Monday, November 24, 2014

Homemade Unicorns

They are playing some game of their own invention, but the rules of the game make no sense to me.  (Perhaps there are no rules.)  They scamper and clop heavily up and down the stairs, their horseshoes sending up sparks where they contact the flagstone.  Even from the kitchen, I can hear their braying and reedy laughter.

They are young, my unicorns.  They are so young that they have not fully grown into their hooves, or the heavy architecture of their knees.  Their backs sway when they trot.  Their hips are heavy and unbalancing, and when I let them in the house they will invariably knock something delicate from the top of a table.

I must punish them when they are not careful around my glassware, but it is with love that I do so.  My unicorns know this, and that is why they always come back to me.  They crowd around the food trough when I fill it.  And when the bread scraps are gone, they nuzzle my hands and beg for more, with gentle bleats.  I stroke their long faces and comb their downy-hair.  I hold bring them blankets at night, when they have nightmares.  (And they have so many, poor things.)  They love me, my unicorns.

And in the mornings, I rub ointment into their pink skin, and massage the cartilage of their joints.  Every day, I practice my profession by smoothing out their scars.  I mend the red-white seams of their body, where the flesh is still puckered and angry.  I am so good at this that by the time they are adolescents, they barely have any scars at all.

Perhaps there are others who know more about healing than I do, but if so, I have never met them.  I look at their pristine bodies and I am proud.

In some places, their bodies have begun to revert, or to reject the grafts.  The skin peels back from hooves, or some stubborn ligament begins to slough off the bone.  Or else the mule's teeth (that I so lovingly collected) will begin loosen in their sockets.  Oh, how I hate waking up to find bloody teeth in my unicorn's bedding!

I don't mind repairing them.  It is my craft, after all.  It just gets so tiresome after a while.  Scalpel and saw, needle and thread.  The flesh is stubborn, but I am more stubborn still.

When my herd is in good health and I am not too busy with my other projects, I will send my helpers out for more supplies.  They'll bring me back a baby and a foal.  Always the healthiest and brightest.  Nothing but the best will do for my unicorns!  They are all brought down in to my workshop, where we throw a party.  Carrots for the foal, milk for the newborn, and cider for my helpers.  As for myself, I might drink a small glass of rosewater or two.

The operation takes almost three days.  It is exhausting and makes my arthritic hands ache terribly, but it is worth it, I think.  Afterwards, what is left of the foal is buried in the garden, behind the tomatoes and near the creek, along with the superfluous parts of the infant's skeleton: hands, feet, forearms, and the frontal sections of the skull.

In the old days (the good old days, do they still say that?) I was able to buy a real unicorn's horn for my children.  But now all that I can manage is narwhal or elephant, which is nice enough, but lacks the nacreous luster of a real unicorn's horn in the sunlight.

The implantation of the horn is the final step.  The drilling and hammering actually function together as a partial lobotomy.  Take away the pain.  Take away the language and loneliness.  Smooth away the ego like the rough scar that it is.  What is left is a creature of grace.  You have only to look in their eyes to see innocence there--true innocence.  In this cruel world, it is a commodity more precious than gold or alicorn.  And then the skull is sealed up with gold.  The skin is sewn up, like a purse with all the world's wealth inside it.

And then I lead my new unicorn outside, into the sunlight.  The first few steps are always the hardest, and the hip sockets might not have sealed completely after the resectioning, but the new unicorn is always welcomed to the herd.  They cavort in the meadows, my clumsy unicorns.  And when they tire, they will come back into the house and lay their heads in my lap.  I will stroke their hair and tell them that they are beautiful, because they are beautiful.

They will be coming back soon.  I will go heat up some milk.

-From the journal of Agamond, Wizard of Asria, Beloved by Unicorns.

Friday, November 21, 2014

High Elves and their Creation Myth

There are two kinds of elves.

Low elves (high elves and wood elves) are the cliche ones.  They build tree-houses, live in harmony with nature, and are highly magical and aloof.  They worship beauty in all of its forms.  Beauty is what they are all about, since beauty is a special sort of goodness all of its own.  You'll also find them living on beautiful islands, beautiful caverns, and atop beautiful meadows.  They won't want you there, since you are smelly adventurers.

True elves take the magic and the aloofness and turn them up to 11.  They are the ancient masters of the planet.  True elves were once low elves until they enjoyed certain magical enhancements in the womb and during their maturation.  In adulthood, they enjoy a level of health, beauty, intelligence, and magical aptitude that dwarfs any other race.  They are the perfect creature.

Unfortunately, true elves are going extinct because they no longer have the resources required to turn normal elf fetuses into high elf fetuses.  So, all of their children are merely low elves, which they despise the way you would despise monkeys if your wife constantly gave birth to them.

High elves are immortal, and the least of them is a more powerful than any human wizard.  Without a society, and with dwindling numbers, most of them spend their days pursuing obscure agendas of their own.  Actually, you'll find them at the bottom of high level dungeons as an alternative to liches because (a) I'm tired of liches and (b) elves are easier to talk to, aren't all necromancers, and aren't obviously evil.  If you ever meet a high elf, running her golden fingernails though the ichor of a dead godling's eyeball on the 15th level of some dungeon, you should probably run the other way.

So, yeah, powerful sorcerer-kings of a former age.  Waged numerous genocides against the lesser races whenever they felt like it, with varying degrees of success.  Godlike magical prowess.  Elitists who claim to know more about the universe than anyone else.

That's only mildly interesting.  What's more interesting is their creation myth, since they are atheists in a world where no one is an atheist (because giant faces appear in the sky with alarming frequency and also clerics exist).

this is the douchiest looking wizard I could find
and he's still not douchey enough
The High Elven Creation Myth

In the days before the Time of Fire and Madness (where recorded history begins; everything was either on fire or insane) high elves were rulers of this world and countless others.   Reality was bent to their will and the physical laws were pudding under their soft feet.

High elves created all the other races.  There are no gods, only a shared mythos that is sometimes given form by human faith.  Wood elves, beautiful and wise by human standards, are their degenerate cousins.

Halflings were bred for small size, clever minds, and quick hands.  They would travel in ships that flew up above the clouds and between the stars, where there are other worlds.  They needed to be small so that they would require less space in these ships, where size and mass were at a premium.

Dwarves were bred to be laborers.  Once, there were many kinds of dwarves, but now there are only the miner-dwarves.  They excavated the many worlds of the high elves, and also stripped the resources from mountains the floated in the airless spaces between worlds.  Because they were created to work, they were not given creativity.

Orcs were bred to be supersoldiers.  They are fast, strong, and cunning.  They were regulated alchemically by various elixirs and potions that were pumped into the orcs' brains.  And even now, where you find high elves you may also find alchemical orcs, who have realized the full power of their birthright.  There is no mightier warrior on the planet than an alchemical orc with his ancestral regalia, nor no thrall more rigidly controlled by its master.

Humans were the original stock.  The first creatures that high elves bred were themselves.  In the Time Before, the rich and brilliant bourgeoisie of human society enhanced their children to make them smarter, healthier, and longer-lived.  After generations of improving their children, the high elves declared that they were perfect, and turned their attention to creating the other races to serve them.  Currently, true humans are nearly extinct, and can only be found on isolated enclaves beneath the surface of the moon, where they are kept as holy pets.

Subhumans comprise most of the people on the surface of Centerra.  They come in different colors.

Low elves (PC elves) don't believe any of this, and instead have a much more generic creation myth.

Does any of this affect the generic fantasy milieu of Centerra?  Nope.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Last Night I Dreamt of Monsters


They look like hairless weasels with kissy-face lips and bulging eyes.

Once a guino bites you, it never lets go.  An enzymatic/magical reaction fuses the guino to its host, like a male anglerfish.  (Are there any other examples in biology where two separate vertebrates permanently fuse together?)  They are poisonous, but they only release this poison into the host's bloodstream when they are damaged or killed.  Never hurt your parasite, and it'll never hurt you.

Eventually, the whole guino will digest itself, leaving only a mottled sphincter on its prey that belches out a baby guino every week, which promptly scuttles off to seek its own prey.  They also 'fart' periodically.

Having a single guino parasitize one's body has no detrimental health effects (though they may have severe social ones).  Multiple guinos on a single creature can have pretty severe health effects, though.

They are a delicacy in the Darklands, so much so that Darklanders will intentionally infect a cow with several dozen guinos, in order to harvest the young ones.  (Infested cows lose their hair, as well as most of the bones in their head.)

Skeleton Jellies

They look like a skeleton that has been colonized by a ruby-red ooze from another dimension.

They are completely immune to damage.  Anything that would deal damage to them, doesn't.  They count as undead.  They have 8 Str and 1 HD.  The challenge to players is to find ways to neutralize them.  (I've had players throw them down wells, shove them into heavy-lidded sarcophagi, and pile furniture on top of them.)

There is a strange song that (if played on a set of chimes made of meteorite steel) can compel a skeleton jelly to show you the way to the Mountain of Consequence, where the a brave adventurer can journey to the Blackness Between the Stars.


They look like gelatinous babies with long limbs, semi-translucent and with an completely inhuman skeleton visible inside them.  They glide around on their 'head', completely upside down.  They scratch with their four limbs.

They can only be damaged by attacking their reflection in a mirror.  The mirror takes an equal amount of damage (so most mirrors will shatter after a single blow).

Biomancer's Revenant

These were once normal men and women.  Then some fucking biomancer scooped out their brains and filled their skull with dragonblood and needles from a bone needle man (link goes to a Google Drive pdf that I wrote: Book of Mice).  They behave like people who have been magically dominated (sweaty, unsubtle, wide stares) until they are killed.

After a biomancer's revenant has been killed, they immediately explode into four separate bio-revenants, each of which is equal in HD to the original creature.

The Visceral Revenant is blood, guts, and muscle.  It clomps around and bashes shit, but it struggles to maintain it's shape without it's bones.  It's surprisingly strong.

The Bone Revenant is pretty much a regular skeleton that's just covered in blood.

The Skin Revenant will float around and try to smother people.

The Vital Revenant is an incorporeal spirit.  It will fly around and attempt to possess people.

The Minor Revenants don't really matter in combat, but there's about 20-30 of them.  These are slithering puddles of bile, aggressively rolling eyeballs, and a tiny shuffling mound of hair.  These bits and pieces aren't strong enough to directly attack a PC, but maaayyybbbeee a PC might slip on an eyeball and fall, or a puddle of bile could digest an unattended spellbook.  Use your DM discretion to have a few tactically relevant revenants running 'round, and some minor hazards.


Monday, November 17, 2014

God Hates Orcs

This is a direct continuation of a previous post about orcish prayers.

This post has been translated into Portuguese by Eric Ellison here.

Haruspex (n) - a diviner who bases their predictions on the inspection of spilled entrails.

Sacred Violence 

Orcs believe that the gods hate the world, and they hate orcs most of all.  So it is no wonder that the gods speak through violence.

The gods speak through pain, in different body parts.  A shooting pain in the leg is an omen for cowardice.  A dull ache between the shoulderblades foretells the betrayal of a close friend.

The gods speak through blood.  After a battle, you can see the orcish haruspices moving through the battlefield, reading the future in spilled claret.  They crawl through the grass on all fours, like dogs, their faces pressed to the ground, nostrils flaring.

The gods speak through scars.  Examine the edges of the scar.  Are they clean?  Are they mottled?  Is the scar raised?  Discolored?  Does it follow the curve of the body, or does the flesh struggle against it?  Orcs do not trust a person without visible scars, just as humans might not trust someone who refuses to reveal their name.

Orcish haruspices are not clerics or priests.  They do not worship, nor do they preside over the appeasement ceremonies (designed to keep the gods from sundering the earth).  Rather, a haruspex is an orc that hates themselves so much--such divine levels of self-loathing--that they have completely severed themselves from the universe.  (Human saints pray for unity with the cosmos, orcish haruspices hate themselves into living oblivion.)

And since they are no longer part of the universe, the gods do not see the haruspex anymore.

When a haruspex dies, they cease to exist.  Their eternal reward is nothing.  Utter oblivion.  They are pleased with this.

Everyone else goes to hell when they die.  Heaven is a lie humans tell themselves because they are weak and servile.

Haruspices are covered with wounds that never heal.  You can tell how powerful an orcish haruspex is by how injured they appear to be.  Some even appear to be undead, since they are so emaciated and disfigured.  During their trances, the wounds grin like mouths and speak prophecies.  From the torn lips slip mutterings, madness, and prophecy--the sleep talk of the gods.

Love Requires Sacrifice

Since suffering and violence are the only things that appease the gods, orcs believe that it is only the violence of the world that keeps the gods from destroying it.  The day that the gods stop laughing at our misfortune is the day that they purge the land with fire.  Through war and cruelty, orcs are saving the world.

They are not sad about this fact, just as the shepherd is not saddened that he must thin his flock to feed himself.  Except that the orcs see themselves as both shepherd and sheep.

(Even the 'good' gods of the humans desire our suffering.  Why else would they saddle their believers with fasts and cruel injunctions against their own nature?  Why do they prohibit wine, sex, and crude songs?)

In private, orcs can be kind and loving.  Orcs love their children, trust their close friends, and would sacrifice for their spouses.  Just like elves.  Just like dwarves.  Just like humans.

However, orcs must keep it confined to the interiors of their houses, where the gods cannot see.  The gods reside in heaven, and so anything performed within view of the sky will be judged.  And since the gods can hear all things, love must never be spoken aloud.

Orcs believe that every time a husband and wife kiss within view of heaven, somewhere a child is stricken with a killing disease.  Every time a warchief publicly shows mercy, an innocent is torn apart by wolves.

Most humans erroneously conclude that orcs are without compassion and gentleness.  They believe that believe that orcs do not even have a word for 'love'.  This is half-true.  While a word for 'love' exists, it is both blasphemous and rarely used.  Orcs couch their affection for each other in dysphemisms.  Only the bravest orcish lovers will whisper promises of affection into each other's ears when they are alone in their tent (and during high noon, when the gods are most likely to be sleeping).

Death and Taxes

Some gods can be bargained with.  They might trade some venal miracle in exchange for a small mountain of skulls.

"If my clan survives this battle," the warchief says, "I will sacrifice ten of their number atop the Red Tree.  Grant me this covenant, O Lord of Teeth, O Cracker of Bones, and I will fulfill my vow."

And sometimes the warchief's clan does, in fact, survive the battle.  And then then this creates a debt, not between the god and the chief, but between the god and the tribe.  After a battle, each orc might owe their chieftain 1 kill.

So each orc has a divine blood-debt.  These could be traded.  If Blargun kills 2 humans in one battle, and Thachloch doesn't kill any, Thachloch can give his debt to Blargun, who then fulfills it.  But since Thachloch is giving his debt to Blargun, he has to make it equitable by giving Blargun something else, like a cow.

It's important to note that orcs trade the debt, not the kill.  They have a negative currency.

Most clans are small, and so the orcs have an easy time remembering who owes how many skulls.  (See also: rai stones).  Clans even trade these among themselves.  Humans trade a valuable thing for a valuable thing.  Orcs only give, or they only take.

They might give a fertile valley and 300 dead children.  A cache of steel weapons and 200 dead elves who must all be killed via beheading.  A herd of cattle and 32 orcish suicides through disembowelment.  A tally is kept, both among the clansmen and in heaven, where the gods look down and laugh.

Orcish bankers store these blood debts.  Except the orcs don't call them bankers.  The actual word translates to 'skullcrusher', because the debts are usually paid in fresh skulls, which are then crushed underfoot.  The only currency among the orcs is death.

Here are some examples of orcish prayers.

Planar Travel (Getting to Faerieland)

There are other planes. One of them is Faerieland.

Travel to other planes is (almost) not accomplished with portals and teleportation spells. (While wizards cultivate that mythos, they aren't capable of half the things that people think they are.)

Instead, planar travel is accomplished by. . . doing stuff.

Faerieland can be reached by anyone who ever gets lost in a forest.

They must be completely lost. Confounded. Muddled.  They must be completely without a way to retrace their steps. Even a wizard, who has a spell prepared to find their way back, cannot find their way back, no matter how drunk they get.

Oh yes, drunkenness is a common strategy among those who want to reach faerieland. Very common. (Unfortunately common, as owlbears will to terrible things to a drunk party.)

Children stumble into faerieland all the time. They rarely stumble back.

Clerics rarely find faerieland, since their footsteps are guided by their deity, at least in part.

Unless everyone is lost, no one will find faerieland. (This is why no army has, or ever will, find faerieland.)

Supposedly, returning from faerieland occurs only with the permission and abilities of the faerie queen. (But there are many other rumors.)


The Thin Cities are reached by going down an ocean whirlpool during a storm. This usually works, if the storm is big enough.

Orzelle is reached by walking a certain pattern within the Labyrinth of Condora. The people are then transported to a similar labyrinth in Orzelle.

The Hollows of Teragaius are reached by getting lost while underground.

The Plane of Air* is reached by reaching terminal velocity while painted yellow.

There's also a plane that can be reached by a well-known ceremony involving tiny obsidian pyramids, a fat woman, and three rabid weasels inside a cauldron. No one's ever come back from this plane, but speculation is rampant.

There's also a plane that only Naus-garaunts can reach.

*No other elemental planes are known. Scholars even debate of there is such a thing as an elemental plane. Wizards are confident about it, however.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Orcish Prayer

Orcs are dystheists. They believe that gods are apathetic at best, and blatantly hateful at worst.

Orcs are the great iconoclasts. The soft, human gods are either powerless or great destroyers of the orcish race. After a warband conquers a city, each orc will relieve themselves in the largest temple.

The gods of orcs are either ignored or hated. (Orcs aren't big on fear, even when they should be.) They aren't worshipped. They are appeased. Or they are bargained with, like merchants in the marketplace.

This is why orcs portray their gods as ugly as possible.

When you see a group of orcs chanting in one of their temples, they are not scared or reverent. They are angry, because gods are the only opponents that cannot be cut with an axe.

Temples make orcs angry, and anger makes orcs want to kill something. And even the apathetic gods, who can sometimes be reasoned with, are only ever asked for prowess in combat, because nothing else is worth praying for. Nothing else is worth making the promises that gods demand. Blood for the blood god. Skulls for the skull god.

And so all orcish gods loo like war gods to outsiders.


This one is small.
His bones creak in his sleep
and his marrow is sour
and full of hatred.
He is wretched
and not worthy of anything.


Blood feeds the hungry earth.
Blood makes the grass grow green.
With blood I have washed your face
and your dogs have lapped it up.
Now leave me alone.


Orcs hate their gods almost as much as they hate themselves. This is because the gods hate them. They believe themselves to be cursed: with stupidity, with ugliness, and misfortune. How else could they continually lose wars to those who are so much weaker than them? 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

St. Ferragun's Day

Every day of the calendar has its corresponding saint. Most of these saints are minor and not well-known, but St. Ferragun's Day is a well-known favorite.

St. Ferragun is the patron saint of wrestlers. Originally, his day was a time to challenge one's neighbor to a friendly wrestling match, but now the holiday has shifted, expanded.

On St. Ferragun's Day, anyone can challenge anyone else to a fight, as long as that person is outside of their own home. People who want to fight, but don't want to leave home, will hang gongs in front of their house, so that challengers can summon them. In rural areas, fights are scheduled weeks in advance, to accommodate travel time.

The streets are filled with duels, brawls, and wrestling matches. The windows are full of spectators.

Refusing a match brings a curse. Challenging a underpowered opponent brings a curse. So does unnecessary roughness. Ferragun is a saint, after all.

The challenged person chooses the terms of the fight, usually. (You cannot challenge wizards to wrestling matches.)

Traditionally, the loser gives a belt to the victor. Beware of swaggering young men wearing a dozen belts. Every village has a badass.

The day after St. Ferragun's Day is St. Vivione's Day, the patron saint of healing.

How to Use This in Your Game

Want to wrestle the blacksmith who cheated you last session? Want to see how badass the king's champion is, in a situation where he isn't actively trying to kill or arrest you?  Hell, the king's challenger might even invite one of the PCs to a friendly match in the rose garden, followed by high tea.

It's also a good day to have your players fight a procession of weird challengers (maybe one per PC) or an entire rival adventuring group. And if your party isn't interested, they can just stay in their rooms.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Where Vampires.Come From

Vampirism is, first and foremost, a dietary restriction and dangerous allergy.

"Newborn" vampires are often disappointed to find that all they've gained is a set of weaknesses and a certain callousness. Magical powers and nigh immortality come later.

Young vampires often become murderers, and as they drink more human blood, even the most reticent and meek vampires quickly become arrogant psychopaths.

Or, vampires band together and take up brigandage. Vampires make the most stylish bandits.

Or, most commonly, vampires gather near the front of churches, where they beg for bloody alms. The nation of Noth has had an epidemic of vampires, recently. It is difficult to enter the church without hearing cries of, "Open your wrists, kind pilgrim! Just a drop! A drop for a dead man!"

Elder vampires are believed to have been eradicated by the vigorous purge campaigns of the Church's witch hunters.  The only known remaining elder vampire is St. Cascarrion, the leader of the Third Lantern and the Church's witch hunters.  The Grim Saint spends most of his time sleeping, awaiting a summons from the Patriarch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Biome: Star Beast Gravelands

Cosmic megafauna swim between the stars above Centerra. Star whales, void wyrms, and thousands of sundry species. The smallest is fifty feet long. The largest can be up to half a mile.

When these star beasts feel the hand of death upon them, they migrate to a certain part of Centerra. They fall from orbit onto an area about the size of Texas. Their scintillant clathrates burn away in the atmosphere, and the exotic metals of their eyes incandesce. Finally, they hit the ground, creating a crater and sending up a huge cloud of dust. 

This is only the start of the story. As soon as the star beast impacts, millions of eyes turn to face it. There are constant clouds over the Gravelands; star corpses are the main source of food.  And correspondingly, every thing is a scavenger.

Most of the colossal corpses that impact the Gravelands belong to never-before species. Space is huge and weird, and so are the creatures that live in it. And for some reason, a great many of them prefer to beach themselves on a particular plain in Centerra.

On rare occasions, the star beast survives the fall, and the first scavengers to arrive at the blast crater are in for a nasty surprise.

The first to arrive are the carrion harpies, whose song rots the flesh and clouds the mind.

Second are the armored ape-hounds, who indulge in vast orgies atop the corpse. They will give birth to thousands of pink babies before the corpse is fully consumed.

And of course, there are the grave lice, but they've always been there.

Then the cities of the necromancers arrive.

Kel Bethor, which walks atop millions of skeletal legs, the buildings swaying with the grace of a corpse.

Kel Dravonis, which is pulled by living slaves and walking corpses (although the two are often indistinguishable). The death knights of that place compete to build the most fearsome steed. Only the youngest death knights still ride skeletal horses. The elder death knights have augmented their 'horses' so much that each monstrosity is unrecognizable as something that was once foaled.

Gulgus is the city of the insect necromancers. They ride in giant undead beetles and adorn their carapaces with corpse candles.

The cites have only a few days to war with each other and harvest precious resources from the huge corpses. After that brief period of rampant butchery, scavenging, and thievery, the eels arrive like a tide of sludge, and no other creature is foolish enough to contest them for ownership of the star corpse.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where Faeries Come From

Faeries come from the dreams of children. Each faerie is dreamed into life by a particular child, or the way that old, wise faeries tell it, they dreamed themselves to life.

Each faerie inherits a few traits from their dreaming child: language, regional knowledge, favorite foods, nursery rhymes, etc.

And because they come from children's dreams, faeries are wildly varied and inherently chaotic. The capriciousness of faeries is the capriciousness of children. The whimsy of faeries is the whimsy of children. The cruelty of faeries is the cruelty of children.

That's why faeries kidnap children. They take them away and put them to sleep. (They put them in diabetic comas by feeding them candy.)

Faeries prefer to approach children (and childish adults). Though they give kisses, they have no concept of sex. And although they kill, they do not understand death.

Faerieland is filled with sleeping children. Great mounds of them. Orphanages where they are stacked like firewood.

Some children are trapped in nightmares, and terrible things come out of their heads. But that's okay. Faeries can't even spell 'consequences'.

And if one of those children is woken up, somewhere a faerie dies forever. They don't disappear; they suffocate. Eyes rolled back, gasping, as nightmares curl around their heads.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Mermaids Want

So, this weekend I ran a one-shot (that turned into a two-shot) for some friends so we'd have something to do between abalone dives.  The one-shot was nautical-themed, of course.

The game had some mermaids (HD 2, AC 13) who spoke in Dutch accents.  After their statblock, I wrote down their motivation, but these mermaids had two, instead of the usual one.

  • To eat people.
  • To trade juicy gossip.
  • (They'll be content with either, but both is best of all.)
This led to some lovely emergent behavior, at least for me as the DM.  The mermaids came up to chat, but when the opportunity presented itself, they swam away with a dude and ate him.  Later on they came back to apologize (at a safe distance) to chat some more, since they hadn't had their share of gossip.  They even offered to share some of the meat (since the party was short on rations).  So, in my mind, the mermaids became nice, reasonable ladies who couldn't resist adding some easy protein to their diet.

The situation could have unfolded a lot of different ways, but most of the potential events would have had that same tension, I think.

The players might not have noticed the difference, but it made a big difference to me, as the DM, to figure out what the mermaids wanted to do next.

A lot of games list a monster's motivations after the stat block.  I think Dungeon World and Numenera are among those.  But I just want to point out that giving monsters two unrelated (or even conflicting) motivations can lead to some wonderful behavior.  Plus, it was a bit more fun for me, as a DM, to think about which goal the mermaids were more interested in pursuing at that particular moment, instead of just how to accomplish a single goal.

Side Note: Every NPC should probably have a goal as well, and usually a pretty visible one.

Anyway, I look forward to giving more monsters conflicting goals in the future.  Examples:
  • Protect the nest.
  • Make a new friend.

  • Do not damage anything beautiful, especially faces.
  • Collect meat for the master.

  • Keep the sanctum perfectly silent.
  • Throw intruders from the Precipice of Consequences.

  • Stop the invaders!
  • Kill nothing, not even an ant.

  • Steal all the gold in the fucking world.
  • Learn some new songs for the wife to dance to.
Even stupid predators could have two goals.  Could a purple worm have two goals?  Probably.
  • Hunt.
  • Protect the babies.
  • OR Teach the babies how to hunt.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

New Monsters: Brimstone Waste

Here are some of the animals that live in the Brimstone Waste:


Brown ones, white ones.  Most are small (2-4") and roam in vast packs (1000+ individuals).  These are harmless.  Giant spider crabs hunt through the mudflats, too.  For them, use stats for giant crabs, except that these guys raise themselves up on their stilt legs during combat, and can only be hit by reach weapons, at least until 1d4+1 of their 1HD legs have been smashed and they topple over.


You'll see herds of these guys, too, crawling across the landscape while gasping for air.  The big ones are the size of ponies.  They get pretty aggressive in the water, but will usually flee when you encounter them on land.  Their gawping grin can swallow a halfling whole.  They'll happily try to swallow larger prey, but will frequently choke to death on man-sized prey.

Terror Birds

Taller than an orc, these huge birds are predators of the first class.  Poncy frothstalkers camouflage their bodies with mud and/or foam, and kill their prey by disemboweling them.  Scintillant druni-birds kill their prey with axe-heavy pecks, and display their steely feathers in elaborate mating displays that can last for days.  They have 3 HD, travel in packs of 2d6, and are basically just raptors that make turkey noises.

They are prized as pets, although they can never be fully tamed.

Dust Wyrms

These are degenerate cousins of dragons.  Compared to true dragons, they are stupid, lazy, and cruel.  They lurk in shallow dust-pits and hunt like crocodiles, and their death rolls are strong enough to tear a man in half.  They have wicked brown teeth, and on quiet nights you can hear them clashing their armored coils together.  They breath a cloud of toxic smoke and hot grit that deals 5d6 (save for half) and blinds the target for 1d6+1 rounds (separate save to negate).  7 HD and armor as plate.

Wise Parasites

These are diamond-shaped parasitic beetles, each about three feet long.  They have a single red eye in the middle of their backs.  They attach themselves to the sides of dust wyrms, where they live their entire lives, drinking blood from the huge reptile.  Their names always include the name of the wyrm they are attached to, as well as their location on that wyrm (e.g. 'Locuhr's Elbow').  They are psychic, telepathic, and communicate with distant friends via the dreamscape.  They use their influence to subtly influence the behavior of their host wyrm, and if a wyrm is heavily parasitized (20+ parasites) they have nearly fully control, and are able to calm a hungry wyrm, or direct it to attack distant enemies.

Wise parasites are revered as oracles, and people journey for hundreds of miles to speak to them.  Some of their members are revered as oracles (such as the famous Diagun's Tail). In exchange, they sometimes want news, favors, or entertainment.  But sometimes, they want nothing in exchange for their information, unlike human oracles.  (Of course, getting through the Waste and the Wyrms is often challenge enough.)

Algae Mats

Sort of a primitive type of ooze, algae mats cover large areas, sometimes up to a quarter mile.  They can be crossed, but only by running across them.  Run any slower and you'll be pulled in and digested.  Horses are also quickly eaten.


Pastel-colored.  They spit explosive bubbles.


Fat-bellied frog-hounds.  They belch hot cinders and build shallow tunnel systems.  Their babies ride on their backs.

Brimstone Orcs

Brutal and militant, like all orcs, the brimstone orcs are famous for painting themselves white.  Then they launch assaults amid dozens of thrown smoke bombs, which vent more white smoke that gives them cover.  They also smoke poisonous cigars (which they are resistant to), and blow the toxic smoke in their opponent's eyes when in combat.

Coral Termites

They inhabit huge towers of land-coral.  They repel invaders with fusillades of darts, and are a valuable source of protein in the Brimstone waste.  Eating large amounts of termites causes crystallization of the eyeballs.