Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Creatures for The Dig

I said I'd write a dungeon, didn't I?  Maybe this one?  i should probably get started.

Morlock Squealer

These are morlock children.  They are used in wartime as scouts and lookouts.  Despite their youth, they disciplined fighters.  They do not run away out of cowardice; it just makes better tactical sense to run for reinforcements than to tackle a difficult enemy head-on.

HD 0
AC 12
Shiv +0 (1d6)
Move 12
Save 16+
Morale 5
Special: Morlock, Run Away.

Morlock: Darkvision.  Immune to pain and charm.

Run Away: Squealers make a morale check at the start of a battle.  Whenever a group of squealers fail their morale check, they run for reinforcements.  And since you'll never find squealers without larger morlocks nearby, squealers will almost always find some.

Morlock (Killian)

These are just normal, humanoid morlocks.  They're the result of a few hundred years of selectively breeding humans to serve their centipede overlords.  They are pale, thin, intelligent, and fanatically loyal to their masters.  They wear loinclothes and a lot of elaborate piercings.

HD 1
AC 12
Spear or Pickaxe +1 (1d8)
Move 12
Save 15+
Morale 9
Special: Morlock, Subtle.

Morlock: Darkvision.  Immune to pain and charm.

Subtle: 3-in-6 chance to surprise.  Can run away without provoking attacks.  Cannot be tracked in caves.


An 8' long beast that was the apex predator of its time.  Looks a bit like a killer shrimp.

HD 3
AC 17
Bite +3 (1d8 + Grab)
Swim 10 or Fly 10
Save 13+
Morale 10

Anomalocaris will usually attempt to swim away after it has grabbed a target.  Then it just find a secluded part of the cave where it can grind it's prey to death with its circular mouth.  They have an intense love for trilobites and will attack them preferentially, without fail.


About 18” in diameter, these spiny animals are just a symmetrical shell atop a slug-like foot.  It's shell is covered with spines, each 9” long and as sharp as a knife.

HD 1
AC 16
Throw Spine +1 (1d6, 30' range)
Move 3
Save 18+
Morale 7
Special: Flurry, Blind

Flurry: Wiwaxia can throw 1d4 spines as a single action.  If someone has a shield readied against a particlar wiwaxia, it blocks half of the spines automatically.

Blind: Wiwaxia listens for nearby threats, and then throws spines reflexively.  Their sense of hearing is about as good as a human's, and a character can sneak past by rolling under their Dexterity.


About 2' long, with undulating side paddles, five eyes, and a prehensile jaw (sort of like an elephant trunk with a lobster claw at the end of it).

HD 1
AC 14
Bite +3 (1d6)
Swim 12 or Fly 12
Save 15+
Morale 8

After an opabinia succeeds on a hit, it will retreat to chew its food.  After 1d6 minutes, the surviving opabinia will regroup and attack again.  However, this requires a morale check, if they've lost a significant chunk of their hunting group.


Hallucigenia is small, but aggressive.  It will mince over to other creatures and strive to attack them with its needle-like legs.  It's face is a featureless bulb, with a sphincter-like mouth at the tip.  It is about 6 inches tall.

HD 1
AC 11
Spines +1 (1d4)
Move 6
Save 12+
Morale 10
Special: Guilt

Guilt: After killing a hallucigenia, a character is compelled to feel guilty.  If they fail a save, they will avoid all violence for 1d3 turns.  These feelings of guilt will persist until they do something noble (save an innocent, buy their mom some flowers) or wake up after a night of sleeping.  The guilt will return when the character is laying down to fall asleep.  Once asleep, they will dream of a vast plain of stinking mud, like a primordial sea floor exposed to a large, pale sun.  Here, they will do battle with another hallucigenia, using whatever equipment and spells they had available when they fell asleep.

The nightmare hallucigenia is about 15' tall.  It strides atop 8' tall needles in a convulsive undulation.  It's dorsal tubules whip their air.  But worst of all is the head, which has gone from being a featureless white bulb to a crudely human face, with blue eyes and cruel lips.

HD 3
AC 13
Spines +3 (1d8)
Move 12
Save 12+
Morale 12

The nightmare hallucigenia will pursue the player relentlessly across the mud until it can kill them.  It can be fought, or it can be escaped (requires outrunning it for 8 hours), but it can never be appeased.  If a PC is killed in the dream, they will die in real life.  Their companions will discover their mangled body in the morning, trampled and pierced as if by a dozen spears, their corpse stinking of the sea floor.

Nascent Primordium

A huge mass of flesh and slime, gently sussurating as internal reactions gas off noxious by-products.  It looks threatening, but if it is never attacked, it will never move nor attack.  Unless the PCs go right up to it and jump in, or something.

HD 5
AC 10
Engulf +5 (1d6 acid damage on subsequent turns)
Move 0
Save 11+
Morale 9
Special: Evolve, Regenerate 1 HP/rnd

Evolve: The primordium is always evolving.  Keep track of the last three things that damaged it.  It gains immunity to those damage types (piercing, bludgeoning, slashing, fire, acid, lightning, etc) and gains the ability to duplicate those attacks.  If you shoot it with an arrow it will grow armored plates and shoot spines (mechanically identical to the arrow).  If you slash it with a sword it will grow immensely thick hair and slashing claws.  If you pound it with a hammer it will become obese and grow huge, pounding paws.

Each time it wants to go somewhere but can't get there in one turn, it will gain +3 Movement, Fly, Swim, or Burrow, up to a maximum of 18 Movement. If it is spoken to, it will attempt to respond by growing a face and imitating the sounds.  Talk to it for a few days and  you may even begin to see it develop a simple intelligence.

Basically, it evolves (Lamarckian style) whenever it senses a need, or to imitate something else.  Determine it's behavior according to those two criteria.

It's a bit out of the scope of the average dungeon encounter, but the primordium could honestly go on to become anything.  It's a blank slate.  It could turn into a Tarrasque and the PCs could teach it morality.  It could turn into a super-doppleganger determined to resurrect all extinct species.  (But most likely the PCs will murder it in some fucking cave.)


HD 1
AC 17
Bite +1 (1d6 + Disease)
Move 6
Save 15+
Morale 8
Special: Slashing and piercing damage is halved.

Disease: 1d4 Dex.  For every 3 points of Dex you lose, you gain +1 AC.  Unlike other diseases, the damage from this disease is permanent (if untreated).

Rules for Diseases
Once you're infected:
  1. Make a Constitution check at the start of every day.
    • If you fail it, you take the stat damage indicated.
    • If you pass it, you get +1 to all subsequent Con checks against this disease.
    • If you pass 2x in a row, you're cured.
    • Rest and medical care can give you a bonus on this check.
  2. You automatically fail the first day's constitution check--this is sort of represented by the save you made when you first risked contracting the disease.
  3. Stat damage recovers at 1 point/day, but only after you're cured.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Perils of Synergy

This post is about game design.

When you are designing a ruleset, or some homebrew stuff for an established ruleset, you should consider how much synergy you want in your game.

Let's define synergy.

Let's say that we are designing 3rd edition DnD.  Everyone knows that elves are smart, and orcs are dumb.  So we give them some racial modifiers like this:

Elf: +2 Int (plus other stuff)
Orc: -2 Int (plus other stuff)

That's a kind of simulationism.  We want to simulate a world where elves are smart by giving them a +2 bonus to Int whenever they're rolled up.

So we've just made a strong piece of synergy between elves and wizards.  And you may be nodding, because your world is full of elvish wizards (and no orc wizards) and that Feels Right to you.  It matches your internal expectations of what a fantasy world is like.

But by promoting synergy, you've actually stomped down on player choices by making players choose between Character Concept and Combat Efficiency.

No one wants to suck at their job.  So when a player thinks, "I want to play a wizard, I wonder what race I should be?", they'll be attracted to elves.  And if they've decided to be an elf, they'll be attracted to being a wizard.  So there is a high correlation between elves wizards and elves, because you (the game designer) have chosen to reward it.  Via synergy.

And so there are lots of elven wizards and half-orc barbarians.  And while this is great for conforming to tropes, it's not great for diversity.  7 races x 11 classes could be 77 combinations, all equally likely.  But instead we get a level of diversity that's more like 20 combinations plus outliers.  

Consider instead, a system with 0 synergy.  That is to say, that no part of the character sheet touches any other.  Strength doesn't influence your Climbing skill, race doesn't influence your stats.  In this case, you really would get a greater diversity in your characters.


The big reason to give elves +2 Int is in the interests of simulationism.  We want the rules to reflect the expectations of a world where elves are smart.

But here's my food for thought.  Simulationism doesn't have to extend to character creation.  You can have a world where elves are smarter than humans, and all NPC elves have 15-18 Intelligence.  That doesn't ruin the fiction of your game world.

You can remove synergy from your character creation if you want.  Players will still be attracted to elvish wizards and orcish barbarians (because they're awesome), but they are not restricted to them when designing a character.

This degree of simulationism extends throughout all elements of character design.  Sometimes this is good and necessary.  Like, do you want wizards to be as capable as fighters?  People have expectations.  Perhaps they expect orcs to make superior barbarians than elves.

But on the other hand, the 0 synergy system gives the maximum amount of player freedom when they are designing their character.  I'm sure there are some characters that would love to be an elvish barbarian, all blood painted and killing wolves with a broken rapier.

Anyway, just a thought.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Some Monsters or Whatever

Here's some minor monsters or whatever.  Not quite interesting enough to warrant their own post, but maybe five of them will suffice.

A couple of them are damn dirty reposts from the bathhouse dungeon I wrote.

Dragon Eater

HD 5
AC 14
Bite +5 for 2d6 damage (+ attach, vs huge enemies)
Move 18
Save 10+
Morale 11
Special: Dragonkiller

Dragonkiller: +5 to AC and attack rolls vs dragons.  Immune to fire and fear.

Dragon eaters (a.k.a. the dire mongoose) are about the size of a grizzly bear, but with the elongated body of a mustelid.  Their fur varies between a shaggy brown coat to a sleek yellow one "as golden as a dragon's hoard".

Despite their name, they struggle to kill adult dragons, and will never attack an adult dragon head on.  Unless they attack in groups, which they occasionally do.  They kill young dragons with ease, however.  Their usual method of attack is to cling to the back of a dragon's vulnerable neck and bite the spine.

Cloaks made from a dragon-eater's hide are immense status symbols and help the wearer resist dragon flame (+4 to save).  It is said that whenever a giant weasel lives to be 100, it will turn into a golden-coated dragon eater that can disguise itself as a human.  It is also said that dragon eaters reproduce by biting off their tail, which becomes a baby dragon eater.

Because of the obvious symbolism, Asria has the dragon eater on their flag and maintains a small stable of them at great expense and risk (as the animals are also fond of eating humans).

(Asria is the rival and enemy of Kelzon, since they share a watershed and were previously the same country.  Kelzon is famous as the place that "has pet dragons, and is home to the dragonrider knights", but visitors are often amazed to discover that the opposite is true.  Dragons control many of the larger mercantile interests, compete with the nobility to fulfill the same function, the "dragonrider knights" are glorified shield-bearers who protect dragons' vulnerable necks during warfare.)

They are a byword for bravery, in the same way that Einstein is smart and Hitler is evil.

Bomba Bird

HD 0
AC 14
Bite +0 for 1d4
Move 11
Save 17+ (immune to fire)
Morale 8
Special: Phoenixkin

Phoenixkin: Anyone who directly kills a bomba bird catches on fire (1d4 damage initially, plus you're still on fire).  Bomba bird feathers can bundled into torches which burn 2x as long as a normal torch, and produce no smoke (some say they actually produce breathable air).  Bomba bird eggs can be thrown as small bombs (1d6 damage each, save for half) are sell for about 20s each in a large market.

Everyone knows that bomba birds are related to phoenixes.  Poets describe them as graceful, orange chickens.  Foresters describe them as mean-as-hell little bastards.  But they've got a lot to be angry about--people are always stealing their eggs.  They've never been domesticated, and attempts have usually resulted in the birds eventually killing themselves trying to reach their tormentors while the chicken coop burns down.

Mud Man

HD 2
AC 12
Slam +2 (1d6)
Move 6
Save 14+
Morale -
Special: Engulf, Mud to Mud

Engulf: +2 to hit.  On a hit, the mudman dies and the target is engulfed in mud from the waist up.  Target can hold their breath for a number of rounds equal to half of their constitution.  Target can break out by rolling under half of their Strength.  Mud can also be smashed off the target with a bludgeoning weapon.  The mud has only 1 HD, but the mud only takes 50% of the bludgeoning damage--the engulfed person takes the other 50%.  Every point of damage done to the mud can be added as a bonus to the character's Str check.

Mud to Mud: A mud man can turn into mud.  They can't do anything while they're mud, but they can still listen.  They are indistinguishable from normal mud in this form, and usually hang out in a larger body of mud.

Sand Man

HD 2
AC 12
Slam +2 (1d6)
Move 6
Save 14+
Morale -
Special: Regenerate, Sleeping Sand, Sand to Sand

Regenerate: An injured sand man automatically regenerates to full HP at the beginning of his turn, but only as long as it is in contact with a sufficient amount of sand to repair his wounds.

Be sure to distinguish large sand men from small sand men, for your players' sakes.  A sand man with 2 HP is trivial; a sand man with 16 HP can be surprisingly hard to kill.  You can scale up sand men, too, into HD 3+ versions, but be aware that it becomes exponentially difficult to knock down all of one's HP in a single turn (except for wizards).

Sleeping Sand: A creature that kills a sand man with a melee attack must make a save or fall asleep.  As the sleep spell.

Sand to Sand: See Mud to Mud.

Dire Cave Cricket

HD 0
AC 13
Bite +0 1d3 + Venom
Move 12 (+ ridiculous jumps)
Save 15+
Morale 7

Venom: Save or be poisoned for 1d20 hours.  While poisoned, you gain infravision, but are blinded by any level of light.  Also, cricket song seems strangely arousing.

Dire Cave Crickets are sometimes raised by dungeoneers, who value their venom for it's useful properties while exploring the Underdark.  A live cricket costs 50s, and a dose of cricket venom costs 20s.  Tame crickets are relatively docile.

Dream Merchants

Mythic Wilderness

It's possible, but a little simplistic, to divide Centerra up into cities and Wilderness.  I capitalize the Wilderness because it's not just land that doesn't have a city atop it yet, but is actually something else entirely.  Things get weirder out in the Wilderness.  Too many inexplicable things happen.  People are afraid to lose sight of the cities in the same way that sailors fear to lose sight of the shore.  (Supposedly, this is why distant farmers are sometimes hella weird, and why proper urbanites shun yokels.)

It might be that cities push back the incipient weirdness of the world by exerting Order, like a magnetic field.  It might also be that settlements built in weirder places always fail, torn apart by forces beyond their ken.  (And indeed, the world is full of abandoned towns.)

And of course some places are agreed to be much weirder than others.  The Frogstar Peninsula, The Cold Hills, the Enigma (of Meltheria), the Abominable Island, the Immortal Mountains.  The list goes on and on.

Wizards blame ley lines for dividing the world into Normal and Weird.  Clerics talk about the civilizing power of civic Order, which tames the wilderness (since Nature is Satan's church).  Common folk talk about ancient burial grounds, leaching their poisons up through the earth.  Scholars say that there is no such thing as Wildnerness with a capital W, and once we understand the natural world enough all of these inexplicable occurrences will vanish like boogeymen behind a closed closet door.

But scholars are a minority, one that is regularly mocked by every other occupation.  Nearly everyone else you ask will tell you that once you walk far enough from your lord's castle, the world subtly shifts around you, and becomes cruel and inimical.  That the world outside your city actively, consciously wishes to hurt you.

(See also: mythic underworld.)

Dream Merchants

Dream merchants are one of those things that just happen, out in the weirder parts of the wilderness.  Add them to your wandering monster table (random event table?).

Dream merchants come to you in your sleep.  They appear as a fucked-up version of someone you used to know.  Examples: your mother, magnified impossibly huge.  The bartender in your home town, but with every word he speaks, beer spills from his grinning mouth.  Your childhood dog, standing on both legs and carrying a small sack over his back.

They speak with all the aplomb and wit of a Nigerian prince contacting you by email.

"Hello, I am merchant of your dreams.  Perchance, we can make business together?  Have I got a deal for you!"


"How are you today, welcome friend, to my dream house.  I need your help to complete a transaction with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the physical world."

And then they try to cut you a deal.  An obvious example is "If you give me 100 silver pieces and your fur hat, I will sale you a potion of discount, which will make you allow to see ghosts and other invisibles.  Do we have a deal, friend?"  And then if the PC accepts, the coins and hat will vanish from their gear, and the dream merchant will tell them to spit into a vial, and that the spit will transform the potion of see invisible.  This is totally legit, and the PCs spit will indeed transform into a magic potion.

Roll a d20 to see what sort of a deal they're cutting you.
1 = they'll sell you a magic sword for literally some peanuts
10 = fair deal
20 = massive scam (either massively overpriced, or they exaggerated the item's efficacy)

Then roll a d6 to see how obvious this is
1-3 = seems legit
4-5 = obviously suspicious
6 = seems like the opposite of what it is ("Would you like to buy a cursed sword?  I mean, not cursed.  I meant to say curled sword, haha.  Cuuuuurrrrrl-ed.")

Alternatively, they sometimes ask for other stuff (30% of the time, if you want a %).  Because sometimes dream merchants need something.  They're offering you a fair price for this.  Hell, they'll offer you a generous price.  They usually pay in rubies, which you'll find beneath your tongue when you wake up.

1 = "I would like you to deliver a memory for me.  I will put the memory in your brain if you accept.  You must deliver it by sleeping in the queens bed, in Iagatro Castle."

2 = "I seem to have forgotten my name.  May I have yours?"  (This will cause the PC to vanish from everyone's memories.  They will lose all contacts.  And when they wake up, they will have forgotten their name.)

3  = "I am scientist of great renown!  I am researching!  I would like to see what happens when three curses suffer a human at the same time!  Will you get three curses for me and then go to sleep?  I have rubies."  (50% chance that the dream merchant will remove all 3 curses after paying you for this service, otherwise it forgets to.)

the bleeding tooth mushroom

Thursday, September 4, 2014

False Hydra

Common wisdom holds that false hydras come from the ground.  They spontaneously originate as undifferentiated masses of flesh. Potatoes that sprout from no seed.  Supposedly, they germinate in response to lies, and that each falsehood causes a false hydra to swell larger.

Scholars agree, because they have no better idea.  In fact, so much about these abominations boggles the mind that scholars really don't know where to begin.

Paranoia dominates any discussion about it.  Everyone wants to know: Is it here?  Is it in my town?  Is that long, flaccid face watching me through the window even now?

i want you to focus on the neck
and also on the mouth
There are false alarms.  Criminals and deserters have pleaded that they were merely under the influence of the false hydra, or that they were merely trying to escape it's influence.  And sometimes that was the truth.

There are ghost towns in the Grey Waste.  Victims of false hydras.  People do not revisit those sites, out of fear of vengeful ghosts.  And perhaps the false hydra is still there, the black rot at the center of the bone.  And how would you know?

In gentler lands you will find skeptics.  These erudite scholars will stroke their chin and calmly tell you that there is no such thing as a false hydra.  It is some confabulation.  Villages seized by some infectious insanity, or perhaps some subtle demon.  

But they are wrong.

so there's no pictures of a false hydra because no ones ever drawn one
but just let me pontificate about this guy for a while
How to Use This Article

Use it however you want.  But I would use it to challenge the PCs as they wander.  It'd fit very well in an episodic game.  The PCs wander into a new town--a new threat emerges.  

Can someone make a random table titled "What's the Deal With the Town?"  1 - People are all friendly, evil believers of the Worm God.  2 - Plot of Tremors.  3 - False Hydra.  4 - Et cetera.

this is dead hand, from zelda

The false hydra enters a town through a humble enough method.  Fattened on worms, it has been growing upwards these last few days (weeks? years?), but has only now broken through the soil.  It emerges in a basement, from behind the jars of fruit preserve.  Or pushes its face up through a broken cobblestone.  And then it begins to sing.

While it sings, it is ignored.  It just creates gaps in your attention and then slips through them.  It is subtler than invisibility, and more reliable.

At this point, the false hydra is only a torso--presumably about the same size as a man's--buried somewhere in the ground.  The neck grows up, up until the head emerges from the ground.  The head is only the size of a man's head at this point.  It resembles a man's head, too, but white, hairless, and with thick deformities of the brow and lips.  The eyes are wet holes.

But of course, none of this is noticed.  While it sings, the hydra exists in our blind spot.

also make sure that your head is level with regards to the image
also make sure that the image is not too small

The hydra eats people, of course.  To eat someone, it must usually stop singing, which endangers the hydra someone, since it can now be noticed.  To make this task easier, the hydra usually drags the unfortunate victim a short distance underground, into a basement, sewer, or small chamber that it has excavated, and devours them there.

A man is walking along a deserted street.  Suddenly he realizes that the silence is more profound, as if a loud noise had just ceased.  There is a rattle as a sewer grate slides over rough stone.  In that darkness, a fleshy face, leering with undisguised hunger.  It lunges forward on a thick neck that slides out of the darkness like a sheath, one foot, three feet, six feet long.  And then it bites him on the arm and drags him down that narrow gap, yanking and twisting to fit the man's body through that too-small space.  And when the sounds of eating have ceased, the song resumes.

The man has family, friends who will notice his absence.  But the song of the hydra massages their mind, smoothing the wrinkles on their brain.  The hydra has eaten the man, who is now known to the hydra.  The song erases the memories from their soft heads.  They will not notice his absence, nor remember him.

And in this way, the hydra grows.  It's neck stretches long. . . longer.  And with it, its influence.

there is so much good fanart of this guy

The false hydra's song hides the memories of the devoured victims in the same way that it hides the false hydra, but this is not a perfect system.

Wives will wonder why there are men's clothes in her closet.  People will notice that no one has lit the street lanterns these last few nights.  Churches suddenly find themselves without a bell ringer.

By and large, these gaps close themselves up.  The wife will forget about the clothes as soon as she stops looking at them.  Or she will conveniently remember how her brother left them there the last time he visited.  Or she will, on some level, recognize the wrongness implicit in the clothes, and throw them away one moonless night.  She will confabulate, powerfully and constantly.

But part of her mind is cognizant of the disturbance.  That part of her mind is distrusted, and sealed away.  But that primordial cluster of neurons still fires.  A syphilitic madman who has been locked in the attic by his family, but whose mutters can sometimes be heard during the lulls in the dinner party downstairs.

This creates pressure.  In the early stages, this feels like paranoia, especially the sense that someone is watching you (and the hydra is watching you, pressing its moony face up against the window and fogging up the glass).  More severe symptoms develop.  Reminiscing becomes a stressful and uneasy experience, and so is avoided.  Distortions of memory.  The confabulations pile up, identities become muddled.  Friend's faces seems subtly deformed.  

Human brains were not meant to bear this weight.  Mundane insanities sprout like mushrooms.  Nervous disorders. Psychotic breaks.

look how happy he is

In severe cases, split-brain occurs, when one part of the brain strives to communicate with the other.  One of the PC's limbs might suddenly become its own entity, one that crudely and violently struggles to convey the danger to the PC.

A PC might wake up and discover that someone has scratched "IT'S WACHING YOU RIGHT NOW.  THE WINDOW." into their chest, and there is skin beneath the fingernails of their left arm, great.  If they receive a distressed letter from their mother, wanting to know why the last letter the PC sent contained the sentence "it ate him ate him in front of me but i did not see it ate him" inserted in the middle, great.  If they decide that their hand is possessed by demons and cut it off, best of all.

This could also be the hook for the PCs: an acquaintance sends them an innocuous letter that somehow contains the phrase "help me for the love of god help me help".  When they get there, the acquaintance has no memory of writing it, but looks nervous (and a little bit insane) while claiming that it's probably just some wizard's prank.  

"And where is your wife?"  

"Why, I've never married.  Why would you joke about this?"

And the next day, tell the players that their PCs have forgotten about the wife as well.  You can't get rid of the metagame knowledge in their heads, but allow them to act on their metagame knowledge whenever they can roleplay an intense feeling of paranoia or distress.

Their dreams are filled with dirges, spilling from the mouths of faceless people.  And somewhere, a pale face, whose eyes are nothing but wet, black holes.

which is impressive, given that he only had about three polygons when he scared the crap out of all of us as kids

As the false hydra matures, it grows more heads.  The process accelerates exponentially.  More blood on the cobblestones.  More incongruities festering in heads like gangrenous limbs.

The false hydra gets careless.  With every meal, it becomes more powerful, more able to smother mankind.  It doesn't need to be careful anymore.

The heads stretch up higher.  Their gracile necks sway above the rooftops.  Their heads have grown feral.  The skull bulges with masses of bone.  The lower jaw juts out, low-slung, like a dagger in a fist.  Soon,  it will finish devouring this city.

But darling, my darling, there isn't enough blood in all the world to slake its thirst.

three polygons that DO NOT FUCK AROUND

The players may suspect that something is invisible, but the usual magical countermeasures for fighting invisibility won't work here.  The song is closer to charm or suggestion, than anything else; I would allow anti-charm magic to have a temporary or partial effect.  Just enough for a few gargled words of exposition.  "It's watching us right now!  Look!"  That sort of thing.

But how do we actually position the false hydra where the players can find it with good play?

One option is to make the hydra visible in mirrors.  They might come across this solution relatively early in the investigation process.  Arming the populace with hand mirrors is a solution (but also how many hand mirrors does a medieval town have, really?), and will probably stop the daytime predation.  But the hydra will continue to eat people during the night, when there is no light to make the mirrors useful.

Do cats see it?  They probably freak out around it.  Dogs have no idea, though.

A more interesting, but also more challenging option is to allow them to investigate strange occurrences.  If the lamp lighter was eaten halfway through his task, the last lit lantern is a bit ominous.  If a player slips on a blood spill, the PC will have to suffer through the cognitive dissonance of having to rationalize a huge, obvious piece of evidence, but the player is under no such compunction.  They can investigate the nearby alley.

just pretend that the hands are extra heads and you've pretty much got it
Other options present themselves.  They could figure out where the necks stand in the sky by triangulating with an ally on a different rooftop, by discovering which cloud patterns are obscured from each other (because the false hydra's neck occludes them).  Bizarre ideas might work, like shooting arrows around randomly or constantly swinging a grappling hook around.  

If the grappling hook bangs into the false hydra, the psychic suppression will probably just force the PC to absentmindedly pick up the rope and resume swinging it, but a second PC watching the first PC would notice this irregularity, because that's another degree of separation from the hydra.  The mind-song hides the hydra, not the irregular behavior of a fellow adventurer who swore to shout an alarm if the grappling hook hit something invisible.

Baiting the hydra would also work well, and is probably the easiest method.  While the hydra bites, it stops singing, making it visible again.  (Or more accurately, allowing the PCs to stop ignoring it.)

If it is wounded, it will probably retreat down to its subterranean lair.  The PCs will have to kill it now, before they fall under the sway of its song, which it has now resumed (and the PCs can hear again, properly.  It is a nightmarish howl.)

If the PCs tarry, they'll forget they ever saw the false hydra.  The fictive paranoia (and actual metagaming) will be rampant, but this is okay.  Their left hand is just giving them more useful messages today, as more as more of the PC's brain rebels.

The HD of the false hydra depends entirely on how large it has grown, which depends on how fast the PCs have acted.  The fight could be a cakewalk or a meatgrinder.

god, that worm-neck

The PCs abandon the town to its fate.  Or perhaps they just fail utterly at investigating this weirdness.  Either way, the worst has come to pass.

The false hydra doesn't just eat everyone and then die.  That would be too easy.  Things Get Worse.

When a false hydra is mature (some texts localize this event to the day when it has grown seven heads) it begins to sing a new song.  This song mentally enslaves everyone within hearing range.  It's like a broadcast of dominate person.

Yes, give the PCs a saving throw.  But even if they make it, they're going to be in the middle of a town where everyone is trying to kill them.  The colossal apparatus of the false hydra is now visible.  Monstrous heads on tree-trunk necks tower above the town, leaning over rooftops and peering into windows.  Its bellowing voices order its mindslaves to kill that man over there, or to capture the fleeing child over there.  (Of course it can talk.  It always could.  It just never had anything to say.)

and you're left wondering
what do the parts of it look like that are still underground?

Only when the town has been purged, the false hydra orders its servants to exhume its body, now grown swollen and fat.  And while they dig, it eats.

And then the false hydra orders that it should be transported to a new city, where there is new flesh to be eaten.  It will be borne there atop the backs of its slaves, grateful legs staggering under its cold tonnage.  When it gets too large to carry they will lash it with chains and drag it behind them like a wailing, blubbery siege engine.  (Which it is.)

Of course, this is unsustainable.  As soon as a mindslave is outside the range of the false hydra's voice, they'll flee.  (Unless they tamp some wax in their ears and return for their loved ones hahahahahaha.)  Unless it raids other food stores, it will starve.  It cannot farm or hunt sufficient food without spreading its servants across an unacceptably broad area.

And the uncommon adulthood of false hydras is marked by desperate aggression.  An animal convulsing as it dies, crushing people and cities under its hungry bulk.  It usually heads for the largest cities (or whichever one the PCs have fled to) while seeking the largest food source.  Sometimes it succeeds long enough to grow larger and move on to the next city.  A tour of death.

The "traditional" tactic is to set fire to the granaries and evacuate the city.  The false hydra will starve to death in a few weeks, while everyone visits their relatives in the countryside.  The false hydra's movements are tracked by scouts on horseback, who watch the abomination from the horizons and communicate by flags.  Many of them choose to mutilate their own ear canals, in order to deafen themselves.  

These tactics failed spectacularly in the summer of 882 TFM, when there were multiple false hydras colluding with each other.  (The exact number is still disputed.)

alternatively, it could just mature into this fucked up thing
with sphinx powers
A more pressing problem is bandits, preying on families traveling alone with all their wealth.  Looters also linger in the cities after the evacuation order has been given, and many eventually fall victim to the false hydra, and allow it to grow larger.  Assassinations and power struggles are also common, as different parties use the chaos to seize an advantage.  

And lastly, a military presence must ensure that no mercenary company, slavelord, or evil wizard is allowed to open up lines of communication with the false hydra (using messengers).  Those avenues of exploitation have allowed some absolutely horrific tragedies in the past.  The cancer must be isolated until it is forced to eat itself.

If the game gets to this point and the PCs want to stay involved, I would turn the focus on the latent possibilities in the last four paragraphs, instead of assaulting the god-monster head-on.  Because who wants to fight a false hydra at the height of it's power.  (Lots of players, probably.)

NisseLindblom drew this one.

god, false hydras are freakish
their fragmented minds are mirrored in the people they devour

fun fact: dragon hydras are awesome
i should write a post about them specifically

fun fact: there was a false hydra in the house of hours
but the party never discovered him
he was at the bottom of a looooong stairwell

fun fact: lonely, lonely hydra
no one to talk to
except himself
fun fact: I'm actually pretty good-natured and pleasant to be around
I don't know why I keep writing such horrible things
fun fact: raaaaaaaaa

fun fact: aaaaaaaaaaawr

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Devil in the North Woods

Warning: NSFW

So, I just finished writing a post about druids, and now, rereading it, I realize that it looks sort of like druids are into chaos and Satan and stuff.  And that's not right.  Druids are about violence in the name of the trees, not unleashing hellspawn.  Druids hate Satanists even more than they hate city slickers.

Ugh.  No.

So allow me to dispel those rumors before they begin, by posting some stuff about what happens when you have proper cultists of hell running around through the pines. You know, when the devil shows up for realsies.

Personally, I would use this page if I ever ran an adventure in Cauterus (motherfucking Cautherus), or if I ever ran +Zzarchov Kowolski's A Thousand Dead Babies and wanted to crank the Satan up to 11.  I'm currently running Sailors on the Starless Sea and I think I'll implement some of this stuff, because Chaos.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids

Listen, you've got it all wrong.

Frequently, the picture you see of a druid is some green-haired boy scout cavorting atop a white wolf, or gazing soulfully into the eyes of a moose.  They're depicted as serene bringers of balance and peace, who live in harmony with all life.

Nope.  No.  Nein.  Druids are creatures possessed by the cold spirit of Nature.

Druids love natural spaces.  It's even fair to say that druids feed on them.  They feed on the snow that falls on ancient pines.  They feed on the weevils gnawing on roots.  They feed on the hunger in a wolf's belly.

Because these things are Natural, they are Good, for at least one definition of "Good".

Then what is Bad, in the eyes of a druid?  Why, all the things that destroy the natural order.  Rationality, math (druids hate math), language, money, metallurgy, fur trappers, philosophy.  The philosophy of a druid is "no philosophy".  And true, druids use language to talk among themselves, but it is always tinged with a bit of self-loathing for this reason, a reminder of their distance from Nature and from what is Good.

Nature is red in tooth in claw.  Nature is hungry and rapacious.  Nature is self-absorbed.  Does a panther care about anything beyond it's own well-being?  And because these things are Nature, they are also Druids.

Every druid's dream in life is to become a giant grizzly bear, fat and unchallenged.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Psychic Gore Police

What is the opposite of a monk?

Monks spend their lifetime meditating and focusing inwards, learning to sense the secret chakras that articulate their body.  By studying and mastering these forces, monks learn to bend their bodies in impossible ways.  They can heal their wounds, run faster than humanly possibly, and make their flesh inviolate.

Psychic Gore Police

Gore Police are the opposite of this.  Like monks, they meditate (sort of) and practice the art of distancing the mind from the body.  Like monks, they have mastered the secret channels of energy that flow through their bodies chakras.  However, unlike monks, they have decided to spurn their flesh.  

The body is immaterial.  It is nothing.  Starve it.  Beat it.  Bleed it.  The gore police don't care.

Break their bones.  Rip out their guts.  Cut off their fucking head.  The gore police know, deep down, that it doesn't matter.  And they're right.  

A member of the gore police occupies their body.  But they are not their body.  They have practiced non-attachment, and succeeded.

In combat, they are known for the excessive injuries that they suffer, as well as the impossible amounts of gore that they produce.  In one famous example, a battle between 8 mercenaries and 3 gore police resulted in 600 liters of blood and 33 kidneys.

It is important to realize that the apparent injuries do not correlate with how near death a member is.  Gore police only die when they lose their fighting spirit, which coincidentally requires about 2 HD worth of damage.

They are not berserkers.  They do not fly into a rage.  They are perfectly in control of their chakras at all time.  However, this precision is not apparent to bystanders (although a fellow monk or martial artist might realize it).  If their movements seem careless, or their defense clumsy, remember that they are fighting to protect their chakras and their fighting spirit, not their flesh and blood.  Their physical bodies are just afterthoughts.

Gore Police

HD 2
AC 14
Atk +2 (unarmed 1d6+1) or weapon
Move 15
Save 14+
Special: Indefatigable, Indestructible

Indefatigable: While psychic gore police "technically" still require food, water, and air, they can ignore these requirements for long periods of time.  It takes them 10x longer to starve, suffocate, etc.  Additionally, they do not get tired.  Ever.

Indestructible: Whenever a member of the psychic gore police take damage, they have a 50% chance to ignore that damage, and instead gain an effect from the GORE TABLE. 

  1. Legs cut off.  Blood shooting from leg stumps gives them a fly speed equal to a walking pace.
  2. Disemboweled.  They may use intestines as a lasso that they are proficient in.
  3. Decapitated. Treat as blinded, but the psychic gore police is now locally omniscient within a 10' area.
  4. Hand cut off:  Can throw severed hand as a missile weapon.  Fist: 1d8 damage.  Choke: should be obvious.  Eye poke: blinded for 1d6 minutes.
  5. Foot cut off: All adjacent enemies must make a Dex check or slip on the blood.
  6. Stabbed in the heart: Attacker's weapons is grabbed until an opposed Str check is made.
  7. Fountain of gore: All adjacent enemies must make a Dex check or be blinded.
  8. Mortal wound: Seemingly dead, but will automatically get a sneak attack 1d2 rounds later, as their hand reaches out to grab someone's ankle or they suddenly jump out from around a corner. 
  9. Arm cut off: Kick the attacker in the face!  Automatic counterattack with legs.  (Free action.)
  10. Jaw smashed: Can spray broken teeth on next turn, 1d6 piercing damage in a 15' cone, treat as a breath attack.
  11. Hand/foot smashed: Can break off injured appendage on next successful melee attack.  Appendage does 1 bleed damage every round until removed (takes 2 turns, or 1 turn with a successful Int/First Aid check).
  12. Head smashed: Catch attacker's weapon in their teeth, and can make a Str check to break the weapon.  (Str 14 = 70% chance to snap a medium-sized weapon, like a longsword.) 
*REMEMBER* Even though a member of the gore police will suffer horrific injuries in a battle, it doesn't affect their efficacy.  Even if they lose both legs, their movement speed doesn't decrease.  If you cut off their hands, they'll wield a sword in their teeth.

DMing Tip: You absolutely must describe each and every hit in the most over-the-top, graphic description possible.  Use the word "giblets".  Do people have giblets?  Gore police do.

In Synthexia

The psychic gore police fulfill a specialized function in Synthexia.  They are the special agents and bodyguards of the Sorceress Queen.  They are her bloody hand on the streets of the Crystal City.  They enjoy privileged positions and are treated at all time with respect and deference.  

They dress sharply, in blue uniforms when on a mission, or in distinctive white silks when not.  They drive armored ambulances with textured roofs (so that they can stand on the roof of the vehicle more easily when in high traffic or inclement weather).  They travel in squads of 6, lead by a lieutenant of 3 HD.

Nearly all of them have been trained at the Queen's Police Academy, which accepts young orphans in order to indoctrinate them in the mysteries of the Police.  They have a rivalry with the City Watch.

A few gore dojos can still be found in the countryside.  These are hidden dojos, but there is one rumored to be in Hex 1209, in the foothills of the Prismatic Mountains.  Urghis Khan hated gore monks, and persecuted them ruthlessly while he was still alive.

Itinerant gore ninjas can sometimes be found, unaffiliated with the Sorceress Queen.  They are universally wretched-looking things, and wear the meanest rags, riddled with scabies, unshaven, and unwashed.  Despite their broken-seeming bodies, their eyes are clear.  Their minds are sharp as a stiletto, and their personalities as smooth as the skin of an undisturbed pond.

Instead of filling this page with pictures of gore, here's an article about recent Japanese gore movies.