Monday, June 10, 2019

Session 1 - Squid, Goats, & Necromancers



Last summer I ran a sandbox campaign for my buddies using the hexcrawl map from Divine Right. We left off with everyone splitting up after attempting to sabotage the meeting of a powerful crime boss/Lich (named Lord Gorthus) and the demon lord Moloch (leader of the dreaded Marble Knights). Everyone fled, the whole thing ended with a messy street fight. I'm running a new campaign in the same world this summer which I hope will improve upon the successes of the last one, and hopefully fix some of the problems I was having.

I've been pretty continually dissatisfied with how I've been running cities, but the wilderness/hex exploration part of the game last summer was some of the most fun I've ever had in my short years running games since high school. I also want to use more dungeons.

List of Things I want to get better at/work on in this campaign:
- Running Cities
- I'm writing my own system, so I'm definitely gonna be testing that out.
- Random Encounter Tables

I think the part that the players seem most excited about is the world-buildy stuff, they really like learning about the world, so I want to get better at giving them that kind of information and story.

I was really excited about the new character creation rules, but my players didn't really want to use them? I think I didn't explain them super well and everyone's more used to character-creation as a minigame in 5e while this system is meant to randomize as much as possible while also hopefully creating a sort of rough procedural narrative about the character's backstory:


and here's the new character sheet:



It's still a little bit sketchy. There's some dead negative space in the inventory and spells area that I may box out for character portraits. There are a few things that could use a little explanation in the margin space underneath them.

I think there was generally a little bit of reticence on my players' part about using new rules at all, which I understand, I definitely have been in games where the GM was using homebrew and it sort of felt like more of an indulgence than a boon, but at the same time, this is what's fun for me and I'm putting in a substantial amount of effort to make the rules fun for the players too so hopefully they'll recognize that. It's a work in progress, but I think it's off to a good start!

New houserules include contested combat from Last Gasp and a Divine Magic system like the one used in GLOG i think. You get a Faith Die (either from just being a cleric or a paladin or from praying in a temple if you're just a believer) that you can use to cast a Divine Power given to you by your god. Witches get a similar thing from the Demon they make a pact with.

I'm gonna write another post compiling the basic rules for this system.

The Characters:
Spud, a rogue who operates a mostly cannibalistic butcher shop which is probably in gratuitous violation of every health code imaginable (played by Hannah)
Kürig Cüp, a grimy, grave-robbing, Goblin rogue (played by Greg)
Claude, a Witch and the owner of a very dusty and currently mostly empty magic shop (played by Marius)
Squaml (or Sam), a kindly Paladin of the alien Squid-God Ogdru Zog (played by Tara)

Setting
We started in Thessalon, the City of Pits, an anarchic metropolis of towers and crumbling fortresses reclaimed and converted into shanty-towns and patchwork buildings. The city has a high population of both Witches and the Demons with whom they make their pacts. I think I'll describe the city in more detail in a future post, for now, here's the map.


Truncated Session Report:
Squaml intervened in a street fight between a group of Ink Fishermen and Goatmen. One of the Goat-Men cut the throat of a goat and a swarm of snakes poured out of the wound to attack the crowd. Tara then investigated the grave of a woman named Sybil Clover. The squid-in-a-jar told the Paladin to find a garden, and he found strange magenta flowers growing from the grave of Sybil. He investigated at the Corpse-Merchant’s office and found out she was a witch who died 75 years ago, and later made a deal to have Stinky dig up her grave.

Stinky saw a Necromancer in the Grave Gardens and made a plot to kill him to take his stuff which technically eventually worked. This involved hiring an Axeman named Ogden who I am very happy to have around because roleplaying a friendly NPC guy with an Axe feels a lot like just being a player.

Things I Learned:
-Using random tables at the table kind of sucks like 40% of the time. It slows things down. Super helpful for names and other stuff. Gotta get better at pre-generating more of the randomness ahead of time.
-Also Maze Rats might just be the best DMG ever written. I just wish the lists were numbered so it was easier to roll on them as tables.
-I need to make cities work more like wilderness. When I started using the random encounter table for the city every time people moved around, that was pretty good, but it worked even better when I started figuring out locations. I think that just making a list of taverns, banks, libraries, graveyards, mansions, etc. in the city would really help. Only need a very loose idea to work it into a session.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Hellraiser Inspired Demon Mythos

Watched Hellraiser for the second time tonight. Some of the coolest ideas about demons I've ever seen are in that movie, and the way I want to do demon lore in D&D is definitely very closely based on those ideas whether I intend them to be or not.

Ideas from Hellraiser to steal:
1. A portal spell that turns a wall into a fleshy material. If you cut a hole in the wall, and then later in actual flesh, the wall will split open and allow you to travel into the wound.

2. Entrance into Hell isn't based on morality, it's purely about weird "sexual purity" shit. I don't know what's so fucked up about the monsters running the universe that that's what they care most about, but for some reason, they do. If you're sufficiently fucked up, kinky and sexually deviant, like Frank you're like a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from being a warlock. In other words,

3. Puzzle box that summons demons. Just have a clearly shady NPC give the party a puzzle box for no discernible reason and if they open it, horrible demons like the Cenobites show up. If they don't open it, maybe some dumbass hireling will.

4. "Demons to some. Angels to others." This is an idea that has historical meaning! I wrote a paper (for a class I got a C) in about this demon named Abrasax...
(chicken's head, human torso, snakes for legs, sweet guy)

Abrasax was invoked in a specific medallion alongside Jesus by super early Christians in Rome. What I learned/extrapolated from this was that apparently there was a time back when normal everyday people believed in demons real hard that they were very morally ambiguous, even simultaneously characterized as very good and very evil. Sometimes they could be convinced to cure certain illnesses (like the Abrasax amulet I wrote about), sometimes they did evil demon shit.
In Hellraiser it's more likely they're just worshipped by assholes like Frank. I want my demons in D&D to contain both the Hellraiser-type demon-as-angel and the Abrasax-type demon-as-morally-multitudinous-minor-deity.

5. Last but not least, A FUCKING SHAPE-SHIFTING BONE DRAGON who cons people into buying Demon-Dimension-Portal-Opening-Puzzle-Box, EATS CRICKETS and waits for the aforementioned box to destroy their lives, and then snatches the box from the rubble and finds another mark to repeat this process. Such a sick ending.

tried to find a good link to the clip this guy is from, but couldn't find a decent video. which doesn't matter because just watch the movie it's so good.

(Below are stats for the Bone Dragon guy, who apparently is called an Eremite. I thought that using the Dracolich stats would be good, so I tried to find the earliest example of a dracolich (which I was familiar from 5e). Apparently, the Dracolich first appeared in Dragon #110 in an article by Ed Greenwood called "The Cult of the Dragon". Part of the article contains the exact ingredients and process required for becoming a Lich, which is super cool as worldbuilding info.)


EREMITE
Reference Dracolich  (see below for 1eAD&D stats) or 0-level commoner

HD 9
Armor as Plate + 3 (ascending AC 21, descending AC 0)
Attacks 2 × claw (+9 to hit, 2d4+2d8 cold damage), 1 × bite (+9 to hit, 6d6+2d8 cold damage and anyone struck by the Eremite/Dracolich must make a Save vs. Paralyze or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds.) or breath (

Special
Fear Aura "They retain the ability to cause fear in opponents (as per the Monster Manual) that they had in life; as a lich, the fear they cause is slightly stronger -- opponents must save vs. spell against the fear aura at -1 (after all other modifiers are taken into account)."

Paralyzing Gaze "The gaze of their glowing eyes can also paralyze permanent, negates the chilling damage but creatures within 4; creatures of 6th level or above, or 6 hit dice or greater, save at +3. If a creature ever saves against the gaze of a particular dracolich, it is immune to the gaze of that dracolich from then on"

Shapeshifting Unlike regular dracoliches, the Eremite spends most of its time in the form of a 0-level commoner. In this form, the Eremite has the same stats as a peasant/commoner, but it can transform back into Dracolich form at-will. In peasant-form, the Eremite disguises itself as an outcast in society, likely to be perceived as a homeless person and thus ignored by much of the population.

The eremite will only interact with people in order to try to give them the puzzle box, which, if properly opened, will open a portal to hell and summon 1d8 demons to drag the puzzle-solver to Hell Planet. This is likely to be a destructive process, and afterwards the Eremite retrieves the puzzle box, and repeats the trick.

The puzzle box only opens a portal to hell if opened by a human, and it cannot be used by a demon.

This concludes Part 1 of MONSTER REVIEWS, an idea I had in a previous post in which I talk about a movie or a piece of art, or a weird deck of cards or really anything and use that thing as inspiration for game material, maybe a table, maybe a monster.

List of Ideas for Future Monster Reviews:
  • Blue Hell and the Pardoner Demon, based on the song Blue Hell by the band Pardoner.
  • The Viscerons, sort of based on the Shit Monsters linked in the last post, but more just also based on human anatomy. 
  • King Ghidora (AKA Monster Zero) from the Godzilla Series, specifically Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (AKA Invasion of Astro-Monster).
  • Rogol Domedonfors, tentacle ooze Wizard, from Dying Earth by Jack Vance.
  • Evil Dead 2-inspired possessed berserker.
  • Horror-Wizard inspired by Suspiria.
  • The Cult of Somnambulon, Sleep Magic, and Dreaming inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Some New Magic Items

Collected here are a few rough magic items I jotted down in a notebook last summer.

Wrong Sword
The sword does an extra 1d4 damage for each opponent you argue with while wielding it. Your opponents must reply to your statements, and you must be wrong about everything you say. The sword also gives its carrier Disadvantage on all Persuasion checks.

Siren Toad
A golden toad whose croaking song (like a whale-noise?) requires any who hear it to make a Wisdom save (or a save against mind-control) or be forced to draw nearer to the toad, transfixed.

Originally part of a monster-encounter in a hexcrawl. It was one half a symbiotic relationship with a lake monster. The toad sat on the submerged lake-monster which pretended to be a rock while the toad lured passers-by into the water with its song. Then, the lake monster would drown and eat the mesmerized victims.

Mongoose & Snake Arrows
Mundane arrows or bolts, with arrowheads forged in the shape of either animal. The arrows give their archer Advantage on any shots against their natural prey: Mongoose Arrows provide Adv. against snake-like enemies. Snake Arrows provide Adv. against rodent and bird-like enemies.

When fired, the arrows turn into their respective animal mid-flight, latching onto and attempting to bite/maul the target. Stats as mundane rodent (like a weasel, I guess?) or snake. 

Or 1d4 HP, +3 to hit, 1d4 damage.

Flower of Carnage
Pulling off a petal will cause a target's limb to be torn off (can only be done once per wielder of the flower). If a victim of the flower is able to use the flower on someone else, their lost limb can be easily reattached, stitching itself back to the wound with a web of root-like fibers.

Sign of Hospitality
Nail this wooden sign to any door and the door will open to a cozy cottage, sort of like Tiny Hut.

Crown of Silence
No sound can be made within a 100ft. radius of the Crown except when the wearer speaks. This causes 4d6 damage to everyone within earshot (Dex save allowed to clap ones hands over their ears). This can only be done once/round but the act of speaking can be done as a free action or a reaction. 

The Crown-Wearer takes damage for every use after the first in a given day.

Vial of the Melted Star
There is a massive irradiated inland sea in the Elflands, full of liquid starlight from a fallen star. This is a vial of that liquid. Fey energies attract the attention of faerie-creatures, normally hidden to all mortals but children. You can see Lay-Lines and easily seek out the Elves' hidden portals to the Lunar Wastes.

If you drink the vial, make a Con save or die. If you succeed you are instantly immunized to all radiation.

(Gnomes, Elves, and other Fey-adjacent folk are unaffected.)

Sword of Regicide

Advantage and +3d8 damage on all attacks against monarchs and people named Reggie. The sword will turn against any wielder that dons a crown, and refuses to harm peasants and civilians.

Chain of Freedom
Broken manacles, usable as a heavy whip or flail. +1 versus all oppressors & advantage on all saves and rolls against being restrained, grappled, paralyzed or held.

Sunless Spear
Ceases to exist when exposed to sunlight, reappears when the wielder returns to shadows.

Hammer of Salt & Sea
Conjures a massive wave when it strikes a body of water larger than a puddle. Anyone caught in the wave (30ft. wide, 20ft. tall, 20 ft. long?) must make a Dex save or be knocked prone and take 3d6 damage. Once/day.

(The mechanical effect of this spell was mostly stolen from a 5e spell, Tidal Wave.)

Other Magic Items Whose Names I Came Up With But Whose Effects I Still Do Not Know
Moonlight Greatsword
Solar Axe

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Monster Gut Table

So Zak S. did a cool thing (EDIT: Zak S. is an abuser, fuck him. This post is based off of some of his work from his blog from before i knew that) a really really long time ago where he went through all the monsters alphabetically in the Monster Manual and he wrote a short thing about them. Some of them are just like "this monster sucks+a little joke about why". It's a good fun time.





I had the idea that I could do a similar thing (writing short things about monsters) after I saw this thing (pictured above) which is also very worth sharing, earlier today. I want to write about monsters from wherever, that could make great monsters in D&D. This would also just be a fun thing for me to do to gather a lot of unique weird monsters to use in my games. So I think the format for these will be some combination of a review of cool monsters and maybe stats or rules or mechanics for those monsters. Here's the first, it's not a monster, but it's a rule for monsters based on how monster-loot works in video games sometimes :

MONSTER GUTS

In fantasy video games sometimes you kill a rat, like in skyrim, or even a mushroom guy, like in mario or any kinda monster that doesn't have pockets and you still get some gold. This isn't a bad idea, it's fun to find loot on monsters. But I think most monsters don't hoard gold, that's a special dragon thing. So why do they have loot? Maybe because they ate an adventurer who was a little less lucky than you and that guy had a cool scroll on him. Or maybe the eyes of the Behir are just really good for 

So the idea is that some monsters have weird and/or cool loot inside their guts and you can get it if you cut em open.

Here's how I implemented this rule:

Step 1: Tell your players they can cut open the next big dead monster and it might have valuable loot inside, because sometimes wyvern-hearts are valuable, and sometimes wyverns eat wizards or just unlucky noblemen.

Step 2: If your players are like mine were, they immediately want to do this because it's gross and funny and they get loot and if you tell them there's a box with a present in it and it's for them, they will open the box because it would be rude not to and it's exciting, even if instead of a box, the present is inside the bloody carcass of some bat-winged monstrosity.

Step 3: All monsters that are big enough to eat people have a 1 in 6 chance of having loot from this table from now on.

MONSTER GUT TABLE
As always, if something doesn't make sense reroll, if something starts to get stale, cross it out and write your own thing.
1d20

1 - 10. The Wizard in the party* suddenly remembers/discovers that a part of this creature carries powerful magical properties (this is true of all of this kind of monster from now on).
1. Tooth or Claw - This monster's teeth or claws can be easily fashioned into fine blades which won't lose their edge. They have the same damage die as the monster's bite/claw attack, but only one die. If the monster doesn't have a bite attack or a claw attack, reroll.
2. Hide - This monster's hide can be tanned and made into a cloak that makes animals (and some people) fear you.
3. Horn - If you carve a blowing-horn from one of the horns of this creature, it's sound will attract more. There is a 1-in-6 chance that they will not be hostile.
4. Lungs - If you light the dried lungs of this creature on fire they will burst into a cloud of choking smoke (as Stinking Cloud).
5. Tongue - If pickled with burdock root and placed in a box, the tongue will speak profane blasphemies.
6. Heart - Devouring this creature's heart will exorcise demons or other entities from the possessed and cleanse the otherwise corrupted.
7. Eyes - The eyes of this creature can be preserved in a jar and will remember whatever they see. When a player wishes to view what the eyes saw they must throw them into a fire and the images will reveal themselves in the smoke.
8. Blood - If you drink this creature's blood you gain +1 to attack/damage for 1d6 hours. If you use it for a ritual baptism you may rage as a 1st level barbarian once today, before the next sunrise.
9. Skull - The sutures on the skull of this creature form a specific type of arcane writing which can be read as a scroll of Animate Dead.
10. Brain - Spellcasters will pay a large sum for this creature's brain, which apparently can be dissected in order to reveal an organic pattern from which one may learn the spell "Brain Seed", which allows the caster to carve out an idea from their mind and plant it into the ground as if it were a seed, in order to grow the idea into fruition.
11 . Entrails - Can be read by a Haruspex to cast any divination spell of the creature's level or lower.
12. - 20. You find something it swallowed inside its stomach.
12 . Garbage.
13 . Dead knight with intact plate armor. Wanted dead for the murder of several local peasants. Proof of his death will be rewarded with 4d10 gold by their families.
14 . Dead nobleman with diary full of bad poetry.
15 . Dead goblin clutching fancy stolen necklace worth 3d10 gold.
16 . Dead Rogue with a grappling hook and a map revealing a nearby dungeon.
17 . Dead Fighter with a splintered shield, a dented helm, and a finely engraved axe.
18 . Dead Wizard with intact, albeit slimy spellbook.
19 . Roll a Random NPC from this region. They're inside the stomach and they have a % chance to be still alive = their HD.
20 . Roll on the Random Encounter table for this region. That monster is inside the stomach and has % chance to be still alive = their HD.

*or whoever would know, maybe the Ranger.

Also here are some monsters/monster ideas I want to do in later posts. Please comment any suggestions!

Future Monster Reviews
  • Blue Hell of the Pardoner Demon, based on the song Blue Hell by the band Pardoner
  • The Viscerons, sort of based on the Shit Monsters linked above, but more just also based on human anatomy. 
  • King Ghidora (AKA Monster Zero) from the Godzilla Series, specifically Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (AKA Invasion of Astro-Monster).
  • Rogol Domedonfors, tentacle ooze Wizard, from Dying Earth by Jack Vance.
  • Evil Dead 2-inspired possessed berserker.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2 Character Ideas

I had two ideas for PCs but I play so rarely, I don't actually know when I'll be able to use them.

I think that later I will make them as experiments for my work-in-progress hack of Knave/5e/AD&D/any-other-things-that-have-rules-I-like-and-want-to-steal.

The first and better idea is for a probably evil wizard who uses illusions, invisibility, stealth and especially the phantasmal spells to terrorize and torment his enemies, in the style of 70s/80s horror movies. More specifically I was thinking of Suspiria, but even Hereditary could be a good reference for this kind of use of magic. Hell, even Halloween has that bit where Michael sets up all the corpses in a very theatrical way. I bet Michael would've been a theater kid if he had made it to high school.

A buddy of mine brought up Hausu as well, which I have not seen in it's entirety, but which seems very relevant to this idea.

The other idea was more of a straight-forward adventurer/hero type. Probably a fighter, maybe even a paladin. This would be a slightly different way to play a chaotic neutral character who has a save-the-world type quest.

The scene I initially imagined was one in which the party was in a settlement buying supplies for their next expedition into the mega-dungeon or whatever, during which time this self-righteous fighter would be robbing the innocent potion-maker at swordpoint and justifying it by being like "we need all the help we can get, you'll thank me when we save the world". It's murder-hoboing for a cause. Maybe with less murder.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Joining the OSR Feels Like Joining A Mystery Death Cult

WORSHIPPING DEATH

To clarify the click-bait title: A Mystery Cult is a thing from antiquity & a Death Cult (as far as I know) is more of a D&D thing.

The OSR, like a Death Cult, preaches a lot about death, specifically deadliness in games. And like a Mystery Cult the OSR is opaque and hard to immediately understand, especially as an outsider. 

Title roughly translates to "Fiend Folio" in English.

The only way, it seems to me, to gain a deeper understanding is by climbing into an unending vault of arcane texts: the Death-Temple megadungeon's library level, or the OSR blogosphere.

Many OSR ideas feel sort of confrontational at first. People talk about TPKs and metagaming and characters not really mattering as much as players and all sorts of things that are totally contrarian to the kind of ideas I had previously seen in more general RPG spaces on the internet.

At the same time, OSR content, (specifically for me the books by Zak S.) just blew every D&D thing I had ever read before out of the water. And then from there, I found that there are a lot of amazing books scattered in and around the OSR (work by Patrick Stuart, Scrap Princess(!), and others, like some of the stuff from Dungeon Crawl Classics).


When I actually started really using OSR ideas in my games, it was similarly revelatory. I found a lot of material online about sandbox games and how these were done in AD&D, and it sounded really cool. I ran a sandbox game this summer for a small group with 3 core members and a couple more people who showed up intermittently. It was easily the best campaign I have ever had the pleasure of GMing in my 6 short years of running games. More on that to come.

An OSR group, circa 1863. Zak S. pictured far right.

I AM BECOME

The biggest learning curve in my own experience trying to do OSR games was getting over an emotional fear about killing my party. Rationally I believe that making my games deadlier would make them better, but on an interpersonal level, I was worried my players wouldn't be down for this change and I didn't want to make things not fun just so I could try out some shit I heard about on the internet.

I had already heard a lot of advice in GM guides, and online (r/rpg specifically), and from my friends who also wanted to learn the craft, but I don't think any ever addressed how to respond to your own hesitation/worry about drastically changing your former way of playing the game even who you earnestly believe it to be a good decision.

Posts on r/rpg didn't help me much, OSR blogs really did. Which makes sense, because deadliness is a central part of what OSR is about most of the time, so people talk about it more.

I'm going to continually add stuff that I find/found helpful in my games, mostly just bits of what feels like good advice and links.

GOOD SHIT FOR OSR BEGINNERS / INITIATES OF THE DEATH CULT

I don't know if any of this will be of interest or use to other people new to this part of the hobby but these are the things that were of most use to me.


  1. Zak S.'s 5e Hack: this is a super helpful + easy set of house rules to make 5e feel like old school games. I also think it's a great eye opener to the kinds of changes you can make to your system that can push it into different thematic/gameplay directions. 
  2. Zak S.'s 5e Character Creation Rules: this is also super helpful. I ended up writing my own version of this with some minor changes. I let my players choose how random they want their characters to be but I encourage them to roll to determine race and class because it's fun. The random starting equipment table where everyone probably gets armor and shit is so fucking fun it's stupid. My players love this stuff because if they're new they get less stressed about not knowing how to make a character and if they've played the game before then they are often at a point where they're like "fuck it i'll just roll for everything, I just want to play."
  3. Alexandrian's "Jaquaying The Dungeon" : really good dungeon design advice, if a bit too dense and academic for easy consumption. It is thorough at least. The basics that really stuck with me are that branching paths end up feeling like linear ones but if you have loops and dead ends and other weirdness then it feels like there is a real sense of exploration because there are things you could miss. 
  4. Last Gasp's "House of Rules" : Good house rules.
  5. Last Gasp's "In Cörpathium" : this is the first thing I ever saw from Last Gasp and probably the first OSR thing I ever read. I had no fucking clue what I was reading but I knew it was amazing. Still is. 
  6. Jeff Rient's Carousing Table : carousing tables seemed silly to me at first but it ended up being one of the most effective and fun and interesting plot-generating mechanics I've used.
  7. Crowd-sourced Pre-Built Hexcrawls! The story behind these as I understand it is that a bunch of people got together and everyone picked a few hexes and wrote like one or two sentences about what's in them following the general guiding principle that "connections are good". This is great advice as to what it takes to write a hexcrawl map, because it turns out that you can make something pretty great by just having a lot of really small ideas. I highly recommend reading these and shamelessly stealing from them for your own hex map, and also the framework used to create them will serve you well.
    1. The Hexenbracken
    2. The Kraal
    3. The Colossal Wastes of Zhaar