Saturday, May 13, 2017

Nameless Cults V

CULTISTS OF YOG-SOTHOTH who is The Key and The Gate, AKA Iok-Sotot

No. Appearing: 2d4
Alignment: C 
Move: 120’ (40’) 
Armour Class: 17
Hit Dice: 2 
Attack: 1d6+1
Save: Cleric 
Morale: 12 
Hoard Class: *
Experience: 38

Only madmen would worship this Ancient One. Anyone who isn't mad when they join sure will be after the terrible initiation rituals this cult administers. They charge into battle in once-fine robes and giant black hats, wreathed in pungent incense smoke and swinging two-handed weapons (scythes, hammers or flails) chanting "IOK-SO-TOT! IOK-SO-TOT!"

In any group, one of the cultists will have a censer that looks like a big two-handed ball and chain, from which issues the maddening and pungent smoke that drives the cultists into their battle frenzy and disables their opponents. It gives them insight into space & time so they can predict their enemy's movements, this accounts for their high AC and makes them immune to surprise and sneak attacks while in the smoke. If you try to jump them, you find they are looking straight at you no matter which way you attack from, even if you are invisible (they have a premonition of being stabbed in the back, even if they don't know who will be doing it). This also means that the cultists, from a short distance away, look like a big chanting cloud in the dungeon.

Outside the smoke, effects wear off (for cultists and victims) after 1d6 rounds, which renders the cultists AC 13 and vulnerable to surprise. The smoke renders them perpetually weird and difficult to converse with - as if they weren't already bloody lunatics. Imagine that girl/guy you tried to pick up outside the bar that one time, but she/he was stoned as hell and kept saying things sort of annoying and totally unrelated to the conversation*.

The smoke has various effects on those who inhale it. Roll 1d6 on the table for each character who inhales the smoke.

1 - Bugs!!!: They're crawling all over you. Save vs spell each round to do anything other than freak out and pick at your clothes.
2 - Permafried: No save. The same ability the cultists have. +4 to AC, -4 WIS, can't be surprised, you have trouble making complex decisions (rush the player, make them decide what to do first every round even if their initiative roll is way later. If you skip over them for being too slow, they'll get the idea).
3 - Dream Warrior: No save. Move slowly, just like you're fighting in a dream. Hit last every round, movement rate and damage reduced by half (round up). Taking any hit point damage will wake you up and you're back to normal.
4 - Terror in the Depths of the Fog: No save. How big is this room again? Why is it so quiet? Where is everyone? The smoke is too thick, your character is lost in the Silent Hill emptiness between worlds. After 1d6 rounds of wandering, make a WIS check to find your way back. If you succeed, no problem. If you fail, something followed you back. Roll up a low-tier demon encounter, hostile to anyone and everyone. Or if you are a real dick, the character ends up in another dimension chosen by YOG-SOTHOTH.
5 - Through the haze of Time: Granted a vision of the future! The player can look at the dungeon map for a number of seconds equal to their character's INT or WIS, whichever is lower. Save vs. spell. If you fail, the character is so terrified by this knowledge that they cannot discuss it aloud. If the player SPEAKS about any of what's been learned, visit some horrible doom upon them: time paradox, insanity effects, curses, etc. Once the future has come to pass (the party has explored some more rooms, met more monsters, etc: 1d6 encounters), player can speak normally.
6 - Instant Death: Not really. Character believes self to be dead, falls over, breathing and vital functions slow to a crawl (only an expert can tell). Save vs. death every 2nd round to wake up, no worse for wear.

They don't usually carry treasure, but their robes are high quality (although often ripped and torn). Also the censers are finely made and could be worth 1d6x100 gp to the right buyer (a church or collector maybe).

*This is important, as all the cults of the Ancient Ones still have their own motivations and goals and can be open to negotiation, trades or even temporary alliances. Most have human-level intelligence, it should just be difficult and confusing at times for PCs to understand them or make themselves understood. This is a way to get some more adventure hooks happening, and I find dungeons can be real boring sometimes with nobody to talk to.


Today's post brought to you by IPAs and:


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nameless Cults 665

Other editions of NAMELESS CULTS: I, II, III, IV, V


So a while back, I was looking through the 2nd edition Forgotten Realms book "Faiths and Avatars" to find a god for my cleric in a buddy's game. The struggles of finding a specialty cleric that can do the few things I wanted was really frustrating and not worth describing.

My real objection to that book is this:

Why in Lucifer's name are there four - count 'em, FOUR - hippy-dippy, best-friends-forever, green thumb, pat a unicorn on the head nature deities in the Forgotten Realms?

Google Image search for "tree hugger"
Chew on this granola:

Chauntea - goddess of agriculture, plants cultivated by humans, farmers, gardeners, summer

Eldath - goddess of quiet places, springs, pools, stillness, peace, waterfalls, druid groves

Mielikki - goddess of forests, forest creatures, rangers, dryads, autumn

Silvanus - god of wild nature, druids

One nature deity? Of course. Two? There's an outside chance. Three looks a bit silly, and by the time we have four I can't think of any explanation but trying to pad out the size of the book.

I imagine bringing my new character to the table: "Oh yeah, my guy serves the goddess of calm and peaceful groves." Then being laughed out of my gaming group forever, insults and Dr. Peppers hurled after me as I run out the door crying.

Honestly the "super harsh bad guy" gods aren't much better. Bhall is so exactly what you'd expect, anybody could have written out that entry. Here's a hint: his domain is death & murder. The specialty priests are called "deathstalkers." I'm absolutely not the first to say that they all seem about the least exciting fantasy-adventure extradimensional ultimate beings anyone's ever heard of. Tie that noose and start with me please.

Too topical? Or not enough?
Give me some old-fashioned CULTS god damn you! I want to see bizarre, hair-raising initiations and terrible prices paid for incomprehensible extrahuman power. I was reading Clark Ashton Smith and thinking about how bloody magical The Door to Saturn is with Eibon's patron deity Zhothaqquah, and its relative Hzuilquoigmnzhah. You know your god truly can't be fucked about you when even pronouncing its name is impossible. Another thing I liked about Dungeon Crawl is they take a shot at this kind of thing: the death god is Yredelemnul, and the god of necromantic magic is Kikubaaqudgha. Pretty damned alien. Followers of those gods don't stand on a milk crate on the avenue Friday nights, yelling at people through a badly set-up PA about abortion. You have to find them, and it won't work out the way you think.

After I get done the classic Mythos cultists I will try to branch out a bit. I am considering Arioch, Thasaidon and Mordiggian, and then maybe I'll do a few D&D standbys like Orcus, Demogorgon, Jubilex and Lolth, although they do feel a bit odd next to the Ancient Ones. I will have to think harder about how to put a fun spin on the classics and take them out of their usual fantasy context. Also, that's a A LOT of evil gods, considering all the "real-world" pantheons have bad guys built in already. Law definitely has the deck stacked against them here.

Just like in real life I guess.

Okay that was a lot of ranting. In the mean time, for tax purposes, here are some stats for a monster I was thinking about yesterday, adapted from another classic '90s computer game.


Feel lucky punk?
No. Appearing: 1d4
Alignment: C
Move: 90’ (30’)
Armour Class: 16
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1+
Damage: 2d6
Save: Fighter
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI
Experience: 245

Yep, you heard right. Short, fat, slimy and bilious as hell, these fiends look like a typical red-skinned devil's underachieving, cheeto-loving cousin. They dangle morningstars from their long sideways horns, and attack by spinning around to smash any- and everyone nearby. Their melee attack (2d6 represents the two morningstars) hits everyone in close combat with the puking demon, with a progressive -1 penalty to hit each opponent beyond the first (so a normal attack against the first guy, -1 to hit the second, -2 to hit the third, and so on. Or you could save time and just give them a middling penalty on all rolls). Note that this spin attack won't work on enemies that are too short (<4'), lying on the ground, etc. Common sense applies.

They are used as heavy shock troops in demon armies because they're tough, hard to kill and have some truly morale-destroying abilities! Because they usually terrify or incapacitate their enemies, they don't have the stomach for a fight and will flee if they meet stiff resistance.

Other puking demons are of course immune to both of the following abilities:

HALITOSIS: The foul breath of the puking demons surrounds them at all times in a horrifying miasma. Beings that breathe the air within 10' of a puking demon suffer -2 to attack rolls, morale checks and anything involving swiftness or movement (some saving throws, DEX bonuses, etc) from the debilitating gases. Creatures of 2 HD or less must save vs. poison or be incapacitated, gagging and choking for 1d6 rounds or until they are out of the area. If more demons group together, the area of effect will expand accordingly.

BILE: Instead of melee attacks, the puking demon can Exorcist-style vomit a vile, corrosive slime in a 30 degree cone, extending 20 feet forward. They can do this every third combat round. It does 1d4 acid damage to anyone affected, and the bile sticks to every surface until scraped or washed off. The floor and walls become highly dangerous and corrosive surfaces. Creatures take 1d4 damage each round until they aren't in contact with the bile anymore, or it dries and becomes inert after an hour.


Further, I promise either Yog-Sothoth, the King in Yellow or Tsathoggua getting dished up soon in:

EDIT: Nameless Cults V is done! I'll keep adding links to all CULTY posts back here just so I have a nice clearinghouse for them.

Now go listen to this for the rest of the day. Doctor's orders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Demihumans in Annwn pt2: Slightly Weirder Ones

A few announcements first.

In case I didn't make myself clear:

Running Maze of the Blue Medusa is going fairly well. The characters are way overleveled and overequipped for it, but they're scared of EVERYTHING so it ends up playing as if they're all first level anyway, until the combat starts and the monsters get hacked to ribbons. And they all complain that the NPCs are "useless" because nobody will tell them where the moon-man's kids are.

Here's another kick at the can, with some more flavour for my PC races.

Goblins AKA hobs, hoblings, boggarts, bogies, brownies, gnomes and so on

Brian Froud - close, very close
There are scores of different faeries spoken of in Britain, each governing a different domain - sprites of dirt and ditch, field and farm, home and hearth. In fact there is only one. The goblins have always and only lived in Britain - they are connected to the land, and can't leave. A goblin has no otherworldly home like an elf or underground kingdom like a dwarf, only the patch of soil it walks upon. They can swim in the waters around Britain and even travel to other dimensions and back, but their feet cannot step on the soil of another country. Maybe a little bit of Gaul or Benwick if you're feeling charitable and there aren't too many frogs around!

Many goblins never leave a small region they call home (a village, farmstead or patch of forest), hence their reputation as household spirits. Like the legends say, they will do some chores or housework during the night if the residents leave them some milk or a bit of sweet food. They sleep out in the fields and ditches, or in holes they dig in the ground, for the earth of Britain is their home and where they feel the safest. Not all goblins live this way - there isn't actually any magic binding them to a certain place the way a Dryad is to a tree - most just don't want to go around looking for food on their own.

They have never been seen in groups or families, and how they reproduce is unknown. Most peasant folk think they just spring up out of the soil, fully grown, although nobody has ever witnessed this.

In fact this is true. Goblins are just a product of the unknown magics and mysteries permeating Britain. A few spring up with a perverse lust for human gold in their hearts and become wanderers, rogues, thieves and adventurers. Some of the best cutpurses and assassins are hobs, because they're small, quiet, can endure almost any hardship and do not think the same way humans do. Their morality is strange and animalistic - they don't have to grow up and have no parents to teach them, being creatures of the wilds only. They don't have 'friendship' really, but can understand a sort of group loyalty and mutual advantage. Wise are the adventurers who ensure their goblin allies have full bellies and a scrupulously fair share of treasure, and woe betide any who betray a goblin, or indeed who trust one overly.

Goblins are usually earth-toned, ranging in colour through orange, red, brown, olive green, grey and even eggplant. They can be as light as a well-tanned human or almost coal-black. Their skin is dull, weathered, and usually dirty. There are no bright green goblins! Get outta here. Goblin eyes are usually human-shaped, or occasionally reptilian, and every colour variation imaginable has been observed.

(They are my reskin of halflings who are way too annoying, Tolkienian, pastorial longing-for-a-simpler-age to be in this setting.)

ALSO: Once again, go hit up Middenmurk for this. A few don't really fit, it'll be okay, just use my best judgement.

Sea-Bloods AKA Dagon's children, fish-men, "the creeping rot within our society," etc

(You know the deal. Straight out of RoCC. Get into it.)
Even mother probably didn't love this face.
Sea-bloods! The genetic terror from beneath the waves. They could be among us right now.

The Dark Ages was already rammed with superstition, mistrust and wild accusations. Britain AD 500 will be no exception: this isn't the golden age yet kiddies. These guys make it so much worse. Until they gain a few levels or reach a certain age, you can't tell a sea-blood from a normal human, except that they may be odd-looking or ugly, and let's face it in the Dark Ages everybody was ugly. These creatures serve their lord and master Dagon, and work to bring about a fishy domination of all land-dwelling beings on earth. This is not the kind of thing you want working against you when you're trying to build a perfect society.

PC sea-bloods may have some idea of their origins at first, or they may not. The only thing I'm not sure of is how things will go in an adventuring party when a level or two has been gained and it's obvious that the character is somehow "monstrous." My players will probably just leave him to twiddle his thumbs in the forest whenever they go into town and not think any more of it, but who knows what yours might do? The fact is that most peasants and regular jackoffs won't think anything of another ugly dude tramping through town - they don't even know that the deep ones are working to destroy their way of life. Anybody in the know, though (wizards, most of the clergy, any Round Table knights, etc) will be quite exercised to spot a sea-blood just wandering around town with his heavily armed chums. I look forward to the PC vs. town guard bloodbaths, or other fun ways of dodging this problem.

(I originally included Subhumans in the second version of the Spoils of Annwn. The first version was almost completely stock LL. The fact is that they're way less exciting than they seem. They're really just fighters. If you were playing straight out of RoCC with no dwarves or elves they might be useful, but not for me.)

Now go fall asleep with this on:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Roguelike: DCSS

My weakness for roguelikes rears its ugly head again!

Check out this madness. I have been playing it on and off for a few years, and finally achieved a 3-rune victory a few months back with a troll berserker who worshipped Jivya, the god of slimes (I know right?!). I have 28 dead characters to show for it.

For life.

Some of the monsters in Crawl are too good not to stat up for my game. Luckily, the wiki has info for quite a few of them, making adaptation easy. I just looked up the Crawl stats for monsters D&D already had numbers for until I got a base of comparison: goblins, skeletons, orcs, giants, trolls, dragons and many other Crawl monsters already exist in D&D. The monsters that don't, though, are some pretty neat stuff.

Based on perusing the stat blocks, it seems like hit dice run high at the top end in Crawl with things like Pandemonium Lords and the most powerful demons (this is to be expected, as characters go up to level 27), while the low-level monsters are on par most of the time. AC is a bit tougher to port directly, since Crawl separates it from EV (evasion) and SH (shielding), but mostly it looks like Labyrinth Lord AC is in the ballpark of Crawl's AC+EV.

Watch out for the mermen.

So here are Labyrinth Lord stats for a few of the cool and weird monsters that I'm using from DCSS. I don't use the classic demon/devil split, I'm mean the term 'demon' much more broadly to refer to any monsters from a real crap dimension.


"A weirdly shaped demon, pulsing and shifting with mutagenic energies, its belly distended with the devoured brains of its victims."

No 1, AL C, Mv 120’ (40’), AC 16, HD 6, Att 1d6, Sv Dwarf, ML 10, HC XIV, XP 1070

Human-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to silver/holy weapons.

Malmutate: One victim in line of sight. Save vs. Petrification or gain one random mutation. Roll on whatever chart strikes your fancy, I am working one up right now that I'll try to post later on.

Brain Feed: One victim in 80' (line of sight is not necessary, but the Nequoxec must be aware of its target). Save vs. spells or lose 1d3 points of intelligence. Restoration or similar magic will heal this, or regain 1d6 lost points when gaining a level.

Summon Minor Demon: Summons 1-3 low-ranking demons under the Neqoxec's control. Imps, quasits, pick anything of 1-2 HD from your own list.

I have never fought the Neqoxec in Crawl, they hang out in Pandemonium and a few other places I've never been. Don't screw around with these guys, the Malmutate ability will take your adventuring career down a dark turn real fast.


"A being of pure chaos, its form is constantly shifting, growing and then losing eyes, mouths, claws and tentacles. It corrupts everything it touches."

No 1-3, AL C, Mv 120’ (40’), AC 18, HD 6, Att 1d10, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC -, XP 820
Ogre-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to silver/holy weapons. 

Chaos Touch: All their melee attacks roll randomly for damage type (fire, cold, acid, whatever exists in your game) and an additional wild magic or random spell effect. I suppose I'll have to whip some tables together if I want to use these guys.
Chaos Dust: When destroyed the chaos spawn will explode into clouds of dust and smoke (2d10' radius) as their essence diffuses. Anyone stepping into this cloud or breathing in its vapours is affected as if by the chaos spawn's melee attack (roll on the same chart).

These guys crop up in the Abyss and other places. I will probably just use them as summoned monsters, or maybe as the results of wizardly tampering.


This demon looks like a malignantly shifting shadow gliding through the air. It radiates an intense aura of negative force.

No 1, AL C, Mv Walk/Fly 120’ (40’), AC 20, HD 9, Att 1d10, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC XIV, XP 2400

Human-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons.

Life Drain: The soul eater can gaze at a group of enemies in a 60 degree cone. All victims in line of sight take 1d10 damage as their bodies are withered and blighted, healing the soul eater for half the total damage dealt. Save vs. breath weapon for half.

Experience Drain: The soul eater's melee attacks suppress the victim's spirit, making them weaker, slower and stupider. XP lost equal to damage dealt x100. Keep track of this damage, and it will gradually heal as the character gains experience again: every two points of XP gained will heal 1 point of XP damage from the soul eater.

A slightly nicer version of classic level-drain. Maybe I might put this on some wights too, and then just strew them around everywhere?


A hellish insectoid creature with a long and bloated body, supported by dozens of short jointed legs and topped with an almost human head.

No 1-4, AL C, Mv 150’ (50’), AC 16, HD 7, Att 1d6x3, Sv Dwarf, ML 10, HC XIII, XP 440

16'+ long. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons.

Just a big mean ugly millipede-man thing.


A horribly powerful and swift demon, its shape obscured by a cloud of swirling scythe-like blades.

No 1, AL C, Mv 240’ (80’), AC 21, HD 10, Att 1d10/1d6x2, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC X, XP 2400

Ogre-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons. 

Pain Ray: A single enemy within line of sight takes 1d12 damage as waves of agony wrack their body. Automatically hits, no save.

Speed Wheel: Self only. Move 50% faster and 1 extra attack per round. Lasts for 10 rounds.

If Dark Souls taught me anything, it's that spinning things are always terrible.


Some of these guys are really tough, I would be careful when I throw them at my players. A few I toned down from the Crawl version, just because they seem fun and I want to use them more often. And this is just a few monsters from ONE region of the game! There are plenty more (terrifying demons) to adapt, which I'll do in future posts.

Now jam this next time your PCs are getting MUTATED:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Manscorpion / Vancian Magic

N. Manscorpion's most recent guest post. After he sent this to me, he started his own page, so let's link to that right now:

In the mean time, here it is.



Make Magic Weird Again

Hey everyone, just a few disjointed thoughts and musings this time. I’m still working on the setting, and hope to have something substantive enough to run some sessions with this summer. I feel a burst of inspiration coming up, spurred by finally picking up and starting Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, which obviously has a lot of parallels to what I’m trying to do with Xish and the Crater. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’ve already seen a million ideas I want to steal.

What I want to talk about right now, though, is the obvious thing to talk about when Jack Vance comes up in the context of D&D: magic. I have to say, it’s been kind of surreal to see just how close to the magic system we all know and love Vance’s original iteration actually is, and also how different. What really stands out is just how weird the magic comes across, the way Vance writes it.

That stands out because, at this point, D&D magic is the banal default. It’s in a thousand officially branded books and, I’m sure, even more unofficial ones. You use it every time you sit down to play Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of what edition you’re using. When you read about it, whether in Dragonlance Chronicles or some Salvatore bullshit, there’s nothing particularly interesting about it, and it’s more often than not described in a rote way, because those authors know you already know how it works. At the gaming table, it’s pretty much taken for granted. It’s just a set of rules that define and constrain the kinds of actions your wizard can do in order to actually be useful.

But when Vance describes that shit, he never lets you forget how strange it actually is. Here’s where he gives us our first glimpse of how magic works, in the first couple pages of The Dying Earth:

The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on the long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. There were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time.

Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violent Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.

The way Vance describes it, a wizard never just “memorizes” spells: he “forces the space-twisting syllables into his brain.” And yet, I defy you to think back to all the D&D you’ve ever played to a moment where a wizard memorizing their spells was even narrated at all. It’s just some lines you cross out and add on a piece of paper sometime between the DM saying “You go to sleep” and “You wake up.”

Reading Vance has made me realize that, as mundane as it’s come to seem after years of playing, D&D magic, even divorced from its source, is still really weird. Think about it: in D&D land, spells are strings of words so powerful and rarefied that just reading them puts the spell into your brain, in a way that it literally takes up space in there, and it’s discharged out of your brain wholesale and manifested into the world just by you saying those words again. Shit is fucked up, for real.

But how to communicate this, as a DM? How do you make magic weird again? I think this is a problem whose potential solutions are mostly going to have to be tested in the field, so to speak, but I have a few ideas.

The most obvious one, I’ve already hinted at: actually take a second to describe what memorizing spells feels like. Make it clear that it’s not just a matter of sitting down, opening a book, having a little read, and then going to bed. Vance always makes it clear that this is a process that takes effort. One neat thing I’m thinking about ways to incorporate is that, at least so far in the story, the hardest spells for Vance’s wizards to memorize aren’t necessarily the most powerful ones, they’re the last one or two that they cram into their heads, regardless of what the spells actually are. I like this because it implies that spells aren’t supposed to be in your head at all, let alone five at a time – it’s something you have to train yourself to be able to do, because that shit ain’t natural.

I’m not quite sure how you’d effectively communicate this in game – maybe require INT rolls or something for your last couple of spell slots filled: if you fail you still have the spell, but you’re fatigued all day. I’m not entirely satisfied with that, but it’s something to mull over.

Another idea I have is a bit of a gimmick, but I think it would work. It’s illustrated nicely by citing the first couple of times Vance gives us the list of spells a wizard prepares. The first time, the spells are: the aforementioned Call to the Violent Cloud, Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, and the Spell of the Slow Hour. Later, another wizard settles down and brain-crams: Phandaal’s Gyrator, Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell, that Excellent Prismatic Spray again, the Charm of Untiring Nourisment, and the Spell of the Omipotent Sphere.

You see where I’m going with this, yeah? That dusty old scroll or tome your wizard just found? Instead of telling them “It’s a scroll of Sleep,” tell them it’s a mildewey parchment whose contents purport to describe the means of casting “The Fifth Bolt of Unconsciousness.” And because spells are just weird syllables that in themselves don’t indicate anything about what a spell actually does (at least, that’s how it’s coming across in Vance so far), don’t tell your player what the spell is actually called in the rulebook until the first time they cast it, or maybe only give them some cryptic remarks that the wizard who last had this book scrawled in the margins. And make them write “Fifth Bolt of Unconsciousness” on their sheet. Like I said, gimmicky, and maybe you players will hate and even if they don’t they won’t appreciate the extra work you put in (they never do), but I think it helps magic feel like a real thing in your world, and not just a set of rules for doing certain things to monsters.

Which brings us to the final thing I think you could do, also pretty obvious: don’t just say “Okay, you cast fireball,” have the player roll their dice, and then move on – take a second to tell everyone what casting a fireball actually looks and feels like. I feel like there’s a lot of room to get creative with this; mechanically, the only things that really matter about a spell are the numbers and the in-game effects, which means you make the standard spells seem completely fresh just by describing them differently. Remember that Call to the Violent Cloud, from The Dying Earth? In effect, it winds up being the equivalent of Plane Shift, i.e. a spell to enter a different dimension. In narrative terms though, what happens when it’s cast is that a sentient cloud is summoned, which the wizard then commands to take him to the dimension he needs to go to, and it heaves up and bats him around for awhile before depositing him there. How much weirder and more, well, magical does that feel then just “And then he cast Plane Shift and now he was in Baator,” or whatever?

To sum up: Vancian magic doesn’t have to be boring and routine, because in Vance, it’s fucking not. I’m not claiming to be the first person to have ever realized this. Maybe everyone reading this is just going “Well, duh,” but for me it’s been pretty eye-opening.


Once again, this stupid Blogger interface won't cooperate with pictures, so you guys just get a wall of text. Now go out and be the beast you worship.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mission time tomorrow.

Just loading up my laptop with music and making some notes, getting ready for running the MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA tomorrow!!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Demihumans in Annwn pt1: Easy Ones

As my old 'one-page character generation' document from way back outlined, I am using some but not all of the classic D&D demihumans as player character races. We have elves and dwarves, but halflings have been replaced with goblins and I've added sea-bloods, the unholy hybrid of humans and deep ones!

Dwarves AKA worms of the earth, corpse-skins

Coming to Britain along with the Anglo-Saxon raiders, all dwarves are northern European (the first fool who tries a Scottish accent, I swear). Born from the blood of Ymir the giant, they live deep in the earth and spend their time mining and crafting, learning the secrets of stone and metal. Most dwarves never leave their caves, because the light of the sun turns their bodies to stone.

Once in a while, a dwarf will turn his back on his home forever, giving up his inborn talents in exchange for walking in the sunlight. From this point on they cannot build anything from scratch out of stone or metal ever again. They just can't wrap their minds around it. They could repair a suit of armour or sharpen a sword, but a free dwarf cannot make so much as a flint knife on his own. They can never return home (they have nothing that dwarven society wants), so they wander.

The Anglo-Saxons love dwarven mercenaries as they're tough and still retain their experience from living underground (just enough for that infravision and bonus to detect secret doors). Most of them join up with a raiding party for a while and then move on to something else. The invaders are too superstitious to impose "military discipline" on the spawn of a giant, happy for the dwarves' help when they choose to give it. Some dwarves have settled in Britain, seeking only quiet lives far from the company of others, but most don't stay in one place for very long.

They are milk-pale and sickly with deep purple smears under their eyes and their blue veins visible from living underground. Even a seasoned free dwarf campaigning under the sun for years still looks more like a corpse (if they lie very still and hold their breath, they can play dead to most beings that aren't already familiar with them). They are only slightly shorter than humans (averaging about 5'), but walk with a hunch even outdoors, as if they are still in the tunnels dug by their ancient fathers. Their eyes are dark brown, almost black, with monochrome hair ranging from jet black through gray all the way to bone-white. Their bones are dense with minerals so dwarves are actually quite heavy, weighing 300+ lbs most of the time. For this reason and a natural superstition, they don't like to ride horses.

Elves AKA faeries, the sheeda, dwellers of the hills, the ill folk

As I also mentioned, Elves live in the sad realm of Annwn, ruled over by the lord of the dead. They live eternally in a land where nothing ever changes (they cannot die except by violence or misadventure). Most never leave this grey otherworld, but a few decide that the adventuring life is for them and depart by unknown means to wander among the short-lived races. Elven adventurers still live at home though, and will return between game sessions. They just walk around a tree or over a hill and they're gone. Yes, this is the same Annwn that contains all the dungeons. It's a big underworld, and where the elves live isn't anywhere near any dungeon, don't worry about it.

Elves from Annwn don't look like Orlando Bloom: they are bizarre and otherworldly personifications of magic. I'll be using the tiefling appearance tables from the old Planeswalker's Handbook (I never get tired of that book), unless the player can give me his own cool description of his elf character by the time it's rolled up. They are closer to spirits than to biological creatures like humans and dwarves, and when they get cut, it likely isn't even blood that comes from the wound.

Elves can't learn spells from books, don't need a spellbook, and don't spend time memorizing spells. Instead, they can cast any spell they know spontaneously, up to the usual limit of spells per day determined by level. More magic in their elven blood will make itself available when they gain levels, or under some other circumstances. I'll roll randomly on my spell list and see what new spells the elf PC will gain. This makes elves difficult, because what are the chances you will get something sweet like Sleep, and not some weak shit like Floating Disc? On the other hand, there will be some really cool elf-only spells.

This means elves can't teach spells to each other, except through ritual cannibalism. If an elf eats another elf's remains: add the experience levels of both elves together, that's the % chance that the eater can learn one of the eatee's spells, randomly determined. Some elves just dissolve into a puddle or a cloud of butterflies when they die, so if the whole corpse isn't available, adjust the chance of learning a spell downwards accordingly. Some elves carry straws around for just this purpose, and view this practise as "keeping the knowledge in the family." They will view as rude anybody who expresses disgust or tries to interrupt them.

Less Tolkien, more alien. Look at all the stories of making ill-advised bargains with the fae (fairy tales, Neil Gaiman, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Tamlin) for the kind of elves I'm thinking of.


And for god's sake just go to Middenmurk and roll a few times on this and this to save us both the trouble.

Before you enact your special plan.

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
Damage: by weapon
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).


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: