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):