Monday, March 20, 2017

Silver and Steel

It's a common fantasy trope that weapons (especially blades) made of certain materials have different effects versus various uncommon and supernatural beings. (Silver being the bane of werewolves is classic, or "cold iron" vs. various fey beings. The Witcher series of videogames, for example, capitalizes on these conventions by arming the protagonist with both an iron sword and a silvered sword, each useful for various foes.)

Anyway, here's how I flesh out that trope in the games that I run.
(This is the kind of post that I may add to and maintain over time.)

"When the Cosmomachy rent the archaic celestial order, a third of the Archons were hurled from the Heavens for their rebellion, falling to Earth and hiding themselves beneath Her skin to escape the burning Sun. It is said that their mighty fall - tremendous impacts rending and scarring the Earth's surface - caused their revoked glory to slough and shed and become buried in the rock they shattered. Now bereft of grandeur and holiness, these Fallen Archons still infest the subterranean depths of this world, no longer Archons, but Chthons. Their lost glory still remains, however: it forms the veins of silver that we mine for jewelry and coin. Furthermore, this silver still bears all the force and authority of the Chthons' exile: it repels, rends, and burns with wondrous potency any Chthon, their dark spawn, or any being tainted by the Powers Beneath the Earth. Those who venture into the deep places of the world do well to carry a weapon treated with a silver coating, for such precaution may well make the difference between life or death for one who meets a creature tainted or created by a Chthon - or, Heavens forbid, a Chthon itself. As silver is not a strong metal, however, the coating of such weapons may be damaged or rendered useless by even one intense encounter."

"Esteemed mystics teach that if silver is the lost glory of the Chthons, iron is their excrement, left in the Earth's bones for us to dig up and fashion into cruel weapons for the shedding of blood. While many scholars (such as myself) hesitate to rush into such an assertion, it is true that wrought iron seems to affect Heavenly beings in a strange manner - its touch is reported to chill and repel them as if it were a supreme blasphemy. Fey beings of the upper Earth seem similarly affected."

"Although, as we have postulated, iron has unexpected effects upon creatures of Heaven and the upper Earth, steel lacks this special character - perhaps the repeated heating and pounding of the forge drive the impurity from it. In any case, good-quality steel seems to have no special character in the way that iron and silver do, but is, of course, simply stronger and more durable than wrought iron, and so much more preferable for most purposes, though its manufacture is still difficult and time-consuming. Indeed, the crafting of steel implements seems to have been the sole domain of the elven peoples as lately as the Northcoming of Numaris, and may even have been lost entirely as a result of that event, only to be rediscovered within the past several centuries. Several cities of the Inner Six claim responsibility for this rediscovery, and it is unclear which claim, if any, is true."

"The greatest of elfsmiths learned how to forge meteoric iron alloyed with silver into blades as strong as steel, but with the chthono-antagonistic properties of purest silver. (It is thought that meteoric iron, as opposed to chthonic iron, lacks the unholy origins of such base iron and so does not interfere with silver's unique properties.) One legendary smith, Ríma, even went so far as to forge double-edged blades, with one edge of elfsteel and the other of chthonic iron, giving its wielder a potent weapon against beings from both Above and Below. These swords (called Bastard Blades, split swords, or Swords of Ríma) were forged in secret to escape the disapproval of Ríma's peers; however, their makership became known, and Ríma was exiled from her people for what were seen as blasphemous bastard creations. Split swords still resurface from time to time, often in the hands of wealthy and ostentatious nobles of the Inner Six or borne by daring adventurers deep into the Earth and far into the Wilds (where, more often than not, the blades are lost once more).

"The Deep Dwarves have known the art of working bronze since time immemorial. It is said that they taught it to Ubaal-Kain, great smith of one of the Surdic peoples - but Ubaal broke his somber vows of secrecy and spread the art amongst his tribe. The gravity of this event is not to be underestimated - at that time, iron forging was unknown outside of the Old North, meaning until that point the Surdic peoples made do with tools and weapons of copper and stone, both being poor materials for such applications. With bronze at their disposal, however, the Kain tribe gained enough leverage over their fellow Surds to begin forging a strong coalition of clans, with them at the head. Ubaal-Kain was long dead by this coalition finally grew to become the legendary Kainic Empire; some say he was assassinated at the behest of the Deep Dwarves whose secrecy he spurned, while other tales claim he met his end at the hand of his most promising apprentice by a blade of his own making. In either case, Ubaal-Kain's end was likely violent and untimely, though the legacy of his actions still endures in the ruins of the great cities and fortresses the Kaineans built across their burgeoning empire. In our time, however, the accessibility of iron and the supremacy of steel has rendered bronzemaking a shadow of its former self, just as the Kainic Empire has ceased to cast its claim across the Sands long ago."

"The metal known as orichalcum was the great secret of the Deep Dwarves. (It is said that it shall forever remain so, as none alive know the art of its making any longer.) It is a metal - likely an alloy rather than a native element of the Earth - with the weight of gold, the color of bronze, and a strength and a sheen far exceeding both metals (and, indeed, ALL known metals). Furthermore, it glows softly when warm - the grasp of a hand soon gives it a soft light, and the taste of warm lifeblood causes it to shine fitfully. Greater heat brings greater light; myths tell of its ancient dwarven smiths drawing it from their mighty furnaces and working it by feel, keeping eyes covered and closed to avoid becoming permanently blinded, as if they wrought and forged a small piece of the holy Sun itself. It is a most envied material: weapons forged from orichalcum are without comparison, entire suits of steel armor are constructed around a single piece of orichalcum platemail recovered from some lost ruin or secret treasure-trove, and jewelry of orichalcum is treasured above all other materials for its unfading durability and the soft glow it gives off when worn against the skin. Myths and folk tales ascribe to it all sorts of magical and mystical properties, though its supreme hardness and its curious luminosity are usually the only characteristics common through all the tales. (Orichalcum's utility against chthonic beings is probably the next most common property ascribed to it, though precious few orichalcum weapons exist to test this hypothesis.)"

Volcanic Glass
"The bile and tears of certain volcanoes often coalesce into a hard smoky glass, which cleaves into preternaturally sharp edges when carefully shattered. Many of the Surdic tribes have known the art of knapping volcanic glass (called "dragonglass" by what oral traditions and later manuscripts have survived to the present) into deadly tips and heads for weapons since before they began recording history. Volcanic glass, despite its noted sharpness, is brittle and chips easily, usually rendering a weapon made of the material useless after a handful of blows. Although common metals have nearly universally replaced dragonglass in all its former uses (save certain styles of jewelry common in the Sands), the Asani have been known since their inception to use concealed blades of wicked-sharp volcanic glass in their ritualized assassinations, a tradition they still reputedly carry on. (It is even said that the Red Jesters have even taken to such weapons; as it is said of the Jesters, "creativity does not require originality.") Folk tales from the Sands ascribe to dragonglass powerful properties against the undead, unclean spirits, and general misfortune, though I am hesitant to grant much credence to such superstition."

Wrought Crystal
"It is unclear whether volcanic glass inspired the invention of wrought crystal; though their usage is similar, the elves of the Old North likely had minimal, if any, indirect contact with the Surds of the Sands. In any case, the secrets of working crystal are no longer known. It was the ancient elves, long before the Northcoming, who used their arts to sing sand into delicate structures of glass. While it seems the majority of wrought crystal is still encountered as jewelry and elaborate statuary of various scales, it seems the elves of the Old North also used it for weapons of supreme sharpness. Armor of such material has not been discovered, however; wrought crystal, though much more durable than mundane glass, still possesses pressure points that cause its careful structure to shatter uselessly, and such weaknesses likely prevented its use in armor or shields. Rather, its martial use seems to have been primarily in the making of spear- and arrow-heads, and occasionally sword or polearm blades. Such specimens as survive have been untarnished by rust and unworn by time, though they perhaps become more prone to shatter suddenly as they age through the millennia. Though such weapons are noted for their sharpness and lightness, perhaps the most surprising property of wrought crystal is that it is magically inert. Never has a spell been found to mar or alter such crystal, nor has any enchantment ever been placed upon an article of it. As such, wrought crystal weapons have gained a reputation as the bane of both Magi and spirits alike, bypassing arcane defenses and cleaving even incorporeal forms as easily as they pierce flesh. There are even tales of chains and cages wrought of crystal for the express purpose of binding spirits and Magi, though I doubt such stories bear any credence. (Perhaps I, a Magus of the Fifth Order, am unwise to write in such cavalier fashion of a possible means to my demise - but who reads my works, anyway? If anyone, it is fellow Magi, likely already wise to such matters. Though I have heard that my writings often inspire anger in my more opinionated readers, I doubt it is enough to drive one to murder - yes?)"

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

So, you, the Reader, have read through all of that spew - and now you're wondering: "wait, but how can I use this in a game?" Never fear, I'm here. What follows is centered around a 5th Edition D&D ruleset, but should be easy to extrapolate to any system. I'm gonna tell you what should be different about weapons made from various materials.
(Assumed technology level above and below is that wrought iron is the most common material for weapons, but that good steel is also used, but is usually limited to the wealthy or fortunate. If you're running a game with slightly more advanced metallurgy, such that steel is the standard, merely treat steel as the default material and give iron and bronze minor penalties. If you're running a game where steel is unheard-of or a lost technology, simply drop it like it's hot and carry on.)

Silver - vs. fiends and undead, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage). Loses this property if damage dice come up "1" (or, for a simpler system, has a 50% chance of losing this property after an encounter featuring heavy combat).
Iron - vs. celestials and fey, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage). However, bends out of shape on a fumble (natural attack roll of "1"), dealing half damage until professionally repaired.
Steel - +1 to attack and damage. (This is not a magical property. Does not impact monster resistances or vulnerabilities.)
Elfsteel - +1 to attack and damage. Versus fiends and undead, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage).
Bronze - Nothing special.
Orichalcum - +2 to attack and damage. Treat as dealing either its native damage type (piercing/slashing/bludgeoning) or Radiant damage, whichever is better.
Volcanic Glass - +2 to attack and damage. Treat as dealing either its native damage type (piercing/slashing/bludgeoning) or Fire damage, whichever is better (but DOESN'T actually set anything on fire). Shatters if an attack misses an armored or shield-bearing foe.
Wrought Crystal - +2 to attack and damage. Shatters on a fumble (natural attack roll of "1"). Attacks and damage are not affected by any magical effect - so spells like Mage Armor, or a ghost's resistance to non-magical weapons, or armor enchantments are useless defenses. (However, resistances like an Iron Golem's immunity to slashing weapons are still in effect, as that is of mundane origin - iron is hard!)

A bit of background design philosophy:

I'm tired of games like 5E D&D that treat all weapons equally, except magic ones (which, by the way, are seemingly a dime a dozen). I mean, 5E technically has "mithral" and adamantine weapons (I think?), but they're dead boring and never better than just a good ol' +1 sword. I want to bring back a sense of wonder to finding weapons of different materials.

However, I want to avoid the opposite pitfall of games that just spew out a plethora of ten or twenty weapon types, sort them by grade, and just expect players to gradually progress up the list. (TESV Skyrim and Runescape are examples that have figured heavily in my past.) That is boring AND tedious. Different weapon materials shouldn't USUALLY just be "better" than others - there should be situations where each type is good, and no huge differences between the best and worst materials. (Notice above that the weapons only scale from +0 to +2 - and of the three +2 weapons, two of them are susceptible to breakage, and the other is a lost secret, and extremely rare!)

What do you think, Reader? You gonna use or adapt any of this?

There's an XKCD for this, of course.
(From here.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Metal Monster Manual Monday - Volume 10

Continuing a weekly series of posts wherein I share several album covers (mostly by death metal bands!) as brainfood for encounters in your tabletop RPG. Expect this every Monday!

I love the colors and textures on this one.
I THINK that is a sun (obscured by clouds and miasmas) and not a moon, but it is hard to tell. I imagine it being a sunrise, actually (daylight dawns upon this grim scene that has transpired during the night), though it could just as easily be a sunset.
It is also hard to tell whether the object in front of the sun is a ruined castle or a rock formation. I'm gonna go for the latter, because the shape is evocative and it's a cooler option anyway.
So, two main things to think about for this piece in the context of building an adventuring scene.
1) What's with the ship? It looks like it got wrecked on some rocks, and the crew (but not the captain) abandoned ship. I imagine that's the captain up top, who hung himself in order to "go down with his ship." What was this ship carrying - treasure? Contraband? Prisoners? Looting a precarious shipwreck upon the rocks would be a great adventuring scenario, but so would tracking down dangerous missing prisoners! (Perhaps they are sheltering in:)
2) The ruined castle. Who once ruled here? Whose lands were these? Why was the castle abandoned to ruin - was it conquered? Cursed? Simply too expensive to maintain? What unwholesome denizens now reside within its crumbling corridors? (What treasures and secrets might be found within?) Are these - either the denizens or the treasures or the secrets - connected with the wreck outside?

I imagine this being as a classic door guardian spirit of some kind. Solve his riddle, or answer his question, or bring him his sacrifice, or retrieve the key, and he will let you pass! Fail this and attempt passage anyway, and he will inflict withering necrotic damage with the merest touch of his shadowy tendrils, while your mundane weapons pass straight through his un-substance.
I find it interesting that there is a suggestion of a third eye on his forehead. Perhaps he has sight of a kind not possessed by most mortals. (He may have oracular powers, or extraordinary powers of perception, or the ability to see into minds.) This would make an encounter especially interesting, or give another motive to interact with him besides merely obtaining passage through his doorway.
The fact that the artwork has no words on it means there is no reason to merely show your players what they see!

Alright, time for the BOSS BATTLE:

We have already featured a Xul album cover on a different Metal Monster Manual Monday a while back, but here's another one!
This is another one of those covers that I've actually used in my experimental Metal Monster Manual Campaign - it was actually the culminating, final boss! It's gonna be hard for me to abstract it from the way that I actually used it, so I'll just run you through how it figured in that campaign.
The being above, who I named Xul (much creative, right?), was encountered by the players previously in the form presented by the Resist the Thought artwork in this post - note the horns (now repaired above!) and the third eye (replacing the previous mark or brand!).
In the very center of the artwork, protected by some kind of bubble or shield, is the perhaps-fetal demon-child from whom Xul draws power to restore her lost deity and assume this form. Xul needed to be slain before this infant god could be handled or harmed.
This is a hard thing to do. Xul's head, arms, and torso are armored with bone plate (save the crack where her third eye may be seen!). Furthermore, her four powerful arms, many tentacles, and sharp horns provide myriad mundane ways of hindering and harming players. Finally, the aura that crackles about her head my be channeled by her third eye into a blistering ray of DOOOM.
The ensuing combat was great - full of danger. The players managed to slay Xul in the nick of time, as one player leapt upon her back and cracked her protective skull wide open with a Word of Power, allowing another player a clear arbalest shot straight into her third eye, destroying this form. (The party, with much disagreement and strife, then murdered the infant demon-god as it slept, destroying its dream world that the campaign took place in and returning the players to the waking world which the demon-dreams had been seeping into. Long story. I may write it out fully if there's interest.)
I was very happy with how Xul functioned as a final boss. Success!

How would YOU use any/all of these monsters, encounters, and scenes in your game, Reader?
(Let me know how it goes if you do!)

Housekeeping note: after two weeks of unemployment, my new job will be starting up at the end of this week or the beginning of next. I will be busy, and I will transition this blog into two posts per week rather than three. Monday and Thursday, most likely. Now that Metal Monster Manual Monday has reached its 10th installment (yay!), I will probably bring it down to bi-weekly, and fill the intervening space with miscellaneous articles.
So, stay tuned!

Previous volumes:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7
Volume 8
Volume 9

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Three Sisters

"The Three Sisters of the Father’s Loom (The Sisters of Evandra, The Three Weavers, The Loom-Saints)"

"In centuries past, when the city-state of Evandra was still a village, there lived in that village three sisters. They had no husbands, being married (in a sense) to their work, or perhaps to the Holy Father in a saintly vow. They were makers of cloth; one sister spun linen into strands, the second sister wove the strands into bolts of fabric, and the third sister took the cloth to market and returned with food enough for the next day."

"One day, however, their true giftedness was discovered. In what must have been a bolt of divine inspiration from the Father Above, the Three Sisters realized that their work itself was an oracle, as I will explain."

Okay, so FOUR women here. Imagine one of the central two is the supplicant (see below).
"The first sister, who sat spinning linen from flax, would receive supplicants, hearing their pleas and determining whether they were of pure heart and earnest faith, and receiving a single simple gift in exchange for being heard. Then, the supplicant would be admitted to the loom, where they spoke their question aloud to the second sister who wove, before exiting to wait. The third sister would inspect the cloth as it was woven, searching for mistakes in the weave: if the mistake were such that the weft had passed OVER the warp where it should not have, this was taken as an answer of “yes;” if the weft had passed mistakenly UNDER the warp, this was interpreted as an answer of “no.” A mistake or error of any other kind indicated that the answer was more complex, or that the supplicant’s heart was not truly pure and their question would not be heard by the Wise Father. The third sister would pass on one of these three answers, provided by the Father’s benevolence, to the supplicant, who would go their way blessed by this knowledge."

"The Three were young when they began this most holy work. By the time they were old, their fame as true oracles of the Hallowed Father had spread all around the Sea of Cora-Mar and beyond, with supplicants coming from far lands and bringing extravagant gifts in order to ensure their question be heard."

"It was then that a strange thing was noticed. The Three Sisters, now old and frail, would be forgiven if their work were to suffer from their infirmity, becoming slow and full of mistakes. However, as a miraculous sign of the Father’s blessing, over the course of a decade or so the woven cloth of the Three Sisters became more and more perfect, until finally a year passed without a single mistake in the weave. Clothing and other articles made from the cloth of this year - the finest ever produced by mortal hands - still remain in this world, exhibited in mighty temples, worn on days of coronation, or secreted away in the richest of noble vaults."

"Sadly, this cloth was to be the last of its kind, as at the end of this year of perfection all three sisters fell ill and were put under the care of the most skilled physicians. Alas, it became clear their recovery would never be complete, and they would not be able to resume their work. On the day that the warp of their final bolt of cloth was cut from the loom, the three sisters passed Above."

"The Three Sisters of the Father’s Loom are among the most popular Saints, receiving vast and worthy veneration from all manner of worshipers. Still, they are considered to be the especial patrons of weavers, dedicated celibates, and all Evandrans (it is said that the skilled work of these Three first secured the fame of Evandra for its weaving and tailoring, a reputation which has only grown to this day). They are, of course, invoked by those making an important decision; it is still the custom of some of the peasantry, when confronted by a conundrum, to search their current garment for a mistake in the weave as an answer to their question (such a custom is mere superstition, however; it is clear that the Father has not blessed ALL weavers with such clairvoyance as the Three!). The Saintly Sisters' aspects are the loom, and the bolt of cloth with three mis-woven strands accented upon its surface."

"Regretfully, I must take a moment to defend the Three Sisters from the impious inquiries of over-learned scholars, who claim that the tale of the Sisters far predates the village of Evandra, and perhaps even the settling of the shores of Cora-Mar by the human race, speculating that the Three Sisters were in fact elves whose tale was appropriated by our kind, and pointing out that the spread of this tale has benefitted Evandra greatly. Of course their argument defeats itself - the famed weaving of Evandra is TESTIMONY to the continued legacy of the Three! I admit us scholars have the tendency to overthink such questions and put the cart before the ox, as critics of the veneration of the Three Sisters have clearly done in this case. Let the pious reader pay no mind to their bovine lowings."

- From the Hagiograph of The Hundred by the Venerable Viebalde

This post is the fifth in my The Hundred Saints series, updating Fridays!
Previous Saints:
Saint Oro-Bora One-Eye
Saint Grenna of Merthis
Saint Be'lak the Bard
Saint Cryndwr Firebeard of Wealdvale

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dream-Shade (monster, 5E)

So, I came across this idea while writing Monday's Metal Monster Manual post, and decided to write it up with a full stat block (5th Edition, because that's what I'm most familiar with - sorry, OSR geeks *shrugs*).

Here's the picture that inspired this monster. It is an album cover.

The dream-shade is a shadow of someone's dream, made manifest in the material world. It appears as a tall, smoky figure whose slender limbs bend and ripple in a growing wind. Dark and shadowy as they are, their sight causes all other colors to hideously brighten and distort, only emphasizing the black figure itself... and the darkness creeping in at the edges of the observer's vision. Everything is soundless, except the howling of winds.

The mere sight of one implants itself in the viewer's mind, such that a new dream-shade haunts their dreams ever after, manifesting somewhere in the world while the afflicted creature sleeps and watches. The one you see now is, in fact, being dreamed by someone thrashing in their restless sleep, perhaps continents away - perhaps in the next town over.

Thankfully, dream-shades are not inherently hostile, though protracted observation seems to irritate them and cause them to approach menacingly. However, they are as slow as if they walked against a howling gale, and can easily be fled.

They are supremely difficult to hit, bending and snapping like a flag on a pole whenever weapons are swung at them. Even on a successful hit, a dream-shade is not truly material: they cannot normally be harmed by stuff of this world - it passes through their smoky form without making any discernible impact. Only magics or the heavenly radiance of silver have a strong effect, cutting through the murk of a dream-shade like sunbeams through cloud-gaps, with severed appendages disintegrating like fumes in a gale.
Their own touch is potentially devastating, parting flesh cleanly and painlessly right down to the bone.

Even if one sees a dream-shade and then slays it, their sleep will forever be haunted, unless the shade that their dreams spawn is in turn destroyed as they sleep. Blacking out drunk alleviates this each night, but carries its own risks. Certain exorcistic magics can cure the problem permanently, though it is unclear whether this prevents the dream-shade from ever again manifesting, or merely casts it free into its own permanent existence.

5E stat block below.

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 18 (preternaturally evasive)
Hit Points 35 (10d8-10)
Speed 20 ft., climb 15 ft.
STR 11 (+0)
DEX 19 (+4)
CON 9 (-1)
INT 8 (-1)
WIS 12 (+1)
CHA 17 (+3)
Saves Dexterity +7, Wisdom +4
Damage Resistances cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, thunder
Damage Immunities acid, poison, and all damage from non-magical or non-silvered weapons
Damage Vulnerabilities radiant
Condition Immunities all, except incapacitated, prone, and restrained
Senses truesight 30 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages none (does not speak or respond to language)
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP)
Dream-Contagion. When a creature first sights a dream-shade, they must immediately make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw. On failure, the affected creature sees a dream-shade whenever they dream, causing them to have restless sleep and begin the next day with one less hit die available than normal. This condition can be combated by becoming blackout drunk the night before, but this carries its own dangers. This condition can only be cured by Remove Curse, or by the destruction of the dream-shade that these dreams create.

Multiattack. The dream-shade makes two tendril attacks.

Shadowy tendril. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target.
Hit: 9 (1d10+4) slashing damage, plus 7 (1d8+3) psychic damage.

Nota bene to DMs: do not be afraid to have "low-level" parties encounter this creature, even down to level 1s. They are not initially hostile, and even if the situation DOES escalate, a smart party can flee when they see their weapons have little effect (...only to find the danger remains, dwelling within their own heads when they sleep!).

Go forth, Reader, and use this monster if you wish. Let me know how it goes if you do!
(If you convert it to another system and I like what you did, I'll make sure to link to it!)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Metal Monster Manual Monday - Volume 9

Continuing a weekly series of posts wherein I share several album covers (mostly by death metal bands!) as brainfood for encounters in your tabletop RPG. Expect this every Monday!

I actually find this one to be super creepy.
So, we've got this slender, amorphous figures amid this colorful-but-horrid blurred background. I'm gonna say that, in a game, a creature that looks at or near one of these figures experiences blurred tunnel vision, with colors of all but the figure itself hideously accented.
The figures themselves move as if made of solid smoke, rippling and distorting with the growing winds. They move slowly, struggling against gusts. They can be fled, but not forgotten; once seen, they haunt the mind in dreams each night thereafter. (Such sleepers regain one less hit point, or hit die depending on the system, from sleep. Blacking out from drunkenness prevents this, but has other drawbacks.)
They are the stuff of dreams. If you see one in your waking hours, it is because someone somewhere is dreaming them into existence. Soon, you will fall asleep, and dream into existence your own. Perhaps someone else will see it. Perhaps, however, you will not live long enough to dream it.
Their touch causes flesh to part cleanly and painlessly, right down to the bone.
They are supremely difficult to hit, bending and snapping like a flag on a pole whenever weapons are swung at them. If a weapon connects, anything but magical weapons pass straight through as if through dense smoke. (Magical or silver weapons part the figure's body cleanly, separated appendages disintegrating like fumes in a gale.)
Everything is soundless, except the howling of winds.

(Update: I wrote this up as a fully-statted monster! See it here, use it if you wish!)

Once, this land was green. Now, the plants grow twisted. Their sap is red. Do not eat fresh plants.

The dead do not stay dead. They rise, twisted as the plants. They bleed red from every worm-hole, bulging cyst, and site of decay that mars their flushed skin. Do not touch their blood.

Priests and sages debate why the River turned red, shaking their hoary heads in frustration. Much blood had been spilled here, but it should have washed downstream by now. The River merely winds on, sluggish and turbid, red as fresh blood. Perhaps the plants turned red, infected by disease, and their noxious emissions tainted the water.

Even the Sun is red. Perhaps it is the Sun that cursed the plants AND the River. If so, truly this land is doomed, for who can reach the Sun to cleanse it?

Alright, time for the BOSS BATTLE:

I imagine that there are tales about The Colossus. It appears out of the desert near a random town every few years, base hidden by blowing sand and strange fumes. It moves very slowly, so slowly that those staring at it fail to see it move at all. However, within a few days, it is at the town. Anyone who stays longer than this is never heard from again; all that is found later is a patch of glowing, cooling glass, and a tall figure on the horizon toward the desert.

For a PC, this would not be a traditional "boss battle," as in practical terms it cannot be fought. Do you see the town or fortress at the bottom foreground of the image above? Look at the scale!

To be stopped, The Colossus must be climbed.

Those who approach its base find it shrouded by biting sand and billowing smoke. It is difficult to see if it has legs at all, but, groping blindly through the haze toward the low rumble of moving stone, The Colossus itself can be found. From there, it is a matter of a long, harrowing climb on smooth, hard stone.

Its mouth is as if the fires of heaven burned within the pits of hell.

What would be found within its eyes?

How would YOU use any/all of these monsters, encounters, and scenes in your game, Reader?
(Let me know how it goes if you do!)

Previous volumes:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7
Volume 8

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Saint Oro-Bora One-Eye

"Saint Oro-Bora One-Eye (The Saint of Two Tears, Old Roper, Oroghbora Mnguembe)"

"Saint Oro-Bora was a ropemaker of one of the many small Surdic towns braving the dangers of the Sands. His knobbed, calloused hands were skilled in twisting hempen strands and laying strong rope of three cords, sold throughout his town and the surrounding trade roads."

"It was a night of strong wind and blowing sand that brought trouble to his small mudbrick house on the edge of town. Sand Elves came from the dark and entered his home, binding him tightly; the Saint’s right eye was put out in the struggle. His two wives and five children were taken as slaves, likely to be sold in the markets of Syr-Marad. The tribe of Sand Elves disappeared with them into the night, but not before hanging Saint Oro-Bora upon his own qerfruit tree with a length of his own fine hempen rope."

"However, the persecuted Saint’s rope did not betray him. When the Sand Elves left him, the knot loosened itself and dropped Saint Oro-Bora to the sand, where he soon regained consciousness. Taking up his faithful rope and weeping tears from his good eye and blood from his ruined one, the grief-stricken Saint trudged into the darkness."

"Each daybreak thereafter, the foul tribe of Sand Elves found their number to be one less than the previous nightfall. The missing corpses, strangled with unyielding cord and dragged to burial beneath the cooling sands, were never found."

"On the fortieth night, Saint Oro-Bora found that there was only one life remaining to take: his own. He had unknowingly killed his loved ones in his madness, making him guilty of the worst sort of murder and deserving of death sevenfold. His faithful rope did not fail him."

"Though Saint Oro-Bora’s tale is clearly cautionary, it also provides an important example in the Saint’s final act of justice and integrity: the execution of a murderer. For this, he is considered redeemed - nay, saintly. There is no doubt in the careful reader that Saint Oro-Bora’s spirit shines among the stars for such a selfless and righteous act. Many frivolous tales, told to children to ensure their behavior, paint him as a murderous bogeyman (“Old Roper”) who seizes sleepers and drags them into the wilds to be strangled, though this is clearly a misuse of the Saint’s blessed story."

"Saint Oro-Bora’s veneration is inconsistent, likely due to disagreement regarding the interpretation of such a weighty tale, and due to the fact that it originates from the Sands, an immense area still outside the reach of the Church. Still, he is the patron of ropemakers, the bereaved, and repentant murderers, and is often invoked when seeking vengeance, justice, or an honorable end to one’s own life. His auspices are the coiled rope, the qerfruit tree, and paired tears of white and red (often interpreted as symbolizing sorrow and vengeance)."

- From the Hagiograph of The Hundred by the Venerable Viebalde

This post is the fourth in my The Hundred Saints series, updating Fridays!
Previous Saints:
Saint Grenna of Merthis
Saint Be'lak the Bard
Saint Cryndwr Firebeard of Wealdvale

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Maze Rats

I've been wanting to try running Maze Rats for a month or two, and this weekend I finally did. (Maze Rats, as I understand it, is a minimalist OSR tabletop RPG making use of d36 tables to enable flexible ad-hoc sandbox play.)

So, my girlfriend and I decided to roll up a quick character each and go at it. (I don't usually like playing a character while DMing - both because of the mental load and because my player self would have too much knowledge - I figured it was both okay because of the randomized format and necessary because it was just the two of us and having only one adventurer would be lame and boring.)

Character generation was quick, simple, but also pleasantly flexible. We decided to just use the random tables for every aspect of our characters (including stat spreads and equipment!), so here's what I came up with: 
Grimsvald, former coin-clipper, current adventurer.
STR+1, DEX+2, WIL+0. 
Rosy, piercings, wears practical clothes.
Uses flowery speech, but is often mopey.
Wields arming sword and shield, has crossbow and light armor.
Equipment: a crowbar, a roll of steel wire, a fishing net, a horn, a vial of poison, and a small bottle of glue.

Again using the provided tables, our adventurers were tasked to smuggle a large sack full of topaz music boxes to the Bardic Academy. (Topaz was a criminalized substance, because all topaz in the land was cursed such that touching it caused forgetfulness.)

We decided to avoid guard patrols by journeying through the city sewer. (We felt like characters in a horror movie - doing stupid things because genre conventions - but it worked, haha.)

We entered through a butcher's shop, whose slaughterhouse drained directly into the sewers. Passing through the larder below and the abandoned foundation of a nearby building, we abruptly stumbled into a deep crypt. Ghouls!

We ducked quickly out and slammed the door behind us, bracing ourselves against it, but five ghouls proved to be too strong and the ancient door burst from its rusted hinges.

My companion, who had chosen to use a large spear instead of a small weapon with a shield, was quickly torn to shreds when the ghouls won initiative. I was able to barely survive (my shield shattering versus a critical attack roll) and cast my only spell for the day: Levitating Coils.

Smoky coils of force wrapped about me, causing me to rise toward the high, vaulted ceiling out of the reach of the ravening ghouls. I pulled out my crossbow and started pegging the foes with bolts from above. They were driven reluctantly off, but not before devouring most of my companion's corpse. I shut and barred the door behind them.

I retreated for the day, recovering my health and my spell (this time: Claws of Chaos). I found a new companion - one who looked suspiciously like the last one... - and returned to the sewers.

This time, we "borrowed" armfuls of bloody meat from the butcher's larder, laying a trail of delicious flesh from the door of the crypt to the larder itself, then opened the door and hid in the shadows as the remaining ghouls devoured their way to the butcher's storeroom. We slipped through while they were gone without difficulty. 

We encountered a strong vault, likely the cache of some wealthy nobleperson, but were unable to breach it despite application of my crowbar and my companion's hand drill. We shrugged and moved on.

Disaster narrowly overtook us when we stumbled into the basement of a guard outpost, but they were unusually friendly and helpful ("6" on the reaction roll!) and escorted us through their area without investigating our sack of contraband. 

Skirting a deep cistern in the sewer (its walls scrawled with thieves' signs - perhaps indicating the danger of the guard outpost, and/or the presence of a rich vault?), we opened the door to a connecting storeroom, stocked with rotting food... and a strange, dense fog. (Out of character, I was puzzled by this, but my girlfriend suggested that it was dense spores from the mold and fungus consuming the food. Oops.)

I, being first through the door, failed my danger roll and breathed deeply of the dank clouds. I began hacking up blood and my vision dimmed.

I had four rounds to live.

My companion's strength enabled me to be carried back to the guard outpost in short order, where they quickly administered medicine.

Alas, it was not enough, and I died a horrible death as my lungs were consumed by malevolent fungal spores.

Given that both of our characters had suffered one death, we laughed and called it a game.

Definitely a fun time overall. The whole thing took about two hours from the time we pulled out the rules and dice, so definitely quick setup and gameplay! Great ratio of enjoyment to time invested.

My partner-in-crime was "really charmed" - she thought it was "very simple, pretty creative."

Gameplay was a bit TOO lethal for what we were doing (pickup play with only two players); I'm sure it would be unproblematic for parties of more like four members, and for funnel play in a multi-session campaign.
I am, however, a bit addicted to house-ruling, so I might make the change that PCs start with 6 health rather than 4, but then only gain 1 health per level rather than 2; PCs would be ahead of the curve for levels 1 and 2, but then fall behind the default from level 4 onwards - I do kind of like the idea of going from 6 to 12 health (doubling) over a character's career, though, rather than from 4 to 16 (quadrupling). I'd have to play more to see, though.
Even so, my girlfriend and I may end up playing this way again; it would be fun to have a continuing experiment to see how many horrible ways our characters can die. :-)

Ad-hoc, extemporaneous dungeon generation was fun, but perhaps the random tables would be best used to spend half an hour or so (maybe an hour?) generating the adventure and the dungeon before gameplay started - it might offer a good mix between utilitarian quickness and cohesion. Again, I'll have to try that.

I found it strange that the three stats - strength, dexterity, and will - didn't apply to attacks (there is an independent Attack Bonus). Probably for balance reasons?
I ended up rolling Strength to attempt to hold the door shut against the ghouls, and we rolled Strength and Dexterity to use our crowbar and hand drill (respectively) to attempt to crack the vault, but overall they weren't used very much. Perhaps that is intended?
(Oh, I guess I rolled Strength to avoid being infected by the mold spores, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do in that case. The rules say it represents "...stamina, or physical resilience" in addition to "raw power," though, so I guess that was also intended?)

My favorite part was actually the magic system - PCs don't choose spells, but only have spell slots (1 to begin with; more can be chosen upon leveling up) that fill with random spells each night during sleep. I often quibble with RPG magic systems either being too complex or too restrictive, but this hit a great balance between flexibility and ease-of-use, while adding a special dash of creativity and Lady Luck.

All in all: great lightweight tabletop RPG system. I will definitely play again.
(Available here at DriveThruRPG for the wonderful price of "pay-what-you-want." I downloaded it for free because I'm a poor young person who will lose their job this week because their company is being liquidated, but the game deserves at least a buck, probably five or even ten.)