Wednesday, February 23, 2022

We Are Not The Same

Someone recommended I check out the Eberron campaign setting. I could see myself running it with a few tweaks. I would change the names a bit (way too many "Dragon-somethings"). But the magic-as-technology thing is intensely annoying. I would rather play in a game where wizards ride stagecoaches and helium zeppelins and send telegraphs, than one where every post office is run by a dude casting sending.

'High Magic' in D&D should be a lot less continual light streetlamps and more of this, and I am reprinting it here so I can link to it during internet arguments. 

Before the black-armored image there hung seven silver lamps, wrought in the form of horses' skulls, with flames issuing changeably in blue and purple and crimson from their eye-sockets. Wild and lurid was their light, and the face of the demon, peering from under his crested helmet, was filled with malign, equivocal shadows that shifted and changed eternally. And sitting in his serpent-carven chair, Namirrha regarded the statue grimly, with a deep-furrowed frown between his eyes: for he had asked a certain thing of Thasaidon, and the fiend, replying through the statue, had refused him. And rebellion was in the heart of Namirrha, grown mad with pride, and deeming himself the lord of all sorcerers and a ruler by his own right among the princes of devildom. So, after long pondering, he repeated his request in a bold and haughty voice, like one who addresses an equal rather than the all-formidable suzerain to whom he had sworn a fatal fealty.

"I have helped you heretofore in all things," said the image, with stony and sonorous accents that were echoed metallically in the seven silver lamps. "Yea, the undying worms of fire and darkness have come forth like an army at your summons, and the wings of nether genii have risen to occlude the sun when you called them. But, verily, I will not aid you in this vengeance you have planned: for the emperor Zotulla has done me no wrong and has served me well though unwittingly; and the people of Xylac, by reason of their turpitudes, are not the least of my terrestial worshippers. Therefore, Namirrha, it were well for you to live in peace with Zotulla, and well to forget this olden wrong that was done to the beggar-boy Narthos. For the ways of destiny are strange, and the workings of its laws sometimes hidden; and truly, if the hooves of Zotulla's palfrey had not spurned you and trodden you under, your life had been otherwise, and the name and renown of Namirrha had still slept in oblivion as a dream undreamed. Yea, you would tarry still as a beggar in Ummaos, content with a beggar's guerdon, and would never have fared forth to become the pupil of the wise and learned Ouphaloc; and I, Thasaidon, would have lost the lordliest of all necromancers who have accepted my service and my bond. Think well, Namirrha, and ponder these matters: for both of us, it would seem, are indebted to Zotulla in all gratitude for the trampling he gave you..."

-Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon

"Listen, my lord. I was once a great sorcerer in the south. Men spoke of Thoth-Amon as they spoke of Rammon. King Ctesophon of Stygia gave me great honor, casting down the magicians from the high places to exalt me above them. They hated me, but they feared me, for I controlled beings from outside which came at my call and did my bidding. By Set, mine enemy knew not the hour when he might awake at midnight to feel the taloned fingers of a nameless horror at his throat! I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea..."

..."Blind your eyes, mystic serpent," he chanted in a blood-freezing whisper. "Blind your eyes to the moonlight and open them on darker gulfs! What do you see, O serpent of Set? Whom do you call from the gulfs of the Night? Whose shadow falls on the waning Light? Call him to me, O serpent of Set!"

Stroking the scales with a peculiar circular motion of his fingers, a motion which always carried the fingers back to their starting place, his voice sank still lower as he whispered dark names and grisly incantations forgotten the world over save in the grim hinterlands of dark Stygia, where monstrous shapes move in the dusk of the tombs.

There was a movement in the air about him, such a swirl as is made in water when some creature rises to the surface. A nameless, freezing wind blew on him briefly, as if from an opened Door. Thoth felt a presence at his back, but he did not look about...

-Robert E Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Terrible City Guards

So I was having a few laughs with some other gamers about city guards in Swords & Sorcery campaigns. We agreed that well-done city guards should be the opposite of helpful in every possible way! I am running a game in the City-State of the World Emperor right now, and I think about this kind of thing a lot. 

In the spirit of Lankhmar, the CSIO and Melan's The Nocturnal Table, here is a list of assholish city guard behaviours to make your ne'er-do-well player characters' lives difficult.

EDIT - After Prince's comment, I've added some more entries to the table.
Enjoy the new 36-entry version!

Roll for individual guards or an entire group (or just the guard you're talking to).
For best fun, roll 2 or 3 times and combine!

City Guard Traits Table (d66):

11 - Lazy: doesn't want to lift a finger, no matter how serious the situation
12 - Mean: gets angry if spoken to without proper "respect"
13 - Greedy: loves to get bribed, makes up bullshit fees, skims off the top
14 - Upstanding: reacts negatively to a bribe attempt
15 - Inquisitive: follows up on everything, suspects everyone
16 - Party animal: looking for a drink, smoke or skirt
21 - Shady: trying to hide activities from the higher-ups & witnesses
22 - Vain: trying to look good, impress the populace, get chicks
23 - Slovenly: unshaven, ill-fitting armour, helmet askew, may trip on own boots
24 - Unwashed: scent is oppressive enough, stands very close
25 - Cowardly & Vicious: takes easy chance for cruelty, avoids any challenge
26 - Superstitious: fears magic, recent convert to weird cult, or keeps lucky charm
31 - Zealot: believes Overlord/local priest/etc is best possible ruler, enforces happily 
32 - Axe to grind: vs. particular race, class, religion, or everyone
33 - Bent: running own schemes, has contraband to buy & sell
34 - Drunk: raucous fun, maudlin despair, or sullen & violent
35 - Disbelieving: assumes citizens are liars, believes opposite of what is said
36 - Ultraviolence: Sanpaku eyes, ready for bloodbath at slightest provocation
41 - The good guard routine: easygoing & friendly, trying to extract information
42 - The bad guard routine: loves to beat on the citizenry, fights dirty
43 - Shit rolls downhill: blames nearest bystander for anything that goes wrong
44 - Shit rolls uphill: everything reported to the district commander
45 - Filling quotas: collects tolls & taxes, sliding scale based on seeming wealth
46 - Press-ganging: eyeing likely candidates for the Overlord's salt mines
51 - The boss is watching: strict & by-the-book, the more obscure the laws the better
52 - Entrapment: pretending to be on the take, ready to arrest anyone who takes bait
53 - In it for the pension: will not face even slight danger, makes any excuse
54 - On break: all the privileges, none of the responsibilities
55 - High alert: vigilant, notices any subtle/suspicious goings-on
56 - Informant: works for Overlord's secret police, rats out everyone
61 - Doing the job for once: asks all passersby difficult questions, needs answers now
62 - On the payroll: looks other way for local thieving, reports new operators to guild
63 - Judge Dredd: inhumanly Lawful, pursues even minor infractions unto death
64 - Private Pyle: pudgy dim-bulb would love a donut right now
65 - Fit a description: vaguely likes PC for crime that just happened across town
66 - Jam-up: new orders, crackdown on PC's next plan or favourite business

There you have it folks, a good old-fashioned random table that you can use in your home game today. Based on a blog comment section collaboration in the high & ancient style, no less!!! Who says the scene is dead?