Monday, December 21, 2015

Dragon Cult Barbarians

When a dragon rules over an area, it is called a desolation (similar to how merfolk rule over mazes).  It's meant to imply a barren, inhospitable land, but these places are usually fertile and support large, tasty animals.

The Desolation of Cataphractus.  The Desolation of Beyhoc.  The Desolation of Lagazizi.  The Desolation of Tar Lath Lien.  The Desolation of Torakta.  These are names on a map.  Cartographers use the same font for the names of human kingdoms.

Dragons domesticate humans.  They'll grab a few children, drop them in their nest, and feed them a steady diet of cow blood and dragon propaganda.  Sometimes they refine their stock by interbreeding their humans with a prince or princess.  Hell, if one of their pet humans is especially effective, they may be able to get stud fees from other dragons.

These domesticated humans are members of a dragon cult.  (Except in the case of Tar Lath Lien, where it is better described as a wizard college-cult.  And sure, he has his huntresses, but that's a whole different thing.)

Dragon cult barbarians tend to be big.  At least a foot taller than the soft people down in the lowlands.  They've been bred for size.  (And dragons live long enough to benefit from these breeding programs.)

Over time, a dragon builds up a tribe of people.  They usually don't live in the cavern with the dragon.  That's too bold.  Would you share a bedroom with your god?  Instead they usually live in primitive dwellings on the mountainside just outside the dragon's den.

They never build cities or roofs.  In fact, a desolation is often studded with abandoned cities, where a dragon's barbarians are forbidden to go.

A dragon likes having you where it can see you.  It doesn't want it's pets to build stone walls, where its fire can't reach.  There have been insurrections, you know, where a tribe killed their god.

Dragons keep these tribes of ignorant, dragon-worshipping barbarians on hand to deal with all the things that they can't. Domesticated humans can carry their hoard, hunt down thieving goblins in their tiny holes, and serve as a buffer between the dragon and all those annoying people who want to pay tribute or pick a fight.

And because they serve dragons, they sometimes get the good stuff. Picture a 15- year-old kid with the physique of Conan, wearing the golden armor of ancient kings and armed with magic spears. The kid is also illiterate, covered in fleas, and thinks that humans were created by dragons.

And its not hard fascism either.  Their barbarian tribes don't chafe at the collar.  They've believe in their dragon.  And when you stand in front of a dragon, you can see why.

They laugh at your gods, because your gods are invisible, puny things like wind or light. Their god is muscle and fire and furious roars. When you die, you rot in the earth while your soul is trapped in your body. When they die, they will be eaten by their god and reborn into dragon eggs.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Revamping the Undead: The Shade

A Different Sort of Death

The paladins are rejoicing.  A sinner has been redeemed.  After six years in a labor camp and thirteen as a squire, the murderer has been knighted as a paladin.  This is a rare event, and there are tears in old men's eyes.  It is proof that even a damned soul can be saved through faith and good works.

Not a single member of the paladin order doubts that the ex-murderer deserves to be knighted.  (If any of them did, he wouldn't be.)  Hymns are sung, and there are readings from the Testament of Karzai and the Holy Sungra.  Every man, woman, and child goes to bed that night full of hope and optimism.

The necromancer does not go to bed with the others.  She creeps through darkened halls until she finds the rooms where the murderer lived until he was killed by the man he became.  It is clean and empty, and will remain that way until the next squire moves into it.  The moon peeks curiously through the window.

She sits on the floor, runs her fingers along the freshly laundered pillow.  There is no dust, but there are memories.  She can feel them in the air.  A decade of tortured dreams.  She dives past the guilt which coats everything like a grease, and mingles with the deeper layers.  The fear of capture.  The frustration and the anger.  And the long-repressed memories of slaughter: the naked joy it is to feel one's thumbs press through someone's eyes and into the softer stuff beneath.  From this memory-stuff she will make a shade.

HD you pick  AC chain  Touch 1d8 + <Clouded Vision>
Move 9  Int 10  Morale 12

<Clouded Vision> Save vs curse.  You seem to be surrounded by howling, thrashing shadows.  It is loud and it is dark, and you cannot see further than 10', nor hear a shouting person more than 10' away.  This curse lives in one of your eyes (which becomes cloudy).  Removing this eye ends the curse.
<Dim> When a shade is hostile or consciously activates the effect, all light sources within 100' emit half as much light.  One or two shades have no effect on daylight, but three or more will dim the sunlight (down to a reddish brown disk) enough that it stops functioning as sunlight and is treated as merely another light source. Shades are banished by sunlight, and cannot manifest in it.
<Phantasmic> Non-magical, non-holy damage cannot reduce a shade below 1 HP.  When they are at 1 HP, they look like a person-shaped hole in the universe and speak like a windstorm (full of wordless sound and fury).  Destroyed shades return the next night unless a mass is held over the object of their haunting (chance of success is X-in-20, where X is the number of faithful people participating in the mass), or if they are confronted with the loathsome truth (with undeniable evidence, such as the sword of the paladin they went on to be, engraved with "To Loroth Kilbraden, who redeemed himself several times over in the eyes of Zulin.")
<Shunned Incorporeality> A shade can become incorporeal but is loathe to do so (as it reminds them of what they really are).  They will pass through surfaces if needed, but they will always become corporeal when they attack or at the end of their turn.  When incorporeal they have Fly 12.

Shades are raised from discarded fragments of a person's identity.  When a person rejects their religion, stops loving someone they once held dear, or has their innocence violently despoiled--these are huge and irreversible changes (but not necessarily instantaneous: it sometimes takes a very long time to stop loving someone, for example).

They are born from cognitively dissonant fragments of souls (personhood) that linger around the site of their ejection.  For example, a woman might be haunted by very faint micro-ghosts of those who loved her in her youth, or a battleground might be haunted by the lost identities of soldiers' innocences, who were incapable of reconciling their previous worldview with the slaughter that they saw around them.

These abandoned micro-ghosts manifest when they are called by a necromancer, or when the dissonance is especially great.  A micro-ghost of a spurned lover might manifest into a shade when it witnesses a couple kissing in front of it, for example.

Shades of good people are only good as long as they are not confronted with something that causes them internal conflict.  For example, the shade of a good cleric who converted to a different goodly religion will be good only until it sees a religious symbol, then it will fly into rage.  Because that is the secret center of every shade: anger at an incompatible world.  Shades of jerks will be doubly evil in death.

Shades haunt the places where they were "born" or the necromancer who raised them.  They may be incorporeal, but it is more likely that you will encounter them when they are corporeal and behaving much as they would in life.  They may only appear at night.

If a shade manages to kill the person they became (who killed them), the shade becomes the real person, and the real person becomes a shade.  If a person reverts back to who they were (a paladin decides that he wants to go back to being a murderer, for example) they re-incorporate the shade into their psyche, and the shade is no more.

Shades appear as the people they were in life, except indistinct and somehow muffled.  They are not immediately recognizable as undead, nor are they immediately hostile.  For example, the shade of a goodly cleric can converse, give directions, and even wish you good luck on your journeys (sincerely).  Since they are only fragments of people, they lack a complete set of memories, and nearly all of them don't know their name.  Confronting them about their incompleteness (asking their name, for example) is likely to upset their worldview and lead to the aforementioned rage, unless done very, very delicately.  They become dimmer and more indistinct as they become unsettled, so you can tell you are upsetting them when their eyes fade from grey to brown and you can no longer count the (individually distinct) buttons on their tunic.

Using This Shit in Your Game

Yeah, shades can be used as another bishop in a tactical encounter.  Their dim ability synergizes well with enemies that have ranged attacks (like a spellcasting evil cleric).  But their origin story means that they are begging to be explored.  And this is a fresh take on undeath (fresher than most, anyway) which means that you can still surprise players with the "how did this undead come to be and how can we get it to stop haunting this place" revelations.

They can also be very personable, for undead.  You can talk to them, swap jokes, intimidate one.  Heck, you can probably have sex with one.

The whole reason undead are so over-represented in dungeons is a naturalistic one: who else can you have in a long-sealed tomb except oozes, golems, and undead?  And none of those classes of monsters are usually very chatty, which is a pity, because I believe that every dungeon should have (at least) one role-playing encounter and it's tough to fit one in if you are limited to those.  Consider a shade!  (Or a nice pack of gentleman ghouls who quote Shakespeare.)

Some Plot Hooks

1. A vampire employs a quartet of shades to walk around in the day.  These are the uncorrupted remnants of people he has corrupted over the years.  If confronted with the right evidence, they might be turned against the vampire.

2. A paladin is now under suspicion of murder.  He (or his younger twin brother) was seen digging up corpses at the graveyard and then murdering the gravedigger (whose body still hasn't been found).  This is caused by his own shade, and is basically the story from the little piece of opening fiction.

3. In a dungeon, you come across the shade of a goodly cleric, presiding over mass in a room that he has made resemble a chapel.  He has all the powers of a level 3 cleric and will behave exactly like a level 3 cleric, unless you confront him with uncomfortable truths (e.g. "How long have you been down here?", "What have you been eating?")

4. A group of shades.  Hirelings and level 1 warriors who refused to believe that their beloved leader was leading them to the demon on level 4 for the sole purpose of sacrifice.  He was like a father to them.

5. An old woman is haunted by shades of past lovers.  They've been coming out of the walls of her mansion at night (where she's lived her entire life) and killing each other.  She wants the house exorcised, but it is not the house that is haunted, it is her.  Exorcising her might include a ceremony where you fight all the past lovers at once, or it might involve each past lover (most of whom are still alive) and confronting them.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Revamping the Undead: The Shadow

History and Culture

Shadows are undead, but they were never alive.  They are from the Ersatz (the Plane of Shadow and Mirror), where light is not only unknown--it's impossible.  (Have fun adventuring in a place where all the players are blind.)

In the Ersatz, they lived like ghosts.  They could not affect the world, nor each other.  If they wished it, they could become utterly undetectable.  They dwelt in anonymity and impermanence, and they loved it.  Shapeless, nameless, timeless.

Shadows two-dimensional.  There are inky reservoirs of them in the Underworld, millions of them packed inside a single crack, paper-thin (except much thinner). They enter Centerra when they ascend, slithering up through coal seams and flitting up secret creases.

And sometimes a dwarven pick will crack open this folded city of shadows, and from that tiny void a million shadows will pour out into the world, where most of them will encounter that cruel impossibility: light.  And they will perish uncomprehending.

But the larger shadows--the ones that are almost the size of a halfling's shade--sometimes persist.  And although they were hateful before, that inchoate avarice is honed like a knife's edge and then pointed at those torchbearers, those who would bring light into darkness.

They talk to each other of the sun, and of daylight.  The younger ones don't believe it.  It seems too vast and cruel to exist.

The Church teaches that shadows are the souls of the unborn who died while in the womb.  If the miscarriage was never baptized into the Church and given a proper burial, that soul becomes a shadow.

They are flat, and they live on flat surfaces.  Walls, floors.  They cannot leave their surface, although they can reach up to 5' away from it.

In total darkness, they are basically massless.  They cannot be affecting by either sword nor spell.  But then, they cannot affect anything else, either.

So yes, if you find yourself surrounded by shadows, it is a viable strategy to extinguish your torches and head back out into the daylight.  You'll be safe from their claws as long as you remain in perfect darkness.  (Sidenote: I'd love to a blind dungeon run back to the surface.  A literal dungeon-crawl.)

But even in perfect darkness, the shadows will still follow you.  They will run their fingers over you, and you will feel their cold, frictionless skin against your own.  And they will whisper strange cruelties in your ears.

If there is light, they gain some mass.  They become paper thin.  They can be wounded, but they can also wound you.


Shadows sometimes attack in groups.  They roar (and it sounds like paper tearing).

Shadows sometimes attack by jumping below a person and hiding in their shadow.  Or by giving the person an extra shadow, in a direction that is not cast by any real light source.  (They are quite good at this.)  They move when the person is not moving.

Shadows sometimes make allies.  Evil clerics are most common, but really, anyone with a lantern-mace is a possibility.

When shadows attack, they attack by tearing apart your shadow.  (This is represented by Charisma damage.)  If the shadow cannot reach your shadow, it cannot harm it.  Standing with a foggy abyss to your left and a torch on your right is safe, for example.

 If you have a healthy shadow, it is a perfect reflection of yourself.  It moves when you move, strikes when you strike.

But as your shadow takes damage, it begins to lag.  At first it merely moves a half-second slower than you.  But then it begins to limp while you walk.  It stumbles where you jump.  It drips blood where you are not wounded.  Finally, it falls, and it will not move.  It is the exact shadow you would cast if you were dead.  And you have a full second to stagger around in confusion before dying yourself, because the loss of your shadow is always fatal.

As your shadow dies, you don't feel pain.  Not really.  You feel a rising panic, but also a diminishing ability to feel panic.  Or indeed, anything at all.  You are becoming hollow.  The Church teaches that you have seven souls that all overlap, and believe themselves to be a single creature.  But as your shadow dies, those souls are beginning to lose their synchronization.  The myth of singularity is beginning to come unraveled.

Their claws deal 1d6 HP and Cha damage.  (Roll 1d6 for both.)

HD 4  AC leather  Claw 1d6 damage and Cha
Move 18  Int 4  Morale  6

<Two-Dimensional> A shadow cannot move off a flat surface, nor attack anything that is not in contact with that surface.  They are undetectable when hiding in a shadow.
<Daylight> They are powerless in daylight, and flee it unconditionally.  It is the Worst Thing.
<Total Darkness>  They are powerless in total darkness, but this is a powerlessness they enjoy.  They will follow players, caress them, and whisper to them.  If this goes on for more than a minute, the characters gain a Trauma Point.

Sometimes shadows will infest a corpse, filling it's internal planes and piloting it around.  It takes at least 3 shadows to do this.

It may look a bit like a tottering zombie, depending on the decay. Or it may simply be a recently-dead person, showing few signs of violence or decay.

Infested Shadow Puppet
HD 4  AC leather  Weapon 1d8
Move 12  Int 4  Morale  6

<Puppet> This isn't really a creature.  It is more like a piece of equipment.  If you want to smash the body to bits, the body has 2d4 x 10 hit points.  Only attacking the puppet's shadow will get you anywhere quickly.  After a round of combat, it is obvious that the puppet's "shadow" doesn't line up with any of the light sources, or even move appropriately.  Once the shadows realize that their deception has been discovered, they'll usually abandon the corpse and attack the party as a swarm.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rat Master

The point of this class is that you get to command large swarms of entirely disposable rats.  (Disposable minions are extremely useful for dungeon exploration--even tiny ones.)  You also get extra rumors when in town, and the ability to send rats out to scout dungeons for you.

I started out imagining a goblin rat master, but there's no reason you couldn't be a human, wererat, dwarf, or even a crab-man because why the fuck not.

Level 1 - Rat Friend, Call Rat
Level 2 - Rat Gossip, Throw Rat
Level 3 - Transfer Affliction
Level 4 - Rat Mapping
Level 5 - Summon Dire Rat
Level 6 - Thief Skills
Level 9 - Rat Apotheosis

Rat Friend
You can speak freely with all rodents.  All rodents recognize you as the beloved of the rat god, and will improve their starting attitude toward you one step.  This protection doesn't extend to your friends.

Call Rat
You tap on a wall, sing a song, or emit a high-pitched squeak.  If there are rats nearby (and there are nearly always rats, unless you are underwater or on Antarctica or something) a rat who is loyal to the rat god will emerge from somewhere nearby and join you.  You can call one rat per turn.

Rats obey you because they are terrified to disobey the rat god for reasons they struggle to explain.  They obey you unhesitatingly, although they will cry little rat tears and complain if you give them obviously suicidal orders.

The maximum number of rats that you can summon per day is equal to 3 times your level.  However, the maximum number of rats you can have under your control is equal to your level.  Rats who are out on missions for you (such as carrying messages or mapping) still count towards this limit.

If you order your rats to fight, use the minion rules.  Each rat has HP 1, AC as unarmored, Movement 6.

Sidebar: Minion Rules
When attacking minions, you don't roll to see how much damage you do, you roll to see how many you kill.  Minions attack in groups, and make a single attack roll for the whole group.  This single attack does 1dX damage, where X is the number of minions in the group.  AoE effects kill all minions in its area of effect with a failed save, or half of them on a successful one.

Rat Gossip
When gathering rumors you gain 6x as many, as long as you spend at least 6 hours interviewing rats about what they've overheard.  You can only use this ability once per city.

Throw Rat
You can throw your rats as weapons.  On a hit, use the rules for attached weasels.

Sidebar: Rules For Attached Weasels
Each attached weasel does 1 point of damage per turn.  A weasel can be pulled off and held with successful Str check (with a +4 bonus, as rats aren't very strong) made by anyone.  A held weasel can be crushed in your hand automatically on your next round--this doesn't require an action, but it does require you to hold a weasel for an entire round, occupying your hand.

Attached weasels can also be attacked.  Make an attack roll against AC 10.  On a hit, the weasel is instantly killed.  On a miss, the weasel is instantly killed, and any damage in excess of the weasel's single hit point "rolls over" onto the person it was attached to.

Transfer Affliction
Once per day, you can transfer a disease, poison, or curse onto a willing rat.  Your super-obedient rats always count as willing (although they may curse your name).

Rat Mapping
You can send your rats into a dungeon to map it.  This takes 20 minutes per room explored (how many rooms the rats explore is detailed below), but is relatively low risk, since you can just sit outside the dungeon and interview the rats that come trickling back out.  Choose how many rats you want to send in, and remember that you are still limited by how many rats you can control at once.  (A level 4 rat master can only control 4 rats.)

The end result of this process is a map of the dungeon.  Rooms are described primarily through smells (and remember that rats lack darkvision) as well as a general sense of "good place", "bad place", or "indifferent" based on whether or not the room contains anything of interest to a rat.  Rats enjoy food, water, safety, warmth, and an abundance of places to hide (such as furniture debris or dirty straw).  Rats don't enjoy fire, noise, large creatures moving around, people talking, or a complete lack of places.  Because rats are stupid, lazy, easily confused, and really bad at passing messages along.

So the map is just a list of circles with lines drawn between them, labeled with the predominant smell of that room (if any), with occasional smiley faces and sad faces, depending on whether the rats did or didn't like the room.

Rats find all obvious exits to a room.  They have a 2-in-6 chance of finding secret passages.  Even if they can't enter it, they can still detect it, and tell you about it.

To draw your rat map, get a d6 for every rat that enters the dungeon.  Assume that all the rats move into the first room and roll all the d6s.  So if you sent in 6 rats, roll 6d6 for the first room.

Every result of a 1 or 2 indicates a rat that has died, gotten bored, or wandered off.

If you have at least two dice that show a '6', the rats have paid especially good attention to this room, and return with a more useful description of the room.  (More details than just smells and whether or not they liked it--they actually return with a description closer to what a person would describe.  Remember that they are limited by their language.  A throne is described as a "fat human resting place", and a library is described as "human paper granary".  They have names for all the common monsters.  You don't get to cross-examine the rat about the description--it's all just knowledge passed along by the rats.  This basically equates to an extra line of description for the room.

Then pick up all of the remaining d6s, pick an unexplored path (from any room), and then go through it.  Repeat this process for the next room.

an example of what the rat mapping function will return
notice that they must have gotten at least two 6s on the first room
also notice that they have an equal chance of exploring any unexplored room
You can use this ability from within a dungeon, too.  Just point them in a direction, but also, remember that you're probably going to incur a few wandering monster rolls while you sit there waiting for the stupid rats to come back.

Rats that you use in this way consider this a good enough fulfillment of their duty that they wander off, unless you use Call Rat to make them obedient again.  (Mechanically, this is the same as all of your rats dying when you use them to explore.)

Summon Dire Rat
You can choose to summon a dire rat instead of a normal rat.  Dire rats count as five rats for the purposes of your Call Rat ability.

Thief Skills
You have thief skills as if you were a thief 5 levels lower.

Rat Apotheosis
You can establish a stronghold in the sewers beneath a city.  You attract 2d6 loyal wererats, 1d3 paladins of the rat god, and an insane cartographer.  When you call for rats beneath this city, rats summoned in this way do not count against your daily limit.  Once per day, you can cast rat swarm, but only in places where rats can be found.

Other variations:

  • Rat Un-catcher
  • Songbird Maiden
  • Bat Baron
  • Snake Lady
  • Fishomancer
  • Jellyfish Bastard
  • Captain Olimar

Sunday, December 13, 2015

d4 Wisps Better Than Will

Stop trying to turn wisps into shitty little taser ghosts.  (Are they ghosts or air elementals?  Either way, you shouldn't be able to beat them to death with a piece of wood.)  They were cool when they were just spooky lights out in the swamp, flitting between the trees and making victorian neurasthenics fail their saves vs fear.

Stop trying to make them into combat monsters.  They're like the definition of an atmospheric background monster.  Not everything has to attack your HP, you fucking hacks.

Okay.  I feel better.  Good enough to propose some alternatives.

Design guidelines:
  • not a combat monster
  • wants something from the party (e.g. follow it somewhere)
  • threatens some other party resource (not HP)
  • appears out in desolate, godless swamps (probably as a result from the wandering monster check)
Some monsters:

This is my take on a wisp.  It's bad luck.  It just shows up and starts following you.  It wants you to follow it, and if you don't, it'll cause you to get lost.

except all you see is the floating lantern
the ghost is invisible

1 - Lantern Ghost

HD 1 AC leather
Fly 18 Int 10 Morale 4
*Invisible - This is an invisible ghost carrying a visible, tangible lantern, which holds a ghostly blue flame.  This light is its soul.
*Aura of Disorientation - While a lantern ghost is following you, you have an increased chance of getting lost.  (Whenever you leave your current hex, you have a 50% chance to move to a random adjacent hex instead of the direction you intended.)
*Boredom  - Each time you enter a new hex, the lantern ghost has a 2-in-6 chance to get bored and wander off.  It won't leave the swamp.
*Steal Light - If the party is carrying a light source, the lantern ghost can add it to its own lantern.  A torch affected in this way goes out, and can never be relit.  A player's lantern suddenly becomes useless, and any oil it contains becomes inert.  (Treat this as a permanent curse.)  Any light-based spell (e.g. light, daylight) can also be stolen out of a spellcaster's head (no save).  When a lantern ghost steals a light, it collects the new light in its lantern.  If the ghost is killed or satisfied, it releases all captured lights.  It uses this ability if it is ignored or attacked.

Lantern ghosts are said to be the spirits of the damned, cursed to wander the swamps until they atone for their crimes.  (A task that most of them have apparently given up on.)  Most folks call them swamp candles or bog faeries or corpse lights

The lantern shatters upon the ghost's death.  If, god forbid, the players manage to capture or coerce the lantern ghost into aiding them, they can use its lantern as a magic item.  The blue candle inside functions in every way like a normal candle (lasts for 2 hours of total usage) except that invisible things become visible within 10'.

Where does the lantern ghost lead you? [d6]
1 - The site of a mass drowning (ritual sacrifice).  It wants you to honorably bury the dead.  50% chance that all 3d6 corpses rise as zombies when disturbed.
2 - A forest shrine (a 2-room dungeon: a wooden building and a limestone cavern).  It wants you to remove the 3d6 bandits who have taken up residence there.  The bandit leader has a Brynthic warhound.
3 - A fire-damaged tower where the party will be ambushed by 1d4+1 hunger spirits.  It wants you to die.
4 - A tar pit.  Strength checks to avoid getting sucked down, more strength checks to avoid losing your shoes, more strength checks to avoid losing loose items (such as worn weapons).  It wants you to suffer.
5 - A lost girl carrying a sick parrot in a cage.  It wants you to help her.
6 - Buried treasure.  900gp, a gilded rat's skeleton worth 50gp, a telescope, and a cursed axe (+2 vs treants, cannot be discarded, no other melee weapon can be used, must attack most threatening enemy or none at all).  It wants you to take the rat skeleton (since it was a beloved pet, in life).

2 - Swampy Knockers

These are adorable little nature spirits that start following you in large entourages.  The noise from their rattling heads attracts trouble, but attacking them is a terrible idea.

They have many names, but the swamp folks call 'em swampy knockers.  Back in the cities, the nerds classify them as some kind of nature spirit.

They embody a playful, childish interpretation of the druid philosopy, and as such, revere the forest-as-eternal-concept while condemning all notions of cities, civilization, and symbolic thought.  Although, being children, their condemnation is more of a playful teasing.

HD 0 (HP 1) AC unarmored
Move 12 Int 6 Morale 0

*Cowards - They run away at the first attack roll.
*Protector - If they are attacked, there is a 50% chance that the next random encounter in the swamp will be with their protector.  If one of them is killed, this becomes a 100% chance.  If the protector shows up, the swampy knockers will also show up to watch the ensuing battle, but they won't participate.
*Aura of Rattling - Swampy knockers constantly rattle their heads.  This doubles your chance of a hostile random encounter, and negates any chance of a non-hostile random encounter (assuming your wandering monster table has wandering merchant NPCs on it).  
*Boredom  - Each time you enter a new hex, the swampy knockers have a 2-in-6 chance to get bored and wander off.  They won't leave the swamp.
*Appeasement - The players must discard 25% of their coins and 25% of their other metal items into the swamp before the knockers decide that you aren't craven pawns of civilization.  These percentages are fungible--the players can discard 50% of their coins and 0% of their other metals to the knocker's satisfaction.  The knockers don't care about craftsmanship, just total weight of metal discarded.  They know coins are especially wicked, though, since coins are both refined metal and used symbolically.  (It is common knowledge that knockers will leave you alone if you throw a bunch of your money and metal into the swamp, but no one knows the exact requirements.) 

As you travel, more and more and more swampy knockers will join the first batch in following the party.  If they don't get bored, you'll eventually have hundreds.

Who is their protector? [d3]
1 - Shambling mound.
2 - 1d4 Druids of level 1d4 (each rolled separately) and 2d4 forest people (stats as berserkers).
3 - Grand kodama (see below).

Grand Kodama
HD 8 AC chain Bite 1d8+2 + poison.
Move 12 Int 14 Morale 6
*Poison - 1d6 Dex lost once per round, lasts one round on a successful save, three rounds on a failed save.  Those who have their Dex reduced to 0 by this poison are permanently turned into a thorn bush.
*Fade Step - At will.  When used, the grand kodama fades out of reality.  The next round, the grand kodama fades back in anywhere in the swamp.  (This is basically a really slow teleport.)

3 - Cloud of Ill Omen

HD 15 Move as the wind
Other Stats are unnecessary.  It's a fucking cloud.  It is only hurt by things that can hurt a normal cloud.

*Ill Omen - Upon seeing the lantern ghost, hirelings make a morale check.  (Failure means that they will abandon the party unless paid significantly more.  Multiple hirelings failing simultaneously may cause a mutiny.)
*Aura of Bad Luck - While following the party, any critical hit or critical success that they roll is instead turned into a critical failure.  It also rains constantly on the party, in case that matters.
*Boredom  - Each time you enter a new hex, the cloud has a 2-in-6 chance to get bored and wander off.  It won't leave the swamp.
*Appeasement - The party must invite a curse upon themselves.  The easiest way to do this is to blaspheme the name of the Prophetess Yanu (leader of the Hesayan church).  This immediately satisfies the Cloud of Ill Omen.
*Spite - If the party achieves some great victory, the cloud has a 50% chance of becoming spiteful and firing down a 10d6 lightning bolt at them.

The Blasphemy Rule: Anyone who blasphemes against the Prophetess Yanu in Centerra has a 5% chance of being immediately struck dead through whichever means are most appropriate and dramatic.  Everyone knows this (and players should be informed of this before they commit to such an action.)  Evil clerics can usually blaspheme safely, since they are protected by their god.  And of course, you may not be struck dead if life is a better punishment than death.  Additionally, blaspheming causes religious hirelings (and this is 90% of hirelings in Centerra) to lose a point of loyalty/morale, as they are disgusted by your moral repugnance.

This is a small, intensely black cloud.  Sometimes red lights can be seen dancing within it; sometimes a face can be seen.  It wants to see failure, humiliation, shame.

4 - Gremlins

Everyone knows about gremlins.  They're the ones you blame when things go missing, or suddenly break.

Once you roll a random encounter for gremlins, they'll follow you until you run out of things for them to steal or break, or until you leave the swamp.  Once notices, players usually have a few options: appease them, kill them, or leave the area.

When chained and trained, gremlins can be forced to build and repair things.  (They are as ingenious in construction as they are in sabotage, but the very act infuriates them.)  Owning a gremlin is hazardous though, as there are many rules of gremlin ownership that must not be broken.

HD 0 (HP 1) AC chain Bite 1d4
Move 12 Int 8 Morale 4

*Minor but Constant Thievery - Once per day and once per night, gremlins will steal one random item from one random party member.  That party member makes a Wisdom check to notice the gremlin's pick pocket attempt (with circumstantial bonuses/penalties as needed).  It is possible that many items get stolen before anyone knows.  (DM tip: ask to see their character sheet, then roll to see what is taken.  Consumables (water, food, potions) are not stolen, but are instead spoiled with feces and/or urine.

Obvious things may get noticed immediately, such as a missing hat.  How did the gremlins steal a hat?  The player must have set it down briefly when they were drinking from a stream, and when they looked back over, it was gone.)  There is nothing that gremlins cannot steal.  Large items (wagons, catapults) are especially attractive, and should be treated like another party member, except that they are sabotaged instead of robbed.

Stolen items are broken, if possible (they have the strength, resources, and attention span of a kindergarten class, so ask yourself if a bunch of 4-year-olds could break it) and then hidden.  More durable items are merely defaced and then hidden inside tree trunks or buried in ant nests.

*Appeasement - They must be served either blood or milk--at least a cupful for each gremlin (and this fact is common knowledge).  Opening your own veins for this purpose reduces your max HP by 1 point per HD until your blood regrows.  If a gremlin drinks your bodily fluids, you are tormented by nightmares and gain no benefits of sleep (no healing, no spell recovery) (few know this).  Beginning on the second night, you get a save to shake off this minor curse.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Few Words on Dwarven Culture

Holy Moley

Most of Centerra believes in reincarnation, and the dwarves are no exception.  They believe that a good dwarf (which is the same thing as a hard-working dwarf) will be reincarnated as a mole, the most sacred of creatures.

Moles are referred to as "beards of the earth".  Killing a mole is not taboo (since they will just be reincarnated again as another mole), but grabbing or transporting one is.

(The dwarven reverence for beards is well-documented.  You may slap a dwarf's mother in front of him and live, but you must never, ever grab him by the beard.  Dwarves are uncreative, but they are not unemotional, and this is almost guaranteed to piss them off something fierce.  Moles, which occupy the same conceptual space in the dwarven brain as beards, fall under the same category.)

Moles are holy.  They are believed to dig constantly, and travel the globe.  Many dwarves have a mole garden cavern behind their houses, or shared between neighboring domiciles.  (This serves the same function as your mom's butterfly garden.)

Angels are giant moles (see also: dire moles) that ascend from heaven (which is located in the center of the earth) while crapping out gemstones where good (i.e. hardworking) dwarves are destined to find them.

This leads to the common dwarven expression of wonderment and/or fear, which is (translated as) "holy moley".


Dwarves believe that rats are the evil (lazy) antithesis to moles.  Rats do not dig holes, but instead steal their burrows from honest moles.  They do not earn their food, but instead steal it from other animals.  It is known that rats can eat gemstones, and crap them out as especially foul turds.  If a rat sleeps on top of a bag of gold coins, it will turn them into copper.  And when a dwarf of either gender is especially evil (lazy), they will not bear children as other dwarves do, but instead give birth to litters of squeaking rats.

Talk to any dwarf about rats, and you will hear a dozen different "truths" about rats (and there might be a shred of truth to some of them.)  You will also hear about how delicious they are.

While dwarves experience moles spiritually (think about the Hindu relationship with cows), rats are mostly viewed through a gustatory lens.

Dwarves.  Fucking.  Love.  Eating.  Rats.

A rat on a stick is the traditional food of the everydwarf, but dwarven recipes for rats are as numerous as the rats themselves.  These usually vary in their sauces (e.g. honeyed rat blood) or their preparation (e.g. boiled in blackberry mead), but occasionally they will have their tails braided together and then fried into exciting poses.

Dwarven nobles also enjoy their rats, but prefer their feasts to be indicative of their extravagance (like most nobles).  For example, picture a table upon which two thousand deep fried rats are arrayed, each one carefully posed in a combative stance, bristling with breaden breastplates and brandishing swords of spun sugar.

Rat jerky is still rat-shaped, and flats of rat jerky are usually sold with all the rats tied together by their tails.  Rat jerky salesdwarves sometimes wear vests of jerky-rats; when the salesdwarf is shirtless, he goes home.


Centerran dwarves are uncreative laborers whose only goal in life is to work.  They are the perfect lumpenprole.  (And some say that they were engineered for exactly that reason.)

However, as soon as they get drunk, they start putting horns on their helmets, fetishizing axes, brawling atop barrels, and mysteriously speaking in Scottish accents.  They loosen up.  They become a lot less enthusiastic about working 14 hours a day.  (The bottom line is that you can still play a generic fantasy dwarf in Centerra as long as you stay drunk.)

Not even the elves have an explanation for this phenomenon, and refer to it as the "pointless miracle".

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Graveyard Nymph

There is beauty in all places.  Graveyards are no exception.

Graveyard nymphs are fey creatures, not undead.  Their flesh is warm and alive, but it is invisible.  Their bones, however, are not.  And so, they often are mistaken for skeletons.  Some of them wear clothes to prevent this--possibly just a sundress and a wide-brim hat.  Something fashionable.

They enjoy peace and gentle repose.  They find corpses calming.  They find the living annoying, unless the people are quiet and do not make any sudden movements.  The undead are somewhere in between.

By our standards, they are exceptionally morbid and architecture obsessed.  They are voluble on the subjects of injury, infection, death, the stages of decomposition, statuary, stone engraving, crypt foundation, ossuary decoration, funeral rites, and the most attractive species of moss.  They even discuss their own death and decomposition candidly, and--some say--with a certain excited breathlessness.

"It's beautiful," she'll say.  "The transformation.  The return to the earth.  You only think differently because you associate death with pain, suffering, and loss.  But death doesn't want to be those things."

"They say birth is beautiful.  How is this different?"

They bond with a graveyard.  They learn the names and personalities of every person buried there, and speak with them often.  A graveyard becomes a social event where the nymph is the popularity queen.  Even the irascible undead fall under her charm.

Nymphs like mindless undead better when they are "put to bed", and will often lead mindless skeletons and zombies back to their graves and crypts.  (It's not uncommon to see a nymph leading a zombie back to it's crypt while a pair of ghouls in mossy tuxedos follow along with shovels.

Nymphs enjoy ghouls for their ability to hold a conversation.  (And occasionally for their wit.  Many ghouls have a great sense of dry humor.)  But ghouls are also eaters of the dead, and if the ghoul cannot control their appetite, they are likely to find themselves entombed without parole.

Necromancers despise them, and go to great trouble to eradicate them.

Nymphs are bound to their graveyard; they cannot leave.  They care about two things: (a) the "health" of their graveyard, and (b) being entertained.  They crave attention, stories, and affection.  Stimulation, in any form.

They are not evil (but nor are they godly), and most will be honest about their intentions.  They will usually trade large favors if someone agrees to stay with her for a year and a day.  (They usually desire the most interesting person, or the one with the most attractive bone structure.)  And of course, once a nymph has bonded with you, you are bound to the same cemetery as she is.  At least, until she releases you, or dies.

Nymphs have no qualms about teaching their magic to their companions.  Someone who spends a year with a nymph can make an Int check for each of the nymph's spells; success indicates that they've learned the spell.  (Depending on the system and the DM, even non-spellcasters might gain some magic ability.)  They'll walk away with the spells engraved on bones (instead of a spellbook).

And at the end of the year, most nymphs (4-in-6) will keep their promise to release you.

HD Defense leather Claw 1d6
Move human Int 12 Morale 4
+Blinding Beauty - Those who gaze upon the nymph must save or be struck permanently blind.  (This usually requires see invisible, since the nymph is invisible except for the bones.)
+Druid Spells (at-will, cannot cast same spell on subsequent turn) - entomb, exhume, speak with dead, charm undead (range: touch)

The average graveyard nymph is accompanied by 2d4 undead (equal chance of zombies, skeletons, or ghouls), half of which will be unobtrusively buried nearby where they can be exhumed.  The average graveyard nymph will also be able to call for help as a free action, which will bring 1d8-1 additional protectors.

A nymph who feels threatened will call for help (a free action) and then entomb herself, only exhuming herself when she can no longer hold her breath.  If there is a crypt below, this can become a more versatile method of escape.

The nymph's only threatening ability is entomb.  Hopefully this forces players to jump from tombstone to tombstone and scamper along rain-slick crypt roofs.

New Spells

Level 2 Druid
Range 50'. A creature standing on loose dirt must save or be pulled halfway underground (usually up to their waist).  If they fail this first save, they must make another save or be buried 1 foot underground per caster level.  This spell is especially effective against the undead (-4 to save), but is less effective outside of a graveyard (+4 to save).

Creatures buried up to their waist require a successful Str check to free themselves (they can attempt this, or someone else can).  A creature who is buried underground requires two Strength checks for every foot underground, and they cannot make these attempts (they are helpless).  Digging with your bare hands is difficult (-4 to Str check).

Level 1 Druid
Range 50'. An object (buried no deeper than 5' per caster level) in soil or sand is brought to the surface.  The caster must have some idea that there is something down there.

sedlec ossuary
Nymphly Treasure

Ring of False Rot
When worn, the wearer rots away until they resemble a zombie.  This effect is merely superficial, but it is not an illusion.  When the ring is removed, the changes are undone.  This is sufficient to fool undead into thinking you are undead, as long as you behave appropriately (i.e. like a zombie).

Potion of the Zombie
When poured into the mouth of a fresh corpse, it rises as an obedient zombie.  The zombie slowly decays, and it's max HP is reduced by 1 for every day since its death.

Dust of Flesh
If thrown on a person, it heals as a potion of cure light wounds.  If thrown on a mundane corpse, the corpse immediately grows flesh, and is restored as if it died mere moments ago.  If thrown on a corporeal undead, the undead must save or be returned to whatever fleshy creature it was before it died, losing all undead-specific powers for the duration (1d6 rounds).  (Extremely useful against wights.)

sedlec ossuary