Thursday, August 29, 2013

Utter insanity

So somehow my players decided to fight the forces of the Sin Tutor, who held the ground level of the Tower of Violets.  Somehow they learned that the entrance to the basement was behind a barricade held by a crowd of crow-skulled students with crossbows, so they froze caltrops into the floor, burned down the door, froze a bunch of the students with a frozen egg from one of the 10,000 Gods of Wind, and started fighting them in the lecture room of the Sin Tutor.

Out comes the Sin Tutor, who puts his hand to the blood red cube gently rotating five feet above the ground in front of the chalkboard covered in vile equations, integrals of lunacy, logarithmic notations on the functions of sin.  The cube bulges from the inside, splits, and onto the floor bloody wet and hungry slips out the Dividing Demon . . .

We had to pause at midnight after four hours of combat.  Here's what I remember:

The crow-skull children are all dead and so is the Sin Tutor.  Three of them are frozen solid.
Nick and Thomson, you've fused together and you're trying to kill one half of the Dividing Demon, which is trying to flee because the number of entities in the room is now odd
Thomson your left half is fused to the other half of the Dividing Demon
Nick's other half is fighting it
Shayne, you're at one hitpoint and a giant house centipede is attacking you, since you killed the other one
The Paladin of Namtar's magical sword is heated and on the floor, but he still seems invulnerable to all attacks
The thief is blind and invisible, and around here somewhere probably
The Ladywolf Deb has put her two sides back together

Here's why I like this (along with an indirect review of Vornheim):

I could not have foreseen this happening.  I statted up the monsters and placed them in the rooms, but none of us could have known the game would end up like this.  I didn't know who would be attending, or exactly what their powers were.  I didn't know that they would find the wind god's egg, or try to fight the crow-skull guys and the Sin Tutor.  I didn't know I was going to finally roll a 1 on the d6 random encounters roll, and that the paladin, thief, and wizard from upstairs would be the result, and that on my 'What Are Those Wandering Monsters Up To?" table the result I'd get would be, 'Just passing through on the way to somewhere else.'  All of these unpredictable and semi-simulatory results ended up with Nick and Thomson merged together and worrying about how they'd split apart if and when the demon is slain.

The Dividing Demon is a creation from Zak's Vornheim.  One of the reasons this book continues to pay and pay even two years after buying it is that it's stuffed with creatures, abilities, and ideas that are able to fill entire sessions with absolute insanity.  There aren't any rules to cover what happens when two guys are split apart and then try to fuse together.  A single short stat-block on page 28 detailing a strange and specific ability ("Attack: 2 claws (d8hp) or. . . Demon's body splits in half . . . the demon may . . . touch a target and thereby similarly split a foe") created a complicated and tense combat that forced us to track for instance whose side was doing which, and try to figure out what would happen if two right sides merged.  Luckily we didn't have to.

This is what I like from an RPG book, by the way: ideas that can be used to create murky, weird, unpredictable, self-generating situations.  Every time I read a manual that includes magic items like, 'Flaming Sword - sword wreathes itself in flame that doesn't damage the user and causes 1d6 extra damage,' I roll my eyes.  I didn't find that interesting when I was twelve.  Everybody, please continue to write ideas that lead to situations like the above.  Thank you.


To promote unstable situations, here's my unstable situations table.

For fires, unruly mobs, storms at sea, floods, unchained spells, monarchs’ moods, the movements of skeleton armies, epidemics, and angry animals – basically, anything that is chaotic and has the possibility of getting out of control or dying down.

Roll dice for each time period (say, each round for a fire; each week for a plague; each month for a war), modified by strength of previous situation (if on the last round you roll 'Flames +3', then this round you add +3 to the 3d6 roll), and extenuating circumstances

Results should be interpreted poetically.

3d6 + previous round's modifier

2 Dies
3 Calms -1
4 Calms -1
5 Calms -1
6 Burns +1
7 Burns +1
8 Burns +1
9 Burns +1
10 Increases +1
11 Increases +1
12 Increases +1
13 Increases +1
14 Spreads +2
15 Spreads +2
16 Flames +3
17 Flames +3
18 Explodes +4

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More on Olomoc

Olomoc is a small city on the border of Velenheim, fallen kingdom of the white elves, and Havith Orr, the labyrinth kingdom of the goblins.  The lands surrounding Olomoc are wastes, swamps, and rocky hills, which few venture into, for fear of bands of white elves from the north.  Olomoc itself is difficult to navigate and filled with well-dressed, unkind, and blunt-featured people.  The streets are narrow, the buildings tall.  When it's not raining, it's snowing.  The canals that cross the city are empty of boats, except for the occasional unmanned gondola floating upstream.

The narrow streets open abruptly onto wide plazas.  Plaza after plaza fill the city.  Some of the plazas are places where people congregate, shiftily and uneasily, but most of them are empty, or hidden, or hard to reach.  There are rumors of plazas that can only be found when certain conditions are met - a word chanted seven times seven times seven times at a certain cross-street, or a circle drawn in chalk when a chime strikes at the Hour of the Wolf.  They are filled with statues of deities and public figures long forgotten, or monuments to unknown wars, or daises that have fallen through to the plazas beneath the city.

The city is ruled by a monarchy passed through succession.  The Di'Armand family, which rule from the Estate Immaculate, are cripples and mutants.  Lord Inferno is a dwarf.  His father was a man with no eyes, and his father had two mouths that each spoke with a different voice.  Of his three children, Ochre has no arms or legs, dyes his skin yellow, and is attended by a trio of chameleon men; Groat is a sadist who keeps beautiful young children on leashes; and Roxanne has one hand.  And I figure that it's the fashion to mutilate oneself, and that normalcy is disgusting, so the citizens like to chop off a hand, or blind themselves, or visit the Chapel of the Angel of Colors to excise their color.

My players spent a lot of time in the city chasing vampires, doing the bidding of the aristocracy, fighting gangs of bare-chested thugs, and ferrying about their captive witch.   Most of the adventures in Olomoc centered around a plague of insanity in the city.  The keeper of the sanitarium, a vampire sorcerer named Francis Nash, had brought back from Abazidun the Black Jungle a golden orchid beetle, a touch from whose antenna could drive a person mad, and which he controlled by playing a flute carved from the femur of a red elf shaman.  The insane were brought to his sanitarium, where he bled them.  And he coveted the blood of the players' witch, who was ancient and powerful.

When the lord of the city, Lord Inferno Di'Armand, was driven insane and committed, his three children took to the streets to battle for control of the city.  My players tracked the source of the insanity to the sanitarium itself, broke inside, and smashed.  It was great.  They met a sphinx, a pack of vampire monkeys, a princess possessed by a demon, and fought a floating purple octopus.  They drove Francis Nash from the sanitarium - they were unable to drive a stake through his heart before he transformed into a puddle of blood, and escaped off of the roof - and found a glass jar filled with the glowing sanities of the mad citizenry.  The vampire stalks them still.

Here are some tables, lists, and charts I've used to run the city.

Encounters in Olomoc

1. d6+3 Cultists of the True Fin.  Their leader can summon a wall of water filled with piranha
2. d6+3 Cultists of the Exalted Hand.  Their leader has a metal hand which can crush or punch as STR 20.
3. a young girl fleeing thugs of Groat Di'Armand, who seek to enslave her.  Her name is Anise Flath, and thugs are named Voyn (3rd level fighter), Urm ( 3rd level wizard), and Hulm (3rd level thief).  Anise Flath is the daughter of an alchemist in another neighborhood.
4. a manticore
5. d6+4 goblins walking on the walls, and carrying a burlap sack; inside is a struggling blacksmith, Borlund Uth, who created the Iron Star of Ill-will, which was used to harry the forces of Havith Orr in the last great goblin war
6. d10+6 of bare-chested men wielding nets, smoke bombs, crossbows, and clubs; threatening simple extortion for passing this way
7. 2d4 wolves in an empty plaza, eating a man
8. a common pickpocket
9. The street collapses, and the players fall into a buried plaza beneath.  A sealed black door labelled "EVRA STEAMHOUSE."
10. a white elf assassin accompanied by 2d4 zombies, fresh from a hit
11. a blood moon rises. No shops are open, the churches are closed.  If a player spend the night outdoors, they gain a random insanity, and if they succeed on a WIS check, also learn a random secret.
12. Wait, where was the door? This plaza wasn't here before. Player finds themself separated from the group, and lost in another neighborhood.
13. a Mouth-Priest of the Fathom Wyrm stands atop the water in a canal, accompanied by d4+3 sharks.  He holds a dagger to the throat of a snow leopard man and chants a spell.  The beastman yells for help.
14. PC accused of treason due to lack of self mutilation. Group of bored citizens threaten to inflict it for them.
15. PC stumbles into a small plaza filled with divine statues - an owl covered in bones, a winged imp heaped with charred meet, an upside-down cross hung with tiny mirrors, a black goat, a molded frog.  A 3rd-level cleric points at the PC: "You have VIOLATED this place of HOLINESS!" Any destroyed shrines inflict a curse - stigmata, an eternal rainstorm, blindness, etc.
16. A wealthy and drunk musketeer accompanied by d6+4 drunk guys challenges PC to a duel to the death.  Musketeer is the son of a wealthy and terribly important sculptor - if he is killed, a feud begins.
17. A hot wind blows west from the desert valley of Izorides, behind the Black Mountains.  Divine spells function at -4, healing spells don't function at all, and magic users find that they've learned a new random spell, which can only be used today.
18. d4+3 colorless revenants surge from an alley and attempt to suck out a player's color.
19. a werewolf attacks a crowd of jugglers and acrobats, and then a group of werewolf hunters, firing silver bolts without regard for the citizenry
20. d6+3 vampire monkeys riding atop a pack of screaming hogs come running down a narrow street, directly at the PCs

A few plazas

Plaza of . . .

1. Encouragement
2. The Satirical Crow
3. The Blank Stone
4. The Laughing Frog
5. Entertainment
6. The Red Horse
7. an Unknown Sun
8. Uncertainty
9. Glad
10. the Angled Ape
11. Distraction
12. the Radiant Auteur

Neighborhoods in Olomoc

1. Wive's District
2. Gonton
3. Beast's District
4. Gateshead
5. The Sevens
6. The Estate Immaculate
7. Tine's Row
8. Crimson City
9. Place of Crows
10. Eel Un

Random Disfigurement (1 in 4 people, or so, depending on how much of a toady they are)

1. Blind
2. No ears
3. No nose
4. No hands or 1 hand
5. No feet or 1 foot
6. No thumbs
7. Bound feet or hands
8. Mouth sewn shut
9. Teeth filed or torn out
10. Arms taken off at elbow or shoulder
11. Legs taken off at knee or hip
12. Flesh flayed off of one limb
13. Ornate facial scars
14. No name
15. Cannot speak and/or hear a certain word
16. Makes no sound
17. Colorless, or lacking a random color
18. Trepanned skull
19. Jaw removed
20. Feigns death constantly, interred in open casket, cared for by devoted family member


1. Church of Belm (snow, stone, rain, cities; a wide-ranging, Catholic-type church)
2. Church of Izorides (witches, sex, magic, women, fire, breasts, birth, disease)
3. Church of Fenrath (wolves, hunger, feasts, marriage, the moon, crows)
4. Church of the Fathom Wyrm (the ocean, death, darkness, seaweed, waves, eels, secrets)
5. Stag-Hunter's Guild
6. Chapel of the Angel of Colors (exotic, vindictive, and esoteric southern god)
7. Chapel of St. Coreme (local deity, who for heresy against the Black Drake Azhardhul was hung upside down and flayed alive, and who prayed to her own holy name as she died, and so Azhardhul was transformed into stone, and Olomoc built from his body)
8. Cult of the True Fin
9. Cult of the Bloody Eye
10. Cult of the Exalted Hand

Monday, August 19, 2013

Olomoc, the City of Plazas

Where a clock chimes ceaselessly the next block over, but none look up to witness it.  I believe that I've passed through piazzas that have been empty for years, except for a bronze crow, or an empty fountain, or a bricked over archway.  I've seen fenced cemeteries without gates.  The canals flow directionlessly - south one day, north next week, sometimes so still you could put your hand in the water and feel no pull at all.  In Olomoc, a man who stands still becomes as a rock in the cobbled streets, and as drab.  You could look at him and think that he was a door, instead of a cobbler, or a blacksmith, or a priest.  And a man can get lost in Olomoc.  I met a widowed fishmonger whose husband spent his life carving a likeness of Fluurm the Six-Eyed Goat, and cast a wrought-iron cage to keep it in, and on his sixty-third birthday placed them both in the Plaza of Encouragement, where she told me a rainstorm drove him into an alley for shelter, from which he never emerged.

The people there cut themselves.  I met a man with no fingers, and a man with no name, and a man with no color, for the lords of Olomoc are cripples and wretches, and the citizenry emulate them.  It may be their only passion.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Top Secret Magic Potion List - Don't Read!!


1. Milky
2. Steaming
3. Frothing
4. Still
5. Foggy
6. Clotted
7. Slimy
8. Thin
9. Gelid
10. Chunky

d20 (I bet you've got a colors list already, but if you don't - here you go!)

1. Black
2. Blue
3. Green
4. Red
5. Yellow
6. Gold
7. Clear
8. Violet
9. Purple
10. Crimson
11. Grey
12. Orange
13. Indigo
14. White
15. Brown
16. Silver
17. Bronze
18. Green-blue
19. Rainbow!!
10. Gaseous

d100 - All durations 1d6 minutes, unless obviously not

1. extra eye
2. speak Bird
3. Levitate 2'
4. Turn to stone 1d4 rounds
5. Heal d10 hp
6. Cure poison
7. Catch on fire
8. Barkskin
9. Rage
10. speak Lizard
11. speak to Stone
12. Detect Secret Doors
13. Mirror image
14. Detect Treasure
15. Strength +2
16. Dexterity +2
17. Spider Climb
18. Jump 10 extra feet
19. Strong grip
20. Vomit blood
21. Vomit 1. fish 2. weasel 3. birds 4. sword 5. gem 6. spiders
22. AC +2 (callouses all over your skin?)
23. No need to breathe
24. Luck! Reroll one roll within 1d3 days
25. Turn to slime
26. Teeth extra sharp
27. Legs grow 4 feet
28. Radiate light as 1. moon 2. sun 3. torch 4. candle
29. Poison! Fuck! DC 10+d6, damage d3 1. str 2. con 3. dex
30. Duplicate self
31. Inflate! over 3 rounds, then float
32. Half size
33. Double size
34. Turn to undead (immune to fear, poison, cold, charm, can be turned, etc)
35. Breathe fire! 10' cone, DC 12+d6, 3d6 damage and you're on fire
36. Long arms
37. Turn invisible
38. Turn into 1. cat 2. dog 3. sparrow 4. snake 5. trout 6. llama
39. Go blind
40. Rusting touch
41. Walk on water
42. Be silent
43. Butts (?)
44. 2 extra arms
45. Gamma vision (all in vision takes 5d6 damage, CON check or take d8 con damage, if take max con damage you have to roll on the mutation chart which takes effect probably in a couple days)
46. Exhale fog, 10' radius
47. Vomit grey ooze (2HD ooze, acid attack, can tunnel through stone and metal)
48. Turn to metal
49. Age 2d10 years
50. De-age 2d10 years
51. Eyes turn into hands
52. Teeth turn into eels
53. Tongue spike and tongue grows 5 feet (d8 damage)
54. Snail shell, +5 ac and movement reduced to 5'
55. Become gorgeous - +8 CHA
56. Skin turns transparet
57. Speak Truth
58. Immune to Color 1. red 2. orange 3. yellow 4. green 5. blue 6. violet (indigo who cares)
59. Change sex (permanent)
60. No sex (also permanent)
61. Gain 1 Level
62. Love
63. Go deaf
64. Hatred
65. Kleptomania
66. Stoneskin (damage reduction 10)
67. Radiate Fear 10' (Will save or be unable to attack or enter aura; other -2 penalty to attacks v. scary person)
68. Radiate Cold 10' (CON check in aura or half speed, metal frosts, water freezes)
69. Arms turn into Legs
70. Feet turn into Hands
71. Turn color (as above)
72. Prehensile hair
73. X-ray vision 5'
74. Heal 2d10 hp
75. Heal 3d10 hp
76. Decimate - reduced to 1/10 hp
77. Turn to shadow
78. Summon 2d6 Lizardmen (you throw this potion to the ground and they're instantly constructed from primordial ooze)
79. Vile stench
80. Immune to Magic, 1 round
81. Blind to the Gods (Immune to Divine Magic, etc) also 1 round
82. Dick doubles
83. Potion of opposition (your evil double climbs out of your shadow)
84. Hole 10' wide, 10' deep (pour this one onto the ground too)
85. Speak only Lies
86. Mutation
87. Radiate Chaos' (Lawful effects fail to function, Will check or suffer mutation in d4 days)
88. Poison Bite (Save v death, don't bite your tongue, only works for one bite)
89. Sleep
90. Wake
91. Raise Zombie (feed it to the dead, they rise as zombie with HD equal to dead creature)
92. Universal solvent
93. Potion hardens into plastic in d10 seconds
94. Rain 1d4 days (onto you, if you drink it)
95. Discharge all spells at once
96. Suffocate (CON roll each round or take d6 CON damage)
97. Magic Weapon (rub it on your weapon, now you can hurt demons and liches)
98. Iron to Ice
99. Zero Gravity
100. Death

Addendum: Lately I've been letting new players start with level 1 characters who also have 3 random potions or 3 scrolls.  Maddy recently joined and rolled up with Mop of the Hot Rock, a wizard, who was released from her hot rock prison when the wizard Palethorp died (I don't know).  So I said, "okay, roll 1d100 three times," taught her how to do that, and here's what she got: Death, Death, Double-size Dick.  Perfect.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Black Abazidun

So here's my riff on Zak's evocative descriptions of the Cobalt Reach.

Equatorial belt south of everything.

Here the dwarven devotees of Goaz, God of Diamonds, have carved a kingdom of cannibalism, blood, magic, and war.  The red elves have been driven from their temples, which lie empty and overgrown.  And Goaz, who rules the dwarves and lives among them, shines a light of corruption into the jungle, and cancer is rampant among dwarf, dinosaur, goblin, elf, and plant.  The dwarven tunnel kingdoms are filled with the radiation of Goaz, and their abominations are shunned, forced to the surface, or destroyed.  The elves fill the jungles with the bones of their enemies.


1-15 Thick black jungle
16-20 Thick fluorescent, neon jungle
21-24 Nearly impassable black jungle crossed by narrow, labyrinthine paths
25 Nine giant trees grown together at their crown, and at the apex a stone red elf hermitage
26-27 Giant tree hanging with violet moss
28-29 Giant tree choked with poison vines
30 Cancerous trees which rain orange drops from their bleeding branches
31 Field of screaming vines
32-33 Field of carnivorous stinging vines
34-38 Roaring river, iridescent foam froths atop
39 Rapids which flow through a bed of rusting dwarven war machines
40 A great stone bridge stretching over a poison river, its supports crumbling, and dwarven skulls hang beneath
41-44 Undulating mountains
45 Undulating mountains, and a dwarven wall along the peaks
46-47 Deep canyon filled with hanging vines and fungus
48-50 Deep river canyon filled with blue mist
51 Floating rock island pouring forth a river
52 Floating rock island converted into a dwarven guard tower
53 Floating rock island with radioactive diamond embedded in one side, slowly rotating, and shining forth a poison light
54-57 Broken mesas with thick black jungle atop
58-60 Broken mesas linked by ropes
61 Dwarven rock garden, carved from a mesa that has been whittled apart into a winding labyrinth
62-63 A scalding poison lake dotted with islands
64 A scalding poison lake, and a dwarven warlord's fortress in the center
65 A red elf temple to Lazareth the Unattainable
66 Red elf drowning pools
67 A red elf obelisk draped in prayer flags
68 Blue singing stone (warped and corroded and pock-marked, so that the wind whistles through it and creates a hymn to Lazareth the Unattainable)
69 Massive stone hand painted red, yellow, blue, violet, green
70 Massive stone head guarded by red elf amazons
71-73 Massive diamond shard embedded in ground, emitting radiation
74-76 Volcanic vent spewing radioactive blue gas
77-79 Volcanic column that periodically leaks lava
80 Lava field, partially hardened, and glowing blood-flowers grow from it
81-82 Dwarven lava channels breaching the surface
83-86 Dwarven guard tower
87-89 Pile of gigantic and rusted gears
90 Skull-shaped entrance to dwarven fortress
91 Dwarven sacrificial pyramid stained with torrents of blood
92-93 Unidentifiable red elf ruins, and among them an entrance to the underworld
94 Statue of Zuggtmoy, Queen of Putrescence, in a mushroom grove
95 Statue of Ancibin, Prince of the Winds, carved from a blue singing stone
96 A stone and metal gate to Hell, twisted and shattered, and the jungle around it glows with an unknown colour
97-98 Violet bog
99 Violet bog with red elf temple submerged within
100 A smoking crater with a burning white stone in the center, and the jungle around it is flattened, and burns


1-5 Oppressively hot and humid; the trees drip unceasingly - it must have rained in the past week
6-9 Thick blue fog
10 Glowing, radioactive fog-bank
11-15 Torrential downpour
16-17 Torrential radioactive downpour
18 Ash rain, and lightning storms in the ashen clouds
19 The sky today is a lurid green and the voice of Goaz makes divine pronouncements far, far away
20 Brilliant auroras that can be seen even in the day shimmer across the sky


1 a tyrannosaurus rex led on chains by 2d10+10 dwarves
2-3 1 or 2 tyrannosaurus rexes
4 1 tyrannosaurus hex
5-8 d8+6 pterodactyls
9-10 1 or 2 blue leopards
11 d6 basilisks
12-13 d3 ankylosauruses
14-15 d10+6 raptors bearing weapons
16 blindheim
17 d6 basilisks
18-20 d10+6 white apes
21-22 vampire with scabrous bite (turns all your blood into scab, and then he eats you like chips)
23-25 3, 6, or 9 chameleon men
26-27 1d4 giant irradiated, regenerative goblins
28-30 d6+10 cancerous goblins
31-33 d4+3 goblins mounted on myconids
34-35 d4+3 goblins mounted on manta rays
36-40 d8+4 red elf amazons
41-45 d6 red elf amazons and a priest of Lazareth the Unattainable
46-48 d4+4 red elf amazons and half that number of red elf painted wizards
49-50 basilisk in palanquin being borne by 2d4 red elf priests of Lazareth the Unattainable
51-54 d4+3 mutated and insane red elves
55 4d10+10 mutated and insane dwarves, goblins, and red elves
56-57 a sorcerer from the Moriad on wildlife expedition, accompanied by d6 characters of the PCs' level, and d10+6 henchmen
58-59 d6 mutant ostriches
60 poison frog swarm
61-63 d6+4 dwarven acolytes of Goaz bearing diamonds in shining censers, and among them a priest of Goaz
64-70 d10+6 dwarven warriors in stone armor
71-75 d4+1 dwarven warriors mounted on triceratops
76-77 a dwarven paladin of Goaz on divine quest (probably involves killing elves and mutants)
78-80 d10+6 mutant dwarves ("The Unclean") on suicide expedition
81-82 d4+2 frog abominations and an acolyte of Tsathoggua
83-84 d3+3 acolytes of Zuggtmoy, 50% chance of accompaniment by a fly demon
85-86 d3+3 acolytes of Ancibin, 50% chance of accompaniment by a locust demon
87 a firewurme*
88 1 or 2 mindflayers, 50% chance of d6+6 mind-controlled attendants (roll again)
89 flailsnail that can do this
90 an ancient orange dragon
91 a beholder
92-94 d6+4 yuan-ti slavers, 50% chance of d10+6 elves or dwarves as captives
95-99 roll again, the second result is mutated; if already mutated, they're now double mutated; if you get this again, they're triple mutated!! Roll on this for mutation
00 roll twice; first result is in combat with the second

*(okay fine: "In form, the Firewurme is much like the earthworms you find in your garden, only it is the size of a dun.  Its body is supple and wrinkled, and it gleams pale white.  It has no teeth, nor does it breathe fire.  But in the Firewurme's white skin there is death, for it secretes an oozing, colorless guam, and this guam burns without flame.  It is said to strip flesh from bone in a matter of minutes. . . . It has a long black tongue,' continued Crann, 'which is also coated with the deadly guam, and the tongue moves with lightning speed.  The Firewurme cannot be harmed through its skin.  It is many layers deep and, like its earthworm cousins, can regenerate itself.  It is rumored that its only vulnerable point is the eye, but the creature's eyelids are as hard as stone.' Crann sighed deeply. 'Yes, I am troubled by the Firewurme.  And frightened. All the armies of the land will amount to naught if the Firewurme comes to Eirren.'")

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday morning in West Philly

I was hungover on my friend Wendy's couch one Sunday morning and made this.  It's been on my wall.  Her 5-year-old kid Elu was pretty freaked out that some shirtless moustached man was on his couch drawing on a brown bag, but then Wendy was like, 'Elu, you met him, that's Nate," and he got over it.  He'd rolled in my game once and then got too tired to continue, which is a problem many of us adults also endure.  I pointed out the "bunch of skeletons" in room 46 which he thought was cool, and I also got to explain the concept of room 4 which is, "Okay so in this room the floor has all fallen away because it's really old, and there are skeletons with grappling hooks that will try to grab you."  He said, "Cool!"

This is maybe not that legible so I've made a few notes.  Click for bigger, and then open in new tab for really big (still haven't figured out how to make this process easier).

1. Room 16: "breaking the hourglass causes time to stop in the fortress, + releases a time worm that tunnels into the future. Moves to random room every minute." (presumably the players could follow) Arrow helpfully points out that it is "impossible to act on world when time is stopped"

2. Room 26: "A ravenous turnip spirit lives here. If you break the mirror floor . . . reality breaks too"  I think the ellipses indicate the time it took for me to think of the rest of the sentence.

3. Room 33: This is the boss-room, you have to go through the locked door in the bottom of room 4 and bypass the "hex puzzle" in room 28.  Here is the leader of the hyena-men, Vermillion Hexclaw, formerly named "Lust Pus the Cheerless" in Diablo 2 style, until Wendy pointed out that it looked like I'd written "Lust, Pus two cheetahs" which is much better, so now he's guarded by a pair of cheetahs.

4. This is the throne he sits on.  "throne has really long legs like this"

5. "basilisk, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 damsel, twinks, + a cleric of scorn as prisoners"  This is to indicate that the mazy hallway in the northeastern part of the hyena-man fortress has been left unguarded and unlocked except by a free-roaming basilisk, which the hyena-men consider lock and guard enough.  Notice the six-legged basilisk on the lower-left.

6. Room 44: "twink"

Saturday, August 10, 2013

All the monsters

Blood hog
Blue leopard
Blue gorilla
Blue scorpion
Carrion crawler
Caryatid column
Crawling claw
Crow-skull children
Crystal lizard
Death's head moth
Dividing demon
Evil cat
Fractal frog
Fractal ooze
Frog abomination
Gelatinous dodecahedron
Giant house centipede
Golem, birdcage
Golem, glass
Green knight
Komodo dragon
Little hairy men
Mechanical cricket swarm
Moon beast
Moss hog
Purple octopus
Red slime
Skeleton archer
Skeleton, bonebride
Skeleton, knight
Skeleton, gigantic
Skeleton, mancatcher
Skeleton, piper
Skeleton, regenerating
Vampire monkey
White elf
Wolf-head men
Zombie ooze

That's it so far.  I make up my own stats for all these monsters, because I run a 3.5-light game and all the 3.5 edition monsters have health and armor-class that's way too high, and all their powers are copy-pastes of the most boring spells.  

Basilisks don't have six legs.  Salamanders are small and extremely magical and live in fires.  Blindheims are the only correct blindheim, which is to say that they are a toad so ugly that to gaze upon it is to go blind, and they are native to Abazidun the Black Jungle, and must drink the milk of a drunken goat and eat the larvae of the veridian bot-fly in order to maintain their power.  I've mentioned that Thomson's bard has a blindheim in a hooded lantern - he is always on the look-out for goats, since his goats keep getting lost or killed by vampires.  The firewurme is not a dragon or dragon variant . . . but I won't say more to risk spoiling it.

Witches are necessarily Frazetta witches.

I can't account for the plethora of blue monsters and environments - aside from the ones listed, they've also fought a blue priestess of the Angel of Colors who stole Dirtface's color; groped through a thick blue smoke that the wizard Palethorp summoned to defend his tower; and found an underground blue jungle grown by the light of an orb held aloft by a statue of Zuggtmoy, Queen of Putrescence.  Blue gorillas have four arms and speak the language of dreams (several of my players are currently dream-infected with a blue gorilla they slew, and which threatens to burst from their psyches every time they dream).  As in Vornheim, to dream of a blue leopard means to meet one the next day.  Blue scorpions have an electric sting, I think, I lost that paper.  Ostrid the Blue had blue scorpion earrings and she threw them to the ground like firecrackers, and they appeared in a cloud of blue smoke.

Slaad are of the old, patient and extremely bored toad-man variety, and cast weird spells like ennui, duo-dimension, vomit slime, tar body, and stone-like-water.  Skeletons move the way they do in "Jason and the Argonauts," my players understood but I pulled up the video anyway.  Frog abominations are the monsters from Hellboy.  Deodands are grey-skinned naked tall guys who can swallow people whole, and live in the wastelands west of Belmric.  Sphinxes think very highly of themselves, and are revered as gods by the pygmies of Ovgalad.

Mermalants are dogs with beautiful long white hair and the hands of men.  They speak human language, sleep in offal, can exhale a cloud of biting flies, and were inspired by Kate Bush's hit single "The Hounds of Love."  (To my players: this doesn't necessarily mean you'll meet more if you follow the map to the Tower of Love)  The only one they ever met was named Tiny Bell, and he was a guard in a sanitarium in Olomoc, City of Plazas.  He pretended to be their friend after they killed his companions, a mathematician and a psychoanalyst, and then at his first chance fled outside into the snow.  Tiny Bell is probably still on his way home.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Party on!

I'm sick and I have a fever and the game tonight is cancelled while I shiver and drink tea instead.

So here are a few random tables I've been using to populate the world.  Outside the castle is an army of twelve-thousand-one-hundred-sixty-one skeletons (thank you James Raggi for the exact numbers), and inside is a palace of partiers: the royal family, 108 aristocrats and their retinues visiting from nearby cities, as well as servants, cooks, butlers, pages, prostitutes, fish-women, crow-head men, lions, frogs in cages, free-wandering turtles, a flailceratops, tumblers, fire-breathers, acrobats, opera-singers, beat poets, chamber choirs, string sextets, wandering orgies, and so on.  Exploring the palace is difficult because it's huge and everyone's drunk.  Leaving the palace is difficult because the woods are filled with skeletons.

My players have seen most of this stuff so I don't mind posting it.

Random Partygoer 2d10 (for the first list I cross it off and write a new one after I use it)

1. Naked chick or dude
2. They are wearing an ornate mask
3. An ancient woman in tiny clothes
4. Sumptuous beautiful dress or tuxedo
5. Someone uninvited who got in, but no one noticed yet
6. A random aristocrat
7. Smoking a cigarette from a jade holder
8. Elaborate face tattoo of an eagle
9. Striped harlequin’s outfit
10. Unusual hair – long dreadlocks, three feet high, mohawk, etc

1. Totally wasted
2. Trying to sleep with PC
3. Trying to poison another partygoer
4. Sober and straight-edge and hates this party
5. Dancing, really oblivious
6. Pretends to be interested in conversation, but immediately tries to extricate self
7. Friendly, immediately the PCs friend
8. Sleeping
9. Extremely bored, stinks of ennui, alone
10. Bursting with secrets about an important person

Skeleton Warbands

75% chance of 2d6 Archers - 1 HD, ac 8 or 12, shortbow
60% chance of 1d6 Bonebrides - 3 HD, ac 5 or 15, touch attack 2d6 flesh-to-ash, can fly 40'
             These are skeletons with a star-shaped halo, they float through the air as if in water; make a hollow clacking sound; cast 3 shadows – a black shadow, a dim shadow, and a red shadow; disintegrate at the call of the mourning dove; and cannot cross lines of salt.
60% chance of 1d8 knights on dead steeds - 3 HD, ac 2 or 18, greatsword or bastard sword and shield
30% chance of 1 or 2 Gigantic skeletons - 10 HD, ac 6 or 14, has the head of an elephant skull.  2 slams 1d8+Str, and knock back.  Special: the central eye glows red . . . Will save or picked up in the air and held, and then at the beginning of the next round crushed for 1d8 damage and dropped. I run these monsters as if each body part has a separate bank of hitpoints - each leg 2 HD, each arm 2 HD, chest has 3 HD, skull has 3 HD.
50% chance of 1d8 Mancatchers - 1 HD, ac 8 or 12, they wield shepherd's crooks and hooked nets.
50% chance of 1d4 Pipers - 1 HD, no attack, but their piping causes a horrible dance.  On their turn, each skeleton ally may shift 5 feet.  On the player's turn, the player must make a Will save or move as the piper wishes.
75% chance of 2d6 Regenerating skeletons - 1/2 HD, ac 8 or 12; they wield iron spikes with a groove running down the side, they stick into living creatures and let the blood flow over their bones.  They're into it.  Or they can throw their skulls to bite enemies from afar, 1d4 damage.  They regenerate one round after death.

What’s On the Skeleton? 1 in 6 chance for this table, for each skeleton; or maybe 1d4 per warband

1. A heavy 10 feet long rope around its neck
2. Metal teeth – extra bite +4 1d8 damage
3. a beautiful array of blue, purple, and red flowers sprouts from its skull
4. a small harp
5. the skeleton is petrified from age; +2 AC, +2 damage
6. a spell is carved into its skull, which it can cast.  1. shrink person 2. fly 3. gust of wind
7. a random potion
8. a black stone set into its eye-socket which can cause fear once/day; or a red stone, which can cast fireball
9. a beautiful purple cape, or an iron crown, or an ivory breastplate
10. a Siamese cat, or a vampire monkey, or 2d6 crows

Encounters in the Woods 

1. A White Stag
2. A Black Stag, with prayer flags trailing from its horns, and a stag-hunter of Unwerth the Immense not far behind
3. 2d4 wolves
4. A great howl of wind from the north
5. 3 snow leopards
6. A bone-bride;
7. 1d10 regenerating skeletons
8. 1d10 regenerating skeletons
9. a giant skeleton and 1d6 normal skeletons
10. 2d4 wolves, fleeing desperately from 4d10 normal skeletons
11. a herd of deer, fleeing desperately from 4d10 normal skeletons
12. a wizard encased in ice, surrounded by stone jars, inside which are growing a purple vine.  At night a flower blooms, and a nightingale emerges from the blooming flower.
13. a retinue of 2d6 musical skeletons, bearing 1d6 people in wooden cages;
14. a single hopping skeleton with one leg and a jeweled eye
15. a flock of birds and fleeing forest creatures (deer, gaunt rabbits, black squirrels), fleeing from a forest fire! And 2d6 skeletons bearing torches
16. 4 skeletons all chained together, and also an exhausted, unconscious powerful cleric of Otin the Gravelord, who thought he could gain power from them
17. a 5th-level necromancer riding atop the skeleton of a giant, striding over the forest; wears a jeweled amulet around his neck
18. a crowd of 2d6 terrified villagers, carrying children, valuables, pets (like a black iguana)
19. a head doomsayer and a retinue of 2d20 flagellants, like in the Seventh Seal
20. a skeleton on a white horse, blowing a horn of pestilence. Disease spreads to all who hear it! DC 14 Fortitude or contract a disease; a black star appears on the forehead, and the skin begins to draw in, bones show forth, then skin sloughs off… the dead come to life; incubation 1d6 days; then gain properties of undead, and lose 1d4 CON every incubation period.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Death lives!

My players lose to the monsters.

Sad Ed, a 6th-level bard with a nuclear guitar, an electric generator, and a blindheim in a hooded lantern, was killed by a Green Knight in the Tower of Violets.  They opened the door, saw the two knights, said, 'Oh, shit,' and ran, but the knights caught up.  The one with the ball-and-chain made a bouncing attack against everyone within reach, dealt like 20 damage to Sad Ed, and put his brains on the wall.

Neil, 4th-level Paladin of Belm, was killed by the wizard Palethorp.  They opened the door the ritual chamber, got off a few shots at Palethorp, and then he cast circle of death.  "Okay, so, a black pellet flies from his mouth and lands on the floor at your feet.  Smoke rises from it and enters each of your nostrils.  Everyone make a Fortitude save, you need an 18 or higher."  They had a hefty bonus from a scroll of death ward, but Neil failed and suffocated.

Before that they were exploring an underground temple to Tsathoggua, God of Frogs.  They poked around, slew some alchemists and their giant lobster, charmed the fractal frog, rescued a couple captives, freed a couple fat devils, and when they learned that not only was the actual living god down there, but also their vampire nemesis, said, "Nope," and left.  I count that as losing.

And they were in the underground temple in the first place because they were attacked by a group of regenerating skeletons and their moss hog, and couldn't find a way to deal with the skeletons, so fled through the snow-y woods, had the druid ask a flock of crows where to hide, and the crows led them to the hidden stairs into the temple.

They even had a TPK at the hands of the witches Frost and Thorn.  Frost was pregnant then and their captive and they were trekking across a swamp to reach the desert valley where roams the Sacred Agony-Beast of Izorides, upon whose lofty back is built the witches' ancient cathedral and home, and within whose heart is kept the Three-Tongued Knife of Queen Marybelle, which was used to slay the Demon Lord Urizen at the beginning of time, the body of which still blights the landscape in the wastes north of Havith Orr, city of goblins.  But Thorn, the dead Black Knight Cretched, and a pack of wolves caught up and ripped them to shreds.  I was like, 'shit, now what?'  So the witches chopped off a finger each (they mutilated their captive the same way) and threw them in a well before a decrepit Fish God.  They survived and found their revenge.

Before that they were mostly unstoppable, slaying gangs of bare-chested men, snow-leopard men, vampire monkeys, vampires, white elf bands on limb-gathering excursions, and even a damn manticore back when they were level two or three.  So I stopped caring about balance as much and started paying more attention to aesthetics, and I started randomly generating skeleton warbands to roam the woods, and I had Ningauble of the Eyeless Face (yes, the very one, yes I did screw up his name) warn them about the twelfth-level wizard's hefty powers, and I let powerful monsters and demons be totally immune to un-magical weapons, and I'm not sure they even have any of those.

'Your great-sword bounces off the skull as if it struck stone.'  'Okay I cast a spell to pick it up, let's throw it out the window.'  Roll, roll.  'The skull falls three hundred feet and lands intact. Dirtface, your body is still possessed by the dead wizard's mind. What do you do?'

The only one of these I felt bad about was Neil's death.  His player, Kathryn, hadn't played for a while, maybe three months, and couldn't find her character sheet, so before that session I helped her make a character and kit him out.  In the few moments of Neil's life, he was impulsive, cruel, and grabby.  I think he might have triggered a trap on purpose just to see what it did.  This was very different from Kathryn's previous character, a druid named Shiloh, who was kind enough to her owl animal companion to have a sweater knitted for him when they were in a city.

Nick is a little bit more nervous now.  When he saw the dinosaur, he asked, "Does it have wings?"  Thomson checks doors for traps and peeks through keyholes.  They create diversions, charm ogres and laser-shooting warrior-monks, and are happy to parley with groups of enemies whose powers they aren't sure about.  But they also know that their druid can summon a hippogriff and cast flame strike and ice storm, and that the barbarian has nearly a hundred hit-points, and that they are powerful and terrifying at full strength.  These days, they're usually not.  Life is good.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Everything's complicated, slay everything

Life is hard for me and my players right now because it's difficult to say who's the bad guy, or why, or what needs slaying, and why, and as a result they've become more sociopathic than ever before.

The very first enemy at level one, 0 xp, two years ago - they find a cabin in a haunted forest.  Knock knock, no one inside.  Break in, lock the door behind them, loot the cabinets, what do you mean no gold? Open the trapdoor, go into the cellar, see the children's heads on the walls.  I say, 'You hear a knock at the door . . .'  Long story short, they're too queasy to actually kill the insane lumberjack, so instead they tie him up, lock him in the cellar, and leave.

So now they're in a castle under siege by a skeleton army, which is led by a burning king on an iron chair, and it's protected by giant skeletons and death knights and skeletons that put themselves back together again when they die and flying skeletons with three shadows whose touch turns flesh to ash but die before the call of a mourning dove, but the skeletons right now aren't attacking the castle.  This is partly because things are too complicated inside the castle, and partly because the castle is protected by statues that shoot bone-busting lasers.  But supplies are running short and the castle guard has lost a lot of members.  So the skeleton army is erecting their own fortress out of the bones of their dead, and building something horrible inside.

(Every time I mentioned this, Cher our now ex-fighter who's moved away would whisper, 'What the hell is he building in there . . .?')

They would like to destroy the skeleton army but aren't sure how.  They waffle between wanting to save the world, and saying, 'This is like the third apocalypse happening right this instant, these people are hopeless, let's get out of here.'

But inside the castle everything's more complicated.  The lord of the castle has been taken captive by his mistress and sealed inside the palace chapel, the castle wizard locked himself in his tower and started casting a spell to gain control of the skeleton army and lay siege to Belmric to the west, and maybe worst of all has been the locked and abandoned tower residence of the lord's dead wife, the Queen of Violets, now occupied by a mysterious green king, who holds some sway over all the palace residents, none of whom want acknowledge his presence.

So the sessions since returning to the castle have been like this - invade the wizard's tower and slay the wizard.  What now?  Ok, explore the abandoned Tower of Violets. Whoa this place is huge and filled with difficult monsters and opposing factions, what the hell?  There were a good couple sessions where Thomson's bard was first killed by a monstrous knight in enameled green armor, and the players gave away almost all their gold to the castle bishop to bring him back to life, and then almost immediately after Thomson came back he made a bad roll on the use magic item mishaps chart (adapted from the totally insane rules for the maleficar at Last Gasp) and accidentally swapped bodies with the Damnation Prophet, whose body is composed of snakes.

'Okay, so, Sad Ed, your mind is yanked through the air and you suddenly see that you're looking at your own body, and your body is clutching its head and wailing, and now he's pulling out your sword. . . . This is permanent by the way.'

It bothers me that Sad Ed doesn't have his own body anymore, but on the other hand he got to torture his old body by putting a snake down his throat, so it's alright.  Where was I?  Uh

So there's been a lot of this back and forth, slowly exploring, tip-toeing around the castle, very conspicuously not trying to rescue Lord Unwerth, and meanwhile I'm sitting on the couch pulling out my hair trying to find a way to make sense out of the insanity that's this castle's back story.  When they're in the tower, they spend a lot of time interrogating the hapless minions, playing poker with them for information, charming them, and so on.  I'll say things like, 'So the man in the striped pants tells you that the King in Greens come from the Merelunds, a place of madness and fog north of the Swamp of Monsters far to the west, and that he's more powerful than you can possibly imagine,' and then they'll get angry that they didn't learn anything useful, and start a fight.

Finally, finally, when everyone is absent but our barbarian Dirtface (played by Nick), the wizard Mop (his sister Maddy), and quiet Shayne who plays the power-house 7th-level druid Ignacio (as well as his lady-wolf Deb), they decide to peek into the sealed chapel and I get to narrate the scene I've been waiting for -

'Okay, so, Dirtface, you're standing at the window and looking into the castle.  Inside you can see that the chapel is really huge, and made all of black stone, and there are dozens of swords hanging from chains on the ceiling with bodies impaled on them, and strapped to the central altar is Unwerth the Immense, completely naked, and standing over him is the Lady Adelaide, except her red hair is unbound now and her features are harsh and arrogant and she's naked from the waist up, and she holds a greataxe in one hand and a long white wand in the other . . .'

'Does she look like a witch?'

They chase down the mockingbird that the chapel's ability to open was transformed into, get a couple other friends onto skype, recruit some new guys from down the street, and barge on in to confront the witch, her dinosaur, the spirits of her two dead sisters, and the mind-controlled bodyguard of Unwerth.  She spills the beans - 'For behold! My name is not Adelaide, but Dread! Priestess of Izorides, Goddess of all witches!' and that she means to incarnate a demon into the body of Unwerth, and rule the forest from an impregnable fortress of terror, and that all flesh within the castle will be chattel to Namtar the Incomprehensible, Demon of Centipedes.

Here Shayne pipes in.  "I'd like to invoke my fortune!" which is: "A tear will be shed for you in unexpected quarters" and tells Dread the long tale of how Unwerth started two wars that led to the deaths of his parents.  Dread does shed a single black tear, and relents, and tells them that maybe they could see eye to eye (even though they totally beheaded her sisters), and that all she needs is a magical ritual dagger specially sanctified in the black fluid that drips from the slab where the demon is imprisoned far beneath the Tower of Violets, and that she sent a member of the city guard into the fundaments of the castle to sanctify the dagger, but that he has not returned.

To that my players say, 'Oh, well, if you incarnate the demon, will you destroy the skeleton army?'

Well, no, but hopefully they'll just move on -

'Okay, well, can we have some of the flesh and leave the rest for you? Because these people are all assholes but we could use a few henchmen'

I mean, maybe, but you get the sense that Dread and Namtar sort of want it all -

'Whatever, let's go find that ritual dagger and bring it back.  To the tower!'

I love my players so much.  This game is great.


Hi, I'm Nate.  I live in Philadelphia and I play Dungeons and Dragons with some people who live here, and a couple people who live in Brooklyn and Queens.  We skype them in.  I've been playing most of my life and the campaign I've been running for a couple years is pretty heavy on Zak's Vornheim (thanks for the inspiration), and I guess it's time to start giving back . . . I haven't kept a blog since high school, and I'm way past high school, so this is weird.  But I dig it.