Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mechanics Discussion: Luck Points and Skills (again)

Luck Points

I'm thinking about revamping how I do HP for my homebrew: the GLOG.  Here's what I'm thinking:

Level 1: HP = 1/3 of Con.
Level 2: HP = 2/3 of Con.
Level 3+: HP = Con.

And that's it.  It never goes up.  (It's still modified by class, of course.  Barbarians are still going to have a boatload of HP.)

And then after you reach level 4, you start accumulating Luck Points.

Level 4: 1 Luck Point
Level 5: 2 Luck Points
Level 6: 3 Luck Points
Et cetera.

Luck points can be spent to influence a roll by +/- 1 point, after it has been rolled.  This works on both damage rolls and d20 rolls.  This only works on rolls involving you.

You recover lost luck points when you get a good night's sleep or eat a good lunch (1/day).


This is interesting because Luck Points are--at a minimum--an HP increase.  Since you can reduce incoming damage by spending Luck Points, a character with 10 HP and 10 Luck Points can survive taking 19 damage from a dragon's breath.

Except that they're much, much more versatile than that, and actually much more powerful than a mere +1 HP would be.

You can spend them to make your enemies miss (as long as they barely hit), and you can spend them to turn your near-misses into hits.  You can spend them to make your Save vs Death.

And because you can always spend them, they become this little option attached to every die roll that you fail by a couple of points.  "Do I want to spend my 2 luck points to dodge this orc's axe?  Or should I save them for later?"

And because you spend them after the roll, and because nearly all rolls in the GLOG are d20 roll-unders, there's no more dice to roll or tables to consult.  Just the question of "Do I want to spend my precious Luck Points here?"

And like HP, every class benefits from them.  They're like the American dollar.  Like HP, they're a reservoir that the DM must whittle down before killing a PC, but it's such an interesting little reservoir of potential.

That's good, since classes stop getting class abilities after level 3.  This injects a powerful little ability into every character that they'll all benefit from.

And yet I tend to hate hero/action points.  Go figure.

by Jakob Eirich
Skills (v4)

Alright, I've done skills a million times because I'm never happy with them.  Fuck 'em.  Here's my newest draft and it's perfect in every way, and I'm sure I'll never hurl it from the cliffside where it will dash its brains out alongside it's brothers below.


There is no strict list of skills.  You can pick anything you want as long as it's not a social skill (no Persuade), a Perception skill (no Search/Sense Motive), or overly broad (no Magic).  Likewise, the uses of each skill must be interpreted by the DM.

You start with 2 skills: one random one from your background and one random one from your profession. (Or just two random ones.)  You gain these skills at a skill score of 6.

Like everything else in this damn game, you test your skill by rolling a d20 and trying to get equal-or-under to succeed.

At the end of each session, you can attempt to improve a single skill by rolling a d20 under your Intelligence.  If you succeed, the skill score improves by 2 (up to 10) or 1 (when attempting to pass 10).  You cannot raise a skill higher than 10+Level, to a  maximum of 16.

You can gain a new skill the same way.  Mention a thing you did this session "I tried to sail a boat and failed, but I think I might have learned from my experience", and make an Int check.  If you succeed, you gain that skill at a skill score of 2.

If you succeed by 10 points (e.g. rolling a 2 when you had a skill score of 12) it is a critical success and you can apply an adverb to your attempt, such as "instantly" or "reversibly" or "stealthily".

Skills are used to achieve things beyond the ken of a standard adventurer.  Adventurers are already capable climbers, swimmers, jumpers, and combatants.  (For example, Indiana Jones is just an base adventurer with skill in Archaelogy, nothing else.)


This isn't very different from my previous skill systems.  It's very easy to explain, which I like.  And there's no tracking

I've been playtesting this for a little while, and I like the little Int tests at the end of each session.

While I'm calculating XP, the players are all rolling to see if they can improve a skill.  This is good because (a) it gets them talking about what they did during the session, (b) it keeps them out of my hair, (c) it rewards higher Int characters by letting them learn skills faster, but not to a higher degree than low-Int characters, and (d) the only skills that improve are the ones that the players actually use in each session.

If you want to be a master linguist, you need to spend some time wrestling with merfolk morphemes.

The Hand of Dominion

I wrote an adventure.

I'm not going to playtest it, or edit it into infinity.  Whenever I do those things, I end up never posting it.


I'm just going to post it.


It's a linear 7-room dungeon magic sword in the last room.  Whoever has the sword is the rightful ruler of the world (supposedly).  But more immediately, everyone who sees the sword wants to (a) claim it, or (b) serve the wielder, if the first option isn't possible.

Of course, that means that the real adventure starts when you leave the dungeon.

I'm honestly super curious about how different parties will react to getting the sword.

Funfact: most of this dungeon is pacifistic.  It will try hard not to kill you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Active Defense

Normally, D&D is played with active attacks and passive defenses.

The attacker rolls, compares to the target's AC, and then determines if he hits or not.

Alternatively, there's the "players roll all the dice", which I like for defending because:
  • Players feel like they have more agency.
  • It frees up hands and time for the DM.
But active defense is still less fun than attacking.  When you're attacking, you're deciding who you want to attack, how you want to attack them, coordinating with your allies, etc.  Fun.  While active defense still feels very reactive.  

"The ogre tries to split you like a log.  Roll Defense minus 4."

Better than the DM rolling for the ogre and telling you that you're dead, but still just just calculations.

Ideally, you'd want to bring some decision-making into the act of defending* so that it becomes about making interesting choices instead of pulling a lever on a slot machine to see how much damage you take.

<digression>*This is actually debatable.  Do players want to have to make decisions about how to defend from five goblin spears?  Or do they just want to get to their turn quickly so they can open the cage to the dire moles and see how that pans out?  To put it another way, can we make defensive decisions interesting?</digression>

I have one other design criterion: I want the new mechanics to be completely compatible with preexisting OSR systems.

Dodging and Blocking

So here's what I got.  You have two ways to defend:  Dodging and Blocking.

Dodging works exactly the way that AC does.

Armor and Dexterity improve your Dodge; and when you dodge successfully, you take no damage.

When you block, you move into the blow and try to absorb it via your armor/shield.  You take damage from the attack, but you reduce that damage by 1 if you're wearing heavy armor, and you reduce it by another 1 if you are using a shield.

Leather Armor: +2 Dodge
Chain Armor: +4 Dodge, +1 Block 
Plate Armor: +6 Dodge, +2 Block
Shield: +1 Dodge, +1 Block

When an enemy attacks you, you can choose whether to dodge or block.

The Math

I made a spreadsheet; It's actually pretty complicated.

Blocking reduces damage equally regardless of the opponent's attack bonus.  It's just a flat reduction.  Therefor, blocking becomes useful in two situations: against enemies that 1d6 damage, and against enemies that have very high bonuses to hit, who are probably going to hit you anyway.

<digression>I think I'm going to cap the attack bonuses for the GLOG at +10 for this reason, among others.</digression>

Blocking also does another very important thing: it removes the chance that you might get critted.

Since you're reducing the spread of potential damage, you're effectively buying insurance.  You're removing the chance that you'll take maximum damage by removing the chance that you'll take no damage.

(Which makes sense fictionally, too.  Crits happen when you're trying to get fancy, jumping around all nimbly-bimbly, and you slip in the mud and take bit hit to the face.  Whereas blocking, you're just hunkering down and taking the hit on your shoulder.)

If you know you only have to survive on attack from a goblin with a 1d6 sword, and you've got 6 HP, you can play it safe by blocking instead of dodging and risking that 6 damage hit (or a crit).

You also don't want to block if you're at 1 HP.  (Makes sense fictionally: you're an inch from death, too tired to raise your shield, just trying to stagger out of the way.)

HOWEVER, if you do the math, blocking usually sucks.  By the time you have a high blocking value (platemail + shield) you usually already have a high enough AC that blocking is inferior to just defending as normal.  Still, I think the choice is interesting.  (Other people may not.)  So blocking is highly situational; dodging is the better choice nearly all the time.

Can Monsters Block?

No.  Keep it simple, keep it fast.  To do so would go against the design goals.

Metal vs Wood Shields

If you wanted to differentiate the two, you could have:
  • Metal Shield: +1 Defense, +1 Block
  • Wooden Shield: +1 Defense, can be sundered to reduce incoming damage by 1d12.

If you wanted to have a third option, you could have a Parry option, in addition to Dodge and Block.  You'd roll your attack bonus to defend instead of your armor bonus.

Except I don't want level 5 fighters running around naked, getting better defense from their daggers than they would from full plate, so maybe a condition is needed?

You can only parry when you are wielding a weapon and defending against a weapon, wielded by a human- or halfling-sized opponent.


So I just re-read all of stuff I just wrote and I hate all of it.  Normally, I'd delete the draft and go watch Star Trek, but I'm going to leave the post here because it's a good discussion.

I can explain.

Back when I played 3.5, I had a Power Attack calculator.  Based on the opponent's AC, and my average damage, how many points should I sacrifice for power attack?

I had fun doing that, because I felt clever, but now that's exactly the sort of gameplay that bores me.  It's math, instead of interesting choices.  If you know the numbers, it stops being a challenge and becomes a known solution.

So, although I just wrote them, I dislike the Dodge, Block, Parry mechanics because they're a known solution once the math is figured out.

And it's a boring problem because the two goals are directly comparable.  You're trying to choose the best way to minimize a single variable: the average damage.  Or in the Power Attack example: you're trying to maximize damage.

Fun choices come from choosing between to incomparables.  Like, should I attack with my sword (1d6 damage) or throw a molotov (2d6 damage, but is a single-use resource).  You can't boil that down to a single factor since you don't know how much you're going to need that molotov in the future.

The rule for sundering shields is potentially interesting, because you don't know if you're going to need that shield in the future.

Sundering #1: You can choose to negate all damage from an attack by breaking your shield.

Except that rule isn't that interesting.  In practice, people will keep the shield around, then break it in order to keep themselves from dying, and not a moment before.

Sundering #2: If you have a shield, you can choose to block with it instead of attempting to dodge.  Damage is reduced by 1d6, but if the base damage is 6 or more, the shield breaks.

That's more interesting.  Reminds me of the usage die, a little bit.  And it leads to some useful questions.

A bunch of goblins are attacking you.  Do you want to block the goblins with your shield?  It's numerically advantageous (in terms of minimizing average damage), but you run the risk of your shield breaking, when you might need it more later.

That's my final conclusion, then.  Block/Dodge/Parry is boring because it's a solved equation (that favors the spreadsheet-equipped munchkin) while Sundering Rule #2 is actually pretty interesting.

Need to playtest it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Covenant Trees and the Stylites

The Covenant of Lightning

There once was a great empire named Niv which conquered the entire world and then conspired to invade Heaven.  (This was the Crusade of Worms.)  In the city of Armis they built the first tower, in order to reach Heaven.

For their arrogance, Zulin destroyed Armis with lightning bolts.

<sidebar>Niv would eventually be successful in their attempt to invade Heaven.  Although the Nivians were quickly driven out, the intrusion caused Zulin to move Heaven from the Lower Clouds into the Upper Air, where it was more distant and harder to see (as opposed to the golden domes that could formerly be glimpsed among the clouds).  Since Heaven withdrew, it has been more difficult for people to reach it, requiring more good deeds.</sidebar>

Such was the devastation of Armis that even the faithful were horrified.  Zulin came before them, contrite, and promised that he would never again use lightning to destroy indiscriminately.  (Lightning bolts would continue to be used as the preferred method of slaying apostates.)

To symbolize this covenant with the people of Centerra, and to serve as a reminder of his wrath, Zulin created the Covenant Trees.

It is said that the covenant exists as long as the trees do; when the last covenant tree is felled, Zulin is no longer bound by his promise not to destroy cities with lightning.

Covenant Trees

Most beasts are made from flesh, and most plants are made from wood.  This is common elemental knowledge.

Yet covenant trees, being partially divine in origin, defy this simple dichotomy.  They are composed of both metal and wood.

Covenant trees grow when a lightning bolt strikes a covenant tree seed that is in an area rich which copper.  The seed pulls the copper out of the ground and uses it to grow the tree to it's adult height.  All of this happens in the time it takes a lightning bolt to fully discharge.

Covenant trees are always shaped like the lightning bolt that formed them.  They grow along the lightning the way ivy grows up a trellis.

Because covenant trees function as lightning rods, they usually prevent the growth of any other covenant tree nearby, so most of them are only ever found as solitary trees.  They grow alone, on storm-tossed mountain tops, only occasionally releasing their tiny, winged seeds.

Fangolians farm covenant trees in order to extract copper from the earth, since the purest copper comes from covenant trees.  It is the source of all their copper weapons and armor.  This is why they are all blasphemers who must be destroyed.

In fact, you can make a quick arrowhead simply by folding a covenant leaf a few times.

Lightning trees glow a dull orange before a storm.  It's invisible during the day, but can be quite dramatic at night.

Holy Copper Amulet

These amulets are made from covenant seeds.  The next time you take electrical damage, you instead take no damage and teleport to the source of the damage.

Hesayan Stylites

They are also called Skygazers.

These are Hesayan asthetics who have dedicated themselves to the contemplation of, and communion with, the sky.  They have pledged themselves to live out the rest of their lives on top of a small platform high off the ground.

In some places they live on top of a tall pillar, 20' in the air, or even 50'.  They eat, sleep, and pray on a tiny platform about 3' in diameter.  Their chins are always tilted up, away from the base earth and towards the mysteries of the upper air.

However, the tradition platform for a stylite is in a covenant tree, which are tall and very strong.  There is usually a second platform lower down, where petitioners can kneel while they speak to the stylite.  Petitioners who fall off the covenant tree while climbing are assumed to have deserved it.

Stylites are fed by songbirds, who vomit in their mouths.  They drink rainwater, that collects on the trunk.  Although everyone agrees that their primary forms of nutrition are miraculous, stylites are also fed and watered by local villages.  It is both useful and honorable to host a stylite.

Stylites speak with the clouds.  They communicate through yoga, and the clouds communicate by changing shape.  Sometimes stylites hear messages that were carried a long distance on the wind.  Stylites always hear the Silent Bell of Saint Dorbaine, and inform their villages when they are called to secret masses.

It is said that stylites are capable of flight, since they are blessed.  It is also said that stylites choose not to fly, since they are humble.

One of the most famous Stylites is Jerannia the One-Armed, who is a frequent critic of the Pope.  The two of them often write letters to each other.  

The Order of Stylites is opposed by the Order of Precipites, the cliffjumpers.

from Simeon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel

How to Use Them in Your Game

Use them as sages.  They know all sorts of stuff from talking to the clouds, and what they don't know, they can learn.

They're also holy men, so be on your best behavior around them.  They'll probably ask you questions to verify your goodness and/or knowledge of scripture before they help you out.  

Or they'll ask for a sacrifice.  A whole cow, cooked and salted, along with some wineskins is a pretty considerable sacrifice.

Or go traditional; give out a quest.

by Carel Willink

Saturday, February 11, 2017


In the scorned places of the wilds, there are many deadly and puissant beasts.  And then there are boggies.

It is said that boggies represent the innocence of nature, uncorrupted by the heartlessness of human society, and that nature produces boggies so that it can conserve more cruelty for other animals, such as tigers, which makes about as much sense as any other theory involving boggies.  Boggies sometimes carry boggy pox, a disease which infects the spells of wizards.

Boggies can form spontaneously when frogs accidentally fertilize fish eggs during a period of heavy rain.  This explains their features, which are a combination of fish and frog.

I drew this!
(Look out, Zak!)
That still doesn't explain the hands and feet, though.

Their spoken language sounds a lot like "bog boggy bog bog sprog moggy bog" which is why they are called Boggies.  The give each other similar names.  Confusingly, "bog" seems to be the boggy word for literally hundreds of objects.  'Bog' can be translated as 'cat', 'bohemian ear spoon', 'justice', and 'the feeling of jealousy when someone else has a bigger hat than you'.

Boggies are common in the Frogstar Peninsula, although they may arise in any temperate swamp.

Things that boggies often like: hats, polearms, shiny things, kindness, and being hirelings.

Things that boggies often hate: cats, swords, being dirty, cruelty, and waiting.

Boggies usually live in small daub-and-wattle cottages, but some live in little floating towns, anchored in the middle of ponds.  Boggies usually practice aquaculture (cultivating aquatic plants and fish for food) but some grow land crops, especially rice.

Boggies float on the surface of the water like ducks, and paddle using their feet.  When they need to sprint, boggies are capable of lowering their fishbutts into the water and accelerating to tremendous speeds, rocketing across the pond like a jetski.

HD 1  AC leather  Polearm 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 10?  Mor 5

Small - Like halflings.

Impenetrable Language - All attempts at understanding the boggy language will fail.  This includes magical and non-magical attempts, and applies to both written and spoken Boggy.  (Boggies can usually understand you just fine, though, and will happily communicate by doodling on the ground.)

People living with boggies can sometimes pick up enough spoken Boggy that they can understand the gist of a message, but they cannot explain how they understand, nor can they teach it.  (Scholars theorize that Boggy is a combination of a language and series of psychic context-signifiers embedded in the sounds/symbols, making it the first example of metalinguistics.)  Written boggy looks like lines of circles drawn by a preschooler.

Boggies are immune to language-dependent spells, unless they choose to be affected.  No jedi mind tricks.

Water Breathing? - Boggies cannot breath underwater.  Most boggies do not know this, and require rescuing when they start to drown.  These boggies will forget each time. (Boggies don't normally undertake long dives unless serving as a hireling and being asked to do Stupid Adventurer Shit.)  All boggies can hold breath 5x longer than humans.

I don't use alignments, but if I did, boggies would be Good.  Shame on the person that kicks a boggy.

What Polearm Does This Boggy Have?
  1. Partisan
  2. Glaive
  3. Fauchard
  4. Voulge
  5. Halberd
  6. Ranseur
  7. Poleaxe
  8. Bardiche
  9. Bohemian Ear Spoon
  10. Bec de Corbin
  11. Military Fork
  12. Big Pointy Stick
Six Boggy Villages
  1. Round huts arranged around the chieftain's hut.  The chieftain is whichever boggy is heaviest, and they have a see-saw contraption designed to measure exactly that.  They want medicine; the current chieftain is sick from all the metal balls he has eaten (in an attempt to get heavier).  They can reward you with a swarm of trained fireflies (normally live in a glass lantern-staff, but can fly out an illuminate a whole room, or whatever you point at) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  2. Floating village ruled by a strange blue boggy capable of casting illusion. They want someone to kill the local froghemoth.  They can reward you with a pair of giant gecko mounts (Climb 9) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  3. Round huts clustered under an enormous mangrove.  They are ruled by a boggy with a truly enormous hat.  There are wild chickens in the area has swallowed the royal pebble, but they don't know which one (as all wild chickens looks similar).  They want you to retrieve the royal pebble.  They can reward you with a magic stick (everyone who sees it must save vs charm or desire to possess it) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  4. Village of former magic users, victims of boggy pox.  They are ruled by a boggy in a wizard robe, wielding an imitation staff of the magi (non-magical).  They want you to carry a bunch of letters to their loved ones in a nearby town/academy.  (The letters are full of boggy script, incomprehensible to anyone but a boggy, but are helpfully accompanied by many pages of illustrations.)  They can reward you with 3 potions of water breathing and a loyal boggy hireling.
  5. Village of boggies built half on land, half on a pond.  They're led by a tiny boggy who rides an enormous arapaima.  They have captured an evil wizard who attempted to enslave them.  They burnt his spellbook, broke his staff, and are now holding him prisoner in the center of the village.  At least 8 boggies are sitting on him at each time (they use him like a bench) and constant surveillance (since he is in the center of the village).  If you agree to take him to the local city to be tried for his crimes (which he foolishly bragged about to the boggies), the boggies with compensate you with a trained dancing frog and a loyal boggy hireling.  There is a 500gp reward for the capture of the wizard (whose name is Victorion), but be careful!--he is a tricksy one!
  6. Village of boggies suffering a curse of lethargy.  They just lie around the untended fire pit, sighing heavily and eating bugs that wander too close.  Occasionally one of them is eaten by a panther.  Anyone who spends more than an hour here must save vs magic or be affected by the same curse.  The source is a totem dedicated to an ancient demon of sloth, which the boggies unearthed some days ago and brought to their village.  The mud-covered totem sits in the chieftain's hut (the largest in the village) and appears as an fat, sleeping man holding a pillow over his head.  Messing with the totem will cause the totem's protectors to manifest: 1d6 mudmen appearing each turn for 2 turns.  Destroying the totem will save the village's eternal gratitude, a victory feast, and the amulet of sleep from inside the totem anyone who wears it falls asleep and sleeps twice as hard, regaining double the normal HP from sleeping but not waking up until the amulet is removed).  One PC will also be married during the festivity dance, earning a loyal boggy spouse (who functions pretty much like a retainer, except for the good night kisses).
Boggy Boredom

Roll on this table whenever there's a boggy hireling and the party is standing around talking about bullshit instead of doing something interesting.
  1. The boggy finds a gross, useless bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  2. The boggy finds a helpful, magic bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  3. The boggy eats some food.  If food is not available, will try to get some out of your backpack.  If you refuse to give it food, it will start yelling (and you should roll for a random encounter).
  4. The boggy does something incredibly insightful.  If there is a secret door nearby, the boggy will find it, usually by taking you by the hand and pointing at the door while hopping up and down.
  5. The boggy falls asleep under a table or something.
  6. The boggy hides itself nearby, sneakily.  If the party is ambushed, it will be able to get a surprise round in.  It will come out of hiding if called by name.
Note: I rewrote the old post about frog pox.  It's boggy pox now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Verminators and Conviction

Verminators are muscular dudes with worm heads.  Little beady eyes.  Stinky pink skin and sticky pink lips and a little red tongue that they lick themselves with.

Verminators are the grossest things ever.  Whenever they barf, they eat some of their barf.  And they barf a lot.  This means that when they barf, some small component of that barf has been barfed out like, a thousand times.

Verminators live inside Hungry Joe, and anywhere else that is really gross.  They sleep in big slobbery piles inside tiny round houses made of dried pus.  They pack themselves in there like clown cars.  They barf in their sleep.

Verminators have big hands, and they are proud of them. Verminators wear big spiky gloves to make their hands bigger, and also so they can punch better.

Verminators are so gross, that they can make the party ragequit the dungeon.

like this, except COMPLETELY OPPOSITE
by Jan Fabre
HD 2  AC leather  Punch 1d8
Mov 12  Int 10  Mor 6

Stink - You'll smell them before you see them.  (0% chance of surprise.)  The round before combat, every must make a Con save.  Those who succeed get a round to prepare for combat.  Those who fail spend the first round of combat barfing.  Barfing characters can walk, but can take no other action.  Barfing characters get another Con check at the start of each subsequent round to end the effect.  Those who have time to acclimate to the stink (PCs sneaking into a verminator village) can spend a couple minutes acclimating slowly, but if they charge in, roll vs barf as normal.

Barf - Usable once per day.  10' cone.  Target takes 1d6 acid damage and must make an easy (+4) save vs charm.  If they fail, they are Officially Grossed Out and will take reasonable actions to leave the dungeon and wash off.  Since leave the dungeon alone is usually very dangerous and your companions may not want to leave, what usually happens is the party will leave together once a majority of its members are Officially Grossed Out.  Headless verminators can still barf, but it erupts in a vertical fountain, only hitting the adjacent 10'.

Using Verminators

I know it looks like a lot of text, but it's simple in play.

The stink only comes into play when the verminators are appearing, so it's easy to remember, and easy to explain.

And the barf thing is no different than any of the other six billion monsters that shoots cones.  (I could make a monster manual called Cone Shooters, and just fill it with all the cone shooters.)

The Officially Grossed Out Status is what's really interesting here, and that's what I want to talk about.

Officially Grossed Out

I know that Officially Grossed Out looks like a joke, but its not.  This is genuinely the part of verminators that I am most interested in using.

We already have mechanics for charm.  (Loose, oft-unsatisfying mechanics, but we have them.)  This is similar, except instead of a compulsion to love a person, it's a compulsion to leave the dungeon and take a bath.

In that way, it's potentially a lot less disruptive than charm, and people use charm all the time.  Officially Grossed Out is, in that sense, a lot milder since it allows the party to pull out of the dungeon on their own terms, which just means that they're going to retreat safely.  Sometimes earlier than they would like.

I've already had monsters that could convert you to their religion.  This is just an extension of that.  The system needs a little polish, but its a cool idea.

Part of the whole philosophy of "attack the whole character sheet" means attacking their Convictions/Ideals/Bonds/Etc.  Which is fun because they don't usually get attacked there.

Conviction and Barf

The GLOG uses a system of Convictions, which have two functions: (a) explain why a character would venture into a dungeon in the first place, and (b) explain why a character would take a non-optimal action (i.e. why they would deviate from the murderhobo ideal).

And these convictions are not set in stone.  They are intended to change over the course of a campaign.  Usually as a result of player-driven choices, but sometimes they can be put there through unhappy circumstance.  (The geas spell, for example.)

Using that, we can rewrite the barf ability to:

Barf - Usable once per day.  10' cone.  On a hit, takes 1d6 acid damage (save for half) and gains an equal number of gross-out points.  Once a character has gross-out points equal or exceeding their Charisma, they gain the Conviction of "Get to Safety and Take a Bath".  This conviction disappears once they actually take a bath.

. . .

I like that.

Because D&D doesn't model willpower very well.  Monsters never convert the PCs (except with dominate spells).  Demons never sway the Chaotic Neutral players to come kill some orcs with them, although it would be cool if they could.
How would you adjudicate this:

A paladin needs to stick his dick into a Bene Gesserit pain box in order to save all the babies.  Is his willpower strong enough to actually do it?

What are you gonna do?  Make a Wis/Con/Cha check?  A Will save?  Or just let the player say, "Yeah, Sir Goldenwand sticks his dongle in the box and it hurts but he keeps it there."

None of those are satisfying.  So, I propose Convictions and Willpower, which is equal to Charisma (or you could use Wisdom, if that feels better).

Rules: Each turn a creature places a body part into the pain box, they gain 1d6 pain points.  If their total pain points exceeds their Charisma score, they nope out of this pain box business altogether.  The pain points gained each turn are reduced by 1 for each relevant, opposing Conviction (min 0).  A player with a relevant, opposed conviction can spend a Conviction Point to reduce pain points by 1d6.  A player must keep their hand in the pain box for 5 rounds to save all the babies.

I like that better.

There's time to build tension.  There's 5 rolls, not just 1.  You can describe the paladin sweating and shaking after each one.

There's a big dependency on both Charisma and Convictions (especially convictions).  This means that it might not be the Level 5, Cha 16 paladin who passes the pain box test, but the Level 0, Cha 11 housewife, if the housewife has the Conviction of "save all the babies", while the paladin has the convictions of "punish the wicked" and "never trust anything with horns".

If you think about it, this might be a more reasonable result of a fear spell.  Not to run away screaming, abandoning your friends when they need you most, but simply to make your character unwilling to continue in the dungeon any further, maybe forever.

And that--by itself--is a potent price to pay for failure.  It's a potent punishment to the player ("Your character is so scared that they'll never go back into the dungeon again.") and sort of a poignant penalty to drop on the character.  Example:

The party fights the dracolich.  Most of them fail their initial save vs fear, and spend the first round cowering behind the paladin.  But though they recover their nerve and fight the dracolich, the tide still turns against them, and they are forced to retreat.

After resting back in town, the paladin is still eager to quest for a dragonbane sword and then return, but his companions are not interested.  They are still psychic cripples.  All they dream about is the dragolich.  They hear his wings whenever a cloud passes in front of the sun.  All they can do is shiver and shake their heads no, because they fought the dracolich and it crippled them. They will never willingly set foot in those darkened halls as long as they live.

earthworm jim is way to handsome to be a verminator

The Swerda

They look like slim knights with well covered heads.  They smell like perfume and--faintly--weirdly tainted meat.

They are swords that control corpses when they are jammed down the neckhole following a beheading.  They fight with swords, and they are really good at fighting with swords.

They really like swords.

I normally start with culture and biology, but this time I think I'll just start with their stat block.

Sverd I Fjell
a monument in Norway
HD 4  AC chain Sword 1d8
Move 12  Int 10  Mor 8

Parry - When a sword man is attempting to defend himself against a weapon attack (i.e when he's not unaware or tied up), he gets +4 AC.  Yes, this often means that it is more beneficial to attack him with things that aren't weapons.

Counterattack - Whenever a sword man is missed by a weapon attack, he can make a free counter attack against the opponent.  This counterattack is made with a -4 point penalty to the attack roll.

Exposed Hilt - When a sword man is bloodied, or when he is hit with a bludgeoning weapon, there is a 50% chance that his helmet will be knocked off, revealing the truth: that he is just a naked sword stuck down the neckhole of a headless corpse.  A swordsman with an exposed head will try to regain his helmet if it is not too dangerous.

If an exposed hilt is pulled out of a sword man, the body will collapse and you'll be left holding a +0 sword. (Still magic, just no bonus to hit/damage.)

Makin' Babies - Vanguished foes will have their heads cut off and a new swerda inserted into their necks.  (They can do this is 2 rounds if rushed.)  They cannot animate anything except human-sized and human-shaped corpses.  This is just using swerda that they are carrying on their backs, mind you.

The process of making new swerda can only occur in the "cold forges" of their hidden city, Swordopolis.

I mean, it has a real name in Swerda that sounds less stupid, but it doesn't translate well.

Languages Known: Swerda, a language composed entirely of bodily movements, mostly swordfighting maneuvers.  They do not speak common (and in fact, most of them don't understand that noises can carry significance at all).

They're actually mostly deaf, except for really loud noises nearby.  They regard the human hearing sensitivity as somewhat supernatural, like Lassie knowing when it's going to rain.

Humans tend to think they're being threatened, when in fact it is just the swerda saying hello

Each swerda carries:

  • 1d6+2 mundane swords.  In scabbards, on their back.
  • 1d4-1 (min 0) other swerda.  In scabbards, on their back.  (These may be relatives.)
  • 1d6 silver needles stuck into a potato, each worth 100gp.  (This is their currency.)

Roll a d6 for each sword man:

  1. Carries a pennant.  This swerda is a knight, and is appropriately valiant and noble.  Rides a horse.  The horse has 2d6 more swords strapped on it.
  2. Nothing special, but is extra friendly and tries very hard to communicate.  50% chance of having an extremely inaccurate Swerda-English dictionary.  Like, it'll cause offense and confusion each time you use it, but it illustrates the sword swishery = words concept.
  3. Nothing special, but this swerda is accompanied by a man named Bospit, who will try to get you to wager some money and then duel the swerda in a sword fight.  In truth, Bospit is a con man who has learned a little of the swerda language, and is leading the naive swerda on a wild goose chase.  The swerda's name is thrust-parry-circle parry, and he just wants to find a famous blacksmith and buy a sword from him.  Bospit is his only "friend" and Bospit lies to him constantly.
  4. Accompanied by 1d6 sentient arrows.  One will fire itself each round.  They tend to stick into the objects they hit, and must be pulled free.  (Otherwise, they just sit there, struggling to get out.)  You can tame them as easily as you could tame a bird of prey.
  5. Accompanied by a dancing sword (the swerda's spouse).  HD 2  AC plate  Sword 1d8  Fly 12  Int 10  Mor 10, only damaged by bludgeoning.
  6. Is actually a 5 HD swordsmaster, accompanied by a 3 HD apprentice and a halflings translater named Snobby.  Will trade training for magic swords; capable of teaching you the counterattack ability that he has.

from Berserk

How They Eat

They smash up food and put it in their bellybutton, which is threaded with string so that it can be cinched closed with a string, like your dice bag.  They are not undead.

Bonus Monster: Sword Dragon

Stats as a dragon, except that it has a sword impaled in each of its eyes.  (These are two "twin" swerda, possessing the thing.)

The sword dragon doesn't breathe fire.  It breathes swords.  Change the damage type to piercing.  It leaves 3d6+20 swords stabbed into the battlefield each time it breathes swords.

These swords come from an internal reservoir of swords.  (It's actually capable of eating metal and forging swords internally; that's why the swerda are so fond of it.)  It holds 445 swords.  Once all of those swords are expended, it cannot use its breath attack any more until it eats more metal and forges new ones in its guts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Cancermancers of Hungry Joe

I DM'ed more of the hellcrawl today, and I thought I'd flesh out Joetown a bit more.

Hungry Joe is the giant floating meat-man the size of a small mountain.

Joetown is the collection of hanging ships and trays beneath him, as well as the mucoid monasteries built atop him.

And Black Bottle is one of the neighborhoods.  It gets its names from the transparent black buboes near Joe's armpit, from which the wizards look out.  Black Bottle is unique--it in the only neighborhood that is inside of Hungry Joe.

by muk1
The Wizards of Black Bottle

They're actually cancermancers.  They tend to the functional side of Hungry Joe.  They're responsible for weaponizing his biology.  They create flesh grafts, harvest useful chemicals from the Joeflesh, and most importantly--create the Little Joes that compose the bulk of Joetown's Navy (the deterrent that keeps the paladins from sacking this little pustule of a town).

I've listed their spells (in the order that they would cast them if attacked), their laboratory, what they sell, and what they want.  New spells are listed at the end, in Appendix A.

Seskerset space hooks, reverse gravity, wandering eye, neoplasma

He's a narrow man with telescopes for eyes.  He doesn't speak from his mouth, but instead a disembodied voice echoes out of his chest sometimes.  He is frantic, gruff, and is constantly forgetting things and then remembering them.  He can be taken advantage of, but only for about 10 seconds before he remembers.

He's also a modular man.  His head can sprout spider legs and wander away.  His torso can sprout wings and fly.  And his legs are fully capable of stalking around and kicking things.

You can probably guess his combat strategy: space hooks followed by reverse gravity to shred the people who were hoping to remain immobile.

His laboratory is guarded by a pair of flesh cubes.  His laboratory has a spiked ceiling.

Flesh Cube
HD 4  HP 8d8  AC none  Atk none
Move 12  Int 10  Mor 7

Since they're 7' tall cubes of flesh, they can't do much except slide around.  They build up a lot of momentum, though, and if they trample you (Dex check to avoid) you'll take 1d12 damage and be knocked prone.  If you have your back against a wall, you take double damage on a failed save and normal damage on a successful one.

Flesh Cubes are energetic servants that tend to over-focus on a single task.  They're naive but not unreasonable.  They shout "Cube!" before every sentence.  Sometimes they substitute the word 'cube' in the place of other nouns for no reason.  It's complicated.

He also manages the liquid zoo.  Troll arms swimminig around in tubes of blue liquid.  A swarm of bats, rendered down and stored as a chest full of 230 tiny ampules of black liquid.  There's a sealed urn filled with brown liquid catoblepas.  Breaking any of these things will cause them to coalesce back into the original animal, but without Seskerset's guidance, they'll slough apart in 1d6+1 rounds.

He wants to make a monster that is powerful enough to wipe out the paladins of Hell.  He will pay top dollar for monster parts.  He'll even shell out a bit of cash for rumors of monsters.  He'll also sell rumors of monsters (with the hopes that you'll bring him back the choice bits).  He knows where the Brinegod lays its eggs, and where Morfean (the dragon demon) sleeps.

With regards to the Little Joes, he's in charge of sales.  If you want to buy a Little Joe (a fleshcrafted submarine), he's the man to talk to.

For Sale
Venom Gland 500gp
Antivenom Gland 500gp
Grabby Tongue 500gp
Transbilicus 1000gp

Venom Gland - Your lymph nodes are taken out; you get -2 to save vs disease.  In their place, you get venom glands.  Your bite is venomous (3d6 damage on a failed Con check, 1d6 damage on a successful one) but since you're still biting with your tiny human mouth, you get -2 to attack with your bite.

Antivenom Gland - You get -2 to save vs disease, and +4 to save vs poison.  If you bite a poisonous creature (-2 to the attack roll), they take 3d8 damage on a failed Con check, 1d8 damage on a successful one.

Grabby Tongue - You talk with a lisp.  Your tongue can shoot out and grab things and pull them back into your mouth (Str 6).  You cannot grab anything larger than a sword, and your grabby tongue can't do anything except pull things into your mouth.  I guess you also spit things pretty far.

Transbilicus - If attached to two creature's belly buttons, the two creatures will switch minds.  This is a trivial surgery, but it is impossible to perform on an unwilling, unrestrained creature.  Unwilling creatures get a Cha save to resist.

Mormoi hand of the hound, handspasm, gust of wind, neoplasma

She weighs 600 lbs and is carried by a living platform made from an enormous crab.  HD 4  AC leather  2xClaws 1d6+hold.  Held opponents are automatically damaged on subsequent turns, and their metal armor is damaged by 1d3 points.

In combat, she uses handspasm + gust of wind to disarm everyone, then blow all their weapons out the door while knocking them prone.

You must climb through a series of greasy bubbles to reach her laboratory.  She is accompanied by 2d6 servitors.  She doesn't have much furniture in her laboratory.  Except for a long workbench, everything is a servitor.  There's chair servitors to sit on.  Carafe servitors that will pour iced tea out of their faces.  Et cetera.

If combat breaks out, the crab will stand up to its (shocking) full height of 10', bringing Mormoi out of melee range.

She is currently manufacturing gas bombs for use against the giant parasites infesting Hungry Joe.  She's made three of them, and has supplies for 3 more.  Once the parasite problem has been dealt with, she'll return to her normal job of procuring shipyard wives for Hungry Joe, and helping Massantus with their installation.


She wants someone to bring her Seskerset, so that she can humiliate him, plant a bomb inside him, extract a tooth, and then control him.  (She needs his vote to override the other cancermancers.  She wants to unmoor Joe from the rocks below and float him somewhere safer.  This is not a terrible idea, but it will be the death of Joetown below.)

For Sale
Gas Bomb 300gp
Macrospike 300gp
Pomegranate Bomb 500gp
Bomb Implant 500gp

Gas Bomb - Explodes on impact.  Poison 1d4 on a save, 3d4 across 3 rounds on a failed save.  30' diameter cloud is as dense as normal fog.  Double damage to insects.

Macrospike - This looks like a short rod of bone, about nine inches long.  Both ends end in a sharp spike, like a tooth.  A red string is tied around its middle.  If the red string is removed, the macrospike suddenly extends to it's full length of 10' permanently, where it basically functions as a 10' pole.  If the macrospike is deployed as a weapon, it deals 1d10 damage on a thrust, or 2d10 if there is a wall behind you for the macrospike to push against.  It pushes as if it had Str 20.

Pomegranate Bomb - Not really a pomegranate.  3d6 damage, 20' radius.  Explodes on impact.  (50% chance of detonating when carrier takes fall damage, unless wrapped in bulky wrappings.)

Bomb Implant - Made from the skull of an infant stuffed with burnt scripture.  Placed inside a restrained creature.  3d6 damage to everything in 20'.  Detonated by crushing one of the restrained creature's teeth. (The simplest method is simply to pop it in your mouth and crush it between your molars; the process makes it softer than you'd think.)

Massantus shrivel, monstrify, corpulate, fuse flesh, neoplasma

Has a glass sphere implanted in her belly, where she has imprisoned her last four pregnancies.  It's basically a fish tank where a quartet of children look out.  They have the size and proportion of fetuses, but it's obvious that they are much older.  Their faces look older, for starters.  They have hair and teeth.

The four children in her belly can, together, cast a single spell each turn as if they were a single wizard.  Their spells: chaos chain, magic missile, sleep.  Her belly has AC chain, HP 4.  If shattered, the four fetus-teenagers spill out and spend the next five minutes painfully dying.  (They will only live if put inside someone where they can connect to their circulatory system.  They could survive in Joe, but Joe's immune system might kill them.)

If combat breaks out, she'll turn some of her fleas into giant fleas, shrivel whoever is pissing her off the most, and then corpulates herself into a huge pile of hard-to-kill beef while her minions finish the party off.

She's in charge of managing the shipyard brides.

Each shipyard bride was once a woman who was married with Hungry Joe and fused with him.  (Similar to how anglerfish do it, except that it's the females who fuse with the male.)  Each of Joe's wives then becomes an organ inside him.  And while Joe is a floating corpus the size of a mountain, each of his wives is large enough to grow a whale inside, which is exactly what they do.

Each bride is about 99% womb.  A lot of that is just the vascularization required to feed the growing ship-fetuses.  In a way, it's almost like uterine russian nesting dolls.  The bride grows inside Joe using a placenta, and inside the bride is another placenta that holds the little Joe.

Tending the brides is a full time job.  It involves a lot of dive suits, long swims through the bride's uterus, and the many poisons required to keep joes rampant biology from reabsorbing his wife and child.  (Joe's body can generously be described as an overgrown garden.)

In a leaden chest, inside her bedworm's stomach, is the liver of the 13th Satan.  (This is the start of a long quest chain.  Putting the liver inside your body will let you regen 1 HP per turn and let you sense the location of the other pieces of the sundered Satan.  It's basically the rod of seven parts plus the hand of Vecna, except you assemble them by replacing all of your body parts and at the end you've basically turned into a balor and there is no scrap of the original character anymore, since the 13th Satan has paved over them entirely.)  Removing the liver from the leaden chest means that it can now be sensed by the other people searching for it (i.e. the other folks with Satan-parts inside them).

All she wants to do is her job.  Grow the Little Joes, sell the Little Joes, and profit.

She'll give you Joe-related quests, such as:

  • One of her customer's is rumored to be abusing their Little Joe.  Go interview the flesh-submarine and find out if its true.  If it is, capture the Little Joe and bring it back here.  Caveat emptor.
  • One of the shipyard brides is (understandably) depressed about her lot in life.  Find a way to cheer her up.  Will probably require you to ask her family what her hobbies were before she became a faceless organ inside a flying mountain of flesh.
  • Sell a Little Joe to the King of Worms.  He's rich, and he definitely needs ships to finance his fight against The Sucking Hole.

For Sale
Gun Dog 300gp
Dog Gun 500gp
Scrapling 300gp
Servitor 500gp

Gun Dog - A dog with a cluster of cannons in place of its head.  Fires teeth.  HD 1.  AC leather.  Tooth-bullet 1d10.  Whenever the gun dog fires its head, it explodes on a fumble or near fumble (a 1 or a 2).  Exploding gun dogs deal 1d6 damage to everything in 10' (save for half).

Dog Gun - A weapon made from a dog.  Can limp around at 25% of human speed.  Has a magazine size of four.  Must eat a ration each day.  Regenerates 2 tooth-bullets each day.  Each tooth bullet does 1d12 damage.  Otherwise works like a crossbow.

Scrapling - A stylistic pile of flesh, animated by crude, but energetic, magics.  Whorls of teeth, carefully coiffed spirals of (useless) splayed muscle.  HD 1  AC leather  Flailing 1d6  Move 12  Int 4  Morale 8.  Scraplings will fight to protect you but will take no other action (except perhaps stealing food out of your bags when they're hungry).  Scraplings will stop whatever they're doing in order to craft a corpse into more scraplings.  Human corpses make 1 scrapling; horse corpses make 4 scraplings.  Scraplings hoard crafting materials (cloth, carpentry shit) in order to make the next batch of scraplings.  Whenever your scraplings make more scraplings, they have a X% chance to go feral, where X is equal to the new number of scraplings.  Feral scraplings have an equal chance of running away (50%) or attacking everyone indiscriminately (50%).  Scraplings like to break things, steal things, and draw on things.  If you cannot control your scraplings, you will not be welcome in town.

Servitor - This is basically a baby head fused onto the body of an enormous crab.  They're basically permanent, loyal hirelings, except that they're (a) ultimately loyal to the cancermancers, and (b) if they ever fail a save vs. fear, the crab part starts attacking the baby part. dealing 1d4 damage to itself each turn for the duration of the fear effect.  They don't engage in combat, but they are super adorable.

Lil' crabby cuties.

Festragon wave of mutilation, hemoclasm, burrowing bolt, create homunculus, awaken homunculus with spell, toy homunculus, neoplasma

His arms are actually transplanted arms from a red-skinned giant.  He walks on them.  He former arms have been transplanted on to where her feet used to be.  He has another pair of smaller arms emerging from his belly that he uses to manipulate things.

His combat tactics: wave of mutilation, perhaps a bit of melee, and then finish them off with hemoclasm.

You'll probably find him among his diminutive menagerie, tormenting tiny homunculi versions of his enemies.  He likes to put them in his mouth, taste them, and then spit them back into their shoebox jail cells.

He's in charge of the Little Joe project, and the other three cancermancers obey him only when they cannot unanimously overrule him.  So, it's a loose tyranny.  His closest ally is Massantus.


He wants the party to bring him a live paladin.  He intends to put the paladin into his enormous hookah and smoke him, thereby gaining his knowledge.

He also wants to eat Hungry Joe.

This is not impossible, and it would involve him becoming the next Hungry Joe.  Except, he envisions himself as an avaricious, active, dominant mass of flying city-flesh, not the bovine piece of passive, drooling real estate that Hungry Joe has become.  The first step of this process requires the party retrieving one of the pancreators from inside Hungry Joe (the dungeon part).

He also has a back door in the Hungry Joe dungeon in his quarters somewhere, but he'll never mention it to the party until they've proven themselves loyal.

He also wants good food.  He's trying his best to savor things before he becomes Hungry Festragon.

For Sale
Friendly Tumor - 1000 gp
Infestation Gland - 1000 gp
Hyperpituitary - 1000 gp
Immortal Heart - 1000gp

Friendly Tumor - Your max HP is reduced by 3.  When you would next die from your HP dropping to 0, your cancer buddy dies instead..

Infestation gland - You can basically turn corpses into loyal zombies, except that the resultant creatures are not undead.

Hyperpituitary - You get -4 Con, but your HP total changes as if your Con were 4 points higher instead of lower.  You also grow a foot taller and about 20% beefier.

Immortal Heart: Your current and max HP becomes 50.  Your current HP can never be raised again, except by Festragon.  As far as you're concerned, he's the only source of healing in the universe.

by James Wintle
Appendix A: New Spells

Hahahaha blog posts with appendices.

I've written all the spells in GLOG format, but if you want to convert into something more compatible, just look at the spell, pick what spell level you want it to be, and consult the table below.

Level 1 Spells
[dice] = 1
[sum] = 1d6 per caster level (max 5d6)

Level 2 Spells
[dice] = 3
[sum] = 1d6 per caster level (max 7d6)

Level 3 Spells
[dice] = 5
[sum] = 1d6 per caster level (max 10d6)

Et cetera.

Burrowing Bolt
R: 50'  T. creature  D: permanent
This is basically just a rot grub that you fire out of your outstretched finger.  Have fun.

Chaos Chain
R: 50'  T: creature  D: 0
Target creature takes 1d6 damage of a random type (fire/ice/lightning/acid).  Then a random creature within 50' of it takes 2d6 damage.  Then a random creature within 50' of that creature takes 3d6 damage.  The chain ends whenever it would target the same creature twice (no one is ever hit more than once by this spell).  If all the damage dice show 6s, then the creature also gains a mutation.  Save for half (roll damage with d3s instead of d6s; yes, this makes mutation impossible).  Each die invested in this spell beyond the first causes +1 damage per damage die.

R: touch  T: creature  D: 10 minutes
Creature's current HP and maximum HP is multiplied by 5, up to a maximum of 5 * [sum].  Creature become an immense mountain of immobile, limbless meat.  Creature weighs 2000 lbs per [dice] and takes double fall damage.  Creature can still see and hear normally.  Speech is still possible (in rough gurgles) but spellcasting is impossible.  Alternatively, can be cast on a creature of HD [dice] or less; unwilling creatures get a save.

R: 50'  T: [dice] creatures  D: 1 minute
You control the target's arms.  Save negates.

R: 30' radius  T: creatures  D: 0
All target creatures within 30' of you must save or drop everything that they are holding.  Their arms are paralyzed for [dice] rounds.  Save negates.

Hand of the Hound
R. self  T: one or both hands  D: 10 minutes
Your hand falls off and grows into a monstrous version of itself: HD 3  HP [sum] * 2  AC chain  Atk 1d6+[dice]  Str 16.  You continue to control it, but if it dies, you don't have a hand anymore.  Alternatively, you can have this affect both hands, but then you're just standing there like a doof.

R: 50'  T: 20' radius  D: 0
All creatures take damage equal to their current damage, not exceeding [sum] * 2.  Save negates.  If the caster has a container within arms reach, they can collect about 1 liter of blood for every 3 damage this spell does.  E.g. A 20 HP ogre is down to 12 HP and fails its save against Hemoclasm.  It takes 8 damage.

R: touch  T: vermin  D: 1 minute
Target vermin (rat, scorpion, termite, etc) becomes huge and aggressive.  HD 3  AC leather  Atk 1d10.  You can cast this spell on [dice] vermin simultaneously.  Monstified vermin attack the nearest foe, and casters usually throw the vermin as they cast this spell.  Also works on halflings and goblins for some reason.

R: touch  T: flesh  D: permanent
Creatures that fail their save get cancer.  They lose 1 Con immediately and another each month thereafter.

When cast against synthetic flesh creatures (basically anything that has 'flesh', 'blood', or 'meat' in its name), vatborn (including flab men and thin women), or Hungry Joe, it instead allows you to reshape their tissues (since these things are basically just functionalized cancers).

As a general rule, destroying or paralyzing tissues is simple, while adding new functionality requires a laboratory.  If one die is invested (equivalent to a level 1 spell), you can do things like seal their eyes, close their windpipe.  If three dice are invested (equivalent to a level 2 spell), you can fuse their bones together, reshape their bodies (similar to alter self).

Space Hooks
R: 50'  T: [dice] * 20' diameter  D: 1 minute
All objects in the area are pieced by immobile, invisible 'hooks' that are themselves anchored on the ethereal plane.  The hooks are tangible, and running creatures notice them settling in and can choose to stop running.  (Mindless undead will probably just walk through it, though.)  The hooks deal 1 damage for every foot walked through.  A living creature walking through a zone of space hooks will leave bloody a trail of bloody giblets suspended in the air behind them.

Toy Homunculus
R: touch  T: corpse  D: permanent
You touch a fresh corpse.  It's blood pools and coagulates and creates a tiny version of that creature.  The scaling is a bit wonky: humans end up being about 2" tall, while larger things are never larger than 4" in any dimension.

A toy homunculus is a magical construct, not a real creature.  It usually keeps all of the full monster's abilities, albeit in a tiny, adorable form.  (A toy gorgon cannot petrify anything bigger than a mouse, for example.  A toy dragon can light a pile of sticks on fire, but not much else.)  They retain no memories or spells, but they do retain language skills, basic knowledge, and personality.  This spell creates [dice] homunculus.

R. 50'  T: [dice] creature  D: 1d6 rounds
Save negates.  Target loses half of its current HP and deals damage as if their strength was 6 points lower.  After 1d6 rounds, the lost HP returns.

Wave of Mutilation
R: 30'  T: objects  D: 0
Everything in a 30' cone takes [sum] slashing damage.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Factions of the Obsidian City

A few years ago I read John Arendt's Black City stuff.  (You should go read it; it's very good.)

This is basically my take on the same tropes: megadungeon, At the Mountain's of Madness, sorcerer-king flavored superscience, expeditionary play, and a dollop of psychological horror.

And while the Obsidian City has been on the map, for a long time, it's only ever existed as a pile of ideas.  None of my players have ever wanted to go there. (Despite the fact that this is where the crystal sword from the Meal of Oshregaal actually leads, and I've run that thing a few times.

I thought I would start by talking about the different factions of the Obsidian City.

by IvanLaliashvili
The Frozen Dead

They sealed their houses against the apocalypse, but it crept in just the same.  Not the violence they feared, but slow starvation and creeping cold.  Nearly all of them died in their houses.

And so the city is a massive maze of sealed houses.  (I'll have to write a random generator.)

Most are sealed tightly.  A few have been cracked open by looters.

Most are trapped.

Some contain edible foodstuffs: families of corpses, mummified by the cold.

Some contain undead: those same families of ice mummies.

Very few contain anything valuable, unless you are searching for shelter and a frozen corpse to chew on.

The Giant Penguins

They cluster around the harbor.  They're huge, sluggish, and subtly deformed.

They aren't really a faction, but they're here because I read At the Mountains of Madness.  They won't bother the party unless they enter the shipyard, because that's where they build their nests.

A smart party will rapidly learn that wherever there are giant penguins, there are giant sea lions.  (HD 8, surprise 5-in-6).  A party venturing onto the (half-collapsed) docks will likely have to deal with at least one of them.

The Explorers

This is you.  You're part of an expedition financed by the imperial ambitions of Noth.  You are a company of explorers.  You are camped about a mile outside the city walls, in a makeshift harbor.  It is fairly safe here.

There are other companies of explorers.  These are your friends and rivals.

Korbith Mantukkar.  Eight brothers.  One sister.  At least two dozen sled dogs.  They spend half of their time fishing and eating.  The other half, they spend being exceptionally competent.

Yesiderata the Mouse.  Not a wizard, although many think that she is.  Financed by Grimagangus, an actual wizard back in Noth, of immense power and wealth.  Leads a company of mercenaries; one of which is rumored to be an orc.  Interested in magic and nothing else.

Steerpike and Yattis.  Historians, nerds, and miners.  They don't belong here.  This is their second expedition.  Their first expedition ended with half of the party dead and/or missing.  They're fools.  They're cursed.  They pay double and it's not enough--no one wants to touch them.

The Black Hats.  Actually members of an Imperial prison cult, they chose to be assigned to the Obsidian city rather than the work gangs of more temperate climates.  This is their prison sentence, and they have been sentenced to explore the Obsidian City until they die (or until the Emperor finds a better use for them).  Murderers, rapists, atheists.

But let's talk about you.

You will probably be required to take an Imperial functionary with you at all times.  The functionary's job is to make sure that you are acting in the best interests of the empire, that you don't damage anything too priceless (either artistic or scientific), and that you report back in a timely manner.  The functionary also has a secret job as well: grab anything that might be a magical weapon, and keep it out of the hands of anyone who might abuse it.  (A category which definitely includes the PCs.)

The functionary knows a lot more than she is allowed to tell you, in the vein of Weyland-Yutani.

It is Very Bad Form if your functionary dies or goes missing.  It may even be grounds for exile or execution.

A word about exile: the storms only clear for about 4 months out of the year.  And so the Nothic ships all sail up at the start of the season, map out as much of the city as they can within the time allowed, and then sail back at the end.  For safety reasons, the ships all sail as a fleet.

Therefore, if you allow your functionary to die, you may be thrown in the brig until the end of the season, when you will sail back to Noth for trial.

by IvanLaliashvili
The Mist

When Noth first began exploring the Obsidian City, they noticed that on some days, a thick fog would creep in and a number of unusual things would happen among the crews and parties.

Fear, paranoia.  Mutiny was muttered.  A few stabbings occurred.  And there were hallucinations, too, because how else do you explain the man who got lost following his own mother into the mist?  Or the enormous serpent, a mile long and twenty feet thick, that multiple people saw slithering among the domes?

The players don't know it yet, but yes, those things are hallucinations.

Fifty years ago, Noth waged a war against the frost/storm giants (same thing) and eventually won.  They razed their towns, sank their ice-berg ships, and occupied their (surprisingly humble) capitol city.  They were called the Stormlords, and they are mostly all dead.

Digression: The Stormlords are not a subspecies of giant.  They're just a bunch of normal giants who lived in a snowy place.  They are not immune to cold or lightning.  They wore big bundles of fur like normal people, and just happened to be good at controlling the weather, because you have to be to live that far north.

And yet a few Stormlords yet remain.  Some were enslaved by Noth (and in fact, there is one here in camp, in charge of building walls and moving heavy cargo).  Others dispersed to other icy little islands, where they are mostly starving.  And one iceberg ship survived, and its crew yearns for retribution against the Empire.

This one remaining iceberg ship is here, moored a mere half-mile offshore from the Obsidian city.  The explorers have sailed past it a dozen times, but have never noticed it, because it's always been hidden by the mist.

The giants have two goals here.  First, they want to cause as much damage to the explorers as they can without being noticed.  Second, they are searching the ruins for anything that might help them reclaim their homeland, or forge a new one.

And so the maddening mists are the first step in their plan.  They use it to cause trouble, like when Josafek was torn apart by his own sled dogs, who mistook him for a bear.  They use the mists to obscure their own expeditions into the city.  And they use the mists to pluck information from the minds of the explorers (such as their greatest fear).

They have one last tool: an enormous whale named Yonakkuk that they have been bargaining with.  They have given Yonakkuk food and magical protections.  In return, Yonakkuk has attacked the expedition, sank one of the ships, and eaten a dozen men.  (Another reason why the ships don't sail alone.)  But he is a slothful and capricious ally.

There are not many giants left.  They are dying, and the ones who are not dying are succumbing to despair.  More than one of them has jumped into Yonakkuk's mouth.


These were the servitors of the city's old inhabitants. They were born from the flesh-engines beneath the city.

They have worked to reclaim the broken areas and make them habitable again.  There are a number of subterranean agricultural zones that were once destroyed, but the Vatborn have returned them to working order.

This hasn't been an easy process.  They've gone through several eras of high populations followed by die-offs, but each time, the surviving flesh-engines resurrect their race.

Each strain was created for a specific niche, and each one now forced to fill all the niches of their society.

The Swodinnar are muscle-freaks.  Anabolic warmachines worshipping a cult of strength.  Massively overdeveloped hands and forearms.  Only seven feet tall but as strong as an ogre.  They are searching for their ancestral armors and weapons.  They occupy Green Eden, and are the most peaceful of the vatborn.

Their previous leader was Warlord Shudrok, who lead them into military success and societal failure.  He's currently imprisoned.  The current leader, Speyjin, is Shudrok's polar opposite. (At least, by the standards of Swoddinar society.  By our standards, he's still an aggressive muscle-freak).

Like most of the clone races, they cut the faces of their babies in order to give them distinguishable scars.

The Blue Eyes are a clone race of small, bearded men.  They have an enhanced pain response, and flinch from loud noises.

They were created as an act of revenge.  Once, a small bearded man inflicted some great humiliation on some great fleshcrafter, and thereafter the fleshcrafter wanted the joy of torturing and killing that man again and again.

The Blue Eyes are thieves and assassins.  They live in the Blue Eden, where they torture on stages and investigate the secrets of the flesh-engines.

The Red Eyes were the sex clones.  Their skin is a lurid pink, and their hair is a pinkish white.  They live beneath the dome of the Red Eden where they sometimes trade with the members of Black Eden.

The Red Eyes are the most advanced botanists beneath the Obsidian City.  Without their innovations, all four of the surviving edens would almost certainly decay.  They create a number of exotic plants.

The Golgurrians are clones of a powerful sorceress of the same name.  They are arrogant and combative with everyone except the Red Eyes, with whom they trade.  They have blue skin and all wear an eyepatch.  They know the secret to creating moculi, and each Golgurrian usually has one of the little things flying behind their head at all times.  They look like yellow-orange flying eyeballs dragging a few loose tendrils, each the size of a baseball.

HD 0  HP 1  AC plate  Atk none
Fly 12  Int 5  Mor 2

Stare - 1 damage per turn, no save.  If enough moculi stare at an object long enough, it will break or fall over.  For large things, this might take a very long time, and a great many moculi.

Some of the Golgurrians are trying to ressurect their predecessor.  They have been tampring with their flesh-engine, and some of the youngest generation are now being born with partial memories of the city above, which is exactly what they want.

If their peers discovered this experimentation, these Golgurrians would certainly be killed.  Tampering with the flesh-engine is the deepest taboo.  If it breaks, it means the end of their species.  Or worse, they could share the fate of White Eden.

White Eden is a maze of darkened halls and frozen, subterranean forests.  Its flesh-engine is cold and grey, and only spawns abominations.  Ghoul things, born dead, each pregnant with generations of toothy monstrosities.  The vatborn have been very careful to seal off the area around White Eden, but the players will almost certainly open it up.

by IvanLaliashvili

The Ool

As the players begin exploring the city, they can't help but notice the gleaming tower at the city's heart.  It's forty stories tall and holds what looks to be an enormous sphere at the top.

They won't make it to the spire.  That's late in the campaign.  The spire is where the Ool live, and they will not allow anyone to approach.  The door is guarded by a quartet of flab men.

The Ool are flying mechanical octopi.  Each with four rubbery tentacles and a brain encased in a hemisphere of crystal.  They are mind-flayer analogues.

They consider themselves the masters of the city.  Above ground, this claim is rarely challenged.

They have a pair of flesh-engines (or more) in the tower, and they create their own vatborn slaves.  These are the flab men and the thin women.

They are never encountered without some of their mind slaves, which may include any of the other factions in the Obsidian city (except the Labyrinthine).

HD 8  AC chain  4xTentacles 1d6 or grab
Fly 9  Int 16  Mor 7

At-Will Spells - telepathy, read mind

Daily Spells - dominate, mind blast

Tentacles - Each tentacle has 1/4 of the Ool's total HP.  When an ool loses 1/4 of its total HP, it loses a tentacle.  Grabbed opponents can be thrown (on a hit, both take 2d6 damage) or squeezed (automatic 1d6 damage).

Braincase - The crystal hemisphere covering their brain can be attacked directly.  It has AC plate+2 and HP 6.  Damage to the braincase doesn't affect the Ool's normal HP total.  If the braincase is shattered, the Ool dies instantly and dramatically.  Ools never let their braincase get within melee range (their tentacles are long enough).

Mindslaves - Each Ool is accompanied by 2d10 mindslaved minions.  If the Ool dies, the minions are instantly freed from its domination.


Flab Man
HD 4  AC leather  Punch 1d8
Move 12  Int 6  Mor 12

Regenerate - Full HP at the start of each of each turn.  It cannot recover if brought to 0 HP, but the corpse will grow interesting tissues and fans of blood vessels while it lies on the floor.

At-Will Spells - levitate (self only)


Thin Woman
HD 4  AC leather  Claw 1d8
Move 12  Int 6  Mor 12

Regenerate 2 HP per Round.

Frenzy - Attack twice per round if they are at full HP.

At-Will Spells - levitate (self only)

*Both flab men and thin women use their levitate ability to navigate the many vertical access tunnels beneath the Obsidian City.  It also helps them ascend the Spire of the Ool.

The Labyrinthine

Centuries of constructive instincts, layered together in a multinucleate matrix.  Ooze retrained to be an architect.

The fastest way to explain it is to imagine an enormous black pudding, impregnated with the urge to construct, repair, and correct.  They filled it with the minds of millions of hermit crabs (the closest they could find to an architectural instinct in an animal brain) and hundreds of brains of actual architects.  Then they spent another century training it.

Now it maintains the city.

It struggles on the surface, where the cold freezes it and it becomes the "obsidian" of the Obsidian City.  But in the warmer tunnels, it has full mobility and awareness.

It doesn't mind the vatborn as long as they don't damage the architecture.

It uses secret hydraulics to pump itself around, moving from secret reservoir to reservoir.  Vast cisterns of the stuff.  Don't break the pipes.

It just wants to maintain the city.  The immobile parts--it doesn't care about the people or the objects.  You might be able to talk to it.  Some people already do (but they probably aren't people you want to talk to).  In terms of raw power, it's the elephant in the room.  Six thousand tons of subterranean hydraulics can throw a cow across ten city blocks.

It's limited by the cold, but there's a way to turn the Black City into a bubble of tropical climate.  (See also: the Goals of the Red Eyes.)  (See also: the Climate Control Center.)

It's an ooze, but it's also a mindset, but it's also a disease.

Sometimes explorers catch it.  You might find one of the members of Steerpike's party, rebuilding a crumbling wall with frostbitten fingers and glassy eyes.

Deeper down, you might find a man trying to build himself into the wall.  Wedged into a gouge, stacking bricks up in front of his shins.  Using blood and shit for mortar.  Cutting out pieces of his legs so that they'll fit better.  (The cold has made his legs numb.  He doesn't feel any pain.  Otherwise why would he be smiling?)

And even deeper down, you might find the same thing, except this time, the wall is helping.

Stats as a black pudding with Int 10 and infinite HP.  Dealing 50 damage to it will usually drive it back, unless it is protecting something specific.