Friday, December 31, 2010

Just another Thursday Night on the blogs.

"There are sexist messages in RPG art and maybe we should think about that."

"No, that would just make the artists make shitty art."

The first is a no-brainer. The second, I don't agree with, but the guy saying it is smart and makes strong interesting arguments. Also, several of the comments are smart, specifically from Trollsmyth, TheCramp and Telecanter. Several others are mind-numbingly stupid.

Ah, the internet....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

People can build stupid shit without alien influence, thankyouverymuch.

Wrote this to my wife after some time spent researching tombs, and realized I might as well post it here. It's tangentially related to my recent dungeon thoughts.

It's a constant source of humor to me that, any time a fictional Egyptian-style pyramid appears, it is full of rooms and halls to the point of being almost hollow. This is because we think of them as buildings - as architecture.

They are not architecture - they are tombstones. Most of them were not even designed to be as big as they are. They were originally short narrow step pyramids like the older ones, maybe a bit bigger, and then they started falling down so stuff was piled onto them to shore them up. In the case of the Bent Pyramid, they screwed that up and halfway up it started to crush the tomb, so they changed the angle. The result was an empty pyramid - the pharaoh had another built. After all, would you want to be the one buried in the fucked up pyramid?

At that point, they had these big things sitting about as a result of having to essentially repair the old tombs, but no one wants to go in a smaller tomb than the other guy, so they started making them that way on purpose. They built their little chambers, then built a large pointless step pyramid on top, then another on that and another on than, then finally a smooth outer surface. Essentially mimicking a process that had been accidental - "Oh shit! Guyfacemcdudeatep's tomb is falling! Quick, make the slaves shove bricks against it!"

This is why people who think there is anything magic or supernatural or alien about Egyptian construction are wrong (or at the very least, wrong that they needed magic or aliens to do what they did).
This is about as complicated as it got. By the way, this one
fell in because it was too complicated.

Egypt was full of people, and people are the dumbest, smartest creatures on Earth. We don't need aliens to tell us how to make thousands of slaves work themselves to death over a few decades ensuring huge stones fit together perfectly. Give me unlimited manpower and years to achieve it, and I'll make you a space station. And they weren't that smart, were they? If you actually know anything about architectural history, you know it was a process of trial and error and building up of knowledge and skill over the course of a 2000-year civilization. We look at the Giza pyramids, with their stones so tight you can't slide an index card between, and forget the slabs over holes in the sand, the step pyramids, the collapsed failures, the screw-ups like the Bent Pyramid. We forget almost every single tomb we find was robbed within years of first being sealed up, because a granite slab is hard to get through but the sandstone it's fitted in is not. The workers (and even priests) that stuck the body in there just came back and tunneled around the door.

Furthermore, and more to the point of why people want to believe those massive, massive things have something in them besides a tunnel and a dead guy - the dead need not justify themselves to us. We can hold them accountable in our minds, pass judgment on what they did... but it means nothing to them. They had their reasons, and those reasons went with them.

The pyramids map the stars, sharpen razors, cure cancer, contain our genome, are spaceships, etc. etc. etc... they have to be SOMETHING, right? They're so... big and devoid of purpose and that can't be true. And it isn't, but the truth is that they are devoid of modern purpose. They make no sense today. But when they were built, for the people that built them, they were the most important things in the world. To them, it wasn't stupid to build the biggest structure in the world to house one tiny room with a single dead guy and his stuff in it. It wasn't a comedy of errors that they had to keep shoring them up and rebuilding them. It was all extremely meaningful.

We are the smartest, dumbest creatures in the world - we do remarkable things for nonsensical reasons. But they are reasons.

I imagine all this can be applied to dungeon design somehow. You figure it out.

Skadi must Eat of Every Meat

Like barbarians? More accurately, like loving mockeries of Howardian fantasy archetypes? Even more accurately, appreciate a good butt joke?

You'll like Skadi as much as I do then. It's the Thursday update on Dumm Comics (several of the others are great too, though).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dungeons: A Visual Essay

Sympathize with the dungeon, for you are to it as pathogenic microns are to you. You were both built for a purpose, and as you subvert its own with torch and 10-foot pole, something inside you beats its flagellum ceaselessly down your corridors. Your chambers are well stocked with white monsters and glandular death traps, but the DM of Evolution has printed out a whole stack of character sheets.
There are five stories of cathedral below the cooled lava surrounding this church in Mexico. Dungeons are undead structures - they had a purpose in life but it died with them. Only echoes of it remain, but they lumber on, taking on new purposes and new inhabitants. A dungeon is a corpse, and corpses teem with new life.
(Very Large Image Alert) In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I call the Platonic Idea Dungeon, that previous life is readily apparent. Dracula was obviously a living man in this castle, or some form of it, once. In undeath, he's taken his armies, his staff, his court and even his fallen foes with him.

Of course, SoTN was merely putting the Castlevania aesthetic on Metroid's structure. Super Metroid may be the better dungeon, depending on your taste. While I don't quite count it because it's still serving it's original purpose - it's a base for the Space Pirates and there they are, basing themselves in it - it's still a great design.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Castlevania is the Platonic Dungeon

I’ve been thinking a lot about dungeons. You know, the second noun in the title of the two-noun-and-an-ampersand game we play? It’s funny how rarely I’ve ever really used either in a game.

Mmm... dungeony.
Dragons, eh. But dungeons - my lack of experience with dungeons is evidence of my youth - old school DnD is all about the dungeons (as a figure of speech: I know there’s more to the old-school ethos than that, so put away the flamethrowers). Still, I’ve thought about them a lot, and I’ve read plenty of dungeon modules from the TSR years.

They weren’t any good. Bits were good, but I’ve never encountered the Platonic Idea Dungeon.

Save one. It was a video game.

I submit Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (and the further 2D games that were rooted in it) as the Perfect Dungeon, the closest we may ever see to the Platonic conception of Pure Dungeoness.

It is non-linear - you can tackle areas in almost any order you care to. What you do in one area can affect another (powerups that allow you to reach areas you could not otherwise - not a perfect example but close). There are traps and tricks that make you start examining the pretty scenery closer. There’s a variety of monsters, of course. Lots of loot, much of it weird and special. There are secrets out the ass. But most importantly, the place feels like a place, not a bank in the ground custom built for the sole purpose of being robbed. It feels lived in... or unlived in or whatever.

Some examples of what’s so fucking great about SoTN:

  • The castle has art galleries, a library, a chapel, an indoor colosseum, a clock tower, catacombs, a mine and pretty much everything but a kitchen, all stocked with appropriate enemies (undead pit fighters in the colosseum, angel-like things in the chapel, books in the library). This gives you a sense that this really was a ruler’s castle before things changed. Living people went about their business here, once, long ago.
    WHAT is this asshole's deal, anyway?
  • In said chapel, there’s a confessional you can use. A ghost priest will come if you sit on one side, while the ghost of a woman will show up if you sit on his. They will either listen to you or confess to you, or try to stab you through the confessional grate. What an awesome trap.
  • Sometimes there’s just random weird shit, like a zombie kung-fu artist that attacks you in a room. There’s only one of him, he’s not a boss or anything... he’s just this unique single thing.
  • There’s more than one faction in the castle, sort of. The Librarian will sell you goods and info. There’s a ferryman that will take you across an underground lake. There are two other characters loose in the castle doing their own thing against Dracula, but not with you. One of them has been brainwashed by Drac’s minions. Beyond that, there’s a ton of bosses with hinted backgrounds and motives of their own.
    He's called Yorick in the English versions. I know. Sorry.
  • There are elements you can use against the inhabitants, like teleporters and elevators. Oh, lets count save spots, why not.
  • Did I mention secrets? SPOILER WARNING: 50% of the castle is only accessible if you wear a special item, don’t kill the person that looks like they’re responsible for things, and instead attack a magic ball. Do this and an entire, upside-down version of the place comes out of the sky, where the REAL bad guy is. This is all completely optional.

  • A giant floating ball of screaming corpses.

This image comes with a bonus asterisk! *
SoTN does something that is very hard for a video game - it makes you forget you are essentially on an obstacle course with someone waiting at the end for you to assassinate them. The thing is, this should be easy to do in an RPG. Just construct a dungeon with a sense of purpose beyond the PCs, be it "An evil monarch who would later become a vampire lived here" or "we buried an important person here and by the Gods we want them to stay there."

In short, publish a dungeon module that was more like Castlevania and less like “in the room, there is 50 gp and a ochre jelly” and I’m a customer. Since I’ve not seen one... I’ll just have to make it myself, won’t I?

* Disclaimer 1: This image is from a later game using the SoTN model, I just thought it was metal as fuck. Disclaimer 2: I am not metal and the above statement should in no way betaken as accurate. I'm not responsible if you call this metal and Eddie from the Megadeth covers kills you in your nightmares.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Have a Secure, Unmolested Sizzlepissmas!

In my household, we do not celebrate Christmas. There is no Santa.

There is only the Solstice Night, when the sun is swallowed up and then slowly regurgitated by Sizzlepiss, the Solstice Opossum. She crawls up your duct work to leave "presents" in your shoes. If you've been naughty, she doesn't leave coal - she chews open your gas lines. Place the rotting scraps of your heathen feasts by your trash bins now and you may yet please her.

Sizzlepissmas is also celebrated in the City-State of Carrow, where gifts are exchanged much you do for your holidays. In honor, here's a random table for you. Technically, I made it up for a post on another forum, but it's the thought that counts.

So the PCs have been captured by some subterranean "savage" culture, like gnolls or orcs. Instead of outright execution, the PCs are sealed inside the skull of a giant, which is then filled with either:

1. A mild acid (will ruin cloth and paper, removes all body hair, permanent scarring over entire body),
2. Cave Bees (like normal bees but deal with fungi spores instead of pollen),
3. Gnoll pups,
4. Cave Honey Mead (think bourbon with traces of LSD in it),
5. Blood,
6. Snakes and chicken eggs,
7. Snakes and live chickens,
8. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms,
9. Rotting meat,
10. A candle, some dice, a couple hunks of meat and a kobold who just happened to get caught the very same morning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy with your host, Zak Smith

I've been throughly enjoying the Gygaxian Democracy series over at Playing DnD with Porn Stars. Basically, Zak posts some kind of prompt - a table to fill in, a keyed dungeon to stock, a list of villians - and the rest of us provide the rest. Crowdsourced DM material, in other words. The results have been mostly fantastic, and I'm really proud of what Smith's prompts and the other contributions have inspired out of me. Here's a few of mine, but really, read the others as well.

1. For a list of villains, I choose to fill in the details for "giant centipede with excellent hygiene"
2. Shriekglass is made from the cries of dead virgins, and is being smuggled into town. Several parties are interested in it, including mine (which I used a Tarot deck to make up).
3. The King has lost his head. The Forces of Badness have made impostures, each of which has a different effect if put back on his body. Like inflating and floating away.
4. The Hammer of Exorcism exorcises things hammered with it. Unless it doesn't, in which case one of a number of things might occur. Like total protonic reversal.

Play Report 5: The Chase

I don't have a lot to offer this time, except to toss up the maps they found. From Steph:

Drusiphia offers to take the first watch, and she seems like she might not be that trustworthy. Hmm. But Spucky tells Junior to keep watch too, and to stop her if she tries anything sneaky. Also, she sleeps on the medallion to make it hard to steal. And surely even a thief wouldn't rob near-penniless adventurers in the middle of a dungeon when she's been promised a share of the treasure they're owed when they get out, would she?

Well, it turns out she would! Dan-dan-dan! Drusiphia steals the medallion and Spucky's pocket change during the night and runs off with Junior. Oh dear! She leaves a note saying not to follow her, but come on -- as if! For one thing, she's probably headed to the exit. Plus, she just guardian-jacked us, and that's not cool! I was gonna give her part of my treasure, too! Although in fairness to her, the medallion might have been worth the lion's share of it anyway.

First, I recover my spells. This time I pick Magic Stone instead of Goodberry ... I don't think we're going to find any berry bushes down here! In fact, we are totally out of food. That might be a problem! Drusiphia said the purple mushrooms growing everywhere could be eaten "in a pinch", but that they cause hallucinations, and anyway, who knows if she was telling the truth?

We follow her trail for a while and eventually find somewhere where she seems to have lost one of her horns and fallen down some stairs. Spucky takes the antler, maybe she can sell it to a wizard? Further on, we hear the sounds of a fight. Spucky tries to sneak up an see what it is (not that she has any ranks in Sneak, but it's worth a shot.) A big black dog appears, growling!

But it's not here to attack - it's one of those padfeet that the owl mentioned, another Grim. It reports that Drusiphia ran by with Junior, using him to protect her from the Grim. Ah, now it begins to make sense that she didn't want to travel with us, she would certainly have run into trouble here if she had. And even though she managed to get away, the Grim took a nice big bite of her anyway. I like this Grim, he reminds me of Chops.

There's a dwarf skeleton covered with orange mold here, too. The Grim says that the spores of the mold are deadly. Spucky leaves it alone and we continue on to the south, following the trail of the thief. Soon we hear something in the distance, fwoosh, fwoosh, fwoosh. It gets closer and closer, screeching and screaming. It's a gigantic bat! Aaa!

Our attack kept missing and I started to get a bit worried - maybe we should run? I think I was a bit nervous because of Chris' vivid description. It was very scary, like a big wingy train barreling down the tunnel! However, we eventually manage to land a few hits - as usual, Agartha does most of the damage. And the bat is killed! After checking it for poison, we cook it. So much for being out of food - for now at least.

A crazy-looking person dressed in rags appears from the way we came, covered in orange dust and laughing hysterically. Looks like mold spores! Spucky uses Create Water to wash them off, and it seems to work, but the weirdo attacks anyway. We knock him out (he's not very tough). Chris asks if we want to eat him - ha ha. No, but we do go through his pockets and find some old maps written in Dwarvish shorthand. Looks like our nutty friend was messing around with that dwarf skeleton back there. Luckily, Spucky can read Dwarvish (along with Common, Gnomish, and Sylvan) and can read the directions on what places to avoid and how to get to 'the Crypt', which seems like the way out.

And Back.
Spucky takes along a lot of bat meat, in case we can't find anything else, and we also carry along the crazy mushroom spore guy, in the hopes that when he wakes up he'll be less insane. He's tied up, though, just in case. He got past the Grim all right, so he's probably not evil. Alternately, he could be evil and very powerful! We'll just have to hope he doesn't turn out to be another bad egg!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crunchy Corner: Called Shots

In DnD your Armor Class, or AC, reflects your ability to get out of the way or deflect a blow harmlessly. It's a combination of bonuses given for dexterity, armor, shields, magic effects, etc.

Your attack bonus in 3rd Edition, be it for a melee or ranged weapon, is pretty simple - how good you are at hitting something with that thing.

Here's what happens in a giving combat turn: I try to whack you - I roll a d20 plus whatever my bonus for my whacker is. I'm trying to match your AC - I either succeed and thus you are whacked, or I failed.

Why did I fail?

Well... that's open to interpretation. You could have dodged, ducked, sidestepped, or I could have failed to even swing at the right area of space-time you occupy. Or I could have struck your shield, or you batted my weapon aside with it. Maybe I hit you, but your armor did what armor does. If you are some kind of monster, I may have simply failed to penetrate your rough hide or natural armor.

In the rules, straight as they are, there's no way to tell. The DM has to make up what happened. I usually go by how close the roll was - did you roll just under their AC? Armor or a shield, then. Miss it by 3 points or more and they probably dodged. More than 10 and you apparently mistook a stray dust mote for your foe, three feet away.

But what does this mean for a player that wants to hit a specific body part? Or an object held or worn? A "Called Shot" as you will. I was surprised to learn there is no rule for this in the official Player's Guide or the DMG for 3e. What's up with that?

First, there is a rule for trying to disarm an opponent, which involves striking whatever they're holding. There's also rules for hitting objects carried or worn.

The primary thinking I've encountered is that the system of Critical Hits is supposed to cover "hitting something special." In other words, you aren't allowed to aim for the neck, or shoot someone in the knee. Instead, if you roll a critical hit (let's remember that in official by-the-book 3e that means the critical range of that weapon followed by rolling the critical range AGAIN) you are THEN allowed to assume you hit the neck or a knee or something.

This, in my opinion, robs the players of agency and I fail to see how that improves the game.

I've not settled on a solution, but here are my thoughts.

Hitting a body part... just consider the size of the part, add that bonus to the other stuff (most things will be +4 or +8) and give the target an attack of opportunity.

Also, don't make hitting a special place too big a deal, as a DM. If chopping heads were as simple as overcoming a +8 bonus, a lot of PCs will take advantage of that. Maybe if they make the roll and get a natural 20. Otherwise, there's a feat for that.

Play Report 4: Exploring the Underworld

And now on to the megadungeon. Using Maptools, I did this an unusual way. I made a large scale map of the tunnels, with each square representing an hour of walking. Each hour, there was a 1/6th chance of an encounter. I had previously made a chart of possible encounters - some vicious, some innocuous. So it was sort of like an old 16-Bit JRPG video game - walk around the map until there's a sound and you're in a battle!

This way, the story evolved very organically. The Grims were on the list, as was Drusiphia (one of my favorite NPCs) and some other characters. There's a lot I designed that was never even approached, or rolled. This is, of course, good - it means I'm kept on my toes just as much as the players, and it means their choices and luck really have an impact, instead of stuff just thrusting its way in front of them.

Here's Steph's report:

Mostly this one was a series of dungeon encounters as we followed the tracks of the mine cart. People digging up rocks usually want them brought to the surface, right? Or at least to some sort of city. So we head along the tracks. First, we encounter a large talking owl called the Grim, who informs us that it's a guardian placed to help cleanse the dungeon of evil -- and that, as good creatures, we're safe around it. That's good to know! There are other Grims in the dungeon, including some "padfeet", but it doesn't know the way out. Too bad!

Traveling on, we find some mysterious things on the ceiling. Spucky throws a rock and skeletal bats swoop down to attack! We make short work of them, especially with Junior around.

Farther along still, we come to a watery area with a lot of puddles. One of the puddles hulks up into some sort of humanoid form made of living blood, and here it comes! Agartha and Spucky bat at it a bit but the real heavy lifting is done by Junior again, who hits it once and splatters it messily. Junior makes things a bit too easy, truth be told, but since I don't have Chops with me, I'm glad to have him! Spucky saves some of the blood in an empty flask (from a healing potion, taken off one of the gang, which Agartha chugged earlier). You never know what might be useful.

The tracks end at a vast underground lake, where they seem to have collapsed. Whoops! I guess we're not getting out that way. The cavern is huge - we can't see the ceiling, and we're too high up to get to the lake. Agartha chucks a rock, and there's a flash of something mysterious and humanoid in the lake. Then, suddenly, the lights go out, and Agartha is almost stabbed from behind by a mysterious assailant. She manages to grab them instead, though - turns out that it's a woman named Drusiphia with horns on her head. Even though she just tried to attack us, she seems to be stuck in the dungeon too - she claims to have been on the run from flying heads for a while. Hmm, can we trust her? Spucky probably would -- their aren't many evil gnomes, and she hasn't been in big-people land too long. Besides, when lost in a dungeon, we can use all the help we can get, and Drusiphia says she knows the way out. So she comes along, even though there are some suspicious things about her. For instance, when Spucky shows her the bottle of blood, she grabs it and drinks it!

DM: Specifically, Dru has two deer horns on one side, and a ram's on the other. I introduced her because I wanted another living being lost in the caves, but she became so interesting to me that I'm basing a novel around a (un-DnDified) version of her.

Soon the flying heads Drusiphia mentioned catch up with the party. Vargouille attack! The tiefling puts her fingers in her ears just before they let out a paralyzing screech. Sheesh, thanks for warning us about that! Agartha is frozen, while Drusiphia and Junior each take out one vargouille each, and even Spucky manages to down one with a couple of bullets from her sling. It doesn't take long, and when the battle is over Agartha is angry at having missed it.

We decided to end the session here, so the party prepared to make camp. It was still late afternoon in-game, but we'd been hiking around all day, and Spucky was totally out of spells, so we agreed to stop for a while and eat our rations.

She's right about Junior making things too easy. It's a good thing they rolled Drusiphia when they did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

TIC... TOC.... TIC...

An awesome but hard as hell exercise from Zak Smith's blog: Stock a dungeon with 15 rooms in under 2 minutes.

Follow the link to see the map - I don't think it matters, though. Any layout of 15 rooms will do. Here's mine, but I'm really bad at telling time* so I think I accidentally went over:

  1. Statue of a basilisk and a flock of cockatrice locked in deadly combat. Not real.
  2. Stoned Flock of cockatrice, real, trap tile unstones them.
  3. Stoned Basilisk, real, but actually stoned: bleary eyes, etc. Gaze half effective due to red eye
  4. Two elf women that won't stop singing (can't?)
  5. Bannana trees
  6. floor covered in redworms
  7. floor covered in teeth
  8. Giant tapestry made of woven spider silk
  9. caged spiders
  10. spider milking apparatus
  11. WC
  12. Kid pounding head against floor, wound keeps healing
  13. comfy chairs
  14. kitchen
  15. library, all the books are blank 
*Not kidding - I don't know why either.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just some stuff I drew.

Afile, self-proclaimed daughter of the Raven herself

A map of the region east and south of Carrow

And another map contradicting it on key points.

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 3

The following events were a perfect, glimmering gem of what makes me love DMing, and makes others loathe it. Here's Steph again with the player's POV:

It's the next morning and guess what? We grew a new level overnight. Suddenly Spucky has another hit die (8... a nice one!) and can cast more spells. I decide on Light and Goodberry as the added default spells to renew every moonrise (plus Summon Nature's Ally, for that extra spell slot I forgot about). Look out world, we're Level 2!

And by "world", I mean "little girl's shins", because it's time for the interrogation, medieval style. Two of the gang members had their memory erased by the black moss, but the third might still yield some info. Carrock unties her, warning not to try escaping across the grassy field unless she remembers where all the bear traps the gang laid are. The little girl hesitates and then makes a break for it. But Carrock moved the traps anyway. OH, SNAP. No, literally, "SNAP!"

With a big bear trap on her leg the kid loses her composure and starts cursing and yelling about the Culler - who it turns out is the evil boss of the gang, who likes using handheld sickles to kill people with. It's a nasty gang, hmm? Then she passes out. I think Spucky was a little shocked by all this -- human-style medieval police procedures are a new thing for her!

One of the Awlstones offers Spucky and Agartha 30% of the treasure in the barrow for their help in fighting off the gang (Agartha tries to bargain for more, but it doesn't work). The first order of business is to go down and get a little money to hire people to help haul the rest of it out. Chops is lowered into the barrow too, but Carrock says she's lived this long by staying out of holes. A detect magic spell shows that there are a few magic items in the hoard and something big under the bones. Hmm. Now, I was getting a serious Cave of Wonders vibe here - there's no way you get THAT much treasure at level 2! But from an in-character perspective, Spucky wouldn't know that, so she grabbed the treasure and WHAMMO! An enormous armored figure, wearing a medallion like the one on the statue, bursts out of the bones and gives her such a look! It's time to fight!

Chris: Now, some background. What we have here is a few second level players against a level 8 Shield Guardian. It could conceivably kill one of them in a single round, and is almost impossible for them to hit. Am I insane? Am I just trying to kill them off? No. I've got a plan... as we are heading into Halloween at this point there's a themed "dungeon" planned, in which they will constantly be on the run from this unstoppable Jason Vorhees of a monster....

Agartha swings at him ... no effect. Chops bites, to no effect. Spucky summons a dire rat and it chips a tooth on the thing. Even Carrock jumps into the hole after all and can't get past the armor. This thing is tough! Then the thing smashes Agartha with one massive fist for a large chunk of damage. Ouch!

Chris - Okay, about time to pull the cork and drop them into the dungeon....

About this time I was thinking maybe we should be retreating (Spucky was going to drop the gold, and see if that stopped it from attacking) -- if Carrock, who's tougher than we are, was having trouble hitting, this thing could absolutely smoosh us! But Agartha went into her rage and went onto the offensive with a mighty strike at the creature's neck and... it works!

Chris - Wait, what? She specified that she was aiming for the neck of something that was already almost impossible to strike effectively... and she hit. And she rolled a lot of damage. Well... huh. My thinking is that it would be unfair to say the chain of the medallion isn't broken....

The medallion chain is severed, the creature stops moving, and the floor of bones begins to sink. Uh-oh! Spucky and Agartha both try to climb onto the solid platforms, but don't make it. Chops does, and Carrock makes it to the rope. Then the two junior adventures get down into the pit in a maelstrom of bones and coins....

Somewhere deep underground, they come to, alone. Except for the guardian, which now is not moving. This could be trouble for Spucky -- Chops has most of her equipment, and does most of the fighting! Plus ... Spucky didn't bother to hunt for berries before going into the hole, so she can't use Goodberry, although she is carrying a day's worth of rations.

Chris - What the hell, my whole "unstopable monster" plan is up river. Why not give them a secret "spot" check to see if they notice the medallion among all the bones. Let's say it's really hard... hell, 20 even.

However, Spucky is about to get SUPER LUCKY, because she trips over the severed medallion, and as it turns out, whoever holds the medallion controls the guardian!

Chris - She rolled a natural 20. A natural 20.

Suddenly we've got a very good bodyguard, which Spucky dubs 'Chops Jr.'... to be shortened to Junior, to prevent confusion. The party heads down the tunnel along some mine-cart tracks, on the assumption that they might lead outside. Some skeletons appear... at first, we thought this all might be part of the same complex, and whoever controlled the guardian would also control the skeletons. Are they friendly? NO. Skeletal miner attack!

It turns out we hardly have to do anything because Junior wipes them all out handily, taking multiple attacks per turn and beating the skeletons into powder. We stopped the session here as the party prepares to search for a way back to the surface.

Chris - Well, that turns the entire campaign inside out, doesn't it? The thing I planned to terrorize them with ends up being their pal through sheer chance. Sure, I could have said "No, the necklace didn't break" or "it's lost in the bone pile, no chance to find it," but is that seriously the most interesting way to go about things? I prefer knowing everything could go up on its head. In fact, I knew at the start they may have decided the treasure was most likely cursed, or they may have escaped the barrow before it collapsed under them. Likewise, they may have pressed the assault on Junior and all died. When you nestle into the little world you've made for a new session, you never know what it will look like when you leave. That's what I love about this game. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 2

Agartha, by Steph Cherrywell
In Which the Players Encounter Drugged Crazies, Cows and Crossbows. Take it away, Steph:

Spucky and the monks are headed to town to find someone who can cure Toby's poisoning, when the way is blocked by a somewhat deranged guard. His name is Sven, and he's not letting anyone through, not Spucky, not the monks, and not Agartha, the human barbarian who's also here. Before the situation can escalate too much, another guard, Carraton, appears. It turns out Sven is just total bonkers nuts, and has been ever since he went to investigate a nearby farm. With Sven subdued and sent off to town with the monks in the hopes that the healers can help him as well as Toby, Carraton hires the two adventurers to investigate the Awlstone Farm. I finally got around to picking Spucky's spells (detect poison and magic, create water, and cure light wounds) somewhere in here, which was good, because they came in very handy later!

DM: Enter Kitty’s PC Agartha and my first hopefully reoccurring NPC, Captain Carraton of the Gibbering Gap Guard. What’s a Gibbering Gap? “It’s a rock formation” Sven told them, while Carraton told them it was the last major trading post between here and the great city state of Carrow.

Agartha is a human barbarian. She is very big, and very strong. As we soon learn, even a level one player can do massive amounts of damage with a great axe and a rage-enhanced strength.

Old MacDonald had a farm... OF DEATH
The farm is quiet on the approach. Carraton notices a tripwire attached to a crossbow trap, and sneaks around it. She approaches through the underbrush with Spucky following. There are digging sounds coming from inside the barn. Suddenly, someone starts shooting a crossbow from the house! Carraton runs around the side of the barn, while Spucky takes cover behind some firewood. (I was a little unclear about where things were for a while, because the 'fog of war' option in Maptools made it hard to tell which building was which!) [I’m starting to find Maptools’ Fog of War more trouble than it is worth - DM] Agartha runs towards the house as attackers pile out of it. A little girl runs out of the barn wielding a crossbow -- Spucky doesn't know if she should attack a little kid, so she stays put. Meanwhile, Agartha goes into her barbarian rage and turns everyone around her into chunky spaghetti sauce. An oaf (well, that's what his icon looked like) runs out of the barn and attacks Spucky and Chops. Chops jumps him and the world's supply of oafs is messily decreased by one.

Spucky comes out from behind the woodpile, hoping the girl will surrender. She didn't -- instead, she fires a crossbow bolt. What a brat! Spucky tries to bonk her with the sling, but not kill her. (But as I was quickly learning, at level 1 it's pretty hard to hit as it is!) It's a miss! Fortunately, Carraton had been busy stampeding cows, and one of them lumbers right over the obnoxious little punk and knocks her senseless.
Another child, a twin of the first, appears and runs up to shove some mysterious black moss into the unconscious girl's mouth. The sole remaining adult enemy also doses herself with the moss and immediately drops like a rock, but Chops manages to keep the second little girl from taking a dose by non-lethally chewing the hell out of her legs. We've got three prisoners now, and search them to find a few blue potions and some more of the black moss as well as some crossbows and daggers and whatnot. Also, one of the cows wanders into the tripwire and gets itself killed with a crossbow bolt. [Actually the bolt just poisoned it with a sleeping drug, but there was no way to tell unless you examined it. - DM]

This is DnD so the treasure is completely safe to touch.
Investigating the storm cellar under the house, we find the last member of the gang, who's poured oil on the Awlstones and is holding them hostage with a lit torch. Hiding behind Agartha's mighty leg, Spucky creates water on the torch. Poof! He dies with the look of surprise on his face (Agartha got him, I think.) The Awlstones are grateful to be free, even though Spucky makes the faux pas of suggesting they eat the cow that died (they're vegetarians). Apparently the gang is here looking for a rumored barrow with something valuable in it. They tricked the Awlstones by having the girls put on the ol' innocent act, then taking them prisoner and claiming the farm for themselves. About this time, one of the other cows finds the hidden barrow, by falling into it. It's an underground room filled with bones and treasure, as well as a giant statue and a laid-out giant's skeleton. Spooky. But treasurey!

The cow is brought back safely to the surface. Everyone enjoys a nice home-cooked meal, except for the gang - we're going to interrogate them tomorrow morning!

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Cry prettier, Jessica."

Another post unrelated to RPGs: sorry folks. But, I had to spread the word about this overlooked quote from Jessica Alba to Elle:

"I remember when I was dying in Silver Surfer...The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica.' He was like 'Don't do that thin with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.'" And I'm like, But there's no connection to a human being. And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough? Do people hate them so much that they don't want me to be a person? Am I not allowed to be a person in my work?

Thanks to Written World for drawing this to my attention: You should really go read that author's thoughts on the subject. It got me wondering about not just Alba's post-Dark Angel career, but a lot of actresses I've long thought to be cast only for looks. In how many cases is that not their fault? How many are being directed to be bad?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On a Polygonal Horse He Rides...

Not dead, just busy. Anyway, here come this comic got nothin' to do with table-top gaming.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Creature Feature The Last:: Tommy Rawhead

Nowhere near the 31 mark, but here's the grand finale anyway!

Art by Steph Cherrywell

In our world there are two versions of the Tommy Rawhead (or Rawhead and Bloody Bones) folk tale. The UK version is a kind of arch-hobgoblin that lives in cupboards and under stairs, devouring disobedient children.

But I'm from the American Southeast, and our Tommy is quite different. And that's who I'm basing this version on.

There once was a quite ancient hag living deep in the swamp. Amid the will'o'whisps and corpse-candles, she wove strange magics unlike any other. Unlike most of her kind, she didn't abide the company of other hags nor did she live in seclusion. Rather, she lived with a pet razorback hog she named Tommy.

No one knows if Tommy was this way to begin with, or if the hag made him so, but the hog was much larger than the average razorback. He was the size of a black bear, and when on occasion he was seen wandering the swamp some swore he walked upright.

On one occasion, after going out on an errand for the hag Tommy didn't return. Perturbed, she cast a spell of scrying to find the hog, and the vision brought forth such a horrid cry of rage from her gnarled green lips the whole swamp shuddered.

Tommy, it turned out, had wandered near the house of a hunter and skin-trader, a man full of hubris regarding the dangerous powers around him. He spotted the hog and, despite the warnings of his comrades, brought the beast down with an arrow through the heart. By the time the hag missed him, the hunter had already skinned Tommy's corpse. All she saw was a raw, bloody skull.

But Death and the hag were acquaintances, for all hags must bed Death as a lover in exchange for their eternal lives. But this hag loved Tommy more than she loved that life, and her lust for vengeance was so strong she traded everything Death allowed her in exchange. As she slumped to the dirt floor of her hut, Tommy's raw head rolled towards his carcass.

First, Tommy pulled on a pair of overalls from the hunter's clothesline. Then he staggered into the swamp and searched for dying beasts. From them he borrowed all their most frightening parts - the claws of a panther, the fangs of several vipers, the eyes of a hawk.

Then Tommy returned to the Hunter's cabin. Unfortunately his desire for slaughter didn't die with his murderer.


It cannot be understated: Tommy Rawhead is a dangerous opponent. Despite his massive size (he's only gotten bigger as he grafts new animal parts on), he is swift and agile. He has all the benefits of being undead, and several odd side-effects of years spent eating leftovers of the hag's spells. For instance, and spell intended to do harm to the target only strengthens Tommy. Some spells, like magic missiles, actually reflect off. He has the natural attacks of whatever beasts he's currently taken "additions" from, and has the unsettling habit of appearing places he shouldn't have been able to reach without being seen - like inside bedroom closets that have already been checked once.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Creature Feature 19: Childcatcher Costumes

Another contribution from Steph Cherrywell, I'll let her do the talking:

Art by Steph Cherrywell
A construct creature, based on the idea of trick-or-treating, if there is a festival similar to Halloween in the campaign world.  These creatures pretend to be inanimate but very scary-looking costumes and wait until a child puts them on - then they take possession of the child's body and force them to acquire candy by any means possible  (first begging, then scaring, and finally attacking people if it's allowed to run free long enough.)  The  costume stores some of the energy and uses it to gain more power and control the longer it's worn.  These costumes were created by a hag and set loose as a way of fattening up the local children for eventual eating, without having to go to the trouble of doing it herself (or the expense of building a gingerbread house).

Really, any holiday in your campaign world that involves a) people in costume and b) food can have Childcatchers. I can see a similar version for adults.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unrelated: When we do Halloween, we do Halloween.

The daring steamship bandit Topper Lee, who never met a bank vault he couldn't blow big holes through.

Wanted across all seven skies, Evil-Eye Estrella has left a trail of death, destruction and flustered young ladies.

Left to right: Kitty's six-round mini-singularity instigator, this one's a Quantum-Industrial Labs "Imploder X-9Z." Only a handful of prototypes of the "Imp" were produced - the likelihood of adverse litigation made QUIL reconsider mass-marketing a purse-sized handgun that creates black holes inside people's torsos.

Chris's gun, also sporting a six-round chamber, is a Hydrogen-Carbon Fusion Cell Protocaster, a custom magnum version standard issue to the Priests of the Order of World Commerce. Rumors persist that Lee modified his to fire other ammo, probably due to the high rates of radiation poisoning among OWC's priesthood.

The problem with the Age of Steam was all the coal dust in the air. The problem with the Atomic Age of Steam is that the coal dust can mutate your lungs into a separate organism with its own motives that might clash with your own. Best to wear a mask when outside quantum-filtered air conditioning.

The Hour Grows Late

The most recent Creature Feature was #18. Today is the 26th. Obviously, I've very behind if I'm to have 31 on Halloween.

I have one more from Steph Cherrywell to post, so there's 19. And I know who #31 is, as the finale was the first one I thought up (Steph illustrated it weeks ago). That means I need to come up with 11 more in 6 days, roughly two a day.

I'm also trying to catch up on the work I'm paid to do. All this is to say, I may not make it. Regardless, you can expect a few more before the big finale on Halloween. I'll repeat this Sunday, but I want to thank everyone that's commented and encouraged me to slog through this little experiment in spontaneous creativity. I hope at least something I've spewed out finds life in another's campaign!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creature Feature 18: The Gelatinous Sphere

"Oh bullshit!" you say. "A Gelatinous Sphere? You're going to give us a reworking of the Gelatinous Cube where you just picked another Platonic solid?"

"Well, this one could roll," I reply coolly.


"Well, how the hell does the Cube move? I mean, if it's on a downward incline it might kinda... slide.. like lard on a skillet. But uphill?"

"Yeah. That's part of why it's lame. Making it faster still makes it lame, though."

"Okay, calm down, I was just jerking you around. The Gelatinous Sphere has nothing to do with the Cube. People call it that because that's what it looks like - a big, floating ball of clear gel, with something vaguely nerve-like in the center. Also, they don't know what else to call it.

Among the oddest entities recorded, very little is know about the Sphere's intelligence, motives, biology or even if there are more than one in existence. One always seems to be present somewhere, though, hovering over the landscape, occasionally pausing to make something that crossed its path spontaneously erupt in flames. Really, it's assumed the Sphere is responsible, since there's no visible action on its part aside from the brief stop in its slow and steady movement. Why it does this is anyone's guess and everyone's woe.

Of course, attempts have been made to slay it, or force it to turn when it nears a settled area. These usually end in disaster. On three recorded occasions after the first volley of arrows, or spells, or ballista bolts struck near the Sphere, a cloud giant's severed, bloody head plummeted out of the blue sky and onto several key members of the chain of command, even though at least once they were in a tent miles away. On two occasions, a thick rain of large, live frogs fell on the soldier's lines, ruining moral and impeding movement. After one of these incidents the Sphere did then turn to the left and away from the village the soldiers wanted to protect, but a month later the entire population died from illness due to the massive amount of dead amphibians littering the streets and wells.

A similar tragedy occurred when the Sphere approached a great desert palace. Unconcerned, the Queen ordered a giant iron box to be built directly in front of the Sphere's path, with two sides left open to allow it to pass through. Sure enough, it entered the box and then, with chains and horses, the sides were lifted and hammered closed by several dozen metalworkers. The Sphere was trapped. The Queen the ordered the Box to be guarded 24/7, and that any living thing approaching it be immediately slain without question.

An hour later, the fish began to fall. First it was small fish. Then larger ones. Occasionally a tuna, or dolphin, or moderately large shark plummeted down on the palace grounds and burst across the golden tiles, lush tapestries and tan flesh of the terrified Court. For days no one could venture out from under shelter less they be slain by falling sea life. The carrion piled higher and higher until structures failed and crumbled. Men and women were crushed beneath roofs, or drowned in rotting fish innards, or struck dead by the stench. The Throne Room was the last place to withstand the onslaught, and the Queen finally got word out by eagle to free the Sphere, hoping it would end this horror once released. The great box was opened... but the Sphere wasn't there. The fish fell until the Queen could tolerate the smell no longer and drown herself in her bath trying to escape it. She was the last living soul in the Palace, and the rain of fish stopped as did her heart.

Scholars, looking back, noted that one hundred miles away, the population of a fishing village starved after every fish in their waters shot straight up into the sky. And on the same day the box was closed, the Sphere was seen incinerating a halfling bard that tried to sing it to sleep in the next kingdom.

Danger aside, these stories do demonstrate that the Sphere can be detered. The cost of doing so is often steep, however.

There, is that better?"


Friday, October 22, 2010

Creature Features 16 & 17: Jack-in-the-Pulpits and Witch-Traps

Catching up!

Jack-in-the-Pulpits are an unusually large and complex plant. They consist of a network of thick root-like structures only slightly beneath the soil, radiating out over a 45 degree cone from a tall structure resembling a cleric's pulpit. At this pulpit, the torso, arms and head of an elven man grow, in green leafy vestments. With animated zeal, this false figure proselytizes on the nature of good and evil, the wickedness of false beliefs and modern innovation, and the need to repent violence and destruction and return to a natural way of life. He especially excoriates the armed and armored, beseeching them to put down their implements of war and receive Nature's blessing.

When a sufficient crowd has gathered, the root system secretes a sticky sap up through the soil. If it isn't noticed in time, it is impossible for most humanoids to pull themselves free. Even then, those closest to the Pulpit have a lot of sap-soaked ground to cross, and every bit of it is as sticky as the last. "Jack" falls silent and still at this point. Victims eventually collapse from exhaustion, down into the mire. There they eventually die of dehydration or hunger, and attract animals that also get stuck. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit absorbs their nutrients through the root structure - with captures carrion-eaters included, one small crowd is enough to get a Jack-in-the-Pulpit through it's life cycle. Over the course of a few months the pulpit will fold up over "Jack," dry out and finally burst into a cloud of large seeds that float unnaturally.

Another form of murderous vegetation is the Witch-Trap, which grows exclusively in swamps and other murky locations. Far less animate than the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, assassin vines or other predatory plants, the Witch-Trap substitutes patience and specialization which allows it to expend less energy and therefore eat less.

A living Witch-Trap clump is invisible. It's known from dead samples that they consist of several large pairs of thick, magic-resistant leaves in a jaws-like configuration. These leaves hang open and tipped against to the ground to allow prey to wander between them. Just entering the leaves does nothing - in fact you can walk in and back out safely. But cast any kind of spell - say, in an attempt to see what invisible wall you just bumped into - and the leaves clamp shut and seal tight as the stalk stiffens and lifts you off the ground. The leaves then ooze a toxic sludge that drains life from the spellcaster inside (gives negative levels, in terms of rules) while dissolving flesh and bone as well. In this way, the plant both feeds and recharges its ability to remain invisible and impervious to magic. Should it ever fail to feed for too long (decades), or waste energy on a magic-less meal (a rogue that activated a magic device while in it, for instance), it will become visible. Thus exposed, it is doomed to starvation.

Many a tragic and gruesome report exist from the soul survivors of traveling cohorts of wizards. They tell of watching helplessly as their companions were lifted into the air by an invisible force, held aloft and slowly dissolved before their eyes. Worst of all was that their mighty magic could not save them - indeed they only escaped with their life because they became too terrified to attempt a spell themselves. The best schools of magic make their students study these reports, to demonstrate that sometimes even the greatest incantation is less useful that a simple sharp dagger.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 1

"David, kill the Queen!"
 I promised play reports, and here's the first. But I didn't want to take the usual route and tell you how the game went myself - after all, most RPG bloggers are GMs. You've had that point of view. Instead, I've asked my players to write the reports, which I'll then add my own commentary to. That way we get a complete picture, which seems much more instructive, and a hell of a lot more entertaining.

Without further adieu, here's Steph Cherrywell's report from her first session - which also happened to be my first session in a long time:

"Here is the journal of Spucky Conkerbucket, gnomish druid. Dungeons and Dragons has been a very different and rewarding experience for me so far. I play World of Warcraft on an RP server, and while I enjoy it a lot , the fact is that the "roleplaying" element and the "gameplay" element are entirely divorced from each other. You can make up any story you want, but your character is never in danger of (really) dying or being arrested unless you decided that's what you want happening in your storyline. And you can go through a dungeon with friends 'in-character', but at the end you have just one choice -- "kill the boss". You can't arrest him and drag him back to the city in chains, or infiltrate the pirate crew and then steal his ship, or decide you agree with him and throw in your lot with his gang, or anything else, gameplay-wise. So it's very exciting to get to try this out!

Spucky, level 1, is walking along with her animal companion, Chops the riding St. Bernard, when she hears the sounds of an argument. It's two monks - Sputnam and Ham - who are arguing about the location of a third, Toby, who went off in the woods to use the bathroom and hasn't returned. Spucky, being a Neutral Good meddling do-gooder sort, offers to help find him, and off we go in the woods. Lucky, Spucky's first feat is Track, and soon we found ourselves at the base of a fallen tree. No sooner did Spucky get up close to look at it than a giant spider popped out and bit her with a surprise attack! Luckily, she didn't get poisoned. Since this was the first session and I didn't know what I was doing, I hadn't chosen any spells beforehand, figuring I'd just decide on what to have when I needed it - just a wee bit against the rules, there! For future sessions I would decide on a 'default' list of spells which would be the ones Spucky had prepared at the start of the adventure unless I said otherwise. I also didn't even consider the possibility of trying to use Charm Animal until Chops had already given the spider a good return bite, and of course, it wouldn't have worked anyway because spiders are Vermin rather than animals. So two ignorants made a right, there! There was an intense combat with Chops biting, Spucky swinging with her quarterstaff, and the two monks doing rushing punch attacks. One of the monks was knocked down and took damage, and Spucky used her sole first-level spell (another little error -- I was supposed to have an extra one due to Wisdom bonus!) to Cure Light Wounds. Yay, my first heal!

[And a major one - he was actually dying. Being behind the wheel of the spider, I almost felt bad for her - it was like that scene at the end of Shaun of the Dead where they are all standing around in a circle screaming and beating on the zombie while Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" blares from the juke box.]

Eventually the spider is defeated without too much trouble, and Spucky and the older monk descended into the hole to look for Toby. I got a little nervous on Spucky's behalf because Chops couldn't come down with her, not being very good at rope-climbing, and at Level 1 most of her attack potential came from his mighty bite and not from the little junior-sized attack staff wielded by a 40-pound spellcaster. The logistics of dog-down-the-rope would come up in the next adventure too -- but he's still a good animal companion to have because he can easily carry a lot more than Spucky herself can. [Chops is like our mascot now. When his turn comes everyone is like "Go Chops!"]

Inside the hole were lots o' webs, some of them with mysterious lumps. We decided to cut loose the most promising lump and see if it was Toby, but in the middle of cutting, scuttling sounds were heard from the darkened part of the room. It turned out there was another spider in the nest! I started to be very paranoid about having Spucky take on an enemy with just one other person and no dog, so we got the bundle out as quickly as possible. However, the spider (which could talk) was actually happy that the other spider was dead. Turns out she was going to mate with and then kill him. I was still a little antsy, probably more than was strictly in-character -- something I need to work on. I am still expecting to do something wrong and get a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style YOU HAVE DIED. I probably will at some point, too, but I bought the Manual of the Planes, so there are lots of nice afterlives Spucky could pick from.

[Steph doesn't give herself enough credit. I had no idea how worried she was about her character getting killed. This was a fun little reversal for me, where there was a massive amount of tension while they knew the spider was there watching them try to get out as fast as they could, all for it to turn out it was as frightened as they were. This was a way to show that immediately attacking everything isn't always the best solution. Oh, between the talking male and the venom-less female I sort of invented a new species of giant spider.]

There seemed to be other things going on in the spider pit, but I didn't want to explore it alone [there were, but they aren't going anywhere], so Spucky went up the rope as quickly as possible and we cut open the web-lump. Toby was inside, and using Detect Poison I was able to determine that he was paralyzed but apparently not dying [I said the female was venom-less. The male still has a role in preparing the nest, like it or not]. We still thought it was a good idea to get him to a healer as quickly as possible, though, and I wasn't going to cut it! The recently-widowered smaller spider ran up out of the pit and scurried off, while we took Toby back to the cart and set off in search of someone who could cure him! Also, I would find out later that the spider's poison glands were apparently worth something. Oops. This may be why I still have barely any money, even a couple sessions later! [No, you don't have any money because I'm a jerk and make barrows full of gold collapse on you. More on that in a later report] I need to learn who has expensive things growing in them, and how to get at the goodies. You can see that I still have quite a bit to pick up, but it's all been very fun so far!

Next time, Spucky meets Agartha the barbarian, and an expedition to the Farm of Doom!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creature Feature 15: Fused Fey

"Well, I haven't said anything to anyone but... well, that morning I had the bread loaves all set out to rise before I stuck 'um in the oven when Carnlee stopped by. Well, when I came back to 'em, one had risen a little higher than the others, but eh, I figured the yeast was old. Into the oven they went. Well of course the biggest loaf was the first to sell... but do you know it was to Mrs. Cornsdale? Poor dears... and to think they had just finished dinner when the fire started."

"Oh, I'll sell it to you cheap! It's special, you know. Magic, I think, though the blacksmith said nothing of it. It just... had that feel to it, like it was different than all the other blades... anyway, it always struck true for me. Why of course I'm serious! Well I know that's awfully little to ask for a fine weapon like this but... look, I need the coin, okay? You're right, it isn't any of your business what happened to my damn arm, you want the sword or not?"

"But I swear I didn't do anything wrong! I didn't even want to sell the Duchess that straight-razor, but she saw it whilst touring the studio and insisted! I told you, I didn't make it! The silver razor I cast was unadorned... someone must have stolen it and replaced it with the cursed one, knowing the Duchess would see it. Everyone knows she's fond of artwork portraying the Kind Neighbors, so making the handle into a likeness of a Faerie child was a perfect plot... no, it was not my plot! That wasn't a confession..."

Any crafts-person working with great heat or fire should take heed: It's unwise to leave your materials unattended for long. The Fey are a curious folk, but not half so much as they are vengeful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unrelated: I think I may hate Google Instant

Started typing something that began with "How to become an" and this is how Google thinks people usually finish that sentence.

Creature Feature 14: Still Lives

Contrary to the title, Still Lives actually appear to be portraits, most often of wizards and sorcerers. In fact, the painting is a twisted form of undead immortality. They are created when an especially talented artist paints the portrait using paints mixed with the subjects own bodily humors. Thus the subject's life is transferred to the canvas.

A Still Live can move about in the 2D world within its frame, and cast any spells or spell-like powers it had in life. The gaze of a Still Live medusa can petrify, for instance. The Still Life can also stretch its canvas to form an upper torso with head and arms. Often they will lure prey close by holding still, or by claiming to be a trapped innocent, before launching off the wall to pummel and throttle.

Still Lives can feel their paint deteriorate and their canvas fray and slacken. They thirst for fresh bodily fluids, which rejuvenates their abhorrent materials. Most are created as guardians and traps, and thus powerful spell casters are usually chosen by the evil power that makes them. As a physical threat, the Still Live's fists are supernaturally strong, and it can break bones in its grappling embrace, especially when the painting is larger that life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Creature Feature 13: Touring Ghosts

Up to bat again is Steph Cherrywell, who's second book through Slave Labor Graphics is now on Amazon. She's good. Go buy it.  In Steph's own words this time:  

The ghosts of those whose vacations were cut short by untimely death, these ghosts are "tied" to traveling, rather than to a specific place.  They haunt inns at night, messing up rooms and causing food to disappear, and popular tourist spots during the day.   The city elders usually want them hurried on their way, unless of course the most famous spot in town is a haunted house, in which case they might be looking for a way to make them stick around...

I see these as the D&D equivalents of your road ghosts - your Big Joes and Phantom 409s, your Hitchhiking Prom Queens, that sort of thing. The key here is the free roaming thing - most ghosts are haunting a specific place, but touring ghosts move around - in fact, they have to travel every bit as much as a focused haunting must stay put.

Don't sound like much of a problem? Maybe one or two wouldn't be. However, anyone who has taken an extended sabbatical will tell you tourists usually end up meeting other tourists. Then they stick together through the rest of the trip, and meet others. This snowballing effect means that, when touring ghosts come to your town, it may be in a spectral swarm.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creature Feature 12: Iconovores

Hailing from the planes of Entropy, iconovores are a pestilent swarm of information-devouring memes. They are spread via communication - an intelligent being invested with iconovores will spread them to the next intelligence they communicate with. Thus, a book or other written message can sit for years, swarming with iconovores waiting for some hapless soul to glance within.

Once the memes are able to jump to a new host, be it a living mind or other form of communication, they annihilate the information contained in the old. A carrier's mind is often left in ruins, while the pages of a book might become blank. Often an unfortunate wizard has opened their spell book, only to watch it empty as iconovores invade their mind.

Iconovores have no physical presences on our plane. However, in the Ethereal they are visible within their host, as a mass of glowing tube worms constantly squirming through the synapses or glyphs they feed on. On the Ethereal they are quite defenseless, but will still damage the host if simply ripped loose. Only an instance death can promise the host's safety.

On the physical plane, destroying the host entirely will leave the iconovores floating free in the Ethereal. There they can try to infest ethereal creatures like Phase Spiders that can cross back to the physical and, with luck, communicate with something there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creature Feature 11: Trophy Ghoul

As evidenced by my being behind a day, I'm getting slammed with work this week. Thankfully, Steph Cherrywell has sent a few ideas to help out. This one's all Steph's.

Trophy Ghouls are created when the stuffed and mounted remains of animals killed for sport are raised. These undead beasts may be whole, or they may be only a part of the animal (like a mounted head). The later case can usually float, as can some smaller Trophy Ghouls such as fish. Pelts can become Trophy Ghouls - they move as if whole but can enfold and smother victims.

Art by Steph Cherrywell
Trophy Ghouls often hold a grudge against their slayers, and will prefer them or their descendants over other targets. As former prey, however, they enjoy turning the table on any predator.

For the most part, the average Trophy Ghoul behaves much like a zombie - they are stiff and slow compared to living examples of their species, but hardy and strong. They retain the attacks they had in life. However, when destroyed they burst into noxious clouds of malevolent sawdust that hangs in the air, chasing down and choking the lungs of their foes in one last act of ill will. Fire will annihilate this cloud, and the Trophy Ghoul, for good.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ghostbusters RPG Part 1: I tear up a little when everyone is cheering Lady Liberty

I'm a big fan of Ghostbusters. How big? I think the second movie is just as good as the first, and am offended anyone would think otherwise. That big.

Naturally, I loved the Ghostbusters video game that came out in 2009 - it was an absolute dragon's hoard of fan service. It expanded on all the little details of the films, the pseudo-science behind them and their uniquely humorous occult mythos (you get to fight a fuckin' sloar! Nobody roasted in it's belly that day I can tell you!). The slavish revisiting of every location from the first film did get a little tiring, but it was forgivable when they got away from it in the later half of the game. I do have some issues with the story (did we really need a new young love interest for Venkmen to sexually harass into submission?), but otherwise it was perfect.


You see, at the end of the game there's a voiceover where your character (a nameless rookie) is sent to open their own franchise in another city. Now, back in the 8- and 16-bit days there were several shitty GB games, and a reoccurring theme was having to buy equipment and pick a model of car for the ECTO. Those games sucked, but the idea of building a custom Ghostbusters team stuck with me. What if you got to play that franchise - getting a building and vehicle, hiring a team? And all those things had pluses and minuses.

And what if, instead of a linear plot (the new game was a typical "hit all these stops on the way to save the world" structure), you answered calls from a variety of locations? A family thinks they have a poltergeist, a restaurant's staff is being driven off by black shapes... and of course you get paid when you succeed. Talking to my wife, I realized what I wanted was a Ghostbusters RPG.

Then I thought about the 80s. There was a pen-and-paper RPG for everything in the 80s. Licensed properties were hot - Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Marvel and DC comics, the list goes on. This continued into the 90s, actually - Men in Black jumps to mind. So what were the chances there was a Ghostbusters RPG?


And it is absolutely awesome.

LATER: Details on the Ghostbusters RPG, the revised rules known as Ghostbusters International, how to get a hold of them and why you want to.

We Interupt This Blog for a Very Important Message

It's National Coming Out Day. All you have to do is look at the news to see the pain LGBTQ people are put through every day, and yet there are slimebags like Carl Paladino that STILL incite anti-gay violence and harrassment.

As a straight ally, I am SICK OF IT. My wife is bisexual. Many of my friends and clients are LGBTQ. The thought of anyone DARING to treat them as anything less than human is enough to make me violent.

2010 has to be the year it stops. Every gay youth that kills themselves in despair, every person beaten, raped or murdered for being who they are, every lost job, every slur, every time the word "gay" is used disparagingly, all the stupid jokes... every last bit of it is a stain on the soul of Humanity. There must be no more tolerance for hate.

You don't have to be LGBTQ to come out today. I'm prepared to fight for my loved ones, my friends, my fellow human beings... if you feel the same, announce it somewhere today. Twitter, Facebook, your blog, with a can of spray paint, wherever. And the next time you witness heterosexism or homophobia, remember that silence is no longer an option.

Creature Feature 10: Glorpers

As undead horrors go, glorpers out-rival vampires for verisimilitude - they are entirely indistinguishable from the living. The only give away is the caution they must show against moderate impacts, and the appalling results should their caution fail. A glorper's body is a barely-contained mass of necrotic jelly, under intense pressure beneath the thin wall of force created by its own will to remain human. For this reason, glorpers move slowly, are terrified of dogs and children and avoid crowds and slippery surfaces. Some impacts will only partially burst them, and with enough feedings they can reconstitute the loss, but severe events like falling down stairs or being trampled will disperse them beyond what their will can reform. If the remnants of such unfortunates are not properly cleansed with purified water, they will remain conscious of their state for all eternity.

Once a month a glorper must feed on enough subdued humans to satiate the necrotic jelly that forms it - otherwise the jelly destabilizes and the glorper cannot hold itself together. It feeds by draining constitution points as it seeps necrotic jelly onto the victim, melding with their own flesh and absorbing it. The glorper can let them live, but rarely does as few wish to spread their condition.

A glorper's jelly infects those that contact it with the condition. Each day they match their will against the infection; when they have failed enough times to equal their constitution they have fully succumbed and are now glorpers themselves.

Glorpers attack sleeping victims, always. If forced to fight, they will do so from a distance as they try to flee. A glorper is capable of launching one of the following as a missile each round - both eyes, the tongue, or as many fingers as it wishes. All burst on contact and risk infecting the target. The eyes do not leave the glorper blinded, but do instantly blind the target with no save for one day. The tongue makes the target mute for a day and nauseous for 5 rounds. Each finger does acidic damage. These limbs must all be regrown over the course of a month.

Any blow disables a glorper, but also splashes necrotic jelly five feet in each direction. Any blow dealing more that half its hit points will completely splatter it over a 10-foot radius. Pure water will dissolve it without this effect, in a one-to-one ratio.