Saturday, September 14, 2019

Necropolis

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


*****

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

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


PLAGUE-DEAD

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

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





PLAGUE PIT HORDE


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

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

Stats go like this:

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

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

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


*****

These Brits need no introduction around here:




Sunday, September 8, 2019

REVIEW: The Spire of Quetzel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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




Saturday, August 17, 2019

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

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


*****



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


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

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

THE LONELY ALIEN

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

FOSSIL GUARDIAN

LVL: 4
DC: -1
Speed: 6

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


******

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

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

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






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 tenfootpole.org 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
https://followmeanddie.com/


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
froggodgames.com
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.


*****





Carcosa
Spawn of Shub-Niggurath & Random Robots

by Geoffrey McKinney

from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
lotfp.com
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.



SAMPLE MONSTER

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:



SAMPLE MONSTER


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
Hybrid-beasts

by Emmy Allen

from Dying Stylishly Games
cavegirlgames.blogspot.com
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!


Conclusion


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

Apology

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.


Progress

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.


Conclusion

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!