Thursday, June 30, 2016

3 Locations in Synthexia

The Block Party

A city block flies through the air.  It fires confetti from its cannons, and sewage drips from it's exposed sewers.  Lasers and strobes flash through the steam that streams over its cracked streets and broken windows.  It always seems to be collapsing, and yet never quite falls apart.

Up close, you can see the people.  They dance in the streets.  Half of them are immobile mannequins.  Inside the shuttered buildings, exhausted people attempt to get some sleep.  They trade earplugs; there aren't enough.

Every so often, a hover shuttle drops off a load of supplies and some new offerings, and those offerings who have been there for a year are free to leave.

The reason for this whole charade is Cthulhu, who squats at the center of all of this chaos, trying to get drunk on mimosas and chatting up Art majors.  The floor is covered with red cups, but beneath that, human bones.

Cthulhu woke a while ago.  He knows what the score is.  This is sort of a gentlemen's agreement--to postpone the apocalypse in exchange for something more interesting than the endless void.  He's immortal; what does he care if he destroys the world now or in a few millennia?

At first Synthexia sent up entertainers.  Magicians, musicians, and philosophers.  But Cthulhu doesn't really care about the details of our meaningless mammal chirping.  He only cares about the spectacle.  And so the party decayed into its present state.  The budget dried up.

Every so often, the party will raid other settlements, just dropping out of the sky, leaving behind puerile vandalism and petty theft.

Party People
HD 1 humans.  Immune to sleep.  If six or more of them start dancing, it functions as irresistible dance cast on everyone within 100'.

Always accompanied by a Babe, who does all the direct talking to Cthulhu, while the philosophers scribble in their notebooks.  Each philosopher is a level 1 wizard.  They have spells from both wizard and warlock spell lists.  Led by Mimecris Olivine, a level 4 wizard.

Regulate the party.  Most of them are second and third generation party people.  They've never left the party, and so they know no other life.  They lack the dance ability of regular party people, and can instead challenge people like knights.  They are led by Chadwick Skybreaker, a level 7 barbarian.

Well, Cthulhu's here, so there's going to be mutants, of course.  [d6]: 1 fused with keg, 2 junky with hypodermic teeth who is looking to feed the sickness or share it, 3 one-person orgy, save vs pheromones or be subsumed into its copulating mass, 4 hollow man can turn you into a mannikin like itself, with no major effect except that you die as soon as someone tells you that you are a mannikin, 5 head is actually a small gibbering mouther, 6 drill hand.

Party Animals
Basically people in mascot costumes, except without the people.  Plush golems ordered to perform comedic pantomime.  Occasionally activated by their controller, the Comedian, who employs them towards swift and deadly ends.

Most of them are here hoping to fight Cthulhu.

by ben brown
The Filers

Black monoliths that dim the light.  The sun fades, but the reflections on their metallic sides does not.

They are giant filing cabinets.  They are AIs, created long ago to assemble all of the information in the universe.  They are slowly accomplishing this goal.  They are larger on the inside than on the outside, containing mazes of paper.

When people think about the Filers, most of them picture the bureaucratic zombies, but they have other servants, too.

Origami Golems

Beware the tigers.  Their wizards can turn you into origami.  Only by being safely unfolded (requires 3 successful Int checks, crit fails indicate tears) can they be restored to normal.  Entire cities are imprisoned inside folios.

Words Without a Matrix 

Neon letters that flow across surfaces without ever belonging to any of them.  Memetic piranhas.  Each round, increase the list of words that the players (not characters) cannot say.

Bureaucrat Zombies

These are the hands of the Filers in the world.  They are made from captured people (always alive, dead will not do at all) who are brought into the Filers and transformed via a process that is not entirely understood.

They are mindless, except for the will of the Filer that created them.  Their heads are stuffed with words--papers and orders and Form 5820 For Cerebral Requisitioning.  Their mouths are replaced with locks.  If the lock is picked, their mouth reappears, they vomit out all the papers, and return to normal.  If someone attempts to pick the lock and fails, they collapse into a loose pile of forms that, when taken together, contain all the major details of their life (e.g. marriage license, pharmacy receipts, school reports of their illicit conduct).

They are a hive mind.  They work to investigate the world at the behest of the filers.

Towards this end, they travel the nearby area--but only within 33 miles, as this is the effective range of the hive-mind.  (If removed, they are still mindless zombies loyal to the Filer, and will attempt to return to it).

What is their mission? [d6]

  1. Here is a form.  Everyone must fill out this form.  The form takes 11 hours to fill out.  Anyone who does not will be assimilated.
  2. Every surface must be touched.  Samples of every material must be taken.  Each person has a 50% chance that the bureaucrat zombies will require taking one of their items (chosen at random) back to the Filer to testing.  It will be returned in 60 business days.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  3. Everyone must move their settlement 19 miles to the northeast.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  4. Everyone must offer 77 people as tribute to the Filer.  The zombie population needs resupplying.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  5. All books must be confiscated.  Buildings will be searched for hidden books.  Failure to comply (finding a book in your house) will result in assimilation.
  6. Everyone must comply with a memory wipe.  The memories will be assimilated with the Filer.  They will not be allowed to keep a copy of their memories (total amnesia) but for a small fee, the Filer will sell them a summary of their memories and identity.  Failure to comply will result in assimilation.

Dragon Road and Highway Nine

There are no dragons, although you will drive through the ribs of a jormungandr at one point.

Blasted and baked, a pitted and maddened road that goes through wasteland and canyon and volcanic hill.

They reproduce through car crashes.  The larger the crash, the larger the infant.  Their leader is Columbia, named after the space shuttle that crashed into rush hour traffic in the year 29001.

Scrap Princesses
There are many scrap princesses here.  (The lowercase kind.)  There was a scrap queen once but they ate her.  Each of her daughters now wears one of her bones somewhere amid their bodies of hub caps, broken CD fragments, and torque converters.  They kludge each other from the wreckage.  Golemoid amazons.  If you are nice to them, they might kludge you something, too.

Cult of the Machine
They replace their chests with engines so that they can drink gasoline like the cars they worship.  Each one builds a car.  Each car is a temple unto themselves.  Each car is their home.  Each car will be their tomb.  They die if their car is destroyed before their flesh-body is; this is a great desecration.

20th century muscle cars possessed by the spirits of horses.  Most people think that they are living cars.  They can transform and join together.  Prized by the Machine Cult as mounts/tombs.  They will pause whatever they are doing if offered a high-stakes race across the wastelands.  They will cheat, because they are evil.

Jetboys and the Bastard Crawler
Sort of like jawas, except that each one is actually a small jet.  

The Tar Pit
This is where gasoline comes from.  Staffed by paleolithic mummies, tar snakes, and undead mammoths.  

Dust Kings
Kings of the crossroad.  Sorcerers all.  The more you know about them, the more powerless they become against you.  If you learn their name, they dissolve into dust, and all will forget that they ever existed, except for you.

by barry smith

Making Bets on Reddit

Synthexia got mentioned on reddit today and I am suddenly nostalgic for it.  That was a good burst of creativity from the DIY thinkosphere.

We should do another crowdsourced hexcrawl.


despite not having lasers or crystals, this is one the most Synthexian pics I have
by Pascal Blanche
Super Ultra Mega Men

Flying through the air.  Punching each other through walls.  Only stopping for monologues.

HD 8  Armor plate  Punch 2d6
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 7

Super Ultra Mega Power -- Str 18.

Super Ultra Mega Laser Eyes -- 5d6 damage.  200' range.  Usable only when bloodied.  Usable once every 1d4 rounds.

Super Ultra Mega Contagious -- Anyone who is hit by a Super Ultra Mega Man's punch or laser must save or gain all the powers of a Super Ultra Mega Man.  They roll new HP immediately (8 HD) and use it in place of their own, unless that would lower their HP.  Then, they must make a second save, or become obsessed with fighting other super ultra mega men (as charm).  They lose these powers after 12 hours elapse without fighting another super ultra mega man to the death.

Discussion: Yes, you can infect yourself with super ultra mega fever and punch through walls, but be aware that everything you punch is also going to turn into a super ultra mega thing if it survives.

If a PC becomes infected with super ultra mega fever, the best bet is to either let them kill all the other super mega

Story Hook: Where did the first super ultra mega man come from?  Surely there's a magic item worth having.  Maybe a dragonball.

pascal blanche is still amazing
Prism Wizard

When you encounter the prism wizard, ask all of your players what colors their characters are wearing (if you don't already know).  Or better yet, give them some colored pencils and make them draw themselves while you go chug a beer.

HD 4  Armor none  Staff 1d8
Move 12  Int 16  Morale 5

Selectivity -- A Prism Wizard has several abilities that begin with the word 'Selective'.  He cannot choose the same color for more than one of these abilities.  No duplicates.  He can change one of these colors per turn as a free action.

Selective Invisibility -- The rainbow wizard is invisible to characters wearing a certain color.

Selective Invulnerability -- The rainbow wizard is immune to damage from a certain color.  (Usually steel grey.)

Selective Telekinesis -- The rainbow wizard can use telekinesis at will on things that are a certain color.

Spells -- prestidigitation (at-will, used to change the color of things), prismatic spray, mirror image, scorching ray, freezing ray, illusion

Wants [d6]

  1. Wants your help in defeating the carnivorous nega-rainbow of the Starry Abyss.  (HD 10, basically a reskinned beholder with darkness abilities instead of an antimagic cone.)
  2. Whats the most common color your players are wearing?  The wizard wants all items of that color. Because they (a) belong to him, (b) offend him, (c) are an illegal hue (equal chance of each).
  3. Wants you to wrestle one end of a rainbow to the ground while he runs to the other end of it in search of gold (which he will share with you).  Rainbows have the stats of giant serpents with hypnotic and blinding abilities.
  4. A crystal sword.  His prism is looking shabby.
  5. Someone to become his apprentice.  He is lonely ever since his unicorn died.
  6. To Kill Strobos von Dubstar, or at least embarrass him.

Rainbow Shaker
When shaken, it releases a wisps (or their superior replacements).  Each is HD 1, Int 10, and is completely obedient to you.  Each one has a single attack that does 1d6 damage.  Each one lasts 1 hour or until it attacks (which causes it to dissipate).  The wisps emerge from the shaker in this order.

1 - Red wisp, fire damage.
2 - Orange wisp, force damage.
3 - Yellow wisp, lightning damage.
4 - Green wisp, acid damage.
5 - Blue wisp, ice damage.
6 - Indigo wisp, psychic damage.
7 - Purple wisp, 2d6 necrotic damage to everything in 20', save for half, no one can see colors for the rest of the day.

if I ever run Synthexia, I'm giving everyone a mecha
this art is by pascal blanche
Sonic Reverberators

Slaves from the flesh vats.  Tiny heads except for their massive, conical jaw.  They eat a liquid diet, poured into their mouths by their masters, the microbasilisk handlers.  

Together, these two creatures are responsible for throwing parties for Sad Ivory.  (Parties are constant, because there are so many people who want to cheer the Sorceress queen up.)  The reverberators play the music and the microbasilisks create reflective surfaces for the laser golems to dance through.

HD 2  AC chain  Subsonics 1d6 (15' cone)
Move 9  Int 3  Morale 12

Subsonics deal 1d6 damage in a 15' cone in front of the reverberator.  Crystal objects in this area must save or shatter.  Creatures hit by two more more subsonic reverberations at the same time must save or spend the next round nauseated (can move or attack, but not both).

Microbasilisk Handlers

Sexy young people dressed in sequin underwear and little else.  They wear mirror shades (+4 to resist gaze attacks, -2 to attack unless in a brightly lit area) and fanny packs.

You won't fight them unless you are somehow getting in the way of a party that they're trying to put on for Sad Ivory.

HD 3  AC leather  Spiked Shield 1d6
Move 12  Int 10  Morale 7

Microbasilisk -- In their right hands, microbasilisk handlers hold a device that looks like a lantern.  Inside is a microbasilisk.  If the handler holds the lantern open (a standard action), the microbasilisk inside looks at the nearest object, which begins turning into crystal.  If the nearest object is a creature, they get a save to resist, but if they fail, they roll a d6 to see what body part turns into crystal.  [d6] 1 left arm, 2 right arm, 3 left leg, 4 right leg, 5 head, 6 whole body.

Crystal limbs can still move normally.  They are also temperature resistant, but sonic damage tends to shatter them.  They do not heal on their own, and require a crystalsmith to repair if they are damaged.

What's In the Fanny Pack? [d6]
  1. Party drugs.  Mostly uppers.
  2. 1d4 microbasilisk eggs.
  3. A crystal communicator.  It only calls other microbasilisk handlers, though.  One number listed as "Emergencies Only" goes straight to Sad Ivory.
  4. Sugar skulls and taffy rations.
  5. Bottle of water.
  6. Strobe light.  Battery will last 1 hour.
DM Discussion

If you want to take it easy on your players, make sure that they learn that the handlers turn your limbs into crystal and the reverberators shattter crystal BEFORE you spring combat on them that includes both opponents.  

Or don't.  I mean, they'll figure it out really quickly.

by p b

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Caster Differentiation and Spellcasting Mechanics

I've given a lot of thought to casters.  I want them to feel different from each other.  Not just numberwise (wizards get +4 flarp while sorcerers get -2 flarp, etc) but with their own subsystem.

When I wrote the martial GLOG classes, I tried to do the same thing.  Assassins get damage bonuses the more facts they learn about an enemy.  Fighters track the number of kills they get with each weapon.  Rangers keep track of the largest monster they've killed.

Of course, the real place for subsystems is with magic users.  So that's one goal.  The other goal is to have them function very differently from each other, in addition to feeling different.  It's possible to have two convoluted subsystems that both take different paths to arrive at "3d6 damage, save for half".

So, here's what I've got:

Wizards are the most flexible.  They can learn and cast all the spells in the game.  Somewhat conservative.  Benefit the most from having time to prepare.

Sorcerers are the longest lasting.  While they can cast the most spells per day, they also have the narrowest selection.  They are hosts for their brain's spellhive, so they probably have the least control over the development.

Warlocks are the most powerful.  If it comes down a single spell, they can crank it up to 11, overchannel, and mop the floor.  They'll pay for it in blood, of course.

Clerics are the most reliable.  There's no difference between clerical magic and arcane magic--spells are just one of the many blessings that clerics receive.  The difference is that clerical spells aren't routed directly through the cleric, they're handled by heavenly powers who filter out a lot of the risk.  They have the support of a powerful familiar/patron, but they pay for that, too.

Saints are the most improvisational and the ones that hew closest to the divine.  They don't have spell lists, and instead call for miracles, which is a bit of a crapshoot modified by how close the requested miracle is to the deity's portfolio.  (Honestly, the whole thing sounds a bit dodgy, and I may scrap it.)

by Austen Mengler
The Casting Mechanic

I'm going to draw inspiration from WFRP, D6 Fantasy, +Mateo Diaz Torres, and the system I used in my earliest Eldritch Americana system (3d6 + mods vs DC, bad things happen on doubles or triples).

So wizards get 1 magic die per level.  At level 1, they have 1d6 sitting in their magic pool.  At level 4, they have 4d6 sitting in their magic pool.  (Class abilities max out at level 4 in the GLOG.)

Whenever they cast a spell, they can roll any number of dice from their pool. The dice are tallied, and any dice that come up 5 or 6 are depleted.  Depleted dice are removed from the pool, and not replaced until the next day.

The sum of the dice must meet a certain threshold for a certain effect.  Roll well, and your spell might be more powerful, similar to how DCC spells vary in power whenever they're cast.

  • Level 1 spell = 2.
  • Level 2 spell = 8.
  • Level 3 spell = 14.
  • Level 4 spell = 20.

Doubles on the dice signify chaos.  Triples signify corruption.  Obviously, you can't get doubles unless you roll at least two dice, so level 1 casters are safe.

Also, spells can fail if you only invest 1 magic die, but not if you invest 2 or more.  The threshold for reliability is the same as the threshold for chaos.

Let's do math!

With 1 Magic Die = 17% fizzle, 83% cast at level 1.
With 2 Magic Dice = 58% cast at level 1, 42% cast at level 2.
With 3 Magic Dice = 16% cast at level 1, 68% cast at level 2, 16% cast at level 3
With 4 Magic Dice = 3% cast at level 1, 42% cast at level 2, 50% cast at level 3, 5% cast at level 4

This seems about right.  A level 1 character's spells are going to fizzle 1/6th of the time, which sounds appropriate.  And higher levels character's will be discouraged from casting spells with only a single magic die invested--just invest another die and remove that horrible failure chance.

A level 2 character's spell is somewhere between a level 1 spell and a level 2 spell.  Yes, this means that a level 2 wizard can potentially cast a level 2 spell, but whatever.  That single spell might deplete all their dice for the day.  An increase in average power is balanced by unreliability.

A level 3 character can throw down all of their magic dice to cast a level 2 spell 68% of the time.  That's right in the middle.  Perfect.  They'll probably have one or two dice left over, which means that this is comparable to the 2/1 of vanilla D&D.

A level 4 character can throw down all 4d6 of their magic dice to cast what averages out to a level 2.5 spell, which also seems about right.  If they conserve a little, this is also roughly comparable to the 2/2 casting scheme of a vanilla D&D wizard.

These d6s also map pretty well to fireball damage.  A level 3 wizard can invest 3 magic dice to drop a 3d6 fireball (which is sort of like a fireball cast at spell level 2).

Wizards get safety casting.  Once per day, they can replace one of their rolled dice with a natural 1 (as if it was rolled).  (This is useful to avoid doubles/triples or to prevent a die from becoming exhausted.)

Warlocks get power casting.  Once per day, they can replace one of their rolled dice with a natural 6 (as if it was rolled).  (This is useful to avoid doubles/triples or to meet the next threshold for a spell.)

Sorcerers get natural casting.  Their magic dice are only depleted on a natural 6, instead of a 5-6.  (They get a lot more milage out of the same number of casting dice.  They're also at a lot higher risk for doubles and triples, but maybe their chaos/corruption tables aren't that bad?)

Clerics don't fuck around with any of this shit.  They get more many magic dice.  Their magic dice always deplete, and nothing bad happens with doubles or triples.  They can't spend more magic dice on a spell than their level (max 4).  I won't talk about them any more, since I have different ideas for them.

Anyway, you can already see that the themes of wizard/conservativism, warlock/power, and sorcerer/stamina are already emerging.  Good shit.

One hilarious effect of this system is that it means wizards can't prepare all of their spells at the beginning of the day, since some of their magic dice will be returning to them after they cast a spell.  Perhaps they can then spend 10 minutes to prepare any spell?  I imagine it going like this.

Level 2 wizard prepares a 2d magic missile.  Casts 2d magic missile (roll: 4, 6), which means that one of the magic dice is exhausted.  The wizard then takes a ten minute break with her spellbook and prepares a 1d speak with dead.

Which means that a wizard now has a good reason to haul their spellbook around with them, instead of leaving it at the dungeon entrance.  I love that.  Can we reinforce that bookishness more?

Wizard Ability: Book Casting.  A wizard can cast a spell directly out of a spellbook or scroll as if they had prepared it in the morning.  The spell returns to the spellbook/scroll in the morning.  Spells cast this way are always 1 magic die, and the wizard must have 1 magic die to invest.  This requires both hands (to hold the book) and the wizard always loses initiative.  If the wizard is damaged or disrupted while casting, the spell fizzles.

So now the wizard has a reason to carry around a big pile of scrolls.  And by leaving a die uninvested at the start of the day, a wizard can now cast any spell on the spot (albeit slower, riskier, and less powerfully than if they had prepared it in the morning).

Moving on.

Warlock Ability: Overchannel.  After rolling magic dice and summing the results, a warlock can choose to roll an overchannel die and add it to the sum.  They take damage equal to the result showing on the overchannel die.  The overchannel die can cause doubles and triples, as usual.  If the overchannel die causes a double or a triple, the warlock takes another 1d6 damage.

I'm not quite sure what to give the sorcerer.  I'm thinking beneficial mutation, related to what type of sorcerer they are.  Fire sorcerers become immune to fire and can eat anything flammable.  Fish sorcerers can breath water and talk to fish.  That sort of shit.

by Todd Lockwood
Sample Chaos Table

Here's the table for an enchanter.  Other wizard types will have other chaos tables.  Chaos tables are mostly bad, but occasionally helpful.

  1. You are made susceptible to charm.  Every command you hear functions as command (the spell).  By default, there is a 50% chance that language-using enemies are shouting something that can be construed as a command.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  2. You imitate another person or creature nearby, chosen at random.  You attempt to do whatever they do.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  3. You become empathic to all pain suffered around you.  Whenever a creature takes damage within 50' of you, you take 1 psychic damage.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  4. A random creature within 50' must save or you will both switch bodies.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  5. You immediately blab the worst thing possible.  You either tell the enemies about your secret weakness, insult the one enemy that can kill you, or embarass yourself horribly.
  6. You fall asleep, as the sleep spell.  Lasts until someone slaps you.
  7. You fall in love with whatever you are looking at.  (If this isn't already obvious, roll randomly.)  Lasts 1d6 days.
  8. All creatures in 50' are overcome with empathy, and will strive to talk over any disagreements.  Violence is impossible.  If you aren't in combat, the party will spend their time talking about their feelings and hugging.  The affected creature with the best Save rolls for everyone affected; save negates.  Lasts 10 minutes.
Sample Corruption Table

Whenever you roll on the Corruption Table, roll on the Chaos Table, too.  Go big.
  1. You gain 1d6 trauma points.
  2. You gain a random mutation.
  3. You gain a doom.
  4. You become an utter thrall, and will obey whoever has the highest Charisma as if you were affected by a dominate spell.  Lasts 1d6 days.
The first three entries are probably the same for all wizards.  The fourth is specific to the wizard's school.

by richard corben
worth clicking for a closer look

If you gain a doom, put a +1 next to the spell that caused it.  You now get +1 to the magic sum whenever you attempt to cast it.  Among other things, this means that you can now cast the spell with 1 magic die without any chance of failure.

Then you're done patting yourself on the back, this stuff happens.  

First Doom of the Enchanter: You become possessed by a random demon for 1 day.  This demon is based on [d4]: 1 lust and poison, 2 rage and fire, 3 gluttony and mutation, 4 ice and knowledge (lies).  The demon has no way to exit the body or manifest, but it is HD 8+1d6.

Second Doom of the Enchanter: You become possessed by a demon for a week.  This is the same demon as last time.

Third Doom of the Enchanter.  You become possessed by a demon permanently and your soul is devoured.  This is the same demon as last time.

Dooms are all school-specific.  A cthonomancer would eventually turn into a small mountain.  A biomancer turns into a cancerous mass.  A cosmomancer will eventually be abducted and impregnated by moonbeasts.

Dooms are meant to be a gradually rising meter for how fucked a wizard is.  This is why powerful wizards don't cast powerful spells all the time.  You get an apprentice to do that stuff.

If you survive the third doom, you're in the clear.  Dooms are designed to be a horrible, unavoidable death UNLESS the player actively seeks out a way to circumvent it.  In this case, the player will (hopefully) start looking for a way to kill that particular demon after surviving their first doom.

So dooms both (a) inspire players to go on personal quests to escape their doom, and (b) allow for character improvement narratively, away from the leveling system.  (I'm good at casting charm because the last time I cast it a demon burned it into my forebrain.)

You also stop getting those cute little +1s to spells, but whatever.  You escaped certain doom.

by Richard Corben

Sample Spells

Range: 50'
Target: 20' dia
Save: Half
Deals fire damage equal to magic sum.

Range: 200'
If you succeed on a ranged attack roll, you deal fire damage to the target equal to twice the magic sum.

Range: Touch
Duration: Magic sum / 4
You gain Fly 24.

Humble Hut
Range: Touch
Duration: 8 hours
You stack two stones atop each other and they grow into a hut.  This takes ten minutes.  Hut is 10' in diameter.  [8 or more]: Cabin is 20' square and has a locking door.  [14 or more]: Stone house has four 10' square rooms arranged as you please (possibly stacked into a tower), with arrow slit windows and a locking door.  [20 or more]: Castle built to your specifications; has a drawbridge and moat.

Range: Touch
Target: Object or creature
Duration: Rounds equal to magic sum
Target turns invisible.  Effect is dispelled if target moves or makes an attack roll.  [8 or more]: Effect is no longer dispelled if target moves.  [14 or more]: Effect is no longer dispelled if target attacks.

Magic Missile
Range: 200'
Save: None
You fire one missile per magic die, which unerringly hits its target.  Each magic die is a missile, which deals 1d6+1 damage to its target, each chosen independently.

Power Word: Kill
Range: 50'
Target: Creature
Save: None
If the magic sum is equal or greater than the target's current HP, it dies.

Summon Ix
Range: 50'
Duration: Magic Dice
An Ix is created at the point you designate and obeys a single command given by you at the time of its summoning.  The Ix is HD 1.  [+6]: HD +1.

Range: Touch
Target: 1 creature per magic die
Duration: 2 hours
Target creature gains the ability to breath water and loses the ability to breathe air.  Unwilling targets are allowed a save to resist, and another save if/when they lose consciousness from asphyxiation.

richard corben
click to embiggen

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Where the Elves Go

There aren't very many high elves in Centerra.  This is because Centerra is small and boring and it is impossible to do anything of any consequence there.  They leave for the same reason that people leave the small, bucolic towns of their youth.

The only folk left behind are their simple, impoverished cousins, the low elves (which is the only kind of elf that most people know of).

Where do they go?

Well, some go into space.  Head out far enough and you'll be sailing across the Astral Sea, bound for much more interesting destinations.

The Astral Sea

You can escape the planet's gravity well with a wizard rocket, by catching the Cat's Tail (a space elevator that dangles across the sky sometimes), or by walking to the moon.

Once you get past the orbital habitats you'll hit the astral sea.  You'll need a ship for that.

The surface of the astral sea is just a gravity plane.  If you drop an item off the side of your ship, it'll fall down to the level of the astral sea and just bob there.  There is usually air there.  Sailing on the astral sea is actually easier than sailing on the ocean, since your ship doesn't even have to be sea-worthy.  It just has to have mass.  You could sail on a boulder (and people do).

If you roll your ship hard enough, you'll roll it upside down.  You can sail upside down just fine.  In fact, a lot of astral ships have another upside-down ship on the bottom of them, like a ship sailing across the surface of a mirror.

The only expensive piece of equipment you need to sail on the astral sea is astral sails.  These are differently colored sails that are attracted or repulsed the light of certain, known stars.  There is wind in space, but sailing by starlight is more reliable.

As far as I've described, the astral sea is flat--a plane that the solar system floats through.  But farther out, the topology becomes more complicated.  Like space itself, the astral sea is only locally flat.

Farther out, it wrinkles into ridges and walls, holes and pillars.  You may find yourself sailing up a pillar of astral ocean in your journey to an astral "ceiling" a million miles above you.

It frequently resembles sailing across the surface of a very complicated spider's web.

pictured: the surface of the astral sea, the astral weave
sailors in space often pray to lolth

Of course, not everyone in space cares about the astral sea.  (See also: liches in their airless, flying ziggurats, or asteroid golems and their attendant homunculi.)

Temporal Kingdoms of the Elf Lords

Centerra is a filthy backwater.  The elves would go into the past, before it was all ruined, except that the past is full of fucking dinosaurs chewing up the time line, and the past is ruined, too.

There is a hour and a date.  It is in our future.  And when we reach it, a million million elves will materialize and kill everybody.  We don't know exactly how, because the event is not survivable.

And then the elves set up their temporal kingdoms, which extend not across space, but across time.

The mightest elven kingdoms last millenia, sculpted subrealities designed for a particular vanity project.

The smallest elven kingdoms might only last for a single morning, or the time between sunset and night.

There's a million million elves, but it's really just one elf.  How?  Just go back 60 seconds back in time, stop yourself from going in that time machine, and then the two of you go back 61 seconds in time.  Repeat until you have enough copies of yourself to make an army.

That's actually a good description of what a temporal kingdom is like.  The same one or three elves, looped over each other continually and infinitely until the entire universe is populated with them.  They are all immortal, and so every elf you see is just a different elf in a different stage of their life.

The servant elf is the same as his master, only a trillion years younger.  (Because of time loops, nearly all of the elf lords are many times over than the universe.)  Or perhaps the elf being tortured is the same elf, 600 years younger, being punished by her older self for her youthful indiscretions.

And the elf mason who builds the castle is the same as the master of the castle, already moving into the finished rooms.  She just has to spend another millenia building the castle before she can enjoy it herself.

There are schedules.  Moons are replaced with clocks.  Numbers are tattooed so that everyone can keep track of everyone.  Memories are wiped, simulated, and restored.

And of course, if you ever kill one, you upset this entire teakettle of a timeline.  Even interacting with one is dangerous, since it forces the entire universe to reset it's causality every time something is substantially touched.

Fighting a temporal elf-lord is a lot like rerolling the encounter every round.  Kingdoms rise and fall outside the window.  The sun cracks, vanishes, and is replaced with a golden, lobotomized mega-elf.  Your opponent becomes old, then young, then a trio of gender-swapped clones.  The walls swim and decay.

And if you ever kill the elf-lord, the kingdom vanishes, because it was never visited by its builder.  The land is untouched, and the castles (the mile-high crystal spires with literal stars caged in their minarets) are gone.  And you have only seconds before the adjacent temporal kingdoms take notice, and their timelines come rushing in.

magnified a millionfold
as if god was a narcissist obsessed with beauty and novelty

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


It is impossible to see a nymph and not fall in love with her.

They are not beautiful in the strict definition of the word.  They don't conform to any particular beauty standard (such as a specific waist-to-hip ratio) and their body types vary wildly.  Some are tall, some are short, some are thin, some are fat.

This is because there is no universal beauty standard.  And nymphs, because they are literally constructed out of universal beauty, need no standard.  They are beautiful.  Purely, undeniably, and overwhelmingly.

My sister drew this!
Birds perch above her in order to sing to her.  Snakes will not bite her, even as she treads on them.  She is surrounded by admirers and suitors, and she encourages this.  She considers them her friends, and prefers to keep them close to her.

She will try to capture the entire party.  Adventurers are interesting, and will not be sent away.

Male nymphs are called nymbrils.

nymph art is shit but DeTerlizzi nymph is okay
After looking at a pile of it, I can tell you that nymphs:
- wear either white robestuff or leaves
- are always sprawling, sitting, or leaning (something passive)
- are always touching water or a tree
- are always grabbing something, most often themselves
HD 9 (HP 1d8)  AC none  Attack as weapon
Move 12  Int 12  Morale 2

*Bound -- A nymph is bound to a certain location and cannot leave it.  The size of the location grows with the age of the nymph.  Young nymphs are bound to a specific pool or grove.  Ancient nymphs are bound to forests and oceans.

*Suggestion -- All of a nymph's suggestions are suggestions.  This includes written commands (if you have met her and believe the message to be from her) and letters caressed into your back with a fingernail.  If you are in love with her, you will obey even unreasonable commands, as well as suicidal commands if you fail a save.

*Love -- Anyone who sees a nymph falls in Love with her if they fail a save (made once every round for as long as you look at her).  If you are in Love with a nymph, you will protect her from things that might cause her pain (physical or emotional) or imprisonment.  You are also unwilling to do anything that might make her cry.

If a nymph ever causes you to shed tears over her, you get a new save to escape love.  Here is a list of all the things that might cause you to shed tears.

  • Jealousy (over something substantial).
  • Cruel treatment by the nymph.  (Unlikely).
  • Your devotion to the nymph incurs some great cost, such as:
    • The death of a friend.
    • The loss of a major item or resource.
    • The failure to obtain some major quest/goal.
  • Spending a full 24 hours away from the nymph.  If you fail this roll, you are compelled to return to her immediately.

After you escape Love, you still regard the nymph fondly and helpfully, you just aren't compelled to run to her and obey her every command.

How To Use Nymphs

Use them exactly how you would use vampires.

They aren't wandering monsters; they are major plot points in a location.  And like other major threats in a region, you should skip the foreshadowing and go straight to exposition.  Your players need to know "hey, there is a nymph in this place and everyone who sees her falls in love with her."

They are dangerous not because they kill you, but because they trap you.  It's entirely possible for the party to run into a nymph and become snared, working as her protector for a long period of time.  That's okay.

Think of it this way: if the party had run into a vampire or a medusa, they'd all be dead.  Compared to that, numph-capture is a very mild failure state.  They're just stuck here, loopy with love for a while.  If they had a timed task to do, they fail it.  It's still better than dying.

Again, just think of the nymph as a vampire or medusa that doesn't kill you, just traps you emotionally.  And unlike vampires and medusa, they're not Pure Evil, and therefor are (hopefully) due slightly more moral consideration, and (b) players will expect more complete behaviors from the nymph than just "try to kill everyone", which you should provide, of course.

Living with a nymph is exotic (because you're living alongside all the other creatures that are in love with the nymph) but it's also domestic.  Someone has to make food.  And so it's a bit like a polygynous household where the nymph is the de facto patriarch.

It's a form of imprisonment, but it's also a type of imprisonment that you can't escape by filching the keys off the guard.

This love-imprisonment lasts until (a) the nymph decides to let the party go, which is code for "as long as you think is dramatic", but I'd recommend 1d20 years if you have no other numbers, or (b) the party thinks of a clever way to escape.  "You can do whatever you want as long as you don't make the nymph unhappy." is a hell of a restriction, but I can still think of some ways.  Such as:

  • Convince the nymph to marry one of her many suitors.  She'll send most of her admirers away.  This may involve counterfeiting love letters and playing matchmaker. (quest)
  • Spy on the nymph until they do something that makes you jealous.  Just don't get caught spying or you will have to suffer the punishment (a blindfold you are required to wear, dish-washing duty). Remember that the nymph might not be doing anything worthy of jealousy.  (risk)
  • If any of your friends die in the service of the nymph, or if you almost die, you get a new save to escape.  Just keep hurling yourself into danger.  (risk)
  • If the cost of being a suitor is too great, you also get a save.  Give the nymph your magic sword, demand to marry her, and when she refuses, you have a chilling moment where you realize that you are being strung along, and get a new save to escape love.  (material cost)
And once you have one or two character's free from love, they can kidnap the other characters and keep them tied up until the enchantment wears off.  Then they can depart, slowly and a little wistfully (is adventuring really preferable to the attentions of a nymph?)

Of course, if any of her admirers go missing, the nymph is sure to send out search parties with instructions to rescue her missing friend and bring him back home.  All your friends are worried sick!

As the DM, resist the temptation to really abuse the nymph's suggestion power.  You need to give players room to engineer their escape.  Remember that nymph's are not evil, not ambitious, and are willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.

And yes, you could make the nymph tougher.  She only has 1d8 HP, no spells, and only a couple of special abilities.  But holy shit are her special abilities good.  Armies that march against her will fail.  If she commands one of her lovers to slit their own throat, she has a good chance of getting what she wants.

And 1d8 HP is a lot when there is no easy way to attack a nymph.  What are you going to do, invade her house while blindfolded and deafened?  Fuck that.

What is this Nymph All About? [d4]
To be honest, most nymphs incorporate all four of these things to some degree or another.  But roll on the table to see which is their prime motivator.
  1. Sex, and lots of it.
  2. Stories and entertainment.  Bread and circuses.  Parties and costumes.
  3. Vanity above all else.  Gifts and symbols of devotion.  She secretly enjoys seeing her admirers fighting over her.
  4. Peace on earth, and goodwill towards all.  Tolerance and understanding.
The Nymph's Admirers [d20]
Roll until you get a result of 16 or higher, or you roll a result twice.  Roll at least twice.  These are the people you'll be sharing a campfire with.

  1. A tiger that brings her food.
  2. Three ogres (HD 4) that are trying to entertain the nymph with a comedy act.  Roll a d6 to see how well they're doing.
  3. 1d20 villagers building her a house.  They're arguing over where to put the chimney.
  4. A troll (HD 6) who has learned to braid hair.
  5. 1d20 bandits who are mostly interested in stealing jewelry to use as gifts.
  6. The queen of a local colony of giant ants.  The queen is plotting to turn the nymph into another queen, and then the two of them will rule the colony alongside each other.  This plan has a 3-in-6 chance of succeeding if the players do nothing.  In the meantime, the ant queen is allowing the nymph to use many of her ants to play complex games of strategy.
  7. 1d6 angry trees have decided that they are perhaps not so angry after all.
  8. 1d6 pilgrims and a cleric (HD 1d4) are trying to convert the nymph to Hesaya.  They are making progress.  Once they succeed, they will want to bring her to the holy city of Coramont, which will be an absolute disaster.
  9. A tirapheg.  It used to bring her corpses that it 'decorated', but this horrified the nymph and she sent it away.  It now lurks nearby, sad and desperate to find a way to please the nymph.  Fancy corpses were really the only thing that it knows how to do.
  10. An owlbear, serene for the first time in its life.  When it lays its head in her lap, it knows peace.
  11. A death knight, doing something very out-of-character.  Repairing a dress, cleaning up a tea party, reading a story to another one of the nymph's admirers.
  12. 3d6 goblins, building a statue of the nymph out of sticks, stones, and earwax.  They are looking for things to decorate it with.
  13. A poet, filling up books with love poetry as fast as she can make ink.  She may commit suicide soon.
  14. A wall of flesh.
  15. Another nymph, who lost a beauty duel and is now hopelessly besotted by the victor.  Her powers are greatly weakened while she is in the thrall of the victorious nymph.  She is currently attempting to write the victorious nymph's name on every tree in the forest, and on every stone.  She is about halfway done.
  16. Korgoth, The King of Axes.  Level 8 fighter.  Has an army located about a day away.  Here alone.  Wants the nymph to marry him.
  17. Stargod, a dragon.  HD 12.  She wants the nymph to accept her hoard.  She is here with 1d6 of her dragoncult barbarians, who are camped over the next ridge; they are not allowed near the nymph.
  18. Thazridul, a HD 9 lich, believes her to be the only truly good thing in the world.  She wants to protect the nymph from the cruelties of the world; the nymph only wants Thazridul to tell stories.
  19. King Acrodel is here to give another lamb as a gift (the most perfect lamb born in the kingdom).  No one knows he is here, not even his wife.  He runs the kingdom.
  20. One of the surviving Satans is here.  He/she is trying to get the nymph to raise an army.
Things That Happen While Living With The Nymph [d6]
How much time happens between these things?  I'd say at least a month if you're DMing softly.  Several years if you DM with strong, firm strokes.
  1. An enemy attacks with creatures resistant to the nymph's charms.  Undead, constructs, elementals, oozes, forest fires.  First a small wave of enemies, then a larger one.
  2. The nymph goes missing.  Tensions flare.
  3. Treachery!  One of the suitors attempts a coup.
  4. The nymph falls ill, and all of you must go off into some local dungeon in order to fetch a cure.  This is complicated by the fact that each of you wants to be the one to present it to her.
  5. You are tasked with throwing a surprise party for the nymph.  If you please her, she will grant you a boon.
  6. Just some serious conversation around a campfire one night, while the nymph is in a somber mood.  She is sitting atop a pile of all of her admirers (including you).  She wants to talk about love, especially how other people experience love, and she wants you to do most of the talking.  Or she asks about death, since she has seen so little of it.  Or perhaps wonders about the nature of good and evil, and the value of charity and/or callousness.
Those are just some ideas.  

Just because you are basically imprisoned on a loveseat, doesn't mean that it has to be a boring imprisonment.  And if it is boring, skip over it quickly.  ("You live with the nymph for three years, until one day. . .")

And honestly, if you are spending your nights around a campfire with 15 bandits, a tiger, a lich, and a nymph, there's probably something interesting that you can cook up.  (That's what my random rolls generated.)  Perhaps the tiger attempts to get you indirectly killed when you go hunting alongside it, or maybe the lich is offering you the secrets of undeath in exchange for an advantage with the nymph, or perhaps the bandits just put on a puppet show mocking the lich and the nymph has now tasked you with protecting the bandits from the lich's wrath, or perhaps. . .

Sunday, June 19, 2016


The Simurgh is the ruler of all birds.  They are her subjects and her flesh.

But owls are not birds.  To us, they look like birds, and they act like birds, but they are not.  They are some alien clade, some painted deceiver.  They are unnatural as beastmen (and similarly, birds have a hard time recognizing how unnatural a beastman appears to us).

Owls are from the moon.  They have more in common with the tall, soft-handed people of that place than they do with the birds of the earth.

And while most of the owls you'll see are degenerate cousins of the lunar owls.  They are the equivalent of the illiterate, spear-wielding descendants of crashed space marines.  Most owls are just owls: silent killers who are slightly more intelligent than we give them credit for.

But some owls are educated.  Some owls remember the moon.  They have a written language.  They have fashion.  They have opinions about your poetry.

by Lisa Kee
Owls are wisdom, but they are also death and night.  They are silent.  They are pacifists.

They do not fight, but they have protectors.

They have an ancient pact with serpents, who sometimes serve them.  They regurgitate all the mice they have ever swallowed, and from those crumbling pellets they raise up the skeletons of their mice servitors.

They build nests.  Enormous nests that have more in common with wicker furniture, engineered and refined across generations.  They are man-sized wicker men, and the owls nest atop the necks.  They resemble wooden men with owls for heads.

They are at war--a quiet war--with the other birds.  Sometimes they'll capture and imprison songbirds in their chests.

And that is how you usually see them: owl-headed wicker men, striding through the quiet places, trapped songbirds flickering in their chests.

Owlbears despise them, and will attack them on sight.

the costume, at least, is from Lord of Tears
HD 1  AC leather  Talons 1d4
Fly 18  Int 12  Mor 2

*Zone of Silence: All sound is negated within 20', except for the owl's voice (should it wish to talk).

Wicker Golem
HD 3  AC leather  Claws 1d10
Move 12  Int 12  Mor 2

*Wicker Nest Golem: When an owl abandons their wicker nest-golem, it will attack all nearby creatures and guard the area that it was abandoned in.  It accepts any owl that sits on it as a pilot.  When an owl rides a wicker nest golem, the owl can be targeted separately if the attacker accepts a -4 penalty to attack.

Who Protects This Group of Wicker-Rider Owls? [d6]
An owl's protectors are not pacifists by any means.

1 - A swarm of undead mice skeletons (HD 4), hiding in the earth.
2 - A great serpent (HD 7).
3 - An enormous wicker golem (HD 7) capable of imprisoning a person inside.
4 - Werewolves.
5 - Human scholars, seeking wisdom.  Some are alchemists.  A few are wizards.
6 - Human fighters, raised from childhood to be loyal.

from Jacques Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal
What Powers Do These Wicker-Rider Owls Have? [d6]
They have different abilities, depending on the trapped songbird.  It is not clear whether this is derived from the particular songbird, or if the bird is merely worn as a badge.  Sometimes the wicker golems all hold songbirds of the same type, sometimes the group of golems contains a mixture.  Beware golems that contain multiple songbirds, or more exotic birds not on this list.

1 - Mockingbird.  Can cast ventriloquism and invisibility at-will.
2 - Blue Jay.  Can cast illusion and ESP at-will.
3 - Waxwing.  Can cast sleep and cure madness at-will.
4 - Wren.  Can cast rust and warp wood at-will.
5 - Swallow.  Can cast prismatic spray at-will.
6 - Blackbird.  Can cast doom 1/day and curse at-will.  (Technically, doom is not a damaging spell.)

What Are They Doing Here? [d6]
They will not disturb you if you do not disturb them.  Remember that everything they do is in perfect silence, due to their magic aura.

1 - Digging up graves and replacing recent corpses with indistinguishable replicas.
2 - Weaving flax into a gift for the moon.  The moon watches, appearing twice as large in the sky.
3 - Solemnly binding songbirds wings and feeding the still-living birds to a fire.
4 - Battling 1d2 owlbears.  They will be grateful if you help.  The owlbear will not.
5 - Watching you sleep.  If you allow them to watch you, they will give you a silver plate (worth 100s) in the morning by laying it on the ground and bowing.  You will never remember your dreams again.
6 - Selling forgotten lore from a bower of woven trees.  These owls have been communing with their brothers on the moon.  If the answer to your question does not exist anywhere on Centerra, either in written or remembered form, then there is a 4-in-6 chance that the owls know it.  (If it does exist somewhere in Centerra, then it really isn't forgotten lore, is it?)

Appendix: Spells

Cure Madness
Plot-level Cleric Spell
Range: Touch
Removes a madness from the target for 1 week.  At the end of that month, the target rolls a save; if they fail, the madness returns.

Level 4 Wizard Spell
Range: 50'
Target will die in exactly 3 turns, as long as you pronounce doom on them on your next two turns.  Pronouncing doom is a free action that shares all the restrictions of this spell (must be verbal, must have line of sight, etc).

Level 1 Cleric Spell
Range: 50'
The next time the target creature would roll a critical success, it becomes a critical failure instead.

By Peter Trimming

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hungry Joe

So I had another session of my irregularly-scheduled hell game.  I might as well write about it.

It's a hellcrawl.  The party is running a pirate ship called the Adamantine Ogre, sailing across the burning seas of hell, trying to find repairs for their ship after it was bashed by giant swans in order to stop a ratman mutiny.

There's a quest for an egg, but who cares.  Hell pirates and hellish hives of scum and villainy.

This post is about Hungry Joe, one of the aforementioned hives.

But first, some context.

Dying in Hell

You can't die in hell.  If you would die, you instead lost 1d3 levels, become undead, and then must make a save against becoming some sort of fucked up NPC.  Regardless of your success, you lose memories.

The Abyss

There is a vast subterranean tapestry where all the souls of the dead trickle down to.  This is the Abyss, and it is full of demons (who only grow in power), the dead (who only dwindle), and the paladins, who successfully conquered hell, sundered Satan, and built the Circular Hells.

The Circular Hells

Basically just Dante's Inferno.  The concept is unimprovable.  There are three of them (East Hell, West Hell, and North Hell) and they are all run by the paladins, who collect and imprison the souls of sinners inside these machine-geographies.  They are packed with anguished people.

This is the hell part of hell.  Outside of the Circular Hells, life is laughably horrible, but inside, it's torture on a scale we can barely concieve.

The Paladins

They forced the demons to take the Oaths, creating the devils who wear the Shackles.  They ensure that sinners are punished forever, and that no one escapes the Circular Hells.  Someday, they will conquer all of the Abyss.

Hungry Joe

He is one of the very, very few people to escape from the third circle of hell (Gluttony).  That was a long time ago.

Hungry Joe has eaten armies and cities.  They're all still there inside him, still screaming, still dying, because there is no death in hell.

And he has grown huge.  Huge and strange--a self-loathing glutton trapped inside a levitating planet of unthinkable, impossible obesity.

Joetown Docks

Two rocks thrusting up from the burning oceans of hell.  They hold a barge suspended 50' above the surface of the flames, like a grain of rice held between two chopsticks.  One of the chopsticks has a shoulder filled with maimed boats and the sounds of lamentation.  This is Joetown.

The dock is crowded with moored ships, most of them no longer seaworthy.  The dock and the ships are built from non-flammable materials (because the sea is fire).  Things get dimmer the farther you move from the water's edge, because the ocean is the only light source.  There are many, many ships, most of them derelict and filled with crumbling, powerless undead.  You can only reach the dock by ramming other ships; otherwise you will have to tie up on someone else's ship and cross over their ship to reach the rock.

An unlit lamp post leans over the dock.  Atop it, a hookman named Jarrack watches for incoming ships, and charges them a small fee to dock.

Sample Ship: The Last Gamble.  Signs of violence.  Sails have been knotted and the anchor has been hung high upon the mast.  Mostly abandoned, except for the wailing coming from the hold, which contains six "mermaids" lamenting and arranging bones.  Melania has three bone fish hooks threaded through her cheek, each one a single use of summon fish if used as a conventional fish hook.  She and her five sisters are  looking for news of the living merfolk (up under the sunshine).  She will pay money for water (a rarity in hell).  They offer shelter but will attempt to kill and eat you if they think they can succeed.  Locked in a box they have a whaler that that they have been slowly eating over the last six months.  Every so often one will open the box and take a nibble.  They are saving his eyes for last.  (His living, terrified eyes.)

Another Sample Ship: Empty rooms.  More empty rooms.  In the boiling hot bilge is a mass of weeping flesh, half-submerged in its own suppurations.  (Stats as black pudding.)  Arranged carefully at the back of the bilge is a dolorite sculpture of a deformed uterus (worth 3000c) surrounded by sculptures of miscarriages, made from garbage and mucus.

At the end of the dock is a Joe Lump.

The Joe Lump is a blistered clump of skin and hair.  It wears a hat.  Up close, you can see the dozen eyes buried amid the fleshy folds.  Some are rolling madly and some are closed, but most are looking at you with calm regard.  Under the hat is a slobbering mouth.  At its base is a row of sphincters that constatly ooze black treacle.  It weighs about 400 lbs.  Joe can see through its eyes.


How much can you compress human suffering?  Into how small of a space can you compress it?

If you put a bunch of people in an oven, you have achieved a great deal of suffering, to be sure.

But if you cut off their arms and legs, and then piled them into the oven, you would surely have created a greater density of suffering.

But what of the superfluous material of the body, the bones and the skin and the digestive tract?  Why not excise that as well?  Why not peel a man down to the marrow and layer his anguished nerves across the oven floor, as compressed as possible?

This is the principle behind dolorite, except that it made with much more extreme efficiency than our example would seem to imply.  The details are best left unspoken.

Dolorite is fabulously expensive to create.  It is prized by demons, who manufacture it into daggers and dildos and other such blasphemies.

For most people, touching dolorite causes immediate and catastrophic depression, and a near-complete loss of the will to life.  (Mechanics: Upon touching dolorite, save or drop your HP to 0.  At the start of each of your turns, make a save.  If you succeed, you regain all of the HP you lost.)

From the Book of Creatures
The whole site if pretty awesome.
Joetown Shanties

Points of interest: a skinny man begging for food, smoke rising from a beached rowboat, a group of people amid four half-ships, and a path up the rock to the upper barge.

This close, it is possible to see the top of the rock through the haze.  The barge has something ascending from it, an irregular pillar, possibly made from thick smoke.

The starving man is running away from Hungry Joe.  He will follow the party if they seem to have food.  He is bruised around the face and temples, as if beaten recently.  He is (briefly) helpful if fed.  He will become aggressive in 10 minutes if not fed.  He is not hard to deceive, but he is desperate and willing to attempt anything.

The beached rowboat hides a trapdoor, leading to a man-burrow.  The first room holds  pair of blind, syphilitic "dogs"*.  The back room holds Jayak.  He will give free advice to anyone who does business with him.  He will sell cockatrice eggs.  He will buy drugs at a high price.  He will also pay beautiful ladies to reach into his chest and caress this small, shriveled heart, which does not beat, but merely trembles like a bird.

The four half-ships are exactly that.  Two ships that have been broken in half and assembled around a town square of sorts.  In this square a witch is attempting to commit suicide.  She has convinced her 10 friends to call upon Zulin, condemn her as a witch, shame her, beat her, and then burn her at the stake.  She hopes that this will consign her to oblivion, rather than an eternity of suffering.

One person is cursing the witch more than the oters.  She is Rendrada Fly-Heart, and she was the witch-hunter who killed the witch when they were both alive.  In death she is her deepest friend.

You can stop the ceremony.  No one will thank you if you do.

Gran Begina, the Witch:  HD 4, warp wood, steal voice, water to fire.  Her spellbook is written on the bottom of her shoes, and will be lost when she burns.

Rendrada Fly-Heart: HD 3, leather, broadsword.  Save +4 vs magic.  Enemies struck by her have a 50% chance of fumbling spells for 1 round.


Up on the cliffs, you can see hookmen scrabbling up and down.  clickclick--clickclick--clickclick.  They wear baskets on their backs and seem to be collecting things.  (They are collecting giblets that missed the Buckets.)

If you climb the switchbacks up the cliffs, you will be accosted by 1d4-1 hookmen who demand that you pay 20c to ride the elevator.  This is not robbery, just a local rule that encourages hookmen to collect elevator fees from travelers.

At the top is the barge, perched precariously between two gripping crags.  Above it, the elevator writhes.  In the fire-damaged hold is meeting place that doubles as a shrine to Jubilex (one of the strongest elements of the demonic rebellion against the paladins).  In an open chest is a pile of meat hooks, for the hookmen's guests.

Whales are so fucking weird
and no one seems to notice.
The Elevator

There's a loop of enormous chain.  It is large enough that you could not pick up a single link.  It goes through a ring on the deck of the barge.  It loops up, getting lost in the smoke from the ocean.  450' higher, it loops through another hook in the ceiling of the landing lodge.

Wrapped around this enormous chain is one of Hungy Joe's intestines, sealed off in a closed loop.  The intestine still has directionality, however, and so it writhes around the chain with peristaltic contractions.  (Here's a video of what your stomach does everyday.)

It's a bit like a three-dimensional conveyor belt, where the chain is the floor and the skin of the intestine is the surface of the conveyor belt.  It moves about 1' for every 2 seconds (and so it takes 15 minutes to be conveyed from one end to the other).

Hookmen ride the elevator easily, since their hooks are perfectly suited to clamber onto the fleshy skin of the intestine.  Hookmen are friendly and helpful as long as you continually give them small amounts of money.  They ask for money a lot.

Non-hookmen can reach Hungry Joe by stabbing a meathook into the intestine and hanging on for dear life.

The elevator is fed by cutting it open and pouring in some half-digested chyme, harvested from Hungry Joe's intestines.  (The waste liquids are similarly drained beforehand.)  This is why the writhing flesh-elevator is covered in long, garish scars.


These are the descendants of the whalers that first befriended and colonized Hungry Joe.  They have drank Joe's bitter juices.  They have slept atop his troubled brow and let his dreams trouble theirs.  They have replaced their extremities with hooks.

They offer the same surgeries to the PCs.

Replace a hand (50c).  Your hand will forever do 1d8 damage, but it cannot ever hold anything every again (since you have no hand, just a hook).  If you replace both hands, you have a single natural attack that does 1d12 damage, but you can never hold anything ever again.

Replace a foot (30c).  You get a hook attached at your heel and another at the front of your foot, like a pincer.  For each foot replaced this way, you get -1 Movement and +2 to resist being moved or tripped.

For each hand/foot replaced in this way, you get +2 to climb.  If you replace all four extremities, you can permanently climb as spider climb.

Replace tongue (100c).  You can harpoon things and reel them in like a hookshot.  Your tongue has Strength 4.  If you have hook feet, you can use the bonus to resist being moved.

Hookman: HD 1, AC leather, Hooks 1d12.  Spider climb.  Harpoon tongue (as above).

They have no hair.  Every part of their body that was previously covered with hair is now covered with a soft cuticle, much like a flimsy fingernail.

The Buckets (Neighborhood)

About halfway up to the landing lodge are the Buckets.  These are hanging platforms.  They look more like stained metal trays than buckets.  The largest is 200' across.

They are used to catch Hungry Joe's drippings (from his many sores), giblets (from the meat harvests), and his feces (very little is produced--Hungry Joe's body is too gluttonous to allow much to escape).

A few hookmen eke out a shitty existence atop the buckets, growing strange crops to feed Hungry Joe.  Their shanties are made from from bones and spoorcobble.

The Dangles (Neighborhood)

About 90% of the way up to the landing lodge are the Dangles.  These are loops of Hungry Joe's intestines, knotted together and looped into paths and foundations.  They average about 5' wide.  The landing lodge is in the middle of this.  A normal-looking man will help you off the elevator, then ask for 20c.

Like all of Hungry Joe's buildings, they are attached by hooks.  Most of the buildings are converted (metal) ships or associated structures.  An old dock might double for a wide market road.  The harbormaster's office is inside an enormous diving bell.

The intestines are different colors and sizes.  Black, brown, yellow, red.  They all move slowly as they contract and pulse.  Remember that intestines are muscles.  The buildings sway.

The hookmen sometimes use the road.  Othertimes they jump from intestine to intestine.  They climb fastest sideways, like a vertical crab.  Climbing on the intestines is frowned upon, because it wastes blood, and sometimes Joe's meals spill out a little bit.  Most of this is caught by the Buckets, below, but it risks being wasteful.

Eating the half-digested chyme that spills from Hungry Joe's intestines is not tolerated.  That is food-theft, and is punished with death (as you are fed to Hungry Joe).

There are other places of interest up here.  The Nursery, where Flocculent Sneed with perform the operations that turn you into a young hookman.  The Tit, a tavern with an inaccurate name, where hookmen, pirates, scabromanders, and a battlesnake get drunk on blood.

Above the Dangles, you can barely make out the backside of Hungry Joe.  It is huge and sallow like a cancerous moon.  Occasionally a boil will pop, raining down toxins onto the Dangles.  Occasionally a hookman will spill one intentionally onto an invader.

Black Bottle (Neighborhood)

A neighborhood on the side of the Hungry Joe.  It is inside glassified blisters, which bulge out from Hungry Joe's side like bubble windows made from smoked glass.  Inside are the crab-hand wizards, who tend to the delicate chemistries of Hungry Joe's unruly livers and glands.

The crab-hand wizards replace each finger on their right hand with a crab claw. They do this to cast spells faster.  They have other alterations, but the crab-hand is the biggest and most consistent.

Most of the attention is spent grappling with the moods of Joe's humors, but they are mostly known for the Little Joes that they produce.

Little Joes are made by cutting off a large piece of Hungry Joe and growing it in a vat.  The resultant creature is often mistaken for a whale, until it lifts its head from the water and you can see the patches of hair and the blind, idiot eyes lolling amidst the waves.

Little Joes are used as boats.  Submarines, actually.  They compromise the bulk of Hungry Joe's ramshackle Navy.

The crab-hand wizards offer a variety of modifications to the basic Little Joe.  The jaw can be grown to large proportions, to the point where it subsumes the nose and forces the eyes to the side of the head, causing the Little Joe to have a face like a blunt-toothed shark.  Or the entire useless face and brain can be replaced with a cluster of cannons.

Each Little Joe comes with a magically locking hatch on the back and three interior rooms.
  • Little Joe: 10,000c
  • Chompers: +5,000c (powerful bite attack, precludes Cannon Cluster Face)
  • Cannon Cluster Face: +5,000c (powerful and expensive ranged attack, precludes Chompers)
  • Voluminous Uterus: +5,000c (huge cargo space, precludes blasphemy glands)
  • Blasphemy Glands: +5,000c (blasphemes against gravity, allowing flight, precludes Voluminous Uterus)
Other items offered for sale: biomancy, potions.
  • Crab Hand: +2 Initiative when casting spells.  100c.
  • Sovereign Glue: 200c.  (max 3)
  • Universal Solvent: 200c.  (max 3)
  • Elemental Acid: 200c.  (max 3)
  • Yoshi Tongue: 300c.
  • Nulligan Nodes: Immune to poison.  Whenever you would be poisoned, you rage instead. 500c.

From the Contemporary Chester
Yellowbelly (Neighborhood)

Strains of tumors evolve and fight slow wars across Hungry Joe's tortured belly.  This is where the priesthood lives, alongside the butcherboys.

The priesthood are the actual leadership aboard Hungry Joe.  They maintain his body and his mind.  They control the Navy and the butcherboys.  (They also control access to the dungeon inside Hungry Joe.)

The butcherboys are specialized hookmen.  Their job is to keep Hungry Joe fed.  Hungry Joe's diet includes "fish", relatively mundane vegetables from the gardens, intruders, and pieces of Hungry Joe himself.

While institutionalized autocannibalism may seem self-defeating, it works better than one might suspect because of the sheer efficiency of Hungry Joe's digestive system, due in part to his many miles of digestive tract.  And autocannibalism is necessary, because it is important that Hungry Joe is eating constantly.

Very bad things happen if Hungry Joe ever stops eating.