Monday, February 29, 2016

Sleeping Priests

The Hesayan Church is huge and baroque.  It's monotheism spans the continent of Centerra, and it's language (gospeltongue) is the common tongue of the land.

One reason it has been so successful in monopolizing faith is its explicit willingness to annex other religions and incorporate them into itself.  Syncretism is not a side-effect, but the intended result.  There is room in the church for everyone and everything.

One visible symbol of this success is their ability to convert monsters and beasts.  A country church might have an ox that has found enlightenment, and kneels with the rest of the congregation during prayer.  (The ox does not have intelligence, but it has faith, and that is sufficient.)  Or there may be a cockatrice that prays daily and guards the cemetery.

There are also the slave gods--the gods of conquered people.  Their holy places are transported to the Holy City of Coramont, where they are reassembled stone by stone.  Their priests are kidnapped and held hostage within their temples.  They control the faith, and so they control the people.  These conquered gods become slave gods, and they kneel at the throne of Zulin, like the rest of Centerra.  Their history is overwritten with new mythologies that incorporate them into the story of Zulin.  It becomes very important to control books and regulate who is able to teach children.  This is not a lie--in a very real sense, it becomes truth.

In this way, LAW is maintained.

by Jakub Rozalski
There are things that the church cannot absorb nor destroy.  These things must be locked away and the key must be destroyed.

Ideas are easy to bury.  There is an entire arm of the church dedicated to destroying and controlling information.

But immaterial creatures are much more difficult.  Foreign angels, demon dragons, spirits of unborn antichrists, violent nature spirits, incompatible or redundant godlings. . . The church has hunted down all of these things and imprisoned them.  (In most cases, this is not a bodily hunt but a metaphysical one).

They do these great feats by incinerating the souls of the (willing) devout, summoning angels, summoning devils, and employing autistic paladins who are actually really good at resisting the more weaponized aspects of faith.  Centerra is infested with minor godlings.  You couldn't flip over a rock without pissing off a nature spirit who lived beneath it.  Or at least, it used to be infested.  Things have quieted down now that the Church has been systematically exterminating and assimilating everything they come across.

They also use summoning circles, because you need to get a god to manifest before you kick its ass.  Some of these summoning circles are huuuuuuuuge.  You will find them scattered across Centerra.

<digression>The church actually summons a lot of bound devils, usually for very dangerous missions.  They are powerful and blessedly expendable.  But yeah, don't fuck with a Hesayan demon-binder.  They know their stuff better than the demon-binders they are employed to fight.  Sort of like how the government uses hackers to fight hackers, and sometimes recruits especially talented criminals.  Except the Hesayan church has all sorts of ways to control a persons actions and thoughts.  A person who has undergone all of these restrictions is called an Incorruptible.

The church doesn't care if the person they hire is trustworthy, because they have ways of making them trustworthy.</digression>

And once these rogue godlings are caught, they are given over to the sleeping priests, who then become responsible for keeping the prisoner asleep.

Sleeping priests are priests that sleep.  When they are acolytes, they will use drugs to sleep for over 20 hours a day.  When they are full priests, they will sleep 24 hours a day.  If you want to contact them, you must do so in a dream.  They are tended to by the youngest monks, who only sleep 6 hours a night because they are so busy spitting pre-chewed food into the mouths of sleeping old men.  (So little sleep now will make it easier to sleep more later, it is said.)

In the most remote and isolated places, you will sometimes find tiny monasteries hidden in the earth.  These places are filled with sleepy-eyed boys, holy books, and lots of opiates.  There will also be one or three old men sleeping in some hidden room, where they have been sleeping continuously for the last few decades.  Although their bodies are on a stone slab, their minds dwell in paradise.

At least, sometimes.  They also have a very important job to do, and that is to keep horrible monsters sleeping so that they don't wake up and spoil the rule of LAW.  They do this by crafting dreams and inserting them into the mind of the sleeping god.  Dream labyrinths--mindscapes that draw you in and never let you out.

And if you were to creep in there and slit their throats (it would be easy--so very easy) something terrible would wake up from where it was buried three miles below you.

These old guys inhabit the Floating Realm, the world of dreams.  They are strong with sleep magic and dream magic.  But most importantly, they are also the telegraph in Centerra.

There are no teleportation spells.  (Well, the true elves have some.  And humans technically have some as well, but no sane person would cast them.  That's how a wizard ends up dispersed as a fine, bloody mist across 40 acres of tundra.)  There is no sending.  The only way to get a message across the continent is to put a dude on a horse and give them a really good map.

That is, unless you have a sleeping priest.  Distance is immaterial to them.  They can contact each other in dreams and pass messages instantly.  The only difficulty is getting access to them, since the Church controls (nearly) all of them.  Sleeping priests don't wake up to dictate--you just shove a pen in their hand and they'll write out the message in their sleep.  See also: automatic writing.

In a way, the epitomize the power of the church even better than paladins.  Sleeping priests control information, and that is the real root of the Church's power.

Sleeping Priests as PCs

It's a great idea.  Let's do it.

They're just clerics with sleep spells.  I'd also give them some stuff like suggestion and illusion.  But really focus on the sleep stuff.  Control dreams, implant suggestions. trap people in comas, give them phobias (via nightmare).

Sleeping priests occupy two very specific roles within the church, and neither of them are very likely to become an adventurer.

You could be a sleeping priest out on a mission for the church.  You could be a sleeping priest who developed insomnia and become unsuitable for their job.  You could be trying to recapture the escaped godling after you fucked up and let is escape.  (After spending the last decade asleep, I bet your knees are pretty stiff.)

You could also be a runaway, someone who escaped from the Church after learning just enough of its secrets to be dangerous.  Or, heck, you could even be someone who learned the ways of the sleeping priests in order to fight them.  After all, you need to wake your god back up.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

I'm Delicious

Two farmers are talking across a fence.  They are leaning on their hoes.

"I'm delicious!"

"Haha!  What?"

"I don't really think I'm delicious.  It's just fun to say."

"That you're delicious?  Where did you hear it from?"

"I don't rightly recall.  I think I heard it in town.  Someone said they were delicious."

"I'm delicious?"

"I'm delicious."

"I'm delicious."

"Well, that's enough gabbing.  I've got to get back to my cabbages."

Ten days later, everyone is saying it.  Eleven days later a space dragon lands in the town and eats everyone's brains.  Their brains are delicious.

by Adam Hughes
What Is It?

It is a memetic plague.  An infectious idea.  A few lines of insidious code that can corrupt the orderly programs of our souls.  I've written about them before.  There are several known memetic plagues, and there are even a few scholars that study them (very carefully).

From here on out, I'll refer to it as Delicious.

Among the memetic plagues, Delicious is not a very powerful one.  It doesn't exert a strong compulsion, and it doesn't have any weird manifestations (like the madworms of Avool).

Delicious is just a certain enjoyment from saying "I'm delicious", and from hearing it.

But it's not quite the same as when you and I say it.  There's a subtle inflection there--a tiny modulation of the voice that makes it contagious.  This invisible tone is produced by diseased brains, and only diseased brains.  So you can't catch it from just saying "I'm delicious", you need to hear it from someone who is infected.

What Happens Then?

Over time, your brain becomes delicious.  It turns bright purple, and small "fruits" begin to grow in your brain.  This has no noticeable effect on cognition.

But, purple brains produce purple thoughts, and purple thoughts can be "smelled" in the Ether.  That's what brings the space dragon down.  Her name is Callistrix and she is purple and black.  She has two heads and her oral tentacles are suited for sucking brains out of much larger skulls, so she struggles to manage the small heads of humans.

She's actually quite pleasant and conversant, except that she believes that human lives are essentially worthless ("There's so many of them.  And what do they do, really?") and she may be right about this.  She has no interest in anything else on Centerra. (All of the interesting and valuable stuff is up in space.

But if you feed her a town of delicious brains, she could be persuaded to answer a quick question or do you a quick favor.  As long as it's quick.  She's very busy.  ("The Lost City of Beyoc?  When did you lose it?  Nevermind.  I can mark it on your map, if you have one.  Or I could just fly you there.  I'm heading in that direction.")

Callistrix has a complicated relationship with Forganthus Valore.  Basically flip a coin to see if she currently loves him or hates him.

If your players want to use her as an oracle, they'll need to (a) get the memetic plague into a carrier, and (b) infect a hapless village.  Most villages have never heard of a memetic plague and have no idea that it exists, but you can bet your ass that the Church's witch hunters know what's up.

Some Notes About Space Dragons

There aren't very many of them.

They all have two heads.

They are all unique.

They are more powerful than any mortal creature on Centerra.  Treat them like plot devices, not monsters.  This is why they will never have stat blocks.

They don't want anything you can offer them, except perhaps interesting food.

They call themselves Speakers of Truth.  The idea is that each head holds half of the truth, and so when they speak in unison, they only speak truth.  This is true, because they rarely lie when speaking in unison, but it is also true because whatever they say becomes true.  (As wish.)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Random Barbarian Tribes of Uldrac

Barbarians live way down south by the Revanwall mountains, down where it's as cold as a witch's teats.  They usually live in insular tribes, but they also share their territory with tribes that have begun to modernize, as well as at least one Nothic colony and one Meltherian colony.  

They call it Uldrac, or the Land of the Big Sky.  All of the cities (and there are a few) have ridiculous names like Iron Eternity or Deathblow, and are shared among multiple tribes.

This generator is for small tribes.  Big tribes are on the map, so to speak, and get their own custom set of details.  I won't go into the big tribes, but one is really into brewing, one is really into mammoths, one rides pterodactyls, one is allied with Oshregaal, etc.

by Mike Mignola
HD 1d8+2  AC leather  Axe 1d8  Javelin 1d6
Mov 12  Int 10  Morale 7

Most barbarians only carry a single javelin.

Barbarians with the minimum amount of HP are shamans.  Barbarians with the maximum amount of HP are heroes.

What Is This Tribe's Gimmick? [d10]

1. Women have each amputated a well-tattooed breast and turned it into jerky. If eaten, they cannot be reduced below 1 HP by non-magical weapons. Lasts 2 hours. ½ of fighters will be female, and 1/3 of female fighters will still have their jerkied breast in their inventory.

2. The greatest warriors are castrated, and their remaining genitalia stuffed into elaborate cod-pieces: scrimshaw mammoth tusks or narwhal horns. Their severed gonads are used in a fertility ritual by a chosen girl to conceive a hero-child. Tribe has +1d3-1 heroes.
3. Half of the warriors are children. Children have half HP, but if they drug themselves before combat, they get two attacks. The drug is the insufflated, pulverized liver of a raven that has been fed increasing amounts of poisonous lichen its whole life.
4. Half of the warriors are elderly. Half HP, but unless you coup-de-grace them, or drop them to -5, they will spend their dying turn cursing the player. (Curse of Ill Omen: next critical hit turns into a critical miss.)
5. Half of the warriors are undead ghouls (who alternate between traditional axes and paralytic claws). These ghouls are indistinguishable from the living barbarians (who look especially decrepit and unhealthy).
6. Know how to revive those who have frozen to death. They will have 1d3-1 additional heroes frozen in a secret basement in their village, and if needed, they will thaw them in a 12 hour ritual to defend their village. 2-in-6 chance to also have a foreign scholar, linguist, or wizard on cold storage as well.
7. Have 1d6 tame mammoths. The largest mammoth will have an enchantment braided into its hair. This enchantment give them either (a) the gaze of the vor-mammut 1/day, save or suffer broken limb, or (b) weaponized birth, a half-demon baby mammoth with HD 4, tusks for 1d8 + save pain 1 rnd, damage cannot be healed except by magic.
8. Fight alongside a pack of 3d6 wolves. 2-in-6 chance that the chieftain is actually a worg, and the wolves are higher ranked than the human barbarians.
9. Foreign clan. They are the next-generational remnants of a foreign army. Most of the people you are fighting are the children of an army sent to fight the barbarians, but became captured, abandoned, or converted. They look like foreigners (not barbarians), speak a strange patois, and some still wield foreign weapons or armor. 1d4 of them will fight in plate armor, retrofitted with warm fur on the inside and outside.
10. Doomed. Their witches have cursed and abandoned them. They have no shamans (use disease-ridden lepers instead).  All crits against them cause death (think vorpal) and they are desperate, desperate for a way to break the curse. Morale 12.

Shamans [d10]

1. Shamans only wear things produced by the human body. They can be damaged, but not killed, by manufactured weapons. They know heat metal.

2. Shamans are all little girls, wearing hair shirts and lizard scale bangles. They are all identical twins, and share a pseudo-hivemind (empathy, local telepathy only), and are products of an intergenerational witch. The first one to get pregnant will give birth to the next generation of the witch sister hivemind. They know charm, and if at least four of them cast it in unison, it works as dominate person (maintained by one of the girls).

3. Shamans are instructed by a rock troll, who spends most of its time slumbering in the center of the village, covered in flags, rags, and offerings. They know anklecrusher.

4. Shamans are cannibals, and gain the knowledge of those they eat. They know clairvoyance.

5. Shamans are small quadruple amputees. Rolling eyes, echolalia. They are carried on the backs of their (full-sized) siblings inside wicker cages. They know shrivel.

6. Shamans walk around on stilts, wear deer skulls adorned with women's scalps. They know fear.

7. Shamans are all actually dogs, or perhaps the spirits of ancestors reincarnated into dogs. They are shaved and tattooed with colorful screed. They walk around on two legs, but drop to all four legs when they need to run at full speed. Speak in mewling growls that almost sound like words. They know haste.

8. Shamans are permanently invisible. They have invisible gems in their eye sockets. If extracted, these gems can be used to make lenses for an invisible lantern (the lantern is invisible, not the indirect light it produces). They know invisibility.

9. Shamans crawl on all four and have long hair. They wear masks of knotted wood-whorls, painted purple, white, and blue. They speak backwards and know command.

10. Shamans are constantly snorting hallucinogenic lichens from turtle shell snuff boxes. They are wrapped in their own hallucinations, and appear to be male, female, young, old, cheerful, depressed. . . sometimes all at the same time. Their ancestors sometimes stand behind them, whispering in their ears. They know illusion.

Heroes [d10]

1. Wears a mammoth skull backwards over their own head. Ridiculously bulky and heavy. +2 AC but moves at dwarven speed.

2. Wields a giant-sized sword or hammer covered in prayer flags. Increase damage by one die size.  Speaks fluent giantish.  If they are killed in a dishonorable way, there is a 50% chance that their giantish relative will hear about it and seek revenge.

3. Naked and wielding a sharp rock (as a handaxe). Blessed by the spirits of wild places and immune to damage from all crafted weapons. Loses this power if they ever wear clothing or any crafted thing. Covered in lice, but possesses a statuesque physique and kingly demeanor.

4. Capable of absolutely insane jumps. Like 50' horizontal. Always jumps into combat with a spear, dealing double damage. Covered in red body paint with dozens of bird skulls woven into their hair.

5. Wears the fur of a cave bear. Skull belt buckle. Possesses strength equivalent to a hill giant, as well as a hill giant's ability to throw stones, which they will do from a distance before melee.

6. Carries an enormous wineskin full of fermented goat's milk. Wears a stupid hat (ironically) taken from some milklander they killed. Will drink booze while they fight, getting drunker and drunker. Each round they will get -1 to hit and +2 damage. After 1d3+3 rounds of drinking, they will pass out and begin snoring loudly.

7. Raised by wolves. Wears wolf head over their own head. Fights with a pair of kukris. Only speaks in howls and other wolf noises, even to other barbarians, who must also treat this elite as if they were a wolf. Is accompanied by their loyal mate, another wolf. If both attack the same target in unison (as they usually do), they both get +2 to hit.

8. Possessed by a demon. Wears a mask painted to look like a tusked red demon face. Actual face is much more terrifying, the result of decades of demonic possession. If there is any roleplaying going on, they attempt to intimidate the party through self-mutilation. Is especially vicious and cruel. Wounds inflicted by their battleaxe are cursed, and cannot heal normally until the curse is lifted. Will always coup-de-grace injured characters.

9. Axemaster. Steely-eyed exemplar of barbarian fighting techniques. Wears a dark green cloak and has a face covered with tattoos. Eagle feathers braided into hair and eagle claws hanging from belt. Fights with a pair of handaxes. Whenever someone attacks the axemaster In melee and misses, the axemaster gets a free attack against them.

10. Tremendously fat. Has +10 HP. Carries a bandolier full of rabid weasels, which they will throw at people before closing into melee. If they trip or fall over, 2d6 rabid weasels will escape, half of which will run away, and the other half will join combat. Speed as dwarf.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

OSR-Style Challenges: "Rulings Not Rules" is Insufficient

I was a Pathfinder guy who got inspired by blogs, and then spent some time trying to figure out what the fuck the OSR was.  I read stuff, like Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, which is where I first heard about Rulings Not Rules.

The idea is that the OSR encourages a sort of innovative, ad-hoc gameplay where players are always innovating and solving problems with outside-of-the-box solutions.  They're thinking with their heads, not their character sheets.

But saying Rulings Not Rules is merely a description of the system, which is only a small chunk of what actually contributes to gameplay.

What Contributes to Gameplay

  1. The system.
  2. The adventure.
  3. The DM.
  4. The players.
The DM and the players could be bundled together, because the DM operates by a social contract, sort of like a charter.

Anyway, it's not enough to have a system that allows for rulings and improvisation.  If you want OSR-style gameplay, you need to encourage/allow it at all levels.

System Level

Like Mr. Finch says, this is about getting players to stop thinking with their character sheets.  (This is why skill lists are potentially so poisonous--players thinking about solutions sometimes start and end by looking at their skill list as if it were a list of permissions.)

(1) And to do that, you need an incomplete system.  You need to have room for rulings, and that means that there have to be gaps between the rules.  To put it another way, if I wrote up a game system that included two pages of rules on how to attack tiny animals in your stomach, I've codified the acceptable options and excluded more esoteric solutions.  (I've also complicated the game by introducing a fiddly and highly-situational subset of rules.)

If a players is familiar with the game system, they'll think back to what they know about the rules as a first resort.  Only when they've exhausted everything they remember from the How To Attack Tiny Animals In Your Stomach page, will they start to innovate.

For an example of a more complete skill system, all you need to do is look at the skill descriptions from 3.5th edition.  The more complete a ruleset is, the more tempting (and valid) it is to say "well, it's not covered in the rules, so you can't do it".  Or worse "this is covered in the rules, and if we add up all the situational modifiers, you will do so at a -14 penalty even though I personally agree that this task shouldn't be that difficult".

This is why I like running games without Perception checks, Find Trap checks, and social skills.  It leaves more room for player innovation.

(2) You also need a system that supports rulings.  There are two parts to this.

First, the system cannot have too much interdependence between the moving pieces.  Some mechanics are isolated (XP) while others touch on many other mechanics (Ability Scores).  The more interconnected a mechanic is, the more knock-on effects you'll have when you modify it.  If you want to just make a quick ruling and get on with your game, you usually want to make sure that your quick ruling won't have any unforeseen consequences.  For example: 

DM: "Alright, you all manage to tread water for 18 hours, but the act was so exhausting that you've all lost all of your healing surges."

Player: "Wait, I can't use any of my class abilities without any healing surges.  In fact, I turn into a pumpkin without any healing surges."

DM: "Well, we've already established that exhaustion drains healing surges.  That's been a house rule for months.  And treading water for 18 hours is definitely exhausting."

Player: "But that was before I picked up the Pumpkin King prestige class.  It's unfair now."

A little caricatured, but you get the point.

Second, the system needs to have simple ways to adjudicate rulings.

My first resort is to just ask a player to roll under the most relevant ability score. 
  • It's fast.  
  • The player already knows what I'm talking about because their ability scores are written down right at the top of their character sheet.  It's an associated mechanic, so it makes intuitive sense.
If it doesn't seem tied to any particular aspect of their character (i.e. it's entirely luck-based or dependent on some external variable that the character has no control over), I usually just ask for an X-in-6 roll, which I make up on the spot.  I like using a six-sider for these, because even a 1-in-6 chance is likely enough that it'll happen every once in a while.

For more extended efforts, I like some variation of "you need to get X successes before some other limit is hit".  But I only use these extended rulings very rarely.

Bad rulings are ones that are slow or confusing.  But the worse rulings are the ones that are ultimately unsatisfying, in the sense that they don't give results (or chances of results) that mesh with the player's expectations of how the world works.  If your make some rulings, and the consequence is that halflings are more intimidating than orcs, that's (probably) a bad ruling.  If you make some rulings, and the consequence is that even the most untrained peasant has a 90% chance to track anything, that's a bad ruling.  Just as players use common sense to come up with stuff that requires a ruling, use common sense to make rulings (as opposed to precedent or some other analogous rule you saw somewhere else).

Adventure Level

You also need to give players problems that are best solved through innovation.

If you give them a problem with three orcs in it, they're probably going to solve it through an already-established method: initiative and attack rolls.

Here are some good examples of OSR-style problems.
  • Get over this moat.  It's full of crocodiles.  (I think I first heard this example from Zak. S, and it's been stuck in my head ever since.)
  • There's a circle of mushrooms with a girl inside it.  Everything inside the circle of mushrooms will do everything in their power to get more people inside the circle (no save).  The girl is already their thrall.
  • There's a tiny octopus inside your stomach and it's biting you.
  • There's a bowl built into the ground.  It's lined with gold but full of acid.  (From ASE.)
  • There's a smooth glass sphere, 100' high, with an opening at the top.  It doesn't roll easily.  Inside is something you want.  (From some LotFP product, I forget which one.)
  • The bad guy cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by mortal hands.
  • This glass sphere (3' in diameter) is filled with gems and horrible undead snakes.
  • Pretty much all of the dungeons that +Chris McDowall writes.  He's like a laser pointer when it comes to writing interesting problems.
Writing a good OSR-style problem is tougher than it sounds.  It needs to be something that. . .
  • has no easy solution.
  • has many difficult solutions.
  • requires no special tools (e.g. unique spells, plot devices).
  • can be solved with common sense (as opposed to system knowledge or setting lore).
  • isn't solvable through some ability someone has on their character sheet.  Or at least, it isn't preferentially solvable.  I'm okay with players attacking the sphinx (a risky undertaking) if they can't figure out the riddle, because risky-but-obvious can be a solution, too.
The fun thing about OSR-style problems is that they often require rulings-not-rules.  (Try to solve the tiny octopus in 4e with RAW.)  So there's a benefit in having a system that's easily hackable.

But at the same time, OSR-style problems aren't dependent on system.  You could plop them into any system and then players will still have to innovate to solve them (and probably have a lot of fun in the process).

It's also important to give your players OSR-style tools.  (This is an idea I've half-articulated before.)

The anti-examples of this are going to be things like a sword +1, or a cloak that gives you +4 to stealth.  Anything that gives you a numeric bonus is not an OSR-style tool.  Anything that gives you a known, established ability is not an OSR-style tool (like a potion of healing).

These are tools that allow for innovative problem solving.  They stretch the brain.  Good examples include:
  • Immovable Rod.
  • Polyjuice Potion.
  • Ring of Cadaverous-but-Reversible Sleep.
  • Love Potion.
  • Psychic Paper.
  • Sovereign Glue.
  • Cursed Wand of Enlarge, only enlarges one part of an object.
  • Bag of Infinite Rats.
  • Some of these items.
  • And some of these items, too.
I especially like to make these types of items single-use or limited-use.  It prevents the item from becoming a known solution to an established problem (which is pretty much the antithesis of OSR-style problem solving).

DM Level

There's two things you gotta do.

First, talk to your players like adults.  Tell them that this game will have problems that aren't obviously solvable, and that some of these problems will have solutions that aren't on the character sheet. 

Actually, if you're dealing with complete newbies to tabletop RPGs, the less stuff that is on their character sheet, the better.  A level-0 funnel can help get new players thinking about common-sense solutions to problems.  Adding skills to the game after one or two sessions can also be a big help (if you ever add skills at all).

Second, you need to reward creativity when you see it.  When players ask you if something is possible, say yes.  (Or "yes, but".)  When you are devising a ruling for some ridiculous player shenanigans, lean in the player's favor.

I'm not advocating that you should allow stupid ideas to succeed, but solving an OSR-style problem is usually going to involve some kludgery, so be lenient when deciding how likely crocodiles are to eat a bomb disguised as a pig.

Player Level

I'm writing this article with the assumption that everyone enjoys the same types of game that I do.  This is not always true (unfortunately).  Talk to your DM and each other about your expectations.  Give feedback.

When it actually comes to solving these problems, I can't really help.  It's just you and your brain.  Here a few pointers, though.

  • Think about all of the resources at your disposal, including resources in other rooms.  
  • It helps to take notes.
  • Make the hireling do it.  
  • See if any of your magic items can do cool stuff if used in combination--sometimes the answer is spread across multiple peoples' inventories.  
  • Take it to someone who knows more about it.  
  • If it looks like it might do something horrible, pick it up on the way out.  
  • Come back later with the right tool.  
  • Experiment, experiment, experiment.  
  • Before you do anything, ask the DM lots of questions.  
  • Before you touch the dangerous parts, learn as much as you can about the non-dangerous parts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Travel and River Crossings

The wilderness is not your friend.

The problem is that most fantasy is fantasy Europe, and real Europe was just countries covered with farms and farms and known borders.

I don't like this.  Too many farms.  Too much possibility of realism infecting my elfgame.

There are city states surrounded by tiny amounts of well-patrolled farmlands.  This might be unrealistic, but fuck you.  

Everything else is a poorly mapped wasteland.  It's not a wasteland in the sense that it's desolate.  On the contrary, it's full of stuff.  But the stuff is not friendly or knowable.  It's elves (horrible, horrible elves), killing fogs, or abandoned cities filled with sobbing mice and nothing else.

You will get maps, and they will all be wrong.  People will tell you about trips that they have taken, and they will all be bad (even though the destinations might be pleasant).  Every crossroad has a graveyard.

The greatest thing that the Church has ever done (both in scope and improvement of life) is the construction of a maintained, well-labeled, protected road across the continent.

How to Make Travel Fun

People (myself included) often talk about how we'd like to make travel fun and meaningful.  This is a noble goal, and we are to be congratulated, patted on the head, and scratched reassuringly behind the ears.  

And we write system stuff for travel.  Rules.  Sometimes it works.  A little.


More and more, I think that interesting travel has to come not from mechanics from from scenarios.  We need content, not system.  Travel needs to be where the game (content) is, not just something that you pass through in order to reach the game (content).

Now I'm just going to talk about river crossings as an example of where we can insert more game/content into our games.

Crossing a River

You come to a river.  Oh, god-fucking-dammit.  Roll a d6 to see what is here.
  1. Appears normal, and is.
  2. Appears normal, but is full of monsters.
  3. Challenge to cross.
  4. Bridge.
  5. Ferry. 
  6. Other NPC.
1. Appears normal, and is.

This is the result you want.  The river looks calm.  A character can easily swim across it if they aren't wearing any armor or carrying more than a rope.  If they tie a rope on the far side, the whole party will be able to get across.  Heavy shit like plate mail needs to be taken off and floated on a small raft, which might just be a bunch of sticks lashed together.

There is a 25% chance that this is actually a shallow ford (1d4+1 feet deep) and you can just walk across.  This is easy as long as you hold on to each other and nothing attacks you.

2. Appears normal, but is actually full of monsters.

Just as #1, except roll a d6.  

  1. Hippo/demon hippo.
  2. Giant carp.  
  3. Rompers (dire otters that build dams and hunt the riverbanks).  
  4. Chatty, hungry mermaids
  5. Knights of Dendrola (mermaid witchs and slavers). 
  6. Leeches!  Aaargh!
Stats for the hippo (temperate climate) and demon hippo (cold climate) are given at the end of this post.  You can write your own carp and mermaid stats.  All I will say about the leeches is that they're going to involve Wis checks to see how long the leeches are just stirges with stealth 5-in-6, who are able to drain blood without the target noticing (Wis check each round to notice).

Be sure to give players a small chance to notice hippos and giant carp.  Those things are fucking awful to fight in the water.  Just awful.  I'll put a couple of mermaid spells at the bottom of this page.

3. Challenge to Cross

I'm not going to go into detail here, because I need to go to bed and this seems boring.  Suffice to say, there are rocks and rapids and a very real risk of broken bones.

There is a 10% chance that the rocks are covered in jeering barnacle men.  They have slings, but will probably not use them (they are up here hunting for birds).

4. Bridge

Roll a d6.  Toll collectors usually charge per head (including pack animals) and a much larger fee for wagons.
  1. Bridge Troll.  (Ex. Gunfus of the Singular Nostril.  Armed with a spiked club.  Collects heads.  Really wants a cat, especially some kittens.  (His old cat died, killed by people who took her hostage.  Their heads were stomped to splinters instead of being collected.))
  2. Violent Bridge Goats.  Will knock the party into the river unless money is put into a large urn.
  3. Guy who wants to fight.  Possibly a black knight scenario, or just some guy who is waiting for his nemesis to come along so he can fight a duel to the death.  He'll pass the time by fighting the party.  He's probably a total badass.
  4. Haunted.
  5. Unattended.  Yay.
  6. Some sweet old man lives in a cottage strapped to the bridge.  He'll charge you the normal fees for crossing.  He wants someone to bring him a wife.
5. Ferry

50% chance that the ferry is waiting on this side of the river.  50% chance that you need to summon it by ringing a gong/bell.  Roll a d4.
  1. Bandits.
  2. Giant trained turtle with a donation box on his back.  Wants ear scratches.  Owned by merfolk who are usually within hearing distance.
  3. Chatty, hungry mermaids will pull you across in a canoe.  They will ask for stories and will only try to eat you if you stop telling them or if you are boring.  It is possible to cross the river safely if you are interesting the whole time.
  4. Ferryman.  Just some person trying to charge a fee, similar to the guy on the bridge.  (Ex. Noctis the Secret Necromancer.  She pretends to pole the boat around, but really it is propelled by four sets of skeletons legs attached to the bottom.  She charges high prices, but if you give her an intact corpse, she'll waive the fee.  Also wants people to cook her dinner (she's very lazy--that's why she's running a ferry instead of raising an army of undead to conquer the world).  Anyway, she already has an army of undead (inherited from her dad) waiting at the bottom of the river.  If she ever loses her owl amulet (such as by intentionally throwing it into the river) dozens of algae-covered skeletons will emerge in order to bring it back to here, where she can then verbally command them.)
6. Other NPC

Roll a d4.
  1. Hasdrubal the Muscular Puncher is here, training his daughter, Makra, in the muscular punching arts.  They are punching holes through snapping turtles while arguing about whose turn it is to make dinner.  Despite their apparent argument, they love each other very much.  Hasdrubal wants to hire someone to defend against (NOT attack) Makra.  She wants help convincing her father to go home (those leeches were horrible).
  2. Pilgrims performing a baptism.  If you are willing to undergo a baptism, you will be given a new name.  They'll also be much better disposed to you, and will happily trade gossip and minor healing.  They may try to hire you on as pilgrimage guards.
  3. Fishermen.  (Ex. Menginges and his three inbred sons are here reeling in their nets.  They will try to sell you fish sandwiches.  Meninges will try to sell you his sons' services as hirelings. Each one suffers from a different problem: withered arm, retardation, kleptomania.  Aside from that, they're decent folk if treated respectfully.
  4. Anti-fishermen.  These are merfolk who have thrown nets onto the land in order to grab animals and pull them into the water.  Like a basket of water-apples on a small stone, and then when you grab it nets pop out of everywhere and reel you into the river.  50% that these mermen are simple food-gatherers who have no desire for a fight, and if they catch you by accident, they will apologize profusely and offer you some deer meat by way of apology.
Two Animals


HD 4  AC leather  Bite 2d8
Move 9  Swim 12  Int 4  Morale 8

<Thick Fat>  Hippos get +20 HP.  They take half damage from fire and ice.  They take double damage from two-handed piercing weapons (e.g. spears).

Demon Hippo (a.k.a. River Bear, a.k.a. Dire Tardigrade)

HD 6  AC chain  Bite 2d8+grab
Move 6  Swim 12  Int 2  Morale 7

<Suck Marrow>  Against a grabbed opponent, a demon hippo can suck out their marrow if the target fails a Str check.  If the demon hippo succeeds, roll a d6 to see where it sucks.  1-2 leg, 3-4 arm, 5-6 head.  If it sucks the marrow out of a limb, treat it like a broken limb.  If it sucks out your head, it has sucked a good chunk of your brain out through your eye, which is analogous to a frontal lobotomy.  You lose an eye and your int drops to 1 until you can receive major healing.  (Go find a fleshcrafter, a powerful cleric, or get a heal spell).

<Dessicate> After ten minutes without submersion in water, a demon hippo begins to dry out.  It moves at half speed, and cannot attack on two consecutive rounds.  If it cannot get back to the water, it will usually bury or hide itself.  After an hour without submersion in water, a demon hippo goes dormant.  While dormant, a demon hippo may dessicate completely, down to 20% of its previous body weight.  It can hibernate like this indefinitely.  As soon as it is resubmerged in water, it rapidly absorbs water and returns to full activity one round later.

Both of these abilities are common knowledge.  When players see a demon hippo, tell them about these abilities (in general terms).  Demon hippos are not extremely common, but they feature in a great many stories.

And yes, the Church does regard them as actual demons.  There have been literal crusades against them (during times of peace, where there was nothing better to crusade against).  They have proven remarkably difficult to eradicate, but this does explain their relative scarcity somewhat.

A Few Mermaid Spells

Wizard 2
R: 50'   T: creature  D: 2 hr
If the target is at least half-submerged in water, they lose their ability to breathe air and gain the ability to breathe water.  If the target is not submerged in water, they just gasp and choke for a round, unable to do anything except move.  Save negates.

Wizard 1
R: 50'  T: object  D: 1 min
A floating object loses 20 pounds of buoyancy per caster level.  This doesn't affect the objects weight, it just behaves different in water (and only water).  It basically works as if they were carrying that many more pounds of weight.  (And I don't know if you've ever jumped into the pool with a 20 lb dumbbell, but swimming with an extra 20 pounds is fucking rough.  40 lbs is probably enough to sink most anyone.

Tummy Octopus
Wizard 1
R: 50'   T: creature  D: 1 min
If the target fails a save, a small, acid-resistant octopus appears inside their stomach and begins biting them.  It does 1 point of damage each round until removed.  Possible methods of nullification include drinking something toxic (brandy works), inducing vomiting, punching the crap out of your stomach, or swallowing something that eats octopi.  This spell summons 1 tiny octopi per 4 caster levels.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Megadungeon: Fingers of the Maggot

So I've been reading through my copy of Rappan Athuk.  Originally, I was going to write a review of it, but that sounded tedious.  (Mini-review: inspiring, mostly generic, too many rats.)  And if I ever review anything it's going to be Deep Carbon Observatory.

But it did get me thinking about my own mega dungeon (aside from the House of Hours) which has been metastasizing in my brain for a while now.

by Noah Bradley
Varuda the Wizard

Every setting has some ancient cliche wizard that invented a bunch of monsters that now roam the world.  In Centerra, that wizard was Varuda (who also created the goblins).  Varuda has come and gone.  He died at the end of a paladin lance, spitting blood and defiance.  His spells fled his dying skull like rats from a sinking ship.

Vega claimed that he possessed a dead man's switch.  That if he was ever killed, the world would be destroyed, eaten by three monsters that he had seeded in the earth.  Everyone assumed he was lying, because he lied constantly.  But then he was dead, and the earthquakes started.

The first apocalypse maggot was defeated at great cost, but it died in the end.

The apocalypse maggot was even larger by the time it died, but it too was laid to rest.

The third maggot never showed up.

The Second Apocalypse Maggot

The second apocalypse maggot was ten miles long.  It slugged across the landscape like a hungry cruise ship.  It ate everything that it came across.  Trees, livestock, peoples, cities (weep for Dzorum, ye heathens).

It had mile-long feeder tentacles.  These things reached over the treetops and the roofs, plucking people off the ground.  Then it passed them other tentacles on the maggot's back, and then other tentacles.  Like a fire line, passing buckets into the maggot's mouth.

The tentacles had eyes and voices and sub-tentacles of their own.  They were more intelligent than the body they budded off from.

But the maggot had a subtle pull, too.  The death drive was stronger near it.  Among the armies, suicide rates climbed a hundred-fold.  Armies mustered in front of the maggot, only to break rank and charge into its mouth, weeping out the futility of the thing.

Anyway, it's dead now.  Thank the Prophetess.

Stuff Everyone Knows About The Valley

The second apocalypse maggot is buried in Kaladar, in the Valley of Heroes, so named after all of the brave people that died in the process of the killing the maggot.  It was a great show of unity.  Human fighting alongside elf fighting alongside orc.

Very touching.

After the Second War of the Maggot, the valley was declared to be off-limits by the Hesayan church, because it posed a "spiritual threat", or because it had a risk of "mortal corruption".

To enforce this, they built the Immaculate Castle.  Now, it's protected by the Immaculate Order of paladins and rangers.  No one is allowed into the valley, but if you do manage to penetrate into the heart of the valley, you are not permitted to leave.  The Transmetallic Alchemists are the only exception to this, but more on them later.

The biggest, weirdest thing in the valley is a giant sword, several hundred feet tall, stabbed into the floor of the valley.  This is the biggest secret of the valley--no one is permitted to talk about it.  It is a Holy Secret of the First Order.  Some of the paladins at the Immaculate Castle are rumored to be quicksilver golemlords in disguise, members of the Mouthless Order, who ensure that the church's secrets stay secret.

<digression> Yes, the Mouthless Order is is charge of making sure that long-lost information stays hidden.  They're the ones that are waiting for you when you come out of the dungeon, willing to pay you handsomely for the ancient tome you just recovered, which they will then burn in front of you.  (Those who refuse this generous offer are killed.)  They are (partially opposed) in their mission by the Luminous Order, who work to recover lost knowledge, especially the lost history of the Church itself. </digression>

In addition to watching over the valley, the Immaculate Order also ensures that the Tomb of Heroes is not disturbed.  That's where they buried all the heroic people (of many races) who died fighting the second apocalypse maggot.

The Valley's Curse

Everything that is born in the valley grows up big, mean, and with a penchant for eating meat.  (Omnivory, at the very least.)  Babies born in the valley grow up to become ogres.  Most animals are dire animals.

The animals that get old also sometimes become seized with a strange fever.  They go to an all-species graveyard and die in strange poses, entwined with the skeletons found there.  This place is called the Monster Graveyard.

Both of these effects are recent, and both are fragments of the maggot's stirrings.

by Anders Larsson

The Fingers of the Maggot

So, here's the recent event that's really been getting a lot of attention lately.

Stone spires have been growing out of the ground.  It's white, and feels like chalk, but it is much stronger than chalk.  They are white at night, but darken at night.  There are five of them, and each one is a dungeon, of course.  (They're also all linked below-ground, but no one knows that yet.)

The Immaculate Order thinks this is weird (because it is) and has been trying to seal them all up.

The Watchful Finger is full of Hesayan angels.  There's a trio of them atop the stone tower, and they shoot holy lasers at anyone who approaches by land or by air.  (If you want to access this Finger, the safest way is to do so underground, or with a mirror shield or something.)  Inside are mad angels, heavenly engines, and the spring of maggot blood (the source of the valley's curse).

The Slow Finger has stopped growing, and so the Immaculate order thinks that it is semi-safe.  It is being investigated by the Transmetallic Alchemists.  One of their number has actually rebelled, and sealed himself inside with the help of some mercenaries.  The Alchemists want this problem fixed, but they also don't want the paladins to know.  They were admitted here on the basis of their competence and their usefulness, and if they ever fail to display both they will be kicked the fuck out.  Inside are amberoid protuberances, moon pools, and noble gases.

The Howling Finger drives people insane if you look at it while standing too close to it.  The safest way to travel to it is to just wear a blindfold.  It is the oldest and the fastest growing of the fingers.  It is full of monsters, and the paladins are desperate to bring the whole thing down.  This one contains lasher men (made from corrupted paladins) and the remnants of a doom brain cult that started all the fucked up shit in the first place.  The origin story.

The Broken Finger is shattered into a million pieces.  The Immaculate Order did it because it was full of monsters.  As they explore the dungeons, the party will come across ancient messages from a time mage who gives instructions on how the party can travel back to time, because he needs to talk to them.  Assuming the party does so, they'll be able to enter the Broken Finger back when it was still intact, meet the time mage, and probably bring him into the future with them.  It's full of ancient war machines, elves, and time-displaced dinosaurs.

The Sealed Finger has been completely wallpapered with holy scrolls, thereby ensuring its safety.  Unbeknownst to all, goblins have tunneled under it and are doing their own exploring.  The party may bump into such a goblin party transporting stuff back to their warrens.

Paimon from Magi

The Goblins

The upper warrens are just a goblin warrens.  The goblins have a couple of uber-powerful artifacts in their possession that they've unearthed, but they're still just goblins with basically 1 hit point.  Their chieftain is called Dragon King, because he has a dragon's face growing out of his back (it's bigger than he is--he has to drag it around).  It's a long story.  The big boss fight here is a Crown o' Lashes (sort of a like a Nyarlathotepian giant).

The gateway to the lower warrens is guarded by three highly visible Crowns o' Lashes.  This is basically a gate that the party can only pass once they think they're powerful enough to take on three giants, when one was a beastly fight a couple rooms ago.

The lower warrens are home to Mister Wiggles, who is a surviving tentacle of the apocalypse maggot.  He lives in a pit like a sand-lion, where he practices his singing abilities and wizarding.  Out of all the parties in the valley who are trying to figure out what is going on, he is the most effective.  He's evil, but it's a practical-minded evil and his goals should probably run parallel to the PCs for the most part.

The Orcs

They are here to rescue the corpses of their dead ancestors out of the Tomb of Heroes.

Orcs: "Give us back our ancestors.  You buried them here without their permission, and we want their bones so that we can honor them in our own sepulchres."

Paladins: "I'm sorry, the tomb is sealed.  Opening it would break the protections placed on it.  If you'd like, you can perform your religious rites above the part of the tomb where your ancestors are buried."

Orcs: "That is unacceptable.  We will murder you now, and/or break into the tomb."

Owl Man from Lord of Tears

The Ogres

They live in the center of a maddening circle of dire animals and suicidal urges.  They are led by a hag who utterly despises her fellow ogrekin, and wants them all to die.

So ogres and dire animals are taking people to certain locations, then killing them, then commiting some fucked up cannabalism-suicide circles.  These are locations of mass deaths, occurring at very precise locations on the map.

The ogres and dire animals are actually acting under the orders of their hags.  The locations that they are dying at are important, as they form a summoning circle, which will summon a demon large enough to wield the giant angel sword impaling the middle of the valley.

If this happens, the paladins will be smashed to shit, and the whole valley will fall under control of the ogres.

The paladins don't know this, they don't know that the hags exist, and they are actually making things worse, by fighting ogres at the leyline intersections, spilling their blood where it only reinforcing the giant demonic summoning circle.

Benevolent Possession

One thing that happens sometimes in the valley, is that a PC will get possessed by the friendly ghost of some long-dead hero.

You basically give them a new character sheet and tell them to transfer over all of their items.  Some of these hero ghosts are strong and awesome, while some are less so.  All of them have a reason to ally themselves with the party, and this possession is voluntary.  However, the friendly ghost will only possess a character once, and it will only last until the player's goals align with that of the ghost.

For example, an orcish hero's goals might be (a) destroy all fragments of the maggot while (b) insulting every paladin that they come across.

Of course, if the player has no problem pissing off all the paladins, their is no limit to how long you can have a ghost possess you.  If a player really made the ghost happy (by fulfilling all of the ghost's goals AND returning the orcish bones to the orcs) they can continue playing the orcish hero for as long as they want.

Basically, they traded in their level 1 rogue for a level 3 barbarian.  That's not going to break the game.


Other Dungeons

Aside from the five Fingers, there are a bunch of other locations.  These are all linked together, by the way.  (I think they have to be, if this is going to be a megadungeon.)

The Tomb of Heroes is full of soldier skeletons, ready to rise up if the maggot returns.  It's also full of holy golems, paladin revenants, and traps.  Lots and lots of traps.

The Dream Tunnels are the layer that connects most everything.  This is the nexus dungeon floor.  It starts out empty, but becomes populated with things that the PCs encounter, fear, or dream of.  It also grows, becoming longer and reaching new places as new milestones are discovered.  Just picture tunnels made of blue crystals, full of fog and whale noises.

The Bone Shafts.  These is a very vertical part of the dungeon.  Lots of big shafts.  At the bottom lie all the bones of the maggot.  It's also populated by some NPC race that uses the poisonous bones in their weapons.  Cave harpies?  Bat people?  I'll think of something later.  Probably at least one necromancer, too.

The Swallowed City (Dzorum).  There are mad people down here, descendants of those who were swallowed.  Will you cut a swath through them so that you might ring the bell, or will you destroy it, forgoing its power, and lead (some of) them out into the sunlight?

The Pulsing Guts.  This is just an organic dungeon with sphincter doors, cuttable walls, and giant white blood cells that respond if you actually cut through the walls.

The Cold Brain.  This is the deepest part of the megadungeon.  This is where the pseudoghost of the maggot is reviving.  Electric caverns filled with grell, each one possessed by a fragment of the maggot's memories (which you can learn).  I'll also incorporate some ideas from my ghost biology post here.

Maybe put a flashback here, where the party plays as different parts of the maggot, and their goal is to survive long enough to kill the giant angel, which will give them some power over lasher men and crowns o' lashes.

The Endgame

The party will probably assume that they're supposed to prevent the maggot from resurrecting.  The paladins obviously will, and will require a huge amount of proof before they believe anything to the contrary.

The twist is that this isn't true.  If the maggot is prevented from manifesting, it will just continue building backpressure until the whole valley flies into the sun.

<digression> This goes back to the original goal of the apocalypse maggot.  Varuda built them to end the world, and many people speculated that the maggots would just crawl around until they ate everything, but this is also untrue.

The purpose of the apocalypse maggot was to eat enough to pupate, when it would then become an apocalypse moth.  Then it would fly up to the sun and devour that, too.</digression>

If the whole valley flies into the sun (carrying the maggot ghost), it will semi-devour the sun, turning it into a brownish shadow of what it once was.  Welcome to a new ice-age, assholes.

One solution is to resurrect the maggot (as a mini-maggot) and then kill it.  This can be done by using the ogrish summoning circle, or by just using a million pounds of living flesh.  This may involve stacking 1000 cows in a pile.

Another solution is to put the maggot's souls in a newborn.  It will grow up to be a normal (but hungry and large) person.  It might be a good person, but if it is a bad person, it will be a very bad person, and then very bad things will happen.

I just really want the make the PCs responsible for finding a good foster home for a baby carrying the souls of the apocalypse maggot, okay?

Another solution might me to trick the maggot soul into devouring the moon so that no one that they know or care about dies.  (There are a lot of people who live on the moon, though, including the last humans of breeding age.)

New Monsters

Angel of Abnegation
- declares a certain type of action to be impossible each turn
- forbids a certain word

Lasher Man
- damages itself if it can see you, but not hurt you
- blind, echolocation (hide behind things to foil it)

Crown o' Lashes
- damages itself if it can see you, but not hurt you
- blind, echolocation (hide behind things to foil it)
- deathdrive (compelled to walk towards it)
- highly intelligent

by brainiac555 (Blaine Prescott?)

Friday, February 19, 2016

New Class: Dungeon Hacker

by Yoshitaka Amano
You are a dungeon hacker.  You hack dungeons.  You do this by lying to ghosts.

Design Notes: What does a hacker do in Shadowrun?  I don't know; I've never even played it.  But I imagine a very information-based class, with perhaps a little bit of control thrown in.  A class that is powerful within a narrow domain (computers, places with video cameras stuck on the walls and electronic doors) and sort of useless outside of that.  So, this is a D&D version of that same concept.

I would say base this class on the thief, but use the XP progression of the fighter.

Level 1 - Speak With Dead, Bottled Ghosts
Level 2 - Hack And Slash

Speak With Dead

You can cast speak with dead a number of times per day equal to your level.

Bottled Ghosts

Bottled ghosts are the source of your power.  You start with two bottled ghosts.  Your bottled ghosts are basically spells: you let them out of their bottles to use them, and they return at the witching hour.

Each time you reach a new dungeon (or any place someone has died), you can acquire a new bottled ghost.  Suitable areas include: dungeons (because people have always died in dungeons), old battlegrounds, and cemeteries.

The first time you enter one of these areas, you can contact the friendliest ghost (or at least, the least unfriendly) who will join you if you perform a service for them.  It basically goes like this:

You: "Hail, ghost!  I am a cleric of your religion or perhaps a descendant of yours!  I've come to set things right!"

Ghost: "Oh good, I was starting to get lose all hope and sanity.  Well, now that you're here, I'm sure you'll. . . " [roll a d6]

1. Give me an appropriate burial.
2. Give someone else an inappropriate burial.
3. Avenge me!
4. Transport my remains.
5. Bring some item to my surviving family.
6. Consecrate some room in the dungeon.

by Andrew Chen
In this context, an (1) appropriate burial can be as simple as finding their bones (now scattered across a cavern and gnawed by piercers) and burying them outside the dungeon, accompanied by a small funeral.  You must have a funeral.  That's the most important part.

Also remember that the ghost can be the spirit of a person who has been raised as undead.  ("See that skeleton!  That's my skeleton!  Go get it to stop walking around and go put it back in coffin #22 in the diamond-shaped tomb!  Then say some nice words--I wasn't a jerk when I was alive.)

The ghost might want you to bury themselves, or they might want an appropriate burial for their friend.  Or they might want (2) someone else desecrated.  If you were killed by an orc who later died in the same dungeon, wouldn't you want someone to dig up his corpse, piss on him, and re-bury him upside down?

DM Advice: Just pick a random bunch of humanoid remains in your dungeon, and slap a name on them.  Either pick the most interesting corpse in the dungeon, or compile a list of all the corpses in the dungeon and then roll for one randomly.  Remember that animate undead count as corpses.

If the ghost wants you to avenge it, pick a monster randomly in the dungeon.  That's the monster that killed your friendly ghost.  You must kill it and desecrate its corpse.

They might want you to (4) transport their remains back to their home town, so they can be buried alongside their wife, or whatever.  Similar to this is (5) transporting their belongings back.

DM Advice: Roll a d6 to see how close the town is, with 1 being the closest town and 6 being on the other fucking side of the world.  Decide on the item the same way you decided on a corpse.  Slap a hat pin on it, if need be, and make sure that there is someone at the far side to receive the item (like a tearfully-grateful orphan and her three-legged dog).

If you must (6) consecrate a room in the dungeon, this means you need to clean out all the evil altars and glowing skulls, and instead construct a altar to the same god as the ghost worshiped in life.  This usually requires a day of work.  You also have to smash the evil altar to smithereens.

DM Advice: Which room requires consecration?  Why, it's the room with the evil altar of course.  If multiple rooms have evil altars, roll for it.  If there is no room with an evil altar, pick whichever one seems most mystical OR whichever one would be the biggest pain in the ass.  Not necessarily the deepest room where the balor lives--it's better to reconsecrate the room of the morlock priest.

Hack And Slash

When you roll initiative in a combat, pick one of the undead enemies and roll a d10.  For every point less than your HD, you get a +1 to hit and damage against that enemy.  For example, if you roll a 2 and your level is 4, you get +2 to hit and damage against the undead you designated.  This represents your preternatural exploitation of its weaknesses based on your prior knowledge, and/or the interference of local ghosts.

You can use this ability against non-undead foes, if desired, but the bonus to hit and damage is halved (round down).

by mondracon


In some dungeons, it may be prohibitively difficult to obtain the ghost.  Perhaps the body is buried too deeply, or the room to be consecrated is too dangerous.  That's okay.  That's part of the class.

But, if you do bottle that ghost, you can slap that bottle onto your bandolier, and now you've got a new daily spell.

Here are the spells. [d6]

1. Analyze
2. Clairvoyance
3. Control
4. Lighting
5. Lock
6. Map

Analyze -- By expending an Analyze ghost, you can designate any (known) monster in the dungeon, and learn either (a) it's greatest weakness, (b) it's greatest power, (c) what it desires most of all.  If you expend two Analyze ghosts, you can learn all three of these things.  If you have at least three Analyze ghosts on your belt (expended or not) you can tell if a monster has more, less, or equal HD than you, with only a glance.

Clairvoyance -- By expending a Clairvoyance ghost, you can see through any known point within the dungeon (the far side of a door or wall counts as a known point).  You can also just ask to see a random room (the DM will roll for it).  If you expend two Clairvoyance ghosts, you can also hear through the clairvoyance sensor, and your sight includes darkvision.  If you have at least three Clairvoyance ghosts on your belt (expended or not), you no longer have any penalties for fighting unseen opponents (although you still cannot see them).

Control -- By expending a Control ghost, you can cause an unintelligent, corporeal undead to obey your commands if it fails a save; this lasts as long as you are willing to lie on the ground like a limp noodle.  By expending two Control ghosts, you can cause an unintelligent, corporeal undead to obey your commands permanently if it fails a save.  Alternatively, you can use two Control ghosts to cast charm undead.  If you have at least three Control ghosts on your belt (expended or not), you can use speak with dead at will.

Lighting -- By expending a Lighting ghost, you can light or extinguish all of the light sources in a room.  If a room has no potential light sources (no torch sconces on the walls), a glowing orb will appear in the center of the room.  By expending two Lightning ghosts, you can illuminate a room with such intensity that it functions as a turn undead effect (as if cast by a cleric of your level).  All of these lightning effects last for two hours.  If you have at least three Lighting ghosts on your belt (expended or not), you have darkvision.

Lock -- By expending a Lock ghost, you can lock or unlock any (known) door in the dungeon, as knock and wizard lock respectively.  By expending two Lock ghosts, you can "tame" a door, so that it is always unlocked for you and locked for monsters (and trapped, if applicable).  If you have at least three Lock ghosts on your belt (expended or not), you can tell if a door is locked with a glance, as well as the quality of the lock.

Map -- By expending a Map ghost, you can map out three new rooms on the map.  (Basically just pick an unopened door, and the DM will map the room behind that door.  Then do that two more times.)  By expending two Map ghosts, this will also reveal any secret doors.  These effects just manifest as ink lines appearing in the party's map.  If you have at least three Map ghosts on your belt (expended or not), you can cast shitty teleport at will.

New Spells

Shitty Teleport
Level 2 Wizard Spell
Teleports the caster, and creatures touching the caster, out of the dungeon.  Each creature teleported in this way has a 50% chance of losing a random item, which remains in the room that was teleported from.  Those teleported arrive scattered within a mile of each other.  Each person has a 1-in-6 chance of arriving 1d6*1d6 hours later (with no perception of the lost time).

by Yoshitaka Amano

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Never-Ending Guild

Sane people who have not been there regard it as a single city, occupying a single point on the map at the south tip of the Meltherian peninsula.  Those who have been there know better.

It is tough to tell.  It grows with each retelling, and expands with each visit.  It is called the Armenjero Empire.

It is the gateway to Ba Dwai La and the electric mismeras of Langa.  It was won from one of the mage-kings of Meltheria, the Judge of Green Hours, in a dice game, in which the legendary gambler Tammergale waged his life twice on a single flash of the pips.

He won, of course, because Fortune was terrified of Tammergale, because Tammergale alone knew how to kill Fortune (and he kept the tools in his belt pouch, it is said).

And so the Armenjero Empire is the narrow kingdom.  The top of it is delineated by the wind-gnawed edge of the seacliffs, and the bottom is delineated by the black rocks where elephant seals kill each other over blubbery harems.  Such were the terms of the wager.

The buildings hang like red lanterns, swinging from their red chains.  The buildings gamble, just like the people inside them.

Or the buildings stick out from the cliffside like an outstretched arm, holding a cup of tea.  And people do come here for tea as well.

And there is the City of Light, a nest of lighthouses, some leaning out from the same base.  The lighthouses are home to strange families, who compete against each other in contests of light-making, mirroring some arcane instructions delivered by the planets' wanderings.  They murder and marry only each other.  Many of the lighthouse keepers are blind.

But most of the city is built into the cliff wall, amid winding terraces and shrouded arcades, where the path disappears into the rock.  All the doors are secret doors, and all the people hidden.  This is where velveteens are made, and a jester's motley is more respected and feared than a knight's emblem.

It is a city of bards, gamblers, story-tellers, performers, tumblers, prostitutes, and actors.  They all have their secret clans and historic ambitions, but it is the last category that concerns us for now.

The Guild

The largest organization of actors in Centerra is the Never-Ending Guild.  They produce the greatest actors in the world, and the greatest of those are kept inside the guild as teachers.  They excelled too much as students, and are now forbidden to leave.  They pass through its halls wearing long chains of silver and enamel.  Their students gift them with newer lengths of chain, extending the distance that they wander.

Their actors are famous for the use of mimra, which is the practice of smoking live mephritic toads.

The toads are powerful dissociatives.  They are famous in storytelling for their ability to cause a suggestible form of amnesia.  It's the pharmacological analogue to the jedi mind trick.

Swanny Joe: "Where am I?  What did I just smoke?  Who am I?"

Hammertoe the Poisoner: "Your name is Ricarlo, a horse seller.  You were just about to pay me the 400 gold you owed me."

Swanny Joe: "I. . . am Ricarlo.  I am a horse seller.  Here is the 400 gold I owe you.  Sorry about the delay."

The actors of the Never-Ending Guild use mimra to literally assume the role of the person they are portraying.  It involves a conscious self-deception, which lasts as long as the production does.  It also requires many, many dead toads.

By interleaving periods of toad-blasted delirium with periods of relative lucidity, an actor is able to live in a theater like a normal person, while functionally becoming their role while on the stage.

Many of them eventually retire into peaceful confabulation.  There, they are free to relax and let the boundaries slip.  They age gracefully, as everyone would when they die knowing that they are the single most significant person in the world.  Each one dies knowing that they are the Main Character.


The greatest service that the Never-Ending Guild can offer isn't actors, nor is it glass spheres filled with toad shavings and combustibles.  It is immortality, and nothing less.

In the Never-Ending Halls, people who have died sometimes show up for dinner.

Vega has an apartment there, the wizard who created both goblins and the apocalypse maggots.  So does Ashar Mevrock, the tyrant who almost conquered the entire continent of Centerra.  Even, the Prophetess Ianu, who founded the religion of Hesaya, can sometimes be seen in the dining hall, mopping up soup wit her bread.  Each of them drags a silver chain by their ankle.

These are actors, but they are also the people they portray.

If a woman smokes enough mimra and recieves a steady diet of who-she-is, what-she-cares-about, and what-she-is-like, she will eventually emerge on the far end as a blasphemously accurate facsimile of the Prophetess Ianu.

Make her read all of the Hesayan holy books, and tell her "This is you.  These are all things you did."  Make her read everything ever written about the Prophetess, and tell her "This is what your apostles think about you."  Then smuggle her to sermons, so that she can hear the most modern exegises of Hesayan Holy Law.  And then cut off the toad supply.

There's a bit more to it than that--minor cosmetic surgeries, the collection of historic possessions, the establishment of a supporting cast--but that's the general gist of it.

The resulting Prophetess has absolutely no memory of her previous life, and she is accurate enough that even angels are deceived.

But is it deception?  How much of a person is reproducible from their artifacts?  How well can we reconstruct them from the testimonies of their friends?

The actors of the Never-Ending Guild would say that they are not imitating, they are becoming.  They sculpt people into absolute equals.  Or in some cases, better than equal.  People change.  They stop being who they were.  But the records that the Never-Ending Guild keeps do not change.

Hanchurium Without Parallel was a king, and a good one.  But when his last son died fighting a foolish war, he became cruel and distant.  His own family killed him.  And then the family purchased a new Hanchurium from the Never-Ending Guild, a slightly younger Hanchurium, one who hadn't been spoilt by the war.

By all accounts, the new one was just as good as the old one.  Or perhaps better.  While the generals varied in their exact opinion of the newer Hanchurium, his wife preferred the new one.

And there was never any hesitation, nor any display of doubt.  The new Hanchurium slid into the throne as if he had been sitting in it yesterday.  He kissed his wife as if he had been kissing her for the last thirty years.  And he walked through the kitchen as if he knew what was in every drawer (because he did).

The Never-Ending Guild had done their job well.

How To Use The Never-Ending Guild

Use them for immortality, of course.

By visiting the guild, paying a hefty fee, and submitting yourself to some interviews, you can become immortalized.  Then, when you die, a replacement can be purchased from the Guild.  It only takes a year to train a new you.

I say "interviews", but really the process is several weeks of intensive, drug-fueled interviews, intermingled with certain scenarios.  The most accurate way to capture a person's identity is to observe it in a variety of scenarios, and so that is exactly what they do (with a mixture of drugs, illusion, and recreation).  And then a pair of tomes will be shelved, along with a fat portfolio of sketches.

And those two fat books are sufficient to resurrect a man, all by themselves.

Do not flatter yourself.  A single book is sufficient to recreate your entirety.  The second book is only for the sake of redundancy.

And honestly, if you can't think of a use for an asylum full of accurate recreations of famous people, shame on you.

That long-dead wizard who built the ruins the party is currently exploring, he lives here.  He plays chess with the Prime Deceiver, the architect of all evil in the world.  They are just flesh and blood, and they do not have the power to shatter the continents, but you might be amazed at what they know.

They know a great deal more than they have been taught.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, et cetera.  Through data mining, implication, and the insight of the insane, they are more accurate then they should be.