Friday, February 17, 2017

The Saints Have Turned to Crime: secret wars, sanity, and moral fiber in Arthurian D&D

So I was at work the other day doing a routine and boring task, and my mind was wandering. I was moping around about the hideous and depraved life I live, when I had an inspiration: I decided to try thinking about D&D instead to cheer myself up. Almost instantly I felt better, and I began wrestling with a somewhat knotty problem: how to reconcile all the aesthetic elements of my setting?

After seeing my inestimable comrade N. Manscorpion's beginning work on his own megadungeon, I was forced to conclude that my setting is too fractured. I can hold his whole setting, in terms of look and feel and vibe, in my mind all at once. I can't say the same for my own. Depending on where I turn it's grim black metal album covers and beheadings, or faeries with pointy hats sitting on toadstools conversing with guys in platemail and fair maidens. There's nothing wrong with having both in your game, but I really want something that I can visualize in its entirety. It helps with making decisions if I can instantly say "this fits, that doesn't."

False Patrick has written about the difficulties of D&Ding in Arthurian England before (I have read this article a million times). I am sidestepping some of these concerns by placing my game in a "slightly more realistic" era, after the Roman occupation ended (somewhere in the late 400s/early 500s). I will be adding in anachronistic elements because it's not D&D without some of those (plate mail is still available, but insanely expensive and hard to find), but there is no renaissance fair, shining castles, bards in tights stuff going on. It's closer to Middenmurk (actually I will be shamelessly using 80% of that page in my game) than Camelot as it's usually depicted.

Even so, we have King Arthur, magic swords, ladies of the lake, wizards in towers, goblins, dwarves, pixies, griffons and giants. How do I reconcile those with the fact that, a mere 50 feet underground, you can do battle with horrors from beyond the stars? Why don't those guys run the whole world? More importantly, why doesn't anybody talk about them, and what would life be like if they did?

So there I was at work, doing something boring, when I flashed on it:

Final Fantasy Tactics.

For those who don't know, Final Fantasy Tactics was a classic Playstation game that succeeded the obscure gem Tactics Ogre, which itself was a sequel to one of the greatest goddamn games ever made: Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (if you have some spare time and like strategy games, all three of these are highly recommended).

Anyway, I remember the storyline of FFT being really political (boring). The general thrust is that the main character, Ramza, leads a group of scruffy cadets to stop a world-destroying bad guy, you get the idea, regular stuff. While his childhood friend Delita commands the army, marries the princess, becomes king, and goes down in the history books as the hero of the Lion War, Ramza (whose eyes the player sees the story through) fights in utter obscurity. One of his comrades' diaries is discovered generations later and "the true story of the Lion War can be told."

This is an easy one to translate! As long as those rugose cones, goatmen, and brain-eating jellyfish never venture above ground to threaten our existence in public, nobody knows or talks about them. The characters can fight, die and (maybe) win, gain experience, get rich and have cool adventures in the otherworldly hells of Annwn, but they won't ever get famous for it.

To get a reputation, they have to do things outdoors in the open. Winning wars, slaying big classic monsters (ogres, giants, griffons, etc), bringing bandits to justice, fighting in tournaments, paying bards to sing songs about them and the like. This makes me think that instead of rolling "Wyvern" on the wilderness encounter table, it should be "The Winged Terror of Whatevershire." Something that relates to the social world where the PCs live, in a way that dungeon encounters don't.

Only Warhammer Fantasy has the pictures I need.
The fun thing about thinking along these lines is: if nobody talks about it, who's to say Arthur's knights didn't all gain their early levels in dungeons too? Lancelot can fight 30 men at once because after "Wargoat Fight Club" in a pool of boiling acid, everything else gets the volume turned down. Maybe he wanders the kingdoms alone "on quests" so often because he has fucking PTSD from his experiences, not to mention all the friends and comrades that he must have seen die down there?

I had been thinking about using a sanity or horror system of some kind to represent the otherworldly terrors that the PCs will come in contact with, but haven't settled on anything good. The fear aura of some dragons or powerful undead is a good start, but I wonder if some kind of permanent 'mental scarring' can be made to work. I have no qualms about characters being permanently changed (in ways other than dying, HA!) from their trips to the dungeon, and I like the idea of going underground a wet-behind-the-ears 1st level pissant, and coming out rich, powerful and geared-up but with a 1000-yard stare, a few missing fingers, and no pancreas. Beedo's article on the subject from back in the day seems like too much for me: the PCs will be throwing down with hideous horrors a lot, and not everything they see should blast their minds. Nevertheless it's something that I'd like to bring into play somehow, especially as it relates to the "secret dungeon war." (I have also been thinking about player character mutations, but that really just requires a giant random table and a few failed saves.)

Forever alone.
Maybe all the "evil knights" are such dicks because once they got deep into the dungeon, they saw that not only is Jesus not the supreme deity, not even in the top three, but we live in an amoral mechanistic universe? Maybe Sir Meleagaunce went into the dungeon with Alignment: L on his character sheet, and came out C? Maybe he decided if he couldn't beat the eldritch horrors, he could still cut a deal? Maybe under his helmet he isn't entirely human? He can't look like the full-on Warhammer chaos knights, because then we may as well just play Warhammer and it makes things too obvious. Maybe just a weird mole or birthmark, a gross scar, something that sets him apart as weird or unnatural that you wouldn't necessarily see or notice.

It's also worth noting that this is pretty close to what happens to Solaire of Astora in Dark Souls, so it's right where I want to be tonally.

Maybe the reason Arthur is so perfect and good and has the best judgement and stands apart as kind of inhuman in his reasonableness and fairness (White touches on this in The Once and Future King) is that he gained all his levels at once from pulling the sword out of the stone, and he never had to go into a dungeon and watch his friends die and his dreams get slaughtered for a few gold pieces more. Sure he wages bloody wars against the Saxons, but everybody does that anyway. What makes the rest of the round table knights such good guys, and how do they rise up from being scruffy adventurers to the leading moral figures of the age? Lots of different ways. Some had prophecies going in their favour, some just grew up fighting wolves in the snow and never had to breathe in radioactive mists while the Cthulhu Cult stabs them with hot pokers, and some just made all their saving throws. As a wise friend of mine once said: "Being the good guy just means waking up better than everybody else."

*****

Anyway, this has been a productive piece of musing, but now I have to go redo all my encounter tables and double the square footage of level 1. Play this the next time you need a bit of pagan pessimism in your game:


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nameless Cults IV

Here is another fun one. A bit simpler than the other cults so far, but "the old jokes are the best," as they say.

THE ESOTERIC ORDER OF DAGON, or The Pelagic Knights of Y'Ha-Nthlei

You knew this was coming eventually.
No. Appearing: 1d6
Alignment: Chaotic 
Move: 120’ (40’) 
Armor Class: 14 
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1
Save: Fighter
Morale: 10
Experience: 29

Serving one of the... ickier Ancient Ones, Lord Dagon of the deep kingdoms, the Esoteric Order is composed of former fishermen, captured and hypnotized sailors, the "mates" of the Deep Ones, and their Sea-Blood offspring. You know what they're here to do: get fresh with your human (or dwarf, or elf - they aren't picky) women and breed a vile half-aquatic replacement for mankind! Are you gonna let them do it, hot shot?

They come armed with scraps salvaged from the deep, or tools of their former lives: tridents, cutlasses, nets, spears, marlinspikes and any other aquatic-themed weapons and rusty patchwork armour, dripping green with algae. This also means sometimes they carry fantastic treasure from sunken ships or old hoards fallen under the waves: maybe the jewelled cutlass of a pirate king, or magic items from fabled Atlantis. If parley could be made with the Order, they might show an enterprising adventurer the way to these treasures lost under the waves. Then again, they might just give them directions to a nearby pod of sharks, or a colony of hungry Deep Ones. 

Sorry mom. Sorry dad. Sorry HPLHS.
The Order have dredged up many secrets from the deep, one of which is the terrible magic of unlife (most clerics and wizards don't know animate dead in my game). They frequently enter battle with the shambling corpses of drowned sailors and fishermen as shock troops (skeletons, zombies or maybe you have a favourite water-themed undead?). The Order's knowledge of these outre magics makes membership highly sought after in some quarters, although anyone willing to pay the costs of entry must be desperate or mad indeed. 

These undead servants will always be dripping with water and covered in seaweed, even if they've been standing guard in a dungeon for years. Make sure to mention the puddles of water spreading underneath them (just the thing to trip up a careless adventurer at the wrong time). They usually carry the tools, weapons and gear they did in life, having risen from the muck of the sea-floor exactly as they died. I am thinking that some clerics of the EOoD maybe have a forbidden ritual that turns them into some kind of aquatic vampire or saltwater lich, although what those might be I can't yet imagine...

The other terrible thing about the EOoD is that they know where the Deep Ones make their lairs, and tend to build their temples nearby (usually in caves or grottoes accessible to the ocean) for ease of human sacrifices. A given temple will be led by a sea blood of level 3-6 and two sea blood acolytes of levels 1-3, all equipped with the best treasure and magic items the cult has scavenged. Remember: these dudes don't play around, and it could get real grim. Keep that in mind when you're running your own game huh?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Manscorpion / TERMINAL GODS


In case anybody was wondering: I still get to name the blog posts. Now sit down as N. Manscorpion grapples the mic once again. I really wish I could add more pictures to these posts, but the interface keeps fucking with me and it won't work. Oh well.

*****

The Crater of Termination: Gods and Religion

The Chain has no shortage of gods, from the ancestor cults still popular amongst certain of the nobility of Xish, to the bloodthirsty warrior-gods, beloved of many of the wildermen tribes, whose worship is said to have gone on in one form or another since time immemorial.

But all know the true Gods, even if, out of misguided fealty to lesser deities, they deny their supremacy. Their signs, or in some cases even they themselves, can be visited and witnessed (though only the most devoted or foolhardy would go looking). But the greatest proof that they alone of all gods deserve the name lies in the power granted to certain of their worshippers, a power which none of the followers of other so-called deities can claim: sorcery.

Such magicks as these chosen few wield are even more terrifying and strange than those pursued by wizards in forbidden tomes, for they are bestowed through direct, mind-blasting contact with the god itself, and amongst the effects are unnatural power over the very forces of life and death.

Clerics must choose a god from the below list, which also includes the most common or popular cult, church, or order devoted to the worship of each. Note that these are not the only options: many smaller sects devoted to each of these gods are spread throughout the islands. A cleric need not even belong to any order – the gods bestow their favour upon few, but their motives in choosing the ones they do are inscrutable. Anyone, from the most fanatical zealot to a casual fan, might be granted the powers of a cleric, and whether or not one belongs to any kind of organized worship appears largely immaterial. Occasionally, a complete non-worshipper, or even the devoted worshipper of another (lesser) god will receive the gift, accompanied with sanity-wracking dreams of visitation, alerting the hapless beneficiary to his new fate.

Clerics are always Chaotic; all whom the gods touch are, in some way, tainted or corrupted. There is no distinction between Cleric and Anti-Cleric (as outlined in the OD&D rules) and as such no restrictions on Chaotic clerics (i.e. they can still turn undead, are able to cast all cleric spells, etc.).


Null, the Devouring Star, the Annihilation Whisperer.

The most widely-worshipped god in Xish, thanks in large part to the infamy of the Crater of Termination. Most worshippers hold that Null is literally a star: a particularly bright, red-tinged one which always appears in the same place in the sky, and can even be seen faintly during the day. A small minority believe that the star is not Null itself, but either the place where the god resides, or very close that place. Many worshippers, and even some non-worshippers, report visitations by Null in their dreams, where it always manifests as an almost physically tangible sense of hatred and contempt, accompanied by a dry, disaffected whisper. The message of Null, while often tailored to the individual recipient, is always, at core, the same: living beings’ right to exist on Null’s earth has been revoked, and they will all shortly be extinguished. Accordingly, worship of Null tends to coalesce around one of two poles: those who strive to placate the deity and thereby save life on earth, or at least themselves; and those who celebrate the imminent end of wretched existence, and venerate Null’s wisdom in choosing to bring it about.

The Cult of the Devouring Star. This group falls into the latter of the two categories, and as such predates the current vogue for apocalyptic doom cults by a number of decades. But only since the revelation of the Crater of Termination, a handful of years ago, have their ranks truly begun to swell. As such, they are one of the wealthier sects: thanks to careful investment of donations and tithes, they own all of the land around the Crater of Termination, which contains a lavish temple and various farmland, and several other estates around Xish. Many see something hypocritical or contradictory in the building up of material wealth given what worship of Null seems to entail, but the Cult themselves respond that this wealth, by its very absurdity and ephemerality in the face of the incoming extinction of humankind, is perversely pleasing to the god. Generally speaking, they are a friendly and gregarious bunch.


Mahelgog, the Mouth of Time, the Living Island.

Mahelgog makes travel through the western ocean impossible past a certain point, and while it is widely considered that this point is very close to the edge of the world, it seems unlikely that anyone has ever survived the trip through Mahelgog’s domain long enough to verify this. Those few who have seen Mahelgog and somehow managed to return (at present, only two such individuals are known to live, and both have since become high-ranking members of the Confessors of the Drowned) can only confusedly describe something like a large island, larger than any of the Chain, but which none would take for mere land: too smooth, too many wrong angles, and the unmistakable sense of a noxious, unfathomable life. Time and space are both said to show their meaninglessness in the face of Mahelgog – hence the legends of sailors returning from encounters with the god as decades older than when they set out, or reverted to drooling babies, or with memories of other men from other worlds in place of their own. Mahelgog rarely makes itself known to worshippers, and even its clerics generally only report a sense of nausea, disorientation, and (sometimes) temporary amnesia as the results of their daily communion. It is not clear why the god even empowers clerics, for it rarely makes any other sign that it acknowledges, let alone needs, worship.

The Confessors of the Drowned. Like the Cult of the Devouring Star, this group is organized around a message of imminent apocalyptic death – but, unlike the Cult, they have only become as such relatively recently. In the past, the Confessors of the Drowned led a more secretive and hermetic existence; for unknown reasons, they have become much more public and vocal, declaring to all who will listen that, any day now, the oceans will engulf all the islands of the Chain, and Mahelgog will once more have dominion over all of the earth. It is unclear from whence this new direction has arisen: all members assume, naturally enough, that it originates from a directive made by Mahelgog itself, but the sect is so large, widespread and loosely organized that no one is exactly sure who might have received the divine order. Perhaps no one did.


Akrillug, the Basilisk, the Destroyer of Ehkran.

There are still some withered old men who remember when the southernmost island of the Chain, once called Ehkran, was a verdant paradise. Now, it is a desert where nothing grows and no living creature stirs. If one actually dares to venture onto the island (and some, who one might call either brave or stupid, have), one can still visit the sites where once stood the sprawling cities and bejewelled castles of the Ehkranites. The structures are nothing but dust, but littering the spaces are millions of statues of humans with Ehkranite features, all cast in expressions of terror and anguish. At the very heart of the island, where once towered the Twin Palaces of the Two Kings, one can find statues in the likenesses of these very kings, the faces contorted with utter horror, and each standing on either side of a massive reptilian footprint. Some say that three identical footprints can be found at points far across the island, suggesting a creature large enough to straddle its entirety. The island now stands as a testament to all who would profane or anger the gods, though not a man alive, no written record, could attest as to how the Ehkranites might have done so.

The Church of the Stone that Wept. This is one of the oldest cults – perhaps the oldest, predating the destruction of Ehkran by many centuries, if their own records are to be believed. The Church, of course, holds that its god, Akrillug, is responsible for the Ehkranites’ fate, but there is disagreement over this. That a god called Akrillug exists is not in dispute: many, not just Church-members, have reported dreams or waking visions of a gargantuan, vaguely reptilian presence – in fact, similar reports are recorded in some of the oldest extant texts in the musty libraries of Xish. Yet it is not clear that Akrillug is the cause of whatever happened in Ehkran; the god itself has certainly never indicated this, given that in all known visitations, it never speaks or even seems to acknowledge the subject of the dream or vision. The Church points to the footprints, and says this is enough. All who disbelieve, so they say, will one day find themselves gazing into the eyes of the Basilisk: for, a crucial element in common between all known visions of Akrillug is that one never sees the god’s face. To do so, says the Church, is to gaze upon death itself.


Bone Jackson, the Goat-god, the Mother of Endless Blood.

The goat-men of the wild hills all worship this god, which they depict in their primitive paintings and effigies as a kind of impossible creature with countless limbs and mouths, the composition of which changes drastically across depictions except for two goat horns always protruding somewhere from the amorphous mess. The wildermen, whose tribes are sometimes enemies and sometimes allies of any the goat-men tribes, and who are the only ones who would ever bother to learn any of the goat-men’s language or customs, report that in their own vulgar language, the deity’s name translates loosely as “Mother of Endless Blood.” Because the name sounds vaguely like “Bone Jackson” in the wildermen tongue, this is what they call it, and what it has subsequently come to be widely known as. To the goat-men, it is female, and worshipped as a principle of fertility and generation: the god’s menstrual blood is held to be the very source of the goat-men themselves, and upon death their souls will return to choke in that infinite crimson river forevermore. Some wildermen have adopted the worship of the Mother, but cut most of the blood stuff out of it and worship it as a vaguely male Goat-god (generally depicted as a particularly monstrous-looking goat-man) which they continue to call Bone Jackson. The existence of wildermen clerics seems to suggest that, whatever the god might be called, it does not mind the worship, though no wildermen have ever accomplished the literal conjurings of the god which the greatest goat-man shamans of all the tribes are said to gather together to perform once every nine years, at a time and place unknown to any but themselves.

There is no single organized sect or cult of this god. Player-character clerics will generally be goat-men, who may or may not belong to (or have once belonged to) a tribe-specific, or even inter-tribe, cult. A few non-wildermen, non-goat-men worshippers can be found here and there, though they tend to be raving, flea-ridden lunatics.


I’d like to have a few more gods than these, but four is more than enough to get rolling with. Bonus points if you can guess which Cthulhu Mythos deity I had in mind when I was writing up each of these (except not really, because it should be pretty obvious).
-Manscorpion


*****


Not much more for me to say about this, except I cannot WAIT to play in this damn setting. We will have to set up some Google Hangouts or Manscorpion has to come back and visit for reading week! Now let's dance:



Monday, February 6, 2017

One of those days

Okay. I was thinking about this classic PSX game "Nightmare Creatures" the other day. This is a beast from said game that used to punk me pretty hard when I played it, and it fits in perfectly with an idea I had for the Spoils of Annwn:

THAMES MONSTER

This is usually as far as I got.
No. Appearing: 1
Alignment: C
Move: swim 60' (20')
Armour Class: 17
Hit Dice: 8+
Attacks: 5
Damage: 1d6x4/1d10
Save: Dwarf
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XIX
Experience: 1560+

One of the many varieties of fiends that haunt the ruins of Londinium, the Thames Monsters make travelling by boat in the area a risky proposition. Lairing in any water deep enough to hide in, they have polluted the rivers of that cursed city with salt and slime. 

Nobody has seen the entire body of one of these beasts. The only parts that rise above the water are a giant serpentine head with a gaping toothy maw, and four long tentacles that pull victims in to be devoured. Normally the head is about the size of a human torso, and the tentacles can stretch about 50'. Larger varieties of these monsters do exist, though. The giant that lives in the Thames itself (15 HD) and is the namesake of its smaller cousins is rumoured to have tentacles snaking hundreds of feet down the streets near the river, feeling for prey.

The Thames Monster waits for prey to come close, and then reaches its tentacles out to seize it. Victims may not even see its head until it's too late! It can attack up to five times per round: four with tentacles and one bite if any being is close enough to eat. NOTE: grappling sucks. We all know this. What I would do is just have a tentacle pull the victim 10' towards the monster's mouth on a successful attack. If you are feeling especially merciful, or the particular Thames Monster is a weak or small one, maybe the tentacle deals damage OR it pulls its victim closer, but not both. The tentacles have the same AC as the Thames Monster itself, and will be crippled/severed if they take damage equal to 1/4 of the monster's total HP. If all its tentacles are damaged and it doesn't have anyone in range to bite, it will retreat beneath the water. If it isn't killed, its tentacles will re-grow at the rate of one every 1d6 days.

Like other unintelligent fiends from the outer reaches of existence, the Thames Monster is indifferent to treasure. The undigested parts of its victims, along with the cargo of boats it has sunk, will litter the muck of the riverbed all around it. In addition to its listed Hoard Class, you might want to add some equipment from dead travellers/adventurers: mildly chewed suits of armour, weapons, magic items, whatever. More victims would lie on the riverbed beneath bigger Thames Monsters.

WOLFBATS

Last night I discovered that He-Man is on Netflix. Digging deep into that bottomless pit of lunacy revealed these, just as I was looking for more ways to punish players for even showing up to game day:

You IDIOTS!
No. Encountered: 1d20 (1d100)
Alignment: N
Movement: fly 150' (50')
Armor Class: 14
Hit Dice: 1d3 hp
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d4
Save: Fighter
Morale: 7
XP: 7

Similar to garden-variety bats, except with the slavering heads of wolves. You heard right. From a distance they sound indistinguishable from a huge wolf pack, which should be properly disconcerting to any adventuring party (especially in the dungeon). With their vicious wolf-bite, the only reason we don't call them "Sir" is their cowardly nature. 

When a battle is first joined, before any Wolfbat has been slain, they will swarm around their victims and try to distract and terrify them into fleeing or submitting (anyone in a swarm of 10+ wolfbats is at -2 to attack rolls and saves, and spellcasting is impossible) just like regular bats do in the Labyrinth Lord book. Except unlike regular bats, they follow this up by biting your face off. When one of their number has been slain, they make morale checks every round until they fly away in fear. Thus it's tough to eliminate a pack of these things completely. Keep track of how many Wolfbats are left, and the same number will come back if you roll them on the encounter table again on the same dungeon level. 


Now play this monster jam the next time your players feel the slimy tug of a tentacle around the ankle:


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Manscorpion / The Crater of Termination: 20 Questions

Okay, Manscorpion hits us up again with some more about his new campaign setting. The more stuff he sends me, the more I want to play in this world. It's too bad he moved away, as it's going to be really difficult now.

*****
20 questions for The Crater of Termination

1 - What is the deal with my cleric’s religion? The only viable religions for clerics (read: the ones in which worship grants spells) are the cults of the various Lovecraftian entities (not that anyone in this world thinks about them in those terms, but that’s the most economical way to describe them), the main ones in Xish being the Cult of the Devouring Star (worships Null), the Confessors of the Drowned (worships Mahelgog, the Mouth of Time), and the Church of the Stone That Wept (worships Akrillug, the Basilisk). Those from other islands (especially wildermen) may worship Bone Jackson, the Goat-god. Regardless of specific deity, there are risks associated with communicating with such entities – haven’t quite worked out the mechanical details, but if I manage to incorporate a sanity system like I mentioned before, then most likely this risk will take Clerics making Sanity rolls every morning when they receive their prayers.

2 - Where can we go to buy standard equipment? The Cult of the Devouring Star has most basic adventuring supplies, including torches and rations, and some weapons, available for list price (or cheaper, they’re open to bargaining) at their temple just outside the Crater. They will, however, refuse to sell to anyone who’s made it back out of the Crater more than a couple of times. A wider range of equipment, slightly more expensive but without any strings attached, is available in the port city of Gilk, about a week’s ride west of the Crater.

3 - Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Gilk would be the nearest place. There are only one or two blacksmiths skilled enough to do such work, one of them being King Antoine’s personal armorer. It’s expensive, anywhere from 5 to 20 times list price, depending on the exact specifications.

4 - Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? Amnar Zunn, the necromancer, though it has been decades since anyone reported seeing him; presumably, he has not left his tower in the Dretch Wastes (on the southern tip of the island, technically still within the domain of Xish, not that even the King would dare to name him, aloud, one of his subjects). Some even whisper that he no longer lives, though none of the few brave enough to travel to confirm this have returned to tell one way or the other. In his absence, Malister Kemp, the Court Wizard of King Antoine, is probably the most powerful, and it is an open secret that he, not the drunken fool of a king, is the real political force in the kingdom (for whatever that’s worth).

5 - Who is the greatest warrior in the land? Once, King Antoine, but those days are long past. Hajar the Eviscerator, one of the three Bandit-Kings of Xish, probably has the best claim to this title, at least on that island. Of the other islands, tales abound in Xish of the battle prowess of Gremm, Grand Chieftain of the World-Scar Tribe of wildermen – as well as that of Gremm’s arch-foe, the goat-man War Crier, Half-Moon Cur.

6 - Who is the richest person in the land? Amnar Zunn, or so it is rumoured. With more certainty, it is said that the three Bandit-Kings, between them, possess many times the riches contained in the Royal Treasury.

7 - Where can we go to get some magical healing? The priests in the Cult temple will happily provide this, and free of charge to boot, but as with equipment above, their goodwill begins to sour toward those who don’t seem to be dying in the Crater like they’re supposed to.

8 - Where can we get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? Poison, disease, and curse can be handled by the priests in the Cult temple, though not for free, and again subject to the same biases against repeated Crater-survivors. Level drain and lycanthropy can only be treated by those mystics or priests well-schooled in the lore of the undead and were-creatures, respectively – some of these may be found in Gilk, or in one of those mysterious towers or manor houses which one occasionally sees up on a cliff or jutting up out of a dark, dense forest. Polymorph and alignment change can be handled by the more erudite priests of the Church of the Stone That Wept. The Confessors of the Drowned, unlike their apocalypse-cult counterparts in the Cult of the Devouring Star, see the curing of such conditions as antithetical to ushering the inevitable annihilation of all life and matter, and don’t offer such services.

9 - Is there a magic guild my magic-user belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? Magic is a matter of the pursuit of forbidden, secret knowledge – an activity which does not, by nature, lend itself to sharing. Most magic-users have learned the basics of their craft from either a master sorcerer or an otherworldly entity with whom or which some bargain was struck (always something of great personal cost to the apprentice, though in the end most feel to have gotten the better end of the deal), or, in rarer cases, self-taught through sheer tenacity with books and materials acquired in one way or another. The bottom line is this: magic requires knowledge which cannot, for the most part, be obtained through conventional means. This explains why magic-users even bother to go out adventuring in the first place; that which they need to unravel greater mysteries and attain greater power is, more likely than not, out there somewhere in the secret parts of the world.

10 - Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC? Gilk would be the first place to start looking, if only for someone who could point one in the right direction. More often than not, such individuals are loners and hermits with a penchant for out-of-the-way places, and finding them (let alone convincing them to help) may be an adventure in itself. Beings with such knowledge might also be found within the Crater, and may even be convinced to share that knowledge, though the costs may well be steeper than mere coin.

11 - Where can I hire mercenaries? A few such types hang around the Cult temple at the Crater, which the Cult tolerates because the availability of strong hirelings encourages weaker groups or individuals to make the descent into the Crater. A wider selection can be found in Gilk, though some won’t accept the job for any amount of pay once the words “Crater of Termination” are uttered.

12 - Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? The presence and force of law anywhere except within the Royal Capital is weak, though sometimes certain sergeants or sheriffs take it upon themselves to crack down. Gilk is not one of those places, however. That said, regular folk, especially in the country, fear and hate sorcery, and more than a few fledgling magic users have found themselves on the wrong end of a mob and, ultimately, of a burning stake or a noose.

13 - Which way to the nearest tavern? The Cult of the Devouring Star allows prospective Crater-delvers the use of their dining facilities, with wine and modest meals free of charge. Mercenaries can usually be found here. In Gilk, taverns outnumber most other businesses.

14 - What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? On the land, bandits are the biggest threat; coming to a guard-barracks with the head of one of the three Bandit-Kings would probably do the trick. On the ocean, it’s a different story: a gargantuan sea-snake, held by many to be the spawn of Mahelgog (itself said to inhabit the far ocean to the West) sometimes roams the waters near Gilk, making every sea voyage a gamble with death. Slaying this creature would surely make one’s name and possibly even kickstart the kingdom’s economy (by making the port much more viable as such again), but would also earn the enmity of Mahelgog’s followers.

15 - Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? There are no other kingdoms for Xish to war with. There are always wars going on between various tribes and factions on the other islands, mostly between tribes of wildermen and goat-men with designs on the same territory.

16 - How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Things like this go on in Gilk all the time. If you want it on a truly grand and decadent scale, though, you have to travel to the Royal Palace.

17 - Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Any of the various cults, apocalyptic or not. There are also cults and other groups with no name, whose purposes are their own – but you don’t go looking for those. If they want you as a member, they’ll come to you.

18 - What is there to eat around here? Food is scarce all across Xish, and is thus 2-3 times list price in most places. In the Crater, who knows?

19 - Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? The strange relics and precious items which have been pulled from the Crater are the stuff of more recent legend, though there are no reliably concrete tales of any specific item. Tales are also told of the many wondrous objects contained in the tower of Amnar Zunn. Some even claim that great treasure, and many items of power, are to be found in the dungeons underneath the Royal Palace, so well-hidden that even King Antoine hasn’t found them.

20 - Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? Surely within the Crater, if anywhere. Successfully raiding the fortress of one of the Bandit-Kings would probably also net one such a haul – “successfully” being the key word.

*****

Now listen to this as you trudge across the blasted wastes of Xish! I'm really tired, I hope I haven't missed anything on this post.

-HDA




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Enter the Manscorpion / The Crater of Termination: Premise

This is the first (hopefully of many) guest post by my friend N. Manscorpion. I have been gaming with this dude for almost a decade now, and he always has a cool idea happening. In recent years I've turned him on to Clark Ashton Smith, black and death metal, and the OSR, so I'll go ahead and take a tiny bit of credit for the wild shit that might follow:

The Crater of Termination

These are the last days of the Earth. All land but a handful of islands, called simply “The Chain” by their inhabitants, has long since been swallowed by the sea. The scientific, cultural, and social achievements of humanity are long gone – not even a memory, for the past has become shrouded and dark. The world is, as in millennia gone by, one of magic and steel.

Only one of the old kingdoms remains, crumbling under the weight of its own indifferent decadence. It is called Xish, and the order within its supposed borders, constituted by the largest island of the Chain, is scarcely more than that without. The Royal Army is employed almost solely in the scattered cities and towns, to stave off the inevitable revolt of the starving, frightened populace. Most of the realm is an untamed, unguarded wilderness. Bandits and goat-men make travel outside of a select few regions a death sentence for all but the most hardy and resourceful.

Unsurprisingly for such times, apocalyptic doom faiths have proliferated. The most (in)famous of these is the Cult of the Devouring Star, and not just for being somehow even more death-obsessed than its rivals – they also control the Crater of Termination.

This vast hole in the ground, about a week’s ride from Gilk, Xish’s sole operative port, is claimed by the cult to have been made by the fiery arm of Null, the star that they worship. It leads to a vast underground complex which they claim was built in the first days of the Earth, by its first inhabitants, beings birthed in the very heart of Null itself. The star has revealed this place, surely hidden for millennia, as a boon to its followers. For all those who enter receive two gifts: the first being a glimpse of the world as it is beyond narrow human constraints, a flash of the terrible secret face of the cosmos; the second, and greatest, being certain death. In its unknowable caprice, Null has sometimes willed it that certain individuals or groups actually emerge from the Crater, laden with treasures, strange relics, and tales of bizarre locales and unfathomable creatures. But in the end it is all the same, for such people inevitably return to the depths – and none, so far as anyone can recall, have ever emerged a second time.

Cult membership is always up when one of these rare survivor-groups surfaces, and such is the case recently, as only a few weeks prior a so-called adventuring company, made up largely of barbarians and wildermen from other islands, emerged several months after months after entering, with a spectacular haul that has temporarily stimulated Gilk’s sluggish economy. Several other adventuring parties have entered, and it is rumoured more are on their way, from within Xish and elsewhere. The Cult does not begrudge such people joining their faith insincerely for a chance to plunder the treasures of the Crater, and indeed they even happily sell them equipment and resources from their temple just outside – for they know that, whatever reasons men claim for venturing into the depths, in their hearts they go because they desire Null’s precious gifts, their reception of which is ordained for them the moment their feet pass the threshold.


***

"As you can see, the basic idea is your standard weird fiction inspired old school megadungeon setting. The particular flavours of weird fiction which I’m mostly heavily cribbing from are: (1) the Zothique stories of Clark Ashton Smith (which I have my gracious host to thank for hipping me to a couple of years ago); and (2) H.P. Lovecraft at his more cosmological and mythology-creating, especially stories like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time,” as well as, to a lesser extent, his Dream Cycle stuff.

Major themes which emerge from these starting points are: a kind of end-of-days decadence and fatalism; human insignificance in the face of unfathomably vast cosmic etcetera; and the insanity and dread brought about by the encounter with the unknown. Nothing particularly groundbreaking as far as this kind of thing goes, but I feel like there are avenues to explore with these themes within the context of what seem to me to be the two implicit themes or premises of old-school D&D: the exploration of strange, otherworldly environments; and the nihilistic subsumption of all other possible values or motivations to the accumulation of wealth, either for its own sake or for its utility in gaining more wealth. Don’t get me wrong, I think both of those are fun in their own right, but I like the idea of a setting that works to amplify those implicit themes.

I’ve been mostly been thinking in terms of setting at this point, and not mechanics, but I’m leaning toward doing this thing in OD&D, just the three main booklets (in their slightly cleaned-up, re-released form as a single document), with house rules (mostly for things like race, and I’m pondering some sort of sanity system.

Unlike my gracious host here, I’m relatively new to this old-school D&D thing (again, something I have him to thank for getting me to look into), so developing this thing will undoubtedly be a learning experience (my previous attempt at DMing an old-school megadungeon, in Labyrinth Lord, resulted in mixed success). Here’s hoping it’s not terrible!"

-Manscorpion


Here's a little jammer I thought appropriate for this:

-HDA


Monday, December 12, 2016

Monster grab-bag

Okay, I haven't posted in a while. Just to keep up a shade of appearances, here is one article so at least I'll have a "2016" entry on the side bar over there. A few of my roommates and buddies went to play AD&D 2nd edition yesterday while I had to work, but it got me thinking about other things I have lying around in the can. Here's a small start:


BLOOD SKELETONS

No. Appearing: 1d4 
Alignment: C 
Move: 90’ (30’)
Armour Class: 13
Hit Dice: 1 hit point 
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6
Save: Fighter 
Morale: 12 
Experience: Special


I got these guys from Castlevania. Fairly simple concept. They are “impossible” to kill permanently - 1d4 rounds after being reduced to 0 HP, a blood skeleton will get up and resume attacking until it's destroyed for good. 1000 experience if you can concoct a method for permanently destroying one. Each time you invent a new method you can get the bonus again. I like putting these near places the PCs might like to linger and check things out or solve puzzles, or maybe just some high traffic area of the dungeon, where spending time fighting them will draw the attention of bigger, scarier problems.


WITCH-HAGS OF ANNWN, Lesser


No. Appearing: 1d6 (3d6)
Alignment: C
Move: 40’ (15’) / fly 90’ (30’)
Armour Class: 12
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 2
Damage: 1d6
Save: Magic User
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XVII
Experience: 95

You know them, you love them. There isn't much point in throwing up a picture, you all get it. Call them whatever you like, these cackling troublemakers float around the dungeon ceilings, waiting to harass, torment and eventually kill their victims. Greater Witch-Hags are rumoured to exist, but no-one living has ever seen one.

They carry a long knitting needle in one hand, and a cleaver or butcher knife in the other, wearing long, sweeping green rags that trail behind them as they fly through the air. They love treasure and will hoard whatever they take from adventurers. They attack males first, and when all are dead, will allow any females 1d3 rounds to flee, unless they seem to have especially nice gear or treasure. Due to their prejudices, they have a +4 reaction adjustment with men and -4 with women. They have two special attacks:

1 - Stabbing themselves with their knitting needle, which does 1d4 damage to one target in 60' (the target makes a saving throw vs. death - no attack roll needed). They can do this every round, in addition to a melee attack or their other special ability:
2 - They will cut out their own organs with their butcher knives and send them to attack their victims. Each Witch-Hag can have up to 3 organs attacking at a time. Stats: Fly 90’ (30’), AC 15, HD 1, Att 1, Dmg 1d4, SV F1. The organs can be turned like undead, or if they can be captured the hags will pay a ransom to get them back. They attack by choking, smothering, or even just splashing greenish-black  ichors and humours on their victims. If a Witch-Hag's organ is destroyed, she loses HP equal to the organ’s. I love the mental image of a PC being strangled to death by an animated small intestine.


THE HORSE ROTORVATOR (Dungeon Version)

No. Appearing: 1 
Alignment: C 
Move: 150’ (50’) 
Armour Class: 16 
Hit Dice: 6 
Attacks: 1-4 
Damage: 1d8
Save: Fighter
Morale: 12
Experience: 570


Inspired by one of the best Coil albums. The lower mandibles of four giant horses, stuck together in an 'X' shape. It rotates and rolls around like a clacking wheel. Can “bite” with up to four jawbones in a round, but because it has to keep moving to make the next attack it can't attack any target more than once per round. It chews & grinds up the floor as it passes, making a CLACKETYCLACK sound. Also, somewhere deep in the dungeon are four murdered horses with no jaws. Creepy. The full-size wilderness version would probably be 150 feet tall with ten times the Hit Dice, as is described on the record itself:


“On the Eve of the Apocalypse – the Four Horsemen betray their steeds – slitting open the animal throats – and in doing so release the Second Great Deluge – Horsegore – (The air choked with horsehair) – Infinite Divisibles Split – An infinity of open sewers.

The Four then fashion an immense earth-moving device from the collective jawbones – The Horse Rotorvator – with which to plough up the waiting world – (ROTA turns through 180 degrees to TARO) – Wheels replace Horses – Dark Horses Run – Dark Horses Run Deep (We plough the fields and scatter Our Dead Steeds on the land) … and Hell is paved with horseflesh”

Now jam these tracks to give your players the proper sense of trepidation in your next dungeon.