Friday, January 25, 2019

Nameless Cults VII

This is one I've had on the back-burner for a while. It goes hand-in-hand with the next article which I hope to put up next week, if the Emperor and homework permit.


Master of The Final Incantation, The Cruelty of the Heavens

No. Appearing: 1d4
Alignment: C
Move: 120’ (40’)
Armour Class: 12
Hit Dice: 4
Attack: kris (1d4+1) or spell
Save: MU
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: special
Experience: 245

Librarians, lorekeepers, thieves, treasure hunters and finders of secrets, the cultists of Abraxas hoard lost knowledge. Each one hopes to amass enough information to be one day raptured away to the demon lord's long-lost dimension of secrets where they'll study forbidden tomes eternally at the grandest library in creation. 

Each cultist (they call themselves "scribes," which has led to confusion a few times) has his own field of literary interest and spends most of his time amassing a collection, sometimes travelling around the world to search out unique volumes. That makes every member of the cult a sage in his own right, and usually a seasoned thief. Forming a relationship with an Abraxian coven is a great way for adventurers to get questions answered. 

Devotion to their lord is measured by secrets learned, books acquired, and personal information stored. Cultists tattoo or even carve words all over their bodies: important secrets, passwords, names, spells, titles of books they've found, things they don't want to forget but are too sensitive to write down anywhere else. High-ranking cultists get completely covered in writing over the course of years. There is a story (maybe apocryphal) among scribes of one who sold his skin as storage space to two kings to save state secrets - many like to speculate on what happened when each monarch found out about the other!

In their private gatherings they wear as little clothing as possible to better showcase their piety but when encountered outside their lairs they are usually in disguise with as much skin covered as possible. Unlike many of the Nameless Cults who come around the corner yelling "WAAAAGH!" hacking and slashing, you might meet an Abraxian and have no idea whatsoever until it's too late.

While they do technically worship a Chaos lord, they aren't all that dangerous unless you have a book they're interested in. Experts at tracking down scraps of lost information, they'll find out all your secrets and sell them back to you to get what they want.

Most scribes aren't well-suited to battle, preferring the routes of knowledge and stealth. Their master's favour does lend them some assistance though: they have inhuman vision, especially in dim light (double the normal distance of whatever light source you're using). Their exotic, wavy kris knives are imbued with a portion of Abraxas' hunger for information: on a successful hit, save vs. spell or 'forget' a random memorized spell up to a level equal to the damage dealt. The scribe gets +1 to hit on his next attack roll with the kris per level of a spell stolen in this way. Once a scribe is killed, his kris will remain powerful for 24 hours before becoming a normal weapon again.

Fleshly Magic

When scribes are pressed, they can use some of their lost & secret knowledge to cast spells. Consuming their tattoos (burning them with fire, flaying the skin, etc) will invoke powerful magic. Roll a die sized equal to the HP damage the cultist takes (ie. 6 damage, roll a D6). The result is the level of spell the cultist manages to cast. DM's choice, or roll randomly on a spell list from a brand-new supplement you just bought or totally different game to really give your players a shock.

No scribe wants to do this, and will resort to it only having exhausted all other options.

Cultists that are killed or captured can be valuable sources of knowledge & arcane power. Flaying their skin and treating it with special preservatives can render some (very gross) spell scrolls. Roll a die sized using the scribe's remaining hit points if alive, or 1d3 if you're scrounging from a dead one. This gives the combined spell levels of scrolls you can salvage. Again the spells are rolled randomly from your list (cleric, MU, whatever feels appropriate). This renders any secret knowledge the cultist scribed on his body unreadable - you can't have both.

Abraxian covens have been known to pay enormous ransoms for hostages for this reason. Even a dead but intact scribe is worth more to them than a living prisoner missing some of his text...


Also: I just discovered the Mud & Blood podcast. Really cool stuff if you're into Warhammer, or dark fantasy in general. Give it a listen!

Dig into this album for the next time you run Death Frost Doom or the PCs make an unscheduled stop in R'lyeh:

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Drowning Dead

ACHTUNG: This post is actually pretty grim and contains descriptions of real-world torture & executions, be warned!


Well shit. I owe Joesky more back-taxes than I owe the government by now! Let's get into something useful, some fun undead varieties from Land's End.

The Drowned Lands at the center of my Land's End hexmap is the locus of the setting. It's home to the lizardfolk, one of the few non-chaotic humanoid groups. One of the PCs is a lizardman so relations should start cordially - leading to plenty of roleplaying opportunities and adventure hooks. Most of the ancient cities and monoliths of the elder races lie in the swamps, for reasons unknown.

I'm excited about next session: my PCs are about to delve into the great swamp in search of Aercius' lost holy symbol, still held by his arm which was ripped off by a horde of zombies years ago! Of course it's a viciously dangerous region, so we'll see how much time the PCs spend there. The undead hordes make it especially difficult:

The Dead Legion

When the Empire of Man held (nominal) control over the wilderness beyond the Barrier, they stationed hundreds of soldiers to control the humanoid swamp-dwellers and guard the valuable resources they attempted to exploit. As Imperial might waned, the locals reclaimed what was theirs. One particular revolutionary slaughter destroyed an entire Imperial legion, leaving a literal mountain of corpses heaving out of the swamp. Over the years the site has been avoided by the locals, who so hated the invaders it was decided they weren't even worth eating.

Now the island stirs with vile unlife. A wriggling mass of slime-covered bones reaches out of the swamp, and some of these bones crawl, swim and walk away to pursue the Dead Legion's unknown purpose. What force animates these long-dead soldiers, and why now?

Of course it's all the clergy of Orcus' fault. Their activity in the Tomb of Abysthor to the south, digging in the great and ancient pit of bones, has emboldened them. One of their more puissant clerics has built a small house on the island of bodies and digs underneath through the rotting mound, for purposes unknown.

The only swamp faction that has to deal with the Legion is the bog elves. The island reaches down into their shadowed mirror-world beneath the waters of the swamp. Hanging upside-down above them in the black like a pale, rotting white sun. They hate it. Sometimes a few Legionnaires drop off and fall into their shadowy kingdom to cause death and mayhem - the elves fear what might occur should the island be destroyed or broken up completely.

[Dead Legion: Stats as normal skeletons. Slimy bones make them difficult to grapple (-4 penalty). Rusting weapons (-1 dmg) break on an attack roll of 1 or 20. Depending on the unit, they will have light or medium armour. I'm using chain shirts or breastplates (50% chance of each). All armour is rusted to hell (-2 AC). Dead Legionnaires speak a mix of Skeletongue and Imperial Common.]

Adapted from the Dyson Logos classic 'Challenge of the Frog Idol,' which you can get for free HERE.

Rebels & Sacrifices

The lizardfolk were the worst hit by the old Imperial occupation. A proud and violent warrior culture does not bend to the yoke easily. In those days, the empire had ruthless methods of putting down rebels and "traitors." Their public executions were legendary, and included the swift "Dozen Swords" and the slow, torturous Leng Tch'e: death by a thousand cuts. Many lizardfolk braves suffered these torments, which still loom large in their imagination hundreds of years later.

The tsathar and crabmen were just killed - too chaotic or stupid to be made use of anyway. All these corpses were just dumped in the rivers and ponds of the drowned lands.

In the distant past, when every humanoid race was in thrall to the gods of Chaos, even the proud lizardfolk conducted sacrifices to appease those ancient demon lords. Strangulation, drowning, impalement or worse were all pronounced by the high priests. They turned from that path ages ago, but the swamp remembers. The bodies of those sacrificed to propitiate the demon lords litter the drowned lands, and sometimes they wake up...

[Lizardfolk Zombie: Stats as normal zombies but great lizard-strength gives them +1 to damage. If you're playing Pathfinder, I guess you're stuck using templates like me. Those zombies who died at Imperial hands speak their normal language, while sacrificial victims of the old ways may speak Draconic or even Hissing if they're truly ancient.]

They differ by method of execution, roll for each individually (d6):

1 - Strangulation: Neck is bent at a disconcerting angle, head may be fixed or flop about sickeningly. The head can be damaged or even destroyed without affecting the zombie's HP total.

2 - Bamboo Impalement: Tied down over new bamboo shoots, which can grow 4cm in an hour, slowly impaling the body. The assortment of bamboo spikes in the corpse can be thrown like small javelins (1d6), or the zombie can attempt a spiky bearhug (2d6 on a successful grapple, 1d6 to an attacker who attempts a grapple).

3 - Leng Tch'e: The eyes, ears, nose, tail and organs of generation have been cut off, to say nothing of strips of flesh all over the body. Perpetually oozing blood from numberless wounds. No special abilities - they're just horrifying.

4 - Swamp Drowning: Mud poured down its throat and sunk to the bottom of the swamp. It will attempt to grapple and pin an enemy, and drown them by coughing & vomiting a perpetual flow of river mud into their mouths. Use your system's drowning rules, or say 1d8 damage and -1 CON per attack.

5 - Fed to Crabs: A horde of small yellow & green swamp-crabs live in the zombie's abdomen. I'm going to use a half-HD version of Pathfinder's "Crab Swarm" monster (I suppose there are SOME useful things about the system). Simply put, take 1d6 damage every round you stand within 5' of the zombie.

6 - Dozen Swords: Impaled by 2d6 rusting imperial swords right through its body. Just like the Man of Wounds from Varlets & Vermin. Its hit points/HD are equal to the damage rolled by all the swords stuck into it. Striking it causes your weapon to stick, and adds hit points equal to the weapon's damage. Damage it by removing a weapon from its body. When all weapons are gone, it's dead.


Phew, that was a good one! Lots of cool shit coming up soon, let's keep it rocking:

Saturday, January 5, 2019


Another wave of blathering was stirred up on G+ a few weeks ago (and another? and another? and another???) regarding the OSR and what it's all about. Here is a story that illustrates a few things I've learned about OSRism that I find really important.

So. I've been playing on and off in a 2nd edition game for about two years, with a few old friends (two of my Land's End players) and some of *their* friends. It's always the same guy DMing - we will call him "D." He and I are the only players with significant experience (he a lifer like I am). Two players are rank beginners and the ones who play in my Land's End game have no experience other than that.

Our party ranges from levels 8-12. My character is an 8th-level psionicist (I'll cover this in a future post) so sometimes I'm almost completely useless. We're playing some high-level adventures. Many of them are D's own concoction, with some published material. Of late we're playing through Temple, Tower & Tomb, a series of three pretty tough dungeons.

Things finally reached a pass last weekend, and I know I said IN MY LAST POST I wasn't going to blog while angry, but fuck it. I thought if I waited a week I'd have a more objective look back at what happened, but today I write this missive to you still feeling slapped in the face and I gotta get this out of my system.

I missed one of the sessions in the Temple, but it was cool except for one incident that set my spidey-sense tingling: while sifting through a huge pit of bones for magic items, we uncovered an odd NPC: a sentient flying skull. Turns out some dude was killed by the evil clerics of the temple and just woke up that way. Fine, I can work with this, but...

My suspicions began to grow when the floating skull, named Ollie, did not say "Thanks for rescuing me, goodbye!" but followed us around the dungeon making comments. Flying into rooms to grab treasures. Even offering suggestions on dealing with the various traps in the temple.

You guessed it. The dreaded "DMPC" had reared its ugly head. I thought I had left those behind when I graduated high school. But it gets worse:

The Tower

The delve last weekend really irritated the shit out of me. We were grinding through this dungeon slowly, and I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut. The kind of place where checking for traps and casting Detect Magic on every single door is mandatory, but the walls are made of wood. I honestly considered setting the whole place on fire and sifting through the ruins in a few days later for the stupid MacGuffin we needed.

I was basically going along to get along, letting the newer dudes set the pace. Previous game sessions had already given me deep suspicions that we were playing on "easy mode." I wondered what the fuck would be necessary for the party to fail for once.

Finally we reached the lich's hidden throne room.

The fight began in a normal enough way. Lich with Stoneskin dropped Unholy Word and Reverse Gravity, got whaled on by our fighters and went down. The magical punishments continued from an unknown source, and one of the prisoners in his sanctum was revealed as a fire elemental covered by an illusion. Makes sense so far. We began attacking the other "innocent prisoners," assuming one was the lich in disguise.

I should point out that all these irritating things so far were in the module, AFAIK. D can be blamed only for deciding to run it. But what happened next really ripped my dick off:

My psionicist was standing back, shooting arrows since I was all out of PSPs, when Ollie the fucking floating skull appeared seemingly out of nowhere (another immersion-breaking device that will probably cause me $2000 in dental reconstruction just for thinking about it). He said "The Emerald. The Emerald!"

Of course. There was a large green gem sitting on a throne in the middle of the room. Why wouldn't the lich leave his fucking phylactery out in the open? Makes perfect sense right? The DM was telling me how to defeat the boss, so my character dutifully smashed it and with a puff of smoke the lich was destroyed. My eyes rolled so far back in my skull, I'm currently typing this while hanging from the fucking ceiling.

What I'm Trying To Say

"The ultimate object of education can scarcely be knowledge anymore: it is, rather, the will born of such knowledge."  - Max Stirner

Some folks have complained about the OSR approach. The latest is from Chimeric Reservations in particular. For example, here are the Artpunk D&D "commandments" which I also subscribe to. (note the fucking quotation marks okay?)

Reading about Jacquaying the Dungeon, the Quantum Ogre, the Dirt-Cheap Sandbox or 1000 other awesome, educational, informative and fun-as-hell blog posts in the OSR world is worthwhile not just for ideas and rules but because taken together they inculcate a certain perspective. A perspective that includes freedom, choice and consequence for the players and fairness from the DM. Things that I found frustratingly lacking in last weekend's game. It doesn't matter if you're an OG from '74 or you play Pathfinder like I do. Absorbing these ideas will raise your consciousness. You'll understand why a "gimme" like this is in fact robbing your players of the fun they otherwise could've had.

"You are privy to a great becoming..." 

I don't know if anyone thinks or claims that OSR-ing is a fully general solution to every problem in roleplaying games. This session exemplifies just one frustrating and totally avoidable ending to a session that OSR-style thinking would have prevented. You can accuse me of "one-true-wayism" all you want, but I would never in a million years have pulled that fucking move with my players. What I'm saying is that at least in my case THE OSR IMPROVED MY GAMES, SAVED MY SOUL AND KICKS ASS. It has real effects on people, and a little reading on D's part might have saved me from this lingering taste of piss in my mouth.

Why even bother playing if we already know what's going to happen? I'm trying to think and solve problems and play my character to the hilt and survive. Too bad it's all a bunch of wasted effort. Why keep track of anything? Why roll the dice?

What To Do Next?

A great number of pursuits compete for my time. Too many to list. Why spend any of my limited hours getting this pissed off? At the very least I'll be contacting D in private to discuss my misgivings, although I strongly doubt it will make a difference. I believe he is just pandering to the newbies, and since there are four of them and one of me, the best option may be to quietly reduce my attendance. I mean, they keep coming back - who am I to tell them how to have fun?