Thursday, April 23, 2020

Lair of the Lamb: Final

EDIT: PDF updated on 24Apr2020.

EDIT: Ben was kind enough to supply some excellent maps for those of you using Roll20 (or similar).

So here's a 51 page PDF that contains:
  • An abbreviated version of the GLOG as I currently run it.
  • A full-size dungeon and level 0 funnel.
click the skull
It's not a complete version of the GLOG.  You'll probably need GLOG: Wizards to fill in all the blanks, but you're smart enough to put all that together.

First, a lot of the credit for this goes to my patrons.  I've asked them what type of content they would like to see, and a majority of the responses revolved around either (a) compiling my GLOG in a single place, and (b) a finished dungeon.

Thank you so much for all the support.  And also thank you a little bit for yelling at me.  It all helps.

The third group, who answered (c) more Centerra lore, will have to be satisfied with the updated map at the end of this post that shows the location of Lon Barago, where this adventure takes place.

Second, this is not the end of this document.  I'm working with some friends and artists to create a deluxe version of the Lair of the Lamb.  It will be a proper PDF, with proper layout.  It will be available in printed format (somehow).  It might get Kickstarted.  Who knows?  Literally anything can happen in 2020.  

Third, this might look like a free adventure, but it is not free.  The cost of downloading this PDF is that you must let me know how it goes when you run it at your table.  I'm especially interested in: 
  • What path people take through the dungeon?
  • How many secrets did they find?
  • Is the Lamb too threatening?  Not threatening enough?  Did they kill it?
  • Were the ghouls killed, avoided, or befriended?  Did you have enough guidance to roleplay the ghouls well?
  • How much pressure was there for light sources?
  • How much pressure was there for ropes and weapons?
Happy crawling!

click to embiggen

Monday, April 20, 2020

Dungeoncrawling: Languages

The Problem With Languages

Here's how a lot games use languages.  

Choose a language at random from this list of languages.  You don't know which ones will be useful.  If that language crops up in a game, then you get some bonus information.

That's a pretty shitty implementation.

1st Problem: Choosing languages is usually a blind choice.  You might try to predict what languages will be most useful, but if you're choosing it at character creation, you don't have enough information to make an informed choice.

2nd Problem: Groups will arbitrarily have different experiences in dungeons.  Due to random chance, one group of players will be able to talk to the kobolds in the dungeon, while another group will never have that option.

(Not that I'm against different groups having different experiences, but they should be the result of players choosing to not talk to the kobolds, not being excluded from the possibility.  And the dungeon designer should have a clear answer to this question "is this dungeon better or worse if we can talk to the kobolds?" and then design a dungeon that supports that answer.)

3rd Problem: Information is one of the resources a smart party stockpiles.  It is fuel for their schemes.  It is salvation when they are on their last legs.

Locking information behind an arbitrary language barrier is counter-productive.  The players never have a chance to earn the information--it's either available or it isn't.  Without the chance to earn the information, it turns into a coin flip.  Either the module is better with the information or it isn't.  Pick one.  (Hint: usually, the answer is just to give them the info.)

If the information makes the game better, give it to them in Common.

If not, don't.

Languages in the GLOG

Everyone speaks Common.  No one speaks any other language.

Languages are treated like a Skill, and take up a Skill Slot.  The only difference is that they improve twice as fast (gaining +2 per improvement instead of +1).

There are three implementations of languages.

1. The information is available in Common, and is accessible to everyone.  (Good default choice.)

Before you leave the lighted realms of free info, think about what you gain by locking the information away behind a foreign language.  Is the game improved by this sequestration?

2. The language communicates occasional, optional bits of information, and the PCs have time to learn it if they wish.

Learning a language my allow access to a few foreign NPCs, it might allow you to speak to the goblins without an untrustworthy interpreter, or it might allow you to read the dungeon graffiti.  This only works if:
  • The foreign language isn't used to communicate anything essential, and there is a minimal penalty for not knowing the language.
  • The PCs have the opportunity to learn the language.
  • The PCs spend enough time here to learn the language over multiple sessions
Note the third point.  If the party doesn't have opportunities to learn the language, it doesn't matter that the language is learnable.

3. The information is inaccessible and there are no opportunities to learn this language prior to encountering it.  The party will have to (a) go to a Library to research it, (b) hire a linguist, or (c) use magic to decipher it.

I'm less and less a fan of #3 these days.

Not that it isn't fun to drag a complaining linguist through a dungeon, but there's an opportunity cost to be considered.  It takes a lot of time, words, and attention to find a linguist, negotiate the cost, keep the linguist alive in the dungeon, and extinguish the linguist when they catch on fire from reading the forbidden words.  It's not bad, it's just. . . are there better uses for your group's time and attention?

Secondly, what information would be better delivered in town, than in the dungeon?  Because delivery information in the dungeon (point-of-use) is probably preferred.

Maybe for dramatic pacing ("My god!  Do you know whose tomb we were in?")

Maybe for introducing quests ("According to this book, Zharkhoon was buried on his golden barge with his jeweled monkey sewn inside his chest.")

But even then, it's usually more satisfying to let hit points, torches, and spells be the reason that the party returns to town, not an inability to translate an inscription.

A library is a decent compromise, though.  It can be a good way to give them dungeon-related things to do while they are in town.  For example: "I need 10s up front.  I won't have time to translate it until tonight.  Come back tomorrow morning." 

And of course, magic is always a limited-used resource.  If a party wants to use magic to gain an advantage, that's always acceptable.  (If it wasn't, the DM should never have given them the magic in the first place.)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Dungeoncrawling: Hirelings

I'm working on Part 2 of Lair of the Lamb right now, and its turning into something different.  I think I want it to be an introduction to dungeoncrawling (and possibly the GLOG) with all of my scattered rulesets baked into it.

So, part of that means typing up those scattered rulesets.

Anyway, there are only two types of hirelings: henchmen and mercenaries.

Wallmaster from 3's Original Zelda Guide

Henchmen will work for half a share of the money, or for 1 silver per day (whichever is more).

Henchmen will not participate in combat, but they have 10 inventory slots at your disposal.  Their preferred position is wherever is safest.  They will refuse to do anything overtly risky, but can be coaxed to do moderately risky things with a Loyalty check.

Overtly risky tasks: being the first one down a hallway, pulling an unmarked lever.

Moderately risky tasks: standing watch in the hall while the party is in a room.


Mercenaries will work for a share of the money, or for 10s per day (whichever is more).

Each mercenary will do their best to stay close to the person they are attached to.  They give that person +2 Atk and +2 Damage in combat, but do not take combat turns by themselves.  If you would take damage that would give you lethal damage, there is a 50% chance that your mercenary is killed instead.

Mercenaries prefer to stand in the background whenever possible, but they will not shirk from combat.  They will take as many risks as the rest of the PCs.  If they notice that they are being asked to take more risks that the PCs (they are always forced to pull the lever), they will become as unwilling to take risks as henchmen.

Turning a mercenary into a +2/+2 buff is just done to speed things along.  If that simplification seems odious, or if it seems unreasonable within the fiction, feel free to detach them from the PC and treat them like a level 1 fighter.

All mercenaries that you'll hire at the local tavern are level 1 fighters by default, but you can encounter (and hire) other mercenaries as one of the many perks of adventuring.

A Level 2 Fighter gives you +3 Attack and +3 Damage, and can take two hits for you before dying.

A Level 1 Thief gives you +1 Attack and +1 Damage, but can be coaxed into picking locks and scouting rooms.

Loyalty Checks

Asking a hireling to take more risks than the rest of the party causes them to lose 1 Loyalty, regardless of whether or not they accept or refuse.

Good treatment causes their loyalty to go up by 1 or 2 points (to a maximum of 19).  Poor treatment causes their loyalty to go down by 1, 1d4, or 1d6 points.

Hireling Events

A possibility on the Random Encounter Table.

1. Two NPCs are fighting.  Describe the fight.  If you allow them both to fight, they both lose 1 Loyalty.  If the rest of the party supports one NPCs but not the other, the NPC that was supported gains 1 Loyalty and the other loses 1d4 Loyalty.

2. An NPC becomes demanding.  They want something from the party (more pay / more control over decisions such as where to go / a magic item).  If they do not get it, they lose 2 Loyalty.

3. Two NPCs have become best friends.  They now share a loyalty stat, and forcing them to separate may require a Loyalty check.

4. An NPC has decided that they want to be friends with one of the PCs.  They gain 1 Loyalty and will attempt to do something nice for you.  (A gift / information / a favor).

5. An NPC spends 10 minutes refusing to move.  It may be due to fear, a twisted ankle, a sudden nosebleed, or a bad feeling.

6. A random character (NPC or PC) must make a Wisdom check.  If they fail, they lose a random item (that makes sense).  It is in one of the previous 6 rooms.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Galleries of the Ghouls

Working on part 2 of Lair of the Lamb.  The map is done-ish and the room notes are finally coherent.  I think the 6 pink rooms are going to get cut, because this dungeon doesn't need a golem. 

It looks like this.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lair of the Lamb

I've been reading Conan again, and his mighty thews have inspired me to write up an old dungeon.  Basically, you were locked in a dungeon as a sacrifice to Something Terrible and now you've got to escape.  Get it

It's meant to be an introductory dungeon, suitable for newer players.  It's a level 0 funnel, so its not very friendly, but I think it teaches all the lessons that dungeoncrawling has to teach, and it teaches it in only 21 rooms.

One of my favorite things about funnels is that you can have awesome, lethal elements right next to the more mundane ones.  Or put another way, it's the only time you'll see a cabbage farmer hit a godling with a brick.

Since you start as a naked level 0 peasant, you don't have any items, much less any abilities.  So writing this has been an interesting study in minimalism for me.  They can't bring any torches into the dungeon, so how many torches should I stock the place with?  Where should I put them?  It has some of the same calculus as a survival horror game, I think.

A lot of the lethality is theatric.  If the Lamb stops and eats every one of its kills, the party can easily escape it, with only a single loss each time.  That will never incur a TPK.  It is still disruptive, though, and hopefully a little bit horrific.

I'm pretty proud with how many people there are to talk to in those 21 rooms.  One friendly, one antagonistic, one greedy, and one hungry.  The greedy one is a merchant on the surface, who will sell you items at a high markup, passing them through a tiny crack in the ground.  I don't think I've seen that one in a dungeon before.

There's also the pools from B1, because I liked those pools.  Only four mysterious liquids, though, which I think is a more reasonable number.

There's also breadcrumbs for characters to become a cleric or warlock after leaving the dungeon.

I'm worried that the environment might be a little too claustrophobic and confining, but we'll see.  There's only one loop in the dungeon (although there will be more once it links up with part 2.

The items may also need some rebalancing, but again, we'll see.

This is also a big departure from my usual approach, where I don't write up a PDF until I've playtested something 3+ times.  I've only run this dungeon once, a long time ago, and in a very different form.

I still intend to revise it though, so if YOU run this dungeon, let me know how it goes.  (Consider it to be payment for an otherwise free PDF.)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Legendarium: Diagetic Advancement

Last time I wrote about Big Fucking Treasure, which is the idea that treasure (and levelling up) comes from big, significant milestone treasures, rather than from the gradual accumulation of XP.  Mixed in with that post is the idea that these treasures were part of your character's story--you could append them to your name, as in:
Morbo the Ineffable, who stole back the Nosering of the Elephant King

Famous Loot = Level Ups = Character Legendarium

Many DMs roll their eyes when level 1 characters show up with an extensive backstory, yet players want their characters to have something unique about them.  A lot of OSR games don't give two shits about backstories, so hopefully this will help scratch that itch for players.

The Legendarium

Your legendarium is the part of your character sheet where you record all of your character's exploits, treasures, and failures.  It's all meant to highlight your character's progress, and its all tied to diagetic advancement (improving your character within the fiction, rather than based on abstracted mechanics).  It's your personal legend.

The Legendarium is also the back of your character sheet where you write all of this down.  It doesn't have any in-game impact, except perhaps as a source of titles.

Each section is associated with a particular type of memorable deed, and each section is associated with a specific type of character improvement.  There are three sections.

Tales of Treasure = Notable Treasures = Level Ups

Stories of Skill = Skill Usage = Skill Ups

Reports of Peril = Times You Almost Died = Bonuses to Certain Saves

The idea is that one day you'll be level 5, and you'll be able to flip to your Legendarium and see the adventures that brought you there.

by Ariel Perez
Tales of Treasure

This is essentially the same as what was described in my last post.

You level up by finding a big Treasure.  After you level up, you get to add something to your Legendarium.  If you ended up wielding the magic sword, you get to be

Morbo, Wielder of Blackrazor

Here's how leveling up works in my current GLoG:

Every level beyond the fourth awards +1 Helpful and nothing else.  (Novices struggle to protect themselves.  Veterans learn how to protect others.)

Stories of Skill

At the end of every session, every player describes a skill check that their character made, and then makes an Int check.  If you succeed on the Int check, that skill increases by 1 point.

If you didn't make any skill checks that session, you obviously can't improve any skills.  Trivial skill checks (trying to train Sailing by playing with toy boats) cannot be used to improve any skills.

Alternatively, you can study under someone.  For example, if you announce that you'll be spending the entire 2-week boat ride practicing your orcish with the orcish bosun, you can make a check to improve your orcish language skill at the end of the session.  You didn't make any checks, but you still had a good chance to learn the language.  Libraries work in a similar way.

Each time you improve a skill, you should add a sentence to your Legendarium describing how you used that skill.  Examples:
Morbo danced with Lucky Lady, the dancing horse, and learned several impressive new dance moves.
Morbo sailed poorly through the tornado maze of the Arcade, and was shipwrecked.

(A skill check doesn't have to be successful for you to learn from it.)

Here's how skills work in my current GLoG:

Skills start at +1 and go all the way up to +8, when you become a master of that skill.  You can then undertake a quest (described by your DM) to become a Grandmaster, which increases your skill to +10.  The DC for skills is always 16.

Every character has 4 skill slots.

by Yoshitaka Amano
Reports of Peril (and Scars)

Each time you almost die, you get +4 to save against that particular peril.

"Almost Dying" is defined as anything that deals lethal damage (brings you into negative HP), but can be extended to any save that could potentially kill your character.

Every time a character drops to negative HP and survives, try to find a way to give them an increase to a Save.  The save doesn't have to be proximal for them to get a bonus to it.  For example, if a fireball does 7 damage, but the next turn a sword wound causes them to start Dying, give them +4 bonus vs Fire.

If you well and truly cannot find a way to give them +4 to a type of save, give them +1 HP instead.

Each of these gives you a new line in your legendarium, and a new commemorative scar.

Every character has 4 scar slots.
The filthomancer of Froog stabbed Morbo directly in his bellybutton.  +1 HP.
Morbo survived the bite of the white widow, but the flesh of his left hand is forever bleached, and the nails a wrinkled grey.  +4 Save vs poison.
Here's how saves work in my current GLoG:

Saves are made with Dex, Con, or (most commonly) Cha.  The DC is always 20.

Since the average stat is a +5, the average save has only a 30% chance of being successful.  A +4 bonus to a type of Save is a welcome addition.

This replaces any other type of Save progression based on level.

Why Not Extend This to Attack Bonuses or Other Stuff?

I don't want to bog the GLoG down with too many systems.

"You survived the meltworms so you get Save +4 vs acid." is quick and can be done on-the-fly during a session.

Awarding skill-ups and level-ups at the end of a session takes more time.  Maybe just a few minutes, but I'm hesitant to add more items onto that list.

I'm already thinking about ways that thieves can add heists to their legendariums, or how rangers can add impressive kills to theirs.  (Maybe.)  But for everyone else, I don't want to put any more focus onto combat than there already is, and I don't want to incentive combat as much as I want to incentivize loot.

See also: Chris has a similar diagetic advancement scheme here.

a bone golem breaking out of a statue
from Rahasia, by DARLENE

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Popcorn Leveling and Big Fucking Treasure

So here's a fun game to play with your favorite game.  Look for ways to reduce the memory burden.  Look for ways to erase things from the character sheet.  Look for ways to strip the complexity from combat without removing any tactical richness, because a lot of that cruft doesn't add anything except time.  Complexity is a cost, so what are you buying?  Can you purchase it cheaper?

Anyway, this is my attempt to get rid of XP.

Popcorn Leveling

Treasure is worth money, and that's nice.  But not all treasure is Treasure.

If  you have a Treasure, it's always worth 1000 sp.  Each piece of treasure is worth one level-up at the end of the session, awarded to a single player.  If four players find two pieces of Treasure, then half of them will level up this session.  (This is the only way to gain levels now.)

Once treasure has been identified, you have an Awards Ceremony, where the level-up is awarded to a player in a semi-random fashion.

Identifying Treasure

Sometimes Treasure is identified as soon as the party sees it.
"This is black ambergris, dug from the stomach of the living mountain."
"This is the Ruby Eye of the Pain God, plucked from his principal idol."
Sometimes you gotta haul the Treasure to a sage and ask them what it is.
"This is a golden freedom collar, given in ancient Cheox when a slave won their freedom, usually for saving their master's house.  They didn't make many of these." 
"This is the Jeweled Egg of Vandrok!  It holds the spawn of Vandrok!  Get it out of my yurt!"
Treasures don't have to start with "The", but it helps.

Whatever you choose, though, it should be simple to identify the Treasure.  Don't make them jump through hoops--they jumped through enough when they pulled it out of a dungeon.

There's two reasons for this.

First, a dungeon tells a story through its items, and there are few items that players pay more attention to than treasure.  Even more-so when we're talking about Treasure.  This allows you to bring the history of the dungeon front and center.  It gives you a soapbox for you to tell you dungeon's backstory.  (And all DM's love telling their dungeon's backstory.)

Second, identifying the Treasure in town is a good way to keep the focus on the dungeon, rather than the town.  (If you're doing gold for XP, the dungeon is where the game is.)

Selling the Treasure

Games already have plenty of systems in place for players to sell the Treasure.  I will add that Treasure is never intrinsically useful, except as something that can be sold for a high price.  A huge ruby is the quintessential Treasure.

Although, you certainly don't have to sell the treasure.  You can always just keep the crown for bragging rights.

The Awards Ceremony

This takes place at the end of the session.

First, everyone votes on who most helped the party achieve their goals. They get a d12.

Next, you do the same thing for the runner up.  They get a d6.

MVP: 1d20 + 1d12
Runner Up: 1d20 + 1d6
Everyone Else: 1d20

Make a big deal when you award them their shiny d12 or d6.  Pretend that you are at an awards show. Be explicit about why they earned this.

The point of this is (1) to recapitulate how the party overcame their challenges, (2) praise people for being good at this game, and (3) teach ourselves how to be better at this game.  This is how we talk about what is tested, and what tactics proved to be most successful.  This is where newbies learn what the table expects of them.

Then everyone rolls their dice.  Whoever rolls highest will level up.  If there are multiple Treasures being cashed in, the second place roll gets a level-up, and so on.

If multiple players tie for the highest roll, they all level up and gain a Player-Player Bond.

If a character is at least level 4, they can choose to donate their level to another, lower level PC.

Additionally, once you level up, you can add that Treasure to your title, as in "I am Morbo, who stole the Masterful Mirror from the Crab Queen."


There are a couple of nice things about popcorn leveling.

First, you can now make the Treasures into the big, shiny rewards that they deserve to be.  The jeweled eyes of a giant idol might be a Treasure.  The lich's golden crown could be a Treasure.  A dragon might have several enormous gemstones in their hoard--each one a Treasure.

Players often respond well when goals are painted bright red and surrounded by flashing lights.  A dungeon where every room holds a small amount of treasure will feel very different than a dungeon where the purple wurm wears a diamond collar (and the players know that getting the collar off the purple wurm will result in one of them gaining a level).

I guess I'm also arguing against dispersed, smaller sources of XP, which is a slightly different argument, isn't it?

Second, this makes it easier for the adventure designer to stock a dungeon with an appropriate amount of loot.

Example: every floor of the dungeon is stocked with. . .

  • 1 Treasure that the party is 90% likely to find, and straightforward to retrieve once found.
  • 1 Treasure that the party is 60% likely to find, and straightforward to retrieve once found.
  • 1 Treasure that the party is 30% likely to find, and straightforward to retrieve once found.
  • 1 Treasure that is easy to find, but involves some difficulty in retrieving.
  • 1 Treasure that is easy to find, but will require a higher level party, or the expenditure of serious resources to retrieve.
  • 1 Treasure that is easy to find, but can only be retrieved by a high-level party expending serious resources to retrieve.
  • 1 Fuck-off Treasure that is not meant to be obtainable.
From Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Some groups will be unhappy at the amount of RNG that is incorporated into popcorn leveling.  XP is the most salient reward for good play, and is one of the primary motivators of player behavior.  It's not much work to track a single sum of XP, so why should we leave it to chance?

It's a good point, and I don't really have an answer to it.  Popcorn leveling might be a nonviable idea.

The enjoyment/hatred of popcorn leveling is going to enjoy on a group's tolerance for chaos, exuberance for big fucking treasure, and appreciation of a simpler character sheet.  XP might be a dissociated mechanic, but it is a well-tolerated mechanic, and people certainly don't complain about XP very much.

And even if you hate popcorn leveling, there's still a lot of parts of Treasure that are worth importing into your home game.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


Most everyone hates gnomes.  They're small, arrogant, and very good at killing people.  Let's discuss.


A dwarf would describe a gnome as a rare type of cancer that happens when gemstones are allowed to rot underground, instead of being mined and properly cut.  The gem goes to seed, but it's still a gem.

A human would tell you gnomes are diminutive humanoids with gemstone eyes.  Apparently, gnomes will buy gems from you at a good price, if you can keep the little fuckers from killing you first.  They have gemstone eyes and terrifyingly white teeth.

A gnome would tell you that they are victims of an ancient curse.  Sabu Monga, the Troll King, once turned nearly their entire race into stone.  But the surviving gnomes were persistent, and labored for generations to find all of their petrified kin, eventually restoring all of them. 

The Troll King saw this and was angered.  This time, the turned them all into gems--objects that are just as worthless as stones, but were designed to inspire mindless lust among the fleshy races.  They would covet these stones, and hide them in their vaults.  In this way, the Troll King tricked the other races into helping him lock away the gnomes forever.

This is the source of all gems, they say.


Just as dwarves claim all the gold beneath the earth, so do gnomes lay claim to all gems. 

Any gem can be turned into a gnome.  There is a certain process that only gnomes are fully proficient in.  The gem is washed with alternating bathes of milk and blood, before finally being buried in a rare salt.  After two weeks, a gnome-child crawls from the dirt, full of half-memories from the time it was a gem.

Dwarves are capable of the opposite process.  Bring them a gnome (living or dead), and through a process involving a a specialized set of vices, squeeze the gnome back into its gemstone state.  You will get paid and the dwarf will get a fine gem.  Everyone wins.

Despite all this, gnomes and dwarves get along as often as not.  They have the same enemies, underground.

All gnomes can speak with gems.  All gnomes remember much of what they experienced as a gem (so be careful what gems you sell to the gnomes).

Gnomes treat anyone carrying gems as a slaver.  Anyone who attempts to sell them gems is a dirty, filthy slavemaster, and deserves to be put to death for their offenses against freedom.  (They're pretty big on Freedom.)  But, if there is no way to kill the slavers, they will pay top dollar to purchase the freedom of their family.

Eyes like this.
This is Jupiter's sableye, from the pokemon manga.

Gnome Biology

Much like ants or apes, gnomes are very strong for their size.  The tallest ones are about 10" (25 cm) tall.

If a gnomes gemstones are removed, they die.  (In addition to the normal trauma of removing someone's eyes.)  A gnomes gemstone eyes are not as valuable as a product of a dwarven gnome-vise.

Gnome skulls are conical, and grow increasingly more conical as the gnome ages.  This is a sign of beauty among gnomes, and tall hats are common among them.  (Human nobility, ever alert for new fashions of power, have even attempted to imitate it.)

Types of Gnomes

Common gems make common gnomes.  There is nothing about common gnomes that precludes them from becoming rangers or illusionists, but they lack the mad vigor of their more chromatic siblings that predisposes them to such careers.

Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and other exuberant gems are used to make gnome surveyors.  (More on them later.)

Diamonds make a megagnome, a gnome that is capable of changing size between mouse-scale, gnome-scale, human-scale, ogre scale, and any size in between.  They lack the gem-eyes of the usual gnome, and instead have their gem embedded in their bellybutton.  Aside from a slight infundibular affect of their skull, they can pass perfectly for a human in their middle form.

Opals, moonstones, and other similar gems tend to make white-haired illusionists, an especially respectable career among gnomes.

Quartz makes for moronic gnomes called gnomens, who have a perfect memory but little other activity in their pointy heads.  Despite this prodigious power, gnomens are usually found standing in the village square, staring at the sun, calling out the hours.

Pearls are not a true gem, but despite this fact, they can be used to create the gnomefish, whose tender flesh and succulent vitreous make it a prized gemstone among the gnomes.  It is said that their nobility cannot marry without a feast of gnomefish.

The gnomefish itself is a prodigiously ugly fish, with goggle eyes, bulbous nose, and rosy cheeks.

You must never let them get their hands on bismuth.

A gnome attacking a human barbarian.
Gnome Lands

You will know that you are in gnome territory by their effigies.  Gnome lands are riddled with wooden carvings of themselves.  Sometimes crude, sometimes perfectly lifelike.  You will find these mock gnomes peering out from beneath toadstools and leering at you from the crooks of trees.

Gnome villages are well-defended and hard to find.  Still, they are worth searching for--a sack of gnomes is enough to retire on.  By all accounts, the villages are happy places, full of songs and strong communities of well-adjusted gnomes.

They also really like pineapples for some reason.  Every village has a few.

Gnome lands are usually riddled with tunnels and traps.  Beware of badgers, who are often hired as shock-troopers.  Badgers are dangerous on a normal day; badgers can handily kill you when you are blinded and hanging by your heels.

Those who wish to contact the gnomes are advised to sing songs and wear pointy hats.  These signs of civilization will endear you to them, making you seem more gnomish, and making it harder for them to kill you as just another mindless beast.

While selling them gemstones can be profitable (they pay +50% or +100%), it can also be dangerous, since they will hate you for it, and may murder you afterwards.  Giving them liberated gems is a quick way to earn their gratitude.  Also, talk shit about trolls; they hate trolls.  Better yet, bring them some troll heads.

A gift of a diamond is precious.  50% chance that a gnome surveyor joins your party as a hireling.  This is the only way to play a gnome PC.

Fighting the Gnomes

Wise men fear the gnome.  While most gnomes live bucolic lives in their villages, sipping mushroom wine from buttercups, the gnome surveyors are the battle-hardened protectors of their communities.  A gnome becomes a surveyor only after they have killed a wolf without any assistance.

Gnome Surveyor
HD 3  (HP 6)  AC plate+4  Greatrazor 1d4*
Move as human  Jump as cat

Gnomes have strong arms and low bodyweights.  In a forested environment, they can combine their grapnels and natural jumping ability to easily move 20' vertically as part of their movement.

With a grapnel and a nearby tree, a gnome can strike halfway through their movement, making an attack and ending their turn on a branch or inside a hollow log.

The razor's damage is doubled if a gnome can attack any of your weakpoints: genitals, eyes, or neck.  If all three of these areas are protected, the razor's damage is a mere 1d4.

Gnomish greatrazors are also valued as shaving razors.  Dwarves, especially, prize their beards and will pay handsomely for them.

If a gnome brings a PC below 0 HP, the PC is instantly decapitated.  Characters will full helmets are immune to decapitation.  (Gnomelands and gnomes are well-known for this.  Make sure that your players are fully informed of this before adventuring near gnomes.  Consider a helmet-seller who charges double.)

Gnomes are aware of this limitation and have a number of method to combat it.  If their victim is wearing a coif, one gnome will jump to your shoulder and lift the coif, while their partner strikes at the back of your neck.  They also make use of bees, tarthrowers, and heat metal.

Gnomes also make use of illusionists, but you already know how those work.

If you are able to fight gnomes without grapnels, greatrazors, trees, and traps, they're quite easy to defeat.   Inside their forests, you are most likely to encounter a patrol of 1d4+2.

Gnomes fighting a human houndmaster.
Rules for Fighting Tiny Humanoids

You can grab them as easily as you can hit them with a melee weapon.  Grabbing them is probably preferred, since they become helpless when they are grabbed.  You can choose to deal damage to them automatically on the next turn (1d6 unless you have a really good way to deal more) or throw them at their allies, potentially taking out two gnomes at once.

Also, if your game has special rules for when the PCs fight giants, the gnomes can use those against you.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Liches and Mummies


I've written about liches before, so in this post I'll limit myself to implementation in this post.

How to Write a Lich

First, don't start with the image of a mystic skeleton-wizard in an underground laboratory.  That's the typical image and--while there's nothing wrong with it--if you start there, you'll be less creative in crafting your lich.

Start by thinking about a regular wizard, then turn them into a lich.

d8 Wizards Who Became Liches
  1. The wizard who was determined to build a ship large enough to carry 2 copies of every animal into space. 
  2. The wizard who was trying to build the perfect waifu.  
  3. The wizard who was trying to seal off hell in order to save our souls.  
  4. The wizard who wants to build a new, better sun.  
  5. The wizard who was building the perfect army in order to invade heaven.  
  6. The wizard who was way too into breeding horses.
  7. The wizard who is trying to turn his black ziggurat into a spaceship*.
  8. The wizard who was wealthy scared of death, and so he became a lich, but now that he's a lich he has no real goals besides entertainment, but even that is tough now that he has no penis so it is very tricky, let me tell you.
*Spaceship lich is my default lich, by the way.

Any one of these could be a good lich.  Some are epic, some are more trivial.  People tend to have multiple hobbies--so do liches.  Combine 2-3 for a better lich.  Give each background its own section of the dungeon, maybe.

The second thing is to reduce the death theme a little bit.

Yes, every lich is going to have some degree of necromancer in them.  And yes, I know liches persist in our imaginations for the same reason that zombies do--we're scared of death and skeleton faces are cool.  But if every lich lair is just a dank necropolis full of the shambling dead, you're limiting yourself before you have to.

Plus, it's always easy to add the death stuff back in later.  Let it be the frosting, not the cake.

from Final Fantasy 1
(the PS remake had the best sprites)

Honestly, the concept of "evil, immortal wizard" has a lot of space for you to write your own concepts.

We don't need them to be immortal, but it does make it easy to stick them at the bottom of a dungeon without any food or bathrooms.  And it helps if they are evil, because then we can kill them remorselessly.

d6 Alternative Source of Immortality for Evil Wizards
  1. An imprisoned kaiju, harvested for her eggs.
  2. Blackmailing Zulin, the Prince of the Upper Air.
  3. A giant furnace.  It burns a small forest every year.  The smokestack is his tower.
  4. Cloning + mind transferance.  Each clone carries a few more mutations than the prior.
  5. Possession of new hosts who must have certain traits, requiring the wizard to send people out to search for her next host.
  6. Has imprisoned his Death (a personalized Grim Reaper) beneath the earth. 
I'm avoiding any sort of soul stuff, because that's too close to phylacteries (and Voldemort) already.

So let's talk about phylacteries.  You got a few options, none of which are mutually exclusive.
  • McGuffin to drag the party to a new adventure locale.  Acceptable in moderation.
  • Ethical Dilemma, where you have to do something bad in order to kill the lich (a good thing).  Cheap, difficult to make satisfying.  (Even J. K. Rowling chickened out of this one.)
  • Some OSR-Style Challenge, either to find the damn thing or to destroy it.  These are preferred.
d4 Phylacteries Outside of the Dungeon
  1. Some innocent descendant who lives nearby.
  2. The king's crown.
  3. A random duck in a nearby pond.
  4. A glass heart in a permanent raincloud that is always overhead.
d4 Phylacteries Inside the Dungeon
  1. A really cool magic item (that the party was sent to retrieve?)
  2. A purple pearl inside a purple worm.
  3. Buried under 100' pile of rubble.  One solution is just to hire a construction crew, give them hazard pay, and protect them from monsters..
  4. The Hive Dead have it.  The easiest way to get it is just to purchase it with something precious.
The Disembodied Lich

I've only run a lich once, but after he died, he became a disembodied spirit that inhabited the whole floor of the dungeon.  He could open/shut doors, trigger traps, and talk mad shit.

It was fun for a bit, but maybe got a bit tedious.  Every door would slam shut on someone, so all the doors had to be destroyed.  Triggering all the traps was maybe a too much (or I didn't design the traps with the lich in mind).  I should have added the ability to control undead--it would have turned mindless undead encounters into tactical ones, which would have been a more appropriate change, I think.

Anyway, I'm convinced that the theory is sound.

How Do You Discover the Phylactery?

The one you want to avoid is just having the players cast locate object or something.  That takes all the fun out of it.  So here are some ideas.
  • Dungeon denizen will tell you, if you do a favor for them.
  • From the lich's girlfriend, who lives at the university and sends him frequent letters.
  • From the dead.  Conjure up some spirits from the essential salts and ask them.
  • From your knowledge of the lich.  (Although be careful with this type of puzzle, because it can be a dead-end for some groups.)  Maybe his dungeon is covered with Shakespeare quotes, and his phylactery is the fanciest Shakespeare book in the library.
  • A cleric tells you that only an innocent can identify the phylactery, and it is odious to them.  You have to bring a baby into the dungeon (or, a dude who has never seen any type of boob or genitals, including their own) and use the baby's crying to navigate.  More random encounters are expected.
Living Lich

Alternate implementation of lichdom: it's not necromancy as much as it is total control of your body.  Under this interpretation, you can have a living lich.

Living liches are just like regular liches, except that they trade the necromancy stuff for crazy regen.  Chop them into pieces and they'll attempt to reform, like a troll on steroids.  You can prevent them from reforming by dumping their corpse (every last piece) into a barrel full of lye.  As long as the lye is active, they won't reform.  This doesn't kill them, just stall them.

The trick to killing a living lich isn't the phylactery, it's finding a way to permanently kill the living lich while rolling a barrel all over creation and being very careful not to break it.
Lich Lieutenants

No lich lives entirely alone.  Humans are social creatures, and even introvert liches need bodyguards.  So here are some ideas.
  • Dire undead tortoise with a breath attack (necrotic damage + 1d4 zombies).  Zombies reach out through gaps in its shell.
  • Malformed clones with soulless eyes.  They are swordsmen, and they will fight until they drop dead of exhaustion.
  • Living spouse**.  A martial class would be a nice counterpoint, but a white mage would be a nice twist.  Or if you want to be gross about it: those double-ended leg things from silent hill, but in a dress.
  • Grim reaper trapped here on a technicality.  (In one room is an unfinished board game.)  Not allowed to kill people, but he can bring you to 1 HP and let the undead rats.
  • Visiting outsider, waiting to be killed by whoever kills the lich.
  • Terophidian, who stands to inherit the ziggurat once the lich finishes turning herself into an unliving spaceship.
  • Ancient eldrox, that is here to experience a human party, and believes that the dungeon is a typical example of a party.  Very evil and very friendly.
**I have a friend that sincerely wants to become an android.  I think this is dumb.  We're meat creatures motivated (and punished) by instincts and emotion.  When they singularity hits and we all become hyperintelligent transcendent machine-gods, I think we'll still watch porn and soap operas (just much faster).  Because what else would we do?  Same thing with liches.

I don't have much to say about mummies, because I did a big mummy post recently.  Also the Black Pyramid of Khalgorond has mummies in it.

So there's really only one thing left to write

The Best Mummies, Ranked
  1. Giant mummy
  2. Ape
  3. Crawling giant hands
  4. Cat
  5. Elephant
  6. Giant squid that swims through sand
The giant mummy is the best mummy by far, and although giant crawling hands could be considered to be part of the giant mummy, I think that they are distinct enough to be counted separately.

by Yintion J
click to embiggen
Bonus links:
  • Victorian-era uses for mummies!
  • Here's a poem about the mummies that were burnt as train fuel!  (Note: this probably didn't actually happen, though.)

This post is for Jeff Russell, who wanted more content on liches and mummies.  Thanks for supporting this blog!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Stat Squish and the Lawful Roll

People have criticized the GLOG thus:

"For a game that says that stats don't matter very much, they seem to matter a lot.  Since so many things are decided by rolling under a stat, and stats vary so much, your starting stats matter a lot.  This reduces the impact of good gameplay."

FIRST OF ALL: a lot of that comes down to how often your DM asks for stat checks, and how often the players work to bypass situations that require stat checks.  (This is all your fault, not mine.)

Secondly: Eh, that's a fair criticism.

Let's Talk Shit About Stats

This is not something that I am unaware of.  After all, this is why I've been asking for stats to be generated with 4d4 instead of 3d6--to have a lower standard deviation.

Since moving to 4d4 stats, I've learned two things.

1. People hate rolling 4d4.  That sacred cow has too many hit points, man.

2. There's still a lot of starting variation, even with 4d4.

It's pretty common for one character to have a 14 and another character have a 6.  That's a 70% chance competing against a 30% chance.

I'll admit that this is a matter of taste.  A lot of DMs and players are comfortable with that high level of variability.  A character that has one exceptionally bad stat often has other stats that make up for it.  Or it's okay to have one shitty character, because other characters in the party will compensate for them.

Sure.  Fine.

But think about this: why have that variability there in the first place?  What do you gain by it?

1. Your stats tell a story about your character.  Many players (myself included) first start to get a feel for their character during the process of rolling stats.  It's like turning over Tarot cards--each new dice roll reveals me more about my character's abilities, goals, and personality.

2. Your stats help you qualify for (and synergize with) certain classes.  Wanna be a wizard?  Well you better have good Int.

3. Your stats help your character feel distinct during gameplay.  If you are playing a burly barbarian, you expect to have a easier time jumping over a pit than an asthmatic wizard.  When you succeed on your jump, and the wizard fails, this is reinforced.  If the opposite happens, the narrative feels inconsistent, and it feels bad.

In game A, the stats range from 3 to 18.  Game B is identical, except the stats range from 7 to 14.  When you switch from Game A to Game B, how does that affect the 3 points above?

1. Minimal effect.  A Str 14 is just as exciting and descriptive as Str 18 used to be in the old system.

2. I sort of hate synergies.  Game B is preferable to Game A in this regard.

3. Game A might be ruled superior here, since the mechanics reinforce the fiction that we expect.  The barbarian outjumps the wizard 90% of the time instead of 75% of the time (percentages are speculative).  But I would argue that a more unpredictable world is potentially more exciting, since the wizard has more chances to surprise you with his jumping acumen.  And anyway, I have another solution with the Lawful Roll, below.

Anyway, here's my new proposal.

Stat Squish

First, I'm switching to roll-over for a while.  (I may switch back; I'm fickle.)

Second, ability scores are rolled with a 3d6, then divided by two (round down).  This is your bonus.  Everything is bonuses.

Throw the ability score in the trash.  We only track bonuses now.

Here's the probability breakdown.

Bonus %
+1 0.5
+2 4.2
+3 11.6
+4 21.3
+5 25.0
+6 21.3
+7 11.6
+8 4.2
+9 0.4

25% of stats will be perfectly average at +5, just like how 25% of people used to be roughly average with a 10 or 11.

A+9 is just as rare as the coveted 18 used to be.  Both are 1/216.

The DC for everything is 16.

Smoking Math

Why do this?  Because it reduces the impact of exceptional stats without affecting average stats.  Consider what your chances are of succeeding on an average stat check, for a character with average stats and a character with exceptional stats.

Old 3d6 Method
Average 10: 50% chance to succeed.
Mighty 18: 90% chance to succeed.

Squished Stat Method
Average +5: 50% chance to succeed
Mighty +9: 70% chance to succeed.

By the way, this is functionally identical to the system of ability scores and bonuses that has persisted from 3rd edition all the way into 5th.  You can wiggle around with DCs and proficiency, but it's the same beast: every 2 points you gain in a stat gives you a +5% chance of success.

Since we want a stats to have a smaller contribution, we have succeeded at our design goal.

The Lawful d10

There is one tremendous advantage of roll-over that people don't use very often.

We shrank the score into a bonus in order to reduce the contribution of the stat to a random event.  We can shrink the size of the die to reduce the contribution of randomness.  The smaller the die, the more the stat matter.

The barbarians might have Str +8 and the wizard might have Str + 4, and that might not matter much on a d20, but it matters a lot more on a d10.  So in situations when the DM wants to call for a roll that has less randomness in it (and stats are weighted more heavily), the DM should call for a Lawful Roll (as opposed to the usual roll, which is a Chaotic Roll).

The Chaotic Roll (d20)
Rolled against DC: 16

The Lawful Roll (d10)
Rolled against DC: 11

Let me prove it to you.

Barbarian (Str +8) Jumps a Pit
Chaotically: 65% chance of success
Lawfully: 80% chance of success

Wizard (Str +4) Jumps a Pit
Chaotically: 45% chance of success
Lawfully: 40% chance of success

If you're good at something, the Lawful Roll makes you better at it.  If you're bad at something, the Lawful Roll makes you worse at it.

This is a useful tool for DM's to have in their toolbox, because some things are more random than others.  Rock Climbing is more random than arm wrestling, even though I would use a Strength roll for both.

As a bonus, the Lawful roll is identical to a roll-under using the bonus as the target number.  (+8 = 80% chance of success.)  This is nearly identical to rolling under the non-squished stat with a d20, so in a way, we're right back where we started.

But What About Roll-Under?

I'm not interested in discussing the merits and pratfalls of a roll-under system compared to a roll-over system.  I've lost sleep thinking about this and I guarantee I've already considered all of them.

I think I'm going to completely purge roll-under from the GLoG, and yes, it does feel like a betrayal on a fundamental level.  And if you think angst is not appropriate for a discussion about dice mechanics, you obviously don't know me very well.

Fuck, man.  Who am I?

Joesky Tax

Idiot Birds
HD Defense leather  Peck 1d10
Move horse  Int 4

Aura of Idiocy
Anyone within 5' of an idiot bird must save or fall into an idiot rage (as the spell) except even dumber.  All you can do is make "WAWB WAWB WAAAAW" noises and attempt to break/kill things with your bare hands.  If you succeed on an Int check, you retain enough awareness to use your weapons instead of your bare hands.  The effect ends as soon as you move 5' away from the bird, the bird dies, or the bird stops making its stupid noise.

Idiot birds look like obese cormorants.  They are six feet tall and smell like fruit and dog shit.  They appear in groups of 1d4+1.  You can hear them a mile away, because they never shut the fuck up.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Library of Asria: Part Three

by Pierre Clayette
Part One - Part Two - Serylites

The Library of Asria is the greatest library in all the world.  Built atop catacombs of incinerated books, the library has continued to grow by rapaciously acquiring all books that it can.

Anyone bringing a book into the city must allow it to be copied.  (It will be returned promptly, and probably cleaned and repaired as well.)  Anyone who seems interesting will be arrested, required to write a biography, paid, and released.

The library is run by Malboaz, a former librarian who has found immortality by mapping his neurons to a collection of 512 books.  He functions like an analog AI--librarians enter numbers into his books to determine what he "hears", perform calculations to determine what he "thinks", and play a strange set of trumpets according to the results in order for Malboaz to "speak".

Malboaz has a brother who shares his condition, imprisoned in the basement.  However, Auteruch has no idea of the coup that put him there.  He doesn't even know that time has passed.  Without librarians to update his brain-state, how could he?

Most librarians are serylites, a race of blue-skinned women.  They have a single source: the Staff of Seryl.  Using the staff causes you to become pregnant with a serylite.  There is no other known source of serylites.

More on this stuff in Part One.

Beneath the upper library are the black stacks, where the true rulers of the library reside: the books themselves.

The Black Stacks are guarded by a erudite, tea-drinking giant named Poor Lucan.  The area around the Unpolished Gate has been built around Poor Lucan, so the poor fellow literally cannot leave without breaking down a wall.  Since their are books on both sides of the wall, and since Lucan would never hurt a book (his only friends), Lucan is trapped there.  Not that Lucan minds much.  He reads constantly and writes occasionally.

Lucan will absolutely not anyone past him without a serylite escorting them.  He knows all of the serylites well--there's only a couple dozen of them.

Lucan is about 20' tall, average for a giant.

Poor Lucan
HD Def Plate  Kick 2d8  Broom 1d12 to all within 15'
Move as horse  Int 14

Lucan's manning broom can attack all targets in 15' simultaneously, but only if they're human-sized or smaller.  A manning broom is basically a bushy broom, giant-sized, made from bundled pieces of metal--mostly long whipping poles but also a few chains.

Lucan's plate armor only extends up to his waist.  If you can hit a target 10' off the ground his Defense counts as leather.  The same rule applies if you can get him prone (in addition to the +4 for attacking a prone enemy.)  Aim for the kidneys.

A wickedly spiked belt prevents people from climbing up him.  (Think of razor wire.)

Blades on the front, back, and sides of his greaves cut any rope that would try to entangle him.  (But not chains.)

I picture him looking like the shopkeeper from Frozen, with a comfy sweater on top of a heavily armored lower body.  So yeah, you should feel bad if you kill him.

More on this stuff in Part Two.

Digression: Giants vs Humans

This is basically how most giants equip themselves when they're expecting to fight humans.  The only things that are missing are the helmet and the energy drinks made from talakeshi jelly and panther piss.  (And also the "lawnmower" knights.)

This is because the average pitched battle between giants and humans is about 20 giants versus 20,000 humans and the humans don't have a chance.  See here.

Humans win by either (a) tripping the giants and then piling on them with long needle-pikes, or (b) wearing them down.  Giants can resist the first tactic by fighting in pairs and trios, but the giants struggle the longer the battle drags on.  They can run down a knight on horseback, but it is exhausting.  And each giant has to kill a thousand humans--it's gonna be a long day.

Anyway, enough about giants.  Back to the library.

The Ivory Towers

This is the upper library, where there are windows and fresh air and humans are allowed.  The books in this section will be about topics that you recognize.  It is relatively safe, here, but visitors should ensure that they have the correct library pass.

Vampiric Scroll
HD Def chain  Bite 1d6
Fly as bat  Int 2

Immune to everything that isn't fire or slashing.

Whenever a vampiric scroll bites you, it sucks your blood.  Red text then appears on the scroll, which contains a perfect description of you and many facts of your life.  50% chance that it contains some secret that could be used against you.

Once a vampiric scroll has collected your data, it will fly off and relay it to the authorities.  The alert dice increase, and your next encounter will be with the stamp golem (or possibly multiple library golems, depending on the alert level).

You can learn how to make your own by capturing and studying one, of course.

Library Golem
HD Def plate  Stamp Hammer 1d12
Trudge as dwarf  Int 6

Everyone who takes damage from a library golem is permanently branded with a stamp that describes their trespass, location, and date.

If a library golem kills you, it will ink your face, take a pressing in its book (which is a part of its body), and send a find to your family.

Magic Item: Bookmark of Yesod

Break it in half to save.  Break the halves in half again to reset.  This works exactly like saving and resetting in a video game.

(DM: Take a bunch of notes about the state of the game.)

Chance of success depends on the time that has elapsed.

Seconds: guaranteed success
Minutes: 5-in-6
Hours: 4-in-6
Days: 3-in-6
Weeks: 2-in-6
Longer Still: 1-in-6

Magic Item: Abacus of Mesmerane

Thrice per day, answers any question with 5-in-6 accuracy (failure = no response, rolled in secret).  Only answers with integers greater than 1.  Metaphysical questions generate irrational numbers (that no human can understand).  Asking it questions about things more than a mile away cause all of the beads to fall off.

So asking it "how many times does the duke intend to assassinate me on this hunting trip?" will fail, because that answer is going to be either 0, or 1.

Asking it how many drops of poison are in this cup of wine might succeed.  A positive result of 320 drops tells you that someone has added a lot of poison to your wine (or, alternatively, that Mesmerane considers wine to be poison).  A negative result doesn't tell you if the abacus failed or if there is no poison in your wine.

Magic Book: Rat Ledger

The Library hires rats to collect information.  This book lists all of the rat contacts in the city, their rates, and their areas of expertise.

The library would be very desperate to get this book back.

Magic Book: The Witness

Every copy of this book begins with something similar to "And then Pokor Tenpenny finished enchanting the book.  He was proud of what he had done, but also weary.  He didn't want to go home to his wife, who was not a very good cook."

Everything that happens within eye- and ear-shot of this book is recorded, in the same tedious diction of Pokor Tenpenny.  This effect is blocked only by lead.  Copies of The Witness are always stored in lead coffers.

by Pierre Clayette
The Black Stacks

This is the true library, where the books rule.  Most of the librarians have their private chambers on the top level of the Black Stacks, which are sort of a neutral area between the books and the librarians.

While the Ivory Tower organizes their books to be useful, the Black Stacks strive to be complete.

In the ancient days, when this place was a temple to Mesmerane, the Black Stacks were infinite--or nearly so.  They held every possible book with 411 pages.  Each book also featured an illustration which seemed to be unique, but also unrelated.

Since every possible "411-paged book" contains not just every book, but every possible typo of that book, as well as every possible alternate ending for that book.  Damningly, it also contains every possible combination of letters and punctuation possible, which means that nearly every book in the Black Stacks was composed of pure nonsense, arranged according to no pattern.

Still, somewhere in the Stacks would be a book describing your life and death in perfect detail.  There would also be many imperfect recountings of your life.  There would also be a book that served as a perfect index of the rest of the library.

When Mesmerane ruled, the shamans would discern maps from the smashed brainpans of infants.  The maps would be dried, redrawn, annotated, and the shamans would descend into the depths of the library to find the book that their goddess indicated.  The trips would take days or weeks.  The shamans did not always find the book they sought.  The shamans did not always return.

The lower levels of the Black Stacks blend seamlessly into the Underworld.

But when the Church civilized Asria, the practice was ended and the shamans were killed through the same method of execution that they had once practiced on children.  (A few of them fled into the deeper levels of the Library, where their descendants still tread.)

After a generation attempting to make sense of the Library, it was decided that the world had no need for a library filled with gibberish.  A complete assembly of every book was no different than a complete assembly of no books, because you could give a pen to a child and tell them to write gibberish, and it would be no different than pulling a book off the chaotic shelves of the deep Stacks.

This is why the wisest men in Asria decided that the Library would be flooded with oil and ignited.  It burned for 41 years, then stopped.

Explorers have reported that the destruction is very incomplete.  There are entire wings of unburnt books.  Still, the library was successfully diminished, it's ash-choked halls now holding a smaller piece of infinity.

It also explains why the books of the Black Stacks are so distrustful (and many are simply hateful).  Still, storage space is plentiful in the Black Stacks, and the books look after their own.

from Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei

Ashen Savage
HD Def leather  Lunellum 1d6

Can use duodimension on themselves at will.  Their ash-covered bodies blend in perfectly, except for the whites of their eyes, which are usually easy to spot.  They use this ability to hide in bookshelves and travel through cracks.

The "ashen savages" are actually quite erudite, they just dress like shit.  They understand only written languages, and actually have no concept of a sound-based language.

They use their lunella, pestles, saliva, and hair to repair books.

Ashen Shaman
HD 3

Spells - find the path, disgorge

When fighting an Ashen Shaman, the PCs are at a disadvantage.  The shaman has already read about this encounter, and knows how it will go (at least for a little while).  To reflect this, all d20 rolls that the party makes in the first round of combat are rolled at disadvantage (roll twice, use worse).

In combat, they use disgorge to dump people's inventory's on the ground (everything except what is held or worn).

New Spell: Disgorge
R: 50'  T: container or creature  D: 0
Target container ejects its contents.  1 MD affects a backpack, 2 MD affects a chest, 3 MD affects a carriage, 4 MD affects a small cottage.  Locked containers cannot disgorge their contents (but will eject a hearty whiff of whatever smells they contain).  If used on a creature, it must make a Con save or spend 1 round vomiting.

Magic Item: Library Card

A precious heirloom bestowed upon only a few trusted families.  It allows access to the deeper, protected parts of the library.  One may also be awarded if an exceptional amount of worthy donations are made.

Magic Item: Rendering Pen

When stabbed into an object, the object will darken and dissolve over the next hour.  A portion of the liquid flows into the pen, which then begins to write down a description of the thing impaled.  Roll a d3 to see whether the description is physical, functional, or psychological/contextual. Doesn't work on stone, metal, or anything you couldn't stab a pen into.  Single use.

Magic Item: Nodal Ink

When swallowed, a node map of the floor appears on your back.  (A node map shows only connectivity, not orientation, size, or distance.)  Single use, both for the ink and for your back.

A node map.
The hallways might be oriented N-S but the map doesn't have to be.
Magic Book: Heretical Gazeteer

It looks like a boring folio of local maps, but this is actually a suppressed book of local maps.  It includes a town that has been deemed damnatio memoriae, most likely by the church.  The town was removed from all maps and hidden by "knitting" the spaces around it (usually with plans to reinstate it later once the heresy dies down).

By closely following the map, you should be able to reach the forbidden town.  It probably won't be anything fancy.  Just a regular abandoned town that no one else will be able to find unless they have a similar map, or if they follow you closely.  (You may run into members of the Obliterat, though.)

Magic Book: The Missionary

A small notebook half-filled with a dozen different handwritings.  Each handwriting usually spans a couple of pages and details some highly specific event or knowledge.

Anything written in this book will spread to adjacent books.  For example, writing that giraffes are carnivores and then hiding the book at your local school will cause the lie to spread to neighboring books.  Larger books and older books are more resistant to this conversion.  A newly-printed pamphlet will convert overnight, while a venerable encyclopedia might resist for decades, or never convert at all.

Psuedo-Imaginary Creations

Books require renewal.  Renewal requires materials.  And what are books made from?

Vellum stripped from the sides of young calves.  Trees that are ground up, mashed, and baked.  Books have these material memories encoded in them.  They have a mineral memory of it still.

The shamans dream these things into being.  They are harvested.  Kill one of them and you will kill a sleeping shaman, somewhere in the Black Stacks.

from Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei
HD 3  Def leather  Attack 1d8
No Appearing 1d6

Psuedo-Imaginary -- It doesn't move right; it doesn't seem real.  When you first encounter it, you can chose to attempt to disbelieve it.  If you succeed, the creature becomes invisible, intangible, and unaffectable.  You become similarly invisible + intangible to the creature.  It is possible (and expected) for some party members to see the creatures and others to not.

The same might not be true for your allies, who might now be fighting an invisible creature that you can no longer affect.

Escort --  Each psuedo-imaginary creation is escorted by 1d8-4 (min 0) ashen savages.

Random Generation -- The creations are [d6]: 1 calves, 2 oaks, 3 squids, 4 calves and oaks, 5 oaks and squids, 6 squids and calves.

When a Psuedo-Imaginary Creature is killed, it spills words (usually loose sentences from agricultural handbooks) that stain everyone adjacent.  These words will mark you as a murderer of the worst sort, and will make diplomacy with the ashen savages impossible.

Psuedo-Imaginary Calf

Trample -- 1d8, 50'

Twice as tall as a man.  Completely covered in smooth, pale skin.  Even hooves, eyes, and mouth.  If killed, can be used to make high-quality vellum.  Full of tasty pink meat, but utterly bloodless.

Psuedo-Imaginary Oak

Swallow on a hit, with a failed Str/Dex check.

They would only be about 10' tall if they weren't walking around on their roots like giant spiders.  The leaves are attached wrong.  It looks like they're glued to the bark.  When they stand still, you can see them breathing.

Pseudo-Imaginary Squid

Flying because why not.

Blindness on a hit.  Con save ends.

Their tentacles bifurcate seemingly at random.  (In fact, the tentacles form a reasonably good map of the Black Stacks.)  They have no mouths.  They have no organs, in fact--their bodies are entirely filled with high-quality ink.  They sound like waves crashing when they swim.

The shamans are capable of dreaming other things, and if you antagonize them, you will see exactly what.

Written for Francesco Gasperini, who wanted monsters, magic items, and books.  Thanks for being my Patron!