Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Jenkin

Witches possess a uterus, which was an organ invented by Flesh to ensnare souls, in order to steal ambition and intelligence for its unruly tissues.

Witches also tend to possess an acute knowledge of how to adapt this process to their needs.

And lastly, witches need good help.  While some of them operate in large covens (often familial or clan-based), many more witches live at the outskirts of their communities where they have been exiled.  These women learn at the feet of their familiar.  A knot of serpents, perhaps, or an eyeless crow.

But as for actual laborers?  They often must manufacture their own.

A jenkin is made by a witch.  She must be impregnated and then, three weeks before the child is due, a drop of the husband's blood fed to a fertile female rat.

The witch and the rat will give birth simultaneously.  The witch will birth a clotted thing of bone and hair.  It must never be named, nor given a consecrated burial, else the consumed spirit depart from the rat.  If such events come to pass, the whole attempt descends into ruination and the jenkin is undone.

After a few days of nursing at the witch's teat, one of the baby rats will begin to speak as newborn infants do.  This is the jenkin.

by Carlos Garcia Rivera
Jenkins grow large, as large as a cat (who flee at the scent of a jenkin).  They are quick and clever and cruel, and they love their mother very much.  Anything she tells them, they believe.

HDAC leather  Bite 1d6
Move as monkey Int 10  Mor 5

Escape -- Once per day, a jenkin automatically escapes something that they could feasibly escape.  Restraints, a grapple, an awkward social situation, etc. 

If that was the end of it, it wouldn't be so bad.  Just a large, talking rat.  But the loyalty is partially bought by "gifts", promised to them by the witch and then delivered.  And there is only one thing that a jenkin desires.

At first, the victims are all children, because the jenkin is still very small.  A body part is cleaved from each child and delivered to the jenkin.  The jenkin then wears the body part, which then becomes the jenkin's own.

Once a hand is stolen, the jenkin will have a hand that it can use to caress its mother's cheek. 

Once it is given a face, it can tenderly kiss the neck of its mother.

The children that these things are stolen from are usually kept alive, and retained in a cage.  Children have many uses, and witches know all of them.

Some jenkins maintain good relations with their less uplifted siblings.  Sometimes this manifests as an allied swarm of rats.  Sometimes it manifests as a steady dribble of gossip from the local metropolis.

Jenkins that have begun wearing human parts gain a new ability.

Puppeteer -- You control one of an opponent's body part for as long as you concentrate.  You must have the appropriate human body part.  Save negates.  Usable 1/min.

A jenkin with a human hand could make you drop your sword.  A jenkin with a human foot could make you trip into the fire.  A jenkin with a human mouth can make you speak damning words, and this is the greatest threat of all.  (However, such words will emerge with the jenkin's voice, and while it may try to imitate its victim's tone, most are not skilled impressionists.)

Eventually, a loyal jenkin may have its entire body replaced with human parts.  When completed, a jenkin looks exactly like you or me.  You may talk to a jenkin and never realize it.

There is only one part of jenkin that is never replaced.  Their heart remains the heart of a newborn rat, a small knot of black tissues, shuddering with a terrible energy, desperate to maintain the charade, to become human.

from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Fuck that scene, man.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Doom that Came to Dannerhall

I suppose I'm in the business of writing a dungeon today.  This post is just a collection of fragments.

I didn't start with a map or a plot or a villain.  I start with all the interesting ideas, the revelations that you hope will give your players pause, the spectacular moments that may or may not happen.  I collect a few of these and then I try to stitch them together.

This time I started with a list of body part monsters, and then invented a story to go along with them.  Here's the story first. . .

by Juan Valverde de Amusco's Anatomia del cuerpo humano (1560), who plagiarized most of them from Andreas' Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica.
The Story

Dannerhall was a lonely town, isolated by snow and crag, a rustic cousin on the wrong side of the Nothic Mountains.  It was known for blackberry wines and a famous musician, who had long since mouldered.  Their nearest trading partner is Havenholt, a long journey away through an unfriendly forest.  They hunt the Poison People.  They war with the Red Caves.  

In the short days of winter a prophecy went winding through the streets, and it reached the ears of the king.  The prophecy told that the king of the Red Caves would topple Dannerhall and sit atop its throne.  The king, and his three sons, would all be dead before spring's full bloom.

Word reached the king, as it must.  So great was his fear, and so terrible his fury, that the sun dared not show its face that day.

The warriors were marshalled.  Wrapped in bearhides, they crossed the icy gaps and sky-bitten passes that led to the Red Caves.  Their mission was to kill the king of the Red Caves, and only return once he had been beheaded.

The small army reached the Red Caves without any losses, against all expectation.  No counterforce rallied to meet them in the murderous chokepoints.  Their terraced farms were found to be abandoned.  The stormed the gates and slew its few defenders with relative ease.  The city seemed to be largely abandoned.  A few people seemed to be residing in its halls, but they fled at the coming army.  Cave goats bleated in the streets, their udders stretched and unmilked.

More caves, more portcullises, more poisonous gases.  There seemed to only be a handful of defenders.  Had they caught them during a migration?  A religious holiday?

The invaders were initially amazed at their luck, which turned to boorish joviality, which finally gave way to a creeping sense of dread that only grew as they descended.

Standing outside the throne room, their ears pressed against the bronze doors, they heard gutteral voices.  A crowd that whispered and laughed.  Not a syllable was understandable.

When the door was flung open, their lanterns revealed an empty room and a mad king, wide-eyed and babbling, squatting beside the ashes of an offering pyre.  Silks and robes were piled around him like so much detritus.  Of the numerous voices, there was no sign.

The king of the Red Caves was decapitated.  His body was burned and the soldiers returned with his head.  

They brought with them rich treasures from the vaults, a line of newly-caught slaves, and the youngest and fairest princess of the Red Caves.  Her elder siblings had been cut down, attempting to defend the vaults.

In the castle of Dannerhall, a feast was thrown.  It was a great victory over an old enemy.  The treasures were added to Dannerhall's own and the slaves were distributed among the king's allies.  The orphaned princess was to be wed to the king, in a ceremony that would take place in a mere month.

The girl wept and pleaded at this isolation from her people, and so the king allowed her to keep a servant from the Red Caves.  The one she chose was an old man that she knew from earlier years.  The slave was made a eunuch, and allowed to attend to her.

A week later, a smaller army was sent back to the Red Caves along with some peasants who hoped that they might claim the land for their own.  Of them, nothing was ever heard from again.

The day of the wedding drew night, and the castle once again took a deep breath, readying itself for another great feast.  The candelabras were filled with fresh candles, a pair of hogs were fattened, and newly-woven tapestries were hung.  A thousand preparations and it was done--the wedding would occur tomorrow.

The survivors spoke of the noises that occurred at exactly midnight.  At first, the news was that the orphaned princess' eunuch had gone mad and cut off her head.  Or perhaps he had dismembered her entirely.  The eunuch had been killed.  No, the eunuch had escaped into the night.

Whatever the details, the pieces of the dismembered princess must have swelled and thickened with unnatural growth.  Perhaps they fell off the blood-stained bed where they still rested and plopped on the floor where they continued to grow, instructed and fattened by whatever unearthly power that also gave them animation.

Nearly everyone in the castle died.  The few that escaped spoke of gargantuan body parts and colossal organs, slithering down hallways and gallumphing into the courtyard.

That was two days ago.  The castle is dark, the drawbridge is still halfway raised, and the screams have stopped.  Everyone that has ventured inside thus far has failed to return.  The villagers are already speaking of departure.  All agree that the town is cursed, and no one wishes to stay another night. The mountains roads are treacherous at this time of year, but perhaps less treacherous than remaining.

The Monsters

They're in the dead castle.  The orphaned princess has been dismembered and every hateful part of her stalks the castle, empowered by fell magic.

The Slaves

Former citizens of the Red Caves.  They are pale and their speech is dense, turbulent.  The princess has so far not killed any of them.  They would leave the castle if they could, but outside the castle are mobs of people who would quickly kill them.

The princess--now the rightful king of the Red Caves--calls for them from the throne room.  Some avoid that horrible place.  Some enter, where they are made to swear fealty to the thing in the chair.  All of them have armed themselves and are likely to attack anyone else they find wandering the castle.

The Prince and His Knights

Probably holed up somewhere.  A tiny handful of trained killers, terrified and easily manipulated.

The Warlock Eunuch

He is almost certainly still alive.  Things have gotten a little out of hand, perhaps, but he is very adaptable and utterly determined.

At Least One Actual Demon

Who did you think was behind all this?

The Hands

Each hand is large enough to grab an adult human around the torso.

HDDef chain  Slap 1d8+grab
Fly dwarf  Int Mor 20

Abilities -- Whenever a PC attempts to harm one of the Hands with a hand-held object (or their bare hands), their hand cramps and prevents them.  (The Hands cannot be harmed by hands.)

The Feet

HDDef chain  Kick 1d8
Fly dwarf  IntMor 20

Abilities -- When the target has at least 30' of clear space above them, the Feet can turn their kick into a stomp, doubling the damage and causing all other creatures within 10' to take 1d4 damage (Dex for half). 

The Feet are initially encountered in the courtyard, where they can make use of their Stomp attack.  If they can be lured indoors, they become a lot less threatening.

The Torso

It is a hostage taker.  Without any hands, feet, head, or internal organs, it lumbers through the darkened halls atop bloody stumps, blindly and clumsily.  The queen of Dannerhall is trapped inside of the rib cage.  She will beg to be released, a pale hand poking out, grasping at nothing.  

When the Torso is damaged she will scream at them to stop--the Torso is crushing her alive.  And if the party continues to attack, it will.

HDDef leather  Slams 1d10/1d10+swallow
Move human  Int 10  Mor 10

Abilities -- The Torso can hold up to two people.  Swallowed characters are allowed a single Str check at a -8 to escape.  The Torso can damage any passenger as a free action, doing as much damage as it wishes.  It is capable of breaking a passenger's body as easily as a grown man can snap a kitten in half.

It is too large to move down any passage less than 10' wide, limiting it to the larger rooms and hallways.

DM's Note: I'm not really sure how the party is supposed to rescue the queen.  Perhaps the torso compulsively attempts to swallow its missing organs, so if the PCs present it with the corpses of say, the heart and the lungs, the Torso will swallow them and, lacking the capacity to retain her, eject the queen.  If I want to do this, I should put the Torso early in the castle so that avoidance becomes the smart option early on, and killing it becomes more viable later.

Alternatively, perhaps the ribs could be restrained with lassos?  Or perhaps a suit of armor given to the queen, to protect her from being crushed.

Honestly, I don't need to think of a way for the players to rescue the queen, because (a) I've already thought of some possibilities, and (b) it isn't essential for them to rescue the queen anyway.  Fuck it.

The Heart

Less of a monster, more of a trap.  It blocks a vital passage.

HDDef none  Atk none
Move none  IntMor 20

Incite Rage -- Usable 1/turn.  Target must save or fly into a barbarian rage.  Like a barbarian rage, an affected target must attack a creature every turn.  Ending the rage early (before all opponents are slain) requires a successful Save.

Blood Calls to Blood -- Whenever the Heart takes damage, that damage is mirrored onto the person that struck it.  Indirect damage (starting a fire that then spreads to the Heart) does not trigger this.  Throwing a molotov directly onto the Heart does.

One passive ability and one active ability.  Looks like a pain in the ass to fight.  Good.  I'm done here.

The Lungs

Frothy sheets of pulpy membrane, pulsing through the air like a dying butterfly.  The trachea waves through the air like a searching head.  The wind blows over the cartilaginous lips like breath over the top of a beer bottle.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6
Fly crow  IntMor 20

Envelope of Wind -- Arrow are at -4 to hit.  Once per turn as a free action, the Lungs can redirect an missed arrow attack at a target of its choosing.

Gust of Wind -- Usable 1/turn.  Strong enough to throw objects at people, or throw people off of the tops of battlements.

I guess I should put this guy up in the battlements, huh?

The Liver

The liver makes you drunk when you fight it.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6/1d6
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Alcoholic Fumes -- Every creature within 50' gains 1 point of drunkeness every turn.  (Holding your breath doesn't work; it soaks through your skin.)

Immune to Poison

<sidebar>Drunkeness Rules: For every point of drunkeness you get, your critical miss range increases by 1. Decreases by 1 point every 2 hours.</sidebar>

Since everyone will quickly get very drunk fighting this thing, the strategy is to either kill it quickly, or defeat it using methods that don't rely on die rolls.  The debuff can stick around all day.

The Stomach

Okay, it's an ambulatory stomach that barfs a cone of acid.  Is that sufficient on its own?


The stomach is in the basement, vomiting up a huge cloud of acid gas that fills the whole level.  Once you kill it, the cloud dissipates and you can explore the basement safely.

There's no trick to it.  You just hear the thing vomiting somewhere in the darkness and you charge in there and kill it while your skin begins to melt.

Alternatively, throw molotovs at it until it comes charging up the stairs, acid nozzle all a-whirl.

HDDef leather  Tackle 1d10+trip
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Barf -- 20' cone, 1d6 acid damage.

Acid Cloud -- Constantly emits a cloud of acid.  Will eventually fill the room, and all adjacent rooms, with an acid fog that does 1 damage for every round of exposure.  Fog will not go up stairs.  If the Stomach is killed or removed, the acid cloud will dissipate within 10 minutes.

<sidebar>Acid Rules: Acid damage repeats on all subsequent rounds, dealing the same damage -1 point for every turn its elapsed.  This lasts until no more damage is possible, or until a PC is washed off with water.  This depletes the waterskin.

For example, a PC hit by 1d6 acid damage takes 1d6-1 acid damage at the end of their next turn, and 1d6-2 acid damage at the end of the turn after that.</sidebar>

The Intestines

Two horrible snake-things.  They hunt together, trying to split the party.  One tries to pull a PC up into the rafters, another tries to drag a different PC into the next room.

HDDef leather  Bite 1d6+grab
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Serpentine -- 20' reach.  Can grapple up to 3 opponents simultaneously.

The one with more HP is the large intestine, obviously.

Don't need to load this one down with mechanics.  The encounter is interesting enough, with a giant snake thing trying to pull a PC up into the ceiling.

The Pancreas

It blocks another key point in the dungeon.  It's more of an obstacle, less of a monster.  It has a powerful regenerative ability, and can scream for help, but it has no other abilities.

HDDef none  Flail 1d6
MoveIntMor 20

Regenerate -- 10 HP per round!

Cry for Help -- Roll on the wandering monster table at the end of every turn in which the poor Pancreas takes damage.

The Gallbladder

Another obstacle monster.  It occupies a key intersection in the dungeon.  It serves as an artillery piece, raining gallstones and digestive bile down on anyone who approaches it.  The best way to get past it is to approach it from two directions, since it cannot fire down both hallways simultaneously.

HDDef leather  Shoot gallstones
MoveIntMor 20

Shoot Gallstones -- 1d10 damage and the target must succeed on a Difficult Str check or be knocked backwards 10' and fall prone.  The Gallbladder is smart enough to ready an action to shoot whoever approaches it.

(This makes it difficult to approach the Gallbladder.  It takes two successful turns of charging at it to reach it.)

Meh.  I might cut this one.

The Eyes

HDDef none  Slam 1d6
Fly dwarf  Int 10  Mor 5

Permanently Invisible -- It makes a squelching noise when it casts spells, though.

Spellcasting -- illusion and telekinesis.  As a level 3 wizard (3 magic dice).

They should probably be accompanied by a 1d3 escaped slaves.

The Mouth

HD 4  Def chain  Bite 1d6+swallow
Fly horse  IntMor 5

Teleport Trap -- Anyone swallowed by the Mouth is teleported to the room with the Gullet.

Runs around, teleporting PCs into terrible place.  Low morale, so it probably flies out a window as soon as things get hairy.  Fun.

The Gullet

Same stats as one of the Intestines.

It lives inside a locked room.  

When you kill it, dozens of bloody corpses will come slipping out, like a waterslide.

The Head

No eyes or jaw.  Huge, crumpled, wet.  Possibly atop the throne.  Is it the princess or the princess' possessed remnant?

Probably another stationary monster.  Is it the dungeon boss?  Sure, okay.

I need to think about this one for a while.  I don't need to come up with the details tonight.  I think I'll write the rest of the dungeon and then come back to this one.

Perhaps it'll be the ol' switcheroo: the princess regrets her agreement with the warlock and now only wishes to die.  Perhaps the real threat in the room is the Brain, which hides inside the skull before it comes levitating out, glowing neon blue and firing off mind flayer effects.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

d20 More Magic Artifacts

I wrote 20 more artifacts.  (Here's the first batch.)  Some of them aren't really artifacts, but most of them are.  (Here's the first batch.)

21.  A black cube of basalt, floating 10' off the ground.  It is 5' across and hinged like a chest.  Anything placed inside it will be dehydrated (all liquids bursting from the seams of the cube as if from a juicer) and converted into an art object.  Rare objects and powerful creatures are converted into more elaborate (more valuable) art.  Most are easily transportable.

22. A mummified monkey's paw.  While you wear it, you will hear small footsteps trailing behind you.  No other evidence of a monkey will ever manifest.  If you leave a bowl of sour milk out overnight, the "monkey" will attempt to bring you a nearby object that you desire.  It has the same chance of success as a regular monkey of human intelligence would if you sent it out on a similar mission.  If the monkey would be successful, the item appears in your pockets in the morning.  It item doesn't actually move, it teleports along with the effect.  You must offer the monkey something every night.  If you fail to do so, you will take 3d6 damage as the monkey attempts to strangle you and the paw will never work for you again.

23. Tightly-wound scroll of Goxlagon (Ogremoch, basically), the primordial earth demon.  If dropped on the floor, it bursts open and the words spill out, covering the floor (up to 2500 sq. ft.) with thousands of copies of his name.  Anyone falling on the floor (even falling prone) takes an additional 2d6 fall damage as if they had fallen an additional 30 feet.  Actual fall damage is quadrupled.

24. Circlet of the Diplomat.  When you would be struck a mortal blow (dropped to 0 HP) by a sentient creature, time pauses while you two communicate telepathically for 2 hours.  After this time, the attacker (usually paused with their blade an inch from your neck) can follow through with the blow, or choose to do something else.

25. Telluric Dagger.  Reflects stars and nothing else.  When stabbed,  you take damage based on how far you are from where you were born.  Within a day's travel = 1d4 damage.  Less than a week away = 1d8 damage.  Less than a month away = 2d6.  Less than a year away = 2d8.  Longer than that = 3d6.

26.  Cones of Alternate Self.  Summons a version of you from another timeline.  The alternate version is fucked up in some one (gain a random disability).  You can control both characters, but the original will begin to painfully melt, taking 1d6 damage every turn.  ("What's wrong with this place?  What's wrong with your air?")  This is psychically traumatizing for you, and each time you use it, you must Save or gain the (imagined) disability of your dead clone.

27. Ring of the Fool.  When worn, your face becomes innocent and trustworthy (+4 to any roll that benefits from you being likable and trustworthy).  You die the first time you take damage.  You gain double XP.

28. Hand Mirror of Lies.  Whoever holds it controls what it shows.

by Cosmic Nuggets

29. The Hunting Sound.  There is a room in the Ziggurat of Khuum where you must never speak.  If you do, the Hunting Sound will hear your voice and begin to seek you.  Space is no obstacle.  You will hear it coming for you.  At first you will only hear it in the quiet of the night, but as it nears you will hear it more often, louder and closer.  It is a groaning and a creaking and a grinding and a certain murmur that sounds like muffled screaming coming from underground.  After 1d6+4 days, it will catch you, and it will pull you into its chambers through a fist-sized hold in the air.  It's a bit like a chicken breast being sucked through a keyhole.  The people of the Ziggurat use the Hunting Noise to assassinate their enemies, combined with exceptionally accurate parrots.

30 . Ambrosia.  A vial of glittering orange froth that confers the powers of godhood.  After 1 turn, you gain the power to cast firebolt at will.  After 2 turns, you gain the power of flight.  After 3 turns, you become locally omniscient (range 50').  After 4 turns you gain an extra 50 hit points.  After 5 turns, you become aware that this world and everyone on it is utterly trivial in the cosmic scale of things, and that every soul here is wasting their time for as long as they remain trapped in this banal soul-trap of life and 'death".  You spend the round stunned, telling your companions what you have learned.  Beginning on the 6th turn, you must make a Save every turn to resist the temptation to turn into a being of pure light and depart the universe forever.

31. Fossilized Angel Egg.  Blackened as smooth as oiled leather.  Hold it tightly to your chest and think bad thoughts about someone.  It appears in their stomach.  1d6 turns later, they spend a turn painfully regurgitating it (stunned for a turn).  On the surface of the egg is written a secret of theirs.

32.  The Enigma.  Defies description.  Attempts to learn more about it result rapidly results in madness.  All that is known is that it fits into a single inventory slot.  Best not to look at it too closely.

33. Ossuglop.  A thick wax that rapidly increases the weight of things (up to 100x).  No effect on organic material.  It is stored in a goat bladder bag.

34. The Sword of War.  On a hit, target must save or take an additional 3d6 damage.  If the target dies from this damage, the wielder must also save or take the same damage.  The sword is sheathed in a great and glorious red banner, which flies above the wielder's head in battle.

by Cosmic Nuggets

35. The Sword of Peace.  Deals an additional 3d6 damage.  Anyone who possesses it will desire nothing more than to seek solitude and quiet.  Anyone who interferes with this reasonable desire will be met with rapidly escalating violence.  The sword appears to be made of wood, impossibly sharpened to such a degree that the cutting edge is nearly translucent.

36. A set of three nearly translucent knives.  They pass through objects without leaving a trace.  When a knife is broken (they are as fragile as glass), every cut that it has made manifests as real.

37. The Sun's Eye.  An iron sphere that is perpetually red-hot.  When held in your bare hands, you can control the sun.  Position, brightness, proximity, etc.  When you gaze through it, you can see from the sun's perspective.  (This does not actually move the sun--it merely bends light in an ingenious way.)

(A similar frozen orb controls the moon.)

38. Space Grenade.  Resembles a bunch of needles jammed into a glass sphere, with a steel thread through the center that is pulled to activate the grenade.  When it detonates, all space within 20' is magnified 1000x.  If it explodes in a 20' diameter room, the room is now 20,000' feet across.  If it explodes in a 30' diameter room, the room is 20,010' feet across the center and 92' feet to the far side if you stay along the wall.  Visually, it resembles a strange lensing effect, and yet humans can safely comprehend the non-Euclidean space in front of them.  Objects are scattered by the expanded space, but surfaces are tessellated outwards to account for the new expanse of space.  (You don't get giant blades of grass, you get more grass.)

39. Ring of the Hallucination.  Resembles a reticulated band that continually crawls across your finger like a tiny treadmill.  When you wear it, you become a pseudo-hallucination.  The only real effect that this has is that you cease existing when no one is looking at you.  You can remove the ring normally, but only while you exist.  (Basically, you just vanish when you are alone, or when no one is paying attention to you.  When they return their attention to your location with the expectation of seeing you, you reappear.)

40. Wizard Egg.  When a wizard learns too much about spells, the knowledge infects and recombines inside his subconscious.  As his mind is eaten, newborn spells flee into the ether.  Occasionally, the runt of the litter gets tangled up in the wizard's physical matter and is too weak to escape.

Wizard eggs are laid by wizards who are in the late stages of wizard madness.  (This is not the strangest symptom.)  During the most exciting part of each session, the egg has a 2-in-6 chance of hatching.  (Basically, the DM says "this seems exciting, let's see if the egg hatches. It can happen 2x in a session if you really want it to.)  When an egg hatches, roll a d12 to see what it contains.
  1. A minor magic item.  Roll randomly.
  2. A major magic artifact.  Roll randomly.
  3. A baby monster.  Probably trainable.  Roll randomly.
  4. A swiftly growing adult monster.  Probably aggressive.  Roll randomly.
  5. A sudden turn of bad luck.  The magic sword breaks, the dungeon boss enters the room, etc.  
  6. A sudden turn of good luck.  The bad guys scatter, the dead PC wakes up, etc.
  7. A lump of gold shaped like the wizard.
  8. Cloudkill shaped like the wizard's face.
  9. Everyone loses 1000 XP.
  10. Everyone gains 1000 XP.
  11. A spellbook full of mutant spells, based on what the wizard had memorized.
  12. A living spell spirit.  It's basically a HD 1 pokemon.  It's friendly, and if the dead wizard was friends with one of the PCs, the spell spirit will inherit that affection.  They usually look like either a fishbird or a birdfish, with some of the dead wizard's features and personality quirks.  The spell spirit can cast one of the spells that the wizard knew, and its form is influenced by the inherited spell.  For example, a divination spirit might have enormous eyes and the wizard's mustache.  They each have 1 casting die.
by Cosmic Nuggets

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

d20 Magic Artifacts

1. The ichor of Ectalion.  An incredibly dense orange fluid in a copper vial.  It turns freshly-killed creatures into weapons.  Melee or ranged (50% chance each).  Ranged weapons are usually similar to organic harpoon guns unless you can think of a better one.  They deal the same damage as the living creature would have and only have 6 shots before they become useless forever.

2. A mirror that will makes you younger the longer you stare at it.  You lose XP, but mutations and mutilations will also be undone.  Make Saves to avoid forgetting major things.  Minor things are all forgotten.  About one year every hour spent staring.  You will always appear to be your true age in the mirror.  If the mirror is ever broken, all of its effects are undone.

3. A soft blue humanoid.  They are boneless and crawl, roll, slither across the ground.  They will mewl like newborn goats and seek to touch your face gently.  If allowed to do so, their faces will crumple with sadness and their bodies will writhe as they convert themselves into a replica of your most valued lost possession (including, possibly, a living creature).  The object is created from your memories of it.  They have some magic, but it cannot imitate everything.

4. The Arm of Lukashane, the famous swordswoman.  It is intact inside it's golden case, and the gold thread stitching has already been started.  The Arm will allow you to wield a sword as if you were a fifth-level fighter.  It will not perform any other task.  It will not perform if it is insulted.  It will only wield swords, and only one-handed.

5. Dancing bananas.  They bifurcate like a pair of legs.  When music is played, they dance.  When they are eaten, you dance.  After every minute, you may Save to resist dancing, if you wish.

6. Oil of Time Trap.  Can be applied to basically any noun to freeze it into place.  Small, non-living things can basically be frozen permanently.  For example, a rope can be turned into a pole, or a waterfall could be turned into something climbable.  Creatures and large objects have a 1d12 round duration.  Large creatures have a 1d6 round duration.

7. Orb of Vanderost.  Looks like a black Christmas ornament.  When shattered, creates a cloud of black dust.  Lasts 1d6+1 rounds.  All objects that remain in the cloud age 10 years for every round they remain in the cloud.

8. Music box ballerina.  Once wound, goes faster and faster until suddenly it stops (takes 1d6 rounds).  One random creature nearby explodes into a shower of gore (save negates).  If the creature makes its save, the effect instantly jumps to another adjacent creature.  Someone's gotta explode.

If at least 3 creatures make their save, the ballerina's enchantment breaks and she returns to full, living size.  She is Radiant Basheen, the world's most famous dancer, imprisoned by her father's wizard so that she would never fall in love with one of her suitors (who are now all long dead).

9. The Skull of Angorogon.  A black skull with no eyeholes or lower jaw.  All sunlight within 1000' becomes invisible.  All creatures within that range must save or be compelled to immediately consume any corpse they come across.  (You can still see during the day, you'll just need a torch.)

10. A small metal top.  When spun, a horrible grinding noise comes from deep underground.  Flight is impossible within 100'.  Living creatures believe that they are in an earthquake (and they fall over if they fail a Dex check), but there is no earthquake.

by Finnian MacManus

11. A hungry hole.  Capable of moving over solid stone.  The interior looks like a kaleidoscope of teeth and gullet, spiraling away into fractal depth.  Hungry and dangerous, but also semi-trainable.  Doglike.  Likes round objects, both to chase and to eat.

12. A black nail.  If hammered into someone's shadow, it immobilizes that shadow and that person.   If the shadow vanishes (either from too much or too little light), the creature is freed.

13. The Yawroo Doorway.  A mirror inside a doorway.  Anything that passes through it is reversed, like a mirror image.  (If you want to be a dick about it, mirror-reversed people will starve to death, as most proteins and sugars will have the wrong chirality to be digestible.)  Useful to make foods with no nutritional value.  Magic objects that are also chiral (such as a unicorn's horn) will have their effects reversed by the Doorway.

14. Iron spikes.  When hammered into the eyes of a corpse, it will reanimate and pursue its killer.  If it does not know its killer, it will just go after the next best thing.  It will be unable to communicate this or do any other task.  It will use weapons, though.  Lasts 10 minutes.

15. A murky tank.  When touched, a red glow suffuses the filth, and an disembodied brain is revealed inside, attached to an articulated set of limbs, with small hoses travelling from its brain stem up to the apex of the tank.  It has a pair of eyeballs.  The brain is a duplicate of whoever activated it.  It is capable of speech and has a sense of both sight and hearing.  It has no ability to move the tank or do anything besides talk, honestly.

It will probably be resentful of it's able-bodied copy.  ("Why do you get to be out there?  We're the same.")  Decent chance it quickly goes insane.  If not fed (about a liter of blood per day), it will fall inert, and may be reactivated anew by another person touching the tank.

16. Vorpal Curse Collar.  When worn, all slashing weapons that are used against you are treated as if they were vorpal.  If you are killed this way, the collar appears on your killer's neck.

17. The Targlass.  Must be eaten (this is difficult).  All damage that you take is reduced by 50%.  You cannot regain HP by any means.  This lasts for 1d6 days (exploding).

18. Diamond of Death.  As soon as you hold it, you learn the rules.  If you ever go a minute without holding the diamond, you will die.  The diamond will then turn into a ruby for the next day as it feeds on the soul it has just captured.  During this time it is safe to let go of the ruby, as the ruby has released its hold on all other victims  If the ruby is ever broken, a powerful demon will be released.

If you get trapped by the ruby, the best scheme it to get some poor goblin to hold it for a while, then take it away.

19. The False Guillotine.  It lacks a blade, and there is no place to attach one.  Nevertheless, if you put your head into the notch, there is the sound of a blade falling, the dull thunk of metal biting into wood, and a brief moment of unmitigated pain and horror.  Afterwards, nothing seems to be different, except for a vague sense of loss and the notion that the world seems somehow flatter than it was a minute ago.

Thereafter, you have no soul.  You are immune to all magic that affects your mind except for possession (which automatically succeeds on you).  You are immune to level drain (and similar forms of XP loss).  You lose all connection to the divine (you cannot cast cleric spells).  And lastly, all XP gain is reduced by 50%.

20. The Apparatus of Balanax.  A cross between a snail shell and a tuba.  A full 30 across, a maze of leather-coated bronze.  An oily tunnel that only narrows as it grows deeper.  At the very back is a voice that will answer any question, but only if you can tell it a significant secret that you alone know, and that is not recorded anywhere else in the world.  Once you speak the secret, it vanishes from your memory.

This post has a sequel and it is located here.

Monday, July 30, 2018

You're Doing Surprise Rounds Wrong

Early in my D&D career, my character Skull Boy walked into a room and was instantly killed when two skeletons surprised him with a pair of crits.  I didn't have a chance to react.  I didn't even get to roll any dice.  Needless to say, I reacted poorly.

And yes, this was an inexperienced DM.  And yes, you could point to this and label it as a flaw of the death/dying system (perhaps this could be circumvented by giving characters three rounds of death saving throws or whatever).  And yes, you could argue that this is a good thing, and that games benefit from that level of chaos.

by Dusty Ray
Thesis: I don't think the game benefits from surprise rounds where the monsters just unload damage.

Rationale: enemy surprise rounds don't offer the players any interesting choices.  They just happen.  It's a miniature version of "rocks fall; everyone dies".

Yes, I know that surprise rounds have been a staple of old-school play for a long time.

Yes, I'm still okay with giving the players a surprise round where they unload damage on enemies.  (My rationale this is that they are creeping through the dungeon at a slow pace, quietly listening and mapping.  They are being very cautious; this is why it parties move so slowly through dungeons.)

Yes, I'm aware that allowing player surprise rounds while banning monster surprise rounds is sort of asymmetric and unrealistic (whatever that means).

I recognize that D&D is a game that benefits from a carefully controlled level of chaos.  (That's why we roll dice.)  I believe that rolling for initiative on the first round of combat already provides a sufficient dose of joyful uncertainty.  There's already enough opportunity for things to turn to shit on the first round.


Surprise rounds are acceptable (and desirable) if they already incorporate an element of player choice.

If the player chooses to do something that has the potential consequence of "a monster surprises me", then they have already enjoyed their agency when they made the initial action.  For example, a character who reaches their hand into a burrow will still surprised by the rattlesnake at the bottom.

If there is informed consent.  I've previously argued that level drain is great as long as the players know what they are getting themselves into, and are given an opportunity to decline.  For example, if the players hear that the jungles are full of ambush birds (who often get surprise rounds) they might still choose to explore the jungle, while just keeping their HP topped off.  (I guess this is fun maybe?)

There is a counter-argument here: if the players know that surprise rounds could happen at any point throughout the game, with any enemy, isn't that already informed consent?  

Yes, but I don't think it drives the game in a good direction.  It leads to more cautious play, and earlier retreats.  Players are incentivized to keep their HP topped off, and are more likely to retreat when they can no longer keep their HP at the maximum.  (This is a design decision.  If you want your adventuring parties to be more cautious, then ignore this blog post.)

Surprise rounds are still very fun.  And they make sense logically and thematically.  Mostly I want to avoid monsters that attack HP during a surprise round, because we want HP to be a resource that players (indirectly) spend.  HP is the coinage that the players wager whenever they take risks in a dungeon.  If the characters lose HP in an ambush, it feels like robbery because they never decided to take on that additional risk.  (Although that's debatable, since they took on some risk by entering the dungeon in the first place.)

Instead of attacking HP on a surprise round, monsters should do other things.  They should either (a) change the battlefield, (b) deprive the characters of a resource, or (c) create a new risk or reward.

Some of these examples are dumb, but I think they get the point across.  Some of them are also a bit heavy-handed ("locking your weapons in their scabbard") but I would also argue that pouncing surprise lions are pretty heavy-handed, too.  I mean, they're not all excellent, but they're better than having your HP attacked.

Changing the Battlefield

A terophidian who creates a wall of fire, splitting the party.

A giant antlion who collapses the floor, trapping the party in the bottom of his pit.

Goblins who pull the lever on the crushing ceiling trap.  It'll probably crush everyone in the room unless someone reverts the lever within 3 rounds.

Gladiotrices who throw nets.

Depriving the Characters of a Resource

A vampiric wind who uses its surprise round to extinguish all the torches.

Some fucking elves who lock your weapons in their scabbards with a well-placed arrow shot.

Goblins who carry a surprising amount of caltrops.

The slime puma who pounces on a player, pinning them to the ground.

Creating a New Risk or Reward

The evil knights who offers a one-vs-one duel as an alternative to total warfare.

The rival adventuring party who attempts to steal an item and then run past the nearest locking portcullis.

The goblins send a runner for help, while the other goblins spend the round powering up their logging saw.

The orcs start torching the valuable paintings.

by Dusty Ray