Thursday, December 27, 2018

State of the Sorcery 2018

It's been a year of ups and downs. The impending closure of Google+ has people feeling bummed out, spreading folks across a wide range of substitute social platforms, each one denounced by at least some people (reddit is for neckbeards! MeWe is the fourth reich!). Meanwhile a few sadly inevitable culture-war struggles fractured our small scene even further. Noisms actually did what we all think about every day. It's a bummer to watch people gradually drop off the map until one's G+ feed is a chorus of shills and crickets. A sad but familiar feeling - this kind of thing happens to scenes.

To compensate for this, I added a big new stack of blogs to the reading list. In case anybody's under a rock, you can find a big nasty old list of gaming goodness right HERE.

As for Terrible Sorcery, it's been the best year by far since I started blathering about my D&D notions back in 2011. I put The Spoils of Annwn on the shelf for a while with a case of thematic confusion. I returned to Land's End with some pals again. Having a looser, less high-concept setting is easier for me to deal with. Since actually playing is the important part, anything that gets me PLAYING more often is a good thing! My players seem to really love the sandbox format and are excited to come to the table and roll - more than this, a DM couldn't ask for.

I feel the quality of my writing has improved a lot this year. Probably because I spent more time doing it! Obviously I've tremendous room for improvement. I still don't have the focus to really follow an idea through in detail to the end. There were a few articles this year that only skimmed across the surface of their subject, which I don't feel great about. My style needs to be clearer and more concise. Sitting down to blog while I'm irritated has also led to some sloppy work in the past, so I should try and relax a little bit. On the positive side I'm still full of ideas, both for my home game and things to blog about.

Links have started cropping up on the pages of D&D bloggers I like and follow, which is everything I hoped for when I started out. Somehow more people have been checking out Terrible Sorcery, and the numbers are tremendous (by comparison). I don't know if this is poor internet form, but take a look:

What the hell happened? Did I turn into a porn site? Start selling vape accessories? Pay some bots to drive traffic? Maybe my posts are actually getting better...

If anybody has an explanation, I'd love to know!

This is also the first year enough folks left comments to have a conversation. Pretty cool, so I hope that keeps up. Thanks to everyone who has followed along on this journey - whether you started in '11 or are just stumbling over the page now!

Most Popular This Year

Random Monster Generator Book Shootout! 1 and 2 - These were wildly popular compared to anything else. Unsurprising - every good-hearted DM loves monsters and random tables. I only wonder why nobody else has attempted a survey of these books before.

The Lunar Giant - My entry in the Henry Justice Ford monster manual project, which you can score right here (for the low price of fuck-all). I'm proud to be part of this one, thanks to Eric Nieudan for putting it all together. I hear a print-on-demand version is in the offing; watch this space!

REVIEW: The Gardens of Ynn - In retrospect a muddy and all too brief write-up, I hope at least my enthusiasm about the module was communicated. It's awesome, so give it a look.

The Tomb of Abysthor remix - The beginning of my reinterpretation of a great Necromancer/Frog God Games dungeoncrawl. Juking the stats so I can play it in Epic 6.

Nameless Cults VI - The return of a classic series, this one's about the cult of Tsathoggua.

The Three D&D Economies - This was an excerpt of a much larger series I found on a D&D wiki which I wanted people to hear about. Go look at the original stuff!

Looking Forward

Many possibilities and projects lie ahead in 2019:

The death of google+ - MeWe seems the default option. I suppose I could try it...

Land's End - Plenty of ideas and content here for future posts. Dungeons, new monsters, blurbs about the setting in general. It needs more juice, more imagination, more weirdness, and that's where I'm going with it next.

The Tomb of Abysthor - I have the next two installments in progress but they'll be posted up slowly. I want to playtest them before I get too far ahead, so it all depends on the direction my players take.

Nameless Cults - The King in Yellow, Thasaidon, prince of all turpitudes, and some of the freaky shit from the Book of the Damned are up next.

REVIEWS - I'm having fun with the few I've done so far. New stuff, old stuff, whatever I buy with my leftover Paypal change, maybe shit I get for Christmas?

Warhammer Fantasy - Reading ATWC's Bringing Down the Hammer turned me on to WFRP 1st edition. I found a cheap old copy on eBay for 40 bucks (or '40 wooden nickels' to non-Canadians). Follow me as I force my players to try it out and everyone gets disembowelled! My roommates have a few friends that want to try out roleplaying games, so let's get them started out with something ancient, unglamorous, weird, gritty and violent with black & white illustrations! The complete opposite of the video games they've all been raised on!

Trying to convince my players to switch from Mathfinder - The DM's job is a thankless one, but less so than the evangelist's! If I can't manage it, expect more posts about paring down the complex rules systems to make my life easier.


Now play us out into the winter dark:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Session 5


Vuk Thuul - half-elf snake oracle 1
Nahash - lizardman barbarian 1
Leliana Vess - sylph witch 1


This was a short session, because the team decided against entering the dungeon! I count this a success. I'd much rather have my players acting to survive and avoid danger than charging in with confidence the dungeon is meant for them to conquer 'just because it's there.' They were sent north by Sgt. Horgh to investigate a cave and decided that bringing back a short report was better than getting killed solving the goblins' problems for them. Especially when they realized the goblins were contagious. Smart move boys!!

They still got enough treasure (from Sgt. Horgh's reluctant payout for their report) to make level 2! Now things get really interesting, as they've decided to push east into the swamps (Nahash's home turf) in search of Aercius' lost holy symbol. I have the whole Christmas holiday to research, do prep and flesh things out. That's good, because The Drownings are really the centerpiece of the region and contain a huge portion of the cool places, NPCs, factions, monsters etc.

Time to dig out some pdfs: Challenge of the Frog Idol, Fever Swamp...


This session was also a great use of the Level One Creature Generator, which I wrote about back here.

I had been reading a lot of Incunabuli, so I wanted to include goblins who had: something. The plague? A curse? I wanted them to be possessed in some way: individually pretty useless but dangerous in numbers as their controlled minds worked in sync. It wasn't gelling. I rolled on the L1CG to see if it could jog my mind in the right direction.

Rolling on the FORM table I got this: "Vegetable/flora in nature, green leaf, flower and vine ridden. +1 to all tests during the daytime, can regrow limbs and regenerates 1 HP a round."

Holy shit. There you have it. Since goblins live underground, I reversed the day/night modifiers and made them mushroomy fungusoid hive-mind goblins. Then I rolled on the ABILITY table and got this: "Covered in spikes or some other dangerous offensive armour, melee attackers must test DEX after every attack they attempt to avoid d6 damage."

Fuck me, it's a perfect fit. A mushroom spore-cloud attack! Explains how the possession spreads. One goblin comes home and starts acting weird, as soon as the others try to fight him, POOF! Everyone gets infected.

That's what I want from random table: cool results that push me in the right direction when I need it, or put the pieces together in a new and interesting way. Hats off and fuckin' bonus points to Mr. Raston.


Play reports are tough for me. I don't really like writing them all the time, and if the pageviews are any indication, you folks don't like reading them. I'm going to try something different for now, extract the useful talking points and lessons instead of doing blow-by-blow accounts.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Random Monster Generator Shootout Round 2 - Hyper Diabolism Edition!!!

'SUP blogland? The first random monster generator shootout was a ton of fun. With help from the comments section (pretty cool feeling to get those - thanks!), I dug around my books and pdfs to find some more. I found more than I bargained for... a lot more. Hide your game books from Pastor Steve and cancel your Something Awful forum account: this round is all about LotFP and DEMON SUMMONING!


Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules & Magic
Summon spell

by James Edward Raggi III
from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
buy print or get the free pdf

Let's kick things off with another entry from last round's defending champion, James Raggi! Last time, the RECG took the title away from Michael Raston's Level 1 Creature Generator, although it was a tougher call than I let on at the time. Now we're going to the source and looking at the demon-summoning spell in LotFP: Grindhouse Edition.

Summoning Rules: Pretty fucking complicated for a first-level spell! The caster chooses what HD of monster to aim for when casting the spell. Make a saving throw vs. magic to hit your target. Make a 'domination roll' against the creature to see if it comes under your control. The margin of victory in this opposed roll affects the degree of control or lack thereof. This can be modified by using expensive materials to create a thaumaturgic circle and offering helpless living sacrifices (classic fantasy stuff, FINALLY!). If these rolls are failed terribly the creature goes berserk, or you might have to roll on a table of even worse consequences.

Another cool thing about this system is the 'form' table. If you fail your original saving throw, the creature has a much larger number of possible forms, each more demented than the last. This spell can have DIRE consequences for failure. Special forms include 'anti-matter,' and 'collective unconscious desire for suicide.' Heavy! The way you generate special abilities and limbs is a bit odd, generating a target number and then trying to roll under it, and there is theoretically no limit to the number of abilities/appendages a creature could have.

SAMPLE MONSTER - "John Carpenter Ant"

Because creature HD depends on caster level (you can try for HD up to 2x your level, plus modifiers), we'll use a hypothetical 3rd level wizard who has roped a few idiots in as unwitting human sacrifices. I make my rolls and summon a 7-HD creature:

HD: 7
AC: 14
Attacks: 1
Damage: d6
Speed: 120'

Shape: Insectoid
Appendages: 1 - Necrotic Proboscis
Powers: 1 - Impregnates (victims hit must save vs. poison or carry a thing)

AAAAIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!! This is one of the less-deranged things you can roll on this table, and I definitely wouldn't want to meet it in a dark fucking alley.

How Many Rolls? Minimum 8 I think. Maximum is theoretically infinite.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Only if I had to. I find it hard to follow. Things are out of order, rules and the corresponding tables are in different places so I have to keep flipping back and forth. Surprisingly difficult to navigate given the rules themselves are only a few pages. This could really have benefited from some streamlining or a flowchart or something.
Variety and Reusability? Plenty. Raggi doesn't disappoint. I especially like the 'appendages' table which makes great use of almost poetic adjectives to create an image in the reader's brain, instead of technical descriptions. This whole thing is like a condensed version of the RECG in a way, and can generate monsters with a similar feel.


PS: MASSIVE LIGHTNING-ROUND BONUS POINTS to Saker for doing his own version of the Summon spell, with a helpful step-by-step guide! Even fucking more bonus points to Angus Warman for automating it. Now you can generate a monster in seconds when one of your players springs the damned spell on you unawares.


A Red & Pleasant Land
The Guests

by Zak Smith
from LotFP
Buy the Print and pdf

Oh, y'all forgot about this one huh? I didn't. When this book came out, I was enthralled by the Guests. A believable, flavourful take on AD&D demons seen through the unique setting of Voivodja. Crammed with classic Zak-isms, these guys are no joke.

Summoning Rules: A short, punchy list of 5 requirements: an hour of preparation, a banquet including a living sacrifice, a host creature to possess (nice!), a formal poetic greeting and contracts for the guest to sign (this being Voivodja and all). Zak usually likes to keep things simple and moving fast, relying on the DM to fill in the details. This is fine for me, and has enough flavour to keep me interested without being annoying.

There are several broad types of Guests: The Unholy (agents of temptation), The Implacable (agents of destruction), The Unwelcome (agents of disruption) and The Uncreated (agents of madness). Each one has a separate series of percentage rolls for its attributes, looks, number of special abilities, etc. While The Unholy are human-shaped with chances of wings, horns, tails etc, The Uncreated are hybrids of a random object and a random animal. Then everyone rolls on two common tables: Attributes and Powers (fairly obvious).

SAMPLE MONSTER - 'Raisin-Wheel of Madness'

Implacable - Agent of Destruction
Human as base creature
Purple in colour

HD: 4 (HP: 33)
Speed: 1/2 human
Armor: plate+shield+2
Int: 12
Attacks: +5/+2 to hit, d20 damage each

Attributes - withered, 2 limbs in wrong places, 3 tentacles
Other Powers - Confusion 20' radius for d4 rounds, causes one enemy attack/spell per round to strike a target of its choosing, guest can single out a target and attack at +2 until slain - if successful it gains d4 HD
Purposes - bring disease, destroy powerful holy object

Wow. I was afraid this monster would be lame (it failed all the % rolls in the Implacable category, leaving just a plain human body). The attribute and powers tables totally rescued it! A withered purple man with one arm & leg swapped so he gimps & flops around on his mismatched limbs & tentacles is suitably gross and otherworldly. The special abilities really carry the day here, and are actually the perfect fit for a monster that seem like a weak physical threat: everybody goes crazy while it flip-flops, and the one dude who passed his save and tries to strike it ends up stabbing his confused friends anyway. Magic!

How Many Rolls? Minimum 14 I think. Could be more than 20 if you roll lots of attributes.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? Yes. Almost everything is condensed on to one page. Slam down a handful of d%s and you're almost all done. Flip to the next few pages for attributes and powers.
Variety and Reusability? Tons. Having different types of demons who all draw from the same attributes chart in varying proportions is a great idea. If the PCs got familiar with the four different types they could develop at least a vague idea of what they're up against while still leaving plenty of room to be surprised.

PS: some of the powers are fucking nasty. PCs use caution!


No Salvation for Witches
The Tract of Teratology

by Rafael Chandler
from LotFP
Is the print version sold out? get the pdf

NSFW is a bad-ass adventure set in 1620s England. I won't do a review/treatment of the adventure itself, but it is a creative and well-written horror escapade. If you're familiar with vintage LotFP adventures or Chandler's particular style, you have an inkling of what's going on here. I have it in pdf and wish I had pulled the trigger on a print copy when I had the chance.

Anyway, the last few pages of the adventure detail a book called the Tract of Teratology containing a ritual for summoning an otherworldly entity. The idea is there are countless Tracts in the world, each with completely different contents. Whether you use that idea, or just crib the monster generation tables is up to you. Let's see how it works.

Summoning Rules: Two tables that fit on a single page, some preamble. Roll for your ritual type (various grim & bloody sacrificial rites) and special components required (pieces of the victim, herbs, gems, whatever).

Every roll on the Tract's tables follows the same format: percentile dice + character level & INT modifier of every participant in the ritual. Simple and straightforward, easy to remember, while stats & planning can still influence the outcome. Great mechanic!

SAMPLE MONSTER - "Fruitopede"

Let's say my wizard is 5th level now, with three new apprentices whose stupidity cancels out my INT bonus, leaving us with a net modifier of +8%. Even this is an oversimplification, as the performance of the ritual (well-done or poorly) can modify your monster results too. We'll have to assume there were no screwups for the sake of argument:

Ritual - poisoning
Components - 200sp bar of silver, the victim's kidneys

HP: 6d8
Damage: 1d4+2
AC: 16
Move: 120'
Attacks: 4
Morale: 12
Summon duration: 1 day, then entity liquefies and seeps into the ground

Attributes - Segmented worm long as a man covered in violet scales, segmented tail w/barbed stinger (+2 damage), smells of orange rind, neutral attitude to caster
Abilities (3) - Random 4th-level MU spell, random 5th-level MU spell, random 7th-level MU spell
Compulsion - follow a stranger home and murder everyone who lives there, except the one who was followed. It must commit the act and the caster must help or lose a point of DEX every day for 1d6 days.

Ugh, well Chandler rarely pulls his punches. What these tables lack in variety, they make up for in nastiness. The 'body' and 'appendages' tables are the meat & potatoes here. Most entries are distinctive and flavourful but with only the two tables the possibilities for weird & unexpected combinations are kept to a minimum.

How Many Rolls? Exactly 19. Plus random MU spells if you get that result (and you will).
Would I use this in the middle of a session? For sure! The charts are straightforward and all use a d%, there is no cross-referencing. It's very easy to use, except for rolling up random MU spells I'd have to develop a method in advance.
Variety and Reusability? Low-Middling. 'Body' and 'appendages' each have about 50 entries, so repeats can happen but the same combination will be rare. The special abilities are sorely lacking though. Random MU spells, immunity to [x], or a flat mechanical bonus? My balls.

I wonder if we shouldn't expect too much from these tables, appearing in the back of an unrelated adventure as they do. But the Guests pack way more variety and juice into less space, so all excuses must fall on deaf ears! Not sure I'd use this to actually generate a monster for the PCs to fight, but it does well at its intended function.


The LotFP "house round" has been a tough one. Summon has classic Raggi juice but isn't very user-friendly. The Tract is clearly and cleanly laid out, but gives fairly basic results. I have to hand it to Zak - the Guests are imaginative, descriptive and flavourful. If you're generating your monsters in advance like with any other random monster generator, I'd give this round to him.

But at the last minute I saw how this hack, modification and automation of the Summon spell changes the game. For demon-summoning in the middle of a session it does exactly what you need. I have to give the title to the 3-man squad of Raggi, Saker and Angus for this OSR-style team-up! Now go click the button and generate your own monsters!!!!


Now I'm pretty hungover today, so time to watch TV or something dumb for a while. I'll leave you with this (actually, 'necrotic proboscis' would be a good grindcore band name too):

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What's a 'demon' anyway?

Recent post here with my first reaction to Paizo's Book of the Damned.

You should also try reading THIS post from Against the Wicked City, and the "conceptual density" one linked on the side of the page. I find ATWC pretty accurately drills into some of my objections with Pathfinder's setting.


Sometimes the Book of the Damned has really cool ideas. They are often in the smaller paragraphs of hints or suggestions. The most fun I've had reading this book is in the section on infernal dukes, qlippoth lords, kyton demagogues, nascent demon princes, etc. Pages upon fucking pages of entries like this, most which could be the inspiration for a super-cool demon cult.

The kyton demagogue Fharaas:

As one might read a tree’s years in the exposed rings of its stump, followers of the Seer in Skin divine all a mortal’s days by scrutinizing the whorls and layers within its flesh. Some even teach that, if a destined bond exists, a killer’s life is reflected in a victim’s fateful meat.

Pretty cool right? Other times, Paizo's style really makes me sad:

Orcus is the ruler of this realm of frozen seas, haunted cities, infested swamps, and ragged mountains... The demon lord’s minions include powerful liches and undead-demon hybrids that populate necropolises and ruins across the realm.

What in the hell ass is an "undead-demon hybrid"?

I just... ugh. Words fail me. If the word 'demon' means anything at all, how can such an entity be undead too?

This is what happens when design decisions are made by what we might call "restricted association." The nearest related thing. The shortest possible distance between two points.

Demon prince of undead? Put in a necropolis! Never mind the question of who/what could possibly be buried in a necropolis IN THE ABYSS. Or who the fuck built it in the first place. It's just meaningless window-dressing. Style without substance. How can you tell me that someone actually thought about this before writing it?

I guess this is my fundamental objection to extraplanar settings in D&D generally. Planescape fought against this mightily, but detailing these ineffable realms could only go one way, eventually. It reduces them to human terms. Hell - by definition the worst place that could possibly exist, the very inferno of damnation itself - has mountains, cities, marketplaces, forests, houses, graveyards and even sewers! All the same terrain that clutters the normal world, only the inhabitants have red skin and horns. I find this deeply vexing, and I wish some more imagination could have been put into these other dimensions.

On the other hand, Moloch does look fucking awesome.


That guy makes me want to sign up with the forces of darkness. Also on the upside, the book has SO MANY demons in it that I could pick a handful for every campaign I run and never exhaust it in my whole life.

That's the strength of the book. It's a big multiverse and the weird, almost throwaway nature of the one-paragraph entries I find most exciting. Like someone at Paizo got stuck with writing pages and pages of minor demon prince filler entries and said "Fuck It, I'm going to have fun with this!"

Maybe in Land's End I could team Orcus up with: Shax, the Blood Marquis; Zurapadyn, the Beast who Waits in Smoke; Slandrais, the Watcher in the Walls; Jiravvidain, the Duke of Fissures; or Sugroz, the Voice in Screams? Now I'm actually getting excited!


Let's listen to something ACTUALLY demonic for once:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Sage's Report 1 - The Jaguar-Headed Idol

Last session, Vuk Thuul the snake oracle saved up enough money (2000 silver) to pay the sage Vantadel for his first question. The wild half-elf wanted to know the origins of his savage cannibal tribe and the mysterious idol they worshipped - a crude statue of a man with a jaguar's head. This is what I sent the player:


"Much ink has been spilled over the antediluvian fall of the elven race. To your situation, very little pertains anymore. It is enough to know that your tribes have occupied their lowly estate for generations upon generations, scrabbling to survive at the edge of the world.

The human side of your lineage is anyone's guess. Mayhap one of your ancestors was captured in a raid, or was an outcast from Imperial society. Regardless, I wager all your kind are of similar mixed blood these many years.

As for your specific tribe I have no answers. You speak of cannibalism and sacrificial midnight rites - things the long-fallen are not known for. They raid and fight, especially amongst themselves, but keep to their old ways where they know how. I glimpse the taint of Chaos in this news, and I fear for your own future and that of your friends.

You know the world warms with every passing year. Rivers run high with snowmelt and crops wither beneath the sun. I am older than you by far. I remember a different age when each season kept to its own quarter of the year, not overstepping its allotted time.

Even then, some parts of the world were hotter. In the distant south beyond the reach of the Imperium, beyond your ancestral hunting grounds in the badlands, a hot and misty jungle lies. The cloud forests you visited beyond the eastern Barrier resemble the scattered reports we have of this southern land. Men lived there who bowed not to Seheitt nor any other emperor. Wild and free, as the long-fallen are, they owned only what they could take with their own hands.

Few things these men feared. Only one could be understood by our expeditions. We have no word in our language, in theirs it is forvalaka. Beasts of the jungle that stalk men with human intelligence. So fast and strong that they could pounce upon a hunting party and tear them to pieces in seconds. Impervious to weapons. Impossible to kill. Feared by all.

Animals, spirits, or demons? Their exact nature wasn't understood. Some described insubstantial ghosts, who became solid only to attack. Others said they live in the water, or in the trees. The only coherent reports we have describe them as mighty black hunting cats who stalk the jungle on all fours, but can walk upright like men.

I believe this is what your tribe's idol depicts.

The southern jungle-men said the entire evil race was destroyed by a great magic, cast by their shamans and sorcerers. Although the nature of this spell is unclear, their language seems to indicate a bane or curse was laid on the monsters since direct attacks were near useless.

How this idol left the jungle, crossed the badlands and came into the hands of your people, I cannot say. I fear its arrival cannot be coincidental. Old forces may be stirring, wakened by the return of hospitable climes and brought on the hot southern winds to our quiet homeland.

-Nicomaeus Vantadel IV, esq.

PS: I must apologize for the vagueness of these reports - our information on the southern lands is limited by the language barrier attendant on all contacts with this distant culture and the rarity of expeditions returning home."


These hew fairly close to the ones from the Black Company. Sorry/not sorry. If more people cribbed from those books, it would be a badass-er world. Of course, the idol that Vuk Thuul's elf tribe worshipped is one of the last forvalaka, turned to stone by magic. Maybe it became un-petrified and ate his whole tribe? Maybe it's coming after him now? I haven't decided yet, but... probably.

[Stats will be similar to the Jaguar from the Tome of Horrors, but tougher, more HD and a bit magically-enhanced. Lycanthrope "templates" in Pathfinder are fucking annoying, I want a monster I can use right out of the book. They need AC enough that a veteran soldier has little chance to hit. Strong and accurate enough to kill a plate-armored man with one claw, fast enough to kill more than one man in a round. Magically protected enough or with enough hit points that humans with standard weapons have a bitch of a time killing one, even in large numbers. I'll post the stats up later when I finalize and playtest them.]

Get on your motorcycle and crank this up!!!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Tweaking the random encounter tables

I have been reading the Alexandrian and thinking about dice probabilities (both highly worthwhile pursuits). His series on hexcrawls is fantastic and has given me a great format to follow for my random encounter tables, where before I was really haphazard (every region had something different). I can trust that guy to present information that is useful, battle-tested, well thought out and incorporates knowledge of the underlying math.

The Numbers

As for dice probabilities, I have always flip-flopped on how to spread out the chances of running into each monster on a random encounter table. Rolling 2d6 gives you a 'pyramid' distribution (it's unlikely you'll meet those monsters on 2 or 12), which I always liked. You can hide some really evil, nasty beasts under those numbers. But just what are the chances, really? Well I looked it up. Bookmark that one, you'll thank me later.

This pyramid is actually steeper than I thought at first glance. Rolling a 7 is six times more likely than rolling a 2. I think these numbers (6/36, etc) are the limit of the kinds of probabilities that are easy to imagine and manipulate in your head, without writing them down. In fact, I think it's too granular, in a way. Let's compare two possible random encounter tables and see how much I care about the details...

This is the table for the Rainy Jungle as I used it last session. You can see there are a few oddities that could be fixed:


2-3  -  giant bee     (3/36, 8.3%)
4  -  1-2 giant geckos   (3/36, 8.3%)
5  -  1-3 neanderthals   (4/36, 11.1%)
6  -  1-3 giant botflies   (5/36, 13.8%)
7  -  1-3 goblin hunters  (6/36, 16.6%)
8  -  1-6 capybaras   (5/36, 13.8%)
9-10  -  1-3 steam beetles  (7/36, 19.4%)
11  -  1-2 orchidmen   (2/36, 5.5%)
12  - roll 2x and combine   (1/36, 2.7%)

Why are steam beetles so popular/? Because the probabilities are in 'chunks'. I can't freely add or subtract 1/36th to any result, except by adding 2 + 3 or 12 + 11. If I have less than 11 results, some have to group up and this creates odd 'lumps' in the probability pyramid. The 2d6 table works well when you have exactly 11 results. Any less and it becomes really awkward to use. 

I *could* move goblin hunters to the 9-10 spot and steam beetles to 7, but this seems needlessly fiddly and annoying to format. Is there a better way?

Let's change it to a straight d20 roll and see what happens:


1  -  1 giant bee    (1/20, 5%)
2-3  -  1-2 giant geckos    (2/20, 10%)
4-5  -  1-3 neanderthals    (2/20, 10%)
6-8  -  1-3 giant botflies  (3/20, 15%)
9-11  -  1-3 goblin hunters   (3/20, 15%)
12-14  -  1-6 capybaras   (3/20, 15%)
15-18  -  1-3 steam beetles   (4/20, 20%)
19  -  1-2 orchidmen   (1/20, 5%)
20  -  roll 2x   (1/20, 5%)

The probabilities are almost the same (within 3.3%), and I can fit the same number of monsters. But all of a sudden the table is much more adaptable. I can modify a result in the middle of the table (like making the goblins 5% more or less common) without having to rework everything!

The small downside is that I can't have a 2.7% result for the REALLY rare monsters. The smallest unit is 5% but that's a fair trade for versatility, ease of use and less mental math. 5% is the chance of a critical miss, so there is a nice symmetry in it also being the chance of rolling the blood-mad Wights of the Murderous Moors, or whatever harshness is on your table.

The Monsters

Can you feel... the danger?

Random encounters haven't happened often in the last few sessions (my dice seem to love going easy on the players). Given their rarity, I have decided to move away from the more 'naturalistic' monsters. Having the only random encounter in a three- or four-day expedition through the steaming jungle wilderness be with mundane capybaras (pictured) is a bit weak. 

Even if they should be there for 'realism', the encounter can at least be with giant capybaras the size of VW buses, or vampire bats instead of a swarm of normal bats, or sneaky camouflaged giant chameleons with 25' long tongue attacks (that's a cool one actually...) instead of plain giant lizards. Capybaras can be the kind of thing you hunt for dinner.

So here's my rectified random encounter table with better monsters and everything streamlined a little bit. Thanks again to the Alexandrian for this.


1-3  -  1-3 goblin hunters
4-5  -  1-3 neanderthals
6-8  -  1-3 giant botflies
9-11  -  1-3 steam beetles
12-14  -  1 man-mantis   [2-HD version of giant mantis]
15-16  -  1-2 giant chameleons
17  -  1 jungle bear (hairless)  [too good not to use!]
18  -  1 giant bee
19  -  1-2 orchidmen
20  -  roll 2x and combine

Now the monsters are a bit more exciting. Nothing you could actually encounter on Earth (a few variations are okay). I'm going to do all my random encounter tables in this format. It's customizable and has just enough granularity for me to work with, not so much that it takes any mental strain to manipulate.


I'm on fire this week. Let's see what's on the playlist next?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Sessions 3 & 4


Vuk Thuul - level 1 half-elf snake oracle
Leliana Vess - level 1 sylph witch
Nahash - level 1 lizardman barbarian


A Big Score

When we left our adventurous trio, they were in the goblins' basement treasure room digging through all the cool stuff they had found.

Nahash used his cheap 50' rope to strap the two treasure chests to his back. Throwing the last of their hacked-apart neanderthal corpses outside the room distracted the two surviving anemone men enough for the PCs to escape the basement. Imagining themselves safe, they barred the door and rested for the night to recover spells and a few hit points. At this point the wildmen leader snuck into the inn in the dead of night seeking revenge.

Nahash heard something, and crept upstairs to investigate. Unfortunately lizardmen don't have darkvision, so when he saw a pale shape moving in the darkness and lunged with his spear, he succeeded only in crashing into a pile of furniture and waking up the other PCs. Lucky for him, since the wildmen leader's greatclub smote him fiercely for 12 points of damage, leaving the seemingly-indestructible 15-hp barbarian close to a KO. Leliana woke up, ran into the mix and one sleep hex later, Vuk Thuul knifed his ass and everyone went back to bed.

The next day the PCs headed back home with the treasure. [The wandering monster tables were quite lenient these two sessions, and I wonder if I should step them up even more, but that's a subject for another post]. They scrambled back up the cliff and arrived, muddy and bleeding, back in Land's End. The first order was paying the sage Vantadel to house Nahash away from the prying eyes of the villagers (nobody likes foreigners, especially not 6-foot talking lizards with spears).

After all the gold, silver, trinkets and art objects were tallied up the crew had raked in about 5400 silver, and almost 6000 XP!! Vuk Thuul used most of his share paying the sage for research projects. The other PCs bought new clothes, backpacks, adventuring gear and a few better weapons.

[I am using a silver standard, but the costs in gold listed in the Pathfinder book - so everything is 10 times the price it normally would be. They had to pull in this big score just to get some 'standard-grade' items instead of rope that's falling apart, weapons that break, etc.]

Return to the Inn: Exploration and Revelations

Deciding to push their fucking luck in a serious way, the party returned to get paid by the goblins who first gave them the job. You know, the job where they swiped all the goblins' treasure they could carry?

After burying their visible loot (Nahash's bone sword, etc) they returned to the goblins' ruined fort and showed them some wildmen scalps. Sgt. Horgh gave them their bounty of silver and offered a new job: go north to the goblins' caves near the quarry, and find out why nothing's been heard from them for weeks. They elected to rest up in the fort and spent some of their night trying out the strange magical torches they... erh... looted from the goblins' treasure room. [I don't think any of the players realized what they were doing. When those turn up missing, someone might remember those adventurers...]

Instead of going north, the team returned to the goblins' inn and climb down the well they meant to check out before. Turns out it opened into an old cave system underneath! The wildmen had wrecked everything, and fled with some goblin prisoners. Those they didn't eat, kill or enslave were a few goblin children and some wounded adults in a cage. They spoke common (these goblins are a pretty well-educated bunch. I wonder why?) and were a bit helpful, especially when the PCs released them and Leliana healed everyone with a hex [the witch is a resource monster - those hexes never run out. Jesus Christ].

Delving deeper, they passed through a deep flooded cave and into the goblins' underground base, originally built by the dwarves in ages past. The place was ransacked, corpses of goblin and neanderthals everywhere. The wildmen had fled with the valuables, except a few boxes of palm-sized heavy brass coins stamped with outlandish faces and creatures. The party took a few as the full crates were far too heavy to carry.

One barred door opened into a tiny foul-smelling room. A great crude stone idol of a hideous toad squatted on a defaced altar to the dwarven gods. Ritual implements, knives and tools littered the room. In the center, a great basin filled with slime, covered in moss and mold, emanated a deathly odor. The party poked into it with a stick, which promptly dissolved and they decided to leave it a lone. Leliana did find a wickedly curved ritual knife (normal dagger stats, but a well-made metal weapon is still a precious commodity at this point in the game!). Nahash pried the smooth yellow-green gemstone eyes out of the frog statue.

[I know I put them there, and it was kind of obvious, but my heart still filled with joy when he pried those eyes out with the other two holding a blanket so they wouldn't fall into the vat of slime.]

Another room had goblin-sized fortifications in it - facing inwards. In the center was a shaft going straight down, with climbing gear, anchors for ropes and travelling equipment everywhere. When Vuk Thuul cast light on a pebble and dropped it in, I played him this video:

They elected not to climb down. [Smart.]

The last door in the complex had debris and furniture piled haphazardly in front of it. Clearing it away and sticking his head through the door, Nahash was greeted warmly.

"Come in," a deep and sinister voice purred. "I've been waiting for more visitors..."

The voice belonged to an eight-foot tall, fire engine-red talking slug with a smug grin. ABSALOM GLOP was trapped inside a glowing circle of salt on the floor. Leliana's arcane knowledge identified it as a Magic Circle against Law. Curious...

Absalom explained that it had been summoned from deep underground by the white goblin priest Guzboch and trapped inside the magic circle. It was desperate to be freed. This led to some hard bargaining. Absalom explained its (currently very weak) Lawful aura prevented the PCs from stealing any goblin property or taking any of their stolen loot out of the room. [Remember when they signed a mercenary contract with Guzboch back in session 1? I was planning for this.] If the circle were broken, it could leave and they'd be free to take anything they desired.

Vuk Thuul struck a deal. Absalom swore to wage no aggression against the party for one month, answer three serious questions and one personal inquiry. Vuk Thuul asked about these things:

1 - What do you know of the ancient god called VORN, who sleeps beneath the Dreaming Mountain?

2 - Do you know anything about these carved ivory plates we found?

3 - Tell us about the petrified forest?

Absalom answered these as its knowledge allowed, expounding on these topics long into the night. It lived deep in the earth, and has travelled far, even visiting the surface sometimes. It is is old - personally remembering the rise of Vorn's priesthood a thousand years ago, and relating some facts about that time. Of the ivory plates it could say little except they were of high elven make, thousands of years old. The stone forest was created during the cataclysmic fall of that same ancient race, when their magic ran amok and nearly destroyed the world.

4 - For his last question, Vuk Thuul pulled down his ragged bandanna to reveal the mysterious brand that mars his face and neck: two serpents coming down his chin and curving around his jaw to whisper in his ears.

Absalom was intrigued by this development, leaning in close to Vuk Thuul's face and murmuring to itself about "definitely being on the lists." It could only relate a tale of a tattooed man it had met once, who hailed from a place called Scrivenbough and named his master - ABRAXAS.

His questions answered, Vuk Thuul scratched the salt circle. Absalom was out of the room in a flash leaving only a trail of slime, diving into the cistern in the cave outside and swimming downward into the darkness out of sight.


[The day after this session I realized I had forgotten to describe a series of adventure hooks in the form of the goblins' intelligence reports piled in a closet the PCs had searched. I posted them up in our 'scheduling a game' group chat. I reproduce it here so it won't get lost, and because I feel pretty good about it.]

"When you were searching the cabinets for treasure after Absalom left, there was a 'booklet' of papers bound together with string, and some loose pages scattered on top. None are magical. The booklet is written with Imperial characters, in a language or code none of you recognize. The loose papers are scratched out in Imperial Common and each one is a brief report on some subject of interest to the goblins. All written in different scribbly handwriting, they read as follows:

1 - 'Black robes a few days south in jungles. Look like pinks, maybe. Tall bone-walkers too. All of them hunting for something.'

2 - 'Tall, tall white buildings in the jungle southeast. Scouts afraid.'

3 - 'Tall green lizards more fighty for months. More with the red paint come out of the swamp into our territory. Yellow-eyes down the river too hard to fight.'

4 - 'North along the river past the fork. Stone building is covered in trees. Big snake carvings. Lots of dead black-robes around. Smells bad!'

5 - 'The rock pit by the cliffs is dangerous. A few scouts and guards have disappeared. Why do we have to build a new fort anyway?'

6 - The last piece of paper is a series of scribbles and scratches, done in charcoal. Some notes underneath in a different, more practise handwriting say: 'Stone under the inn. Bears further study.'"

The next day my brother said "Oh snap. This is better than Elder Scrolls."

Feels pretty good!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fun on the Velvet Horizon: ABHORRER

More Fun on the Velvet Horizon. Today we get into the heart of the matter with a difficult but rewarding total fucking dick of a monster. I am not going through the book in alphabetical order, these are just the first two monsters from the book that I used in my game.


These guys are a bit tricky to run. No player likes to be told 'well, you find yourself compelled to be nice... to the slug that you hate.' I started with the 'lawfulness field' and I'll try to make the players hate it over time. If the players can't attack something, they will want to. When the abhorrer starts doing its dick moves, they will gradually dislike it more and more until they start working on a way to wipe it off the map. I can see the players on other adventures, always thinking in the back of their minds: "Hell, we have to go back to goblin town and deal with that big red slug pretty soon." If they take too long, the goblins will be fucked up when they get back!

An abhorrer showing up feels like a handful of adventures in itself, and wherever it arrives will never be the same again, so we can't just put it in a wandering monster table...

Nevermind that! Of course we can: it just raises new questions. What would it be doing strutting a dungeon or wilderness? A dungeon is total anarchy and madness already, which makes it vulnerable, it would have to be on its way to or from somewhere important. 


1 - Just escaped death at hands of angry mob, very jumpy

2 - Off to store treasure in numbered underdark bank accounts - heavily mobbed up with bodyguards/cronies
3 - About to turn the underworld market into a Rand-ian capitalist nightmare
4 - Recruiting heavily-armed, psychopathic bodyguards: do the PCs need work?
5 - Prisoner, in a transport on the way to super-jail
6 - Prisoner, on the way to epic ceremonial execution (lava pit, green slime, etc)
7 - Imprisoned. This part of the dungeon already is a prison, and it can't leave.
8 - Actually, there *are* laws and a society in this part of the dungeon. It's lived here for a while.
9 - Just arrived in this area. There are laws, but the abhorrer's control only covers a small area. The situation is tenuous.
10 - Has insinuated itself into a pre-existing dungeon faction, culture or society. Things have only begun to get nasty.

I feel for your players to hate an NPC or villain, you need a name they can latch on to, something weird and memorable. I am notoriously bad at making up names, so let's give this a try:


Old Testament figure (d20)

1 - Abimelech

2 - Abraham
3 - Absalom
4 - Ahasuerus
5 - Belshazzar
6 - Cain
7 - Eliazar
8 - Elkanah
9 - Ephraim
10 - Holofernes
11 - Issachar
12 - Jephthah
13 - Lamech
14 - Manaaseh
15 - Melchizedek
16 - Mordecai
17 - Naphtali
18 - Nebucadnezzar
19 - Sennacherib
20 - Zebulon

Nickname / Bad Reputation (d12)

1  - Hangman

2  - Guillotine
3  - Lash
4  - Excruciator
5  - Rectificator
6  - Scourge
7  - Pacifier
8  - Butcher
9  - Torturer
10 - Rack
11 - Hammer
12 - Anvil

Gross Words (d66)

11 - Algae

12 - Amoeba
13 - Bog
14 - Bile
15 - Gorge
16 - Fen
21 - Fungus
22 - Gel
23 - Goop
24 - Gunk
25 - Glop
26 - Gorge
31 - Glut
32 - Lichen
33 - Marsh
34 - Mire
35 - Morass
36 - Moss
41 - Mucus
42 - Mud
43 - Muck
44 - Mold
45 - Ooze
46 - Putrid
51 - Quagmire
52 - Rot
53 - Retch
54 - Scum
55 - Snot
56 - Sludge
61 - Slime
62 - Slough
63 - Slop
64 - Spew
65 - Swale
66 - Vomit

Just roll once on each table to determine your abhorrer's name. Sometimes each type works better as a first or last name - mix it around to your liking. The one my players met in Land's End last weekend is Absalom Glop, the Excruciator!

This gives me another idea: this table would also be a good start for a lich or vampire - you'd only have to swap the 'gross words' section for slavic names, grandiose titles, etc. I will work on this for later.


Ouch, there goes my tinnitus acting up again.

Well, let's make it worse!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Fun on the Velvet Horizon: ANEMONE MEN

Buy it you animals

I bought this book RIGHT when it came out.

Since then I have put it on the shelf, taken it down and read it, and set it on my bedside table for months at a time. I cleaned my room and put it back on the shelf, then took it back down, put it on the bedside table to flip through, back up on the shelf, back and forth again and again. I'm sure I have read it through a half dozen times, but I still open it up and see things that I swear are brand new to me.

I have few complaints about this book: sometimes the text gets too close to the spine and I have to crack it open really hard to see a few words, and I don't want to wreck this thing because it's so nice. Many of the monsters are huge fucking bummers: their stories are tragic or they are just miserable assholes. I think many of these monsters will remain obscure to the players: I can't think of how I would communicate the bizarre histories these monsters have in their interactions with the PCs. Maybe I gotta work on my acting??

Instead of spending much time on a "review" about a book everyone knows is great, I thought in the best traditions of this and this, I'd go through and blurb about the monsters that interest me. I am not planning on being comprehensive with this or updating the series regularly. I'll focus on writing about monsters once I have used them in my own game. Maybe someone else can benefit from my experiences.


These guys are one of my favourites in the book, and I think they are damned near perfect just the way they are. They can live anywhere underground, so they already have a reason to be in the dungeon. I really like the "dangerous but non-aggressive" monster concept. It makes me feel a bit better to know not everything in the game world is a massive dick, and I can throw in something that isn't just there to pimp the PCs over but is still dangerous if they don't handle it properly.

I am using them as a living trap/barrier: something the players want is on the other side of these guys. 
Imagine trying to have a fight while both you and the enemy are endeavouring to be as quiet as possible, so as not to wake the anemone men like this:


"Damn it, shut up you stupid orc..." 


[Roll a Will save to avoid crying out when you get hurt. Penalty equal to HP damage dealt. How badly you fail equals how loud your scream is when the orc chops you in the guts with his rusty cleaver.]

When I used them in the game just recently, the strange dreamy questioning and squeaky voices definitely unnerved my players. They were asleep guarding a doorway and the PCs wanted to see what was on the other side. I would have mourned their deaths if they had been poisoned, but I gave them ample warning in the form of dead bodies nearby.

What made the setup cool is the PCs didn't fight them all. They passed the Anemone Men by distraction, but then they had to get back *out* of the dungeon with treasure on their backs. All those gold coins sloshing around in the chest provoked some nerve-racking stealth rolls! In the end, the players chopped up a Neanderthal's corpse and threw chunks of it to the sleepers who began chowing down, occupying their dangerous tendrils long enough for the adventurers to slip past.


Just like a normal reaction roll (table taken from my Labyrinth Lord book - I use these rolls even in Pathfinder), but modified by how quiet you've been. At the basic level, use your DEX in place of CHA. The result of this table will modify your players' stealth checks. Each result is twofold: how sleepy is the anemone man, and how will it feel if it wakes? Roll once and read across, or if you want more variety you could roll twice.

ROLL     Result
2              Like a baby. Very hard to wake [+2 stealth] / Disoriented, hungry and slow. 
3-5           Mmmm, food! Satisfied in the dream [+1 stealth] / Ready to catch & eat anything!
6-8           Dreams of distant lands and alien skies. / Confused, not sure which world is real.
9-11         Dreaming of the room it's in [-1 stealth] / Instantly notices anything amiss.
12            NIGHTMARES! Jumpy [-2 stealth] / Poisons the nearest stranger!


Next time a PC is poisoned to death in your game, play this:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Witchy Wednesday!

Witch Familiars in Pathfinder

So the witch PC in my game has a fox familiar. It never comes up. May as well be a spellbook with fur. The existing by-the-book familiar rules are just fucking boring.

Now I have perused some fantastic wizardly familiar rules around the OSR-sphere, and they all kick rich amounts of ass. But with Pathfinder, I need to approach familiars in a different way. They are integral to the witch class, taking the role that a wizard's spellbook would.

Everyone knows how to pimp over normal wizards on the supply side. They can only scribe spells that they can find, and the best magic will be jealously guarded, trapped and/or cursed. Transcribing a lost tome comes with all kinds of risks - Realms of Crawling Chaos has all the rules I'll ever need for that.

Meanwhile, the witch picks two new spells to learn every level automatically! To be fair, they pick from a limited spell list chosen for the flavour of the class (ie. you don't get fireball), but if you elected to play a witch, this isn't really a drawback is it?

Once a wizard has a spell in his book, he can rely upon being able to memorize it any day that he wants. A spellbook that got angry and refused to open would be a serious problem indeed! Meanwhile, some fantastic OSR familiar rules that add personality, goals, motivations etc. have the chance of screwing over a witch completely. If she wasn't on speaking terms with her familiar, she wouldn't even be able to memorize spells!

You can see how player skill is circumvented here in favour of "character skill": two 6th-level witches could have exactly the same spell list, despite coming from different campaign worlds, because they just made the same choices every time they gained a level. It's much less likely that any two wizards would have come upon exactly the same spellbooks in their travels, or indeed that each would have had the same degree of success in wresting those treasures from their previous owners.

This all means that changes to the witch's familiar rules have to be undertaken with care. A wizard can opt not to take a familiar - the witch has no choice. A balance must be struck between flavour, fidelity to the source material, gameability and fairness. The player picked his class in good faith and I can't very well start cutting it off at the knees a few sessions in!


1 - In the sidebar called "Adding spells to a witch's familiar," there are two methods in addition to that described above. First, a scroll can be used: it is actually eaten by the familiar and the witch makes a Spellcraft check to see if the familiar learns the spell.  This is cool, but since witches can only learn spells from their own spell list, its usefulness is limited.

2 - Another method of adding spells is for one witch's familiar to teach another. This is kinda cool and sets up good quests - "do this service for the grezelda and her familiar will teach yours a new spell." But this throwaway line at the end is what REALLY grabbed me:

"If a familiar belongs to a which that has died, it only retains its knowledge of spells for 24 hours, during which time it is possible to coerce or bribe the familiar into teaching its spells to another..."

There Can Be Only One!

This sets up a Highlanderian world of WITCH-MURDER! - hunting down & killing rival witches, trapping their familiars and convincing them to give up the goods - where the winner can amass an incredible sum of spells. I can see witches forming covens for mutual protection not only against the ignorant masses and religious authorities, but their own power-hungry peers! Meanwhile, each one ponders the chances of stabbing the others in the back.

After all, witches are vectors for the power of their Patrons, who have invested them with mysterious magical power through their familiars. It makes sense that they would roam the world wiping out the champions of competing gods, demons & other entities.

In Land's End, monsters like the dreaded night hags began as witches, then killed so many of their sisters and amassed so much magic they ascended to another state of being. Their familiars would be repositories of tremendous knowledge, powerful beings in their own right. Even if you could slay a hag (in E6 some of them are no joke - Night Hags are CR 9), her familiar could fight as well, or run and hide for 24 hours, or summon allies, maybe cast its own spells, or call upon her infernal Patron for help.

How to draw a witch PC into this most dangerous game? I see at least two possibilities here:

1 - Every familiar knows (or will know in the future) a unique spell not available on the standard witch spell list. If you're happy with just the one your PC gets... fine, but with such a lack of ambition it's amazing you ever became an adventurer (I'll probably roll randomly). Familiars of puissant witches could have learned dozens of unique spells, making them extremely dangerous foes and a potential goldmine for enterprising PCs. Gotta problem? Need a brand-new spell? Carve out the solution with blood and betrayal, sista.

2 - Obviously if other witches learn of your character's existence, they'll come gunning for you. Better take the fight to the enemy with your adventuring pals, rather than wait for a black-hearted century-old murderess to develop the perfect plan for snuffing you out.

This is getting me stoked. I already had the wilderness seeded with multiple witches and a coven, all with their own abilities and agendas. Let's see if the players twig onto the possibilities? Those lines about learning spells from other familiars are right in the class description. No witch PC can ever say they weren't warned...


Happy Halloween! Let's bump this track in the hearse tonight: