Friday, May 31, 2019

The Fire Cults

Although most of the world doesn't differentiate between the various Fire Cults, they are quite different from each other.  Even discussing them under the shared heading of "The Fire Cults" is misleading.

Just the same, the Fire Cults can be defined as the various local religions that existed on the continent of Centerra prior to the ascension of the Church.  They have been utterly extirpated since.

There are exceptions to all of these rules, but generally:

1. Fire Gods weren't especially focused on fire.

This is probably the greatest misconception.

It was the Church that first started calling them fire cults, which served to describe them as primitive and illegitimate.  The label stuck.

The prophecy has become somewhat self-fulfilled however, as the only living branch of the fire cults is the Vincular Cult, which can be considered an arm of Zala Vacha.

2. Fire cults were intensely local.

The forces that fire cults worshiped were usually bound to a particular location (or more rarely, a bloodline).

We might think of gods as having a particular portfolio (e.g. the God of Waterfalls and Assassins) but the Fire Gods were defined according to their location (e.g. the God of Poplonda Swamp).  Within this domain, they were everything.  Outside of it, they were nothing.

The god of a fire cult usually lived in its shrine.  They were as invisible and as intangible as any divine, but their shrine was their literal home.  They occupied a very specific space.

If you were travelling, it would be important to learn the names of the gods whose territory you would be crossing, and how best to placate them.  This was considered to be more important than actually learning the geography.

They usually shared a name with their location.  Many of the names on the map of Centerra are the names of dead gods.

It is sometimes necessary to differentiate between a location and the regional deity.  In this case, the convention is to terminate the deity's name with a capitol letter ('BosperO') while the location's name is written normally ('Bospero').  I won't do this to you (since the context is usually clear) with only one exception.

3. Many fire cults were associated with volcanos.

Volcanoes were common in Centerra at the time.  As their cults fell silent, so too did their volcanos.

The Church teaches that this is because volcanoes formed a conduit to Hell, and the fire gods were all demonic spirits of earth. 

4. The gods of fire cults were usually defined around a duality.

We are used to thinking of a God of War who exists in opposition to a God of Peace.  But the fire cults usually had only a single god that they prayed to, and so that god must be an entire pantheon unto itself.

And so there was Gadrium, God of War and Peace.

OmO, God of Wisdom and Foolishness.

Patra, God of Drowning and Birds.

Meltheria, God of Gold and Lead.

by Kalen Chock

The Quendian Cult

For most people, the Quindian Cult is synonymous with the Fire Cults.

They have two gods.

Quen is the God of Flame and Darkness.

Masaat is the God of Masters and Slaves.

There is something of a revolution occurring within Zala Vacha right now--Quen and Masaat are beginning to be worshiped as two aspects of the same god.  Since Darkness surrounds all Fire, Darkness is the Master of Fire, just as all things that are Learned will eventually be Forgotten.  This is an ongoing matter within the Cult, and the source of extreme friction.

Politically, Quen is an extreme proponent of the right to privacy.

The politics of Masaat are a bit more convoluted, but they boil down to the idea that the master-slave dynamic (or by extension, any position of power) is a divine privilege, with specific rules governing the formation, execution, and dissolution of dominance, of all forms.

As a result, the fire cult is known for their defiance of authority (even more than the other branches of Zala Vacha).  They see all forms of authority as illegitimate unless they willingly enter into such a relationship, and value their privacy and independence above all.  The Church is condemned as intrusive and domineering, while kings are seen as no different from gang leaders.

Fire Cult Cleric

This is how clerics work.  They all have different rules to follow (strictures), temples, and methods of divination.  These have various pros and cons.  For example, clerics of the Church have churches available to them at every town, no matter how small.  But clerics of Zala Vacha can build their own temporary temples by making bonfires, which is something that clerics of the Church cannot do.


learning, forgetting, sight, fire, privacy, secrets


If you agree to keep a secret, then you must keep it.
Allow no one else to carry a torch unless you are also carrying a torch.
Do not betray those who serve you willingly.


By default, a city will have a temple hidden somewhere.  The faithful can find it by blinding a cat and then following it.  It will always be underground.

By default, a town will not contain a temple of Zala Vacha.

Alternatively, you can construct a temple in the wilderness by building five large bonfires.  The space between the bonfires counts as a temple for as long as the bonfires burn and there is no sun in the sky.  Collecting sufficient wood takes about 36 hours of labor in an average forest.  Logging tools allow a laborer to be twice as efficient.


You must sit in a perfectly dark room and gaze into the darkness for 1d6 hours.  Images will come.  The perfectly dark room must be underground.


When clerics roll triples on a casting die, they gain something.

1 or 2 = Eyes turn black.  5' darkvision.
3 or 4 = Any light source you hold turns deep crimson.  Fire resist 6.
5 or 6 = Your skin turns black as soot.  If you hold perfectly still for at least 1 minute, you become shrouded.


Spells 1-6 are available at level 1.  Spells 1-8 are available at level 2.  Spells 1-10 are available at level 3.  Spells with asterisks are explained below.

  1. control fire
  2. darkness
  3. forget*
  4. heal
  5. bend light*
  6. lock
  7. shroud*
  8. suggestion
  9. freedom*
  10. room*

Legendary Spell 

Legendary spells are only obtained by doing some great quest in the service of your faith.

  1. disintegrate
Bend Light
R: touch  T: object  D: [dice] rounds
Object appears to be displaced a few feet to the left of where it appears to be.  Attacks against that object have a 50% chance to miss.  Creatures automatically make an Int check after each attack; if they succeed, they figure it out and this spell affects them no longer.

Alternatively, you can use this spell to see around corners.  Once per round, pick a place in your field of view--you can see as if you were standing there.  You can make multiple jumps this way if you are investing multiple dice.

R: touch  T: object  D: instant
Touched object takes [sum] damage as it falls apart and dissolves.  If this is enough to destroy it, the object is utterly removed from reality.  
  • 1 MD is enough to disintegrate a skull or a wooden weapon.
  • 2 MD is enough to disintegrate a wooden door.
  • 3 MD is enough to disintegrate a metal weapon or bar.
R: touch  T: creature D: instant
Target forgets the last [dice] rounds.

R: 50'  T: creature  D: instant
Creature immediately makes a free attempt to escape whatever bonds are restraining it with a +[sum] bonus.  If an creature would normally have no chance to escape (shackled, etc) it is still allowed an attempt anyway with a -10 penalty.

R: touch  T: wall  D: 10 minutes
You create a door on the wall that leads to a 20' x 20' room.  This is actually a conjured pocket dimension that matches the rest of the dungeon thematically.  The door is just a regular door, and no stronger than wood (although it may appear different).  The room improves the more dice are invested.
  • 2 MD = lasts 30 minutes.  (Long enough to eat lunch.)
  • 3 MD = lasts 8 hours.  (Long enough to sleep.)
  • 4 MD = lasts 24 hours and contains a helpful occupant who matches the dungeon's theme.
R: touch  T: object  D: 10 minutes  (splittable)
Target will not be noticed as long as they don't do anything suspicious.  An action is suspicious if it is something that is not regularly done by regular people.  

Walking past a guard is not suspicious because people regularly walk past guards.  Putting a grenado into a guard's pocket is suspicious (unless people regularly slip things into that guard's pocket.)

Sidebar: HD Limits

Remember that spells don't affect a creature if its HD is greater than [sum].

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Six Facts About Metal

1. There are many types of metal.

Rillerick Ingerwald is famous for categorizing the metals into groups based on their nobility.  He found that these groups repeated according to a periodic structure, which he used to map out all possible metals.  He discovered that there are an infinite number of metals, including some that are liquid, gas, and even (theoretical) plasma.

Although there are an infinite number of metals, they can still be ranked by luster, conductivity, nobility (incorruptibility), sanctity (impermeability to demons), and theoretical monetary value.

Ingerwald was especially interested in the last category.  Although he never managed to transmute any of the natural metals into gold, he did manage to transmute them into some of his newly discovered metals, and was greatly disappointed when few agreed with his calculated values of worth, although some of them should have been worth nearly as much as gold.

Some of these metals include:

Gordican, which can only exist in spherical shapes and was nearly useless except as a method of manufacturing spheres.

Cratium, which increases in mass as its velocity increases.  Very desirable for projectiles, but too soft to make effective arrowheads.

Zantium, which has a "grain", similar to wood.  This allows it to flex in one plane while remaining rigid in another.

Borboridon, a theorized metal which increases in both density and softness with time, as it captures radiation.

Gandium, a theorized metal which impacts all other solid and liquid materials as if they were crystalline. 

Praxium, a theorized metal of near-infinite sharpness.  It turns to lead if it ever stops moving.

2. The best metal is gold.

It is known as the most noble of all materials, because it cannot be stained, corroded, or debased.

Gold is what gives the world worth.  This is not a human opinion, but instead a universal law.  In fact, it is possible to calculate the gold required for an almost any physical process or reaction.  The universe can be described in milligrams of gold easier than it can be described in joules or electron-volts.

We value it because the universe values it.

3. The hardest metal is adamantium.

Adamantium isn't just hard the way that steel is "hard", it is hard the way that the Pythagorean theorem is true.  Once a piece of adamantium has cooled, its atoms are (nearly) immovable with respect to each other.

Most items made of adamantium are thinner than you might think, since a small piece is just as strong as a large piece.  The size of adamantine items has more to do with the difficulty of forging them.

Let's get this out of the way: 'Adamantine' is an adjective.  'Adamantite' is an ore.  'Adamantium' is the finished product.

Adamantite ore is found only in starfalls.  Once it has been forged, the metal is beyond strength.  Many speculate that the metal becomes lost to time, impervious to any change at all.  An adamantium object will survive the heat death of the universe.  When the solar system collapses into a black hole, it will be covered with adamantine swords.

Speaking of adamantine swords: the best adamantine swords are mostly made from steel.  Only the merest sliver near the cutting edge is made from adamantium, since an adamantium toothpick is as strong as adamantium girder.  The steel is only there to give it weight, since a featherweight sword is still a poor cutting instrument.

Modern forging techniques has yet to replicate those swords, however.  The best that modern smiths have achieved are some (admittedly impressive) axes.

The cutting ability of an adamantium weapon is decent, at best.  Since the blade can never be sharpened, the edge can only be honed prior to quenching.  No one is certain how the ancient blacksmiths sharpened their adamantium blades to such a fine point, but that information would be worth a fortune if it were rediscovered in some ancient dungeon.

Adamantium makes for better armor than weapons, although it is defeated by its cost.  Any king who can afford a suit of adamantine armor can also afford an army--and that king is much better served by the army.

Because of this, newly claimed adamantite is usually destined for architecture or furniture.

There are a few different ways to forge adamantium.  The most commonly known way is use one of the dwarven lightning forges, a task that requires as much diplomacy as luck.  There is a well-known forge inside the Forbiddance, but securing the location is difficult.

It is also a perfect insulator, but few people care about the insulating properties of adamantium, since it isn't very relevant to swords.  Still, the thermal sensation of adamantium is closer to styrofoam than steel.

It is commonly believed that adamantite meteors are actually fragments of the original sun, which displeased the Authority with its blasphemy.

An advanced stage of the disease.

4. There are four adamantine superstructures in Centerra.

The Forbiddance is an enormous wall between Clavenhorn and Mondaloa.  It is about a mile thick and twice as high.  It is not known how deep it descends into the ground.  The inside is a labyrinth of passages which convene on the Forbidden Highway, a cylindrical tunnel 500 feet wide that eventually terminates above the Sea of Kaskala when the Highway abruptly terminates in the sky.

It is largely abandoned, its magnetic treasures long since stripped away.

The Bastion of Medurak is the dam that holds back the Saltsea.  It is difficult to reach the original structure beneath the salt deposits, but patient excavation will yield it.  The crystalline desposits grow in strange, repetitive patterns.  Many claim that they spell out words.

Near the Bastion is the Cloud Factory, by far the smallest structure on this list.  It captures the moisture that would form over the deserts of Fangol.  The resultant clouds are sent to the west, beyond the knowledge of our maps.  Their final destination is unknown.

Lastly, there is the Golden Road, named not for its material but for the toll to cross it.  It doesn't seem to have been constructed as a bridge, but that's what we use it for.  (It actually seems to be the rim of a ring-shaped object, now mostly buried.  Frustratingly, it seems to have doors on it, and yet lifetimes have been spent trying to pry up the least fragment.)

The Golden Road is large enough that entire families have been born, grown up, and died in its shadow.  Houses cling the side of it like barnacles.  Some are solid brick.  Some wicker shacks dangle like the nests of bowerbirds.  And two hundred feet below, the familial dhows pull up fat tuna from beside ramshackle quays.

At the south end is the city of Bospero, the greatest conurbation in the world.  The Glorious God of Golden Fish is usually moored somewhere in the middle.  And at the north end is the cursed city of Nibulum.

5. Immortality can be derived from metal.

Many people know of the Transmetallic Alchemists.  Very few know what they do.

They are a semi-secret society.  Their above-ground activities include alchemy franchises and an annual fair in Bospero that features fireworks, automatons (especially cuckoo clocks), and fantastic jewelry.  They also buy interesting objects from sketchy grave-robbers, no questions asked.

Their secret goals usually boil down to the accumulation of mundane power (usually through boring infiltration of established institutions) and the pursuit of immortality.

Just as necromancy frequently culminates in lichdom, so does a Transmetallic Alchemist's career frequently culminate in the transmutation of their own body into liquid adamantium (which they refer to as the magician's metal).

While the Transmetallicum claim that the feat is possible (and was achieved in olden times), no recent examples of flawless success exist.  Most neophytes struggle to overcome the first step in the process, which is the consumption of large quantities of liquid mercury.

This is not to say that there Transmetallicum are not without their successes.  In their ranks, you will find alchemists with steel bones, plates of flexible armor beneath their skin, and monstrous powers of magnetism.  They know the secrets of azoth, aqua regia, and the alchemical oblate.  It is just that they have so far failed to capture their holy grail: to secret of transforming objects and creatures into adamantium.

6. Metal can get sick.

Like all other materials, metal can be poisoned, fall ill, and be possessed by demons (a cursed weapon).

The most common affliction of metal is rust, which is a disease that only metal can get.  It is commonly transmitted by water, which is why iron must avoid water, and why rust seems to spread from a single infection, much like a fungus.

Another metal-vector disease is soft rot, which eventually causes bones to become soft.  First like rubber, then like jelly.  Death can come early (from damage to the brain or heart) or late (from respiratory failure).  Soft bones flex painlessly, but the early stages of the disease are accompanied by shooting pains in the limbs.

Although the disease can infect humans, its real target is metal.  Afflicted iron becomes pale, loses its luster, and eventually becomes crumbly.  Small, spiral worms hatch from the quickening metal, each one small enough to fit under your fingernail.  They disperse by flying away in flocks, where they are usually eaten by insects.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Ghast

The process by which a person becomes a ghoul is poorly understood.

One popular theory is that ghouls are created when the higher souls are weakened by cannibalism.  According to this theory, the unnatural act of consuming one's own species is inherently repellent to the universal morals of creation, and so the higher souls divest themselves of the flesh that they find abhorrent.  In this power vacuum, the lower souls insert themselves, and then expand to fill the higher functions of the mind.  The hunger of animals, the uncaring mind of minerals--these become the new philosophy of the ghoul.

Another theory: it is well understood that certain sins are so repugnant that their punishment cannot be postponed to the afterlife.  Masturbation is punished by blindness.  Blasphemy is punished with polyps.  When viewed through this lens, ghoulishness is explained simply as the appropriate punishment for cannibalism.  A longer lifespan is no gift if there is no humanity, no satisfaction it.  Who cares how long a beast lives?

These theories explain the spectrum of ghouls, as it is usually described.

On one end, you have the youngest ghouls, the itinerant graverobbers who are fully alive, but have a ghoul's touch.  They are corpulent souls, who struggle to hide their hungers.  This is the most cosmopolitan time of their ghoul-life, when they seek out others of their kind, and cluster in their abominable enclaves.

A young ghoul might be a portly man in a top hat, with a wide smile and a warm handshake, charitably offering to pay for the funeral expenses of unknown paupers.

At the other end, you have the the cadaverous undead who have been so consumed by hunger that they have gnawed their own limbs to the bone.  They long ago abandoned the trappings of humanity in favor in favor of their bestial passions.  They usually lose all discretion at some point in the process, and are discovered and destroyed by witch hunters.

But those that retain some cunning still succumb to exposure and malnutrition, and usually die behind some parish kitchen, shivering from a fever that they no longer feel.  When death finally claims them, they do not notice it (and would not care if they did).  They only truly develop into the ravening, skeletal things of legend after suffering the madness and autocannibalism of long entombment (which is surpringly common among ghouls).

The autocannibalism is believed to be driven by self-loathing rather than hunger, since ghoul flesh is not usually appetizing to ghouls.

However, there is one creature that cannot be explained by either of these theories.

wrong genera but right ghast
by Richard Wright
The Ghast

Also known as elder ghouls, ghasts transcend the biology that spawned them.

Growth is normally impossible in the undead, but ghasts seem to be able to switch between life and undead at will, according to their needs.  This may even extend into true death, which ghasts may use as a form of hibernation.  There are stories of leathery corpses the size of horses, dredged from the peat, that have groaned and stirred once the sunlight warmed their black sockets.  If this is true, and ghasts can hibernate by dying, then perhaps they can never be truly killed.

And so ghasts grow through the dim epochs, assuming bestial forms more suited for their inclinations.

But this growth is not the growth of natural life.  No botanic soul dwells in their flesh, that guides and shapes the new vessel.  This is like the metabolism of a lich: no longer autonomous and entirely directed by the mind.  A lich's heart does not beat until the lich commands it; a ghoul's flesh does not grow until the ghoul wills it.  (And in fact, this may be what causes a ghoul to transition into a ghast.)

And with the transformation of long years, they regain some measure of cunning.  It is not a resumption of their human mind--that was lost long ago.  It is something new, a dark composite of those that they have devoured.

This is because the second defining feature of the ghast is the liver, an organ which has no true analog in any other animal.  A singular tissue, it alone is capable of turning flesh into memories.  It is perhaps related to speak with dead, as it involves that soul that lives in corpses (rather than the soul that continues to the afterlife), except that the soul is not conversed with, but devoured and internalized.

Ghasts trap the dead, but not in a conscious collection of discrete souls, but instead in a gruesome patchwork of overlapping memory.

And since it is the memory of the flesh, not the memory of the conscious mind, the content of the life is remembered without any of the emotion (except as the body remembers emotion: a flush of the face and a quickening of the heart, nothing more).

They can speak, sometimes very well.  (And depending on the evolutions of their verbal apparatus, they may have dozens of voices coming from one mouth.)  But the mind behind the voices is an abominable one.  Memories of a hundred people may blend together, sometimes in an irrational synthesis.  Parents are switched, blended, or remembered as a multi-headed amalgam.  When an ancient ghast was a child, it lost thousands of teeth, cried over the death of dozens of parents, and lost half-a-dozen limbs to accidents.

There is a famous ghast named Blackchapel, who is named for the town he devoured.  He is a mad thing, who haunts the necropolis he made, forever struggling to resume the lives that he ended.

And there is the Ghoul Worm, whose directed growth has taken a route that is very different from most ghasts.  He devoured the same death cult that he once led.  They still live in his belly, a groaning monstrosity that worships itself from its manifold viscera.  He is as cruel as any killer, and as wise as any sage.

The flush of knowledge is strongest after the meal.  There are stories of a ghast eating a child, only to come sniffing around the dead child's house, calling for its mother in perfect imitation.  It is not a ruse, though, and the ghast genuinely believes itself to be that child.  The dead live again in the ghast, and if that same ghast saw its mother, it would embrace her and kiss her and devour her alive.

And that is why you should never open your door if you hear your dead child weeping outside.

The liver is where flesh is converted to memory.  If the liver is extracted, it can be turned into a tincture called ghrism.  If drank, it confers the same ability to the drinker.  If it is drank, and part a corpse is consumed, the dead will live for a while in your body.  You will be supplanted, and then you will co-exist, and then the dead will fade until only a shade exists, a figment.  There may be times when you remember someone else's mother as your own, or feel surges of someone else's racism.

from Far Cry Primal
Using Ghasts in Your Game

Ghrism is obviously very gameable.  It's effectively a potion of speak with dead with more flavor, more drawbacks, and possibly more power.  It also turns a ghast nest into a valuable resource.  (And I love it when my players hunt monsters for their parts.)

It's also an opportunity for character development and roleplaying opportunities.  Your character is a little more interesting when pieces of the 2000-year-old princess mummy keep surfacing, perhaps.

I'd actually like to write a GLOG class based on a person who has eaten too many memories, to the point of forgetting their original identity, amid a swarm of transplanted memories.  (It might be as simple as rolling a randomly generated class every session.)

Do you need stats for a ghast?  Fine.

HD 4+  AC leather  Claw 1d10 + excruciation
Move human  Climb spider  Int 10

Excruciation -- If the target fails a Save, they are afflicted by excruciation.  If they choose to spend their turn writhing in pain, they take no damage.  If they choose to act normally, they take 1d6 damage.  At the beginning of each turn after the first, excruciation has a 2-in-6 chance of dissipating.

Conversion -- As a free action, a ghast can choose whether to be alive, dead, or undead (with all the usual implications).

A ghasts liver can be harvested for a single dose of ghrism.  With access to a full alchemical laboratory and some successful skill checks, you can harvest as much as 2d4 doses of ghrism.

If you need a bigger ghast, just give it more HD and attacks.  Excruciation is just a bigger version of Agony (1d4 damage, 3-in-6 chance of ending), which regular ghouls have, and is better than paralyzation.

Bigger ghasts can also be exotic ghasts with unique abilities.  Some ideas: burrowing, barbed yoshi tongues, fear auras, regeneration, poisonous exhalations, blasphemy (blocks divine magic).  If they can cast spells (especially etherealness) let's just go ahead and call them a geist.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Ignoble Orders

There are hundreds of paladin orders.  They are diverse and scattered, because the Church does not attempt to organize all of them.  In fact, some of the orders predate the Church which they serve.

Most paladins are not incorporated directly into the Church's heirarchy.  Some orders are associated with kings and countries.  Some are monastic and semi-independent.  Regardless, they are all universally trusted and respected.

Except for a few that aren't.

The Condemned -- The Order of the Tortoise

Sometimes paladins fall.  Their crimes are so horrible that they cannot be allowed to continue in their current position, and yet remain redeemable in the eyes of the Church.  (And besides, some of them are too skilled to waste.)

Some are allowed to repent and pay simple penance, but for others, their penance is to be condemned to the Order of the Tortoise.

In the eyes of the world, they are criminal paladins, serving out their sentences, to be obeyed, yet despised.  Oftentimes, their sins are understandable, and yet inexcusable.  Their crimes are usually sympathetic (which is why they are given a chance to redeem themselves).

One might confess: "I killed an innocent so that a dozen could live."

Another: "I knew she was guilty, and yet I let her go.  She was no harm to anyone anymore."

So while the Church may have sympathy, there is no ambiguity in the Orthochism.

Paladins of the Tortoise are locked inside their armor.  Their names are stripped from them, and they are answer to the name of Tortoise.  If you need to differentiate them, use adjectives.

If they die before their full term is served, their armor will raise them as dutiful undead, until the completion of their service.

If they complete the shameful length of service, their names and honor are restored, and their time in the Order of the Tortoise is never spoken of again.

Their coat of arms is a tortoiseshell, each scute filled with a white circle that represents the moon.

Baldwin IV from the Kingdom of Heaven
The Afflicted -- The Alabaster Order

The Church conducts many charitable works, and one of their most visible ones is the care of lepers.

Leper colonies (such as the one at the Isle of Pigs) are built, protected, and fed by the Pope's purse.  All lepers are welcomed there.

However, lepers who are still able-bodied are strongly encouraged to join the Alabaster Order, which is composed almost entirely of lepers.  (The few exceptions are usually people who joined on behalf of a family member with leprosy, who was unable to join the Order personally.)  It is not a duty, but an honor, to serve in the Alabaster Order.

It is said that no paladin will rot as long as he shows neither cruelty nor cowardice.  And indeed, that sometimes seems to be true.  There are members of the Alabaster Order who are so ravaged by their disease that they cannot speak except through a stylus, without any lessening of their sword arm.

Their visors look like white faces, and they wear scarves soaked with rosewater.  (Remember: diseases are caused by foul smells, and that rosewater = antiplague in Centerra.)

They are based in the House of the Fountain, and led by Sir Grindelwine the White.

Their coat of arms is white rose with petals falling from it, on a field of red.

The Unrecognized -- The Order of the Mouse

There is a problem with forbidden knowledge: it corrupts.  It corrupts inevitably, if given enough time.

For a long time, the Church fielded paladins who would hunt down insane cults and execute heretics.

But cults must be studied before they can be infiltrated, and heretics always talk so much.  And so it was, that the Church's best witch hunters would eventually fall victim to the same corruption that they stamped out.  They would doubt, or they would despair, or they would go mad from their rough enlightenments.

A simple solution was found.  The paladin's mind would be partitioned off, entire lobes would be quarantined.  This would keep the mind from intercorrelating too many of its contents.

<digression>This is not as mad as it sounds.  You (reading this blog post) have a conscious brain that is aware of itself, but you have many submerged systems running in the background.  You have a secret ur-brain that makes you sad when you hear a song that reminds you of your ex.  You have a secret sub-brain that down-regulates hunger when you are playing WoW.  You have a secret sub-brain that gives you boners in Algebra for no reason. </digression>

In the original implementation, these paladins were divided into three parts.  The conscious (normal) mind, the "librarian", and the "library".  The librarian chose what the conscious mind would forget, and would store it in the library.  These partitions would protect the paladin from any harmful knowledge.

That practice isn't too common anymore.  Too well-known, and therefore more controversial, but they exist.

A more extreme (and potentially more common) practice is to isolate the part of the paladin's brain that remembers that they are a paladin.  And so you have people who are puppets of their subconscious (moreso than usual), who manipulate themselves to innocently infiltrate the cult.  They could be naive for years before the librarian pulls back the curtain, the memories come rushing back in, and they murder their cultist friends and then march back to Coramont for absolution.

They have no coat of arms, and are not acknowledged by anyone.

The Unsanctioned -- The Order of the Worm

The psychology of a ghoul is especially remarked upon.  The classic legend, told of taverns everywhere, tells of the loving husband who died protecting his loving wife in the midst of a hateful war.  But he returned as a ghoul, and lovingly hunted down his wife before lovingly eating her alive.

When a person becomes a ghoul, most of the memories remain intact.  The personality also tends to survive the process.  The mood is, allegedly, much improved by the process, and stories about of good-natured ghouls who are as cheerful as they are ravenous.

What does not survive are the specific cares and motivations.  They still crave the company of their old friends, and remember their addresses, but care nothing for the health or happiness of those same friends.

Most ghouls have lost what little faith they had in life, but there are some exceptions.  Those who are especially devout--who are so committed to their faith that they absolutely cannot conceive of a self-identity that lacks it--sometimes carry that religion into undeath.

Mostly dead clergy, supplemented by no few soldiers.  You'll find them everywhere, but especially places where brave corpses were abandoned.

The Order of the Worm is a loose collection of devout ghouls that have sworn to shun the flesh of the living faithful.  More incredibly, it is a vow that they sometimes keep.  (Ghouls have a famously hard time keeping promises when they are hungry, and they are often hungry.)

<sidebar>Sidebar: ghouls are cosmopolitan, and when common people imagine ghouls, they think of a trio of fleshy-faced graverobbers who travel between towns, digging up fresh corpses and eating them, who must be burned when they are caught and killed lest they raise from the dead.  The mad, withered things that you'll find in dungeons are the uncommon phenotype.  And being intelligent and cosmopolitan, they naturally seek out others of their kind.  And so it is that culture and words spread among the ghouls.</sidebar>

And so they are the armored fellows crawling on the ceiling of the cistern, who will ask you if you've recently attended church.  (How recently?  I suppose that's recently enough.)

They may ask you recite some verses, to prove your faith.

If they are very hungry, they may ask for more obscure verses.

If they are very, very hungry, they may eat you anyway.  Who remembers every word?

And sometimes, if you are in trouble, they will help you.  They are especially likely to assist you if the act is likely to yield some tasty zombies to eat.

Their coat of arms is five argent worms, rampant, on a sable field..

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Mother of Osk

I'm going to tell you about a place, and then I'm going to tell you about a class.

This is going to be a difficult class to play. 

It is difficult because you are a parasite, and you only infect other player's characters. 

You will be powerful together, but eventually you will consume their body entirely, and they will die.  You will remain, but they will need to roll a new character.  You killed them.

Becoming an Oscadian

In the yellow wastes of Abasinia, there is a plateau called Osk.  Atop the plateau is the is the city of the same name, the city of living rubies, where the black sugar is made and love is only known to slaves.  We will not speak of them.

Beneath the plateau are the caves of Osk.  And in the largest of the caverns is the Mother of Osk, who has grown too large to ever leave.  Her first birth was as a dragon, but her second birth was as an Oscadian, and indeed she is the only mature Oscadian in the world, for Oscadians do not reach sexual maturity unless their first birth is from the embers of a dragon's egg.

The Mother is a gentle creature, who has grown weary of war, and loves the quiet dusk beneath the plateau.  Even those who seek her out in order to kill her, or steal her many treasures, are usually not killed, if she can help it.  They are merely maimed, then nursed back to health.

She consorts with poets, philsophers, and priests.  She is a devout follower of Hesaya.  If you do her some great service, and if you are gentle with her rough children, she may reward you. 

This reward may take the form of wisdom, treasure, or healing.  The poets are wise, the gold is lustrous, and her milk is thick with potency, but the greatest gift she can give is to infest you with one of her children, a rite normally only reserved for dragons.

Total psychic consent is required for this process to be successful.  NPCs are unreliable in this regard--only PCs can carry a parasitic Oscadian, and only PCs can play an Oscadian.  They are too powerful and subtle for anything less.

DM's Note

Oscadians are a full PC class.  Part of the fun of this parasite class is the fact that you essentially become two players inhabiting the same body.  This is unusual and intimate, and is hopefully a unique roleplaying experience, culminating with the death of the host.

But yeah, sure if you want to treat it as a living suit of armor that casts spells, sure, go ahead.  Be boring.

End of DM's Note

Class: Oscadian

Oscadian A: Sharing a Body, Spellcasting
Oscadian B: Living Armor
Oscadian C: Ragged Claw
Oscadian D: Consumption

An individual Oscadian is actually a colony of clonal organisms, like a coral reef.  There are nineteen types of sub-Oscadians that will grow and differentiate inside the host's body, each one technically an independent animal that shares a bloodstream with its siblings.  These sub-Oscadians will eventually replace every organ in the body.

No one really really give a shit about that, though.  When someone sees an Oscadian, they see a human body overgrown with thick, homogenous, grey scales.  Each of these scales is a sub-Oscadian (one morphology out of the nineteen).  Each one has a single red eye that they open when they cast spells.

When the head is replaced, it is will a flat, heavy-browed face that is mostly occupied with a single red eye the size of a fist.  If the calcite eye is ever pried from the skull, it is a gemstone worth 200s.  It will not regrow.  There is only a narrow slit on the bottom of the head.  This is the polite mouth, and it is used only for speech.  It is incapable of eating.

Luckily, at this point the rude mouth has already grown out of the solar plexus, and is capable of assuming this responsibility with a formidable efficacy.

This process is gradual, though. You begin your life as only an arm.

These humanoid Oscadians are sterile.  True Oscadians are generated from a draconic host.

Sharing a Body

Roll your ability scores as normal.  When you fully take over this body, you'll inherit the physical ability scores from them, but until then, use your own physical ability scores. 

You currently control an arm.  Your host loses control of that arm.  You can use your arm normally.  This potentially allows you to each make a melee attack against a target, or you can both coordinate your turns to fire a single arrow at your target.

Generate your HP normally.  You now share an HP pool with your host.  This makes you very hard to kill.  If either of you die, you both die.  You have separate minds, but a singular body.  If a spell or poison affects one of your bodies, it also affects the other one.


As a wizard, with one MD per level, up to a maximum of 3 MD.  An Oscadian begins knowing only two spells: speak with reptiles and speak with insects.  At Oscadian B they learn acidbolt.  At Oscadian C they learn dominate insect.  They can use scrolls but cannot replace the spells they know.

You require the use of your arm to cast these spells (as normal).  You don't require a mouth (which is good, because you don't have any).  You can produce the speech required for spellcasting by buzzing all of your sub-Oscadians simultaneously.

Living Armor

You grow to cover the entire body except for the face.  You count as a suit of plate, except you do not take up any inventory slots.  (You still sink automatically if you fall in water.)

Similar to how shields are sundered, you can choose to shatter some of your sub-Oscadians as a free reaction.  If you choose to do this, you may reduce the incoming damage by 1d8, and your AC decreases by 2 points.  You can do this twice, but not thrice (since that would kill too many of your sub-Oscadians).

It's also pretty traumatic, since you then have to watch your siblings (pieces of yourself) flex and squeak and bleed to death on the floor, like legless beetles.

Your dermal population will regrow in one week.

Ragged Claw

Your hand is not a normal human hand anymore.  It is a jagged talon the size of a shovel's head.  You can attack with it to deal 1d6 damage, but you cannot do any fine manipulations with it.

You can also perform a horrific haymaker with it.  You get +2 Attack and deal 2d6 damage, but if you miss or fail to kill your target, you lose your next standard action as you recover your poise.


You finally grow populous enough to consume your host's head.  You retain many features from your host, but the face is not one of them.  Your face is now dominated by a glassy, cyclopean eye.

You also consume the brain.  You gain access to all of your host's memories, and you retain one class ability from your host.  This is negotiated with your DM, but I recommend retaining their most iconic ability, such as a barbarian's rage or a wizard's spellbook.

You have one regular humanoid arm and one Ragged Claw.

You are now more than just an arm, you are the entire body.  Your host is now dead, and their player will have to roll a new character.

Oscadian Psychology

If an Oscadian were to read this blog post, they would have many objections to the terminology that I've used.

They do not see a parasite, nor do they see a host.  Instead, they see a first child and a second child, who eventually mature together into the Oscadian.

In their minds, an Oscadian is made up of many subunits, each of which is technically an individual animal with it's own heart, lungs, and (linked) mind.  A human, too, is theorized to be made up of tiny individual animals as well.  None of this is an obstacle to the concept of all these disparate parts seeing themselves as a unified whole.  An Oscadian's sense of self is no less fractured than a human's.

The way they see it, an Oscadian has four parents.  A human father and a human mother.  An Oscadian mother (Mother) and an Oscadian father (long dead, except for what remains in Mother's spermathecae).

An Oscadian who visits their human parents would be just as loving and understanding as the host human would have been, and will probably try to gently explain that changes that they have undergone.  They still love their parents.  They still love the Prophetessa (May She Live Again).  And they still love beer, even if they can't taste it anymore.

The Cleric

I've tried to write this post several times, and I've learned that I am unable to complete it unless I limit the scope to the smallest possible range.

So here is a cleric (for use with the GLOG).

by Justin Sweet
Clerics vs Wizards

Clerics are basically like wizards, except . . .

1. Clerics don't choose their spells, their deity does.
2. On the upside, Clerics don't suffer from magical corruption or catastrophes (from rolling doubles or triples).
3. On the downside, Cleric spells are unreliable, since the (always fickle) deity may not choose to grant the spell at the moment it is requested.

Faith Dice

Faith Dice (FD) are just Magic Dice (MD) that have a variable size.  They are otherwise interchangable (and a multiclassed wizard/cleric can use them interchangeably).  They default to a d8.

When a wizard casts a spell, they choose how many MD to invest.  Each MD contributes to the final spell, and after rolling, the following chart is consulted.

  • 1-3   MD is returned to the mana pool.
  • 4-6   MD is depleted, and will return to the mana pool tomorrow morning.

Clerics work the same way, with one additional wrinkle:

  • 7+   MD is not depleted.  The dice roll does not contribute to the spell.  (A fizzle.)

Since clerics are usually using a d8 as their casting die, it will not be uncommon for their spells to fizzle (if all the dice fizzle) or be underpowered (if only a fraction of the casting dice fizzle).

Faith dice improve (shrink) or worsen (enlarge) according to the clerics behavior. 

If a cleric doesn't follow the strictures of their religion, the dice increase in size until the cleric atones.

If a cleric atones at a church (confesses, pays a hefty tithe), their dice are reset to a d8.  Note that the cleric must genuinely repent of their behavior (but the player doesn't necessarily have to).

If a cleric receives a special blessing from the Pope or the Prophetessa (May She Live Again), the FD will be improved to d6s until expended.  Likewise, if you are in a situation that is very obviously in favor of your deity (e.g. fighting a Satan, trying to save an innocent child) then your FD are also temporarily improved to d6s.

Here's the progression.

d6 (temporary) <> d8 <> d10 <> d12 <> d20 <> d100 <> Apostasy

If you reach Apostasy, you can either choose to abandon the Cleric class entirely, or become a Heretic and regain your powers (along with the enmity of nearly every civilized person).  Heretics are required to expound on the nature of their heresy, both in the game and outside of it.  Heretics who defeat the Church (whatever that means) will be vindicated and their heresy will become incoporated into the orthodoxy of the Church.

by Justin Sweet

The Cleric Class

Based on the Wizard class.

Cleric A
Guardian Angel
God's Plan

Cleric B

Cleric C

Cleric D

Cleric Teams
The Reach of Heaven
Guardian Angel Pool


Guardian Angel

This is not an ability that the cleric gets.  It's an ability that the cleric's party gets.

The entire party gets an FD of their very own, of the same size and type as the clerics.  Anyone (including the cleric) can use this FD to cast a spell, but it cannot be combined with any other MD.

By default, this FD can only be used to cast heal.  The caster must follow the same god as the cleric.

Yes, this means that the party's rogue can heal the dying fighter by praying over her.

Yes, this rule was partially developed to remove clerics from the time-consuming role of healbot, without straying too far from the archetype.

Yes, this means that a level 1 cleric effectively shows up with 2 FD, while the level 1 wizard only shows up with a single MD.

Guardian Angel spells are tracked on the Party Sheet.

God's Plan
A cleric doesn't choose their spells, their deity does.  The DM should pick spells for the player based on what is most likely to be useful that day.  (DM, feel free to use these spell choices as omens, e.g. protection from fire might forecast the possibility of a dragon encounter.)

A player can negotiate this ability with an animal sacrifice (a cow, at least) and an hour-long ritual.  They can ask to choose all of their spells, half of their spells, etc.

A cleric can identify a magic item by praying over it in a church.  This is similar to a wizard's Identify ability, except that it is 100% reliable, but it requires a church.

Each ceremony takes 2 hours.

Union – Two people are bonded. If your partner would take physical damage while you are beside them, you can choose to take half of it. If one dies, the other loses 500XP.
Funeral – The dead are honored. Everyone gains XP equal to 50% of the deceased's total XP. (So if a PC with 3000 XP died, each of the three surviving PCs will get +500 XP at the end of the session.) This transfer only works from player characters, to player characters.
Sermon – You can implant a suggestion in all Neutral and Friendly attendees.  Make a single roll for each (roughly) homogenous group/demographic.  You still need to get people to sit through a 2 hour sermon, and most people are not well-disposed towards religions other than their own.


You ask a question of your deity, which is then answered through a vision or a dream.  (For Hesayan clerics, this takes the form of a sleep-like trance while watching clouds.)

First, choose what level of divinity you wish to ask.

Level 1 - A Saint or Holy Emperor
Level 2 - One of the Lesser Gods
Level 3 - Zulin, the Prince of the Upper Air
Level 4 - The Authority (this is forbidden to all non-kings)

Roll 1d6 for every level of the divinity.  Every result of 1-3 is a success.  Each success improves the quality of your divination.

Roll 1d6 for every level of the divinity.  Every result of 1-3 is a failure.  Each failure beyond the first causes your FD to degrade one step.  Your FD will never degrade if you are performing the divinations in a clear service to the Church.

You cannot ask the same question twice.  You cannot even ask related questions, either.  Aside from that, feel free to do all the divination you wish.

Here are some examples of visions produced by different levels of success.  The player doesn't know the level of success, merely the result.

In response to the question of "Where is the crown of Hesperornithes located?"

0 Successes
Pure nonsense.
Ex: You dream that are are sitting in a village square, surrounded by your family. You are digging a hole, but it keeps filling up with milk. Serpents come and drink the milk.
1 Success
Moderately useful omen that is difficult to interpret.
Ex: You are sailing on a ship to your destination. The captain is a burning torch. The navigator is a blind rooster. For your crimes, you are about to be imprisoned in a barrel of sponges. (This dream communicates the idea that it might be on an island, at least. The rooster is a very oblique reference to eggs.)
2 Successes
Very useful omen that is somewhat difficult to interpret.
Ex: A faceless king pulls eggs out of a dog's mouth, shows them to you, then crushes each one underfoot. Brine and fish dribble from his mouth. He screams like a seagull.  (This dream communicates that an ocean journey might be involved, and shows broken eggs.)
3+ Successes
Extremely useful omen that is easy to interpret.
Ex: You turn into a bird, fly across accurate geography, mate with Zulin, build a nest atop a castle on the Isle of Broken Eggs, and a tiny prince hatches from your egg, singing a righteous song. (You can't really get any more clear than this.)

Yes/No questions are generally easier to interpret, since you only have to know if the vision was a positive or negative one.

If you are bad at coming up with random crap for visions, the you can just roll a d100 on the House of Hours.


Miracles are powerful, world-changing events. You can ask for almost anything, as long as it is:
  • related to your deity's portfolio
  • doesn't go against your deity's interests
When you first get this ability, your Miracle score is set to 3. Your Miracle score improves by 1 point whenever you finish a session or gain a level.
You can attempt a miracle once per session. To attempt a Miracle, describe to the DM what you are praying for, and then roll a d20. If the result is equal-or-less than your Miracle points, the Miracle occurs and your Miracle score is reset to 0.
At your DM's discretion, you may also gain Miracle points for performing great deeds in the service of the Church.
Clerics do not gain this ability until they perform some major ceremony in a central place of worship, such as leading a town's Harvest Ritual. (Ask your DM.)

Cleric Teams

I really want to make mono-class parties more viable, because they're awesome.  So here are a couple of advantages that you get by having multiple clerics in the party.

Heaven's Reach

Clerics can ignore range restrictions when casting spells on each other.

Guardian Angel Pool

The FP granted by the Guardian Angel ability are now pooled together with each other.  It is possible to cast a Guardian Angel spell with multiple FP.  Additionally, the Guardian Angel knows at least one different spell for each cleric that contributes to it.  For example, if a three-cleric party would know than just heal.  They would have access to heal, cure poison, and feather fall.

by Justin Sweet
Coming Soon

- A PDF of actual clerics, including a couple of non-Church clerics.

- Rules for removing clerics from your game entirely, and replacing them with a single Guardian Angel that the entire party shares.  (Partially because I don't find clerics that appealing, partially because PCs in pseudo-medieval settings should probably be more religious.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Monstrous Lady Mantlewray

To the rest of the world, the Marilanth Petal is a criminal organization, peddling drugs and poisons in alleyways the world over.  But in Bospero, they are merely another of the noble clans--another miniscule dukedom in a city infested with dukes.

That the Duke of Poppies is the head of a criminal enterprise is no secret, but it is certainly not something that is remarked upon in polite company.  Besides, the city already tolerates greater offenses against decency (the Stewer's Guild, the Black Rabbits, the ever-larger fashions of the nobility, the scandals of the Queen, and the financial predations of dragonkind) and is perhaps stronger for it.

A Sidebar: Bospero

The largest city in the world, Bospero is technically a tight cluster of dukedoms, each separated on a small island, where the duke holds absolute power.  These islands are separated from each other by trash-filled canals, protected from the roughest vagaries of the sea by a maze of breakwaters, built atop Odo Longo, a sunken city just off the coast, thought to be build by giants in past ages.

These dukedoms were originally limited, and only awarded infrequently, but as the breakwaters proved too be too effective, silt built up around the city, and the ocean became shallow enough that islands could be constructed by ambitious nobles.  And while the granting of duchies has ebbed and flowed with the options of the regent, the end result is that Bospero now has nearly a hundred soverign duchies, all locked together in a maze of shallow canals, each with the power to negotiate foreign treaties, tax visitors, and declare war on other duchies.

Bospero is a famously difficult to city to navigate.  Foreigners describe the city as pure madness, a riotous warren of strange laws, toll bridges, mystery cults, incomprehensible dialects, and a heady gradient between street gangs and duchal armies.  The locals are proud of their city and its reputation.  They wouldn't have it any other way.

This is also where Coramont, the Holy City, is located.

End of Sidebar

Where was I?  Oh yes, the Duke of Lornavel is a terrible man.  If you ever wish to make a name for yourself in Bospero, make sure that you are a friend to him.

But there is a reason why the island of Lornavel is given this special dispensation: they are responsible for satisfying the Mantleray.  They are not scrutinized by the queensguard; the Grand Euphorium is never searched.  The crown doesn't even tax them--their only civic responsibilities are the deliveries.

The deliveries are more drugs, of course.

Vast amounts.  Impossible amounts.  Pools of poppy extract.  Casks of delago.  Enough tambrack to smother a child, or ten.  Thrum, mevverwen, jopeth, scrumboola.  Fat-petaled lotuses, big as a crown.

And for this delivery, they have only a single client, the Mantlewray.

More correctly, her name is Elzabeth Jonna Mantlewray, the former duchess of Madrigo.  Her story is lost, another victim of her own predations, but pieces of her history can still be assembled from among the flotsam.

Most of the stories agree that she did it to herself.  Madrigo had a history of strong alchemists, primarily focused on metallurgy, but with enough biomancers in the family to make her transformation very plausible.

The stories disagree on whether her son was her first test subject, a simultaneous effort, or later recruited to her cause once she was leading a rebellion and needed an ally.  Regardless, even though her son is just as much of a Mantlewray as her, he is not called by his familial name, Jubalcain Monastus Mantlewray.  Instead he is called The Lech, or sometimes The Son of the Squid.

Why did Lady Mantlewray become the leviathan?

To fight the merfolk in their own element, perhaps, and safeguard Bospero harbor from their drills,  nets, and horrible dolphins.

Another story claims that she did it to flee an abusive marriage.  (It is agreed that her own estate was among the first that she destroyed.)

And yet another story claims that she simply desired power.  There are no supporting facts required for this explanation--human nature has proved it to be true countless times.

These theories are not mutually exclusive, and her true rationale is probably not limited to a single motivator.

Still, is it difficult to see the brutal remains of her violence and think them to be products of a subtle mind.  Everywhere in the city, you can see places where the stone is lashed to the foundation by rasping tentacles.  Certain spires are still bent and rusted by her terrible exhalations.  And although the birth defects have declined, it is not rare to see an elder whose body has been bent by her cruel poisons.

The only places that do not bear her scars are the Holy City of Coramont (because she did not dare), and the Golden Road (because she could not).

A Sidebar: The Golden Road

The Golden Road is a bridge that traverses the Bosperian Bay, connecting Bospero with its sister city of Marinda.  The bridge is 36 miles long, and is usually crossed in three days.  The bridge is studded with fortifications dating back to the Road War, when both Marinda and Bospero competed for control of the Golden Road.  It was a long, bitter, slow conflict that Bospero ultimately won.

The Golden Road is built from adamantine, and shares other similarities with the Bastion of Medurak (a dam) and the Forbiddance (a wall).  Bospero has mixed feelings about the Golden Road.  It connects them to the lands to the north, but it has also allowed foreign armies to swiftly march into the city.  They are proud of it because they control it, but they are frustrated that they cannot even chip the least piece of its structure.

End of Sidebar

During the rebellion she was the Traitorous Abomination.  When she was crowned, she was Lady Mantlewray again.  And now that she has loosened her grip on the throne and the city, she has regressed into the Mantlewray, well on her way to becoming a beast again.

And as the Mantlewray becomes more and more withdrawn, she concerns herself with less and less of the world.  There are few alive who have heard her speak, and certainly no one living remembers her tearful confessions in Coramont, her supplications at the feet of the Prophetessa (May She Live Again), and the forgiveness that she received.

In fact, the only thing that seems to concern the Mantlewray these days is the potency and punctuality of her drugs, a task that has only become more challenging over the years as both the Mantlewray and her son has grown larger over the decades.

But while the Mantlewray is withdrawing from the city that she once ruled, her son leans into it more with every passing year.  For a while, he was fascinated with brewing, and ran a brewery for years, producing several quality lagers.  Everyone agrees that the accident wasn't his fault.

Then it was cigars.  Then it was horses.  Then it was a distillery.  Then he went to work on his shell, adding new chambers, bolstering his seams with bronze, and spinning his natural spines into monstrous spires and involutions.  Then it was horses again.

For a while, he attended plays--his monstrous face peering over the roof of the theater, the light lessened by the shadows cast by the cyclopean parapets of his shell.  He had no hands to clap with, but he voiced his approval by stamping his dozens of feet in the street outside, the sound of boulders falling.  He brought many gifts for his favorite actresses.

And then it was girls.  Perhaps it was something like a delayed puberty, an artifact of the many contortions his mother inflicted on his biology.  Or perhaps he finally located his genitals within the cavernous carapace of his.  Regardless, he threw himself into this newest mania with an appetite exceeding even his own previous frenzies.

He attempted the more typical methods of courtship, but after the predictable failure, he moved on to more transactional enterprises.  Soon he was showing up to the plays with a nest of strumpets among the crenellations of his shell.  He had gold aplenty, his mother's gold, dug up from whatever secret reef she had buried it during her regency.

The Lech visited the city even more, then.  You could hear the booming gurgle as he laughed from the harbor, as he showed another girl how to use his mother's enormous harbor-bong.  You could see him in the Grocer's Harbor, his gracile oral tentacles loading furniture into his freshly expanded shell, the prostitutes carrying off another chaise lounge to furnish some interior boudoir.

Artisans were brought in.  His shell was caulked and sealed.  He had airtight compartments, now.  He could bring his girls down with him.  He was too heavy to swim, but his crab legs could carry that castle through all the Bosperian depths.

He thought of himself as a clam, and the girls as his pearls.

Down in the bottom of the bay, where the watery sun above was paler than the moon, his girls would massage his aching mantle, and they would ask him about his childhood as a human.  Did he remember his hands?  Did he remember what is was like to kiss?

And in the face of these questions, he could only lie.

How to Use This in Your Game

I hope that you think that Lady Mantlewray and her son are as interesting as I do.  They are certainly powerful, if you were to plop them down in your campaign world.

Lady Mantlewray's brain contains a wealth of potent knowledge.  If you could find some way to leverage it, a piece of that trove could be yours.  You could get a fortune of gold, or turn yourself into a kaiju of your own design.  As an enemy, Lady Mantlewray is about as dangerous as any other 60,000 ton monster, so be careful before you tamper with her drug supply.

What does she want?  An escape from her melancholy perhaps, or a remnant of her earlier days.  Perhaps she wants her humanity back.  Regardless, there are plenty of people in town who can answer this for you.  Her son, perhaps, or even the Prophetessa (May She Live Again).

Her son might yield easier leverage, but perhaps in a riskier way.  He is not dumb, although he may be a bit naive.  And unlike his mother, the players will probably have no trouble thinking of ways to entice him.

There's also a great deal of interested parties.  Many people would like to see the two monsters dead.  The Marilanth Petal would like to be free of this responsibility, even though it would degrade their special status.  (They've tried poisoning her; they don't recommend it.)  The death of the monsters would also create a tremendous glut of drugs, unless the Marilanth Petal can keep a lid on things and enforce a certain level of stockpiling.

The merfolk would like to see the Mantlewray destroyed.  Without her presence, the Bosperian ships are vulnerable again.

And even pieces of the monsters are valuable.  There are many alchemists and biomancers who would pay handily for even a piece of the creatures: the Stewer's Guild, the Transmetallic Alchemists, Grandfather Oshregaal, etc.

Even the pieces are valuable.  The players could be hired to steal a vulnerable cache of drugs (at the risk of incurring the Mantlewray's wrath).  They could be hired to steal a velvet ooze from inside the Lech.  You can even use the Lech as a questgiver (whose identity isn't immediately disclosed), as there are certainly many things that he would want to acquire, and many of which require a bit of legally ambiguous footwork.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Ruined City of Braxa / Undead Armies

This is the second of my ruined cities.  (Here is the first.)

The Countryside

For the wise traveler, all they'll ever see of  Braxa are the roads, and even then, from a safe distance.  Patrols are not as common as they once were, but they are still deadly.  The average patrol is composed of a quartet of mounted "knights". 

The average work-crew is composed of three dozen undead laborers, who level the flagstones and clear the footpaths of their growth.  It is a futile exercise--the citizens of Braxa all died long ago, victims of a plague of their own devising.

There are no small farms in Braxa, only plantations.  If you are determined to ride into the city itself, you'll pass several of these huge platations.  They are autonomous, all singularly crewed by bleached skeletons.  (Fleshy undead are messy, smelly, and spread the wrong types of disease.)

And you'll see the wagons pulling the giant jars of grain along the manicured road, on their way to the great grinding houses. 

The grinding houses, you can feel them in your feet from half a mile-away.  A thousand chained undead, straining in a spiral, rotating an entire building.  A torrent of clean grain thunders into the basement, where it is then carted off, again in a single gigantic jar.

The Walls

The city is surrounded by high walls of earth and stone, the highest wall in Centerra (except for the Forbiddance, which most consider to be a mountain range rather than a wall.)  As you walk through the long passageway between farm and plaza, you can hear the shuffling of dead, pivoting inside their secret chambers, watching you as you pass, ensuring that the leader of your party is wearing a merchant's medallion.

The walls are where the city stores its dead.  Each is about 50 meters thick, and 50 meters tall.  It is honeycombed with secret tunnels, armories, and sepulchers.  If you believe the tales, there's more bone than stone in the walls.  The whole wall is supposed to be able to exhume itself and march off at a moment's notice.

by Kris Kuksi
The City

It is clean and well-patrolled.  If there were any left of the old bloodline left, it would be a utopia for them to claim.  Supposedly, the undead will respond to the rightful rulers of Braxa, and signify this by kneeling.  Then the whole warmachine will be there for the scion to claim.

There are many granaries and stockhouses in Braxa.  Food is delivered to every house daily, and older food swept away and throw into the canal, which is choked with rot. 

The smell from the canal permeates the whole city.

A Small Building

A gate house.  Two skeletons operate the gate, while a dozen coffins in the bunk room can be summoned as reinforcements, if the proper bell is rung.

Another Small Building

A school.  Every morning, the undead clean the chalk tablets, open the windows, and serve lunch.  And every night, they put the chalk away, close the windows, and clean the tables of their refuse.

The Harbor

Looking down in the water, you will see the encrusted skeletons of Braxa's marines.  There are thousands of them down there, clad in lead boots for marching underwater.

Visitors sometimes arrive in Braxa.  The undead pay a bounty for corpses--three silver for every corpse laid down on the dock.  You may not leave the dock.

The Castle

Behind the blank-faced silos sits the castle.  Your merchant's medallion will not gain you entry.  Skeletons squat above every window, peer up from between the flagstones.  The moat is contains no water, merely more skeletons.

The last known king was Obrichan the Poet, although it is believed that he died in the plague, along with all his subjects.

Many people believe that the plague was caused by the king's acceptance of necromancers into his kingdom, and his acceptance of the undead.  Rather than condemn all forms of undeath as an abomination, he allowed them to serve as laborers.

This is where you will find living humans.  Some of the slaves seem to have escaped the plague, and now still tend to castle, performing the chores that the undead are too indelicate to perform, such as tending to the garden or playing songs during "dinner".  Slave who do not perform their chores are mutilated by the skeletons.  They may not leave the castle.

The slaves have gone through countless generations without any interaction with the outside world.  The speak a degenerate patois, and perform their chores religiously, without understanding the significance of what they do.  They have an invented religion, in which the Prophetessa is an invisible spirit within the castle.  After a lifetime of service, they will be promoted to skeletons themselves (mostly true) and after their skeletal life is complete, they will join the invisible Prophetessa at her invisible court.

One of the three towers is known to be the home of Abin Uldrin, the king's necromancer.  If there are any answers to be found in Braxa, they will be there.

Undead Army Strategy

I swear to god, no one does it right.

The greatest strengths of an undead army is in logistics, and in sieges. 

Not needing food is a tremendous advantage in long campaigns, far from home.  The need for a supply line is minimal.  And so undead armies tend to embrace long campaigns, sometimes wandering far from home for decades.

This resilience is even more useful during sieges.  Undead armies can encircle a town for years.  A common tactic is to build a second wall around a city's walls, and use that to prevent relief armies from approaching.  The undead have all the time in the world.

Skeletons are also resistant to arrows and burning oil, two common methods of repelling a siege.

In fact, skeletal armies are so good at sieges that an opposing commander will often make great sacrifices to force a pitched battle elsewhere.

The greatest weakness of an undead army is the intellect of the soldiers, and their magical prohibitions.

An undead battalion must be led by a living soldier, capable of formulating plans and enacting them.  If this soldier is killed, the battalion becomes headless.  Multiple commanding officers offer redundancy, but also erode the unique advantages of the undead.  And so a common opposing tactic is simply the assassination of officers, either through a suicide squad or subterfuge (such as an opponent's risen skeletons.)

Another flaw of the undead is their limited ability to differentiate between humans (and other skeletons, for that matter).  An enemy will be obeyed if they are wearing the proper armor and giving the proper code words.

Lastly, clerical magic can scatter skeletons with shocking efficiency.  An army backed by the Church's clerics can be devastating.  And so assassinations are also required (something that skeletons are incapable of).

Undead Army Tactics

Skeletons are typically iron-shod, like horses.  Their feet tend to erode during long marches, and then they become incapable of walking. 

Skeletal armies are also capable of startling ambushes, with their combatants buried in sand, shallow swamp, or surf.

Crawling skeletons are usually relegated to battalions of their own, and trail behind the main body of the army, unless there are so few of them that they can be carried on wagons, or by their peers (although this just causes their feet to wear out faster).

Lead-shod skeletons can also invade a city through the harbor, by walking on the bottom.  This is devastating to an unprepared city, and this type of sneak attack is usually how campaigns are kicked off.

The most visible icon of a skeletal army are the gas wagons.  Huge things loaded up with burning arsenic, or possibly a mixture of bitumen and sulfur crystals (capable of producing plumes of sulfur dioxide). 

If you ever fight a skeletal army, you will do so in smoke.  In many battles, the smoke claims more lives than the skeletons do.

Common counters involve maneuvering for optimal wind, obstructing the wagons with rough terrain, and/or fighting a running battle.

Tunneling crews are also common.  Sometimes traditional tunnels are used, while othertimes a "bubble" is used, in which freshly excavated soil is piled behind them.  The skeletons are not concerned by their entombment.

For gaining access over a wall, a certain type of skeleton is sometimes used, called a flatback.  These skeletons wear special armor that makes them stackable.  A battalion of flatbacks is capable of building a ramp up to a wall within just a few minutes.

A common counter for flatback battalions is a type of wrecking ball, which is attached to the battlements and used to clear the wall.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Ruins of Tabernach

Centerra is supposed to be post-apocalyptic, although I sometimes forget that fact.

And if you are going to have a post-apocalyptic world, the most defining feature should be the ruins of cities.  Ideally, the ruins should outnumber the living cities.  The clouded brows of dead cities should loom over the tallest spires of the living cities, and the glories of lost civilizations should outstrip anything the present has to offer.

So here's a dead city.

This looks nothing at all like Tabernach, but the mood is right.
by Stefan Celic


A city of cubic buildings, built from black basalt at the bottom of a steep valley.  A river runs through it, filled with fat fish.  There are gates and gardens.  There is a park, where a parade of stone animals still stands in revelry, roaring over the silent boulevards.  Dire otters sun themselves on the stones of sunken docks.

They have tried to make the city habitable, those certain people. You can see where they've stretched poles across the street, and canvas hung between them.  It was done in order to turn the roads into tunnels.  But now the poles are broken and the canvas all slashed.  The tatters blow through the streets like bandages.

The Largest Building

It was clearly an observatory.  The rusted remains of a telescope are still visible, peering out the apex of the tower like a scared bird.  This landmark is well-noted, and people have journeyed to Tabernach in order to loot the great lens (precision optics are always among the greatest treasures of the age that mints them).

But the wooden stairs of the building have all rotted out, and those that have made the perilous climb to the top report that the glass is too heavy to easily lower.  And so the great lens remains there, an unplucked fruit.

A Central Building

There are still a few footpaths in Tabernach.  Many of them convene here, at this small prison.  The few dozen people who live here often choose to sleep in the prison, because they can lock more doors.  They feel safer in there, father from the outside.

The people who live here are criminals, runaways, and exiles.  Smugglers and travelers sometimes pass through.  Tabernach is a good place to disappear into.

Mousehead deals with the smugglers, mostly.  He and his family ensures that their goods remain undisturbed and their exiles remain unnamed.  He is a large man with a soft beard.  He always struggles to maintain eye contact, and so many who meet him do not suspect that he is capable of prodigious violence.

Mousehead is satisfied with the status quo, and anyone attempting to change the city in any significant way (such as excavating the temple) will meet lethal resistance from him.  He will also expect a cut if the lens is ever successfully removed.

Fiddleback deals with the spiritual needs of the exiles, when he is sober.  He knows more of the history of Tabernach than anyone else.  Like everyone else, he has his theories about what is wrong with the sun.  Unlike anyone else, however, he is correct.

Fiddleback would never admit it, except to a trusted friend, but he is writing a book about the shape of the sun in Tabernach.  He has been studying shadows and pinhole camera projections, which he believes to be safe.  (He is mostly correct.)  His has a folio full of drawings which can be used to piece together the shape of the sun, something that he has been hesitant to do (and rightly so).  With total knowledge comes total insanity.

Still, Fiddleback knows enough that the truth of the city's demise could be discovered in a library (one of the mansions holds a sufficient library) and the curse dispelled.

A Small Building

A shack near the docks contains a spread cowhide and a trio of sodden barrels, sprouting mushrooms.  The barrels were once filled with a small fortune (2000s) of pepper.  Now, the rot is so bad that only a small amount (100s) can be salvaged by a patient hand.

Another Small Building

A two-story house, the perimeter secured by strings and trip-wires.  It's filled with shoes, many still containing a foot.  The owner is Chapparung the Shoe-Thief.  He'll be back soon.  HD 3, unarmored, Axe 2d6.

The Temple

The paint has faded and at least one steeple has toppled, but it is still the most highly stylized building in the city.  It's composed of an outer building, a courtyard, and a small inner building.

The outer building holds a dozen small shrines and a central chamber of worship, all of which have been looted and defaced long ago.  The buildings only inhabitant is Gogo, a lonely who man who was unfairly driven from the prison because of his obsession with his own feces.  He's lived here peacefully for years, but has never ventured into the inner building, since he suffers terrible nightmares whenever he does so.

The inner building is a small sanctum.  There is a small pedestal where a larger statue once stood, but aside from that, the room is empty.  The only other thing to note is that the floor is made with pale tiles of rhyolite--an oddity in a city where absolutely every other stone is black basalt.

If the tiles are pried up, the ground beneath them discovered to be made from human bones, broken and mixed together.

If these bones are are removed (a process that takes about 10 hours of labor), a staircase is revealed, leading down into the basement level.  Every cubic centimeter of space is in the staircase and basement is filled with broken bones, from floor to ceiling.  Before even a mouse can explore the lower levels, the bones must be removed.

The process of clearing the bones takes about 1000 hours of labor.  The bones belonged to approximately 160,000 people.  The bones all appear to be of equal age, and all demographics are represented among them.

The Sun

The sun does not shine down on Tabernach.  Although the light is the same shade and intensity as the sun's light, it is something else entirely in the sky.

People who go down into the valley of Tabernach do so at night, and they do so quickly.

Those who see the sun (through a peephole, mirror, or even a pinhole camera) go insane.  Their first actions are usually to open all the windows, destroy any awnings, and encourage their friends to look at the sun as well.

Those who are seen by the sun suffer a worse fate.  They are snatched up, screaming into the sky as if by a giant hand.  Their remains are usually returned to the same area, usually within a few hours, and dismembered usually at the joints.  There is a great deal of variety in this process, though.

And there is one last oddity: all of the shadows in Tabernach are twinned, as if there were two light sources instead of one.  (The eyes of Satan, some say.)

Another common story is that there is an invisible giant prowling the city.

Another story, the one told by Mousehead, is that there is another sun behind the first.  And behind that second sun is another world--another planet, called the Opponent.  (This is known as the Heliocentric Heresy, since it is known that the sun orbits the earth, not the other way around.)

 But if there is such a thing as the Opponent, it would explain where the crawling men come from.

The Crawling Men

They exist only in rumor, and the rumor is this:

the crawling men are knights (or perhaps large beetles) with large, round heads.  They have long arms that allow them to move swiftly on all fours.  Their heads sag, either from the weight of their own skulls or because they are always searching the ground for scents.

The crawling men are accused of killing dogs, stealing weapons, poisoning food, and removing shade.  No crawling man has ever been killed, or any piece of their armor been recovered.

They may not exist.  In fact, they probably don't.  But if they did, they would have the following stats.

HD Def plate  Rusted Sword 1d8
Move dwarf  Int Mor 5

Bloodseeker - Crawling Men always know who has the least HP, and attack that target preferentially.

Skittish - As soon as someone is killed (either a PC or a crawling man), the crawling men will attempt to grab the person and flee.  This is the only time they will ever fly (as a giant beetle).  They will fly about 200' away to a place of relative safety, slit the person's belly open, and lap up their blood with their long tongues (which fit perfectly through the round mouthparts of their armor).  This process takes about 10 minutes, after which they will return to fight again.

A platter of fresh blood is irresistible to them.