Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Thoughts on Veins of the Earth

Disclaimer: I haven't actually read Veins of the Earth
But I've read blogposts about Veins of the earth
me IRL
What is Veins of the EarthVeins of the Earth is a dungeon written by Skerples(http://melancholiesandmirth.blogspot.com), famed original creator of Goblinpunch, describing how the world is actually the corpse of Ymir, and as such caves and tunnels and so on are the 'veins' of the earth.

Now you might think it's just a reskinned underdark, and you'd be right, but it's 'osr' so it's cool and W*zard of the Shoreline can **** my pulchritudinous wang(stats as ogre). But lets get into what makes this dumb cave dungeon so popular and gave it the title of 'The Dark Souls of OSR dungeons'

First off, it does away with the annoying aspects of real caves that would make them difficult to adventure in. In fact, the only 'cave generators' it supplies is a bag of cheetos and a link to Dyson Logos which is actually a pretty good deal, from a certain point of view. But it includes a lot of rules for caloric intake and cooking, and if there's one thing I've learned from watching my flatmate play overrated JRPG games, it's that a robust cooking minigame is the cornerstone of interesting gameplay. With the players entertained by pretending to eat fungus men with a side of cave lice, they won't even realize they haven't found any treasure in 3 sessions.

But let's give a breakdown of the dungeon.

Veins of the Earth, Level One
 The entrance to the Veins is a one-way crack you have to wriggle through, leaving all your items behind and forever being unable to return. This may seem harsh, but it's actually great, because it's a 'fresh start' with an old character. The 'Intro level' of the Veins is pretty easy in theory, but in practice everyone's naked and wielding stirge-beak shanks, so it's actually pretty interesting. The players are supposed to take as much meat as they can kill from this first level, but if they're not genre savvy, they'll probably leave behind the meat of the 'Cave Goblins, Cave Bandits, and Dave Zombies(I'm not sure if that's a typo or a shoutout to one of the original playtesters of Veins who died on the first depth but I think it adds a lot to the game) and starve on level two.

Veins of the Earth, Level Two
This is where the real veins starts according to everyone. Every hall is described as a 'maze of twisty little corridors, all alike' and is all about IDing things before fighting them. Stuff like the deR0 (hacker dwarves who use leetspeak, they make more sense once you hit the gonzo crashed spaceship sublevel) and the Olm
Statblocks a bit weird but totally compatible with the GLOG, so
have to be dealt with totally differently. One thing I really liked were 'waterfall traps' that are just curtains of water to menace light sources, they're almost as foreboding as a locked door despite being nothing but water. That's the sort of clever dungeon design the Veins is all about, you see.

Veins of the Earth Level 3
This level gets some flak because it's the 'lava level' and it's honestly not deep enough to be in the mantle, but I forgive it because it has a LAVA KRAKEN.
'But Wiz,' you say, 'Isn't that just a lazily elemental reskin?'
The Lava Kraken is the sort of 'Boss fight' that some people think has no place in the OSR, but Skerples has done it again(the first time being his rad basilisk encounter) with this astounding fight.
First off, the scene is in a giant lava lake, where the lava kraken resides. There's an island of treasure with a dead dragon skeleton on it, but there's no way to get to it- or is there?

Ignoring spells or the (frankly lame) option to flood the lake with water from level 2 and seal the kraken inside cooled volcanic rock, the way to get the treasure is twofold- you can either navigate the stalactites over the lava lake (just don't grab a piercer) OR knock the stalactites loose(or piercers!) and use them as stepping stones to cross the lake. Of course, there's 8 magma tentacles trying to kill you during this, and then there's phase two, which I actually don't know what it is because I don't have the book. If someone DOES have Veins of the Earth, please leave a comment telling me what phase 2 of the lava kraken fight is.

Veins of the Earth Level 4 
Here we got a twofold thing- a city of ghouls, and a crashed spaceship in the middle (the dEr0 are there)

This is all pretty much food based politics as far as I can tell. Feed ghouls to get hirelings, feed dEr0 to ghouls or let the dEr0 do whatever they do to advance their faction. I've heard people complain about the '1v1' aspect of the faction conflict but I'm pretty sure the Olm and Mindflayers are factions too. Also there's another weird option to flood the ghoul city with the lava from level 3 that actually turns into a 'gotcha' because that just turns them all into 'pyroclastic ghouls' which is cool but apparently has TPK'd most playtesters.

"Deep Veins"
Remember I haven't actually read this, so a lot of this has been assembled via deductive reasoning. Or possibly inductive.

In any case, you got several veins to go down now, and some arteries too. There's the one that leads to the Paleontological Depths, which has stuff like fossil dinosaurs and your mom's prom dress and for some reason a lot of bird sublevels. Something about 'the three Bird Ages?' In any case I really think it's great that the players can do archaeology to learn more about the dungeon, and use radiocarbondating to determine monster stats within a 1-10000% degree of error. Because it's not just about running out of food and dying, it's about learning about a strange environment and mastering it. Speaking of, the Civilopede is here with it's P-zombie historians, so all in all this is the reward for thoughtful 'explorer' type players.

There's also the 'living vein' which is connected to Ymir's beating heart and is sorta a reminder of 'oh yeah, the VEINS of the earth' ya know? Anyway, it's like a 'go inside giant monster level' only it's all made of ice because Norse Myth. That's the sort of thing that reminds you it's a FANTASY setting, and that real-world considerations of cave delving are tots lame and you could never make good content out of them.

There's also what I've seen described as 'Furry Catholic Hell,' which is pretty much what you'd expect, only it's the Foxlings and Buglings and Slothlings trying to tempt you to sin while the demons act as the fun police. Apparently this section is nearly unplayable unless you have the FATAL tables to cross reference stuff, and since it's the intended 'respawn point' for slain characters, but I think that's a nice callback to old references to CHAINMAIL rules, and in the true spirit of the OSR.

Finally there's the Undersea, which has your giant crabs, mind-flayers-but-not-trademarked, dream whales (aka oneirocetaceans) and similar stuff. I believe it's meant to be Ymir's stomach, though I couldn't say for sure.

In anycase, it's important to note that these are all open-ended, so they're less of a dungeon 'end' and more of a 'Here be GM Improv' zone beyond them, which is nice in theory but in practice, basically just an excuse to put an advertisement for the 'Veins Hexcrawl' which you can only buy for $99.99 (plus tip) and by all accounts is the same as regular Veins of the Earth, just in a different layout.

In conclusion, I'd give this an 8/10, like skyrim but underground.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spells for Moon Rats, and thoughts on Spell Lists

This is a reference for the various Maze Rats style generated spells in my current game, in terms of how they're cast both in pseudo-vancian 1/day style, and how they'd be cast in GLOG style magic for anyone who delves into the Old Magic. They're mostly level 1-tier spells.

If you don't care about the spells, there's rambling about spell lists after them.

Earth Song
Sing to stone or earth to gain a reaction check from it. 2d6 if vancian, or 1d6 per magic die if GLOG.
1-5 Bad
6-8 Neutral
9+ Good
If 3+ dice are used, the stones may shift in ways that ignore gravity. Stones can collapse, trip people up, roll a little. Mud  and Earth may become firmer or softer, sand can avoid blowing into eyes, that sorta thing. Bad or Good reactions basically just indicate whether these effects favor the caster or not. Neutral effects indicate the stones trying to settle themselves more comfortably- worked stone tends to favor trying to maintain or repair its own architecture, while natural earth and stone just want to follow gravity.

Plague Amber
Lures a disease to inhabit some dried treesap instead of whoever is currently infected. Actual Amber is required to catch great spirits of plague. Breaking the amber releases the disease on whoever's nearest.
Dice Invested/Level of vancian spell
  1. Can catch non-lethal diseases
  2. Can catch lethal diseases.
  3. Can catch extremely virulent plagues ala Black Death, requires Amber
  4. Amber Prison become a permanent ward vs one disease, allowing all who touch it to be purged and immunized so long as the prison holds firm. Requires a large and quality piece of amber worth several thousand GP.
Gate of the Knife
Stab a knife into a doorframe, and anything passing through automatically takes damage as though being slashed by the knife. 1 Knife per level can remain active in this fashion, or if casting Glog style, one must roll higher than the # of currently active knives to place a new knife, and 3+ dice allows the placing of Swords.

Crow Scare-Summons a cawing, flapping crow in front of the face of the target. This is extremely shocking and the target must save or spend their next action attacking the crow, jumping back in shock, shielding their face, as opposed to any useful action.
This spell cannot be cast within line of sight of a scarecrow.
If cast with 3+ magic dice, an entire murder of crows will be summoned to scare as many targets as the caster wishes.

Transport Sunshard- Telekinetically shift existing fire or lightning to another place in sight at a rate equal to your own running speed. Once the target is picked the shard moves in a straight line to its destination. Any fire bigger than a bonfire(1d12 damage) is too big to move. The fire will likely go out upon hitting something unless the target was flammable.
With extra magic dice, it may be sent to strike multiple targets beyond the first. With vancian casting, it strikes +1 target per 5 levels of the caster.

Mesmeric Sphere-
Creates a hovering, gleaming bubble with 1HP and ac 10. Save or be unable to look away. Entranced people obliged to stare it it are easily flanked, as though they can continue to fight, they may be limited to peripheral vision. The caster need not save as they can look away, and anyone with forewarning can avoid catching a glimpse of it. Combat near the sphere forces extra saves each round(barring clever placement), much like trying to avoid a gaze attack. It lasts until someone pops it, or 1 minute per level(vancian) or [sum]minutes rolled (GLOG)

Oil Colossus- S
ummons 5-foot wide flame-eyed blob of oil(light as candlelight) to rise from the ground near the caster. If struck, degenerates into flaming pool of oil about 5 feet wide that burns for 2 rounds. The blob obeys commands, but can do little but scoot around at knee height and cannot climb stairs or steep slopes. If struck by an attack(it is automatically hit) or if it just jiggles too enthusiastically (1/6 chance every minute) it ignites and becomes a flaming pool of oil.

Compelling Touch-
Touch someone- they won't willingly break physical contact until you do, or outside forces separate you. No save. Also nothing prevents them from shanking you, but your death will not end the effect.
Each 3 levels or extra magic die invested allows an additional target to be compelled in this manner, either from your touch or the touch of someone currently under the spells effects.

Conceal psyche- your mind and spirit are shielded from detection. Nightmares and undead animated by Nightmare will be entirely unable to detect you, and mental effects from creatures that can see you will have a blindness penalty to hit (or a similar bonus to your saving throw). You also can probably bluff spirits into thinking you've already sold your soul. Last until you wake up from sleep. You can only conceal yourself.

Encoding Sand
 Sand whirls like a tiny tornado the size of a pen, etching [sum] words (or 2d6 for vancian casting) down in the blink of an eye.
Alternately, coded symbols or simple drawings can be etched, like a stick figure.
Using 3+ magic dice allows you to instead make complex drawings, like realistic art, copied maps, or as many words as can fit  in [sum] square feet.

Tendril of Screaming Blight, 
which sounds dreadful but what it does is rots some wood and grows a mushroom that will scream if something comes near it. Deals [effect level]d6 damage to tree monsters.
 Dice Used/Maximal effects at Level/2
  1. Rots something up to a door or chair. Mushroom as whistle.
  2. Rots something up to a wagon. Mushroom as flute
  3. Rots a large tree.  Mushroom the size and noisiness of shrieking child or trumpet
  4. Could rot an entire wooden wall. Mushroom tree-sized, a deafening siren wail.
Rainshaping You can make rain coalesce into various shapes with a high degree of precision and control. Lasts as long as the rain does. Douse people in water, create shadowy illusions out of rain. Each extra die or 3 levels allows an extra thing to be done simultaneously.

Water Cubes
Makes water adopt a resting position of a cube, instead of a puddle. Permanent. Works on solutions, but not purely non-water liquids.
Up to one 10x10x10 cube per level or [sum] can be formed

Thunderous Gate- Utterance of a Word of Power creates a pulse of air pressure strong enough to send small objects flying, slam doors shut, send projectiles off target, etc. It is cast via shouting a single word and can be done as a 'reaction' interrupting other actions regardless of initiative. If 3+ dice are used, it deafens those nearby and forces a morale check against anything afraid of thunder or with sensitive hearing.

Ember Cauldron- A way to keep a container heated without fire so long as you continue chanting. Heat will be up to 'Boiling' in the vancian style.

Dice Used
  1. Lukewarm
  2. Boiling
  3. Red Hot (may destroy nonmetal containers)
  4. White Hot (Will destroy most containers sooner or later)

Sealing Script-Creates a 'scroll' that activates when placed on something. If the name written on the scroll matches the true name of the being it is attached to, it activates. Truly nameless beings are immune so long as no one names them, but even animals may have 'names' in the form of specific cries/smells that are difficult, but not impossible to transcribe. All effects allow a saving throw to resist, and automatically end if the paper is removed or damaged to the point the name is marred.
Dice used/Difference between target HD and personal HD
  1. Sealed- Prevents use of spells or supernatural abilities like basilisk gazes, werewolf shapechanging, etc.
  2. Paralysis- Can think, breathe, etc, but can't move voluntary muscles.
  3. Stasis- Target untouched by passage of time. Does not breathe, eat, think, age, etc.
  4. Imprisonment- Target sealed inside nearby object, essentially ceasing to exist till seal is broken.
Speak to Crow
Allows you to speak to crows for a single conversation. Doesn't compel them to talk back, but they're gabby beasts you can bribe with scraps of food.

Throne of Foresight- Sit in a chair (or handy branch or rock) and determine who the next person to sit in that chair will be. Their name echoes in your mind and the casting is as subtle as a thought.

So in typical D&D, there's 'The Spell List.' If you're a wizard (hairy or otherwise), you have a pretty good idea of what spells you'll use, and why. You meet goblins, you cast sleep. You meet a high AC monster, you use Magic Missile. Known solutions to known problems.

So what I'm trying to do with the introduction of a bunch of weird spells that I make up off the top of my head from some words strung together is more of 'give the players weird shit to play with and see what they do.' The power level is definitely weaker than D&D spells, but the weakness of the spells has made being a 'wizard' more about creative application and combination of strange little cantrips than about having a set number of specific answers to specific problems per day.

Some of my favorite uses of the 'weird spell list' have been

A shrunken character using Crow Scare and Speak With Crow to arrange his rescue from being stranded in the sky.

Using the Throne Of Foresight to learn about a bunch of Sludge Vampires pretending to be elves in a giant dead treestump

Use of Crow Scare and Monsterize to get a save or stun + a quick monster

Thunderous Gate was used to blow a falling flying canoe onto a more favorable trajectory

Using Oil Colossus to scout ahead providing light and a nasty firetrap to any lurking monsters

Using Transport Sunshard to turn a burning oil trap against its creator

In any case, I'm not saying this approach to spells is 'better' than the D&D spell list, but it's certainly been an interesting one. I always liked the weird magic items like Immovable Rods that have no 'intended use' and are just potential 'ins' for creative plans, but they're often limited use or very rare, so shifting 'weird, possibly useless item' into 'weird, possibly useless spells' gives more opportunities to come up with a kooky scheme. Grease is one example of a D&D spell like this, though I wonder why it became a spell and not just a purchasable item.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Easy Access Polytheism, plus an old incomplete pantheon

This is something I've done in settings with polytheistic pantheons where pretty much everyone attempts to get on the good sides of the gods.

Anyone can cast cleric spells! Hooray! However, you don't automatically get spells- you pay for them with Favor, and don't have 100% certainty of what will happen. You get favor by doing things that specific gods like. Donating 1000 coins, a magic item, or other things of great value to one of their temples or doing a quest for the church is a solid way to get a favor point with most gods, as is converting more people to the religion.

Each point of favor is the equivalent to a spell level. Invoking a miracle involves praying for divine intervention. Make a WIS check or a saving throw or something, maybe with a -1 per spell level of the miracle you're praying for. Maybe you have to roll under Favor-Requested Spell Level if you want it to be hard. Anyway, if it works, burn favor and the gods will bestow an appropriate cleric spell of a level up to the amount of favor burned in response to your request, assuming your request is in-line with their goals. If it fails, you can keep praying for a cumulative +1 bonus per consecutive round spent praying.
NOTE: To prevent this from being an exercise in 'mother may I' with the GM, god motives and methods should be pretty obvious, not super sophisticated character studies , and as usual, saying 'yes' will almost always make for a better game than saying 'no'

If something dreadful would happen to you and you have some banked favor, the god you have the highest favor with has a favor-in-20 chance of them attempting to save your bacon independently, though they'll be the ones choosing how much favor to burn(all of it, typically) and what exactly to do with it in that case. They might just blow favor at a 1-1 ratio to increase your saving throw vs getting owned or similar simple mathematical tweaks in your favor if they don't have any truly appropriate spells to save you.

Doing things they don't like will likely incur loss of favor, and doing things they REALLY don't like will result in Wrath- the turning of any positive favor to negative.  Negative favor is similar to positive favor given to your enemies, to be used against you at inopportune moments.

Anyway, here are some examples from my last campaign. The might be bad examples to steal wholesale because there's a bunch of setting-specific divine politics implied, but having factional conflict and conditional alliances and so on makes religion interesting.
you get angels of Riikhus &Mokkhus, cuz Riikhus is just the sun and Mokkhus is just a big goffik dude

Riikhus- The King in the Sun, the Flames Of War Which Purify All, The Unconquered Light
Mokkhus- Counter of Bones, Gatekeeper of the Dead, The Unmoved

+1 Favor- Smite an undead or demonic creature of more HD than yourself, or an enemy priest
+??? Favor- Subjugate a divine spirit and add them to the slave pantheon of the Brothers
-1 Favor- Gain more favor with a slave god than your current total with the Brothers
-1 Favor- Act against the interests of the Church
Wrath- Intentionally gain favor with M'shesh or Lumar
Common Miracles
Riikhus's Trumpet- Garb allies and self in arms and armor in fanfare of light and angelic wingbeats
Wrath of Riikhus- As Inflict Light Wounds but Holy Fire damage, or in sunlight, as Magic Missile
Underworld Manacle- Strip immunity to nonmagical weapons from one undead.
Ancestor Spirit- As Animate dead, but animated dead are lawful faithful of Mokhus and will return to the underworld after their task
Intervention- Angel dispatched to smite evil or spirit the faithful away to safety.

Slave Gods/Saints of the Brothers Riikhus and Mokkhus
Lady of Gardens- Law, Plants, Domesticity, Society
+1 Favor- slay monsters and mutants
+1 Favor- officiate lawful proceedings such as marriage, peace contracts, etc.
-1 Favor- polymorph, mutate, sow chaos, minor crimes
Wrath- Intentional polymorph, mutation, seriously destabilizing crime
Common Miracle- Entangle, Grow Plants

Jackal God Of Yuba
+1 Favor- Eat the warm hearts of your slain foes. +2 if higher HD, +3 if over double HD.
+1 favor- Save a Canine from peril
Common Miracles- Charm Canine, Scare Animal, Curse: Lycanthropy.

Hefon- Goddess of Bonds
+1 Favor- save a friend or family from certain death
+1 Favor- avenge a wrong done to your kin or ally
-1 Favor-Abandon allies in need
Wrath- Betray blood or bondsman
Common miracle- bless, healing, or reversed spells when pursuing vengeance

M'shesh is a nice goddess if you agree death was a stupid idea and a world of zombies would be better
No pain! No need to kill living creatures to eat! Stable population!

Free Gods
M'shesh- Mother of Undead, She-Who-Bars-The-Way, the Black Wind
M'shesh opposes death and pain and will never grant a spell that inflicts harm.
+1 Favor- Spare your enemies rather than slay them this session. Also, kill nothing to eat.
+1 Favor- Convert or slay a priest of Mokkhus or Riikhus- those who do not oppose death are welcome to it!
-1 Favor- Slay fleeing or surrendered foes, or kill without necessity.
Commonest Miracle- Breathe a dead soul of a M'shesh faithful into a corpse, creating an intelligent zombie hireling or raising a faithful player as undead. Immune to poison, discomfort, disease, but still vulnerable to level drain and feel like they need to breathe and eat and sleep. If they don't, they start going crazy. Also zombie PCs break a lot of inherent assumptions about the game, like food, need to breathe, etc etc, and you should be careful with this at low levels.

You can't comprehend Yg's true majesty because you're not a snake
But if you were this image would be majestic indeed

Mother Yg- She-of-Skins, the Long Librarian, Egg-Keeper, Serpentine Matron
+1 Favor- Complete a task for a snake
+1 Favor- Retrieve knowledge unknown even to her
+1 Favor- Consecrate a monster egg to be born as a monster snake instead
-1 Abandon a snake in mortal peril
Wrath- intentionally harm a snake

Common Miracles- cure poison, sticks to snakes. Snakify Egg, cause poison, speak with snake(but never charm snake, you can hire them as hirelings for the usual half share of gold. It is a mystery what they do with it.)
Getting Raise Dead'd makes you a bit more snakey each time.
This is what carved wooden idols of T'liki look like. Only even more annoying.
T'liki- Coinflipper, Shuffler of Souls, The All-(f)or-Nothing
+1 Favor- gamble your most prized possession as an offering to T'liki with 50/50 odds. If you can fool T'liki, you might be able to fake sacrificing it.
+1 Do something risky and stupid, and pull it off. Adventurers can rack favor up pretty quick...
-1 Be boring. Festivals of masks and wanton revelry are held to amuse T'liki and ward off his attempts to 'spice up' peoples lives.

Common Miracles- as a chaotic trickster god, T'liki grants random spells of illusion and confusion.
T'liki can be called to intervene directly with no loss of favor by drawing from a deck of cards, rolling a die, or similar, but his intervention leans towards making situations more chaotic and random, rather than any reliable aid. Certain players will take great joy in having T'liki be blamed for bad rolls and praised for good ones, others will despise the addition of extra RNG to an already unpredictable game.

Lumar, One From Nowhere, The Unfathomable, Shines-In-Dark, Bliss-In-Ignorance

 A strange and obscure goddess from the mirror realm, which was once a blurred land of reflections in water and ice alone but has expanded with the creation of humans and their mirrors and glass and metal. Riikhites despise her for the creation of the moon, but is imitation not the sincerest form of flattery? No clerical powers reach into the mirror realm save hers, but regardless, she grants imitation miracles to visitors regardless, and they never know the difference.
not even once they've returned to the world of nonreflected light and shadow
Maybe there never really was a Lumar and the real holy spirit was inside you all along, kid
Or maybe the real miracles were the friends you made along the way?
knowledge drowned in the sea, better left alone
Something like that. 
+1 Favor- destroy knowledge of the true nature of the world and its purpose in the plan of the gods
-1 Favor- learn knowledge as to the true nature of the world
wrath- spread the word of the true nature of the world 
Common miracles- mental manipulation, illusion, moonlight and seafog and information, & planeshifting

The above rules are for everyone. Clerics are still clerics, but they're zealots, fanatics, who serve one god and one god alone. Their favor with their chosen god is indicated by their level and typical spells-per-day business, and while negotiating with other gods and spirits is part of their duty as religious icons, gaining favor with gods and spirits beyond their own is closer to 'leverage' than it is to a healthy religious relationship. 

Animism is great for this, though creating a pantheon of gods as factions is a lot easier than being prepared to run everything as a potential spiritual entity. Everything can potentially be a source of favor, be it an old ghost, a river, a tree, a stone, another PC, linguistic concepts... it's a rabbit hole that can go infinitely deep. Imagine Dungeon-as-God, where breaking down doors and strewing goblin entrails about infuriates the dungeon, but properly finding keys and arranging goblin entrails neatly may earn the favoritism of a dungeon. But this post is rambly enough as is, so let's call things quits for now.