Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Happens When Cthulhu Is Released

The word "lovecraftian" doesn't mean tentacles and cultists and insanity.  It means that mankind is utterly inconsequential.  The universe isn't just weird and hostile, it is incomprehensible and unaffectable.

Humanity is worthless, our souls are worthless.  All of our religions put humanity on a pedestal--we can imagine anything, we can advance until we can do anything, we can eventually understand everything, we were created special, this world was created specially for us. . . and these are part of a human-centric worldview.  The lovecraftian worldview is that humanity is incidental and meaningless.  Comparing humanity to elder gods is not like comparing ants to humans, it is comparing colonies trapped inside a petri dish to duelling, four-dimensional suns.

The elder gods don't want anything from us, because we don't have anything they want, or could ever want.  We cannot threaten them or affect them in any way, because we are scum on the inside of a petri dish.  We could, conceivably, draw the slightest iota of their attention, but that would be it.

Cthulhu is trapped in the dungeon-crust of Centerra's planet.  Cthulhu is not an elder god, but it is several order of magnitude more powerful than anything else on the planet.  He has, like, a million HP and immunity to magic.  This is what happens if you wake him up.

What Happens When Cthulhu Is Released

Every sentient creature on the planet must save or go permanently insane as the Cthulhu's supersentience rips through their own, like a cruise ship powering through a narrow canal.

Over the next 24 hours, Cthulhu devours the sun, in order to gain enough energy for a long flight home.  Then he flies home, never to be seen again.  A wish spell might delay him, briefly.  Then the planet has no sun.  It's just a rock hurtling through space.  The surface temperature plummets, all surface water freezes, and 99.99% of all life on the surface dies.

Suddenly the underdark is looking pretty good.

The campaign changes to survival.  The PCs must travel through the interior of the planet's crust (which is all dungeons and subterranean oceans and literal hells) to get to the interior of the hollow planet, where the interior sun provides a modicum of ghastly light and warmth.  If the PCs want their species to survive, they had better bring along enough humans/hobbits/whatevers to form a breeding colony on the inside of the planet.

Over time, the helpless-insane will be killed and eaten by the murderous-insane, who will form roving packs of cannibals.  The psychic weave around the planet is completely changed when the cold tonnage of Cthulhu's brain ripped through it.  Psychic powers begin to emerge, and the people who were best poised to take advantage of this change (the Cthulhu cultists, who were not so much crazy as they were desperate) come out on top, and many of them become powerful, immortal god-kings.

Everything freezes.  There is no food.

The campaign changes to building a settlement on the interior of the planet.  It's like zombie survival, except with morlocks, demons, and neothelids (worms of the third madness).  Or maybe a bit like +Gus L's Underdark

If the players get ahold of a morlock drill city, they'll be able to make journeys to the frozen wasteland that is the surface, and search for valuable stuff in the ice-clad cities.  They'll skate across frozen oceans, their ice-sleds pulled by kites.  They'll move from volcano to volcano, the only points of life on a dead surface.  Each volcano is a desperate stronghold, a feeble source of food in a dead world.

If this campaign has an end goal--and it doesn't have to--it is to slightly change the trajectory of the planet.

Hurtling through space, the dead planet is doomed to a wretched infinity of cold vastness.  Humanity exists, if it exists at all, as a pathetic race living in the most meager of conditions, in those tiny niches of the planet that are still capable of sustaining their hot-blooded, gluttonous lives.  And that's where they'll stay while the planet inevitably cools and dies.

But with a small change, the planet could be redirected.  It could be recaptured by another star, and it could eventually orbit that star and flourish once more.  It will require a volcanic eruption of inconceivable energy, precise mass, and precise trajectory.  The planet needs to jettison a chunk of itself in order to life.  And not just amputate it--it needs to fling those oceans and continents as hard as it can.

People (and PCs) who are Nikal can survive being frozen, and might be revived when the surface thaws, far into the future.

And the rewards of this ridiculous maneuver will not be felt by the party.  Nor by their children or their grandchildren.  Nor their great, great, great grandchildren.  But eventually, the planet will be inhabitable once again, and the suffering will not have been infinite, and there will be green fields again, and children will run on them and laugh and speak in alien tongues, long after you've died.

And that is victory, perhaps, in a lovecraftian sense.

HD 1, AC leather, Sword 1d6

So, I've been thinking about how to differentiate monsters, and I don't think it's through stats.  Here are a bunch of monsters that are pretty similar statistically, but vary in their tactics, descriptions, and goals.

They have slightly different stats because stats can be descriptive, too, but if you switch them around I seriously doubt your players will notice.

The point of this exercise is to show that Making Monsters Feel Varied comes less from the stats and special abilities, and more from more from their tactics, goals, and basic lore/knowledge (don't hide interesting things behind knowledge checks).

But having said that, special abilities are awesome, and I'm also giving them all a special ability when they have max HP.  (So when you roll 3d6 of them, there are a couple that are lieutenants or whatever.)  But even without it, they all still feel very different, conceptually.  Like, if I were a player, I wouldn't get bored fighting just these monsters for a couple of sessions because they seem varied.

bandit by Eric Belisle

HD 1  AC leather  Sword 1d6  Bow 1d6
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 5

Tactics: hide in ambush along paths, use traps and false retreats, have 1-2 guys in trees with bows, kill spellcasters first

Goals: make money, insult rich people and institutions, make a name for themselves

Bandits with 8 HP are swashbucklers.  When one of their sword attacks hits, they get a free combat maneuver check (disarm, trip, etc).  They all have huge personalities, usually boisterous.

Bandits always have a cool hideout: treehouse, behind a waterfall, abandoned tower, etc.  There is a 33% chance that these bandits are part of a larger group, and 33% chance that they are part of a much larger group.  Optional: mustaches, tights, quarterstaffs, one comically obese bandit that the other bandits make fun of, one bandit that is seriously like 10 years old.


HD 1  AC leather  Huge Sword 1d8
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 12

Special: Immune to fear and pain.

Tactics: crush, kill, destroy!

Goals: collect skulls, bathe in blood, ritualistically scar their bodies, eat the dead

Berserkers with 8 HP are immortals.  Any damage that would bring them below 1 HP has a 50% chance to leave them at 1 HP instead.

There are many different kinds of berserkers.


HD 1  AC leather  Misc Weapon 1d8
Mov human  Int 8  Mor 7

Tactics: attack the weakest looking ones, don't wait until combat is over to grab loot, be disorganized, only work together accidentally

Goals: make money, steal food, get better weapons, pretend to be brave, find a strong leader

Orcs with 8 HP are anti-shamans.  They block all divine spellcasting within 20'.

Orcs are green, tusked, and have huge testicles.  They have a weirdly degenerate military culture--sort of like a cargo cult for the army--where they emulate military procedures mindlessly and poorly.  They also beat each other up a lot, but can be intelligent and kind (but only in private, or among trusted friends).


HD 1  AC leather  Bladed Scepter 1d8
Mov human  Int 3  Mor 7

Special: Immune to electricity, can power electrical or magical devices with a touch.

Tactics: take the high ground, believe oneself to be invincible (and make poor choices because of it)

Goals: collect magic items, search the jungle for ancient machinery and reactivate it, show superiority over the feeble masses of humanity

Powermen with 8 HP possess a psychic shield.  It provides perfect blocking: even magic missiles are blocked without error.  If the powerman is attacked by multiple people exactly simultaneously (making their attack rolls simultaneously) this overwhelms the shield, which can only block one at a time, and the powerman must decide which one he prefers to block (before attack rolls are made).

Powermen are adventurers who ventured into one of the ruins of the Great Machine, in Bruhok.  They come staggering out of the dungeons some days later, crackling with electricity, with glowing eyes and commanding voices.  They believe themselves to be powerful warriors that have resurrected themselves in new bodies.  They comport themselves like demigods, are supremely confident, and are always incredibly surprised when they die as easily as any other man. Their heads continue talking for several minutes after death.


HD 1  AC leather  Greataxe 1d8
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 7

Tactics: intimidate opponents, try anything (even lies) to get them to surrender, finish off the wounded

Goals: destroy all clans except the Tusk Clan, spread chaos and confusion through the world (especially centers of religion and/or knowledge)

Tuskmen with 8 HP are mutant tuskmen.  They have one random mutation from the DM's favorite mutation table, or from the small table below.

Tuskmen all derive from a viking clan that have fallen into the overt worship of chaos.  They revere Grandfather Oshregaal, who transformed them into their present forms.  They look like vikings with walrus tusks.

Tuskmen Mutations [d6]

1 - Two-heads - Much harder to sneak up on.
2 - Grossly muscular - Hits for +3 damage.
3 - Shriveled Black Arms - Cast flesh bolt (reflavored magic missile) twice per day.
4 - Eyes On Stalks - Cast poison gaze once per day. (See below.)
5 - Invisible!
6 - Crystalline Skin - 75% chance to reflect magic.

Poison Gaze
Level 1 Wizard Spell
Caster makes a gaze attack (target must be looking at you, i.e. not fighting someone else).  If the target fails a save, it is poisoned, and takes 1d6 damage each turn for 3 turns.  Con check for half damage.

bandit by Eric Belisle

Monsters need different tactics because it's a huge part of how combats feel.  If you're fighting monsters that always do fighting retreats as soon as combat begins, it feels very different (and uses very different tactics) than fighting monsters who just rush in and fight to the death.  We spend so much time differentiating monsters with abilities and lore, why not differentiate them here, too?

Monsters need different goals.  Intelligent monsters are practically NPCs, because the players can talk to them, intimidate them, bargain with them.  Those behavioral interactions make up a big part of the game.  (Think about your own games and how many times your PCs got social with the monsters instead of straight-up attacking them.)  Including goals in your statblock makes these interactions more robust (since you have a clearly defined answer to "what does it want?") but it also makes them more interesting (since you don't have to improvise a monster's goals halfway through a game).  NPCs should always have a goal, and unless a monster is only going to be used in an arena fight, so do they.

Out of all the HP 8 lieutenant abilities, I like the berserker one the most.  Level 1 dude getting hit by a 5d6 fireball, and then staggering upright?  And then he gets hit by the barbarian for 10 points of damage?  And he's still fighting, screaming out bloody foam, eyes clouding in their sockets.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


These are the three most common types of angels of Hesaya, Centerra's predominant religion (and only true religion, in theory). Doctrine holds that there are 77 types of angels, who are infinite in number. Other “religions” have their own “angels”, but these are considered to be false angels—creatures only slightly different from demons. (Just as magic births demons, so does great faith summon angels. But aside from that, angels and demons blend into each other; they are a spectrum, not a binary.)

Hesayan angels are agents of the heavenly bureaucracy and all of its attendant courts. Angels do not come from heaven—instead they are manifested in a certain location with a singular task already in their minds. For this reason, many angels you meet will only be a few days old, at most.

Other angels are guardians of people, places, or things. If a person is especially holy, an angel might appear to defend them when they are threatened. Paladins of the Church often seal holy places and call upon angels to guard them.

Angels are beyond knowledge. They operate on an instinctual level, according to the principles that formed them. They do know necessarily know scripture, or how to purify oneself before entering the inner sanctum of cathedral. This is because they are already holy, and everything that they do is good and righteous. At least according to the Church.

The Hesayan Church worships Zulin Who Is Truth as the ruler of heaven and earth. He is an air god, and so Hesayan angels are creature of the air. For this reason, Hesayan angels are sometimes accompanied by air elementals and/or invisible stalkers.

The Bringers of the New Dawn believe that God is dead, the Devil rules this world, and only by extinguishing all life will the planet be allowed to enter the next cycle. This will resurrect the dead, God included, and set the world right. They believe this is the only way to end suffering (since death, disease, and old age are unnatural inventions of the Devil). The Dawnbringer cult is mostly men and women, but angels number in their ranks.

Centerran angels are big on lightning. It's because they want to distinguish themselves from demons and their hellfire.

Although each of these angels has a pair of unique abilities, they can be easily shuffled around or omitted if you want to customize or simplify your angels.  In fact, I encourage it.

Angels sometimes give you treasure when you do them a great service.  Alternatively, you could rob them, because this is D&D, and you can rob anything.

Angelic Treasure [d6]
1. Elixir of Angel Wings. Exactly like a potion of fly, except that the duration is 1 day, or until you take an aggressive action, whichever comes first.
2. Holy Wheel. Can float above your forearm like a shield +1, or behind your head like a huge stationary ioun stone that gives +1 AC. Either way, it glows as bright as a torch when you are in combat.
3. Lightning Sword. It's a sword+1. It can be used to shoot a 5d6 lightning bolt, but then it becomes a normal sword until you can get it baptized in a church. Every time it is baptized it must be given a new name; it is the name of the lightning bolt.
4. Breastplate of the Martyr. AC as chain +1. Once per day, when an ally is takes damage, you can intercept that damage and take it for them.
5. Horn of Amity. Only works once before falling to pieces. If blown, everyone in 50' must make a save (as if from charm person). If they fail, treat it as if they were charmed by every other person in 50'.
6. Prayer of Sainthood. Only works once. When read aloud, a holy person (paladin or cleric of Hesaya) or angel immediately ascends to heaven in a beam of light. If they are unwilling to go, they can petition heaven to stay (make a saving throw). If they go to heaven, they immediately leave the game with all of their gear.

All angels have the following minor abilities:

Mercy – A creature that is wounded by an angel feels no pain, just warm blood on their skin. A creature that is killed by an angel feels no dread, only peace.

Judgement – A player who looks into an angel's eyes must make a save. If they succeed on their save, the angel cannot read their soul. If they fail their save, the angel learns all of your sins and good deeds (according to its own morality) over a 10 minute period. Shorter time periods reveal fewer sins and good deeds. This doesn't reveal a players thoughts, intentions, or full history. It merely reveals a player's best and worst actions.

I am ADON, Bringer of Light

Angel, Wheel (Ophanim)

HD 3 AC plate (no basic attacks)
Fly 18 Int 16

Aura of the Eternal Cycle – Each enemy that begins its turn within 50' must save or repeat the actions of their last turn (or as close as possible).

Bolt of the Martyr – Usable at will. Target directly underneath the angel takes 1d8 lightning damage (no save, 50' range). Before damage is rolled, any other creature within 50' can declare their love for the primary target. If this happens, the lightning changes direction and the primary target takes no damage while the creature that loves them takes 2d6 lightning damage (no save). Players are made aware of this option by divine knowledge transference, but also by the angel's booming monotone.

Tactics: Float above people like scary halos and announce their sins to the world; in combat, each angel picks the target it suspects to be the wickedest and focuses fire.

Instincts: Accompany holy people and steer them away from sinners; protect holy books; expose secrets; praise Zulin Who Is Truth.

Ophanim look like golden wheels with eyeballs along the rim. They revolve along all three axes when they fly, like a cartwheel sinking underwater. They speak with a host of voices, like a choir. Unlike other angels, they are capable of reciting all scripture perfectly (they sing it, in fact). They are largely logical and emotionless, but they become agitated when priests or holy books are threatened. (However, they don't react if/when innocent people die.)

Droning Utterances of the Ophanim [d4]
1 – “I am Adon, bringer of light!”
2 – “It is good and right to give thanks to Zulin Who Is Truth.”
3 – “I have seen the gate. I have seen the key.”
4 – “Blessed be the martyrs, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Encounters [d3]
1 – 1d3 ophanim have appeared above a child in the village and has begun instructing them in the scripture. In a different land, a ruler is hiring deniable assets to bring the child to him. He doesn't necessarily want to harm the child or the angel, he's just curious. This sort of thing smacks of prophecy and destiny, and he hates being out of the loop.
2 – After performing a great service for the church, 1d4+1 ophanim appear above the party and demand that the party excavate a forgotten church, long lost in a distant part of the swamp. The place is inhabited by a peaceful hag and several ogres, but the ophanim will help you kill him. Afterwards, they demand that you bring all of the books and minor relics to the Great Cathedral in Coramont—a task that will take several months.
3 – An exceptionally powerful ophanim (HD 7) of the New Dawn has appeared in the city during a holy day and trapped the city in a time loop. It did this so that the people would always be happy, and always be on their best behavior. Only the players are aware of this, because of some reason I'm sure your DM can invent. To escape this groundhog day, they need to find the rogue ophanim and destroy it. The ophanim watches the city from inside the clocktower, where it blends in with the mechanisms. 2d6 cherubim serve it.

Variants [d3]
1 – Minor Ophanim lack the Bolt of the Martyr. They serve as support for other units in combat, harassing enemies with their Aura.
2 – Ophanim Golems are actual golden wheels inhabited by an angelic spirit. They're statistically identical, except that they have 5 HD and leave a huge golden wheel as loot when they die. They are the treasures in the dungeon.
3 – Ophanim can also be the literal wheels on a flying chariot. The driver might be a seraph, or a powerful cleric.

Angel, Sentinel (Seraphim)

HD 6 AC chain Sword 1d6 + 1d6 lightning + curse
Fly 18 Int 16

Curse – Players struck by the angel's sword must save or the symbol for “enemy of heaven” appears on the player's forehead. Whenever creature takes fire damage, they take an additional 2 points of damage. This stacks up to 5 times. This curse is permanent until removed.

Immaculate Beauty – If the angel is at full health, any creature that attempts to damage it must succeed on a save or hesitate, being unwilling to actually strike at such a thing. If the angel hasn't made any aggressive action, this save is at a -4 penalty. Attempting to damage many angels at once (such as with a fireball) requires a single save with a -2 penalty for each angel after the first.

Tactics: Fight intelligently; Gang up on most threatening targets so the curse can stack; Rely on their beauty to keep them safe, rather than keep watch.

Instincts: Protect the innocent; it is a joy to serve; seek out the beautiful and convert them if necessary.

Seraphim are guardian angels, usually. They guard the lonely places of the world. They know nothing except their feelings, which they trust instinctively. To them, nothing worth nothing ever came out of a book. The only true things are feelings. (They respect the holy books, but those words are not from books, they are heavenly words that are momentarily recorded in books.)

If left alone for a long time, a seraph will convert its surroundings into a beautiful environment. Even in foul dungeons, the party might pass through a couple of beautiful rooms before finding the seraphim responsible. When swung, their swords sing clear, dulcet notes.

Unique Seraphim Feature [d6]
1 – All metals in 50' seem to turn to gold. All other materials turn snow white.
2 – No wings. Held aloft by a flock of doves plucking at her robe, while she reclines.
3 – Head has four faces, one on each side. Head revolves.
4 – Like a giant, naked, muscular albino, wearing only a ribbon.
5 – Has anywhere between 2 and 8 arms at any given moment.
6 – Bleeding from sacred stigmata. Blood turns to rose petals when it hits a surface.

Encounters [d2]
1 – Two seraphim guard a hole in the side of a cliff. They warn people away by telling them that “the prison of Melchior is not safe” but really all they're doing is making people curious what sort of dungeon is down there.
2 – While the party is still planning the best way to rob the little church down the street, a clear voice shouts from outside the tavern. It is 1d4 seraphim, demanding that the party come outside and receive summary judgment (death). The angels are hesitant to enter the tavern, but if the players don't exit, they'll start evacuating the innocents before storming the building. If the party acts quickly, it's possible to escape or kill the angels before the town priest gets here and finds out exactly what the party was planning.

THESE little assholes
Angel, Messenger (Cherubim)

HD 2 AC chain Bow 1d6
Fly 18

Magic Arrows – A cherub can put a charm, love*, or sleep effect on an arrow as they fire it. Save negates. (*love is similar to charm, except the effect is romantic instead of friendly, and the caster chooses who the target falls in love with.) These arrows still deal damage, unless the cherub prefers that they didn't. Love and charm effects last as long as the cherub is alive.

Remorse – A creature that kills a cherub must make a save at the beginning of their next turn. If they fail, they cannot take any offensive actions (defensive actions are fine). They get a save at the beginning of all subsequent turns to dispel the pacifism. 

Tactics: Hide in the upper reaches of a room; lead opponents on a merry chase; abuse their magic arrows.

Instincts: Make attractive and/or nice people fall in love with each other; make sure no one ever loves ugly and/or mean people; do things that babies do (touch an interesting texture, throw food on the floor, pet a puppy shyly, nurse at a breast, fall asleep on soft things, wake up crying).

Despite looking like fat, flying children, the cherubim are warriors. They only act like babies outside of combat. They often appear to deliver messages, or to carry one. They are attracted to maternal people, and despise rude or mean people. Not enough to attack them, but they will ply their infantile conspiracies against you secretly. Some cherubs are lieutenants, and carry golden arrows with unique powers.

Cherubim are extremely important, for one reason: they are engineering the birth of the messiah.  You think saviors are born just by chance?  It requires hundreds of generations of careful breeding to bring about the right collection of genes and environmental factors to create the next Prophetess.  Cherubim are the geneticists of the angels (although they have no concept of DNA, which might not even exist in Centerra).

What do this cherub's golden arrows do (save negates)? [d4]
1 – Target disappears in an explosion of live doves (who are permanent). They reappear two turns later.
2 – All of the target's wealth turns into scripture describing how wisdom and piety are the real forms of wealth.
3 – Splits into 3 arrows. The cherub makes 3 attacks against different targets.
4 – Target is compelled to confess a sin. If the character or player won't, the arrow damage is tripled. No save.

Encounters [d4]
1 – Cherubs have singled out a single party member (possibly seeking revenge) and are trying to make him/her fall in love with embarrassing things. If allowed to escalate, they're try making the party members fall in love with the same embarrassing stuff, just to stir up jealousy. This shit has got to stop.
2 – When you reach the dragon's lair you find out that it's been charmed by a flock of small cherubs. They have a big plan, and it involves this dragon.
3 – Cherubs in the dungeon. They won't let you past unless you bring them a mommy. A beautiful mommy.
4 – A cherub wants help. It needs you to bring a prince worthy of falling in love with its favorite princess.  Go kidnap a prince.  For love.

Variant Cherubim [d2]
1 – Anti-cherubim have arrows that cause fear, rage, and sadness. They say that they are harvesting courage, calm, and happiness in order to make arrows out of them, for other cherubim.

2 – Giant cherub boss with 8 HD. Ballista-size toy bow does 3d6 damage and all magic arrow effects have a 10' radius. Accompanied by 2d6 mommies (level 0 commoners).

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Demons

Firstly, lemures are like the ultimate minion monster.  They're just like, sad jello.  They look more like a balor's bowel movement than a real threat.  Like, a medium-sized dog looks way more dangerous than a lemure.

You should be able to fight, like, a hundred of these guys by level two.  Hence the minion rule, below.  (You don't roll for damage, you roll to see how many lemures you kill.)  The funny thing is that, since they're going to be pouring in the doors, they'll be doing an average of 3-6 damage every round to everyone that they can surround, so if you're in the middle of a gymnasium full of lemures, they're actually going to kill some players, just because their damage is reliable and there are too many of them to kill quickly.  Even a fireball would only kill, what, like 20 at the most?

Honestly, I'd love to fight a swarm of shitty demons.  I'd challenge people to beat my kill count, which would be like, 29 or something.  And after I beat them into a jelly, my character would pee on them.  Haha!  Demons are easy!

Then the next room has a nalfeshnee or something and it kills all of us horribly.

Second, demons have a long history of "requires a +1 weapon or better to damage", and while that's fun flavorwise, I feel like we don't need any more motivation to use magic +1 swords.  They're already mechanically advantageous and players already have giant boners for magic swords.  We don't need to tempt them anymore.  So, I gave my demons the Eldritch ability, where they can only be killed by magic, while non-magical damage can only daze them.  (They lose their next turn, but they're not helpless.)

This way you can throw demons at the party before they have any magic.  Either the wizard can save their magic missile for a dramatic kill shot, or they can just beat the poor thing until it's dazed half of the time and then run away.  (And players who don't know about the demons' tradition of immunity to non-magical damage can realize it after beating on it for a while, and then have an easier time running away.  Or locking it in a chest.  Whatever.)

Thirdly, there's a demon who has insanity-causing farts and I love that.

pictured: adorableness
HD 0 (HP 1) AC leather Flabby Claw see below
Move slow Int 7 Mor 7

Minion - When you kill this creature with a slashing or bludgeoning weapon, any damage in excess of it's HP rolls over to an adjacent minion (who also has this ability), so your damage total is effectively your kill count.  If you miss, you kill half as many.

Flabby Claw - Each enemy with at least one lemure adjacent is subject to a single attack roll.  If they are hit, they take 1dX damage, where X is the number of adjacent lemures (max 1d12).  If they miss, the enemy takes half damage.

Congeal - Reform in 1d6 minutes unless sprinkled with holy water, killed with magic, killed by blessed people, in a consecrated ground, or burned (requires oil or wood; a torch is insufficient).

Tactics: None, really.  Just swarm opponents en masse.

Instincts: Kill enemies, then enjoy creature comforts (tasty food, booze, sleeping in a pile in and around a bed).

Although lemures are about as tall as a halfling (4 feet), they weigh about 200 lbs.  They are obese mounds of deformed flesh.  They are hateful little shits.  When killed, they collapse like a jello sculpture and melt into a layer of pinkish slime on the floor about a foot deep.

pictured: a randy shit-talker
Bone Devil
HD AC chain Claws 1d6/1d6 Stinger 1d10+poison
Move fast Fly fast Int 14 Mor 7

Eldritch - Can only be killed by magic.  Whenever non-magical damage would bring it below 1 HP, this creature is instead dazed for 1 round.  They cannot be stunned more than once every 2 rounds.

Poison - First failed save causes -3 to attack and AC.  Second failed save causes all of your bones to fuse together.  Either way, this lasts 10 minutes.

Spells - teleport 1/day, invisibility 1/day

Wall of Bones - 1/day.  Covers a 10' by 20' area, but has some shapability.  Has 5d6 HP.  Any creature passing through it takes damage equal to the wall's remaining HP (save for half).

Osseous Armor - Willing target gets covered with bone armor (as plate mail) and takes half damage from non-bludgeoning attacks.  Also gains telepathy with bone devil.  Bone devil can only have one of these active at any given time.

Tactics: Hit-and-runs, use stinger when not outnumbered, use wall of bones to isolate enemies, use teleport for quick attack or quick retreat.

Instinct: Talk to everyone, call everyone fat and disgusting (if not to their face, then at least behind their back), collect beautiful bones, avoid other demons

Bone devils want to kill you, "liberate" your skeleton from your body, and then fornicate with it.  They think skeletal things are sexy, while fleshy things are disgusting.  They are sometimes employed as diplomats, and are accompanied by a human assistant wearing osseous armor.

pictured: centuries of constipation
Gas Demon

HD 7 AC leather Claws 1d6/1d6
Move human Fly slow Int 7 Mor 9

Eldritch - Can only be killed by magic.  Whenever non-magical damage would bring it below 1 HP, this creature is instead dazed for 1 round.  They cannot be stunned more than once every 2 rounds.

Swallow - If both claw attacks hit, the target must succeed on a Str check or be swallowed.

Stink Cloud - All non-demonic creatures in 20' get -4 to attack and AC.  At the end of each round you spend in the stink cloud, a creature can attempt a Con check.  Once they succeed, they are immune to stink cloud effects until they rest.

Flatulant Insanity - All non-demonic creatures in 20' must make a save or spend their next turn attacking a random creature in the area.  Critically failing this save causes a character to gain an Insanity Point.  Usable every 1d4 rounds.

Tactics: Get in the middle of everyone and start farting, eat the weakest looking people.

Instinct: Show off their knowledge and power, seek out foods that might calm their stomach, collect bourgeois shit like toy dogs and cheeses.

Gas demons are depressive and proudful.  They have strange diets and frequently suffer from indigestion and constipation.  Their guts churn loudly.  They sometimes wear clothing and makeup, and sometimes go naked (because they are proud of their bodies!).

Knights of the Pit

from Mad Max: Fury Road
Knights of the Pit are basically fighters.  Give them the attack bonuses of a cleric, and instead have this ability:

Suicidal Tendencies: Whenever you are below half HP, you get the attack bonuses of a fighter.  You also get a bonus on damage equal to your level (max +6).

Some Knights of the Pit are pious.  Subtract one or two special fightery abilities that they might have in your system (parry, defensive roll, etc) and give them this ability instead.

Pious Heart of the Martyr: You can use detect evil once every 10 minutes.  If you are at least level 2, when you die, the creature that directly killed you (if any) must save or die.

Some Knights of the Pit are blasphemers.  Subtract one or two special fightery abilities that they might have in your system (parry, defensive roll, etc) and give them this ability instead.

Exploding Blasphemy Skulls: Whisper blasphemies into the ear of a decapitated head and then throw it.  This enrages the spirit inside the skull.  At the end of your turn, it explodes in a shower of boiling brain blood and angry ectoplasm.  This ability only works on the heads of sentient creatures that were capable of understanding your spoken language.

The exploding blasphemy skull does 1d6 damage for every 2 HD of the original creature (save for half).  Skulls work as well as decapitated heads, but they must be fully intact (no missing jaws, etc).  The chance that you'll actually enrage the ghost enough to explode its own skull requires a successful Blasphemy check.  If your system doesn't support blasphemy checks, use this table to determine your chance of success:

Level 1 - 40%
Level 2 - 50%
Level 3 - 60%
Level 4 - 70%
Level 5 - 75%
Level 6+ - 80%

The Black Pit of Teradar

The Pit of Teradar is a prison built beneath the city.  It is widely considered inescapable.  The sentence term is almost always life.

The prisoners inside the Pit are thrown in there for crimes that have pissed off the emperor enough to warrant their entire removal, but are not severe enough for the Church to sanction their execution.  It is mostly fully of traitors, political prisoners, and those who have failed the new empire of Noth in some way.

Prisoners spend their days in labor.  They turn the gears that power the many machinations of the city: elevators, automatic gondolas, fountains, water pumps, and public trolleys.  There are hundred of unseen men beneath Teradar, toiling in the darkness for their daily gruel.

They are referred to by their job titles, rather than their names.  For example: Pump #9.

Control is maintained through vampirism*.  It is believed that most prisoners in the Black Pit are infected with vampirism, and they are fed with daily deliveries of blood jelly, collected from all of the slaughterhouses in the city.  The only place where prisoners can see the sun, and the central gathering place in the Black Pit, is the Courtyard of Mercy, where the sun can be seen for nine minutes at noon, at the top of the huge vertical shaft, through several layers of iron bars.

*Vampirism is a dreaded disease that inflicts a dietary restriction and a deadly allergy to sunlight.  Mystical vampire powers (though potent) only come much, much later, after the vampire has fed on the blood on hundreds of sentient creatures.  99% of vampires of young vampires who typically end up in short careers as mass murderers or outside the Cathedral of Two Blades, begging pilgrims to open their wrists.

Prison gangs rule different sections of the underground, and are largely given free reign as long as the wheels keep turning.  If the prisoners ever strike, or slack in their duty, entire sectors will be purged by the paladins of the Stayed Hand: opened to the sun, flooded with holy water, or simply stormed by hundreds of paladins and clerics.  The secret wheels of Teradar are never still for long.

Certain prisoners are eligible for release if at least three family members have died beside them in the Pit, and if they have not commited any crime serious enough to make the emperor doubt their loyalty.  These prisoners are given the offer to become Knights of the Pit.

Those who accept are geased by the paladins of the Stayed Hand.  There ceremony involves drinking a cup of sacred molten lead.  This does not kill them, but instead scars their lips, coarsens their voice, and other symptoms of lead poisoning.  The lead flows to their heart, where it forms the symbol of the Holy Serpentine Cage around the knight's heart.  If they should waver in their quest, the serpentine cage tightens painfully.  If they should ever fail utterly, the cage tightens fully, and they exist in debilitating agony until their deaths (which are usually immanent).

Their quest: to roam the world far from Noth's borders, where they may never return.  Until their deaths, they must wage war against the enemies of the Church without rest, respite, or comfort.  This usually means seeking out and slaying dragons, demons, and undead.  In theory, the geas can be lifted if the Knight of the Pit performs some great service to the Church in Noth, but this is exceptionally rare in practice.

A newly consecrated Knight of the Pit leaves Teradar pale with sacred ashes, dizzy with wine, and naked except for a black hair cloak and a sword.  Citizens are required touch their foreheads when the entourage passes, a show of respect that they must extend to all knights.

The city of Honored Kaskala has a similar order of traitor knights, except their geas is enforced by the removal of all reproductive organs, which will be returned only when the traitor knight has redeemed themselves.  Sometimes this neutering is extended to all family members, in order to completely extirpate any "traitorous bloodlines".

Many visitors to the city of Teradar never learn of the Black Pit.  The automatic gondolas and canal locks are usually believed to be magical, and the city itself is seen as a marvel of modern engineering, which of course, it is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Corpsegrinder Worm

HD 8 AC chain Bite 2d6 + grab
Move Burrow Int 5 Mor 6

Barf 1/day
30' cone, 3d6 damage from bone shards (save for half) and covers targets in acid (1d6 damage each turn). One turn later, 1d6-5 animated skeletons rise from the barf and immediately attack.

Grabbed targets are hit automatically on subsequent turns for double damage.

Corpsegrinder worms are sluggish monsters about 40' long.  They have a mouth like a garbage disposal; when eating, they spit up almost as much as they swallow.

They frequent battlegrounds and graveyards, where they leisurely devour buried corpses.  They are scavengers first, and ambush predators second.  They will only attack if a person walks off alone, or if the PCs start messing with their food source (exhuming corpses, opening crypts).  If given a fresh corpse (or when they have grabbed someone), they will usually retreat with their prize and spend a couple of hours savoring it.

They will happily chase down and devour zombies.

It is usually apparent when you are in the territory of a corpsegrinder worm.  Buried coffins have been broken into and even sarcophagi appear well-gnawed.  When the dungeon is quiet, you can hear them behind the wall, regurgitating swallowed bones and grinding them in their mouths.  It sounds exactly like what you think it does.

Acid Rules: Take damage (usually 1d6) at the end of each of your turns.  Can be ended by pouring a liquid on yourself, scraping the acid off (1d6 damage), or removing your armor/clothing.

Shield Rules: Take no damage or effects of any kind from breath attacks if you make your save.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Paladins in Hell

by David C. Sutherland
Hell was finally conquered in 788 TFM, in a brutal chapter of military history called the Last Crusade.  Asmodeus was destroyed, the gates of Hell were sundered, and all over the continent people of all race celebrated the Year of Eternal Triumph--the day when humanity finally triumphed over the Unholy Land.

The furnaces of Hell were repurposed.  The demons that would not swear the Oaths were herded into them and utterly incinerated in holy fire.  The demons that swore the Oaths became devils, and became bound in service to the new lords of Hell: the Knights of the Ninth Circle.

They are also called Hellknights, Adamants, or Helldivers.  They have very few spellcasters in their orders, because it is believed that wizards possess a unique vulnerability to the lures of demons.  Only warriors who have embraced their own deaths are immune to the demonic temptation of immortality.

A Digression About Geology

One fun thing about Centerra is that many places that are "normally" extraplanar are in fact locations on the planet (Phosma).  A gate to the Plane of Air doesn't lead to a different dimension; more likely, it just leads somewhere really, really high up.

It's a hollow planet.  You can reach the interior and gaze on the secret sun by traversing the literal underworld.  Beneath the planets crust are rivers of magma and the silent halls of the dead.  (This is why there are so many undead in dungeons, and why the bottom level of every dungeon is Hell.  At least in theory.)  It's like a cross of these two pictures.

Hell, Today

Hell continues to function much as it ever did.  The souls of the wicked are still punished, because if a soul has found its way to Hell, it is the soul of a sinner, and surely deserving of punishment.

Souls are strange things.  Naked, they experience the world but cannot affect it.  No mortal can hear their screams, and no devil ever cared to listen.

Some say that hell has grown crueler now that its masters are human.  Others say that this is a good thing, as demons were always too lax in their punishments.  Only with proper regulation and discipline can the souls of sinners be properly punished.

In theory, Hell is a conquered nation.  It has a human king and queen.  It has erected Hesayan churches, and the paladins worship there.

The devils worship in their own, inferior churches, praying for their own salvation.  It is said that there are many among them who are utterly stalward in their dedication.

Because of the depth of Hell and the instability of the roads that lead to it, visits between the Hell and the surface kingdoms are rare.  It often takes more than a year to climb from the depths of Hell.

Not so long ago, it was tradition that the king of Hell would travel to Coramont (the center of the Hesayan Church) in order to bow before the Patriarch and receive his blessing.  But the king of Hell hasn't been seen on the surface in a generation, citing health difficulties.

There are many who say that the Kingdom of Hell has grown distant from the Church, and their faith no longer aligns.

The Devil You Know

The primary duty of Hell is to eternally punish the souls that trickle down into it.  Additionally, it pays tithes to the Church and defends it in times of war.  (Theoretically.  This has never been put to the test.)  They also fight against demons whenever they find them.  But there are secondary duties as well.

The Doctrine of Untested Steel states that devils should be tasked with moving over the surface of Centerra and testing mortals to sin.  "Testing" mortals is essentially different than "tempting".  Devils of the Unholy Land merely offer an opportunity for murder, blasphemy, theft, and infidelity--they do not coerce anyone, nor do they corrupt anyone.  And when they encounter a mortal who engages in such a degree of sin that they are irredeemable, the devil must then kill that human.  This sends their foul soul to Hell where it belongs, and removes their stain from the surface world, making the world a better place.  The Doctrine of Untested Steel is fully condoned by the Church and takes place every day, all over Centerra.

It's a bit like getting caught in a prostitution sting, except that instead of a cop arresting you, you have a bone devil waving a holy book and trying to eat your head.  These are not common--there are a great deal of people and only limited numbers of trusted devils.

The Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion states that devils should be tasked with moving over the surface of Centerra and finding mortals are are in danger of backsliding.  These mortals, whose souls are currently saved but who are also in danger of falling into future corruption, are also killed when a devil has identified them.  The reasoning is that it is better for a mortal body to be slain when the soul is saved, and capable of enjoying Heaven for all eternity, than for today's saint to live long enough to become a sinner, when they might someday fall so low as to slip into the iron embrace of Hell.

The Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion was practiced for only 3 years before the Church condemned it as heresy, and many apologies offered.  The Patriarch who proposed it was publicly burnt.

Of course, there are those who say that the Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion is still practiced, albeit in a smaller, more clandestine capacity.  But are these Church-ordained devils or lawless demons?  In truth, the devils and demons would be largely indistinguishable even if they weren't shapechangers.

More Rumors

Are the paladins the master of Hell in name only?  Have they been corrupted by their malevolent environs?  Does some other demonic master pull the strings behind the scene?

There is talk on the surface of replacing the leadership of Hell, or at least holding them to a higher standard of accountability.  Part of the problem is that the machinations of Hell are beyond all human reckoning--there are too many souls, too many furnaces, too many pits of madness.  Hell cannot be governed like a worldly country.  It eludes quantification.  It mangles its own description.

And there is the great worry that any call for greater accountability will alienate the Kingdom of Hell.  And open warfare with Hell is certainly impossible, since all of the greatest warriors, warrior traditions, siege engines, and powerful weapons for generations were all used to conquer it, and still reside there.

Not to mention the great service that Hell provides, of course.  The best witch hunters are Hellknights, born in the infernal pit and sent above to bring a spiked gauntlet down on those who would spurn the grace of Hesaya.

And there is another, more troubling theory: the Hell we know is not the only one.  Certainly, the planet is large and unknown.  And although Hell and its devils struggle to organize and increase, there forces are eternally outnumbered by the demons who are numerous beyond counting.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Class: Poet / Storyteller

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. - John 1:1

by Kay Nielson
So, I was trying to brainstorm a class for Abasinia, the most Arabian Nights-ish place in Centerra.

At first I wanted a prince/princess, but nobility classes always get weird.  Plus, it's usually better to say "I'm a prince and a wizard" than "My class is prince".  But whatever.  I might revisit that later, in terms of Prince Without a Country, maybe.

Then, I thought about making a swordsman class, but I hate specialization (from a design standpoint).  If I gave a fighter +2 when using swords but -2 for any other weapon, then there's a huge disincentive to use any other weapon.  I like adding abilities that give players more options, not limiting themselves (even though it can be interesting and balanced, I guess).

So, then I starting thinking about Storytellers, which reminded me of bards.  So I guess this is another attempt to make bards cool.  (It's my Higgs boson.)

Digression About Clerics

I think that people dislike playing clerics because in any combat or adventure, there's a sort of tax, where at least one player needs to do the uninteresting-but-essential tasks, like healing or putting out the camel when it catches on fire.  Someone needs to do it, but it's a little boring.

It's odious for two reasons: first, you need to spend a turn doing that healing stuff, and secondly, you (are sometimes encouraged to) specialized in that.  "Well, the party needs a cleric." etc.

Anyway, this is a partial solution to the first of those two problems.

If Bob the Fighter needs healing, why should the cleric spend a turn healing him?  Why can't Bob just use the cleric's class ability to heal himself (so he spends a turn doing the boring healing, giving the cleric the option to do something else cool).

the guy in the back is Felix
he is often pointed to as an example of a Cool Bard
but he never plays a lute
that's because he's not a bard
he is a POET
Poet / Storyteller Class

Base them on the cleric in whatever system you like best, then subtract all of the spellcasting and turn undead and add this stuff.

Basic Class Abilities: Boast, Scroll Use, Literary Memory, Compositions

Every Odd-numbered Level: Language Mastery

Every Even-numbered Level: Favored Type of Poem


Whenever you finish an adventure, you can go into a tavern (or other public place full of people) and tell the story.  This is a group activity, and everyone at the table is expected to participate (like when the poet is telling about the troglodytes, the fighter could chime in to describe how bad they stunk up close).  At the end, everyone in the party gets XP equal to 10% of whatever the adventure was worth and a free round of drinks (usually).

Scroll Use
As a wizard.

Literary Memory
You are so good at memorizing and quoting books, that you have a "mental bookshelf" that can hold one book per level.  So at level 3, you've memorized three books, more-or-less.  Doesn't work on magic books or spell books.

You can compose poems / stories.  These are sort of analogous to spells.  The maximum number of compositions you can have prepared at any given time is equal to twice your poet level.

To compose a poem / story, a significant event must first happen in the game.  The term "significant" is left to the DM's discretion, but any large obstacle, life-threatening event, or significant milestone counts.  Odds are, there will be several significant events each session.  After the significant event, the poet or storyteller announces that they will be composing something, then roll on the Inspiration table to see what sort of inspiration they get (analogous to a wizard rolling to see what spell they will prepare).  Part of composing is telling it out loud.

It's a bit like the wizard casting system except you prepare them after a significant event.  They are performed (cast) the first time that they are read aloud.  It takes you 10 minutes to perform a poem.

Language Mastery
Mastering a language is more than fluency--it is the ability to to touch people's souls with your words.  Your spells (defensive or offensive or whatever) only affect targets that understand a language you have mastered.  Your poems / stories have no effect on creatures without any language.  Every odd-numbered level, you can turn one of your known languages into a mastered language.

Favored Type of Poem
Normally when you compose a poem (after a significant event), the type of the poem is chosen at random.  When you gain a favored type, pick a type of poem.  Henceforth, when you compose a poem, you can choose between composing a favored type of poem, or a random poem.  A favored poem must be from numbers 1-20 on the list below.

by Ferenc Helbing
Types of Poems
You don't always choose your own inspiration.  Roll a d20 to determine which type of poem you compose.  Every even-numbered level, you gain access to a new type of poem.  You simultaneously pick a new favored poem, so there are always 20 poems to choose from.  Remember that they all take 10 minutes to compose or perform (but only a single action to invoke).

>Simple Poems
These are most like spells.  You "prepare" them by composing them and "cast" them when you read them.  They are sort of like scrolls that you scribe, that no one else can cast except for you.

>Glyph Poems
These are just glyphs.  You write the poem on any flat surface: piece of paper, floor tile.  You need to provide your own pen and ink.  The poem is triggered the first time it is read, or the first time a creature passes over it (within 3 feet).

>Destiny Poems
Fate favors a poet.  After this poem is performed, a certain fate is created.  A moment of unrealized potential.  Later, any one of the people who heard the poem can invoke it, which then causes the intended effect to materialize. For example, a poet could compose a poem about a critical hit on Monday, perform it on Tuesday morning, and then one of the listeners can activate it on Tuesday night to turn a hit into a critical hit.  Once a poem is performed, it must be invoked before the day is over, or it is lost.

again, a poet
not a bard
1. Simple: Command the Word - Create, destroy, rearrange, hide, or reveal any text within line of sight.

2. Simple: Tongues - As tongues.

3. Simple: Read the Word - You can read all languages, including magic stuff (as read magic).  Lasts 2 hours.

4. Simple: Universal Forgery - You create a perfect forgery of any written object, even if you don't know what the original document looks like.

5. Simple: Suggestion - As suggestion.

6. Simple: Love - Two targets compare to see who has the better save vs charm person.  Whichever one has the better save makes a save against charm person.  If they fail the save, they both fall in love with each other, permanently.

7. Simple: Commune - As commune.

8. Glyph: Curse of No Poetry - Target loses all language (spoken, written, understood) and can only communicate by representations (drawing of an apple) and not symbols (words for apple).  They have a 25% chance to fumble any spellcasting.  Save negates.

9. Glyph: Fire - Target takes 1d6 damage and catches on fire.  Save negates.

10 Glyph: Paralyzation - Target is paralyzed for 1d6 rounds (as ghoul ability).  Save negates.

11. Glyph: Sleep - Target falls asleep for 1d6 hours (as sleep).  Save negates.

12. Glyph: Weakness - Target gets -2 attack and AC until the end of the day.  Save negates.

13. Destiny: Aggression - Free action.  Invoke when you hit someone in combat.  The hit turns into a critical hit.

14. Destiny: Defense - Free action.  Invoke when an enemy hits you in combat.  The hit turns into a miss.

15. Destiny: Glory - Free action.  At the end of this encounter, everyone votes on which character was MVP.  That character gets double XP for the encounter.

16. Destiny: Survival - Free action.  Invoke to get +10 on a single save.

17. Destiny: Escape - Invoke to automatically escape from a grapple or bindings.

18. Destiny: Healing - As cure light wounds.

19. Destiny: Lucky Find - You find some minor item in some feasible location.  For example, you could declare that you are going to find a rope in the next room, and unless the next room is actually a portal to the tentacle dimension, you will.

20. Destiny: Rat - A rat approaches from someplace not infeasible.  (A rat could come out of a bush, or from a crack in the wall.  This poem is obviously much less useful in outer space.)  The rat does one round of actions that the invoker chooses (such as chew through a rope or bite someone) then behaves exactly as a wild rat would.


21. Destiny: Tiger (available at level 2) - Just like destiny: rat, except with a tiger.

22. Glyph: Transformation (available at level 4) - If the target fails a save, they are turned into a goat, monkey, camel, or a songbird (determined randomly).

23. Simple: Remove Curse (available at level 6) - As remove curse.

24. Glyph: Curse of Living Poetry (available at level 8) - If the target fails a save, they are turned into a poem printed on a piece of paper.  They are in stasis.  They are released only when the new poem is read in its entirety.

25. Simple: Mass Charm (available at level 10) - All who hear your performance must save or be charmed.

there's no reason this guy can't write magic poems on the side

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hexcrawl: Abasinia

Well, my Tuesday group and I have finally played enough sessions in Abasinia that it has started to feel like I need to do a proper hex map for it.

This will be my third hex map (after Revanwall and the Frogstar Peninsula).

The Eastern 2/3 of Abasinia

It's also my biggest.  41 x 27 hexes.  Fortunately, I don't have to fill all of that in.  About 2/3 of the map is water (the Sea of Camels) and I have no intention of starting to work on the Brimstone Waste (in the NW corner).

I also want to write up unique stuff for about half of the land hexes.  For the other half, I'll just rely on a random encounter generator or something.  ("You see . . . 2d6 genies and they are here . . . robbing . . . a master thief.")

So that's still going to be about 200 entries, which sounds brutal, but pretty doable.  Especially since I have become more comfortable with putting things on the map that are just interesting scenery--nothing more.  (When I first started DMing, that kind of mechanically empty space was anathema.)

I thought about doing this one as a point-crawl, but ultimately decided against it.  I'm still obsessing (perhaps foolishly) over the idea that I can make travel just as interesting and meaningful as a Point of Interest.  I still think I can pack a map with a million small, interesting things, so that a player knows that there is adventure in every direction and they can never, ever run out.

I'm looking forward to writing up all the little islands on the edge of the Sea of Fish.  That'll be fun.  (Is one of the islands a zaratan-lich that breaths shark zombies?  Maybe.)

I like the idea of hugging the coastline on a boat when you want to sail conservatively, and striking out across open water when you're feeling plucky.  Coast-hugging should give bonuses some sailing checks, make navigation automatic, and allow easier survival from a shipwreck.

It feels like madness, trying to apply six-mile hexes to a continent the size of Mexico.  What's more, I want each area to be a complete adventure setting.  There should be enough cool things in each zone that each group of players would be satisfied playing 50 sessions there.  How many zones do I have?  Like 30?  That's 1500 sessions worth of content, or 3000 sessions if we want to create twice as much content as players will ever explore.  (And can andyone really write that much unique shit?)  Which is crazy, really.

And I want to have all of my hex maps connect, so you could hex crawl all 1000 miles across Centerra if you were so inclined.  Is there a word for that?  Mega-hexcrawl?

I want this map to have at least half a dozen dungeons of various sizes.  I have 8 settlements on the map now, but I'll probably trim that down to 6 as I start consolidated concepts and hooks.  Fewer settlements = bigger, more interesting settlements.  It also means more wilderness, which I like.

And the strangest thing is that it doesn't feel daunting.  I have a pile of loose ideas and themes for Abasinia.  All I have to do is weave all of that stuff around my current adventuring party.  Just prep one week at a time.  Sketch the distant things while detailing next sessions.

Taken in this way, it helps me write a hexcrawl organically and naturally.  I'm doing the same thing with Revanwall, in my Sunday game, and it doesn't feel like work.  It doesn't feel overwhelming.  Between two active D&D groups forcing me to develop an area, and my blog where I can post whatever I feel like, I feel like I'm detailing Centerra at a satisfactory pace.

Hopefully, the players won't decide to sail for Charcorra or the Land of Flowers in the east.  Or, god forbid, Valdina in the west.  (I haven't written anything down about Valdina yet except that it's a land-based sahuagin city.)

But, give me a week, and I bet I could.

Abasinia is all that yellow shit near the top.

Slave-trading hub.  Muddy coliseum.

1307 The Burning City
Former capitol of Abasinia.  Was smote by clerics of the Church prior to Abasinia's conversion.  Now it burns eternally, fire sputtering up through the flagstones, etc.  Full of trapped genies.

Town is a major tea producer.  Contains the sacred tea house.  Currently under attack by 2d4 ankheg, Tremors-style.

1605 West Ascent to White Plateau
Rumors about the White Plateau: The people there are wizards who deal in spiders and rubies.  They hate outsiders.  They will shred your dreams and poison your gold, but they do have the ability to regrow missing limbs.  (This place is sort of based on the Plateau of Leng, but it's safe to say that because I know next to nothing about the Platea of Leng.)

1607 Tiny Pyramid
This pyramid sticks out of the sand about 3'.  If the sand is excavated, the pyramid extends down several feet, revealing a much larger, buried pyramid.

1608 Abandoned Wagon
Area around wagon is studded with sand sculptures in rough humanoid forms.  Prone, fetal position, etc.  A bit like Pompeii.  They are being eroded by wind, and will soon be undifferentiated piles of sand.

1609 Monkey Oasis
Hiding in the water of the oasis is a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing.  It puppets corpses by sticking tentacles up their asses.  Currently has 4 monkeys and a merchant.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Intellect Devourers

this is my favorite picture

Intellect devourers are small animals, the size of cats.  They walk on little cat legs.  They have been compared to "brains on four legs" because of their rugose appearance.  Pure water is noxious to them; they dwell most happily in ammonia.

They have eyes on the sides of their bodies, hidden among the wrinkles.  The eyes look remarkably like human eyes, but are not usually seen.  Golden eyes like royal jelly, wet and proud.

Intellect devourers can unravel themselves.  It looks like braids of wet, pink yarn.  They unravel themselves and then they slither up your nose.  Then they use their little mouse claws to shovel your brains, which they eject out of your nose, like a dog digging in a flower bush (and usually leaving a telltale pulp on the floor).

Then, having replaced most of your brain and some of your spinal cord, the intellect devourer puppets your body around like a goddam skin car.  Enough brain matter is retained for the intellect devourer is "know" some basic facts of the puppet's life: name, language, basic history, close friends.

The intellect devourer's body--which is a strange type of protoneural tissue--gradually turns into real neurons.  After a week, the intellect devourer becomes irrevocably wedded to it's host.

The devourer then has a decision to make.  It can leave the body before the 7 days are up, thereby creating a brainless corpse.  The intellect devourer retains some of the host's memories, and permanently gains a point of Intellect.

Alternatively, the intellect devourer could remain in the host.  If this happens, the intellect devourer eventually becomes virtually indistinguishable from a normal biological human, and actually loses the ability to leave the host.  The intellect devourer basically replaces a human brain, in form, function, and composition.  The only difference is that they have an alien mind (though they'll pretend differently) and a brain that is a rich purple color.


They are fully intelligent and communicate telepathically among themselves.  Their word for themselves is phanikin.

According to their own myths, they were the original sentience in the universe.  Previously, there were just mindless animals eating and shitting everywhere until they stepped in and started thinking the first thoughts.  They were the first ones to start summing cogito and ergo.  They created the first people when they got trapped inside animals.

When an intellect devourer takes over a body, temporarily or permanently, much of the brain is preserved.  Elements of personality and memory persist, and the intellect devourer is not entirely unaffected by them.  They are shaped by the minds that they pass through, by the people they have been.

An intellect devourer that takes over a loving mother will hesitate to kill their host's baby.  (Most likely, they'll drop it off at the nearest orphanage.)  A devourer that has just replaced 75% of its host's brain may find itself developing strange feelings of honor and devotion.

Once an intellect devourer has eaten 75% of your brain, you are 75% dead.  Or to put it another way, you are 25% alive.


In the Vaults of Voyona, a city is populated entirely by intellect devourers.  They will pay high prices for interesting slave bodies to possess.

In the Stranglium Abysm, the intellect devourers possess only derro.  This has made them weird and distrustful of skulls (which is where conspiracies come from).  They shun taking over brains, and instead grow huge and weird, becoming Giant Mutant Intellect Devourers.

In the city of Gren, intellect devourers have formed a partnership with law enforcement.  Those who would otherwise be condemned to death are instead given to the devourers.  Once they possess their new bodies, they join the city guard in order to hunt down more wrong doers.  (Some say that they are overzealous in this task.)  Almost half of the city guard is now controlled by ex-intellect devourers.

In the Unspun Reaches, a monastery of monks works alongside a monastery of intellect devourers.  After passing through the minds of nine monks, an intellect devourer reaches enlightenment inside the skull of the tenth monk.  Together, the resultant creature (which contains small elements of all of the 10 devoured monks) is said to be a powerful force of balance and peace in the world.  The shared basement is infested with leaping hoards of young intellect devourers.

In the city of Yog (the greatest city of the Darklands) there are several ethnic groups of intellect devourers present.  The largest of these are the Barabi Burzum, who are deeply religious (see Psychology).  They believe that possession by intellect devourer is the natural step of a creature's life.  (I.e. childhood --> puberty --> adulthood --> devourerhood.)  They believe that they become the humanoid that they take over.  And so an intellect devourer that takes over a farmer will then spend a great deal of time and effort convincing everyone that he is the same farmer with the same goals.  They feel responsible for their host's children and spouses, etc.

In the city of Yog, another group of intellect devourers are the Jungerani.  Like the Burzum, they are deeply religious.  They believe that mind-control is abhorrent, and so they hunt abominations such as mind-flayers, wizards, and other intellect devourers.  (An intellect devourer can empty a skull in a moment regardless of whether that skull holds a human brain or another devourer.)  They care nothing for humanity (the "least race") who they see as chattel.  They sometimes use brutal measures in their efforts to rid the world of mind-control.

In the city of Yog, the intellect devourers sell their own young (traditionally locked inside a gilded cage shaped like a head) to adventurers.  The idea is that an adventurer treats a juvenile intellect devourer generously while it is in its cage, then when a foe is captured, they are given to the intellect devourer to inhabit.  The adventurer gains an ally, the young devourer gets a host, and the baby-selling devourer ensures the success of its progeny.  Everyone wins!


Intellect Devourer
HD 1 AC chain Claw 1d3
Move human Int 8 Mor 5
*Devour Intellect: At-will.  Target within 50' takes 1d8 Int damage, save for half.  If a target takes 8 damage from this attack, the intellect devourer learns one of the target's secrets.  Unlike most ability score damage, this Int damage recovers at a rate of 1 point per hour.
*An intellect devourer can crawl in the nose of a helpless target, excavate their brain, and take over their body.  This takes 1 round, during which the intellect devourer is helpless.  If they remain for more than 7 days, they lose their special abilities (including the ability to leave the skull).
*If you are immune to ESP, or if the devourer is not aware of you, it is much less effective at dodging your attacks (treat its AC as unarmored).  This creature is automatically aware of all creatures in 50' that have Int 10 or greater.

Giant Mutant Intellect Devourer
HD AC chain Claw 1d6
Move human Int 14 Mor 
*Zone of Idiocy: All creatures within 20' are reducing to drooling, non-verbal idiocy.  Players (not characters) under this effect cannot speak, and must grunt/mime out their character's actions.  Under this effect, complex plans are impossible.  Basically, if you can't make yourself understood in a few seconds of grunting and miming, your character can't do it.  Spells are still possible.  It's also possible to declare a complex action outside of the zone ("I'm going to run up and rub salt in its eyes.") and then run in and do it.  (The Zone of Idiocy doesn't make you forget plans you invented outside of it.)  No save
*Devour Intellect: At-will.  All targets within a 50' cone take 1d8 Int damage, save for half.  If a target takes 8 damage from this attack, the intellect devourer learns one of your secrets (usually the most plot-relevant one).  Unlike most ability score damage, this Int damage recovers at a rate of 1 point per hour.
*If you are immune to ESP, or if the devourer is not aware of you, it is much less effective at dodging your attacks (treat its AC as unarmored).  This creature is automatically aware of all creatures in 50' that have Int 10 or greater.

Usage Tips

Intellect devourers work great in small packs.  They're smart enough to use clever tactics (sometimes).  They can be quite deadly if a large number of them attack simultaneously and focus fire on a single character.  But then, that's true of all sorts of monsters.  They "bark" psychically.  Just telepathic barks and snarls.

It's possible for an intellect devourer to try to slither up someone's nose while they're sleeping, but the person will wake up halfway through, and they'll have a single turn to deal with a (weak, slow) purple pulp snake trying to crawl up their nose.

Intellect devourers could also work as a mid-fight complication.  Oh sure, you killed all 5 of the orcs, but now there are these horrible little monsters crawling out of the orcs' piggy nostrils.  (Bear in mind that intellect devourers pretty much only attack Int, which is a big help if any of the PCs were left at low HP after fighting orcs.)

Since intellect devourers retain scraps of their meal's memories, its also possible to base a quest about retrieving some datum from an intellect devourer.  The beastie in question could be located in a hive of the damn things, or. . . just about anyone, really.

They work well as add-ons to a fight.  They're low-value targets (you'd still want to kill the mind flayer first) but if you have any PCs helpless and unconscious, the intellect devourers can suddenly become a lot more threatening.

It's really fun to roleplay massive Int loss.  As long as the party has at least one party member with normal Int to babysit everyone, the game goes on mostly the same as it always does.  The Int 3 fighter can still kick down downs, the Int 3 wizard can still cast any prepared spell (at least in my game).

this is also my favorite picture