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.) 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Metal Monster Manual Monday - Volume 8

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!

IGNOTUM (The Voynich Code)
I think of this little guy as more of a questgiver or informational resource rather than a monster or foe (though he could be that, too).
I imagine his skin having the same texture as parchment.
The drawings, writing, and symbols on the cat's skin are either from or inspired by the Voynich manuscript, as indicated by the band's title. What knowledge do they reveal in YOUR campaign world?
I'm honestly not sure what's going on with the roots or the flame. Perhaps the flame is merely ethereal, or a sort of "burning bush" effect?

Aw yiss. Dem ruins.
The area looks volcanic, or at least geothermally active (geysers, hot springs, etc.). I'm imagining that either the structures were built before the area became volcanic (in which case the volcanism itself depopulated the area and ruined the buildings) or that they were built in an already geothermally active area. I lean toward the latter, since volcanism would usually WRECK buildings like that, whereas they look like they're in pretty good shape.
So, there's a couple possible reasons why such buildings would be erected in an area characterized by hot springs and mineral pools (which looks like what's going on above). From the architecture, it's not a fortified or military structure (except POSSIBLY that tower-like structure in the foreground on the right).
It could be a complex of decadent bathhouses and spas, its nurturing empire now fallen apart and its former patrons reduced to members of distant peasantries.
It could be a religious complex, a place of worship for the deities who created or dwell in the hot colored waters.
It could be a magical or alchemical nexus, making use of the mineral-rich waters or the natural heat to create strange and wonderful enchantments, effects, or compounds.
In any of the above cases, it would be worth exploring for a party of greedy adventurers.
What dangers would they face? Scalding waters, spirits of the inner earth, mutated monsters?

Alright, time for the BOSS BATTLE:

GHOST THIEF (Living Sacrifice)
I love the mood in this one, first off.
Right, so, the towering skeletal figure on the hilltop is obviously the Ghost Thief (see him stealing the ghost of that woman walking toward him?). He has the power to steal souls and thereby add to his power (Dark Souls, anyone?).
I imagine him then burying the lifeless bodies on the hill and placing a cross upon it.
It's telling that at least four individuals seem to be walking resignedly up the hill to have their souls stolen. I imagine the Ghost Thief has formidable powers to enchant and compel, perhaps even from a great distance, luring prey to him to have their souls stolen.
Combat would involve both a mental element (psychic compulsion, followed by the theft of a PC's soul) and a physical element (a JANKING HUGE robed skeleton stomping about and impaling people on crosses).

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