Friday, September 30, 2016

The Perfect Languages of Elves

Elven Language

Elves are immortal, genius bourgeoisie with access to staggering amounts of linguistic and historical education.

They also get bored easily.

Because of these two things, True Elves do not bother establishing a fixed language.   Most of the time, when an elf writes something down, he's going to do circuitously.  The actual message will be obscured in substitutions and metaphor.

Why write something simply when you could obscure it?  Everyone you care about (i.e. other elves) are all clever enough to read it.

And so most elven languages aren't languages.  The elf will write their message in whatever language they prefer: dwarvish, orcish, celestial, French.  And then they will encode it with as many references, metaphors, and sly nods as they can.

This makes things fun to read.

Of course, for other species, it makes things nearly impossible to read.  It's a bit like trying to read Shakespeare without a guide, or to understand all the subtleties of Nabokov or Milton without a full education in the literature that those authors reference.

Elves are fond of saying that a human must read a hundred books before they can fully understand a sentence in Elvish.  This is crass arrogance, of course, but it is also true, sadly.  And attempting to learn a highly self-referential language when all the explanations are similarly recursive is a goddamn daunting task.  Without an elf to teach you, it is nearly impossible to learn to read Elvish.  It defies naive translation.

When a human says that they read Elvish, they usually mean "I've spent my entire life reading summaries of famous Elven literature (a corpus of several thousand books, at a minimum) and can translate a page of Elven writing per day as long as the elf that wrote it wasn't too familiar with pre-Hadean poetry."

It's difficult to explain how brilliant elves are compared to us.  They can translate through several levels of languages and metaphor with nauseating ease.  And they can do it while playing an instrument and drinking wine.

Does this (by itself) make them any harder to kill?  Perhaps not, but for many, it is sufficient reason to want to kill them in the first place.

Elven Cipher

Of course, sometimes an elf just needs to write down a message quickly and efficiently.  For this purpose, there are a number of related ciphers that elves use to accomplish this, all of which revolve around the game goal: making the encoded message (and all language is a code) as dense as possible.

Shit, this digression is large enough that it probably deserves it's own heading.

Digression: Information Density of Language

How short can we make a book before we lose any of the meaning?  If we removed the 'e' at the end of every instance of 'language', there wouldn't be any ambiguity.  (Just an annoying misspelling.)  Likewise, we don't lose any meaning to compression if we change all instances of 'you' into 'u'.

What if we replaced each word with a number?  We could have a master dictionary that correlates each word with a number.

Surely that would compress the book even further.  We could use hexidecimal or Base32 for each character, in order to fit the most information into each space.  If we limited ourselves to numbers only, we'd be wasting perfectly good space.

What if we ordered the number-dictionary so that the most common words were given shorter numbers.  Surely, we would save more space if the words 'a' and 'the' were numbers '1' and '2', rather than '382' and '28190'.

We could even have an appendix at the end for common phrases.  After all, 'I think that' is a lot longer than '69402'.

Elven Cipher, Again

And so that's the problem that elven ciphers were created to solve.  Their goal was perfect information density.

It should surprise no one that the elves believe in linguistic superiority.  If there are shitty languages, (and people should have no trouble thinking of things that fail at being effective languages) then it obviously follows that there must be better languages, and even a best language (if not eternally, then at least for a given place and time).  It falls to the elves, then, to develop this piece of perfection in language (as in all things).

And sometimes, you'll find examples of the perfect language: the elven prime cipher.  You may see this language amid the micro-engravings on the diamonds in your staff of the magi, or perhaps visible on the surface of the sun (when viewed through an appropriate telescope).

The prime cipher is a hell of a thing to see.  It's dense the way that a bar code is dense.  Swarms of dots and halfmoons and violin scrolls, all tangled in a thicket of lines of varying thicknesses.

(Digression for the pedants: yes, while something resembling a QR code might be technically more information dense, the human (and elven) brain has an easier time recognizing lines, edges, and simple shapes.  By leveraging the preexisting heuristics of the brain, elven language-architects were able to cram more shapes and lines into smaller spaces without losing any legibility--something that matrix-clouds of binary code cannot do.)

The density possible with the perfect cipher is absolutely incredible.  A cuboid ink-net the size of your thumbnail could hold a sonnet, a trade agreement, or a record of past sexual encounters.

Let us not forget that elves also possess (a) incredible manual precision, and (b) stupendous eyesight.  This is how they manage to make their books so small.  An entire spellbook could be encoded on the surface of an acorn, a haze of lines as fine and as ordered as a fingerprint.  What looks like a single, extremely complex Chinese ideogram could contain detailed invasion plans, something that would take a full page of English to accomplish.

Redundant Calligraphy

But the most perfectly dense language is also going to be the most vulnerable to error and decay.  If you go into the bathroom and see a message on the wall with part of it scribbled out (such as 'FO* * **OD TIME CALL'), you can probably puzzle out what the original message was thanks to context and redundancy.

But in a language optimized for perfect information density, there is no context or redundancy.  It'll all been reduced down to its most minimal form.  Ideally, just a number that references something else.  And if that number is changed by a single digit, then it's entire meaning changes.

And so the elves had to introduce some redundancy into their ciphers, because the most perfect language is not the most robust language.

This took the form of calligraphy.  Lines were extended and merged.  They served the same function as a checksum--the little artistic flourishes that confirmed the reader's interpretation without necessarily yielding any new information themselves.

The rules governing the extension, fusion, and splitting of the calligraphic flourishes are also well-established.  It is possible to extend them indefinitely according to certain rules.

One of the games that Elven children play, when they are first learning to write, is to extend the flourishes beyond a word as far as possible.  Some mixtures of flourishes decay, some stabilize, and some blossom into networks of repeated motives.  And it's tough to tell from the starting conditions what a particular collection of flourishes will do.

For example, if the cipher-word word for "greed" is extended indefinitely, it creates an ever-expanding, non-repeating tree of calligraphic limbs.  (Elf kids think this is poetic.  It becomes eye-rollingly trite by the time they've reached adulthood.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

d14 Trapped Chests

Trapped chests.  A classic feature of the dungeon, and yet one that is often as much fun as spilling a box of cereal.

I'm writing this post under the assumption that you're running an OSR game, and that there is no Perception or Disable Device skill or whatever.  All traps and shit like that is done with the old-fashioned "I like under the rug." "You find a trap door." method.

(Digression: Finding and disabling traps is a goddamn dungeon staple.  It's bread and butter.  And yet Perception + Disable Device is the shittiest fun way to handle it, because you're just throwing those skills at problems like a robot.  It becomes a test of the character sheet, rather than the player.)

First warning: before you start throwing trapped chests at your players, make sure that they know that trapped chests are a possibility in this place.  You can warn implicitly, by throwing some gently-trapped doors at them early on, or showing the corpses of people killed by trapped chests, or explicitly, just by telling them "You heard that dwarves often trapped their funereal chests."

Second warning: no pixel-bitching.  Having players exhaustively search every chest they find is exhausting.  No surprise there.  Make the clues obvious.  Make the solution obvious.  And by obvious clues I mean "give them the information they need easily".  And by obvious solutions I mean "solutions should be apparent that they are solutions."  (Especially with traps, which sometimes carry big costs for failure.)

Shark Fact: traps don't have to be hard.  They don't have to kill players.  They can (and should) but a trapped chest can be an enjoyable experience even if it doesn't fuck people up.  It's okay for a trap to simply be an interesting feature, or an interesting decision.  

1. Skeleton slumped out in the hallway.  Needle sticking out of the keyhole.  Covered with some blackish grease.  (This is poison.)  Chest cannot be opened until the needle is pushed back into the keyhole and the trap reset.  A player with a shield or gauntlet could easily push it back into the keyhole.  The poison needle could also be broken off; this yields a useful poison needle, but makes it awfully hard to unlock the chest (since you have to push the mechanism back into place).

Shark Fact: This first trapped chest is pretty harmless, but it's interesting.  An accurate investigation of it (or a successful Disable Device check) will yield the information about how it works, but the players still have to decide for themselves if they want to break off the needle or push it back in.

2. In a room with a metal floor, a stone plinth holds a copper chest.  The chest is electified, of course.  Just knock it off the plinth with a quarterstaff.  (Live wires run up through the center of the plinth.)

Shark Fact: Chests often contain fragile things like potions, scrolls, and art objects!  Each of these has a 50% chance of breaking if the chest is smashed open or dropped!  Yay!

3. There is a chest on a plinth.  A pressure plate beneath the chest is triggered when the chest is picked up, or if it is lightened.  The trap can be thwarted by putting items in the chest of an equal weight.  Anyone who starts picking up the chest or emptying out its contents will hear the mechanism start to click beneath the chest, and will have a chance to put the put it back down.

Shark Fact: Give your players the benefit of the doubt.  Unless they tell you otherwise, always assume that they are doing it carefully, slowly, and observantly.  (If you are using the old rules where it takes a 10-minute adventuring turn to do anything at all--this is why.)

4. After opening the chest an inch, a tripwire is visible on the inside.  If the chest is opened more than an inch, the wire is tripped and the vial of flesh-eating gas inside the chest is broken.  (This isn't really a trap, it's more like a second treasure.  What's the chest going to contain that's cooler than a pre-made flesh-eating gas bomb?)

Shark Fact: Even though you are giving your players the benefit of the doubt, there's still going to be some idiot who announces "I'm going to open the chest as fast as I can while standing behind it!" or "I'm going to throw it down the stairs!" so don't be too sad; your flesh-eating gas will probably still get to kill someone, even though that isn't its primary purpose.

5. Chest is full of bee golems.  Or just one big bee golem.  It buzzes angrily when you shake the box.  And if you open the chest, you can shut the door in time if you win initiative.

6. Chest is part of a support pillar.  Smashing the chest will collapse the pillar, and bring down the whole ceiling.  Attempting to pick the lock and failing will have the same result.  There's a key later in the dungeon, but players are pretty much guaranteed to be hasty and fuck it up anyway.

7.  Chest is covered in green slime.  Chest is made out of a highly explosive ceramic.  (You might want to preface this one with evidence of exploded chests, or even better small containers made of explosive ceramic.)

8. Chest stinks of chemicals.  It is full of acid.  All of the treasure is metal.

9. Chest is a chest of non-detection.  Always appears empty.  Actually contains gems and shit.  (Alternatively, contains a ghoul assassin taking advantage of the chests effects.)

10. Chest of contrariness.  Chest has a tinted glass window that allows you to see it's contents.  When the chest is open, the contents become locked in a force field.  The chest is solved by just leaving it closed and then reaching through the (now intangible) window.

11. Chest is only visible in a mirror.  To open it, you must insert the key into the keyhole (by watching yourself in the mirror).  The chest is silver and awesome looking.  There is also a fake chest in the room, covered in blood and spikes.  Inserting the key into the false chest causes it to shooting out ninja stars.

12.  Chest is chained to the wall.  Beside the chest is a bloodstained butcher board, complete with a cleaver.  (The chest is actually a mimic.  If you feed it some tasty meat before you approach it, it will let you take items out of it.  It'll probably purr while you do it, too.

13. Wall of gripping metal hands.  Hands will only allow you to take an item if you give them an item of the same time.  For example, they won't release the magic sword until you give them a different sword (of any time).  There is at least one item that is difficult to replace (like what do you have to give them in order for them to release the creepy doll)?

14. Chests with particular opening conditions.  The blue chest covered in painted fish can only be opened underwater.  The chest depicting witches flying over a clock can only be opened at the witching hour (between 3 and 4 am).  The chest covered in painted birds only opens at the touch of a bird.  (You can invent a million of these, I bet.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The Mantigon

The Mantigon was created by Yalys the Enchanter, and it is said that it only became cruel after watching her many deaths.  It is said that the Mantigon was one of her favorite sons.

(Yalys was a sorceress who created a bunch of powerful, unique monsters.  Each one has a different impression of her--one describes her as stern, another as mischievous.  The idea being that a group of determined adventurers can discover the location of Yalys' tomb only by talking to all of her monster-children and figuring out where she went to die her final death.  While this concept is cool, the implementation has, so far, eluded me.)

The Mantigon resembles an enormous old man stretched until he was 30' tall.  His grimacing face sags atop hunched shoulders, and it drags its boneless tail wherever it goes.

For the last few centuries, it has been offering a bounty for the other children of Yalys.  His belly bulges with the weight of its devoured siblings: strong enough to contain them, but not to digest them, as Yalys mastered the creation of immortal beasts early in her career.

The Mantigon lives with his wife, the Dragon Hen, in a stinking cave made all the more wretched by the Mantigon's constant digestive complaints.

Unlike his children, the Mantigon does not eat people.  His guts are full enough.  However, people who annoy him are hurled from the adjacent cliff.  Most people annoy him.

The only conversation he enjoys is slander.  He enjoys hearing horrible gossip.  Betrayals, catifights, scandals.  He cares nothing for truth, only extravagant descriptions of all the goats the the king secretly enjoys fucking.

(Stats as HD 8 giant that can breath stinking cloud every 1d4 rounds.  Non-magical weapons deal half-damage against him and cannot reduce him below 1 HP.  Nothing he eats can harm him.)

He welcomes two types of visitors.  Guests are often invited into his filthy cave to share one of his wife's enormous eggs, cooked over a low fire.

The first type are those who bring him works of art, the more ancient and irreplaceable the better.  He pays for these with gold from dead kingdoms.  Then he smashes the works of art and eats them.  His gums bleed from pottery shards, and leaded paints give him shooting pains behind the eyes, but still he gorges himself on these.

The second type are the bitter old men who wish to become manticores.

trampier, of course

A person who wishes to become a manticore must fulfill three criteria.  They must be:

  • old
  • male
  • spiteful
More specifically, the horrible old man must also have a grudge that they want to settle. 

The Mantigon sometimes accepts those who match only two of these criteria, but never less than that.

Perhaps the orphaned Mantigon feels kinship with these fellow embittered souls.  Or it seeks to emulate his departed creatrix.  Or perhaps it's just a colossal dick that likes sowing discord.

The Mantigon will interview potential candidates to ensure that they are indeed old, hateful men, and that their grudge is indeed genuine.  There may be tests of spitefulness involved.  

The grudge must be one that a manticore, but not an old man, could achieve.  Usually this involves killing someone or ruining something.

Once accepted, the Mantigon cleans out one of his wife's eggs (they are always born empty--she is infertile) and stuffs the old man inside it.  He uses his saliva to seal up the egg, and it is given back to the Dragon Hen to incubate.  Nine days later, a small manticore hatches out of it.

It is unknown if the Mantigon can make other types of manticores, but regardless, all of the manticores that you will encounter will be flying lions with the heads of bitter old men.

The first thing they do is fulfill their original grudge.  This usually involves killing a local authority, destroying the farm they were forced out of, or eating some teenagers who made too much noise.

Then the manticore disperses.  (They do not return to the Mantigon, who has no more wish to hang out with a bitter old asshole than anyone else.)  However, from time to the Mantigon calls his manticores back and holds court.  It is unknown what, if anything, is discussed at these meetings. 

Manticores have unique psychologies.  While their initial moods are as varied as any humans, they invariably turn towards resentment.  

Roll reaction rolls normally.  On a neutral or better result, the manticore is talkative and possibly even friendly.  But as the encounter continues, the manticore will begin to grow resentful (over things that the party has and it lacks, such as youth, love, or thumbs) or insulted (as it begins to imagine veiled insults at every opportunity).  The only thing that keeps them calm is a steady supply of slanderous gossip accompanied by (at a minimum) the minor acts of casual cruelty.  

(Manticores don't actually enjoy widespread killing and cruelty.  Auschwitz, for example, would horrify one, and it would probably seek to avenge itself on the perpetrators.  Manticores prefer smaller actions, like breaking a kitten's tail and laughing at its pain, then spiking it to the ground when its mewling became aggravating.)

Everything that a manticore interacts with eventually becomes an object of resentment.  Opponents, their weapons, their clothes, et cetera.

A manticore will always devour a slain foe, their clothing, their weapons, their belongings.

Unlike their father, the Mantigon, they have no special ability to consume objects.  Bones will be splinted and wood will be chewed.  It is not uncommon to come across a manticore gnawing on a half-eated sword, cursing a dead knight with bleeding gums and broken teeth (which constantly regrow, like a shark's).

But they cannot digest the metallic chunks that they gag down, and such indigestible items are usually vomited back out.

That's the daily routine for many manticores.  Gnaw, bleed, gag, swallow, vomit, curse, and repeat.  

Indigestible items are concentrated in the tail, where the strongest elements become tail spikes.  

Such consumption is a difficult task, and the area around a manticore's lair are often littered with half-eaten objects, many having been swallowed and vomited up several times.  The manticore will always return to these objects once its mouth and throat have had a chance to heal.

In combat, they prefer to make strafing runs while riddling their target with spikes (which are later recovered and painfully re-swallowed).  

If a manticore is angry at you (and this is the default result) and is denied the reasonable catharsis of killing you, it will follow you, circling high above you, seeking to spite you in any way that it can.  It will try to kill people that look like they might know you.  It will yell down obscene things about your parentage.  It will scare away game and trample helpful herbs.  It will seek out water sources so that it can piss on you (but from a few hundred feet up, this is nothing more than the occasional droplet).

HD 5  AC chain  Claw/Claw/Bite 1d8/1d8/1d4  Tail Spikes 1d10 + poison
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 6

*Tail Spikes -- A manticore can make up to three separate tail spike attacks, but they must be at three separate targets, and no two targets can be more than 10' apart.  A manticore will be encountered with 1d10+10 spikes (track them).  These spikes are functionally identical to the iron spikes you can buy in town.

*Poison -- 1d4 per minute for 3 minutes.  Targets under the effects of a manticore's poison become bitter and resentful, and cannot aid their allies (unless their life depends on it).  Instead, they laugh at their friends' suffering, and will mock them even as they die.

The iron in a manticore's diet supplies the iron in their tail spikes.  If they are unable to achieve sufficient metal in their diet, the spikes will be stone (from eating dust) or bone (usually from suckling at cows' teats, after laming them), and will deal less damage (1d8 rather than 1d10).

There are rumors of more exotic types of manticore spikes.  Cursed spikes from a manticore that ate a cursed sword.  Golden spikes from a manticore that gained a dragon's hoard.  Metaphysical spikes from a dragon who ate too many philosophers.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The GLOG: Wizards

I'm not happy with it, but I'm getting real fucking tired of rewriting it.

My OSR-compatible rules for wizards can be found right. . .

They include the Illusionist, Necromancer, and Orthodox Wizard (the most traditional one).

I think these wizard rules are cooler than a witch's tit and hotter than a witch's other tit, but if you aren't interested is wading through another homebrew in search of bits to steal, here are the parts that I think are the most hackable:

  • I think the whole spell slots + casting dice is pretty elegant.  It removes the whole quadratic wizard thing and gives players a clear idea of how much spellpower they have and are bringing to bear.  (I actually give them aluminum casting dice at the start of each in-game day.  It's very tangible.)
  • Book Casting is a great ability.  It actually makes wizards feel more like wizards, since they're wading into combat with their big dorky spellbooks out, chanting stuff.
  • Vancian Preparation would be good to port into a 5e game, except maybe give a different benefit.  Maybe +1 to the spell slot, can only be used 1/day.
  • Giving mono-class bonuses is a great fucking idea and I'm sad I didn't hit on it sooner.  Just: I think it's a good idea to incentivize the all-wizard party or the all-thief party.  It makes the game experience more diverse, gives us more ways to play the game.
  • You'll notice that a lot of the old-school spells are a lot more powerful, and a lot more hackable.  A lot of them have multiple uses.  I tried to make spells like feather(fall), floating disk, lock, and levitate more comparable to sleep on the scale of usefulness.
  • Also check out the Illusionist's Final Doom where they turn into an illusion and get stuck there.  There's enough there for a blog post on its own.
  • I tried to give a lot of diversity in the undead that low-level necromancers can raise.  They all have different functions, and the necromancer's corpse economy means that they'll have to pick their favorite.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starfighter Samwise

I normally spend my lunch breaks writing down D&D ideas on the backs of receipts and then losing them in my car, but today I spent my time thinking about an idea for a video game.

I'm a fan of bullet hell games.  (If you haven't played them, they're similar to shoot-em-ups like Gradius, except cramped and tactical, in the sense that you learn to anticipate bullet patterns rather than respond to random enemy behavior).  It's a pretty well-developed genre, and once you dig into it, there's a hell of a lot of variety, both in interesting boss mechanics and in tactics.

But bullet hell games never have a good story </opinion>.  Like, some games have such good stories that I have fun just talking about the story (Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Half-Life 2) completely independent of the gameplay.

This is perhaps tough to do for a bullet hell game, because you're basically just a floating dot that spews out a wall of bullets at other floating dots that are also spewing out walls of bullets in an otherwise featureless landscape.  

It's not a genre that lends itself to usual story touchstones (doors, people, a sense of place).

Anyway, here's my script for a bullet hell / shoot-em-up game that will probably never get made.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Filling the Dragonhole

In this post, you get to watch me try to flesh out my dragon hole dungeon.  This is just me spitballin' ideas, in preparation for actually writing the thing.

So we got these six dragons, right?   And a rough idea of their personalities and collections, see?.  Maybe not so much their goals or wants, but I'll work on that later, once I have a better idea of the relationships between them.  That part can come last because it's the part that's most dependent on other things.

Saint-Leonard Underground Lake
Dungeon Layout

The recipe of "ancient X now repurposed by Y" is an old formula, but a good one.  In this case, it's an ancient water distribution system that was later used by a mother dragon and her brood.

There's a huge central shaft going down to a reservoir (or many reservoirs).  Right now my leading idea is a big shaft leading down to a sealed stone building in the middle of a perfectly spherical reservoir, maybe with a couple of pillars running up alongside it all the way to ground level (both as stairwells, but also as places to put ancient machinery and shit).

Okay, that sounds cool.  It also sounds big.  I might need two scales of map: one for the dragonhole itself and the other for the individual lairs.


Once there was a mated pair of dragons.  A knight slew the father.  The mother fled with her seven kids and decided to hide in a big hole in the ground.  She was paranoid and controlling.

Eventually the knight died of old age and her six kids grew up.  One of her kids was killed by the other six (specifically Vulpernia) for breaking her most important rule: don't let people see you.

Then the mother died and her delusional daughter, Emerald Egg, has started turning her into a dracolich.  The other five dragons don't know this last detail, and just keep living their fucked up, egocentric lives in what is basically a subterranean apartment building for emotionally underdeveloped dragons.


The first part of the dungeon is going to be descending down the huge bore into the earth. It needs to be big enough for dragons to take off and fly around inside of it, so. . . maybe 500' across?  That's a big hole.

It's also covered in ivy and flowers, which the surgeongbirds feed on when they can't get proper blood to drink.  The flowers are watered by numerous tiny streams that flow into the circular pit, some of which break off into tiny cataracts, all of which disintegrate into mist before they fall to the reservoir at the bottom.  They grow out of cracks in the stone.

There are "balconies" on the way down.  These are actually just mountings for pieces of machinery that have been long since torn off.  (This site was previously used to pump water up into space, although that fact will never be important.)

PCs climbing down into the dragon hole will have to deal with a swarm of surgeon birds.  (Plate armor is an effective deterrent.  So is just feeding them with bladders full of blood.  So is fire.)

Okay, that's the normal, expected stuff.  What weird stuff can I throw into this balcony-encrusted murder hole?  (I can always trim back the weird stuff later, so it's good to vomit up a bunch of it now.)

Think of this as a menu of oddball shit I can choose from later.

Flower pots.  These belong to Vulpernia.

Maybe a little fairy or something.  Maybe riding in a chariot or hot-air balloon pulled by hummingbirds.  Maybe the fairy lives in a birdhouse.  Maybe they all live in birdhouses.  Maybe all the birdhouses are different, and are famous buildings identical to the ones that Ashrendar has in his lair.

Actually, fairies are lame and being carried by six hundred exhausted hummingbirds is cooler. I'll see if I can find a way to work that in there.

Drakencult berserkers being carried by hummingbirds????!!!??

At least one surgeonbird has tasted some dragonblood somehow (their beaks are long enough to reach a vein, much less pierce a scale).  It's probably bigger and weirder.  Maybe it's the intentional pet of one of the dragons (Vulpernia?) and wears a little collar.

Messenger birds flying through.  Ravens?

Huge, horrifying noises as some reservoir machinery struggles against death.

Garnos' resting balcony.  It's got a water trough, dried blood, cow bones, and a live cow with broken hips.  In fact, that's the sound the PCs will probably hear as they descend down the sides of the hole--rushing water and the bellows of a dying cow.

Maybe the flowers are linked to the birds in a literal fashion, and turn to look at you if you start killing surgeonbirds.  Maybe if you kill a crap-ton of birds, the vines will turn on you.  They'll stop being easy handholds and start falling out of the wall as soon as you put your weight on them.  They might fall on you in long strips (like lumberjacks being killed by huge strips of bark falling on them.)

A warning, like skeleton stuck in the ivy, or the shields of dead knights.  (But maybe this is laying it on a bit heavy and maybe I should save it for later?)

Rainbows from the falling mist.

Beehive growing inside something.  Valuable thing amid the combs?

A huge air current that blows upward every 60 minutes for 3 minutes.  If you had a parachute, you could ride it out of there.

A painted sign, metaphorically.  The draconic equivalent of Home Sweet Home.  (This is a stupid idea.)

Carnivorous flowers?  (Nah.)

Garnos' Drakencult

Before the party reaches Garno's lair proper, they'll need to get past his guys.  These are muscular crazy dudes who used to be dragon hunters.

So, they dress like ex-dragonhunters.  One dude armed with a bladed grappling hook, wearing only a loincloth.  Another dude with a turtleshell shield that's large enough to hide under (+8 to save vs dragonbreath, but not very useful otherwise).  One chick wearing nothing but a dragon-headed helmet, carrying an extremely long spear.

So these guys, they worship Garnos and watch his back.  What are they like?  Probably like warboys.  Or ork boyz.  They probably have at least one guard post-type thing.  But what else do they do?

Probably at least one or two crazy-as-fuck things.  Like jumping off the balcony down into the reservoir, 1000' below.  Or jumping through a ring made of swords (Garnos is the one with an insane weapon collection, remember?) where jumping too far or too short results in severe injuries.

Or maybe there is a room with spears sticking up out of the ground, and they stand on top of them while wearing steel boots with leather glued to the soles, like in those kung-fu movies.  Falling over usually means getting impaled.  And you can fight down among the standing spears, all cramped.  (Rules for confined places, plus non-thrusting weapons get another penalty to hit.)

They poop inside buckets inside a treasure chest (to minimize the stink) and then dump it over the side.  Therefore, at least one room will have treasure chests containing shitty buckets.

Stupid armor, like a helmet made entirely from swords.

Stupid weapons, like a huge sword-tree made from smaller swords.

Some ridiculously large guy (stats as ogre) who can wield these ridiculous things in a way that is suddenly not ridiculous any more.

Garnos probably has a bunch of captured dragon-killing weapons, like ballistae and catapults.  The drakencult uses these to execute people (sort of like how Kim Jong-un supposedly executed a general with a mortar).

A barracks and a private room for Third Fang, Garnos' lieutenant.  These dudes probably think of themselves as dragons-to-be, so they probably emulate Garnos to a lesser extent.  Some of them probably keep miniature hoards of their own.  Maybe tiny berserker dolls.

A pile of grappling hooks and rappels.  If they're Garnos' private SWAT team, they need a way to navigate the dragon hole quickly.

A back tunnel that connects to one of the vertical shafts, which is both illuminated and protected by ancient Elvish ashakka.

Berserker dog, also mad on dragonblood.

Under a sheet, Garnos' war helmet, designed to help him kill dragons.  His siblings would be very disturbed to learn of its existence.

A shrine where they can actually worship Garnos.  Probably just a platform with some kneeling pillows arranged around it.  This is probably where he also feeds blood to his loyal dudes.  Dragons are armored all over so he probably has to cut the inside of his eyelid, and then the berserker just drinks the blood out of the cupped flesh of his lower eye while Garnos just stares at you.

It's creepier when you remember that Garnos basically never talks.

How To Talk To Garnos

You make declarative and interrogative statements.  If Garnos hears something that he disagrees with, he bites you, or maybe just breaks something.

Thief: . . . so you see, Vulpernia needed someone to fix the plumbing.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: So, if you can let us pass, that would be great.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Are the pipes in this direction? (points in wrong direction)

Garnos: (whips his tail behind him, cracking the wall)

Thief: Uh, down this other hallway then? (points in proper direction)

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Then we'll take our leave, Oh Incinerator of Cattle Herds.

Garnos' Lair

Every dragon shapes reality around them, making it more like their own expectations.  (That's part of the reason why they're such confident jerks.)  This happens in a way that a dragon wouldn't notice.  A dragon remembers (falsely) that a coin in scuffed, and next time he checks the coin actually is scuffed, confirming what the dragon thinks he already knows.

This is why dragon fear is so potent.  Dragons assume all humans are cowards.  After all, nearly all the humans they see are fleeing.

It also effects the environment.  You could think of it as psychic emanations subtly warping the environment (since that explanation has the same effect) but its really more like reality fluffing the pillows to make things more comfortable for the most valued guest.  (Dragons are more real than other things around them.  They are the Most Real Things.)

In Garnos' lair, this basically boils down to two things.

1. The first time a person is injured in Garnos' lair, they flip out and enter a rage like a barbarian (it is difficult to exit the rage).  Afterwards, they can enter the rage whenever they want, as long as they remain in Garnos' lair.

2. Once the party starts fucking with Garnos (stealing significant things, killing his warboys) reality begins to act against them.  Any source of fire will begin acting against them.  Torches will start throwing embers onto flammable stuff, lanterns will sputter out and die when you need them most.  Etc.  This won't happen more than once every 10 minutes.

Garnos' Hoard

This would be a good place to put a hallway lined with the shields of the would-be dragonkillers.  Bent, charred, bloodied, and each insignia unique.

The first thing that Garnos hoards is brave heroes.  He has nothing but respect for the steady stream of men who arrive to kill him.

So, there are a few dudes scattered around his lair.  A paladin with broken ankles, placed on a high shelf (30' off the ground).  A starving, dehydrated valkyrie at the bottom of a 20' hole.  A psychotic wizard under a 5000 pound hemispherical reactor vessel, trapped like a beetle under a shot glass.

Then Garnos has his main hoard--weapons.  Just picture a room covered in them and then keep adding more weapons.  Take a realistic number of weapons and then multiply it by 100.  Sword chandeliers.  Arrowhead mandalas.  A tunnel lined with daggers, all of them pointing at you.

Of course there are some magic weapons just lying around the place.  Maybe they're buried under a pile of other swords, but the PCs can find them because they're emitting light or crying out (audibly or psychically).

The most common twist is that the sword is evil and cursed, but not entirely useless.  That's a cliche for a reason, and so that one stays on the table.

What about two rival magic swords?  Each one will only agree to let you wield it as long as you fight the other magic sword in a duel to the death.  The opponent must be of equal skill, there must be no cheating, and the losers (sword and wielder) must be killed (beheading and sundering).

The last thing that Garnos hoards is alcohol.  He's a little bit ashamed of this vice, and so he doesn't put it out in the open.  It's probably semi-hidden in his lair somewhere.

Anyway, it's just an alcohol collection that would make Nero jealous.  This is Garnos' bed, and it is where he sleeps.

Perhaps the floor is covered with broken glass.  It's too small to pierce Garnos' skin (to him, it's just rough sand) but the chunks are huge enough that the room is basically caltropped.

The floor is definitely covered with oil.  Garnos is fireproof, and he loves to burn things.  If anyone attacks him in his own bedroom, the first thing he's going to do is set the floor on fire.

He's not immune to smoke (though he is more tolerant than a human would be).

Quick Ideas For Magic Swords

A sword that can turn into dust, and then you can cut anywhere in the dust.

A sword that can cut anything 1/day (ignore armor).

A sword that can shatter non-magical swords.

A sword whose cuts don't take effect until you kiss the pommel.

Idea for the Treasure Curse

All dragon treasure is cursed.  Remember how Smaug's gold caused greed?  It's basically canon, dudes.

All of Garnos' treasure is filled with his arrogance, rage, and love of combat.  Anyone who wears or uses any of his treasure hoard must take a barbarian level the next time they level up (unless they already have at least one barbarian level already).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Non-Euclidean Geography

This is a continuation of my non-Euclidean architecture posts (part 1, part 2) where I'm not going to postulate anything new, just expand on an idea in part 2 about multi-directional gravity.  See also, the three-sided square hallway in the Meal of Oshregaal.

So, here's a picture of the room you're in right now, viewed from the side.

It's got a chair in it, and doors at both sides.  (You should really think about getting some more furniture.)
The arrows represent the direction and strength of gravity.  As you can plainly see, the gravity in your room points straight down in all places with a normal amount of force (9.8 m/s^2).

But here's another room.  In this room, gravity is upside down!  The doors are in the same places (down), but the chair is now sitting on the ceiling.  The gravity is uniform throughout the room, with moderate strength throughout.

But what fresh new hell is this?  It looks like this third room has both types of gravity in it.  On the west, the gravity points in the normal direction, but in the east, the gravity is inverted.

But that's still nothing too fancy, as far as D&D is concerned.

(By the way, if you stand with one foot in a normal-gravity zone and the other foot in an upside-down-gravity zone, you'll start to do cartwheels in place as one side of your body falls up and the other side of the your body falls down.)

How about this room?  Notice the difference?

In that room above this paragraph, there is no abrupt reversal of gravity.  Instead, gravity gets smaller near the room until it eventually reverses.  It's a gradual inversion, instead of a rough curtain of gravity that you pass through

Let's see how complex we can make this, shall we?

Here's a room where all the gravity points to the center.  Anything not nailed down in this room will fall to the center of the room, where it will join the chair in a big Katamari pile.
If you fell on the chair, you could hang on to it.  Stand on it.  But trying to jump from the chair to the door in the (local) ceiling would be hard--if you jumped off the chair, you'd send the chair crashing against the opposite wall, while you wouldn't move very much at all.  (This is because you weigh a lot more than the chair.  Imagine trying to jump off a planet the size of a tennis ball.)

Here's a room that's the opposite of that one: one where the gravity falls away from the center of the room.

notice the 'B' at the top
In this room, you'd walk past the chair, walk over the door on to the wall, and keep walking across the ceiling, then down the other wall, until you returned to your (much abused) chair.


Your journey has ups and downs in the local sense.

Do you see what happens when you walk past the chair, going left to right?  The gravity goes from pointing down-left (where you were walking leaning forward) to pointing down-right (where you must start walking leaning back).  And when you are walking while leaning back relative to the floor, it is because you are descending a hill.  Likewise, when you are walking while leaning forward relative to the floor, it is because you are walking uphill.

Therefore, the chair sits atop A LOCAL HILL.

Sorry for the caps, but if you don't understand this section, the rest of this essay isn't going to make much sense.

To think about it another way, the corners of the room are lower (locally speaking) than the walls.  Imagine that there was an immovable rod fixed in the exact center of the room, and you had tied a rope to it, and you were swinging from the rope around and around the room, so that your feet dashed across all four surfaces (floor, wall, ceiling, other wall, repeat) like the hand of a clock.

While swinging from this rope, if you wanted to touch one of the corners with your feet, you would have to descend the rope, down to the corner, since the corner is farther from the center of the room, and therefore lower (locally). 

When I say locally, I mean that if a very tiny ant were passing through, that's how it would seem to the ant.  The corners would be downhill and the chair would be on the top of a hill.  (If you were a giant that filled the whole room, this whole thing goes out the window.)

So, here is another picture of the same room.

In this diagram, the gravity is pointing down, and the floor/walls/ceiling are the ones that are bent.  

THIS DIAGRAM IS LOCALLY IDENTICAL TO THE LAST DIAGRAM.  We have fixed the wonky gravity by making the space wonky instead.

Imagine an ant, walking counterclockwise from the 'B' on the ceiling.  He walks through a valley (the top-left corner), over a hill that includes the (left) door, into another valley (the bottom-left corner), and then over a hill that includes the chair (the actual, global floor of the room), and so on.

Anyway, once you recognize that the last two diagrams depict the same space (locally, from the surface of the walls), we can move on.  (Yes, larger walking-things like giants break this rule; that's literally what makes this space non-Euclidean.)

This next room is subtly unlike the last.  See the difference?
notice the 'A' at the top
This time, the gravity is pointed toward the nearest wall instead of away from the center.

This makes a big difference, because now there are no more local hills and valleys--everything you are walking on is always going to be flat ground.

Here's another local map of the ant's journey across all four surfaces of room A.

And here's another local map of the ant's journey:

The ant doesn't notice the corners because he's really, really tiny.  Just a point in space, really.  If he had eyes as the approached the wall in the first diagram, he would see that the wall curved up at him, just as he would see that the ground was truly flat (non-Euclidean) in the second diagram.  But our and has no eyes, only six infinitesmal footsies that he puts in front of each other.

Even for a point moving along a line, the direction of gravity determines whether the point is going uphill or downhill.

Here's two more pictures of surfaces that are locally flat:
i forgot to add doors and a chair to this one
i also forgot to add doors and a chair to this one

Anyway, once you recognize that the last five images depict the same local journey for the ant, we can move on.  (In all five diagrams, the ant feels like he's walking on flat ground the whole time, since the gravity is always pointed straight towards the surface he is walking on--local down.)

By now, it should be simple to understand what this next diagram would feel like to a person walking across it.  

the slope, as it appears (gravity lines are invisible)

The gravity is normal, except for the middle, where it slants to the left.  If you were to walk across it, it would feel (but not appear) like this:
the slope, as it feels
Basically, an incline.

What would it feel like to walk across this, from the left to the right?  Well, it wouldn't look any different, because it looks like a flat plain.  But as you got into the diagonal-gravity section, it would suddenly feel like you started walking up a hill.  You might fall backwards if you were unprepared.  And once you left the diagonal-gravity section, it would be like walking on flat ground again.  And if you tripped while walking along the diagonal-gravity section and tumbling all the way to the bottom (the left edge of the diagonal-gravity zone).

You could even make the diagonal-gravity section into a sideways-gravity zone, and then you'd have to climb your way across flat ground.

How about this one:

the flat valley, globally (how it appears from far away)
Although it would look flat from a distance, once you actually walked across it, it would feel like this:

the flat valley, locally (how it feels to walk over it)
The gravity changes are gradual, rather than abrupt, so the inclines in the local valley likewise change slope gradually.  It's a rolling valley, rather than the abrupt ramp of the previous example.

Walking across the flat valley would feel exactly like walking down into a real valley; it just wouldn't look that way.  From the bottom of the valley, you'd have no trouble seeing out of the valley, as if your vision was curving.  (And this is an important point--is it the local or the global version of the valley that is accurate?  From a local standpoint, you cannot tell if it is space or gravity that is bent.)

But it's a still a valley, right?  What happens if we fill it with water?

the flat lake, locally
Locally, the flat lake feels like a normal lake.  You walk downhill, enter the water, and swim around.  But from a distance, the lake looks like an enormous water droplet standing on a flat surface.

the flat lake, globally
If you were to walk towards it, you would feel yourself going downhill as you approached it (even though the ground feels flat).  You could run 'downhill' and even jump into the wall of water (equivalent to doing a bellyflop, since gravity is propelling you into the lake surface in both cases).

One big difference would be the light.  Since the lake doesn't sit in an optical valley, it would be well illuminated from sunlight hitting the lake on the backside.  The water would be lit up.  You may see fish and freshwater whales swimming around in there.

Here's the counterpart to the flat lake:

the flat mountain, globally

the flat mountain, locally
 What if you built a building on top of the flat mountain?

Since the gravity lines are always parallel to local up and down, you'd have to build your walls parallel to them.  That means that the walls of your mountaintop castle would appear to be slanting inwards.

It would look like this from far away.
the flat mountain castle, globally
 But once you were actually inside the thing, the walls would feel vertical to you.
the flat mountain castle, locally
Who lives inside?

The Dyzantine Brothers

People will talk freely, when they are frightened.  They will tell you about the three Dyzantine brothers, who live in the castle atop the Flat Mountain.

The brothers are cursed, they say.

Only one brother ever appears at a time, since the other two are cursed to sleep.  The brothers are always caked in frost, despite the heavy jackets they wear, and their breath is always chill bellows, no matter how brightly the sun shines.

One brother is very young, another brother is a youth, and another is middle-aged and stricken with gangrene.

That is what they will tell you, but they are wrong.

The truth is this:

Once there was a wizard who sought to move in the fourth axis, and to move in a direction that was neither up, nor down, nor any of the cardinal directions.  His name was Dyzan.

But three dimensional flesh cannot move in a fourth-dimensional direction, and so he needed to give himself a four-dimensional body.

He found a way to do this involving his own lifespan.  Time would be the fourth dimension, and he would alloy it to his body.

And so Dyzan became a four-dimensional worm.

To three-dimensional human eyes, he looked exactly the same, but he had hijacked his timeline, and plucked all of his past and future selves and wedded them together.

To four-dimensional eyes, Dyzan was a worm.  He was a baby at one end, and an old man at the other.  In the middle, he was larger in circumference, being a full-grown man.  But he was most definitely a worm, being soft and pink and tapered at both ends.

Dyzan immediately had two problems.

The first is that his worm stretched from birth to death, which meant that one end of his four-dimensional body terminated in an old, dying man.

And the dying man did what dying men do, and died.

Dyzan's immune system didn't flow in the fourth dimension.  His blood and lymph were isolated in three-dimensional layers.  When dead old man at the end of Dyzan's bulk began to rot, there was nothing to slow it down.

Dyzan has been rotting from the fat end ever since.  Hence the gangrene that is rapidly consuming his four-dimensional body.

Dyzan's small end, the one that was made from the newborn Dyzan, is fine.  It's a bit larger now, having aged a couple of years.  This irks Dyzan, who prefers his baby self to remain a baby, but his fourth axis is not Time, but now Space in the fourth dimension.

The second problem is that our universe is paper-thin.  To move a short distance in the fourth-dimension is to thrust yourself into the cold void of the outer dark.  This is why Dyzan is always cold--most of his body is in the lightless, freezing nothingness that is outside our three-dimensional slice of the multiverse.

Dyzan is seeking a vehicle that will grant him passage through the outer dark, to a four-dimensional world where he can be a four-dimensional worm in peace.

He didn't really think this one through.

As an NPC, Dyzan will be more than happy to explain how dimensions and non-Euclidean spaces work.  He hopes to get people interested in such things, so that they will be more eager to help him find a way to distant, extra-dimensional shores.  (He can be a quest giver NPC.)

He doesn't have much time.  He's almost halfway rotted already, but he is a long worm, and the gangrene needs to rot through 86 years before it kills him.  The baby--baby Dyzan--will die last.  He'll probably be about four or five years old--too young to understand what is happening.

Among his treasures are an immovable rod and an unstoppable rod (whose velocity cannot be changed by anything while the switch is depressed).  (He can also be an opponent that the PCs attempt to rob.)

In his tower, Dyzan also keeps a gorbel.  He has been trying to coax the secrets of void ships out of the beast, with no success thus far.

Stats as a level 9 wizard.

*Wrap-around - Dyzan can flex his body in the fourth dimension, curling it around so that re-enters the material (three-dimensional) plane as we know it.  This functionally gives him three bodies.  These bodies share HP and spells but otherwise take actions independently.

When he uses his Wrap-around ability, it looks like a frost-bitten corpse has just teleported into the room.  The corpse then rapidly de-ages back to a living age and attacks as normally.  Conversely, if Dyzan puts his smaller, baby-sized end into our dimension, it appears as if a two-year old has just teleported into the room, who rapidly ages up to an appropriate age.

*Fourth-dimensional Shove - Dyzan can shove you into the fourth dimensional outer void that surrounds our dimension.  Treat this as a normal shove attempt.  If it is successful, you are now in the outer void, riding a four-dimensional worm made out of the entire lifespan of a desperate wizard.  It's very cold (1 hp damage per turn) and dark.  You can get back to your own dimension by climbing along the wizard until you reach the part that is currently passing through our dimension.  So if you were pushed out by a 19-year-old wizard and you know that the 23-year-old wizard is still back in the Flat Mountain castle, you would have to climb across the 20-year-old wizard, the 21-year-old wizard, and the 22-year-old wizard in order to reach the 23-year-old wizard who is in the warm, well-lit room trying to kill your friends.

In this case, a year equals 100'.  You'll be climbing along the wizard-worm in a lightless void, but you will not suffocate.  The outer dark is filled with stale air and a very low concentration of peracetic acid, you poor bastard.