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.


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:


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 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):

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

REVIEW: Library Generation Table & Locks, Vaults and Hiding Places - and a blurb

Sorry I've been away. Work for my whole gaming crew picks up in the summer months, so we haven't been playing much and I've spent my free time on other things instead of gaming prep.

But commentary and controversy have bestirred themselves of late, and I tried to answer the call! I first heard rumblings on MeWe (I find it about as annoying as Facebook, so I'm not on it very often). Then this thread "The State of Post-OSR Content" on the forums [1]. Melan posted "Third Year's the Charm: The End of the OSR", and Anthony Huso wrote his own response. EOTB wrote a response too. Finally, noisms dished up "A Lot of RPG Books are Too Expensive." and the follow-up based on extensive commenting "The Price of the Hobby."

We can also backtrack to Huso's modern classic "I Will Not Relent," which is HIGHLY fucking relevant 100% of the time.

In response, I wrote, deleted, re-wrote and re-deleted a long and annoying manifesto/screed on the subject of: how to stay underground in a scene crammed with folks trying to make money on their RPG writing. I just couldn't get it to come out right! I feel passionately on this subject, but I started to seem like a dick even in my own eyes. It felt like lousy teenage angst and so many more eloquent folks have captured things far better than I could.

Instead of that garbage, here is a double-feature review of two little pdf supplements I found on Drivethru. As Samiam once sang, "life can be so dull." So I try to focus on the things that actually matter, like what to prep for my next game!


Library Generation Table
pdf here for $1.00

Locks, Vaults and Hiding Places
pdf here for PWYW

by Larry Hamilton
Published by Follow Me, and Die! Entertainment

A ten- and a thirteen-page PDF including cover art and intros. These are a useful resource if you can get past the meandering writing, grammar errors and lousy formatting.

They remind me, in approach, of the classic Hack & Slash treasure document (PDF link - I still use this one religiously). Table after table attempts to exhaustively catalogue the subject matter. These two PDFs don't quite reach the transcendent heights of -C's classic though.

The LGT starts off strong, with tables for a book's shape, size, material, subject matter and age. Tables for the filing system a library uses. Tables for the experts' interpretation of a book. Anything and everything you could need to stock a library!

On the downside, it's plagued by formatting problems and really disorganized. There are sections or headings - it's just table after table after table mixed together, unrelated entries side-by-side. Sometimes a new magic item is thrown into the middle! If I want a specific table, like "lost in the library," there is no way to know that it's on page 3 between the table for "number of buildings in the library" and the description of "The Book of Worthless Facts and Useless Information." Of course the short length of the document itself means it can't ever take that long to find anything, but... didn't we learn from the 1e DMG?

Sometimes instead of a table, there is a list or a few suggestions on a given topic, like "Specialized Libraries: Medicine, Law, Religion, Magic." I feel as though these could have been cut, moved to their own section or expanded into full tables. They seem like afterthoughts, and probably should have been cut completely or expanded.

As for LVHP, it begins on the right foot with Hamilton recounting stories of assisting his father - a locksmith - in his work and offers food for thought on the field. It's nice to see someone drawing on their life experiences for a gaming supplement. I had high hopes for this one, because I find integrating traps, secret doors and such into my dungeons pretty tough.

Unfortunately, just like the LGT this one is riddled with errors, awkward wording and other symptoms of an overall "rush to press." The tables for locks and keys are pretty good, but the Hiding Places section is sorely lacking (do we really need a "what is hidden?" table with entries like "Good guys hide something from bad guys.")

Actually, I think the best parts of this supplement are not the tables. When Hamilton is laying out his thoughts about locks, or describing a thief's thought process in the Entrances & Exits section, I felt I was learning something useful and interesting. Still, these blurbs lose focus towards the end, and are in serious need of a cleanup. Also, despite the cover art there wasn't anything about traps in there at all!

Overall, these PDFs are rough around the edges but can be useful if you look past the formatting and other issues. For a buck the LGT is worth a look, but LV&HP is on the level of "long, rambling blog post" right now. If Hamilton did a real editing pass, trimmed the fat and expanded a few sections, added headings, etc, these could really be great resources. But they aren't there yet.


PS: I think anyone who aspires to a kind of 'cataloguing' supplement like these or -C's treasure document, should probably read House of Leaves to start with.

Now I'm out, I bought a used copy of WG4 at my local game store and I'm eager to crack into it! In case you need more instruction, ya boy dishes it up. Try to see the parallels between the music and RPG bizzes:

[1] The discourse gets pretty heated in that thread, but don't judge everyone too harshly. Most of the time we all get along quite well.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Random Monster Generator Shootout 3 - Turbo-Speed Rainbow Fighting!!

Oh yeah, you forgot about this series? I didn't!

In case you missed them last time, check out:

Part One - started it all
Part Two - LotFP 'house round' demon-summoning edition


The Tome of Adventure Design

by Matt Finch

from Frog God Games
print/pdf here

The heavy-hitter of the random table game! For those who don't know, this book has a table for everything. I have barely scratched the surface of this thing's capabilities in my own games. It is divided into four sections: Principles and Starting Points, Dungeon Design, Non-Dungeon Adventure Design, and of course what we're all here for: Monsters.

The production values for this book are decent. I have the older version (not pictured here), and it has the kind of black & white artwork we have come to expect from FGG / Necromancer. Some of the pieces are reused from books like Rappan Athuk I think, which I always thought was weird, but anyway the illustrations are just a bonus in this one. The formatting is weird as fuck though, with tables crossing pages in an awkward way. It could have done with some more editing - frequently a table with ten entries will read: "0-10 - result, 11-20 - result..." when a simple d10 would have served perfectly. The perils of copy & paste? You be the judge.

Rather than providing quick stats or a jigsaw-puzzle anatomy system like other random generators, the ToAD is geared towards generating new ideas in the prep stages. While there are still physical attributes and special attacks to be rolled, many of the tables take forms like "Planar Trading/Commodities," or "Preparations for Intelligent Undeath" meant to prod your mind in a new direction. Most monsters rolled up here could form the seed of a new adventure instead of random encounter fodder. As you'll see, these tables inevitably lead to new and interesting combinations.

There are an absurd number of tables in this book (86 in the monster section alone!) but you'll never need to roll on all of them for one creature. The first table "Monster Categories" sends you to the appropriate section for a given creature type where a more manageable selection of tables can be found. Or if you like, you can go to the second half of the monster section with a raft of all-purpose tables, allowing you to build a new creature from the ground up in a more general way. Let's see what happens:

SAMPLE MONSTER 1 - "Night Dragon"

Type - Draconic

Dragon's Unusual Physical Feature - Body: Dragon is bioluminescent or has a luminescent "lure" to attract prey like an anglerfish
Dragon's Unusual Ability - Theme: Elemental or Planar
Dragon's Mentality, Motivation and Status - Hide. The dragon is virtually obsessed with keeping itself hidden from human notice.

This is a strange one. A huge glowing winged creature that's obsessed with hiding has a real problem, but would make for an interesting stalking mission, some kind of Alien: Underdark. Every time you see the dragon's glow around the corner it runs away! Its unusual ability might be tunnelling through rocks (elemental earth)  or even Gate-ing itself around to get away. Maybe scaring the dragon into digging a new tunnel is the only way to reach a certain place? The possibilities are endless.

The second option is that only a luminescent lure is seen, while the dragon camouflages itself within the cave walls. Instead of being perpetually in conflict with itself, now its abilities and personality mesh. You never actually see the dragon until it's too late, when it eats you. A quick-thinking character who isn't distracted by the lure might shine a light on the dragon to escape certain death at the last second.

Both of these make me think of Veins of the Earth, which is a damn good start. I can't decide which idea I like better, but I would put either one in my game.

SAMPLE MONSTER 2 - "The Crabessiah"

Physical and Special Attacks - Tail attack only, 2 special attacks

Special Defenses - 3 special defenses, 2 special attributes

Tail attack - pierces

Special attack 1 - bleeding, delivered by sound
Special attack 2 - sound (prevents spellcasting), in an exhaled cone

Special Defenses - chitin, immune to fire, regenerates

Distinctive Attributes - flying creature, associated with a particular sort of cult: healing

This monster looks like a tough customer. We don't know anything about it's actual body shape except that it has a piercing tail and chitin. An insect with a stinger? Scorpion? Maybe a horseshoe crab!

Those special abilities are very interesting. We can ditch the 'exhaled' part of attack #2 and have two straight up sound-based attacks. The second one is awfully bland compared to the first, and I would roll them into a single attack - a sound so awful that it causes spontaneous bleeding is sure to make concentration difficult!

The regeneration and fire immunity make the "healing cult" result quite interesting. Although it can regenerate wounds and may even be immortal, those around it suffer terrible bleeding from its voice alone. A messed-up cult indeed if they're willing to endure that punishment to be around their beloved regenerating giant crab.

This would be a really bizarre sword & sorcery god-monster, the kind of thing Conan squares off against in a lost city on a plateau. Attended by its deranged haemophiliac cultists who attempt to sacrifice him by exsanguination! What more could you possibly want?

How Many Rolls? Varies widely. The Beasts section might be eight. The Undead section only has 5 tables, and you won't need them all at once. The Mist creature section only has one. Generating a creature from scratch starting with table 2-72 could be up to fifteen.

Would I use this in the middle of a session? Are you high?
Variety and Reusability? Borderline infinite. If you ever run this book out, send me some of your players, okay? I can never find enough.


Spawn of Shub-Niggurath & Random Robots

by Geoffrey McKinney

from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
print sold out? buy the pdf here

This one was recommended in the comments section of part two. I had forgotten about the Lovecraftian sword-and-planet madness in this book! As the most common monsters on Carcosa, the Spawn of Shub-Niggurath have to come together quickly at the table with enough variety to keep things fresh.

The first half of the tables are standard stats - movement rates and types, armor class, no. appearing, etc. The second half are descriptive - a table for colour (because it wouldn't be Carcosa without colours), eyes, mouths, hide, and 'body type' - which is a list of taxonomic animal shapes (batrachian, hexapod, annelidoid, etc) that required me to do a little googling from time to time. Finally it's rounded off with a table each for special attacks & defenses.


No. Appearing - Unique

AC - 12
Movement - 60'
Hit Dice - 5
Alignment - C

Body type - insectoid

Colour - yellow
Hide - suckered
Eyes - two
Mouth - circular gaping maw

So a great yellow bug with a suckered hide and a circular gaping mouth. Sounds Carcosa as hell!

Next up, the robot generator is even more fun than the Spawn tables. After a few basic stats, the book includes tables for cool robotic shit like treads, grenade launchers and x-ray vision! Let's see how it works:


AC - 19

Hit Points - 20-50
Movement - burrowing (210'), swimming (120'), jumping (10' to 40')

Morphology - humanoid

Offensive Systems - infrared bazooka beam (3 dice, range 3000 ft), microwave cannon beam (5 dice, range 20 miles), tractor beam
Defensive Systems - force field
Special Detection Systems - chemical identifier

Well, this thing can certainly get around. It moves slowly on the surface by jumping, but it doesn't really matter - with its microwave cannon, everything within 3 hexes is a no-walk zone!

How Many Rolls? Spawn: 12-20 Robots: 13-23++
Would I use these in the middle of a session? The Spawn tables, yes. They are compact and straightforward, across a handful of pages. Sometimes the results or ranges are strange (20-50 hit points, a 1-16 table), and it would be better if these were streamlined - trying to puzzle out how to roll these in the middle of a session is not high on my agenda. The robot table can refer you to the space alien armament table to determine its weaponry - so now I have to flip *backwards* and roll 4 or 5 more times! Almost no explanations are given for the robotic attacks, defenses or special detection systems - you'll have to roll them up in advance and think about how the abilities will work, write up your own stats.
Variety and Reusability? Somewhat limited. All you can really get for the Spawn are monsters of 'a shape and colour', so it works for an ugly beast that crops up on your random encounter table, but one seems generally the same as another. The robots are all bizarre and highly dangerous, but these tables feel unfinished. A little more development would have gone a long way for me. Given the amount of rolling necessary I would have liked to see a more fleshed-out final result.


Gardens of Ynn

by Emmy Allen

from Dying Stylishly Games
print/pdf here

I wrote an excitable review of this book a while back. Paging through it again has been great fun - this is really one of the more creative things to come out of the scene in the last few years. This thing could have made it through the gate with half the content but Emmy "went the extra 6-mile hex" and turned out something bursting at the seams with ideas.

This table is very simple. Every hybrid-beast has the same basic stats, and then we roll on three tables for its physical description and some modifiers: base animal, head, and unusual features. Let's try it out:

SAMPLE MONSTER - "Lurking Hyenoth"

HD - 4

AC - as leather

Base Animal - sloth (2 claw attacks for 1d4)

Head - hyena (extra bite attack, +4 1d8)
Unusual Features - gecko feet (can walk on walls), tiger-striped fur

Wow! I can almost picture a sloth with striped fur and a hyena head. Adding the gecko feet pushes it into another realm of oddness! Clearly these guys are a type of slow ambush predator or scavenger. Camouflaged on the ceiling or amongst the branches, they wait to pick off the weak and wounded members of the party.

How Many Rolls? Exactly four.

Would I use this in the middle of a session? Yes, as it's meant to be.
Variety and Reusability? Not too bad for what it intends to do. It will always be an animal hybrid of some kind of course. In the Gardens they are encountered singly, and each one is completely unique. If you were to roll up groups of these hybrids, each one different, they would probably blend into an unrecognizable mess. However if I were using this outside the Gardens, I would roll up an entirely new race or faction of humanoid creatures. Thus only a handful of rolls could give you a whole campaign full of strange new enemies!


All these generators are so different. The hybrid-beasts are ready to hit your table at a moment's notice, while no amount of rolling on the Tome of Adventure Design will give you a usable result without some further thought (and writing your own stats). I have used the Spawn of Shub-Niggurath before in my home games, but the monsters generated are interchangeable beasts, differing more or less cosmetically from each other.

In the final analysis, I have to give this round to Matt Finch and the ToAD. This is the book that launched a thousand encounters, to mangle an oft-quoted phrase. The two monsters I generated up there are already getting me excited. I'm racking my brain for a place to add them into my campaign world, and that's the best result any table can give.


PS: If anyone knows of other random monster generators I should look at, please let me know in the comments. I really enjoy these roundups. They are some of my favourite posts to write and I hope other folks get some use out of them. There is no reason to use manticores, orcs or owlbears unless you really want to. 

Go out there and blow your players' minds!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

REVIEW: The Stygian Library

So last time on Nameless Cults, I mentioned the Scribes of Abraxas were related to an upcoming post - here it is! Now we won't have to wonder "what does their home base look like?" or "what do they have on their bookshelves?" Of course I also claimed this post would be done in a week. Whoops! This module just came out in a print version, so I decided to get the review written up and posted.


By Emmy Allen
Dying Stylishly Games
PDF or Print on DrivethruRPG


I had been waiting for this thing to come out. Emmy's last adventure The Gardens of Ynn was not only a new and interesting system for navigating extradimensional spaces but a weird, evocative adventure in its own right. I shoehorned it into my home game, although my players haven't found it yet.

After reading through Gardens a few times, I thought the randomized "Location + Details" system could be used for other adventure locations too... Like an infinite Borghes-ian (am I thinking of the right guy?) library filled with secret knowledge. Immediately I began writing it up. You can guess what happened next: I learned Emmy herself was following up Gardens with a library-themed module based on the same system. At first I was choked, but now that I have The Stygian Library in front of me I ain't even mad.

There is no way I could have developed something this good anyway. I mean, who were we kidding?

[TL;DR - If you liked Gardens of Ynn, just go buy this right now]

The Method

Library uses the same "flowchart generation" mechanic as Gardens. The library's layout starts from scratch on every visit. When the players enter, the DM rolls for a location, a detail that modifies it and an encounter with a strange inhabitant. From there, the players backtrack or Go Deeper to discover the next location. Progressing further into the Library opens up stranger vistas as the tables are modified by your Depth score (the number of rooms you have progressed from the entrance). Lurking in the shallows gets you help desks and reading rooms, while high Progress scores reveal dissection theatres, jarred brain storage and infernal gateways.

Using the same system as before allows us to take a more objective look at Library. Since it doesn't have the same the rip-your-dick-off feeling one gets when looking at a completely new and fresh idea, I can focus on the content of the adventure and how it all hangs together without spending all my time extolling its innovations.

What's Inside

Emmy can really go the extra mile in filling out a module. The locales and descriptions cover anything and everything you could want in a library. In addition to the ever-present bookshelves we have catalogues, display cases, storage vaults, printing machines, phantom storage and the dreaded Sheol Computer!

The 'descriptions' section adds the interest and replayability to exploration in the Library. It's one thing to delve a dungeon with a changing layout, quite another when the rooms have different properties every time. Again these are really good: silent, negligible gravity, too small, too large, semi-corporeal and time-locked are a few examples.

Rather than filled with desolate, rotted grandeur like GardensThe Stygian Library feels lived-in. The librarians (little jawa-like robed figures of 5 different orders - red, yellow, black, gray and white) guard vital areas or putter around, fixing things and attending to emergencies. Researchers and university students wander through. Occasionally a demon shows up to bargain for your soul. Even the random encounter tables change based on the PCs' actions!

The FORTY-piece bestiary is my second favourite part of this module. It ranges from hungry books and dust moths to ink-elementals and neurovores (renamed Mind Flayers). Such a comprehensive list feels like a callback to the style of Red & Pleasant Land: a complete OSR crawl setting in a single book. You could probably run an entire campaign in the Library and (although your players might tire of the scenery) you'd never run out of foes.

While it might be possible to fight everything, it's not exactly the spirit of the module. You're just as likely to be drawn into a conversation with the skeleton cleaning-crew or some talking mice. In this respect the feel is similar to Gardens, which bore the fairy-tale legacy of R&PL quite distinctively.

And the tables! Even if you never run this module, $4 for the pdf is justified by these alone: Types of Books, Extraordinary Books, Treasure, Magic Weapons & their Properties, Rumors, Dreams & Portents... fuck me man. This is what I want to see in a damned OSR product. All the entries are interesting and imaginative, starting from the basics and spreading outwards into bizarre stuff (the extraordinary books especially can change your PCs' lives forever). Thinking of how much work I spared myself on a "random book" table for my embryonic library dungeon, I fairly weep.


So the PCs want information. Where do they go, the local sage? The church? A book club? Wikipedia?

To the Stygian Library! Wherein, an abstracted 'progress system' is included for tracking how close the PCs are to their informational goals. Speaking to the inhabitants about related topics, learning more about the library's layout (such as it is) and finding relevant books will all increase your progress score, which starts equal to the highest INT score in the group and must reach a certain number based on the obscurity of the information sought (20 is basic information in most libraries, 40 is something heretofore undiscovered).

This is a good idea, but I wonder how I would describe this to my players - "You feel closer to your goal"? "You're on the right track"? It's a somewhat dissociated mechanic. The PCs have no choice but to move through the dungeon and hope for encounters/loot that could increase their progress score, rather than analyzing the environment and deciding on their next move.

I suppose that's really my only complaint about this module - procedural generation removes an element of choice. I feel like we're treading into some sort of bizarre double-blind quantum ogre territory here. The players can't plan or make informed decisions, because there is nothing to plan for until the next room is rolled up.

On the other hand, this is ameliorated by the Library being such a sociable place. Instead of learning geographical & tactical information about the layout of the dungeon (a normal exploration-based method), the players interact with the inhabitants to learn about the social landscape, faction allegiances and the rules (social or uh, metaphysical) which govern the place.


Will I use this in my game? Hell yes. Few people are doing this kind of fantasy in the OSR and I'd rather have more modules like this than another grimdark excursion. (I can do those myself anyway). I will throw in some new rooms, monsters and treasures specific to my campaign but I'm sure anybody would.

I have a plan to get my players introduced to the library and they are already on the trail. I really would like to give everyone more detail after road-testing this modules, so don't touch that dial and we'll see about some play reports!

One final caveat: like Ynn, prolonged adventuring in this region could have long-lasting repercussions throughout your game world. Plan your trips accordingly!


Time to visit another dimension. See y'all later!

Friday, May 31, 2019

MAILBAG - My first published thing!

It's here!

In the dying days of the legendary Google+ I jumped in on this project spearheaded by Eric Nieudan. I finally got my own copy, and it's just awesome. 40+ monsters created by 16 different contributors, including one very cool monster written by THIS GUY! This is the first time I've ever had anything published in print and I feel great, even though my parents will never understand.

There will be no "review" - the PDF is free on drivethru and the print version is only six bucks. So go download it, give it a read and buy it in print if you like it. Eric gets some money from each copy for all his hard work!

Monday, May 20, 2019

It's no reskin off my nose

So d4 caltrops had a great post about just using goblins for everything. Go check it out. Originally inspired by the absolute classic just use bears from TOTG&D.

I am a big fan of reusing and reskinning monster stats. I mean in classic editions it doesn't matter much either way - you can create a "brand new" stat block that's only barely mechanically different, or just reuse an existing one. Your players will barely feel the difference, probably.

In Pathfinder which my roommates like to play, it's a necessity. I would rather drive my car into the sun than sit down and tinker with all those fiddly rules when I could be using my imagination, so I need to either a) buy more monster books, b) develop the "pathfinder lite stat block (TM)," or c) adapt the monsters I already have to the creatures I make up!

In that spirit, and because I've been thinking about it for a while anyway, let's draw up a little list. This is, I think, all the OGL monsters that have stats in every numerical edition (0-5th). Surely enough that you'd never have to create new stats whole cloth again, yeah?



I started with the LBBs, then checked against Labyrinth Lord, AD&D, Pathfinder and 5th edition (anything in AD&D should realistically be in every other edition, but a few things didn't make the OGL cut and 5th was oddly missing a few as well).

What's left:

Black Pudding
Gray Ooze
Invisible Stalker
Ochre Jelly
Purple Worm

*Only technically. OD&D doesn't give you stats, just a suggestion for the animals' HD range based on size. Those LBBs were damnably vague on a few points, that's for sure. Terribly, there are no actual stats for bears in OD&D.

Still, we end up with a really tight list of monsters of varying sizes, shapes and attack methods. This is almost a Platonic D&D Bestiary. Let's break em down by category:


Goblin, Kobold, Orc, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Troll, Ogre, Minotaur, Giant, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Medusa, Centaur, Dryad


Basilisk, Chimera, Cockatrice, Gargoyle, Dragon, Gorgon, Griffon, Hippogriff, Hydra, Lycanthrope, Manticore, Pegasus, Purple Worm, Roc, Treant, Unicorn, Wyvern


Skeleton, Zombie, Ghoul, Wight, Wraith, Spectre, Mummy, Vampire


Black Pudding, Gray Ooze, Ochre Jelly


Djinn, Elemental, Efreet, Invisible Stalker

Honestly this is still too many monsters to memorize stats for.

You could pick only one humanoid of each size eg: kobolds, humans, trolls, giants. That's a cool set right there. Memorize those stats for the system of your choice, and then spend the rest of your day working on the cultural finer points for the macaque-men in your new module, secure in the knowledge that whoever may play it has the stats in their monster book at home.

All the non-horse monsters with four legs: basilisk, chimera, dragon, gorgon, griffon, hydra, manticore. That's a great selection for any large beast - take the manticore's stats and swap out the tail spikes for a lightning bolt, there's your behir. See how easy it is?

The list of slimes is a bit lacking for my tastes, if only because these three are all highly dangerous. It's still easy enough to say "Stats as a 2HD black pudding."

If we remove OD&D and only focus on 1st edition and up, the list gets much longer (that's a post for another day though!). Next time you're writing a module, you can reference the stats for any of these creatures and rest assured that everybody will have them lying around. It doesn't matter which version of the game you play, you're ready to go.


Spin this while you're writing up that lost temple of the Ancient Ones that you've been putting off:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Summoning Rules

Once again, check up on these first:


Rules For Summoning with Absturated Tomes
Introduction here.

The one and only Timo Ketola

Skim through all those links yet? Good. Here are my adapted summoning rules, more or less based on all the stuff above and adapted for my home game. Let's check it out:

Faded Ink, Missing Text - There is a chance the tome has become worn through long years of inactivity, its bloody inks becoming difficult to read or vanishing entirely. Roll percentile dice against the "% faded" number for each ritual in the tome. Any results above that chance are fine - no problems.

A result under this chance indicates enough missing text to cause a problem for that particular ritual. Note down the percentile die result: this is now the target number to beat (see below). Then roll on this disaster table to determine what goes wrong when the conjurer attempts the corrupted ritual.

Anyone reading through the book gets a DC 20 spellcraft check to notice something is amiss (assuming the book doesn't come out and TELL you - not all these tomes are talkative).

Recovering Lost Text - The book needs blood, for it is alive - in a way - and can re-write its contents through absorbing vital fluids. Every HD of sentient being (INT > 3) sacrificed to the book will reduce the "% faded" by 5%. These improvements to a tome are permanent (in the span of most adventurers' lifetimes, anyway). Once the "% faded" chance is below your target number (noted previously), the ritual is totally safe to use.

Sacrifices that do not make it to the target number are still useful. Each sacrifice allows a re-roll on the disaster table with a -1 modifier per HD, although results will never go below a 1. Kind DMs might elect to keep an old result if the new one is worse, but this is your call. Or you could just add the modifiers to your previously rolled result.

Red Herrings - Millennia-old sorcerers preserved in book form do sometimes fuck with you. Occasionally extra steps in the ritual or additional components will be listed that aren't actually necessary. These will never lead to a disaster, but cost more money and time and generally make life more difficult for PCs.

Extra Clues - If the conjurer sacrifices enough to bring the '% faded' chance to 0, some useful detail will appear - perhaps an extra magical component, an extra verse of the incantation. It will grant the conjurer a bonus to his skill check when conducting the ritual itself. [These are specific to each ritual and detailed in their individual entries]

Summoning - Once the conjurer has the necessary components, he performs the ritual. Assuming no disaster occurs as above, he must make a skill roll. The DC varies, each entry will have its own details. The text of the tome itself includes information on its difficulty and how likely the conjurer is to succeed. [You can tell the player what target numbers he needs to roll]

The outcome will be one of three things:

Success: The player made the roll.The ritual works. Great job! Now the conjurer can summon the entities involved anytime, with the relevant spell.

Partial Success: Failing the roll by a margin of 5 or less. The ritual worked, but the conjurer's control is not total. Something will go wrong. Maybe not right now, but eventually.

Failure: Failing the roll by 6 or more (or rolling a natural 1). You're screwed!


The first summoning tome in my game world is called Tanith Loraxalin. More information can be found in part one of this series. This is the first binding ritual detailed within:

Binding of the Men of Peace (0% faded)

Gentle dwellers of damp underworld caves, these humanoids are short and reptilian with translucent bluish bodies. Also called "Anemone Men" because instead of heads, a cup of glowing fronds opens up from their necks. These can stretch out a great distance, and the Men of Peace use them to sense vibrations nearby, allowing them to "see." They aren't malevolent but every part of their bodies is extremely poisonous.

The ritual itself is one of the simplest as these things go. It must be conducted in total darkness, mimicking the nighted caverns where the Men of Peace sleep. The slightest glow from moon, star or torch will prevent their appearance. In this darkness the conjurer pours out a pool of shallow water, covering at least a 20'x20' area. Placing several hunks of raw meat on the ground, he intones the words, tempting the Men from their sleep to come and feed. A soft blue glow will emanate from the water, one rarely seen above ground. In this light alone the Men of Peace will come, and if his offering is accepted they will remember it even in their deep dreams and come at his summons in the future.

Mechanics: The minimum level for performing this ritual is 2nd. The player makes a DC 16 check with a bonus equal to: character level + spellcasting stat modifier (INT, WIS or CHA depending on class).

Success: The Men of Peace will appear and feast on the offering. Later, they'll recognize the conjurer in their dreams. He can summon 1d4 by casting Monster Summoning I, and none will ever attack him. Unlike other summoned creatures the Men will remain indefinitely until destroyed. Mostly they just sleep, and like to stay in one area instead of following the caster around. As long as they remain summoned the conjurer cannot regain the spell slot used to summon them. It is bound up with their presence. When they are all destroyed or banished he may memorize a new spell normally.

In addition, summoning the Men of Peace does not give the caster any special power to 'banish' or dismiss them. The only way for them to leave is to destroy them.

Anemone Men: AL Neutral, Init +1, Per +8, Reach 10', Move 20'
2 HD, Atk touch +1 (poison sting), Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +3
AC 10, BAB +1, CMB +1, CMD 12, Morale 9
Poison: Fort DC 14 (roll twice) - Pass twice, excruciating pain (1d6 damage & a morale check). Fail once, the blue sleep (dream-filled coma for 1d6 hours). Fail both, agonizing death.

Partial Success: The Men are bound successfully, but the conjurer's likeness is forgotten in their deep blue dreams. When they are first summoned everything is fine. If the conjurer leaves their presence for at least a day, the Men will not recognize him in the future - treating him and his friends like any other trespasser in their territory. This process repeats anytime the Men are summoned.

Failure: 1d4 Men of Peace arrive during the ritual, confused and half-awake. Not sure what is real and what a dream, they attack the closest thing that moves, attempting to sting it, remove its eyeballs and eat the rest. After a given Man has poisoned one victim and eaten a little, it wakes up somewhat and can make a reaction roll on this table.

Red Herring
: None now.

Extra Clue: With this ritual completely restored, Tanith remembers the use of Mandrake Root. Growing in darkness and moisture in the shape of a human, this plant's magic resonates sympathetically with the Men of Peace. Obtaining a whole root and offering it along with the meat will add +2 to the conjurer's skill roll.


Example of Play

Guzboch the goblin cleric of Tsathoggua wants to bind the Men of Peace - there is a standard 20% chance that Tanith's text for this ritual is faded or incomplete, but if he's lucky he can still pull it off. The DM secretly rolls a 3%, so missing text has caused a problem. Rolling on the original d20 mishap table, the result is a 16 - that's Not What I Expected! When Guzboch performs the ritual, the way is opened for an Abhorrer. Absalom Glop, the Excruciator, steps through the portal to make everyone's life miserable.

After some soul-searching Guzboch sacrifices an underling to Tanith, reducing the chance of corruption from 20% to 15%. This is still well above the 3% roll, and Guzboch is going to need plenty more victims. However, the DM re-rolls on the disaster table. Too bad! A 19 is rolled, with a -1 modifier giving an 18 - You Will Never Be The Same! The goblin cleric has begun his slow descent into occult madness.

Sacrificing a few more goblins, Guzboch brings the % faded to 0. Tanith also recalls that the ritual uses mandrake root, which grows in the dark near standing water. If Guzboch can find some, he will make his next summoning check with a +2 modifier.

After a thorough search by his underlings, Guzboch has the mandrake root. He makes his DC 16 summoning roll with a +9 bonus: +4 for being 4th level by this point, +3 for WIS (this is the statistic he uses to cast spells - Wizards can't have all the fun), +2 for using the mandrake root. He rolls a modified 18. Finally, a success! The Men of Peace come to feed, and later he summons them to guard his treasure vault.


[In Land's End there really isn't anywhere the players can 'go research things,' unless they hand the question off to Vantadel, an expensive sage. I needed a different way for characters to solve the problems posed by corrupted texts and ritual disasters, and the absturated tomes of Incunabuli seemed a perfect fit! Be careful to avoid DM dick moves though, since the tomes can communicate with the PCs but may give them false information that could get them killed...]

Next up, binding rituals for the rest of Tanith Loraxalin, and maybe ideas for some other terrible tomes scattered around the campaign world. I can't tell you how excited I am to have my home players deal with the presence of this terrible tome one way or another!

Play this on your next dimly-lit dungeon crawling marathon: