Friday, December 1, 2017

Magus' Music of the Month - November 2017

Music released in November '17 that I listened to and liked.
(Title links are to Spotify, embeds are from Bandcamp (preferred) or YouTube.)

Phinehas - Dark Flag

Phinehas consistently deliver everything I could want from metalcore. they're alternately fast, technical, melodic, and brutal. Dark Flag continues this characterization proudly.

Seas of Years - Three Horizons Away

I haven't been on ships very often, but Seas of Years' drifting post-rock makes me wish I was.

Slow Meadow - Costero

Slow Meadow is a new artist for me. It is music I need in my life. Ambient and neoclassical combine in ways that make one wish they could sit and feel forever.

Your Memorial - Self-Titled

Solid, soulful metalcore. Influences from hardcore and djent peek in here and there. Alas, this is their farewell EP.

Polaris - The Mortal Coil

Not quite my favorite vocal style, but the instrumental work is full of energy and technical in such a good way.

King - Self-Titled

Hardcore infused with deathcore sensibilities. Not my favorite vocal style, but punishing instrumentals make it worth a listen. I got into King through their previous album (The Gathering), which is a much more long-form exploration of downtempo deathcore.

Dan Terminus - Automated Refrains [FREE DOWNLOAD]

Synthwave, but crafted - made with more the mentality of a classical composer than a rockstar. Dan Terminus was my introduction to the genre, and his previous album (The Wrath of Code) still holds a special place in my heart.

Constructs - Shapes

Instrudjental. Technical, but with fine passages incorporating strong post-rock or ambient mentality.

Norilsk - Le Passage Des Glaciers

Freezing-cold, desolate death-doom.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Modded Maze Rats

I've been out of DMing for several months now, but had some bored friends on Monday and it was decided to do some dungeon crawling. I've had the framework of a custom ruleset building itself in my head for almost a year and felt ready to do some playtesting, so I bolted the important bits onto a Maze Rats chassis and rolled out with the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. Play reports will be progressively added below the rules (more for my reference than for general enjoyment, haha).

Rules as Maze Rats, except:

Dice, Skills:
  • Uses a different dice mechanic that I'm testing for a future system. Stat value, from 1-5, dictates base number of dice a player rolls for actions using that stats, looking for dice to come up as "successes." (Most tasks require 1 success, but some tasks require more, and extra successes may boost the speed, safety, or efficacy of the task.) Characters usually roll with 2-in-6 for success (a result of "1" or "2" counts that die as a success), while proficiency raises this to 3-in-6 and mastery to 4-in-6. Bonus or penalty dice may apply, but rarely more than +/-1.
    • No attack value; roll with stats. (Many characters will end up proficient in some kind of weapon.) Number of successes (hereafter: #s) are compared with monsters' dodge scores (usually 0-2) to calculate a hit. Damage is:
      • 1 damage for unarmed attacks
      • #s for improvised weapons
      • #s+1 for light weapons and ranged weapons
      • #s+2 for heavy (two-handed) weapons
  • Health equals Str+Lvl
  • No Attack stat (see above)
Hazard Die:
  • When in dungeon:
    1. Light depletion (torches burn out, lanterns use one out of six portions of oil)
    2. Hunger (characters must eat a ration or gain a point of exhaustion; a great opportunity for a one-hour rest, below under Rest and Recovery)
    3. Thirst (characters must drink water - a waterskin holds three uses - or suffer as Hunger)
    4. Mishap (save or break a fragile item, suffer a fall, make a loud noise, or there is a disadvantageous environmental change like flooding or quakes)
    5. Trace (signs of an encounter that could be pursued or avoided; the next roll of 6, below, will reveal this monster unless measures are taken)
    6. Encounter (roll off your favorite encounter or wandering monster table!)
  • When in wilderness:
    1. Weather change (bad weather may cause poor visibility, food spoilage, exhaustion...)
    2. Hunger (as above)
    3. Thirst (as above)
    4. Mishap (save or become lost, suffer a fall, lose an item...)
    5. Trace (as above)
    6. Encounter (as above)
  • When in town:
    • No hazards, at least for the current campaign. Waterskins replenish, and lifestyle costs may need to be paid (see below, under Rest and Recovery).
  • Combat and dungeon hazards often incur harm:
    • Each point of Exhaustion incurs a one-die penalty for all physical checks. If built up to a character's Strength value, that character will gain a (possibly) permanent physical disease or disability (asthma, fever, cancer...) when they next sleep.
    • Each point of Stress incurs a one-die penalty for all mental checks. If built up to a character's Will value, that character will gain a (possibly) permanent mental disease or disability (depression, paranoia, psychosis...) when they next sleep.
    • Wounds occur when a character has taken total damage exceeding half their health; a random body part (1d6: 1-head, 2-chest, 3-L-arm, 4-R-arm, 5-L-leg, 6-R-leg) becomes wounded, incurring a one-die penalty for all actions using that body part.
    • Body parts become crippled when a character is reduced to 0hp, or takes damage while at 0hp. That body part becomes unusable; depending on the nature of the damage, a crippling wound to the head or chest will often result in death.
Rest and Recovery
  • A one-hour rest (a break), with food and water, removes one point each of exhaustion and stress per character. (Roll a hazard die if this rest was not prompted by hunger or thirst on the hazard die, above). 
  • A ten-hour rest (making camp), with food and water, removes one point each of exhaustion, stress, and damage per character. The party must make camp each two wilderness turns or fifty dungeon turns (or combination thereof) or suffer a point of exhaustion and stress. The party may not make camp more frequently than one wilderness turn or twenty-five dungeon turns.
  • A full day of rest in town removes all exhaustion, stress, and damage, and costs one silver per character.
  • A full week of rest in town removes all of the above and heals one wound, costing ten silver per character.
  • A full month of rest in town, with skilled medical care, heals a crippled body part (though usually a permanent loss of one point of an appropriate stat occurs), and costs one hundred silver (doctors are expensive!). Non-crippled characters merely pay ten silver per week, and can usually find a job to offset such expenses.
  • Silver standard!
  • Prices:
    • 1sp for simple items and most bundled consumables on the Maze Rats item list (rations x3, waterskin, torch x3, bedroll...)
    • 3sp for most other non-combat items (bear trap, lantern, shovel...)
    • 5sp for shields
    • 10sp for most weapons
    • 20sp for light armor
    • 40sp for heavy armor
Character Creation:
  • Start at level 1.
  • Roll a profession (I used Ten Foot Polemic's 200-item list, but the Maze Rats table - item 8 on the Character Creation page - is just fine). Characters are proficient (see above, under Dice) with anything related to their profession.
  • Gain weapon and item as per the profession list above, then roll five more items off the Maze Rats equipment table.
    • Again, with default Maze Rats backgrounds, just roll six items instead.
  • Choose one of the following for combat gear:
    • A light weapon
    • A heavy weapon
    • A ranged weapon
    • Light armor
    • A shield
  • You have 3d6 silver. Spend on any further equipment (above).
  • Choose one extra thing you are proficient at (or, gain a spell slot).
  • Choose or roll for a cosmetic detail or two; default Maze Rats tables are fine.
  • Name your character. 
Levelling Up:
  • At the end of each session, each character may become proficient (see above, under Dice) at one thing they did that session, like using a certain weapon, sneaking, lifting... or may gain an extra spell slot.
  • One person is also chosen to level up their character. You can work out a fair method, but I use The Hat:
    • First session of a campaign: place each player's name in a hat.
    • End of each session:
      1. Check if any new players have joined the campaign since the hat was filled. If so, add their name(s) to the hat.
      2. Draw a name. If at the table, this person levels their character (below). If not at the table (skipped/missed this session/no longer playing), keep drawing. Do not replace drawn names.
      3. When the hat is empty, start again, as if it were the first session of the campaign.
    • Leveled characters gain one health (remember, health = Str+Lvl) and may choose to attempt to increase one stat by rolling a d6. If the result is above the value of the chosen stat, that stat increases by one point.

Session 1 - 11/20/17
Quillis, sinecure
Mestis, sinecure
Happenings (spoilers!):
Rolled up starting characters.
Little exposition: just plopped the players up an uninhabited vale several hours from town, told them their paperwork had turned up an ancient map, and that, as minor bureaucrats of the Church, the pagan tomb noted on the map needed to be verified so the map could be filed away if it was accurate.
Cracked the tomb, players slowly and cautiously explored the four coffin rooms, avoiding cracking the sarcophagi but triggering three hazard rolls (rainstorm threatening flash flooding into the now-open tomb, distraught moose outside and unable to enter due to antlers, and an agitated venomous snake washed into the tomb by the rain.
Open the coffins, didn't crack the clay shells until the sorcerer's coffin was opened and the cursed ring revealed. Quillis was very cautious and moved on, Mestis got greedy and pulled the ring off, getting a full dose of gas (incurring one point of damage and one point of exhaustion under my system).
Remaining clay shells cracked from a range with a hefty rock fragment, amulets looted.
Quillis' careful search for trapdoors revealed the hammer trap. Bar carefully removed without triggering trap, Mestis stood ready to trigger trap as Quillis opens the door.
Skeletons (awakened by earlier encounter roll) grab Quillis' wrist; Quillis sacrifices the amulet from his wrist to get free, then signals Mestis, who releases the hammer as Quillis throws the door wide. Three skellies wasted.
Bones sealed into coffin, hammer trap reset, with a tensioned rope across the doorway ready to trigger it (if escaping, the players reasoned, they could slide under the rope and cut it to waste whatever might pursue them).
Rainwater entering the tomb was discovered to drain under the snake-god statue. Party resolved to temporarily seal the tomb, return to town, inform the bishop that the tomb needed cleansing, and acquire more goods and equipment for a second venture to line their pockets with artifacts.
Snake ring "bit" Mestis the next morning. He persists in keeping it on.
Bishop didn't want to waste resources on a sealed tomb, but was persuaded after being given 5sp from "the sale of pagan grave goods." Authorized a return, next time [hopefully] with aid.
Quillis leveled up, now having five hitpoints (Str3+Lvl2) and proficiency in searching for things.
Maze Rats is a great chassis.
Limited backpack space is a bummer. (But a good rule.)
My first time using hazard dice went well.
Crowbars are great.
I'm used to 5E, where it's comparatively uncommon NOT to have darkvision. That is bad. Limited lighting and encumbrance is kind of a needed rule.
First time playing an actual module! (Because I wasn't planning on this session and needed something quick, haha.) Tomb of the Serpent Kings 3.0 has treated me well; I've been able to parse it quickly and effectively. The first level of the dungeon was a perfect size for one session, as advertised.
Players liked the consistent themes so far, and puzzling with the door hammer.

Session 2 - 11/23/17
Quillis, sinecure
Mestis, sinecure
Friga, weaver
Tubal-Cain, outlaw
Happenings (spoilers!):
The bishop, having pulled some strings to gain two extra helpers, sent the party back to the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. The short journey to the tomb was accomplished quickly and without incident ["traces" of moose rolled on the hazard die].
Carefully rolling the ominous snake-god statue aside, the party descended into the lower tomb and found a hallway with six serpent-man statues - one, misaligned. Taking note of this, the party discovered an octagonal atrium with six more doors and an open passage leading off, and bad oily water in a pool in the center.
Returning to the misaligned statue in the hallway, they discovered it to move aside and reveal a secret guardroom with a valuable silver icon [20sp] and two functional polearms.
These taken, the sinecures used their quasi-magical wax seals to ward the doors in the atrium, and explored the last passage, which led to a room of clay snake-men (with no loot within). The sound of smashing ceramic awakened two mummy fragments in the oily pool, who stirred and prepared to strike. The Friga and Tubal-Cain noticed this and struck preemptively with a polearm, only to be surprised when it returned from the pool with a hand gripping the polearm's head!
A quick quarrel from Mestis' crossbow sent it back to the pool, dead, while a second hand crawled forth and scratched ineffectually at Tubal-Cain's leather armor, who brutally smashed it with his shield and kicked the fragments back into the pool.
Reasoning that if there is a burial in the pool, there might be burial goods too, the party made use of a fishing net Friga luckily had to trawl the gross waters and pull up 1) a heavy golden chain [35sp], 2) an astrolabe [20sp], and 3) a insane and very angry mummy head making quite the racket. Tubal-Cain smashed it too, out of frustration [but the sealed doors all around prevented any wandering monster checks at the noise].
The party decided to explore the doors in clockwise fashion. Quillis and Mestis removed their seal on the first door to the left from the entrance hallway and slid the stone slab open. Unfortunately, thick dust had covered an electrum plate on the ground, and Quillis' tread triggered it, sending a powerful lightning bolt shooting down the cramped hallway! Quillis and Mestis both fared badly, but Mestis weaker constitution [3hp] failed him and his heart stopped [3 damage inflicted a crippling wound in the torso location as determined by a d6 roll]. The party, discouraged, assembled a quick net-and-polearm litter and bore Mestis out of the deadly tomb, resolving to return with reinforcements.
The bishop approved much of this plan, given the gift of the valuable silver icon from the hidden guardroom.
I feel a little unhappy with my ruling regarding the lightning trap. Electrum shines, and the party had light, but I reasoned the plate would be covered with dust as the rest of the dungeon and wouldn't be visible without a search (which wasn't attempted). Still, perhaps a will roll for the leader (Quillis) to spot the sparkle of danger would've been reasonable. I granted a dexterity roll upon stepping on the plate (to avoid putting full weight on it), but that was failed. Still debating, too, how to translate 4d6 lighting damage into modded Maze Rats - I just did 4 damage (with resistance rolls under strength to reduce it), but perhaps I should've done 2 damage and 2 stress, or 4 damage and 4 stress (which would've given Quillis a mental illness, while also killing Mestis!). I'll have to pay closer attention to translating the damage Tomb of the Serpent Kings dishes out to the very low health modded Maze Rats characters have, and taking opportunities to incorporate stress and exhaustion.
It was a very pleasant post-thanksgiving game. Quillis, Friga, and Tubal-Cain were all played by persons unfamiliar to D&D, and I very much appreciated the down-to-earth approach the immediately took when introduced to Maze Rats - playing it like life(-and-death), rather than a power fantasy (as I've seen too many people starting in late D&D editions to embrace).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Session Reports: Yea or Nay?

Just DM'd a (quick) session today. Probably one or two more over Thanksgiving as friends gather.

I ask you, Reader: are short session reports a good read, or a clutter in your feed?

(I find it to be the latter, but I know some people enjoy them and I'm writing them up anyway for recordkeeping purposes. Just asking if I should polish and post them.)

Please leave a quick comment if you've got an opinion!

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Living and Dead Lights

"The Astral Mystics have a story which I will tell you now. They say the Archons built the Sun and the Moon, the lights to circle our cosmos and give life to all growing things; a Greater Light for the day, and a Lesser Light for the night. But, when they built these lights, they put too much of themselves into their creation, which became like them and began to think and feel and desire. Seeing the other as their only peers in all the cosmos, it is natural that they began to love one another. Long did the Lesser Light strive to draw near to the Greater, but the Greater feared for the safety of the Lesser and kept distance. One day, the Sun gave in, moved to indiscretion by the Moon's steadfast devotion."

"On that day, the Moon perished. Now, it gives no light of its own, only a charred and burnt reflection. Now, too, its course is inconstant, with no will to guide and regulate it."

"The Sun, the Greater Light, still makes its steady course across the sky. One only wonders what it must think, having destroyed the only one it loves. So say the Mystics, at least."

"You wonder why I tell you this, Disciple. I tell you this tale of the Astral Mystics because, though they have wandered from the Light in many regards, they have grasped in this tale an important truth: intellect begets desire, and desire begets destruction."

"A firm grasp is attained by letting go."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

This post is a reject from my music-inspired gaming challenge from last week - I came up with a fairly non-gameable idea but couldn't let it go. (It was inspired by "Timeless" by Textures - but if you listen, make sure to listen to the previous track in the album first - "Zman")

Sunday, November 12, 2017


"Some call it the Winter Isle, others the Dead Island. Most call it Thule."

From Insomnium
"It seems it was not always thus. Even after the Great Winters, there were Hardy Folk living on the island, who seem to have prospered in the warmer weather after the Great Winters and the Northcoming. But, it grew colder once more, and they burrowed deeper and deeper into the gnawing rock in search of the infernal heat that beats in our world's heart. Some thought it futile, knowing that very little food can be grown without sun. Some thought it suicidal, knowing that the deeper from the guarding lights of the sky one flees, the more the world itself twists around itself and becomes wrong in ways beyond our ken. Of these, only some survived their flight from the island and the delving of their people: Winter took many, and the Grinding Sea even more. They landed in the far north of our land and burned their ships, never to return to their former home. Since they settled in the vales of our land centuries ago, not a word has come from their kin they left behind."

"Bold tradesmen of the Inner Six, guided by lodestones, have ventured to find Thule in recent decades, building trading posts on its snowy shores. These settlements find their wealth not in furs or timber (for Thule is devoid of most life), but in "salvage." Every year, curious coins, artefacts, wondrous gemstones, devious weapons find their way into the ports of the Inner Six, though the trickle of treasure grows thinner and thinner and trading posts are lost quicker than they are established. Now, none but the boldest or most foolhardy of sailors venture to find the Winter Isle, even guided by lodestone in the height of summer. Yet, it is said the "salvaged" wealth of the Dead Island remains largely untouched."

- from the writings of Erbius the Loremaster, Magus of the Fifth Order

Get your d6 ready. We're going to Thule.

Who will take us to Thule? Roll two or three times, but no more. Not many ships attempt the journey.
1. He calls himself Griegis the Great. His sailors call him Greg Groglord. His cog's timbers seem soaked with the stuff.
2. Didn't really catch his name - accent is from a different continent. You think he has dark skin, but you can't tell under all those furs. His crew come from all parts, and seem to speak a bastard mix of seven languages with gusto.
3. Pelias, Magus of the Fifth Order. His academy is funding this expedition for research purposes. He is serving as captain, and though he's never sailed before, he's read plenty of books about it. How hard can it be?
4. Cruach. Dark hair, darker eyes. Is that hood made of human skin?
5. Meliss. Red leather gloves, fine figure but too much cheap makeup. She is secretly running away from a convent her family placed her in, and even stole the clipper she sails. Her sailors are also fellow runaway nuns.
6. A grizzled captain named Ysper. He has one eye and stinks of fish, but he and his crew bear weapons and mail that have seen battle.

What's the port we reach like? Roll two or three times.
1. Good docks, but they're locked in ice. You beach/cast anchor half a mile away.
2. The tavern's the only warm building in town. Tough to breathe with all the smoke, though.
3. Fine log buildings. Those few occupying them tell you that they tear three down each year for firewood.
4. Centered around a shrine to Winter. The icicles that hang off it are blood.
5. Five huts. Only three are occupied.
6. Clustered warily in the midst of sprawling ruins reaching to the sky and into the sea. You're afraid of getting lost just finding your way inland, and surprised your ship didn't run aground on the sunken buildings that make up the "harbor."

What are the rumors about places to find treasure? Roll two or three times.
1. "There's a massive gate set in the biggest mountain in that there range. No, no idea who could even open something that big."
2. "We've got a mine up in those hills. You want treasure? Get digging. I'll sell you this pick for half off."
3. "There's a dead city a couple day's slog north of here - no one's come back from setting foot in it, but imagine what treasures lie inside!"
4. "The coniferous forest west of here practically oozes valuable gums and resin when spring comes - but it's been years since a good thaw. And prospectors aren't the only things in those woods."
5. "Follow that stream for a couple days into a small valley - tombs are carved into its walls. Sure, most of the doors are woven with ancient magics, but that one expedition got filthy rich from cracking one! Pity about that shipwreck just within sight of shore - can't dive for the salvage in these waters, unless you want to end up an iceberg."
6. A wild-eyed woman tells you that the only treasure you'll find here is death.

What's the terrain we travel through? Roll as needed.
1. Glacier-ridden mountains. Rockslides and glacial rifts aplenty.
2. Fir forest. The only sound you hear is the occasional whump of snow falling from overladen branches.
3. It takes you hours to even realize you're walking on a frozen lake.
4. Bare grey granite. Some gravel sinks and rifts carved by frost action, but the horrendous winds keep even snow from gathering here.
5. Bog. Ancient muck beneath a thin crust of ice. Tread carefully.
6. Just snow as far as the eye can see - which isn't far, in this weather.

What's the Weather? AND What should be our soundtrack while travelling? (Or the GM's soundtrack while prepping?) Roll 3d6, or 1d20 if preferred, for weather. If using music, re-roll weather when the album ends. If not, merely re-roll as needed.
3. Steady sun. You feel warm for the first time since coming here. "Ótta" - Sólstafir (BandcampSpotifyYouTube)
4. Heavy clouds, light snow. "Echo" - Apocryphos, Kammarheit, Atrium Carceri (Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube)
5. Blizzard. "Exercises in Futility" - Mgła (Bandcamp, YouTube)
6. Blizzard, broken by periods of calm, drifting snow. "Winter's Gate" - Insomnium (Spotify, YouTube)
7. Bright sun, freezing air. "The Bones of a Dying World" - If These Trees Could Talk (Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube)
8. Heavily overcast. "Of Dawn and of Ice" - Kammarheit, Phelios (BandcampSpotify)
9. Bright sun, biting wind. "The Great Cold" - The Great Cold (Bandcamp [FREE DOWNLOAD])
10. Bright sun, drifting clouds. "Helluland" - Northumbria (BandcampSpotify, YouTube)
11. Slate-grey sky. "Markland" - Northumbria (BandcampSpotify, YouTube)
12. Steady snow. "The Illusion and the Twin" - Aythis (BandcampSpotify)
13. Slate-grey sky, steady winds. "Akrasia" - Sinke Dûs (BandcampSpotify, YouTube)
14. Heavy snow, no wind. "Stone Speak" - Apocryphos (BandcampSpotify, YouTube)
15. Light grey sky. "Black Soma" - 36 (BandcampSpotify, YouTube)
16. Steady sun, but still a chill in the air. "Earthshine" - Tides from Nebula (BandcampSpotifyYouTube)
17. Whipping snow. "Without" - Solip (Bandcamp [FREE DOWNLOAD]Spotify)
18. Heavy snow, biting wind. "Funeral in an Empty Room" - Blood Box (SpotifyYouTube)

You should be using rules for the toll freezing temperatures take on an adventurer in all weathers but the first.
Sun will hinder visibility in most areas (painfully bright reflections off snow and ice).
Overcast skies offer the best visibility.
Snow hinders visibility, obviously.
Winds make checks to resist cold more difficult.
Blizzards are death. You can't see (you will get lost if you move), and you'll freeze if you stay put without excellent shelter and fire.

What might we find while travelling?
1. Once a tree, now a carven totem. May bear a curse, or a blessing.
2. An ancient cairn. Is there treasure?
3. An adventurer. Frozen. Gear (and possible treasure) is intact.
4. Unexpected ruins. May be as small as a standing stone, or as large as a city.
5. Food (winter berries, game, etc.)
6. This frozen pool doesn't reflect back faces, but something else entirely...

Encounter checks shouldn't just be for monsters. Use this table, PLUS the monster and event table below and the weather table above, to manage encounters.

What monsters might we encounter?
1. A sasquatch/yeti/wampa. It watches, and flees if noticed, but next time this encounter is rolled, it will return with several others and attack in bad weather.
2. A tribe of orcs. Several bear ancient, strange weapons (see below).
3. Wolves. They are gaunt and starving, and will attack if their numbers are greater. If the battle goes badly, however, they will flee.
4. A group of 2d4 adventurers. If the party has treasure and is weakened, they will fall upon you. Otherwise, they will talk and give you false directions (4-in-6 chance of becoming lost if followed.)
5. A dream-shade.
6. A ghost of the whiteout.

What else might happen to us?
1. Equipment breakage!
2. Temperature drops dangerously low!
3. Trap! Placed by furriers, or by something more sinister?
4. Does dusk really come so soon?
5. Specific environmental hazard (avalanche in mountains, thin ice on lake/river/bog, whiteout or glare blindness on plains...)
6. Tracks/traces. Roll on the next table to see what made them - that creature will be the result of the next encounter check unless action is taken.

What treasure might we find at our destination, besides coin?
1. Art:
     1. Silver nose piercing, set with a diamond.
     2. Enamel triptych of an indistinct set of faces. Ancestor or deity?
     3. Circlet. May or may not constrict around the head of the wearer during sleep.
     4. Bejeweled belt. Eat four times as much, gain twice as much weight.
     5. Decorative mirror. You always look better in it than you do to the naked eye.
     6. Musical instrument made of a strange metal. It only plays five notes, but each note has a host of faint but manipulable harmonics.
2. Furniture:
     1. Couch, for reclining on one's side.
     2. Folding screen enameled with nudes.
     3. Throne. Good luck carrying that.
     4. Uncanny bust. Valid channel for speak with dead or the like.
     5. Exquisite sarcophagus. It is carved and enameled to look skeletal, but the body inside is perfectly preserved.
     6. Erotic statuary.
3. Stone tablets about...
     1. Fungal horticulture.
     2. Twelve kinds of ice.
     3. Coal inventory.
     4. A royal genealogy of millennia past.
     5. You don't know - you gain a mental illness before you can comprehend it.
     6. A random magic spell.
4. Toy...
     1. Sasquatch/yeti/wampa. Fuzzy.
     2. Waterworks. Water still flows up and down through this tiny model.
     3. Catapult. Intricate, functional.
     4. Gyroscope.
     5. Ship, made of iron, and without sails. (Floats in water.)
     6. Tin soldier. Bears a spear of three points, and wears a horrific mask.
5. Grave mask. They are said to bear powers:
     1. As charm or similar, 1x/day.
     2. +1 armor, and spell as shield or similar, 1x/day.
     3. Grants infravision/darkvision.
     4. As eyebite or similar, 1x/day.
     5. Lies ring hollow in the ears of the wearer.
     6. As wish or similar, once.
6. Ancient weapon:
     1. The names of each person killed appear in fine script on the blade. There are already 27.
     2. Cuts through stone just as well as through flesh.
     3. Always hot to the touch. Minor burn if you do more than brush it.
     4. Blade of +1, but lets loose piercing shrieks while in contact with another metal object.
     5. Cuts through wood effortlessly. Fell a tree with an idle swing.
     6. Drinks blood - no blood splatters when cutting or piercing. Very clean, and each blow that does damage grants +1 to the next attack made within a minute (stacks to a limit of +5, at which point the next blow does double damage and the count resets to +0).

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is a (bonus?) 8th post, inspired by "Eos" by The Great Cold (Bandcamp [FREE DOWNLOAD]). I was able to make it significantly "bigger" than the rest. It wasn't a ton of work, but still, a couple (fun)  hours went into this. Let me know if something this size is worth reading - or, even, worth using!


(pronounced: Denialists)

These are sad people.

It began when they decided that the one great truth is that there isn't one.
It seemed true, at the time.

It worsened when they decided that they knew only one thing, and that one thing was that they knew nothing.
It seemed wise, at the time.

Now, they don't know if they know anything, and they don't know if they know that, or that they know that.

All they do is deny anything that is said.
This can be a very bad thing.
If you say you are friendly, you mean no harm, they will deny this, and attack you as if you were an enemy.
If you ask directions to a nearby location, they will tell you which way not to go. (This will, in fact, be the best way to get there.) Or, simply tell you that there is no such location.
If you say that you don't want to talk, they will deny this, and offer the cheerful balm of conversation. Ad nauseum.
If you say that you need to leave, they will deny this, and follow you. (They will not stop, until you state that they are following you or somesuch, at which point they will deny and leave.)

They are called the Denihilists - though they will deny this, too.

Use this instead of a monster encounter.
Put it on your encounter table.
Put them on some dank city streets, doing something totally worthless and very conspicuous.
Let me know how it goes, if you do.

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 7, inspired by "No Paradise" by Solip (Bandcamp [FREE DOWNLOAD]Spotify).

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Emancipati

"If you live in any city of the Inner Six, you've heard of the Emancipati."

"Nominally heretic freedom-fighters, liberators of slaves and serfs, decapitators of nobility and clergy, most do not in fact aspire even to the dubious level of murderers with morals. What started as, perhaps, a vigilante movement with purpose and ethics (of a sort), has become an excuse for base and vulgar criminality of all stripes. Emancipati spicerunners, Emancipati assassins, Emancipati pimps."

"Still, if they find that popular tolerance or noble suppression of their activities grows, they are even now liable to leave a prominent lord's head in a cathedral and whisk said lord's serfs into (wretched, criminal) freedom."

By Piotr Jabłoński
"Individual Emancipati petty criminals are easy to catch, though they are legion. Disturbingly, higher-ranking Emancipati seem much more difficult to apprehend, reportedly exhibiting abilities abnormal to an unSchooled commoner - swimming through walls, dashing through midair, becoming invisible in broad daylight."

"Popular rumor links them to the Sand Baptizers, though, as a professional, I doubt this is more than ill-founded scapegoating."

- from the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

For player characters with a more criminal bent, it might be fun to introduce them to the Emancipati.
They claim to be about the elimination of oppression and the breaking down of barriers - and they're not entirely lying.
They also operate in nearly any criminal activity imaginable.
Plenty of gameplay opportunities here, with a moral dilemma or two thrown in for players who care about that kind of thing.
Furthermore, if a party is planning on starting a full-out revolution of any kind, the Emancipati are the first they'll have to get in touch with.

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 6, inspired by "Emancipation - Mike Humphries Remix" by Ronny Vergara and Mike Humphries (SpotifyYouTube).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ghosts of the Whiteout

When you become lost in the whiteout of a blizzard, when the road and the fields, the sky and the trees, the clouds and your breath all blend together, you may hear moaning and shrieking chilling to your already chilled eardrums.

It is not just the wind.

When a traveler dies in a blizzard, unable to find their way to their destination or to any kind of shelter, their ghost often remains, waking only in the direst of winter snows to seek their way home.

from Insomnium
Those who hear a ghost of the whiteout gain a hefty penalty to their resistance to the cold so long as they can hear the keening and wailing of the voice so much like the wind around them.

If one seeks the source of the voice, whether to rescue it or defend from it, the way becomes lost and cannot be found again until the ghost is encountered and exorcised. (It will follow, even if fled from, seeking a way home).

If one perseveres - bearing the biting cold - the ghost of the whiteout will follow, and the blizzard will continue, until civilization is found. Then, a wondrous thing happens: the blizzard dissipates, and the spirit finds rest, having finally found its way home.

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 5, inspired by "Whiteout" by Hanging Garden (SpotifyYouTube).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Fire-Gazers

"Truth is found in flame..."
- folk saying

"Though the Church's emphasis lies on Truth, and Order, and Memory, and Certainty, there is a place even for those without these. The Fire-Gazers, a Holy Order of the Church, are made up of those who, for one reason or another, devoted themselves to the discovery of what is finally True and Real. They may often be identified by the unique open-topped censers that they bear, and the many candles they carry with them and light in their places of duty."

"In censer-flame or candle-flame or pyre-flame those devoted as Fire-Gazers are said to see the indubitable truth of things beyond the flame: in judicial trials (the most common place to find a Fire-Gazer) they sit in the judge's throne and look through the fire of their censers to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused party. In reading-rooms they light candles to gaze through at the books they survey, to discover what truths lie in the text. At a pyre of execution, they confirm and pronounce the guilt and crimes of the offender."

by docolucci
"It is a dangerous Order. Many Fire-Gazers go mad over the years and decades of their service - perhaps there are truths that should not be seen. (It seems that many who join in the first place are also mad in one way or another - uncertain about what is real, or whether anything IS real. The promise of certainty the Order gives can be an irresistible draw to such an unstable mind.)"

"Each year, as Autumn becomes Winter, the Order holds a festival in which they honor the Everburning One who first brought Fire to us, and to the Burning Saint who emulated the Everburning Sun and in whose name the Order is founded. A Fire-Gazer of great determination and unrelenting fervor steps into a prepared pyre, as the Burning Saint had done, and, it is said, sees the Truth of All as their life burns away. The names and lives of each Burnt One are forgotten as their ash is scattered to the winds, but the Prophecies of Seeing each one makes with their dying breaths are carefully recorded and never revealed to one not devoted to the Order. Such prophecies are said to be of inconceivable value - insights into truths most persons can never see."

"It is said the first and greatest Prophecy of Seeing, that of the Burning
Saint, is still in the holding of the Fire-Gazers, unopened and unread; perhaps it will only be seen on the day our frail world sees its end. Perhaps the Prophecy itself will bring such an end - or hold the means of preventing it."

- from the writings of Erbius the Loremaster, Magus of the Fifth Order

Well, I guess like my last post this one's about another aspect of the Church of the Hundred Saints. And, again, the gameable aspect of it is a feature of characters devoted to the Saint / Order in question (I kind of wish it was something else, but hey, I come up with what I come up with). Namely, Fire-Gazers can see the capital-T Truth of things they see through fire. This is pretty open-ended - "truesight" is clearly implied, as well as the ability to tell truth from lie, but beyond this there are plenty of things that could qualify.
Feel free to include a saving throw or whatever each time a character uses this ability, as it is a risky endeavor that may result in the loss of wisdom or sanity or whatever your system uses.
Also, those Prophecies of Seeing could be super-useful to a party. What if the party were to hear rumors of a prophecy related to some piece of knowledge they were seeking... (or even that the First Prophecy is to be opened... or was stolen...)
Flavor-wise, a Fire-Gazer cleric is likely to be respected, feared, and bat-bait crazy in at least one way. They are often the judges, detectives, and prophets of the Church, a powerful and ancient Order.
Oh, and they like setting things on fire.

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 4, inspired by "Man On Fire" by Bury Tomorrow (SpotifyYouTube).

This post is also kind of the seventh in my The Hundred Saints series.
Previous Saints:
Saint Bordoch the Hewer
The Three Sisters
Saint Oro-Bora One-Eye
Saint Grenna of Merthis
Saint Be'lak the Bard
Saint Cryndwr Firebeard of Wealdvale

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Saint Bordoch the Hewer

"Saint Bordoch the Hewer, Bordoch the Bull"

"Numaris had gathered all his chieftains together for the assault upon what was Ilos-Cirion and what became Numar, in the Great Winter when Numaris led all his warriors across the frozen Sea and seized the Lost Isle from the wood-devils. Many remained and settled around the shores of the Isle from whence Numaris began to rule, many more returned northwards to settle the lands they had ravaged the previous summer. Bordoch the Hewer, one of Numaris' most mighty lords, knew that their new lands would never be safe until the wood-devils had been completely pacified, and so he set out westward with warrior and woman alike to plumb the extent of the Inner Sea's shore and bring it all under his heel."

"All that summer, and all the next, they marched, turning the trail they hewed through the tangled wood into a road of beaten earth and wood-lined embankments suitable for the largest wains. Half the fighting men stood guard against the wood-devils with spear and shield, and the other half worked with axe and spade, but always with a sword at their belt. The Great Road of Innersey still remains as a lasting testament to their work - it runs from inner Knuthe all the way to Caerlûn, all but the eastern third being built upon the work of Saint Bordoch and his vassals."

By Dawg Gone

"Caerlûn itself was founded by the industrious Saint (though the eponymous walls of the City of Walls are much later work built upon earlier foundations) when he finally stopped and declared that the shores of the Sea were now clean, and that his new city would be the bastion that kept them so. And so, ever since, Caerlûn has stood against passage around the west of the Sea. Saint Bordoch guards us still."

"Unsurprisingly, Saint Bordoch is venerated with especial devotion in Caerlûn, being its founding Saint. He is often also invoked for protection, safety, and perseverance by explorers, builders, and even warriors. His auspices include the crossed axe and adze, the hewn log, the bull, and the flat-topped shield, which appears on the very flag of the City of Walls."

- From the Hagiograph of The Hundred by the Venerable Viebalde

Okay, but let's make this gameable (see below).

Clerics (and lay folk, I suppose, depending on the game rules) can venerate Saint Bordoch, with the same mechanical effects as worshiping a god. Minutia will depend on the game system being used (domains? moral prohibitions?), but I suggest that the most important thing is that a follower of Saint Bordoch gain xp for laying roads and walls, or paying for the creation of roads and walls.
If your system awards xp for killing monsters or acquiring gold, evaluate the amount of work a PC puts in and award an analogous amount of xp: putting in a path between two outbuildings on a manorial estate or building an embankment around a flower garden would be worth as much xp as a goblin, while building a road spanning a kingdom or a wall enveloping a city would be worth as much xp as a minor god.
If your system awards xp for spending gold, a PC would simply earn double for spending on roads and walls.
Flavor-wise, a cleric of Saint Bordoch would have no compunctions about violence, a desire to "civilize" wild areas, and a commitment to founding lasting infrastructural works to bring about order.

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 3, inspired by "Pioneers" by Cyranoi (SpotifyYouTube).

This post is ALSO the sixth in my The Hundred Saints series.
Previous Saints:
The Three Sisters
Saint Oro-Bora One-Eye
Saint Grenna of Merthis
Saint Be'lak the Bard
Saint Cryndwr Firebeard of Wealdvale

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Leech

"The Leech can be found in Evandra, it is rumored - a chirurgeon of wondrous skill but dubious reputation. He - or she - may cure nearly any physical ailment, even replacing the loss of an organ or limb, but has but one grim price: once your death comes, your body is not to be preserved and buried (as is right and proper) but to become his (or her) own. Even those who ignore this price and seek burial do so in vain - the body disappears under mysterious circumstances, never again to be found."

"The Leech will see each patient only once; after treatment, there will be a recognizable mark upon the patient, and the Leech will recognize his or her handiwork without fail."

- from the writings of Erbius the Loremaster, Magus of the Fifth Order

"...apparently she had brained the thing with a heavy chamber pot from the loft. It left quite a mess, to be sure. I can't be certain, but it looks (and smells) like another of those stitched walkers from last month. I found several of those circular festering wounds; furthermore, the jaw mostly survived, and the lips were indeed sewn shut..."

"...I'm just wondering who makes the things. Obviously they're not stitching up their own mouths, eh?"

- Cramel of the Watch, to his superior officer

From SometimesAliceFX

Use the Leech in your games. If the PCs spend any amount of time in Evandra (or, rather, a city of your choice), they will hear rumors of the Leech and his/her remarkable medical ability. A useful resource for dangerous games where health and limb are at risk!

However, any character who finds the Leech and receives treatment will have a parasitic organism inserted near their brainstem during the (very private) procedure- difficult to detect, and even more difficult to remove. This "leech" degrades the character's constitution (or maximum health or whatever) by one point each winter. When the character dies and the corpse is quiet and alone (perhaps abandoned, perhaps buried), the parasite causes the (un)dead body to animate and return to the Leech as a particularly durable and tame zombie (or equivalent).

What purpose could the Leech possibly have for such reanimated abominations?

For a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. This is post 2, inspired by "Leech" by Sylosis (Spotify, YouTube).

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Blackened Brigade

"They would send outrangers under black flags to treat with the lords of the lands in their path; a suitable tribute of grain and livestock would redirect the Blackened Brigade onto the lands of a rival (with the tributary lord often raising his own troops to make war and take loot in concert), while a cold welcome would earn iron and fire."

"Unique among conquering armies, it was fit men of fighting age who were spared, and women and children and elderly who were butchered or sold. Those remaining men, dispossessed by the Brigade's depredations, from serf to sovereign, were given the choice to remain and starve in the oncoming winter, or to join and share in the spoils taken from their own lands as the Brigade moved ahead of winter to warmer climes; unsurprisingly, many did join, knowing their crops to be despoiled, their lords humbled, and their families dead. They would take the ash of their former homes and blacken their blades and their hands, made permanent by a chemical fixative of the Brigade's devising."

By Delun
"Thus, the Blackened Brigade would march on, ranks ever growing. An army of those with nothing but their blade, plundering to stay alive, creating more hopeless men to join their ranks. A self-perpetuating mass of misery, each man knowing that every Blackened companion was of the same fate and knew their same pain, creating a shared resolve of iron."

"It has been decades since the Brigade has come reaving around the Inner Six, since the Brigade marched southward on the wings of Winter, not returning in the Spring as was their wont. Perhaps they ventured into the Sands and perished; perhaps they found deeper and richer lands further south, as wild seafarers and foreign tradespersons have hinted at; perhaps they took ship beyond the seas we know, to an end we shall never know. I, personally, hope never to find out."

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

Use the Blackened Brigade in your games. Maybe they haven't gone south yet, and are still around, and approaching the area your PCs are in. Any male PCs of a fighting age are not directly threatened by the Brigade - so finding a way to hide OTHER PCs (those threatened), or to gather enough tribute to save the local village, or to escape to a new location, or to unite enough lords to destroy the Brigade itself, are all possible adventures.

Jank, some players might even want to retire their characters as Brigadiers.

Posts have been slow and few, lately. But I WANT to be active. (I enjoy writing, and thinking.)
So, just for a week, I'm challenging myself to write SOMETHING gameable (monster, NPC, magic, location, item, etc.) each day. To make it interesting: it must be inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle from my music library each morning. (I listen to a lot of weird stuff like death metal, post-rock, and dark ambient, so I'm not worried about finding inspiration.)
The above post was inspired (loosely?) by "A Farewell to Arms" by Machine Head (Spotify, YouTube).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I Found It Weeping in the Field

What do you have now?

I found it weeping in the field

What, an abandoned baby? A whinging pup?


By the Hundred, what IS that?

I found it weeping in the field

Get it OUT of here! Alber, put it back!

It doesn't belong there

Nor does it belong here! Get it out of this house! Put it back in the field - it can starve, for all I care!

I found it weeping

I WON'T- ...Alber, what?

It got heavier

Alber, are you okay? Your eyes...

I need to keep it, Meri We need to keep it

...Why? Why must we?

It needs us It needs to grow big and strong


You know we haven't been able to have a child Now we can have a child

A child


We can

Yes Big and strong


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Moth Gatherer (monster, 5E)

"In the Westwoods, they have a tale of a kind of being called a moth gatherer. These creatures, slender and sly, lurk in the boughs and breaks of those lands, emerging in the twilight. Their several eyes are glazed and dull, but within their tall mouths at the back of their throats is a small organ that glows softly but steadily. Moths are drawn to its light. The moth gatherer plucks its prey from the air with quick, slender fingers. Most, it eats; but, the choicest moths are carefully captured and handled by the gatherer, who fixes them to fanning armatures or spines that spread from its back. The moths are held in place by a sticky-sweet substance that serves as both fixative and nourishment, secreted by the gatherer. "

"From the silk spun my the larvae of their moths, the gatherers weave gossamer tents and cocoons in which to shelter, strange large sheets and webs in the largest trees. They think little of us ground-bound earthscratchers, remaining cloaked in the canopies and leaving us to our inscrutable devices; but, against those who threaten these tallest trees which support their homes, they strike with silence and silken garrotes."

"When enough moths have been gathered and bred and succored, when the spreading spines are rampant with soft, scaly wings, it is said that the gatherer can take to the air, its light frame lifted by its captives-become-comrades. Some say the moth gatherers then fly to the moon, there to mate and bear young that drift down in the dew. Some say they fly across the sea, spawning progeny that wash back up upon our sighing shores to gather moths once more. It is of no consequence; the moth gatherer's destiny is bound up with this transformation, and it becomes a new creature from a multitude of lesser creatures."

"Let, then, your way in the world be as the moth gatherer: in places of daylight and openness, keep your presence quiet and your light hidden; but when the world is darkened and those who move within it become lost, show them a glimpse of the luminence that shines within you, and they will draw near, seeing only your light. From you they will find sustenance, and from then you will draw your might."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

Here are some stats for moth gatherers! (5th Edition D&D - apologies to all you OSR types, haha)

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 16
Hit Points 24 (7d6+0)
Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft.
STR 13 (+1)
DEX 18 (+4)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 15 (+2)
CHA 11 (+0)
Skills Acrobatics +6, Animal Handling +4, Perception +4, Stealth +6
Saves Dexterity +6, Intelligence +4
Damage Resistances piercing
Damage Vulnerabilities cold, fire, thunder
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages an uncanny buzzing and clicking
Challenge 1 (200 XP)
Canopy Climber. The moth gatherer does not need to make checks in order to successfully climb through branches, leaves, or trees, and can do so at its full climbing speed.
Canopy Camouflage. The moth gatherer has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in treetops or foliage.

Garrotte. Melee Weapon Attack versus Surprised creatures only: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Roll attack with advantage. Hit effects vary based on whether both dice or only one were rolled high enough to hit:
Hit (one die): 7 (1d6+4) slashing damage, and the target is Grappled until they make a DC11 Str save as an action.
Hit (both dice): 11 (2d6+4) slashing damage, and target is Grappled and Restrained (and unable to speak!) until they make a DC14 Str save as an action.While this condition persists, the moth gatherer may repeat this attack on this target as an action without making a roll to hit.

Multiattack. The moth gatherer makes two claw attacks.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 6 (1d4+4) slashing damage.

Moth gatherers are fairly solitary, and mostly keep to themselves. If they perceive a great threat to their habitat, they may band together against it.
They are very risk-averse, and strike only in darkness with strangling garrotes that kill silently, targeting isolated foes. If confronted and outnumbered, they flee into the trees and hide, fighting with their claws only if cornered beyond hope of escape.
Moth gatherer elders have gathered enough moths to achieve flight, gliding silently through the dark.
Some say the moth gatherers gather not only moths, but also secrets - or perhaps that the moths they gather have gathered secrets of their own. If a cunning person could find means to communicate with these beings, they may have deep knowledge of they ways of the wilds, the heights and the deeps, the Mysteries, and many other things. They may serve as givers - or goals - of a quest.

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 18
Hit Points 28 (8d6+0)
Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft., fly (hover) 25ft.
STR 13 (+1)
DEX 18 (+4)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 15 (+2)
CHA 11 (+0)
Skills Acrobatics +7, Animal Handling +5, Perception +5, Stealth +7
Saves Dexterity +7, Intelligence +5
Damage Resistances piercing
Damage Vulnerabilities cold, fire, thunder
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages an uncanny buzzing and clicking
Challenge 2 (450 XP)
Canopy Climber. The moth gatherer does not need to make checks in order to successfully climb through branches, leaves, or trees, and can do so at its full climbing speed.
Canopy Camouflage. The moth gatherer has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in treetops or foliage.

Garrotte. Melee Weapon Attack versus Surprised creatures only: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Roll attack with advantage. Hit effects vary based on whether both dice or only one were rolled high enough to hit:
Hit (one die): 7 (1d6+4) slashing damage, and the target is Grappled until they make a DC12 Str save as an action.
Hit (both dice): 11 (2d6+4) slashing damage, and target is Grappled and Restrained (and unable to speak!) until they make a DC15 Str save as an action.While this condition persists, the moth gatherer may repeat this attack on this target as an action without making a roll to hit.

Multiattack. The moth gatherer makes two claw attacks.

ClawsMelee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 6 (1d4+4) slashing damage.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rust Below

"...Those daring (or foolish) enough to venture into the deep places of this world (or is it still this world Below?) report many strange and unbelievable things, most of which may be attributed to the fatigue of deep journeys, overactive imaginations fed by wild stories, and the uncertain cast of torchlight upon distant surfaces. One common report, however, which MAY be corroborated by fact, is that of rust below."
"Many an adventurer has returned with weapon rusted and gear eaten away, swearing that the rust crept or rushed from some piece of corroded metal found below and brought in contact with virgin equipment, spreading across its surface in mere seconds with grinding and screeching audible to the attentive ear. Iron and copper are most susceptible, with silver and gold normally avoiding this strange effect."
"Perhaps the air in deep tunnels and buried ruins is itself corrupt, or telluric currents originating from deep below flow freely through metal and accelerate the natural process of corrosion. In any case, should you find yourself unfortunate enough to venture any distance below, do not let rusted metals contact any of your possessions. You may soon find them rusted and corrupt, too."

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

(Housekeeping note: first post in over a month, unfortunately! My apologies. I have wished to be writing, but I have been - and am - dealing with real-world "adventures" of my own - mostly the kind that involve dying of an ancient curse in some gods-forsaken dank hole in the ground. XP )

Monday, June 19, 2017


"I will tell you a secret. Sit in your cell, Disciple, and observe the night sky through your lone window. Note the brightness of the stars, and the darkness of the void beyond. Now close the window, extinguish your lamp, let no light touch you.  Behold, the darkness is not quite dark; the night sky was darker than the lightlessness you see. Subtle and dubious is the difference, but full darkness is not full darkness at all. From whence does this not-light come? I tell you, Disciple, the light you see is no worldly light; look into absolute dark, and the light you see is your own self."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Death and Dying

I want to talk about what happens when player characters die in a tabletop RPG.

I am of the generation(s) that have grown up with videogames, as are many of those who play tabletop RPGs. Player death is a common occurrence in videogames; you take too much damage, you make a misstep, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time - you die.
And then you resume. Either at the start of the level, or at the last checkpoint, or (very rarely) from the very beginning of the game. But it is rare that more than ten minutes of play time is lost in a death.

Tabletop RPGs are built around some very different assumptions. One of these is the synchronicity of the worlds of the PCs - if a PC dies, he/she is also dead in the worlds of the other PCs. There is no savepoint - the shared story carries on. (Or simply ends there.) This can be a difficult paradigm to adapt to if one is used to the cheap, reversible deaths of (most) videogames.

Different players react differently to the death of their character.
Some, those who engage deeply with the rules and systematics of a game, stoically accept it, so long as the death was fair and by-the-book. They live and die by the rules they agree to play under.
Some, those who engage deeply with the plot and story-making of a game, are content or even delighted for their character to die in a meaningful way at a meaningful moment - in some great struggle or tragic betrayal, say - because of the emotional punch something like a death adds to a story.
Some, those who constantly seek more powerful abilities and items, those who play the game "to win," are devastated or even aggravated by a character death. It represents a loss of invested time, a setback that will take weeks or months or years of play to recoup.

I am not criticizing any of these reactions. I share aspects of all three of them. I merely seek to illustrate that character death is not fun for everyone.

The question then becomes why we play (or create) games that let characters die. Let's talk about that.

There are several reasons that come to mind, but I think most can simply be reduced into one principle: the specter (and even coming) of character death promotes and deepens player engagement.
1) It encourages careful play that engages with the rules.
2) It encourages verisimilitude (players don't risk their characters in situations that the characters wouldn't themselves risk).
3) It provides tension and drama (not unlike that which fuels a casino gambler).
4) It provides moments of emotional depth when a beloved character dies.

I LIKE promoting player engagement.
But I also recognize that many players have a hard time dealing with the death of a character.
So I'll tell you what I do, as a DM, to accommodate both these factors.
1) I provide risks other than death.
Death shouldn't be the only risk a character faces. Wounds, financial loss, curses, mental illness, connections... there are other ways to make a character (and by extension, a player) feel risk. Use those.
2) I make death a real risk.
Cushy systems that give players mountains of hitpoints and myriad failsafes like resurrection spells keep death in their rules to no purpose. There is no point in making character death a possibility if it is unlikely, painless, and reversible. If you're going to have character death be possible in your game, get your mileage out of it. Use it. Make it a threat. Make it painful. It's doing its job.
3) Give the player the final say.
I have a secret. It is not me that determines whether a character lives or dies. It is not even the dice. It is the player.
I currently run a hacked 5E game, wherein a dying player makes one (not three) death save (with the DC determined by the amount of leftover damage after the PC is reduced to zero hitpoints). I tell the player to come roll behind my screen, And I whisper to them that no matter what the dice say, they decide whether their character survives or not. And they roll. And they look me in the eye. And they tell me whether their character is alive or dead. (I got this idea from The Angry GM. This article. It is worth reading on this subject, if you want something longer and more in-depth. And better. XP )
This allows the kind of player whose day would be ruined by a character death to, well, not have their day ruined. But it preserves the bite of death for those who want to go by the hard-and-fast rules. And it allows story-oriented players to decide the life or death of their character based on the implications for the plot.
I have only had two players, so far, put in the position where they're holding their d20 behind my screen, about to decide whether their character lived or died.
Both players rolled a death. I asked them what happens to their character:
Both players told me their character dies.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Cavern

Can we talk about how this sounds exactly like how a megadungeon crawl should feel?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Two Questions

Beneath Ieris, the City of Spires, coils the infamous Darkweb, the prisons and dungeons of the Ieran branch of the Church of the Hundred Saints. Its interrogators have a most curious practice, which they call the Two Questions (though few know of this practice, and even fewer of its name). A recalcitrant prisoner is strapped to a table, and asked a question. A crowbar is kept handy and applied to the upper extremities of the prisoner if no answer is obtained (in order to "pry" one forth?). Once it is, the crowbar is brought down upon one of the prisoner's lower legs, and the resulting breakage examined in faith that the Father provides his insight through the wound. If the tibia is shattered, the interrogators know that the prisoner's answer was truth, while if the fibula is broken, the prisoner told a lie (or a "fib," if you will, from whence the term derives). By now it is, of course, evident why the practice is known as the Two Questions: most prisoners have only two legs - though, indeed, it is rare that more than two questions are needed for the Church's purposes. It is thought that the interrogators have grown very skilled indeed on exactly how the crowbar's force is applied and which bone breaks, though to say so to any interrogator or ecclesiast is to invite accusations of faithlessness (and perhaps worse).

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cleric Ecology

See, when I think of a priest, I think of the dude in vestments down the road at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, not some screaming dude in mail with a mace in hand and holy fire burning on his brow. The Reverend Richard W. Blazejewski in town doesn't dive into dungeons, lead hunting parties against predatory dragons, banish embodied demons by use of a blessed warhammer, or call down curses upon his foes (...probably).

Yet, in games like Dungeons & Dragons, that is exactly what "clerics" do.
(At least, that is how they are portrayed. I've already wrote some on what a cleric "really is.")

Now, I could rant about this discrepancy in two ways. I could say "NO, that's not how things work, really a cleric should be like THIS" and some people might find it interesting and maybe I would have some good thoughts. OR, I could say "okay, now that's not what I think of a priest as being - so what kind of world would make priests like THAT?"

I'm going to do the second one because it sounds like more fun.

So, what weird things do I notice in clerics in traditional RPGs?

1) They're SPECIAL. They get supernatural powers and privileges from their divinity. They have been CHOSEN. Strangely enough, though, after giving their follower all these souped-up magic powers, these divines seem to care very little what the cleric actually DOES with them.
1a) So, I conclude, any divinity with a lot of clerics must have very little headroom of their own with which to decide how to exercise their power, and so must outsource that brainspace to "devoted" followers. Deities in D&D (& Friends of similar ilk) have a lot of magical might but not a very good field of view or attention span. Just as if some random human (with a LOT of power) were trying to run WORLDS and keep track of it all - and decided to share some of that power with OTHER humans who could keep an eye of areas and concerns the "divine" was unable to pay attention to with any regularity. In short, clerics teach us that deities are not so very divine (except, perhaps, in the raw magnitude of their power.)
(Some may here protest that no, actually what is happening is that the cleric prays to an all-seeing deity who then sees fit to reward the cleric's faith with a miracle, but I don't buy that explanation because 1) there would be no reason to have the cleric in the first place, and 2) a cleric's god would seem to be REALLY chill about performing massive acts of wonder in a lot of situations they don't have any stake in, in which the cleric is just pursuing personal goals and just using divine power as a resource to their own ends.)

2) They're EVERYWHERE. Clerics everywhere. Like, they're one of the four traditional core classes, right alongside "people who use magic," "people who steal stuff," and "people who kill things by hitting them." Clerics in every village, clerics in every temple. (Clerics in nearly every adventuring party, it seems.)
2a) So, I conclude, the divines must be REALLY comfortable with all these humans and elves and such running around with their power. Like, they hand out literal godly power like it were candy. You just have to spend a couple years hanging out with the right people and BAM you can do miracles, you and the fifty other people at THIS ONE TEMPLE.
2b) I also conclude the divines REALLY WANT SOMETHING DONE. Whether they want their followers healed or their enemies confounded or monsters slain, they're throwing A LOT of resources around here on the prime planes. (That, or they're just really bored and they want to see what fireworks happen when they give a ton of unreliable little turds access to sparks of the divine. I personally suspect this last option, haha.)

3) They're of ALL KINDS. Not the clerics themselves, necessarily, but they follow all kinds of gods. Gods of war and peace, love and hate, life and death, toads and eagles, greed and poverty, light and dark, goats and snakes, oaths and lies, sun and stone, bears and beetles, fire and water, knowledge and secrets. And all these clerics have legitimate clerical powers, which at least IMPLIES that they worship bona-fide deities.
3a) So, I conclude that there are a TON of deities up there, many of which disagree vehemently with the basic nature of tons of OTHER deities, granting tremendous destructive power to all kinds of followers.
3b) ...Which seems like we have an answer to our question in 2b: the gods are tooth-and-nail AT WAR with each other; sun clerics are expected to strike down underworld creatures, truth clerics are expected to expose and destroy lies (and liars), goat clerics are expected to... screw stuff and eat stuff? ANYWAY, don't think of clerics as passive repositories of power. Think of them as soldiers in a cosmic battlefield. (Better: not soldiers, LANDMINES, blowing stuff up indiscriminately and undirectedly.)

So, next time you're playing a cleric, think a bit more about what that means. Does your deity approve of your use of its power? Does it even know? Does it even CARE?
(And, GMs, ask the same questions for deities in your setting!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Downtime (WotC Unearthed Arcana)

Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast put out optional rules for downtime in 5th Edition (accessible here).

Overall, what I saw was encouraging.

It's good to see WotC thinking in terms of a long-form campaign, and what players are doing between adventures. Specific downtime activities I was happy to see include: rules for crafting items of all kinds (and particularly magic items or spell scrolls), rules for training language or tool proficiencies, rules for research of lore regarding foes or locations, and rules for buying and selling magic items.

It was kinda janky to see activities like criminal heists and pit fighting included among downtime activities. They seem more like mini-adventures in and of themselves, to me. The only way I can think to justify it is to say that they're presented in this compressed, abstract format so that one player doesn't take a lot of time away from the party by going out on a mini-adventure of their own while everyone waits for them to finish - which makes sense, I suppose.

The suggestion regarding "foils" (basically villains by another name?) also seemed really out-of-place, especially given that they were given spatial priority in the document. All it really ended up saying is that "yeah, sometimes opponents of the party will be up to stuff while the players are on downtime, too." (I don't think it should take three full letter-size pages to say that.)

I would've liked to see rules regarding more domain-style play, like creating and running factions or building and maintaining manors/castles/towers and their demesnes. (Perhaps that would be another Unearthed Arcana in and of itself, though - which I would be cool with.)

I'm currently running a (heavily-hacked) 5E game, and these rules are fairly lightweight and easy to bolt on without much meddling - and my campaign utilizes downtime. I think I will take advantage of these.

Overall: 3.5/5

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Session 0

Session 0 is my favorite name for that special opening game session where no actual play takes place, but rather players sit about with furrowed brows, either painstakingly building their character or looking bored while waiting for others to finish. There are occasional outpourings of excitement (players gushing details from their character's "deep backstory" or the DM spouting tidbits about their "custom setting"), but on the whole it is the least engaging session of the coming campaign.

I don't aim to change that. It is, perhaps, the way it must be. But, I DO aim to make sure Session 0 isn't a waste of time, that it gives a solid foundation necessary for a successful long-term campaign. 

Here's what I do.

0) Have the Players Read the Relevant Rules
This is labeled "0)" because it is the step BEFORE Session 0.
Players need to know the basic rules of the system you're using.
Don't make them read every little submechanic, and CERTAINLY don't ask them to read up on the various character build options - but they should know how stuff like fighting and magic work.
This will, ideally, save a LOT of time you'd otherwise spend repeatedly explaining basic rules to puzzled players trying to build their characters.
Not all your players will read the rules. This is not the end of the world. Still, ASK THEM TO.
Not all your players will remember the rules they read. This is fine. Still, REMIND THEM to try looking rules up before asking you.

1) Explain the Campaign Premise
Every campaign has a premise.
Every one.
Even if it's just "yeah, you guys are a band of pseudo-medieval fantasy types who got lost in the woods and find themselves in a strange place. It's got lotsa fairies and trolls. You need to figure out how to get back to where you came from - and I doubt the trolls are feeling helpful."
So, you need to LAY OUT what the players can generally expect from the campaign - both in terms of setting (likely allies and enemies, character options, tech level) and tone (mood, flavor), since these may be important for players to account for in step 2).
OBVIOUSLY keep any mysteries or plot twists to yourself. BUT you don't want players showing up to a police drama/horror campaign set in a remote area of Alaska with a character who reads like a gay ex-SEALS Arnold Schwarzenegger.
^ That literally HAS HAPPENED to a friend of mine - while DMing his first session :(
Sometimes, the DM has ideas for MULTIPLE campaigns they'd like to run. If this is you, don't be afraid to bring those options before the players, explain their premises, and have them decide which they'd like to play!

2) Build Characters
This follows on pretty straightforwardly from 1).
DO NOT be afraid do disallow character classes or builds, whether on mechanical or tonal grounds. (I always ban druids from my campaigns, for example - for BOTH reasons.) Character classes should fit the chosen setting. It's part of the storymaking aspect of roleplaying games - a character with no place in the setting sticks out like a sore thumb, breaks immersion, and makes it difficult for the world to interact with it.
DON'T ask for a "backstory." They are 1) time-consuming to write, 2) not fun to read, 3) always forgotten about or contradicted, and 4) not desired by many players. All you and each of your players need to know about their character is WHO THEY ARE and WHAT THEY WANT. These can be very simple things. (That being said, if some screwed-up player wants to write out a "deep backstory," shrug and let them. And then read it when they're done, and try to incorporate an element or two into the campaign, because you are a kind and caring DM and they put in all that effort and care. But DON'T YOU DARE put the idea to make one in their head in the first place.)
Now - and this is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART - an aspect of what each character "wants" must tie in with the campaign premise. That is, each character must have a reason that they are part of the campaign, and that they band together as a party to rise to the challenges they face. Characters without reason to be there just end up as a drag on the campaign - the player will always have to be justify why their character is still part of the party, given that what their character wants has no connection to the goals as a party as a whole. Characters without reason to be part of the party are POISON to a successful campaign. Make sure you establish each character's reason during Session 0. Don't approve a player's character until they have such a reason.
[Edit: I actually just read The Angry GM's article on this bit. If you want a lot more detail on specificity on what to go for in getting a party together and keeping it together, check it.]
[Edit2: most of the stuff I write is more for GMs, but here's something for players: if your GM isn't doing a good job requiring characters to have a reason to be part of the party, get it together yourself and start proposing common goals or means or motivations to your fellow players. A friend and I recently had to do this for a VERY directionless campaign that basically several odd characters dicking about independently until we realized the DM had no plans to do this for us, we had to do it ourselves.]

3) Decide on Play Schedule
Doesn't have to be set in stone for the long term - but you at least need to know when your group is meeting next. This is the best time to establish that, and explore expectations for the continuing schedule for the group.
I like to run weekly games with short sessions. Some groups may do better with longer sessions, or less frequent games. See what's best for your players.

That's it.
All in all, it should take around two hours. Perhaps one, perhaps three. (It will take more like three hours if your players don't know the rules to the game system you're using, or if you're having the players choose from among multiple campaign options.)

A Few General Tips
Be friendly and welcoming. Encourage players to make connections with each other. (Might also be helpful to encourage their CHARACTERS to be built with connections, too.)
Provide snacks, or delegate the task of bringing snacks to a player or two, even if it won't be a customary fixture of following sessions. Snacks alleviate boredom, which is something that Session 0 is especially vulnerable to.
Keep the group spatially together. Not necessarily at the same table, but definitely in the same room. (I like a room with couches more than a room with tables for Session 0, but this is just a personal preference thing, haha.)
Feel free to experiment with the ambiance by altering lighting or playing music, but it's probably just BS tomfoolery to do so. (But hey, a certain kind of player digs that effort.)

Go start that campaign.

(Reader: what does your Session 0 look like?)