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


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%
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.


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

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.

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.


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...


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 -