Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"This feels like an old school dungeon" plus GMing prep & notes [5e Dwimmermount]

Our first session of Dwimmermount kicked off with some final touches of character creation. We spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how all of the characters knew one another and what they were doing in Muntburg, the town that is closest to the megadungeon.

cast of characters
Tsetsig is a cleric of Tenon from the island of Thule. He has travelled to the far off city of Adamas for . . . personal reasons. Tsetsig takes exception to his people being called barbarians because he knows that in truth, all current "civilizations" are in fact barbaric shadows of the once great Thulian empire. Tsetsig wishes to explore Dwimmermount to find evidence of his people's rise to greatness against the Eld, and in doing so lay out a template for how they can rise again and restore the Pax Thulia. It doesn't matter to him if the evidence is real, as long as it can be made to support his goal. He is not naive. He is supremely practical and recognizes that convincing lies are often more effective than confusing truths. Tsetsig has recently escaped from years of prison in Adamas. His body is weakened, but his strength of will has grown great.

Ilona Qoyor Enq is a noble from far off Thule, a cousin to Tsetsig, and a fierce warrior. She had a troubled life back home, and lost favor and positioning with her family due to her emotional conflicts around a bitter family rival. Rather than see her political position compromised further, she ventured to Adamas to rescue her cousin from prison, and now has become interested in the legend of Dwimmermount for she has heard stories that there are miraculous machines that can grant people magical powers without the need for study or training.

Horatius is a former soldier in the Adamas militia, but after mustering out has turned to mercenary work. When Ilona first arrived in Adamas she sought out Horatius for help in freeing her cousin from prison. While Horatius has a reputation for capable fighting amongst those he's worked for, he's not famous. Because he's a local, Horatius is very familiar with how the militia of Adamas would respond to the jailbreak, and because he's a merc he knows a few people who always need underhanded work done and he acted as a liaison for Ilona's inquiries. He has little interest in Dwimmermount beyond getting rich.

Gaius Marius Septimus is another local to Adamas who frequently works as a street busker or stage magician, but secretly his sleight of hand tricks are genuinely performed with arcane magic. While it is not illegal to use magic, sorcerers are not incredibly popular outside of academic and noble circles. Horatius hired Marius for help in falsifying prison records after Tsetsig's jailbreak and in the process of the job discovered Tsetsig's interest in exploring Dwimmermount. With rumors that people have been spotted coming and going from the mountain, Marius looked upon this as an opportunity to explore for hidden and locked away magics.

Brüghaht the dwarf was sharing a cell with Tsetsig when he broke out of prison, and managed to prove himself by neutralizing guards during their escape. Brüghaht feels a little indebted to Tsetsig for the opportunity to break free. In prison for burgling, Brüghaht is an outcast dwarf who refused to pay back the debt to his father for his "birth." He is interested in all of this talk of Dwimmermount since it is considered a holy place by all dwarves, even outcasts.

the story so far
It has been two days since the jailbreak, and our party is hiding out in Muntburg for it lies north of Adamas and is not along any significant travel routes so this would be the last place anybody would look for them. They had spent a day in Muntburg just resting and had time to explore the market grounds. Horatius started up a conversation with a local goblin mercenary, Brakk, but nobody was hired to escort the party in their trek. Tsetsig was supremely confident that they were over-equipped for the journey. Before they left Muntburg, the captain of the guard posted a notice that orcs had been seen on the trails leading up Dwimmermount and the castle would reward 10 gold pieces for every head brought back.

They ventured up the mountain and after several hours reached the red doors that served as the main route in and out of the ancient dungeon. The doors opened quite easily and they found evidence that someone had been here before them right away in the scuffed dust along the steps. Dwarf-sized footprints. Tsetsig cast a light spell upon Horatius' shield and they strode into the first chamber.

In the main entry they found six statues, five of which all depicted the same face. Testsig recognized the statues as vandalized depictions of the gods almost immediately. Before Brüghaht could check any of the doors for traps, Horatius opened a door leading west and saw a small fire at the end of the hall. The orcs that were lounging there did not seem friendly. As the hallway became choked with orcs, Ilona realized they couldn't all see properly and lit a torch.

The orcs fell, one by one, until only one remained. His courage quavered and he ran, deeper into the dungeon. Ilona was determined not to let him escape and chased him into darkness, with Marius and Horatius close behind, but Ilona managed to strike the final blow. The party then went about exploring the adjoining rooms, chopping off orc heads, and dividing the meager treasure at their post.

Ilona explored the dark room and discovered that it was an ancient theatre. The secret passage behind the rotting curtain stuck out like an apple amongst potatoes. She opened the passage and saw light coming from another door at the other end, and while creeping up to it her cousin managed to make a hilarious racket of noise, alerting the orcs on the other side. Another battle ensued, and while many orcs fell several also fled deeper into the dungeon...
this is where we ended

In the photo above you can see where the orc in the rear is running away (upper right) and the "thief" mini is where a tied up dwarf is sitting on the ground (lower left and 'outside' of the room).
You can also see my map technique, I'll draw the rooms on a piece of graph paper but once combat happens I have a larger grid that I draw on and tape together. It works pretty well and can easily be moved around the table which makes it less time consuming than constantly adjusting a battlemap.

the aftermath

One player expressed his amazement that "this feels like an old school dungeon" and another wrote to me, saying "Maybe it was just the exhilaration of running at the monsters rather than away from them, but that was the most fun I've had playing Dungeons & Dragons in many years." I have to admit that I hoped it would feel that way but I was worried that my expectations wouldn't live up to the actual playing of the game. Instead, it was a lot of fun. I had planned the game out as a dungeoncrawl, but I don't know how much of the game's impact came from the module and how much of it came from my use of the monstrous inhabitants and straining available light sources. Going forward, I'm excited that this game is going to be fun.

Even though we spent half the session tweaking characters and faffing about in town buying equipment and learning rumors, there was still plenty of character interaction as well as tactical reformation in the heat of battle. While we're all still picking up the 5th edition rules, the battles were pretty chaotic and messy events that overall ended quickly - except when nobody was hitting anybody.

When I was prepping the adventure I printed off pages from the Dungeon Tracker which came with my pdf version - I don't remember if this was a kickstarter exclusive or if anybody can get it, but its proved itself a useful tool and I may run every future dungeoncrawl like this.

This picture is deliberately blurry so my players can't see any details, but you can make out that I wrote notes at the bottom of the second page: these are for the notable NPCs in this level with little descriptions of what they want and what they'll do to get it.

You can also see some color coding in the map page above, and while you can't see it, I have page numbers for quick reference of the Monster Manual written along the right-hand side of the map page.

In retrospect, the players didn't get very far into the dungeon but it felt like a series of hectic and stumbling fights.

Here you can see some of my color coding. The blue indicates an access point that ascends or leads outside (an orange access point would indicate descending to a lower level), and the pink highlighting of room numbers indicates a light source. This is also, literally, the only rooms that got explored or seen.

I gave the orcs in the guard post a firepit where they were roasting rats, and the orcs in the other two rooms simply have ensconced torches embedded along the walls. Orcs have darkvision but I assume they would just naturally see better with light, and they didn't have a tactical reason to extinguish light sources until some humans barged in and started slaughtering their friends.

some final notes
One of the minor details in Dwimmermount explains that there are 13 zodiac signs. I had the players roll randomly for the month they were born and I haven't done anything with this yet, but I'm thinking each birthsign will have a minor effect, akin to birthsigns in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

I think the treasure in Dwimmermount is excessive and so I'm cutting the value of most treasure. I'm taking the value of treasure and dividing it by 10, and then roll dice that can't exceed double the amount. For example, in the original module the first group of orcs had 1000 gold pieces. Divided by 10 is 100, so I roll 1d100 twice and that's how many gold pieces there are. They found 98 gp!

I am giving experience points based on three metrics: exploration, discovery, and encounters.
Exploration = 5 xp for every room explored, multiplied by the square of the level of the room; each PC gets this reward even if only one character explores a room (ie. exploring a room on the second level nets 20 xp for everyone, exploring a room on the third level nets 45 xp, fourth level = 80 xp, fifth level = 125 xp, etc.).
Discovery = solving mysteries or puzzles in Dwimmermount will net 25 xp for simple mysteries, 50 xp for more complex puzzles, and 100 xp for surpassing deadly traps or scenarios; individual PCs can receive this reward for completing the task but as a rule all characters present receive the reward
Encounters = each monster or NPC has an XP value for being defeated; this XP is divided evenly amongst every PC present (if a monster or NPC is made an ally then the XP award is doubled)

Now, the module also doesn't make much of a distinction of what kinds of coins there are. References are made to Thulian and Termaxian coins, but most of the entries are generic. I've decided that Thulian coins are slightly bigger and are worth more, but the characters won't notice this unless the players actively take an interest in the coins they're finding. I've also decided that silver coins, when they appear in the text, will also be gold coins instead because I see the Termaxian Empire as having collected silver for magical items. In some hidden chambers there might be some silver, but otherwise it's just not present.

The limitations of the poor layout are starkly apparent while running the game. I found myself checking three sections of the book just to clarify the details of a single room. The paragraphs-long faction overview section could have been divided up at the beginning of the chapters where each faction is most prominent and pertinent, and the graph they included for showing the relationships between factions is difficult to read, could have used a simple diagram instead. The details about Dwimmermount's construction fill an earlier chapter that could have been trimmed down and then redistributed into the later chapters. For example, information about the entrance to Dwimmermount is on page 74 in the "Overview of the Dungeon" chapter and the details of the dungeon begin on page 117 where the only mention of the red door entrance is that they are present before the first room.

A lot of my preparations worked out really well however, and I haven't GMed a dungeoncrawl in years so I was pleased with how everything fell into place. Next week I may take more pictures of the actual session so you can see the deluge of miniatures that are on the map at once.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

prepping new games & learning new rules

The game I joined on Saturday had a small amount of upheaval and now I find myself GMing a game of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons in the aftermath of a Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure. The players have written lots of interesting hooks into their characters and I think I have some good adventure ideas set down. Prep for this game was unusually simple once I decided that it wouldn't be a traditional dungeoncrawl. Instead I wrote a single hook for each character and next Saturday will be the real test where I drop the hooks and see how many of the players have their characters bite.

During prep I made a list of all of the creatures in the 5e Monster Manual that could potentially be playable character races. You could consider this a shortlist for revamping Monster Mythology, but I'm using this as a list of potential NPC races:
Aarokocra p.12
Bugbear p.33
Bullywug p.35
Cambion p.36
Centaur p.38
Cyclops p.45
Duergar p.122
Empyrean p.130
Ettin p.132
Gargoyle p.140
Gith p.158
Gnoll p.162
Goblin p.166
Harpy p.181
Hobgoblin p.186
Kenku p.194
Kobold p.195
Kuo-Toa p.199
Lizardfolk p.204
Medusa p.214
Mind Flayer p.222
Minotaur p.223
Myconid p.230
Nothic p.236
Ogre p.237
Oni p.239
Orc p.246
Pixie p.253
Rakshasa p.257
Sahuagin p.263
Salamander p.266
Satyr p.267
Slaad p.274
Sphinx p.280
Sprite p.283
Thri-Kreen p.288
Troglodyte p.290
Troll p.291
Umber Hulk p.292
Xorn p.304
Yeti p.305
Yuan-ti p.308
I even made a rando generator for this list

The Sunday game, in contrast, is going to embark upon a traditional dungeoncrawl using the Dwimmermount megadungeon and, coincidentally, 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I've been reading the book and taking notes for the last few weeks so I think I'm familiar enough with the upper levels of the dungeon that I shouldn't have any problems - I'll share more about the extensive prepping I did in a future post.

For now, the most surprising thing for me is reading the spells in 5e D&D. The way cantrips work is so much simpler now, but also more powerful. You don't need to worry about light if you have a single magic-user in your party. The cleric has become a much more valuable utility class considering how powerful the create water and purify food spells have become. Just from reading the new rules I would be interested in running a 5e game where the PCs can only be fighters and rogues.

Joesky Tax
Did you know green slime has been nerfed from 'monster' to 'hazard' in 5th edition?
Here is my version of Green Slime as a monster in 5e D&D


Green slimes always move towards the closest creature they can detect.

Armor Class: 8
Hit Points: 22 (3d8+9)
Speed: 10 ft., climb 10 ft.

STR 15 (+2), DEX 6 (-2), CON 14 (+2), INT 1 (-5), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 1 (-5)

Damage Resistances: acid, cold, fire
Damage Immunities: lightning, slashing
Condition Immunities: blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, prone
Senses: tremorsense 30 ft., passive perception 11
Languages: -
Challenge: 2 (450 xp)

Amorphous. The slime can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
Spider Climb. The slime can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Slimed. When moving, green slime can enter other creatures' spaces. Whenever the slime enters a creature's space, the creature must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw.
On a successful save, the creature can choose to move back 5 feet or to the side of the slime. A creature that chooses not to be pushed back suffers the consequences of a failed saving throw.
On a failed save, the slime enter the creature's space and makes contact with the creature's body. The creature takes 10 (3d6) acid damage and is slimed (see below). Creatures that are slimed can move and act, but take 10 (3d6) acid damage at the start of each of the slime's turns until they are no longer slimed.
At the start of your turn, you must make a saving throw - follow the rules for making death saving throws, however taking damage or being reduced to 0 hit points will not cause you to fail a slimed saving throw. Failing three of these slimed saving throws turns your character into another green slime, which either adds it's mass (and 22 hit points) to any existing green slime in your space or acts as an independent and new green slime.
Succeeding at these slimed saving throws does not throw off the slime, it merely delays the inevitable.
While you are slimed, the green slime can be scraped off, but whatever implement used to scrape it off takes 10 (3d6) acid damage when it comes into contact with the slime (assume wood is a fragile material and metal is a resilient material, page 247 of the DMG).

Disease. Any magical effect that would cure a subject of disease, including lesser restoration or purify food and drink, when cast upon green slime will instantly destroy it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ratkin for 5e

(Skaven with the serial numbers filed off, and a playable race for 5e, inspired entirely by Skaven from Warhammer Fantasy)

Warrens carved beneath sprawling municipalities, wickedly sharpened blades scavenged from centuries of corpses, the squeaks and scrabbling echoes of a language born of rodents, the musty and fetid scent of a black market hidden within the sewers, and the overflowing contempt of those who think they are better than the dwellers in the underdark - the ratfolk have always lived side by side with humanity, but only as cities grow have they become more noticeable, and harder to ignore.

Ratkin are small, rodent-like humanoids; native to subterranean areas under cities and in dry regions. Typical ratkin average between four and five feet in height and weigh roughly 100 pounds. Most have brown fur, although this can vary greatly. Black fur is looked upon as the sign of true strength, and in most cities a ratkin of black fur that is born on the night of a new moon is often taken by the Cult of Thanskachak to be raised as an assassin in service to all ratkin. It is not uncommon for lighter colored ratkin to dye their fur black. Albino ratkin are rare and considered a good omen. Albino, and white-furred, ratkin almost exclusively become clerics, sorcerers, and rulers over other ratkin.

Ratkin have large fangs in the upper jaw structure, their eyes are commonly red, they all have over-grown claws, and a naked tail growing to almost a meter in length. With scrawning arms and legs, and lackly greatly in terms of strenght, ratkin are naturally faster, more agile, and natural diggers. Due to their cowardly nature, ratkin will most likely run then engage in direct conflict. Only when cornered will a ratkin fight with a reckless abandon.

Ratkin are hoarders by nature, and as a whole are masters of commerce, though some are shrewd merchants who carefully navigate the shifting alliances of black markets and bazaars, many ratkin love their stockpiles of interesting items far more than money, and would rather trade for more such prizes to add to their hoards over mere coins. It's common to see a successful crew of ratkin traders rolling out of town with an even larger bundle than they entered with, the whole mess piled precariously high on a cart drawn by giant rats.

They often wear robes to stay cool in the desert or conceal their forms in cities, as they know other humanoids find their rodent features distasteful. In the cities ratkin cling to the shadows and rarely venture out during the daytime, and in the bigger metropolitan areas there is always a secret ratkin marketplace which is literally underground. Ratkin have a strong attraction to shiny jewelry, especially copper, bronze, and gold, and many decorate their ears and tails with small rings made of such metals.

Ratkin thrive within the sewers underneath most human cities and larger towns, where they tend to maintain black markets for the seedier sides of humanity. Larger population centers house entire secondary communities of ratkin living side by side with humans. Many civil engineers have found extra tunnels and passageways added to their handiwork months, and sometimes only days, after finishing construction. Whatever wealth doesn't come to ratkin through trade arrives from scavenging or thievery. They dislike daylight, so many enterprising ratkin forge alliances with humans or halflings to handle larger or more legitimate trade negotiations above ground. Humans and halflings are always welcomed in ratkin warrens, but other races are given a cold shoulder or asked to prove their friendship, if not outright denied entry.

Ratkin are extremely communal, and live in large families where the mother is almost always the head of household. Ratkin share both a high birth rate and infant mortality rate, a typical litter can range anywhere between 6 to 18 infants, roughly half of whom will die during infancy. Women amongst the ratkin think of childbirth and motherhood as a solemn duty, to be unable to bear children is the worst fate to befall a female ratkin. Most ratkin are lucky to survive birth and childhood, and the rest are lucky to know who their father is. Any ratkin who can accumulate vast wealth is often given a kind of governorship over other ratkin, and while trade is important for ratkin survival they don't regard it as a very honorable profession. Warriors are valued over all, and the ratkin who protect their tunnels are always honored with free food and celebratory greetings.

It is rumored that the ratkin have tunneled passageways between every major city on the continent, and have ways of traversing these burrows faster than non-ratkin would be able to. Each ratkin community is autonomous and doesn't answer to any other ratkin leader elsewhere, or refuses to. It would be common to see ratkin traveling either on their own or in small packs. The ratkin population is constantly growing, only to decrease drastically during times of starvation. However, in times of plenty, when a ratkin warren grows overcrowded and the surrounding city won't support a larger community, young ratkin instinctively begin to fight against their elders rather than seek out new places in which to live. These ratkin revolutions are often bloody but brief as new and younger ratkin dethrone the established elder ratkin. As such, ratkin society cannot be trusted to remain stable, but it can be relied upon to be present.

Ratkin are often driven by a desire to seek out new opportunities for trade, both for themselves and for their warrens. Ratkin adventurers may seek potential markets for their clan's goods, keep an eye out for sources of new commodities, or just wander about in hopes of unearthing enough treasure to fund less dangerous business ventures. Ratkin battles are often decided by cunning traps, ambushes, or sabotage of enemy positions.

"The Thirteen" is a misnomer since Ratkin have fourteen gods they venerate. The Horned Mother is the first ratkin, and she is never openly worshipped, nor are shrines or temples ever dedicated to her, but every ratkin will speak her name in reverence and those that blaspheme the Horned Mother are often brutally killed. The thirteen other gods are her children, and the most prominent to be offered prayers or servitude and often referred to as "the Siblings" having been birthed by the Horned Mother.

The thirteen gods the ratkin worship are:
  • Thanskachak, the god of darkness and silence, prayers are often offered to Thanskachak during funerals (there are never priests for Thanskachak, ratkin who honor him become assassins)
  • Arrassi, the goddess of gems and trade, Arrassi's symbol appears wherever a ratkin is trying to buy a thing or has a thing for sale and due to this many non-ratkin erroneously believe that Arrassi's symbol means "marketplace" (priests of Arrassi are the most common and specialize in the domain of Trickery)
  • Vasdra, the goddess of legends and lore, any ratkin who tells a story or shares knowledge is honoring Vasdra (priests of Vasdra run their temples like libraries and specialize in the domain of Knowledge)
  • Gnawdrak, the god of death and curses, no ratkin openly worships Gnawdrak but his name is invoked when fighting non-ratkin
  • Durhakk, the god of storms and winter, ratkin who brave long overland adventures or spend time in harsh climates worship Durhakk (clerics of Durhakk specialize in the domain of Tempests)
  • Thrahisk, the god of mischief and sleep, often depicted as a slothful drunk who plays pranks, there are many stories and folk tales that involve Thrahisk tricking non-ratkin, especially deities (priests of Thrahisk specialize in the domain of Life, most non-ratkin interact with these clerics)
  • Malkzarr, the god of warfare and strength, the only god depicted as having black fur, Malkzarr is not often worshiped openly but his name is always invoked before a fight occurs (priests of Malkzarr specialize in the domain of War)
  • Skrer, the goddess of sunlight and moonlight, worshiped by few ratkin but present in any community where ratkin need to venture above the ground (priests of Skrer specialize in the domain of Light)

  • Khaktabak, the god of justice and time, whenever ratkin must punish one of their own Khaktabak is invoked
  • Varski, the god of travel and art, ratkin who are learning their way in a city or journey between kingdoms or travel by boat offer prayers to Varski (priests are always wandering mendicants)
  • Chatiskikk, the god/goddess of magic, sometimes depicted as a hermaphrodite and sometimes as being sexless Chatiskikk has a presence in every ratkin community even if only superficially (there are no priests of Chatiskikk, but ratkin who become wizards or sorcerers venerate him/her)
    Morsarr, the goddess of gardening and childbirth, always invoked by ratkin who become farmers and expectant mothers (clerics of Morsarr specialize in the domain of Nature)
  • Ichikittar, the god of beauty and poison, a vain and selfish deity whose name is often used as an insult (there are no priests of Ichikittar)

    Male Names: Azock, Belig, Bilik, Buchak, Cro, Curz, Garuk, Glarek, Gorbuck, Gorzun, Irksiz, Kutx, Lizkaz, Mroxk, Murz, Nagrat, Naszuss, Nirkz, Nitz, Niz, Orz, Puzz, Rirag, Shurz, Skeetz, Sorzek, Vedex, Yurt, Yurz
    Female Names: Blorg, Bresh, Crone, Dozz, Fralen, Girch, Haalesh, Hirta, Kalba, Kirat, Kourkr, Molal, Mori, Murz, Olg, Pru, Rir, Rurdu, Ur, Xaort, Zas, Zuul
    Family Names: Azhak, Azaraz, Bazassik, Burmatz, Gaznagar, Gezarr, Prazth, Razel, Tzartar, Vozer

    Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
    Age: Ratkin age at the same rate as humans.
    Size: Ratkin are shorter than most humans but are still considered Medium sized.
    Speed: Ratkin have a walking speed of 25.
    Darkvision: Ratkin have superior vision at night and underground. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
    Ratkin Senses: You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
    Languages: You can speak Common and Ratkin. If there is a written Ratkin language in your region then you can read it as well. The Ratkin language has as many dialects and variations as Common might, and the two often mimic each other in regions where both are spoken. As a rule of thumb, if the humans of an area speak a variation of Common that counts as a separate language then the ratkin of that area also have their own separate version of Ratkin.
    Swarming: Ratkin are adept at swarming over foes during combat. When Ratkin fight side by side they can aid each other as a bonus action.
    Ratkin Tenacity: Ratkin gain advantage on any rolls to resist poison or disease.

    Base Height: 4'
    Height Modifier: +2d8
    Base Weight: 100 lb.
    Weight Modifier: x (3d8) lb.

    the Wikipedia page for Skaven (Warhammer)
    the Warhammer Wikia for Skaven
    Children of the Horned Rat - Skaven sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy
    an OGL book about "ratmen" (circa 3e/d20)
    a Skaven name generator - I used this for the deity and family names
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    review of Dwimmermount, and notes for adapting it to 5e D&D

    Dwimmermount is a megadungeon designed by James Maliszewski, who is the author of the (now seemingly abandoned) Grognardia blog.

    I funded Dwimmermount on kickstarter, but when it came to his silence after his production delays and apparent disappearance from the internet I became one of James' harshest critics. At the time of his silence I genuinely worried that he had passed away and when it was revealed that he had retreated from interacting or communicating with anybody I was upset. Now, in the wake of Dwimmermount's release, I have read many reviews online and I have discovered that most reviewers seem to be unable to separate Maliszewski's mistakes with the content of his megadungeon. There is also some speculation about how much of the dungeon is actually his, and how much of it was written by Alexander Macris or Tavis Allison. I think a lot of people just simply still have sour grapes for James' disappearance. While some of his ideas have also been criticized for being simplistic, James Maliszewski once had the most popular OSR blog for some time before the problems with his Dwimmermount project arose.

    At this point, criticizing James for things that happened over two years ago is a cheap shot. It's uncalled for, it's unnecessary, and it's insulting. He handed his project off to others who were ready to carry the torch for him, and the project was finished into what is now a huge 400-plus page volume. It's a colossal piece of work, and regardless of who wrote the finishing touches for the printed book it wouldn't have been possible without James' vision and inspiration.

    I have greatly enjoyed reading through my copy of the book. The world of Dwimmermount is called Telluria, and the lore and history of the setting are tied inextricably with the history for the megadungeon. There are many oddities to the dungeon that appealed to me, and every level is designed consistently with the history that is provided. What James Maliszewski has done is write an adventure that mimics discovering everything there is to know about a fantasy setting. I suspect that the real joy of playing this adventure is in uncovering the history of this world, and anybody who tries to file the serial numbers off and place Dwimmermount within their own campaign will be stuck doing a lot of work. In tone and theme, Dwimmermount is Silmarillion-as-dungeoncrawl.

    However, the book is badly organized. I'm sure there was some form of logic that caused the chapters to be arranged the way they were, but looking up information is difficult and keeping track of everything is nightmarish. There is no index, and many details are left vague. If I want to know who the leader of the gnolls is, or where the orcs make camp, or how these two groups feel about one another, then I am stuck looking in three different places that I can only look up from the contents if I've memorized what sections of the book that information is in. If I want to know where the different pieces of Dwimmermount's secret history can be found I'm also out of luck, as the book says "It is up to the Judge to read the lore in the referenced section and decide how best to describe it to his players." There are several passages with that same kind of "make it up as you go along" style of advice that you don't expect to find in a 400-page adventure where many things are meticulously described in exacting detail.

    It's absorbing but at the same time frustrating to read. It excels at providing a cryptic Appendix N style atmosphere, but it falls flat when presenting how to approach the adventures locked within. The book is, overall, a mixture of good and bad. However, the pdf is priced at only $10 and I find that, frankly, amazing. When many publishers and authors try to sell their work (which has considerably less personal investment from the author) for almost the same cost as the print book, it's refreshing to see that Autarch wants to try and put this adventure into your hands at a reasonable price. Even if you never plan on GMing a Tellurian megadungeon, if you have the $10 to spare then you should pick it up and give it a read. You may find you can at least use something from it, or best case scenario it will inspire you to try playing in James' world.

    And now for something completely different!
    My own attempts to convert Dwimmermount started on December 30th, when I began to write this...

    I've been reading through my copy of Dwimmermount and trying to think of how I could adapt it to fit into my own campaign world of Kosranon. I don't use elves in my setting, for much the same reason that James Maliszewski doesn't use halflings, but since so much of Dwimmermount's history hinges on how the elves came to Telluria that means I have to twist these Ancient and Eld races into something else.

    The Great Ancients created the Eld who became the Elves and in turn created the Red Elves.

    In Kosranon, the first races that populated the world were the Noblei, Quel'shim, Gnomes, Dwarves, and Gnolls.

    Since the Great Ancients were the first developers of magic then I could make either the Noblei or Gnomes an equivalent. However, the Gnomes of Kosranon were technologically advanced and their first great masterpiece was a dirigible, this makes putting them underground dubious. The Noblei, on the other hand, were the first to encounter the underground-dwelling Quel'shim and putting the Noblei in a position to develop their own systems of magic as the Quel'shim retreated underground seems plausible.

    Thus, great ancients = Noblei.

    In the setting of Dwimmermount, the dwarves are literally made of rock, and since my dwarves are a surface-dwelling agrarian hunter-gatherer culture that means that any references in Dwimmermount to dwarves can easily be substituted with Quel'shim, the asexual rockmen who spend most of their time observing the other races.

    I stopped working on this even though I planned to return to it some time this week. Last weekend I was offered the opportunity to GM a 5th edition D&D game and since it would require a lot less work to adapt Dwimmermount to 5e, I decided to hold off on continuing with adapting Dwimmermount to my weird science-fantasy setting. Now I just need to apply Dwimmermount to 5th edition rules, which seems pretty easy to do and I'm basing that assessment off of comparing and contrasting some NPC stats between the Labyrinth Lord and ACKS versions of Dwimmermount.

    1) Raise Dead, Resurrection, etc.
    A lot of effort is spent describing how dwarves and elves can't receive healing from raise dead or resurrection spells, but then the main "villain" of Dwimmermount is a man who believed he could achieve immortality by making himself a god and resurrection spells have always been a strange (and hypocritical) thing to have in a campaign where the "bad guys" are trying to evade death.
    For this game, raise dead, resurrection, and spells of that nature simply do not exist on Telluria.

    2) Races
    Dwarves and Gnomes are exclusively male. Dwarves reproduce by "carving" sons and Gnomes are produced from "mistakes" made during the carving process.
    Players who want to play a...
    Dwarf: use the Mountain Dwarf subrace exclusively.
    Elf: use the High Elf subrace exclusively.
    Halfling: there are no halflings on Telluria!
    Dragonborn: no mechanical changes, but Dragonborn are magically created by a dragon whose Ancestry they match. A Dragonborn character can start with proficiency in one Int-based skill of their choice, or one additional language, due to their early childhood education from the dragon who made them.
    Gnome: starting languages are Common and Dwarvish. The Gnomish language doesn't exist.
    Half-Elf: there are no half-elves on Telluria!
    Half-orc: there are no half-orcs on Telluria!
    Tiefling: no mechanical changes, but Tieflings gain advantage on any skill checks involving knowledge about planar travel or demons.

    3) Languages of Telluria
    Common: there are many variations of Common but all humans around Montburg and Dwimmermount speak the same dialect.
    Low Thulian: largely unwritten, non-standard form of Thulian spoken by the lower classes and conquered subject peoples of the Thulian Empire.
    High Thulian: elegant, highly-inflected language with a rich vocabulary and literature, High Thulian was the language of the literary class during the Thulian Empire. It is spoken by aristocrats and scholars in the City-States, and preserved in the liturgy of the Great Church.
    Ancient Thulian: The ancestor of High Thulian, Ancient Thulian has a relatively small vocabulary but an exceptionally complex grammar. Spoken by the first Thulian barbarians who conquered the Eld, it is today the preserve of sages and the Great Church, whose earliest holy books are scribed in it.
    Bestial: The various beast-men (gnolls, orcs, lizard-men, etc.) all share this rough dialect of the Common language descended from the barracks argot of Thulian soldiers.
    Elven: Sages who have closely studied elven have found it bears faint similarities in grammar and vocabulary with Ancient Thulian and Dwarven. The elves claim this is because Ephemerals learned to speak from their betters.
    Dwarven: The workman-like language of curt words with a highly regular, efficient grammar spoken by the dwarves. Some of its vocabulary has a faint similarity to Ancient Thulian and Elven, although dwarves maintain this is because the superiority of their language was mimicked by the other races.
    Goblin: The fast and guttural language of the goblins bears no resemblance to any other language on Telluria, including bestial. Goblin’s strange, transpositional grammar is difficult for even sages to learn, although the dumbest goblin masters it easily.
    Precursor: Sages theorize that there may be a precursor language underlying the similarities of Ancient Thulian, Dwarven, and Elven, perhaps the tongue spoken by the Great Ancients. If so, no one knows how to speak it.

    4) Classes of Dwimmermount
    Barbarians: The island of Thule is still inhabited by humans descended from the seat of the ancient Thulian Empire, but they have fallen back into barbarism and insular clan hierarchies. Nonhuman barbarians would come from isolated pockets of civilization which have lost touch with the rest of the world in the aftermath of the Thulian Empire's decline.
    Bards: no changes
    Clerics: Clerics either worship one of the deities of the Great Church or a demon prince (Orcus is the only one listed below). At present, no known divine spells exceed the 5th level of power, and no living Cleric has ever exceeded 14th level of ability.
    The Great Church was a religious institution of the Thulian Empire, formed from an amalgamation of the nine most influential faiths among the Thulians. Eight of the original deities honored by the Great Church are shown on the table below. The ninth “deity” was called Anyastos, who was, according to orthodox interpretation, not a deity at all, but rather an abstract concept (The Divine) representative of the power above and beyond all the other gods. Anyastos had no priesthood or temples of his own, instead being revered by all of the Church’s constituent faiths. Of course, there
    have always been tales of secret societies and esoteric orders devoted to him. Later, Turms Termax identified himself with The Divine and his worship eventually supplanted that of Anyastos within the Great Church.
    Chaotic clerics possess the ability to cast divine spells, although they serve neither Law nor the deities of the Thulian Great Church. Such men and women have – knowingly or unknowingly - thrown in their lot with the various demon lords and princes of the Great Void.
    Clerics of the Knowledge Domain worship Asana (Lawful) or Tenen (Lawful)
    Clerics of the Life Domain worship Caint (Lawful Good) or Donn (Lawful)
    Clerics of the Light Domain worship Typhon (Lawful Evil)
    Clerics of the Nature Domain worship Anesidora (Lawful Good)
    Clerics of the Tempest Domain worship Tenen (Lawful) or Donn (Lawful)
    Clerics of the Trickery Domain worship Orcus (Chaotic Evil) or Tyche (Lawful)
    Clerics of the War Domain worship Mavors (Lawful Evil)
    Druids: At present, no known divine spells exceed the 5th level of power, and no living Druid has ever exceeded 14th level of ability.
    Fighters: no changes
    Monks: these are rare in the region around Dwimmermount.
    Paladins: fighters in the service of Law. Unlike clerics, paladins serve no known god. Indeed, they generally consider all gods to be, at best, merely powerful otherworldly beings and, at worst, demons masquerading as divinities. Paladins serve only Law, and some have surmised that “Law” is simply another manifestation of the abstract Thulian deity, Anyastos.
    Rangers: no changes
    Rogues: no changes
    Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards: At present, no known arcane spells exceed the 6th level of power, and no living magic-user has ever exceeded 14th level of ability.

    5) Backgrounds of Dwimmermount
    Courtney Campbell has written a few backgrounds that I would add to this setting:
    Brewer / Drunk

    6) Skills and stuff
    In the Dwimmermount adventure there are many calls for skill rolls involving knowledge of Ancient Lore, Eld Lore, Thulian Lore, and Termaxian Lore. In my mind, it seems unnecessary to have four separate skills for the history of one location. Each type of lore will fall under History and the base default will be directly related to how long ago each period lasted. Termaxian Lore defaults to DC 10, Thulian Lore defaults to DC 15, Eld Lore falls under DC 20, and Ancient Lore is DC 25.

    DC 15 is my default for most Int-based skills, but characters from other worlds have severe penalties to History (+15 DC) and Religion (+10 DC) rolls. These penalties lessen as the characters learn more about Telluria. Every 10 hours spent studying each subject, or every level gained after arriving on Telluria, reduces the DC by -1. Learning something unique about Dwimmermount will also help lower these penalties.

    And then there's Azoth!

    Azoth does a lot of weird and random stuff that I'm just going to ignore most of. Raw azoth will still inflict damage, and if it's improperly handled refined azoth will trigger spell effects that can potentially become permanent.

    All of the uses of azoth for constructing magical devices (as well as creating new races or the alchemical processes for creating undead) remain intact.

    Wednesday, December 31, 2014

    games I didn't get to play in 2014

    let's make this short & sweet

    Curse the Darkness - a kickstarted game that I've owned for a while and still haven't put a game together of, not for lack of opportunity as people have suggested playing it, it's probably my own fault as I received the game at the same time that I was super excited about playing and GMing Apocalypse World and it's just been sitting on my bookshelf ever since

    Poison'd - the gamers I know who have heard of this game have stated they don't want to play a game that includes rape as part of the rules, whatever

    Our Last Best Hope - another kickstarter I funded, it's a GM-less storygame RPG about impending disaster porn, I read through the rules when I first received the print book but have yet to even actually attempt to scrounge together players to give it a go, totally my fault

    Dogs in the Vineyard - I don't get it, what's it about? mormons and the old west and really violent conflicts that spring out of necessity, that seems to be what people are able to accurately explain to me, I want to try it but nobody I know seems to want to play it (regardless of whether they've played it or not)

    Time Lord - an out of print RPG about timelords and time travel and Doctor Who, and shit! I love Doctor Who so why haven't I put together a game of this? no idea

    Numenera - another goddamn kickstarted game! I have read the rules and I don't like them, but the setting is fucking amazing and I want to play in this world, I just don't want to use that stupid scaling difficulty system that feels like another version of d20

    Murderous Ghosts - a 2-player game that my wife and I keep intending to play, but every time we make an attempt we just end up having sex instead

    I just realized that most of these games were designed by Vincent Baker

    Monday, December 29, 2014

    thE aLicE class for 5e


    You will need a copy of the 5th edition Player's Handbook to fully utilize this class.
    Hit Dice:
    1d4 per alice level
    Hit Points at 1st Level: 4 + your Constitution modifier
    Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d4 (or 2) + your Constitution modifier per alice level after 1st

    Light armor
    Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords
    Tools: Thieves' tools

    Saving Throws: Dexterity
    Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth

    You start with the following, in addition to equipment granted by your background:
  • (a) a rapier or (b) a shortsword
  • (a) a shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows or (b) a shortsword
  • (a) a burgler's pack, (b) a dungeoneer's pack, or (c) an explorer's pack
  • Leather armor, two daggers, and thieves' tools

    In times of unusual stress Alices may become Exasperated. This Exasperation causes fate to take notice of the Alice, and then to aid her. The Alice says or thinks something like “Oh I can’t conceive how I ever fell into this deplorable circumstance!” or “We are indeed doomed and now birds will gnaw our eyes.”

    Practically speaking, an Alice may express Exasperation once every real-time game hour (as games focus almost exclusively on stressful times, these represent the periods during which the gods are most likely to take notice).

    When this happens, the Referee should roll the dice on the Exasperation Table...

    At 1st thru 5th level roll d4, at 6th-7th level roll d6, at 8th-9th level roll d8, at 10th-11th roll d10, at 12th level and higher roll d12:

    1-A secret door is revealed where none had previously been detected. If the GM has made no provision for a secret door, it leads to the nearest unexplored area.

    2-The Alice realizes she has something in her pack, her hair, or otherwise secreted about her person. The object can be anything non-magical and generic (a key, not the key) that exists in the setting and that is small enough that the Alice could reasonably have it hidden it in her current condition or smaller than a breadbox, whichever dimensions are smaller at the time. The Alice may choose what this is.

    3-An ordinary animal--cat sized or smaller--appears. The Alice cannot directly control it but it will not under any circumstances hurt the Alice.

    4-A fact about the situation at hand occurs to the Alice--a piece of local or monster lore, perhaps something she read or was once told in a parlor or a lesson or in a kitchen.

    5-Someone of the Alice's choice falls down. (Line of sight.)

    6-The weather in the immediate area changes in a way decided by the Alice--the change is general and may not be targeted (no aimed lighting bolts or gusts of wind).

    7-A nearby creature is charmed by the Alice for an hour. (Line of sight.)

    8-An inorganic device or object of the Alice's choice breaks. (Line of sight.)

    9-Something not ordinarily able to talk (GM's choice) begins to speak to the Alice.

    10-Creatures present complete forget the Alice is there for as long as the Alice keeps making saves vs spell.

    11-Someone is sent to fetch the Alice out of her current predicament. If there is an obvious candidate from among the local NPCs (giant eagles, a friendly knight...), that's who it is. If there isn't, then: hey GM, time to make up a weirdo. The NPC does not automatically have the ability to extricate the Alice from the situation, s/he merely appears as close as is plausible.

    12-Someone or something of the Alice's choice begins to shrink at 1 foot per round down to playing-card size. (Line of sight.)

    These effects are magical and can be countered as magic.

    At 1st level, choose one of your skill proficiencies (or your proficiency with thieves' tools). Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses the chosen proficiency.

    At 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe's distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or ranged weapon.

    Every time you level up beyond 1st level, roll twice on the table below. When you roll a result, cross it off and treat re-rolls as the next result UP the table unless a thing tells you not to cross it off, it will also tell you what happens when you re-roll the same result instead.

    1-10 This seemed to Alice a good opportunity... Increase your SNEAK ATTACK ability by +1d6. Re-rolls increase the damage dice as described by the ability on pages 95 and 96. Cross this result off if you manage to raise your SNEAK ATTACK to 10d6.

    11 She could be very charming when she needed to be. You gain proficiency in Deception. If you already have proficiency in Deception then you gain EXPERTISE with Deception and cross this result off. If you already have EXPERTISE with Deception then cross this result off and use the next result on the table (12).

    12 Alice liked pies, although sometimes people did not want her to have them. Add your proficiency bonus to any attempt to locate any foodstuff of any kind. Do not cross this result off! Re-rolling this gives you EXPERTISE in finding food, then cross this result off.

    13 They kept talking as though Alice was a rhododendron in a pot. You gain proficiency in Stealth. If you already have proficiency in Stealth then you gain EXPERTISE with Deception and cross this result off. If you already have EXPERTISE with Stealth then cross this result off and use the next result on the table (14).

    14 She tried to remember what she knew about stoats. You gain proficiency in the Animal Handling skill. If you already have proficiency then you gain EXPERTISE with Animal Handling and cross this result off. If you already have EXPERTISE with Animal Handling then cross this result off and use the next result on the table (15-20).

    15-20 Falling down wells really improves the hand-eye coordination Pick up EXPERTISE for a skill proficiency of your choice (your proficiency with thieves' tools counts as a choice, but you may not make the same choice twice). Do not cross this result off! If all of your skill proficiencies have acquired EXPERTISE then re-rolling this gives you a new skill proficiency.

    21-70 Alice was then reminded of something she'd noticed before... Take the CUNNING ACTION Rogue ability. Do not cross this result off! Re-rolling this raises your Hit Points by +2.

    71-75 Alice felt that if there was to be any conversation at all, she must manage it herself. You can increase one of your ability scores by 1 point. Do not cross this result off!

    76 You're very perceptive, if nothing else. For each combat round you spend just watching someone (i.e. you're not doing anything except maybe moving and you are not being attacked yourself) you get +d10 to hit and +d10 to damage or +d10 to any attempt to trip, grab, or otherwise mess with the target when you finally do decide to attack. This only works on targets that are engaged in combat while they are being observed. The ability can only be used once per fight on anyone smart enough to notice what you're doing. Also: only works on things with organs (like, not on oozes). Do not cross this result off! Re-rolling this raises the die to d12 then d20. After that you start getting 2d10 then 2d12 then 2d20 etc.

    77 Her aunt had mentioned them and this made Alice wary You gain proficiency in Intelligence saving throws. After that, you gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws, then Charisma, then Constitution. If you manage to roll this result a fifth time then take proficiency in Strength saving throws then cross this result off.

    78-79 She did seem to offend people (and animals) wherever she went. You've become adept at dueling. You gain the UNCANNY DODGE ability (page 96) and the DUELING Fighting Style (page 72). If you already have either or both of these then you don't get replacement abilities or a re-roll.

    80 They began to throw stones, and Alice began to avoid them You gain the EVASION ability (page 96)

    81 She was not such a mouse as she used to be. You gain the RELIABLE TALENT Rogue ability (page 96)

    82 She listened attentively in the dark, Alice knw she was being surrounded. Gain the BLINDSENSE ability (page 96)

    83 "It really was curious," she thought--"How many times could this kind of thing happen?" You gain the ELUSIVE ability (page 96)

    84 She began to feel somewhat neglected. You gain the STROKE OF LUCK ability (page 97)

    85 Alice quite liked drawing, and had an impressive box of crayons at home. You gain the IMPOSTER ability (page 97)

    86 Oh, I do so apologize... You can super-easily trip any basically human-sized creature that is otherwise engaged with someone or something else on a successful attack roll (apply your Dexterity bonus to the roll). This only works once per fight unless the enemy is mindless like zombies or for some reason can't see you pull off this tactic.

    87 It was very shiny and stuck out like a soup spoon... On a successful melee hit, you may immediately make a Sleight of Hand attempt to grab an item (other than the target's weapon) off a target. This won't work twice on anyone above zombie-intelligence who sees it.

    88 Alice then did something quite astonishing... You are surprising. Use your entire charisma score as an attack roll bonus to hit with any suddenly improvised weapon the first time you strike against any intelligent foe (who knew what you could do with a gingerbread man?) and add your whole charisma score to the damage. This trick only works once per fight.

    89 The blue one certainly did make you taller, of that Alice was sure... When you use potions or substances with drug-like qualities, you can choose to double the effects or cut them in half.

    90 She knew to curtsey at times like this, and so she did. Despite the low company you keep, you've been working on your manners. Members of the upper classes instinctively recognize you as one of their own. You gain advantage on Charisma skill checks or saving throws when dealing with them.

    91 She had not known her mother's cousin very well, and decided that it was a bad thing that she had died... You have been willed 5000 units of the local currency (GP? SP? Kroner?) worth of random mundane (nonmagical) objects. Here's how it works: you have exactly ten seconds real time to say what you bought. You now have all that stuff, assuming it adds up to less than 5000gp.

    92 She thought it might be a saltcellar, or at least that seemed like the right word for it. You can appraise treasure to a nontrivial and nonboring degree: you can estimate the value of nonmagical things flawlessly and if a piece of treasure is not what it seems on any level you will get an inkling. As in, you'll go "Is this not what it seems?" and the GM will go "Yeah, you've seen a lot of jade urns in your day and this is not what it seems somehow--you're not sure how." If a treasure has some unusual or hidden feature of a mechanical or physical nature you will sense that it is there on a successful Intelligence saving throw. You won't know what it is, but you'll sense that it is there. If you re-roll this result you gain the USE MAGIC DEVICE ability (page 97), after that cross this result off.

    93 She closed her eyes and said the words as she'd been taught... You have learned one magic-user spell. It functions as if cast by a 15th level wizard or your level whichever is higher. Determine the spell randomly (d8 for level). It works once, that's it. Do not cross this result off! Same result always applies.

    94 Alice learned that nearly everything was dangerous if handled properly. You've become very skilled with weapons. Choose a Fighter's FIGHTING STYLE (page 70) for yourself. Re-rolling this result allows you to choose another FIGHTING STYLE from the same list. If you manage to acquire all six FIGHTING STYLES then cross this result off.

    95 All that hiding in the dumbwaiter has finally paid off. You know a secret. One of two kinds of secret, to be precise: either a piece of useful lore about a legendary treasure or magic item that you encounter or an embarrassing fact about an NPC. Mechanically: once per session you may astound your party's condescending wizard by pulling this lore or rumor out of your petticoat or pantaloon by making a successful Intelligence saving throw. If you fail, screw it, you can't do it this session. Re-rolling this means you try for this twice per session, then 3 times, etc

    96 It was so lovely, and--according to the book--it was right there. The dress made of manticoreflesh, the house full of lilacs, the magical fishgutting knife---whatever the thing that you always wanted is, it's there. 4 sessions worth of adventure away or less. Tell your GM, who then must place it.

    You must have a fair shot at it--like any other reward, but there's no guarantee you will get it. If you don't get it by the fourth session you can keep trying or let it go and roll again on this table. However if you choose to roll again and then you do get the thing somehow anyway, you lose whatever gimmick you rolled. GM think up some clever reason why.

    97 She knew from school what the word meant, but did not know if it was rude or not. Choose a new language to read and speak. Do not cross this result off! Re-rolls give new languages.

    98-99 Alice had seen so many unusual things lately, it had become usual. You've seen and done so much that nothing phases you--you are immune to insanity or confusion in any form. Even mind-altering cosmic horrors from the far edge of the cosmos are like whatever. You still do fear. Fear is good. Fear keeps you alive. Re-rolling this means any allies who can see you likewise get a bonus (+2) to their saves on account of your steady eye. Then cross this result off.

    00 Alice kept, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood. You may choose any one result from this table for yourself, but it is crossed off afterwards even if it says not to cross it off! Do not cross this result off!
  • Saturday, December 27, 2014

    Undead PCs, a decade of gaming later...

    Ten years ago I started GMing a 3rd edition D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms. One of my players had the crazy idea of playing this guy called "The General" who had been turned undead by a lich and could now remove his head from his body and use it to spy on people or search around corners. In truth, he confessed, the character was the lich but had been driven insane from his many years of lichdom and now was coping by denying that he himself was the lich. "The General" was just a fiction he had created for himself, or maybe it was somebody who had served him at one time but was now long dead and in his madness had adopted the identity.

    Back then, I allowed the character.

    I created secret caveats though. The player was already playing with madness and I used that to mess with him. I made the character a secret psionicist who didn't know how to cope with his powers, and rather than being an undead creature who could detach his own head, the General carried around a sock puppet head with buttons sewn on that he believed was his detachable head. At some point I retconned that he telekinetically flew around the sock puppet head and used clairvoyance/clairaudience upon it. But the first time he threw that head the other players were confused as hell, I let the player describe what the General was doing then said "Okay, that's what you believe you're doing" then turned to the other players and described what the other characters actually saw him do. It was a hilarious moment.

    Today, I would still allow the character but would create no secret caveats.

    The character would simply be as the player described, unless he gave me free reign to muck about with his backstory. But more than likely, I wouldn't. It's a unique and novel idea, and I rarely encounter players who have highly detailed ideas about what they want their characters to be. There are plenty of people who just play straight up classes with few eccentricities or no uniqueness, but it's a real treat to find a player who wants their character to have depth and a layered history before they even start playing. It gives reasons right away for a GM to engage that character into a story, and easy hooks to pull on.

    This is a rule that every GM should live by: If a player comes to you with a character concept that they really want to play, let them play it.




    Now I'm thinking about all of the times I had some rules-lawyering or campaign-minded GM who didn't let me play some unique character I had come up with, or found a way to cripple my concept within a session or two.
    I don't play with any of those assholes anymore.

    call it a rough draft

    I started fleshing out the idea of a campaign world based on the idea that I wanted Death Mountain (from Death Frost Doom) to be right next to the Deep Carbon Observatory (of Deep Carbon Observatory) on my map. Once the Stars Without Numbers game comes to a conclusion this is the game I'm going to run.

    Why am I doing it like this?

    I want to create random rumors that could spread across the region and draw players into different events, or potentially keep them away from others. I don't know if I'll actually use Vornheim since it's not an adventure, but I plan on using the book as a reference and I also want to seed portals to A Red & Pleasant Land all over the place.

    The only adventure I'm weakly familiar with is Dwimmermount. Oh yeah! That reminds me, the Dwimmermount kickstarter finally delivered! The book arrived some time ago... I want to say at the beginning of November. Honestly, when it arrived I flipped through the pages then put it on my game shelf and kind of forgot about it. I opened it up last night and started reading it, then started mentally rewriting some of the secret history to fit in with the campaign world I was already building. Anyway, I'm not all that familiar with it because I only just started reading it. It's suffered a lot of criticism and it's huge delay didn't help matters, but the work itself is solid and it is definitely inspirational. James Maliszewski has been silent for so long I had forgotten how intriguing his ideas were.

    I'll write a review for it once I finish delving through the material.

    Joesky Tax
    New cantrip: Annoying Question
    When a wizard asks a question of another person, outside of combat, and the topic is one of a basic, simple, or easy to answer nature, the person asked must answer the question if they know it, they must also make a saving throw vs spells (or vs Will). If they don't know the answer they automatically succeed on their saving throw. If their saving throw succeeds, they can answer the question however they wish. If they fail the saving throw, they lose their shit and throw an angry tantrum, answering the question but also really fucking pissed off that the wizard couldn't just figure this out on his own.

    Friday, December 26, 2014

    Jason the Morningstar

    This is an otherwise unremarkable morningstar in good condition, but anyone who sees the weapon instantly knows that the weapon's name is Jason. Upon learning this, the viewer must make a save (vs Will, vs Wisdom, vs Spell, vs whatever is appropriate) or be consumed with the burning desire to own and wield Jason the Morningstar as their signature and preferred weapon. This compulsion is as great and terrible as the compulsion to own an artifact.

    Monday, December 22, 2014

    A Red & Pleasant Land, by Zak S.

    If you buy the pdf but never hold the physical version of this book in your hands, then you are missing a key facet of the experience. Much like how Vornheim excels as a physical tool, the ambiance of owning A Red & Pleasant Land is in holding the finished tome in your hands.

    This book has a very distinct smell. Maybe mine was dropped into a canal beside a garden in Venice, the red-cloth cover is a little warped and bows outward, as if the book itself is trying to open up and invite me to flip through its pages. The pages have a distinct off-white look to them, which adds to the otherworldly and unusual nature of both the contents of the title and the method by which this volume saw publication. The gold text on the cover has flaked slightly, giving the red cloth a glitteriness which I am not sure is intentional. My fear is that with use the gold will eventually flake off and I'll be left with just a red cloth book, but that would still look cool.

    A Red & Pleasant Land takes place in Voivodja, which might be a stand-in for Transylvania, or it might be an alternate dimension lurking behind mirrors. Whatever it is, the land of Voivodja is ruled by families of vampires who identify themselves by card suits. They have an intricately complex society yet many of them seem to suffer from dementia or schizophrenia.

    The very first section of the book is called "How to Use This Book" and it suggests using the book as a whole setting, use parts of it, read it and not use it at all, or use it as a weapon. I think the author forgot to suggest that you could also use it as kindling, may you never be so cold that you resort to that option. I plan to use the book as a demiplane of madcapped grotesqueries & violent whimsy to cajole my players with.

    The first chapters throw all of the basic information about Voivodja at your game head. You'll learn about the strange nature of the landscape, the bloody customs and traditions of the locals, and Voidvodja's own mirror universe called the Quiet Side. There is even a custom class to work into your gaming group that seems suitable for a campaign set in Voivodja: the Alice. (Yes, that bit is free.)

    Roughly 1/4th of the book is composed of monster and NPC descriptions and this is the biggest highlight of the book, with many strange and wondrous versions of creatures to bedevil and bemuse players with. The spine has a red cloth bookmark and I'm currently keeping it on the page with my personal favorite, the Colorless Rooks.

    The next 1/4th of the book details two major castles for two of the vampire clans battling one another; Castle Cachtice, the Card Castle, and Castle Poenari, the Looking Glass Palace. There is a lot of information here and it's so dense with oddities and distortions that I know I haven't really absorbed all of it. The beauty of these locations is that each room has a minimal bullet point description that evocatively describes each area without bogging you down in text to read aloud. The weirdness of the castles are largely left to an individual GM's judgment on how to resolve bypassing a room.

    The other 1/4th (more like 1/5th, let's just call it 36 pages) comprises "Tables & Resources" at the back of the book and that is where a lot the fun stuff is. 'No Voivodja Required' is what I call it because several of the tables can be used independently of the setting and those that can't can easily be hacked for use in your own campaign. The best part of the "Tables & Resources" section is, in my opinion, the "Relationships Between NPCs" d100 table. Page 174. Go buy the book and look at that page first. I think it's a thing of beauty!

    So that's also my final verdict: buy this book.

    alternate magic idea for 5e

    What if arcane magic was corrosive to the body of the caster? Like smoking cigarettes, or chronic acid reflux?

    Casting a spell requires roll + Constitution modifier vs DC 15 + spell level
    Success = no Con loss. Failure = reduce Con by an amount equal to the spell level.
    Recover Constitution from sleeping or resting.
    Rest 2 hours = 1 Con. Sleep 1 hour = 1 Con.
    New skill = Meditation (Con-based), after resting for 2 hours roll+Con(+Proficiency) vs DC 20 to recover 2 Con.

    Crystal shards from the island of Kapuo are sometimes referred to as Kapuo, or Blueglass, shards.
    Blueglass shards are used to power internal forces, as a blueglass shard is used it's essence pours into the caster's body and causes strange effects.
    Consuming a Blueglass shard is more powerful, but will solidify the organs over time.

    Holding Blueglass during casting gives +5 to casting roll, on a natural 1 the Blueglass fades to a black color is now a worthless, brittle gemstone.
    Consuming Blueglass requires Con saving throw.
    Failure = Permanently lose 1 Constitution. Success = Permanently lose 1 Hit Point but can cast # of spell levels = Constitution without rolling for Con loss

    New Spell: Detect Blueglass
    works like Detect Magic but only detects presence of Blueglass

    make Blueglass magical so the wizard has one less spell to cast (by default Blueglass is not magical)

    Inflicting pain and bloodletting can power internal forces, and sacrificing life can be the most powerful form of personal enchantment.

    Spellcaster can inflict wounds on self to power spells.
    If wounding self with weapon they are proficient with, caster can declare how much damage they inflict up to the weapon's normal maximum.
    If wounding self with weapon they are not proficient with, caster must roll weapon damage.
    Damage inflicted on self = bonus to spellcasting roll
    Caster can inflict damage on others with a weapon to get a bonus to spellcasting as long as spell is cast on the next round
    (spells that inflict damage do not allow for this same bonus, caster must be the one to inflict damage)
    Every 2 hp damage inflicted on others = +1 bonus to spellcasting roll

    New Spell: Dedicate Blade
    2nd-level spell, cast on any edged weapon, permanent
    if the caster uses the blade to kill a creature then the next spell he casts doesn't require a spellcasting roll

    LotFP version
    all rules same as above, except
    Casting a spell requires Spellcasting skill roll, a 1d6 roll. Only arcane spellcaster classes have access to Spellcasting skill.
    Skill = level divided by 4 (round down) +1
    Wizard level 1 thru 3 have skill of 1, Wizard level 4 thru 7 have skill of 2, etc.
    No meditation skill, allow Poison save to recover 2 Con after resting 2 hours
    Holding Blueglass gives +1 to skill, rolling 6 causes Blueglass to fade
    Consuming Blueglass requires Poison save with same results.
    Every 2 hp damage inflicted on self = +1 bonus to spellcasting roll
    Every 3 hp damage inflicted on others = +1 bonus to spellcasting roll

    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    SWN: the Safe Worlds

    Our characters live on the fringes of the Safe Worlds, a extraplanetary corporatocracy run by several mega-corporations who control information and weaponry. The biggest mega-corporation is A Better Tomorrow which owns the biggest banking conglomerate, the Saif Bank.
    "Your money isn't safe, unless it's in a Saif™ bank."

    The Tinfoil is a 100-ton scout ship captained by Sil, an explorer from Cone, a world still recovering from the Collapse.
    Her crew includes:
    the Marvelous Mark, a con artist from Beautiful Home, a veritable wasteland of biological hazards and dangerously malfunctioning terraforming technology.
    Spishak, an adventuring warrior from Zyst, a failed colony world with an invasive atmosphere and toxic biosphere that terrifyingly alters those exposed to it for too long.
    Tau Bai, a mercenary from I-Tong, a well-established Safe world that is considered a capital world for the mega-corporations.

    The Tinfoil arrived at the Happy Safeport™ around Vallejo to meet with Diego, an information broker that is friends with Sil. They asked about the Jump Gun that was found on Vallejo and Diego said he knew that somebody was holding it on Sindarin Station. Diego described a starship that had gone missing that everybody wanted the schematics for, and proposed that if Sil could get him the schematics he would get them free access to Sindarin Station with no questions asked. They agreed.

    The planet of Vellajo has five countries locked within a cold war teetering upon mutually assured destruction. Elencia is one of the countries and their military had built the missing ship. Vallejo has eight moons but only three orbit directly above Elencia. Sil scanned the moons but found nothing - meanwhile they were followed by another merchant starship.

    The Vallejo system also holds a gas giant with seven moons and an asteroid belt, and Spishak suggested that if Elencia were testing a weapon they wouldn't do it around their own planet. They flew the Tinfoil to the gas giant and the merchant ship stopped following them. Sil scanned the asteroid belt, and found most of the belt was composed of a material that would explode when coming into contact with metal. There were also two Elencian starships in orbit but they ignored the Tinfoil.

    Sil moved away from the gas giant and began scanning the moons, but once the Elencian starships were out of sight returned to the asteroid belt and almost immediately found the missing starship. It was not crashed as was previously believed but had landed on an asteroid. Nearby were four bodies, apparently killed from vacuum decompression and wearing Elencian military garb. There were no external signs of damage to the ship.

    Sil took Tau Bai and Spishak down to the ship, leaving Marvelous Mark alone on the Tinfoil. They found it easy to access the abandoned ship's front ports, and after exploring several decks they found the computer, then it spoke to them. Calling itself Illuminator, it demanded fuel, and refused to let Tau Bai or Spishak leave until Sil agreed to recover fuel for it from the Tinfoil. Sil agreed to give some fuel and left to return o the Tinfoil while Tau Bai and Spishak kept exploring the Illuminator.

    During their discussion Illuminator said "crew designation Sil and Marvelous Mark essential, crew designation Tau Bai and Spishak non-essential"
    Sil replied "No! Spishak and Tau Bai are essential."
    To which Tau Bai said "We keep Sil and the other one alive, therefore we are essential."
    "incorrect, Spishak and Tau Bai useful but not essential"

    Illuminator then suggested that Sil commandeer the Illuminator and blow up the Tinfoil in its place - presumably so the Elencian vessels will believe their missing craft is destroyed. Illuminator was asked what it wanted and it replied "expand memory banks"

    When the Tinfoil approached, Tau Bai used an escape pod to leave the Illuminator but Spishak refused to leave the bridge. Sil moved the Tinfoil in an attempt to ram the front windows of the Illuminator's bridge, and Iluminator cut into her headset, saying "crew designation Sil owes 23 million credit debt, debt could easily be increased"
    Sil asked "Are you suggesting you could also erase my debt?"
    Illuminator replied with an audio clip from the Tinfoil's databanks "You'll never know."

    to be continued

    Friday, December 5, 2014

    Idelfyn's Folly

    The location of Idelfyn's Folly is not exactly known. The mountain lies beyond the southernmost range of the Crown and few have ventured north to locate it's position, those who have return empty handed or not at all. The mountain is known to be an active volcano which scorched the earth and rock around it so much that now there is no flora growing near, not even weeds. Idelfyn spent his final years building a laboratory inside the heart of the volcano, for purposes few can guess at. His last journey to the volcano was also the last time he was seen by any.

    The truth is that Idelfyn's Folly is no volcano. Idelfyn fostered those stories and rumors before he disappeared so that those foolish enough to follow them would be led astray. Idelfyn had built a laboratory inside of a mountain, but the mountain held the body of a dead god. Idelfyn had located the celestial corpse by accident, and carefully crafted a story to throw treasure seekers and bounty hunters off of his trail. He used parts of the body to make a series of interdimensional tunnels which he used to traverse the world quickly and discretely. His plans involved creating a network of informants who would report to him about local politics and strange or unusual events. But none of this helped to explain his eventual disappearance.

    One questions remains for those few who know the truth: Did Idelfyn intend to disappear?

    Thursday, October 30, 2014

    the unofficial playbook moves

    I've been working on a project that is consuming more time than I thought it would, creating an index of all of the moves from the "unofficial" player-written playbooks of Apocalypse World. I wanted it to look and feel just like the index of moves from the official refbook pdf, however I've been using scribus to create my pdfs and I have not found a way to embed text within a pdf so that it may be copy+pasted. I stayed in wordpad for the index, and many pdfs had formatting issues so I had to fix typos and in some cases rearrange sentences or just retype them, then I alphabetized all of the moves. While doing all of this I got to really analyze every playbook. Many of these playbooks focus on relationships with NPCs and quantify them similar to gear or as part of moves. There are lots of unique mechanics like Sentience for the Synthetic or Rage for the Behemoth, etc. I decided to include brief summaries of what these things are and included them at the end of the document.

    A link to the "unofficial" moves document = https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9cu0IVYfHtiX2ZzbHU0bzNIWEU/view

    This project started initially because I wanted to create an index of ALL of the moves that I would be able to give to my players and say "here's the moves list" but I've ended the project with a completely different perspective. I think each of the really unique playbooks are internally consistent, but picking up a move from another playbook is not always relative to the character you are playing. Thus, I think when a player chooses to get a move from another playbook the new move should perhaps be rewritten slightly to address the theme of the core playbook and overall tone of the character being played. I'm also regarding stat substitution moves as generally boring now, but that's a subject for another day. Rewriting the moves on the fly is just an idea, but one I'm going to experiment with a little. For now I have made sure that my document linked above is universal for anybody downloading it. The suggestions and descriptions are written generically, and directed toward the players rather than the MC.

    I hope you find it useful!

    Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    the Crown of the world

    There is a mountain range along the northern edge of the world that no one in living memory has crossed. The Crown blots out the sky to the north, and few have climbed through it's peaks to return and spin tales of what lies beyond. The Crown can be seen along the northern horizon like a tear across the land separating it from the sky. The only evidence that the living once crossed the Crown are the dams and aqueducts that still supply fresh water to thriving populations south of the mountains, marvelous and magical technology which no sage or scholar is able to explain. Each was designed, perhaps, by the same people. These people were short folk, though the Dwarves nor the Masadhi or even the Oukek have any stories to tell of their ancestors' toils to the north.

    The memories of what lies beyond the Crown are all faded and gone, but the rumors and stories persist. A mountain made of gold, a cursed place where none may take from and return home alive. A crystal peak that glimmers in starlight and makes men weep though they know not why. Three-armed giants with obsidian skin, ripping apart any plants or animals they cross paths with. A four-eyed hellhound that breathes blue flame and hunts those who dare not pray to the dead gods that birthed it.

    A few brave sailors have tried to circumnavigate the continent to find what lies to the north of the Crown, but they return exhausted with tales of treacherous waters inhabited by hostile marine life and harried by cruel mermen. Or they don't return at all. No ship has navigated the northern seas successfully, and even the Chiryo avoid the icy waters when they cross the ocean to trade with Bellhaven.

    They say that even the wind hates the living north of the Crown.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Apocalypse World: enter Syn

    A new playbook was added to our group, the Behemoth, and with it a new character, Syn.

    Syn is a giant, winged lizard who can sense, and will devour, sinners. It is followed by three sombrero-wearing men who are known as Uno, Dos, and Tres; but also as the Three Maldicion.

    When Syn arrives in Jericho it has lost the scent of some sinner it was following and decides to draw them out by encircling and then swooping down into the middle of town, to which most of the people in Jericho panic. Several of the Nuns wanted to attack it, and the governor of Jericho even coordinated some of her men to be in a position to attack it. Several of Governor Isle's men opened fire on the creature, but it did not attack back, instead it seemed to be trying to communicate and cooler heads prevailed in defusing the situation.

    Mercy arrived back in town at the same time Sister Alleluia was fighting giant spider-snakes with Cletus. The spider-snake creatures gave Alleluia and Cletus a lot of trouble, knocking them to the ground and trying to constrict their bodies, but in the end Alleluia prevailed and killed all three of them while Cletus succumbed to some of their poison. She took Cletus back to his infirmary, where his injured assistant Henry did what he could for him

    Mercy had been taming the already docile Syn and wrapped a great chain around Syn's neck, then convinced the giant lizard to fly above the clouds. For Mercy it was a spiritual experience.

    Then Governor Isle confronted Big Momma Superior about how her gang thinks they run Jericho. In asserting her authority over Big Momma, Isle declared that the doors to town be reopened and the Frogs be shot on sight by any guards who saw them. A traveling caravan of gypsies entered Jericho and Syn dug a tunnel next to the town square for it to nest in. Underneath the tunnel was a mine, it appeared that Big Boss had sealed it shut when Big Momma Superior first attacked and now there were several dozen dead bodies underneath Jericho. Mercy set out to exhume the bodies and burn them in a funeral pyre, to which Big Momma objected but Mercy insisted that burning the bodies was the only way their souls would go to Heaven for she "had seen the light above the clouds!" and then Mercy revoked her membership in the Nuns.

    After Big Momma traded back some of her first aid supplies to Henry, everybody noticed that their Frog prisoner Ribbit had disappeared. Sister Alleluia began preparing a trip to the east to finally take care of their encampment, but before she could leave Ribbit showed up just outside of town with a couple of former slavers from Jericho following him. When Alleluia approached them Ribbit got down on one knee and proclaimed "We follow you now." Alleluia considered the situation and declared to these men what she expected from them, or else she would kill them, and when she finished talking they replied in unison "Amen."

    The Sorrow awoke in the mine underneath Jericho. She was confronted by the sight of Syn, not quite knowing what it was, and she could see Mercy exhuming bodies from the mine while Uno, Dos, and Tres discussed how they should minister to Syn's needs. Mercy caught The Sorrowsneaking around and briefly explained that she had taken care of The Sorrow while she was knocked out. Mercy also explained that she was no longer in the Nuns as she had been taken "as close to Heaven as she had ever been" by Syn, she explained that Big Boss had sealed the mine they were in, and now Mercy was exhuming the bodies and giving them a funeral and "a proper release to the light."

    Meanwhile, Sister Alleluia was still walking toward the strip mall where the other Frogs were supposedly camped. On the way she saw a large creature hiding in bushes along the road, rather than investigate she scared the creature off but it didn't flee very far. Within sight of the strip mall, Sister Alleluia found a large white RV with it's engine running. While investigating Sister Alleluia was struck from behind by the creature from the bushes. They fought briefly but Alleluia was unhurt, and proceeded to search the RV. She decided to use the RV to ambush the Frogs behind the strip mall and proceeded to ram the vehicle through the building. On the other side she found them torturing somebody and she drove through their encampment, taking out several of them in the process. As Sister Alleluia stepped out from the RV she convinced the remaining Frogs to surrender, killing one of them. The man they were torturing was William Aitch, and he was very distressed that his RV was smashed to pieces. He asked for help getting his RV back onto the road, but the undercarriage was damaged and trying to drive it back through the remains of the strip mall caused it to get stuck. Sister Alleluia returned to Jericho with a few of her gang following behind, and the rest guarding William Aitch'es RV.

    In Jericho, somebody had destroyed the fuel refinery, the main source of income for the town. Big Momma Superior found pieces of a grenade near the fuel pump and while investigating several Nuns approached her about damaged bikes, somebody had stolen wheels from one of their bikes and several other bikes had slashed tires and punctured fuel tanks while Sister Alleliua's bike was also stripped of all of it's ammo.

    The Sorrow went to Cletus for some medical attention, and he attempted to use his connection to the psychic maelstrom to heal her. It worked, but in the process both of them had a momentary lapse of consciousness.

    Syn began detecting envy in the town and decided to fly upwards to get a better look.

    When Sister Alleluia returned to town she was informed about the vandalism to the bikes and immediately sought out the criminals responsible, finding evidence that the gypsies who had just arrived in town were doing it. She killed one in the process of interrogating them and discovered that Calico is the leader of all the gypsies traveling between towns, but Calico wants a permanent home in Jericho and sent some of his men to stir up shit and make it easier for him to take over. One of the dead gypsies was hung from the main gates and Syn proceeded to eat the body. While Alleluia continued to fight with the gypsies and tried to discover exactly where Calico was, Syn grabbed one of the gypsy minivans and carried it into the air, with people inside screaming. Once it was high above town, Syn let go of the minivan and it crashed into the ground just outside of the gates, killing all inside.

    Governor Isle didn't approve of the way Sister Alleluia was handling the gypsies and the two faced off, with Alleluia seriously injuring Isle and killing several of her men. Big Momma tried to restrain Alleluia and somehow Isle escaped in the confusion. Sister Alleluia declared that they needed a new leader for the town and gave an ultimatum for Jericho, "Vote for me, or leave."