Saturday, March 28, 2020

Yog


All theories about the city of Yog are unlikely.

The Lost God

There is a story about Yog that is almost certainly false.  It goes like this.

A long time ago, there was a god of green places and a generous race.  In time, the people and their cities decayed under the weight of ancient wars and plagues, declined, and were destroyed.

Yog, the god of those people who was also those people, and was also their city, swore that they would not perish but instead persist, for ever and ever.  His lands become wastelands, became swamps, became verdant again.  Yog's eyes grew clouded but his mind became refined, honed to a singular edge by the scouring sands of his guilt.  His world was a distorted one, but he perceived the distortions clearly than he had ever seen the real world (because there is no such thing).

And so he brought them forth again.  

In the deepest bogs, toads went mad, bit off their tongues, and began pushing stones together.  Trees rotted and fell away, forming straight lines and avenues.  New springs burbled forth in the wilderness, forming fountains.

It was not in the same place, and the streets did not quite match the original, but what of it?  Memories are more real than dead stones laying under the peat.

In that place, all of the does miscarried, and all of the unborn crocodiles rotted inside the their shells.  The does became pregnant again, late in the season.  The crocodiles laid new eggs, much larger than the old.

The city had grown.  Sickly bears regurgitated seeds into half-way cleared fields.  Wild pigs dig ditches until they collapse.  The black pines are not apple trees, but they try their best--slick apples growing in clusters underneath the dark branches.  They are not quite apples, but Yog remembers the apples fondly, and how the children used to spit seeds into the creeks.

And the children!  Now they are arriving.  They crawl out of the mud on the riverbanks.  The does lie down and birth squalling babes.  They are malformed, but perhaps not as much as you might think.  They have a certain consistency.  In their minds, the deer speak, or perhaps Yog speaks, and they grow up with language.  They move into the warped city, filled with dirty stones and crooked streets.  To their eyes, the streets are straight and clean.  In their minds, their grandparents died last summer, instead of ten thousand years prior.  

The streets were made straight, the wild grasses were pulled up and proper wheat was sown.  The walls grew tall, even as the city began extending its roots downward, into the sacred spaces of Yog.  The walls grew thick, and knotted overhead.  The city has been here a long time.  The city never fell.  The city will be here for a long time.  The city is Yog.

Other people, and other cities, have heard this story and prayed to Yog for preservation.  Yog has heard them.

The Calculator

There is a story about Yog that is almost certainly false.  It goes like this.

According to this theory, Yog is not just the center of the world, but is in fact the purpose for the universe's existence, everything else having been built for the sake of the city at the center of everything.  

They say that the city is a thinking machine, a vast and unsympathetic device built prior to the universe to calculate some obscure function.  Or perhaps it is studying us, and every person inside its walls carries a variable of interest.

The fact that we cannot perceive the mechanism is only further proof of its sophistication and antiquity.

People inside Yog go mad with startling frequency, but the madness is specific and directed towards the city's goals.  A fisherman goes mad, forgets all language except for one that he never spoke, and spends a year carving spirals onto the walls.  A doctor, visiting the city for the first time, sees the spirals and goes mad, and spends the rest of her life building an empty tower before strangling a slave with an apron, and only then regaining her sanity.

These are all pieces of the same mechanism.  The parts that seem to be contradictory and opposed are merely the opponent pieces of a calculation.  Whichever faction triumphs over the other is just another binary logic gate, a domino that flipped one way or another, it's calculation finished.

And once the city has finished its calculation, the world will end, swept away by a flame that is swifter than thought.

Worm Steaks

There is a story about Yog that is almost certainly false.  It goes like this.

The worms that are farmed in Yog are victims of a subtle and ubiquitous parasite.  This parasite is not killed by cooking, and those who eat the worm steaks quickly become subjected to the city's own peculiar strain of madness.

Do not the beefworms build tunnels that echo the nonsensical architecture of Yog?  It does not take a large leap of deduction to discern the truth in the matter.  So what if the parasites are too small to be discerned?  It doesn't rule out their existence.  The parasites may be exceedingly fine, of a form not recognized, or perhaps even spiritual in nature.

This also explains the sensation of insects crawling upon the skin that so many experience as they attempt to sleep within Yog for the first time.  The insects are not real, but the sensation is still a warning from the depths of your mind.  Cut your skin and pull forth the long threads of this city's infection!  See?  These threads and nodules do not exist in the flesh of those who have never passed its gates.

And of course, the madness occasionally affects those who bring their own food into the city.  The flaked flesh of the worm is found on nearly every food in Yog.  And of course, on the flesh and breath of every creature within that city.  Best, then, to join the other wise folk in their daily baths of lye.

The rest of can be explained by the unstable geologies unique to the area.

The City of Yog

The northern boundary of Centerran maps is always a purple, equatorial landmass called the Madlands.  Its is nearly twice the size of Centerra, and is regarded as a place of madness, violence, and vice.

In the center of this place is the city of Yog.  Even in such a place, there are a few facts remain unchallenged, even by the lunatics.

First, the city has no formal power structure.  There is no King of Yog (although there are many kings in Yog), and the laws and taxes change from street to street, block to block.  This is not to say that there haven't been many attempts to unify Yog in the past.  (Some have almost been successful.)  But something about the city resists rulership.

The houses of Yog sometimes have allies in the neighboring cities of Bazozo, Zhul, Kel Bethor, and Farthest Vod.

Second, the city is always growing.  Residents (and sometimes visitors) are sometimes afflicted with the strange urge to build.  They will refuse all help, and sometimes spend the rest of their lives building vast, incomprehensible structures.  Mansions without doors.  Stairs too large to ascend.  The Apromenond is a system of pillared chambers beneath the city, flooded and filled with incomprehensible statues, that is used as a passage for ships.

(Buildings without any doors or windows are called 'spirit houses'.  Anyone with a pickaxe and a couple of hours can break into one, but this is considered unwise.  They are not always unoccupied.)

Third, the city is sinking.  This makes more room for new construction, and in fact, may be caused by all of the construction atop unprepared foundations.

Fourth, the city is much larger than it seems.  Infinite, some say.  One thing is certain, each labyrinthine sublevels are larger than the one above.  Certain places are impossible to access a second time--perhaps a function of the unsettled geology of the place, or perhaps something stranger.

Fifth, the people are mad.  (There are humans in Yog, but only as slaves.)  People are sometimes born from animals (sometimes virgin animals) who grow up speaking a language that no one else even recognizes, but who are sometimes able to read graffiti that had long been thought to be incomprehensible.

Visitors sometimes abandon their companions, declaring that they are some other person, from some other place, and that Yog is their true home.  They were confused, but now they can see clearly for the first time in their lives.

Many of them claim to be from distant places, and distant times.  Many claim to have died, after praying to Yog.  If a sailor drowns with Yog's name on his lips, and is reborn 600 years later in Yog from the womb of an anemic cow, does that count as a true resurrection?

Of course.

A lifelong resident looks at a mouldering wall and sees the face of Yog.  They listen to the murmur of the marketplace and hear the voice of the city.  The visitor hears and sees nothing, and is constantly in danger because of this.  Who, then, is mad?

And of course, the residents will tell you that they are sane, and it is you, the visitor, who is insane.  

What proof is there of the outside world?  You babble about Old Bospero and the Church, but those are meaningless noises.  Step past those gates, and you will wander the wastes deluded until you die.  The dundriago spawned you, you mad thing, and it will swallow you again when we are done with you.

The Dundriago

There is no analog for the ecosystem that surrounds Yog.

It is a desert, but the valleys are filled with strange forests of stiff growth that stretch upwards like the pale skeletons of dead leviathans.  Some are pale green.  Most are white.  A few are pink.  There are very few animals, but an astute traveler can can hear writhing underground.

Dundriago plants are generally formed with an extremely long taproot, long enough to access the subterranean seas, sometimes as deep as half a mile beneath the surface.  In these hidden oceans, they function as coral reefs, filtering out their food from the currents.

The part of the plant that extends above ground, then, mostly serves as a place for gas exchange to occur.  Leaves are reduced or (more commonly) absent.  There is no need for tall trunks, except to get above the dunes.  Without leaves, there is little that rots into dirt.  The plants are dry, but perhaps not as dry as you think.

The plants (who grew downwards) compete with the anthozoans (who grew upwards).  Some of the extrusions onto the surface are actual outgrowths of contiguous coral reefs that have their roots in the hidden seas, where they capture blind whales in their filaments and digest them over several years.

It's a complex ecosystem, since the plants of the dundriago respond to changes at both the surface and the subterranean sea (much to the confusion of the locals in both places).

The surface is hostile place.  Compared to a desert, the valleys of the dundriago at least offer shade.  Water is available to anyone who is willing to descend a few hundred feet down, to where the taproots thicken and branch.  But the dundriago is not without its own dangerous fauna, such as the poisonous voles and enormous, psychic beetles.  

And although they are rare, the flying worms of the dundriago are the most famous inhabitant of the dundriago.  Popular knowledge has them cutting horses in half and flying off with men's heads.  (These stories, at least, are accurate.)



Written for Jeff Russell, who wanted lore for a big city in Centerra, and for Sam Passanisi, who wanted to know more about the Darklands.  Thanks for being my patrons!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Goblin Filthomancer

How Human Sages Explain Filthomancy

How much information is there on a sheet of printed paper?

There's the printed words, and all of their coded and uncoded meanings.  Perhaps the choice of font and ink can tell you about the era and region of origin.  The paper can tell stories, too, of trees and glue and grinding metal.

Now, tear the paper up.  Has the information increased or decreased?

A clever mind can match the edges, and a steady hand can reassemble them.  All of the original information is still there--and a great deal more.  What was the shape of the hand that tore the paper?  Fingers, claws, or blades?  Was the force strong or subtle?  Was the paper gnawed upon as if by vermin, or was it carefully folded before its trauma?

There are obvious limitations--the system gains information even as it loses accessibility, and of course completeness is always a problem.  But these are not insurmountable.  The elegant mathematics of chaos can unmix two dyes as well as it can blend them.  Decay informs as much as construction.

Now that you know this, you must realize that a rotten tome contains a secret chapter, accessible only to some.  The filthomancers know this--they know that a handful of grave dust can speak louder than the living man ever did.  It is truly a wonderous lens through which they gaze out at us, learning carpentry from ashes, and hearing long-dead voices sing out in the crunch of a dead leaf.

How Goblin Filthomancers Explain Filthomancy

Okay, okay.  Shut up.

The first thing you want to do is--

I said shut up!  Clasp ya hole or yammer afar, cotter's bean!

The first thing ya start doing, is you gotta start stretching.  Stretch yer hoops!  Yer neck!  Not your pungies, though.

Practice bending over, then touching your toes.  Thenways, ya fine a big rock with a crack in it and you start sleeping innit, folded over.  If you can't sleep whats bendwise folded, drink some scumbo to grease yer dreams.

Wait, shit.  No, shit.  Wait.  The first thing ya do is stop bathing.  That's the most important thing.  I should have started with that.

Second thing you do is make flexible.

Once you're flexible enough to bend right around, you gotta stick ya face into your own crotch.  Really--and I can't stress this enough--you really gotta stick ya nose in there.  Ya smell that?  That's yer fundus, yer fundament, that's ya animal soul, what ya been ignoring.  That's the real you.

Anyway, then you hyperventilate until you pass out.  Try to get your nostrils to cover your whole taint.

This is the start of self-awareness, and that's the start of business.

from WHFRP, 1st Edition
The Goblin Filthomancer

Restrictions

You lose all of your spellcasting abilities if you are ever cleaned.  Gently easing yourself into the water is fine, but if you fall into water or spend more than a minute in the stuff, you lose your spellcasting.  You can regain your spellcasting by spending 10 minutes rolling around in a dirty place.

Boons

Immunity from stench.

Theories of Dust -- decrepit or crumbling books are always legible.

(More broadly, no method of destruction can obscure the information content of an object, as long as all of the pieces are there.  You can smash a chair into tiny splinters and a filthomancer can still tell you what the original carvings were.  Burning makes a book inaccessible (since a lot of information leaves with the smoke).  Likewise, using a statue to make cement also obscures the statue, since not all pieces of the statue are visible.  A stone tablet that has been ground into dust is still 100% readable, and just as easily as the original object.)

Starting Equipment

Giant Back Scratcher (as staff),

Bag of "Magic Dust" (mostly skin flakes) that they sometimes cast on objects but also causes sneezing.

Spellbook (varies, but is usually encoded into their tangled, dirty hair)

While filthomancers can grind their spellbook into dust as use it just as easily, sacks of dust tend to get blown away by wind or dispersed by water, and so dust-books are shunned by adventuring filthomancers (but not sedentary ones--sedentary filthomancers use all sorts of things as "books", and eventually learn to use broken housewares as easily as intact ones).

Spells

1. barf
2. burp
3. booger
4. decrepitate
5. dust bunny
6. entropium
7. fart
8. mend
9. piss
10. psychometry

Barf
T: self  R: 10' cone  D: 0
You take [dice] damage unless you've eaten in the last 30 minutes.  All objects in range take [sum] acid damage.

Burp
As message, except that it carries [dice] words and [dice] smells, delivered in any order you wish.  Also gives you a new saving throw against any ingested or inhaled poison.

Boogers
T: self  R: 1 mile  D: until divested
You pick a booger out of your nose.  You have [dice] senses that extend through the booger.  Sight counts as two senses.  If you put your booger in someone else's nose, you can also control what they smell.  Flicking a booger with any accuracy requires an attack roll.

Sidebar: Goblin Greetings
A quick tug on the nose is a casual hello, but friends usually greet each other by picking their nose and putting the booger into their friend's nose.  Because of this, blowing your nose is considered very rude.

Decrepitate
T: object  R: 50'  D: 0
Object ages.  You can age a single part of a living creature by [sum] years.  Objects damaged by the passage of time take [sum] damage and become tarnished.  This is the opposite of mend.  This spell is also useful for aging wine instantly.  If decrepitate is cast on an object multiple times, only the highest [sum] applies.

Dust Bunny
T: dust  R: 10'  D: until you cast another spell
You spit into the dust and create [dice] dust bunnies.  They're basically just soot sprites from Spirited Away.

Entropium
T: object  R: touch  D: 6 rounds
A touched object becomes more disordered.  The letters in a book become more scrambled every round.  A soup becomes extremely well-mixed.  A trombone warps to become out of tune.  And a living creature takes [dice] damage each turn, as their face and organs become slightly asymmetrical.  (The damage mostly comes from mild, systemic hemorraging, as certain capillaries no longer line up quite right.)

Fart
T: creature  R: 100'  D: 1 minute
You rip a tremendously loud fart.  Although others may get faint whiffs of it, only your target will smell its full strength.  As message, except the only message a single, chosen foetor and does [sum] stench damage.  If this damage does not kill the target, the damage vanishes 2 rounds later.

Mend
T: object  R: 50'  D: 0
An object repairs itself.  Broken swords rejoin, and ancient metal regains its luster.  Objects regain [sum] hit points.  Because the scars and mental clutter are essential to wisdom, if you cast this spell on someone's head within 10 minutes of them making a decision, they have a [sum]-in-20 chance of behaving foolishly.

Piss
T: self  R: 0  D: 0
If you are poisoned, you piss out the poison.  This works on drunkenness.  Additionally, if you invest 2 MD, the piss poison retains its potency, and can be reused.  Additionally, if invest 3 MD, you can piss up to 50' away.  Additionally, if you invest 4 MD, it also works on curses.

Psychometry
T: object: R: self  D: 10 minutes
You learn the physical history of an object, essentially learning about everything that has affected that object.  Every scuff, every sun-fade, every ingrained odor.  1 MD yields you minor revelations, while 4 MD gives you a staggering, encyclopedic knowledge of the object's entire history (down to learning about the wildlife that lived on the mountains where the ore was mined that was used to make the sword).

Legendary Spells of the Filthomancer

These spells are not learned by leveling up.  Instead, they are discovered in dungeons and other perilous places.

Arcanodynamics
T: spell or magic effect  R: 50'  D: permanent
Only works on spells that have a duration.  (Permanent and instantaneous spells are unchanged).  You can choose to either double the intensity while halving the duration, or vice versa.  You must invest a number of MD equal to (or greater than) the strength of the spell effect.

Power Word: Shit
T: self  R: 0  D: 8 hours
You take a big, smelly shit.  Your shit stinks to everyone except [dice] categories of creatures that you have chosen to exclude.  Those creatures take [dice] damage per round that they smell your shit.  A creature is immune to this damage if they pinch their nose (requires a hand) and close their eyes tightly.  Regardless of damage and spell immunity, all affected creatures are repulsed by your shit as if by antipathy.  You can only cast this spell once per day, and only if you ate a big dinner the night before.  You can throw your shit up to 50', but it requires a second action.

Where is Filth?

A lot of the filthomancer's abilities depend on being able to spit in dusty place, or to roll around in a dirty place.  These qualities depend on your DM (and you should ask how common they are before you roll a filthomancer) but it is fair to say that your average dungeon is probably quite filthy.

I found this guy when I googled "garbage goblin" and he is also quite lovely.
From here.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Birds

What are birds?  There are many who say that they don't exist, except as a conspiracy of the trees.

The Arovila and the Iphinno

The arovila is a sluggish beast, a sinuous crocodilian as long as your house.  She shines like white clay, and basks on sunny riverbanks.  She is a cousin to the river, which rises to meet her when she enters, but is afraid of the sea, which drowns her every time she touches it.

The arovila lays a single egg every few years.  It is a massive thing, a vast rubbery ball half-buried at the waters edge.  The arovila waters it with her tears, which are pale and nourishing like milk.

Inside the egg are two daughters, as serpentine as their mother, with the same discerning eyes and hooked teeth.  They will follow their mother for years.  When she stops biting her daughter's tails off (for the tails regrow) her daughters have grown enough to live on their own, and they will leave to start their own life.

Or perhaps the egg doesn't hold a pair of daughters.  Perhaps it holds a hundred sons.

There are always exactly a hundred, excepting the stillborn (which are useful in a certain elixir which can make any animal permanently carnivorous).  And each of the hundred sons is a small, red bird called an iphinno, resembling their mother not in the least.

Each iphinno is an insect-catcher and a nectar-drinker.  They will never grow larger than your hand.  They help their mother hunt by leading her to prey, and by driving prey to her.  When she sickens, they feed her depositing drops of honey on her tongue.  It is not much, but she may have many hundreds of sons.

Only when their mother dies, will they disperse.  Each one desires the absence of his brothers, and seeks a new horizon.  No two will ever fly in the same direction.  On some distant riverbank, they will find a fertile arovela of their own.  After they mate with her, they will pluck all of their own feathers and lie down on her tongue, curled up into a ball so as to be easier to swallow.

The men of Basharna believe the iphinnos to be inimitably romantic, and wear their feathers in their hair during courtships.

The People of Binlah

They are a sluggish folk, slow to trade, and slower to war.  They are isolated by the coils of the Shunatula river (which they know well), the choking tangergluss vines (which struggle to overcome their masks), and dwindle pox and dauntledregs (to which they are immune).

The people of bianlah all wear masks depicting the faces of monstrous baby birds.  There is a certain kind of swamp-dwelling passerine called the ponli bird which regards them as their own offspring.  An inhabitant of Binlah has only to tilt their head up and open their mouth, and within minutes, a dun-colored ponli bird will perch on their shoulder and regurgitate fish into their mouths.

There are a great many ponli birds, and a great many fish.  It is rare for the people of Binlah to go hungry.

As a result, they have grown idle and contemplative.  But they do not debate philosophy, nor art; instead, they discuss the smells of fish and the sound of rain.  It is only halfway accurate to call them lazy, for they are not lazy--they simply never learned how to properly want.  They desire little and obtain less.

They would have been invaded and killed long ago by some ferocious people, were it not for the ponli birds, which fight like demons to protect their babies.

The Cloak of the Simurgh

The cloak of the Simurgh is not a cloak.  It is a phenomenon which has been independently observed in many places and times, and by many disparate parties.

You when know when the cloak of the Simurgh is near, because all birds become indistinguishable from each other.

A farmer goes out to feed his chickens and finds that he is not able to identify them as chickens.  He recognizes that they are birds of some sort.  Their size is difficult to discern.  Only by counting the number of them inside his chicken coop can he rationalize, slowly, that the birds cannot be any larger than cats. 

A hunter comes across a pond and startles some birds, which take to the air.  Of their size and distance, she cannot say.  The sounds from their throats are indescribable.  Are they rocs or ducks?
It is believed that this phenomenon occurs whenever the Simurgh passes by.  One of the unidentifiable birds, then, is her.

The Simurgh

The Simurgh is the queen of all birds.  She is all birds, and none.

All birds have a secret lust for milk--this is the mechanism by which the Simurgh ensures their loyalty.  A bird that is blessed by the Simurgh will lay an egg containing the sweetest milk imaginable.  (A bird that is cursed by the Simurgh will lay only black stones.)

There are some who say that she appears as a women clothed in every bird of the world, a woman inside an insane tornado of birds.  Her voice is lost among the hurricane of their wings.  It is very difficult to communicate with the Simurgh.

The Hummingbird Chariot

It is a bamboo cage with a set of simple seats on the inside.  It looks like simple scaffolding.  The bamboo is brittle and old.  A few unrecognizable letters are painted onto the bamboo, seemingly at random.  There is space for a few people to sit around a brass basin, and a tiny bell hangs from the roof.  Ten-thousand shaggy strings hang from the exterior.

If the basin is filled with honey and the bell rung, hummingbirds will gather.  They will slip into the traces (for that is the purpose of the strings) and begin to fly.  They will carry you wherever you wish, as you sit inside your sphere of beating wings.  

It is difficult to see in any direction except down.  Navigation is possible, but scouting is difficult.

Their strength is in their maneuverability.  No winged creature can turn as quickly as a hummingbird.  But there is a weakness, too.  Hummingbirds are easily startled, and any loud noises or intimidating gestures are liable to scare them off.  Laugh too loudly, and you might find yourself in freefall.

The chariot was originally created by men, but the traces were woven by mice.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Monsters with Triggered Abilities

Everything on this page (except for the gribbly) is meant to be accessory monster.  They aren't going to be the biggest monster in the fight; they'll be flitting around in the outskirts of combat.


I know I've written about wisps before, but this one is better.

Wisp

Keep them away from fresh corpses.

Lvl Def none  No Attacks
Fly slow  Int 10  Mor 10

Incorporeal Undead

Luminous -- Appears as a ball of light.  Illuminates as a torch, unless it wants to turn invisible.

Animate Corpse -- Can enter a Dying person or freshly killed corpse and animate it, creating a lantern ghoul.  When the lantern ghoul is destroyed, the wisp will exit the corpse.  The lantern ghoul will be hostile or neutral based on the table below.

Follow Me -- Roll on this table instead of making a reaction roll.

1 - Wisp will attempt to lead the party to a secret door or valuable treasure.  It may not be nearby.  (Neutral)
2 - Wisp will attempt to lead the party towards vulnerable enemies.  Perhaps the monsters in a nearby room are sleeping or distracted at this moment.  (Neutral)
3 - Wisp will attempt to lead the party into a trap.  (Hostile)
4 - Wisp will attempt to lead the party into an ambush.  (Hostile)
5 - Will just follow the party around, acting as a friendly light source.  (Neutral)
6 - Will just follow the party around, acting as a friendly light source.  (Hostile)

Wisps cannot speak.  Even the neutral ones hate you for being alive, just a little.

Lantern Ghoul
HD Def leather  Claws 1d8+agony
Move human  Int 10  Mor 10

Headlights -- Eyes shed light as a bullseye lantern (60' cone).  If it is looking directly at you, the glare gives you -4 Attack against the ghoul.

Neutral ghouls will give advice and accompany you as long as you are able to provide them with fresh corpses.  Hostile ghouls will try to kidnap someone, or at least kill someone.  It will use these fresh corpses to provide bodies for their fellow wisps.

Discussion

Whether or not they're trying to lead you somewhere, wisps will probably hang around for a while.  And as soon as they find a fresh corpse to inhabit, they'll dive into it.  If this happens during combat, it could quickly make things difficult for the party.  However it goes, I hope it'll be a memorable lesson.

The fact that a wisp can enter (and kill) a Dying PC can be a shitty experience, if the player was expected to survive an otherwise fatal blow.

Wisps are incorporeal, and are capable of turning invisible.  Parties may not have the tools to kill one easily.  However, you can always run away from a wisp--they fly slow.  And a wisp inhabiting a lantern ghoul can also be locked in a sarcophagus or something.

Don't forget that wisps can be encountered as lantern ghouls, with the wisp itself only becoming visible later.

by kreis-b
Flying Eyeball

Puberty is magical.

HD Def chain  Piercing Gaze 1d4 (50')
Flying fast  Int 10  Mor 2

Looks like a flying eyeball.  If it vibrates its pupil while looking at something, a puncture wound will appear.  Each one serves a terophidian, who sees whatever it sees.

Spell Eater -- Whenever a spell is cast within 50', the eyebat captures the spell and becomes an optical hound, forever capable of casting the spell that created it.

Optical Hound
HD 3  Def chain  Piercing Gaze 1d8 (50')
Move fast  Int Mor 6

Gaze Attack -- Anyone who meets the gaze of an optical hound must save or howl.  (An optical hound has no proper mouth, so this is how it must summon its packmates.)

Spellcasting (2 MD) -- An optical hound can cast whatever spell birthed it.

Discussion

Flying, ranged attackers are a rare niche in D&D, but an important one.  They either need to be shot by an archer, or lured into a hallway with a low ceiling.  Neither one is difficult, but it may still force the party out of their usual tactics.

An optical hound is a fairly beefy opponent.  If it picks up a good spell, it can be fearsome.

An eyebat also prevents the wizard from unloading their best spells on the first round of combat.

from Paper Mario
Gribbly

Rapidly multiplying menaces.

HD Def leather  Bite 1d6
Move human  Int 6  Mor 6

A small black hairball with beady red eyes.  It's got arms and legs hidden in there, along with one hell of a mouth.  They are only capable of one type of behavior: running around and biting things.  They're smart enough to open doors and break windows, but that's about it.

Making Friends -- Whenever it bites someone, the gribbly will shit out a new gribbly with HP equal to the damage dealt.  The new gribbly will look like the flesh donor, but mostly it will look like a gribbly.

Photophobia -- Save vs fear if they encounter a bonfire.  They will automatically flee from larger fires and bright lights.  They need to succeed on a Morale check in order to attack a group carrying a torch, and will preferentially attack non-torchbearers.  They can get bonuses on these Morale checks if they outnumber the party.

A gribbly can turn a human corpse into 16 gribblies in about 4 rounds.  Every 10 lbs of flesh can only yield 1 gribbly, even though the gribbly only takes a partial bite.

Gribbly King

Stats as a HD 2 gribbly, except that it has two MD and can cast darkness.  Formed when a king is eaten.

Discussion

Can be used to inject a little bit of chaos into a battle.  Gribblies are inherently destabilizing--either the party kills them quickly, or the party gets unlucky and finds themselves vastly outnumbered.  Once the players know what gribblies are capable of, gribblies become a threat even in small numbers, since they cannot be ignored.

Encounter design tip: give players a good reason to ignore the gribblies.  This creates an interesting choice, beyond "the gribblies are obviously the biggest threat, let's kill them first".

And if the gribblies get too numerous, the photophobia weakness gives clever parties a way to escape.

And you can also create destabilizing situations with gribblies.  What happens when a gribbly runs past the party, into the room where the pigs were tied up?

The gribbly king is essentially a Fuck You to parties that have been fighting gribblies for a while, and have developed an effective strategy for killing the poor things.  The darkness spell can quickly topple that strategy, and force them to come up with something new.



from the 2e AD&D Monstrous Manual
Still one of my favorites
Imp  

They'll eat your fumbles.

HD 1  Def chain  Claw 1d6
Fly fast  Int 6  Mor 6

Spells (1 MD) -- bedevil

Eater of Woe -- Whenever an enemy rolls a fumble, the Imp grows.  It gains 1 HD, 1 MD, increases its damage die, and heals for 1d6 HP.  It also loses the ability to fly and gains the firebolt spell.  These changes last until the imp rolls a fumble.



New Spell: Bedevil
R: 50'   T: creature  D: 10 minutes  [splittable]
Expands the fumble range of the target by 1.  No save.

Discussion

The Bedevil ability is interesting (no save) but has a good chance of never becoming relevant, if no fumbles are ever rolled.  The Eater of Woe ability has the same problem.

However, increasing the number of imps in a fight can exponentially make them more dangerous, since their abilities synergize with each other.  Imagine 20 imps all casting bedevil on the first round of combat.

Like the gribbly, imps are inherently chaotic, and randomness is its own special type of threat.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Bosses

Here's how you put bosses into your dungeon.

You Don't Need Bosses

The first rule about bosses is that you don't need bosses.  A dungeon can be an excellent experience without one.

Bosses are fun.  They can be the charismatic face of a dungeon, or they can be the thing that needs to be beaten in order for the good guys to win.  (If that's the kind of game you're running.)

But bosses can also be fragile.  They can be too easy (if they fail a roll) or they can be too hard (if the party fights them in a depleted state).  As far as emotionally-charged centerpieces go, bosses are pretty fragile.

If you must have an emotionally-charged centerpiece of a dungeon, may I also recommend: stealing a certain treasure, rescuing a certain person, or breaking something.

How to Keep Players From Fighting Bosses When They're Depleted

Show them the boss fight is coming, and give them a chance to prepare.  Don't spring it on them.

How to Keep Players From Steamrolling a Boss

You could use multiple enemies instead of a single foe.  The Shadow Council, instead of a dragon.  This spreads the rolls around, smooths off a lot of the statistical rough edges, and produces more reliable results.

You could make it a puzzle encounter.  Only a certain weapon can hurt the boss, it can only be defeated in a certain way, you need to avoid a certain attack, etc.

You could make it too powerful to defeat in a straight-up fight.  This is the simple method of doing what I recommended in the previous paragraph.  Bosses that are numerically impossible to beat cannot be overcome by running up to it and hitting it with your strongest attacks.  You'll have to scheme.  (That's what LaTorra does here.)

Dynamism

I've talked about dynamism before.  Essentially, you want the fight to evolve.  Every 1-2 rounds, the circumstances should change significantly enough that the players will have to re-evaluate their tactics.

If the circumstances never evolve, you're left with. . .

Turn 1: I attack.  I hit.  7 damage.
Turn 2: I attack.  I miss.
Turn 3: I attack.  I hit.  3 damage.

Dynamism in a boss battle can come from a few places.

The simplest place it comes from is just from resource depletion.  The fighter is at 1 HP, and must now change tactics and back away from melee.  The wizard is out of his best spells, and must now find a way to leverage her second-rank spells.

There's also some crude attempts at dynamism: enemies that unleash a very powerful attack when they're bloodied, or bosses that change form.

These are a step in the right direction, but oftentimes the people writing them miss the point.  A dragon that gets a free fire breath when its bloodied isn't dynamic unless the fire damage is enough to force the party to change tactics.

And anyway, HP damage isn't a very dynamic mechanic anyway.  (I'd actually argue that it's the opposite--HP exists to help players predict how much more risk they can accept.)  A player might not play very differently between 60% and 100% HP.  Only when they start getting low will they start thinking about changing their tactics.  And besides, you can only damage HP so many times before someone dies.  HP isn't ideal.

The dynamism in a boss fight should come from the same places as other fights: circumstances change in such a way that the players need to come up with new tactics.  They don't have to be fancy.

Examples:

  • The dragon takes off.
  • The dragon lands.
  • The dragon burrows underground.
  • The dragon sets the forest on fire.  (Always a favorite.)
  • The dragon leaves.  It'll come back and drop a cow on the party.
  • The drakencult arrives to defend their dragon.
  • The drakencult flees once the dragon is bloodied.
  • The giant grabs someone and prepares to throw them.
  • The giant overturns his bathtub, causing players to risk being washed away.
  • The giant blows hard enough to extinguish everyone's torches.
  • The wizard turns into a swarm of hornets with wizard faces.
Remember that it isn't dynamic unless it forces the player to re-evaluate their tactics.  A giant that stomps the ground (Dex check or fall prone) isn't very dynamic.  There's no chance to react (except a passive Dex check) and characters that fall prone will probably just stand up and resume their generic strategy: fighters swing swords, and wizards wiz.

Wind-Up Attacks

A big gout of dragon breath isn't very dynamic if it's just a Dex check, but how about this:
At the end of the first turn, the dragon takes a deep breath.  At the end of the second turn, it uses its fire breath attack.
See the difference?  The players have a whole turn to react.  Some players will choose to stay in melee, some will jump on the dragon's back, some will take cover.  We've given them an interesting choice, just by telling them that something big is coming.

You can have the wind-up attack trigger at the end of the next round, or on the boss's action at the end of the next round.  (One gives everyone an interesting choice.  The other gives players an interesting choice only if they succeed on their Initiative checks.)

Examples of Wind-Up Attacks:
  • A giant could literally wind up for a haymaker that will deal double damage next turn.
  • A giant could pick up a boulder, preparing to drop it on someone's head.
  • Tongues of fire could start licking up out of the ground.  Better get off the ground before the floor is lava.
  • The dragon starts beating its wings.  Next turn, it'll blow people away.
  • The dragon starts beating its wings.  By next turn, it'll be too dusty to see anything.
  • The dragon roars and stalactites crack.  They'll land next turn, and are especially dangerous to players who spend their turn ignoring the threat.

A Changing Landscape

There's also some subtle dynamism incorporated into regular fights against groups of enemies: enemy death.

A group of orcs becomes less threatening over time, as the players kill orcs.  They might fight three orcs the first round (taking at most 3d8 damage), two orcs on the second round (at most 2d8 damage), and finally a single orc on the last round, because orcs don't surrender (at most 1d8 damage).

This gradient allows players to (a) see their progress, and (b) react to a combat that is changing.

Bosses sometimes lack these nice benefits.  Be sure to give the players a constant update on how the boss is looking, so they can see their progress.  Is the boss sneering through a few cuts, or coughing up blood as they lean on their staff?  I always tell players when enemies are bloodied, and I think I've literally drawn health bars before (which is a bit dissociative, but doesn't really give them any information they don't already have, assuming that you're being very descriptive).

I've talked about dynamism in the sense of round-to-round changes, but you can also have gradual changing that force the combat to evolve.

Examples:

  • The boss gets weaker as it takes damage. (See also: wizards running out of spells, dismemberment)
  • The boss gets tougher as it takes damage.
  • The arena decays: gets smaller, floods, sinks, or catches on fire.
  • Reinforcements arrive each turn.
  • The party must fight the serpicant in a different room each round. 
A party that is kiting a serpicant throughout the dungeon might know that eventually they're going to get cornered and poisoned--unless they go through an unexplored passage that might give them they time they need to kill it.  See, interesting choices.

You can also have some dynamism come from unique arenas: maybe the arena is criss-crossed with enough acid streams that the party will have to change up their generic tactics a little bit.  (This is what people mean when they say "interesting boss fights need interesting environments".)

Dismemberment Rules

You can dismember monsters with crits or with combat maneuver rolls.  Generally, allow players to target whatever the hell they want.  It's a great way to evolve the combat and give a sense of progress, outside of regular HP depletion.

Want to shoot a manticore's armpit so it can't flap it's wing?  Sure.  Now it can't fly.

Want to shoot a dragon's armpit so it can't fly?  It'll make a rough landing, pull out the arrow, and take off again.  (Dragon's are tougher.)

Want to lop off a displacer beast's paw so it loses a claw attack?  Fine by me.

I don't have any hard rules for dismemberment.  It works for me.

Unlucky Saves

Players love telling stories about how they killed the boss in the first round, when the boss failed a save vs polymorph and got turned into a snail.

I honestly think that these stories are a feature, not a bug.  If a player wants to spend a round casting an unreliable spell, they are free to do so.  I like giving players that freedom.

However, that unpredictability still runs counter to many people's instincts, who think that a boss should be something that requires many rounds of combat and drops at least one character to 0 HP.

Well, for those who would to blunt the sword of RNG, I recommend Ablative Saves.

Ablative Saves

This is going to get compared to legendary resistance in 5e, so I guess I should start by talking about that.  This is legendary resistance (typical for epic boss monsters):
Legendary Resistance (3/day): if the dragon fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
They wrote this rule to insulate dragons against unlucky saves.  And as a rule, it sucks.

It sucks because it creates a separate track to victory, then forces the players to choose between them.  Do they try to damage the dragons HP?  Or use things that cause saves, hoping to whittle down the legendary resistance enough to fire off a polymorph?  


I once wrote a class that didn't deal HP damage, and instead attacked enemies' Morale score, defeating them by destroying their will to fight.  It might be fun if the whole party was attacking Morale, but if not, you're just splitting your attention in two directions.

So dragons are effectively immune to casual polymorph attempts.

Here's mine:
Ablative Saves (at-will): if the monster fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead and take 20 damage.  Alternatively, it can take 10 damage and suffer from half the effect.  All Level 9+ creatures have this ability.
Now everything is back on the same track.  Failed saves now damage the HP total.

Fiction-wise:

The dragon shudders as power word: kill rips through its body.  It slumps over, gurgling out a death rattle.  But the party's cheers die on their lips as the great wyrm somehow staggers to its feet, a few seconds later.  Black blood leaks from its furious eyes.

OR

The wizard could feel their polymorph spell twist as they cast it, warping around the psychic bulk of the dragon's soul.  The dragon didn't deflect the spell entirely, but neither did it suffer from the full brunt of its transformative energies.  Instead, some sort of snail-dragon now faced the party, with huge claws pulling its coiled rump around the cavern, green slime dripping from its once-fiery maw.

GLOG Rule: Affecting High-HD Enemies With Spells

A spell cannot affect a target if the [sum] is less than the target's HD.

I've been using this rule in my home games for a while, but I forget if I've posted it on the blog.

Action Economy

Bosses also sometimes get held up by the sheer number of actions that they need to take in a turn.  5e solves this by letting bosses take extra actions over the course of a turn, in the form of legendary actions.

This is perfectly fine.  It smooths out the damage curve, removes some variability, and gives the party more flexibility to respond when an ally is injured.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with letting the dragon take all of it's turns at once.  Spikier, traditional damage.  And besides, if the dragon is using wind-up attacks, it's effectively making two attacks each turn anyway, which has much of the same function.

Threat

Bosses who focus fire on a single character should have no problem killing them in one or two rounds.  On the other hand, bosses that focus fire usually ignore the rest of the party.

One solution to this is to make enemies dumb.  Dumb enemies allow the players to choose who will be attacked.  The barbarian bangs on his shield and waggles his genitals at the harpies--they're guaranteed to attack him next turn.

Another solution is to make enemies slow (this is often a good way to make boss encounters escapable).  Slow enemies allow the party to retreat wounded party members.

This isn't a flaw.  Yes, it makes the encounter easier, but more importantly, it gives the players more control and more options.  You can balance it out by having the enemy deal more damage.

Intelligent enemies with a high damage output can (and should be) especially threatening.  You'll have to deploy them more carefully (and players will have to engage more carefully).

I highly recommend giving bosses attacks that hit multiple targets at once, such as everyone in melee range.

GLOG Rule: Focus Fire

You can never make more than two attacks against the same target in a single round.

Interesting Boss Mechanics

Look them up.


by Paolo Puggioni
Dragon

Usually accompanied by 1d6 drakencult barbarians, who will be riding the dragon if necessary.

I put a lot of bells and whistles on this dragon, but you can dial it back if you want.  Every round, just pick who it's gonna attack, and what wind-up attack it's going to do.  It only knows one spell, and it unlikely to use it except to mess with players.  Don't forget the Aura of Heat.

Level 10  Def as plate  Attacks x3 1d12
Fly fast  Int 10  Mor 6

Gold Sense - Dragons always know if something has been taken from their hoard.

Aura of Heat - Anyone who ends their turn adjacent to a dragon takes 1d4 damage.

Spellcasting (MD 3) - control fire

Wind-Up Attacks

At the end of each turn, you announce the one that will occur at the end of the next turn.  You cannot use the same wind-up attack twice in a row.

Fire Breath - 4d6 fire damage, 50' cone, Dex for half.
Smoke Exhalation - As fog.
Wing Flap - Unsecured objects/creatures will be blown 50' away.  50' cone.
Pin - Grapple target, bite them in half next turn (2d12 damage and +4 to hit).

Combat Start

Roar - Save vs terror.  Free action.

When Bloodied

The earth itself casts heat metal is cast on 1d3 metal objects.  (Whatever will make life hardest for the players.)  Free action.

Upon Death

All fires in 1 mile extinguish, and cannot be relit for 24 hours.

Dragon Tactics

Basically, just remember that dragons can fly and have little incentive to fight to the death.  They'd rather stay in the air and make strafing runs (fire breath, graps, fly-by attacks).  They can drop objects on the party if they need to.  Most dragons don't mind starting forest fires.

Dragons in their lairs are easier, since they must fight on the ground.  However, their lairs usually have loops (dragons hate getting cornered) and more drakencult barbarians.  And of course, getting stuck underground without any light will probably present some problems, too.

And lastly, remember that dragons are just as smart as we are.  They will use their abilities to the fullest.