Friday, 12 August 2011

Puritans &... Pleistocene?

A half-formed thought inspired by notes on The New World for SBVD, by re-reading Marvel's 1601 comic, and by a thread at entitled No Megafauna Extinction (in between threads entitled "Cato's Cavalry" and "A Long and Flowing Whig" - those AH guys are nuts. Erudite, but nuts).

So Daniel Boone crossed into the bluegrass country of Kentuckee. 
Only to happen upon...

From the originating thread:

I see there being a market for Glyptotherium and D. clavicaudatus shells as curios in europe, along with Ivory, utterly massive furs, from Arctodus, Castoroides ohioensis and C. leiseyorum, and various fibers from all the different Camelids. F***! It'd be like a treasure trove for anyone stupid or desperate enough to try and set up shop there.

Hell, in the Caribbean, where things aren't as deadly, you've still got miniature ground sloths, Flightless Owls and rather interesting parrots (that might revive the fashion for parrots among the nobility back in Europe,) plus all the stuff that drove settlement IOTL.

We have scads of Pleistocene beasty stats in B/X; we have our grungy, low-powered D&D modcops; and between ckutalik's Hill Cantons Domain Game and Autarch's forthcoming ACKS we have our colony-builder systems. This is just crazy enough to work!

And lo! The gods did look upon the ravings of the fog-addled bogmonkey, and decreed that Mammoths and Muskets (or Brutes & Buckskins? or Settlers & Smilodons?) was a stupid idea, but one that might have legs, so don't knock it on the head just yet. :)

Edit: You know, I should probably split all this non-Vaults stuff off into another blog. Or would that just be annoying and fiddly?

Pic Source
Frank Frazetta (of course), found in the Comic Art Community Frazetta gallery.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

[SBVD] Crime and Punishment

Note: the topicality of this post in the light of recent events in the UK is entirely accidental.

Sooner or later our brave heroes (such as they are) are going to fall afoul of the law (such as it is). Here are some half-formed thoughts on making their big day in court fittingly Kafkaesque and memorably unjust.

Detection and Detention
Thanks to the thieving antics of travelling vagabonds, gypsies and suchlike sturdy beggars (*cough* adventurers *cough*) outsiders are generally the first to fall under suspicion when a crime occurs. Many jurisdictions still hold to the old legal principle that if no one is punished for a detected crime then the elected headmen of the community are guilty of conspiracy with the criminals. This tends to concentrate the mind on finding anyone to punish, rather than the right person.

There are no police as we understand the term in the world of SBVD: no CID, no CSI, no Special Branch. There are civil watchmen and rural road wardens, but these are paramilitary peacekeeping organisations with no interest in helping recover your stolen purse. Privately hired watchmen are common in cities, but their effectiveness as deterrent to criminal activity is limited by the innate venality and cynicism of the breed. [1]

Unless someone is actually caught red handed and captured by an initial hue-and-cry [2] the best way to bring someone to trial is to either: 1) hunt them down yourself, or 2) hire a professional thief taker (prototypical bounty hunters and/or private detectives) to bring them in. Struggling artists and jobbing printers do a roaring trade in lurid Wanted! posters commissioned by clubs of vengeful private citizens.

1] Many (most?) private watch organisations are little more than local mafias operating on a "Shame if anything happened to your place..." protection racket basis.

2] This is the common term for the ever-present pitchfork-wielding mob in vigilante mode. The more archaic and formal term posse comitatis is used by highfalutin, la-di-da legal types.

Once captured, stripped of their goods and remanded into custody in the filthy local cells (save vs. poison or contract a random disease) a defendant will have to wait 1d20 days before being dragged before the beak. The concept of bail (remanding into the care of an appointed custodian) is gradually evolving in the cities.

The trial system in SBVD is archaic, arbitrary, chaotic and entirely dependent on how bored or dyspeptic the judge feels today. Half-forgotten centuries-old traditions and ridiculous practices are rife, and illogical - but procedurally correct and thus technically legal - decisions are the norm. Think in terms of the Red Queen’s Court in Alice in Wonderland, rather than the stately gravity of contemporary courtroom dramas.

Outrageous as it may seem to people raised under the aegis of Common Law, but the society of SBVD works on a quasi-European inquisitorial system of law. The magistrate hears the evidence he wants to hear, and then passes judgement based on his personal prejudices and/or knowledge of precedent and case law. Judges to the busy, important urban courts are appointed either by the civic council or Imperial decree, but many rural courts are still feudal, presided over by whatever semi-educated local toff feels like wearing the big wig for a while.

If a jury is convened to pass judgement (common in the big city, less so in the boondocks) they're more likely to be there to get out of the rain than to deliberate with wisdom and discretion. Most juries will either be prejudiced against the defendant ("He's in the dock; he must be guilty"), or liable to use the case to address longstanding local grievances ("Can't let rich toffs think they're above the law").

Travellers are warned that the old customs of trial by combat or ordeal are still on the books. These expedients are resorted to if the judge just can’t be bothered and fancies livening up proceedings with a bit of bloodshed.

The outcome of a trial can be decided either by GM fiat, or, more fittingly, by a 2d6 Reaction Roll:

2"Pass me the black cloth cap. I might be needing it..."
Found guilty. Punished with all the harshness and imagination the GM can muster.
3-5"Hand me that book, that I may throw it at the wretch."
Found guilty. Sentenced to something harsh and onerous, but usually non-fatal.
6-8"The court requires further evidence. Now, what's for lunch?"
Remanded in custody for another 1d10 days.
9-11"Not proven. Now stop wasting my time."
Let off with a warning to quit town/be on best behaviour.
12"This was obviously all a dreadful misunderstanding."
Exonerated with an apology and testimonial to good character signed by the judge.

If the GM desires, the following situational modifiers may adjust the reaction roll:

+1 for each that applies
Respectable defendant
You didn't do it
...and you have an alibi
You bribed the judge
Your lawyer is a shark
Minor offence

-1 for each that applies
Respectable victim
You did it
...and witnesses saw you
Hanging judge
Your lawyer is an idiot
Outrageous crime

What About My Defence?
Oh, the cost of hiring a lawyer? This is very much a "What you got?" situation, but most decent lawyers won’t get out of bed for less than 50GC/day. They’ll expect payment whether or not they get to present their evidence in your defence: lawyers might be venal, ethically flexible logic-choppers, but they’re not stupid.

In cases of trial by ordeal/combat a retained lawyer will offer advice on procedure, and the name of a good doctor or judicial protagonist (if required), but won’t waive his fee. ("It’s not my fault the judge decided to revive the ancient tradition of ‘trial by flaming tarred pants’ just for you. I recommend running for that pond over there as fast as you can...")

A word of warning about lawyers: watch out for the keen-eyed pro bono crusading ones out to make a name for themselves. Their grandstanding antics are just as likely to annoy the judge and get you hanged on a technicality as to get you off with a virtuoso display of logic and rhetoric. Young, fast and fiery are fine qualities in a racehorse, but less than ideal in an advocate.

Judicial punishment is harsh, exemplary, and usually ironic in nature. Incarceration is rare and special, reserved for valuable hostages or those who someone with an oubliette wants lost and forgotten. Most punishment involves some form of violence, public humiliation or hard labour. Debtors are put to work in chain gangs; givers of short weight are forced to wear a locked cartwheel around their neck; thieves and fraudsters are fined and lose a finger; seditionists get their tongues clipped or their lips seared; rapists are castrated; grave robbers are buried alive; murderers get the rope or axe, or occasionally, a ‘Ketch Special’.

Public headsmen are a wickedly inventive breed, constantly in competition to produce the most interesting and spectacular forms of public execution. Throwing to the dogs has fallen out of fashion as cruel and barbaric; the current fad is a spectacularly pyrotechnic form of breaking on the wheel called 'the flaming Katrin'. Such spectaculars make a great day out for the whole family.

Exceptions to the Rule
There is no equality before the law in SBVD. Some people are simply above it; others aren’t even considered legal persons. In many jurisdictions a nobleman, wizard or clergyman can only be bought to book by his social peers. Yes, this means that the upper classes can literally get away with murder, so long as they don’t pick on anyone liable to arouse the sentiments of the mob. There are also places where serfs, foreigners and/or non-humans are considered legal minors or chattel, legally the responsibility of the respectable types they accompany.

Mutants, warlocks and the like rarely even get to trial: the angry mob tends to skip straight to punishment. Such cancers to the body politic commonly ‘die of injuries sustained resisting apprehension’. Creatures entirely outside society (NPC races like beastmen, orcs, giants, etc.) are deemed outlaw and thus fair game for anyone with the ability to take them down. You don’t bring an action for damages against a giant eating your sheep; you apply to the army, or that gang of passing heroes.

Pic Source: Breaking on the Wheel, courtesy of

Sunday, 7 August 2011

[SBVD] Pretty Pictures Edition

Note your humble author in yellow

Sorry for the long silence: it's been all about Dark Heresy (using the RT/Necromunda-derived Book of the Arbitrator fan rules) around our way recently, and InquisiMunda - although fun - is Off Topic for a Classic D&D blog.

New and improved version of SBVD (ver0.3) uploaded. Thanks again for downloading, perusing, using and feeding back.

Tweaks include:

+ switched to pdf format.
+ prettificated with public domain pics.
+ Added Social Injustice rules.
+ Experimented with Drugs and Poisons.
+ Played with Madness.
+ Split off Encumbrance.
+ Acquired Retainers.
+ Dabbled in higher Magic.
+ Obsessed over Treasure.
+ Extended the Menagerie.
+ Opinionated waffle given free rein in the footnotes.

++ SBVD character sheet.

If interest is expressed I'm happy to reformat the game for the OSR's preferred Format of Awesome (A5, 8.5" x 5.5").

Possibly of interest to those who remember White Dwarf back when it was good: Gobbledegook skirmish game by Sean Patten. My impressions on a first read: lotsa zoggin' fun! Take a couple of minutes to look over his other homebrew games and his fantastic scenery collection (including "how to" guides).

Edit: also of possible interest. Noisms' dungeoneering dog breeds and dog quirks-and-traits table.

Pic Source: detail of "Landscape with Blind Orion Seeking the Sun" by Nicolas Poussin, courtesy of

Monday, 11 July 2011

Games: Ruined by Gamers

Sorry in advance to post this unfocused, content-free rant in public. I just need to exorcise this in a place where people will understand my (temporary) disillusionment.

Played a game of vanilla Labyrinth Lord on Saturday with a couple of my regular group and a few casual gamer mates who'd expressed an interest.

Having an inkling of what I was in for (Saturday night pick-up game? Of course there'll be Monty Python quotes and "I attack the darkness!" antics) I printed some How To Play This Game sheets, shelved the Vaults for the night, and used Amityville Mike Curtis' Stonehell.

Pretty much bulletproof, right? I thought so.

How little I knew.

It was all kinds of not good.

I haven't seen such a car crash of a session since my teens. The level of play was appalling. I mean "Beavis and Butthead play D&D" low. And I wasn't gaming with BIFF from shop class; I was gaming with mature(?) people in their 20s and 30s.

They got through 5 rooms of section 1A of Stonehell in 3+1/2 hours.

One casual appeared to have screaming ADD and an inability to wait their turn. Another decided that a balloon of pikey cider was a perfect accompaniment to the game. One of the serious players was suffering from gamer's bored girlfriend. And the fourth player was just overwhelmed by the horror of what was going on around him and politely left early.
    Silly voices were persisted in beyond the bounds of good manners. Rules calls were argued. My GMing ability was called into question by people who don't even know which dice to throw. And then it all went PvP over an out-of-game inter-player argument.

    I am disappoint.

    "Your performing monkey has had QUITE ENOUGH!"

    Thursday, 7 July 2011

    [SBVD] Toffs and Toadys

    First off, thanks to everyone who posted about, tweeted, commented on and critiqued SBVD. Your time and effort are appreciated.

    Now content. Further to the posting of the Small But Vicious Dog draft earlier in the week, here's some stuff that occurred to me in light of feedback.

    Social Status

    Climbing to the top over a heap of looted bodies doesn’t just advance personal power; it also advances your place in society. Instead of representing vast disparities in clout and authority with higher character levels, here’s a fix inspired by the hilarious and under-rated GURPS Goblins sourcebook.

    These rules are entirely optional, and supersede the existing rule that The Gods Hate You! (see Resolution, p7) only where appropriate.

    The world of SBVD is hopelessly caste-ridden. The law is entirely weighted in favour of the rich and well bred (which is, of course, entirely as it should be; only a fool writes laws against his own interests), as are tax codes, military obligations and even social mores.  In civilised parts of the world it's still considered perfectly acceptable to roger the serving girls, or to viciously horsewhip insolent underlings (where 'insolent' = 'didn't avert his gaze quickly enough' or 'coughed in my presence').

    Social position affects all dice rolls made directly against a particular character. Hit rolls, Ability Score checks, Saving Throws; they’re all affected by the modifier given on the table below.

    Your PositionWhat Your Kind Do For a LivingMod.
    Highborn Titledtoffs, merchant princes, emissaries, etc.+3
    Pillars of SocietyBurghers, guild notables, Collegiate wizards, etc.+2
    Respectable TypesLawyers, physicians, priests, engineers, etc.+1
    People of the Middling SortApothecaries, initiates, roadwardens, etc.+0
    Humble FolkScribes, militia, peddlers, bounty hunters, etc.-2
    The Lowly Hoi PolloiPoor-but-honest farmers, ratcatchers, day labourers, etc.-4
    The Vile UnderclassThieves, gypsies, corpse pickers and similar.-6

    For example, if Reinhard the Ratcatcher decides to take his ratting shovel to Hans von Schnitzelgruber, Grand Duke of Burgdorf-Hossenpfeffer, he’s laying himself open to a world of hurt. All his rolls against the Duke will be at –4; all the Duke’s rolls against Reinhard will be at +3!

    Similar modifiers cancel each other out: the lowly batter one another on roughly even terms, as do the rich and powerful. So if Stinking Aggie the Puregrubber, doyenne of the Vile Underclass, decides to shiv Reinhard for his hard-earned loot she’ll suffer a net –2 to all rolls (6-4 being, yep, 2). Reinhard suffers no penalties beyond those the GM in his mercy and wisdom sees fit to inflict.

    Exactly how and why this works is something of a mystery: the general consensus is that it’s rather difficult to beat the crap out of someone while you're malnourished and/or busy doffing your cap. Either way, this rule prevents some dirty oiks with rusty knives and a plan from opportunistically assassinating the Kaiser.

    I am Huge of Moustache. You Must Obey!
    When a character is able to pull rank by virtue of position he may elect to use social clout in lieu of Fellowship. People might not respect the man, but they do respect the office. Likewise lowly characters attempting to wheedle their betters must use the lower of their social standing or Fellowship in reaction rolls.

    Pull Rank(high status vs. lower)= best of Fel mod. ~or~ Social Standing mod.
    Toadying(low status vs. higher)= worst of Fel mod. ~or~ ½ of Social Standing mod.

    Your Ways Are Strange And I Mock Them, Puny Weaky Man
    Relative status has no effect whatsoever on creatures that don’t respect social niceties. Grumblefimwanger the Giant doesn’t care if you’re a big noise socially: to him you’re just another uppity runt to be trampled. Nor are a gang of rampaging Beastmen likely to be awed into submission by your cultivated cut-glass accent and the exquisitely fashionable cut of your coat. Suchlike non-human yahoos should be taught respect the old fashioned way: cold steel, hot lead and arcane fire.

    The Greasy Pole: Gaining and Losing Status
    All 1st level characters start out in the hoi polloi (-4), rising in position through graft, backstabbing and low cunning. An adventurer claws his way into the ranks of the Humble Folk (-2) at level 2, and may pass as A Person of the Middling Sort (+0) at level 3. This ‘gentrification’ only applies if the character dresses and comports himself in a befitting manner; if he dresses and acts like a common thug, he will be treated as one.

    Adventurers may climb further in status through conspicuous consumption, politic toadying, bribery, largesse and charitable donations, but this is all considered tres nouveau. Real class, like good furniture, is inherited.

    Characters of any standing can fall into the Vile Underclass by acting in a despicable manner. The usual routes to infamy are 1) committing detected crime against people who actually matter, or 2) engaging in certain ‘untouchable’ trades. Recovery of lost caste - if possible at all - should be a long and torturous affair.


    Saturday, 2 July 2011

    Small But Vicious Dog Steals Hearts, Humps Leg

    Remember that ill-advised B/X-WFRP hack I wurbled about a couple of months back? Done (apart from the last few magic item and monster descriptions).

    All the other WFRP-ish goodness - drugs, diseases, insanity, mutation, gunpowder, chaotic magic, dorfs with mohawks, hot pies, giant angry puffins and so forth - is in there. Heck, I've even included rules to model that special WFRP "gods hate you; failure is law!" atmosphere.

    Have a download, see what you think (critique and comment welcomed and appreciated):

    Small But Vicious Dog ver0.3: Cover and Contents page
    Small But Vicious Dog ver 0.3: The Gubbins

    Also useful:
    Chaos Mutations compilation by Andrew Fawcett

    Small But Vicious Dog is dedicated to:

    Erin "Taichara" Bisson for giving me the idea with the FF Red Box Hack,
    Owen "Coopdevil" Cooper - the psychopomp of the Brit OSR,
    Kelvin "brainsplurge" Green for mooting the idea of a B/X-WFRP modcop in the first place.

    Oh, while I was pecking away at SBVD I discovered Warheart, a WFRP-style mod for the d20 system. It's pretty cool, but you can't call it a *proper* WFRP clone: there's no ratcatcher career FFS! *Tsk* Schoolboy error.

    Tangentially related: Seeing as my long-time favourites the Fimir are finally getting some love (both from the grassroots, and from the Evil Empire itself*) after 20 years spend in the Squat Zone, you might be interested in this: Mr Saturday's Fimir army for WFB.


    * GW shamelessly mining their old IP instead of having a single new idea? Nah, never happen. ;)

    Saturday, 30 April 2011

    AtoZ April - Z is for Zarathustra

    Day 26 of 26.

    "Dangerous creatures lurk here. 
    Dangerous creatures with a highly developed aesthetic sense, 
    a lot of patience and good hand-eye co-ordination."

    Eozorartas, Inhuman Mystics of the High Mountains

    High in the mountains of the Wilds dwell strange insectile creatures from beyond the bounds of this world. Their booming voices echo across the valleys of the Nornmounts, and their outlandish boundary markers warn away travellers from the lands of the Eozorartas, ice-bugs who have claimed the mountain heights that they might better communicate with their prophesied messiah figure.

    Reports describe the Eozorartas as prawn-like crustacean with dozens of delicate limbs and vividly coloured carapaces (described as " an explosion in a painter’s workshop"). They speak Common through translation devices, communicating among themselves with a sophisticated combination of clicks, squawks and gestures.

    From what little scholars have been able to glean the Eozorartas are refugees from a sunless world in another universe. They elect to live high in the mountains (preferably just below the snow line) not for aesthetic reasons, but because they suffer horrific burns from salt-water. The further from the sea they are the more comfortable the Eozorartas feel.

    Eozorartas are noted for their seemingly perfect sense of balance, both personal, and in any object they handle. They make excellent acrobats and tightrope walkers, but regard these skills as no more impressive in themselves than the act of breathing. Even the most skilled Jengameisters of the Wilds refuse to play against an Eozorartas. The mountain lairs of these creatures are protected by a combination of inaccessibility and altitude, by the wildly dangerous rope bridges used to access them, and by numerous deadfall traps set up on their approaches (actually carefully stacked Eozorartas materials depots, or possibly folk art).

    According to the most reliable reports the Eozorartas ‘worship’ a shimmering fire embedded in a giant opal, which they say is the voice of their as-yet unborn god echoing backwards through time to the present. Their racial name stems from their repeated assertion that "I belong Eozorartas". The Eozorartas openly trade lesser copies of their fire opals; unabashedly admitting that they hope these will spread the influence of their god. They are especially enamoured of silken thread, gyroscopes and mercury, paying wildly over the odds for any such goods.

    There is a curious exception to the racial thalassophobia which afflicts the Eozorartas. On rare occasion one of their number will feel the need to ritually drown itself in the sea. The large, heavily armed funerary processions accompanying these, seemingly elective, suicides will always travel to the sea by the most direct route possible, regardless of hazards, prevailing terrain or social norms. The Eozorartas will accompany their doomed member to the seashore to witness his self-sacrifice, and then return home by slower, more meandering routes, trading and freely exchanging lore all the way.

    Eozorartas (colloquially star prawns)
    No. Enc.: 2-12Alignment: N
    Movement: 150'Armour Class: 4
    Hit Dice: 5-8
    Attacks: 1-6 or 1Damage: 1-6 or by weapon
    Save: F5-8Morale: 8
    HC: VIII(x3), XI(x10)

    Thanks to their wildly vivid coloration and raucous voices Eozorartas surprise only on a 1in6.
    Eozorartas are possessed of perfect balance. They can’t be knocked prone or overborne and they are able to climb solid surfaces less than vertical and/or perfectly smooth at full speed.
    Vulnerable to salt water, harms them as holy water does undead.

    The strange jewel-like weapons of the Eozorartas work with a seemingly casual disregard for the laws of nature as commonly understood.

    An Eozorartas may appear to strike wide or when hopelessly out of range, yet his strike will hit home. The species draw no distinction between missile and melee weapon. Eozorartas weapons ignore bonuses to AC from Dex or displacement effects, and are able to strike at creatures lurking in the Ethereal Margins without penalty.
    Their large panel-like shields seem flimsy and flexible but grant a +2 to AC for 2-12 rounds when activated. Their power can be discharged all at once to forcibly repel an opponent (as repulsion spell effect)


    Yes, there are Zarathustra connections in there.
    No, I didn't get the 'D&D with Star Prawns' gag until after I'd written these idiots.

    Pic Source
    Zen rocks from Brentwood Consulting Group website.

    Friday, 29 April 2011

    AtoZ April - Y is for Yew

    Day 25, and migellito cunningly wrong foots me with that classic biology exam nightmare question "Discuss trees".

    Of vast circumference and gloom profound
    This solitary Tree! -a living thing
    Produced too slowly ever to decay;
    Of form and aspect too magnificent
    To be destroyed.
    ...beneath whose sable roof
    Of boughs, as if for festal purpose decked
    With unrejoicing berries -ghostly Shapes
    May meet at noontide:
    -- Yew Trees, William Wordsworth

    Uneasy lie the dead in the soil of the Wilds. Even those buried with all due ceremony sometimes return to haunt and harry the living. Since time immemorial the people of the Wilds have warded against the malice of the departed by erecting yew trees - renowned in both superstition and sacred lore for their connection with dead - at the entrances to graveyards and necropoli.

    Over the long years of their lives these trees sometimes grow strange and active ...and more than a little house proud.

    "Hoom-hoom-baroom-hoom. Get back in the ground you!"

    The Warding Idho
    The gnarled and ancients yews found at the entrances to graveyards have a curious habit of growing faces in knots and recesses of their broad boles. Locals will swear that particular faces are "the spit and image of old so-and-so, who died a few years back", and many come to regard the Idho as the caretaker of the graveyard it stands in. The presence of an Idho tree doubles the effectiveness of speak with dead spells, provided the interrogated dead is buried in the graveyard the Idho wards.

    On rare occasions Warding Idhos have been known to rouse themselves to restore orderly peace to their homes. Funerals and sincere mourners have nothing to fear from the wrath of the Idho, but grave robbers and persistent vandals are terrorised and given a stern thrashing. Interloping undead are regarded as a significant annoyance, and will be forcibly returned to their rightful (dead) state with a minimum of fuss.

    Treat Warding Idho as Treants able to turn undead as clerics of half their HD.

    Pic Source
    Samhain Yew Portal by Paul Atlas-Saunders

    Thursday, 28 April 2011

    Small But Vicious Dog

    With A to Z April nearly over (*shudders* never again!) I've decided on my project for May.

    "Don't fall for the soulful expression. 
    He'll have your throat out as soon as look at you..."

    An exhaustive and thorough-going study of the utility of the various breeds of hunting dogs (to whit: hounds, setters, pointers, retrievers, spaniels, terriers) in both general adventuring and dungeoneering contexts.

    (and not all one gibbering idiot's ill-advised homebrew abomination mash-up of two well-loved and finely crafted game systems)

    All blame attaches to kelvingreen, who puts words in my head with lasers fired from his magical palace on the moon.

    Pic Source
    Cute little dawgie from British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition by Hugh Dalziel, curated online by

    AtoZ April - X is for Xenium

    Day 24. Blame Byron for this one, the shady Hellespont-swimming wife-abandoner.

    Jack Kirby does The Iliad? *Nerdgasms*

    A xenium is a gift to a visitor or stranger. That's dead easy then. One table of aggressive hospitality, potlatching and Indian giving coming up.

    They express joy at your safe arrival and present to you as a token of their abiding affection and respect a fine... (d4-12, depending on level of esteem and/or how outlandish you're willing to be).
    1. Rat or piece of mouldering food (no apparent value)
    2. Trinket, cheap or Pelt, common (~1gp value)
    3. Trinket, humble or Pelt, valuable (5gp value)
    4. Bauble, shiny or Pelt, exotic (10gp value)
    5. Enamelled weapon or fine quality tool (25gp value)
    6. Silver plate, glasswear, riding horse, fine costume (100gp value)
    7. Silver crater (250gp value)
    8. Gold plate (500gp value)
    9. Elaborate gift - warhorse horse, suit of plate armour, splendid costume (1000+gp value*)
    10. Kingly gift - string of fine horses, valuable slaves, gold and jewels, etc. (2000+gp value*)
    11. Appears to be (roll), is actually (re-roll).
    12. Is (re-roll) but has a catch.**
    * Check for increase in value as for gems.
    ** Valuable, but has a catch:
    1. curséd (the accent makes is so much worse)
    2. culturally offensive to (roll or select faction/monster)
    3. lost, sought by (roll or select faction/monster)
    4. stolen, sought by (roll or select faction/monster)
    5. intelligent/self-willed
    6. roll twice on this table
    There is a 1in6 chance that any xenium proffered has value or significance beyond that readily apparent. Decide for yourself if the donors are aware of this, and whether it constitutes some sort of test, has some specific cultural symbolism ("You accepted the Otyugh Queen's dower gift..."), or whatever.

    Pic Source

    Jack Kirby Iliad from Cartoon SNAP blog

    Wednesday, 27 April 2011

    AtoZ April - W is for Wafting & Werefolk

    Day 23, and Bryon and Trey won't stop touching my imagination in dirty, bad ways.

    Werefolk and Wafting? Sounds like some terrible animu-infused D&D/WoD mash-up about a bunch of shapeshifters who run a perfumery. (note to Joss Whedon: my idea!)


    Among the odder things found in the wunderkammer of absurdity, strangeness and illogic that are the Vaults are the Potted Wafters. Decorative plants with a marked similarity to the cheese plants of the surface world, albeit with leaf edges tinged in lurid hues of mauve and violet, potted wafters sway slowly back-and-forth in breezes unfelt by mortal men, gently re-circulating and refreshing the air. No-one's quite sure where these curious plants originate, or exactly why they waft as they do; they just seem to like it.

    Many inhabitants of the Vaults value Potted Wafters for their ability to clear the periodically miasmas which afflict the underworld (gust of wind/clear air effect, 1/day), and for the relaxing sway of their fronds (as calm emotions, see SRD). Others consider them annoyingly twee and will smash them wherever they find them.

    GM: "It waves its fronds at you slowly and gently."
    Players: "AGH! Kill it with fire and salt the ground!"

    (note: latin name for the cheese plant is monstera delicosa. How could I not use that?!)

    The Festival of the Grand Wafting is held annually in Netesh, although the exact calculation of the correct date is a matter of violent argument amongst the populace. The festival is held in memory of those who have travelled far from their city and cannot find their way home. For three days and nights the doors of the city’s houses are thrown open to all visitors. Everyone from visiting adventurers, through vermin and down to the restless dead, are clad in fine raiment, anointed with balms (whether they want to be or not) and offered kingly hospitality in the hope that this will be reciprocated to wandering Neteshans.

    On the final eve of the festival the people of Netesha release thousands upon thousands of small balloons and papercrafted flying machines into the air. These are wafted off the tops of buildings and float away filled with smoking incense and messages of well-wishing to absent kinfolk. Entire sections of the city, and broad swathes of the lands over which it roams, have repeatedly been burnt to a crisp by the flaming wreckage of all these thoughtful gestures.

    The perfumers and incense-mixers of Netesh spend all year concocting their unique mixtures for the Grand Wafting. Some few among them are supposedly able to mix aromatics whose delicate scent can be used to convey messages to the far-travelled.



    I don't like were{*}s in D&D: they're a cheap "gotcha!" puzzle monster that's so old and well-known it isn't even a puzzle any more.

    "Oh noes, teh werewolf culd be enywonz!!!1!"

    *yawn* Old. And when furboy finally makes an appearance everyone and their kid sister knows the rote:

    Were[w/e] appears > Adventurer uses Silver > It's Super Effective.

    So, yeah. Overexposure. That's one strike against werefolk of all stripes.

    I think another part of the problem is that I never really 'got' the whole lycanthrope thing, either in D&D or in pop culture. In cinematic stakes I didn't see The Wolfman or American Werewolf in London at a formative age. I do like Dog Soldiers, but that's because it's Aliens remade with British squaddies; not because it has werewolves in it. In fantasy fiction terms I didn't read Fritz Leiber's Swords against Ratty early enough for it to stick in my head in the way it perhaps should. I'd already played WFRP by the time I read it, and WFRP has the Skaven.

    "Yes-yes, memorable are we foolish manthings"

    I don't care if Fritz Leiber wrote you, or if DAT did your 8x10 back in 1977; a bunch of bonkers ratboys with radioactive green space cheese that falls from the moon, giant rat-ogres, wacky Teslaverse/WW1 weaponry and all the sly British humour you can eat are still a tough act to follow.

    And then there's the 800lb gorilla of lycanthropy in nerd culture: White Wolf and their Werewolf: the Ecoterrorising. Argh! That game could have been so much more than it was, but between the heavy-handed 'crying Indian in a fursuit' thing and the unfortunate implications of the 'miscegenate or die' subtext, that whole thing was a wallbanger for me. The White Wolf-isation of horror also gave us the Ultraviolet films. Just think on that for a second...

    I know, I know. The werewolf should, by rights, be rich gaming fodder. It's symbolic of man's essentially bestial nature and part of a cultural continuity with The Big Bad Wolf of the Brothers Grimm. And then there's the whole lunar/menstrual cycle thing. Yes, I know there are rich veins of cultural, social and sexual subtext waiting to be explored. But then I don’t really ‘do’ subtext. We beat allegory in the head and rifle its pockets 'round here.

    Unfortunately, because the beastman archetype is so deeply embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist there's very little conceptual wiggle room left with lycanthropes as D&D antagonists.

    So, werecreatures in the Vaults game:

    As far as I'm concerned lycanthropes (not 'lycans' <= that there word: instant numpty signifier) in the Vaults game are just unwelcome intruders from another world. They should be shanked and dumped in a ditch with extreme prejudice. Heck, I hereby decree that the moon god gave man the secret of silver weapons just to dispose of these furry wastes of time coz he was so damn sick of their constant howling and yowling disturbing his book time.*

    * Vorynn (knocked off from the Birthright setting): god of the moon, knowledge, imprisonment, lighthouse-keepers, and of people who burn the midnight oil before a deadline. Symbol is an owl, of course.

    More specifically (i.e. by flavour of affliction):
    • Wereboar?
      Sorry baconface, but Orcs, Atavisms and their sick-ass Demon Boar warlords already occupy the transformative body horror pigmen conceptual space. If I'm going to exploit wereboars (4+1HD) at all, it'll probably be in the 4HD Orc chieftain niche.

    • Wererat?
      Skaven stole your thunder (and, knowing them, weaponised it). Besides, people find it difficult to get worked up about conniving ratmen subverting the world when a substantial proportion of the 'halflings' in the Vaults setting are actually Ratty, Moley and Mr Toad, and they stand their round at the bar just like everyone else. Yeah, Reepicheep (and his evil Driverian twin) is a playable option in the Vaults game.

    • Werewolves?
      Intelligent, malign wolves (either goblin-toting Wargs, or icy-cold breath stealing Winter Wolves) trump some guy with snaggly teeth, excess body hair and an attitude problem IMO. Even the whole Viking wolfwarrior thing is a bit *meh*...

    • Werebear?
      Erm, Bjorn was cool in The Hobbit. Ditto berserkers. Problem is you can only have one. Before Bjorn: baresarks were the very epitome of Chaos as face-gnawing RAEG!!! After Bjorn: Gentle Ben.

    • Weretiger?
      I actually had to look this guy up; that's how little impression it's made on me in 20+ years of gaming! Conniving cat people conceptual space is already squeezed between Rakshasas and Malcolm McDowell in that sucky psycho-sexual cat people movie. Bast is disappoint!

    • Wereraven, -bat, -croc, -sharks, -godknowswhat...
      Butter spread too thin. We get it already!

    • Jackalweres?
      An notable exception to my normal loathing for shapeshifting animal people. These guys get no respect and have very little traction as a monster in gamer culture. Which is a shame, given that RETs in the DMG & FF say that 10% of any encounters with jackals are with these nasty shape-changing versions. Let me reiterate that: 10% of jackals will turn into half-men, stare you to sleep and then cheerfully murderize you!

    Probably the only way for me to make use of Were-creatures without feeling dirty about it is to reskin them as something other than were-creatures. Which misses the point more than a little. Having a werejaguar (or whatever) manifest at night as the vengeful, free-roving spirit form of a Howardian evil shaman, and hoping the player's don't twig to the statline you're using, might just about do it. But, in that case, you might just as well pick a statline at random...

    Werefolk. In the immortal words of Spoon: "I hope I give you the shits, you f***ing WIMP!"

    Tuesday, 26 April 2011

    AtoZ April - V is for Vermin and Vagabonds

    Vermin & Vagabonds? Hmmm, I think the thrumming brainhive just dished out the perfect name for a B/X-WFRP modcop. Well done ideogenerative node designations Byron and Trey. Requisition an extra portion of synth-gruel.

    Turned up lots of good gameable stuff during my browsy-research, including links to the old Chaplain film The Vagabond and a manga called Vagabond based on the life of Miyamoto "sword? I'm gonna whomp you with this here oar" Musashi. Oddly enough I've recently been re-reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which has a picaresque self-styled King of the Vagabonds as a protagonist...

    Vermin: not so much. *shudder*

    A lot of settled people in the Wilds consider adventurers (at least, ones without a lot of money) to be either vagabonds or vermin, if not both. This is naught but a vicious calumny against the heroic warrior-scholars and action archaeologists who brave the mythic underworld for loot and glory. There are out there much worse than mere adventurers, however rough-hewn and scarred by their experiences they may be.

    "Great holes secret are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice. Things have learnt to walk which ought to crawl..."
    -- H.P.Lovecraft, The Festival

    "Nice crops. Be a real shame if something were to happen to them..."

    The Insectilocutors (aka the Bug-Talkers)
    Sect of wierd evil hoboes affiliated to the alien inhabitants of the distant once-world of Yuggoth. They believe virtue can only be attained through hunger. Deliberately infest croplands with locusts, ankhegs and suchlike insectile horrors, sabotage food stores with vermin. Their higher orders are the vermin-priests, obsessives who have given themselves over to possession by insectile alien intelligences. What the priests want, beyond ruining the lives of farmers, is as yet undetermined.


    Insectilocutor Vermin Priest
    Variant cleric/cultist class whose patron powers are the alien horrors of Yuggoth. Use the cleric class with +10% to XP required for advancement at each level. Cannot turn undead, instead command insects. All their cast spells, beneficial or harmful, have grotesquely visceral and creepy insect-themed FX (as scare, LLAEC p75).

    Vermin priests gain the following abilities as they level:

    Level 1: command insectile vermin, swarm or giant (successful turn attempt, Level vs HD)
    Level 2: speak through the swarm - as whispering wind or clairaudience 1/day
    Level 3: see with myriad eyes - never surprised
    Level 4: gaseous form (well, swarm of insects) 1/day
    Level 5: create vermin husks 1/day - as zombie, releases insect swarm when killed
    Level 6: cast insect plague (as the spell, LL p23) 1/day
    Level 7: toxic touch (save or die, as spider or scorpion vemon)
    Level 8: insectile possession (as magic jar) 1/day
    Level 9: creeping doom (as the spell, LLAEC p42) 1/day
    Level 10: insectile transformation - becomes Mi-go or Worm that Walks (see Goblinoid Games Realm of Crawling Chaos or Mythos Creatures for LL), etc.

    If you have access to Carcosa, ROCC or COC d20 I'm sure there'll be some relevant material in those unhallowed tomes.

    Pic Source
    Put upon farmer image from imageshack

    Monday, 25 April 2011

    AtoZ April - U is for Unsettling

    Day 20, and the flickering things in the corner of my vision grow more overt and hungrier...

    "Hello? Anybody home?"

    It's axiomatic (and perhaps fortunate for the sanity of the human race) that one man's nightmare fuel is another man's narm. Personally I'm freaked out of all proportion by centipedes, mirrors in darkened rooms and unprotected precipices. You probably aren't. Individually, they're all pretty *meh* as D&D fodder. Combine them all and you've got quite a fun dungeon set piece, but (outside of a game of Call of Cthulhu) not really the stuff of creeping horror.

    So I'm going to cheat and talk about a less-common use of the word "unsettling", which is connected to the idea of decolonisation. No, not as in empires contracting, but as in the "Daddy, where do ghost towns come from?" sense of people upping sticks and moving away from a place.

    Even mundane reasons for depopulation and unsettlement are rich adventure fodder:
    • Resource Exhaustion - water, crop failures, mines tapped out, etc.
    • Pollution - Mmmmm, delicious side-effect of settlement and industry. Often self-inflicted, sometimes not.
    • Threat - the tribe over the hill want you dead. Or maybe the ankhegs are bad this year. Or maybe the local volcano just went *burp*...
    • Better offer - the tribe over the hill are onto a good thing and are looking for more workers.
    • Religious/Ideological (un)reasons - freedom from, or freedom to, [whatever].

    Of course, in the wacky and wonderful world of the Wilds mundane reasons to up sticks and leave the old place to rot are supplemented by arcane influence, mass hysteria and long-forgotten curses. Maybe there was an outbreak of Iconoclasmism, maybe that old curse came true, maybe...

    The Celadon Blight, aka The Moonbats
    Ideocult affected by a strain of Demolishing Mania. The Celadon Blight are maniacally dedicated to the systematic dismantling and removal of everything their predecessors established. This goes beyond their simply dismantling, obsessively sorting and then dumping the physical infrastructure of their homes, through book-burning and illogical inversion of existing mores (largely for the sake of inversion), into witch-hunts of dissenters and deliberate infection campaigns against those who do not share their particular memestorm. Some Celadon Blighters go so far as to drive their own families into the Wilds to starve, or spend their time obsessively dusting away their own footprints.


    Who lived in the spooky deserted village?
    When was it deserted, and why?
    Who (or what) lurks there now?

    Pic Source
    Deserted Agdam from Urban Ghosts site

    Saturday, 23 April 2011

    AtoZ April - T is for Thulsa Doom

    Spot the real Thulsa Doom

    Was ever a potentially great villain ever more let down by his appearances?

    Skull face; laughs off sword blows; belittling monologues; overcomplex schemes; designated nemesis and arch-enemy of an barbarian Atlantean king. That's gold standard pulp background that is!

    Thulsa Doom is probably the prototypical pin-up boy for the classic D&D lich look (although Sauron still has the edge in trappings and cronies). By rights Thulsa (or 'Thulses' to his friends) and not some Ruritanian neurotic in a tin suit, should have a lock on the Doom surname in pop-culture. Instead the vengeful hand of the serpent gods is little more than a pop-culture footnote remembered from some 70s comics. He's second in the skull-faced villain recognition stakes to Skeletor. Even Klytus steals his shtick!

    I blame Milius and Kevin Sorbo ...and Dynamite Entertainment with their Imaro Doom comics. Although Thulsa didn't really help himself with his cat ventriloquism misdirection antics in The Cat and the Skull. Have some self-respect man!

    Poor old Thulsa Doom. Is it any wonder that he retired from the villainy lark to write a gaming blog under an assumed name?



    The True Face of Thulsa Doom [Wondrous Item]
    A full face skull mask with wickedly gleaming eye spots. Wearer must save vs. device or have their alignment changed to Ineffectual Overcomplicated Evil (or just Chaotic with trimmings in LL).

    The True Face confers the following abilities:
    • Wards its wearer from harm as a cloak of protection (randomly determine power)
    • Hold person on all within earshot for as long as the wearer maintains a belittling monologue.
    • Teleport 1/day, conditional on the wearer being able to move through a doorway.
    • Lazer eye-beams! These cause a random effect generated on the Riskail Random Eyebeam Generator Table unless they are directed against snake cultists or a character who could be apostrophised as "black Conan". Against such wannabes and imposters the beams cause a well-deserved and agonising death, no save.

    Skull-face Thulsa Doom: accept no substitutes.

    I seem to have a thing for masks recently...

    Pic Source
    Odd Thulsa Out from forum
    Hero Pose Thulsa from

    Friday, 22 April 2011

    AtoZ April - S is for Silver & Syzygy

    Day 19, and I would like to cite "silver" (David) and "syzygy" (Erin) as words I never want to think about again.

    Silver first I think.

    The shiny metal (no lie, that's what Aργυρος meant) is another one of those recurring motifs that keep worming their way into my game from the pool of cultural referents that all gamers bob around in. It's easy to see why; in the ~5-6,000 years that people have been playing with the stuff silver has picked up both a myriad of practical uses and a boatload of associated cultural baggage.

    • Silver is cash.
      It's shiny; that makes it covetable. It's durable; that makes it concealable. Silver is the basis of the cash economy in the Vaults game, just as it was historically. Greek drachma, Roman sesterci, pennies, pieces of eight: silver, not gold.
    • Silver cures disease.
      Turns out the old folk remedies of putting silver pennies in a jar to ward off diseases had some basis in fact. It's probable that at least one of the active ingredients in potions of healing is powdered silver.
    • Silver represents the moon.
      It's the old alchemical 'as above, so below' symbolism and "stands to reason, dunnit" logic. Shiny, white, round; what else is the moon going to be? Supposedly silver was created when moonlight percolated into the earth. In accordance with the "Sure, why not?" attitude of the Vaults game, this is indeed the case. The secret of refining silver into truesilver (aka mithril*) has been lost though, shame that.
    • Silver kills weres and demons.
      Lunar symbolism + disease-killing properties + symbolic purity (see also: any and all references to near eastern lunar goddesses, but especially Artemis) = obvious connection in terms of sympathetic magic. I'm thinking of giving silver weapons special properties against the various annoying oozes and molds that infest the underworld. Silver weapons hit taintbeasts for full damage perhaps?
    • Silver represents lightning.
      Amulets of Thor, Jove's lightning bolts, Artemis arrows. How early did people realise that silver was a phenomenally good electrical conductor?

    * Stronger than steel, lighter than steel, doesn't corrode. What's the betting the "secret dwarvish name" of mithril is titanium?

    Enough general musing about silver though. Here's something specific to the Vaults game.

    Seraglio of Silver Masques (Level 5-6)

    Deep within the madness and savagery of the Vaults lies a half-forgotten haven of elegance, sophistication and glamour. Whether a remnant of the lost culture that created the Vaults, or merely a spontaneous reaction against the barbarism that surrounds them, the inhabitants of the Seraglio have determined that nothing ugly or inelegant will be tolerated in their midst, and that their days will be spent in ever-more elaborate spectacle and ritual.

    The Seraglio of Silver Masques is the general name given to an extended series of galleries, halls, theatres, pavilions and chambers interwoven with numerous secret, semi-secret and intermittent areas which sprawl across the fifth and sixth levels of the Vaults. Although particular rooms are often deserted or forgotten for years on end the area as a whole is dominated by the perpetual revels, soirées and events of the Argent Odalisques.

    All visitors to the seraglio, whatever their origin, are expected to don symbolic masks and play their appointed role, however absurd and out-of-character it might normally be. The willingness to enter into the games of the Seraglio is the price of admission; the wit and elegance of one's performance is a measure of one's standing. Illusions, deceptions and mistaken identity are the norm, and the prevailing conceit is that no-one knows who anyone else is. Think one of those period dramas set in Venice or Versailles (Chocolat, Ridicule, Dangerous Liaisons, anything with Casanova or Byron in it, etc) if it was illustrated by Druillet.

    There is no evidence that the masks proferred to guests in the seraglio have any connection at all to those worn by the Masked Sleepers of the upper Vaults. Nor is there any evidence at all that these delightfully crafted objects d'art steal knowledge from the minds of wearers, or control their will, or alter their faces, or anything else at all like that, at all.

    The native cunning, personal power and political connections of the Argent Odalisques ensure that the Seraglio is neutral ground in the violence and chaos of the Vaults. Rest, pleasant conversation, esoteric lore and pleasures unimagined by the unwashed groundlings of the surface world are all available here for the right price, promise or favour. Refusal to play along will get you shunned, ejected and/or turned into a decorative feature.

    The odalisques of the Seraglio are a mixed group of near-humans possessed of ancient power. Each is the egotistical queen of her own petty demesne, emulous and eager for the envy, respect and grudging approval her peers. Unwitting visitors are likely to be treated as pawns in the long-running political games of the seraglio, wily ones may be able to turn their extensive connections to the power blocs within the Vaults to advantage.
    In game terms the odalisques should be treated as harpys, lamia, medusae, nymphs, and/or sirens.

    The odalisques amuse themselves with a variety of exotic pets (phase tigers, cockatrice, basilisks, giant serpents, etc), playthings and breeding projects (Eloi boytoys, man-bull hybrids, miscegenetic things from the Fiend Folio or the inside of Clive Barker's head), with magical research, and with their endless spectacles, extravaganzas and politicking. Each protects her sanctum as best she sees fit, but there is a commonality in the use of Ogre harem guards, Ogre magi major domos, troll assassin/saboteurs, and Masked Herald messengers (treat as Cloakers, see It Came From The SRD).

    GM Note
    This is my equivalent of the Drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu from D3 Vault of the Drow. The party can come crashing in like the heavy mob, killing and stealing as they go, but they're liable to take a kicking from the various "Save or [Suck/Lose/Die]" powers of the residents. If they comport themselves with a modicum of grace they might actually be able to turn the intrigues of the Argent Odalisques to their advantage.


    And now, syzygy.

    Syzygy (the short word version): it's when three celestial bodies line up, or - more rarely - any pair, usually of opposites. The word comes from the Greek for "yoked together".

    Solar and lunar eclipses are interesting times in the Wilds. All those celestial bodies pulling on one another means that it's entirely too easy for things to move from one world to another. That's why you don't go poking around those rings of trilithons at symbolically important times; the various conjunctions, transits, occultations and eclipses are when it's entirely too easy to launch yourself into space (by strapping a few cannisters of dew to your belt) and also when horrible alien s**t that poisons sane life with its very presence is most likely to fall from the horror-filled vile moon that flies across the night skies of the Wilds.

    All this means that astronomers are people who inspire strong reactions in the populace. Sometimes they're respected as sages, scholars and early-warning devices; other times they're despised as harbingers of doom. ("You predicted it; that means you caused it!" - Nothing quite like the good old unreason of magic thinking, is there?)


    Pic Sources
    Masked figures by Phillipe Druillet
    Syzygy Hangman from Brown Sharpie by Courtney Gibbons

    Thursday, 21 April 2011

    Smell Like an Elf? Srsly?

    RPG-themed perfumes? Really?

    My thoughts on this:
    1. In b4 WOTC lean on creator demanding their cut.
    2. I thought we'd plumbed the collective depths with the D&D sodas.
    3. Needs moar Old Spice parody:

    “Hello, ladies. Look at your elf, now back to me. Now back at your elf, now back to me.
    Anything is possible when your elf smells like Stygian Black Lotus and not a soft-handed gurlyman. I’m on a unicorn.”

    Dammit capitalism! You used to be cool.

    AtoZ April - R is for Ransack

    Day 21^H^H 18, and it is time to invoke the power of Giant Frog!

    Self-mobile bag of loot? Probably best to leave it to its own devices...

    The Ran Sack [Magic Item/Trick]
    A unique object (entity?) sacred to the enigmatic toad gods of Chaos. It takes the form of a self-mobile small sack made of frogskin. The Ran Sack crawls slowly (<30'/round) around the Vaults blithely disregarding the laws of nature and burping temporary objects and beings into the world.

    Think of anything you like, the more outlandish and lolrandom the better. Sooner or later the ransack will spew up a protomatter version to make life a little more interesting for 1d12 rounds, perhaps longer.* The Ran Sack can disgorge living entities, impossible objects and non-physical magical effects if so desired.

    * On a 12 the period of time for which the latest enigmatic horfing of the Ran Sack endures increases to 1d12 of the next higher bracket. Round > Minute > Turn > Hour > Watch (4 hour overland turn) > Day > Week > Month > etc. At the end of the allotted period the protomatter dissipates. No mortal magic can prevent this. Divine magic might, but the gods are loath to get involved in the antics of the toad gods.

    Yes, you can put things in the Ran Sack. You can also root around in it. And it is large enough to put over your head. (I dare you... :) )

    The Ran Sack has the self-preservation instincts of a dozy farm animal, but no real sense of intelligent thought. It can be destroyed by many of the same means as a normal sack. However the whimsical wrath of the toad gods will likely fall upon those who harm their favourite relic. (herald? avatar? plaything? pet?)

    Sects and ideocults of the Wilds beyond the obvious Chaos cults would pay handsomely for possession of the Ran Sack. Some for its experimental value, others for its totemic nature. Of course, they'd likely also kill to prevent such a thing from falling into the hands of their rivals.


    Not Related:

    Did you know the British Royal Mail had their own dungeon, and they decided they were bored with it in 2002.

    "They were simple hipsters before the inexplicable power 
    of the carmine oculus took possession of them.
    We should probably kill them anyway."

    Pic Source
    Bowing sack of flour from Tall Grass Studios blog
    Lamp guy in tunnel from

    Wednesday, 20 April 2011

    AtoZ April - Q is for Quarrel

    Day 20, wherein your humble scribe match wits with the most inscrutable of Scribble tiles.

    First an aside.

    You know, among all the varieties of Classic D&D it was only BECMI that offered magical arrows/bolts the chance to be anything more than "slaying or '+n', your choice". The D&D Bumper Fun Book offered no less than a score of missile weapon properties (Missile Weapon Talents, pp243-244) with which to garnish your flying wooden sticks of death. There was still one oversight in the list though. Where was the quarrel of quarreling? A simple little one shot gag which causes the target to turn on his allies when it hits (save vs. spell/device negates).

    Yes, I know it's a howler...

    Waffle aside, on with the content.

    Quarrel acrobats, yesterday.

    Quarrel [wondrous item]
    Individual 1' square panels of glass. Some are found mounted in windows, others shuffled in with job lots of valuable, but otherwise non-magical, glassware. Quarrels detect as magical but are just as fragile as normal glass. Each has a single inherent detection effects usable 1/day be someone attuned to the quarrel.

    Sample Quarrel Powers (d12)
    1 see invisible
    2 see ethereal
    3 see kirlian aura
    4 as eye of magnification
    5 predict weather
    6 lens of read languages
    7 clairvoyance
    8 true seeing
    9 as gem of seeing
    10 Cavorite effect
    11 visual psychometry
    12 Cycling phantasmal force illusion of [GMs choice]

    Self-Perpetuating Quarrel [creature]
    If six quarrels are arranged into a cube and the correct incantations performed (research into the lost art of vitromancy will be required) a glimmering mist fills the box and the quarrel animates. Long, multi-jointed limbs of vitreous-looking ectoplasm coalesce from each of its eight corners. These limbs have immense strength and tireless endurance, but only manifest in the absence of sunlight.

    There is a 90% likelihood that the creation will obey verbal orders given by anyone attuned to the individual quarrels that make up its structure. Some self-perpetuating quarrels (the remaining 10%) instead ignore their assemblers and storm off to further an undisclosed agenda.

    Self-perpetuating quarrels usually seek to avoid conflict and will skitter away from aggressive opponents at up to 180'/round. If cornered they will hurl heavy objects or swipe at any who pose a threat to them. The pseudopod arms are powerful (attack as 6HD creature for 2d6 damage, 4 attacks/rnd, max 2 per target) and difficult to damage (AC5, require 10 points in a single strike to sever). The stubs of severed limbs will sprout two pseudopods (treat as severing the heads of a lernean hydra) in the following round. The box itself is flat panels of glass, exactly as fragile and vulnerable as that implies. Most attacks will affect the flailing arms and ectoplasmic integument, but a critical hit/natural 20 with a piercing/missile weapon will instantly destroy a quarrel, reducing the creature to shards of glass and a rapidly evaporating mist.

    A self-perpetuating quarrel has the general immunity to magic typical of golems. Most spells will simply pass through its translucent form without effect. There are a few notable exceptions to this: any of the mage's hand series of spells allows the caster to control the gross movement, but not the fine manipulations, of the quarrel. Shatter (or a horn of blasting or similar sound-based attack) destroys it instantly. Glass like steel improves the AC of both the glass box and the pseudopod arms to 0. Fire does no damage to these creatures.

    The self-perpetuating quarrel cannot communicate verbally, but makes expressive indicative gestures.


    Ha! 'Q' ain't so tough without his sidekick 'U' backing him up.

    Pic Source
    Glass cube by Larry Bell, courtesy of

    Tuesday, 19 April 2011

    AtoZ April - P is for Plenary of Polysyllables

    P is for "putrescence" or "pandemonium" (Flynn) or "parallax" (Carter Soles).

    "It's not the leering and winking of the moon I mind.
    It's the sibilant whisperings underlying its blandishments..."

    It is an open secret among the learned that the skies that whirl above the Wilds are full of secrets and strange wisdom mortal men are not fitted to know. But even among the sodality of squint-eyed sages and sleepless stargazers circulate stories of men who looked into the darkness too hard and too long.

    Rumour speaks of deeper voids in the void of space where certain ill-omened stars shine either intermittently, or in colours visible only to those with correctly attuned sight. It is said (although said by exactly whom is disputed) that the flickering light of these unknown luminaries is hypnotic, and that extended study somehow conveys mind of the observer instruction from beyond the bounds of the world as we know it.

    What is known for certain is that occasionally eminent astronomers disappear overnight; their notes destroyed or incomprehensible; their telescopes still fixed on empty areas of the night sky. Sometimes travellers matching - at least in some particulars - the descriptions of the missing men are seen traversing unsettled areas of the Wilds; at other times they are encountered lurking in the lowest stews and dives of the cities. None initiate communication and most shun human contact, but their repeated mumbling of a particular mantra ("Gli-oo-aff-cuff, gli-oo-aff-cuff, gli-oo-aff-cuff...") is noted.

    Left untreated these unfortunates soon succumb to any one of a variety of misfortunes or infections. More than once a body garbed in academic robes has been found in some overlooked corner, seedbed to a fungal garden of unusual richness and variety. The fruiting bodies of these fungi are much sought after by the less squeamish among the wizardly fraternity.

    Astronomer image from Cornell University Library Collection
    Glyuathk'th is an original creation of 'Carcosa' Geoffrey McKinley.

    Monday, 18 April 2011

    AtoZ April - O is for Orgasmatron

    Day 15, and it's all getting a bit psycho-sexual around here.

    The Smart Patrol: they will give you unsolicited multiple orgasms.

    Many, cunning and varied are the means by which the eccentric dynasts of the Wilds retain their hard-won thrones. One of the most curious of these is the strategy of the hermaphrodite Emperoress of Throx. Long a scholar of human psychology the Emperoress has determined that the most certain, least objectionable way to ensure the obedience and loyalty of his/her/its power-base is to weaponise sexual pleasure.

    The wielders of this power are the infamous Smart Patrol, creatures which may, or may not, be men as commonly understood. Lairing in a windowless circular ziggurat the Smart Patrol emerge at irregular intervals to scour the street-tubes of Throx of dissenters, thoughtcriminals and strangely-dressed foreigners. The fates of those spirited away behind their ziggurat's massive gates of steel are unknown, but rumoured to be horrific.

    Orgasmatrons [magic item - wondrous item]
    Biotech blobs floating in fishbowls embedded in overcomplex weird-tech. The mechanisms are fragile, requiring two hands to carry. Orgasmatrons fire a puce beam of orgone energy able to reduce targets to helpless status orgasmus. If hit by the beam (to-hit roll ignoring physical armour) the target must save vs. paralysis or suffer (enjoy?) a hold person/monster effect for 1d20 minutes, followed by 1d3 turns under a wobbly-kneed slow effect. It is rumoured that orgasmatrons also have a secondary, weather-modifying effect.

    An unfortunate few become addicted to the effects of the orgasmatron, and seek to deliberately provoke the Smart Patrol into targeting them. Unfortunately the Smart Patrol also wield big sticks with nails in them for just such eventualities...

    It is speculated that the Smart Patrol have mastered the art of implanting the active orgonotech component of their orgasmatrons directly into living humans. This snippet of information (as yet unconfirmed) is the source of much speculation, conjecture and heated fantasy among aesthetes, cult leaders and mad wizards of the Wilds.

    Pic Source
    Mysterious helmed men expropriated from the archives of trakMarx ezine

    Saturday, 16 April 2011

    AtoZ April - N is for Nostalgia

    Nostalgia? The OSR? I have no idea from whence you might derive the idea that the two are in any way connected. ;)

    That said. Yes, I has it. I like old stuff. I like reminiscing about 'back in the day'. I have no shame in playing things - be the things in question games or music - for nostalgic reasons (mainly I play them because 20+ years later, they still rock!).

    And yes, I have used nostalgia to hook players. Never underestimate the power of
    "Oh wow! Old D&D! I used to love this back in the day. You're still playing it now? Not Pathfinder or 4E? That is so retro. So - and I'm just asking out of politeness mind - where and when are you playing?" 
    The nostalgia might hook them; but it's the game itself that keeps them coming back.

    That out of the way, JLCC. Also cake:

    Madeleine of Lost Time
    Curious confectioneries baked with long-undisturbed dust retrieved from deep within ancient ruins.
    Eating a madeleine of lost time unleashes the visions and memories baked into it, sometimes merely in the form of dissociated visions, sometimes in the form of contextually meaningful clues. On rare occasions the eater takes on aspects of some long-dead personality.
    The reverie induced by a madeleine of lost time lasts 1d6x1d6 minutes.

    Random Effect (d6)
    1. stone dust - stone tell effect
    2. plant dust - speak with plant effect
    3. fossilised crumbs - clue (as commune or contact other plane spell)
    4. book dust - textual information
    5. grave dust - personality (as speak with dead spell)
    6. thaumically charged dust - randomly determined magical effect

    Pic Source
    Topically relevant cakes from

    Friday, 15 April 2011

    AtoZ April - M is for Maenad

    This picture is a lie. A lie that will get you killed. Horribly and bloodily.

    The maenads are a recurrent phenomenon born of the memestorms that plague the Wilds. The true origin and meaning of their name has been lost, but the agonised screams of "Argh! My nads!" that announces the presence of these women haunts the imagination of male auditors. Part ideocult, part force of nature, maenads labour under a strange, sex-specific memestorm of mysterious origin and terrifying effect.

    There is a possibility that this memestorm will take root wherever a woman of the Wilds has been emotionally or physically abused over an extended period. If the injustice is not taken in hand and redressed (formally or privately), maenadism suddenly takes hold of a community like some dark judgement. The stew of psychic suffering and unspoken discontent provides rich soil indeed for the horror that follows.

    Almost without preamble the characteristic "Ia! Ia!" war cry of the maenads will be heard, and in one sudden upwelling of violence and horror women lash out. Bonds of familiarity, affection and kinship are forgotten; fathers, sons and lovers, all die in a welter of blood and madness. Hardened soldiers have been known to vomit and suffer night terrors after happening across the aftermath of an outbreak of maenadism.

    When all the males they can reach - down to the very cattle and dogs - lie dead and dismembered, the maenads set fire to their former homes and swarm en masse into the Wilds looking for other men to punish. Some among the maenad packs retain their native cunning, luring men to their deaths slowly and carefully; others are reduced to a state of uncontrollable screaming rage, running through the Wilds on all fours, killing with unnaturally hardened tooth and claw. There is no reasoning or negotiating with a pack of maenads. Men are their prey; women either potential recruits or obstacles.

    Whether maenads can - or even should - be cured of their specific madness is a source of urgent and heated dbate among the learned. Some cultures, notably the Amazons and Ganymedeans, consider them a form of spiritual harbinger; either divine retribution for wickedness, or sign of insufficient rigour in social control. The nature of any relationship between these wild memestorm-afflicted woman and the origins of such creatures as harpies, lamia and medusae, is undetermined.

    JOESKY'S LAW compliance content
    [content here]

    Pic Source
    Bacchante by William-Adolphe Bouguereau from Wikimedia Commons.

    Thursday, 14 April 2011

    AtoZ April - L is for Lopsided

    Day 12, and Sham strikes again.

    Lopsided monsters? Nah. That whole "asymmetrical = weird or evil or unhealthy" trope has been exploited good and hard already, and then inverted/subverted by everything from The Elephant Man to Sloth from The Goonies.

    WD Fiend Factory: some hits, but plenty of misses too

    (and *rassa frassa* Teleleli beating me to quarterlings. Having an idea first like it's his or something...)

    So let's talk about Lopside.

    Lopside is where you go when you want something separated or rendered down quickly and discretely. It's another of those odd rustic backwaters that are so typical of the Wilds, inhabited by people with thick accents, goggly eyes and an extra toe or two. They don't like outsiders here, and even expected visitors are treated with the barest minimum of courtesy.

    The dominant feature of Lopside is the Weirdmills, strangely toadstool-looking mills that infest the hilltops. Through some strange pact or quirk of the land, the millers of Lopside have somehow gained the ability to render anything down into a processed form, with each mill having its particular speciality. The fees (a proportion of the final milled product) charged by the millers are always high, and usually extortionate.

    Sickle of Expropriation
    Invented by a mad wizard affected by Red Star Fever this curious object separates those struck by it from their value. Any character struck by the sickle (damage as dagger) suffers extra damage equal to his HD/level - attacker's HD/level and loses a percentage of his carried wealth equal to 10% x his HD - attacker's HD. The sickle is incapable of injuring anyone devoid of any wealth.
    Once per day the sickle can render the person struck incapable of independent action (as hold person, save negates). Rumours persist that, if the correct formulae are incanted over it, the sickle becomes capable of creating a temporal stasis effect.

    Pic Source
    Nasnas from White Dwarf Fiend Factory pdf (courtesy of the electrowubz)
    Windmills by Jaroslav Panuska from Monster Brains

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011

    AtoZ April - K is for Kibble

    Day 11, and I would like it on record that Dave "Sham" Bowman is an evil, evil man whose choice of words hurtses my delicate brain.

    "K is for kibble" commandeth the Sham, and lo was my confidence knocked, my crest fallen and my urb entirely purt-ed.
    "Kibble" asked I "what is this kibble? Quick! To the dictionaries!"

    Kibble is the act of coarsely grinding something such as grain.

    Kibble may also refer to:
    * Kibble, a component of dog food or cat food, as in Kibbles 'n Bits
    * Chris Kibble (born 1963), British jazz musician
    * Kibble Palace, a greenhouse in Glasgow
    * Tom W. B. Kibble (born 1932), British physicist
    * Bucket, as used by a water well
    * Large bucket, as used to raise ore from a mine shaft
    * Chalk and flint rubble, also known as kibble in East Devon, used to consolidate ground

    So, as I know little enough about physics or Glaswegian greenhouses (where weegies isolate vegetables that their food supply might not be tainted by dangerous foreign innovations like vitamins), and nothing at all about jazz , that'll be one post on large buckets in the Vaults coming up.

    Specifically industrial-sized buckets on aerial ropeways.

    "We're perfectly safe. Just pull on that rope there..."

    Delvers who survive their time in the Vaults report infrequently discovering large oak and iron buckets suspended from massive brunellian chains or thick-thick ropes. These curious arrangements are hoisted hither and yon for purposes opaque or forgotten by the massive engines of the Gearworks. Some buckets travel through tunnels, others hurtle across huge open voids in the high vaulted spaces above keyed areas.

    Bucketway travel is wildly popular with goblin population of the Vaults. Some take this fascination to a strange extent, giving rise to a caste of so-called 'bucket spotters' dedicated to travelling on and recording all the bucketway routes they can find.

    Whereas the Ferris Wheel of Doom is a way of travelling between levels (and worlds if someone presses the wrong button) rapidly and relatively safely, the bucketways of the Vaults are a way of getting from A to B while having the party exposed to all the local colour and nastiness in between. They're in one or more buckets being hoisted through the darkness of the mythic underworld. Any true GM will be rubbing their hands in evil glee at this...

    Riding the Bucketway

    Each bucket can carry up to 4 human-sized creatures and their carried gear, or up to 6 if they pack in like the occupants of a clown car. Strenuous activity (like dodging or fighting off attackers) makes the bucket sway and tilt wildly. Dex checks to hold on. Being thrown out of the bucket requires saves vs. paralysation to avoid falling out and either being left behind to be clocked by the next bucket to hurtle along (knocked flying, 1d10 damage, save vs breath weapon for half) or plummeting to a horrible squishy doom far, far below.

    "You happen upon a big bucket that looks like [d10]"

    1. ...the lower half of a large transparent hamster ball
    2. oversized bowl/cauldron
    3. ...a big bucket/tub (1-5 oaken staves, 6 made of some strange brightly coloured flexible material like horn or shaped resin)
    4. iron mine cart/skip
    5. ...a small boat (1in6 chance swan-headed and winged)
    6. ... a metal cage, elevator or cart-mounted (You can’t fall out; can’t jump out without re-opening the door. You did check the lock before you slammed it shut, right?)
    7. ... a gigantic open-topped humanoid skull (1in6 chance burning eye socket lamps)
    8. ... an inverted giant turtle shell
    9. ... a triangular hod (link to pic)
    10. ... an excavator scoop (open-fronted, likely designed to tilt)

    The massive chains and tarred hawsers forming the bucketway are generally in good nick, but the buckets themselves show often signs of wear and tear. Roll for as many pieces of dressing as you fancy.

    Grody - 3in6 chance substantial rust/dirt/waste indicating former or current function. Possibly dangerous; definitely unpleasant.
    Ooh shiny! - 2in6 chance object trouve (roll on preferred random dungeon dressing object table)
    Rusty POS - 1in6 chance that the floor, an exterior panel or (if the GM’s in a really playful mood) a supporting member is dangerously rotted or rusted.
    Occupado! - 1in6 chance already occupied (by vermin, ooze, goblins, humanoid toads voiced by David Jason who declare the bucketway "...the only way to travel!", etc.)
    Safety First! - 1in6 chance emergency stop lever (50% lever is purely decorative)
    Unbalanced - 1in6 chance rotates slowly during travel. Especially likely to tilt if weight isn’t distributed evenly.

    Where does it go?
    Unless guided by a native who already knows the route a randomly encountered bucketway could end up almost anywhere in the Vaults. The direction of the main chain will generally provide some clue, although these can change direction with little warning.

    1-3 Lateral stays on the same level - 2d6 rooms in d8 direction (1 = N, 2 = NE, etc.)
    4-5 Vertical travels +/- 1d3 dungeon levels
    6 Inclined combines Lateral and Vertical, possibly an access route to an otherwise isolated sub-level

    Pleasingly Touristic - additional 2in6 chance that the bucketway connects to/crosses one of the major named features of the level.

    Tunnel Details
    Width of transit tunnel: bucket width + 1d10 feet. If more than 5’ clearance there may be an additional walkway running parallel to the bucketway route.
    1in10 chance of some obstruction poking up from the floor (check only once per journey). Not immediately lethal, but likely to keep life interesting.

    How do we get off this thing?

    1-2 Controlled start/stop jerky and uncomfortable, but you stop.
    3-4 Continual loop no stopping, possible slowing or change of direction (like a ski lift). Jump!
    5-6 Automatic dump upon reaching a particular point in its journey the bucket tilts in its frame and dumps its contents. Hopefully not into a furnace, grinder or sump.

    So please hold tight and keep all extremities, children, halflings and squishy wizards inside the car at all times.

    Pic Source
    Ropeway pic from Low-tech Magazine
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