Tuesday, December 31, 2019

State of the Sorcery 2019

Well, it's that time again. Yule logs are crackling, a new Star Wars movie is out, I have to field calls from my relatives asking when I'm going to get my life together. But first let's look at how things went over the last year.

I wrote fewer posts this year mainly because I had other creative projects to balance, like starting a new campaign with some brand-new players. One of my bands recorded a new record so I spent most of the spring & summer practising really hard riffs that nobody will ever listen to! The Land's End crew still gets together about once a month for wilderness exploration and the players are having a great time. I'm learning a lot about the sandbox format in every session.




Most Popular Posts:

Why the OSR? / YOU RECOGNIZE NOTHING - As soon as I said I wouldn't get mad... We haven't been back to game with this group, for a handful of reasons including those I enumerate in the post. Sorry I got so pissy, but this post reached a LOT more people than my blog usually does, so I hope at least a few of you who came for the yells stayed for the skeletons and random tables.

Review: The Stygian Library - Not much else to say here, this is a great module. I will post a follow-up play report once my players have explored it. They're very close now, and I hope my personal touches don't twist it too far out of proportion.

RMGS Round 3 - My second-favourite of the series after Hyper Diabolism Edition. I break down the monster generators in the Tome of Adventure Design, Carcosa and the Gardens of Ynn.

Tomb of Abysthor - pt 2 - The Pit of Bones - Part of my ongoing attempt to adapt that venerable Necromancer Games/Frog God adventure for my home setting and rules. I'm glad people read this post, I'm proud of this little bit of my setting!

Return to Land's End sessions 8 & 9 - The most-read of my play reports! I'm glad someone likes these although I've fallen off writing them of late. They take too much time, I'd rather work on new material for my game. Maybe I can do more point-form reports that contain all the essence of these writeups, but take less time? I don't know if they'll be very interesting to read.


Least Popular Post:

REVIEW: Library Generation Table & Locks, Vaults and Hiding Places - and a blurb - I wonder why more people didn't check this one out? I suppose there isn't much point in reviewing something that's PWYW on DrivethruRPG, folks can just get it for free and see if they like it.


Failures:

Didn't get around to playing Warhammer with my group at home.
Posted less than I did last year.
Wrote more angry rants than I wanted to.


Successes:

Wrote a lot of reviews!
Wrote my 100th post!
My own writing made it into a printed book!
Started a new drop-in game with some players brand-new to D&D!
Refrained from publishing some of the angry rants that I did write!


What's coming next:

Land's End: The Tomb of Abysthor remix is progressing, the group have ventured inside and battled the relentless skeletons of the Font of Bones. I have edited the first two levels in an attempt to stay at least one whole level ahead of my players at all times, but the lower levels will require much MORE work than higher ones! The entire frog level basically needs to be deleted or completely rewritten for E6, same with the temple of Orcus. Meanwhile they are following up clues to the lost temple of Mordiggian the Charnel God, and about to venture into the drowned lands where the lizardfolk live!

Viridistan: My new drop-in game is set in & around Viridistan, the City-State of the World Emperor. After watching what Ben L. did with the Wilderlands for his game, I was inspired to read up on it. I have placed Land's End there so both games take place within the same world. This one will have less wilderness adventuring. Instead it focuses on cults, conspiracies, city adventuring, socializing, random tables, and reskinning all my LotFP adventures with a more Swords & Sorcery theme. In other words, only & entirely things I've never done before! So expect catastrophic failure, or at least some hilarious gaffes along the way.

Fun on the Velvet Horizon: A few of these are in progress, hopefully they'll be done this year.

Summoning Rules: My adaptation of Ben L's awesome monster-summoning pact rules will hopefully continue this year. This is closely tied with FotVH of course.

Nameless Cults: More of these will be added. I have selected six of the seven demon-lords that rule the forces of Chaos in Land's End. Further development on the cults of Orcus, Tsathoggua, Abraxas and more is upcoming, along with some antagonists that aren't 'infernal' so much as 'extraterrestrial'...

Play Reports: probably not!

More new material: I have written a few original dungeons for Land's End that crib from my favourite bloggers less than usual. Nothing to make a big deal out of, about the size of a dungeon from Fight On! But if my players have fun playing 'em, I'll reproduce them here for you guys to check out.

Reviews: Well, I did buy a fuckton of new gaming books this year! It'll take me a while just to read em all. I'll write up a few just keep my hand in, you understand. I am so busy that I would rather dedicate my limited blogging time to playable things for my setting. Still, if I can drive a handful people towards a really cool product, that's worth doing.

Review, Remix, Repent: I am teeing up on a controversial, well-reviewed but much-maligned module, one which perhaps fell victim to the hype surrounding it. I am attempting to extract the interesting parts. We'll see if it ends up being more work than it's worth, and who wants to lynch me after.


*****

Happy new year everyone, drive safe and drink lots of water!!


Friday, December 27, 2019

K.I.O.S. - Knights In Orcus' Service


So... I read the Metamorphica Revised. I bought Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness on eBay. I dug into the classic Chaos Patrons Revisited. I love Noisms' idea and it's an inspiration for this post but it doesn't exactly suit my setting, which has exactly seven demon lords. I thought I would have more fun if I wrote up a unique table for each demonic patron! So here is my take on the Gifts of Orcus, done in the classic style of Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness.


Chaos Patron: Orcus

[Stats are for both stupid systems since I run E6 Mathgrinder and Labyrinth Lord]

Like all Demon Lords, Orcus grants gifts to his devout clergy and lay servants alike. When a cultist gains a level they must roll on the Gifts of Orcus table below, according to this scheme:

-Single-classed clerics roll every level starting with 2nd.
-Non-cleric cultists roll on every even-numbered level.

Those who convert to Orcus late in life (after 1st level) must immediately make all the rolls they're entitled to while being inducted through a terribly painful ritual of some kind (sleeping amongst corpses for 6 days and nights, ritual flayings, etc). This changes the character's alignment to chaotic if it wasn't already. Under some circumstances a character may be able to avoid death by signing on with Orcus (just like in Chaos Patrons Revised), but this would require a save to avoid undeath as in result 97-99, and maybe some bonus rolls on the table just to teach them a lesson.

Advancing the cause of the demon lord can affect the gifts he grants. The DM will adjudicate a modifier ranging from -15% (extremely happy, you've advanced the cause of Orcus) to +15% (extremely disappointed, report for torture immediately). Orcus dislikes when undead are harmed but violence among his living cultists is fine, provided his long-term plans aren't ruined. Only the strong are deserving of his gifts.


Goblinoid Games


GIFTS OF ORCUS: d100

1-4 Infernal Assistance - Granted a demonic minion of HD equal to your level. It serves faithfully until destroyed, but may have its own agenda or tasks to fulfill.

6-11 Black Crushing Sorcery - Learn a random necromantic spell from the cleric or M-U list. If normally incapable of casting it due to class or level, the cultist can use it once per day as a spell-like ability. Roll d100 for spell level, with the same modifier used on the main Gifts table: 01-10 4th level, 11-30 3rd level, 31-60 2nd level, 61-00 1st level.

12-17 Grave Goods - Orcus grants the cultist a useful item from the abyssal treasure-vaults of the restless dead. Its purpose may be obscure, but it will always be something he is able to use. This is an opportunity to give the character a clue like a treasure map, mysterious key, one of those artifacts from Goblin Punch that I like so much or just a good magic item. If you're absolutely out of ideas, maybe use those tables from Realms of Crawling Chaos.

18-22 Familiar - Orcus grants the cultist a familiar. It takes the shape of (1d6) 1-4 a skeletal or zombie animal, 5-6 an imp or quasit.

[PF: standard familiar rules apply / LL: use this]

23-30 Undead Servants - A cadre of lower-level undead appear beside the cultist. Consult the 'Type of Undead' table below and subtract four from the cultist's level to determine kind and number. Mindless undead will obey until destroyed. Those of free will are more like hirelings or henchmen and are reluctant to undertake suicide missions, may have their own goals, etc.

31-35 Chaos Armour - Orcus grants the cultist a suit of bad-ass chaos armour. It will be a random type of metal armour irrespective of character class. If the cultist can't or won't wear it he may pass it on to someone else. I suggest allowing NPC cultists to cast spells in chaos armour without penalty.

Regardless of make & material, the armour gains the following magical bonuses every time this gift is rolled. [PF: +1 to AC, grants DR 5/magic or law / LL: +1 to AC, +1 weapons are required to hit the cultist while wearing this armour].

Make a save when the armour is first worn, or if this gift is rolled again [PF: Will DC 20 / LL: vs spells at -2] or it bonds to the wearer and cannot be removed short of a limited wish or similar magic.

36-41 Demon Weapon - A magic weapon appears at the cultist's feet, of a kind he is able to use. Inside is the bound spirit of a demon of the lower planes. Use the Realm of Chaos daemon weapon rules if you can figure them out, the ones in the Metamorphica, or create an intelligent magic sword as per the DMG. It is always chaotic in alignment and serves Orcus, although may have its own personal goals.

[Tables for creating demon weapons may go here, if I can get around to it]

42-49 Death Mask - The cultist is granted an ornate and valuable ceremonial mask. At 2nd level it is made of a base material like lead, iron or bone. As the cultist gains experience the mask's value climbs commensurately [100 gp per level] and it transmutes to copper, silver, then gold. Rolling this gift again doubles the mask's value and decoration each time: old and powerful cultists have ritual masks carved in wild patterns and studded with precious gems, and these are usually still worn while serving in Orcus' undead legions.

They don't do anything magical. Just hide your deformities, look ballin' and are worth a fair bit of dough when the forces of Law loot your corpse!

50-52 Rictus - The cultist's face melts into the desiccated, eyeless grin of a corpse. [PF: -6 CHA / LL: -3 CHA] All who come within 10' and see his face are struck with supernatural dread. 

[PF: Will DC 12 + (cleric level or 1/2 other class level) or frightened for 1d4 rounds / LL: As the spell Cause Fear]

53-56 Mark of Orcus / Dead Truce - His symbol is seared permanently onto the cultist's face, hands or some other prominent place for all to see. If an undead creature sees the symbol it must succeed on a save in order to attack the cultist, although it is free to attack his companions or take any other action. Free-willed undead are not affected.

[PF: Will DC 10 + (cleric level or 1/2 other class level) + CHA bonus / LL: Roll on the turn undead table as a cleric of your level.]

57-62 Lich Touch - The cultist develops an icy-cold aura. His breath fogs even in warm weather and raindrops freeze on his skin. Touch an opponent in melee to deal cold damage.

[PF: 1d8 + 1/2 level / LL: 1d10]

63-66 Face of the Goatlord - The cultist's face deforms to resemble a monstrous, fanged black goat. His voice takes on a hircine quality and he may stutter or bleat from time to time. If he already owns a Mask of Orcus, it will change to fit his new anatomy.

67-79 Marked by the Grave - An aura of undeath surrounds the cultist, so roll on this great table by Necropraxis.

80-83 Mummified - The cultist's skin becomes withered and leathery, and his voice croaks with the dust of the tomb

[PF: +4 AC, -4 CHA, +50% damage from fire / LL: +2 AC, -2 CHA, +1 damage per die from fire attacks]

84-87 Skeletonized - One random limb shrivels painfully into an appendage of bone. Roll d4: 1 left arm, 2 right arm, 3 left leg, 4 right leg.

A withered arm gives [PF: -4 STR / LL: -2 to hit & dmg] with any task involved. A withered leg reduces your movement speed [PF: -5' per round / LL: From 120' to 90' or from 90' to 60', you get the idea]

88-90 Contagion - The cultist is infected with an incurable disease of some kind: leprosy, the black plague, red ache, the trembles, polio. It is survivable, but not without damaging the cultist's body irreversibly. However, it can now be transmitted by touch:

Roll 1d6, and count down the stats on your character sheet in whatever order they're written. That statistic is reduced by 1d3 points, permanently. The cultist may touch opponents in melee to damage that same characteristic by 1d3 points. Whether the cultist's victims can recover from this disease or the attribute damage is up to your system and your DM. Play hard...

[PF: Fortitude DC 10 + (cleric level or 1/2 other class level) + CON / LL: Save vs. poison].

91-93 Dead Already - The cultist's organs begin to wither as his body prepares itself for unlife. For now he is still alive and needs to eat, sleep & breathe, but is harmed by Cure and healed by Inflict spells just like undead creatures. He cannot recover hit points naturally, is immune to bleeding damage & won't bleed out below 0 HP, is immune to sneak attacks and critical hits.

94-96 Level Drained! - The cultist loses one level and all corresponding abilities, spells, saves, etc. He retains all experience points and can advance to the next level as normal to make up his losses. I like these Necropraxis level-drain rules, they're what I use at home.

97-99 WAKE UP! TIME TO DIE - The judgement of Orcus descends. The cultist must make a saving throw [PF: Fortitude DC 20 / LL: vs. death with a -2 penalty]. If it's failed by a margin greater than [PF: 10 points / LL: 5 points], he is instantly slain! If the save is failed by a smaller margin, Orcus grants his follower hideous unlife. Refer to the 'Type of Undead' table below based on your level.

If the save is passed, Orcus spares your miserable life for now. Take gift 42-49: Death Mask instead.

00 Chaos Attribute - Found unworthy of a divine gift! Roll on a giant mutation table instead. I'll be using the Metamorphica or you can go back to the original Chaos Attributes table, or I have an old compilation of tables here that includes plenty of greats.


* Type of Undead Table *

-2: skeleton (1-6)
-1-0: skeleton (2-8)
1-2: skeleton (2-12)
3-4: zombie (2-12)
5-6: ghoul (2-12)
7-8: wight (2-8)
9-10: mummy or wraith (2-5)
11-12: vampire or spectre (1)
13+: death knight or lich! (1)


*****

Next up for this treatment: Abraxas! In the meantime, here is some goatlord-approved music:


Friday, December 6, 2019

Random Monster Generator Spotlight 5 - The Metamorphica Revised

I haven't been too loud on the blog for a few weeks, but plenty of gaming is happening over here. The Land's End crew is halfway to fourth level and very busy indeed - they raided the twin snake-man towers of science & sorcery, stole some ancient technology and just committed their first "war crimes" against the Neanderthals!

I also started running some LotFP adventures I have lying around with a gang of newbies. The first session was a blast (we played No Salvation for Witches) and I'm working on a follow-up. Maybe I'll talk about it all sometime but I find regular narrative play reports a bit tiring to write and they aren't nearly as exciting as those old Planet Algol ones I loved so much.

These days I'm running out of random monster generators to compare. Instead I want to dive deeply into a book that really blew my mind:

*****

THE METAMORPHICA REVISED

By Johnstone Metzger
Released by Red Box Vancouver
Print ($20) and pdf ($10) on DTRPG here
On Lulu softcover or hardcover

I remember perusing the Metamorphica Classic (still free to download right here) and thinking "yeah, this is pretty cool." The revised edition has updated that sentiment to a well and true stoking. This book is like Frank's Red Hot: I want to put that shit on everything.

It's sort of hard to review because it's so fucking large. Even ONE section from this 269-page beast would be a useful book in its own right. The Metamorphica Revised has it all: Tables. Tables of other tables. References. Sub-tables. Categories of other tables that refer to sections of larger tables. Mutants. Science. Plant monsters. Psionics. Super-heroes. Demons. Animal-men. It's all presented in a comprehensive way and organized so it can be used for various applications depending on your game (more on this later). There are no stats provided, everything is system-neutral. Normally I would hate that but it works here as you'll see.


The Big One

The main body of the book is the d1000 mutation table. Metzger gives us many ways to use it. We can roll a d1000 if we want but the various mutations are grouped by type, allowing us to roll through numerical brackets to get something particular if we want a physical, mental, psychic or supernatural mutation.

The entries themselves vary widely and are too numerous to list (they go on for 111 pages). Many entries are 1 in 1000! Simple stuff like "herbivore," "multiple heads" or "kidney stones" sits next to weird shit like "heal brain," "bag of creatures" or "demonic phenomena" (a four-page d200 table on its own). There are more results here than I could ever use. No statistics or numbers are provided, leaving every DM to adapt or create rules for each mutation in their own game.

The only gripe I can think of is that Metzger included ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING he could think of on this table. I am not sure when I'd find a chance in my game to straight up roll d1000 and play through. But that's okay, because the next sections show us how to use the book in even more ways:


Additional Tables

This is where this book really shines. This image is from the beginning of the book, but it conveys the idea. Check this out:




Do you see those grey numbers along the side? Those are PAGE NUMBERS. All the tables are like this! Can you imagine what a bitch this book would be without them? Indexing like this makes it worthwhile to recompile the giant d1000 table in different ways for various applications, as Metzger does throughout. Physical and mental, beneficial and detrimental mutations are grouped up so you can get something for your purposes instantly.

This section also includes a whack of tables for generally useful things. Randomly determining colours, body parts, animals, materials, monster powers, bizarre features, etc.


Themed Sections

This is where the book really gets awesome! Metzger recombines elements from the great d1000 table in new ways, and offers brand-new entries to serve a specific genre.

After The Fall - Tables for your post-apocalyptic mutant game. Mutant plants, beastlings, hyperevolved animals, pages of new tables for generating mutant hordes, and a whole d1000 table for the scavenged detritus a mutant might carry around.


The Ficto-Technica - The longest themed section, this one is totally mental and took me a while to get my head around. An abstract system for generating science-fiction devices and magic items, it works by combining prefixes, suffixes and descriptive terms to name the item and leaving you to decide what it does. Combinations are sorted by type of technology, like 'the corrupt arts,' 'the pure sciences' or 'genotech.' The magic item tables come right at the end and include guidelines for living or demon-possessed items, magical armour & weapons and strange magical gear. You won't find any +1 swords, and like the rest of the book you'll have to do the heavy lifting after the tables give you the kernel of an idea. Want more Goblin Punch-style artifacts for your OSR game? You could do a lot worse than this.


Popular Science - This section is short and sweet, mostly consisting of brand-new tables. Procedures for creating space aliens, comic-book superheroes and anthropomorphic animals, along with guidelines for rolling up mutations on the main table based on what kind of scientific experiments you were subjected to.


Swords of the Chaos Lords - This is basically Realm of Chaos part three and for my home game it's worth the price by itself! Much will be old hat to anyone familiar with those venerable Warhammer books. Guidelines for creating infernal sorcerers, demons, chaos champions and - you better believe it - chaos spawn. Most of the tables in this section point to existing mutations from earlier and group them up in different ways. Tables for the ill-effects of infernal sorcery, summoning mishaps, demonic motivations and a full d1000 table of bonus 'infernal characteristics' round this section out.

As an example, let's create a Lesser Demon. This is complicated and comes with some 'default' mutations like Immune to Disease and Immune to Poison, but I'll stipulate to those and assume that you know what the 'outsider traits' are in your own game system. This is what I rolled:

Body: Cactoid with the head and left foot of a dog

Superhuman strength
Invasive
Increased metabolism
Inhuman features push through this demon's skin when it is angry, wind and storms follow this demon wherever it goes, prayers or declarations of love cannot be spoken, vehicles crash and spin out of control.

Demonic Equipment: Retinue of lesser demons, Retinue of damned souls, Magical armour

Motivation: Inspires the careless expenditure of resources, so they are used for no good purpose.

I dare you to put this thing in your game and not have a memorable session at the very least! I need to roll up its magic armour, so let's flip back to the Ficto-Technica:

Shape: Amulet
Powers: Grants the wearer 2 mutations when worn: Arcane Tracking, Absorb Mental Properties.

That's a fantastic magic item! It might even be worth tangling with this dog-headed cactus demon. I think a DM that drew on these tables for demonic antagonists would start triggering acid flashbacks in his players pretty quick. I want to play in that game.


Overall

In a word: thorough. Absurd breadth and variety, collected and organized. Procedures and ideas tailored to the genre you want. For such a massive database, Metzger really knows how to make this thing usable and easy.

A few minor quibbles: there could have been more page references when the book directs you to a distant table, which happens a lot. The grey page numbers along the sides of the tables are a bit faint in the print version, it actually took me a while to notice them. And an absolutely demented degree of cross-referencing does sometimes happen.

How Many Rolls: 1 or more... sometimes lots more.
Would I use this in the middle of a session: Depends on the application - there is a LOT of cross-referencing and page-flipping. You might want to get some sticky tabs. To generate a new creature, no. For its intended purpose of mutating your characters, hell yes!
Variety and Reusability: Approximately 1 lifetime of gaming. "Creativity aid, not creativity replacement."


Johnstone Metzger, I bow to your dark genius.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Let's Get Dangerous

Well, I'm working night shift pulling cable through government offices for a few months. So it's back to Nocturnal Supremacy, Livin' After Midnight, Dead By Dawn type shit in the realm of Terrible Sorcery. For my 100th post, let's take the piss out of some other people's opinions. Everyone is talking about character death again, I guess. Is this a sign of decadence in a movement: folks arguing about things they claim to/should already know the answer to?


Hey man. Play the game you want to play. "If your players are having fun," you know the hallmark card advice. But without the real chance of PC death, mutilation, loss of equipment, level drain, etc. aren't you just walking on a really slow treadmill? Wouldn't it be just as rewarding to re-watch Lord of the Rings?

I haven't lost a character since my younger days (although I have come close more than once) because I'm mostly a DM. But I really do not understand folks who say the world isn't immersive if characters die. I'm not a method actor! I'll sit at the table the whole session whether it's my turn or not. My character might be alive, dead, petrified or falling down a bottomless pit, I'm experiencing the game world all the same. If I'm interested in what's happening, I'm focused whether my character makes it through or not. If your players don't care about your game, preserving their characters won't save anything.

I also don't understand how it Disrupts The Story. I just assumed that at this point, everyone on my reading list knew what the fuck a sandbox was. If you need a particular character to survive for the story to work... aren't you just 'playing' a soap opera?

Although there is an "anti-death" point to be made about the quality of a character's dying. Sometimes you're just going to get gutted by a 1hp goblin and that's life, but I fear a lack of imagination or originality in many games sucks the juice out of what could be a memorable event at the table. When you tell the story of Sir Dave, will it be "fell in battle with orcs" or "driven mad by the dreaded hypno-ghouls of K'n-Yan"? Play the game you wanna play, of course. But how many combats have you played in that would've made a really memorable character death?

Gary said characters should have a 70% chance of survival and feel like they have 30%. For my part, I have never had more exciting game sessions than when I was CONVINCED we were all fucking toast. Sure, a tight & well-executed plan that comes off smoothly has a charm of its own, but nothing remotely like pulling victory from the jaws of defeat, surviving against impossible odds. Like playing DOOM without the cheat codes, you cannot get that feeling without the possibility of failure, and in a game about fantasy adventurers that's going to include character death.

If you haven't ever felt this sensation, you owe it to yourself to try playing this way. The sense that a bad tactical decision, lack of attention or even ill-luck could end your character forever is a completely different game.

It cannot be faked.

Fuck man, why does anyone play this game? Do you want to have an experience, or just bounce some dice back & forth and add up the numbers on your sheet? Would you rather get laid or just masturbate? One has some non-zero chance of going wrong.

And the other is just... killing time.


*****

A few voices on this subject, past & present:

Jeff Rients responding to a tweet - and celebrating famous dead PCs  - and advising players on how to escape death!

Anthony Huso plays a RAW but sensitive game

DMDavid surveys character death through the years

Noisms wonders about length of chargen vs. player cautiousness - and a Philosophy of RPG combat - and incentives matter

And of course, sport vs. war

*****

Now it's time to celebrate my 100th post with a few fancy drinks. Chin-chin!


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Necropolis

Last year I found a book called Necropolis - London and Its Dead at the used bookstore. It gets me PUMPED! Although I left my Spoils of Annwn game on the back burner, Necropolis gave me some great ideas for the haunted ruins of Londinium. I still haven't finished reading the book and actually can't find it at the moment, but sometimes thinking up new undead monsters is the only thing worth doing...


*****

"Surely you know that just as the momentous events of the past cast their shadows down the ages, so now, when the sun is drawing toward the dark, our own shadows race into the past to trouble mankind's dreams."
-The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe

Remember that bit in From Hell (the comic, not the movie) when Gull has that vision of the skyscraper? The carnage, death and infernal magic that brought Londinium low twist not just the city's environment but the very force of time itself. For now, it's just an excuse to do things like this:


PLAGUE-DEAD

Bleeding, weeping, covered in sores, their skin turning black, these zombies still think they're alive (they seem so from a distance) and will do anything to avoid "dying" of the disease that still infests them. Dressed in peasant rags from the plague years (perceptive PCs might notice the differences in fashion and realize something's up), clutching rosaries or garlanded with herbs they stumble, crawl and scream for mercy - from you or God, who knows? They aren't actually intelligent, the things they say are like tics with no real meaning. All the while they're trying to hold your hand, get you to pray for them and lick your face.

Stats as zombies but if they touch you, could get the black plague. Save vs. death or you're fucked: lose 1d4 CON/day. Every day you get a new save, and the disease has run its course if you can make 2 saves in a row (if you're a merciful DM). Cure Disease and similar magic will help as normal, but only high-level spells like Restoration will restore lost CON points.





PLAGUE PIT HORDE


To this day there are places under London they can't dig for fear of what will be unearthed. In 1665, the expense of individual burial plots for each dead Londoner was too high. The poor of the city were dumped by the authorities into huge mass graves. Since the city's Bishop wasn't willing to consecrate ground that couldn't be held in perpetuity by the church, these short-term plague pits were left unhallowed. And now the poor dead are restless.

A great mass of human bones, animal skeletons and dirt all mixed together. The horde might be stuck in a wall as if just breached by digging machinery - this makes the immediate area highly dangerous, but much worse is a horde freeing itself to move around, crawling & dragging slowly through the cramped dungeon corridors, hungry to add infected victims to itself.

Stats go like this:

No 1, AL C, Mv 60' (20') or none, AC 13, HD 6, Att 1d6x1d6 + plague, Sv F, ML 12, HC XII + XIII, XP 820

Their touch is infectious exactly as the Plague-Dead above.
Miasma - The entire area around a plague pit horde is infected. Anyone within 30' must save vs. paralyzation every 2nd round (every single round when breathing hard - running, combat, etc) or begin to choke & cough on the noisome air: -2 to attack rolls AC and saves, stealth is impossible. 1d6 rounds after leaving the miasma it wears off, but make a final save with a +2 modifier. If you fail, contract the black plague as above.

These creatures make the tunnels and crypts beneath Londinium extremely hazardous. Many adventurers have returned to civilization laden with Roman coins and grave goods only to perish a few days later, coughing colours. A few enterprising grifters have begun selling miracle-cures for the malady (which they call Orcus' Revenge) outside Verulamium - needless to say their effectiveness is limited.


*****

These Brits need no introduction around here:




Sunday, September 8, 2019

REVIEW: The Spire of Quetzel


The Spire of Quetzel
by Patrick Stuart, Chris McDowall, Ben Milton & Karl Stjernberg
published by Fria Ligan
for the Forbidden Lands RPG
pdf here ($10), print here ($21.13)

I spotted this from a mile away on the shelf at my FLGS. I was surprised. Rumours of this book had reached me from the distant lands of Kickstarter but having not backed it I thought I'd never see a physical copy.  Despite knowing nothing about Fria Ligan or the Forbidden Lands game, I picked it up on name-check value alone. I think it turned out to be a good move, especially for 29 wooden nickels (excuse me, Canadian "Dollars").

The Spire is a slim but handsome hardcover with a great feel and obvious quality of production. It covers four site-based adventures in 71 pages. The lost world, swords-and-sorcery vibe of this book gels perfectly with my Land's End home game. Honestly If I asked these guys to write adventures JUST FOR ME I don't know if they could have done any better. If you want a TLDR for this review: I'll be dropping three of these adventure sites into my home game as-is. Each one is perfectly sized as a 'major hex location' - somewhere the PCs could stumble upon for one- or two-session adventure.

The imaginative content of these adventures is really good - all four authors blast it out of the park. The Spire of Quetzel is pure Patrick: a hallucinatory tower that winds through dimensions, built by a demon-queen and housing her not-quite-dead body. Going in here is honestly just a really bad idea, but if the players are (really) lucky they might make off with some really cool stuff. Every room presents an interesting situation or knotty problem in a strange, visually powerful environment. I am already jonesing to run it.

The Bright Vault is a strange 'social' adventure in a prison for demon-spawn. Each one has its own personality and goals while their enigmatic, disembodied jailer manipulates them (and the adventurers) for its own purposes. The teeter-totter social situation is balanced against the possibility of savagely dangerous (I think?) battle with these weird childlike monsters. This adventure could go in any direction once the PCs arrive. The magical treasure in this one is really inventive, like a magical "flashlight" which prevents death only as long as it's trained on the target.

The Hexenwald is a small forest inhabited by five witches. It could be used as a safe haven to rest, resupply and gather information or the PCs might decide to jack these crones up for their strange loot and magic items. Either way, social dynamics and buried secrets add interest to what otherwise would be quite well-mined territory. I already have a few swamp-dwelling witches in my home game, so this one won't get included whole cloth - but that only proves these guys are writing exactly the kind of adventures I want!

The last location, Graveyard of Thunder is an ancient dinosaur tomb! Just like elephants (or so I'm told), this ancient T-Rex called One-Eye has wandered back to its ancestral graveyard to die. Guarding it is the last lizardfolk of its tribe of dinosaur-worshippers, charged to protect the sacred site with its life. Outside a band of greedy orcs lust after the treasures and will happily send the PCs in to deal with the guardian. Seems like something I've heard before, but Stjernberg executes with a wide-eyed purity here that leaves no room for cliches. Will the PCs blaze past the guardian, fight One-Eye, maybe get eaten or take the ancient trident of lightning? Team up with Ssilsk to defeat the orcs? Who knows man, but I'm looking forward to finding out!

On the downside, this book is laid out poorly. I don't know if I can fault the authors for it. Each one follows the same format, so it must be dictated by Fria Ligan (anybody care to ask one of these dudes?). Each location is divided into several categories: Background (site history for the DM), Legend (some read-aloud text to get the players going), Getting Here (a few suggested hooks or travel info), Locations (the actual site key), Monsters and NPCs (stats, personalities etc), and Events (things that might happen at the location). This format is fucking horrible and you don't have to be Bryce Lynch to figure that out.

For example: in The Spire of Quetzel, area 3 is called the Red-Bricked Tower and is keyed as one would expect under "Locations," on pages 7 & 9 (pg 8 is a map). This area is prowled by the Bent-Backed Wolves and the Ghosts of Ash, statistics for which are found under "Monsters and NPCs" on pg 15. Meanwhile, the number of these creatures encountered is listed in the "Events" section on pp. 20-21. This is the only location in the whole book where you'll ever meet these creatures! Why the hell do I have to flip to three different spots in your 20-page adventure to run one single area? Every location in the adventure is done this way. Come the fuck on guys.

This steep downside is mitigated by the fact that I don't play Forbidden Lands, and so the monster stats are not useful to me: I'll have to do a fair bit of advance prep to make these adventures work in my home game anyway. But it's still no excuse! They claim to be inspired by the OSR in the introduction to the book - you wanna drop the name, you'd better play the game son.

The open-endedness of these locations is what I really like the most. They are perfect for a wilderness hexcrawl like my home game. Ideally I want an adventure location that can be returned to more than once - or at least permit me a multitude of approaches and strategies. My players love to kick ass, but they also like to meet strange creatures and make friends. These four sites fit that second demand perfectly. The work it'll take me to adapt the monster stats and take notes to avoid the formatting problems is worth including these wickedly creative adventures in my game.

EDIT: if you also want to get this adventure to use in your D&D game, the Forbidden Lands quickstart rules are here for free, they might give a point of comparison for porting the monsters over to your system of choice.

*****

Now let's take a trip to 2029 for a minute:




Saturday, August 17, 2019

Random Monster Generator Shootout 4 - Curse of the Random Monster Generator Shootout!

I dug through the mailbag, the comments and some of my books - wouldn't you know it, I found enough tables to warrant another round.


*****



Elegant Fantasy Creature Generator
by Raphael Sadowski
from Nine Tongues Tales
get the pdf here (PWYW)


I dig this one. Mr. Sadowski packs a big punch in a simple little 16-page PDF. Like the tome of adventure design from last time, the EFCG concentrates on 'top-down' generation. Rather than rolling stats, it generates creature's shape, size and attributes and leaves it to the DM to assemble & stat up in the end. Although it means more work for the long-suffering DM, the possibilities are limitless. The first few tables remind me of Raggi's RECG a little bit (is that really a crime?) and it distinguishes itself elsewhere so I'm fine with that.

It includes a few entries rarely seen in creature generators, like "static" for creatures that don't move, or the classic "swarm." The Mental Faculties table was a nice touch too. The Random Features section is a really good mix. Special abilities, visual quirks and odd behaviours all mixed together, so you really don't know what direction it'll take you. If he had only covered the basics this would still be pretty decent, but the Finishing Touches section puts the icing on. Peculiar Circumstances, the Weirdifier and Horrifier tables add strange behaviours, compulsions or abilities that you almost never see in these things, like "oneiric - you will have ominous dreams about its presence long before you even meet it." Fuck yeah. Let's give it a try.

THE LONELY ALIEN

I rolled:
Static; alien; instinctual; iridescent purple, blue and orange; precious trophy; levitation; singing; tragic; materializing.

Holy christ I damn near rolled up the horta! This rules. How to make sense of all this strangeness? A carcosa-coloured creature of otherworldly anatomy that can't move, but levitates. It has a tragic past which it sings about. Some part of its body is valuable, which could account for the tragedy - maybe the rest of its race has been hunted down for parts? Materializing is good - through a particular ceremony you can summon this creature from the ether if you seek to kill it for valuable parts (rare spell component anyone?). Then you must deal with the entity's tragic song which reduces you to tears, rendering you unable to act (mass Hold Person) while it eats you. If you cast Comprehend Languages and learn that it laments for the death if its race, maybe you get an attack of conscience about killing it? Fuck yeah. Put some clues in a ruined temple in the wilderness, I've got myself a great swords and sorcery hex location!

Number of Rolls? There are 9 tables, but Sadowski encourages the reader to continue rolling until the idea comes together. I didn't use every table and made 12 rolls to generate that creature up there.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? No way. Sadowski explicitly says not to in the introduction.
Variety and Reusability? Looks like it has enough possible combinations to get over the 'almost infinite' hump. I'll be using this one again for sure.



The Monster Machine
by Vincent Baker
from Fight On! magazine #2
print or PDF here


Holy shit, Vincent Baker wrote a piece for Fight On!? Well, this one is weird as hell and doesn't resemble any other generator I've reviewed so far. After four rounds of this stuff, that's a damn good thing.

Start by rolling twice on the Materials table. Then pick or roll for abilities based on what materials make up your monster. Pick a weakness associated with one of the materials. Then write up a description and tie it all together. That's it! Just as much space is taken up by a sample bestiary of 9 monsters generated with these tables. All of those are pretty cool, and I would be happy just swiping a few of them for my own game either way.

This table won't generate many "naturalistic" monsters. More like magical beasts, aberrations and sorcerous experiments. If that's what you need, give it a look! On the downside, like most of the early FO! material this thing is written for OD&D I think, and some of the terminology is unfamiliar. What's defense class or "DC"? Is that like Armour Class? What does "level" mean in this case? Is it like hit dice? What's a HTK? I'll just go with it and see what I get:

FOSSIL GUARDIAN

LVL: 4
DC: -1
Speed: 6

I rolled:
Made of - Bone, Stone 
Abilities - Impale, Frighten, Knock Down, Armor, Bludgeon
Weakness - Slow-moving

Ancient skeletal guardians assembled from multiple creatures. Look like 10' tall humans with spikes and blades of bone protruding everywhere. Now so old that mineral deposits have built up and begun turning them into stone. What antique culture made them? Usually assigned to guard a single place (doorway, treasure vault, etc). Because of slow movement, they'll only pursues fleeing opponents if they are recognized as interlopers a second time.

Number of Rolls? 8-10
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Nope. Even though there are only a few tables, it takes a bit of thinking to get a useable monster.
Variety and Reusability? Fair ta middlin'. There are only so many abilities, but the vagueness of the Materials table throws a lot of this work back on the DM. The attacks and weaknesses are broad enough that they could fit any application, but I worry that with such a broad-strokes approach, you won't be able to roll a result on this table strong enough to force your thought outside its normal track. Which is the whole point of a random monster table.



RPGPundit Presents: Weird Gonzo Race Generator
by RPGPundit
from Precis Intermedia
get the pdf here ($4.99)


43 pages? This better be good! It starts out oddly, asking me to roll on a Favoured Ability table for which stat gets a +1 bonus, then for hit dice. Not putting your most Gonzo foot forward...

After those tables and some explanations regarding notation used in the document, we make it to the meat of things. The Basic Species table determines what category of creature we have. From there, we scroll down to a subtable that offers a selection of abilities or traits unique to it. Each of these is a page or two. That's why this thing is so long! For any given creature, you'll only use a small section of the whole document. The Basic Species entries are decent, with some standards (lizardman, underwater, anthropomorphic mammal) and some really odd entries (asshole species, wuss species).

Progressing to the individual tables, I was irritated by the piddly entries. Why am I rolling on tables with results like "add +2 to an ability" or "+1 to willpower saves"? After reading through a bit more, I started to understand why these minor bonuses are included. Rather than wild-ass monsters, this PDF is for creating new (mostly humanoid) races with stats on a human level, like dwarves and elves. Just as dwarves have that bonus to detect unusual stonework and elves have resistance to paralyzation, this blob-creature I rolled has "half damage from fire, double damage from cold."

In the introduction Pundit writes that these races aren't intended for player-characters, unlike "Mutant Hordes of the Last Sun," which I am considering checking out next. This pdf is not without its flaws, but for 5 bucks I'd say it's well worth it for the intended application.

I rolled:
Favoured ability - Intelligence
Hit dice - 4d6
Species - artificial (non-robot)
Ability - enhanced resilience
Special powers - herbivore only, innate spell ability (one 1st-level wizard spell)

Fuck man, I wish I had a bit more to work with... These tables gave me no clue as to the look of this race, though. I'm going to roll again on the Basic Species table for another entry to combine with:

More rolls:
Species - blob (no tentacles)
Ability - toxic

So a race of small, artificial magic vegetarian blob-men. Now we're talking! They can't manipulate objects, so weapons and armour are out, but they defend themselves with a secreted poison and their minor magics. Created by a radical sect of druids to protect wildlife from encroaching civilization. I'd run that shit in my game.

Number of Rolls? Minimum of about 8. In rare cases (lots of "roll 2x and combine"), could be as many as 17.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Maybe. Depending on your rolls, generation could be dead simple or involve a bit of flipping back and forth. The party entered a new dungeon and you're really tired of orcs? Need a quick humanoid opponent for this random encounter? This thing gotchu.
Variety and Reusability? Reusability could go a long way, but the variety is limited. This document aims for a specific type of creature. It's not a one-stop shop for monster generation, but might have exactly what you need - I think I will refer to it more for strange alien races in Land's End.


******

Fuck man, a lot of really strong contenders today. Baker's Monster Machine is classic old-school wild imagination, especially for being a tight three pages! Pundit's entry is good once I got a handle on it, but long and of very specific usefulness. I think my personal favourite is the Elegant Fantasy Creature Generator, as it balances length, breadth and depth well and creates a LOT of material for my brain to grasp onto.

I'll use all three of these in my home game.

Now for something fast & nasty (just like a good monster table):