Thursday, December 29, 2016

How to Make Rulings

Dungeonmaster Plato believed that philosopher-DMs must be raised in special enclaves, away from any corrupting influence, if they are to learn how to properly DM.
So, the OSR says this thing all the time.

"Rulings, not rules."

It means that we'd rather have a small, tidy core of mechanics and then improvise all the uncommon rules, rather than have a giant encyclopedia of rules.

There are many reasons for this, and most of them are good ones.  (And I won't go into the reasons here.)

So if a DM wants to be good at rules, what does she have to do?

Well, she has to bust out the rulebook and memorize it.  Even the rules about grappling.  Even the rules about how long you can tread water.  This is what you have to do if you want to be a DM Who Is Good At Rules.

So if a DM wants to be good at rulings, what does she have to do?

. . .

Well, that's a tough one.  There's not a lot of guidance out there.  More ink has been spilled describing the overland speed of donkeys on a taiga (summer) than on how to make effective rulings.

Part of the problem is a conceptual one.  Rulings begin where rules run out.  They occupy the gaps in a rulebook, outside of where most writers spend their time thinking.  And it feels a litter counter-intuitive to put a chapter in a rulebook titled "How to Write Your Own Rulebook".  It's like printing a cookie recipe on the inside of an Oreo wrapper.

I have a tattoo based on this painting of Diogenes.
By Gerome.
And yet, making rulings is a very important skill.  It's what separates mediocre DMs from excellent ones.

So here's my attempt.

First question when designing a thing: what are the traits of a good thing?

1. Rulings Should be Fast

This is probably the most important one.  One of the biggest advantage of rulings over rules is that the DM just says some shit and the game keeps going.  No consulting the tome.  No arguing about rules.  (Or at least, keep those things to a minimum.)

2. Rulings Should Give Expected Probabilities

The in-game fiction needs to match the player's expectations.

Other people will restate this as: Rulings Need To Be Fair, but I think that's a less useful description.

If I'm DMing Hobbits & Hobbitholes and I realize that there is no rule for jumping over Farmer Maggot's dog, I'll have to make up my own ruling for jumping.  And whatever ruling I come up with had better give Legolas a better chance of success than Gimli, because everyone knows that Gimli can't jump.

If I make the jump a simple Strength check, I've failed, because Gimli is stronger than Legolas.  I could make it a Dex check, or a Strength check with a racial penalty to dwarves because of their stubby legs--the details don't matter as much as the resultant probabilities.

Relative probabilities are the most important (Legolas > Gimli), but absolute probabilities matter, too.

If I make the ruling, and the players do the math before rolling, and they realize that no one has more than an 7% chance of jumping over the dog, they'll (rightfully) protest.  It's five people jumping over one dog at the same time.  There's no way that dog should have such a high chance of stonewalling the entire party.

Rulings Should be Consistent

Consistent with other rules: getting hurled against a wall by a giant is pretty similar to taking a bad fall.  You'll need to come up with a good reason why one does lethal damage and the other does subdual damage.  The similarities are too big to ignore.

Consistent with other rulings: If you've been allowing players to coup-de-grace fallen enemies with ranged weapons, you should allow enemy archers to do the same thing to the players.  (You asshole.)

Next question: What are some tips that will help us achieve these goals?

Tip: Just Say Yes

"Okay, well you showed up with all the right preparations, and you can take your time when attempting it.  I'm going to rule that you just automatically succeed."

If the PCs have exactly the right approach, let them through.  If there's no rush for time, let them through.  If there is no penalty for failure (i.e. they can just re-attempt if they fail), let them through.

Seriously, I love this one.  Every DM should use it more often.

And if part of you bristles at letting the moment sneak past without the hand of entropy grazing it, tell them to roll a d20 and let them succeed on any number except for a 1.

Tip: Keep It Simple

Use established mechanics whenever possible.  Try not to invent them from scratch.

If there is a similar mechanic somewhere else, translate it.

Turn multiple rolls into a single roll.  Turn single rolls into static numbers.

Resist the urge to involve multiple parts of a character sheet.  "Well, it's a social check foremost, so I'll let them apply the Cha mod, but it's also trying to intimidate someone by crushing a skull, so I'll let them include their Str mod as well, but they should get a penalty for every steel item they have in their inventory, and. . ." That--that right there--is bad.

The ruling should touch as few parts of their character sheet as possible.  The most important thing is that it gives expected probabilities (i.e. Gimli should not be a better jumper than Legolas).

Tip: Learn How Probabilities Work

Your new best friend:  Read the Documentation.

The difference between d20+d6 and d20+3 is damn tiny.

The difference between 2d6-keep-highest, 1d6+1, and 1d8 is also damn tiny.  (At least in terms of averages, and if these are damage rolls, the details don't matter that much.)

Rolling a d20 with Advantage is usually damn close to a flat +4 bonus (plus or minus a point).

Whenever you roll one die, you have a flat probability curve.  Two dice gives a pyramid.  Three or more dice give a bell curve.  The point is, bell curves favor the stronger party, flat curves favor the underdog.

Usually, the players are attempting things that they are likely to succeed at.  This means that bell curves are their friend.  But when they are trying to do something really tough, like fight that higher-level demon dragon, the bell curve suddenly turns against them.

d20 and 3d6 both have an average of 10.5, but the curve is very difference.

d20+2 chance of rolling 10 or higher: 65%

3d6+2 chance or rolling 10 or higher: 84%

And that +19% chance is basically the equivalent of a +4 bonus.  Extreme example, but you get the point.

Opposed d20 rolls (e.g. d20+Str vs opponent's d20+Str) are also weird like that.  They give a big advantage to the stronger party.  Compared to a single roll (d20 + your Str - enemy's Str) which gives a smaller advantage to the stronger party.

(This is why I like single-roll mechanics; I like to be surprised with underdog victories.)

NOTE: I got a little bit crazy when I wrote this last part and you should probably just skip it.  Seriously, just pretend the post ends right now.  I can't delete it because I like it, but I also recognize that no one probably wants to read it.

Tip: Build and Test Complex Mechanics Before Implementing Them

Sometimes you want to anticipate a ruling, before the game even starts.  You are basically writing an ad-hoc rule.  Use the same tips as when making a ruling, but hey, you're not in a rush.  You can take your time when designing the rule.

My method: (1) Design a rule with the average party in mind in order to give them the desired probability of success, then (2) test it with other sample parties to see if it gives probabilities that you want.

This is a little bit like code testing.

A little while ago I wrote a dungeon that was pretty likely to feature a cave-in.  How long can a party survive while trapped in a room?  And how fast can they dig themselves out?

I'd advise you not to calculate room volume, look up oxygen consumption rates, infer oxygen consumption rates for halflings, research how fast miners are excavated in emergencies, etc.  Down that road lies madness.

I'd also advise against using general asphyxiation rules, since they aren't likely to serve your purpose. (And most systems are way too lenient with how long people can hold their breath anyway.)  There's no reason why you can't write a custom rule for this room.

I decided that I wanted the following features for my test party:

  • four PCs and no NPCs.
  • the PCs have 10s in all their stats.
  • I want this party to have a 50% chance of getting out alive.

We make up some rules:

  • Up to four people can dig at a time.
  • Everyone can breathe for 3 exploration turns before they need to make Con checks to stay conscious.
  • Each turn spent digging will yield 1d8 successes if they succeed on a Str check, and 1d4 successes if they fail on the same Str check.
  • Proper digging tools can upgrade a die by one or two sizes, depending.  Shovel = +1 die size.  Pickaxe = +2 die sizes.
  • After a certain number of successes, a hole is cleared and fresh air immediately fills the room.
  • How many successes are needed to clear a hole?

It's like a math problem!

For the first three turns, half of the party succeeds and half fails.  As people lose consciousness, fewer and few people contribute to digging.

  • First turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Second turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Third turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Fourth turn: 1d8+1d4 = 7 successes on average.  (Two PCs have passed out by now.)
  • Subsequent turns: asymptotic = 7 successes on average (Each turn is half as many successes as previously.)
So we tally them up and there's our answer.  The players need to get 56 successes before they clear a path to fresh air.

We can clean that up a bit.  "56 successes" becomes "60 cubic feet" or whatever.

How about if the party was stronger than average?  For example, what if they all had 12 Strength.  Well, if you do all the math, four PCs with 12 Strength will make an average of 59.2 successes before they all die.  That's interesting, because that's less than I would have thought.  It seems to indicate that the system is relatively tolerant of Strength imbalances.  So a strong party wouldn't have a huge advantage, and a weak party wouldn't have a huge disadvantage, which is more-or-less what I want.

True, we don't know the actual distributions, but the average is good enough for now.  I don't have all the fucking time in the world.

What if the party had 6 PCs instead of 4 PCs?  If we do the math (hint: it's the same as the original except that there are three active PCs on turn 4 instead of two) we can see that they would get an average of 70 successes before they all died.  This is significant, because it means that a large party is much better than a strong party. 

What if the party is small, and only has 3 diggers?  42 successes.  They're fucked.  

(For example, a lone delver trapped in the collapse would have virtually no chance to escape.  But perhaps this is as it should be.  Who would delve alone?)
What if the party has a pickaxe?  64 successes.  The prepared party is better than the strong party, but not better than the large party.

You may have noticed that this resembles the mechanics for combat, a little bit.  This is intentional.  Letting players get a sense of how much progress they've made towards a goal helps them understand how close they are to success/failure, while still leaving them time to change tactics if their first approach doesn't work.

For example, if you find out that you aren't killing the dragon fast enough to keep it from eating your companions, you pull out your vial of green slime and hope that you aren't making things worse when you throw it in the dragon's mouth.

In the cave-in example, the parties who notice that they are rolling very poorly and the air is getting stale will probably think of something stupid/ingenious in order to expedite their escape.  They'll do something risky, or they'll use up a precious resource in order to escape, but they'll probably escape.  Although I wrote the cave-in to have a 50% chance to kill a test party, I suspect that it would only TPK a tiny fraction of actual parties, just because players have so many resources at their disposal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Designing Races

So I guess this is a game design post, talking about some considerations when designing races for your game, but it's also a Centerra post, because I'll talk about the races there.

So, a lot of game design is top-down.  Someone starts brainstorming their world, and thinks about four-to-seven distinct races for their game world.  Elves-dwarves-orcs-hobbits-humans, perhaps.  Or giants-kenku-illithids, maybe.  Then they start thinking about what kind of bonuses each race would get, and that stuff gets written in.

Giants get +4 Strength.  Kenku get +4 Stealth.  Because that's what makes sense for the fiction, so that's what should be reflected in the statblock, right?

The problem with this is that it quickly leads to synergy, which leads to builds.  (At least if you have race and class as separate.)  People who want to play smashy fighters will be drawn to giants, and giant players will be coaxed towards being fighters.  And in balancy games, the game will be balanced for that level of optimization.

Same thing with kenku and rogues.

GLOG Design Rule #48: Race abilities/bonuses should not synergize with class abilities/bonuses.

GLOG Design Rule #3: Never use small, passive bonuses.  They're boring, easy to overlook, potentially confusing, and often lead to synergy.  Use active abilities instead.  (What Extra Credits calls "incomparables".)

Even if you use race-as-class, the dwarf class is still going to be good at fighting and bad at magic, and so a player who wants a dwarven mage is out of luck.  (This is why I like keeping race and class separate, even though I hate synergy/builds/mechanical optimization.)

GLOG Design Rule #51: Class and race should be separate.  Race should be optional.  (All human campaigns are my favorite these days, with other races being unlocked as play progresses.)

And one more thing.

When a player chooses their class, they are sort of choosing their play style as well.

A player who chooses a barbarian tells the DM that they (probably) want to kick down doors, drink beer, and break shit.

A player who chooses a wizard tells the DM that they (probably) want to study problems, spend time in preparation, and overcome them in one fell swoop.

Et cetera.

I like that.  I think classes should be conducive to certain types of play styles.

So here's my idea: what if players picked classes to determine what role they wanted to play, but the table as a whole picks a single race to determine what type of game they want to play.

GLOG Design Rule #44: Races should be written as to encourage the whole party to pick a single race, and that choice of race should modulate the game in such a way so that it changes the way the entire party approaches the game.

snail man by Richard Partridge
Here are the most extreme examples.

Orcs have two racial abilities: Hatred and Hated.

If something almost kills you (forces you to roll on the Death and Dismemberment table, forces you to save vs. Death, etc) and you survive, you must draw a scar on your character sheet and label it with the name (or description) of the creature that almost killed you.  Thereafter, you get a permanent +2 bonus on all d20 rolls when attempting to kill it, or preventing it from killing you.

Every civilized place will treat you like shit.  Humans will kill you on sight.  Orcs will also kill you on sight, because you are not a part of their tribe.  Anything larger than a camp is going to be hostile to you.  There are no safe places to rest, sell, or trade.

People you meet in your adventures, in dungeons or in the wilderness, will treat you normally.  The wild places have fewer stigmas.

Everyone you travel with suffers the same stigma.  Orcish slaves are never kept, and orcish prisoners are always killed, so no fair using those excuses.

Since the penalty extends to the whole party, there's no reason not to stock the whole party with orcs.  It's a subtle encouragement to a whole-orc party.

It's also appropriate for a party who wants to play the game on Hard Mode.  Imagine this:

DM: Let's play Keep on the Borderlands again.

Players: Okay, but let's play orcs.

DM: Okay, but be aware that the keep will attack you on sight.  You'll have to rest in the wilderness, and you'll have no place to sell your stuff.

Players: We're ready!  Hur hur hur!  Gut the fuckin' humans!  Waaaaaaaaagh!

Halfling (Afner)
Halflings have two abilties: Small and Team Stealth.

Small creatures get no penalty for fighting in cramped spaces.  They eat half as much as a full-size human.

Small creatures must use armor and weapons sized for them.  Small weapons deal damage one die size smaller.  If they attempt to use regular weapons, they get -2 to hit.

Team Stealth
Halflings get +1 Stealth for every other halfling PC sneaking alongside them, up to a maximum of +4.  They lose this bonus if any participating halfling's player fails to speak in a whisper.

I know, I broke Rule #3 and Rule #48.  I gave them a passive bonus that synergizes with thiefy classes.  But I only did this because I love all-thief parties.  How much will the game change when the whole party has an extremely high chance of being able to sneak past so many combats?

Or put another way, how much does the game change when combats become more optional?

That's a knob that a DM has always had the power to turn, we just never admitted it as much.  (For example, by creating a house rule that says monsters never surprise the party, and the whole party can use the thief's stealth.)  It creates a very different game, man.

Iron Ghost People
The Iron Ghost People have one ability: Blink.

After meditating for a full round, you can teleport as far as 2 feet.  At-will.

One of the players is going to be reading the rulebook and have the epiphany of "Guys!  What if we were all Iron Ghost People and we could just get past every door in the dungeon!  We wouldn't care about locks!"

Their eyes would be wide with the possibilities.

And they're right.  This would change the game entirely.  Dungeon design sort of goes out the window as soon as you introduce something this game-changing into the game.  While orcs turn the game's difficulty up, they don't introduce anything revolutionary.

I'd say use this one with caution.  Remember, the DM chooses which races to allow in each game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Race, Inheritance, and Casvetania

Genetics is a lie, just like germ theory.

Creatures born in Centerra inherit the acquired traits of their parents.  Muscular parents birth muscular babies.  A daughter is born with a scar that matches her fathers.  A blind mother will birth a child with terrible eyesight.

So, your parents affect your genetics, but not as much as where you were born.  Or more specifically, where your mother spent her time when she was pregnant.

This is how it works for most of the races of Centerra.  For example, if your mother spent most of her pregnancy aboard a ship, you'd probably be born as a marinel.

The Land of Flowers is sterile.  Nothing is born there.

Creatures born in the Valley of the Maggot grow up large, hungry, and violent.

Those born in the Red Thickets of Diosassus are hairless and vampiric.  (They are not true vampires, however; they just have a curious dietary restriction.)  In fact, that entire ecosystem is vampiric.  Hairless deer suck the sap from the pale trees in the crimson shade.  They are preyed upon by hairless, albino wolves.  And so on, and so on, all the way up to the creeping monstrosity that is Diosassus himself.

Everything on the Little Island is diminuitive.  Lilliputian.

And then there is the case of Casvetania's Castle.

Casvetania's Castle

There are many stories of tragic wizards.  (Their stories are often retold, since their mistakes so often spill from their domain into our own.)  But the stories are usually of insult, grave redress, the folly of immortality, abominable invention, and that sort of thing.  Wizard shit.

But this story begins with a pair of married wizards who lost a daughter to disease.  Her name was Casvetania.

Their grief was raw, powerful, and sincere.  Their sorrow became their ambition, and when it was hitched to the wheels of their sorcery it dredged up some deep sorcery that has not been seen before, or since.

The Church sealed off the castle.  If you want to know what is inside, you'll have to consult their secret archives in Coramont, or else travel there yourself, pry the white lead out from between the bricks, and take a peek for yourself.

But the village below the castle is called Buckins Harbor, and it is still inhabited.

The magic of Casvetania's Castle seeps in the land around it.  On quiet nights, you can feel it in your heartbeat.  And everything that is born in the shadow of that castle is Casvetania.

Above a certain size, of course.  Anything that is larger than a dog and is pregnant near the castle for the majority of its pregnancy will birth a Casvetania.

She's a small girl, even when grown.  Wispy hair.  Wide-spaced eyes.  Button nose, but a bit too much gum when she smiles.  The majority of Casvetanias suffer from dementia when they get older.  Sometimes as early as 45.

Small pregnant creatures instead give birth to small masses of undifferentiated tissue.  Pink skin, pale hair, and perhap a couple of teeth.

And of course, the fish and the sharks birth Casvetanias too.  Not a week goes by without a newborn Casvetania washing ashore, all blue and fish-nibbled.

The woods are full of wild Casvetanias.  Raised by families of immigrant wolves, perhaps.  You'll see them in the trees, faces painted with lichen milk.  Most commonly, their are found by their older sisters and then raised in the family tradition.

Buckins Harbor is full of them, as you'd expect.  You'll probably meet one before you arrive.  A lot of the ships that sail into and out of Buckins will have a Casvetania on their register.  They won't call themselves "Casvetania" of course.  They'll be Salla, or Mara, or Casana,  But they will be a Casvetania.

You see them at all ages.  Grey-haired Casvetania's haggling in the marketplace with pair of teenage Casvetanias.  A pair of Casvetanias arguing in a tavern, one flush and ruddy, the other hollow-cheeked, like an abused twin.  Upstairs, a pair of Casvetanias are fucking in front of the fireplace.  Back in the alley, one Casvetania has just slit the throat of a much wealthier Casvetania (no tear slides down her cheek, but she is still careful not to look in the face of the woman she has just murdered.)

They don't leave Buckins very often.  They say that the rest of the world looks alien, and that nothing gives them a greater feeling of belonging than looking around a street and seeing your own face.

Many of them feel sorry for us, since we will never know that feeling.

Most people in Buckins Harbor are not Casvetanias.  They make up about 40% of the population.

Once there was a murderer who only killed Casvetanias.  The bodies were always found badly defaced (literally) and shoved into cribs.  When the killer was discovered, she was found to be a Casvetania herself, of course.

Some Casvetanias try to individuate themselves.  Obesity is a common method.  So is fashion.

Some Casvetanias have formed a cult.  They carve their own face into every available surface.  They control at least one neighborhood in Buckins, where only Casvetanias are allowed.  Each one takes another Casvetania for a wife.  They dress identically.  Alone among Casvetanias, they each go by the name of Casvetania, and differentiate themselves by secret hand signs, known only among themselves.  They are said to be ruled by the spirit of the original Casvetania, the unhappy soul of a child trapped in a chandelier.

Some other Casvetanias have banded together and investigated the sealed castle, in defiance of the Church's wishes.  (Buckins Harbor has a tiny church, but the two paladins quartered there also lead the town guard.)

They returned once, to sell off some loot they had found inside.  The said that the inside of the castle was covered in monuments to the dead daughter, the first Casvetania.  They also found evidence of earlier methods that the couple used to conceive a child.  They sold a map to an oil merchant, but the priest confiscated it.  Then they purchased every mirror in town (giving no explanation) and returned to the castle.

The paladins waited outside to arrest them.  But after three days, they still hadn't emerged from the castle, and so the entrance was bricked back up again.

Using This at your Table

Let your players be Casvetanias.  (Actually, I'd love to see how players differentiate their Casvetanias from each other.)

Hunt down the Casvetania killer.

Infiltrate the Cult of Casvetania.

Delve the Sealed Castle of Casvetania.

Casvetania Casvetania Casvetania.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


perhaps this is a slaad by Scrap Princess
"We make happening in red spaces, filling our happy hands with cree cree cree to keep the void quiet.  Sometimes we don't die." - A slaad, trying his best to explain slaad to a human.


Slaad are not true Outsiders--they do not exist outside of our universe; they cannot see between the different timelines.  But they are aware of the multiverse, in a sort of fundamental way.

They can't articulate it, but they know that if a battle is replayed a billion times, the larger army wins 998 million times, the smaller army wins 2 million times, and on two separate occasions the battle is called off and both armies start a cult dedicated to the worship of a small orchid found growing inside a boot.

So, slaad can sort of sense the tremendous potential in each moment.  You might slip and fall on your sword, the first round of combat.  On the other hand, you might get a lucky hit in with a piece of celery and knock them off a cliff.

To put it another way, slaad are like children playing D&D, who only ever think about what happens if 1s and 20s were rolled, ignoring the other 18 possibilities.

They sense this great potentiality in every moment, but also sense that each result is painfully ordinary.  (Literally painfully.)  This is why they are so grumpy.

turtle frog

This same attitude extends to speaking.  They have no problem understanding Common.  But why would you ever say something plainly when you could make it much more interesting by babbling near-gibberish?

They still want to be understood, though, which is why their gibberish is never pure nonsense.

They're basically Hamlet, except with more pet names and half-baked kennings.


Slaad don't really have culture.  They show up.  They do weird shit toward some weird goal.  Then they leave (by turning themselves into objects).

Slaad are usually led by the largest slaad (see also: most blue-shifted, below).  The largest slaad are the most intelligent, and therefor the most aware of how much potential is wasted in every moment, and therefor the grumpiest.


Slaad arise spontaneously at intersections of great change (much like how maggots arise spontaneously from rotting meat).  Spontaneous generation is a fact of Centerra, and slaad arise spontaneously from inanimate objects.  They are also capable of "committing suicide" by turning back into objects.

A dormant volcano suddenly explodes and now there are slaad everywhere.

A warlord comes to power in a freak accident and now suddenly there are slaad serving under him.

A coin is flipped and comes up heads 43 times in a row.  An army of slaad seeps up from the ground.

And sometimes the origin is subtle--an old man decides to try eggs benedict for the first time, after spending his whole life avoiding them.  Suddenly the light in the restaurant dims, as dozens of slaad press their faces against the glass, eagerly watching him take the first bite.

These are the pivot points of the world.  We might not recognize them, but this is where the world pivots.

surinam toad
each slaad holds the next color incubating on its back

Slaad are drawn to the unlikely.  Sometimes they get a sense of these things and strive to recreate the ones that never occurred.  Other times they simply try to set up shop by building a fortress and slaadifying the surrounding landscape.


Slaad look like big honkin' frogs because the frog is the most intermediate of all shapes.  It's the cosmic average.  Right between fish and mammal and reptile, lairs the frog.

If the universe had a single creator-god, it would be shaped like a frog, too.

Slaad are a weird mix of blubber and claw.  They fart with their skin.  They lack true bones and instead maintain their posture with hydrostatic tissues--a bit like an octopus squeezed into the shape of a frog.  They always have a mouth full of spit (DM roleplaying tip!!!!).

Slaad Abilities

All slaad share a particular pair of abilities.

Schism: When a slaad is reduced to 0 HP, it turns into a pair of new slaad, moving down the color chain.  Purple (most powerful) --> Blue --> Etc --> Red (least powerful).
Yes, this means that a single blue slaad can turn into 32 red slaad.

Slaad sometimes exploit this ability by killing themselves.  (They have no fear of death.)  For example, if a yellow slaad wants to run for help BUT also wants to stay and fight the invaders, it might literally tear itself in half, creating two orange slaad.

Abiosis: Just as slaad emerged from inanimate matter, so can they be returned to inanimate matter.  This is accomplished by surrounding the slaad and shouting "You do not exist!" at it until it ceases to exist.  Alternatively, you can dictate what object the slaad will become, such as "You are a chocolate chip cookie!" until it becomes a cookie.  This takes a certain number of humans to attempt.  (It only ever takes one dragon, because dragons are more real than the rest of the world, and move through it like a shark through the ocean.)

Slaad get a save to resist being shouted back into non-sentience.  If they succeed, they cannot be turned into an object until the next round.  Once they fail their save, they are mewling and helpless while they spasm into objecthood.  The process takes 1 minute, and no one can stop yelling at the slaad during this time.

All slaad have a swim speed.  Green and violet slaad can fly.  The primary colors (red, yellow, blue) are the physical fighters, while the secondary colors (orange, green, purple) are the spellcasters.

Red Slaad
HD 1  AC leather  claw 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 7  Mor 7

*Schism -- Turns into a pair of black, lumpy pearls (each worth 10c) when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 3 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a sword, nor worth more than 10c.

Orange Slaad
HD 2  AC leather  claw 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 8  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Can cast one of the following spells 1/day, determined at random: enter chaos*, randomize object*, acid arrow, shatter.

*Schism-- Turns into two red slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 10 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a cart, nor worth more than 100c.

Yellow Slaad
HD 3  AC leather  claw 1d12
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 9  Mor 7

*Zone of Chaos -- 50' radius.  Whenever you declare an action in combat, you must instead declare two unrelated actions (no fair saying "I attack it with my axe" and "I attack it with my sword").  Then flip a coin to determined which action you actually attempt.

*Schism-- Turns into two orange slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 30 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a cottage, nor worth more than 1000c.

Green Slaad
HD 4  AC leather  claws 1d12
Fly 12  Swim 9  Int 10  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Can cast one of the following spells 1/day, determined at random: animate object, dispel magic, transposition*, greater mirror image*.  Can also cast one spell from the orange slaad list 1/day.

*Schism -- Turns into two yellow slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 100 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a ship, nor worth more than 10,000c.

Blue Slaad
HD 6  AC leather  claws 3d6+infect  spit acid 3d6, 50' range, 20' diameter
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 11  Mor 7

*Infect -- Target must save or turn into a demi-slaad.  Demi-slaad must never take an obvious course of action.  (Obvious courses of action in combat are things like "I attack the bad guy with my weapon." or "I cast spells in a way that helps my friends the most.")  Demi-slaad must also never perform the same action twice in the same scene.  Each time a Demi-slaad takes an obvious course of action, they have a 1-in-6 chance of permanently turning into a yellow slaad (NPC).

Demi-slaadism is can be cured by getting another slaad to remove it (by spitting in your eyes).  Since slaad are immune to torture, do not love each other, and do not fear dead, this usually means that you have to help them in some way.

*Schism -- Turns into two green slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 300 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a castle, nor worth more than 100,000c.

Violet Slaad
HD 8  AC leather  claws 1d12+vorpal
Fly 12  Swim 9  Int 12  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Just give it a bunch of spells.  Violet slaad are basically named NPCs--you shouldn't generate them from random tables.  Some suggestions: greater animate object, mass enter chaos, create slaad, slaad party*

*Schism -- Turns into two blue slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 1000 people or 2 dragons.  Can turn into anything.  Smart players will turn them into sentient spaceships (a task at which they excel).

mata mata
technically this is a turtle, but whatever
New Spells

New Spell: Enter Chaos
Wiz 1
Free Action to Cast
The next time the target creature would roll a d20, they instead flip a coin.  Treat a result of heads as if a 20 were rolled and a result of tails as if a 1 were rolled.  No save.

New Spell: Randomize Object
Wiz 2
Target object turns into a random object if it fails a save.  Object must be non-magical and not larger than a greatsword.  Roll a d20 to see what random object it turns into.  (According to my calculations, these are the twenty most random objects possible.  This should probably be a d100 table, but fuck it.)

  1. hammer
  2. dress
  3. top hat
  4. feather duster
  5. glass of milk
  6. hobby horse
  7. teapot
  8. boot
  9. dead snake
  10. dagger
  11. rolling pin
  12. paper fan
  13. random book
  14. key (to a random locked door in the dungeon, if possible)
  15. live chicken
  16. sack of glitter
  17. rake
  18. teddy bear
  19. candle
  20. loaf of bread
New Spell: Transposition
Wiz 3
Two similar objects switch locations.  If any of the objects are unwilling creatures, they get a save to resist.  If either object/creature makes their save, the spell fails.

New Spell: Greater Mirror Image
Wiz 4
Exactly as mirror image, except the duplicates can interact with the world (similar to unseen servant)  and will attempt to duplicate your actions.  Like, if you spend your turn cleaning a desk, your duplicates will also spend their turns cleaning the desk. If you make a melee attack against an enemy, they will also make basic attacks that deal 1d6 damage and use your base attack score.

New Spell: Slaad Party
Wiz 6
Duration: Concentration
Everyone in the area must save or turn into a slaad (no mechanical effect except you gain a swim speed and a 1d6 claw attack).  Then, all slaad in the area (including the people who just turned into slaad) must spend each round of combat attacking a random target with their best melee weapon.  If the caster is struck, they must roll to maintain concentration.

I stole this from Scrap Princess

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Four Winds

Among the Church's greatest servants, you will find golemlords, coatl, and at least one vampire saint.  You will also find the Winds.

The North Wind

It is the warmest and the smallest of the winds.  It is also the most human of the winds.  It is known as the Killing Wind.  It was imprisoned by the storm giants inside an iceberg for a while, but its release was eventually secured at great cost (a truce).

The North Wind was altered by its imprisonment.  Rumor claims that upon its release, the North Wind begged Zulin to be made human, and was refused.

Unique among the Winds, the North Wind takes wives.  (Men and women: all can become windwives.)  One of the paladin orders, The Seraglio of the Blue Feather, is composed entirely of their number.  (I'll do a post on them, eventually.)

The North Wind is martial.  It is often sent on missions of assassination by the Church.  It kills through suffocation.  It is capable of creating a near-perfect vacuum.

The West Wind

The West Wind is the noblest and most attentive of the winds.  It is known as the Castle Wind.  It is responsible for carving out the Holy Castle of Concrayda in the Immortal Mountains.

The hands of the wind are both strong, nimble, and sadly limited.  They are strong enough to hurl trees, dexterous enough to thread a needle while bearing it aloft, and yet they cannot set down an egg without breaking it.  (They must always be moving quickly.)  The hands of the wind are well-suited to sculpture, which it performs by throwing grains of sand.

It took the West Wind over a century to complete its construction.  You can see it atop Mount Crayda, rising from the peak like the flutes of a pipe organ.  It is the Church's most private retreat, where they conduct international business, when the situation demands a neutral ground away from the Holy City of Coramont.

The Castle was originally designed to be only accessible via flight, preferably by the West Wind personally carrying all guests up to the Castle.  This practice was quickly discontinued (partially because of the Wind's aforementioned difficulty in setting things down gently) and a hasty staircase was carved.

Concrayda is partially built for humans, but large portions of its interior are meant to host the West Wind itself, as well as the lesser winds that consort with it.  It lives in the Holy Castle, and can sometimes be heard playing the castle like a musical instrument, which it is.  Intruders are scoured to polished bones by the sand that carpets all of the rooms and hallways.

The East Wind

The East Wind is the smartest and swiftest of the winds.  It is known as the Whispering Wind.

It travels quickly.  It brings news, carries messages.  The recipients only notice a swiftly-building gale, followed by about six seconds of harsh winds, while a sibilant voice whispers swiftly into your ear, clearly audible above the din.

The East Wind is the most popular of the Winds.  Many smaller winds are obedient to it, or at least friendly, and they cooperate in gathering information for the East Wind.  (Because of this, enemies of the Church always speak guardedly when a wind is blowing.)

The East Wind loves to travel.

It blows the Pope's private galleon wherever the Pope travels, and accompanies the Pope on all of his sea voyages.  The Popes private galleon was designed for this: it lacks a keel and a rudder.  In fact, the galleon more closely resembles a wooden tower with a skirt of sails along its midsection and a weighted bottom.  It's a bit like a buoy.  (And yes, buoys rock.  The crew remains near the waterline when the ship is in motion, and the Wind stabilizes it when it is at rest.  It is also stabilized by several enormous anchors arranged radially, like guy lines on a radio tower.)

The South Wind

The South Wind has never been tamed.

It is difficult to capture a Wind by launching a crusade against it, and so this goal has eluded the Church for some time now.

There was a time when the South Wind fought his three siblings, and all three were overcome.  The South Wind is larger and more powerful than his three siblings combined.

Fighting a Wind

Good fucking luck.  Even the smallest wind, the North Wind, is capable of throwing trees at you (although it prefers the intimacy of suffocation).  And the East and West Winds are strong enough to pick you up and throw you a quarter mile.  If they make an attack roll, your horse will land on you, too.

The South Wind isn't any stronger locally, but it is so large that it can just form a circular loop on top of you, and then just keep blasting you with hurricane-force winds.

But that brings me to my next point: the Winds cannot stop moving, and they have a hard time changing macro-direction locally.  Think of them as having the speed and and maneuverability of a Boeing 747 that can control all the wind directly below it.  Once it flies over you, it needs to circle back for another strafing run.

This takes a few minutes, so you have plenty of time to prepare between Wind attacks, also known as "holy fuck where did it find all those fence posts and it just sucked up our donkey" moments.  It's like standing under a tornado for six seconds at a time, every five minutes.

The best way to escape it is just to go underground.  Just jump in the nearest cave and start going down until you hit Centerra's huge and world-spanning Underworld.

You could also jump into a large body of water.  Even a mighty Wind can't do much more than whip the surface into a furious spray.  (Just mind the incipient boulders.)

You can't hit the wind.  That's stupid.  Not even with a magic sword.  Not even with a fireball spell.

The best way to defeat one of the Great Winds is to trap it.  This is why Winds rarely follow you very far into enclosed spaces.  They're afraid of getting trapped like the North Wind was, and they're very weak when they are slow (e.g. turning around in a cramped cave).

The best way to kill a Great Wind is to trap it, and then crush it.  Maybe, like, a steel silo that retracts into the ground.  It'll be like trying to crush a bunch of tigers in a grape press, though, so make sure that you build that thing sturdy.

If a Wind dies, the wind will stop blowing from that direction.  At least for a moment.  Then there will be crazy windstorms for a few weeks as the lesser winds fight amongst themselves to establish dominance.  All ships at sea will probably be sunk.

Some spells are very effective when fighting winds.

Protection from arrows functions a bit like protection from evil, and makes the wind unable to contact you directly.  (It can still throw cows at you, though.)

Winds cannot cross a wall of wind.  (They're awfully good at going around, though.)

Gust of wind injures them as if were a damaging spell of a comparable level.  A reskinned scorching ray, perhaps?

Control winds functions as a charm spell.

Control weather can seal a Wind out of an area, or trap it inside of the area.

If you cast gaseous form on yourself, you have basically jumped into the Wind's lap.  You poor fool.  It'll be like that time Hulk Hogan wrestled that puppy.

A Great Wind is a 10 HD creature that's nearly impossible to damage or kill.  A lesser wind is a 3 HD creature that is very similar.  The lesser winds all have names and goals.  They are all devout Hesayans, and have their own churches in the upper air.

None of them can form tornadoes.  Tornadoes are cheesy.  Tornadoes with faces and hands are even cheesier.  Fuck your anthropic chauvinism.

And tornadoes are the wind equivalent of devils anyway (see also: dust devils).  You'll never see a tornado in any place where the Church has a foothold.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Perfect Languages of Elves

Elven Language

Elves are immortal, genius bourgeoisie with access to staggering amounts of linguistic and historical education.

They also get bored easily.

Because of these two things, True Elves do not bother establishing a fixed language.   Most of the time, when an elf writes something down, he's going to do circuitously.  The actual message will be obscured in substitutions and metaphor.

Why write something simply when you could obscure it?  Everyone you care about (i.e. other elves) are all clever enough to read it.

And so most elven languages aren't languages.  The elf will write their message in whatever language they prefer: dwarvish, orcish, celestial, French.  And then they will encode it with as many references, metaphors, and sly nods as they can.

This makes things fun to read.

Of course, for other species, it makes things nearly impossible to read.  It's a bit like trying to read Shakespeare without a guide, or to understand all the subtleties of Nabokov or Milton without a full education in the literature that those authors reference.

Elves are fond of saying that a human must read a hundred books before they can fully understand a sentence in Elvish.  This is crass arrogance, of course, but it is also true, sadly.  And attempting to learn a highly self-referential language when all the explanations are similarly recursive is a goddamn daunting task.  Without an elf to teach you, it is nearly impossible to learn to read Elvish.  It defies naive translation.

When a human says that they read Elvish, they usually mean "I've spent my entire life reading summaries of famous Elven literature (a corpus of several thousand books, at a minimum) and can translate a page of Elven writing per day as long as the elf that wrote it wasn't too familiar with pre-Hadean poetry."

It's difficult to explain how brilliant elves are compared to us.  They can translate through several levels of languages and metaphor with nauseating ease.  And they can do it while playing an instrument and drinking wine.

Does this (by itself) make them any harder to kill?  Perhaps not, but for many, it is sufficient reason to want to kill them in the first place.

Elven Cipher

Of course, sometimes an elf just needs to write down a message quickly and efficiently.  For this purpose, there are a number of related ciphers that elves use to accomplish this, all of which revolve around the game goal: making the encoded message (and all language is a code) as dense as possible.

Shit, this digression is large enough that it probably deserves it's own heading.

Digression: Information Density of Language

How short can we make a book before we lose any of the meaning?  If we removed the 'e' at the end of every instance of 'language', there wouldn't be any ambiguity.  (Just an annoying misspelling.)  Likewise, we don't lose any meaning to compression if we change all instances of 'you' into 'u'.

What if we replaced each word with a number?  We could have a master dictionary that correlates each word with a number.

Surely that would compress the book even further.  We could use hexidecimal or Base32 for each character, in order to fit the most information into each space.  If we limited ourselves to numbers only, we'd be wasting perfectly good space.

What if we ordered the number-dictionary so that the most common words were given shorter numbers.  Surely, we would save more space if the words 'a' and 'the' were numbers '1' and '2', rather than '382' and '28190'.

We could even have an appendix at the end for common phrases.  After all, 'I think that' is a lot longer than '69402'.

Elven Cipher, Again

And so that's the problem that elven ciphers were created to solve.  Their goal was perfect information density.

It should surprise no one that the elves believe in linguistic superiority.  If there are shitty languages, (and people should have no trouble thinking of things that fail at being effective languages) then it obviously follows that there must be better languages, and even a best language (if not eternally, then at least for a given place and time).  It falls to the elves, then, to develop this piece of perfection in language (as in all things).

And sometimes, you'll find examples of the perfect language: the elven prime cipher.  You may see this language amid the micro-engravings on the diamonds in your staff of the magi, or perhaps visible on the surface of the sun (when viewed through an appropriate telescope).

The prime cipher is a hell of a thing to see.  It's dense the way that a bar code is dense.  Swarms of dots and halfmoons and violin scrolls, all tangled in a thicket of lines of varying thicknesses.

(Digression for the pedants: yes, while something resembling a QR code might be technically more information dense, the human (and elven) brain has an easier time recognizing lines, edges, and simple shapes.  By leveraging the preexisting heuristics of the brain, elven language-architects were able to cram more shapes and lines into smaller spaces without losing any legibility--something that matrix-clouds of binary code cannot do.)

The density possible with the perfect cipher is absolutely incredible.  A cuboid ink-net the size of your thumbnail could hold a sonnet, a trade agreement, or a record of past sexual encounters.

Let us not forget that elves also possess (a) incredible manual precision, and (b) stupendous eyesight.  This is how they manage to make their books so small.  An entire spellbook could be encoded on the surface of an acorn, a haze of lines as fine and as ordered as a fingerprint.  What looks like a single, extremely complex Chinese ideogram could contain detailed invasion plans, something that would take a full page of English to accomplish.

Redundant Calligraphy

But the most perfectly dense language is also going to be the most vulnerable to error and decay.  If you go into the bathroom and see a message on the wall with part of it scribbled out (such as 'FO* * **OD TIME CALL'), you can probably puzzle out what the original message was thanks to context and redundancy.

But in a language optimized for perfect information density, there is no context or redundancy.  It'll all been reduced down to its most minimal form.  Ideally, just a number that references something else.  And if that number is changed by a single digit, then it's entire meaning changes.

And so the elves had to introduce some redundancy into their ciphers, because the most perfect language is not the most robust language.

This took the form of calligraphy.  Lines were extended and merged.  They served the same function as a checksum--the little artistic flourishes that confirmed the reader's interpretation without necessarily yielding any new information themselves.

The rules governing the extension, fusion, and splitting of the calligraphic flourishes are also well-established.  It is possible to extend them indefinitely according to certain rules.

One of the games that Elven children play, when they are first learning to write, is to extend the flourishes beyond a word as far as possible.  Some mixtures of flourishes decay, some stabilize, and some blossom into networks of repeated motives.  And it's tough to tell from the starting conditions what a particular collection of flourishes will do.

For example, if the cipher-word word for "greed" is extended indefinitely, it creates an ever-expanding, non-repeating tree of calligraphic limbs.  (Elf kids think this is poetic.  It becomes eye-rollingly trite by the time they've reached adulthood.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

d14 Trapped Chests

Trapped chests.  A classic feature of the dungeon, and yet one that is often as much fun as spilling a box of cereal.

I'm writing this post under the assumption that you're running an OSR game, and that there is no Perception or Disable Device skill or whatever.  All traps and shit like that is done with the old-fashioned "I like under the rug." "You find a trap door." method.

(Digression: Finding and disabling traps is a goddamn dungeon staple.  It's bread and butter.  And yet Perception + Disable Device is the shittiest fun way to handle it, because you're just throwing those skills at problems like a robot.  It becomes a test of the character sheet, rather than the player.)

First warning: before you start throwing trapped chests at your players, make sure that they know that trapped chests are a possibility in this place.  You can warn implicitly, by throwing some gently-trapped doors at them early on, or showing the corpses of people killed by trapped chests, or explicitly, just by telling them "You heard that dwarves often trapped their funereal chests."

Second warning: no pixel-bitching.  Having players exhaustively search every chest they find is exhausting.  No surprise there.  Make the clues obvious.  Make the solution obvious.  And by obvious clues I mean "give them the information they need easily".  And by obvious solutions I mean "solutions should be apparent that they are solutions."  (Especially with traps, which sometimes carry big costs for failure.)

Shark Fact: traps don't have to be hard.  They don't have to kill players.  They can (and should) but a trapped chest can be an enjoyable experience even if it doesn't fuck people up.  It's okay for a trap to simply be an interesting feature, or an interesting decision.  

1. Skeleton slumped out in the hallway.  Needle sticking out of the keyhole.  Covered with some blackish grease.  (This is poison.)  Chest cannot be opened until the needle is pushed back into the keyhole and the trap reset.  A player with a shield or gauntlet could easily push it back into the keyhole.  The poison needle could also be broken off; this yields a useful poison needle, but makes it awfully hard to unlock the chest (since you have to push the mechanism back into place).

Shark Fact: This first trapped chest is pretty harmless, but it's interesting.  An accurate investigation of it (or a successful Disable Device check) will yield the information about how it works, but the players still have to decide for themselves if they want to break off the needle or push it back in.

2. In a room with a metal floor, a stone plinth holds a copper chest.  The chest is electified, of course.  Just knock it off the plinth with a quarterstaff.  (Live wires run up through the center of the plinth.)

Shark Fact: Chests often contain fragile things like potions, scrolls, and art objects!  Each of these has a 50% chance of breaking if the chest is smashed open or dropped!  Yay!

3. There is a chest on a plinth.  A pressure plate beneath the chest is triggered when the chest is picked up, or if it is lightened.  The trap can be thwarted by putting items in the chest of an equal weight.  Anyone who starts picking up the chest or emptying out its contents will hear the mechanism start to click beneath the chest, and will have a chance to put the put it back down.

Shark Fact: Give your players the benefit of the doubt.  Unless they tell you otherwise, always assume that they are doing it carefully, slowly, and observantly.  (If you are using the old rules where it takes a 10-minute adventuring turn to do anything at all--this is why.)

4. After opening the chest an inch, a tripwire is visible on the inside.  If the chest is opened more than an inch, the wire is tripped and the vial of flesh-eating gas inside the chest is broken.  (This isn't really a trap, it's more like a second treasure.  What's the chest going to contain that's cooler than a pre-made flesh-eating gas bomb?)

Shark Fact: Even though you are giving your players the benefit of the doubt, there's still going to be some idiot who announces "I'm going to open the chest as fast as I can while standing behind it!" or "I'm going to throw it down the stairs!" so don't be too sad; your flesh-eating gas will probably still get to kill someone, even though that isn't its primary purpose.

5. Chest is full of bee golems.  Or just one big bee golem.  It buzzes angrily when you shake the box.  And if you open the chest, you can shut the door in time if you win initiative.

6. Chest is part of a support pillar.  Smashing the chest will collapse the pillar, and bring down the whole ceiling.  Attempting to pick the lock and failing will have the same result.  There's a key later in the dungeon, but players are pretty much guaranteed to be hasty and fuck it up anyway.

7.  Chest is covered in green slime.  Chest is made out of a highly explosive ceramic.  (You might want to preface this one with evidence of exploded chests, or even better small containers made of explosive ceramic.)

8. Chest stinks of chemicals.  It is full of acid.  All of the treasure is metal.

9. Chest is a chest of non-detection.  Always appears empty.  Actually contains gems and shit.  (Alternatively, contains a ghoul assassin taking advantage of the chests effects.)

10. Chest of contrariness.  Chest has a tinted glass window that allows you to see it's contents.  When the chest is open, the contents become locked in a force field.  The chest is solved by just leaving it closed and then reaching through the (now intangible) window.

11. Chest is only visible in a mirror.  To open it, you must insert the key into the keyhole (by watching yourself in the mirror).  The chest is silver and awesome looking.  There is also a fake chest in the room, covered in blood and spikes.  Inserting the key into the false chest causes it to shooting out ninja stars.

12.  Chest is chained to the wall.  Beside the chest is a bloodstained butcher board, complete with a cleaver.  (The chest is actually a mimic.  If you feed it some tasty meat before you approach it, it will let you take items out of it.  It'll probably purr while you do it, too.

13. Wall of gripping metal hands.  Hands will only allow you to take an item if you give them an item of the same time.  For example, they won't release the magic sword until you give them a different sword (of any time).  There is at least one item that is difficult to replace (like what do you have to give them in order for them to release the creepy doll)?

14. Chests with particular opening conditions.  The blue chest covered in painted fish can only be opened underwater.  The chest depicting witches flying over a clock can only be opened at the witching hour (between 3 and 4 am).  The chest covered in painted birds only opens at the touch of a bird.  (You can invent a million of these, I bet.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The Mantigon

The Mantigon was created by Yalys the Enchanter, and it is said that it only became cruel after watching her many deaths.  It is said that the Mantigon was one of her favorite sons.

(Yalys was a sorceress who created a bunch of powerful, unique monsters.  Each one has a different impression of her--one describes her as stern, another as mischievous.  The idea being that a group of determined adventurers can discover the location of Yalys' tomb only by talking to all of her monster-children and figuring out where she went to die her final death.  While this concept is cool, the implementation has, so far, eluded me.)

The Mantigon resembles an enormous old man stretched until he was 30' tall.  His grimacing face sags atop hunched shoulders, and it drags its boneless tail wherever it goes.

For the last few centuries, it has been offering a bounty for the other children of Yalys.  His belly bulges with the weight of its devoured siblings: strong enough to contain them, but not to digest them, as Yalys mastered the creation of immortal beasts early in her career.

The Mantigon lives with his wife, the Dragon Hen, in a stinking cave made all the more wretched by the Mantigon's constant digestive complaints.

Unlike his children, the Mantigon does not eat people.  His guts are full enough.  However, people who annoy him are hurled from the adjacent cliff.  Most people annoy him.

The only conversation he enjoys is slander.  He enjoys hearing horrible gossip.  Betrayals, catifights, scandals.  He cares nothing for truth, only extravagant descriptions of all the goats the the king secretly enjoys fucking.

(Stats as HD 8 giant that can breath stinking cloud every 1d4 rounds.  Non-magical weapons deal half-damage against him and cannot reduce him below 1 HP.  Nothing he eats can harm him.)

He welcomes two types of visitors.  Guests are often invited into his filthy cave to share one of his wife's enormous eggs, cooked over a low fire.

The first type are those who bring him works of art, the more ancient and irreplaceable the better.  He pays for these with gold from dead kingdoms.  Then he smashes the works of art and eats them.  His gums bleed from pottery shards, and leaded paints give him shooting pains behind the eyes, but still he gorges himself on these.

The second type are the bitter old men who wish to become manticores.

trampier, of course

A person who wishes to become a manticore must fulfill three criteria.  They must be:

  • old
  • male
  • spiteful
More specifically, the horrible old man must also have a grudge that they want to settle. 

The Mantigon sometimes accepts those who match only two of these criteria, but never less than that.

Perhaps the orphaned Mantigon feels kinship with these fellow embittered souls.  Or it seeks to emulate his departed creatrix.  Or perhaps it's just a colossal dick that likes sowing discord.

The Mantigon will interview potential candidates to ensure that they are indeed old, hateful men, and that their grudge is indeed genuine.  There may be tests of spitefulness involved.  

The grudge must be one that a manticore, but not an old man, could achieve.  Usually this involves killing someone or ruining something.

Once accepted, the Mantigon cleans out one of his wife's eggs (they are always born empty--she is infertile) and stuffs the old man inside it.  He uses his saliva to seal up the egg, and it is given back to the Dragon Hen to incubate.  Nine days later, a small manticore hatches out of it.

It is unknown if the Mantigon can make other types of manticores, but regardless, all of the manticores that you will encounter will be flying lions with the heads of bitter old men.

The first thing they do is fulfill their original grudge.  This usually involves killing a local authority, destroying the farm they were forced out of, or eating some teenagers who made too much noise.

Then the manticore disperses.  (They do not return to the Mantigon, who has no more wish to hang out with a bitter old asshole than anyone else.)  However, from time to the Mantigon calls his manticores back and holds court.  It is unknown what, if anything, is discussed at these meetings. 

Manticores have unique psychologies.  While their initial moods are as varied as any humans, they invariably turn towards resentment.  

Roll reaction rolls normally.  On a neutral or better result, the manticore is talkative and possibly even friendly.  But as the encounter continues, the manticore will begin to grow resentful (over things that the party has and it lacks, such as youth, love, or thumbs) or insulted (as it begins to imagine veiled insults at every opportunity).  The only thing that keeps them calm is a steady supply of slanderous gossip accompanied by (at a minimum) the minor acts of casual cruelty.  

(Manticores don't actually enjoy widespread killing and cruelty.  Auschwitz, for example, would horrify one, and it would probably seek to avenge itself on the perpetrators.  Manticores prefer smaller actions, like breaking a kitten's tail and laughing at its pain, then spiking it to the ground when its mewling became aggravating.)

Everything that a manticore interacts with eventually becomes an object of resentment.  Opponents, their weapons, their clothes, et cetera.

A manticore will always devour a slain foe, their clothing, their weapons, their belongings.

Unlike their father, the Mantigon, they have no special ability to consume objects.  Bones will be splinted and wood will be chewed.  It is not uncommon to come across a manticore gnawing on a half-eated sword, cursing a dead knight with bleeding gums and broken teeth (which constantly regrow, like a shark's).

But they cannot digest the metallic chunks that they gag down, and such indigestible items are usually vomited back out.

That's the daily routine for many manticores.  Gnaw, bleed, gag, swallow, vomit, curse, and repeat.  

Indigestible items are concentrated in the tail, where the strongest elements become tail spikes.  

Such consumption is a difficult task, and the area around a manticore's lair are often littered with half-eaten objects, many having been swallowed and vomited up several times.  The manticore will always return to these objects once its mouth and throat have had a chance to heal.

In combat, they prefer to make strafing runs while riddling their target with spikes (which are later recovered and painfully re-swallowed).  

If a manticore is angry at you (and this is the default result) and is denied the reasonable catharsis of killing you, it will follow you, circling high above you, seeking to spite you in any way that it can.  It will try to kill people that look like they might know you.  It will yell down obscene things about your parentage.  It will scare away game and trample helpful herbs.  It will seek out water sources so that it can piss on you (but from a few hundred feet up, this is nothing more than the occasional droplet).

HD 5  AC chain  Claw/Claw/Bite 1d8/1d8/1d4  Tail Spikes 1d10 + poison
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 6

*Tail Spikes -- A manticore can make up to three separate tail spike attacks, but they must be at three separate targets, and no two targets can be more than 10' apart.  A manticore will be encountered with 1d10+10 spikes (track them).  These spikes are functionally identical to the iron spikes you can buy in town.

*Poison -- 1d4 per minute for 3 minutes.  Targets under the effects of a manticore's poison become bitter and resentful, and cannot aid their allies (unless their life depends on it).  Instead, they laugh at their friends' suffering, and will mock them even as they die.

The iron in a manticore's diet supplies the iron in their tail spikes.  If they are unable to achieve sufficient metal in their diet, the spikes will be stone (from eating dust) or bone (usually from suckling at cows' teats, after laming them), and will deal less damage (1d8 rather than 1d10).

There are rumors of more exotic types of manticore spikes.  Cursed spikes from a manticore that ate a cursed sword.  Golden spikes from a manticore that gained a dragon's hoard.  Metaphysical spikes from a dragon who ate too many philosophers.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The GLOG: Wizards

I'm not happy with it, but I'm getting real fucking tired of rewriting it.

My OSR-compatible rules for wizards can be found right. . .

They include the Illusionist, Necromancer, and Orthodox Wizard (the most traditional one).

I think these wizard rules are cooler than a witch's tit and hotter than a witch's other tit, but if you aren't interested is wading through another homebrew in search of bits to steal, here are the parts that I think are the most hackable:

  • I think the whole spell slots + casting dice is pretty elegant.  It removes the whole quadratic wizard thing and gives players a clear idea of how much spellpower they have and are bringing to bear.  (I actually give them aluminum casting dice at the start of each in-game day.  It's very tangible.)
  • Book Casting is a great ability.  It actually makes wizards feel more like wizards, since they're wading into combat with their big dorky spellbooks out, chanting stuff.
  • Vancian Preparation would be good to port into a 5e game, except maybe give a different benefit.  Maybe +1 to the spell slot, can only be used 1/day.
  • Giving mono-class bonuses is a great fucking idea and I'm sad I didn't hit on it sooner.  Just: I think it's a good idea to incentivize the all-wizard party or the all-thief party.  It makes the game experience more diverse, gives us more ways to play the game.
  • You'll notice that a lot of the old-school spells are a lot more powerful, and a lot more hackable.  A lot of them have multiple uses.  I tried to make spells like feather(fall), floating disk, lock, and levitate more comparable to sleep on the scale of usefulness.
  • Also check out the Illusionist's Final Doom where they turn into an illusion and get stuck there.  There's enough there for a blog post on its own.
  • I tried to give a lot of diversity in the undead that low-level necromancers can raise.  They all have different functions, and the necromancer's corpse economy means that they'll have to pick their favorite.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starfighter Samwise

I normally spend my lunch breaks writing down D&D ideas on the backs of receipts and then losing them in my car, but today I spent my time thinking about an idea for a video game.

I'm a fan of bullet hell games.  (If you haven't played them, they're similar to shoot-em-ups like Gradius, except cramped and tactical, in the sense that you learn to anticipate bullet patterns rather than respond to random enemy behavior).  It's a pretty well-developed genre, and once you dig into it, there's a hell of a lot of variety, both in interesting boss mechanics and in tactics.

But bullet hell games never have a good story </opinion>.  Like, some games have such good stories that I have fun just talking about the story (Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Half-Life 2) completely independent of the gameplay.

This is perhaps tough to do for a bullet hell game, because you're basically just a floating dot that spews out a wall of bullets at other floating dots that are also spewing out walls of bullets in an otherwise featureless landscape.  

It's not a genre that lends itself to usual story touchstones (doors, people, a sense of place).

Anyway, here's my script for a bullet hell / shoot-em-up game that will probably never get made.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Filling the Dragonhole

In this post, you get to watch me try to flesh out my dragon hole dungeon.  This is just me spitballin' ideas, in preparation for actually writing the thing.

So we got these six dragons, right?   And a rough idea of their personalities and collections, see?.  Maybe not so much their goals or wants, but I'll work on that later, once I have a better idea of the relationships between them.  That part can come last because it's the part that's most dependent on other things.

Saint-Leonard Underground Lake
Dungeon Layout

The recipe of "ancient X now repurposed by Y" is an old formula, but a good one.  In this case, it's an ancient water distribution system that was later used by a mother dragon and her brood.

There's a huge central shaft going down to a reservoir (or many reservoirs).  Right now my leading idea is a big shaft leading down to a sealed stone building in the middle of a perfectly spherical reservoir, maybe with a couple of pillars running up alongside it all the way to ground level (both as stairwells, but also as places to put ancient machinery and shit).

Okay, that sounds cool.  It also sounds big.  I might need two scales of map: one for the dragonhole itself and the other for the individual lairs.


Once there was a mated pair of dragons.  A knight slew the father.  The mother fled with her seven kids and decided to hide in a big hole in the ground.  She was paranoid and controlling.

Eventually the knight died of old age and her six kids grew up.  One of her kids was killed by the other six (specifically Vulpernia) for breaking her most important rule: don't let people see you.

Then the mother died and her delusional daughter, Emerald Egg, has started turning her into a dracolich.  The other five dragons don't know this last detail, and just keep living their fucked up, egocentric lives in what is basically a subterranean apartment building for emotionally underdeveloped dragons.


The first part of the dungeon is going to be descending down the huge bore into the earth. It needs to be big enough for dragons to take off and fly around inside of it, so. . . maybe 500' across?  That's a big hole.

It's also covered in ivy and flowers, which the surgeongbirds feed on when they can't get proper blood to drink.  The flowers are watered by numerous tiny streams that flow into the circular pit, some of which break off into tiny cataracts, all of which disintegrate into mist before they fall to the reservoir at the bottom.  They grow out of cracks in the stone.

There are "balconies" on the way down.  These are actually just mountings for pieces of machinery that have been long since torn off.  (This site was previously used to pump water up into space, although that fact will never be important.)

PCs climbing down into the dragon hole will have to deal with a swarm of surgeon birds.  (Plate armor is an effective deterrent.  So is just feeding them with bladders full of blood.  So is fire.)

Okay, that's the normal, expected stuff.  What weird stuff can I throw into this balcony-encrusted murder hole?  (I can always trim back the weird stuff later, so it's good to vomit up a bunch of it now.)

Think of this as a menu of oddball shit I can choose from later.

Flower pots.  These belong to Vulpernia.

Maybe a little fairy or something.  Maybe riding in a chariot or hot-air balloon pulled by hummingbirds.  Maybe the fairy lives in a birdhouse.  Maybe they all live in birdhouses.  Maybe all the birdhouses are different, and are famous buildings identical to the ones that Ashrendar has in his lair.

Actually, fairies are lame and being carried by six hundred exhausted hummingbirds is cooler. I'll see if I can find a way to work that in there.

Drakencult berserkers being carried by hummingbirds????!!!??

At least one surgeonbird has tasted some dragonblood somehow (their beaks are long enough to reach a vein, much less pierce a scale).  It's probably bigger and weirder.  Maybe it's the intentional pet of one of the dragons (Vulpernia?) and wears a little collar.

Messenger birds flying through.  Ravens?

Huge, horrifying noises as some reservoir machinery struggles against death.

Garnos' resting balcony.  It's got a water trough, dried blood, cow bones, and a live cow with broken hips.  In fact, that's the sound the PCs will probably hear as they descend down the sides of the hole--rushing water and the bellows of a dying cow.

Maybe the flowers are linked to the birds in a literal fashion, and turn to look at you if you start killing surgeonbirds.  Maybe if you kill a crap-ton of birds, the vines will turn on you.  They'll stop being easy handholds and start falling out of the wall as soon as you put your weight on them.  They might fall on you in long strips (like lumberjacks being killed by huge strips of bark falling on them.)

A warning, like skeleton stuck in the ivy, or the shields of dead knights.  (But maybe this is laying it on a bit heavy and maybe I should save it for later?)

Rainbows from the falling mist.

Beehive growing inside something.  Valuable thing amid the combs?

A huge air current that blows upward every 60 minutes for 3 minutes.  If you had a parachute, you could ride it out of there.

A painted sign, metaphorically.  The draconic equivalent of Home Sweet Home.  (This is a stupid idea.)

Carnivorous flowers?  (Nah.)

Garnos' Drakencult

Before the party reaches Garno's lair proper, they'll need to get past his guys.  These are muscular crazy dudes who used to be dragon hunters.

So, they dress like ex-dragonhunters.  One dude armed with a bladed grappling hook, wearing only a loincloth.  Another dude with a turtleshell shield that's large enough to hide under (+8 to save vs dragonbreath, but not very useful otherwise).  One chick wearing nothing but a dragon-headed helmet, carrying an extremely long spear.

So these guys, they worship Garnos and watch his back.  What are they like?  Probably like warboys.  Or ork boyz.  They probably have at least one guard post-type thing.  But what else do they do?

Probably at least one or two crazy-as-fuck things.  Like jumping off the balcony down into the reservoir, 1000' below.  Or jumping through a ring made of swords (Garnos is the one with an insane weapon collection, remember?) where jumping too far or too short results in severe injuries.

Or maybe there is a room with spears sticking up out of the ground, and they stand on top of them while wearing steel boots with leather glued to the soles, like in those kung-fu movies.  Falling over usually means getting impaled.  And you can fight down among the standing spears, all cramped.  (Rules for confined places, plus non-thrusting weapons get another penalty to hit.)

They poop inside buckets inside a treasure chest (to minimize the stink) and then dump it over the side.  Therefore, at least one room will have treasure chests containing shitty buckets.

Stupid armor, like a helmet made entirely from swords.

Stupid weapons, like a huge sword-tree made from smaller swords.

Some ridiculously large guy (stats as ogre) who can wield these ridiculous things in a way that is suddenly not ridiculous any more.

Garnos probably has a bunch of captured dragon-killing weapons, like ballistae and catapults.  The drakencult uses these to execute people (sort of like how Kim Jong-un supposedly executed a general with a mortar).

A barracks and a private room for Third Fang, Garnos' lieutenant.  These dudes probably think of themselves as dragons-to-be, so they probably emulate Garnos to a lesser extent.  Some of them probably keep miniature hoards of their own.  Maybe tiny berserker dolls.

A pile of grappling hooks and rappels.  If they're Garnos' private SWAT team, they need a way to navigate the dragon hole quickly.

A back tunnel that connects to one of the vertical shafts, which is both illuminated and protected by ancient Elvish ashakka.

Berserker dog, also mad on dragonblood.

Under a sheet, Garnos' war helmet, designed to help him kill dragons.  His siblings would be very disturbed to learn of its existence.

A shrine where they can actually worship Garnos.  Probably just a platform with some kneeling pillows arranged around it.  This is probably where he also feeds blood to his loyal dudes.  Dragons are armored all over so he probably has to cut the inside of his eyelid, and then the berserker just drinks the blood out of the cupped flesh of his lower eye while Garnos just stares at you.

It's creepier when you remember that Garnos basically never talks.

How To Talk To Garnos

You make declarative and interrogative statements.  If Garnos hears something that he disagrees with, he bites you, or maybe just breaks something.

Thief: . . . so you see, Vulpernia needed someone to fix the plumbing.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: So, if you can let us pass, that would be great.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Are the pipes in this direction? (points in wrong direction)

Garnos: (whips his tail behind him, cracking the wall)

Thief: Uh, down this other hallway then? (points in proper direction)

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Then we'll take our leave, Oh Incinerator of Cattle Herds.

Garnos' Lair

Every dragon shapes reality around them, making it more like their own expectations.  (That's part of the reason why they're such confident jerks.)  This happens in a way that a dragon wouldn't notice.  A dragon remembers (falsely) that a coin in scuffed, and next time he checks the coin actually is scuffed, confirming what the dragon thinks he already knows.

This is why dragon fear is so potent.  Dragons assume all humans are cowards.  After all, nearly all the humans they see are fleeing.

It also effects the environment.  You could think of it as psychic emanations subtly warping the environment (since that explanation has the same effect) but its really more like reality fluffing the pillows to make things more comfortable for the most valued guest.  (Dragons are more real than other things around them.  They are the Most Real Things.)

In Garnos' lair, this basically boils down to two things.

1. The first time a person is injured in Garnos' lair, they flip out and enter a rage like a barbarian (it is difficult to exit the rage).  Afterwards, they can enter the rage whenever they want, as long as they remain in Garnos' lair.

2. Once the party starts fucking with Garnos (stealing significant things, killing his warboys) reality begins to act against them.  Any source of fire will begin acting against them.  Torches will start throwing embers onto flammable stuff, lanterns will sputter out and die when you need them most.  Etc.  This won't happen more than once every 10 minutes.

Garnos' Hoard

This would be a good place to put a hallway lined with the shields of the would-be dragonkillers.  Bent, charred, bloodied, and each insignia unique.

The first thing that Garnos hoards is brave heroes.  He has nothing but respect for the steady stream of men who arrive to kill him.

So, there are a few dudes scattered around his lair.  A paladin with broken ankles, placed on a high shelf (30' off the ground).  A starving, dehydrated valkyrie at the bottom of a 20' hole.  A psychotic wizard under a 5000 pound hemispherical reactor vessel, trapped like a beetle under a shot glass.

Then Garnos has his main hoard--weapons.  Just picture a room covered in them and then keep adding more weapons.  Take a realistic number of weapons and then multiply it by 100.  Sword chandeliers.  Arrowhead mandalas.  A tunnel lined with daggers, all of them pointing at you.

Of course there are some magic weapons just lying around the place.  Maybe they're buried under a pile of other swords, but the PCs can find them because they're emitting light or crying out (audibly or psychically).

The most common twist is that the sword is evil and cursed, but not entirely useless.  That's a cliche for a reason, and so that one stays on the table.

What about two rival magic swords?  Each one will only agree to let you wield it as long as you fight the other magic sword in a duel to the death.  The opponent must be of equal skill, there must be no cheating, and the losers (sword and wielder) must be killed (beheading and sundering).

The last thing that Garnos hoards is alcohol.  He's a little bit ashamed of this vice, and so he doesn't put it out in the open.  It's probably semi-hidden in his lair somewhere.

Anyway, it's just an alcohol collection that would make Nero jealous.  This is Garnos' bed, and it is where he sleeps.

Perhaps the floor is covered with broken glass.  It's too small to pierce Garnos' skin (to him, it's just rough sand) but the chunks are huge enough that the room is basically caltropped.

The floor is definitely covered with oil.  Garnos is fireproof, and he loves to burn things.  If anyone attacks him in his own bedroom, the first thing he's going to do is set the floor on fire.

He's not immune to smoke (though he is more tolerant than a human would be).

Quick Ideas For Magic Swords

A sword that can turn into dust, and then you can cut anywhere in the dust.

A sword that can cut anything 1/day (ignore armor).

A sword that can shatter non-magical swords.

A sword whose cuts don't take effect until you kiss the pommel.

Idea for the Treasure Curse

All dragon treasure is cursed.  Remember how Smaug's gold caused greed?  It's basically canon, dudes.

All of Garnos' treasure is filled with his arrogance, rage, and love of combat.  Anyone who wears or uses any of his treasure hoard must take a barbarian level the next time they level up (unless they already have at least one barbarian level already).