Sunday, May 31, 2015

New Class: Bug Collector

Based on the wizard.  Just subtract the spells and add all this stuff.

Level 1
Bug Collecting 1
Bug Badges
Save +4 vs Bugs

Level 2
Bug Collecting 2
Bug Buddy

Level 3
Bug Collecting 4
Speak with Insects OR Killing Jar

Level 4+
If you want to expand this class beyond level 3, I wouldn't just increasing the number of bug collected each day (although you could certainly do that).  Instead, I'd give them an expanded table of bugs in each ecosystem with d12 different bugs each.  Bugs number 11-12 have more powerful effects.  Then at level 6, increase it to a d14 table, with two more powerful bugs.  Et cetera.

Bugs are insects, spiders, snails, slugs, and limbless worms of all types.

A Save vs Bugs is a save against any effect that originated from a bug, or any effect that is bug-themed.

Each bug collector begins play with a Butterfly Staff (functions as both a quarterstaff and a butterfly net), a bug journal, and a comfy pair of shorts.

Bug Collecting
This is how many bugs you can collect--if you have a positive Intelligence modifier, add it.  Right before dawn, you can spend an hour gathering this many bugs.  At any other time, you can spend 8 hours gathering this many bugs.  You cannot collect more than 2x this number of bugs in a given day.

Each ecosystem has a different selection of bugs.  Bugs are collected randomly.  Each time you get a new bug, enter it in your bug journal.  (DMs: Make up a fun fact about each bug.)  Once you've collected all 10 bugs in each ecosystem at least once, you get a bug badge.

After being collected, each bug only stays alive (and therefore useful) for the rest of the day.  (They're functionally equivalent to spells, in case you were wondering, so this is equivalent to getting a random selection of spells each day.)

Each bug can be used for its effect once, and then the bug either escapes, dies, or is eaten.  This really depends on whatever sort of fiction the DM wants to enforce.  (But I recommend that nursery spiders should be eaten to gain the effects of spider climb.)

Bug Badges

These are random items that you find near bugs.  It might be a half-eaten leaf or a chrysalis.  To others, it's just a piece of trash.  To you, it is a magic talisman that bestows magical powers.  And, you're right!  But only while you wear it.  However, you can only carry so many bug badges at a time.  If you carry too many, you lose the effects of one of your older ones.

You also get mad respect from other bug collectors.  The number of bug badges is directly proportionate to the chance that you will have more bug badges than other bug collectors.  If you have more bug badges than other bug collectors, you outrank them, and can boss the around.

Bug Buddy

You gain a bug buddy of a type chosen by you (butterfly, beetle, non-poisonous centipede, spider, ant, worm, moth, or fly).  This must be a mundane bug without any special powers, no bigger than what you could fit in your (closed) mouth.  The bug has Int 3 and obeys you unhesitatingly.  It can understand commands of up to two words, optionally pointing to something as well.  If your bug buddy dies, you get half the normal XP from this session, and you gain a new bug buddy the next time you go bug collecting.

Speak With Insects
This effect is permanent.  Bugs mostly know things related to food and predators.  Poisonous insects are sarcastic.  Shelled insects are gruff.  Worms and caterpillars are naive.  Grasshoppers and crickets are jokesters, and are intelligent to provide pleasant conversation partners.  Ants are boring.  You can also talk to purple worms, who have personalities like furious trucks.

Killing Jar
You can store a bug in a killing jar indefinitely, but only one bug.  This lets you "lock" one of your collected bugs (spells), so that it lasts beyond the 1-day expiration date.

I eventually intend to do many different ecosystems.  Here are 3.

Ecosystem: Cave

Cave Badge: Treat your falls as if they were 10' shorter.

  1. Albino Cricket: Gain darkvision for 10 minutes.
  2. Crocodile Maggot: Summon a giant centipede (HD 1) not under your control.
  3. Coward Moth: Flies towards the exit.
  4. Fire Beetle Larva: At some point in the next two hours, you can breath fire.  1d6, 15' cone, save for half.
  5. Glow Worm: Glows as bright as a torch for 2 hours.
  6. Mnemobeetle: Learn a full description of a random room in this dungeon, as described by a beetle that has explored it to the full extent that a beetle could.
  7. Nursery Spider: If eaten, grants spider climb for 10 minutes.
  8. Pinnate Scolipede: This HD 0 bug (HP 1, AC 10, MV half human, bite is save or die) is highly aggressive.
  9. Rot Grub: as the classic monster.  Becomes "armed" once it leaves your hand.
  10. Vociferous Cricket: Gain noisy echolocation (60 ft) for 2 hours.
Ecosystem: Forest

Forest Badge: Take half damage from poison.  No effect on poisons that don't deal HP or ability score damage.
  1. Acid Wasp: As acid arrow.  Can also be squeezed out, equivalent to a vial of acid.
  2. Bore Driller: Can be thrown as a ranged attack (20' max).  On a hit, deals 2d8 piercing damage.
  3. Bird Eater: All birds in 50' must save or flee in fear.  Non-birds merely get goosebumps.
  4. Hercules Beetle: Picks up an object not heavier than 2000 lbs and follows you around loyally for 2 hours.
  5. Pugilistic Parasite: When eaten, will eat all the other parasites that you are currently suffering from.  After 1d6 hours of tummyaches, the parasite explodes from your anus and runs away, leaving you with 1 HP.
  6. Rope Spider: Functions as a grappling hook that shits out a silk thread as soon as it is thrown.  The chance of the rope breaking increases to 1-in-6 after 1 day, an increases over the next 5 days.
  7. Saw Bug: Over the course of 3 rounds, fells a tree in a direction of your choice, or deals 3d6 damage to a plant.
  8. Scorpion Spider: Can be used to block a doorway with web.  If thrown at a flying creature, will attempt to bind its wings, knocking it out of the air if it fails a Strength check.
  9. Unicorn Fly: Heals 1d6 HP and grants a new save against an ongoing disease.
  10. Whistling Grub: Incredibly annoying sound.  Supernaturally delicious if eaten.  Can be used to summon a random encounter.  Only applies to random encounters that are interested in eating an incredibly delicious grub-thing.
Ecosystem: Plains

Plains Badge: Save +1 when wearing shorts.  You cannot wear shorts with armor heavier than leather.
  1. Blattoderm: Gives you natural armor equal to plate, with none of the weight.  Lasts 2 hours.
  2. Chaos Cicada: All creatures within 50' that hear this cicada are confused for 1d6 rounds.  Save negates.
  3. Dragon Ant: Can be thrown as a ranged attack (20' max).  On a hit, target is incapacitated by pain for 1d6 rounds on a failed save, or 1 round on a successful save.  Lingering pain lasts for days.
  4. Elf Beetle: As faerie fire, when thrown (20' max).
  5. Jeweled Beetle: Worth 10g.  Usually worn as a broach.
  6. Grimbly Fly:  If eaten, grants fly for 1 minute.
  7. Longfly:  Can be used to poison a drink.  Poison stays active for 1 hour.  Colorless, but tastes salty.  If ingested, negates the next spell the drinker attempts to cast.  No save.
  8. Brain Beetle: As ESP for 10 minutes.  Additionally, save or fall unconscious for 1d10 minutes.
  9. Purple Worm Larva: 1-in-6 chance of summoning a purple worm (HD 10) not under your control.
  10. Zattis Dragonfly.  Kicks up dust in a 100' radius.
this is you

Omens and Lake Drakes


When you roll a 1 on a wandering monster roll (d6), you encounter the monster itself.  If you instead roll a 2, you encounter that monster's omen--foreshadowing of something yet to come.

For mundane monsters, this is usually a mundane experience.  You might catch a glimpse of it flying near the horizon, come across half-eaten prey, hear its roar, or smell its spoor.

For more mythical monsters, omens can be just about anything.  Just like true foreshadowing.

There are three ways to experience a mythical monster's omen.
  1. Rolling a 2 on a wandering monster roll.  (Already mentioned.)
  2. Approaching the monster within it's lair.  By the time you reach the monster itself, most/all of the listed omens should have occurred.
  3. If a mythical monster is discussed or investigated, there is a 1-in-6 chance of an omen (if appropriate). Examples:
    1. While reading a book about the Lord of the Flies, a researcher is suddenly set upon by a swarm of stinging gnats.
    2. A group of villagers is telling the PCs about the red dragon that burned down their village.  After the discussion, one of the villagers is suddenly struck by a powerful feeling of greed.  He robs his companions, and flees.
Omens never repeat themselves.  They are ripples in the cosmic fabric, not intentional powers of the monster.

art by DevBurmak
Lake Drake

Drakes hate being called lesser dragons.  They are about the size of a horse, and lack a breath attack.  They are as intelligent as humans, but have no way of communicating despite a basic understanding of Common.  They are known for their speed, and many of them are much faster and more maneuverable than dragons.  They are considered untamable, being both proud and vicious.

In my mind, drakes are a good lower boundary for monsters that can by considered "mythical".  They also have mild omens--ones that are more atmosphere, less mechanical effects.

Lake Drake Omens
  1. Terrified fish plow through the water, jumping as if to escape something.  A number of the fish land in the boat / on land.
  2. The wind stops.  The surface of the water is dazzling.  A hireling momentarily zones out and falls in.
  3. Far away, a silvery shape leaps from the water.  It flies a short distance, droplets spraying from its wings, before diving back in.
Lake Drake
HD 8  Defense chain Attacks 1d6/1d6/1d8
Move 12 Fly 24 Swim 12  Int 9  Morale 8
* If a lake drake hits an opponent with at least two attacks, the drake may grab or tackle them.  A successful Str check  (at a -4 penalty) avoids this.

Lake drakes are a good example of monsters that don't need a lot of weird mechanics to be interesting.  They have so many cool tactics that a lot of the excitement in an encounter can (and should) come from the "mundane" things that drake does.  Examples:
  • Ambushing by leaping from the water and then immediately taking flight.
  • Escaping by diving into the water from the air, then swimming away.
  • Fly-by attacks / Swim-by attacks.
  • Attacking the boat and/or knocking people into the water (with its tackle).
  • Grabbing people and flying away with them.  Possibly dropping them.
  • Grabbing people and diving underwater.  Possibly drowning them.
If you want to give lake drakes a mechanical ability because you feel itchy when a monster doesn't have a unique mechanical differentiation, just say that it gets +2 AC and attack whenever it bursts out of the water splashing sunshine and droplets everywhere.

And unlike, say, a golem, people already have a good grasp on the ecology (and motivations) of lake drakes.  They eat fish.  They're jealous of dragons.  Just those two facts allow people to manipulate the behavior (and therefor engineer the combat).  They might be distracted by fish, or accept them as a bargaining chip.  They might get angry if you tell them how inferior they are to true dragons.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Just-in-Time Durations

So the player fails their save vs paralysis.  Now, they're paralyzed for 1d6 rounds.  The DM rolls a d6 and gets a '5'.  He tells the player "You're paralyzed." and makes a note on his tracking sheet.  Five rounds later, he'll tell the player "You're no longer paralyzed.  What do you want to do?"

That's how it's always been done.

art by KD Stanton
So, I've already written about why I think just-in-time-resolution is better (where the effect isn't resolved until it actually matters).  In this case, the player just goes into paralysis and the duration of the paralysis isn't resolved (and no know knows the duration) until the paralysis effect expires.

This requires a dice trick.  It only works if the duration is determined by a single roll of the dice.  (So, it doesn't work for 2d6, but it works for 1d8+1.) 
  1. The first turn it might wear off, roll a dWhatever-the-size-of-the-die-was.  So if it lasts for 1d4 rounds, you'd roll a d4.
  2. If get a 1 on the dWhatever, the condition wears off and you can act normally.
  3. If the condition doesn't wear off, at the start of your next turn, roll a dWhatever-1.  If you get a 1, the effect wears off.  Otherwise, continue this process of decreasing the die size.
I know it looks weird, but its mathematically identical to a duration of 1d6 turns.  Here's an example.

DM: You're paralyzed.
Player: Fuck.
Player's 1st Turn: *character is paralyzed.*
Player's 2nd Turn: Rolls a d6, gets a 2.  Character is still paralyzed.
Player's 3rd Turn: Rolls a d5, gets a 5.  Character is still paralyzed.
Player's 4th Turn: Rolls a d4, gets a 1!  Character is no longer paralyzed, and takes their turn as normal.  Everyone at the table was excited and surprised!  The player saves the day!  Yay!

Yes, if they end up rolling a d2 and getting a 2, the surprise is ruined, and they know it'll wear off next round.

Yes, you might not have a d5.  Just use a d10, or a d6-reroll-any-sixes.

Using Just-in-Time Durations has a few advantages:

DM doesn't forget.  
It's (hopefully) rare, but sometimes the DM just forgets to tell the character that they're no longer paralyzed after 5 rounds, and the poor character stays paralyzed until someone asks the DM how much longer the paralysis is going to last.  It's shitty, but when there are a million things to keep track of, sometimes the DM loses track.

DM doesn't metagame.
Two of the players are paralyzed by ghouls.  The DM rolls a pair of d6s, and. . . shit.  Both of the players are paralyzed for 6 rounds each.  They might get a TPK here.  And then the idea creeeeeps into the DM's head: "Maybe I should reduce the ghoul's HP, or start fudging their attack rolls, or. . ."  If you are a DM who wants to be free from temptation, this is one solution.

Player has something to do.
I think this is what 4e was going for when it made all of those "55% chance to expire each turn" effects.  Players like rolling dice, even when their character is paralyzed.  Especially when their character is paralyzed.  It puts the roll back in their hands, too, so if they get TPK'd, they can own the results.

Players have an idea of how bad it is.
I like giving players more information.  That's how they make informed decisions.  For example, I'll usually tell you a creature's AC after you attack it once.  The same goes for durations.  Once a player finds out that the hallucinations last 1d6 minutes, they might decide to retreat from combat.  But if they find out that the hallucinations last 1d6 rounds, they might decide to stay in combat to tough it out.  Let players know the risks, so that they'll have no one else to blame when they fail.

Dice rolls are out in the open.
Everyone likes this, right?

So there you have it.

You can also use this mechanic for Just-in-Time Charges.  You start rolling duration on the first turn that an effect might wear off (the beginning of the second round of the effect), so you do the same thing with a wand with an unknown 

Players find a wand with 1d20 charges?  You could keep track of its charges on your sloppy pigpen of a DM's sheet* while you wait for them to identify it, OR
  1. Player uses the wand and you tell them that it has 1d20 charges.
  2. The next time they use it, they roll a d20.  
    1. If they roll a 1, it fizzles.
    2. If they don't roll a 1, it becomes a wand with 1d19 charges.
  3. The next time they use it, they roll a d19.
  4. Etc.
Wands in my game have 0-19 charges (d20-1), so my players start rolling that d20 the first time they use a wand.  It's always possible that they picked up a wand with no charges. 

*at least mine is a sloppy pigpen.  Your DM sheet may be more of a duck pond.  I don't judge.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ego Sprite

Ego sprites are interesting because they aren't real.  They're a bit like pseudo-imaginary dinosaurs in that way.

You walk into a room and look at it, and it looks like a creature, but it's not.  It's a shared hallucination.  It's the manifestation of a meme-infested mind, not a creature on it's own.  It's a self-contained meme that resonates more strongly than the other ideas in your brain.

In that way, it's similar to a brain tumor.  Except outside of your head.  And it's contagious.

All ego sprites desire the same thing: attention.  Their plan to gain attention is sometimes circumlocutious, but it always boils down to the same result.

It is often difficult to pin down exactly what an ego sprite is, since they often resemble angels or demons.  In fact, some theorize that ego sprites are simply nascent godlings.  According to this theory, once an ego sprite has grown powerful enough to erase its ignoble circumstances of birth (possibly as an especially captivating graffito), it will establish itself as a god.

A picture of an ego sprite is an ego sprite.  It doesn't "summon" an ego sprite, it is the ego sprite.  Anyone who has seen an ego sprite before can draw that ego sprite.  Anyone who draws a picture of an ego sprite permanently loses 1 point of Charisma, so great is their investment.  

Ego Sprites are also sometimes drawn spontaneously by especially sensitive artists of any skill level.  Think Pygmalion, but also think hallucinatory mad man.

Ego sprites always resemble beautiful creatures, usually people of some impossible anatomy.  Maximally-resonant memes can have many appearances, but here are some examples (d6):

  1. Feathered serpent containing all possible colors.  Head like a beaked horse.
  2. Narrow, spindly man-shape with a head like a needle and a voice like heartbreak.
  3. Blue-skinned woman with malleable flesh and gemstone eyes.  
  4. A collection of glassy marbles that fly through the air.
  5. Old woman that is actually a crab below the waist.  Has another, younger woman inside of her, visible through her mouth.
  6. Man who is being controlled by two impossibly beautiful sock puppets.
And here are some sample powers:
  1. Fear.  At 10 HD, this is reversed (people become afraid to run away) and permanent within a 20' range.
  2. Color Spray.  At 10 HD, people have their senses of color permanently altered, and forever-more become unable to tell what color an object is (because they cannot describe the impossible colors that their eyes now see).
  3. Sleep.  At 10 HD, creatures that are put to sleep with this ability dream only of the ego sprite.  This counts as attention, and they will sleep until dawn.
  4. Cure Light Wounds.  At 10 HD, creatures that the ego sprite heals change shape subtly to resemble the ego sprite.  After an ego sprite has healed you 3 or more times, you resemble a pale imitation of the ego sprite.
  5. Reduce Person.  At 10 HD, this ability shrinks a person to the size of a mouse.
  6. Confusion.  At 10 HD, this ability causes portions of the target's memories to be overwritten with whatever fiction the ego sprite sees fit.

Plan to get attention:

  1. Strife.  Gangland drama or philosophic controversy.
  2. Lust and open adoration.  Possibly going as far as to be a cult, but cults are lazy fiction.
  3. High-society parties.
  4. Glory, usually through good works and displays of benevolence. Cheap sainthood.
  5. Public spectacle: circuses, public plays, etc.
  6. Control of an institution: orphanage, hospital, etc.
  1. Sword
  2. Stave
  3. Scythe
  4. Needle
  5. Fork
  6. Golden Hand/Claw of Disintegration.
  7. Eye Lasers
  8. Black Hole Anti-breath
by Peter Mohrbacher


Ego Sprite
HD X  AC chain Weapon Varies
Move 12  Int as smart as the smartest observer  Morale 7
Special Charm Person OR Special Power 3/day

An ego sprite's HD is equal to the number of people who are paying attention to it.  If no one is paying attention to it, it dies.  (Attention equals focusing on it, not merely being aware of it's presence).  An ego sprite with 1 HD is the size of your hand.  An ego sprite with 6 HD is the size of a human.  Ego sprites with 7+ HD may grow to be giants, or may remain human-sized.

A person can ignore an ego sprite if (a) the ego sprite is not slapping them, caressing them, or yelling in their ear AND (b) making a Wisdom check.  If the ego sprite is somewhere else and the person is doing an unrelated task (making breakfast, reading a book), they forget about the sprite if they roll under Wisdom * 2.

An ego sprite's weapon does 1dX damage, where X is equal to HD, rounded down to the nearest die size (min 1d4).

An ego sprite gives XP = maximum HD reached * 10 XP.

by Franz Wacik

Ego sprites can arise pretty much spontaneously.  It's possible that the PCs witness something conceptually momentous (e.g. angel sex, Cthulhu's butthole) and an ego sprite springs fully-formed from their mind.  You might even want to put ego sprites on your Insanity table.

If an ego sprite has only a single person paying attention to it, it's going to be very demanding.  They can't let you fall asleep after all.

Ego sprites rarely appear as bad guys at first blush.  (And in fact, they don't have to be strictly villainous.)  A tiny ego sprite knows that it depends on getting more people to pay attention to it, and handles that dependency with appropriate caution at low levels.  After all, most PCs wouldn't immediately kill a tiny, blue-skinned woman who follows them around casting cure light wounds and asking to please be brought back to civilization.  Plus, they're all liars.

Player: And this is the rest of my party.  This is Fitarr, and Hand, and--hey!  Did you just get bigger?
Ego Sprite: That's my angelic nature!  I regain strength whenever I regain hope!

Et cetera.

Ego sprites don't kill mass amounts of people.  Still, they can disrupt a lot of people's lives with their charm person ability and huge followings.  If the town watch is too busy fawning over an ego sprite that just showed up in their barracks, they won't be able to protect the town.  So they can do a lot of damage that way.

And if an ego sprite ever grows to god-like power, they might just vanish, taking thousands of people with them and most of the city, leaving nothing except for a handful of empowered clerics ready to spread the gospel of a new religion.

And yes, an ego sprite at the center of a 1000-person orgy is going to have enough HP to shrug off pretty much any damage the PCs through at it.  Trying to kill it with a save-vs-death is also going to have slim chances of success.  But the attention dependency is the real big weakness:  Pump some sleeping gas into that room, put everyone to sleep, and the ego sprite will die so fast that you'll swear that you don't deserve all this XP.

by Michael Hutter

Monday, May 25, 2015


Gurgans eat beauty and shit salt.

They're squat things, like shriveled men with distended bellies and enormous, flaccid penises, which they drag through the dust behind them.  They lurk in alleyways, croaking out their sorrows.  Sometimes they break into houses and gulp down babies with their gummy lips.  But most often you'll find them in the middle of the street, pouring dust on their head and sobbing.

Everyone knows that Gurgans have curses.  (This is automatic knowledge--all adventurers know it.)  If a Gurgan asks you to feed it and you do not, it will put its first curse on you.

The First Curse of the Gurgan: It licks you with its rancid tongue (requires an attack roll).  On a hit, your Charisma is reduced by 1d4+1, and the Gurgan shits out a brick of salt.

If you attack a Gurgan or drive it off, it will give you its Second Curse.

The Second Curse of the Gurgan: Your natural 20s turn into natural 1s.  Until that time, all food tastes like ashes (but provides the same nutrition).

If you kill a Gurgan, it will give you its third and final curse.

The Third Curse of the Gurgan varies.

Towns usually endure the Gurgan long enough for it to get bored and move on to the next town.  This usually takes 1d6 weeks.  Attempts to reason with the Gurgan are usually met with self-loathing and incoherence.  The creature is a master of redirecting conversations into different, more miserable topics.

The most remarkable thing about Gurgans is that people sometimes go to great lengths to avoid the horrid little things.  If there is a Gurgan in town, 1d8 x 10% of the people will just evacuate.  For a few weeks.  They'll go visit their cousin or something.  Anything to get away from that horrible Gurgan.

If you need stats for them, give them stats as a goblin that gives a negative amount of XP.  If you use more gurgans, consider giving them alternate curses.

from Star Trek
Plot Hooks

1. The obvious one is that a town wants you to get rid of a Gurgan that refuses to leave.  Maybe they have an important festival coming up.

2. Get information from a Gurgan.

3. Get a Gurgan to curse someone else.  This is going to involve tricking either the Gurgan, or the other person.

4. Protect a Gurgan.  It's horrible, demeaning work, but if you don't defend the Gurgan from the ire of the townsfolk, they'll attack the poor thing, and it'll curse the town with bone cancer or something.

5. Oh my god, there's a whole city of these things.  They just weep and masturbate and curse each other.  Go there and kill them all.  Or steal something important from them.  All that matters it that you're going to get so many curse-curse interactions in your body.  It's like mixing potions.  Who knows what'll happen?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Rugmaker's Den

Also by Mikhail Rakhmatullin
Every Sunday, I play D&D with some of the best people on the face of the earth.

I've recently begun encouraging them to try their own hand at DMing, and have mostly been blown away by their enthusiasm and panache.  Cameran, John, Vic: good work, guys.

Anyway, John decided to run a dungeon called The Rugmaker's Den.  It lasted us about two sessions, and I got to graft a morphic tentacle onto my vat-spawn.  Then John TYPED THE WHOLE THING UP, AND GAVE IT TO ME AS A PDF!  Now you can download it.  The only caveat is that you aren't allowed to post comments telling me how much better it is than my dungeons.

Download it

"This dungeon is hopefully the first of many such ones that I will write, and combines my love of the horror genre with the incredible dickishness that can come along with shapeshifters. Much of the story for this one was inspired by Stephen King's IT, and the game Prototype. None of this would have happened though, if I weren't introduced to D&D by Arnold. His love of the game, creative stories, and an eagerness to bring in new players has been an absolute inspiration. I look forward to seeing what sort of awesome adventures this game takes me on, as both a player, and a new DM." - John Uhrig, Dungeonmaster

Friday, May 22, 2015

Orbital Biomes

It is a great secret, but the era before the Time of Fire and Madness was one of creation and mastery. Among a great deal of other things, the sorcerer-kings created orbital colonies.

The high elves made a great many things, including orbital colonies.  When the Time of Fire and Madness scorched the earth, the creatures in orbit did not escape unscathed.  Now the low orbits above Centerra are filled with their own, unique biomes.

Membranous forests made of enormous leaves, each one hundreds of feet across, that all turned in unison to face the sun.  Globular habitats of silico-cellulose.  Nacreous blooms of orbital krill.

And like all of the outer dark, the orbital reaches of the planet are not devoid of air.  Shitty, toxic air, but air nonetheless.  Thicker in some places than others.  There is wind in space.

Most of the orbital environments are pieces of Eladras, the elven sky-tree that grew from the moon down into the planet's atmosphere.  Like the rest of the world, it was shattered by Fire and warped by Madness.  Strange things swim through the bristling woods of the void.

art by Mikhail Rakhmatullin
Aventuring In Low Orbit

The easiest way for an adventurer to get into Low-Centerra Orbit is to travel to Ba Dwai La and use the portal to get to the moon, where they will be able to buy fish skins* and No Breath potions.  From there, it's just a short jump out of the moon's gravity well down to the Maze.  Any captain worth their voidship can take you.

*Fish skins = space suits.  They're covered with scales, and they're alive.

The other easy way to reach low orbit is to travel to the Grey Waste and catch the Cat's Tail when it passes overhead.  This is the remains of an old orbital elevator.

You could also summon a byakhee and ride it, but most people don't enjoy their half of that bargain.

You could also ride a dragon, but this is the riskiest task.  Terrestrial dragons tend to over exert themselves and blow up before getting any higher than 30,000 ft.

A digression about dragons: Look, dragons are highly magical creatures.  Anyone with a cursory knowledge of biology is going to tell you that a dragon would need much larger wings to actually fly.  And that's true, until you factor magic in.  A dragon's wing superheat the air beneath them, giving them a great deal of buoyancy. And once they get into open, gliding flight, they are capable of a mild form of jet propulsion along their wings.  That's how you know a dragon is really struggling: their wings start to smoke.

Drakes do the same thing, and are much faster.

Space dragons presumably do the same thing.  The only known space dragon is Forganthus Valore, who lands every ~100 years for the Hundred Year Stew.  He is a gourmand.  And after he eats the 90 million or so calories required to escape from the planet's gravity well, he departs atop a pillar of fire.

Space dragons don't look much like dragons.  Except for the fire, that's still the same.  Their bones are raw feroxite and their bellies are just pools of rocket fuel.

art by Mikhail Rakhmatullin

Orbital Forests

Eladras's green shards did not die when it was sundered.  They grew, like potatoes abandoned under the sink.  The trees are spindles of enormous leaves that rotate in order to best face the sun.

The largest threat of the orbital biome: high-velocity impacts from micrometeoroids and other debris, and handled simply by avoiding any biology with weakspots.  Any tree can be shattered; each piece will safely regrow.  The leaves--each hundreds of feet across and as thin as a piece of paper--are riddled with millions of ragged holes and scorchmarks.

The interior of these forests are the safest places.  There is some shielding from the radiation here, and most micrometeoroids don't penetrate into the forest's interior.


A parish is a hermetically sealed township.  They are full of clans of goggle-eyed halflings (being the race best adapted to living in tiny, sealed containers for their entire lives).  Quite a few of them are primitivists, and many of them believe that the planet is only illusion--nothing lives on the surface because it has no surface.

If you were expecting space-halfings to have better technology and magic than their earth-bound counterparts, you would be sorely mistaken. The tools are foreign and the magic is strange, but most orbital halflings eke out miserable existences inside their metal tubes.

art by Mikhail Rakhmatullin

There are races of man who are adapted for the void as well.  You can see them sometimes, with their gossamer wings dimming the sun, flitting around the perimeters of the forests.  Their skin is metallic, to protect against the burning radiation of God's Fury--the sun.  Their horrific faces belie an alien but not incomprehensible intelligence.  They communicate with bacteria, and lack lungs.

They are huge, 20' tall, and weight about 40 lbs.  They move ponderously, like creatures at the bottom of the sea.  Only in combat do they lash out quickly, with movements that threaten to rip off one of their own arms.

They tend to ignore travelers unless they are approached, or if they've formed into a raiding party.  So, it is not hard to observe them without much fuss--perhaps a mother wrapped in the amber silk of her wings, with an infant pressed to her mirror-like breast.

Although every part of their body can be regenerated if damaged, their brain cannot, and such a precious cargo can only be protected in one way: their skulls are solid adamantine.


Oh, there are a great deal of undead in space.  The biggest hazards of that place pose no threat to those who are already dead.

Space ghouls sometimes travel in voidships like other civilized folk, but more often they just travel in ravenous packs linked together by rope.  They're all armed with grappling hooks (or a reasonable approximation).  They use these hooks to catch fleeing creatures as well as to hold their pack together.

If you approach the poles, you may be unlucky enough to see one of the lich princes, riding a ziggurat ripped from some lunar necropolis.  The lich will be at the apex, naked face gazing into the void, preparing to enter the polar blowhole and descend into the blue-lit interior of the planet.

You are, however, quite safe from vampires up here.  The sun is huge and inescapable.


You can find poets of the lunar people here as well.  They'll be orbiting the planet a few times, locked tightly inside their hedonism-shells, where they invent narcotics and drink water from the tail of a comet.  Sometimes they do poetry, as well.

art by Mikhail Rakhmatullin

More Space Suits

See also, this sweet thing by Cedric P:

Because of course there are space knights.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Death, Dismemberment, Insanity


I typed up my newest version of Death and Dismemberment, as well as Trauma and Insanity rules.


by Jim Roslof

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Keep Dungeon Threats Threatening

This post is going to assume some things about dungeon crawling.  Namely, that exploring a dungeon is just as complex, tactical, and interesting as combat.  It only applies to games where dungeon crawling is a major facet of the adventure (think Torchbearer) and one that I enjoy having in my games.  If you don't want dungeon crawling (with resource management) to be a major mode of gameplay, this post is not for you.

There are things that I try to limit or remove entirely from my games.
  • darkvision
  • water-breathing
  • flight
  • see invisibility
  • detect secret door
  • immunity to poison
  • immunity to disease
I'll never include a trident of water-breathing in my loot piles*.  You'll never come across herd of grazing pegasi.  (Fuckin' animals, man.)  And my dwarves don't even have darkvision.

I want things like darkness and and drowning to remain threats.  Because as soon as everyone has access to darkvision, one of the big mechanics of dungeon exploration—light—is no longer an issue. The dungeon has become less complex and less interesting.

pic by noah bradley
If light removes the threat of darkness, water-breathing removes the threat of drowning, and flight removes the threat of falling into a pit, what is left? Not much. 

Light : Dungeon Crawling :: Ammunition : Combat

Dungeon crawling is a mode of gameplay that is just as complex and interesting as combat. If you remove the teeth from some of the failure mechanisms in exploration, you've made your game a lot less interesting.

 For the same reason, I wouldn't give a player a suit of armor that makes them immune to all HP damage.

If I did, I'd have to rely on other forms of combat to provide texture and menace (ability score damage, save-or-die effects) but those have their own problems, or they are harder to visualize. HP, and the threat of HP loss, serves a very specific role in combat. The replacements aren't as satisfying.

And if I can't rely on spiked pits being a threat anymore, I'd have to replace it with what?  Force fields? Anti-magic zones?

And there's something to be said about the scale of low-level threats. A 10' drop with spikes on the bottom sounds fucking awful in real life; it should be awful in-game as well. You don't have to read the D&D rulebook to know that falling off a 90' cliff is going to kill you, or that you'll drown if you fall off the boat while wearing plate mail. The threat-of-falling-to-my-death is intuitive and natural, and I love that. The threat-of-getting-caught-in-a-teleport-trap doesn't have the same impact.

That's why I'll never give out a flying carpet with unlimited uses as loot. I want my deadly pit of spikes to be a deadly pit of spikes, not just solved equation.

I don't want these threats to be plateaus that are reached and then forgotten behind us.

I'm not saying that we should get rid of all the fly scrolls in our game, just that we shouldn't give the entire party flying boots.  And everburning torches can go fuck themselves.

I'm not arguing for a game that does away with levels.  Players can still increase in power numerically all you want.  Linearly, exponentially, whatever.  As long as they never get access to items or abilities that let them cheaply negate the need for a light source, or ignore the need for air.

Nor am I recommending a game where players never learn new abilities.  You can still gain the power to stop aging, teleport to the nearest princess that needs rescuing, deal damage on a miss, turn corpses into bombs, turn bombs into slavish automata, and transform into ogres with cannon hands.

Nor am I advocating for a low-power game, or a gritty game.  You can still be epic.  You can still shoot fireballs that deal 15d6 damage. You can still kill the nega-princess and save Satan.  As long as your players still fear darkness.


I'm sort of moving away from 'HP is slow to recover and you should get magical healing' to an 'HP is easy to recover, but you can get lots of permanent injuries' because I want to move away from HP as something that is overcome  and then forgotten.  (And traditionally, HP has been a solved equation for a long time.  The solution is a cleric stacked with healing magic.  It's not fun or interesting being the party's healbot, but that's the tax that's required to overcome this particular plateau.)  The nice thing about giving parties lots of free healing is that it diminishes the need for a healbot.  And the nice thing about a system with permanent and long-lasting injuries that it maintains the threat-of-being-stabbed-to-death.

*This is a lie.  I've definitely let people play races/class that can breath under water.  Or even fly.  But hypocrisy aside, the theory is sound.  Obstacles need to remain obstructive.


UPDATE: The next bunch of paragraphs is in response to a smart thing that +Mateo Diaz Torres said, which was that abilities that let characters bypass core dungeon hazards could be balanced by giving the characters other weaknesses.

If everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, that's great. Part of the game, even. But if everyone has a different immunity, they can bypass a lot of the threats that I want to keep threatening.

If I put a pit trap in the dungeon, I want it to be threatening. I don't want to have to metagame my players, thinking about what immunities they have. Then I have to build an encounter around that, just to challenge them.

Sure, the fairy takes double damage from silver, but when the party gets to the Indiana-Jones-Spell-The-Name-Of-God-Or-Fall-To-Your-Death puzzle, the fairy just flies across and grabs the key. Or the party finds the weird fungus and they send the dwarf over because he's immune to its spores. And then they fall in the water, their torches go out, and the whole thing is easily overcome because the elf can see the safe island right over there and the fish-man can go down and help the fighter out of his plate mail.

When I'm designing a dungeon, I want to be able to rely on certain assumptions of what is and what isn't threatening. Darkness and drowning should be consistently threatening, no matter how many other drawbacks you give the players. That should be a threat that's consistent across all characters.

Like, imagine if people started showing up to your FLAILSNAILS games who were all immune to damage. Sure, their movement rate is 3", get half XP, and die if sunlight touches them (they're vampire snail people, okay?) but those drawbacks don't matter when they walk through your dungeon without being challenged. This is because you built your dungeon with the assumption that HP damage would be a valid threat.

And so when I write my dungeons for my characters (and I usually let them play whatever they want, even flying fairies) I try to operate on the assumption that darkness, drowning, and sudden drops are all threatening. And that's a consistency I'd like to have in my system.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Downtime Activities + Carousing Table

These are straight from my house rules, so some of them are going to refer to rules that you might not necessarily use. 

Resting in town is important. DMs who have experience with multi-day hikes and heavy backpacks know how incredible it feels to sleep in a real bed at the end of it all.

I want to have rules that make downtime more important.

A player loses 1 insanity point for every week spent in town, engaging in non-stressful activities (no adventuring).

Each week, a random person in the party has a 5% chance to make a Charisma check. If they succeed on this check, they gain an ally. If they fail it, they gain an enemy. Roll a 1d6 to see how important that person is.  

Each week, a player can pick how they want to spend their time.

1. Philanthropy allows a player to spend money and gain reputation in a neighborhood. This costs 1000c in a poor neighborhood and 10,000c in a rich one. You gain +1 to all reaction rolls in that area. If you succeed on a Charisma check, you also gain a permanent friendly ally in that neighborhood.  You can also choose one small change to make to the neighborhood that your money makes.  Perhaps all of the street urchins are in a free orphanage school now, or the shitty roads finally get repaid.  Players should be able to easily see how their money has changed the neighborhood for the better.  This is how they change the world for the better--one neighborhood at a time.  Villages and towns are so small they usually only count as a single neighborhood.  +1 Rumor.

2. Relaxing for at least a week allows a character to be cheered (+1 HP per HD) until the end of the first day where HP actually matters.  (So hanging out in town or travelling on roads doesn't cause you to lose your Cheered condition, but getting into combat or exploring a dungeon will cause you to lose the Cheered condition after you've had a day to enjoy it. +1 Rumor.

3. Prayer is mechanically identical to Relaxing (above), except that you can simultaneously engage in Philanthropy (above) as long as you are donating money to the temple or church. If you are a cleric or priest, you will instead be expected to lead ceremonies.  +1 Rumor.

4. Boasting after completing a significant adventure, the party can spend a week boasting of their accomplishments.  The whole party must engage in this together.  This earns them an additional +5% of the XP of the adventure they just finished.  This is basically a roleplaying activity, where the party can recapitulate their adventures in dramatic narration (and open lies) while the DM queries, cheers, and heckles them while roleplaying as drunken tavern patrons or opium-addled nobles.  (If you come back from Dragon Mountain with a bunch of treasure, there's going to be at least one noble who invites you to their house, eager to hear all of your stories.)

5. Skill Training allows a player to gain a check mark in a skill (within reason—you cannot train swimming in the desert, nor study marine biology without access to either fish or a good library). This takes 1 week. This may cost money.

6. Skill Mastering allows a player to test their skill to improve it. Erase all three check marks and roll a d6. If the result is higher than the character's current skill rank, the rank improves by 1. This takes 1 week.

(I should probably post my skill rules, since they've changed a lot since I posted them on this blog.)

7. Spell Study allows a character to learn a new spell. This takes 1 day and 100g if the spell belongs to the caster's chosen school. If a wizard attempts to learn a spell from outside of their school, it takes 1 week, 700g, and takes up a skill slot.

(Players have skill slots equal to their Intelligence.  Skills and off-school spells both compete for skill slots, which makes the Intelligence stat more in-demand for wizards.  It also helps limit how many off-school spells a wizard can learn, so while a necromancer can learn all necromancy spells, they have to be more selective about which illusion spells they want to learn.)

8. Spell Invention allows a spellcaster to invent a new spell. This requires expensive (1000g or more) or rare (quest) items (or both) and takes a month (or a year, at the DM's discretion). At the end of the month, a successful Intelligence check allows the caster to invent the spell that they were seeking. DMs are encouraged to say yes to whatever the character proposes, modify it to ensure it's not exceptionally broken, and then put a cost on it that reflects it's value.  More powerful/exploitable spells are more difficult.

For example, a version of fireball that does cold damage instead of fire is very reasonable for a wizard who already knows the fireball spell. This might only cost 1000g in icethorns and seed diamonds and require a month.

9. Working earns reliable money. The character gets a job that earns 2d6g per week (this money is worth no XP). If they have a relevant skill, they earn an additional +1d6g for every skill rank. If a character is willing to engage in risky/unethical work (such as burglary for a thief, selling demonic consultations for a wizard), they earn triple, but there is also a 1-in-6 chance of a mishap (the thief is arrested, the wizard is cursed).  +1 Rumor.

10. Carousing for a week allows a character to spend money and gain XP at their own risk. 100g = 100 XP, 400g = 200 XP, 900g = 300xp, etc. Then learn +1 Rumor and roll on the carousing table.

Decide beforehand how much equipment and money you want to carry when carousing. Weapons and gold might come is useful, but they might also be lost or stolen. No one parties in armor.

Decide with the DM what sort of form your carousing takes, so that you can create the fiction together. Gambling, drugs, prostitutes, extravagent tea parties, river cruises, etc.

There is a 50% chance that your carousing will be fun and uneventful. Otherwise, roll on the following table.

Players can choose to carouse together, consolidating their roll into 1, thereby allowing them to share in the same fate (whether good or bad).

Carousing Table
Horseplay! d6: 1-4 lose your mount to thievery, gambling, or negligence, 5 gain a horse, 6 gain an exotic mount, such as a camel or riding bird.
Shanghaied! Wake up on a pirate ship that's already set sail, or in the back of a slaver's wagon.
Friendship! You saved their life, or they were really impressed with your toasts! Roll a 1d6 to see how relatively important your new friend is.
Animosity! You insulted a noble, or hit on the wrong girl. Roll a 1d6 to see how relatively important your new enemy is.
Windfall! You gain 1d6 x 100g in a risky venture.
Losses! You lose 1d6 x 100g in a risky venture. If you do not have enough money on you, the debt is doubled and you may face jail time.
Wake Up In Bed With Someone! d6: 1 servant, 2 dead prostitute, 3 someone super hot, 4 random other PC, 5 important local NPC, 6 1d4 halflings.
Public Fool! You'll be mocked as long as you stay here. Maybe you kissed a donkey or something.
Arrested! Facing 1d6 weeks of jail time, unless a bribe is paid (~1d6 x 100g, discreetly).
Wounded! Roll on the Death and Dismemberment Table, with Severity 1d4+4.
Unusual gift! d6: 1 baby, 2 taxidermied pegasus, 3 slave, 4 pet cat, 5 obviously cursed item, 6 tavern.
Good reputation! You'll be welcomed in most places around here. People seem to know you, even though you have no memory of them
Wanted for crimes! 50% chance you were framed. Penalties as Arrested entry (above).
Fall in love! Describe you who fall in love with to the DM. If you make a Charisma check, it's reciprocated.
Combat! D3: 1 barfight vs 1d6 drunkards in a free-for-all, 2 1d4 thieves in a dark alley, 3 cage fight vs level 1d6 opponent.
Robbery! Lose all carried money.
Disease! Probably dirty cups or unprotected sex. Roll a Con check to avoid it, and roll a d6 to see how severe it is. 1 = cold, 6 = plague.
Inducted! You seem to have joined some sort of secret society and/or cult. If there are no obvious candidates, roll a d6 to see how powerful the cult is and another d6 to see how harmless they are.
New Tattoo! Exact design is decided by a random player around the table (including the DM).
Fire! You accidentally burn down either the current carousing location or the most important building in town (50% each). d3: 1 everyone knows you did it, 2 only your new blackmailer knows, 3 only you know.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Exotic Arrows That Aren't Arrows

So, different cultures around Centerra have different ways to hurt people at a distance.  Most people use arrows.  But not everyone.  So here are 3 alternatives, all mechanically identical to a bow with 20 arrows.

  • Requires two hands to use.  
  • Requires an attack roll to hit.
  • Does 1d6 damage (or whatever an arrow normally does).
  • Takes up the same amount of inventory space as a bow and 20 arrows.

They probably cost about 10x as much as a regular bow and 20 arrows, but those things are usually pretty dirt cheap, and players love weird ways to kill shit, so the price is probably justified.

Honestly, some of these are cool enough that you may just want to make them unique items (but see the last few paragraphs below).

pleez don stab meh
don do it
be a bro 
Baby Fluke Shark and a Needle

Off the coast of Charcorra, the spindle kickers sometimes return with sharks infected with echo flukes.  If these sharks are pregnant, Charcorran sickness weavers will then handle the messy task of extracting their fluke-warped embryos.

Fluke sharks are a type of mutant shark.  The adults are pretty horrible, but don't concern yourself with that at the moment.

In Charcorra, you can buy a baby shark in a clay pot of brine.  You take the shark out of the jar and stab it with a needle.  The baby fluke shark is injured, and it bleeds.  After about 20 stabs, it dies.  However, whenever the fluke shark takes damage, it mirrors that damage onto whatever it is looking at.  Baby fluke sharks magnify the damage they take, so a needle stab on a tiny shark becomes a much larger puncture wound on whatever it looks at.

So the drill quickly becomes (1) remove the baby shark from the jar, (2) point the baby shark at your target, and (3) stab the baby shark in the head.  (4) Don't drop the baby shark.

Hatesteel Gloves with an Ioun Morningstar (20 charges)

Of course ioun stones have been weaponized.  Don't be dense.

An ioun morningstar orbits your head like a ball bearing covered in spikes, a bit like a miniature moon.  Each ioun morningstar is bonded with a pair of hatesteel gloves, which can control the tiny, furious moon.

A wielder can direct the ioun morningstar out in increasingly eccentric orbits at increasingly ludicrous speeds, until the diminutive missile smashes into its target as hard as a sling stone.

After 20 such attacks, the ioun morningstar becomes exhausted, and must be alchemically resurfaced.  This is a trvial process that costs about as much as a bundle of 20 mundane arrows.

Flag Batons with 20 Zingerbees

The  halflings of Centerra keep bees, which are used for food, alchemy, and protection.  Among the weaponized species, the most deadly species are called zingerbees.  Black Dancers, Angel Eaters, and the greatly-feared Rabanollis.

Zingerbees, on average, are as intelligent, deadly, and loyal as any wardog you will ever meet.  You usually buy them in packs of 20.  They are usually sold in a hive-hat, but these are not really necessary.  Beekeeper assassins usually just store the zingerbees on the inside of their sleeves.

The bees die on impact, but not before discharging their deadly loads of acid.  (So, I guess this one does acid damage, but aside from that, it's mechanically identical to a bow and 20 arrows).

Zingerbees are directed through gestures made with a pair of flag batons.  So think twice before you make fun of a halfling with a pair of flag batons.

Expanding the Concepts

It may be that you want to use these weapons as unique or magical weapons, instead of just shallow replacements for a bow.  If so, consider the following changes.

The baby fluke shark might never take any lethal damage from needle pricks, or it might heal a certain number of needle-stabs every day.  This means a character is basically carrying around and abusing a stunted, mutant shark for the whole adventure, which is pretty cool.  It probably also requires food an a brine jar, which are nice drawbacks to a magical weapon.  You may want to have it do more damage, but I think that might not be necessary, since it's already ripe for player exploitation (i.e. what happens if you trick an opponent to step on the poor thing?).

The ioun morningstar probably should just exist as a permanent weapon; ditch the charges.  If you wanted a more interesting variant, you could have it store +1d6 damage for every turn you spend charging it up, up to a maximum of 3d6 damage at 3 rounds.  At that point, it's whirling around your head as fast as a lawnmower blade.  The other wrinkle here is that opponents might be able to trap, eat, or damage the ioun morningstar.

And the zingerbees can be expanded into a hundred different interesting directions.  Just make sure you keep the flag-batons involved--that's the center of the whole charm.  But you can give players a bee hive to carry on their back, which can hold up to 50 bees and regenerates 1 lost bee a day as long as the colony is fed.  Maybe give the queen bee telepathy and Intelligence 10.  Hell, give her Intelligence 18, so she's smart enough to know that you're an idiot adventurer who's probably going to plunge her whole family into lava any day now.  That makes an nice alternative to a egotistical magic sword, doesn't it?