Thursday, April 29, 2021

Four More Campaign Worlds And Retrospective Lessons

Three years ago I made this moderately popular post about past campaign worlds, and I think it's about time I updated it with what I've run since then and perhaps what was learned.


A drawing of the most active characters- Leah the thief and her goblin minions, Blix and her fairy and spider sidekicks, Aten Bast the mighty wizard (Later replaced by the also mighty Thirbaek Merrymace after Aten's many deaths cheapened his life in the players eyes), Olaf the wicked old usurper of the Sheriff position, Leo and Pilgrim/Lily the Witch, character and decoy replacement character after some party PKing, and finally Ambrose Noure, the sociopathic but easy to work with Gothic Villain and his pigman retainer Lump. There were other important characters such as Erhard De Vend as well, but such is the nature of open table games that there is no snapshot of the party that is perfectly comprehensive.

After the politicking of Crownless Lands, I wanted to return to ye dungeoncrawling, and an individual sense of struggle and survival rather than faction jockeying. At this time I had been playing quite a bit of Enter the Gungeon and Darkest Dungeon and had belatedly gotten into the lore of Undertale, so I had a notion of looping time where each adventure would go through similar areas, with increasing familiarity allowing easy bypassing, knowledge of where the plate armor was to upgrade the frontliner, and so on. Additionally, death would be irrelevant, a time loop ensuring a way to keep characters constant but threat level high, even easier than even widespread Raise Dead. To keep the focus on individual treasures rather than gold hoards, I used a copper standard without changing rulebook prices. 1 copper piece was worth 1 xp, making lanterns and other mundane items valuable treasures, and a suit of plate stolen from Castle Noure's armory racks

Not much of this design sentiment survived the early drafts, as I think it would have required a singular carefully crafted megadungeon to work, but I did not have that sort of prep time available. So the focus of the campaign was a single small village beneath the eponymous Castle Noure

A quick view of the village map. Upgrading the village wasn't the focus of the game, but was a satisfying part

With a very small hex map in case the players got cabin fever and wished to wander, though this campaign was set in the Moonlands, a place where the sun was a rare occurrence and the lights of alien moons warped reality and spawned monsters. It was no place for mortals to go wandering about narratively, and on the meta level, this was not a hex crawl campaign.

With the dire outside established, the focus then turned to the accursed, time-looped estate which was composed of 3 modules- Ynn, Castle Gargantua, and Maze of the Blue Medusa, with Ynn as the ever-changing grounds of the estate that must be crossed, Castle Gargantua as filling for the towers and 'minidungeons' that might be found from entering buildings that were not Noure proper, and MotBM as the 'Final Area' within which were contained the secrets of the decadent nobles and mad experimentation that caused this loop. All were warped to suit the campaign setting rather than used as is, but Ynn was praised, MotBM disappointed, and Castle Gargantua was mostly ignored, but I feel like, with some tweaking, could be worth trying again.

Another sleeper hit was a tweaked version of the Meal of Oreshegaal, (which I still can't spell) which in my warped version had the Tuskmen as once-human peasants subjected to famine that Oresh turned to pig-people so that they could survive via cannibalism rather than become ghouls. As some of the more ghastly elements of the manor were removed, Oresh became everyone's favorite creepy wizard uncle and the party allied with him against the entity responsible for the time loop (which in a twist, was not a time loop at all, but a manual reset using clockwork machinery, cloning facilities, which then gave everyone a bit of an identity crisis upon the revelation that many of them were clones made to play out assigned roles).

Player attendance became wobbly near the end, but a final epic conclusion or three were achieved, and a combination of retirement and new recruitment was set out for the next portion of the campaign.

Things I learned from Castle Noure
1. Having the players be desperately poor is fun, but can wear thin in the long run- I am more likely to switch to 'barter only, coin isn't real' than go full on copper standard but silver/gold book prices again.
2. Making death a non-issue has mixed results depending on playgroup. Some players had more fun not having to worry about permadeath, and/or learned the value of permadeath by seeing the effects of hanging on to a character who had outstayed their welcome. While others used it as a crutch to support existing over investment and loss-aversion and were led astray, perhaps. I think future games of mine will have to pick a path, so to speak, either making death more menacing, or leaning harder into the 'fantasy soulpunk' idea I have for the setting, where death is just deportation to the netherworld and human consciousness in artificial bodies is the new transhumanism mood.
3. An absolutely hostile wilderness less fantasy wilds and more 'cosmic horror' is very fun, but again can wear thin in the long run. I am greatly amused by my veteran players who survived the Moonlands chuckling to each other when newbies ask about the Moonlands or naively assume that they couldn't be that bad out loud.
4. Reliable 'crafting systems' for potions and the like have a sort of appeal, but I think are doomed for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, I think potion ingredients must be confined to things that cannot be farmed safely, or you run the risk of having to run Magical Industrial Revolution with potions/magic items. Which could be fun if that's the premise of the game, but if it's just one player wanting to set up basilisk and mandrake factory farming, you probably get a pacing/tone/balance issue.
5. Having a premise to do 'one thing' in a campaign is great and good and has always been more successful than keeping things strictly 'get in ye dungeon and get rich and figure out what you REALLY want along the way". "Break the Curse of House Noure or Get Rich Trying" was the initial goal of the campaign, it fragmented into other goals, and finally, when the campaign was over, some characters retired, but some had formed a proper adventuring party forged from the unity of their common goal.

If there was a theme to the 54 sessions or so of Castle Noure, it was something about leaving past trauma behind and focusing on found friendships and family. But of course, it was not to last, for call no PC happy till they are safely retired offscreen...

Map lacks some player added portions

After the party finished with Castle Noure, their next goal was to take their 60-foot tall clockwork fighting robot and walk it out of the hellish moonlands to sanity and sunlit lands, for a variety of reasons. Thirbaek Merrymace, cleric of dead gods, had properly put one of his gods to rest, and now sought to find the sunshard fragments of Riikhus and reassemble him. Blix wanted to honor the wishes of some bugfolk and bury them on the isle of Ebetheron, and also go on a honeymoon with their protein polymorph gf. But mostly, people just wanted to keep playing and get out of the moonlands, and Oroboro was a part of the setting that was well-fleshed out due to the past Crownless Lands campaign, so it made for a good destination.

Oroboro was supposed to be a city crawl+megadungeon, and I had a vision for the megadungeon, with rooms that would fill and empty with seawater, making timing very important, and equipment more important yet, as armor protected from monsters, but not drowning. A hell of undead and fishy monstrosities, a corrupt sore at the heart of the city that had formed from the unfinished business of Oroboro.

After the very positive experience with Ynn, I did not prep the Sunken Sepulchre megadungeon,but instead filled it on the go with random tables. I think dungeons benefit from building in advance so parts coincide, but I think the enemy composition between sea creatures, outlaws, and undead was a memorable mix as they required different tactics to approach and the players rarely rushed in, rather scouting, then returning to 'lair' areas with preparation.

Looming threats were the cult of Janus, cthonic demon god of blood and gold, their temple a crater filling with seawater, and the dread Ningen King, a giant merman made into immortal monster by the artifact Topaz, and his rivalry with King Samuel Goffnagoff, an old PC who had become king, as well as the machinations of the ancient serpent rulers of the city, a necromancer cult which outlived the loss of its head, a giant wasp-queen Happy who was raised by humans but whose offspring lacked morality and hungered for brains, and the neighboring country of Fassulia in a magical cold war with Oroboro.

The players were no mere murderhobos delving with rusty spoonshivs now, however- levels started at about 3-5, and reached 6-7. Waterbreathing and light were spells that trivialized some of the mundane threats of the dungeon, which was slightly disappointing, but the players found the place disgusting and dangerous enough that they probably would not have been willing to delve it without these magical tools. A fine balance is required to make dungeon delving at higher levels still feel dangerous, and I think it was barely met here, but, especially once teleportation and flight became available, it surely felt like the players were outgrowing many of the problemsolving parts of dungeon delving.

However, their heightened power, especially mobility-wise opened them up to the wonders of hexcrawling and domain building, and I soon found myself in need of prep far beyond the Sepulchre.

They fought (and lost against) blue dragons in the deserts relying on their metal clockwork battle bot (but came back with a plan and grapple ballista and a small army and won), delved a ghoul-missile silo in Fassulia and uncovered the machinations of the lich Magister Verdurus (villain of Crownless Lands), riddled with terrible ifrits who could only be tricked and outwitted, not beaten, visited the islands of the realm and other city-states like Phavea and the accursed City of the Emerald (within which a kiss-spread curse made all appear as the lost Queen of that city), met the Knights of the realm in their castles, accidentally assassinated Oroboron Queen Buckley at the machinations of a player from Crownless Lands picking up an old character, igniting mroe Fassulian-Oroboron intrigue (tho necromancers were behind it all) and made war Against the GiantsSaga of the Giants™ and defeated and claimed the hill giant section of that module to dip their toes into that hazy theoretical realm of 'domain play, ' which really came into full force after the players defeated the Heart of the Kingen (and betrothed the High Incarceratrix of Janus) removing the two main sources of evil at the heart of Oroboro, only to be confronted with a choice- both the King of Oroboro, Samuel Goffnagoff, and the Serpent Queen Tinnea, giant platinum medusa (one of three medusa) offered payment for the monstrous-immortality granting Topaz, but each was vying for rulership of the city. Tinnea got it in the end, simply because she could pay the ONE MILLION SILVER bounty upfront, while King Samuel offered a payment plan.

Apologies for that doozy of a runon, have an image of Blix, Erhard, and Thierbaek, as well as retainers Serenity the hatecubus/Erhard's Sword, and Kitadatapa, moral compass spider cleric.

Samuel was petrified and overthrown, which led to what would later be known as the Oroboron Civil War, in which some supported the legitimate claim of the Serpent Queens, while others supported the human Goffnagoff family who refused political marriage and opted for revolt (Princess Evalyn being the Rebel leader). I rolled reactions amongst Samuel's knights to see who would join the rising serpent queen and who would rebel, and was surprised to see that most rebelled (save for the most mercenary of them). More surprising still was the split of player loyalty to different sides of the civil war. Each side was largely identical in politics, so it really was down to character moments- Some valued their feudal oaths to the knights, or had sinister mirror-cult conspiracies at play, or simply sided with their best friends or just were double-agent lesbians
hey, a motive's a motive

Anyway, each side was given private channels to communicate in, and they plotted and schemed, drawing allies from local factions they met in more standard play to aid them, employed counter-measures and counter-countermeasures via spying and double agents and intelligence work, and I as GM was just the neutral arbiter of all this. Though some people felt betrayed, for the most part this was very enjoyable to everyone, as playing against other players with GM as arbiter lead to lots of problem solving. In the end people died, players retired, and the Serpent Queens were cast into prison or the pocket dimension from which they came (or beheaded by KAN for inscrutable purposes), the Lumarian conspiracy was revealed and [REDACTED] (he sold his name to a bugbear) the Mirror-Pope fled to the mirror realm, and the party's ties were now shooketh and everyone resolved to sail away from this political squabbling on a boat to become pirates instead.

What did I learn from this 65 session campaign? Well, one thing was what D&D in the 5-7 range really starts to look like. I would not go so far as to say this was 'true' domain play as we did not get deep into the nitty gritty of how many pikemen can guard a 5' wide breach in a player-build castle wall, there were mercenary troops hired, there were night raids on war camps, there was A player castle built on the ruins of the reclaimed Hill Giant Steading, there were religious conspiracies and marriage angles, it was all pretty great. With regards to 'domain play' I think there needs to be a goal- idly upgrading and sleeping at Fort Fortenfort (said player castle) was briefly fun, then ignored, but the goal of the Civil War galvanized players into 'domain level' actions. The trick might be setting- you need it to be wilderness enough that the players have room to grow, but also have nearby factions of all types so the players aren't just clearing hexes of direwolves or whatever.

According to one player, the theme of this campaign was 'Loyalty' not just to fellow party members and maximising loot, but to ideological goals. While fun, the Civil War took a lot out of people and they resolved to go on a piratical boat adventure with no complicated politics, just a desire to escape Oroboron politics and stop a prophesy that said the fled wasp-princess might bring about the end of the world via domination of brain-eating wasps.


Things seemed to start off well- the party scrying the wasp-princess, robbing a tower of an archmage of its goodies (even learning the Wish spell, albeit a Glogified one), dealing with plague rats on the ship and pressganging pirates into joining. Then came Cycladea, a Lungfungus created island module meant to emulate bronze-age greek mythology.

In and out, talk to the wasp-princess out of causing the apocalypse, and definitely don't get caught up in Iliad/Gigantomachia shenanigans, 20 minute adventure

Bouncing around Cycladea started low-impact, looting some dungeons, helping villagers, meeting wizards. But these were not fresh characters. They had strings on them. Arsem's madness and Firstborn(the forsaken homunculous 'daughter' of Blix)'s pact with the Great Raven led them to piss off a terrible wizard who was cursed by the gods after their initial friendly meeting. Animated skeletons (and covert vampires who snuck on in Oroboro) caused a mutiny on the ship, and Finzu, the Pyromancer, lit a city aflame with everburning fire with some magical shenanigans. The party sided with the king who had imperialist dreams, and vowed to defeat the goddesses of Cycladea who were admittedly jerks in the greek pantheon way. The temples of the goddesses were burnt and pillaged, the kings forced to bow. Those of the party who enjoyed the chaos revelled, those with morals left the boat behind, Kithri the halfling slipping off to garden and raise sabre-toothed tigers elsewhere, Firstborn teleporting back to Fassulia to atone and work on the side of law, mourning the lost friendships the Civil War had ruined, Thirbaek and his wife the High Incarceratrix used a sunshard and miracles to have a vampire-dwarf-sunchild and started a new pantheon and went on to rule Stonefast 2 in other lands, Grift died and joined said pantheon as a new incarnation of Kispiritis, and so on. The islands fought back, but frankly, Lungfungus's world was not meant to deal with level 7-8 adventurers with a wide variety of spells and multiple spellcasting systems, especially when supported by arguably the most powerful faction there.

However, the victory-drunk party did not heed the hint that they may be succumbing to hubris when the previously pissed off wizard got a good lightning bolt off, and did not correlate characters leaving them to their capabilities weakening. After the final temple was burned and the Cyclops were freed, they sailed to the forbidden Isle of the gods, slapped around some fantasy creatures, then picked a fight with 13 lions lazing under a tree.

After round 3 arrived and half the party was dead,

This is how a high (for OSR) level campaign ends- hubris, and cats

The survivors retrieved a teleport scroll from a corpse, and tried to teleport out. The teleport landed on the 100 result, the dreaded 1% chance to teleport yourself into rock and die (though we left it open to interpretation that they ended up in the Veins or another plane of existence) and so ended the campaign, on a wild but somewhat anticlimactic note Those players who had quit while they were ahead got happy endings at least.

I was gladdened to hear feedback that the 22 sessions of Thiefboat were satisfying to players though. It was not a glorious story, it was a tragedy of the corruption of power, hubris, and how fractures in interpersonal relationships go deep. What did I learn from Thiefboat?

1. High level play is strange, with its teleportations and flight and so on. Verisimilitude-wise, GMs must think of how cities and rival wizards will defend themselves from obscure methods of attack like, say, 2000-foot long dragon turtle shells being dropped from the sky, or magical arson. But things are still dangerous, and reliance on the big obvious tools can leave the players blind to the fact that they have 23 HP and that can go away from 3 dudes with arrows in one round.
2. Boat travel can be hard to make interesting without succumbing to the temptation of  shipwrecks and krakens. One of the more interesting things was the homicidal Captain Arsem secretly engineering a mutiny as an excuse to kill the 3 crew his madness demanded die to save the future from the prophecy, only to have that mutiny coopted by the vampires who had snuck aboard a while ago. While that's a rather extreme example, social scenes with people on a boat have a lot of potential, as can problems like 'how to get rid of plague rats' or 'find out who is drinking all the rum' or 'secure limes' and so on.
3. Player attrition, especially on open tables, may be inevitable as the scope of campaigns shift away from what originally drew them. Part of why Castle Nowhere/Oroboro/Thiefboat lasted as long as it did was thanks to player recruitment persisting so even when some players had to leave, there were usually some waiting to take their place.

Anyway, player numbers had dropped from 'open table' to more 'single party of regulars' by the end of thiefboat, so it was time to move on, and time to do something a little different (no no, we aren't at Lancer yet)


As a change of pace,  Betrayal was a game in a more idyllic, Shrek-like realm. Having read a great deal of Otome manga such as Bakarina I wanted to have a shorter more storygame style game where the players would be expelled from the Queen's Court and have to clear their name, gain the support of the provincial lords, and return to turn the tables on their nemesis Alicce Von Dumandred. The players had a pretty good time, though the single-group model as opposed to open table immediately showed its weaknesses as players couldn't make sessions, which led to cancelled sessions, which led to lower investment, and I knew its days were numbered... which was fine, as it was a palate cleanser more than anything. The players had to sleep in a haunted manor, saved a nun wedding from Alf Lords after diamond shoes, bullied Good Doctor Ogudugu, had intrigue with and married a Frog Prince, helped on eof Alicce's cronies throw off her influence and accept herself as a centaur, visited the castle of the Dark Lord in the Wurderlands (within an anarcho-communist city of mutants, in stark contrast to the feudal human-central lands of Queen's Coast), infiltrated the manor of Alicce Von Dumandred and had the dreamy Prince of Saresare seduce Alicce(or be seduced?) so they could escape with the party's Gothic Villain's imprisoned one true love, and had exciting dance parties with opaque rules. It was all very fun, though the final dance party conclusion never came together due to scheduling conflicts, but the conclusion was mostly foregone at that point- the party had restored their honor, and Alicce's misdeeds had been brought to enough light that she would flee to Saresare with the Prince (The mysterious foreign prince subplot with a wicked foreign bride and ulterior motives from both of them be good fuel for a potential future campaign)

Whimsical castle Daotengard, overtaken by demon-frogs and a contagious froggification curse

Anyway! I learned a few things here
1.Turning social scenes into more gamified spaces (I had a 'Dance Pentagon' where entering exposed you to various NPCs who could help or hinder you, attacking HP intentionally or unintentionally via mean words or simple dance exertion, but you had to do it to get private conversations) can help to make them feel like they have timing and stakes compared to just 'you talk at NPCs for 12 hours.' Just roleplaying via chat is fine too of course, but I think making weird social games based on positioning and resource management (spare dresses if wine is spilled on you!) is better than making them about rolling a skill check for Diplomacy or what have you.
2. Similar to wolf moons, this was a bloated disaster of houserules... having received the DCC RPG book as a gift from a player, I eagerly sought to add it to the game... on top of GLOG casting... on top of all my other houserules to BFRPG... on top of a mixed level up system using both BFRPG GP=XP and Die Trying X's and DCC's model... suffice it to say that this abominable frankenhack would have been better served by leaping into the nearest dumpsterfire and leaving us to play Fate or PbtA or a proper story game. We squeezed great roleplay and schemes despite the system, and used the system for a few janky heists and dungeon delving for coin, but it was really a ball-and-chain, especially the XP thing. We survived 22 sessions under its yoke, but I could feel my bloated house-rules coming apart at the scenes as it barely supported the story-game mode of play on it.

coins to XP is an elegant system IF you stick to the prescribed purpose of dungeons and dragons as a dungeon delver. This campaign departed far from those goals, but really made me think of the limitations I was working under. In short, I needed an OSR break to ponder what to do rules-wise upon my return. I dread subjecting players to a homebrew rulebook after the disasters of Wolf Moons's Nightmare Glog, but I think I have reached the point where 'BFRPG with houserules' is something I can only run if I return to very bare-bones 'delve the megadungeon!' campaigns, and even if I do that, I need to make a definititive houserules/setting primer document.

Anyway, I'm running and playing in Lancer games at the moment, and we'll see how long that phase lasts, and if I return to OSR immediately, or if my 'break' continues to run some storygames. However, even Lancer takes place in the same setting (after a fashion) so I hope to continue stacking layer upon layer of lore regardless of what the system is.

No proofreading, only post

Friday, April 23, 2021

Lancer NPCs as Biomonstrosities

 So Lancer is a pretty cool game I've been playing/running recently, lots of tactical crunch and charop but in a less oppressive way than other systems. Maybe it's just the fact that comp/con exists to track character sheets- I'd be harder pressed to run/play the game without that wonderful service.

It has great visual support thanks to a 3rd party, retrograde minis, that has little art/tokens not just for the players, but for the NPC enemies too.

But there was one thing I was missing- Lancer supports fighting giant kaiju monstrosities (Never sapient alien species mind you, its a design goal to avoid being Starship Troopers) but the Monstrosity-type NPC is mostly just a 'rargle blargle eat your face' type enemy where the only real counterplay is to shoot it before it turns you to scrap.

But I wanted art for all the other NPC types flavored as biological, so I made 'em myself.

In campaign, these are engineered warbeasts, half genetically modded slime mold, half nanite. They are brainless, controlled by cocktails of pheromones and code, and are not even sentient, let alone sapient, and may or may not be piloted by humans or operating on remote commands. They are solar powered, but for bursts of growth/reproduction they can consume both organic and technological objects to produce self-sustaining squads that were designed to be analogous to modern fireteams.

Included is a KRX, a similarly bioengineered organism that serves as a false pilot (in truth piloted by humans of the lumarian papacy) that is a combination of the linked post and my own brain-eating/replacing wasps of the Autumn Moon, but that's just lore for my own campaign and should be disregarded for your own if you snag these critters. Also, a Keeper of Days, a clockwork mech that was a homebrew frame and reference/vector to the ever-present Kind-As-Night entity within this setting, which again you probably should disregard.

Anyway, here's a link to the actual monstrosities for use in ya own games


Wednesday, February 3, 2021


 AD&D Golems

Golems come in 4 varieties, Flesh, Clay, Stone, and Iron. They are notable for being immune to many effects, much like slimes but at a higher difficulty level, but with less counterplay.
All come with a requirement of spells, level of magic user, and cost in GP per HP of the golem to create one, which is interesting and suggests creative use of spells and spell combos being something magic users can do to create thematically appropriate magical effects outside of the normally very rigid conception of what spells can do. All (Save for the clerical Clay variant) have a rather inexplicable blind spot in that they also require a Wish spell which is beyond what the required minimum level of spellcaster could actually cast.

Clay Golems- The clerical variant of golems, they are extra-immune to weapons, requiring blunt magical weapons to hurt them. They are immune to spells save for Move Earth, Disintegrate, and Earthquake, all of which briefly slow the golem and harm it decently. They can haste themselves after at least 1 round of combat for 3 rounds, attacking twice for 3d10. They also have a 1% cumulative chance per round of combat to be possessed by a chaotic evil spirit and going permanently berserk and murderous. They also have but 7 AC, which makes them pretty easy to hit, if not to harm. On a final mechanical note, the wounds they inflict are accursed and require basically the highest level of cleric to heal.

This is, of course, a reference to the Golem of Prague, though the mythical counterpart has a more solid reason for going berserk. It acted as a protector of the Jews, but one day, when the Rabbi forgot to deactivate it to allow it to rest on the Sabbath it went berserk and showed up on a rampage while he was reading the very Psalm denoting the Sabbath as a day of rest and praise to god (Clay golem more like Irony Golem amirite). In any case, this berserker state seemed to have been induced not by a random chaotic evil spirit being allowed to just yoink a 50,000gp gold investment from a mighty servant of a Deity, but as punishment for violating the laws of god, no doubt as a moral lesson of sorts.

The story also gives a good weakness to the Golem- removing the shem (a clay tablet bearing the name of god) from its mouth caused it to deactivate. Far more interesting than requiring some very specific earth-based spells or having the warriors dig out their less-favored Maces +1 that languish in their packs, spurned for fancier talking swords.

Flesh Golems-Vaguely Frankensteinesque, but only if you didn't actually read Frankenstein, but maybe saw like, Frankenstein vs Dracula at a 1970's drive in or something.

They are uninteresting monsters, immune to nonmagical weapons, with terrible AC, decent offense in 2 2d8 fists, an ability to break down doors and wooden structures, and a similar berserk chance, but with a 10% chance per round for its creator to regain control. Fire and ice slow them, electricity heals them, and other spells have no effect.

The role of such monsters, I would presume, would be not to defeat conan types, but a sort of mage-hunter monster, or perhaps a bodyguard against rival wizards.

Iron Golems- The most powerful golem, they have AC as plate, can destroy structures with time, breathe small clouds of poison gas once every 7 rounds (save or die, one assumes) can only be hit by +3 or better magical weapons similar to some of the spicier demon lords, and are very immune to magic, being slowed by lightning and healed by fire.
They are, however, 'subject to attack by rust monsters' which is a nice specific weakness to have.

I have no idea what the poison breath refers to, as only mythological 'metal golem' I can think of is Talos.

Stone Golems are basically just lesser iron golems, busting out a single-target Slow every other round, being affected by +2 weapons, and rock to mud which slows them, mud to rock which heals them, and stone to flesh making them vulnerable to normal weapons for 1 round.

3.5 Golems are basically true to their original counterparts, but Clay golems are given 'healed by acid' and all golems are given very good AC scores in comparison to their original pitiful AC.

BFRPG drops some of the esoteric abilities, increased the ACs, and added a bunch of esoteric lesser golem types like wood golems which are basically killer mannequins, amber golems that are lightning-shooting lions made of amber, 4 armed sword-wielding bone golems, and similar things that are more interesting than what they did with the default golem types for sure.

Golems, I believe, are intended to be a threat that forces a return to physical problem solving, as they are immune to spells, but are fairly slow and stupid. They are fairly killable if you have the appropriate magic weapons and strong fighters, but hit hard enough to make melee an unpleasant prospect. The clay golem is unquestionably my favorite, as its cursed wounds discourages casual engagement and its mythological roots are stronger and richer than the other variants which come across as a blander set of scaling 'powerlevel' threats more than beings with their own identities.

Sunset Realm Golems

Mokkhite Golems

Mokkhus, God of Death, adopted brother of Riikhus and the other face of the Stone Sun, the Counter of Bones! The faithful do not seek to cheat death, but sometimes, the Gatekeeper of the Dead used a loophole and allowed an ancestor spirit to return to the realm of the living with the following restrictions.
1- The animated vessel must be inanimate, not a corpse (Wood being an edge case that was allowed) and clearly resemble the animating soul so as to avoid deception.
2- The soul can only return for the completion of a task, then returns to the underworld
3- Tasks must be aligned with the holy interests of Mokkhus, not mortal whimsy

A simple wooden mannequin was the most affordable golem, with a hollow suit of bronze armor the next. After that, a statue was the next most common option- a statue of wet clay could be remodeled to suit multiple spirits, or a statue of fired pottery could be a more permanent option. Stone was the most desirable, but even with the power of the god assisting, a spirit would have  to be mighty indeed to move a stone statue, and so stone guardians only defended High Temples and other vital areas. The secrets of Golem-Crafting were guarded well by Mokkhite Priests even after the vanishing of their god and the obsolescence of their religion, and the process, while once almost standardized, is now ludicrously expensive, requiring ancient artifacts of the dead god to channel remnant power, and of course, a Golem Manual to describe these lost rituals and to find an appropriate spirit.

Elemental Golems-
Everything has a soul, so modern-minded sorcerers simply anthropomorphize the soul within the materials of a golem itself and bind it. As elementals are tremendously dangerous at even moderate sizes and typically utterly unconcerned with anything humans are interested in, these magics tend to be highly complex affairs requiring dozens of Spellwisps to wrangle an elemental and absurd amounts of pure gold for interior runic bindings, but the process is exponentially cheaper and easier with smaller golems, as errors are unlikely to have serious consequences. Though unfeasible for middleweight bouts for all but the mightiest magicians, there is a thriving market for golems built for the Featherweight division of Beast Battler circuits- golems made of pebbles, candles, butter, root vegetables, and so on.

Alvish Golems
Popular in the 3rd age, and perhaps the inspiration for later variants, golems created by the unparalleled magics of the Alves are controlled by custom-made spellwisps of ancient and terrible power, with wide-range counterspell suites to prevent rival fey from breaking their expensive toys. They are more akin to magical robots, with personalities pleasing to their creators, and a high degree of personalization, as each was essentially a vanity project. It would be futile to talk excessively of them as a group, for apart from the mastery with which they were created, each was unique. Many persist to this day, their masters long vanished into the dreams of trees, ice, and the Iron Moon, their forlorn creations still fulfilling ancient dictums in broken ruins. An intact Alvish Golem is usually less a threat and more an opportunity to adventurers and archaeologists- if the golem's rune-logic can be understood, it can be utilized for the benefit of those who discover it.

Necromantic Golems
When it comes to stitching together corpses before animating them, there's two main types of necromancers- the ones who want a giant unstoppable monster to rampage about with but all they have to work with is like, a local village graveyard, so they work with what they have, and the sort that are stitching together the dead to make a companion. Someone who has forsaken (or more likely been forsaken by) polite society to hang out with Corpse Dolls and Patchwork Girls of their own make.
Both these sorts of necromancers tend to blame each other for their own misunderstood unpopularity, while completely missing the point.

In any case, the only real difference between a 'zombie' and a 'Flesh Golem' is the amount of spellery put into one. A 'Zombie' is usually animated very simply by ravenous insect souls or fragments of nightmare, a 'Golem' is usually entirely spellwisp-motivated, and human-souled corporeal undead, regardless of the precise details, are usually called Revenants as a way to distinguish them from the 'nigh-mindless minion' variety. the more predatory human-derived entities like Wights, Mummies, Vampires, Ghouls, etc, and from the religious revenants of the goddess of undeath, the Children of M'shesh.

Clockwork Golems, or rather, rambling on the lack thereof in the sunlit world
Clockwork was well suited to dungeon machinery, the tech itself coming from a Stonefast 4, a now utterly-destroyed deep-delve fortress near the human city of Annu Nki that was known for its stone boats before clockwork was invented or unearthed by Svart 45045. By the late third age, dwarves were building their subterranean tricks and traps to both defend and increase the standard of living within their fortresses and outposts, and selling commissioned devices to those who could pay their prices, and so antique clockwork is a common enough discovery for tomb-robbers, especially in the north moonlands near Limedike and Annu Nki.

The idea of a clockwork golem complex enough to operate independently or even semi-independently was an amusing 'idea bounty' among dwarves for a time, though it never went anywhere. Amusing automata yes, wind-up toys and clocks, of course, but clockwork alone simply wasn't complex enough to operate reactively. This branch of research was further crushed by the geopolitics of  the third intersolar period and the 4th solar age. Wracked with magical catastrophe from the fallen Elf hegemony, neither the Witch-Queens of initial post-elf human rule nor the later conquest by theocratic Riikhites had much use for the idea of clockwork, being intensely magic or piety-focused, respectively. And so the field of clockwork became largely an abandoned one, eclipsed by runic magic developing first with the aid of the Witch-Queens, and Mokkhite golem-crafting later once dwarves once swore allegiance to the Stone Sun pantheon of Riikhus, Mokkhus, and the other enslaved deities.

During the 4th intersolar period, the majority Riikhite/Mokkhite population of dwarves, in a panic due to the death of their prime gods and dissolution of the Stone Sun pantheon, became fearful that their devices might be turned against them and used to oust them from their otherwise invulnerable stone fortresses by the human masses seeking refuge from the onslaught of Moons and Darkness outside. In exchange for granting refuge to the ruling nobility, clockwork and gunpowder not in dwarf-hands were outlawed by the Mercian Empire in perpetuity, and this law was retained among the splinter-states that formed as the Mercian Empire collapsed without its theocratic unity. The old law, devoid of context, nevertheless lined up with the desire for nobles to prevent guns from developing enough to challenge knights, and so despite the laws of Mercia no longer applying to places like the Fault or the Tripartite Realm, the clockwork/gunpowder ban remained almost worldwide for several hundred years, with Saresare and the Beast Islands being notable exceptions.

While by now dwarf society was well into its inevitable decline due to the gnawing darkness at the roots of their stonefast fortresses in the 5th age, the dwarf Thirbaek Merrymace(PC from the last 2.5 campaigns I ran), before he was father to the 6th sun Aurum or Underlord of Stonefast Two, brought back a titanic war machine from the Moonlands- the Keeper of Days- or rather, an unfinished replica of the Keeper, as the original was destroyed in the Oroboro Civil War by the Serpent Queen supporter Erhard De Vend- but I digress. It had no will of its own, requiring a pilot, but the dwindling population of the dwarves suddenly had incredible force multipliers in the form of these Keepers, where a lone pilot could become a 60-foot colossus of ticking steel. The Keepers spread throughout dwarf society and allowed them to reclaim land lost to the Moonlands and fortresses lost to chaos, and seem to be a herald of a new dawn for the dwarves- though if the temptation to use gunpowder proved too great for humans to keep to the pact, surely these metal titans will likewise lead to the loss of the old ban.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Giant Goat

Gnolls are the 2HD designated enemy humanoid monsters, and have a bit more effort put into differentiating them from other Evil Humanoids™ in that they are slavers (Having 1 slave per 10 gnolls at a minimum) and notably lazy in that they do not mine as the other subterranean humanoids are known to do. In contrast to many other humanoids, gnoll leader types have maxed (or near to it) HP scores, with HP ranging from 16-22 while HD remains in the 3-4 range. The rarer above-ground gnoll settlements have hyena and hyenadons, while subterranean gnoll lairs sometimes (30%) of the time collude with Trolls. Their treasure type is a bit better than, say, orcs and goblins, though gnolls are markedly more of a threat with 2HD than weaker humanoids who tend to have similar Numbers Appearing.

While loosely hyena themed, rather than focus on, say, the matriarchal spotted hyena pack structure, Gygax instead thought it best to describe how when committing war crimes against the gnolls there are females of 50% the male warrior population and children numbering 200% the male populace, from which I think it is only fair to conclude that Gygax kicked puppies at 200% the rate he kicked dogs.

Personally, I have great nostalgia for gnolls, for they were the designated evil humanoid of the best AD&D campaign I played in back when I was like 12(best because the GM pulled no punches and killed us many a time until we played more carefully), and my best AD&D character, Brother Phillip, LN Cleric of Undeath, got his start as a prisoner rescued from a gnoll camp and designated as replacement character, the characters before him having perished trying to go full Gygaxian murder on the gnolls and being stoned to death by a horde of 'noncombatant' gnolls alongside the other player who I believe was a ranger-type. A fitting end to such murderous hubris.

I believe the current editions of D&D, while attempting to humanize traditionally spurned beings such as orcs(with mixed results), have doubled down on having Gnolls be proper capital E evil villains, being unnatural extensions of the demon-god Yeenoghu spawned from regular hyena who ate so much battle-carrion they swelled up and exploded into gnolls. That's the sort of explanation for always evil humanoids you need.


I've never been a fan of gnomes- they seemed redundant with halflings. Like, do we really need this subset of 'tiny dudes who are like halflings and/or dwarves but more fey/scientific?' Some people are the opposite way and would do away with the halfling and keep the gnome, but I think halflings are a nice standin for human children or just little people in terms of the 'small=sneaky' aspect. Whereas a gnome is like, 'oh no, halflings and dwarves are racially incapable of being an illusionist, we need to come up with a new 'race' to fill the vital niche of 'small but also illusions.'

Anyway, that's my take on gnomes as a player race. As monsters I have little to say about them- they are very similar to the Dwarf entry, and despite the prevalence of the idea of the 'gnome illusionist' they are instead all clerics or fighters, with magic-users being rumored but not proven. I have never heard of any campaigns with impassioned battles against gnomes, or modules with fiendish gnome lairs. Of course I don't really follow such things closely so I could be mistaken.

Also they have badgers for days to guard their burrows. Regular badgers, giant badgers, and wolverines which are pretty badgerlike if you squint. I dunno.

The OG disposable humanoid monster. There is surprisingly little information given to these maligned sword-fodder, no doubt due to any GM being assumed to be familiar with Lord of the Rings (no doubt where the close association with giant wolves/wargs comes from as well.) They are said to be slave-takers and fond of torture, but I'm pretty sure the Gnolls stole all the depictions of slavery and then the Drow stole all the torture.

On a largely unrelated note, I find when consuming trashy japanese isekai manga, the depiction of goblins often is a useful 'canary in the coal mine.' If goblins are killed by adventurers without question and are depicted as inhuman subsentient monsters, the manga is likely to be extra trash, but if the goblins can be communicated with and are not portrayed as sacks of XP to be beaten like pinatas, there may be hope for the manga after all.

Exactly what you'd expect, really. They have a menacing charge attack and occasionally serve as steeds, presumably for mountain-dwellers such as dwarves. They do not, however, have any special method of knocking people down or away, which is a missed opportunity.
Not satisfied with rules for slaughtering demihuman children, Gygax includes the percentile size of juvenile goats so that kids might be slaughtered as well. Shockingly, no rules for selling giant goats kids are mentioned. Pretty sus that Gygax outlines rules to sell sapient monster kids into slavery (see Giant Beavers) but doesn't give a single shred of attention to the market for 'literal domestic animals but big.'

In the realm of Saresare, there was an old, old god, Ibn Haur, who had no head. So he borrows heads from others, giving them his previously-borrowed head in exchange. As the swapping went on over the aeons, there came to be many such beast-headed people in Saresare, whose children are likewise beastly, and so on. Though they have some traits of their bestial heads and indeed, some have grown more beastly over the ages, they still count as 'human' for all intents and purposes. The only animal not included are dogs (more on that later) and snakes (Yg being behind all snakey things and typically focused on getting rid of legs before swapping heads)

There are Hyena in Saresare, and so inevitably there are some Hyena-headed people. Some are bandits of the desert, other judges of the court of law, and that's all there is to it- Ibn Haur did not seem to have any plan with all the head-swapping, and even if he did, the Law rules Saresare now, not the ancient edicts of nigh-forgotten gods.

No one can stop me from using goofy old 14th century art as reference

In Yuba, there are dog-headed people known as Cynocephali. They are typically sacred priests or temple-guards of Yuban ziggurats and are often two-souled, dog and human. Due to this shared experience, they are indeed more bestial in behavior than the Saresaren variety, but really, which is likelier to be wicked- a dog, or a man? The idea that someone would be worse for having doggish qualities is laughable in Yuba, as dog is basically synonymous with 'good' there.

Outside of their home realms, either may face prejudice due to beast-men implying something rather different in other places. In the Tripartite Realm of King's Point, Queen's Coast, and Prince's Spit, such hybridization is presumed to be the work of Murulu and as such has strong connotations with the ideological enemy of the realm, so suspicion of being a spy would be high. In Vint-Savoth, the accursed Blood Moon lies dead and bleeding, spreading the scourge of beasthood, and someone with animalistic features is assumed to be turning into a contagious alien werewolf monster, so panicked beast hunts could be called and explanations disregarded.

I've never been a fan of gnomes- they seemed redundant with halflings. Like, do we really need this subset of 'tiny dudes who are like halflings and/or dwarves but more fey/scientific?' In any case, I think a gnome in the sunset realm is less of a thing and more just a catchier and more generic term for a half-fey, often the offspring of a little person and then some manner of pixie, fairy, or other smallish alfspawn. Etymology would then imply that Sylph and Undine are similar things, so the distinction is that Sylphs are half-fey with wings, Gnomes are land-walkers, and Undine are amphibious hybrids.

A shaved goblin, an unshaven goblin, and a goblin who has recently re-discovered cosmetology

Goblins are the most common form of Alfspawn, and exist in a range of patterns known as 'Goblinoids.' 'Goblinoid' can be distinguished from 'humanoid' by virtue of green skin, short stature, bestial eyes, fur patterns, and teeth, and indeed, if you take certain humorous elvish lyrics at face value, humans may just be a round-eared, furless kind of goblin. To create a Goblin, the shadows of various animals, are melted together in a cauldron, and bound to serve the chef, typically an Alf Lord. They have no names or shadows, and are more akin to a golem or spellwisp than a biological creature- just made of shadows, magic and fey commandments rather than anything substantial. With no name or shadow, their identity and form are fluid but united in a general sort of idea as the animal shadows do their best to follow their anthropic programming. As for why goblins look the way they do- the answer is simple. To an Elf, a goblin is the same sort of ugly-cute as say, a pug-dog is to humans, and the classic green goblin was just the most popular model. Goblins that look more like elves or more like beasts were once quite common as well, and varied in size, shape, coloration, and everything else one might expect of a designer-being created by a race of bored aesthetes. None of them are ugly in the way a horrible burbling fungus-zombie from hell is ugly- goblin ugliness is more like comedic exaggeration for artistic effect.

However, their (admittedly weak) self-preservation rune-logic makes goblins rather keen on obtaining shadows and names and so becoming real, rather than a half-assed amalgamate of chipmunk shadows. A goblin with a name can have a individuated subjective experience of the world and true free will (this conscious thought replaces old rune-programming but will match overall motive at first), and a goblin with a shadow can have a proper biological form. Goblins with no shadows just burst into skittering animal-shadows when they are 'killed,' almost an exorcism. A goblin with both is a High Goblin, or Hob Goblin, or 'House Goblin.' Goblins either can be named in a ceremony that is a little dangerous to the goblin, or can steal a name by trickery, or can get a name naturally by picking up a nickname from their associates. Though goblins with no names can't name each other as they lack the consciousness to do so, the spontaneous organization of goblins comes about when even one gets a name, awakens to consciousness, and then ends up intentionally or otherwise naming others, who then name others, until the entire goblin gang has names and personalities. Shadows are a bit trickier, but can be stolen and traded similarly. Goblins with animal shadows end up extra-bestial, as the shadow informs the goblin's final body plan where before consistency was really more of a suggestion. Humans who lose their name, shadow, or both will become rather gobliny themselves, but have a sun-soul that keeps them more morphologically stable than a goblin is. While a goblin who is just a collection of animal shadows is more like a computer than a person, a goblin with either a name or a shadow is a living being of some kind, and Hobgoblins are basically just little green hairy people, having clawed their way up from a half-baked existence into genuine being. 

I got this from german wikipedia or something and it was titled 'kobold'

Goblins played various roles throughout the ages.
In the third age, when the spells for goblin-making were developed, they were essentially used as robots. They were servants and soldiers for those Elves did not trust humans for the role, the equivalent of using a Roomba instead of hiring a maid. Fairies, similarly created entities, were fragile and less flexible, being an anthropomorphized spell rather than an anthropomorphized collection of animal shadows, and so goblins were generalists compared to specialist Fairies.
They fought bloodless proxy wars, bursting into animal shadows when slain and causing many false superstitions to swell up among humans, as it was not clear that the shadowy hordes of goblins marching around were a symptom of elf conflict, not a separate people fighting elves, and this lingering idea of goblins being an independent force of chaos rather than the tools of elves stems from this misunderstanding. Naturally, elves can't be bothered to clear things up officially, because human societies, by their perspective, fall so rapidly and lose their libraries with such frequency that there's no point telling them anything- it would be like trying to educate fruit flies.

Confusion over goblins was therefore extremely common among humans in the 4th age, as knowledge from the 3rd age was lost in the intersolar darkness and replaced by half-remembered and entirely misunderstood tales of old, and conflict with remnant shadow-goblins protecting elven ruins, mines, forests, and with living hobgoblins who were just living their lives free of Alvish influence occurred frequently and tragically. The idea of goblins as monstrous 'sword-fodder' stems from this age, and lingering sentiment of that nature exists mainly to explain why new players drifting in to my campaign carrying expectations from other media might have those notions in-universe, so as to allow for diegetic explanation of the world rather than demanding they read oodles and oodles of deep lore.

In the 5th age, shadow-type goblins are extremely rare outside of Elfland or the Moonlands, their remnants falling to attrition from the uncounted horrors of the world or ascending to the state of true living beings. Living civilizations of goblins are mostly endemic to the Fault, where the survivors from the Riikhite crusades for the Orb in this land have prospered, reclaiming the ruins of their Alvish masters to create strongholds against the pressures of Undeath in that land once the jungles became choked with the dead. They also find work aboard the flying ships of the Gondazong, as the small frame of a goblin is good for tight engineering squeezes., alongside rat-folk hired for the same purpose, and are valued as Ratcatchers and discreet agents in other parts of the world.

Goblinoids that do not have shadows or names lean more muppet and less 'green elf' but are definitely more fairy tale and less Lord of the Rings movie depiction

Other Goblinoids
Bugbears- Just huge, hairy goblins.
Goblin King/Queens/Majesties- A term for long-lived, highly skilled goblins who typically come to rule younger, less experienced goblins.
Orcs- No longer exist, but if they did, they'd just be shaved bugbears-in-training.
Ogres- Shock/terror troop versions of goblins, with modified rune logic to avoid name-taking and instead prioritize shadow-stealing. They are the Alfspawn/Moonspawn of the Iron Moon and they are much, much closer to being true monsters than goblins.
Nilbogs- Created only during the downward spiral of the 3rd age, a Nilbog is a goblin created using the reflections of shadows, or perhaps shadows cast by darkness rather than light, or perhaps being an undead arisen from a shadow-goblin which was never truly alive, or the nightmare of a shadow-goblin which never truly had thoughts. In any case, Nilbogs are goblinoids who react oppositely to many stimuli, most notably being healed by being harmed, and vice-versa. Nilbogs are categorized as Monsters with a capital M, having no place in the waking world and bringing nothing but woe.
Humans- Though never proven, it would explain a lot
Elves- The obscure fairy tale 'Dancer in the Dark' or 'The 5th Companion' provides an alternate origin for elves and goblins, suggesting elves are goblins who struck a deal with a thing from beyond reality to become fabulous immortal elves, in exchange for being tasked, with all of eternity as deadline, to render unto the thing the moon, the sun, and every star in the sky, and also too the black stars behind the bright stars.

As with other giant things, anything can grow to outrageous size for a variety of whimsical reasons, so goats are no exception. Though dwarves are nearly extinct, their bred-to-be-giant goats probably outlived them to some degree, haunting the mountains of the Tripartite realm to provide Billy Goats Gruff references.