Friday, January 11, 2019

The Drowning Dead

ACHTUNG: This post is actually pretty grim and contains descriptions of real-world torture & executions, be warned!

*****

Well shit. I owe Joesky more back-taxes than I owe the government by now! Let's get into something useful, some fun undead varieties from Land's End.

The Drowned Lands at the center of my Land's End hexmap is the locus of the setting. It's home to the lizardfolk, one of the few non-chaotic humanoid groups. One of the PCs is a lizardman so relations should start cordially - leading to plenty of roleplaying opportunities and adventure hooks. Most of the ancient cities and monoliths of the elder races lie in the swamps, for reasons unknown.

I'm excited about next session: my PCs are about to delve into the great swamp in search of Aercius' lost holy symbol, still held by his arm which was ripped off by a horde of zombies years ago! Of course it's a viciously dangerous region, so we'll see how much time the PCs spend there. The undead hordes make it especially difficult:


The Dead Legion

When the Empire of Man held (nominal) control over the wilderness beyond the Barrier, they stationed hundreds of soldiers to control the humanoid swamp-dwellers and guard the valuable resources they attempted to exploit. As Imperial might waned, the locals reclaimed what was theirs. One particular revolutionary slaughter destroyed an entire Imperial legion, leaving a literal mountain of corpses heaving out of the swamp. Over the years the site has been avoided by the locals, who so hated the invaders it was decided they weren't even worth eating.

Now the island stirs with vile unlife. A wriggling mass of slime-covered bones reaches out of the swamp, and some of these bones crawl, swim and walk away to pursue the Dead Legion's unknown purpose. What force animates these long-dead soldiers, and why now?

Of course it's all the clergy of Orcus' fault. Their activity in the Tomb of Abysthor to the south, digging in the great and ancient pit of bones, has emboldened them. One of their more puissant clerics has built a small house on the island of bodies and digs underneath through the rotting mound, for purposes unknown.

The only swamp faction that has to deal with the Legion is the bog elves. The island reaches down into their shadowed mirror-world beneath the waters of the swamp. Hanging upside-down above them in the black like a pale, rotting white sun. They hate it. Sometimes a few Legionnaires drop off and fall into their shadowy kingdom to cause death and mayhem - the elves fear what might occur should the island be destroyed or broken up completely.


[Dead Legion: Stats as normal skeletons. Slimy bones make them difficult to grapple (-4 penalty). Rusting weapons (-1 dmg) break on an attack roll of 1 or 20. Depending on the unit, they will have light or medium armour. I'm using chain shirts or breastplates (50% chance of each). All armour is rusted to hell (-2 AC). Dead Legionnaires speak a mix of Skeletongue and Imperial Common.]

Adapted from the Dyson Logos classic 'Challenge of the Frog Idol,' which you can get for free HERE.




Rebels & Sacrifices

The lizardfolk were the worst hit by the old Imperial occupation. A proud and violent warrior culture does not bend to the yoke easily. In those days, the empire had ruthless methods of putting down rebels and "traitors." Their public executions were legendary, and included the swift "Dozen Swords" and the slow, torturous Leng Tch'e: death by a thousand cuts. Many lizardfolk braves suffered these torments, which still loom large in their imagination hundreds of years later.

The tsathar and crabmen were just killed - too chaotic or stupid to be made use of anyway. All these corpses were just dumped in the rivers and ponds of the drowned lands.

In the distant past, when every humanoid race was in thrall to the gods of Chaos, even the proud lizardfolk conducted sacrifices to appease those ancient demon lords. Strangulation, drowning, impalement or worse were all pronounced by the high priests. They turned from that path ages ago, but the swamp remembers. The bodies of those sacrificed to propitiate the demon lords litter the drowned lands, and sometimes they wake up...


[Lizardfolk Zombie: Stats as normal zombies but great lizard-strength gives them +1 to damage. If you're playing Pathfinder, I guess you're stuck using templates like me. Those zombies who died at Imperial hands speak their normal language, while sacrificial victims of the old ways may speak Draconic or even Hissing if they're truly ancient.]

They differ by method of execution, roll for each individually (d6):

1 - Strangulation: Neck is bent at a disconcerting angle, head may be fixed or flop about sickeningly. The head can be damaged or even destroyed without affecting the zombie's HP total.

2 - Bamboo Impalement: Tied down over new bamboo shoots, which can grow 4cm in an hour, slowly impaling the body. The assortment of bamboo spikes in the corpse can be thrown like small javelins (1d6), or the zombie can attempt a spiky bearhug (2d6 on a successful grapple, 1d6 to an attacker who attempts a grapple).

3 - Leng Tch'e: The eyes, ears, nose, tail and organs of generation have been cut off, to say nothing of strips of flesh all over the body. Perpetually oozing blood from numberless wounds. No special abilities - they're just horrifying.

4 - Swamp Drowning: Mud poured down its throat and sunk to the bottom of the swamp. It will attempt to grapple and pin an enemy, and drown them by coughing & vomiting a perpetual flow of river mud into their mouths. Use your system's drowning rules, or say 1d8 damage and -1 CON per attack.

5 - Fed to Crabs: A horde of small yellow & green swamp-crabs live in the zombie's abdomen. I'm going to use a half-HD version of Pathfinder's "Crab Swarm" monster (I suppose there are SOME useful things about the system). Simply put, take 1d6 damage every round you stand within 5' of the zombie.

6 - Dozen Swords: Impaled by 2d6 rusting imperial swords right through its body. Just like the Man of Wounds from Varlets & Vermin. Its hit points/HD are equal to the damage rolled by all the swords stuck into it. Striking it causes your weapon to stick, and adds hit points equal to the weapon's damage. Damage it by removing a weapon from its body. When all weapons are gone, it's dead.


*****

Phew, that was a good one! Lots of cool shit coming up soon, let's keep it rocking:


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Why the OSR? / YOU RECOGNIZE NOTHING

Another wave of blathering was stirred up on G+ a few weeks ago (and another? and another? and another???) regarding the OSR and what it's all about. Here is a story that illustrates a few things I've learned about OSRism that I find really important.

So. I've been playing on and off in a 2nd edition game for about two years, with a few old friends (two of my Land's End players) and some of *their* friends. It's always the same guy DMing - we will call him "D." He and I are the only players with significant experience (he a lifer like I am). Two players are rank beginners and the ones who play in my Land's End game have no experience other than that.

Our party ranges from levels 8-12. My character is an 8th-level psionicist (I'll cover this in a future post) so sometimes I'm almost completely useless. We're playing some high-level adventures. Many of them are D's own concoction, with some published material. Of late we're playing through Temple, Tower & Tomb, a series of three pretty tough dungeons.

Things finally reached a pass last weekend, and I know I said IN MY LAST POST I wasn't going to blog while angry, but fuck it. I thought if I waited a week I'd have a more objective look back at what happened, but today I write this missive to you still feeling slapped in the face and I gotta get this out of my system.




I missed one of the sessions in the Temple, but it was cool except for one incident that set my spidey-sense tingling: while sifting through a huge pit of bones for magic items, we uncovered an odd NPC: a sentient flying skull. Turns out some dude was killed by the evil clerics of the temple and just woke up that way. Fine, I can work with this, but...

My suspicions began to grow when the floating skull, named Ollie, did not say "Thanks for rescuing me, goodbye!" but followed us around the dungeon making comments. Flying into rooms to grab treasures. Even offering suggestions on dealing with the various traps in the temple.

You guessed it. The dreaded "DMPC" had reared its ugly head. I thought I had left those behind when I graduated high school. But it gets worse:


The Tower

The delve last weekend really irritated the shit out of me. We were grinding through this dungeon slowly, and I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut. The kind of place where checking for traps and casting Detect Magic on every single door is mandatory, but the walls are made of wood. I honestly considered setting the whole place on fire and sifting through the ruins in a few days later for the stupid MacGuffin we needed.

I was basically going along to get along, letting the newer dudes set the pace. Previous game sessions had already given me deep suspicions that we were playing on "easy mode." I wondered what the fuck would be necessary for the party to fail for once.

Finally we reached the lich's hidden throne room.

The fight began in a normal enough way. Lich with Stoneskin dropped Unholy Word and Reverse Gravity, got whaled on by our fighters and went down. The magical punishments continued from an unknown source, and one of the prisoners in his sanctum was revealed as a fire elemental covered by an illusion. Makes sense so far. We began attacking the other "innocent prisoners," assuming one was the lich in disguise.

I should point out that all these irritating things so far were in the module, AFAIK. D can be blamed only for deciding to run it. But what happened next really ripped my dick off:

My psionicist was standing back, shooting arrows since I was all out of PSPs, when Ollie the fucking floating skull appeared seemingly out of nowhere (another immersion-breaking device that will probably cause me $2000 in dental reconstruction just for thinking about it). He said "The Emerald. The Emerald!"

Of course. There was a large green gem sitting on a throne in the middle of the room. Why wouldn't the lich leave his fucking phylactery out in the open? Makes perfect sense right? The DM was telling me how to defeat the boss, so my character dutifully smashed it and with a puff of smoke the lich was destroyed. My eyes rolled so far back in my skull, I'm currently typing this while hanging from the fucking ceiling.


What I'm Trying To Say

"The ultimate object of education can scarcely be knowledge anymore: it is, rather, the will born of such knowledge."  - Max Stirner

Some folks have complained about the OSR approach. The latest is from Chimeric Reservations in particular. For example, here are the Artpunk D&D "commandments" which I also subscribe to. (note the fucking quotation marks okay?)

Reading about Jacquaying the Dungeon, the Quantum Ogre, the Dirt-Cheap Sandbox or 1000 other awesome, educational, informative and fun-as-hell blog posts in the OSR world is worthwhile not just for ideas and rules but because taken together they inculcate a certain perspective. A perspective that includes freedom, choice and consequence for the players and fairness from the DM. Things that I found frustratingly lacking in last weekend's game. It doesn't matter if you're an OG from '74 or you play Pathfinder like I do. Absorbing these ideas will raise your consciousness. You'll understand why a "gimme" like this is in fact robbing your players of the fun they otherwise could've had.

"You are privy to a great becoming..." 

I don't know if anyone thinks or claims that OSR-ing is a fully general solution to every problem in roleplaying games. This session exemplifies just one frustrating and totally avoidable ending to a session that OSR-style thinking would have prevented. You can accuse me of "one-true-wayism" all you want, but I would never in a million years have pulled that fucking move with my players. What I'm saying is that at least in my case THE OSR IMPROVED MY GAMES, SAVED MY SOUL AND KICKS ASS. It has real effects on people, and a little reading on D's part might have saved me from this lingering taste of piss in my mouth.

Why even bother playing if we already know what's going to happen? I'm trying to think and solve problems and play my character to the hilt and survive. Too bad it's all a bunch of wasted effort. Why keep track of anything? Why roll the dice?


What To Do Next?

A great number of pursuits compete for my time. Too many to list. Why spend any of my limited hours getting this pissed off? At the very least I'll be contacting D in private to discuss my misgivings, although I strongly doubt it will make a difference. I believe he is just pandering to the newbies, and since there are four of them and one of me, the best option may be to quietly reduce my attendance. I mean, they keep coming back - who am I to tell them how to have fun?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

State of the Sorcery 2018

It's been a year of ups and downs. The impending closure of Google+ has people feeling bummed out, spreading folks across a wide range of substitute social platforms, each one denounced by at least some people (reddit is for neckbeards! MeWe is the fourth reich!). Meanwhile a few sadly inevitable culture-war struggles fractured our small scene even further. Noisms actually did what we all think about every day. It's a bummer to watch people gradually drop off the map until one's G+ feed is a chorus of shills and crickets. A sad but familiar feeling - this kind of thing happens to scenes.

To compensate for this, I added a big new stack of blogs to the reading list. In case anybody's under a rock, you can find a big nasty old list of gaming goodness right HERE.


As for Terrible Sorcery, it's been the best year by far since I started blathering about my D&D notions back in 2011. I put The Spoils of Annwn on the shelf for a while with a case of thematic confusion. I returned to Land's End with some pals again. Having a looser, less high-concept setting is easier for me to deal with. Since actually playing is the important part, anything that gets me PLAYING more often is a good thing! My players seem to really love the sandbox format and are excited to come to the table and roll - more than this, a DM couldn't ask for.

I feel the quality of my writing has improved a lot this year. Probably because I spent more time doing it! Obviously I've tremendous room for improvement. I still don't have the focus to really follow an idea through in detail to the end. There were a few articles this year that only skimmed across the surface of their subject, which I don't feel great about. My style needs to be clearer and more concise. Sitting down to blog while I'm irritated has also led to some sloppy work in the past, so I should try and relax a little bit. On the positive side I'm still full of ideas, both for my home game and things to blog about.

Links have started cropping up on the pages of D&D bloggers I like and follow, which is everything I hoped for when I started out. Somehow more people have been checking out Terrible Sorcery, and the numbers are tremendous (by comparison). I don't know if this is poor internet form, but take a look:





What the hell happened? Did I turn into a porn site? Start selling vape accessories? Pay some bots to drive traffic? Maybe my posts are actually getting better...

If anybody has an explanation, I'd love to know!

This is also the first year enough folks left comments to have a conversation. Pretty cool, so I hope that keeps up. Thanks to everyone who has followed along on this journey - whether you started in '11 or are just stumbling over the page now!


Most Popular This Year

Random Monster Generator Book Shootout! 1 and 2 - These were wildly popular compared to anything else. Unsurprising - every good-hearted DM loves monsters and random tables. I only wonder why nobody else has attempted a survey of these books before.

The Lunar Giant - My entry in the Henry Justice Ford monster manual project, which you can score right here (for the low price of fuck-all). I'm proud to be part of this one, thanks to Eric Nieudan for putting it all together. I hear a print-on-demand version is in the offing; watch this space!

REVIEW: The Gardens of Ynn - In retrospect a muddy and all too brief write-up, I hope at least my enthusiasm about the module was communicated. It's awesome, so give it a look.

The Tomb of Abysthor remix - The beginning of my reinterpretation of a great Necromancer/Frog God Games dungeoncrawl. Juking the stats so I can play it in Epic 6.

Nameless Cults VI - The return of a classic series, this one's about the cult of Tsathoggua.

The Three D&D Economies - This was an excerpt of a much larger series I found on a D&D wiki which I wanted people to hear about. Go look at the original stuff!


Looking Forward

Many possibilities and projects lie ahead in 2019:

The death of google+ - MeWe seems the default option. I suppose I could try it...

Land's End - Plenty of ideas and content here for future posts. Dungeons, new monsters, blurbs about the setting in general. It needs more juice, more imagination, more weirdness, and that's where I'm going with it next.

The Tomb of Abysthor - I have the next two installments in progress but they'll be posted up slowly. I want to playtest them before I get too far ahead, so it all depends on the direction my players take.

Nameless Cults - The King in Yellow, Thasaidon, prince of all turpitudes, and some of the freaky shit from the Book of the Damned are up next.

REVIEWS - I'm having fun with the few I've done so far. New stuff, old stuff, whatever I buy with my leftover Paypal change, maybe shit I get for Christmas?

Warhammer Fantasy - Reading ATWC's Bringing Down the Hammer turned me on to WFRP 1st edition. I found a cheap old copy on eBay for 40 bucks (or '40 wooden nickels' to non-Canadians). Follow me as I force my players to try it out and everyone gets disembowelled! My roommates have a few friends that want to try out roleplaying games, so let's get them started out with something ancient, unglamorous, weird, gritty and violent with black & white illustrations! The complete opposite of the video games they've all been raised on!

Trying to convince my players to switch from Mathfinder - The DM's job is a thankless one, but less so than the evangelist's! If I can't manage it, expect more posts about paring down the complex rules systems to make my life easier.

*****

Now play us out into the winter dark:


Monday, December 17, 2018

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Session 5


CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Vuk Thuul - half-elf snake oracle 1
Nahash - lizardman barbarian 1
Leliana Vess - sylph witch 1

*****

This was a short session, because the team decided against entering the dungeon! I count this a success. I'd much rather have my players acting to survive and avoid danger than charging in with confidence the dungeon is meant for them to conquer 'just because it's there.' They were sent north by Sgt. Horgh to investigate a cave and decided that bringing back a short report was better than getting killed solving the goblins' problems for them. Especially when they realized the goblins were contagious. Smart move boys!!

They still got enough treasure (from Sgt. Horgh's reluctant payout for their report) to make level 2! Now things get really interesting, as they've decided to push east into the swamps (Nahash's home turf) in search of Aercius' lost holy symbol. I have the whole Christmas holiday to research, do prep and flesh things out. That's good, because The Drownings are really the centerpiece of the region and contain a huge portion of the cool places, NPCs, factions, monsters etc.

Time to dig out some pdfs: Challenge of the Frog Idol, Fever Swamp...

*****

This session was also a great use of the Level One Creature Generator, which I wrote about back here.

I had been reading a lot of Incunabuli, so I wanted to include goblins who had: something. The plague? A curse? I wanted them to be possessed in some way: individually pretty useless but dangerous in numbers as their controlled minds worked in sync. It wasn't gelling. I rolled on the L1CG to see if it could jog my mind in the right direction.

Rolling on the FORM table I got this: "Vegetable/flora in nature, green leaf, flower and vine ridden. +1 to all tests during the daytime, can regrow limbs and regenerates 1 HP a round."

Holy shit. There you have it. Since goblins live underground, I reversed the day/night modifiers and made them mushroomy fungusoid hive-mind goblins. Then I rolled on the ABILITY table and got this: "Covered in spikes or some other dangerous offensive armour, melee attackers must test DEX after every attack they attempt to avoid d6 damage."

Fuck me, it's a perfect fit. A mushroom spore-cloud attack! Explains how the possession spreads. One goblin comes home and starts acting weird, as soon as the others try to fight him, POOF! Everyone gets infected.

That's what I want from random table: cool results that push me in the right direction when I need it, or put the pieces together in a new and interesting way. Hats off and fuckin' bonus points to Mr. Raston.

*****

Play reports are tough for me. I don't really like writing them all the time, and if the pageviews are any indication, you folks don't like reading them. I'm going to try something different for now, extract the useful talking points and lessons instead of doing blow-by-blow accounts.

DANCE TIME:




Saturday, December 15, 2018

Random Monster Generator Shootout Round 2 - Hyper Diabolism Edition!!!

'SUP blogland? The first random monster generator shootout was a ton of fun. With help from the comments section (pretty cool feeling to get those - thanks!), I dug around my books and pdfs to find some more. I found more than I bargained for... a lot more. Hide your game books from Pastor Steve and cancel your Something Awful forum account: this round is all about LotFP and DEMON SUMMONING!


*****

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules & Magic
Summon spell

by James Edward Raggi III
from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
buy print or get the free pdf

Let's kick things off with another entry from last round's defending champion, James Raggi! Last time, the RECG took the title away from Michael Raston's Level 1 Creature Generator, although it was a tougher call than I let on at the time. Now we're going to the source and looking at the demon-summoning spell in LotFP: Grindhouse Edition.

Summoning Rules: Pretty fucking complicated for a first-level spell! The caster chooses what HD of monster to aim for when casting the spell. Make a saving throw vs. magic to hit your target. Make a 'domination roll' against the creature to see if it comes under your control. The margin of victory in this opposed roll affects the degree of control or lack thereof. This can be modified by using expensive materials to create a thaumaturgic circle and offering helpless living sacrifices (classic fantasy stuff, FINALLY!). If these rolls are failed terribly the creature goes berserk, or you might have to roll on a table of even worse consequences.

Another cool thing about this system is the 'form' table. If you fail your original saving throw, the creature has a much larger number of possible forms, each more demented than the last. This spell can have DIRE consequences for failure. Special forms include 'anti-matter,' and 'collective unconscious desire for suicide.' Heavy! The way you generate special abilities and limbs is a bit odd, generating a target number and then trying to roll under it, and there is theoretically no limit to the number of abilities/appendages a creature could have.


SAMPLE MONSTER - "John Carpenter Ant"

Because creature HD depends on caster level (you can try for HD up to 2x your level, plus modifiers), we'll use a hypothetical 3rd level wizard who has roped a few idiots in as unwitting human sacrifices. I make my rolls and summon a 7-HD creature:

HD: 7
AC: 14
Attacks: 1
Damage: d6
Speed: 120'

Shape: Insectoid
Appendages: 1 - Necrotic Proboscis
Powers: 1 - Impregnates (victims hit must save vs. poison or carry a thing)

AAAAIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!! This is one of the less-deranged things you can roll on this table, and I definitely wouldn't want to meet it in a dark fucking alley.

How Many Rolls? Minimum 8 I think. Maximum is theoretically infinite.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Only if I had to. I find it hard to follow. Things are out of order, rules and the corresponding tables are in different places so I have to keep flipping back and forth. Surprisingly difficult to navigate given the rules themselves are only a few pages. This could really have benefited from some streamlining or a flowchart or something.
Variety and Reusability? Plenty. Raggi doesn't disappoint. I especially like the 'appendages' table which makes great use of almost poetic adjectives to create an image in the reader's brain, instead of technical descriptions. This whole thing is like a condensed version of the RECG in a way, and can generate monsters with a similar feel.


*****


PS: MASSIVE LIGHTNING-ROUND BONUS POINTS to Saker for doing his own version of the Summon spell, with a helpful step-by-step guide! Even fucking more bonus points to Angus Warman for automating it. Now you can generate a monster in seconds when one of your players springs the damned spell on you unawares.


*****

A Red & Pleasant Land
The Guests

by Zak Smith
from LotFP
Buy the Print and pdf

Oh, y'all forgot about this one huh? I didn't. When this book came out, I was enthralled by the Guests. A believable, flavourful take on AD&D demons seen through the unique setting of Voivodja. Crammed with classic Zak-isms, these guys are no joke.

Summoning Rules: A short, punchy list of 5 requirements: an hour of preparation, a banquet including a living sacrifice, a host creature to possess (nice!), a formal poetic greeting and contracts for the guest to sign (this being Voivodja and all). Zak usually likes to keep things simple and moving fast, relying on the DM to fill in the details. This is fine for me, and has enough flavour to keep me interested without being annoying.

There are several broad types of Guests: The Unholy (agents of temptation), The Implacable (agents of destruction), The Unwelcome (agents of disruption) and The Uncreated (agents of madness). Each one has a separate series of percentage rolls for its attributes, looks, number of special abilities, etc. While The Unholy are human-shaped with chances of wings, horns, tails etc, The Uncreated are hybrids of a random object and a random animal. Then everyone rolls on two common tables: Attributes and Powers (fairly obvious).


SAMPLE MONSTER - 'Raisin-Wheel of Madness'

Implacable - Agent of Destruction
Human as base creature
Purple in colour

HD: 4 (HP: 33)
Speed: 1/2 human
Armor: plate+shield+2
Int: 12
Attacks: +5/+2 to hit, d20 damage each

Attributes - withered, 2 limbs in wrong places, 3 tentacles
Other Powers - Confusion 20' radius for d4 rounds, causes one enemy attack/spell per round to strike a target of its choosing, guest can single out a target and attack at +2 until slain - if successful it gains d4 HD
Purposes - bring disease, destroy powerful holy object

Wow. I was afraid this monster would be lame (it failed all the % rolls in the Implacable category, leaving just a plain human body). The attribute and powers tables totally rescued it! A withered purple man with one arm & leg swapped so he gimps & flops around on his mismatched limbs & tentacles is suitably gross and otherworldly. The special abilities really carry the day here, and are actually the perfect fit for a monster that seem like a weak physical threat: everybody goes crazy while it flip-flops, and the one dude who passed his save and tries to strike it ends up stabbing his confused friends anyway. Magic!

How Many Rolls? Minimum 14 I think. Could be more than 20 if you roll lots of attributes.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Yes. Almost everything is condensed on to one page. Slam down a handful of d%s and you're almost all done. Flip to the next few pages for attributes and powers.
Variety and Reusability? Tons. Having different types of demons who all draw from the same attributes chart in varying proportions is a great idea. If the PCs got familiar with the four different types they could develop at least a vague idea of what they're up against while still leaving plenty of room to be surprised.

PS: some of the powers are fucking nasty. PCs use caution!

*****

No Salvation for Witches
The Tract of Teratology

by Rafael Chandler
from LotFP
Is the print version sold out? get the pdf

NSFW is a bad-ass adventure set in 1620s England. I won't do a review/treatment of the adventure itself, but it is a creative and well-written horror escapade. If you're familiar with vintage LotFP adventures or Chandler's particular style, you have an inkling of what's going on here. I have it in pdf and wish I had pulled the trigger on a print copy when I had the chance.

Anyway, the last few pages of the adventure detail a book called the Tract of Teratology containing a ritual for summoning an otherworldly entity. The idea is there are countless Tracts in the world, each with completely different contents. Whether you use that idea, or just crib the monster generation tables is up to you. Let's see how it works.

Summoning Rules: Two tables that fit on a single page, some preamble. Roll for your ritual type (various grim & bloody sacrificial rites) and special components required (pieces of the victim, herbs, gems, whatever).

Every roll on the Tract's tables follows the same format: percentile dice + character level & INT modifier of every participant in the ritual. Simple and straightforward, easy to remember, while stats & planning can still influence the outcome. Great mechanic!


SAMPLE MONSTER - "Fruitopede"

Let's say my wizard is 5th level now, with three new apprentices whose stupidity cancels out my INT bonus, leaving us with a net modifier of +8%. Even this is an oversimplification, as the performance of the ritual (well-done or poorly) can modify your monster results too. We'll have to assume there were no screwups for the sake of argument:

Ritual - poisoning
Components - 200sp bar of silver, the victim's kidneys

HP: 6d8
Damage: 1d4+2
AC: 16
Move: 120'
Attacks: 4
Morale: 12
Summon duration: 1 day, then entity liquefies and seeps into the ground

Attributes - Segmented worm long as a man covered in violet scales, segmented tail w/barbed stinger (+2 damage), smells of orange rind, neutral attitude to caster
Abilities (3) - Random 4th-level MU spell, random 5th-level MU spell, random 7th-level MU spell
Compulsion - follow a stranger home and murder everyone who lives there, except the one who was followed. It must commit the act and the caster must help or lose a point of DEX every day for 1d6 days.

Ugh, well Chandler rarely pulls his punches. What these tables lack in variety, they make up for in nastiness. The 'body' and 'appendages' tables are the meat & potatoes here. Most entries are distinctive and flavourful but with only the two tables the possibilities for weird & unexpected combinations are kept to a minimum.

How Many Rolls? Exactly 19. Plus random MU spells if you get that result (and you will).
Would I use this in the middle of a session? For sure! The charts are straightforward and all use a d%, there is no cross-referencing. It's very easy to use, except for rolling up random MU spells I'd have to develop a method in advance.
Variety and Reusability? Low-Middling. 'Body' and 'appendages' each have about 50 entries, so repeats can happen but the same combination will be rare. The special abilities are sorely lacking though. Random MU spells, immunity to [x], or a flat mechanical bonus? My balls.

I wonder if we shouldn't expect too much from these tables, appearing in the back of an unrelated adventure as they do. But the Guests pack way more variety and juice into less space, so all excuses must fall on deaf ears! Not sure I'd use this to actually generate a monster for the PCs to fight, but it does well at its intended function.


Conclusion

The LotFP "house round" has been a tough one. Summon has classic Raggi juice but isn't very user-friendly. The Tract is clearly and cleanly laid out, but gives fairly basic results. I have to hand it to Zak - the Guests are imaginative, descriptive and flavourful. If you're generating your monsters in advance like with any other random monster generator, I'd give this round to him.

But at the last minute I saw how this hack, modification and automation of the Summon spell changes the game. For demon-summoning in the middle of a session it does exactly what you need. I have to give the title to the 3-man squad of Raggi, Saker and Angus for this OSR-style team-up! Now go click the button and generate your own monsters!!!!


*****

Now I'm pretty hungover today, so time to watch TV or something dumb for a while. I'll leave you with this (actually, 'necrotic proboscis' would be a good grindcore band name too):


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What's a 'demon' anyway?

Recent post here with my first reaction to Paizo's Book of the Damned.

You should also try reading THIS post from Against the Wicked City, and the "conceptual density" one linked on the side of the page. I find ATWC pretty accurately drills into some of my objections with Pathfinder's setting.

*****

Sometimes the Book of the Damned has really cool ideas. They are often in the smaller paragraphs of hints or suggestions. The most fun I've had reading this book is in the section on infernal dukes, qlippoth lords, kyton demagogues, nascent demon princes, etc. Pages upon fucking pages of entries like this, most which could be the inspiration for a super-cool demon cult.

The kyton demagogue Fharaas:

As one might read a tree’s years in the exposed rings of its stump, followers of the Seer in Skin divine all a mortal’s days by scrutinizing the whorls and layers within its flesh. Some even teach that, if a destined bond exists, a killer’s life is reflected in a victim’s fateful meat.

Pretty cool right? Other times, Paizo's style really makes me sad:

Orcus is the ruler of this realm of frozen seas, haunted cities, infested swamps, and ragged mountains... The demon lord’s minions include powerful liches and undead-demon hybrids that populate necropolises and ruins across the realm.

What in the hell ass is an "undead-demon hybrid"?

I just... ugh. Words fail me. If the word 'demon' means anything at all, how can such an entity be undead too?

This is what happens when design decisions are made by what we might call "restricted association." The nearest related thing. The shortest possible distance between two points.

Demon prince of undead? Put in a necropolis! Never mind the question of who/what could possibly be buried in a necropolis IN THE ABYSS. Or who the fuck built it in the first place. It's just meaningless window-dressing. Style without substance. How can you tell me that someone actually thought about this before writing it?

I guess this is my fundamental objection to extraplanar settings in D&D generally. Planescape fought against this mightily, but detailing these ineffable realms could only go one way, eventually. It reduces them to human terms. Hell - by definition the worst place that could possibly exist, the very inferno of damnation itself - has mountains, cities, marketplaces, forests, houses, graveyards and even sewers! All the same terrain that clutters the normal world, only the inhabitants have red skin and horns. I find this deeply vexing, and I wish some more imagination could have been put into these other dimensions.

On the other hand, Moloch does look fucking awesome.

JOIN THE LEGION

That guy makes me want to sign up with the forces of darkness. Also on the upside, the book has SO MANY demons in it that I could pick a handful for every campaign I run and never exhaust it in my whole life.

That's the strength of the book. It's a big multiverse and the weird, almost throwaway nature of the one-paragraph entries I find most exciting. Like someone at Paizo got stuck with writing pages and pages of minor demon prince filler entries and said "Fuck It, I'm going to have fun with this!"

Maybe in Land's End I could team Orcus up with: Shax, the Blood Marquis; Zurapadyn, the Beast who Waits in Smoke; Slandrais, the Watcher in the Walls; Jiravvidain, the Duke of Fissures; or Sugroz, the Voice in Screams? Now I'm actually getting excited!

*****

Let's listen to something ACTUALLY demonic for once:


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Sage's Report 1 - The Jaguar-Headed Idol

Last session, Vuk Thuul the snake oracle saved up enough money (2000 silver) to pay the sage Vantadel for his first question. The wild half-elf wanted to know the origins of his savage cannibal tribe and the mysterious idol they worshipped - a crude statue of a man with a jaguar's head. This is what I sent the player:

*****

"Much ink has been spilled over the antediluvian fall of the elven race. To your situation, very little pertains anymore. It is enough to know that your tribes have occupied their lowly estate for generations upon generations, scrabbling to survive at the edge of the world.

The human side of your lineage is anyone's guess. Mayhap one of your ancestors was captured in a raid, or was an outcast from Imperial society. Regardless, I wager all your kind are of similar mixed blood these many years.

As for your specific tribe I have no answers. You speak of cannibalism and sacrificial midnight rites - things the long-fallen are not known for. They raid and fight, especially amongst themselves, but keep to their old ways where they know how. I glimpse the taint of Chaos in this news, and I fear for your own future and that of your friends.

You know the world warms with every passing year. Rivers run high with snowmelt and crops wither beneath the sun. I am older than you by far. I remember a different age when each season kept to its own quarter of the year, not overstepping its allotted time.

Even then, some parts of the world were hotter. In the distant south beyond the reach of the Imperium, beyond your ancestral hunting grounds in the badlands, a hot and misty jungle lies. The cloud forests you visited beyond the eastern Barrier resemble the scattered reports we have of this southern land. Men lived there who bowed not to Vasos I nor any other emperor. Wild and free, as the long-fallen are, they owned only what they could take with their own hands.

Few things these men feared. Only one could be understood by our expeditions. We have no word in our language, in theirs it is forvalaka. Beasts of the jungle that stalk men with human intelligence. So fast and strong that they could pounce upon a hunting party and tear them to pieces in seconds. Impervious to weapons. Impossible to kill. Feared by all.

Animals, spirits, or demons? Their exact nature wasn't understood. Some described insubstantial ghosts, who became solid only to attack. Others said they live in the water, or in the trees. The only coherent reports we have describe them as mighty black hunting cats who stalk the jungle on all fours, but can walk upright like men.

I believe this is what your tribe's idol depicts.




The southern jungle-men said the entire evil race was destroyed by a great magic, cast by their shamans and sorcerers. Although the nature of this spell is unclear, their language seems to indicate a bane or curse was laid on the monsters since direct attacks were near useless.

How this idol left the jungle, crossed the badlands and came into the hands of your people, I cannot say. I fear its arrival cannot be coincidental. Old forces may be stirring, wakened by the return of hospitable climes and brought on the hot southern winds to our quiet homeland.

Yours,
-Nicomaeus Vantadel IV, esq.

PS: I must apologize for the vagueness of these reports - our information on the southern lands is limited by the language barrier attendant on all contacts with this distant culture and the rarity of expeditions returning home."



*****



These hew fairly close to the ones from the Black Company. Sorry/not sorry. If more people cribbed from those books, it would be a badass-er world. Of course, the idol that Vuk Thuul's elf tribe worshipped is one of the last forvalaka, turned to stone by magic. Maybe it became un-petrified and ate his whole tribe? Maybe it's coming after him now? I haven't decided yet, but... probably.


[Stats will be similar to the Jaguar from the Tome of Horrors, but tougher, more HD and a bit magically-enhanced. Lycanthrope "templates" in Pathfinder are fucking annoying, I want a monster I can use right out of the book. They need AC enough that a veteran soldier has little chance to hit. Strong and accurate enough to kill a plate-armored man with one claw, fast enough to kill more than one man in a round. Magically protected enough or with enough hit points that humans with standard weapons have a bitch of a time killing one, even in large numbers. I'll post the stats up later when I finalize and playtest them.]

Get on your motorcycle and crank this up!!!