Thursday, July 19, 2018

spooky scary skeletons

Skeletons are my favorite D&D enemy. My players know this fact very well. It's become a running joke.
Plug: Matt Bailey does amazing illustrations of skeletons, naked ladies, and skeletons fucking naked ladies. He also did my tattoo! Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and buy his merch!
Can you blame me though? Skeletons are a perfect monster. Consider:
  • Orcs/goblins/humanoids have language, society, all that shit, and once your monsters have those things then you're at the whole "can an entire species be Inherently Evil and if I say yes does that make me like, a racist" dilemma (answer: not necessarily but it probably makes you boring).
  • Big fucking snakes and owlbears and stuff are comparable to big animals: bestial, sure, but are they truly Monstrous? Anathema?
  • Tentacle monsters and demons are cool, but I don't like using them all the time. I feel like it spoils their otherworldliness.
Skeletons have the best of all these worlds. They are obviously wrong. You see a skeleton walking around like it's no big deal, you know that's some fucked up shit. Smash.

At the same time, they are ubiquitous. Nearly every poor motherfucker who ever died in your campaign world left behind a skeleton (and if your campaign doesn't have a spell that animates skeletons inside of the still-living, so that they burst out of their hosts like a butterfly out of a cocoon, get on that ASAP).

They are humanoid, so they can wield human equipment. They are also a reflection of the human-ish characters and human players: the body, stripped of thought, desire, will, individuality; reduced to its... well, its skeleton.

Finally, the skeleton is fate. You can spend your life cracking skeletons into dust - a hundred, a thousand, a million - and in the end, all you will do is join their ranks. Awesome shit.

da share z0ne.
Here's a few simple types of skeletons from my game. Also check out this post by Skerples over at Coins & Scrolls. This post is certainly not me also experimenting with stat block formatting. Any alterations to the appearance of the tables below is illusory, I assure you.

Skeleton
HD: 1MV: 3SV: F1MR: 12
AC: 10 or Armor, Immunity ArrowsClaw 1d4 or Weapon
LOOKS: Animate human skeleton, red pinpricks in eye sockets, jerky movement.
WANTS: To slaughter the living and smear themselves with blood.
# APPEARING: 2d6

After the Cataclysm which annihilated the capital and heartland of the Old Kingdom, horrors stirred from long sleeps. Forbidden arts were practiced once again; daring and desparate alike foolishly sought to harness the cruel powers of undeath. Wherever there is some foul labyrinth or forgotten tomb, there too is one certain to find the walking dead. While sleepless skeletons can only comprehend the simplest of commands, they know neither fatigue nor remorse, making them ideal spear-fodder. Wordlessly they stagger, but even a glimpse at the diabolic lights in their hollow eyesockets tells of their unperishing hatred for all that lives. Clearer still that hate becomes when they kill, for only then do they make utterance: at once rattle, scream, and laugh.

-- Anarion the Grim, Concerning Undead

Skeleton Warrior
HD: 1+1MV: 3SV: F1MR: 12
ARCHERAC 11, Imm Arrows; Longbow 1d10
SPEARMANAC 14, Imm Arrows; Spear 1d6
AXEMANAC 13, Imm Arrows; Battleaxe 1d8+1
SLINGERAC 12, Imm Arrows; Sling 1d6 (AP)
LOOKS: Long dead warrior, bearing worn equipment.
WANTS: To slaughter the living and smear themselves with blood. Remember some of their military training.
# APPEARING: 1d6+1

"With that business done, we charged headlong into the lair of the Necromancers. Our blood was mighty-stirred, by the promise of silver and the insults of your Wizards. The zombies in the upper graveyard had fallen like rice to the sickle, and we thought ourselves unbeatable. But when we came to the chasm bridge, it was our turn to fall. The bonemen we fought were no peasants, newly animated by some fresh reject of your damn University. Even in sleepless death, they remembered the teachings of our iron mother. We were held there on the bridge by a hedge of spears, while archers from a high cliff rained arrows upon us. Our own shooters could do nothing against them. Slowly they pushed us back, as our ranks dwindled. My shield-sister Lenabora fell gurgling, an arrow in her throat. She had the most heaven-beautiful hair I shall ever see in this life. It was choked and matted with blood. I dragged her behind me as I fled, but in the end I pushed her off the bridge, for want of speed. She was not quite dead yet. As for your damn Wizards, I saw them both dead, arrows in their little backs -- that is what happened. I should have died there, pissing on them. Had I yet my strength, witch, I would piss on you."

-- account of Miraglaza Ill-Wife, Report to the Archproctor of the Fate of Intendants Uinen and Thalion, Repentant Order of the Crimson Glade
 
Bloody One
HD: 2+2MV: 5SV: F2MR: 12
AC: 12, Immunity Arrows2x Claw 1d6
LOOKS: A skeleton, stained dark red with blood, sometimes wreathed in bits of entrails or flesh. Terrifyingly fast, jerky movements.
WANTS: To rend flesh and snap bone. Murder for murder's sake.
# APPEARING: 1d4

After the subject ripped out the slave's heart, it then knelt before the slaughtered boy, pulling open its chest cavity that it might dip its bones within and soak them thoroughly in the gore. Once it had completely bathed itself in the defiled corpse, I observed a most curious change in temperament (if that is, indeed, the correct term). The creature became far faster and more aggressive -- aware of my presence above it, it tried in vain to crawl up the sides of the pit. When I threw the mother to it, the thing gutted her in an instant, tearing her limb from limb and scattering the parts like a tornado does houses. ... Upon my return I noticed that, in abscence of any potential victim, the creature had rent the flesh from the bones of the two slaves and arranged these around itself in bizarre patterns.

-- diary of Ecthelion, merchant of Mithlond
 
Consigned Pyrurge
HD: 3MV: 3SV: W3MR: 12
AC: 10
Imm Arrows, Heat
Burning Hands 2d6, 20', Sv Spells 1/2
Heat Aura 2
LOOKS: A skeleton engulfed in flame, black with soot and ash.
WANTS: To set shit on fire, especially buildings, and especially especially people.
# APPEARING: 1d3

The bulk of the ancient pseudoscience of the Pyrurges was totally eradicated -- even ere the time of the Great Kings -- by the scions of our Eight Correct Disciplines. Even so, the viable teachings of that erroneous school were not forgotten. The most cogent found a place within our own curricula, though the choking smoke of incorrect thought was cleared in the light of true wisdom. Nine Initiations of the Pyrurge were well-known, though in the dark years since the Cataclysm several have been lost. There was a Tenth, however, to be performed after death. In this final Initiation, the spirit of the deceased was to at last be joined with the Eternal Flame -- and the corpse turned to more practical ends than slow decay and sleep...

-- Archmagus Borcirion of the Radiant Order of the Dozen Rings, Concerning Unorthodox Thought

Relentless
HD: 1+3MV: 4 FlySV: F1MR: 12
AC: 13
Immunity Arrows
Javelin 1d6+Poison:
If slain in 24 hrs, rise in 1 hr.
LOOKS: A floating skeletal upper body, carved with runes which emit purplish smoke. Sometimes have pelvises and femurs dangling below them.
WANTS: To float around, throwing stupid fucking javelins at you until you die and become a zombie. Like seriously, these guys are no joke.
# APPEARING: 1d6

So no shit, there I was, at the point of the van, hewing down foul undead left and right. Many of our own lads fell, but few did I see weep, and our wall held firm. It was manhood on that field, manhood the like I have not seen since we threw back the southrons at Sunspear -- ah, that was a good king! Then they came, by the Wolves, like a dark cloud over the crest of the hill. Our spears were already long bent, and our shields more gouge than plank. When they hurled those darts, day became as night, such was their number. Foul, smoldering poison coated those battle-barbs -- no pain it causes, but a terrible tiredness, an empty feeling, like after you've fucked. Yet even cut apart and dying under that rain, those boys held firm. So fresh they were, pulled from their little farms and the arms of their first loves. Aye, as the skalds sing, war is hell and there we dwell, so drink and love ere you sleep.

-- Bardroc the Braggart, account of action during the Battle of Lake Mallen

Finally, this last one isn't really that interesting in and of itself, but it allows me to show off the first bit of in-universe fiction I ever wrote, way back in the summer of 2015, to get people psyched for my campaign. Everything really does come down to skeletons!

Risen Legionnaire
HD: 1+3MV: 2SV: F1MR: 12
AC: 22Claw 1d4 or Weapon
LOOKS: A skeleton in the beautiful and cursed plate armor of the Old Kingdom.
WANTS: Death, for Death guides its Hand.
# APPEARING: 1d6

...Lalaith saw tarnished plates of sun-golden metal, shaped into a beautiful suit whose like she had only heard of in the oldest stories. A tall conical helm held still held the scraps of what once had to have been a majestic blue plume. Beneath the battered brim, a white skull stared at her. Its sockets yawned like caves, and she could feel herself falling into them as she stared back. She thought she could almost see a tiny pinprick of red light in each socket.

There was a rusted axe in its bony hand.

Her eyes slowly turned back to Aradan. He was frozen on the spot. She could feel the cold sweat on the back of his neck, for it ran down her own as well.

“Ar… Aradan,” she whispered, voice wavering. 

The thing turned its head slightly toward her friend, and lurched forward. Lalaith stumbled backwards, as Aradan moved in a start, his hand darting down to the sword. It slid free of the old scabbard, glinting in the little light that was left. Aradan roared as best he could as he brandished the blade, trying to scare the thing off. His voice cracked.

It did not hesitate for a second, and Aradan yelled a second time as he took a swing at it. Blade met plate with a loud metallic crack, before the blade slid off. He shrieked again, fear gushing from his lungs, as it closed on him.

Lalaith watched as the thing thrust forward at Aradan’s face with its empty hand, fingers outstretched like ivory spikes. The high shriek turned into a gurgle, as she saw three narrow bones burst out the back of her friend’s skull.

She screamed her friend's name, but it was lost in the sound the thing made: a roaring cackle, filled with hate and pain and joy. Blood ran out between the thing’s fingers, staining Aradan's sandy brown hair. She leaned back against a tree trunk and stared as he toppled backward, limbs twitching. His handsome face was a red mangle of flesh and blood and bone. The air smelled thickly of piss. She wasn’t sure if it was hers or his or both.

It came toward her, as she leaned, frozen, against the cold trunk of the tree.

“Areg… no…” Her sobs came hard and fast, feet digging against the dead leaves and soil, pushing her back so hard into the rough bark she could feel her skin scratching open.

It was before her. She heard the plates clink softly, and saw its arm rise. Fingers like ice closed slowly around her neck, lifted her off the ground, pinned her against the wood. The wood felt so warm now, against her back. 

For the second time that night, she felt her throat freeze. 

She's in the Monster Manual XI, $59.99.
- kill your dungeon master -

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

fate points

This is the only good idea I've ever come up with on my own. Someone else definitely had this idea first. On the plus side, this one's actually playtested.

wtf, i died in the first fifteen minutes? this game sucks!

Thank you for coming to my D&D game! There's cookies and punch by the door. Now that we're all settled in and pretending to be elves, let's talk about ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ.
I am every single one of these people simultaneously somehow.
So, based on my extremely thorough and scientific perusal of several threads about character death on r/rpg (which are really the same thread which just appears every month or so), I think that a majority of people who play tabletops these days are not accustomed to the idea of character death which is both easily had and difficult or impossible to reverse. Yet one of the few things which seems to hold together the otherwise diverse/disparate OSR movement is the expectation that death has both of these properties.

If you read these same threads, you will see that this is a source of friction between people who like old-school games and people who have other aesthetics of play.

For me personally, a game is only exciting if there is some kind of failure state, some possibility that I will not obtain the outcome I desire. As I define/understand it, the existence of a failure state is what separates the concept of the game from that of the toy; toys can be thought of as submitting or being acted upon, while games push back and act upon the player.

Related image
Losing is fun! Dwarf Fortress.
At the same time, I realize my preferences are not the same as everyone else's. Many people enjoy the sense of progression that comes with increasing their character's power, which in a challenge-based game (to borrow the narrative/challenge dichotomy of Zak from Playing D&D with Pornstars) is really a measure of the latitude given to the player by the collective to meaningfully alter the shared imagined space. (Compare, say, Dungeon World where many of the moves give players a great degree of agency over the shared space from the get-go, and I could honestly write a whole series of posts on why I think this distinction is so important to me.)

It's easy to understand how it can feel frustrating to lose a poweful character, even if that loss is in some sense "deserved." Worse still, not only have you lost the hero you have grown attached to, now you have to start again at the very beginning! Losing a lot of low-level characters can also be quite disheartening, especially if other players can still rely on their powerhouses (though I have been working on smoothing out the power curve so that the difference between low and high-levels is not so night and day).

Axiom: RPGs are not really about the characters, but the players.

Corollary: Whatever happens to the characters, the players should feel like they are making progress if they have earned it by overcoming challenges.

I like to try to accomodate lots of people at my table. For some of my players, having a badass story to tell is all the progress they need. Others want more concrete acknowledgement that they put in the time and effort and laughed and cried and bled.

fate points

Fate points (also called actions points, etc.) in RPGs usually take the form of an abstract resource which can be expended to e.g. reroll a save, get an extra attack, or famously in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, to simply Not Die. Many people have written about the pitfalls of such fate points: it's inherently a dissociated mechanic; if they can be used to avoid death rational players will only ever use them for that purpose; and so forth.

Needless to say, I'm not a fan.
Pictured: Fate points in most RPGs. Margus Holland.
Fate points in my game are not associated with characters, but with players. They are gained by either dying or retiring, and can be traded in at character generation to gain mechanical advantages, like extra ability score rerolls, extra starting money, or starting at 2nd level (at the high end).

I feel like the system guides players towards certain metagame behaviors and understandings that I want to encourage. It's another signpost that death is a common/inevitable occurence, helping players who are perhaps unaccustomed to that to mentally prepare themselves. At the same time, it enables players who had powerful characters to more quickly get back to making grand changes to the shared world. The chargen boosts "for sale" are the sorts of things which feel good without totally negating the riskiness of the game - getting 18 Strength because you saved up for 4d6 drop lowest is cool, but it's not going to carry you. While the system is dissociated (i.e. it doesn't really represent anything within the fiction) character generation itself is a fairly dissociated process to begin with. Finally it encourages players to think beyond their current character, which I feel is an important mindset to have if you want to establish one of those long 20+ year campaigns like I do.

I haven't had any players try to game the system by essentially churning characters for fate points yet. Not only do people tend to get attached to their characters, it seems most people recognize that the rewards really are just there to soften the blow; not at all worth grinding for.

the actual boring rules part

(These are pulled from an old version of my house rules. They haven't been reviewed in awhile, so feel free to criticize/suggest additions! My rules for character generation are: 3d6 in order, reroll one ability score or starting hp, swap two ability scores not rerolled, if the sum of ability mods is less than -1 character may be mulliganed.)

Fate points are a resource which allow you to counteract some of the randomness of character generation. They are awarded to you either upon the death or successful retirement of a character. Once fate points have been given for a particular character, that character may never be played again.

One fate point is awarded per level of the character. An additional point is awarded if that character was the first time you played a particular class. Two additional points are given if the character established and controlled a stronghold at the time of death or retirement.

Fate points may be expended to gain mechanical benefits during the character generation process, at the following costs:

COSTEFFECT
1One extra ability score swap.
1One extra ability score reroll.
2Freely assign ability scores.
3Reroll one ability score 4d6 drop lowest.
3Start with a loyal 0-level retainer.
4Start with maximum 1st level HP.
5Double starting money or start with 100 sp, whichever is higher.
5Start with half of the experience required for next level.
7Roll all ability scores 4d6 drop lowest, in order.
10Reroll one ability score 5d6 drop lowest.
12Start at second level.

- kill your dungeon master -

Sunday, May 20, 2018

cannibal cults, the hunger, and ghûl

Delaying the next Hell City post until tomorrow. In the meanwhile, here are some rules for ghouls and cannibals.

This is based on material by Arnold K. of Goblin Punch and Skerples of Coins & Scrolls (who has some additional sources). Also, potentially others that I'm forgetting. If I forgot you yell at me and I'll make sure you get credited!

eat your friends for fun and profit

This is a thing which exists, apparently.
Everyone knows that by slaying and eating a person, you gain a measure of the power and ability they had in life. Certain organs are the dwelling places of different aptitudes: intelligence and memory are known to dwell in the brain, courage in the heart, and fortitude in the liver, for instance. With a properly balanced diet of their Fellow Humans, the frailest can become champions, the dullest Casanovas, and the dimmest great philosophers.

Were it not for one teeny little catch.

the hunger

The taste of a fellow human's flesh seems to stir some long-dormant curse lurking within the spirit-genome. Once awakened by depravity and transgression, it swiftly sets to work. Normal food no longer sates one so afflicted. Though you might gorge yourself on Epicurean feasts, devour delicacies that would give the most jaded hedonists pause, eat and purge and eat again a dozen times in one night, nothing will suffice to feed the Hunger that now surges within your gut, your heart, your mind.

More flesh. You know that is the only thing that can make it go away. The claws in your belly, the pounding in your temple, the buzzing and ringing in your damn ear. Just one more bite. One more. One more.

Perhaps the first or second grisly meal will not stir, but eat enough and soon you will feel the Hunger. Feed that Hunger even once, and you will become one of them: the Changed Folk, the Ghûl.

so now i eat people i guess

At first, a Ghûl is indistinguishable from any other human. Perhaps a little off, a little strange, but that could be anything. You can still pass as normal, which is good, because right now you are the most human you will ever be again - that is to say, the weakest.

If you're smart, you'll go for children when you get those cravings (children are notoriously bad at not getting murdered). People weep, but they never think overmuch of a few missing children. It's a cruel world out there.

With every meal, you feel your body changing. Your muscles subtly tighten under your skin. Your reaction time improves. Your nails grow faster and faster. A tooth falls out, and next week a new one is in its place (it's never as pretty as the one it replaces, though).

You need to eat more. More people disappear. If you aren't caught after the first year or so, you become formidable; freakishly fast, strong, and above all, brutal. (Slurping someone's brains out of their freshly hand-splintered skull is the most fun you've ever had).

If you haven't been found out yet, you will be soon. Other pleasures lose their luster. Regular food barely has any flavor. Sex, music, and art become chores. All you care about is the next time you can sink your teeth into one of your own - preferably one still twitching, weeping, begging.

The demands of the Hunger become ever more frequent. Sooner or later, you'll miss a meal (though wealthy people with the curse can often sustain themselves for decades). Once you do, the Hunger turns on you with the collective malice of everyone you've ever eaten. The buzzing deafens you, your entrails strangle themselves, your skin cracks and eyes bleed. The Hunger takes a hammer to your head, striking every moment of every day, hard enough to sprawl a normal person senseless. With each blow, you lose a bit of yourself. Memories fade, dreams crumble, ambitions burn. If you still pretended to love anyone, you won't any more.

All that will matter to you is the Hunger. If you can feed soon enough, you might be able to catch yourself before you go totally mad, and linger awhile longer: half-sane, irate, violent, but still recognizably human. If you are unlucky you will lose your mind completely, and in your consuming madness shamble off to haunt graveyards, tombs, caves, and other places rich in death and free from the light of the sun. 

As a Ghûl, you are immortal. Age will cease to weaken you (though the ravages of the curse will invariably make you hideous: either bloated or gangly, with an ever-changing carpet of bone-revealing lesions and sores). Disease will shun your accursed body. Though you can be slain with arms, feed enough and even the most skilled warriors will have difficulty dealing with you. All you need is to feed your Hunger, and while the Hunger will gladly torture you, it will never let you expire. The only price is your sanity.

Sooner or later, you will miss a meal.

Sooner or later, You will go missing too.

So welcome to Eternity. Enjoy your stay.

spreading and stopping the hunger

The Hunger dwells somewhere at the intersection of the mind, soul, and basest instinct. The taste of flesh is most straightforward way to stir it, but that is far from the only means. As the Hunger becomes more and more prevalent in an area, it become easier and easier to stir.

The easiest way for a Ghûl to spread their condition is to leave a body only partially eaten. The tattered corpse seems to exude some aura which can potentially wake the Hunger in those unfortunate enough to see it. Most Ghûl, thankfully, are unaware of this. In the countryside especially, Ghûl usually have no problem finding a secluded place to feast away to their heart's content.

In the city, matters are different. With enough people crowded into a small space, a real outbreak becomes a possibility, as Ghûl are forced to be sloppy and bodies get discovered. And as the killings become more and more frequent - as it becomes more and more evident that many Ghûl are afoot - fear and paranoia themselves become enough to wake the Hunger.

Most towns of a thousand or more will have a person on hand who knows the signs of the Ghûl, charged with rooting out infestations before they become epidemics. Many are hacks, but even the hacks know the surest test: a dram of freshly-drawn Ghûl blood, dripped on a silver plate and sprinkled with salt, will blacken and smoulder with inky smoke. (Ghûl abhor the taste and scent of salt, though it is only harmful if it directly touches their blood).

Every large town has a Ghûl outbreak every other year or so, which is swiftly stamped out. At least once a generation, it seems, some town or another fails to contain the Hunger before it grips too many. Once that tipping point is passed, the settlement's doom is swift and brutal. Families tear each other apart, the streets are strewn with gore, and flight only serves to spread the illness to nearby villages. When all the corpses have been picked to the bone, the dead city's gates then spew forth their last citizens in aimless bands. For awhile, they might wander terrorizing the countryside, but only the most powerful and lucid can sustain themselves for long in this way. Eventually the band turns on itself, and the mad survivors slink off to the shadows to wait until the end of days.

okay yeah this all sounds fucking horrible how do i not

Not becoming a Ghûl is simple. When you first feel the Hunger take hold, starve yourself. Don't feed the urge for a month, maybe two, and it will pass.

Simple, not easy.

Something like the madness which afflicts full-fledged Ghûl will descend on you. It's probably not as severe - but you're not as hardened as a Ghûl, either. Lock yourself in a tall tower, if you can. Make sure you have no guests. Every culture in the world has at least one tragic poem about someone who found the Hunger, secluded themselves, only to receive a ill-fated visit from their lover the night before the sickness was prophesized to pass.

Even if you successfully spurn the Hunger, you will still be forever changed. Food and drink will taste like ash in your mouth. Colors will seem to fade. All strong scents will offend you. The sound of children playing, a gentle stream, your lover's whisper - they will all become unnaturally harsh. For all that, you and your immediate progeny will also become unaffected by the Hunger, and unable to gain power of those you eat.

There is another way too - never stir the Hunger in the first place. If eating people is too attractive however, rest easy; there are ways to have your cake and eat it too...

the cannibal cults

There are a number of entities, both willing and able, to protect would-be cannibals from the curse (the servants of the Despoiler are particularly eager to fill this role). In exchange for this protection, the supplicant no longer tears into their victim like a beast. Careful rituals replace base hunger; hidden altars, the bloody forest floor. By these means the entity siphons away most of the corpse's latent power to their own nefarious ends.

Though it might be slow, the cannibal cultist nevertheless gains the growth they desire. Long-term cannibal warriors are supernaturally strong and fast; cannibal wizards are some of the most terrifying, the accumulated knowledge of hundreds swirling in their skull like a maelstrom.

Should you join such a cult, take care to never displease your new master, lest you go Hungry...

rules and tables and shit

cannibalism

You can eat the fresh corpse (raw or prepared) of a creature you have personally slain to attempt to gain some of its power. The corpse must be of your own race (famously, a number of professors at the University proposed that the only meaningful definition of racial boundaries was triggering the Hunger; all but one of them later turned out to be Ghûls). Choose one ability score, then compare the corpse's ability score to yours to determine the probability of increasing the score by one point.

Corpse's Ability Score is...Not in Cannibal CultIn Cannibal Cult
3+ greater100%100%
2 greater100%50%
1 greater100%25%
Equal90%10%
1 fewer50%2%
2 fewer10%1%
3+ fewer5%0%

Because of the possibility of spreading the Hunger, cannibalism is very severely punished in non-cannibal cult societies. Eating the flesh of a person you haven't slain yourself bears neither risk nor benefit

running the hunger

If you are in a Cannibal Cult, you are immune to the Hunger. Otherwise, you have a 50-Wisdom% chance of contracting the Hunger, which will take hold of you for the following 1d6+2 weeks.

Every time you have a chance to kill someone and eat them, make a saving throw vs. Spells (in my game, Compulsion) to resist the urge. If you fail, you must attack, although if your enemy damages you you are allowed another save to try and get ahold of yourself. Take -1 to your save for each week you have had the Hunger.

If you successfully beat the Hunger, you still lose 1d6 from all of your mental ability scores as you become sullen, withdrawn, and restless. You and your immediate children become immune to the Hunger. It's a good deal for the brats, at least.

If the Hunger conquers you, you become a Ghûl. You no longer need to eat, breathe, or drink. You are also immune to disease and sterile. However, you must feed or risk losing your mind.

The first four times you need only feed once a season; the next four once a month; the next four once a week, and once a day thereafter. Once you have passed the once a month threshold, you will find yourself unwilling to commit suicide. After the once a week threshold, other sources of pleasure will lose their luster. At the one day threshold, you are obviously a Ghûl to any casual observer.

If you fail to feed you hunger in the alotted time, permanently halve all your mental ability scores, while gaining +1 to all physical ability scores. Repeat this if you fail to feed in another time increment. If all your mental ability scores reach 1, you go feral. (Players in my game, collect Fate Points).

If you see a Ghûl devouring someone, you have a 10% chance of contracting the Hunger. PCs are immune to contracting the Hunger from viewing Ghûl spoor and hearing rumors of their depravity.

bestiary entries

Ghoul, by Nordheimer

Fresh Ghûl

HD: 1+1  
Mv: 12" (4)  
AC: Armor  
Att: Weapon  
Sv: F1
MR: 8 (0) 
Wants: To feed, not be discovered.

Only slightly stronger than a normal person, these Ghûl are still weak and furtive. They will tend to quick and efficient treachery, though already the desire to revel in brutality is stirring within them.

Mature Ghûl

HD: 3+1    
Mv: 12" (4)  
AC: Armor or as Leather 
Att: Weapon or Stunning Claw 1d4   
Sv: F3   
MR: 10 (+2) 
Wants: To feed, to cause suffering if convenient.

In the final stages of the Hunger (i.e. needs to feed once per day), the Ghûl becomes a true monster, both in terms of its combat ability and its inhuman outlook. These Ghûl are far more confident and willing to make frontal attacks, though they will revert to ambush when it suits them. Their disfigurement is unmistakable at this stage, and only extensive clothing can hide the affliction. Furthermore, they have learned how to temporarily incapacitate with their ghastly claws, all the better to relish their victims: those so struck must save vs. Petrify (in my game, vs. System Shock) or be Paralyzed for 1d6 rounds (in my game, Stunned). Despite all this, they can be negotiated with, although any peace so gotten is not likely to last overlong.

A brief digression: I run Stunned as "lose all class features except your HP and halve movement speed." This includes attack bonuses, spellcasting, special abilities, and saving throws. In other words, welcome back to being a 0-level jackass.

Feral Ghûl 

HD: 4+2  
Mv: 15" (5)  
AC: as Leather 
Att: 2x Stunning Claw 1d6   
Sv: F4   
MR: 12 (+4) 
Wants: To fucking kill you and eat you RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

Ghûl inevitably devolve in mindless and ravenous creatures. This is the form which is so often mistaken for undead; those who bear crosses and incense against them will all too quickly discover they are useless. Feral Ghûl tend to lurk silently in dark places and then attack the living upon sight, without any regard for their lives.

Ghûl-Beast

HD: 8  
Mv: 12" (4)  
AC: as Leather 
Att: 2x Paralytic Claw 1d6, Stench of Death   
Sv: F8   
MR: 12 (+4) 
Wants: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

The strongest and cruelest of feral Ghûl grow into these monstrosities, standing half again the height of a man, their muscles and sinews weeping through shredded flesh. Such Ghûl no longer need to ambush, but they often retain a base cunning and will attempt to trap their prey in dead ends. The scent of pestilence hangs thick in the air about them, causing any who approach within 30' to save vs. Poison (in my game, System Shock) or become sickened/stunned. (I have their claws paralyze rather than stun; you may want to increase the duration or something).

Ghûl Lord

It is whispered that some rare Ghûl have carved out their own tiny cannibal fiefdoms in the wilderness, clinging to sanity with a steady stream of weeping captives. If they exist, they are certainly cruel beyond reckoning; but also cunning and charismatic. It is even rumored that some have colluded with the Despoiler, who has put a stay on their degeneration in return for their service in unspeakable plots...

If you use these guys, make each one unique. Go crazy giving them batshit powers. It's not like they lack time to learn magic, jump in vats of green mutating slime, learn kung fu, or whatever else.


yes i know ghul is a stupid name i suck at coming up with new names please don't bully me

- kill your dungeon master -

Saturday, May 19, 2018

city at the gates of hell, pt. 2: generation

Let's get to work. We're gonna need some city-making rules. I like the look of these ones, from Last Gasp Grimoire.

A note to newer DMs: Systems like these exist only to get the juices flowing. They are the canvas we're painting on, and that's it. Maybe some of that canvas will still be visible at the end - but it certainly doesn't need to be, and (arguably) is better if it isn't.

The table should work for you, not the other way around.

We start by grabbing a bunch of dice and dropping them, like so:


This displays the relative locations of the city's districts.

The hit location die marks where the center-most d20 was. Since I don't have enough d20s at the moment, I rerolled it back into the [conglomeration?] I also used a d30, because I like d30s. Finally, I added some extra d6s to give us a bunch of Additional Undefined Boroughs, which we will hopefully make completely our own.

(No, I don't know why I'm using the royal we. If this annoys you, then perhaps the knowledge that my brother plans to work on this with me will assauge you - you can pretend I'm speaking for us both).

So the next step is to draw lines from the vertices of the top-most face of each die. If a line intersects another die, then those districts are connected. After that, we go down from the largest die size, getting rid of duplicates. Those two steps produce this:

EP = Emerald Pit, X = Undefined
Now we can look up what those districts actually are. Each district has an associated wealth level, and here's where I'm going to make my first major diversion from the stock Corpathium rules. In order to express some of the themes I touched upon in my previous post, I want navigating the city to feel very constrained by wealth level. In particular, the poor should find it difficult to access the rich parts of the city. We can figure out exactly *why* it's so difficult to access these districts later, but I expect a lot of them are imposing gated terrace-boroughs, looming over teeming slums. Mechanically speaking, we'll check each of the connections from rich boroughs: if the connection leads to another rich borough, it stays. If it leads to a middling borough, it has a 3-in-6 chance of being deleted. If it leads to a poor borough, it has a 5-in-6 chance of such. That gives us this, a final product for now:

I debated about it for awhile, but ultimately I decided to add one connection, from the Wheel of Gold to the nearest Rich district.
Already I'm liking how this is looking - that line of Rich districts (Wheel of Gold - Van Goethe Gardens - Flesh Market - Lilacs) is great. Maybe that line represents the actual side of the mountain, with those communities existing on separate platforms above the main platform of the city? That implies (to me at least) that the Rookery is actually physically inside of the mountain itself. I'm already giddy thinking of the possibilities! The city is also a lot more difficult to navigate now, which is a good thing in my book. Crossing the city early on should be a perilous proposition. And these only represent the connections that A. everyone knows about and B. everyone can use. In later posts, we'll add connections back in, but they will all be restricted access in some sense. Getting to use these alternate routes will be a mark of progression in and of itself.For an example of what I mean, we could maybe add in a network of shittily protected and maintained sewer tunnels connecting far-flung poor or middling districts together. That's all for tonight. I conclude with a list of all the city's districts and their wealth levels.

DistrictWealth
2. The Rookery of Van MoldusPoor
3. Temple DistrictRich
4. The Twin NestsMiddling
5. The Sporous ApiaryPoor
6. LilacsRich
7. The Wheel of GoldRich
8. Van Goethe GardensMiddling
9. The Crystal PondsMiddling
10. Flesh MarketRich
13. The Old FolkRich
The Emerald PitPoor
Undefined 1Middling
Undefined 2Middling
Undefined 3Poor
Undefined 4Poor

- kill your dungeon master -

city at the gates of hell, pt. 1: inspiration

So I'm currently in a different country finishing up a master's degree, which has made it more or less impossible to play with my group back in the US. I still have D&D on the mind though, and I want to try my hand at something a bit out of my comfort zone.

You see, the two regions of the world that the players have explored are both very *grounded.* Historical. Low fantasy. Believable. Whatever you want to call it, that's the sort of setting I'm used to writing.

I've also never made any sort of urban adventure environment. I'm far more comfortable with a good old-fashioned dungeon romp, or even the wilderness hexcrawl, than I am with the city adventure.

Screw being comfortable. Time to get weird. Time to get messy. Time to make a fool of myself. That's how you learn, after all.

Let's make a city at the gates of hell.

but first, my setting in four sentences

The continent this game takes place on is conceptually North America stretched to the size of Pangaea. Hundreds of years ago an empire of death-worshippers and skilled mages ruled almost everything, and in order to sustain their unfathomably cruel regime, they got into some fucked up sacrifice shit. This ended with the collapse of most of global civilization after they accidentally made a 2000-mile wide demon-infested hell-on-earth crater in the middle of the continent. This event, and the hellscape it spawned, are both simply called (the) Cataclysm.

inspirations

I'm going to level with you, the primary thing which inspired this is Canterlot from the new My Little Pony cartoon.

Canterlot. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
A reimagining of Canterlot, with more city. Plainoasis.
Another remiagining. Imposing. Balthasar999.
Things I like about this:
  • It's a city hanging off a god-damn mountain-side.
  • Because of that, the entire place looks like it needs magic just to stay up. It's safer for the inhabitants up there (important when you live next to Hell), but it also feels *wrong,* like a city doesn't belong there.
  • Lots of towers, terraces, verticality. We'll come back to this.
  • Architectual language: curvy, organic, art nouveau, fairy-tale gothic, tall, slender. This contrasts with the established architectural language of the evil empire (known simply as the Old Kingdom by most people in the setting's present) which was: blocky, ponderous, monumental, angular, obsessed with statues/ziggurauts, fantasy Brutalist.
  • Bright colors. Too much fantasy is drab and dark. PCs can bleed out in gaudy alleyways too.
So I'll steal pony Minas Tirith. Where does my mind go from there?

We're gonna need way more demons, for starters. Paweł Żarczyński.

wait why is he talking about cyberpunk now i thought this was a d&d blog?


I see all the spires, bridges between buildings, and terraces and immediately I start thinking of cyberpunk, specifically the 1982 film Blade Runner. As this YouTube video points out, the movie uses verticality to distinguish between social classes, with the privileged elite in their towers and the teeming alienated masses stuck on the ground.

This is not a new idea by any means. The afterlife in the Divine Comedy uses this structure. More recently, the WH40K universe used it to great success in the concept of the Hive City. But for some reason my mind keeps coming back to this cyberpunk thing, possibly because cyberpunk is set in cities which are recognizably similar to the ones I actually live in.

So that gets me thinking about two things.

oh jesus christ now he's talking about city planning and cars and shit fuck this


As Zak Sabbath points out on p. 36 of his city-running kit Vornheim (which will undoubtedly be indispensable to this project) cities are distinct from dungeons in that they are meant to be inhabited. Where the dungeon resists habitation, movement, and even comprehension, a well-designed city should facilitate these things.

Note: well-designed. I'm from America, where we have a lot of really badly-designed cities, to the point where I would go so far as to characterize them as hostile.

Now, for the most part, this is unintentional/subconscious: for example, American cities are designed to be navigated by automobiles, which is great!... if you can afford an automobile. If you can't, the city becomes much less hospitable, simply because it becomes a hassle to negotiate the longer car-friendly distances between Locations of Interest.

Sometimes cities are designed to be openly hostile, however. (The Wikipedia article on hostile architecture is a good starting place for learning about this type of design, if you're not already familiar with it.) I have always been interested in how the powerful express themselves through shaping the urban environment, particularly with respect to restraining access and movement.

So let's run with that idea. An urban pointcrawl, where the richer half of the map is prohibitively difficult (even aggravating) to access at first (too bad they have all the fucking money you want). As you level up though, and gain social influence, gradually those barriers start to fall away. The geography of the city for 1st-Level PCs and 5th-Level PCs should be different. Without actually leaving the walls, the environment changes, much like a well-designed megadungeon responds to player exploration.

I feel like having a vertical city makes it easy to limit points of access, while also keeping the rich parts of town part of the constant urban landscape.

Moscow. Ivan Turukhano.

at least this kinda has something to do with d&d i guess


Secondly, I'd like to try and see if I can't incorporate some of the themes and concepts which are common in cyberpunk and other noiry genres. Two big ones are transhumanism and abuse of mass media. I'm not exactly sure how to tackle the second one yet, though I have some ideas.

The first one though. In cyberpunk, you graft on a robot arm when your shitty human arm gets ripped off - in this city, maybe you can get a big fucking demon arm like in that one episode of Rick and Morty and punch people out with it. Functional, but a bit boring. We can do better.

Pictured: Dungeons & Dragons. Apparently. Rick and Morty.
It's been established that the demons in my setting are essentially crystalized emotion/vice/virtue, ala Warhammer. Why couldn't you use a captured demonling to say, cut away your fear? Or desire? Or amplify those things instead? The idea seems really anime to me, somehow. I'm curious to see if I can do it anything approaching justice.

That's enough for now, I think. I've already started generating the city's layout, but this post is already long enough. Look forward to more soon.

- kill your dungeon master -

so you all wake up in a tavern...

Greetings.

I like playing RPGs. My favorites are the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and the ones which have been put out by the OSR movement in the past 10 years.

Many of my posts will probably revolve around my campaign setting, or my house rules for old-school D&D. If you like RPGs too, hopefully you find something you can steal for your own games.

People who play in my game, this blog will definitely contain spoilers. You may find your experience more enjoyable if you avoid posts which touch upon the world's history.

Finally, if you like this blog, my biggest influences are Goblin Punch, Coins & Scrolls, Delta's D&D Hotspot, Playing D&D with Porn Stars, and Roles, Rules, and Rolls. Eventually I'll have a proper blogroll up for your reading enjoyment.

You should also check out my brother's work at Profane Ape. He plays in my campaign, and so far everything he's written has been content for my campaign world. He may provide a valuable alternate perspective on the ravings you find herein.

More to come soon. Until then...

- kill your dungeon master -