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:

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Slithering Dead


In the jungles and swamps past the Barrier, forlorn carven monoliths dot the landscape. Engraved with strange runes none now living can understand, explorers who happen across them assume they are the scratchings of degenerate humans or lizardfolk. In fact these stones were carved by the primordial snake-men in the time before humanity. Now they are one of the only traces left of those mysterious beings.

Every snake-man was a born sorceror. Magic was life, it permeated all they did and made. The magic in their standing stones is faint and difficult to reach, but it's still there. All the obelisks stand in empty jungle clearings where no tree obscures the skies. Even so, the constant rain slackens to a gentle mist. Wild animals avoid them - instincts turn them away.

The perfect place to rest.

But when you sleep near an obelisk its old magic can reach you. In your dreams will appear visions of a lost world: great halls and vaults underground, laboratories where the "ancient" races of the world were engineered to be slaves. A millennium of dominion over the earth. Looking down at your hands in this dream, you'd see only the scaly talons of a reptile. Waking up from these dreams leaves a human feeling odd, drained. Uncomfortable in his primate skin. Not sure of his place in the world. [In game terms, a cumulative -1 to attack rolls, saves, morale checks, anything else you like per night of sleeping next to an obelisk]


All undead in Land's End - no matter their diverse origins - are dreamers. They aren't awake, aren't alive, but act as if they were. Sleepwalking from beyond the wall of death they chase the ambitions and whims they once cherished and believe themselves real. The cult Orcus conducting their foul rites of undeath are in a way oneiromancers of a very specific and dreadful kind. Their spells whisper to dead souls, cajoling them into wakefulness just enough to animate their bodies as puppets for the goat-god's will.

The lowly skeleton has no idea it lives a dream of its old existence. It craves food, warmth, treasure, companionship and glory just as in life, but sees these goals through a haze of unreality. It isn't exactly an automaton, it has the same mind it did before dying albeit massively compromised. It can still speak the languages it knew and sometimes recognize familiar faces, but its priorities have shifted. It's so cold, being dead. So tiring. The cravings. The hunger. Food you can never taste, sex you can never have, it's enough to turn dream into nightmare. And who hasn't had a nightmare about choking their best friend to death once or twice...?

Intelligent, 'free-willed' undead like vampires or liches could be likened to lucid dreamers who have learned to change the rules of the world to suit their whims. A vampire can taste the blood of humans and remind itself what living in the waking world was like. The puissant magical fires within a lich's rotting brain keep it warm, a small consolation but more than most get.


Dying near a snake-man obelisk is a bad idea. Over time, the stored memories of those snake-men worm their way into what's left of the dead brain. Falling into the dream of unlife, they find their bodies totally unsuited to their memories and feelings. Squirming along the ground on brittle bones where they remember supple scales, reaching out to bite with an omnivore's dull teeth instead of venomous fangs.

Memories of snakes, dreaming through the bodies of men. Twice removed from the real world. Less than the sum of their parts.

Through this haze of perception they know only the hunt for food, for prey. The great technology and magic of the snake-man civilization is all closed to them. They wriggle along the ground, a parody of a real snake's movements. Piling on top of each other, clacking their bones together. Hissing through chattering teeth.

Confused, cold, lost.
And hungry.


Only one song could follow this post:

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Random Monster Generator Shootout!!

I can never get enough monsters. I will do whatever I can to get my greasy hands on any beasts that will throw my players for a loop - if the book is reusable, so much the better! So let's talk about some random monster generators that I have found recently and see how they work.


1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide
Appendix D: Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes 

by Gary Gygax

The all-time legend, defending champion, can Gary keep his throne with all these nu-old-school upstarts coming after the crown? Let's find out!

I discovered Appendix D in my copy of DMG just recently. I only found a hard copy a few months ago, I've had such a great time absorbing Gary's teachings directly. Stumbling on this section inspired the post you're now reading.

Appendix D consists of a mere two pages (not even. 3 and a half columns) of tables and guidelines for random demons, devils and the like. It starts out like a Monster Manual entry with random rolls built in line by line. Example:

"SIZE: S, M, or L (d8, 1 = S, 2-4 = M, 5-8 = L)"

After a while, this shit can get DENSE. Gary doesn't slow down to explain things. After determining stats, tables follow for appearance, body shape, skin colour, appendages, etc. Some of these tables interact weirdly - like rolling "thin" and "broad" under General Characteristics. Of course Gary also references a certain Dragon magazine article if you want more ideas. Thanks pal, I'll just run out and pick that up...

The section on special attacks and defenses is minimal and requires some work on the DM's part. The two tables are more of a jumping-off point. Actually, that's a good description of the whole appendix. It will give you a sketch of the monster, but you'll have to fill in the blanks to make it coherent. Gary gives us a sea of tables to wade through and STILL we have to decide attacks, damage, and special abilities on our own.

How many rolls? Around 30 give or take.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? No way
Variety and reusability? It's designed for a specific type of creature, so variety is limited but it's endlessly reusable. Running through this a handful of times could give you a whole new infernal order to go alongside demons/devils/daemons.

SAMPLE MONSTER - "The Bubblegum Owlbear"

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armour Class: -3
Move: 9"
Hit Dice: 8
% In Lair: 10%
Treasure Type: NONE, haha fuck you!
No. of Attacks: 4
Damage/Attack: 1-8 / by weapon x 3
Special Attacks: 18/00 strength, summoning
Special Defenses: +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to cold, acid
Magic Resistance: -10%
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: CE
Size: M

I rolled: owl head w/ crest or peak, twitching moving visage, tiny human ears, small slitted black eyes, large toothed mouth, bearlike body, thin and narrow, prehensile tail, odour of vomit, pink furred body, spined back, tentacles, one human-nailed hand, one withered & bony hand, insectile feet.

Sheesh. It's a mixed-up demonic TENTACLED PINK OWLBEAR! How much more Gygaxian can you get? This is perfect for an AD&D demon. I'm using these guys in my game - in E6 this could be a unique demon prince! On the downside, imagine the difficulty of describing this mess to the players? I wish I could draw.

Its tentacle-hands and prehensile tail (which I reckon should all look the same) will all carry weapons of various types. With its exceptional strength, it could do an absurd amount of damage in one round. The special ability is summoning, so bubblegum owlbears have a 50% chance to open a Gate which calls either one of their kind (30%) or 1-4 minor demons.


The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and their Modern Simulacra, Tenth Anniversary Edition

by James Edward Raggi IV
from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Buy the PDF here - $9.99, the print edition looks sold out

OKAY, we'll keep tonight's party going with a club banger... the thousand-pound gorilla... the standard by which all others are judged. You know it, you love it: the RECGFCFRPG&TMS!

My copy says 'Third Printing' on it, and no wonder. This thing fucking rules, and it's almost unfair to everyone else having this ringer in the competition.

First of all: the art is fantastic. At the back of the book is a collection of the simple black & white images from the earlier printings, and you can compare page-by-page how they were reinvented in lurid full colour throughout the book. The illustrations give the sense that the artists took a real joy in their work. I imagined a dude at a drafting table rubbing his hands together, cackling to himself as he renders another hapless adventurer's disembowelment.

The tables? Oh yeah, they're really good. Hyper-detailed, Raggi leaves very little up to the DM here, in a good way. The entries are really detailed, and when you have rolled your way through you should have everything from shape, size, special attacks to even battle tactics and motivation. Sometimes the combinations are maddeningly bizarre, which might require some work to reconcile. The motivation throughout is to give your game table something it's never seen before.

At the end, Raggi rounds it off with a few pages of advice on 'Putting It All Together.' You may not agree with every single thing he says here, but I found it informative and useful.

How many rolls? Minimum 6, could be around double that if you use every optional table.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? I think I could do it while the PCs were on a smoke break if I got lucky.
Variety and reusability? Fucking TONS of both. The tables are weighted so the really exotic things (body shape: dodecahedron) won't come up too often, but there are so many entries in the 'distinctive features' and 'special abilities' tables that you'll never run out of weird combinations.


Armour Class: 17
Move: normal human + 10' (depends on the system you're playing I guess)
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1d10+1 x 4
Alignment: C
Size: Huge
Morale: 10

I rolled: base HD 2; bipedal; combination of insect (beetle) and crustacean (lobster); huge size; illusionary features (oozing sores); 

So the 'combination' result can really get dangerous. An insect needs six limbs, but a biped stands on two legs so the other four must be arms. Add in a crustacean with claws on the end of every arm and you have four claw attacks. With its huge size, it's going to chop through adventurers in no time. I can imagine to employ its wall-crawling ability, all six limbs cut right into the rock of the dungeon as it scuttles up and down.

Tougher to imagine is the 'illusionary features' ability. This huge beast has oozing slime and pus all over it which is... just an illusion. How? Why? Is it some sort of defense against giant lobble-eating predators? Is it a magical effect or curse of some kind? Will the players ever find out? I have no idea, let's see what happens.


The Level 1 Creature Generator

by Michael Raston
from Gorgzu Games
Buy the PDF here - $1

I was just browsing around on RPGnow and came across this. From the same guy who wrote Towers of the Weretoads, a short adventure I saw reviewed at Ten Foot Pole.

This tiny little pdf (only nine pages!) would be a bargain at twice the price. The monster generation is simple. Roll on the Basic Shape table, the Form table, and the Special Ability table. That's it!

These elements combine to create a weird variation on a familiar creature. Basic Shape describes the creature's overall body type, like "man," "octopus" or "elephant." Form changes the substance of the creature, like gold-plated skin or a gaseous body. These entries along with the special abilities are cool and very specific. Because the basic shapes are all things we already know, you won't get a bizarre monstrosity like the RECG. It will be a variation and twist on something you already know.

Being made of simple building blocks means this booklet is easy to mess with or add to as you like. You can pick entries if you want. Need a strange mutant fish? Just roll on the other two tables and there you go. Maybe you want a monster that charms its victims, but y'don't know what it should look like? Where it sacrifices depth and complexity, it makes up for it with lightning speed and ease of use.

How many rolls? Exactly three.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? I'd use this baby in the middle of a sentence.
Variety and reusability? Both middling. I can envision myself adding new entries in the future to replace abilities or forms I've rolled more than once. There are theoretically 64,000 combinations but you don't actually want to run 40 different monsters with the same special ability, do you?

SAMPLE MONSTER - "The Silt Sneak"

I rolled: Basic Shape: Goblin. Form: Crumbling, craggy, sandy and granular mass, can decompose into pile of grains then reconstitute. Special Ability: Will attempt to steal one target in PC party and spirit them away to some burrow or lair and torture them.

A sand-goblin that loves to steal and torture adventurers? That's bloody cool. Silt sneaks lie around in sand-pile form waiting for passersby, then they reform and attack from behind to pick off a straggler for their wicked sports! Why do they transform like this, is it a curse or a spell ability? Are they goblins who can turn into sand, or sand that's been animated in the shape of goblins?

This gets my mind working on a desert cave dungeon where they can blend into the sand underfoot. Some ankhegs, giant ants and a mummy or two to round things off. I'm into it!!


In conclusion

These three generators are all great for different things. Having ultra-quick-rolling tables is handy as hell for my bad habit of last-minute prep. The denser generators are so detailed and thick with content that I find it hard to imagine exhausting them.

I would use each one of these generators. I find it hard to pick a favourite but I did call this a 'shootout'...

If I could only use one it would have to be the RECG. It sits in a middle ground between the lightning-fast generation of the L1CG and the baroque density of Appendix D. The tables are long and detailed enough that it'll be hard to exhaust them while simple enough in execution that I can roll up another monstrosity relatively quickly. The excellent production values in comparison to a lot of RPG books give it that last push over the top.


Whew! After digging through my books/PDFs looking for more monster generators, I already have more than enough to do another round like this.

Until then, go roll up some brand new

Monday, October 1, 2018

Nameless Cults VI

I was thinking about Warhammer the other day, and reading some of my old books. I had forgotten for a while how fucking pure it really is, despite cutting my teeth on 40k for years back in the day. (My space marines were consistently mangled by my pal Dave's chaos army).

Games Workshop was tapping into something really special way back in those early days. Is there any point in doing the Lovecraft Mythos, or classic AD&D demon lords, or the absurd profusion of extra-dimensional beings in Paizo's Book of The Damned (which I do like...), when we have the mainlines to our collective unconscious called Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle and Tzeentch? 

Just a thought.

CULTISTS OF TSATHOGGUA the demon toad-god, AKA The Hungry One, Zothaqquah

These are good

No. Appearing: 1-6
Alignment: C
Move: 120’ (40’)
Armour Class: 16
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1
Damage: by weapon (whip or club)
Save: D
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: I
Experience: 38

Tsathoggua is a hungry god. Its clergy cast living offerings into the slimy feeding-pits at their temples in the hidden and dark places beyond the Barrier. For those who aren't eaten, another fate is in store:


Seeking to prove their faith, postulants to the cult of the demon toad will modify their bodies to resemble a frog's: they cut their mouths wider "chelsea grin" style, or have their thumbs broken and reset sideways to bend the same direction as the other fingers. Some graft skin-webbing between their fingers, or immerse themselves in brightly-coloured dyes to remove their humanity. Filing the teeth down flat and even hideous eye surgeries are not unknown. Through these modifications they become closer to the Hungry One and his ascended servants, the tsathar or toad-men.

For initiation into full membership in the cult, they cast themselves into the slime pit that forms the center of every temple of Tsathoggua. These pits could be as simple as a humble cauldron for a minor shrine or the size of foul swimming pool of corruption in the case of a major power center.

Repeated immersions in this primordial mixture renders humanoid flesh down to a soft, spongy material resembling moss or algae. Veteran cultists can be recognized by their pale green, yellow or blue skin and bleary indistinct features - their humanity has been slowly washed away. They don't become slime creatures (we'll save that for another NAMELESS CULT edition), but rather a strange plant-slime-toad hybrid being. This bodily transformation has several effects other than the cosmetic. Cultists' moss-bodies are spongy and absorb blows easily, thus their high natural AC (they don't usually wear armour).

(Player characters without the cult's blessing who get immersed in the slime pit should at the very least take HP damage, if not be dissolved utterly. Tsathoggua is hungry!!!)


A transformed cultist's moss-body cannot contain an intelligent humanoid's mind or spirit.

Instead, they carry their souls in small animals (reptile, bird or rodent) that live inside their bodies. This spirit-animal IS the cultist in a real sense, their 'body' is like a giant moss-suit controlled from within. This animal can leave the cultist's body to send a message, spy on foes or do any other task its form will allow. While the animal is outside, a cultist's body has only zombie-like intelligence and will continue with whatever task it was last doing when the spirit-animal departed.

If a cultist is killed, his spirit-animal will crawl out of the corpse's mouth in 1d6 rounds. It makes all haste to the temple where it will immerse itself in the slime-pool and grow a new body. This is the equivalent of a Raise Dead or similar spell, the new body is an exact duplicate of the last one.

If the spirit-animal is killed while on a trip outside the cultist's body, it remains alive but near-mindless. It continues with the last thing it was doing before its spirit left, or will follow simple orders given by a cultist of higher rank, a tsathar, or any other frog- or toadlike being.

These unfortunates are used as shock-troops and cheap labour since they don't complain. Without the animating force of a mind or soul, they don't feel pain and cannot recover hit points or heal in any way. You'll encounter many that are missing fingers or even limbs, getting shoved out in front en masse by the cult to mob their opponents and bring them down with sheer numbers. Another vicious 'recruitment tactic' is to immerse hapless villagers in the slime-pool, and then reach down their throats and pull out their spirit-animals...


Since Tsathoggua's cult also exists in Land's End (not all the Nameless Cults do) I have to come up with PF stats for them. I have sworn not to compose a single one of those infernal stat blocks.

Luckily the Tomb of Abysthor has tsathar already! Their stats will work fine for all the transformed cultists, pretty sure they are 2 HD anyway. Postulants can just have basic stats based on race/class, nothing fancy.

***** END DIGRESSION *****

Now let's get back to the important thing...