Tuesday, 27 April 2010

let me tell you about my NPC: lloyd ap-hywll

This month's RPG Carnival has stopped at Exchange of Realities whose invitation to 'Let Me Tell You About My (N)PC" is too tempting.  Lloyd is a warning to those who believe all they see and everything they read. While his antics have been foiled on more than one occasion, he occupied the sweet spot of 'thorn in our side that's just too dangerous to safely remove' for over a year in one of my favourite campaigns.  Inspired by the Slavelords modules and the Mabinogion he ranges from foil to antagonist depending on your whim.

Lloyd ap-Hwyll, 10th-level illusionist (2nd edition AD&D).
Bastard son of a bastard son, Lloyd was born into a culture blessed with magical aptitude and cursed with an overestimation of warriors. Lacking the charisma to be a bard, his blood relation to nobility and resulting notoriety made him ill-suited as a thief. Adept at the written word, he became a scribe and travelled east to become a citizen of the empire where such talents would earn him wealth by careful penmanship, minor magics and embezzlement.

Lloyd travelled east and returned seven years later clad in shimmering plate armour etched with symbols of the eastern god of magic and glyphs of enchantment.  In his hands was a staff carved with glyphs. The warriors of his clan knew eastern warriors wore such armour and Lloyd was big enough to wear it. Wizards recognised the glyphs of the eastern god of magic and the magical staff he bore as a source of wizard's magic.  What wizard could wear such armour?  Even casual divinations corroborated the enchantments.

As the empire turned it's ambitions westward, they found evidence of treason among it's commanders in an Imperial hand.  Evidence of Imperial tactics are found by western heroes and the empire finds itself attacked without reason - or so it seems.  For it seems there's a double agent playing a dangerous game to prevent the empire's western outposts from going native.  Or is it someone familiar with the western nobles seeking to provoke a war they can only lose?

Lloyd's hatred of his own homeland is born out of the disdain shown to him by the nobles who shared his blood but not his standing.  His desire to humiliate the western nobles runs through every plot he incubates and every deception he creates.  Sometimes fools' gold will pay orcs to raid an Imperial trade fair, other times the plots are more elaborate and precise.  Lloyd is unpredictable in his methods yet such capriciousness hides a mind capable of giving a red dragon a fair game of chess.  Not that Lloyd is foolhardy, yet the hall he keeps on the northwest coast is rumoured to have a dragon's lair underneath it.

Lloyd's bitterness means he will seek companionship in ways to ensure he has and keeps control.  Pursuit by Lloyd feature drugged wine, transmutation magics to disguise himself and illusions.  He sometimes abducts a woman to his keep then turns her loose after three nights, wandering along the shore traumatised for pirates or worse to find.  They seldom find their way home.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

spring fever (review: kobold quarterly #13)

Metric: Kobolds (one bad, five awesome).
Overall: 4.5 kobolds. More entrails! The quality of the articles is consistent and while there are articles that I feel needed more oomph compared to last issue, that's a good sign since those that sing really do. Contributors have a high bar to jump and while rough edges occur, the quality is excellent.

Artwork (4 kobolds) – While the cover is green (and how!) the lettering is beginning to creep back over the art. Internal art is good, still keeping the mix of colour and monochrome art in balance and the map of the Goodwife at the back is spectacular.

Ecology of the Shoggoth (4 kobolds) – Reskinning the black pudding as the Lovecraftian icon, a monstrous ooze progenitor to aberrations and the source of a mutating drink. The most wonderful thing about this article is the neo-shoggoth. No, not a shoggoth with cool shades, flight and protection from normal missiles. Imagine a shoggoth smart enough to form T-1000 style blades and spikes! Lots of new abilities and tie-ins with Sunken Empires.

Lovecraftian Gods (3.5 kobolds) – 4E adaptation of Azathoth, Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth (or Umr at-Tawil on weekends). Nyarlathotep gets the best treatment and the mask of Nyarlathotep not only gets yoinked for my planned 4E game but also a cool illustration which stands out in an article that needs  more... maybe signature NPCs?

The Arquebusier (5 kobolds) – A Pathfinder treatment by Richard Mallon for a gunner and the tools of his trade. Nice class abilities provide more than a combat emphasis for this variant fighter such as the ability to make magical ammunition. Historical firearms make this class sing and campaign notes for Golarion and Zobeck show two distinct takes as well as designer notes on how the gun can compete with the bow.

Alternate Objectives: Capture the Flag (5 kobolds) – Matthew Hanson provides an encounter structure for 4E which can be adapted to demonstrate that kill and loot are not the only options on the menu. Borrowed from first-person shooters and paintball, this structure gives players a tactical challenge and the example encounter includes a new undead minion, encounter effects and layouts.

The Thrill of the Unknown (5 kobolds) – Monte Cook examines the use of the unknown in roleplaying; if you wonder what that means, look at the old maps where it says 'Here Be Dragons'. It's no coincidence that the first ever D&D module was called 'In Search of the Unknown'. The tautology between the codified structure of RPGs and the ambiguity of stories are used to provide techniques to bring the unknown into your game.

Spark (5 kobolds) – The King of the Monsters crowned on the Kobold Quarterly website is now in residence. Pathfinder rules define this symbiotic quasi-elemental.

Scions of Shadow (4 kobolds) – This Pathfinder article contains a new sorcerous bloodline and a new school of wizardry. The bloodline has some impressive crunch and suggests all kinds of stories while the wizards are illusionist/necromancers with limited conjuration needing a DM willing to go along with the ride to get the best out of them.

The Heart of a Hero (5 kobolds) – Mario Podeschi provides sensible, thoughtful advice on running romantic subplots in RPGs without making a hash of it. The inset boxes are golden, dealing with a variety of tips from how to handle shallow characters to judicious use of the 'boot scene'. Good stuff for those who want to expand their role-playing horizons beyond combat, diplomacy and exposition of lore.

Gambler's Magic (3.5 kobolds) – A plethora of 4E magic items with a gambling theme; while some dice are nice, the tokens are... token? Some magical coins offer intriguing ideas yet I am concerned at the item levels here, aimed mostly at paragon tier, they feel overpowered for what they do despite being mechanically appropriate for items of that level. A bit of variety between tiers would have made this article a lot stronger.

Destined Weapons (4 kobolds) – A Pathfinder article with variant destiny rules for weapons that become enchanted by their actions and the enemies they have slain. There are new feats for characters to take that allow them to gain greater powers for their weapons. I can see this being homebrewed with Mike Mearls' Iron Heroes to create an epic campaign with mighty heroes wielding weapons of unimaginable power.

Gnomish Flying Contraptions (3.5 kobolds) – Mining tinker gnome nostalgia for Pathfinder, with hints of the drogue wings used by some Forgotten Realms dwarves. The items are not entirely serious and need to be played in the same freewheeling way.

New Blood... (4 kobolds) – An interview with Chris Pramas of Green Ronin. Chris reveals the simple and robust design aesthetic with games like Dragon Age, Mutants & Masterminds and the new AGE system well as some impressive taste in comics. A nice interview and Chris has plenty to say about not being afraid to get your hands dirty.

Freeport Backgrounds for Dragon Age (4 kobolds) – Two great tastes that taste great together make this article an interesting conversion and a jump-off point to convert Freeport's setting to other systems. Danilo Guida's art is simple, clean and reminiscent of Jim Holloway's art in pre-DDI Dragon. The switch in layout from two column to three columns makes the text a bit crowded and difficult to follow which is a shame because the content is solid.

Wreck of the Goodwife (5 kobolds) – Jonathan McAnulty and Brandon Hodge deliver a mass of shining ideas in this Pathfinder scenario from the Widows Watch society to the treasure table items. The full colour map also available from the KQ site made me smile – exactly how web sites support a product without having to refer to errata. If this is a taste of Sunken Empires, this will be a very desirable product.

Daughters of Perun (4 kobolds) – This article further expands the Zobeck setting by placing a nation of Amazon warrior-women and their subjects to the east of the Free City. Perunalians have a sense of Russian valkyrie about them and the Order of the White Lions makes for ready-made character backgrounds.

Editorial (5 kobolds) – Wolfgang Baur reveals the mono-gamist strain of the hobby and the pernicious snobbery that can be found in some gamer groups. A call to demonstrate that sometimes a change will do you good.

From The Mines (3.5 kobolds) – Letters is meta.  More details on Adopt-a-Soldier and praise for the evolution of Kobold Quarterly into an edition-neutral product.

Book Reviews (4 kobolds) – Another strong collection. Very intrigued by Jeff VanderMeer's Finch and the Songs of the Dying Earth anthology. Other books include modern fantasy and 1960s occult horror. The reviews are concise and positive, selling the books effectively.

Cartoons (3.5 kobolds) - Stan! hearkens to ye olde chainmail bikini and 10x10 Toon reveals the lighter side of Mythos worship. The latter is stronger and both are genuinely funny.

Advertising: About 13.5 pages (about 20%). The quality is consistent with last issue and this is encouraging – many are full page ads and even if this more than previous issues, the ads themselves seem less intrusive.

KQ has come a long way.  It now shows itself as a product that will spark a lot of ideas for games and which is comfortable with it's production values.  It's edition neutrality is a nice move and I hope contributions for other game systems will meet the high quality of it's current articles.  Worth your time.

inns and taverns: the shadovar

On the northern road of an exposed crossroads of the Eastern Road looms the stone-walled inn and waypost known as the Shadovar.  The sign is of a stag-like beast with sharp teeth stood watching a crossroad.  Atop the sign are three wooden pots with metal reeds, when the west wind blows, it emits a moaning whistle carried eastward on the wind.  This eerie noise can be heard for some distance before the lights of the inn are visible.  Traffic along the crossroads ensures steady business with couriers and merchants making it a regular stop on their journey.

A three-storey inn forty foot each side, the ground floor is an arched tunnel without windows running from east to west leading to stables for up ten horses and a stairwell leading up in the south wall.  This opens into a sizable common room where guests may slake their appetites and a cloak room in the west.  A cartwheel window over the stairwell with red, clear and amber glass helps illuminate the room with tallow lamps yet other shuttered windows are narrow with sturdy trestle tables underneath.

The hearth is set opposite the stairwell and the bar runs along the west wall; hunting trophies of wolf, boar and deer grace the walls with icons to gods of trade and travel.   Though active, the large common room has an unhurried air and seems half-empty.  Only if a merchant's caravan or noble entourage appears will the Shadovar really bustle.  The staff are genial ex-veterans who can still show thugs some tricks of the trade and camp followers who run the Shadovar smoothly at the behest of the landlady, Marenna, a shrewd, iron-haired matron of considerable presence who served as chatelaine to nobility until politics encouraged her to relocate.

The Shadavar's position on a trade route enables it to have a varied stock of ales ranging from a sharp red nutty brew sold along the Eastern Road to a creamy pale ale favoured by southern drovers, most common ales and a few rarer brews can be purchased here routinely.  A rough southern red wine is sold by the jug and drunk by travellers seeking to blot the moaning from the sign on certain nights.   The food is simple; roast chickens, game stew and pastries with beef and turnip.

In accommodation the Shadovar excels as the top floor is devoted to it.  Four south-facing private double rooms with thickened walls, goosedown quilts and wooden tubs await those seeking privacy and are undisturbed by the sign's moaning.  A spacious common room that holds ten in comfort (fifteen at a pinch) as well as allowing guests to sleep downstairs make it roomy yet the in-house healer and scribe are what make the Shadovar tower over it's neighbours.  These services are charged at premium and often paid gratefully by travellers who have had or expect a rough journey on the road.

The cellars under the Shadovar are well-stocked and appointed, built around a redoubt that a pair of soldiers could hold for a week before their supplies ran out.  The redoubt is known only to staff and a handful of couriers and noble retainers who have used it in the past.  Stores are well-kept and routinely checked by Marenna personally, as is the secret door in the north wall that runs for a quarter mile allowing someone to escape if things got too dire.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

recession-proof gaming VIII - classics and cool

Still paying your way out of the financiapocalypse?  Gaming can still give you lots of good times and it need not cost you an arm and a leg doing so.  These are some more options for you to explore. 

Dragoons20 - Classic fantasy steampunk using Microlite20.
Frenzy - 8 pages of action RPG dynamite, an antidote to boring combat.
Talislanta - The d20 version of the classic RPG now available for free.
Zombi - a game about the risen dead, recommended by Jeff Rients.

GM Resources
d20 On-Screen DM Screen - d20 reference tables.
Online Herbal - Gathering herbs from numerous tabletop RPG sources.
PDF Campaign Journal - courtesy of The Warlock's Home Brew

DocsPal - Converts document and graphic file types to other file types.
Gray TiddlyWiki - Lo-fi flavour of TiddlyWiki.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

calluna moor

To the west of the Losung Highlands is Calluna Moor, a swathe of scrubland where hillocks of gorse and plains of heather paint the land in gold and dusk rose in summer; small eelwood trees (a species of acid pine known for resinous, slippery bark) cling to the edge of stagnant sinkholes murky with rotting vegetation which seem to draw millipedes in great number. Yet the moor has dry hillocks and tors as well. Where eelwood grow, the dead will go is a folk-charm used to warn about the perils of the sinkholes.

Toads are plentiful near sinkholes as are the vipers preying on them. Drier land sees grouse and skylarks hunt searching for beetles and worms while trying to avoid pale-grey merlin who hunt the skylarks in turn. There are a few crofts on Calluna Moor but these are almost all farmers. Growing oats and barley, keeping bees and sheep, taciturn Calluna Moor farmers speak infrequently and dine well. Yet they often carry greatswords as walking canes and know how to wield them. For Calluna Moor is not always as idyllic as it first seems.

In the past, Calluna Moor was buried under glacial ice and a fortress (Dyshuvail) was raised on a tor by rangers to defend against creatures that came with the ice. Dyshuvail is still maintained and can only be safely reached by a strip of land known as The Sheep Run, named as much for it being fine pastureland as it is for the number of times rangers have had to run from visiting giants once they ran out of arrows. The giants know to look for the eelwood and there are few places to hide on the moorland. The rangers and farmers will unite to slay giants who try to gain a foothold on the Moor.

The sinkholes provide an effective method of burial, bodies are often left in them so they mummify. Some are retrieved and buried on dry land, others are left to their graves. The difficulty of retrieving bodies from the sinkhole makes it an occasional place to dispose of murderous evidence. Murder victims have been known to rise again, mummified and eager to avenge themselves. The rangers serve as sheriffs and usually engage in a race against time against the undead to find the murderer to prevent the undead from killing and bringing them into servitude as a lesser undead.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

ebon zikkuract - the eastern stair

By your divine majesty's pleasure, my soldiers accompanied Maldut of Uthuta to the eastern stair of the black zikkuract.  The scholars note this desert land lies under two suns and their heat rivals the furnaces of eastern Kamsad and Ankil's fury made us remove our armoured vests or risk his fever-curse.  The zikkuract of the eastern stair towers over an abandoned city the size of holy Lur.  No fires were lit, the only beasts we found in the overgrown gardens were scorpions as long as my forearm and black, leathery slugs.  Maldut noted the zikkuract crowned by the block and believed the miracle of Algolia would be found on each stair to be explored.  He also said these places were not lands but worlds, for the skies were different.  I believe him now, for we learned why Ankil watches this world with both eyes. 

The city is sandstone, shaded mazes of houses divided by broad avenues with great unlit brass braziers and statues of scorpions pointing their tails north and at the zikkuract.  In temples to beast-headed false gods we found decorated red clay pots, basalt, obsidian tools and opal jewellry.  Many of the outside walls had decorated walls of plaster showing people accepting gifts from the beast-headed false gods and each other.  We found flint arrows and axes as well as bronze-headed spears in an empty garrison.  Our scouts reported some buildings were damaged and that scattered bones were found near them.  Every well we found here was choked with debris and a wiry thornbush, which worried Maldut, the tamer of demons.  This city hangs ripe for conquest yet a hidden danger awaits to be slain for your greater glory and it is for this reason Ankil keeps vigil.

As the stars came, so did they.  From the temple cellars we heard the rushing of wings and we saw demonic shadows take to the sky.  Though their bodies were dark, small and lithe like nomad children their limbs were twice as long as they ought to be, their faceless heads crowned with curved horns.  Batlike wings lifted them and a host worthy of Utukk churned the sky as we doused our torches and made for a nearby storehouse.  Then they saw us and gave chase like hawks.  Though our spears were true, it was like stabbing sand, their bodies flowed around the points.  Their fingers were pinching fire, their grasp iron.  Two men were pulled apart like cooked fowl in a storm of wings and hands.  We closed the storehouse door, trapped like granary rats. We heard rustling wings, padding feet and bones cracking.

Maldut ransacked the storehouse, muttering about the thorn bushes in the well.  I calmed the soldiers in your divine name and sent two of them to help while we barricaded the doors.  The torches were re-lit.  There was a storm of activity outside and we could hear them no longer.  Then Maldut identified the demons and their banes.  The thorn bush or light would drive them away.  Coils of dried thorn vines and oil lamps were plentiful, they had been fought before.  We would form a tight group with three warriors using thorn branches and carrying lamps, the remainder twined the thorn vines around their spearheads.  We formed around Maldut who began his chanting, we left laden with lamp oil and thorny vines.  Outside scores of demons circled over and around us, keeping to shadows and daring our spears.

We marched to the zikkuract, the demons repelled, smouldering like coals as they dared the light.  The demons wheeled overhead then a block of rubble the size of a shield fell on Maldut's skull.  Our formation held as we twined his body with thorn vines, slower now for it.  We dare not lose his wisdom!  The demon tamer slain, the demons grew bolder, wrestled with our spears, bodies charring in lamplight.   We lost three more warriors to demon hands before reaching the zikkuract.  We climbed it, lamps guttering.  I called for the guard as stones were hurled.  The sky was lightening!  The demons grew desperate, diving at us.  One impaled itself on a spear and the thorn vine shrivelled it.  As another lashed at me with it's wing I saw the wing char and crumble in the lamplight.  Shrieking like fearful children they sought shelter. 

As we ascended the stair I saw some demons had hidden in the shadow of the block.  We were trapped, the sun would not reach them.  We lit the thorn vines and I led the charge.  Guards from below shouted and began to enter the stair as the demons wheeled overhead.  Praise to your favour and to the gods for a hierophant was with them!  He called forth fire from a flask to burn the demon and the light burned them all.  We lit fires to trap the demons and in the light, they charred and crumbled.  May you grant mercy to Maldut and recall him from the underworld.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

inns & taverns - the silver dagger

This narrow three-storey tavern and free house lurks on the edge of a port marketplace, sandwiched between a chandler's and a hardware store.  The Dagger fronts onto two streets and it's aspect is identical with grubby salt plaster walls, dark timbers and bars over the windows convey the appearance of a prison, at odds with the bawdy sailor songs drifting through them.  The sign is of a smirking rogue looking over his shoulder with a gleaming dagger visible behind his back, this picture is often representative of the typical patron.  The Dagger is a lively place despite it's forbidding aspect and bawdy songs can be heard from between the bars.  The air smells of pipeweed, old ale, sawdust and tar and the doors are thickly tarred leather and wood.  The city watch keep a conspicuous eye on both the front and back entrances as rogues have a penchant for using it as a rat run or hiding place.

Inside a narrow stone corridor runs the length of the Silver Dagger, splitting it in two, capped by two doors.  Four doors to the left and three to the right, with four spiral stairs, two up, two down on each side.  Each leads to long rooms  the staff and patrons are seen moving between rooms with casks and trays of food.  The Dagger was a former jail.  The jail's deeds came under mysterious circumstances to an adventurous monster hunter paying to re-purpose it.  The narrow rooms of the Dagger are compact but well-appointed.  Larger than human and clumsy folk will bump into things and generally become a nuisance but most people don't have a problem navigating the stools and benches.  Stalls and alcoves use narrow seats and tables, the rooms are suited to smaller weapons and limit the ability to move unless you leap on the tables.  This happens more than you'd expect, the clientele are rowdy and it's often the only way to settle things.  Contests of stamina and dexterity are not unknown here, there is good-natured betting and witnessing available.

The owner is slight, with a dancer's step, outlandish moustache and scars named as Kyllen Miserycord.  The numerous pouches mark him as a magician but his skill with the paired daggers at his belt show a different aspect.  Kyllen has seen a lot of the world, is quick with smiles and capable of defending his home and lifestyle.  The other staff keep their daggers concealed and all are his students in magic, fighting style and charm, using friendly banter and flirtation to keep each other on their toes.  Sometimes they will perform a demonstration of their fighting style atop a table on slow nights, the mock dagger fights whirling and steel ringing on steel.  The demonstrations are good-natured, those who try to strong-arm their way in find polite refusals followed by pointed ones.  Kyllen is often aware of troublemakers ahead of time and armour-plated thugs meeting him discover that armour is not the only thing that makes you hard to hit.

The Dagger is a free house and a variety of ales, from dwarven ember (red, smoky, strong) to Mermaid's Foam (a creamy pale ale favoured by weathered sailors) can be purchased though stocks are not infinite and ale has been known to run out on occasion.  Rum is the other drink of choice ranging from dark buttered rum to a white super-potent rum known as spook.  A single glass of spook is strong enough to make anyone drop their jaw in surprise and causes the blood to tingle in appreciation.  In contrast, the food is basic fare and often cooked in haste.  Blood sausage, cheese, eggs, fish and chicken broth can be purchased.  Each bar will double as a common room and though there is only one guest room, an attractive traveller may find that they can reach an accommodation with one of the bar staff.  Kyllen does not play this game and takes a dim view of anyone playing it with him.  What he does do is invite beggars into the corridor, gives each a blanket and closes the door.  This act of benevolence has earned him the loyalty of half the beggars in the port.

Magic is often used to make the atmosphere convivial, ranging from warming magics to wisplights giving the place a friendly glow.  Of particular note are the animated iron turtle spittoons that clump about and empty themselves with a glugging noise.  Rumour has it every door in the Dagger is made of tarred human leather and close at the behest of the owner.  Certainly there have been times when the doors close unexpectedly on rogues trying to steal from The Dagger and the doors have refused to open when a murderer was uncovered in the Dagger.  Kyllen says that some of the original furnishings are here, he keeps them because they do a better job than he does of keeping the place secure. Those trying to destroy the doors see ghostly shapes and hear screams in their head.  Speaking with the doors reveal that they want to be here to protect Kyllen and his friends from the darkness outside.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

ebon zikkuract - the northern stair

By your divine majesty's favour, we have commenced exploration of lands revealed by the northern stair of the miraculous ebon zikkuract of Algolia.  The land is blighted by cold and lit by three pale moons, lost kin to beloved Sahiri.  The eastern wind scour our skins and the air is thin, this place reminds me of the Athur-Dar wastes.  As the hierophant revealed, the miracle of the zikkuract was repeated here yet the basalt is icy cold. By your command, weresolved to explore the lands around the city to ensure the safety of future exploration of the stairs found in this zikkuract.  The ziggurat stands in the ruins of a city, there are broken foundations and cellars in the bronze-hard ground yet there were no living inhabitants only patches of ice mixed with bone fragments around the cellars.  One of the warriors found a footprint twice as large as a man's with claws on it's foot. We lit torches and measured the ruin as being the size of fair Uthuta of the Three Hills.  The land did not yield until one soldier heated the ground with his torch.  There is little water here that is not frozen - to colonise this city will need soldiers and supplies.

The beast came upon us suddenly.  We were exploring a cellar when a guard heard the keening shriek and we left the cellar to find him trapped under it's clawed foot, it's muzzle worrying his mouth.  It's eyes glowed white, it stood upright yet half as tall again as our tallest warrior.  It's legs were clawed, powerful as an ostryx, it kicked so hard the captain's shield buckled.  It's hide was hard yet our spears proved their worth.  It bled a chill mist with droplets of acrid water, it's blood burned with cold to the touch.  Yet the beast endured five warriors stabbing at it.  It savaged one guard so he was helpless and kicked out at the captain once again.  Then the guard rejoined the fight on the side of the beast.  To our horror, the beast breathed it's evil into him. He leapt like a madman, his wounds blue with cold.  I feared for my life yet my manservant stabbed his heart with his dagger.  The guard coughed red ice and then died, shattering as his body hit the ground.  The beast turned it's ire upon my manservant, ripping open his belly with a kick as it snapped at the guards.  Finally your guards prevailed against the beast yet all were marked by the beast or it's chill blood.  The captain took the beast's head and presented it to the hierophants of the ebon zikkuract for study according to your decree. 

The beast had a bony head, it's muzzle like that of a skinned hyena.  It's hide was warty and thick.  It's forelegs were shrivelled and weak yet it's legs were powerful and it's thick tail suggest prodigious strength.  It's corpse burned with unknowable cold, it's bite venomous with it.  It's organs drew heat from the bronze knife I examined it's corpse, acrid smelling and cold. I have never seen it's like, it's body steamed as heat was drawn from the air.  The bones were dense and pale, the bronze knife could not mark them yet their cold discouraged further investigation.  To capture another beast would be a heroic deed.  We hid the shriveling corpse in an abandoned cellar lest another of it's kind sought carrion and moved on.  The builders knew of construction but there was no basalt.  It would seem the architect of the ziggurat brought the materials from another location and knew more of construction than these people.

The hierophants of the ebon zikkuract have fragments of pottery that show people hunting four-legged beasts and fighting what appears to be a winged horror from Khadu!  I have found no evidence of coin or currency and believe these people were primitive traders akin to the Inburan.  Though we returned on the sunset of the same day, my record of the hourglass shows we explored for two days.  During this time, the sun-disk of Ankil was never revealed.  His displeasure with this place is evident for the beast was the only living thing we found here.  To conquer this land will need brave soldiers and workers who will need food stores.  The first priority is to purge the ice beasts from the area, there will be no peace until they are driven out.  May I commend your loyal soldiers who fought valiantly against the ice beast and may the gods find my service to your divine majesty favourable.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

toolkit: plot bombs

Writing plot is like making a bomb.  Now my blog's on the watchlist (more readers!), consider how that metaphor holds up and what can be done with plots to optimise their effect.

Charge - Impact
The scope of impact desired will inform what kind of situational explosive is used.  Just a loud noise or do you need to bring a character's life crashing in flaming debris around them?  The latter requires more explosive, maybe incendiaries or excellent placement (say next to the petrol tank) so design the plot according to result.  Doing something that will only faintly annoy a character and hoping for devastation is foolish.  Equally it's possible to pack so much explosive that the situation simply will not work.

Guidance -  Delivery
This is also informed by your desired result and the resources available.  Delivery ranges from lobbing the plot like a grenade and hoping the character stays still long enough to sophisticated methods involving incentives, camouflage or luring them into a situation where they're close to explosive things (like the petrol tank example previously) so that the impact is multiplied.  Smart guidance imply flexibility and intelligence in delivery, does the situation allow for that level of control?  If not, then positioning is crucial otherwise you need to think of a different approach like the bouncing bomb.

Fuse - Time limit.
If the plot isn't resolved when time's up, Thing(s) Will Happen.  It's very rare for a plot to exist independently of time.  Fuses may be shortened, lengthened or deactivated. There is also the possibility of booby-traps to deter attempts to defuse. The fuse may be primed by a simple action (e.g. finding Mr. Claymore's tripwire) or primed in anticipation of character presence.

Dealing with duds
There are situations where the plot just won't work.  This may be due to the fuse not being primed or a failure to activate when events demand it.  In some cases, the plot may re-activate if interfered with.  You also have the option of using the same plot in a similar situation.  A simpler plot can be re-used more often than one that requires complex setup.  It's why tropes are popular and still effective even if most know how to defuse them.  In some cases, it's not always possible.

Plots need to impact the character for good or ill or why do we care?  Ambivalent plot events offer greater versimilitude.  It's rare that something is entirely good or bad even at turning points or the final resolution.  If it rewards your audience, then do it.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

the mother wolves

The Mother Wolves are a close-knit sisterhood who dedicate lives and souls to a deity of war and slaughter. They are always well-armed and armoured.  Famed for battle-howls that chill the blood their lust for carnage make them greatly feared.  Membership includes and is not limited to fighters, barbarians, avengers and warlords.  In spite of their reputation, a Mother Wolf is as smart as ever and can function within society if their duties do not compromise them.  For them, the war never ends.  Many of them were torn from their lives by war's impartial brutality and they embrace it.  This has led to training that emphasises endurance, vicious bloodlust and an informal code of honour.

Avenge my death tenfold.
Blood demands blood.
Duty to the deity.
Loyalty to the Mother Wolves.
Surrender is death.
The leader shares the spoils.

They do not advertise the code, acting on it's dictates instead of debating with outsiders.  Failure to fulfill their duties inspire dreams of helplessness and bouts of psychosis inspired by the deity.  These often tap into painful memories.  Betrayal of the deity compels other Mother Wolves to hunt and kill the traitor.  In some cases where the other Mother Wolves were already slain, monsters (hags, rakshasa and werewolves) were sent to avenge the slight.

The lowest rank of the sisterhood, over a lunar cycle a prospective claw undergoes scarification, starvation and isolation in the wild to carve out softness and stitch in place fury.  Those who fail go mad from horror, die of thirst or are killed in combat.  Those who succeed share blood with the Mother Wolves who induced them and are uniquely suited to what follows - a career involving increasing carnage.  The claw is still capable of reason yet their need to kill isolates them.  Newly-returned claws must take care to avoid being outlawed or punished for murder.  Those who manage to keep themselves hidden enjoy notoriety among her sisters, not just for her skill but also for the intelligence they can gather.  Some troubled towns after the untimely death of a respected matron have been torn apart by a pack of scarred warriors looking for revenge.

Requisites: Endurance and Intimidate skills, Toughness feat.
Benefits: A claw gains the following.

  • +1 bonus to Intimidate checks
  • +1 bonus to Endurance checks to resist hunger or thirst.
Duties: A claw must kill three times in combat every lunar cycle and if asked, assist a fang (see below) in helping to initiate other claws.

The next rank is what bards evoke when they speak of Mother Wolves - a howling virago in bloody armour, killing indiscriminately.  The prospective fang is taken on a raid or battle led by an eye (see below).  If they kill nine times during the battle or raid, either bringing proof or being witnessed by a sister, they must then run a gauntlet of six fangs armed with clubs.  If she survives, she shares blood with the gauntlet members and the eye.  New fangs often seek out battle, realising their duty makes living in civilisation difficult and often become bloody-handed reavers, banding together with others to make their territory perilous, their screaming howls sometimes attributed to those of monsters.

Requisites: Hold claw rank for a lunar year.  Participate in initiation of two claws.  Defensive Mobility feat.
Benefits:  A fang gains the following bonuses.
  • +1 bonus to Intimidate checks.
  • +1d6 damage bonus against opponents granting combat advantage.
Duties:  A fang must kill six times in combat every lunar cycle.  They must also initiate a claw every lunar year and may call on the help of other claws. 

A prospective eye must be chosen by a heart (see below) to fight in a battle or raid.  They must kill twelve foes in battle and bring proof or be witnessed by their sisters. If the battle or raid is successful (at the DM's discretion), the eye walks a gauntlet of twelve fangs armed with clubs.  If they survive this, the heart will give them a new scar and declare them an eye.  The resulting celebrations are riotous, often fuelled by the spoils of war and assure the deity of their devotion. 

The eye's duty to kill takes them into war.  Little else satisfies sustained slaughter, soldiers seldom draw attention and sometimes honour.

Requisites: Hold fang rank for a lunar year.  Participate in initiation of two fangs.  Devastating Critical feat.
Benefits:  An eye gains the following benefits.
  • +1 bonus to Intimidate checks.
  • +2 bonus to Perception checks when in combat only.
Duties:  An eye must kill nine times in combat every lunar cycle.  They must also command at least six fangs and their attendant claws once a lunar year in a battle or raid.

An eye desiring to become a heart has a relatively simple objective beyond the usual service and initiation of others. All they have to do is start a war and have it acknowledged by their deity. This acknowledgement may take various forms, from angelic accolade to visions conferred by the deity themselves and the sudden painful appearance of a scar over the sternum.

Once the heart is known as such, they get no extra privilege or help from the deity and must take the reins of leadership for themselves. While loyalty within the Mother Wolves is fierce, the rivalry between hearts and prospective hearts as to who leads is something that enemies are quick to capitalise on. Nobody dares to ask if this serves the will of the deity.

Requisites: Hold eye rank for a lunar year. Participate in initiation of two eyes. Start a war.
Benefits:  A heart gains the following benefits.
  • +1 bonus to Intimidate checks.
  • +2 bonus to Will saves.
Duties: A heart must kill twelve times in combat every lunar cycle.  They must also command at least two eyes and their attendent Mother Wolves once a lunar year in a battle or raid. The heart will often send the eyes out to fulfill their own duties as part of a wider campaign.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

the carcosine codex

The book itself is not unusual yet distinctive. Sturdy covers of tawny reptilian leather with buff vellum pages stained with saffron wrinkles,  The archaic, angular sepia script is painstakingly written and illustrations of curved angular lines, reptilian iconography and circles are traced into the margins.  A cursory glimpse of the text reveals there is mystical lore and references to many worlds and their echoes.  To read it is a significant undertaking as the book requires a week's dedicated study to unlock it's secrets, yet once those secrets are unlocked, further consultation is needed to use them.

Scholars and magicians fervently seek it.  The book has merit, it provides the following rituals: consult mystic sages, enchant magic item, hallucinatory creature, hallucinatory item, wizard's sight.  It is possible to learn the rituals from the book but the Carcosine Codex offers darker power yet.  Some think it accursed, best avoided or destroyed, others announce profound revelations, a prize without equal. The Codex has been described as a 'pox of the soul' and it's effects mirror that of a disease. Those who have read it claim horrific visions of a mist-shrouded city by a lake under an alien night sky.

Carcosine Degeneration (Level 14 Disease) Attack: +18 vs. Will. 
Insight: Improve DC 27, Maintain DC 22, Worsen 21 or less.
Note the time to study the Codex requires seven Will attacks in addition to any time spent studying the rituals contained within the book.  Exposure is triggered by reading the book or using it as a ritual book, merely owning it isn't sufficient cause. Also note that Insight, rather than Endurance is used to resist the degeneration. It has been known for certain magicians to actively resist aid from the degeneration, claiming that their condition provides them with powerful insights.

No adverse effects.  The book contains the rituals above. 

Initial Effect
Lose 1 healing surge from unsettling dreams of a mist-shrouded city by a lake under an alien sky at night.
Take a -1 penalty to Will defence.
Gain a +1 bonus to Arcana and Perception checks.

Secondary Effect
Gain a +1 bonus for attacks with necrotic and psychic keywords.
Gain a +2 bonus to Arcana and Perception checks.
Take a -2 penalty to Will defence from delusional thoughts.
Lose 2 healing surges from disturbing dreams of being stalked through the mist-shrouded night-time streets of the city by a shrouded figure clad in rich yet tattered clothing.

Final Effect
Gain a +3 bonus to Arcana and Perception checks.
Take a -4 penalty to Will defence from delusional thoughts.

Lose 4 healing surges from a recurring nightmare where the shrouded cadaverous figure in rich, tattered cloth of gold and samnite catches you at the lake's edge.  It rasps the lich transformation ritual in your ear from it's rotting lips.  To effectively study the ritual and add it to the list of mastered rituals requires eight nights at this stage.  If cured, you retain mastery of the ritual.

(inspired by Robert W. Chambers and taichara's Book of the White Cat).
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