Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sunset Realm Cosmology and Religion

I'm tying the last 4 campaigns I've won into an overarching setting, because that seems the best way to build a large setting up, really. Having some pictures to break up these walls o' text is definitely necessary but I can't lie, this post is more for me to organize some stuff to a single area than for anyone else.

First Sun
The First Sun gave light and warmth, of course. It  gave form and law to the Elements, who form the world in a covenant of cycling matter that returns warmth to the Sun, with interest, warmth and soul growing from what seemed dead and dark, with a seed of light to germinate within.

But the darkness was vast, and the Sun could not illuminate all things. The world was made, but outside the world, the darkness remained. From behind what was lit, shadows were cast, and they stretched to the very edge(but no further) of true darkness and there were seized by a ruinous nostalgia for unbeing, and so the Sun was torn asunder. But the Shadows were illuminated by the light of the sundered Sun, and they became glowing Moons, and their moonlight, pale as it was, sustained the world, though much of it became shadowed and chill, and the forgotten First Sun's world grew strange indeed in the light of roaming moons.
Yg-A incited to devour his fellow moons, shed Yg, and become Second Sun
Then Yg-A the Snake Moon fell prey to a hunger within, born of stolen and diffuse light, a hunger called Fire, sometimes called the Light Degenerate. Yg-A devoured many moons and, wonder of wonders, ignited into a Sun, the Second Sun, and Yg-A became the Dragon-Sun, scaled and fiery, and Yg the Mother of Serpents came to be from the shed snake-skin of Yg-A, and the world became as it once was, but different, dominated by the hunger of flame-bellied serpents, the dragons. Very few dragons nowadays trace lineages back to the Second Sun, but those that do are terrible indeed.
Yg-A Becomes the Undersun
Yg-A's hunger was bottomless, for Fire knows not satiety, and as the fellow Moons were nearby... The Moons fled before Yg-A through air, and some still shake in the distance, watching the world from the edge of darkness fearfully lest Yg-A return. You may know the Coward Moons as Stars, and this fear of cannibalism is why Moons only rarely share a sky with each other. Yg-A turned Fire-Hunger towards the Earth, and, jaws gnashing, sank into the earth in an attempt to consume it. Yg-A knew not of the covenant violated, and the Tamed Stone took Yg-A's heat and became Magma, who worked to undo the breach of the Covenant by returning heat to the Sea and Sky too via Volcano. Yg-A was weakened and forgotten, his light no longer supporting the surface dragon-kind, sunk to the depths of the dark earth just as the fearful stars fled to the heights of the dark sky. Then on the dying, sunless surface, bipeds of great cunning collected the scattering light and heat and bound it into a forged vessel, the Sorcerer Sun, the Alf-Star, the Rune-Light, the Third Sun.
Towers from left
High Elves, Svartalves, Ningen

And the world became as it once was, but different, dominated by elves, or so the serpents of Yg let them believe. The elves spun things of light and the tamed elements, until they tired of such things and spun stranger, more dangerous things from moonlight, until they too tired of that and began to spin things from shadows... and then, a single thing spun from Darkness itself. They could not understand what they had wrought,  and the elves forgot what they were, mind, body, and soul, and the Svartalves below and the human Witch-Queens above stole the light of the Sorcerer Sun and trapped the warped fey inside the dark structure, and cut its tethers, sending it to roam as the Iron Moon.The moons and darkness closed in, but the stolen light was released once more, weakening the Witch-Queens and leaving the Svartalves to be swallowed by the darkness beneath their mountains. The released light coalesced as a mirror of men's souls, and thus was Riikhus, the Fourth Sun
Big Head Gods- Riikhus, Mokkhus
Lil gods- Lady of Gardens, Murulu, Kispiritis, Jackal then Horse god of Yuba
Also the burning remnants of high elf/witch queen society beneath the Iron Moon
Riikhus did not know what he was, so he looked to Man as example, and saw they called things greater than themselves Gods. So Riikhus called himself God-Sun, and around Riikhus clustered many things that too called themselves Gods, and so the rule of heaven was much like the realms of man, now. Many Gods there were (and had always been, by other names), vying for the heat of the living, which they called 'soul,' and many who opposed Riikhus were cast down and enslaved. But some were his ally, like Mokkhus who called himself Brother of the Sun.

Moons Clockwise from left- Winter, Autumn, Spring, Skull
Gods counterclockwise from left- Dying Riikhus, Rejoicing M'shesh, appalled Lumar
Then came Sarkomand, who found the lost thing of Darkness and became all-powerful, or so it was dreamed, and the dream was maintained by Lumar, who remembers forgotten things and shivered in her mirror-realm as she played at being the one and only Moon. But the dream was a bridge between dark and light, and many gods were drawn there, and as Riikhus now sought to bring all gods beneath his yoke, he could not stay away. Upon that bridge, Proud Riikhus and Broken M'shesh contended for the second time, but a human, Townlocke, turned from Riikhus in favor of M'shesh, and she retrieved that which Sarkomand lost, and stripped Riikhus of much of his might for the sake of establishing the new coming of M'shesh. Weakened Riikhus left the dream, never knowing that Lumar's deception was a mantle of protection laid over him, and the covetous Moons descended and devoured Riikhus, and the proud Gods who contended against the ravening Moons learned that 'God' was only a word, but Moon was a thing. Of the devouring moons, five took the lion's share of Riikhus's corpse- the moons Skull, Winter, Spring, and Autumn, and Lumar, who was not a true moon, but only a dream, a reflection, an opportunist. Unable to long hold what she long cherished, the light reflected from her scalded arms and burst forth from the dream as the 5th Sun.
5th sun, assorted moons, cultist on a hill
The New Sun is a dream, a reflection. Men called it Heleos for it made its home in the sky above the ancient island academy of Heleologos, or Sol Triumphant, for the glutted moons were driven before it like wolves before a vengeful shepherd, and those more knowledgeable called it Sleepwalker, or those more heretical, False Dawn, but it did not respond to these names, whether called by men or by gods. It only crackled across the sky, swift as a chariot drawn by lightning, driving off the moons, and maintained the light of the world. It is a mindless thing, a child of Lumar's unrequited love and Riikhus's reflected glory, begat in dream, where perhaps it should have stayed. Now the edges of the world bleed sunset and the dark ice and ruins of past worlds edge closer as the False Dawn chases moons in circles round Heleologos.

Widespread Religious Understandings

If you're inside the black ring you're in the Noonlands and don't have to worry about Moons
The black ring encompassed Sarkomand's Faults a century or two ago because the 4th sun was brighter than the current one
Heleognosticism- The cult of Riikhus and the slave-pantheon is broken, but sun-worship survived. Their prayers fall upon the deaf ears of the False Dawn, but their arcane secrets are just as miraculous as faith, especially with what was wrested from the overseas colony/dream of Sarkomand's Fault. Knowledge is to be found from light, and any truth that dwells in darkness is suspect. Pyromancers collect shards of suns and embed them in their palms, pain enlightening them as they are consumed by flame. Other researchers contemplate matter, their understanding of the world composed of God-dogma and fragmentary understandings of the forgotten elemental covenant. Most spells come about via the study of the soul, the study of gods and fey and ghosts. Most noonland kings have a Heleognostic as court wizard, and most wizards of the noonlands trace their spell-lineage back to Heleologos. Heleognostics and those sharing their cultural influence are spiritually aloof, perhaps in imitation of the False Sun, and do not pay polytheistic homage to local gods, relying on their own enlightened intellect and the enlightening Sun and Flame to protect them from jealous godlings and moonspawn.
Worshipper Goals- Trust in the sun, spite the moons, shun the darkness. Knowledge is power, and what is unlit is unknown.
Death Expectations- Become one with the Sun, strengthening the light and opposing the darkness as a united, transcendent whole. Dream-realms and afterlives where souls maintain individuality are ignorant of their true potential as sparks of the divine sun.
tl;dr- Fedora-tipping nerd wizards scared of the dark

The Undersun- Yg-A lives and writhes, far below, shrouded in magma in the bowels of the earth. The convulsing ur-wyrm fans heat into the flame degenerate and consumes souls, or heat, in his endless hunger, but his flame is too his prison. Fire is an excellent servant but a poor master, and those serving the burning below have no guidance, only flame and more flame. The Undersun is rediscovered again and again, and misunderstood again and again, and so every new cult is different. Especially in the Moonlands, where the Sun does not shine, the reliable heat and flame from below draws human adulation in lands otherwise locked in chaos and darkness. All that burns is an offering to the Undersun.
Worshipper Goals- Variable. Death cults where people get thrown into volcanoes are just as common as people who simply use a volcano for heat and light in a frosty Moonland.
Death Expectations-Variable, but the ultimate end of those who align themselves (or rather, their elemental covenant) will find themselves transformed into beings of fire that dwell in the depths, drawn towards the Undersun but unable to bypass the maze of stone and lava. "Demon" is a popular term used for these flaming chthonic souls when discovered hundreds of years later by people with different moral outlooks.
tl;dr- volcano sacrifices
The players never did find their way into the warped mirror world variant of the first level of Sarkomand's Fault's megadungeon and so Lumar was p much toppest secret even though she was 'meant' to be a fairly big deal that campaign.
But I didn't force it and it was fine. Moral of the story, don't force the story.
Lumar- A mirror-goddess, a dream goddess, doppeldeity, taking all forms save her own, for she has none. Her female nature is ascribed to her by mortals as a perceived contrast with dead Riikhus rather than any self-ascribed nature. Perhaps she and her shadowy mirror-realm existed from one second after the first sun glinted off the face of the dark waters, but perhaps it took the humanity of Riikhus to make the reflection of a sun take on a mind as well as life. She keeps secrets of past solar ages, and as she consumes secrets to replace with lies, she weaves deception so complex it has become a sort of truth of its own. This is the dream-realm, the mirror-realm, a realm that looks like light, but is not, looks true, but is not, is, but is not. Fakes have many advantages over the real thing, after all.
Lumar is everywhere there is light to reflect from things, everywhere there are souls to dream, but she does not exist within the 'real' world, a secondhand existence of perception, not reality. Her servants are less of a cult and more of a conspiracy that infects existing cults and social structures, their actions tipped towards the obfuscation of knowledge. Riikhus opposed her and knew not why, and now the knowledge-loving Heleognostics do too.
Worshipper Goals & Death Expectations- Those who serve Lumar are typically unaware they are doing so, as Lumar can imitate anything. The mirror realms and dream realms that are her domain are open to the living, so perhaps the dead souls of Lumar continue their work anonymously.

Yg- Mother of serpents. She is older than elves, older than dragons, yea, older than the word "god," and certainly wiser than them all. A snake content to watch over snakes, the one god she opposes is Lumar, for Yg seeks to know all, and perhaps one day, swallow all. But for now, she tends to her snake daughters(Snake sons are hopeless, alas) and coils in the deep dark earth and the deep dark sea and the deep dark sky, encircling this world so much tinier than she remembers, and she waits. Stars blink more often than she. Yg is not a god of mammals, and they must shed their skins to become snakelike to gain access to her venerable knowledge, though wise humans do not meddle with snakes regardless, lest they draw Yg's ire. Unlike the torchbearing Heleognostics, Yg knows that darkness holds knowledge as well.
tl;dr- osr snakepeople

Moon Cultists The moons are ancient facts of life outside the Noonlands, and bring life and light, albeit in twisted form. There are a thousand moons, each with some moonlit cult out in the darkness. The 4 greatest ones, that ventured into the very Noonlands to devour Riikhus, have the most prominent cults.
i love this image for Skull so much
one day I'll find the source
one day...

Skull- A skull of a murdered god, resting in a moon shaped like a broken and empty shell, maimed long ago by Yg-A and still fearful of the touch of flame and sunlight. Undead, created not via a soul piloting a body in violation of the elemental covenant, but stolen bodies operating with the soulless light of Skull, the elemental covenant hijacked to steal the heat, life, and souls of other creatures and offer it to Skull. The undead of Skull are always human, but certainly not people, and know only hunger and violence. Skull cults (AKA Skults) slowly take the light of skull into their body to replace their souls in a bid for immortal undeath, and do so via the slaughter of the more 'traditionally alive' and self-mutilation. The end result, a Lich, has an artificial soul composed of Skull-light that behaves very differently to warm souls which continue life in various underworlds. Heleologians claim that Liches, like all skull undead, are not the same person as the lost soul, simply an evil copy, while Skulltists are certain that the continuous consciousness ensures it is a transfiguration of themselves, not a replacement.
tl;dr- these are the necromancers and undead you CAN'T play as

Spring and Autumn- The life of these moons at first appears quite similar to typical birds, plants, and bugs, but quickly become something else. Toxic, spined, perfumed. Autumn harvests the hard elements of the earth with bronze birds, iron butterflies, and steel magnolias, and Spring the cycle of life via delicious fruits, bugs, and birds as lures, and fruits bugs and birds that find you delicious. The cults of these twin moons range from experimental hippie types, to biologists-gone-wild, to ravenous maenads. The end result is all that matters- the thorn forests and flower jungles sprout up, and then the winged beings spawned from them return to the moons with all they have harvested from the world, adding themselves and all they have to the mass of the moons, which, on close inspection, appear to be scapes of petrified beings slowly consdensing into the bulk of the moon.
Worshipper Goals- Party hard. Follow the moons, whatever it takes. The drugged/poisoned fluids of the moonspawned lotus-jungles are without compare. Also you can get resurrected as a plant or bug mimic-clone in certain seedpods or cocoons, so you can party really hard.

Winter- In the border Noonlands, winter is understood as chilly times when cold weather blows in from elsewhere. In the Moonlands, it is understood that Winter is a moon whose light is fearful enough while obscured by its frozen clouds, and should they ever part, the land below will be flash frozen into an ice age. Noonland "winter" is basically just a feeble, distant shockwave of these events. Winter is why the world out where there's not even reliable moonlight is an uninhabitable frozen wasteland of black glaciers grinding ancient forgotten civilizations to rubble and why you sometimes find animals that are 3 times bigger, hairer, and fangier than 'normal' animals.
Worshipper Goals- The worshippers of Winter are disgruntled doomsday preppers, essentially, certain that the world will, sooner or later, become a frozen wasteland where the strong eat the weak and pacts with vile spirits will have to be struck for survival as mortal civilization collapses, and after our so called "King" elected Sleeny Alazneer as Chancellor of Finance, the end of the world can't happen soon enough I tell you wot. Some of these nasty fellows even raid and pillage preemptively whenever the weather gets cold. These people, who adopt names like 'cold-eyes' or 'sons of winter' and so on, are not to be confused with 'bandits' who typically have more relatable reasons for being assholes.

LOCAL GODS-  If there is a local god in your vicinity, you are well advised to leave offerings at their shrine. This is less worship and more of a 'please don't mess up my face' fee and while it generally won't give you any divine favor, it may at least take certain angry spiritual-servitor-things, weather disasters, and so on off encounter tables and similar low-impact probability tweaking. There is no hard limit on the use of the word 'god,' here it pretty much means 'any being powerful enough that it's basically a faction all on its own.' What's a faction? Well, that's a matter of scale, innit? What might be a 'God' to a village might barely quantify as 'big monster' to an empire. 
The whole island is the corpse of the dragon-turned-god Ebeth, you see
Ebeth- Dragons know not the difference between Need and Want, but one dragon knew Pity as well, and sacrificed itself to feed a pitiable race of insects. Ebeth became a corpse island of golden dragon-flesh, and his will lives on, in the giant insects and awestruck humans alike. He is not dead so long as altruism lives on, but his church is fractured between humans who want to improve their lives by looting his corpse, and of the original insect-people who view the humans as greedy interlopers taking more than their fair share, and the original message is muddled.
Arrkohn- But the brightest lights cast the deepest shadows, and Ebeth had a shadow too. Preaching self interest, not generosity, the dragon-cults of Arrkohn the Black serve themselves and themselves alone. They believe even the altruism of Ebeth was just a self-serving act to satisfy Ebeth's golden ego, and will prove to the world that true altruism does not exist, only things that people Want and Need. It's not 100% clear if Arrkohn is an actual thing or just something that dragons co-opt to jumpstart dragon-cults as a gold-gaining scheme.

The moonlands are more ruin than civilization. Without the order-imposing light of a sun, the chaotic forces of moonlight and darkness quickly erode the stability of mortal civilization.
Saint Bridget- Awesome nautical adventuress-saint. Outside of her local worship in the weird little village of Bridget as a protector and guide to those lost on the waves of fate, her opposition to the piratical god Kispiritis who was part of the Riikhus slave-pantheon back in the day makes her an anti-authoritarian figure in the eyes of the Mercian-descended inhabitants of the region.
Worshipper Goals- Follow your dreams, protect those you love.
Death Expectations- As a 'mere' human the afterlife she sustains is relatively small- a ship, captained by herself, and crewed by all her adherents, sailing the seas of the world.
Kispiritis-Though it was confirmed he escaped the god-devouring moons that ate Riikhus aboard a ship called Sea Serpent, property of a snakeman called Shukra, Kispiritis was never seen again, presumably having run afoul of a sea-entity greater than himself in the chaos of the Riikhite pantheon collapse. However, worship of him still persists in the form of offerings to the sea, made by pirates to find prey and by merchants to escape piracy. Some say that these offerings simply go to the Ningen, but whose to say those giant sea-people don't appreciate it, eh, eh?

Lord of Calamities- Titanic half-buried half-alive demon-god who grants mutations as a sign of favor and natural disasters and plague as a sign of disfavor, with some overlap. Lives out in the Wurderlands around a dark city best described as "permanently Halloween." This calamitous lord is actually the Goddess Murulu, once a slave of Riikhus and one who found beauty in all things, even things like deformities, scars, and so on.
Worshipper Goals-Find the beauty in all things. And in yourself, awwww. Honestly there's no great ideology going on here, Murulu offers freaky mutations and acceptance for the weird of the world, smites people who spurn her blessings, and slowly shapes the world to be more to her unusual aesthetic preferences.
Death Goals- Reincarnate as a freaky monster. Or at least as yourself +1 mutation if you're a square.
Campaign #2, Wolf Moons
Lady of Gardens- Endemic to Queen's Coast, Kings' Point, and Prince's Spit. Once a slave of the Riikhite Pantheon, now back to fussing over the management of good breeding of people, domesticated animals, and crops, and demanding the extermination of chaotic monsters. It would be a simplification to write off the region as a low-key religious war between her orderly human societies and the freaky hybrid wackiness of the Lord of Calamities in the nearby Wurderlands, but it would not be an inaccurate simplification, at least.
Worshipper Goals- Live orderly lives where everything is in its place, functioning smoothly. Social mobility is not encouraged, and her realms are heavily feudal.
Death Goals- Carry on with social niceties, but in a properly tended necropolis-afterlife mirroring the real world.
Isfrix has only one facial expression
Isfrix- God(Often called Demon-Lord due to low bad public relations) of Hate. Hatred is powerful and common, and it coalesces into Isfrix. Isfrix is both totally unrelatable as whole (only a God of Hate could hate everything) but is totally relatable in small doses. If you hate something, Isfrix got you, it doesn't matter why or how. Isfrix is too mercurial to ever really be considered a permanent ally to anyone, but is easily called upon for the sake of cursing and bedeviling people, and occasionally you get a frankly cartoonish villain who seeks to unmake reality that Isfrix will totally get behind.
Worshipper Goals- stick it to (hated person, group, or thing).
Death Expectations- Suffer in the hell of Isfrix until you get kicked out(Isfrix hates company more than being alone, usually, because there's more to hate about something than there is to hate about nothing). As far as Hells go, by all accounts Isfrix's isn't so bad. As he hates everything, there's not much there save for a few dickish spirits (collectively known as Hatecubi due to an absolute bastardization of linguistics) and maybe some extremely inoffensive terrain that has nonetheless been blasted with hate-lasers and reduced to a cratered waste. Yeah, while Isfrix does subtle curses like Dead Man's Pennies, which trash your saves and attract disease spirits and can't be gotten rid of except by slipping them to someone you hate, Isfrix also just tries to hate things to death directly via eye-lasers. Ayup.

Ibn Haur- Headless head-swapping god of Saresare. Treated as weird combination of folk hero and celebrity more than a being of worship because Saresare is a place more concerned about The Law, but Ibn Haur is a sort of antiquated animal-man hybrid-trickster figure that used to be a big deal back before Saresare had their agricultural revolution. That was like, 3rd sun times. It's a miracle the old boy is still kicking.

The Law, an offshoot of Heliognosticism endemic to Saresare, longtime rival of Mercia and joint plunderer of Yuba, that focuses more on the order of the world (and society) than the Heliognostic sun exaltation. Go read The Nightmares Underneath for the sort of implied overview of this, I ain't getting into it here.

Janus- Two-faced god of blood and gold and transmutation between the two via secret sacrifices, svartalf(dwarf) origins and human adoption as the undermen vanished into the deep dark of the earth.  Currently an autocratic industrial prison-complex in Oroboro, but falling from favor due to player efforts. They started in this post and a player fleshed them out some in the current campaign into something more concrete. Their priests are Incarceratrix, or Incarcerii, and they battle criminals with intent to capture, not kill, favoring nets, mancatchers, blunt bar maces, bolas, and nets.
Worshipper Goals- Get super rich via sacrificing blood to gold and super tough by sacrificing gold for blood, use your physical and financial power to get even MORE rich before it's time to build your tomb in the Golden Sepulchre (a mighty tomb-complex), have a palace stocked with slaves waiting for you in the Hell of Janus
Death Goals- Enjoy your opulent slave palace in the Hell of Janus, don't end up a slave yourself in post-death power struggles with already established hell-lords, something that conveniently went  unmentioned in church teachings.

Ebeth is off to the right, and that area to the left is Lungfungus' Fassulia that I stuck on there to playtest. It's a good intermediate zone between Oroboro and Saresare.
Oroboro- Rather than trust in the fickle gods, the people of Oroboro, once a colony of Mercia but now an independent city-state, decided their afterlife would be a reflection of the city, a netherworld necropolis sustained by the collective will of the living and the dead who called themselves citizens. As in life, so in death, such is the dead city of ororborO. Of course, some people (rich nobles who don't want to mingle with the hoi polloi of the citizens, mostly) build themselves family tombs, whose netherworld equivalents are then sustained by their bloodline and funerary arrangements. Again, that's why there's so many opulent tomb-dungeons filled with angry dead- the dead want their afterlives to be as they built them, and when a tomb is defiled, so too is the afterlife equivalent.

Mokkhus-Once Riikhus's cold brother, thought lost in the War In The Sky, now served by a clammy, aging svartalf cult with ghost-powered clockwork golems seeking to recover the sundered pieces of Riikhus from the Moonlands. They do not know that their clockwork contraptions are but an idle experiment by an imposter older than this 5-sun drama and Mokkhus himself is long slain, his skull adorning an ancient Moon.
The Jackal God of Yuba-Once a slave of Riikhus, now empowered by faithful for the second coming of the Sorcerer Kingdom of Yuba. Yuba eats the hearts of her enemies and the blood of invaders warms the feet of the Yubans, and the Unchained Jackal howls at the moon for the loss of their friendly rival the Horse God. Yuban priests are polytheistic and pay tribute to a lot of lesser local gods (slandered as 'demons' by the foreign nations of Mercia and Saresare), but the Jackal God is their goodest boy and they give him priority.
Worshipper Goals- Be nice to dogs. Teach dogs to be nice to you. Eat the hearts of your enemies so they are reincarnated as dogs to assist you in your next life. Also, #freeyuba
Death Expectations- Dogs that are good get reincarnated as people, and vice versa.
tl;dr-anubis but as the sole survivor of his pantheon. The other member was

The Horse God of Yuba- Once a slave of Riikhus, devoured along with him. A god of friendship and peace, now a hole in Yuba's pantheon that the Jackal God is at a loss to fill.
tl;dr- they dead. But as an aside I found amusing, a player of mine who adopted aspects of my campaign for their own had a player who took the Horse God as their deity of choice to hang their bronyism upon. In retrospect, the horse+friendship should've been obvious, but still that's a funny interpretation and if players have a misunderstanding about a god I think you should encourage rather than correct it, and just have there be offshoot branches and so on.

T'liki- Trickster chaos gambling god, sealed away in Lumar's dream-realm that cloaks Sarkomand's Fault, stand-in for the RNG of the game itself, mentioned before here and here (but those posts kinda suck so whatever)
But one night I was working on prep in the roll20 game room and his image showed up somehow, but overlaying the horizontal scrollbar!
Just look at that smug bastard in the bottom left, overlapping the scrollbar and not even being a part of the image
how the heck even
That was when I decided he was trying to escape the confines of Sarkomand's Fault and make it into Crownless Lands via depletion of the deck of many things. So far, unsuccessful, and yet sealed within the dream.

Mokkhus-Once Riikhus's cold brother, of death but not undeath, an accountant in aspect and a taskmaster to the enslaved gods. Mokkhus was thought lost in the War In The Sky, and current Mokkhites are now a clammy, aging cult with ghost-powered clockwork golems seeking to recover the sundered pieces of Riikhus from the Moonlands so that a ressurrected Riikhus can heal/find Mokkhus and re-enslave all these upstart godlings into a unified pantheon again.
tl;dr- emo steampunk
Worshipper Goals- Reignite the good old days with the good old sun
Demand obeisance and servitude from any so called 'god'
Death Expectations- Wander the earth as spirits until they can get a new body since the afterlife of Mokkhus and Riikhus collapsed 100 years ago.  Alternately build a nice tomb to spend their afterlife in.
They do not know that their clockwork contraptions are but an idle experiment by an imposter older than this 5-sun drama and Mokkhus himself is long slain, his skull adorning an ancient Moon.
M'shesh- Mother of the undead, seeking to undo Death itself, to end pain and suffering forever. She does not understand the Elemental Covenant (though lets be fair, no one has really understood it since Second Sun) and is preoccupied by trying to minimize suffering as she shoves her faithful souls into unsuitable, damaged bodies. She is unwittingly sequestered away in Lumar's Dream where her second attempt at an undead-society can operate unbothered by the real world, but her whispering black wind slips through to other dreams in other lands and so M'shesh worship exists in isolated pockets. As she still has a bad rap from the bad portrayal pushed by the Riikhus-crusades a century or two ago and association with Skull makes people leery of undead, peaceful M'sheshan undead keep to themselves.
Worshipper Goals- Kill nothing, cause no pain to any creature, shamelessly abandon vows of pacifism in self-defense of your life because those who deal death are welcome to it
Death Goals- Re-inhabit bodies to continue a blameless life. If no bodies are available, one will be dragged around in M'shesh's arms like so many rag dollies as she treads the grey nether realm between worlds.
tl;dr- these are necromancers and undead you CAN play as.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hexcrawling In Fassulia And Beyond

So I'm playtesting Lungfungus's Fassulia and it's going well so far, but I'd like to talk about some things I do with hexcrawls (or rather that I do NOW after dissatisfaction with the vast, barren expanse of simultaneously boring and dangerous wilderness that passed for a hexcrawl in Sarkomand's Fault).
Some of this is reinventing wheels other people have invented, mind you.

Improv & Connections Here's some (rewritten) hex keys

1-Plains- Road from Kabuli to Phavea
Blocked by floral maw and 1hd sproutspawn

4-Plains-Kabuli Village, Near the desert there is a cave hiding a crashed ship with a magic scimitar
Feuding Family of Gharib and Jasim, gharib the taxmen, Jasim the singers, rebels, contest for singing

7- Hills-Pillar monastery. Isolated and bored nuns. One has 18cha in terms of singing voice

3-Swamp-A vast tar pit bubbles before you, it's stench  unmistakable

As the players investigated, I turned things into a blood feud where Gharib blamed Jasim for a missing son and slew one of Jasim's sons, causing the outraged Jasim family to in turn slay one of Gharib's sons. Jasim claims Gharib's first missing son got drunk and wandered into the nearby tarpit at night, Gharib's son claims Jasim slew the son rather than hand over a goat for tax purposes. In truth, the Floral Maw was the responsible culprit because a player guessed that was the case and that seemed reasonable to me. The players decided to reconcile the familes via marriage because a wizard character claimed to have read at the academy that was the best way to resolve such things (again, reasonable enough sounding and so declared canonical) and so the hunt for an eligible pair from the families was on. Since Kabuli has singing contests and the nearby nunnery had a nun with a good singer, it seemed reasonable that she could be the daughter of the rich (and suspected corrupt by the players on account of the rest of the village being poor as dirt) Gharib, so the plan was to retrieve her and convince her and a son of Jasim to marry to end the blood feud. The Floral Maw was in the way and had to be destroyed, revealing the ring of the devoured missing son and providing further incentive to end things peacefully, and things wrapped up handily, with the reason the daughter being sent away that she fancied a brother of Jasim anyway but Gharib didn't care for his daughter to marry into a family of lower economic status. But now love finds a way, blah blah, blood feud ended and tiny podunk village saved from both themselves and nearby monsters.

So big whoop, a GM used improv and player input to spin together a session, what's my point?

Well! On the one hand, it is important for hex crawl features to have connections to each other. So the players are encouraged to walk back and forth through the hex-crawl and discover context that makes the layout meaningful. If hex fillings are totally self-contained and not actively grinding against each other, well, it's a sterile and noninteractive land the players have found, isn't it? That would be the dungeon equivalent of a delve where monsters stayed in their rooms and had no knowledge of anything outside their 20x20 boxing ring and every room was spaced in a predictable grid where you could go in any direction whenever you wanted and backtracking to old rooms was never necessary because they could all be handled and written off after the first time entering.

But on the other hand, when you're designing/running a hex-crawl, you have to realize you're not designing/running an adventure module, either. The goal is not to guide the players along particular paths and events, its to let them bumble about exploring and to have something emerge from play. So while I spun the above plot from a few minimalist hex fills and it worked well, it would not necessarily be an "improvement" for a hex crawl to write out that pseudo-romeo-and-juliet blood feud drama word for word as a hex fill, because then a hex crawl becomes like 5 different interconnected modules that you won't be able to remember anyway. Hex crawls are meant to work well on the fly, and that means improv and random content, not heavily prepped super-dense pre-made content. Which brings me to the next point.

Gameable Content
Each hex is often 6 miles across which is a lot of space. If a hex has only one content fill, it better be something both cool and easy to stumble across. Something the players want to interact with, will inform their decision making, something they'll return to again and again with different ideas, or otherwise the content is quite likely to fade from memory and relevance and you'll have an 'empty' hex on your hands.
Here are some things that I think are good fills, and how to make them better still.
  1. Civilized Settlements- This is an easy player attraction- a place to rest a resupply without having to fight off like a random encounter per day. It's also easy to improv for- you know on an intuitive level(probably) what people are like and what conflicts may mar otherwise enjoyable stays at a settlement. The easiest thing to do is probably just settlement+random encounter menacing settlement, and you can also just introduce any NPC you like in a settlement without raising too many eyebrows too. They're a good combination of stable but flexible in what hooks for adventure can emerge from them.
  2. Monster Lairs- This is different from a dungeon, in that it's not a kooky collection of tricks, traps, terrors, and treasures, it's just where some local wandering monsters hang out. A bandit camp or dragon lair or bear cave. It's more of a way for players to 'hunt down' particular menaces and strike them from the wandering encounter tables for that hex, and maybe get some loot/accolades than a true adventure site. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to have a monster lair of every wandering monster in the region hidden away in hexes- 6 mile hexes are big and this allows a sort of metric for 'how much work does it take to slaughter everything in a hex so I can build a castle/hire miners to dig up the crystal mountains unmolested'
  3. Dungeon- Minidungeons are fun to scatter throughout the land, but are also a fair bit of work and their contents tend to be somewhat aloof and separate from my earlier advice to keep things connected. Overreliance on dungeon as hex contents turns hexcrawls into pointcrawls, where the points are dungeons that are interesting and travel is largely an annoying wandering monster tax between dungeons (at least that's how my Sarkomand's Fault was). To differentiate them from monster lairs though, you should have them repopulate with wandering monsters or specialized dungeon monsters very quickly. Dungeons are constant features that should reward return visits to a certain extent, especially if they have weird features like statues that shrink you or other fun tricks. What you don't want to have a dungeon be is a one shot visit, clear, and never return because that hex is now boring thing. It's fine if the players decide not to ever return, but that should be because they have other things on their plate, not 'the dungeon has been cleared.' Dungeons aren't mastered until you've deconstructed the walls and built a fortress out of them. One of my favorite things a player did back in Sarkomand's Fault was use their flying ship to loot the stone of The Gelatinous Dome and another minidungeon of my own construction to build their temple a over a third ancient ruin. In returning to the dungeons, they made extra use out of those places and managed to find things they missed the first time.
  4. Terrain- Mountains and swamps, the roughest things to cross, can get glossed over pretty easily according to a lot of wilderness procedures. They just cut down travel time by x1/3 or something. If you've ever been in mountains, and not even fantasy-sized everest mountains, that's a vast understatement of how totally confusing and impassable harsh terrain can be. Those places should have extra chances to get lost, chances to have to turn back due to impassable mires/cliff faces blocking the way, multiple paths 'through' the hex that well send you east instead of north because there's no known route north, and extra secret hex content fills that, if you stick to the known mountain passes/dry land through the swamp, you won't ever see.
    An opposite issue comes from roads- you find a road, you follow it, it goes somewhere, hooray. But there's reasons roads are where they are, and so there should be off-road hex contents that, again, you won't find unless you look for them (though if a road was built to avoid them, you may wish you hadn't after all).
    The short version of this is to have obvious hex contents, and hidden hex contents, and to make terrain relevant in finding and reaching those contents. Harsh terrain where it's hard to see and unwise to linger leans more towards lots of hidden hex contents, while nice, flat, well-populated farmlands lean towards obvious hex contents. Think mountaintop temples and hidden valleys and secret caves and forbidden groves for hex fills that won't be stumbled across when travel is the only goal- they might be found when the players are lost, fleeing in a blind panic, or following instructions via guide or treasure map.
  5. Treasures, Tricks, and Traps- Lungfungus and I talked about hexcrawling having a parallel to dungeon rooms. If all a dungeon has is monsters, exploration is punished severely. Similarly, for exploring to be valuable in a hex crawl, there has to be nice things to find, not just different encounter tables by terrain. Healing springs, unmined gem deposits, friendly dryads. But for exploring to be interesting, there needs to be ambiguous things too, where weal or woe comes more from player decision than anything. Mysterious mystical merchants, glowing runed monoliths, localized weather conditions, sketchy mushrooms. And then there can be explicitly dangerous things, like sagging snow on mountainsides, quicksand, crumbling sandstone ravines. It's up to players to really exploit these features, but unless they exist, the wilderness might find itself shunned as a purely negative experience.
  6. Weird Shit- This arguably falls into the above category, but having some truly outrageous, fantastical stuff can really pique the player's interests and give you blank checks to expand on later. Things I've done in this category are portals that spew out sand in a water(sand)fall 100' feet up in thin air, a mountain made of water, rifts in the sky that are always night, deserts of glass shards, tree stumps 6 miles across, shattered mountains with the shards hanging mid-air, and so on. Naturally you don't want to overuse these things (unless your game is like Adventure Time in which case please invite me to your games) but they add some serious fantasy and mystery to fantasy games, which I think have a tendency to slump into stale genre conventions if you go 'no that'd be too crazy' too often.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Medusa or Medusae or Medusii

How is it that no one bats an eye at turning Medusa, accursed greek woman, into a species name, but if you go around calling vampires Draculas it's pure comedy? Is it just a matter of pop culture relevance? Simply that there's another word that got used for Draculas but there's no equivalent for greek monsters? Honestly, greek myth having so many monster species is really weird, because in greek myth they were practically all one-off unique individuals created by curses and bestiality, so making there be whole species of these things is sorta missing the point
Much like starting out with that paragraph was entirely unrelated to the point of this post


Medusa are bloodlines of priestesses sacred to Yg, Mother of Serpents, entrusted with knowledge and the power to archive living beings via petrification, and also defend said knowledge via that power. They tend to be fond of art and wit as distractions from the weight of knowledge they bear, and make their livings on the edges of human or serpent-folk society in religious or academic roles, and generally end up in some forsaken wilderness after one too many petrification faux pas. They come in various forms, but hair replaced by serpents and a method of petrification is what differentiates a medusa from a lamia or a naga or a snakeman or whatever.
oh sure now I see all the anatomy and perspective fuckups
oh sure now I see all the anatomy and perspective fuckups
Anyway the players have only seen statues of these three in the current campaign but that didn't sound as fun to doodle
Medusae are more intelligent than humans, capable of following multiple simultaneous trains of thought thanks to their extra snake-brains. They are immortal, shedding their skin and a few years of age every decade or so and impossible to kill for good. Though it takes a long time to start looking old, their age is like that of a crocodile, not a human- they just get tougher and meaner with time. (I don't actually know if that's how crocodile age works btw) The blood of Yg does not thin easily, and medusae give birth to more medusae invariably in the rare instances of them finding a mate who can withstand their gaze. Dead medusa do not rot, but instead calcify into statues, that then crack open to reveal the medusa reborn. If the body is completely destroyed, a petrified victim will serve instead, or a painting, or a reflection, or a memory, or a dream...Severed heads maintain their petrifying abilities, and the ability to talk, eat mice, and generally carry on without a body without great trouble. In this event, a huge snake will be tasked by Yg to rescue the head, swallow it whole, and lay an egg from which the medusa will hatch out of with a new body to support their old head. Medusa only truly shuffle off the mortal coil if their knowledge becomes so commonplace that it fails to petrify anyone, at which point their duty is ended and they go to the great snake farm in the sky or whatever afterlife Yg supports for her snakey faithful. Since, in a way, the knowledge a medusa contains IS the medusa, all memory of the medusa would have to be purged from existence for a medusa to fail to return.

Petrification occurs when a being becomes privy to one of the medusa's woke secrets of the universe. Due to the infinite wisdom of Yg, these secrets are encoded in the visual data of the writhing visage of a medusa...or more rarely, via their venom or voice. A blindfold, veil, indirect viewing via a low-quality mirror- these all prevent the message from being conveyed directly to the brain of the viewer and so prevent petrification. Medusa are not hoarders of their knowledge, however, and just like crazy uncle mike at thanksgiving dinner, they are compelled to share their knowledge with other people. Their story will not be suppressed! Normally, making your save means you avoid learning the secret by avoiding full exposure, but in the event that you couldn't close your eyes in time and you 100% were exposed to the TRUTH and no one can come with any way to have possibly avoided it, and you made your save anyway, you become immune to that particular medusa's gaze forever, understand their secret, and will gain considerable esteem in their eyes.

  1. "Gold" is not real gold, the gold-standard economy is a worthless fiat currency designed to keep the kings on top and the adventurers barely able to feed themselves even after pawning a solid gold looted demonic idol. Having unveiled the economic truth, you can spend copper as silver and silver as gold, but must never deal with any moneychangers or banks lest you be found out and hunted down by accountants.
  2. There are only <# of players> souls in existence. Everyone else is a hollow sock-puppet of some cosmic demiurge whose name is <Anagram of GM's name>. You may cede control of your character to another player whenever, though your character won't notice any difference.
  3. Sex, genitals, species- all irrelevant for reproduction. Compatibility is a matter of soul miscibility. You may have a meaningful relationship and cute children with literally anything. Your next character (provided sufficient time has passed) can be half-anything.
  4. The Ancient Precursor Empire responsible for all those ruins and inscrutable magic items never actually fell. All the kingdoms of the world are controlled opposition run by a world-spanning shadow government that no one can oppose because no one knows it still exists! You now work for the illuminati, whether you like it or not, your every action part of their inescapable master plan. Fortunately, so will the occasional random encounter and/or settlement leader(1/20 chance), who will surreptitiously aid you.
  5. The gods are not gods, but priests, and they harvest mortal souls to sacrifice to the true gods-beyond-the-gods. You may now worship a god-beyond-gods- your class abilities are pretty much just the equivalent of any other cleric, but you are immune to the feeble workings of the false gods, with whom you feel you stand on equal ground now.
  6. XP is a tangible substance that can be extracted, transplanted, and crystallized. Whenever you gain XP, you may instead store it in a power crystal that others can absorb. You could potentially extract it from others too, but you'll need to devise an infernal device of sorcery and alchemy...
  7. Classes are actually subspecies of humans, and can instantly be told apart via skeletal structure if you know what to look for. You can always tell what class people are.
  8. Reality, when unobserved, does not exist, and evidence to the contrary is simply evidence of the massive coverup used to obfuscate this. Your backpack contains nothing until you open it, at which point you have 10 seconds to retroactively shop for everything you totally bought and brought along.
  9. Chaos is limited by specific ranges of results, and you can spoof reality by creating false-chaos-logic-loops. Whenever you roll a 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, or 20, you can have your next die roll be on a die with that many sides instead of what it would normally be.
  10. Metagame stuff is terrible self-indulgent wankery and you should roll on this rad table instead
Medusa generally have their guests wear blindfolds. Medusa who wear blindfolds themselves are either incredibly considerate and compassionate, or incredibly stuck up and picky about who they petrify. Unlike basilisks, medusa cannot petrify themselves or each other, and in fact, self-contemplation in a mirror allows extra in-depth review of their forbidden knowledge. It is common to mistake a mirror and self-portrait packed medusa lair to be the domicile of a creature incredibly vain, but the fact of the matter is that, for the divinely inspired data hoard that is the multi-brain of a medusa, introspection is research.

Though Medusa can depetrify their archived victims, they have little reason to. Though not necessarily particularly socially adept, they can read a statue like a book, determining even thoughts and memories from microscopic details. But should they need flesh rather than helpful stone- stone nails driven into the skull to make the petrified person forget the knowledge that turned them to stone in the first place, hypnotic whispers delivered into a statues ear to make them confused about the knowledge- anything to undo the unbearable knowledge and regain the status quo of flesh. People returned to flesh via some sorcerous transmutation are at risk of re-petrifying the moment they mull over the forbidden knowledge that rocked them into a grey area between living and dead. As medusa grow more ancient and knowledgeable, they also learn how to edit their archives, though this is rather blasphemous and a misuse of their Yg-granted power to preserve knowledge. But petrified enemies can be altered into loyal slaves, or even carved into a different creature entirely (this latter reshaping being much easier to enact on morbidly obese people and cattle). It is a difficult thing to convince a medusa to give up an archived/petrified being- like convincing a wizard to give up his spellbook.

 4:50 am baybee

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Are Organs

Souls are probably a thing in your setting, right?
And in the form of undead, these souls can probably puppet around organ-less corpses, right?
And probably, undead don't need their hearts to beat or anything, right?
But if all a body needs to operate is a soul, what are organs good forThe way it works in my setting is that biological life is a way for souls or Wills to interact more easily with the world. Anyone with enough willpower can possess a rock or wander around as a ghost, but most people can't be bothered to do so without a handy biological body. Will is independent of Life, and the undead are really just as alive as anyone else, they're just driving a broken-down piece of junk that most people would rather just toss into a grave and head to an afterlife than deal with.

Loss of Organ Function almost always means Death, but having one of these shut down due to a really nasty roll on a Death & Dismemberment table are totally possible.

Organ Function
  1.  Brain- The brain is a subtle detector of cosmic forces, a tuning fork for the unseen and immaterial. As pretty much everything is, in fact, cosmic forces, brain damage causes wide-range sensory interference and apparent madness, while the soul itself may be unfazed. Removal of the brain leaves a body unable to differentiate between elements, law and chaos, existence and nothing, and as such typically encourages a soul to vacate a body. Sticking with it is like driving a car where the windshield and mirrors and headlights are blacked out so you have to hang your head out the driver's window at 80mph to look for road signs at night. Oh and the brain is also the throne of the soul (that's why the top of the head is called the crown, innit) so in this car metaphor your car seat is also missing. Undead tend to be grumpy because their brain-car-seat is all shriveled and gross so even if it's working, it's not pleasant.
  2. Skull- If the brain is the throne of the soul, the skull is the throne room. Ultimately, it is skull shape that determines what your children will end up as and what species you count as when it comes to wizards trying to use you for spell components and who you'll be fighting against and alongside once the Skeleton War finally comes. Creatures without skulls, like worms and oozes, are viewed with great suspicion due to their lack of declared skull-allegiance. If your skull is severely broken but your brain intact, you might end up with a chicken head or something as you heal due to altered skull shape, though this is quite rare.
  3. Heart- Blood is power. The heart moves blood. The heart is Strength of the Material! With no heart/blood, bodies are like the tinman in wizard of oz, rusted immobile and in desperate need of lubrication. That's why getting stabbed through the heart usually causes souls to give up their body instantly- imagine if moving your body was like trying to manually puppet your own body while standing behind it. It's a lotta dead weight for your noodly spirit arms to lift. That's also why there's two varieties of skeleton- the slow, jerky, animatronic skeletons are spirits too stupid or weak to realize walking a body with absolutely no blood or heart is a lot of work. The skeletons that are fast, skilled, and nimble are basically just ghosts who are good at juggling and have the spiritual stamina to levitate bones manually for long periods.
  4. Liver- Seat of rage and greed and other 'base' instincts that biological life has in addition to motives of the disembodied Wills. The redder your liver is, the more inflamed your passions are, hence 'lily-livered' people tend to be rather easy-going and some might even say wishy washy and more prone to flee from troublesome situations. Alcohol inflames and reddens the liver, and certain creatures like True Elves do not have livers at all, making them able to drink endlessly and be as exactly as calm and calculating as before.
  5. Stomach And Viscera- Negotiators of Elemental Earth- Earth enters via eating, provides life and form to the body, then leaves in the form of all solid excretions of the body. With no stomach/viscera, the earth will refuse to move for you, and so even a shallow grave will be a fearsome prison for undead lacking these parts. Also, gravity will frequently give the stomachless the cold shoulder, so you can expect anything without guts to be able to fly around, provided it still has Lungs.
  6. Bladder- Negotiator of Elemental Water- Water enters via drinking, provides life and change, then leaves in all the liquid excretions of the body. With no bladder, one cannot intentionally swim or sink, and will be entirely at the mercy of the whims of water. This is why running water is dangerous to undead.
  7.  Lungs- Souls are ethereal things and require good airflow, or they get stiff, calcified, and/or soggy. Once an undead loses lungs, its probably going to be stuck in that body for a while. The Lungs are also the Elemental Negotiator of Air, and as such are required to speak and breathe. Without the lungs to curry the favor of Air, the wind and its thousand disparate wills devour the body one lick at a time... That's why most undead do a lot better in stagnant tombs rather than overland journeys.
Decay=Elemental Taxes- The dark elements of primordial Earth, Air, and Water compose the material body, and it is light and fire, or the writhing dark of Will that animates it. But the body has a tendency to revert to its constituent parts, falling apart in stench, slime, and bones, releasing the Will within. The Negotiator Organs replace what is lost, eventually failing as interest owed to the elements becomes too great, but if the organs are destroyed prematurely, the body quickly becomes nothing but elemental parts, difficult for a soul to channel its will through.

As such, those souls wishing to hold onto a body and reign eternal in a tomb-palace of their own design rather than a secure standard-issue Afterlife maintained by a Will greater than their own would be well-advised to keep spare organs in canopic jars filled with preservatives for inevitable transplant, or resign oneself to the sacrifice of orphan children and adventurers sent to recover said orphan children, or to abandon all the pleasures of matter and exist as a phantom spirit of disembodied will, OR to turn to rather esoteric sorcerous means to replace organ function and delay entropy.

Undeath=Elemental Racketeering And/Or Tax Evasion

While your Will is your own, your body was a loaner. It's not enough to simply stitch together a bunch of fresh organs or possess some worthy vessel- without negotiation with the primordial elements, your life is not legal, cosmically speaking, and you'll have to turn to crimes against nature (that to be fair, you probably aren't even aware you're committing) to keep your false-life going. Undead that devour the living, commonly called Ghouls and Vampires, consume huge quantities of flesh and blood, wasteful, gluttonous... but by recycling flesh prematurely to their elemental forms, they earn the favor of the otherwise wrathful elementals, avoid decay, and maintain their false lives. The approach favored by the very rich who can afford opulent tombs to spend their afterlives in is of mummification, where convoluted legalese, keeping organs outside the body when not in use, and arcane powders, bindings, and so on slow the rapacious elemental collectors of decay such that a thousand years could go by with hardly any loss of mass... provided nothing goes wrong. As for the Lich, their claim to immortal presence in the material realm comes from abilities to manufacture a new bare-bones(hur hur) body for their spirit to claim and occupy soon after the destruction of the old, without interference from psychopomps eager to whisk them off.

Mind you, this high-concept elemental stuff is all about the physical problems with being undead. Afterlives are like gangs, and if you didn't sign up for one during life, you'll have to fend off  'recruiters' in the form of psychopomps, demons, gods, autonomous collectives of human souls, and so on to get a moments peace if you're an unaffiliated soul with no friendly tomb to skulk in. But I've digressed quite enough even for a 3 AM post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

why are these undead such a-holes

So why are undead so prone to attack on sight anyway if they're just dead people?
Well it so happens that the gibbering corpse-puppet in question is...
  1. Incredibly racially prejudiced against someone in your party on account of whether their earlobes are attached or not, a form of discrimination quite widespread thousands of years ago
  2. consumed by an unholy hunger for flesh/blood/cock/souls/delicious babies which supersedes any desire for rational discourse
  3. a Skeleton War recruiter agent, needs to free your skeleton and draft it into the Skeleton War
  4. covetous of your treasure, just like you want theirs
  5. terrified of the undead it keeps hearing so much about. Has mistaken you for this alleged undead menace in dim dungeon lighting.
  6. an eternal nemesis of one of your great-ancestors, whom you superficially resemble
  7. grinding for XP souls to level up transcend into a higher form of undead
  8. enraged that you've violated the NAP by trespassing on their property
  9. bumbling minion of unrelated, possibly already deceased necromancer
  10. lonely, wants friends, believes you will rise from the dead as friendly spawn once slain
  11. trying to make sure there are no witnesses to its unspeakable crimes
  12. possessed by the spirit of an enthusiastic but clumsy puppy trying to be affectionate
  13. possessed by the spirit of a territorial and generally unpleasant ancient animal
  14. a fanatic who wishes to send you to heaven before your sinful adventuring ways ensure you are hell-bound
  15. blind as a bat and deaf as a post, and under the impression they're still fighting in an ancient war 
  16. sick of living in a shrivelly old corpse and wants to move into yours
  17. only able to derive intellectual satisfaction from high-stakes tactical problem-solving on account of lacking the pleasures of the flesh
  18. wishing for true death, but not wanting to die at the hands of anyone who isn't badass enough to defeat them in pitched battle
  19. just trying to scare people off from the real terrors deeper in the dungeon/wilderness
  20. double the asshole they were in life, and they were assholes back then too

    Friday, November 16, 2018

    d20 Fantastic Skies

    In real life, the sky isn't really a thing.
    pictured- a clammy gulf of nuthin and things too far to reach

    How about in your game?
    Sure, weather is a thing. Clouds get some love. Maybe your sun and moon are allegedly gods, but do they act like it, or do they act like distant balls of rock and/or fire made of physics?
    pictured- an interpretation of the sky that's a lot more gameable than 'clammy empty gulf'
    So here's some fantastic skies that might actually be relevant to actual gameplay. Some are even compatible with each other.
    1. The sky is a giant rock, just like the earth. Clouds and moons and stuff float between the sky and the ground, and might collide with tall or flying objects. The highest mountain in any given region is sacred, because it holds up the sky and stops it from falling and crushing that region. In mountain-poor regions, trees have to bear the burden of the sky. Either way, you can reach the sky and mine it, looking for stars (glimmering gemstones) or star-metal (regular sky stuff is just rock colored like the sky and it looks pretty lame up close, you gotta get the good stuff).
    2. The sky is like a giant tarp, a flexible membrane. If you cut it open, stuff escapes into the Void in catastrophic decompression hurricanes. Eventually the hole seals. Sometimes things from the Void get IN though. If you get sucked into the void, you'll find the outer shell of the sky is grizzled and tough and much harder to break through, and littered with debris from past punctures. And also Void stuff, which you don't need to see much of to be glad it's in the Void and you're under The Sky. "Splitting the sky asunder and ushering the the Void" is every other doomsday villain's plan.
    3. The night sky is Nut. Nut is that there egyptian goddess featured above. What she does is tiptoes around on fingers and toes, careful not to crush things, round and round the world, bringing a respite from the sun.  Stars are her jewelry, and the King of Thieves is coming out of retirement one last time and putting together a team to steal her nipple piercing, and there's just one question you should be asking yourself right now- Are you in?
    4. There is no sky- blue is just what light looks like when bounced through the atmosphere, and stars are just other towns seen on the far side of the world, because you're on the inside of a sphere, not the outside. Legendary archers can shoot all the way across, and the Ancients built a tower that spans the gap, now a forsaken ruin squatted in by pretender kings and forgotten horrors.
    5. Each day's sky is a different giant whale- typically blue whales, but there's a lot of whale species you know, one for each type of sky, except night skies. Each night, the whale dies, rots, turns weird bruise colors(the sunset) then turns black (Night), and is devoured by the Star Brood. Stars are just huge glowing maggots. Sometimes they fall out of the whale and cause trouble. Sometimes hunting the sky-leviathan for its incomparable bones and flesh gets the whales before the maggots do, but it will require a certain ship, and a certain expertise, and a certain harpoon
    6. Stars are all suns and also sons, but they're banished from the court of the Celestial Sun Emperor. Every year or so they try to stage a coup and earth becomes eternally day and way too hot (this is known as War Summer), so the Sun Guard have to assemble to slay or drive off the sun or sunS. Some disgruntled rebels even side with the would-be usurpers and the Sun Empire is wracked by civil war, while those less honorable still take advantage of the disruption in social order via banditry.
    7. The sky is the ocean, obviously. The ocean is blue during the day, like the sky. The ocean is black during the night, like the sky. This ain't rocket alchemy. As such you can sail through the sky just as you can sail through the ocean, though since it's upside down, only dead people can stand it for long periods of time. Stars are the boats of the dead and their corpse lanterns, and the sun shines on the Dead Ocean and the Live Ocean equally.
      and cloud krakens mostly eat people on the Dead Ocean but don't you trust fog banks

    8. The sky is a facade concealing the TRUE SUN from the world, set there by the FALSE SUN. The TRUE SUN's light shines through holes in the facade, so brilliant that the light of the FALSE SUN looks like darkness in comparison. The MOON is the FALSE SUN when seen in the light of the TRUE SUN shining through the STARS, which are holes shot by arrows of heroes who tried to fight the FALSE SUN, but the cowardly FALSE SUN ran away and so the arrows struck the facade instead.
    9. There are a seven or so skies, each a different color, layered atop each other like a rainbow. Currently, Sky Blue and Sky Black own about half of the sky, and take turns shuffling over. The sunset are the lesser skies revealing themselves in the shuffle. The ocean and land were once skies that retired to lounge around the ground, and sometimes are visited by the lesser skies. To land and ground dwellers, this is like another dimension overriding their familiar landmarks, and so there are 9 worlds, one for each sky color and also land and sea, layered and overlapped.
    10. The clouds were the color of a hooker's bruised eye, and the rain beat down like the john's fists responsible. The streetlamps bled red into the gutters next to the American dream. The dame who had walked into my office was a rosy-cheeked thing called Dawn, and she was looking for a golden ball, and after asking all the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the worms of the earth, it was my turn to ask a few questions. Who hired these stormclouds? What's a east-rising Dawn doing with a West-side private dick like me? And most importantly, where the hell had the sun gone?
      I had a feeling before the end of this, I'd be sorry I asked.
    11. The sky is the chariot-track of the gods, and the race and the bets occur every night. You can make a fortune betting on what star will rise or set first, but with a thousand thousand stars and a hundred hundred astrologers, there's no such thing as a sure front runner. Get yourself a gleaming steed and you can even race yourself, but there's a catch- the gods can survive the coming of the Sun but any mortals laboring along the track will burn come dawn.
    12. The sky is a lens over the City and the Desert, through which the great and terrible One-Burning-Day glares and judges individual deeds, and the cold and merciless Trillion-Eyed-Night judges the context of those deeds. Those who do something out of character are cursed by Day, and those who do something in violation of cultural norms are cursed by Night. Only those who hide indoors and underground are free from judgement, and so it is only the nobles in their palaces who know only the light of Flame who may do as they please. Those who wear no clothing have nothing to hide, but those swathed in garments are surely trying to evade judgement. Some people claim that if you reach the horizon you will find the glass of the Lens blocking escape, but others say if you can escape the Lens, so too will you escape the twin tyrants of Night and Day.
    13. The sky is a book, and every day, a new page. The deeds of the day are written in the sky until it is black with ink by a scribe, and then the page is turned to begin anew. The wise can read the sky to determine what happened or even is happening in distant lands. Some pages have been stolen from the library of the scribe, and a single page contains more knowledge than a human mind could learn in a thousand years, though it describes but a single day.
      If you destroy a page, everything of that day will be forgotten.Will you brave the library to kill the past, or to remember what only the scribe knows? Either way, the scribe could use a new roc-feather quill...
    14. The sky is the world to come, and the world that was. Clouds are prototype animals, land-masses. You can catch them and they become real, or rather they were always real, but they gain substance and detail. At the Edge of the World, Horizon, the clouds become new lands and frontiers, and old, worn out lands and animals become clouds. Dead souls become clouds, and you can visit them and they you, all vague and white and fluffy. However, there is a balance- for every cloud given substance, some substance must lose itself to the half-imagined cloud realms. 
    15. The sky is the dream-realm. That's why humans so often fly in their dreams you see, and daydreaming is sometimes called having your head in the clouds. It is also the nightmare realm, as so often humans fall in their dreams and wake up- that's their souls falling back into their bodies. Your limbs feel heavy when you're tired because you long to return to the weightless dream-realm. Your dreamself is usually quite similar to your waking self, but idealized. But as you ascend past the sunset cloudlands of dreams and into the dark heights of nightmare, problems occur- missing pants, slow-footedness, weakness. The dream world copies the real world in golden clouds and blueness, and high nightmare in blinding whites and shades of darkness. Dreamers can retrieve items from the sky- gluttons retrieving remembered pies, adventurers dreaming of failed dungeon heists turned successful- but these items are accursed, causing insomnia, amnesia, madness, and drawing attention from the dreamrealm even in the waking, or even being denied access by screaming storms and lightning.
    16.  The sky is much like the sea, which is much like the land. The land has kings, the sea, sea-kings, and so the sky, sky-kings. Sure, the sea-people are fishy and the sky-people are birdy, but it's all the same really, just another strange far-off country, a palette-swap parallel. Concern arises of course when a realm of land, sea, or sky unites to war against another realm, for princesses or honor or whatever foolish notions cause men of sea or land or sky to war.
    17. The sky is forbidden. People wear huge-brimmed hats that droop down to obscure the horizon, aware of each other mainly by their feet.  Sun and stars and rain and shine all fall equally upon the wide wide hats. Of course some people have looked, been punished. They tell you they wish they hadn't and they seem sincere in their downcast way. Sometimes there are strange lights and noises from above, and staircases to thin air that would take one above the hat's power to hide the sky above. But forbidden, always forbidden.
    18. The sky is fire, a blue fire, and a distant black field of ash. The fire comes and goes, and like fire, it puffs smoke that we call clouds, and melts aether into rain, and has glowing embers called Sun and Stars. Sometimes, you can get a hold of sun-shards and star-metal and make something of the True Flame, but sometimes, a cold greedy animal of our cold, greedy world eats True Flame and turns into a dragon. And once something has the True Flame inside it, only the True Flame can stand against it- our shadow world, our ash world, has but false red flame that's nothing compared to the blue.
    19. The sky used to be all white, until the gods hired nymphs to paint it. The nymphs started painting the whole thing blue, until the gods complained it wasn't different enough from before, so the nymphs started painting the other half black because black is the most different from white, yeah? The gods realized these nymphs, despite being beautiful themselves, were not good at making other things beautiful and called them off, leaving small specks of unpainted white in the black side of the sky. Now mortal artists are called in to paint the sky, but there's so few of them and they can only paint a small portion each sunset and sunrise, which gets lost in the tide of blue and black paint the nymphs left behind. Water and Darkness, the Blue and Black, the paint that dripped down, is collected and used to paint things into reality, provided they be black and blue alone. Collect nymph hair for brush, and you too can try your hand at Painting.
    20. The world is a bubble adrift in primordial chaos, and the sky is a great wall constructed by the pantokrator to keep chaos out, and you approach it by walking clockwise, and leave it behind by walking counterclockwise, adding a few extra dimensions to dungeon castle design and travel planning. Metaspatial geometry aside, leading theologians have discovered that contrary to previous thought, we're on the chaos side of the wall, but no one is sure if humanity is the equivalent of peasants working the fields outside their lords stone castle, or if we are the barbarians at the gate of law. Investigating the blue castle that is the sky and its hordes of defenders, visible as stars in the night, will be the only way to know for sure.
    4:06AM plz kill me

    Friday, November 2, 2018

    The Deck of Many Things

    The Deck of Many Things gets a bad rap for eating campaigns, casting them into chaos and disrepair. I myself had this experience back when I was like 14, where our lust for those shiny promised rewards stripped away much of our achievements and our will to continue playing.
    One problem was this lust for the rewards in the deck without acceptance of the risks that came with, spurred on by the possession of forbidden knowledge of the Deck's contents gave us. And yes I say 'forbidden,' check this AD&D Dungeonmaster Guide quote from Gygax himself

    Personally I just excuse all metagame knowledge via 'prophetic dreams' but crusty ol gygax has a point about 'taking away some of the sense of wonder.'
    Don't take punitive measures against characters for player actions though
    That's classic passive-aggressive power-tripping bad-faith-GMing

    Another issue was overinvestment in our characters. We had reached level 7, finally! But my friend had died a lot and been raised a lot. He had like 2 constitution left. He couldn't let that character and his cool spellbook and his magic bow n arrows go. When all magic items were lost to the Deck, Friend A's character had nothing left basically, and we TPK'd shortly thereafter, this time with no one to revive us, or even to pick up our mantle and magic items and continue the adventure.

    That ended the campaign, and so began the DARK TIMES where we switched over to 3.5, I became the DM, and we never had nearly as much fun as we did in our buddy J's hella murderous AD&D campaign (except in HERO System ran with accidental OSR principles but I digress). The Deck ate the campaign and ruined everything!...Right?

    So, you might be surprised to hear that I threw the AD&D Deck of Many Things into my campaign a few sessions ago
    Firstly I tweaked the deck slightly, so that it had a limited # of cards rather than a constantly reshuffling supply that would vanish once a major catastrophe was drawn. Secondly, I decided its modus operandi was a collection of blesses and curses from gods- the blessings from a chaotic trickster god trying to enter the world, and curses from gods who liked ruling this section of the land. The blessing were bait, the curses were defenses. Once all cards were drawn, the god would be unleashed and made available as a cult.

    Here's what happened-
    The first to draw was resident screwball Cal, who  received a random magic item (a magic shortbow that makes you forget 1 minute per point of damage dealt, and also lightning damage) and a treasure map. The treasure map was a good excuse to point the players at a one-page-dungeon stocked with a plot-hooky piece of treasure.

    They then drew a card that caused enmity between them and a powerful demon. There's a two-faced evil church in the setting (a player suggestion) so this was a nice opportunity to have some factions step up into the spotlight by having the associated legions of hell turn against the player.

    A 'Get Out of Jail Free' card that let them undo an action they witness to not happen. A powerful tool... but one that would be spent on mitigating the awful effects of the Deck, in classic fairy-tale 'using wishes to undo bad wish' sort of fashion.

    -10,000XP and a mandatory extra draw- The character was low level and didn't have that much, but as this wasn't described as level drain, I just figured they went back to level 1, 0XP.

    The extra draw then netting them 5,000GP worth of amethysts. A bit yawn but hey, no one minds free loot.

    The mixed results were enough to encourage a retainer to draw ONE card to prove his barbaric bravery and so on. He got the one that gives you -3 to saves v petrification. As I have some medusa lurking about in the game, I figured a good explanation for this would be a portrait of one of them, and an accompanying desire to see said medusa in the flesh, damn the consequences. I was probably influenced by reading some arabian nights stories about princes mooning over pictures of foreign ladies.

    Anyway, this player has two characters currently, the other being Ankleshot Ayrani, a thief with shite luck. The NPC rival adventurers give her bad nicknames, no one ever wants to team up with her on 'find a retainer reaction checks' her attempts at being nice led to her working as slave labor for a few weeks/months and becoming traumatized and obsessed with stopping a doomsday scenario only to be largely ignored ala Cassandra... it's great fun. Anyway, the first card she draws results in
    'Ayrani draws a card. The earth opens up and the oubliettes of the Church of Janus open up below her to swallow her up. Was this the unfortunate occurrence Cal was warned of and given the power to prevent?'
    Ayup, it was, which was a little disappointing, as a jailbreak from the corrupt church that traps people in hell as slaves coulda been rad. This curse is retconned out of existence by Cal's previously drawn card, and the fun continues...

    The next card is a simple one, but a promising one- slaying the next monster you find garners you a level. I had hoped they'd meet something outrageous like the headless zombie Ancient Gold Dragon that's slithering around, and so be encouraged to come up with wild schemes, but it turned out to just be two Wights in an abandoned castle that were tricky to put down but eventually defeated by Teamwork. It also made me reckon that the Deck makes more sense as an immobile dungeon feature rather than something you use in the safety of town, but it worked decently enough there so whatevs. Also 'monster' could have potentially been defined as several other things, but I decided humans were exempt from the clause, no matter how mean they were. Maybe I shouldn't have...

    But before that occurred, she drew a card stealing 3 points of intelligence. I thought this was boring as heck, even with the appearance of the half-sealed trickster god appearing to steal some of her thoughts to help him think of an escape, but the player put a nice spin on it- They decided that this also stole their memories of them working as a slave for a wicked necromancer, therefore slightly changing their cognition. Player inputs great stuff I tell you wot- I was gonnna leave that as a boring penalty but this led to some jolly good roleplaying opportunities. It also gave another bonus draw..

    ...Which gave an image of someone planting a knife in her back. This turned the only henchman she'd ever managed to acquire, Gerome the Illusionist, against her. Gerome was a random hex filling I dug out of Skerple's Veins of the Earth and the situation where Gerome betrayed her was less tragic and more comical since everyone sorta suspected what was going on OOC but went along with in IC for laughs. Also,  Ayrani draws the last card...

    ...Which promptly stole all her magic items Deck not included. Maybe I shoulda had it be stolen too, to see if they'd quest to get it back, and to stop the cascade of awfulness the deck was unleashing. I had birds steal them physically, flying down the chimney and making off with 'em- they're not removed from the campaign, simply taken to an appropriate location. Try to put some adventure hooks into all these awful deck effects makes them more exciting for sure- similarly, those 3 lost INT points could be stolen back from the trickster god via trickery I'm sure.

    Ayrani predictably curses her luck, tries to get Gerome to draw, though as he's now plotting her death due to the cursed card she drew, he declines, plausibly pointing out all the ruin that came from this clearly cursed deck.

    Now we come to Pimpernell, a child TOTALLY a halfling thief who has survived a lot of shit and is starting to show it- old wounds, nascent mutations, curses upon curses- what you'd expect a high level OSR character to end up as, basically.

    His first card nets him 50,000XP and some magic boots. The unlucky players groan in envy, Pimpernell is filled with false hope, and continues to draw his four cards...

    He gets a card that doesn't translate super-well into my game- the 'Alignment Swapper.' I figure this will instead put him on the spot for all the various gods he's paid tribute to, forcing him to pick one and earn the enmity of the others. He picks the Undersun, on account of the other gods he's met being awful demons, and as such a simple-minded god of flame who likes volcano sacrifices and maximising fire damage to both its allies and enemies is the best option here. This boost of flaming favor will become relevant quite soon, for the next card...

    ...Is Death. Yes, Pimp has escaped death too many times via his rolls on the Death and Dismemberment charts, and now a/the Grim Reaper itself has come to collect his soul. It asks if he wants it the easy way or the hard way, and of course Pimp opts to duel. In the meantime, Ayrani collects a crowd to root for Pimp. Since the Death in the book auto-hits each round for 2d8 damage and anyone assisting gets a Death of their own to fight, I assume Pimp is screwed.
    Pimp has a different plan- to immolate himself and Death with his hirelings bag fulla burning oil. The curse/worship/love of the Undersun causes him to always ignite if touched by the smallest flame, but also to deal and take max fire damage. With his  Ring of Fire Resistance he traded from another player, he hopes to outlast Death. Death is, in the book, immune to fire, but that seems pretty lame, especially since Pimp just swore allegiance to the Undersun, and I reckon the source of all magma in the land should have something to say about their #1 disciple being taken from them. So I rule the oil all ignites in a flaming sphere of doom, and both Pimp and Death are cremated and melt through the ground in a proper 'going out with a bang' style. This mighty display makes Pimp a Saint, and impressionable townsfolk immediately start a cult. The book says there's no chance of resurrection.

    A session or so passes. Ayrani dies due to PvP squabbling over political power. There is a general sense of frustration with the game and its unrelenting bleakness. The high level characters have been lost, but the high-level looming threats still menaced on the horizon.

    save us, arnold
     And so, having been wanting to run the Isles of The Dead, they ran through that, made a deal with a demon (who is also one of their swords) slew a heavenly protector, and so the Time-Locked Void Monk Bers realized she needed to obliterate her soul before true nothingness could be achieved, Pimp returned as a Saint and cult leader thanks to this string o miracles, and Ayrani decided that despite being the chewtoy of life, she wasn't ready to be dead yet.
    And a bunch of magic crap got removed from the game which is nice, it really tends to pile up.
    Anywhosawhatsit, my conclusion for the Deck is that it DOES disrupt campaigns. It DOES ruin characters. It DOES undo progress. It DOES swing things out of whack, balance wise.

    But that can be fun. It can shake things up a bit. And if you think about the bad cards in a sort of 'how can I make this campaign relevant and a plot hook' they become a lot more promising than if you treat them as simple 'the players meddled with something better left alone and now are punished for it.' That's unsatisfying, a dead end, a wasted opportunity.

    And this certainly isn't an 'Old School vs New School' attitude- I've heard stories about GMs with heavily railroady plots and players and their carefully constructed pet pathfinder characters falling victim to the various instadeath horrors of the deck, but the GM spun those events into compelling plot points, and the players pressed on and were enriched by the whims of fate, and I've heard ancient grognards swear off usage of the Deck with no room for compromise, declaring it a worthless campaign killer.

    Here's the lesson I feel I learned from the deck of many things- it's like the risk/reward of typical adventuring, cranked up to 11 and condensed into one simple question of 'do you press the shiny red button.' If you and your campaign and your players couldn't handle the chaos of the deck and your campaign fell apart... was it really going to last the trials and tribulations of a regular campaign? Thinking back to J's campaign the Deck killed all those years back, I feel like I recognize signs of DM fatigue, of a stagnation of our long-running two-player, two-character party, an aimless wandering from both the players and the DM looking for something we had lost along the way.
    The deck showed the players the highs and lows that could await them, and tested the GM's resolve to stay creative and nimble in the face of everything going upside down. Maybe the deck doesn't kill campaigns, but simply crystallizes the question of 'are we still having fun'  into a quick yes or no in a single flash of insight, and breathes, yes chaos, but also potential into the campaign. Using that potential is up to you, kid.

    it's a visual metaphor for this post or something
    it's 3:01am don't look at me