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

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

AtoZ April - J is for Jungian

"Yes. Look deep into the mirror, you in your anachronistic clothing. What do you see?"

Only recently a new power has appeared in the Wilds, yet already fearful rumour and impossible tales already surround the whispered name of Jun Gyan the Oneiriotect, a strange outlander who makes his living selling rare, exotic drugs to the wealthy and jaded.

Clad always in sumptuously embroidered silken robes and residing either in a richly decorated pavilion or a townhouse the interior of which is swathed in hangings, curtains, veils and canopies Jun Gyan takes any one of a number of disparate form. Sometimes he seems to be an aged sallow-skinned human of exotic appearance and strange habits, at other times he seems a fox-faced humanoid of great personal power, and at still others he appears as a masked figure whose voluminous robes flow and pulsate unsettlingly. It is likely that all his many forms are false faces, mere masks disguising the truth from the eyes of the unworthy.

Jun Gyan possesses a unique artefact, a magic mirror able to craft personal hells of ironic punishment from the mindscapes and dark secrets of the morally bankrupt. Full-length silvered mirror with an elaborate thaumo-alchemical distillery built into the supporting frame. The outlet tube of this drips gradually into delicately chased glass-and-silver vials which are periodically changed and spirited away by veiled and silent servants.

Although some come to Jun Gyan willingly, staring into his mirror under the influence of a variety of emotions (jaded or morbid curiosity, self-loathing, or sheer bravado), many others are compelled to look therein either by judicial commandment or as a result of the machinations of their enemies. Jun Gyan is notably even-handed in such matters, turning away none.

Upon gazing into the mirror the victim must make a save vs. spell each round. On failing a saving throw the victim is forced to enter their own mindscape, their body falling into a lifeless state similar to that encountered under the effect of a magic jar spell (LL p34).

The Mirrorscapes of Jun Gyan

Anyone who falls under the influence of the silver mirror finds themself alone in a pocket universe of peculiar and distinctive form.  Survivors of the experience unanimously describe the world within the mirror as an empty grey plain ridged with deep trenches and pervaded with a clammy mist. The foreshortened horizon and perceptible curvature of the surface indicate how small this self-contained world is. Teleporting and spells that allow transportation to, or communication with, other planes simply do not work here. Flying away from the small grey world will result in it re-appearing ahead.  Dawdling on the surface attracts strange spectral entities (treat as Shadows) which seek to consume life force. The only escape is to head deeper, into one of the several cave/tomb entrance in the deepest channels.

[The dungeon faced by the character is a linear one-shot funnel dungeon in the Five Room Dungeon mould.

Room 1 Entrance and Guardian
Room 2 Puzzle or Role-playing Challenge
Room 3 Red Herring
Room 4 Climax, Big Battle or Conflict
Room 5 Plot Twist

Theme and forms? Well, the clue is in the title. ;)]

Each room is a regressed, more primitive form of its predecessor, gradually more derelict and ruinous. The first room will be full of wildly over-decorated celebrations of the character, with each successive chamber being gradually more derelict, ruinous and openly mocking of the his achievements, attainments and precious self-image. The first room might have an overdone triumphal statue or pompous portrait, the second a scarecrow erected to ape the preceding statue, the third no more than scurrilous graffitos and crudely scrawled caricatures.

The final area of the mindscape is invariably a womb-like, network of irregularly shaped and seemingly unbounded tunnels and caves wherein lurk the character's personal demons. Whatever it was that drove them to manifest their wickedness on the world will be faced herein, albeit in a twisted form.

My preferred scheme is to model each chamber in the mindscape after various parts of the human brain. The strange lunar landscape with the hungry shadows lurking about (80s electro music optional ;)) being the first. IMG this is succeeded by:

Chamber of the Telencophalon (forebrain) - Domed chamber glittering with subtle lights and bisected by a fissure running directly down the centre. In one half (revealed by experimentation, or at the most inopportune moment) of the room no magic works, in the other half physical damage cannot be inflicted.

 Broad staircase leads down to...

Chamber of the Diencephalon (forebrain) - Mirror-image chamber: one wall entirely mirrored? Every creature here is treated as being under the effect of a mirror image spell. Resident creature can elect to blink using mirrors.

 Spiral stair leads down to the edge of...

Chamber of the Midbrain - Wall-less mesa of unworked grey stone surrounded by a thick mist of a lighter, dove-grey shade. The staircase by which the character descended spirals away impossibly high into the darkling sky above. Sensory distortions and psychosomatic symptoms galore.

 Cave opening and crawlway leads down to...

Chamber of the Hindbrain - rhombus-shaped chamber, like being inside one's own tomb. Deep thrumming, like a heartbeat. Surges of emotion, sense of things lurking unseen.

If you feel all Mr Clever-clogs about it you might even want to map the dungeon from a map of the brain. I'm not that cunning though.

Although the gross form of the successive chamber might remain constant between visitors (again, see the title) room contents can and should be tailored to the vices, flaws, inadequacies and dirty secrets of the character being emulated. The particular nature of the allegorical (*spits*) trials might be specifically tailored to the character, or the GM may prefer to fill the successive areas according to the Five Room form, or determined by oracular roll on the classic Dungeon Stocking Chart (reproduced below).

1-2 Monster
3 Trap
4 Special
5-6 Empty

Any roll of "Empty" shouldn't be interpreted as "nothing here", but rather that the chamber contains some form of active, existential emptiness; something that battens upon the character and slowly negates some aspect of him unless he puzzles out a means of escape.

Acquisitiveness might be represented by a pack of gaggling of strutting and preening cockatrices which turn those affected by their stoning pecks into worthless pyrites. Death spiral mechanic, -1 TH per strike. Or possibly by a locked room trap which slowly fills with gold coins, slowly crushing and drowning the avaricious.

Viciousness might be represented by a colossal, excessively-armoured warrior with the squalling face of a child throwing a tantrum and a nasty line in fear-effect attacks. Or by a selection of level-draining undead, each with the face and general appearance of an NPC tortured or mutilated by the character in his adventuring career.

Callousness might be represented by a series of weeping, rag-clad persons being tormented by imps or vicious animals. The creatures will make no aggressive move against the focal character, but ignored the plight of these symbolic eidolons will see the character gradually sinking deeper and deeper into the surface of the room.

Those who are unsuccessful in their confrontations with their inner demons are rendering into Jun's mind-affecting drugs. Those who defeat their baser instincts earn experience and are restored to their bodies having learned a valuable lesson about their own natures.


Dream Elixiers of Jun Gyan
Distilled from the hopes, dreams and fears of the heedlessly proud, these precious vials of narcotic fluid grant rich visions of private worlds. Sought after by the rich decadents of the Wilds, who have little understanding of their origin or true power, only a delirious appreciation of the sensations and inspirations they enjoy. A correctly-trained mind under the influence of the Dream Elixirs is able to access the universal mindscape of the Astral Realm almost at will.
Price: If sir has to ask...

Pic Source
Dead of Night (1945) image from Werewolves on the Moon blog

Monday, 11 April 2011

AtoZ April - I is for Immortality

[This is a "blahblah"-heavy post amplifying some hashed out ideas about high-level play IMG. The JLCC is at the bottom if you want to skip ahead.]

Achilles: "Do you know what lies there, beyond that ridge? Immortality. Take it! It's yours!"
Sensible Myrmidon: "See him there? He's the kind of noisy arrow-magnet you kill before you get within earshot of the enemy."

Immortal Fame
"By this axe I rule! Well, partially by this axe, but more generally because I’m just so-o-o-o Howardian."

Attaining enduring fame in the Wilds is easily achieved. Kill dudes; take their stuff; hire bards to sing your praises; erect massive phallic monuments to self in conspicuous places. You might also want to work on some pithy one-liners (it worked for Genghis Khan and Kull of Valusia). Simple.

The hard mode/self-imposed challenge version of the above is known as the 'just rulership' model. This is the one in which your name becomes a byword for a golden age that everyone looks back on with nostalgia and longing. Your personal qualities are remembered with awe and affection, your achievements with pride and reverence, and your name becomes a byword for honesty, mercy, generosity, truth, justice and other such apple pie qualities. What are the chances of that though? Everyone knows that none of the cool kids like the big blue Boy Scout archetype. ;)

Oh, you mean *real* immortality. As in 'not dying and getting to enjoy all the good stuff you centuries beyond your allotted span' immortality. Well, that's slightly less non-trivial.

Transformative Immortality
"Power, respect and longevity. Why yes, that does sound like an interesting package deal. Please tell me more."

Gaining the attention of - and hashing out a bargain with - powerful inhuman entities from beyond the bounds of the known realities is pretty much a known quantity in popular culture, going back to Faustus and before. AD&D had whole panoplies of spells dedicated to wringing concessions out of the inhuman (often overlooked in favour of the more immediately useful "destroy it! with fire" or "destroy it! with no save" spells, but they were in there).

Making such a pact for power will get you beyond the 10th level soft cap on (demi-)human ability. Doing so turns you from a guy with a magic sword/wand and a reputation into a power in your own right. In essence you jump from the Conan/Theseus/Druss "chew-toy of fate" tier to the Elric/Hercules/Shef Sigvarthson "tells fate to sit down and wait until he's ready" tier. 

Transformative immortality is the realm of altered states like lichdom, worm-that-walks-ery, heartless mage-hood, plated mages and suchlike Baxa-illustrated oddness. Characters follow this route forgo their humanity in search of greater power. In accordance with the law of the conservation of bad-ass each of these guys is much more interesting and memorable if they are a unique entity. There might be any number of undead in the world, but it's just cooler if there is only one Koschei the Heartless; one Worm That Walks; one primal vampire, and so forth. Being unique has its privileges.

Done wrong this whole mode of play is just going to degenerate into numberwank and munchkinry; a relentless storm of egotistical cheese on a par with the most nakedly power-worshipping Saturday morning cartoons. We've all had games like that, and it's not my intention to visit such things again (fun as they were when I was 13 or so). Done right however, and the tensions and trade-offs from such a pact is likely to be an interesting play option. Think Moorcock at his best, or WoD played as intended by people who ain't darker than thou.

The whole process of bargaining for and attaining unearthly power is liable to be a role-played situation, possibly with heavy use of all the nasty demon-summoning tropes that gave D&D its scary reputation back in the 80s. All the usual "Mature content", "Player discretion is advised" and "Don't weird the normals" caveats apply. As implied above, the pact puts your character in long-term hock to some inhuman power that wants to use you as a glove puppet to further its inscrutable alien agenda. The character gets to channel unearthly power and summon (un)holy aid from the worlds beyond, all in return for blood and souls (sometimes others; more often their own). Not an ideal long-term situation, n'est-ce pas?

True Immortality/Divinity
"Power corrupts: absolute power . . . is much more fun."

The big time. The real deal. Immortality with all the trimmings. This is what humans have longed for since the days of Gilgamesh and the Greek myths. It is the dream of every Nietzsche wannabe and the cynosure of every munchkin. It's even been the stuff of children's films. The whole point of The Dark Crystal is reunion/apotheosis of the Urskeks and the healing of the world by the Grand Conjunction.

To partake of divinity in the world of the Vaults is to become, in some respects, an eternal verity. The gods are immortal and worshipped because they command, epitomise, or otherwise ideally represent, a substantial fact of life. Of course, a good press office (in the form of temples and clerics) really helps to spread word of their might and majesty and extend divine market share. Agni is the god of fire because he’s recognised and revered as such; Demogorgon draws power from being the Prince of Demons because cults worship him and numerous tales speak of his terrible power; Utravit is the goddess of the sea because every sailor in the world fears her hungry attentions.

The best way to cut the Gordian Knot of the Faustian pact for power is to become the public face of a concept in the popular imagination. The existing gods, being obsessively focused on their field of interest, are likely to be really touchy and jealous of their patch: jealous like psychotic mobsters with countless fanatical followers, diplomatic immunity and a nuke in their sidecar. Set yourself up as god of fire and (whether you manage to grant spells to your clerics or not) you’re likely to kick off a holy war with the existing holder of that franchise. But, if you’re lucky, and cunning, and careful, you might be able to carve out an overlooked niche somewhere. Many of the small gods achieve this (either through obscuritydivine grandfather clauses or the fact that they're big crayfish who don't play silly human god games), but being ‘god of that rock’ doesn't have many growth prospects in the long term.

Fortunately for adventuring types the quickest, surest way to achieve the end of having a shining halo of power and adoring worshippers galore is the same means they got famous and wealthy in the first place: killing, theft and self-glorification. The idea is to gain sufficient clout and name recognition in a certain field to force your way through the metaphorical velvet rope and into Club Olympus before all the hostility, envy and general bad karma you've heedlessly cultivated catches up with you. This has an implicit (although probably unintended) part of the D&D endgame ever since the original Heroes and Demi-Gods first statted the gods and made them stabbable.

Remember though: Bellerephon didn’t fall off Pegasus coz he failed a Dex check. Despite (or perhaps because of?) the adulation of their sycophants the gods are jealous, petty, vindictive, and possessed of a wicked sense of humour. Well, how could they be anything else when their actions are adjudicated by your GM?

A player who wants his PC to ascend to the top table has to do enough in the context of the game to profoundly change the game world. The changes have to be something more lasting and profound than ‘founded a dynasty’. Any schmoe with functioning genitalia and a knack for exploiting inheritance laws can manage that. Setting up an empire won’t be enough to ensure godhood, but it might be a good start.

So what is sufficient to merit ascension? This could involve breaking the game world as written (the Elric model), purifying it (the Imajica or von Bek model), or changing the underlying assumptions of the setting (The Matrix model). The player's reward for winning D&D is that his character wins D&D and gets to be one of those annoying ascended PC demigods from the Greyhawk boxed set.

Routes to Divinity
"Where do I get a cool hat like that?"

Even moreso than bullying power out of demons, elementals, world spirits, dark godlings or who-knows-what, the path of ascent to godhead should be determined by the player and GM in accordance with the needs, requirement and limitations of the setting. Sometimes, and in some places, such a thing simply won't be possible; other times (as in the Vaults game) it might one of the intended long-term possibilities of play from the outset.

  1. Genocide - Kill everything in your path and set up your throne on the mountain of skulls. That'll get you remembered. Maybe not in a nice way, but remembered nonetheless. Examples: Yama, Iskander, The Steel Tsar
  2. Golden Age - People wish you'd come back, because life under your merciless iron rule was just so much better. The harvest was good, the animals fat, the enemy far away. Examples: Yellow Emperor, Osiris
  3. Empire Builder - Before you there was chaos, after you there was peace and order. People seem to like that. Examples: Marduk, Augustus
  4. Theocrat - You are that to which all eyes turn; the font of all virtue; the last court of appeal and the guarantor of prosperity. You can give or take life without apology or explanation. Sounds pretty godlike to me. Examples:???
  5. Steal it! - You remember Prometheus? Yeah, like that. Only godly power for self instead of Robin Hooding fire for humanity. Examples: Prometheus, Ranald (WFRP universe)
  6. Archetype - You're so identified with a particular thing that people confuse you with it. They say thunder is your footsteps, storms are you pitching a fit or a heatwave is you glaring. Examples: Thor, Ra, Poseidon.
  7. Exemplar - You are remembered as the ultimate (builder/warrior/wizard/whatever). People pray to you for help when they're doing what you used to do. Examples: Imhotep, Kwan Yi(?)
  8. Scholar/Nietzschean Superman - You learned enough that the universe reforms itself to your will. You can do what gods do; that pretty much makes you one of the club. Examples: Karsus (for all of 6 seconds)
  9. Sacrifice - They kill gods you know. Getting killed for a powerful symbolic reason might be enough to catapult you up to the big chair. Examples: Orisis, Adonis, Saints.
  10. Explorer - After a long quest that left the world profoundly changed you found the fount of godhead and took a long, deep draught. Divinity tastes good. Examples: ???

JOESKY'S LAW Compliance Content

Divine Vestige - The Living Shadow
Deep within a far-away cave in the most hostile of lands exists a curious thing; the enduring shadow of a great sage now long departed from the world. Some claim that this ancient teacher became too pure for the world and transubstantiated in a flash of light so powerful as to drive all his sins out of his body and into his shadow. Others maintain that the shadow maintains contact with its progenitor as an emissary to the world left behind. Disputes over these matters have long divided sages and theologians of the Wilds, but at least the disputation keeps such dangerously curious minds occupied.

The shadow may be consulted once by any person able to make the journey through the monster-infested wilderness and down the voice-haunted tunnel network of which the shadow's cave is part. To the best of mortal knowledge the shadow answers the question put to it fully and truthfully, seemingly asking nothing in return. A small but lucrative pilgrim trade has grown up around the shadow, and some skin-inkers claim to know the secret of tattooing with the blessed darkness of the living shadow.

Random Living Shadow Tattoo Table
1. Increases hide in shadows chance to 5in6
2. Acts as locate object, one time only
3. Allows wearer to reach through shadowed objects as if hollow
4. Acts as contact other place, one time only
5. Grants unusual sense (GM's option)
6. Allows wearer to carry objects (of reasonable size. No ships!) within his shadow

Links and Material of Possible Interest
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