Thursday, January 30, 2014

Items from the Pit and the House

Here's a selection of thingamajigs from the East Pit Marketplace (the ruins of east Pittsburgh) and the House of Hours itself.  Players can read--there's no spoilers here.

The first few of them are replacements for hirelings/retainers.


A hurleypuss is a big, cantankerous type of psuedocat.  Generations of breeding have made it suitable for use in combat.  A hurlypuss' tail is replaced with a J-shaped stick, like that of an umbrella.  The hurleypuss has some sturdy tendons in it's tail and hips--yanking it by the tail/stick doesn't hurt it, but it does piss it off.  The tail/stick also gives a longer lever arm, allowing the hurleypuss to be thrown further.

A hurleypuss will spend most of its life in a bag, where it takes catnaps.  When the hurleypuss is thrown from the bag on a target, it will wake up, enter cat flight mode (you've seen it--arms outstretched, waving the tail for orientation and balance), and maul the first thing that it lands on.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Faith, Biology, and Gaia

Religion Aboard the Axis Mundi

The human brain evolved for an environment that is very far from the one that it finds itself in.  In some ways, faith is a response to that stress.

Humans aboard the Axis Mundi live in a world without a learnable history, or a constant geography.  In some ways, faith is a response to that ambiguity.

Not everyone thinks that the AIs are greek gods.  Many people believe that they are both gods and AIs, because in their minds, these are almost identical concepts.

No one has any idea of how computers work.  The concepts involved (quantum computing, positronics) are so far beyond anything they (or we) are familiar with, that it would take a lifetime to comprehend.  Computers make computers, and computers make electronics.  They don't even use human-readable languages anymore.  There's no HTML or C++ inside computers anymore, or anything that your eyeballs could parse.  There's just math.

Every tribe has a guardian spirit (small, helpful AI) and an assembler (sort of a 3D printer on steroids).  Tribes that lack either don't last long.  Want to know why the oxygen recycler is broken?  Ask the guardian spirit.  Want to know what parts you need to scavenge to repair the old one?  Ask the assembler.

There are a lot of itinerant preachers.  They are remnants, all of them, and most are loathe to kill the last of a god's faithful.  It invites disaster.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Scenes From the Axis Mundi

This is part three of my Axis Mundi posts.  If you haven't read them, this post isn't going to make a lot of sense.
Basically, the Axis Mundi is an 8000 year old colony ship carrying the last of humanity on a voyage that will probably never end, because the AIs and the humans that run the place are all damaged/insane/amnesiac.  Huge expansions of culture, technology, and especially religion.  The AIs style themselves as roman gods (according to their names).  The foremost of these AIs is Apollo, who has invented matter-cloning technology during the voyage and has been cloning generations of cryo-sleeped dudes, who wake and serve, never suspecting that anything is wrong.

This is what the Axis Mundi sounds like.

Don't click on those other fucking youtube videos.  I don't even know why I wrote them down.  This is the one you are looking for.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Gods Have Forgotten

This is a continuation of the Axis Mundi plot I wrote back in the day.

You probably should read that first.

Essential Mandate

All of the AIs (except Gaia) require humans to confirm any major decisions aboard the ship (and vice-versa).  Any major change to a ship's system more significant than opening an airlock requires both a human and an AI to "sign off" on it.  (This is one reason why Vulcan, who has no humans aboard his ship, is so powerless.)

The human must be informed, and the choice must be made without direct coercion or bribery.

Additionally, each AI has further mandates that they must obey.  For example, Apollo cannot use deadly force except against targets who have proven themselves to be a threat to the ship, the sleepers, or himself.  (Sending people into extremely dangerous areas, however, is quite permissible.)

In fact, all of the AIs (except Vulcan) are prohibited from attacking the PCs directly.  For Apollo, this restriction is an unwelcome boundary, a collar against which he chafes.  For the other AIs, this is so integrated into their minds that they find the notion of harming a human repulsive, although this doesn't conflict with their other attempts to get the players killed.  Have I mentioned that they're all insane?

Anyway, the essential mandate requires each AI to work with humans if they ever want to get anything done.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mandrogi (grass golems)

Mandrogi have many, many names. Grass Golems. Grasslings. Grassies. Shake men. Slips.

The reason they have so many names is because so many different people have had the opportunity to encounter them. Mandrogi are little grass figurines that have been magically animated. They are most commonly made by Abasinian merchants, who see the know of having cheap labor on long caravan rides are famous for traveling with hordes of the little things.

Little grass golems, not higher than your thigh, sold by the bundle.

The secret to making Mandrogi used to be a closely guarded secret kept by The Pashetso, the largest mercantile group on the south Zeban coast. However, the cat has been out of the bag for a full generation of merchants, and now every caravan coming out of Shangalore travels with a full accoutrement of the little rustling servants. This is because they can only be made from drogi grass, which is ubiquitous in the dry plains of Abasinia but fairly scarce in other parts of the world. But you need to understand how common this stuff is--it literally grows by the side of the road. It's a weed in Abasinia. Everywhere else, its a rare magical component.

Abasinian merchants travel with bales of the stuff loaded on the backs of their wagons. It makes great bedding to sleep on. It can be fed to the gola or mules that pull the wagons. It can be used as kindling to start fires. It can be used as packing material to keep ceramics from chipping.

And it's damn easy to make a mandrogi. You just make a five-pointed star out of some loose bundles of grass, tie the tips with string, and paint a single symbol in the center. A practiced hand can make one in just a couple of minutes. And on long caravan rides, making mandogi is a good way to pass the time. And animating them is a snap, too. A wizard's apprentice could do it. And a decent wizard could animate them by the bundle. They are usually made flat, so they can be stacked easy. It's not uncommon to see an Abasinian merchant order his grassies to pack up his wares, and then order the grassies to pile themselves together and tie up the bale neatly.

Larger caravans, with dozens of wagons, might travel with over a thousand mandrogi and several scrub wizards, who spend the trip gathering drogi grass and constantly making more.

They are famously weak, and are torn apart by wind, water, cats, dogs, or age (they dry out pretty quickly). Even horses sometimes learn to chase them down and eat them. When they "die" from old age after a week or so, they will just keel over, midstep. Then the merchant usually just throws them on the fire. 

"You'd lose a fight to a grassy" is a cliched insult. They tend to walk around with a swift, swishing gait, and large groups of them on the move make a characteristic rustling sound. Mandrogi can carry water, gather wood, load and unload the wagon, stand guard, clean surfaces, and many other uses. They stand between two to three feet tall and cannot be made smaller or larger. 

Although they are weak, they work together (if ordered) to perform tasks. They walk a fine line between mindless (since they accidentally walk through the campfire sometimes and have a hard time navigating out of a sack) and intelligent (since they can follow moderately complex orders such as "collect timber from the woods until the pile is taller than you are"). Regardless, merchants from Abasinia rarely travel without them, and a large caravan might have hundreds of the little things running around the campsite. Kleshamanjurrogi insababamandrogi is a Abasinian rhyme that can be translated as "It's time to head home when we run out of mandrogi".

They can't directly hurt you, but they can be ordered to tackle someone and wrap around their leg like an amorous straw hat.  Not much a big deal, but if you have enough grassies on you, running will be impossible (and smothering may even be a risk).

Is Centerra a high magic setting?

Not really.  Certain kinds of potent magic (like mandrogi) are common and potent.  But the distribution of magic is irregular, asymmetric, and often contradictory.  Just because there is a simple spell to lower a temperature doesn't mean that there is a spell to raise it.  

So peasants might be able to buy a bundle of mandrogi down at the marketplace and ask his dog what it wants for dinner (because all dogs in this town talk, for unknown reasons), but the peasant will still starve when winter comes, and freeze to death in his clay hovel.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What the hell is wrong with this tavern?

  1. Sound of a baby's crying coming from the latrine.
  2. Sleepwalking epidemic among guests. Psychic domination or just bad food?
  3. You are being robbed/spied upon by an animal. (dog/bird/monkey/cat).
  4. Strong, odious affiliation. (50% guild-based, 50% religious).
  5. Carnivorous beds.
  6. Proprietors are lycanthropes. (Were-wolves, -boars, -rats, -pumas, -bears, -centipedes, etc).
  7. Food/booze is addictive.
  8. Fake looking ghosts! Real or just someone trying to put Old Man Jenkins out of business?
  9. Cook is mass murderer. Destroys evidence by feeding it to customers.
  10. There are royal cannibals in the basement.
  11. There's a tiny person in your soup. (50% dead, 50% begging for help.)
  12. Someone has been in your room while you slept. (50% stole something, 50% added something.)
  13. Oblivious guest is slowly transforming into demon over course of evening.
  14. Rats in the walls! And maybe more than rats.
  15. Loose floorboard in room conceals treasure, cryptic note, and intrigue.
  16. Everyone starts vomiting at once, then stops. No one seems to think this is unusual.
  17. Proprietor seems 10 lbs smaller/fatter whenever the PCs see him (even if 5 min apart).
  18. Overbooked. Share a room with a berserker/nun/scribe/cultist. Figure it out.
  19. Overnight, you witness an man float down the hall and vanish into the fireplace.
  20. Out of booze! Desperation is setting in, and the situation is growing dire.

I'm Getting Too Old For This Shit

Sandbox games and open-ended games don't have distinct endings for the campaign, so any "campaign arcs" come from players generating friction on the surface of your map.

So, after Lars the Viscerator fulfills his personal goal of ridding Barovania of the nefarious Wolfenwitch, secured his fortune, and avenged his family, has he won the game?

Hell yeah, he's won the game.  Take your winnings and cash out, Lars.  Congrats.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Play Report: House of Hours

I've never written a play report before.  But yesterday was my first time DMing an OSR game on G+, so I figure one more new thing won't hurt.

Hey, if you want to play in the House of Hours sometime in the future, you are double forbidden from clicking that link the next paragraph or reading that one long post.  Some things are different and many things have been added, but it's still ripe with spoilers.

The Dungeon is just a coherent-but-still-unpolished House of Hours, a large funhouse/madhouse/sadhouse dungeon for a level 3-5 party.

Anyway, here's what happens.  The party began in media res. . .

The old man did not look happy.  His skeletal arms were folded across his ribs, and the bones of his hands sagged inside the sallow skin like dice in a bag.  The pajamas that he was wearing were so yellowed and threadbare that his bushy mat of pubic hair could be seen through them.

"And who are these clowns?" the old man croaked.  "That one looks like 200 pounds of birdshit, that one's giving me the hairy eyeball, and that one's a fucking cat.  Jesus Cthulhu, Charles.  I told you to go round up some honest American murder-hobos, not bring me the shit off their shoes."

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nezong's Cryptid

There is an obscure spell, developed by an obscure witch on an obscure island.  The spell has been retroactively titled Summon Nezong's Cryptid, but no one knows the spell's purpose, or what name the witch gave it.

The spell summons this animal:

No one knows what it is!  No one has ever seen one before.  It is clearly a creature plucked whole-formed from a fevered imagination, combining strange elements of both rodents, pigs, and bovines.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Fucking Pathfinder Game

Okay, I love my Pathfinder group and I love Pathfinder. It's very different from OD&D, but there's a lot there if everyone loves crunchy combat and character builds.

Today's session was 5 hours.  The first four of which were composed of paying the dracolich the corpse(s) of the wizard they promised him years ago, learning of the imminent destruction of their neighborhood via planetary bombardment (exawatt lasers softening the planet's crust so that the orbital bombs could reach the magma) in exactly 37 minutes, dodging jury-rigged rocket sled booby traps, finding some spools of plastic sheeting (and completely missing how much it would be worth in a planet who had never seen plastic before), and sacrificing 3 summoned monkeys in the name of safety. . .

The Case for Narrow Ability Scores

Ability Scores, What's Up With THEM???

In OD&D, ability scores only do two things:
1. Roll-under mechanics (roll under your Strength to succeed).
2. Generating ability bonuses.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Even More Monastic Wizards

This is part 3 of my current wizard bender.

part 1

part 2

Basically, nearly every wizard in Centerra belongs to a wizarding tradition.  Sometimes these are magical academies (big, powerful, political) but most of the time they are monastic enclaves (small, weird, traditional).  Here are 3 more monastic enclaves.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

More Monastic Wizards

This is a continuation of a previous post about monastic wizard orders.

Basically, nearly every wizard in Centerra belongs to a wizarding tradition.  Sometimes these are magical academies (big, powerful, political) but most of the time they are monastic enclaves (small, weird, traditional).

The Monastery Under the Hill

Wizards From Under The Hill adore elves and seek to emulate them in all ways.  They dress in soft, undyed silks and drink plum wine. They mutilate their ears into points, and starve themselves that might better approximate the famous slenderness of the elves. Similarly, they fetishize youth and beauty.

They live in a monastery called Oakenhome, which is entirely ensconced inside a large, round hill.  A mighty oak grows on top of the tree, with a small tree-house hidden in it's branches.  The Wizards From Under the Hill uses this treehouse for their most important rituals and magics.