had been bugging us to play for a while, but schedules have (as usual) been difficult to synch.

That afternoon almost didn’t push through, but we ended up playing all through the afternoon, into the night, into the wee hours of the morning. We finished the first scenario in one sitting.

(Ah, the long-gone times of real-life tabletop RPG games!)

Berlin – The Wicked City is a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, containing three scenarios in addition to being an overview of 1920s Berlin to help a Storyteller craft a CoC campaign filled with notable personalities, key locations, and rich culture.

I’m a scaredy cat. I can’t watch horror shows1, I can’t read horror books2. Dan had played the introductory scenario of Masks of Nyarlathotep for me under the Pulp Cthulhu adaptation, but it was decidedly horror-lite.

I was stressed for a good amount of time during the game. There were more than a couple times that I was seriously considering excusing myself from the game because it giving me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. The only reason I didn’t was the thought of walking the short block home–alone–in the middle of the night3.

The saving grace was the almost-cheesy, almost-melodramatic back story I selected that I used “just for fun”. We’re starting the next scenario soon (since the quarantine isn’t easing up), and while I’m dreading playing Call of Cthulhu in a small condominium unit in the dead of night, I’m actually looking forward to it. All because of my cheesy, melodramatic back story that amazingly enabled me to feel fully integrated into the story than I otherwise would have.

Our game

We played the first scenario, The Devil Eats Flies. I had no idea what it was about. We just sat down in my friend’s living room and she told us what sorts of people currently populated the city.

I lit on becoming a woman refugee taking on odd jobs to survive. She was hiding her true identity as a Russian monarchist who was a servant under one of the lesser noble families before everything went to chaos.

Dan urged me to go big or go home–be a servant of the Romanovs directly! Why not? Background flavour was background flavour. So, hell, why not? I became one of the handmaidens of the imperial family who stayed behind as they fled Alexander Palace.

I was trying to scrape enough together, but also day-dreaming of finding my lady, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, amid rumours that she had escaped. Not that I could find anything with my barely-living wage juggling three jobs as a secretary at the University, a waitress at a popular diner, and taking on odd tasks at the police station.

(Of course I’m not going to sell my body. I am a lady’s maid, my good sir! For shame!)

Little did I know. Check out what the scenario is about, from the publisher itself:

In The Devil Eats Flies Germany teeters on the brink of economic ruin and political chaos. The ghost of a madman stalks the city, turning its own citizenry against itself. To stop a demonic spirit and save a Russian princess in exile, the investigators must strike a bargain with other sinister forces and ask themselves: who else are we prepared to see die in order to save the city?

What are the chances? Our Storyteller never made a sound as I planned my poor little Russian immigrant’s sad background.

You know that game where you end up mimicking your character’s actions, kneeling down on the floor as you’re entreating someone to believe you?

Yeah, that finally happened to me after over a year of playing tabletop roleplaying games. I didn’t even realize it until after the game.

That probably says more about the types of games I usually play in, but I generally prefer games where there is minimal emotional bleed. It’s not that I don’t like being challenged emotionally–I’m a girl who cries readily at movies and books. But I’m also conflict-averse and more often than not, emotional conflict in games tend to be between players. I’m a PvE sort of person.

This Berlin game gave me my PvE conflict wishes, heightened by all the emotional connections the storyline had with me.

A super brief review

Sure, the highly charged and horror-peppered story probably added to how visceral the game felt for me, though it comes from a different quarter than what one might expect. If you’ve played this scenario, I’m not even squicked at the inherent level of gore in the story. It was everything else. The creepiness of the people. The paranoia, the confusion, not knowing what to do and not wanting my character to go back to her tiny apartment alone (there’s one thing we have in common!).

I’m not typically a puzzle-solver in the tabletop RPG games we play, and this is no exception. So I can’t speak about how ingenious the plot puzzle was, but it certainly felt really clever. We did not play pulp this time around, so we were rather squishy folk, but we survived. Not unscathed, but alive. Of a sort.

We’re playing again soon, and I’ve petitioned a daytime game when it gets to the squicky parts XD

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. though I’m cool with zombie media and general gore
2. but I love Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga–while never having read the rest of his books. Go figure
3. Dan probably wouldn’t let me do that alone, but neither did I want to be the wet blanket

Let your RPG characters live with this local artistic initiative [Feature]

Let your RPG characters live with this local artistic initiative

You know that TRPG character you created and play with every week, so much that you have this vision of what they look like? You’ve thought of exactly how they look, how they sound, how they behave. They have amazing backstories you’ve meticulously penned down (in one of our character folios, we hope — we’ve got something special for you if you do, later below in the article!).

Only your party members haven’t seen how amazing (or troubled!) your character is! If you’ve been thinking of finally getting some art done for them, there are tons of artists opening their commission slots nowadays.

The nifty thing is, you can get all that done, but also help people out during this pandemic by participating in Art for Frontliners!

We heard about Art for Frontliners a few weeks ago and was immediately struck with how clever and beautiful it was as an initiative. They are a group of artists who want to help our local frontliners and fellow Filipinos fight COVID-19 in their own little way.

From as low as ₱350, interested people can choose a particular artist from the Art for Frontliners artist pool to make an amazing piece of art just for them — but instead of paying the artist for the piece, buyers send their “payment” directly to a local cause that either helps our frontliners or countrymen in need. People get their art, and charities get their donations, and frontliners get some much-needed help in these trying times.

I felt like I wanted to participate, but my art is pretty much currently limited to simple shapes and doodles, so I have to leave the art-ing to professionals. But we wanted to do our bit to help spread the word around by sharing the initiative and talking about it here in Hey, Meepling.

(If you’re interested in joining their initiative as an artist, just message the page and get in touch with them! They’re super approachable and friendly.)

The initiative had its seeds in Twitter. The founders started seeing the #ArtForMedPH hashtag used on the social media platform, and with other like-minded artists, decided to boost the signal by creating a proper Facebook group and getting the word out! They raised over ₱10,000 in one day after their launch on April 3, and by April 17 they had raised ₱50,000 donations! How’s that for helping out?

(We also listed some other initiatives at last week’s blog post if you want to help out more during these challenging times! If you know of more–let us know and we’ll add to the list!)

Get your art and help others, too

Art for Frontliners have new artists coming on to pledge their time regularly, so while some artists’ commission slots might be full, there are definitely others whose art style one might be interested in. We’ll have a list of their current artists below so you can browse, but there are more coming in as the days go by, so feel free to check out their full roster!

There are three tiers for artwork available through the initiative: ₱350, ₱500, and ₱1,000 tier levels, and interested people can choose what kind of style and level they would like to receive and donate that amount to one of the charities at HelpFromHome.ph. Send the proof of payment, reference photos, and your artist of choice to them, and sit back and wait for your chosen artist to craft your dream artwork.

Contacting them via the Facebook page is super easy to do, or you can also email them at artforfrontlinersph@gmail.com if email’s more your thing.

We’ll list down their current artists below so you can do a quick glance and also stalk take a look at the rest of that artist’s work!

We’ve also noted if the artist specializes in concept/fantasy art, or does fan art/portraiture.

Go forth and donate! (And get great art!)

(If you’re curious about the Hey Meepling freebie – just keep going!)

The artists of Art for Frontliners

Hi I’m Julia! Some call me by my art name, Nami. I’m very much inspired by the art
style of Studio Ghibli. I mostly draw nature and dainty things. (Instagram, DeviantArt)
I love to explore and express myself in all forms of art but most especially through digital
painting✨ <3 (Instagram, Website)
Hello, I’m Cyd and I like to draw, eat, and nap. I am basically a cat. (Instagram)
Hi I go by the name haneul in art and I’m a concept artist ü (Website, DeviantArt)
I am Akimiel and sometimes I draw. (Facebook Page)
Hi I’m Cen, I like to draw the universe and fantasies inside my head. (Instagram)
Hi I’m Luce and I like to draw things I love hihi (Instagram)
I do mostly pet portraits and donate the proceeds to Animal Welfare Organizations of my choice. (Website)
I love to illustrate aesthetically pleasing concept art ❤️✨ (Instagram)
Self-taught | Illustrator | 07.13.1997 (Instagram)
I’m usually a laid back guy who often gets mistaken as lazy. I like to let my mind wander in a chill atmosphere, to be able to see the world in a different perspective. (Instagram)

And finally, for staying all throughout that…you get a cookie! Well, not exactly. But…

Here, get a character art sticker template

While we were talking about how cool getting art done for your characters, we realized that’s all well and good, but we don’t exactly have a way to put it onto our folios.

Well, until now!

We’re putting out a small digital freebie — a template where you can copy+paste your character’s art onto, print it out (on sticker paper, or regular paper and just have some glue ready), and paste it right onto your folio or tome! Instant character art perfect for your beautiful folio and tome!

FINALLY. That portrait portion of the character sheet has always been a little sad-looking :(

Chuck your email down below to get the zipped templates! They are in PSD format, but should work for any graphics program that can open PSDs. We’ve got templates for both the 2019 or 2020 version of our character notebooks!

And remember — stay safe, stay online, and support local. :)

[TOR] The Darkening of Mirkwood, Session One

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island lagoon in Negros, Philippines)
The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

The year was 2946 of the Third Age, around summer, five years after the Battle of the Five Armies. Rumors circulated among the Free-folk of the North, even reaching folk as far as the Shire, of a great feast which will be hosted in Dale for the first time. They said that King Bard will host envoys from Lake-town, the Woodland Realm, and the Kingdom Under the Mountain on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Five Armies, around the last days of November.

This tale opens in Dragonsbone Inn, one of the prominent buildings in Esgaroth, also known as New Lake-town. A unique site, it was rebuilt to thrice the size of the old Lake-town that Smaug destroyed five years prior.

In attendance is our cast:

Our Cast

  • Eothain Son of Eofor, a king’s guard of the Riders of Rohan, he was sent north by his king to investigate the Grey Wizard’s warning to the Riddermark about the necromancer in the woods;
  • Galdor, a Mirkwood elf struck by wanderlust and interested in seeing the world beyond the woods where he had been all his life;
  • Hanar, a dwarven merchant from the Blue Mountains, interested in finding treasure and business opportunities;
  • Miriel, the Mirkwood raft elf who, while dealing with the Men of Lake-town on behalf of her king, developed a love for nature and the outside world;
  • Poppy Ruby Rose Brownlocke-North-Took, a hobbit of the Shire who loves food, similarly struck by wanderlust and a desire to find the honey cakes her distant cousin Bilbo talked about;
  • Rory, a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain who discovered a love for pipeweed and a desire to sell this along with his family’s wares;
  • Targon, a Ranger of the North who specializes in herbs and whose life’s goal is to heal those in need using his knowledge.

The story begins

Having arrived at Esgaroth the previous night, Poppy Rose came down to the dining area for breakfast, which consisted of fish, fish, and more fish. Curious for the cuisine of the area, she requested for fish cooked in different ways. The innkeeper offered her four: steamed, fried, fermented and raw. At this, a nearby elf, Miriel, warned her that the fish may be bad, so she passed on the raw fish, but had the rest.

As she was having her meal, a human seated at the next table expressed his surprise at seeing a little girl eating such a large meal all alone. She went over and sat next to him to correct him, and they introduced themselves: Poppy Rose and Eothain, who was very curious as it was his first time seeing a hobbit.

At a nearby section of the dining hall, two merchant dwarves were also having their breakfast, and some thinly veiled insults started to fly between the elves and dwarves in the hall, while the rest of the non-dwarf and non-elf customers attempted to ignore the growing tension.

In the midst of this, Poppy Rose overheard from the two dwarves, Rory and Hanar, that Gloin, the emissary of the King Under the Mountain, is looking for help in finding two missing dwarves. Intrigued upon hearing the familiar name, and in an attempt to cool down the tension in the room, she tried to come over to their table to ask about the missing persons, but was rebuffed by Hanar. As she turned to go away, Rory was quick to make amends and told her that they were planning to visit the emissary to offer their assistance. She decided to join them and they headed out, while just behind them a good number of the customers of Dragonsbone Inn also started for the Town Hall, having heard rumors from elsewhere about the missing dwarves.

At the Town Hall, the hobbit and the dwarves were shown in to Gloin’s office first. After introductions, Gloin told them about how Balin and Oin left three to four days ago to invite the Lord of the Eagles to the gathering in November, as well as to check on the condition of the Old Forest Road. He also insinuated that he wouldn’t be surprised if the pair found themselves as “guests” of the elven king Thranduil once again.

Realising that there may be a need for a bigger group to assist in the search for the missing dwarves, Rory suggested to Gloin to allow him to recruit the other people in the waiting room, whom he had overheard also planned to ask about lending their assistance. Agreeing they could be useful, Gloin asked Rory to tell the other group about the mission, as he did not want to talk to elves; Rory agreed, and the party was formed.

Travelling down the Running River

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)
The river journey (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

Gloin gave Rory a commendation letter to the Lake-town wharfmaster, to procure for the group two dragon-headed skiffs for the travel to the Old Forest Road through the Long Marshes via the Running River, a route that is expected to take about four days. Upon presentation of the letter to the Lake-men, a small commotion ensued: Eothain’s horse would be accompanying the group, which would be a challenge due to its heavier weight.

Eventually, the group settled on a solution, possibly not enjoyed by many: Eothain, his horse, the lightweight Poppy Rose, and Targon on one boat, and the dwarves and elves on another. Nevertheless, the boat travel commenced shortly after, through the swiftly flowing dark river, accompanied by the foul stench from the Long Marshes. The first day passed uneventfully, eventually coming to the Stair of Girion near where the Lake-men kept their huts.

The boats were soon brought down the Stair via rolling logs and they met the rest of the Lake-men, along with old Nerulf who proceeded to give them a warning about gallowsweed. Targon and Poppy Rose started preparing the group’s dinner: they boiled some taters and Poppy Rose was able to fish in the river, and seasoned these using some herbs Targon found and oranges from Dragonsbone Inn that she had brought along.

The second day

The group continued down south the next day, via the river. The currents became more of a challenge and slowed the travelers down, and on mid-day Targon noticed people following them on the banks, and after signalling to the other boat, Rory sent his raven to scout. The raven returned, and Rory revealed that there were four elves running alongside the skiffs on the western banks.

Hearing this, Miriel hailed the elves and their leader stepped forward: Galion, the former cupbearer of the elven king. He was demoted from his position and sent to patrol after a bout of drunkenness, and while he looked sourly upon the dwarves and Poppy Rose, Miriel awed him and he divulged that he had been following two dwarves that had been traveling downriver that simply disappeared from their camp. Pressed by the group, he led them to where Balin and Oin last camped: a patch of dry land a few miles north of where a stream from the mountains join the Running River.

Investigating, they discovered that Balin and Oin did camp in the clearing, but they seemed to have left in a hurry. Rory also found a box in a tree stump, protected by spells: a small ivory jewel case, carved with the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Rory took the box for safekeeping, in the hopes that Balin and Oin’s quest may still be fulfilled.

Eothain, while searching, spotted light similar to will o’ the wisps out in the forest, but Miriel urged against following it, which the group wisely agreed to. However, as they were discussing, Eothain noticed something coming up from a pool in the side of the clearing–a troll! The group quickly subdued it, and decided to camp for the night, keeping careful watch.

The searching continues

The Marsh Bell ruins (San Jose de Ivana Church ruins / Photo by Angela Sabas)

The group pressed on the following day, not finding any trace of the missing dwarves. However, the succeeding day, with some of the party weary from the rigorous travel, Galdor spotted an overturned boat on the banks. Of a similar make to the ones the group were using, but with slash marks against the sides, the group surmised that this must have been used by Balin and Oin on their own travel down the river.

Disembarking to continue the search, the group remembered old Nerulf’s warnings about gallows-weed and were able to avoid the hanging vines about the forest, until they came upon the old ruins of a town. They pressed further in, discovering that this was likely used as a waypoint by men from Dale, based on the pillars, arches, and gargoyles that were staring down at them from the ruined buildings, where crows with a weird sheen on their feathers cawed and croaked as if in warning.

In the center of town was a dark pool that Eothain drew closer to, while Miriel started to hear a very soft bell that seemed distant and remote, as if coming from under ground.

Eothain continued to draw closer and closer to the pool, until to everyone’s surprise, he jumped into the pool and disappeared under the dark waters. Then one after the other, each of the companions jumped into the pool in pursuit of Eothain, except for Poppy Rose who decided to stay and guard the group’s ponies and supplies.

Down below the pool, the soaked adventurers discovered an underwater opening that led to a half-flooded chamber underground. Here, they saw Eothain lying on the cold stone floor, unconscious. Targon brought the Rider of Rohan back to consciousness and helped him up.

The underground chambers

The underground complex (The bat cave at Danjugan / Photo by Angela Sabas)

They looked around the half-flooded chamber and saw a dark doorway that led further into the underground complex. Cautiously, they headed toward the doorway to investigate further, and their senses were bombarded by the reek of death and rot as they continued. The dark doorway led to a vaulted chamber, presenting six arched openings, three on the right side and three more on the left. The farthest doorway on the right side was much larger, its arch decorated with stones of various colors.

They scouted further which revealed that four passages led to several cells, and after investigating they noticed that the cells contained some unknown creatures. They decided to leave those passages behind and head straight towards the farthest doorway on the right.

The decorated archway led to short flight of marble steps that descended toward a reinforced door defaced by claw marks. Hanar and Rory headed toward the door, knocked, and whispered the names of the two missing dwarves. After a short while, they heard a response from Balin and Oin. From inside, the two dwarves opened the door, but there was a loud racket that echoed throughout the underground complex.

Balin and Oin were ragged and clearly in need of food and water. The group assisted them back towards the flooded chamber, only to find six shambling humanoid creatures with clammy pale flesh, like that a corpse left to rot in the water. Clearly, the creatures were roused from the noise and shambled toward the company.

Everyone, except Balin and Oin, drew their weapons and a skirmish ensued, but even in equal numbers the marsh-dwellers were clearly no match to the tenacity of the company, loosing arrows and hacking their swords and axes. They did short work of the enemies, but due to the sound of battle, they heard more shambling noises from the first passage on the left, seemingly drawing more of these creatures to them. Hurriedly, they headed back to the flooded chamber and swam back to the surface, along with Balin and Oin.

Quickly they readied their ponies, and started their trek thru the Long Marshes once again, back to Esgaroth. In a few days, thankfully without any significant delays, they found themselves back in Lake-town and in front of Gloin the Emissary, who thanked the company for their services, and of course were given their promised reward.

With this, the company temporarily disbanded. Galdor, Miriel, and Hanar headed to their respective homes to have their well earned rest. Targon stayed in Lake-town to study medicinal herbs under Oin the Healer. Last, but not the least, Poppy Rose, Eothain, and Hanar decided to head back to Dale in preparation for the upcoming Gathering of Five Armies.

About this campaign

Daniel runs his The One Ring Darkening of Mirkwood campaign once every month. The campaign started with The Marsh-Bell introductory adventure last June 2018. Catch the next installment of the campaign right here next month under the tag The Darkening of Mirkwood Campaign!

Our TRPG origin stories

Hey meeplings, get a cup of your favorite beverage1, sit down and relax, as I tell you a tale of how two geeks got into the wonderful and limitless worlds of tabletop roleplaying games.

But first, let us define what is a Tabletop Roleplaying Game (TRPG). According to the internet, it is defined as “a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters’ actions through speech. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a set formal system of rules and guidelines.”2

Essentially, in a TRPG we have the players, who act out their characters that interact with other characters and with the world, which is usually created by a Game Master (GM)3. The GM, on the other hand, usually has a bigger responsibility: since they act as the main storyteller and arbiter, it is their duty to describe the world and its inhabitants and how it reacts to the players’ actions.

What I like about tabletop roleplaying games is the freedom to do what you want–but obviously in a respectful way especially with the other participants–with only your creativity and imagination as the limit. Also, in a world where social interactions are now done largely thru social media, it is somewhat liberating that TRPG sessions, especially those that are in-person, have become a social gathering which enables the participants to interact face-to-face with others.

With that, let me finally begin with our TRPG origin stories.

Dan’s experience

I have been a fan of fantasy and sci-fi genres in various mediums, from books, games, movies, etc., but RPG video games are the biggest contributor to my interest in tabletop roleplaying games. Games such as The Elder Scrolls series, World of Warcraft, Runescape, Witcher series, Pillars of Eternity, Fallout series, Star Wars: KOTOR, and many others.

I learned about tabletop roleplaying games thru pop culture osmosis, such as the D&D episode of Community. Eventually, I was able to watch Critical Role4 and this basically gave me the final push to actually look for games to join.

My first game was D&D 5th edition which was played online via Roll20. We were able to play up to two sessions where I played a Gnome Tinker. The campaign ended abruptly and this just whetted my appetite further to play more. Through lurking in various Facebook groups, I was able to join a supposedly one-shot game, but this time, it was in-person and we were playing the organized play variant for D&D 5th edition called Adventurers League.

I played Nefarian Blackclaw5, a Black Dragonborn Paladin. The module/campaign that we played consisted of multiple mini-adventures which caused our group to meet, surprisingly, on a weekly basis, and we kept playing the next modules of the series. Eventually, this group of strangers became really good friends and even became event organizers still running D&D and other RPG games6.

Angela’s experience

She has been an avid reader since she was little, being exposed to various fantasy series such as Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, October Daye, The Old Kingdom, The Song of the Lioness, The Chronicles of Prydain, and many others.

She learned about TRPGs from the interwebs and due to joining collaborative writing activities online when she was younger. Many years later, she met one of those writing friends in person and after talking about how she missed writing creatively, they recommended she try joining TRPG groups. Angela then initially tried to join a new campaign set in Wheel of Time, but due to various reasons, the campaign did not push through. The next opportunity was during the Singapore Open Gaming convention, where she was able to try a one-shot of The Dark Eye, a German fantasy roleplaying game, which initially did not meet her expectations.

More opportunities were few and far between. Finally, early in 2018, she found out that Critical Role had just started its second season–she had been seeing it around the Geek & Sundry channel from watching Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and Titansgrave segments, but was hesitant to start watching when there were so many season one episodes to go through to catch up. With season two, however, she ended up binge watching it for a couple weeks–and after hearing from a guy she met a few months back via board games7 that he planned to run a one-shot game set in the World of Warcraft universe8, she jumped at the chance. She played a Draenei9 Priest named Tala, and together with her party, they played through the intro of the Alliance arriving in Northrend.

Today, both of us play TRPGs on a weekly basis in various campaigns/settings, which we will be talking about in a future post. Additionally, we will also be putting up summaries of games that I run under the Our Campaigns category, so stay tuned!

What about you? What was your TRPG origin story? Leave a comment below!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Tea, coffee, beer, or whiskey for me, please.
2. All hail Wikipedia.
3. Also called Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Referee, etc. depending on the game system.
4. We both identify as Critters. I started watching since Vox Machina, while she started with the Mighty Nein.
5. Rest in peace.
6. We are now known as the Greasy Snitches.
7. i.e. ME!
8. Both of us have spent countless hours playing World of Warcraft.
9. She plays Alliance, I play Horde. Love finds a way haha.