Saturday, May 31, 2014


This is a continuation of my previous school of wizardy posts.

A Note About Fashion

I figure that wizards are among the most powerful and visible people in Centerra.  And powerful, visible people often get to set fashion trends, or at least buy clothing directly from the people who do.  Cutting edge fashion trends tend to take a lot more risks than the everyday stuff that is eventually derived.  Combine this with very old traditions and conservative institutions who don't give a fuck about looking modern, and you've got a recipe for outrageous uniforms.

these vatican guards give no fucks
But please don't think that people don't take wizards in Centerra less seriously because of what they wear.  Quite the opposite.  Wizards are the only people who have full latitude in what they wear.  Fighters need to wear armor, nobles need to wear expensive, modern stuff.  Wizards wear strange fashions because they can.

Also, I only talk about wizard fashion because I imagine schools of wizardry being very distinct places.  Adventuring wizards probably wear more practical clothes.  These are just the things wizards wear in cities, when they're representing their college, or when they want to look formal.

Also note that it's only wizarding colleges that have weird fashions.  The more traditional master-apprentice wizards don't do anything so patently ridiculous.


Lenguamancers are wizards who specialize in the magic of tongues, that most important of organs.

While the Stewer's Guild of Keldyn is best known for making the 100-Year Stew every century or so, the real backbone of the Guild are the Lenguamancers.  While the preparation and presentation of the 100-Year Stew is vitally important for obvious reasons, the decades between Stews give the Guild little influence in the world--except, of course, for the lenguamancers.

It is important to note that the Lenguamancers are a distinct group from the Alchemist-Cooks.  While some talented individuals master both arts, the two groups are better known  as rivals.

Lenguamancers train in the College of the Purple Dome, in the city of Trystero.

The lenguamancers grew out of a mystery cult, although those roots are barely visible now.  They believe that the tongue is the seat of the mind, and indeed the soul.  The tongue both produces sounds that communicate, and it tastes things which perceive the world.  They believe that all senses are variations of taste, but taste, since it is the most primordial sense, is the most reliable.  Your eyes may fail, your ears may deceive you, but the tongue alone is infallible.

Lenguamancers wear robes of white, pink, and red.  Underneath the gowns, they wear a light framework called a hustle* that is designed to make their shoulders look bigger.  They usually eat a palette cleanser in between spells, typically ginger, and typically stored in their left sleeve.

*Similar to how Victorian-era women used a bustle underneath their dress to make their butt look enormous, old Centerran fashion once had men wearing a similar thing for their shoulders: the hustle.  They're now painfully unfashionable, and only worn by certain conservative groups.  The momentum of tradition, I guess.

Lenguamancers have developed alternative ways to record spells in spellbooks, probably due to a small amount of scorn for the written word.  Completely unique in the wizarding universe, some lenguamancers are illiterate.

- Never allow yourself to be tasted.  Tiny parasites (smaller than a mouse) don't count.
- Depends on the stars.  Every day, roll a d12:

1  must only eat fruit
2  must only eat vegetables
3  must only eat grains
4  must only eat dairy
5  must only eat meat
6  never speak
7  never stop speaking (whisper-mumbling is OK)
8  must only speak adjectives
9  must only speak nouns
10 must only speak monosyllabic words
11 roll twice and use both
12 no restrictions (though most lenguamancers eat candy on these days)

Special Ability: Taste the Unknown
By tasting something, you can ascertain its hidden truths.  By licking a person, you can discover their mood, health, diet, and usually some lifestyle clues.  By licking an item, you gain the effects of detect magic and identify on that item.  You can always detect poison by taste, and usually spit it out fast enough to suffer no ill effects.

Level 1 Lenguamancer Spell List:
1. charm person
2. control tongue*
3. mirror tongue*
4. silence*
5. sleep
6. speak with animal
7. speak with architectural element*
8. speak with enchantment*
9. speak with dead
10. speak with metal
11. speak with plants
12. audible illusion

Control Tongue lets you take control of a person's tongue for a few turns.  You can't speak through your mouth since you are speaking through the person's mouth (with their voice, naturally).  The other person actually has no control over their voice (although they can clap their hands over their mouth or something).

Mirror Tongue lets you speak any language you choose for a few minutes.  It can be a language that you identify by name ("elvish") or just indicate ("whatever that guy over there is speaking").  This doesn't apply to written languages in any way.

Silence prevents the target from speaking if they fail their save.  It lasts for a few turns or until the caster speaks (whichever occurs first).  Since this spell can be used to silence spellcasters, it is the most feared ability of lenguamancers.

Speak With X lets the caster pose 3 sentences or questions to the target.  Dead or inanimate objects will answer questions honestly, although the answers tend to be strange and cryptic, since the temporary minds that the spell gives the object tend to be alien, stupid, or both.  Architectural elements (wall, door, floor) can answer simple questions ("is there a secret passage in you?" "what's on the other side of you?") but have hard time with specifics, such as how the secret passage is opened or what kind of creatures are on the other side.  Speak with enchantment also works with curses, who are known to be insulting and vile in personality.

some people can't roll their tongue
some people can roll it 3x
it's genetic
Closing Thoughts
In the games I've played, the speak with X spells are always hella fun.  It's a lot more interesting to talk to a wall about what's behind it than it is to just cast a divination spell that lets you see through walls, and you get to discover what kind of personality a hamster has when you talk to it.  Fun.

The observances are potentially pretty damning, since you lose a prepared spell whenever an enemy bites you AND you probably need to carry 5 types of rations (or carry different kinds on different allies) which requires tracking rations by type (pain in the ass) . . . but maybe that's appropriate for a wizard who works with a culinary institution like the Stewer's Guild.

And being able to cast identify by licking something is also a powerful ability.  It might even be worth the onerous observances.

And if you don't like the whole special ability / observance thing, you can always just drop it and use the spell list.

Encounters on the Sea of Suloi

So my Centerra setting is pretty much just South America.  There's a big continent that stretches from sunbaked wasteland in the north to frozen wasteland in the south.  And there's an ocean on each side.

South America, pretty much
And since I'm currently working on a hex crawl centered around the Frogstar Peninsula (i.e. this place). . .

I figure I should do some more write-ups about the Sea of Suloi (i.e. this place).

the prismatic waters, the sea of suloi, and the arcade
Technically, everything that is blue in that picture is the Sea of Suloi.  The southwestern part is called the Prismatic Waters and the northeastern part is called the Arcade.

The Prismatic Waters are called that because they change colors.  Like, without warning, the whole ocean will suddenly change colors from Pantone 15-5217 to 17-5641.  It happens in an eyeblink.  If you're at sea and watching the horizon, you can see it sweep across the ocean like a shockwave.  The colors don't seem to do anything, but some of them herald certain ocean-wide effects.  Every sailors most feared color is this one.  They won't even name it out loud.  It is literally the worst luck.  It's a baseless superstition everywhere else except the Prismatic Sea, where it really does herald Bad Things.
pure evil
Wizards think that the color changes occur because of a massive, enchanted prism prison beneath the waves that holds a rainbow elemental.  Different colors correspond to different emotions, and these emotional releases affect the outside world.  (Purple, of course, represents fear.)  But then again, wizards are idiots.  Scholars believe that this is the result of tiny organisms in the water (bacteria?  viruses?  abiotic prions?) that are attuned and reacting to some external stimuli.

The Arcade was named thus because it sometimes has a lot of columns.  The columns are waterspouts.  Ocean tornadoes.  They happen all the time in the Arcade, and no one knows why.

But not only are the waterspouts constant, they're also weird.  They form during storms as often as they form during clear weather.  The form rows.  They form pairs that spiral around each other like DNA.  They form arches, and funnel the water from one part of the ocean to another.  The arches look like rainbows; you can sail safely beneath them.  (It is said to be good luck.)

Of course this also makes the Arcade incredibly dangerous for ships.  Most boats go around it.  Even the merfolk, with their mostly-submerged boats, still risk getting their sails torn off by waterspouts.

And of course the ecology of the place is all jacked up, too.  Enormous flying things filter the filter the plankton out of the air (which is constantly filled with plankton-containing mist).  There is a species of large dolphin that rides the waterspouts for fun.  But most animals have a hard time surviving in this place.  Near the boundaries of the Arcade, it is not uncommon to witness a rain of anchovies, kelp, or tiny squid.

it's rare that I find a picture of exactly the image I was thinking of
And strange things happen in the middle of the Sea of Suloi, too.  

The Sea of Suloi is a remarkably shallow sea.  Between a major river (the mighty Shunatula) emptying into it and massive algae blooms, there is a lot of biomass drifting to to the bottom of the ocean.  The sludgey, sandy bottom is a vibrant ecosystem (and not truly comparable to anything we have on Earth).

Biology Digression: There is a type of colonial yeast that grows in the nutrient-rich sludge on the ocean floor.  These yeast-colonies grow over the course of decades and resemble oversized sponge-corals.  These yeast-colonies are eaten by a species of giant sea cucumber which burrows holes through the yeast-coral, forming a tunnel system.  These tunnel systems form their own microecosystems, and are home to all sorts of specialized animals.  These creatures produce a large amount of gaseous waste, which eventually infuses into the yeast-coral to such a degrees that the whole thing becomes bouyant.

No one in Centerra has any notion about anything in the previous paragraph, however.  I only mention it to you, dear reader, so that the next paragraph will make sense.

Every so often in the Sea of Suloi, a giant island of spongy mud will explode to the surface in the middle of the ocean.  These sponge islands, called cucumber baskets, spongetunnelskingmuds, or brinestacks, are hundreds of feet across and full of tunnels.  These tunnels are full of lots of animals, but they are also full of giant sea cucumbers, a fantastic delicacy--the dish of kings.  A dried giant sea cucumber is worth its weight in gold.

And so everyone is thrilled when one of the sponge islands erupts to the surface.  Although the air around a sponge island is dangerous immediately after it surfaces, people will flock to the site because such great treasures can be found inside of it.  There are specialized ships and crews that search out these floating islands and make good profit by doing to, even though their appearance is mostly random.

And they are quite dangerous places.  The giant sea cucumbers can defend themselves by shooting sticky, acidic intestines from their anuses (google it) but they are not the most dangerous of the sublittoral organisms that live there.  And there are environmental dangers, too.  Drowning, "bad air", becoming trapped in a smaller tunnel, and--the biggest danger--that the whole island might flip over.

they stink on the outside
they smell even worse on the inside
especially if they've been drying in the sun for a couple of days
But it's not only the specialists who venture into these death traps.  Merchant galleons, whalers, passenger ships, pilgrimage barges, poet joyjiggers--nearly all ships will stop and investigate one of these things, simply because a giant sea cucumber is worth a small fortune.

Side note: despite the fact that the merfolk are the hated enemies of all land-dwellers (and vice versa), giant sea cucumbers are the merfolk's greatest export.  Merfolk smugglers and human smugglers do profitable business with each, and have shared many a glass of wine as they grow rich together.  Both groups are hated by their respective species as traitors.  (The merfolks' biggest import is tinplated steel.)

Physics Digression: The solubility of a gas in a liquid is (roughly) proportionate to the pressure.  So when the pressure drops, previously dissolved gases will appear as bubbles (like opening a soda can).  This is true for yeast-coral-islands that rise to the surface.  As they rise, they become more bouyant, not less. Their eruption from the surface of the water is a violent, dramatic process.  The waves capsize small boats, the ocean turns brown with mud, and black crabs rain from the air.

money in the bank

So if Centerra is analogous to South America, there is also cheap Panama Canal knockoff (although it's really more like the Sea of Marmara).  Go back to that close up picture near the top (#3) and you can see where the Sea of Suloi meets the Sea of Fish.  It's a pair of small oceans: the Valdine Sea and the Queen's Sea.

Like the Panama Canal, all ship traffic that wants to go from one ocean to the other must pass through there.  These two small seas are ruled by merfolk--it's probably their biggest stronghold.  (They even have some land-based colonies, like Valdina).  And since merfolk generally hate humans*, very little traffic gets through.

*Merfolk have weird ideas about identity.  They hate humans on the institutional, conceptual level, but are much friendlier to lone humans.  This friendliness sometimes extends to small groups.  Sometimes.

The only people who get through the Valdine sea are the friends of the merfolk, and that's a very short list.  The weirdos from Valdina get free passage, but there aren't many of them, so whatever.  Most of the ship's you'll see there are pirate ships and smugglers that have managed to get into the good favor of the merfolk.

Interestingly, the Valdine and Queen's Seas have currents.  In the winter, the ocean pours from east to west, draining the Sea of Fish into the Sea of Suloi.  Millions of gallons of water per day.  It's impossible to sail against the current.  And in the summer, the inverse occurs.  Because of this, the Valdine and Queen's sea are only bidirectionally navigable about 70% of the year.

No one has any idea why the seas do this.

Encounters on the Open Ocean
After every X days of sailing, roll a d6.

1 Harmless sea creatures
2 Dangerous sea creatures
3-4 Other ship
5-6 No encounter

Harmless Sea Creatures

1 Mermaids
2 Butterfly migration
3 Sea gulls or other birds
4 Whales
5 Anomalocarisoid
    (beautiful but stay the fuck out of the water)
6 Straylight marauader
    (at surface to release planula, will tan you in ~3 minutes, don't stare directly at it)
7 Octopus dog
    (looks like an octopus, acts like a friendly dog, climbs on board, dances for food)
8 Freak Wave
    (easy sailing check)
9 St. Elmo's Fire
    (Green will-o'-wisps temporarily infest sail, harmless unless disturbed)
10 Eel migration
    (Good eating)
11 Mist people
    (look more like small, vertical pillars of mist, but sailors insist they're people)
12 Local effect: water color change, waterspout formation, or cucumber basket.
    (Depending on location.  Waterspouts require an immediate sailing check vs disaster.)

the first 25 seconds of this video are useless and annoying
but you get to see a sea cucumber poop later on, so there is that

Dangerous Ocean Creature Disposition

1 Mating / birthing / courtship display
2 Fighting / eating something else
    1 Harmless sea creature
    2 Dangerous sea creature
    3 Another ship
3 Hunting Cautiously
4 Hunting Patiently
5 Hunting Playfully
6 Hunting Desperately
7 Hunting Erratically
8 Berserker Mode

Dangerous Ocean Creatures

1 Sharks
2 Giant Shark
3 Flying Squid (magical flight, sneak in your window and eat you in your hammock)
2 Giant Mantis Shrimp
3 Flying Eyeballs (paralyzing gaze)
4 Dire Pelicans
5 Tiger Seals (Sorta cute, really fucking scary, like dire wolves)
6 Memory Fog
    1 Adrift and starving
    2 Lost love
    3 Mutiny
    4 Drowning
7 Sirens
8 Napalm Squid
9 Barnacle King
10 Dunkleosteus
11 Razor Rays
12 Phantom Mantas
13 Maelstrom Maw (Charybdis + Sarlacc)
14 Brine Slime (floating ooze, vulnerable to fire)
15 Weresharks
16 Flotsam Elemental (only destroys ships, does not attack people)
17 Ship Golem (insane relic of ancient war)
18 Sailback crocodiles (supposedly taught sailing to humans, sailors respectful but scared)
19 Cumulonictus
20 Bad news. . .
    1 Stygian Spike Kings (1d3)
    2 Corpiculata Infectatus (terminal stage)
    3 Leviathan
        1 Serpentine
        2 Fusiform
        3 Insectile
        4 Mantaform
    4 The Witch Whale
        1 Curiosity
        2 Enslavement
        3 Madness
        4 Devour


Friday, May 30, 2014

Optional Rule: Hallucinations

It's tough to have good hallucination rules.  The usual fallback are confusion spells, which are just a small table (d4) of options that include stabbing yourself, stabbing an ally, etc.  That's more of a "do random stuff" effect and not much of a "perceive random stuff" which is sort of what hallucinations would do.

There are a couple of reasons why it's hard to write good hallucination rules.

1. It depends on making up random stuff.  Random stuff is hard.

2. If you're rolling on a big table before you tell a player "you see a purple dragon in the tavern, what do you do?", then the player will metagame and realize that the purple dragon is a hallucination.  They can't help it.

3. The game pretty much depends on describing scenes to the group, and then letting them act on it.  Hallucinations mess with this simple, effective process.

So here's my attempt.

Whenever a player is HALLUCINATING, roll on this table whenever something significant happens.  E.g. monsters attack, the PC enters a new area, an NPC begins saying important stuff, etc.  Also whenever something happens that only the hallucinating PC witnesses.

1    Wrong tool / wrong verb.
2    Wrong target / wrong noun.
3    Misinterpret the situation.
4    See things that aren't there.
5-8 Nothing.  Describe the scene naturally.

You can make this roll every round to constantly add hallucinations, or you can roll once at the start of the scene and just maintain the same ones.

IMPORTANT: This will only work if you describe the scene to the hallucinating PC first and make him decide what he wants to do.  Only after the hallucinating PC chosen their actions do you describe the scene accurately to the rest of the group.

IMPORTANT: The hallucinating player may say, "well, I look at my fellow party members and see how they are reacting before I do anything".  This is not a bad idea, but this delay will also (a) cost the hallucinating person their first turn in combat while they look at their companions, and (b) also gets it's own roll on the hallucination table.

Example: Encountering hostile goblins.
  1. Tool/Verb: "You see some goblins about to attack you with feather dusters."
  2. Target/Noun: "You see some orcs about to attack you."
  3. Misinterpret: "You see some goblins having a nice tea party."
  4. Stuff that isn't there:"You see some goblins about to attack you.  They have a troll with them."

Example: Seeing a waterfall.
  1. Tool/Verb: "You see a waterfall, except it's not falling.  It's just standing still."
  2. Target/Noun: "You see a flow of gold coins pouring off a ledge and disappearing into the water."
  3. Misinterpret: "You see a cave with a waterfall.  The air is dry and hot, and you can taste copper."
  4. Stuff that isn't there: "You see a waterfall with nymphs washing their hair beneath it."

Example: Hallucinations begin mid-combat
  1. Tool/Verb: "You thought you shot an arrow, but actually you just threw your sword."
  2. Target/Noun: "You tried to attack the ogre, but you accidentally attacked your friend."
  3. Misinterpret: "You thought you killed the ogre last round, but he's still here somehow."
  4. Stuff that isn't there: "One of the ogres opens his mouth and vomits out a grey ooze."

Each of these gives the players an honest choice based on dishonest information.  That's good--choices are more fun than losing control of your character while the DM rolls his actions.

If you want a more granular mechanic, you can also roll a d4 to see how believable it is.
1    Completely silly.  Goblins having a teaparty.
2-3 Something in between.
4    Completely possible.  Goblins have a troll with them.

If you want a random noun generator to help you come up with stuff, just google one.  I liked this one:

NOTE: In order to prevent players from metagaming, be sure to roll every time and present the information in the same way.  Think poker face.

NOTE: If a PC is hallucinating, lay it on thick! So far I've only described the big, mechanically significant hallucinations, but you should also be adding in little fluff hallucinations constantly.  "Fluff" hallucinations are the ones that still sound crazy but don't really affect the game much.  Don't bother interrupting the flow of the game for these, because they won't have much gameplay impact (either because they're minor details that don't change how a player would make decisions, or the PC has time to look at how his companions are reacting).

Examples of fluff hallucinations:
1    Your spaghetti is writhing like worms.
2    You hear your father's voice, calling you to come home.
3    You can hear the sun burning in the sky like a bonfire.
4    Everyone in this marketplace is looking at your butt.
5    Something is growing inside your stomach.

NOTE: Test for false positives.  Whenever something could happen that only the hallucinating PC could witness, roll the d8.  Like when the waitress served the spaghetti, did she really whisper "meet me in the kitchen in five minutes" or not?

It's not a complicated rule, but it does take a while to understand.  Rolling a d8 doesn't take much time, especially if you roll the d4 at the same time.  Once you get the hang of it, it'll flow a lot smoother.

Honest choice.  Dishonest information.

Optional Rule: Wizard Vision

Riffing off my last post (Digression: Some Bullshit About Wizards), this post is about Wizard Eyes.  You know, sight beyond sight?  The magical dimension behind our own?

I'll let Ice King explain.

Optional Rule: Wizard Vision

The first time you cast any spell that lets you see unseen things, it also gives you Wizard Vision.  This is a one-way road, and it is permanent.  Things that have been seen cannot be unseen.

The first time a wizard casts any sort of -sight or detect spell on himself, he gains Wizard Vision (except for detect magic, that one's safe).  Then, you have a choice to make.  You can accept the weird meta-reality that lurks behind our own, or you can reject it.

  • Reject: Lose 1d6 Wisdom as cognitive dissonance makes you loopy.
  • Accept: Lose 1d6 Charisma as impossible sights assail your humanity.

In exchange, you gain two new powers:

  • Can cast detect invisibility at will, and with a thought.
  • Know if another creature is a spellcaster or not by looking them in the eye.
Let's not talk about how balanced this is, and instead talk about how cool it is.

It explains why wizards are frequently crazy (-1d6 Wis) or a little alien (-1d6 Cha).
It explains why wizards are always seeing invisible heroes sneak into their room.
It explains why wizards can recognize each other, and allows for dramatic NPC introductions.

wizard eyes: not even once

A Digression About Wizards

When they're not being cast, spells occupy a different dimension than us.  That dimension overlaps with our own, because all dimensions overlap.  It's a plane composed not of atoms or molecules, but consciousness.  Wizards call it the ethereal plane.  It "looks" empty to our eyes because we cannot see the stable, self-sufficient elements of sentience that compose it.

Another word for a stable, self-sufficient element of sentience is "spell".  (Although, the things we think of as spells are just the ones that we have found practical uses for, such as invisibility.  Spells that do not seem to have a practical use are discarded, but in the ethereal plane, you will find many such spells that "don't do anything".  The difficulty of inventing a spell is not getting a spell to work, it's finding a spell that will do something useful in a reliable, predictable way.  This is why wizards who research spells are always blowing themselves up.)

The power of a spell relies on the tension between the ethereal plane and the material.  A spell's energy, to generate heat or light or power, doesn't seem to come from any material source, because it doesn't.  The ethereal plane powers spellcasting.  Sentience itself powers magic (and sentience is about as difficult to define as magic is).

Now, a human is mostly meat.  But there is some sentience in there too (almost always located in the brain).  And there are some ethereal creatures that are inverse: mostly sentience but with a little bit of meat as well.  A human who has learned to use his sentience as a tool--who has weaponized his sentience--in order to affect magic is called a wizard.

(The ethereal plane has counterparts to materials and energy, too.  Just as the fundamentals of matter can be said to be atoms and quarks, the fundamentals of consciousness can be said to be emotions and qualia.  A prick of coldness on non-existent skin.  A spurt of jealously, isolated an undefined.  We don't think of these things as sentient or aware--they aren't--but they are the building blocks.)

(And there are analogues for bigger things, too.  The material plane has mountains of granite and oceans of water.  The ethereal plane has vast plains of anger, crystallized and insensate.  There are also self propagating fractals of mathematics, logical cysts of multiplication that branch off and up until they crumble under their own fragility.  What numbers are these trees of mathematics multiplying?  Why, they aren't multiplying anything at all, merely the naked concept.")

Humans have a hard time thinking about these things as separate, although they are.  For a long time people thought of the human meat body as a whole.  They thought of it as something complete, independent, and not too complex.  Only after the microscope was invented did we start to see ourselves as a summary of billions of cooperating cells, each one virtually an animal in it's own right.

And populations of humans cells can continue to thrive and live on, even long after the human has died.  (See: Henrietta Lacks, who is both immortal and dead).  Spells can do this, too.  In the flash of their casting, they can destabilize, mutate, and grow like a cancer.  These spells swell with the rich effluvium of the wizard's cerebrospinal fluid, and grow thick from the ejaculate of his mind.  THE SPELL GROWS MEAT.  These degenerate, autonomous spells are what we call demons.  

But I digress.

Memorizing a spell is not like memorizing a series of noises and hand motions.  It's like inviting a spell into your brain by creating a suitable environment for it to reside.  It's like building a trap for an external fragment of sentience.  It's like creating an impression in our dimensional fabric so that water on the other side can pool there.  It's like a gravity well.

That's why casting a spell "erases it from your memory"--because it's not erasing anything.  It's merely the dissipation of a certain pattern of consciousness.

To put it another way, it's like weaving a netted bag (out of your neurons) to catch (invite) a fish (spell).  You can't handle this fish with your hands, so your only way to affect that fish is through handing the bag.  And then when you want to hit something with the fish, you throw it, releasing both the bag and the fish.  (Why do all of my metaphors get stupid at the end?)

This is why why wizard neurons literally tie themselves in knots.  This is why wizard brains twist themselves into maddening shapes, and carve the inside of the skull.  This is why wizard heads are valuable even if they are severed.  This is why wizards invariably go mad.  (The only wizards who don't go mad are the ones who've managed to cast the fewest spells.)

And this is why wizards are some of the most ignorant people on the planet:

Because spellcasting requires a very specific microenvironment in a very small part of the wizard's brain, the act of "memorizing" a spell requires cultivation of certain mental traits.  Not only must wizards learn otherworldly esoterica, but they must also believe some of it as well.

People often contrast arcane spell with divine miracles by claiming that the former is powered by knowledge and belief and the latter is powered by emotions and belief.  As far as reductionistic, crude simplifications go, this one is pretty accurate.

And so wizards believe such strange things because they must.  If they stopped believing in these things, they would cease being wizards.  No spell would ever come to roost in a brain that hasn't contorted itself into a suitable nest!  The regular sulci and gyri of sailors and scholars are but vulgar and transient to spells.

And so wizards believe that there are barnacles that turn into geese.  That black cats herald doom.  That certain circular patterns can trap demons inside when made from silver.  That crows can carry away souls.  That the planet is hollow and is lit by a miniature star.  That the speak with dead spell actually allows communication with the spirit of one who has passed.

They guard their thoughts by following strange traditions.  They filter their perception of reality by isolating themselves in tower and in monasteries.  In their books they have built a false history of the world with false maps and false assumptions.  And yet the same wizards who can level a city block with a few words are also the ones who have no idea how boats float or babies are concieved.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Stat Block Style Guide

So I've been thinking about style recently.

I figure there's two kinds of statblocks.

There's the kind that goes at the end of the book where they list out all of the numbers. It needs to be narrow enough to fit in a two column format. The most important factors are readability and completeness (because some people might want an “official” set of numbers for a monster).

Troll XP 800
HD 6 Reac  -3
AC 4 [15]  Int 7 / hungry 
Save  10 Mor 10
Mov 12
Atk +4/+4 Claws (1d8)
Regenerate 3

Defensive stuff, mental stuff, and attacky stuff all have their own sections. They're mostly listed in the order that they'll be used, too.

Movement, and Attacks each get their own line, because those are the things that are most likely to overflow. Special Abilities go last, and leave room for however many you want to tack on.

There's potentially room for more stuff on there (Strength, Treasure Hoard, # Appearing, Alignment) but I didn't include them for good reasons. Strength might be useful for a DM who is trying to figure out a grapple, but a lot of DM's have grapple/shoving systems that use HD to figure out how hard it is to grapple something, rather than Strength. Also Str is often pretty intuitive (while Int is not).

Treasure Hoard and # Appearing are usually already included in whatever module spawned this monster. Room descriptions already tell you both of those, and random encounter tables usually tell you how many are appearing.

And fuck Alignment. It's always pretty obvious. That's like listing the color of orange juice on the side of the box. (And if it's not obvious, you can just stick it down in the Special Abilities section.)

Then there's inline stat blocks. These are the ones that go in the middle of a paragraph, usually in the middle of a hex or room description. The most important factor is conciseness.

Troll: HD 6, AC 15, Claws +4/+4 (1d8), Regenerate 3, XP 800.

HD, AC, attacks, special abilities, and XP are always printed.
Saves are assumed to be 5+HD, roll under with a d20 = success.
Reaction modifiers, intelligence, movement speed, and morale are straightforward enough that the DM can set them on the fly. (e.g. Snakes run slower than a man, horses run faster.) If any of these are remarkable or non-intuitive, they will be listed.

XP might be a little bit redundant, but I personally find it a pain to tally up all of the XP after a session. It'd be nice to have a little inline number that I could just add up as a monster gets killed.

Frogstar Peninsula Hexcrawl v0.2

Ugh.  I've been typing for so long I feel nauseous.

I chose the Frogstar Peninsula for my first hexcrawl.  It's the only place in Centerra where you can see the Frogstar in the sky.  I wrote some rumors for it a couple of days ago.

So here's the area of Centerra that's getting turned into a hexcrawl.  I've never done a hexcrawl before, so a I figure that a 16x16 grid of 8-mile hexes would cover a decent area.

I was fucking wrong.  128 miles is nothing on a big world map like this one.

Anyway, I made the hex map.  That doesn't look so hard to fill out!  That doesn't look so big!

Except it is big.  16 x 16 = 256.  Even if I didn't fill in the water tiles, I'd still be writing 125 entries.  That's on par with that giant bullshit House of Hours thing I wrote once.  (And that thing is halfway to having an actual PDF.  It's just LARGE and WEIRD and STRANGELY HUGE).

(I wonder how much work it would be to cover the whole continent of Centerra with hex crawls?  Is that a good life goal?  I'm 26, and I don't know what good life goals are anymore.)

Anyway, I plan for the Frogstar Peninsula to be a good spot for levels 1-3.  It will have 10+ mini dungeons (<10 rooms) and 3 full-size dungeons.  The TREE PALACE OF THE APE KING, the WATERFALL WARRENS, and the SECRET FROGSTAR DUNGEON THAT DOESN'T EVEN APPEAR ON THE MAP.

Honestly, I'm more excited about the mini dungeons.  My favorite part of any Zelda game is taking time out from the epic main quest to investigate some random hole in the ground, and then being delighted when the hole in the ground has more than 1 room.  Because I never know what I'm going to find in those random mini dungeons.  Big epic dungeons, I got expectations.

Starting Out

I have given some thought to how to start players out.  They could enter from the civilized direction: Fort Forello, on the southern border.  They could land in one of the harbors from god-knows-where.  Or they could be passengers on a ship that is attacked by pirates, and then either escape to shore or join up with pirates.  Or they could be prisoners on a ship that is attacked by pirates, and make their escape through the hole that the catapult stones tear through the wall.  That would be cool.

Spoiler Warning

If you happen to be already playing on the Frogstar Peninsula, you should probably stop reading now.  You know who you are.  Yes, you in the loincloth.  And your friend in the puffy pirate shirt.  Stop reading.

Or if you keep reading, just skin through it really fast.  I mean there's 125+ entries.  No way are you going to remember more than a smidge of this stuff.  I can't remember more than a smidge of this stuff.

Stop Procrastinating and Show Me the Entries

I reference the Book of Mice a few times in here.  It's a pdf bestiary I wrote.

CAUTION: These entries are very big (17,000 words) and may bog your computer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Frogstar Peninsula Rumors

I've started work on a hexcrawl.  It's swamp, but also some hills and a small peninsula.

It is said that there is a bright green star that can be seen from no where else in the world.  It burns in the southern sky, as constant as an emerald on black felt.

It is said that the bog mermaids have begun to return from the cold slime in which they slumbered.  They blink their dark eyes at the humans in their land.  Their sharp teeth speak languages that have been dead for centuries.

It is said that farms have gone dry, and violence spills from the earth.  It is no longer safe to travel alone.

It is said that the city of Angelspit is sinking into the bog, while the dullard inhabitants sit on their heels, placidly eating frogs and snails.

It is said that the Tree Palace of the Ape King grows higher every day.  The ruler of that place grows fat with tribute brought from pirates.

It is said that panthers speak all the tongues of the world, and use this gift to charm their prey.

It is said that the sprites speak of something called the Fragrant Mother.  (Or perhaps the Odorous Woman.  Or perhaps the Perfumed Vagina.  Their patois is a bit thick.)

It is said that fossils have been discovered in the earth, and an elf has come to excavate them.

It is said that a cult has been discovered in the city of Angelspit.  The heretics have been hung and their nest of sin has been burned.  Yet something remains, hesitating like a voice on the wind.

It is said that a witch is poisoning the whole swamp with her necromancy, and is responsible for an outbreak of bilge shivers.

It is said that serpents have been seen migrating through the swamp toward some singular destination, as if of one mind.

It is said that echoes of metal and industry have begun to ring out from the dark halls in the hills.

It is said that a sea witch has begun to prey on passing ships with a mixture of magic and whales, one of which she rides inside.

It is said that the man who leads the poachers does not bleed nor sleep.  Their traps have taken on a stranger and deadlier turn.


This excellent Gengrigar was drawn by Claytonian.
He runs KIWF and is working on The Wizardarium of Calibraxis.
It demonstrates a Gengrigar's smirking trollface.

Giant, round, soft, laughing fey.  Utterly apathetic. Polymorph addicts, cannibals, and compulsive liars.

Pronounded GENNG-reh-gar (kinda sounds like "Genghes Khan")

Ogre mages are kind of awkward.

I supposed they're based on Japanese oni?  Eh.  They seem a bit like a generic boss version of ogre.  (If you want to make a boss version of a monster, just give it more HD and spellcasting ability and/or make it smarter and/or a funny color).

Here's my replacement:

in so many words

Gengrigar are tall.  Maybe 9' tall, and almost as broad.  They don't have shoulders, but their arms just sort of slope around their round body.  Their faces look flat and dead but full of teeth, like a drowned shark.  Behind that toothsome smile is a blunted face and a series of blunt cranial spikes that pass for hair.  Their skin is dusky purple and feels impossibly soft and unctuous, like the softest leather.  Their skin smells like baby skin.

Their body is soft and warm, like an egg cell.  It is not made of fat, but rather something softer and more pleasant.  It is dusky and enveloping.  Not matter what it does, it will always be hugging you back.  It's corpse would make a wonderful bed.

They reproduce by splitting in half.

The softness nearly weightless.  Lighter than marshmallows and whipped cream.  The whole creature weighs less than a man.  Perhaps that is why they fly around so easily.

They dress in fine silks, but when these things become sullied with blood and feces they do not notice.  The finery is not replaced when it gets dirty; it is replaced as soon as the Gengrimar finds some silks that catch its fancy.  Most of them carry a cane or a walking stick.

They are utterly amoral and care only for their own pleasures (usually food and amusement).  They lie constantly and unthinkingly.  If you catch them in a lie (and you will; they are careless) they will not blink an eye.  They will pile up more lies on top of the failed one.  Higher lies and deeper.  But they will stop listening to you as soon as you become annoying or boring.

They don't care what you have to say.  Very few things concern them.

You might think they they just walk around the place, stealing things and eating people.  And you'd be halfway right.  They do that sometimes.  But when they do stuff like that, they tend to attract the wrong kind of attention, and then there are suddenly large groups of armed people trying to kill them, and then they have to fly away to somewhere else.  And that's inconvenient.  They've found better ways to live a good life.

Better Way #1: Fly your fat self into town.  Charm everyone.  Sleep in the mayor's bed.  Have them bring you their finest meats and cheeses.  Take all the attractive women in the town of marriageable age and stack them on top of yourself.  Occasionally help the town out with their small problems, so they can justify their actions to themselves (otherwise charm breaks).  Leave when the food runs out or when you get bored.

Have I mentioned that Gengrigar eat a lot?

Better Way #2:  Wander the highways, searching for diversion.  When you get hungry, charm some passing farmer and buy his leg off of him.

Better Way #2.5: Fly around, asking riddles.  Some of these riddles don't have any answer.  If they are given the wrong answer, they eat your leg.  The right answer earns money, if they care long enough to pay it out.  They might just sigh and fly away.

Have I mentioned that Gengrigar carry a lot of money?  Sometimes in a big sack on their back.

In a way, Gengrigar are bigger murderhobos than the PCs are.  They just wander around, killing mostly indiscriminately, humiliating powerful opponents, and carrying an unwieldy amount of treasure.


This is a video of Mad Pierrot from Cowboy Bebop.
It demonstrates how a Gengrigar floats around the battlefield.

Gengrigar are also playful and cheerful.  Nothing gets them depressed.  If you stab one, he'll laugh and mock you, even up to the point of death.

There is nothing that Gengrigar hate more than self-righteous do-gooders.  It's anathema to them.  Sober, grim goodness is the opposite of their careless, whimsical evil.  They reward kindness with cruelty.  Sympathy with scorn.  They are insane, as far as humans are concerned.

They sometimes travel the countryside, transforming animals into all sorts of disgusting, dangerous, or hilarious creations (random chance of each).  They leave a swath of deformed elephants, screaming trees, and carnivorous pink sheep.

Of course, they sometimes set up shop in a more traditional way, and lead a group of ogres/orcs/goblins in pillaging and terrorizing the countryside.  Their playful hedonism continues here as well, and their bases are always ludicrous affairs filled with disgusting, dangerous, or hilarious creations.  Though they live in squalor, they will still use high titles.  A heap of scrap wood becomes "my munificent throne".  A slovenly trull becomes "the imperial concubine, Lady Transfiguration".

Even the ogres that follow a Gengrigar are likely to be transformed into something more appropriate (baby-faces, blue skin, inside-out, etc).

They use their questing curse to put a compulsion on adventurers.  They especially like to get adventurer's to perform inane or pointless quests.  ("Bring me a rat tail from the Citadel of Trials.  Bring me wagon of hydra manure.  Etc.")

One of the most infuriating things that a Gengrigar does is pretend that it is the do-gooder, and that the PCs are the villains.  It uses all the spells at its disposal to persecute the PCs, hopefully while the whole village looks on and cheers the triumph of the Gengrigar.

When they address other people, it's always with names of their own devising.  The fighter becomes "Squire Farmsmell".  The sorceress becomes "Pooplord Wencherly".  It's like they don't see the world when they look at it.  Instead they see something idealized, playful, and contemptible.
This is a video of Magic Man from Adventure Time.
He best embodies the Gengrigar ethos.

HD 7
Reaction +0 / Int 17 / Morale 6
Move 12 / Fly 12 (human speed)

AC 15
Attack cane +7 (1d8+3)
Save 9+

Regenerate: 1 hp / round
Squishy: take double damage from piercing
Rich: Gengrigar carry 2x as much money as their stats suggest.
Spells (at-will): charm person*, polymorph self, polymorph other*, minor illusion*, questing curse*
Death Curse: Upon dying, all coins carried by the Gengrigar are converted (or "exchanged") for copper ones.  This usually causes the Gengrigar's coin purses to explode and shoot pennies everywhere.

charm person and polymorph other can only be attempted once per target per day.

minor illusion is a lesser version of phantasmal force.  It's obviously an illusion (too bright, too loud, or too crude), and so can never cause damage or fool anyone.  They mostly use it to make silly things appear in the sky.

questing curse is a lesser version of geas.  It can only be cast on willing people.

They aren't big fans of honest combat.  They're more likely In combat, be sure you abuse polymorph self and minor illusion to create plenty of diversions and hiding places.

Although this is a pretty good smirk, too.

DM Talk

In case it wasn't obvious, Gengrigar are pretty much the ultimate trolling device (have you read their death curse?)  They could potentially be a bigger gotcha than a mimic, or a better way to piss off your players than those things that look like ceilings but are really just asshole manta rays.  Trappers?  I guess.

So, the trick to using a Gengrigar is. . . don't be a dick.

Ideally, introduce the idea of a Gengrigar before you meet one.  Let your players know that these horrible fucking things exist in the world before they walk up and turn someone into a newt.

Let Gengrigar be approachable.  Let them be something that the party can reason with, at least for a little bit.  Make them a little bit more like the Joker and a little less like Bizarro.

If you want them to lead a bunch of bandits and ogres, make them a mad maestro behind the scenes.  And when it comes crashing down around his head, he'll die laughing--unless he just flies away.

And if you absolutely must have someone turn someone into a dung-goblin (or a microcephalic hermaphrodite, a dolphin with arms and legs, etc) and then swear not to remove the curse until a certain quest is done, you might as well use a gengrimon instead of a random wizard.  Gengrimon corpses make better beds, at least.


Sunday, May 25, 2014


Land of Angry Oceans
Land of Electric People
Land of Singing Mountains
Land of Lambs and Plasma
Land of Buffaloes and Beer
Land of Mud and Monkeys
Land of Furious Drums
Land of Collapse
Land of Beasts
Land of Sharks and Vibrato
Land of Storms and Trembling
Land of Grasping Hands
Land of Flowers
Land of Hungry Earth
Land of Black Milk
Land of No Beasts
Land of The Monolith
Land of The Great Corpse
The Undying Land
The Dancing Land
Land of Autumn Rot
The Yellow Land
The Clockwise Land
Land of Bone and Rag
Tattered Land
Land of Saliva and Gold
Land of Funerals
Land of Lords and Lances
Land of Very Small Gods
Land of Pain and Consequences

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Madness of Avool

Avool pan Ankhri was a failing con artist. He made a living by selling snake oils, false cures, and famously--pamphlets. He worked out of Shar (before it fell to the orcs, who rechristened it Babarukh), and could often be seen on the streets selling his worthless potions and false charms against the evil eye. He also sold booklets of pseudo-religious nonsense: The Secrets of the Celestial Martyrs, The Hidden Prophecies of St. Nashanial, and The Five Forbidden Pressure Points of Dreadful Death.

After a particularly bad day, involving the collections of debt collectors, the scorn of the crowds, and the infidelity of his mistress, Avool sank into a particularly black mood. He retreated into his wagon to write what would be his last pamphlet: The True Nature of Our Situation. He took the pamphlet to the printer's and had a few hundred copies made. By the next day Avool pan Ankhri was selling them in the marketplace, and the printer was found hung from the rafters, his heels swaying in the cold air.

The First Madness

The facts are these:

Anyone who reads The True Nature will fall into a deep depression, and eventually take their own life.

Anyone who is told enough about The True Nature will fall into a deep depression, and eventually take their own life.

Anyone who learns about the philosophies of The True Nature, even by scrying or oracle, will fall into a deep depression and eventually take their own life.

In this way, the poisonous words of Avool Pan Ankhri spread across Shar, as people shared the pamphlets and discussed it with each other. Mothers wondered what their child had been reading before he took his own life.  Men tried to talk their friends out of suicide, only to find themselves quickly convinced enough to join them.  Even when a state of panic over the number of suicides gripped the city, philosophers and mages continued to seek out the booklet and read it--perhaps not believing that words on a page would drive them to end their own life.

Avool was forced to flee angry mobs of people whose loved ones had committed suicide. He crossed the bay to the Seamount, and hid for days in the caves. It was said that he carved a sequel to "The True Nature" into the inside of the caverns there. But, he was eventually captured by Shar guards with their ears plugged to avoid hearing the toxic words that Avool shouted while they carried him back for trial.

(Almost) all surviving copies of the dread pamphlet were destroyed, and all talk of it was banned. This is the only act of censorship ever enacted by Sharland.  Since it was not considered a crime to print a pamphlet that wasn't treasonous, the city decided to imprison him for life, despite the enormous public outcry.  He is there to this day, in a soundproof cell.  The guards stuff their ears with wax and try to avoid looking at any words that the madman might have scratched in the dust.

Interestingly, the copies of The True Nature that were studied (but not read) by mages revealed them to be nonmagical, and completely devoid of compulsion-type enchantments. Any compulsion that they created in their readers was simply by the power of the words alone. The only person who has read the pamphlet without incident is Lhasadet, one of the serypha and the head librarian at the Library of Kalamon.  She agreed with the wizard’s diagnosis, saying that the pamphlet was “just lines of ink on a parchment.”

Avool pan Ankhri seems to have written the single most depressing, fatalistic publication in existence.

The Second Madness

Even after the Madness of Avool had driven many of the citizens to Shar to suicide, it was some years later when the true evil of what Avool had created was realized.

The pamphlets had not been completely destroyed, and they could be copied safely by scribes who did not read Common. A few individuals began using The True Nature as justification for very evil deeds (although some of them were surely lying) or saying that the pamphlet had made them do the terrible things that they did. While the average person would receive the impression that "My life is not worth living", especially wicked individuals would gain the doctrine of "No one is worthy of life". Presumably, this was the philosophy that Avool pan Ankhri himself endorsed as he disseminated his terrible words. A number of death cults include all or part of The True Nature their doctrines.

The Third Madness

It seems that a people who continue living after reading The True Nature, and dwell frequently on the teachings of Avool, sometimes undergo a very bizarre physiological change. Specifically, several purple worms appear in their brain.

Scholars agree that this phenomenon is no more remarkable than how maggots spontaneously appear in rotten meat.

The worms were called the third madworms, and as they grow in one's skull, they cause headaches, delusions, and blackouts.  After being released from the skull (use your imagination), the worms can grow to enormous sizes. While the smaller ones are can be somewhat domesticated, the larger worms (30' or so) are incredibly aggressive. Some of the aforementioned cults raise the worms, releasing them when they grow too large to control, while keeping the smaller ones to guard their lairs.

At all life stages, each worm can speak, and has a vocabulary of exactly one word (presumably taken from The True Nature) that it continually mutters.  A third madworm can secrete a staggering array of poisons. Larger worms learn to fight intelligently and can manipulate tools with their mouth-tentacles.  Wizards call these things neothelids.

GM Notes

If you feed a program the wrong data or return the wrong variable type, it sometimes collapses into loops that can corrupt or crash the entire program.  This is what happens when a conscious being understands the ideas in The True Nature.  Like a prion (a single molecule) that can crystallize huge tracts of your brain.  Like a seed crystal that can turn a liquid to a solid without any magic needed.  This is what an idea does to parts of some unlucky brain.

The corrupted brain bits get trapped in this cycle, and they unconsciously begin to use magic.  This single, primordial spell turns nearby tissue into annelid germ plasm.  Alternate personalities get trapped in PCs brains all the time in fantasy settings.  This is like that--only its an brain subroutine gone rogue, an unconscious loop in the blind spot of the primitive brain.

To extrapolate this idea a bit: that a "cursed" fighter could simply have a corrupted subsection of his brain that is subconsciously casting crude spells.  This doesn't work in campaigns where spellcasting is strongly tied to intention and intelligence and nothing else.  But everywhere else, I believe this provides a novel and dangerous sort of "curse", that has its roots in memory, subsists through biology, and only eventually grows into the realm of magic later, if ever.

This has the potential to be an extremely dangerous piece of paper, and I wouldn't spring it on the PCs without some sort of warning.

A PC who started reading the pamphlet would quickly start making Will saves of increasing difficulty, with failures causing a morale penalty. After losing 5 or so, the PC should become suicidal. Even after the PC finishes reading it, they continue making Will saves as long as they think about it. If they want to stop thinking about it and put it out of their head, this requires another Will save, and even then, their mind might wander back to it at some later point. Magical means might be necessary to make them forget it completely.

If nothing else, a pamphlet of The True Nature makes for an interesting item.  Anyone who reads it will be driven to suicide in 2d20 hours.  I'm sure that a clever party can come up with all sorts of uses for that.

I really think that contents of The True Nature are best left undescribed--most people have their own ideas about what the most depressing thing is. If you insist, though, you could sprinkle in nihilist creeds, "God is Dead" quotes, or the depressing parts of determinism.

It really is just words on a paper. A poem can invoke emotion. This one can evoke a LOT of emotion.

I don't have a specific force that inspired Avool. I agree, though, that SOMETHING should be behind it. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.


A lot of people will be raising their hands and asking how a non-magical thing can do magic?  Don't you need to be a wizard and study for years before you can do magic?

Well, no.

What exactly do you think is happening inside a wizard's head when he casts a spell?

At some point a non-magical thing has to produce a magical thing.  Non-magical brain tissues and non-magical gestures and non-magical noises eventually come together to produce a fireball spell.

Why does this have to be a conscious process?  Why can't it be a subconscious one?  Why can't it be a product of madness instead of years of study?  Both can create deep grooves in the brain.

This paradigm might not be something that players can exploit, but the world around them can have lots of weird instances of this (and should, I'd argue).

Two Ideas To Put In Your Own Game

A book or scroll that puts something in your body, just by reading it.

Magic coming from non-magical sources?