vs. M Engine

vs. Stranger Stuff Core Rulebook Available for FREE!

vs. Stranger Stuff Core Rulebook Available for FREE!

Hello All,

I know the past few weeks we've focused heavily on our Starfinder Roleplaying Game compatible products, but I finally "got someone else to take lead on that" (more on that another week) and I'm refocusing on our vs. M Engine line!

The Fattest Goblin has me on an unannounced vs. M Engine game first, but then I'll be pushing to get vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 ready for release.

As part of the build up to that, we turned the original vs. Stranger Stuff Core Rules to FREE! Now and forever*!

* "forever" may or may not be true -- I don't control that stuff!


Adolescent Supernatural Mischief in the 1980's!

Using the VsM Engine created by Phillip Reed!

vs. Stranger Stuff is a mini-rpg of 80’s inspired adventure/horror/ sci-fi, typically involving children and teens. Of course we were in influenced by the recent hit Netflix series Stranger Things, but also those great films that inspired that series. What does this mean? It means that a game of vs. Stranger Stuff will involve you playing an adolescent during the 1980’s going against strange and unusual adversaries (often supernatural) with the aid of your loyal group of childhood friends. 

vs. Stranger Stuff is a complete roleplaying game using the VsM Engine in a slimmed down and quick to use format. Experienced gamers will have no problem creating interesting characters, learning the rules, and starting a game. All you need is paper, pencils, and a deck of playing cards.

AND -- in case you're worried we're "drastically changing things" or "doing a bait and switch" really Season 2 is a compilation of what we've had with some expanded rules BUT we plan on releasing a new FREE vs. Stranger Stuff Easy Mode game that will (if we can logistically do it) just outright replace the current vs. Stranger Stuff Core Rulebook. That new book will present the "Easy Mode" of playing vs. Stranger Stuff which is the "current version" that favors the chances of your Kid making it to the next adventure. Normal Mode and Hard Mode will up the difficulty, reducing your Kids' chance of making and taking the kid-gloves off so to speak.

We realized, while releasing these adventures over the past year, that we basically had three general tones and qualities and we wanted to address that design and embrace it. Sometimes, especially with a rules-light game like those made with the vs. M Engine, you just WANT something "easy" to play and to have some PG-rated good time. Other times, you're looking for a little more and its akin to PG-13. Then sometimes you want to sneak into the Hard R-rated tone of classic 80's horror films and modern remakes like the new IT.

Regardless, we see an easy way to "serve all these audiences" and really its the GM at the table that decides how "extreme" the game will get. We just want to offer tools for all types!

Once I've got vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 off to layout, I'll actually be continuing down the vs. M Engine rabbit hole to get Ben Dowell's vs. the Wasteland completed and then topping off that cake with the long announced, backburner personal project vs. Præternatural!

Lucus Palosaari on DriveThruRPGFacebookTwitterGoogle+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

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Clowning Around With Goblins

Clowning Around With Goblins

Hello All,

Being "lazy" (or is it "too busy" I get those things confused) and having 8-Bit-Ben cover for me again on the blog today!

Lucus Palosaari on DriveThruRPGFacebookTwitterGoogle+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

Good news everyone! Special guest 8-Bit Ben is here to talk about creepy clowns! So, if you're coulrophobic, now’s the the time to go watch some kitten videos on YouTube.

You may be asking yourself, why is the guy that writes up video game content for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game talking about clowns? Well, faithful readers, I also write for our VS. M Engine games. Specifically, I wrote vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Creepy Clowns, which was later collected into our Send in the Clowns special edition of vs. Stranger Stuff. I'll get back to this, but right now, I want to talk about the movie IT.

I'm going to make a confession: until the 2017 remake, I'd never seen, heard, or read Stephen King’s IT.

Note: Ben had a "modern" cover image, but THIS is the real cover (for mN)

I know, it's shocking! In 1986, Stephen King released IT with Viking Publishishing. Happy anniversary IT, you were released on September 15th! Anyways, in 1986, I was 8 years old. I don't remember what I was reading back then, but, I can promise you, it wasn't horror novels. Even as I grew older, I wasn't into horror novels. Some horror comic books and movies maybe, but not the novels. I preferred sci-fi when I was reading.

The novel IT, is about seven pre-teens facing off against a supernatural force, which often takes the form of a clown. The novel is broken into two parts, one with the kids facing IT in the sewers of their home town, and later as adults- facing IT- in the sewers of their hometown. In the novel, IT isn't just a demon, or nightmarish monster, it's a being from beyond the stars. IT is actually more of a Lovecraftian creature; invading people's minds, driving them mad, and changing its appearance to incite a fear response. IT was even beaten using occult meditation rituals!

In 1990, IT was adapted into a televised mini-series. If you're even moderately good at math, you can figure out that I was 12 years old at this point. Perhaps this is a good time to watch IT, after all, the Losers Club are roughly that age. The miniseries starred Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown. You may know him for his more famous role, Poet Man on LEXX (and if you get that reference, we should totally be friends.)

The miniseries ran over two nights, with two hour episodes each night, although it was originally pitched to be an 8 hour series. It got cut in half (like Pennywise’s victims!) by removing subplots that didn't suit ABC’s broadcasting restrictions. The plot is basically the same as the book, following the children Losers Club as they mortally wound IT, then return as adults to finish the creature off.  On an interesting side-note, in the miniseries, IT can be injured by the kid's imagination, not by occult rituals.

So, those are the versions I haven't seen or read. Now, let's get to the 2017 adaptation, which I have had the pleasure of seeing. Let me start with the “review” I made on Facebook. “IT is the best D&D movie ever made.”

In our 2017 theatrical movie version of IT, we follow the Losers Club in the 80s, not the 60s as the previous versions had. In this film, Pennywise/ IT seems to be a supernatural entity; it still shapeshifts into what you fear, it still causes hallucinations, and can take control of people’s minds. Even the Lovecraftian “deadlights” make an appearance, hinting at a more “cosmic horror” threat. Thankfully, the kids don't practice occult rituals to defeat the clown. Instead, they cast spells like Rusty Pipe to the Head.

IT has had the largest horror movie opening weekend ever, bringing in over $117 million dollars domestically. It's also the second highest debut for an R-rated movie, after last year’s Deadpool, which is another movie I love.

Now we’ve come to the part where I pimp Fat Goblin Games products, hopefully in a way that gets you excited about them.

Do you know about vs. Stranger Stuff? I love this little game! The rules are very easy to learn. It uses playing cards, instead of dice, to determine the outcome of events. If you've ever played blackjack, you know the basic rules of vs. M Engine In vs. Stranger Stuff, you play kids in their early teens, in small town USA, in the 1980s. Does any of that sound familiar?

Last year, I wrote an adventure called Creepy Clowns. This adventure is one-part Killer Klowns from Outer Space, one-part 2016 world-wide clown sighting phenomenon, and one-part 1980s clown sightings. Without knowing it while I was writing it, it's also got some of IT, in it.

Creepy Clowns, is broken down into three acts. As I mentioned, you play the game with playing cards, which let me do something rather interesting with the narrative. During each act, the GM draws a card, and the suit of the card offers minor changes to that act. So, you may see a clown that runs away in one game, and the same clown may attack the party in a different game. Creepy Clowns also has four different end bosses, depending on the draw. I think this is a really neat way to make the game more replayable, both for GMs and players.

Creepy Clowns must have sold well enough, because the national clown sighting ended right after it was released. On top of that, The Fattest Goblin, wanted to release a book dedicated to clown adventures. In Send in the Clowns, we got a hardback book with all of vs. Stranger Stuff’s rules, creepy art and activities, a reprint of the Creepy Clowns adventure, and two new clown-themed adventures! The book is over 50 pages, and well worth the small investment if you want to try a new role playing game. Then, Send in the Clowns, spawned ANOTHER clown adventure! (I swear, this game isn't all about killer clowns, we have lots of other adventures too!)

Boy oh boy! Look at me prattle on about IT and Creepy Clowns! I haven't even had a chance to talk about American Horror Story: Cult, which if you hadn't guessed by now, also has killer clowns! Since AHS is an ongoing series, I won't get into too many details. You've probably seen the commercials, and if not, you're welcome. You know what else I haven't mentioned yet? vs. Stranger Stuff Season Two is in the works right now! Expect more about that later.

Your pixelated GM

8-Bit Ben

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Real-World Ghost Stories and "A Different Kind of Terror"

Real-World Ghost Stories and "A Different Kind of Terror"

Hello All,

So, our most recent vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Lights of Sand Island, from Jennifer Povey (author of Call to Arms: Horses & Mules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game), for the vs. Ghosts rules-light RPG, has been kind of scary to work on -- but not because it's a ghost story.

Instead, I've been "scared" working on it because, as opposed to other vs. Ghosts Adventures, its completely set in the real-world, using real-world locales, and real-world events, ones which don't have "ghost stories" or "urban legend" traditionally attached to it (like we did when Ben Dowell wrote vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: The Mad Gasser, which was based on tales of The Mad Gasser of Mattoon).

There have always been wrecks. That’s why we have lights. There have been a series of ships run aground on Sand Island. Survivors all say the same thing - that they saw the lights for Duluth Harbor and steered for them, only to realize too late they were terribly off course, usually just before the ship hits the rocks. It’s costing small fortunes and many sailors now don’t want to go out. The rumors that there are wreckers — but who benefits if they are? Or, is it some kind of haunting?.
vs. Ghosts is a roleplaying game in which players suit up to battle strange hauntings in their neighborhoods while dealing with the mundane non-believers that try to prevent you from doing your job. All you need are friends and two decks of normal playing cards!

Reading that description, you can figure out that this adventure is set on Lake Superior, specifically on the Western tip of the lake, near Duluth, Minnesota -- or more precisely, in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. 

Now, other adventures are set "in the real-world" and the like, but we're kind of experimenting with a thing I am building more clearly into vs. Præternatural (yes, it's still in development) -- the use of real-world resources to help immerse the players.

A video preview of the adventure, available on YouTube AND on our Facebook Page

If I were running a game using The Lights of Sand Island, I'd jump online and have the player's go through all the motions needed to "book a trip" and use all the existing resources thy can find that "fit" to try to "solve the mystery." Now, I wont always do a blog all about them, collecting the resources, BUT here's some key links with my annotations:

The Apostle Island National Lakeshore on NPS.gov

The main action takes place here, and the characters may even be employed specifically by the National Park Service. They will need, if they wish to travel to Sand Island, take advantage of real-world resources like getting a camping permit via the NPS.

Duluth, Minnesota & Bayfield County, Wisconsin

The main action also takes place in and around Duluth and Bayfield County. Duluth is called out in the adventure as "the closest large city" and, assuming the characters aren't from the area, is likely where they fly into, where they may have heard of before, etc. There are numerous small communities in and around the Apostle Islands, all part of Bayfield Country, so a bit of research and you can easily get maps, names of hotels, even the local diner's menu online if you try hard enough.

Sand Island, The Sevona Wreck, and The Sand Island Cottage

Not to ruin (SPOILERS!) the adventure for anyone, but the main action revolves around a real-world shipwreck that occurred in 1905. Something especially interesting about this particular wreck (in addition to being a popular dive for beginners) is that pieces of the actual ship were reclaimed and used to build a cottage (sometimes called Camp Stella) on Sand Island. 

That's from a historic post card from Camp Stella

Without even giving you any more specifics, a clever GM can easily see a dozen ways this would work well as an incredible place for story -- but then comes in my "fear."

The Fear of Disrespect

So, a problem with setting your game in "the real-world" is that you possible tread on something sacred and/or special to real people. Its one thing to include secret organizations running the US Gov't, or to have a base hidden behind Mt. Rushmore or some other famous landmark, but its another to choose what is potentially a very private story for some people (like say "deaths of sailors at sea") and make it a public thing for "playing with."

On the other hand, and the mindset I feel we approached the topic, we're also trying to shed light on an little piece of overlooked history, a little overlooked National Park (I grew up near enough the Apostle Islands that I've been at least once with my family as a kid), and a part of a America (the midwest, the Great Lakes, etc.) that just isn't featured in "popular media" enough.

Regardless of all that -- I sincerely hope you enjoy this adventure. There's so much ripe material for gaming, and so much that CAN be done. Really, you should consider this an exercise in trying to find the extraordinary in the overlooked world right around where you live. What "urban legends" are next door to you? What did you grow up being told about "that house on the end of the road" or that "abandoned monument." 

Gaming is an exercise in shared storytelling and imagination. Let yours run free for a bit and see what you find. 

Lucus Palosaari on DriveThruRPG, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

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Busy Making More vs. M Engine Goodness -- Clowns & Mutants Edition

Busy Making More vs. M Engine Goodness -- Clowns & Mutants Edition

Hello All,

I was so engrossed in review yesterday I totally forgot it was Thursday and I needed to a blog (one of the few times in 2+ years of doing these I totally missed my blog). See my blog from last week, and assume its still mostly true!

Today's going to be fairly quick and dirty, just the way you like it!

Send in the Clowns -- An All-in-One vs. Stranger Stuff RPG Experience

We're going to be trying something new with the next release -- Send in the Clowns.

We want it to be an all-in-one game + adventures combination that compiles a few existing things (the Core Rulebook for vs. Stranger Stuff & the adventure Creepy Clowns) into one "whole gaming experience."

Partially, the hope is to attract all-new gamers with a simple game and all the pieces they need to play in one, inexpensive, easy to learn RPG. But also, or veteran gamers, we want to give them all-in-one toolkit for fast, easy, fun game play in a classic trope of the genre "evil clowns."

vs. the Wasteland -- Gaming in the Post-Apoc

Look, playing in a post-apocalyptic Wasteland isn't a "new thing" in gaming, but the fun and crazy that the vs. M Engine offers makes playing in this kind of setting a lot of fun.

From the book's intro:

Welcome to the exciting world of vs. the Wasteland!

Using the vs. M Engine created by Phillip Reed!

vs. the Wasteland is a roleplaying game in which players struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Whether the end of the world came from an atomic war, an extinction level event, or a global pandemic; it doesn’t really matter. Now, your Survivors live in the ruins of society. Characters fight for their food and their safety. They fight to continue surviving, in the best ways they can in this desolate world. The fate of the Wasteland is in their hands.

This book contains everything that you will need to play, besides just some friends and two decks of normal playing cards!

  • Quick Start rules to dive into the action!
  • Over 50 Gimmicks for your Survivor to choose!
  • Gain mutant powers to vanquish your foes!
  • Wasteland Codex — 12 creatures to battle against!
  • Twenty Adventure Hooks to get you started.
  • Sample adventure “Escape From Gravel Road” included!

“The Wasteland exemplifies humanity's inhumanity to itself.”

Ben Dowell -- author of such vs. M Engine greats as The Mad Gasser, Creepy Clowns, Love vs. Hate, and Lucky's Curse all for the vs. Stranger Stuff RPG, or the vs. Ghosts hit The Night Sparrow -- really delivers something great in vs. the Wasteland I feel. He has built a simple toolkit to play a wide range of types of post-apocalypse settings, and built right into that core book a basic adventure to play -- Escape from Gravel Road!

 The Wasteland is a harsh place, especially for the conscripts at Gravel Road work camp. Hard work, and poor living conditions have taken their toll on the work crews. It's no surprise that escape plans seem to always be in the work. The latest plan is in the works, but a bigger threat to the camp is at hand, a swarm of biters are attacking the compound! Run, hide, and fight your way to freedom!

Anyways, back to the word-mines for me -- none of these books will get out if I don't crack some whips and buckle down myself!

Lucus Palosaari on RPGNow.com, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

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Jason Owen Black RPG.net Q&A LIVE Tonight (7 pm CST - 9 pm CST)

Jason Owen Black RPG.net Q&A LIVE Tonight (7 pm CST - 9 pm CST)

Hello All,

Tonight, Thursday November 17th, 2016, at 7 pm Central time till roughly 9 pm Central, our writer for vs. Moon Men, Jason Owen Black, has been invited to participate in an RPG.net Q&A session -- which you can link any time to the chatroom here: http://tinyurl.com/rpgnetchat or if you're finding this out after the fact, read the collected chat here on The Hardboiled GMShoe's Office.

YOU MISSED THE CHAT? Don't Fret -- read the transcript here:

What follows is a "brief" introduction to Jason Owen Black and vs. Moon Men for those unfamiliar with either. This is, of course, all in celebration of our newest releases to the vs. M Engine system, which includes our vs. Ghosts and vs. Stranger Stuff games!

<<I did a similar Q&A Back in the Day for vs. Ghosts, see it here!>>

Jason Owen Black & vs. Moon Men

  Jason Owen Black has been gaming since before he was old enough to be on the Random Starting Ages table. He has a B.A. and an M.A. in history and a graduate certificate in gender studies, and uses that education to write better games than he would have otherwise, hoping to keep his head down long enough for his student loans to be forgiven. He grew up near Detroit but followed the siren call of game design and rainy winters to move to Seattle. You can follow him on twitter @owenstreetpress or check out his website at jasonowenblack.com

  Jason has written material for WayfinderLouis Porter Jr. Design, Sneak Attack Press, Outland Entertainment, Zenith Games, Adventure-a-Week, and of course Fat Goblin Games. He also creates content for The Black Hack on his website. You can find all of his publications at https://jasonowenblack.com/publications/

Jason first popped up on my radar I believe during my long-ago open call for Call to Arms books. He had had a range of texts he was proposing, but had settled on a Call to Arms: Banners & Flags theme. That book is still in some kind of development (I'm most likely going to at least nab out pieces of it for use in Fat Goblin Game's Steampunk Musha setting and the samurai), but that's all neither here, nor there.

It was back in August I want to say that The Fattest Goblin started making comments that he'd love some more vs. M Engine games, and they don't all have to be "paranormal" themed like vs. Ghosts. For Jason, he thought of the idea from this story:

vs. Moon Men started out with the desire to make a science-fiction game and getting the late-night inspiration to ask “what if there were aliens on the Moon and they were upset about the Apollo 11 landing?” After that it pretty much wrote itself (with a lot of tinkering and back and forth and thinking and watching stuff like Mars Attacks! late at night).

A very basic pitch in place, Jason started to bang away at vs. Moon Men, leading to this lovely book:


This is planned to be MUCH MORE than just a 'stand-alone' adventure book, with Jason and I spinning numerous variations of possible follow up and future plans for the vs. Moon Men and related books. To give you hint of some ideas, possible book titles in support of vs. Moon Men include:

  • Go Wildcats!
  • Mother Russia
  • This War of Mine
  • Jailbreak
  • Silver Screen
  • 1947
  • Sons of Liberty
  • Crystal Skull
  • Snow Base Alpha
  • Body Snatchers
  • Rogue One
  • Yorktown
  • Strike Back
  • The Squelch!
    and so much more!

Jason's also tried his hand at writing for another vs. M Engine book, as he wrote vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Talking Board --- all about a possessed 'talking board' (tradmark-name-redacted).

So Please Join Us!

We've had a few of these RPG.net Q&As about a number of topics, check them all out!

Lucus Palosaari on RPGNow.com, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

 vs. Moon Men Character Sheet:

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