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. Explains why they're in such foul moods most the time too and why 'killing' them is typically seen as mercy rather than murder, thought the dead may disagree.

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, loss of motor control, 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. Some say 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, and as such even halfassed burials can convince the disemboweled undead to pass on rather than linger in a prison. 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. Holy Earth, more commonly seen as sacred salts, is not as popular as Holy Water but a flung handful of it strikes undead like a hail of bullets.
  6. Bladder- Negotiator of Elemental Water- Water enters via drinking, provides life and change and purification, 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 and there aren't very many undead in the ocean. Dark waters, like stagnant underground lakes and frozen glaciers, aren't as strict about the elemental contact and the undead can exist in them without great issue, and of course Holy Water burns the bladderless like acid. 
  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 sheltered tombs rather than overland journeys- the wind will literally cut them to ribbons. Holy Air, more commonly seen in the form of incense, is very unpleasant but not immediately lethal to corporeal undead and is only good to ward them off, but to immaterial undead (disease spirits being the most frequently targeted) it is like a literal wall.
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 in the language of light, 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 to some afterlife.

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 in 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, teeth falling out. 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 the thieves being denied access to further sleep 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

    Wednesday, October 24, 2018

    Four Campaign Worlds & Lessons From Their Creation

    So the last 4 osr campaigns I've run have all had different methods of worldbuilding, and imma talk about the pros and cons of each campaign in terms of the creation of the world itself

    1. Sarkomand's Fault-80 sessions
    I talked about Sarkomand's Fault earlier here but the main thing to take away is that it was very largely sprung wholesale from my brain. By which I mean it was pretty darn close to being every cliche osr hexcrawl ever.
    But the intolerant monotheists were across the sea, otherwise spot on
    Anyway the point is, I did all the work apart from a scant few one page dungeons scattered about. Spinning up Sarkomand's Fault took like 4 months of prep, pretty much, but I will say it was superbly easy to run- I had dungeons I knew, encounter tables I knew, it was great. Some of the further reaches were developed later, as players actually grew able and interested in reaching them, but for the most part wherever the players were, I was ready to whip something up. As for the player experience, exploration was exciting for them, because there was always something new over the horizon, and it was unfamiliar and (usually) ready to go.
    Pros of Worldbuilding from the baseline of an assumed D&Dish Fantasy Setting
    • Easy to run on account of familiarity and preparation
    • Engaging to explore for players, without being homework to understand the setting
    • Has things you the GM are excited to run, because you put it there
    • Due to creating the place as a whole, everything should be easy to connect, thematically
    • You, the GM, are already aware of all the cool stuff in the world, so you may find yourself wanting the players to go do xyz instead of abc
    • Nothing is news for the GM
    • Long, tiring preptime, doggamn
    • Inflexibility- Once you've created something and tied it to other things, it's hard to replace or erase things.
    • Generic Fantasy= unwelcome assumptions about how the world is that either become ingrained, or require effort to inform players otherwise
    Sarkomand's Fault had pretty standard D&D fantasy stuff going on, so it had a familiar implied setting, but 'across the sea in Mercia' so the players were in OSR land rather than Modern D&D Land. This was pretty good for allowing new players to just whip up a character without needing to familiarize themselves with the setting. Which leads me to

    2. Wolf Moons- ~12ish sessions

    This was my first take at a very nonstandard world, plus a bunch of different thematic desires- Saresare was basically The Nightmares Underneath + all the Arabian Nights I had been reading, the central peninsula was basically all the feudalism posts from Coins and Scrolls, Vint-Savoth was basically Bloodborne, the Beast Islands (offscreen) were basically my psychic premonitions of the OSR getting into wavecrawling but also pokemon, the Wurderlands were supposed to be procedurally generated wacky content...

    The Wurderlands there are roughly russia sized. For comparison, Sarkomand's Fault was the size of Cuba.

    tl;dr I was way too ambitious in too short a period of prep time, and the theme was all over the place, it was a mess, AND I was using a very ill-conceived hack of the GLOG that I now shudder to look back upon. Anyway, the players chose Neth as their starting point, and this was directly after Sarkomand's fault, which was basically one long hexcrawl through an almost entirely ruined and monster-haunted wilderness.

    Modified slightly from the Nightmares Underneath (TNU)

    Neth, on the other hand, was less a wilderness crawl and more intended as a city crawl with lots of factions, travel between towns being more of a thing than wilderness crawls, most dungeons being TNU style psychic heist explorations within nightmares, and the overall cultural climate being based on the Arabian Nights rather than Gondor...

    And my take on Neth from TNU really shoulda had buildings
    It was madness. Madness! Not only that, but players had side-characters in other realms- there was a subplot of a character from the last world mucking about in a feudal swamp with witches, moon cults, and siege warfare, and some players with really weird almost superheroic characters doing gothic detective investigations in Draculavania, in a very Batman-style adventures. It was amusing but the confusion and unfamiliarity didn't have proper support on my end for the players to find their feet.

    Pros of Making A Mishmash Of Everything You Like
    • Fun to prep and work on
    • Multiple campaign styles supported
    • No coherent vision
    • Easy to do useless prep with all those different things going on
    • Difficult to get players on the same level
    • Focus on 'big picture' world building antithetical to actual game focus on level 1 osr characters
    The first thing that really killed Wolf Moons was that last one- thinking about the culture of whereverthefuckia ate a lot of preptime and contributed NOTHING to the pressing player concern of 'we want to get to Lenghul Monastery by going through the mountains, what do we see'
    The other was a lack of an overarching goal- Sarkomand's Fault had 'Find the Orb of Omnipotence' as a sort of default any character could get behind. Wolf Moons had the bad sandbox problem of 'woah isn't this world cool guys you can do anything' without much context to apply to individual characters.

    3. Rat Moons  ~25 sessions
     This was the followup to Wolf Moons, where I appropriately went smaller-scale. The players were somewhere in Wolf Moons, technically, but I focused entirely on a starting town, nearby village, and interesting local environs, and left bigger picture concerns entirely offscreen as they weren't relevant.

    This place fit between the starting town and the lumber camp of Sarkomand's fault

    Also, I used procedural hex-crawl generation from Melancholies and Mirth to whip this place up. Those procedures have grown more detailed and usable via click of a html coded button since those caveman days of rolling real dice and consulting blog pages, but even so, it cut down on my prep time quite a bit. Additionally, I used a modified 1-page system of Into The Odd + Maze Rats.
    Finally, I focused on what really made Wolf Moons special- the system of day, night, and seasons all being randomly generated and based on Moons and one Sun rolling around the sky as well as mythical magical explanations rather than scientific ones, and the societal implications of this. All in all I think it worked pretty well, and this game crumbled due to schedules and players falling apart rather than any glaring setting issues. It also had a bit of a problem with a lack of overarching goal, but using a copper standard kept the players hella broke which was good, and the setting having things that individual characters could interact with helped players set goals of their own, like rehydrate the Dry City or marry a banjo playing giant spider or investigating the weekly Moon-caused disasters.
    Pros of Procedural Generation + Guiding Principles Of Your Own +Offscreen Ontological Void
    • Procedures do heavy lifting of creating things for your own inspiration to go on
    • Guiding principles give direction to random content and are a constant reminder of theme
    • Random content helps improv if the players go walking off the map
    • GM & Players both ignorant to see what is beyond the horizon, and thus excited to see what's there, but not distracted by it as it doesn't exist yet
    • Unless you made it yourself, using someone elses RNG will require tweaks to fit vision
    • Giving info to players about an unfamiliar world can turn into infodumping
    • The 'void' beyond known lands can't be connected to known events until it is filled. I never did have a good idea of what was going on with that ocean isthmus Limedike was built on, and without rumors of 'what lies beyond' there was the impression there WAS nothing beyond.
    The Moon world has been my favorite so far and I will certainly return there, perhaps once the current campaign wraps up.

    4. Crownless Lands ~37 sessions, ongoing
     This campaign has the meta-structure of Sarkomand's Fault (BFRPG, a megadungeon beneath town, some lost artifact macguffins to find or ignore, lots of ruins and wilderness), the civilization of Wolf Moons (a main town and various small but noteworthy settlements) with the scale of Moon Rats (small starting area with dense distribution of points of interest) and a combination of self-authored, randomly generated, blatantly stolen, and player-authored content.

    it's orange because it was autumn until a few sessions ago when winter hit

    It's been a successful synthesis of some of the best parts of the past campaigns, though it's missing some of the per-campaign specifics that made those campaigns extra-special, and player-suggested content did a lot of work for me. There are some issues with player-suggested content that I've run into though.
    1. Players don't get the thrill of discovery for interacting with something they invented, and so may get bored of their own innately familiar content
    2. Players have different tastes among each other and unlike a GM, aren't necessarily thinking too hard about the ramifications of suggestions.
    Player suggestions quickly cemented this setting to be a nasty place. The dominant clergy are either corrupt bureaucrats, or two-faced soul-slaving demon-worshippers. There's a spreading Blight devouring the mainland, part zombie apocalypse, part black death, part grey-goo scenario. The Lord of Hate spreads enmity and suffering among men, and they to each other. The players are forced to react lest the lands fall to ruin, and yet they are but simple murderhobos, much daunted by the forces arrayed against them.
    Meanwhile posts the players wrote that were forces in favor of humanity were like, 'secret society of class-conscious robin hoods' which I liked, but wasn't the sort of thing to avert the coming doom, and these suggestions really succumbed to the first mentioned problem of players not being thrilled to investigate a secret society the players already knew about, even if the characters didn't.

    The 'unlikely heroes' narrative is not really what anyone was going for, and the player who suggested this gruesome blight to begin with hasn't been to a session in a long while, but the players left with that are acclimating to the constant turmoil... though I suspect the next event if they manage to stop the blight is going to be 'Civil War' so I'm half-prepping the next campaign or at least some islands for them to flee to in the event they're fed up with this setting hell-bent on becoming another ruined civilization for adventurers to loot in a hundred years.

    This experience hasn't turned me against player suggestions, far from it, but in the future I think I'd get all-player feedback about all suggestions before throwing them in to make sure there's not unexpected reactions in the setting stewpot that nobody much cared to deal with.

    Friday, October 19, 2018

    The Dark Side of OSR Traps

    One of the worst sessions I've ever run was a modified one-page dungeon a year or two back where I repeatedly shot down player ideas to escape a trap because they didn't fit with my internal notions of how a trap-mechanism worked. In trying to get the players to problem solve rather than just roll to disarm traps, I fell into a common pitfall of puzzles where there's no easy answer- the dreaded 'Read the GM's mind to proceed' scene.

    A stone-walled windmill on an island in a shallow lake. The interior was a central stone pillar, a sarcophagus full of treasure that could only be be interacted with via mirrors, and two exits- a heavily barred ceiling window, and the main doorway. Oh, and some corpses of past adventurers.

    Interacting with the little riddle-clue hinting of the secret coffin and sniffing about with mirrors was fun. That wasn't the issue.

    The issue was when the sarcophagus was looted and made visible, the trap activated- a waterfall of flaming oil pouring from the entrance and running outside. The players were trapped behind iron bars and fiery doom.

    My idea was that the windmill pumped up a reservoir of oil as it span, and had enough oil to last for about 16 hours. It could be turned off by weighing the coffin down with weight PERFECTLY equivalent to the taken treasure and closing the lid ( That level of detail and insistence on exactitude should be a warning sign that you're more invested in your own story than the quality of the game, whether you're talking traps, your character, a plot, etc). A horde of Shadows would come from the forest, slip across the lake, up the side of the windmill, and through the barred grate, converting any thieves to shadows and  returning the stolen treasure to its resting place.

    That little idea of how the trap operated seems innocuous, but here's where things started to go wrong- I never hinted at the weight mechanism, figuring it would be obvious to the players that if emptying the treasure and taking off the lid from the coffin triggered the trap, it could be un-triggered the same way. An easy way to communicate this would be to have the coffin rise up as the lid and treasures were removed until it was above ground level, elevated by a pressure plate.

    Here's what the players tried, and why I shot them down, and why I shouldn't have. The reasoning might seem to make sense, but here's the common issue with the rulings I made- they were based on my own headcanon of how some bullshit fantasy trap mechanism works, not rulings on how to make the session engaging and interesting.
    1. Replace the Coffin Lid 
     Almost, but not quite-they needed more weight. If there had been a clue, like the pressure plate beneath the coffin sinking slightly, they would have figured it out. But they tried a half-measure that they didn't know was a half-measure and so figured the coffin wasn't the key to it all. A player even climbed inside the coffin- that weight probably should have turned off the trap, and then there would have been the problem of a player being left behind in an invisible coffin. A good scene. Or maybe it could have sunk the coffin too far down the pressure plate, indicating to the players 'aha, we need exact weights.' Ideally they then could've used the old corpses to make up the difference, but one player had rolled them all into the flames already, so they'd have to sacrifice inventory items... good stuff.
    But 'nothing happens' because it didn't  perfectly fit my notion of the trigger mechanism communicated to the players 'it's not the coffin, try something  else.' And so they did.
    2. Apologizing to the Goddess the place was dedicated to 
     After all, there was clearly magic going on with the invisible coffin. But I decided the goddess didn't really care if these tomb-robbers lived or died, and plus, it was a secretive goddess, not like the pushy, chatty other deities of the setting. But heck, a sepulchral voice moaning 'return the treasure' or a feeling of guilt growing when looking at the treasure would've moved things forward.
    3. Filing the ceiling bars
    I decided this would take too long and the Shadows would show up before they could be sawed through, because they're very thick bars designed to prevent that sort of thing from happening. To which I now say, REALLY? A player went to the trouble of having files in their pack and got told, 'no, the tools you brought to do something like this aren't good enough.' So much for 'use your inventory to problem solve,' cripes.
    4. Checking for secret doors
    There were none, so none were found. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, maybe not- after having all their attempts at escaping through the obvious entrances shut down, it makes a lot of sense to go 'oh, there must be something we're missing.' But the only thing they were missing was actual information on how this place worked, and I provided no way to access that information.
    5. Plug the nozzles shooting oil
     The nozzles, like the coffin, were only visible when viewed in a mirror and only your reflection could interact with it. I figured the torrent of flaming oil was too powerful to simply stuff with someone's cloak.
    But I could have had clogging a nozzle create an opening in the flame. Oil could back up and start bubbling from the stone pillar that contained the pump, threatening to ignite everything and everyone if they didn't flee quickly. The thief who climbed up to reach the nozzles would be in perilous danger from spraying oil and there woulda been someone holding a mirror for them as they used their hands to climb. It woulda been a fun scene.

    Real time, an hour or two had passed. The initial sparks of creativity were being replaced by frustration and boredom. Player morale was breaking down fast by now. The problem player starting harassing other people for not describing their actions as completely as they did, whining and nitpicking ooc. One player declared their character was just gonna go to sleep until something happened. Another player, trapped outside, had just been throwing rocks at the windmill's sails for hours.

    6. Hoist the coffin lid over their head and use that to shield them from the flames.
    I mentioned that damage would still be taken from the oil on the ground, and that dissuaded this plan for the moment. What I did NOT communicate was how much damage this would be- some players probably thought it would be 'instant cremation.' Had I said '2d8 damage and you have to jump in the lake afterwards' they probably would've done that immediately, but I assumed they knew flaming oil on the ground damage and knew that's what I thought the damage would be. Don't assume or imply mechanical stuff- just say what the dice will be. That's how the mechanics of the world work, so players should be able to know those mechanics to simulate their characters making reasonable decisions. Not everything should be described via simulationist roleplay.
    7. Use the rotation of the windmill to rip the bars off
     Firstly, the rock-thrower had ruined the windmill's wind-catching ability. Secondly, there wasn't wind (though there probably should've been a good updraft from all this burning oil).
    This led into
    8. Try to reverse the rotation of the windmill to shut off the oil flow
    The player on the outside could've been rewarded for being cautious and not getting caught, climbed the windmill, been passed the rope, used his bodyweight to spin the arms, and rescue everyone.
    But I decided that the windmill only rotated one way and couldn't be reversed, and anyway it had an oil resevoir that was fueling the trap so the rotation was completely pointless save to pump more oil for a later activation of the trap.
    Yup. Just shutting down a player idea of how the mechanism works, without giving them any idea of how it actually works. That's bad. Don't do stuff like that, mmmkay?
    9. Call me out for making bad rulings and disengage
    Thuvrig Mountaincloak-"Let's just wait it out guys, we've been just getting completely denied for an hour now."
    The truth hurts don't it. And it's a good idea- there's no reason you can't tell your GM 'bruh this puzzle is boring and also the suck.' Anyway, even 'wait it out' got denied, because I ruled it was night now and the army of shadows showed up.

    Attacked by hordes of ethereal monsters with no magic weapons, they went back to plan#6 and fled through the oil waterfall with the coffin-shield, taking 9 damage each and escaping, the end. This was a good 3 hours of play I believe, all for 'you take 9 damage and get the treasure.' Yikes.

    A bad trap is just like, you walk down a corridor, you rolls dice -fail to detect traps, Dave gets hit by an arrow for 1d8 damage. There's no player agency there, it's just random math.

    A bad way for players to interact with traps is to simply intone 'I roll to disarm traps' upon encountering one, rather than trying to deal with it in 'the OSR way', like holding a shield between you and an arrow trap, or poking the trigger with a 10-foot pole, having an expendable goat take point, or using the trap against your enemies, or whatever.

    Traps like the flaming oil windmill are good- just LOOK at all the stuff the players came up with to escape. In the beginning, it really had them thinking and asking questions and being clever and engaging with the fiction rather than the maths. The trap was scenery and context, not just a penalty applied to their HP, soon forgotten, as so many official D&D traps are.
    But GMing like I GMed it, is what makes people think OSR trapfinding is stupid pixelbitching baloney. If you're ever GMing something and the only thing happening is the players getting told 'nothing happens' that's a good sign you're making some sort of mistake, with keeping them un or mis-informed, having no stakes or pressures to drive a scene, or perhaps being too concerned with your vision of 'how things are' as opposed to 'how fun things are.'

    Hopefully this lesson in what NOT to do helps you see the nebulous, ever-changing form of what TO do as a GM.

    Saturday, October 13, 2018

    The Dry City

    Once called Annu Nki. A city led by the witch queen Agayba long ago. Invaders came to sack the city, and when the defenses fell, she wrought unspeakable magic to spite the invaders, preserve her people, and cheat death, all in one. She is now an immortal tree inside her old keep, and the animated roots, miles long, suck moisture from all living beings and the land, turning them to husks and the land to a dry waste. Now it is a shunned place, its only permanent resident her sorcerer lover Neroikos who works in repetitive insanity to create a body for her soul to reinhabit.

    Dry Streets and hollow-eyed buildings behind a cracked and sand-blasted wall with multiple breaches. It's not so much ruined as it is deserted, and the central fortress, visible above the buildings anywhere of the city, makes you dizzy to look at it, so heavy does the weight of magic bear down.
    A little hex map was useful for me to mark notable buildings/encounters in the city

    Buildings have a 1/6 chance of having a path to the catacombs (12-15) burrowed by roots. 1/6 chance of loot per building(sealed jars of salt, old bronze arms and armor, stone strongboxes of jewelry, that sorta thing, otherwise just dust and old furniture), but a 2-in-6 chance of encounter per room- ransacking the city is more dangerous than profitable, as the entire population+invaders is wandering as husks or undead. You can roll for encounters per 'hex' if you're using the above city map as well.
    1-Autumn Briar- A hamsterball of thorns the size of a carriage, a tumbleweed rolled around by either undead or husks contained inside. Undead seek to kill via rolling, husks roll their prison of thorns towards water sources.
    2-Vampiric Roots- Stats as regular snakes, but instead of poison you save vs huskification. Usually attack from surprise by bursting out of the ground. They can't reach rooftops.
    3-Witch- A member of a coven that seeks to learn ancient witchly knowledge from Agayba. As minor spellcaster with a flying device that only works for its owner- a broom, mortar and pestle, etc.
    4-Husk- Sucked of their life energy and moisture save for a small amount to technically be alive. Long white hair, withered skin and sunken eyes, only motivated by thirst. 1HP but can drain water from people to huskify them on hits. A barrel of water will rehydrate them into a healthy but confused human, either a citizen of the city or one of the plundering invaders. Good reaction rolls indicate they're barely lucid due to managing to suck some rainwater recently, or too dehydrated to even move.
    5-Doll- A mutant clone of the witch-queen Agayba- either cast out, escaped, or on a mission for the sorcerer Neroikos. Green eyes, black hair, long limbs, and many mutations. Intelligent and suitable to become magic-users, but only possessing incomplete souls and the naivety of a young child on account of being grown out of a vat a few months prior
    6-Undead- Husks that have died, then come back. As low-tier undead that thirst for moisture but will never rehydrate, only forever thirsting. Drain people to husks. Indistinguishable from husks save for their inability to be rehydrated no matter how much water they drink, and the strength of undeath, which regular husks do not have.
    7-Huskified Local Encounter
    8-Conflict of 2, roll 2d6
    Dark grey is subterranean

    Witch Queen's Keep
    Has a main entrance of great double doors leading into 1, a side servant's entrance, and 4 towers on its corners. 2-3 stories tall, roughly. The darker areas are subterranean caverns that various city Catacomb entrances lead to either 12, 13, 14, or 15 depending on which district of the city they were found in.
    Main Entrance
    2 promising Dolls. Cloned women with black hair and green eyes, Bronze helmets of horse and bull and wicked bardiche weapons, they flank inside main entrance. Clad in black robes, AC as leather thanks to their speed and helmets. 4HD. Naive but fierce and scornful of women, who are believed to be failed dolls.
    Upper Levels
    1- Tree of the Witch Queen
    A large cathedral, exits aligned in each cardinal direction, with a massive black and twisted tree overgrowing an altar, with ruby droplets of blood instead of flowers.  The tree's trunk is twisted such that there appears to be a wooden woman in the trunk, with a long straight nose and high cheekbones. This is not the witch, who is dormant and immaterial, but her essence has made the tree resemble her.
    Droplets heal and rejuvenate, but taking them enrages the tree. It is currently immortal and will recover from damage dealt to it unless its mortality is returned to it.

    2- Servant's entrance. A lone husk still mans the entrance here, sitting on a chair inside a iron portcullis door. Has a small bell and will open the gate for those who ring a servant's bell if he's huskified. If not huskified, he will be extremely xenophobic and suspicious, since in his perception the city is still under attack by invaders, but it's only a matter of time until the roots dehydrate him again.

    3- Covens Tower- Entrance from below is boarded up and warded with 13 knives. Anything passing through the door to the tower takes hits from all 13 knives thanks to the coven's Gate of the Knife spell. Witches enter via flying through the window at the top of the tower. A fairly ordinary series of rooms where the witches fly in, study things for a few days, then fly out after logging their activities in a journal. Some dried mushrooms hang from the ceiling as snacks, and there's a book on fungus identification, a map of the castle, and notes on the monsters here, as well as various plots to kill Neroikos so they can chat with Agayba's ghost in peace.

    9- Tower of Dolls. Three Giant glass jars contain girls with black hair, high cheekbones, and closed eyes, floating in green liquid. There are hatches allowing access to the glass jars that could be unlocked and opened. and small tubes and funnels into which liquids can be added to the chambers, which will affect the physiology of the clones. Various small animals live in cages here.

    Fran, a scarred doll watches over them. She has an inferiority complex towards her sisters as she is a failed doll kept around to hopefully one day aid a true doll to inherit the witches soul, with no chance of herself being chosen. She is a 1hd woman with surgical and child-rearing skills who will skulk in the shadows and attack, wailing, with a knife if the clones are harmed. Neroikos will be here 50% of the time during the day.

    Jars of emeralds and onyx for coloration, worth a few thousand coins.

    6-Tower of Power- Neroikos, Master Biomancer's study and living quarters. Doll in a servant's outfit has a veiled face and quietly attempts to take burdening items from the players and hang them on a coat-rack. She does not talk or make any attempts to communicate intentionally, basically bullied and built to be an unseen servant. Has no mouth and only one eye, the other being an empty eye socket that connects to her stomach. Entrance is locked, and he is here 50% of the time at night.

    10- Tower of Moons- Astronomy notes and a large telescope are here, as well as a doll that is a giant scorpion with the face of Agayba, the ability to mimic voices, and orders to lay in ambush for the witches, or rather, any one entering the room besides Neroikos. This creature will be dispatched as an stealthy and cunning assassin to track and kill the players show up to this place, annoy Neroikos, and leave. Neroikos will be here 50% of the time at night.

    4&5 Roots of the Witch Tree. Fight as 8 roots, if destroyed, hole to 11 revealed. Tangles masses of ambulatory roots that will extend to menace anyone threatening the tree.

    Area Between 1 and 8-passageways up to the higher levels of 8 and down to 11. Locked, Neroikos wears key.
    8- Altar of Despair-Room with 6 torchlit pillars, 10-foot balconies to the north and south with no apparent means to reach them, and at the far end, a pyramid of steps leading up to an altar, upon which a frankenstein's monster of a doll is half-possessed by the witch-Queen Agayba's spirit, but is being rejected by the nascent soul of the doll- treat as Flesh Golem if Noroikos 'activates' it. Neroikos comes here frequently to work on the project, and will be found here 50% of the time during the day.

    There's a secret door on the wall behind th ealtar that leads to two branching hallways that double back and lead up to the high balconies and the towers those balconies connect to (9 and 10)

    Neroikos is a master Biomancer with all spells here save Infantilize, Wave of Mutilation, because I think Infantilize is too nice for this jerk and Wave of Mutilation just doesn't seem like a proper biomancer spell, idk. You could also just give him unlimited polymorph and have him turn into a different animal each turn. He has eaten the hearts of 100 monsters and overcome the Doom, though in my game he got a bad slough skin mishap and got owned.

    Dunking the Agayba Golem into the Dream and the Blood in the caverns below will allow her to be properly resurrected, but only after the tree is destroyed, and it's that aspect that Neroikos is missing.

    11- Taproot of the Witch tree and a veritable forest of smaller roots that seem to tremble in the corner of your sight. If players attack the roots, treat it as a kraken that also forces a save vs dehydration on hit and also grows more roots like a hydra if they cut one off. However, one can very carefully sneak through the maze of roots without rousing their ire so long as open flame is kept away from them and you don't bump them with bare skin or spill water.

    12- The Witches Dream  Puddling up in pools reflection events gone by.
    Dream of the Siege- Bronze armored men and flaming catapults besieging the city. Witch laying waste from the black cathedral but growing old, until she is crumbling to dust and retreats into the Tree to suck the life from besiegers and besieged alike. You can enter the dream if you dare.

    13- Place of the Skull
    This is an earthen cavern with a sandy floor and two stone structures filled with alcoves the right size for a skull, and indeed some have skulls inside.
    There are various names on the skull alcoves appropriate to the bygone time period. None have an X in them though this detail is not obvious and shouldn't be mentioned unless a player asks. There is a riddle scrawled in large letters in the dirt.
    "There once was a man out for plunder
    X marked the spot, 6 feet under
    but alas, he still read on
    he was naught but a simpleton
    and so he was torn all asunder"

    Whenever skulls are disturbed, an increasing number of skeletons (2, then 4, then 8, etc) and a massive crawling skeleton comes down a tunnel. The giant one is more like an advancing building than something you can fight, and it leaves a sandy tunnel behind leading either to nothing, or to a buried necropolis of titans if you into that. The giant skeleton is only active so long as the little skeletons are, crawling slowly forward.

    Buried beneath the X in the limerick-riddle is a coffin stuffed with treasure of a skullish iconography. 10,000 silver (in a copper standard) coins and a lantern-scepter-Mace with a fragment of the Skull Moon inside, allowing to to open the lantern to reanimate corpses as uncontrollable undead.

    14- Place of the Breath
    3 Pools rippling at different frequencies based on the most recent statement.
    "Speak, Slander Will Be Exposed and Belief and Truth walk hand in hand with Lies" is engraved on the floor.
    Pool of Belief- Ripples unless a statement is/has been said that the user believes to be true.
    Pool of Lies- Ripples if a statement actually is true.
    Pool of Gossip- Ripples unless it the statement is about a living person
    So you must say something you believe is true about someone, but is actually false to still all pools.
    Once all pools are stilled, they leave and the Helm of 20 Questions is revealed. 20 shots of mind reading.

    15- Place of Blood
    A Flea-headed vampire demon is here.  It tells you that it will reveal the origin of each pool of blood for each amusing blood-based pun you tell it, and then it attacks, hopping forward with a spear-nose! It has 32HP, ac 15, 4HD, and can spend a turn leaping into pool of blood to heal completely, and its 1d6 probiscus heals it too, but it wastes a turn laughing at every bad pun it is told.
    Bloodpool #1- The witches blood, which will restore mortality to the immortal Tree.
    Bloodpool #2- Drinking it heals you a bit, but may mutate you, and if your mutations exceed your HD upon death (or twice HD in life) you instead transform into a bloodthirsty monster. I had this be accursed blood from a vampire moon but whatever.
    Blood pool #3- Actually a huge vampiric Blood Pudding, content to laze about but absolutely terrifying if bothered by anything but the flea demon.
    It has an infinite supply of blood down here and attacks for the sake of excitement rather than malice or hunger, and is an affable enough fellow.

    Once the Tree is destroyed, the city will rehydrate next rainfall and instantly become a madhouse of ancient people renewing their war armed only with bricks and clad in rags. The wise will flee the city and become refugees, the foolish will stay and form gangs of brigands.

    This site was good for, oh, 8 or so sessions in the game I ran, though a focused party could probably whip through it much quicker if it was the only thing on their plates. Originally it was for a different campaign and was full of regular undead, but the 'rehydration' and threat of being dehydrated rather than level drained was a definite improvement over the original 'ye olde necropolis' idea for sure. The ease of rescuing husks was rewarding, but the mimicry of the truly undead husks keeps players on their toes.