Thursday, April 25, 2013

Items of Psychotronic Might #2: The Brazen Head of Criswell



Preserved by strange alchemies from the far-flung XXth Aeon, the head of this legendary seer will utter strange and terrible prophecies for the benefit of any adventurer bold enough to consult it.  When it speaks, its stentorian tones can mold and mutate the world around it, bringing mundane reality ever closer to its mad vision.

The head may be consulted once per day with a question relating to the following:

     1.  The past or future history/provenence of an object, NPC, building, or geographical feature.  The answer  may well be negated by PC actions/repurcussions of same. 

     2.  The customs, mores, etc., of any society/culture/ethnic group,etc. known to the PCs, at any point in its past or future development.

     3.  What is going on, at this exact moment, in a location known to the questioner.

For every consultation, make two percentile rolls.  The first gives the probability of an accurate answer (the head is notoriously unreliable) while the second represents the consultation attempt itself.  If the answer is inaccurate, the GM is free to invent whatever outrageous bullshit he or she desires, but both accurate and inaccurate answers should be delivered in the same stentorian, overblown, and slightly delerious manner, with the PCs referred to as "friends", "my friends," "dear friends," etc. 

After the oracular pronouncement has been given

If the second roll is an even number there is no additional effect.  On an odd result, roll a d10 and consult the following chart ) :


d10
 Random Brazen Head Effect
1
 "Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."  The next 24 hours cycle in a continuous loop "Groundhog Day" style.  This can be broken by one of the party making a successful Save vs. Magic (or whatever), which can be attempted once per day.

2
 "And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future."
At any point within the next session, one fact can be made retroactively true or false, up to and including death, dismemberment, purchases of vital equipment, and ill-considered fashion choices.

3
 "You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable."  The questioner can Identify any objects encountered within the next d4 days as per the spell.  There is no actual casting involved-- the character simply knows these things.

4
"My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer." The Head psychically scans the questioner, who must make a (whetever's appropriate for the system) save or yield up their deepest darkest secret, which the Head will decide to announce, in unsparing detail, at a time when it is least advisable.

5
 "Let us punish the guilty." As above, but all present must make the save. Of the characters who fail, anyone who's committed a shameful act (by the Head's Eisenhower-era standards) within the last 48 hours rolls twice and keeps the worse result for all rolls in the next 24 hrs.

6
 "Let us reward the innocent." As above, but this time acts of virtue (according to the Head) are rewarded, and any characters so affected roll twice and keep the better result.

7
  "Perhaps on your way home you will pass someone in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space."  The next random NPC the questioner encounters is actually an otherworldly entity in disguise whose inscrutable designs involve the questioner in a pivotal role.

8
"My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?" Instantly summons d4 Ressurectionoids armed with laser scalpels and revivification rays. 

9
 "It is even more of a shock when Death, the Proud Brother, comes suddenly without warning."  Instantly summons d10 Astro-Zombies armed with vibro-machetes.

10
 "My friend, you have seen this incident, based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn't happen?" However insane the Head's last utterance, it is now part of consensus reality, challenged only by liars, cranks, and the deranged.  Re-roll on the off chance it answered the last question correctly.


Special Bonus! The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future (1970)








Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Four Dignitaries of Hell of Special Interest to the Criminal Element




This can be considered an addition to the "Hell" entry in The Scofflaw's ABC.


1. Dulak-Mhir, Castellan of the Fortress of Joy. Appears as an aged man in a tattered scarlet robe, his body wound head to foot with iron rings, from which depend a clanking, jangling assortment of keys. He may be called upon to unlock any doorway, gate, or strongbox which stands between a mortal and their desire. He will perform this service in exchange for the petitioner agreeing to bear one of his key-rings. Dulak-Mihr will choose the ring himself, which may be small enough to wear around the pinky finger, or large enough to circle a man’s waist. Whatever the size, the ring will be heavy, uncomfortably tight (but not so much as to cut off circulation) and impossible to remove. It is not known what will transpire when Dulak-Mhir has cast off his last ring and may once more stand unburdened of his duties.

2. Kalkiskordivaay, Marchioness of the Wormwood Star. Appears as a leopard with the head of a woman of no mean appearance, her red-gold hair oddly cast in the light of a crown of pale green fire. When she speaks, it is as the tinkling of small chimes in the roar of a hurricane. Kalkiskordivaay delights in the corruption of stalwart hearts and the betrayal of duty. She will teach the lines and curves of her sigil to favored malefactors in dreams of unnerving beauty. These votaries will then seek out the individual they seek to bend from their purpose and attempt to persuade them to some inconsequential betrayal of a charge or duty. If they can be swayed but one iota, their doom is secured. The corruptor then inscribes the name of their victim in the center of their Patroness’ sigil. With each successive week after the the inscription, the victim becomes ever more susceptible to suggestion, and at a month’s end, they are firmly in their new master's thrall, unable and undesirous to disobey any direct order.  This binding may only be broken if the sigil is somehow defaced or destroyed, in which event, Kalkiskordivaay withdraws her favor in disgust.  She has been known to respond favorably to the sacrifice of a loyal guard dog, or a puppy whelped from same.

3. Ulshh, Master of Revels at the Court of the Inverted Citadel.  Vain, restless, and fond of novelty, Ulshh never appears to mortals more than once in the same form.  His last fleshly incarnation was as a grotesquely fat lavender-skinned man wearing the powdered and rouged skin of a slender fop, with the gaps in this unusual suit filled in with puffs of vermillion taffeta and laced with golden thread.  Ulshh is often appealed to by poets, actors, and musicians whose talents are on the wane, or have yet to acquire sufficent fame and fortune by more laborious means.  For the enterprising criminal, he has been known to provide the following service:  When presented with the tibia of a boy whose voice has not yet broken, Ulshh will fashion it into a flute, engraved with verses in an unknown tongue.  When the flute is played, all who can hear its music (save the player) are forced to dance a stately measure, and may do nothing else until the music ceases.  For every minute the flute is played, the player ages 1d10 years.  Should the player reach the age of 100 by this means, they must successfully save vs. Death every subsequent minute the flute is played.  Should the player die in the midst of playing, the flute splits open, shattering into useless fragments of bone.

4. Glalabursik, Carnifex-General of the Legion Inevitable.  Appears as a pale, hairless androgyne clad in antique armor encrusted with rust, with shrivelled, sightless eyes and a cavernous mouth containing rows of tiny serrated teeth.  The murderer's friend, Glalabursik will grant the following boon to faithful petitioners:  He will produce, from some dark recesses of his armor, no less than 100,000 writhing maggots, which will scatter to devour any and all corpses within a 100 ft. radius of the petitioner.  Every hair, drop of blood, piece of bone, or scrap of flesh will be entirely consumed, leaving nothing but clothing and personal effects, picked clean of any trace of their owners.  This will take approximately one minute per corpse.  When they have finished, the sated maggots will wriggle their way back into their master's armor, and Glalabursik will take his leave with a slight bow.  Those present for this gruesome spectacle will notice no change in their own outward appearance, though anyone who was on intimate terms with those so devoured will perceive them as dripping with gore from head to foot.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Galbaruc: Eight Lies About the City







1.  Galbaruc is the First City, built upon the toil of the infant race of Man for the use and enjoyment of their masters, who journeyed across the trackless void to make dominion of our world, having destroyed their own though perversity or carelessness.

2.  Galbaruc is the Last City, her foundations raised by inscrutable magics and the labor of the creature that Man is reduced to in his last days.  Its overlords, realizing the immanent destruction of all they had wrought, enveloped the city in a great cloud of fog and propelled it backwards through obscure sidestreets and alleyways of time, after first ejecting its builders to endure alone and without shelter the long-deferred obliteration of their race.

3.  When the Celestial City of Urizen was at last complete, the warped boards, bent nails, and imperfect stones that the Great Architect had rejected were flung from the Highest Heaven into the sea.  In their fall, this detritus struck a prison galley carrying a shipment of murderers, whores, thieves, and other convicts being transported to a distant island to serve out sentences of hard labor.  Most were slain in the resulting shipwreck or by the sharks that swarmed to the scent of blood, but the survivors clung to the wreckage, lashing the pieces together and clambering over the struggling bodies of their fellows to safety.  Thus was Galbaruc founded, and the character of its citizenry established.

4.  There has only ever been one Beggar-King of Galbaruc.  His wisdom and sagacity surpasses that of all other earthly monarchs, and his court is a model of efficiency, decorum, and enlightened rule.

5.  There is no Beggar-King at all, and tales of this secretive worthy, his court, and his kingdom are a mere fiction, elaborated upon over centuries by beggars, unscrupulous academics, and the publishers of penny romances.

6.  The yearly marraige of Galbaruc to the Sea, in which the First Citizen takes upon himself the role of bridegroom, is not merely a symbolic gesture.  The First Citizen is betimes required to descend beneath the waves in a special conveyance of glass and gold, there to perform his conjugal duties with Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed, the great shark-headed Sea Mother who dwells below in a great palace whose timbers are the rotting hulls of ships lost at sea.  It is for this reason that the First Citizen abstains from eating godling-flesh during the Festival of the Great Culling.

7.  There are gods so diminished in stature that they have been forced to take leave of the shimmering, otherworldly manses where they held court in better days, and now lead lives of bitter exile in crumbling apartments and drafty tenements throughout the city, sustaining themselves on the prayers of tiny cults and obscure sects.  Some of these wretches must subsist on the scraps of sacrificial meat and dregs of sacramental wine left at their altars by an ever-dwindling number of dedicated voataries.

8.  In the deepest recesses of the Temple of Yash-Kunag, there is a pool, tended by seven virgins of good family, whose charge is the care and feeding of the blind, albino god-spawn that circle and thrash restlessly therein.  There, they divine the city's future from the clouds of blood that bloom across the water's surface while the god-spawn are at their meat.  Should these creatures ever refuse their meal, the city will be swallowed up by the waves within the year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Scofflaw's ABC [Secret Santicore]

So here's the piece I did for Secret Santicore this year.  Gentleman wrangler Erik Jensen was kind enough to put a link to it on his blog, but I thought I'd re-post it over here, given the total lack of posting lately.  Looking at it now, I think it's definitely a mixed bag.  There's a few entries I think turned out well, and a few where my procrastination and last-minute scrambling to complete it are painfully obvious.  Still, I hope it's at least somewhat useful, or at least amusing, for someone out there.


THE REQUEST:

If the stars are right, I'll be running a campaign with evil, or at least very selfish, PCs. They will be some kind of criminal organization starting out in the big city. I would like some kind of game aid in running such a campaign.






A Scofflaw’s ABC
Being in the Main Twenty-Six short segments of advice, observations, useful color, and points to consider when running and playing a Criminal campaign.
 
 

Assassination: Murder-for-hire, while it has the potential to be vastly lucrative, offers unique challenges to the independent contractor which are seldom considered by those resorting to such methods for political or ideological ends. Conflicts between clients are bound to arise, and, unless clear bylaws and guidelines are set, the whole affair can collapse into internecine chaos and confusion. In one notable example, an agency of some repute was assigned the task of eliminating its own Chairman. Technically, this order did nothing to conflict with the agency’s bylaws in this regard, and as the client’s credit was impeccable, the agency was professionally bound to carry out the contract, against the protestations of some of the senior members. Today, that august body of trained killers lies in ruins, to serve as an example to like-minded entrepreneurs.

Burglary: Even adventurers outside the criminal classes have dabbled in burglary from time to time, and there are few escapades more satisfying than a well-planned heist, successfully executed. Specialists such as Yeggs and Second-Story Men will demand a larger cut for their services, but this is to be preferred to dealing with amateurs who will drop lanterns, fail to staunch their nervous laughter, and bring the whole delicate operation crashing down upon your heads. When targeting a wealthy home, Keep an eye out for disgruntled servants, their livery indifferently worn and a curse for their masters on their lips.

The Competition The PCs, of course will not be the only game in town. Whatever the Racket, odds are someone in the City is already hard at work to the same purpose and will resent the intrusions of upstarts and newcomers. Perhaps there will be an offer extended to Join or Die, or perhaps this established concern will lash out at once in full vigor, the better to maintain its reputation. If the PCs are indeed newcomers, they will be vulnerable from the very beginning, and their arrival on the scene will disrupt the delicate web of alliances, feuds, etc., as each faction and concern scrambles to work this new situation to its advantage. It may be advisable to join such an organization from the beginning, only to play on the cupidity, ambition, or grievances of its members, and arrange a coup from within. While this has the benefit of providing the PCs with an existing infrastructure, the loyalties of your co-conspirators will forever remain in doubt. How long, after all, before some other brash young upstart makes a similar attempt?

Doxies: Trollops, jades, and filles de joie, as well as the gigolos, catamites, and rent-boys who call them sister, are an invaluable resource for the criminally ambitious. Like their cousins on the stage, they mingle and co-mingle with all classes of society, and for a small consideration may be relied upon to provide all sorts of carelessly-provided gossip or relate events to which they were an unnoticed or unremarked witness. They may sometimes be privy to even weightier matters, as their clients may often let slip some secret in a moment of unguarded candor. This last phenomenon, often the cause of great sorrow to the employers, superiors, and co-conspirators of such blabbermouths, has given rise to the occasional practice of deliberate misrepresentation, in which an agent will seek to confound or discover his enemies by passing false information along this network.
A few other means by which they may be employed:

1. The obvious. While the office of bawd, as has been noted, is far from easy, the burdens of generalship are seldom appreciated by those unfortunates serving on the front lines.

2. Theft. Depending on the specifics of their arrangement with a client, a quick-fingered jade may be given ample opportunity to pick pockets, search saddlebags, steal or make impressions of loose keys or signet rings, etc. If given clandestine access to the client’s apartments, so much the better. These items may be procured for their own sake, in service of a larger scheme, or as a means to…

3. Blackmail – If the client stands to lose favor, position, reputation, marital harmony, etc.; if their indiscretions become known, the theft of a distinguishing possession, piece of clothing or jewelry, or simply the recitation of certain physical characteristics visible only in a state of undress may well provide the necessary leverage. If the act of patronage itself offers no opportunity for shame and entrapment, the loss of some object vouchsafed to them by a third party can be quite efficacious in holding such an agent in thrall, particularly if the third party is not known to be of a forgiving disposition.

Explosives: Volatile, expensive, and dangerous to operate and procure, explosives should be employed as frequently as possible.

Fences: Often glossed over, the difficulty of disposing of obviously stolen loot should be brought to the fore in a Criminal campaign. Sumptuary laws may be enforced with more vigor, creating a black market for what could previously be sold openly, driving up the risk and the fence’s cut along with the potential reward. Some items are of little value to all but serious collectors, and the PCs must decide whether the payoff is worth the time, trouble, and expense of arranging such a buyer. The arrest, murder, or disappearance of a fence, particularly one with an established relationship to the PCs, invites new complications and difficulties to be overcome.

Grave Robbing: This venerable industry has two distinct branches, and its practitioners will generally stick to one or the other by virtue of opportunity and inclination. The first involves theft of grave goods – everything from jewelry, cerements of costly stuff, weapons, and other personal effects of the deceased, as well as the furnishings of the grave or tomb itself. Grave-mounds, mausoleums, the barrows of barbarian chieftains, and the half-submerged necropolises of antediluvian kings are generally held to be most fruitful for this kind of work, though not without their attendant dangers. When not engaged with lantern, sack, and pickaxe, they may be found seeking out and poring over ancient histories and crumbling maps. They will have developed contacts with established Fences, and may count academics, antiquarians, and wealthy eccentrics among their acquaintance, though neither would acknowledge the association openly.

The second branch is the domain of body-snatchers and resurrection men. Here, speed and opportunity are the watchwords, and intelligence is to be gained by loitering in gin-shops and execution yards. The cadavers themselves are the prize, though a gold tooth, locket, or finger ring is always a pleasant bonus. Their efforts supply the needs of a clandestine clientele of anatomists, surgeons, artists, necromancers, alchemists, and necrophiles, many of whom are known to the resurrection man only through a third party. Some enterprising scamps in this trade are so scrupulous in their desire to provide fresh and unblemished product to their clients that they will readily employ a pair of strong arms and a pillow rather than trust in the vicissitudes of Fortune.

 
Hell: The Final Reward of all those who make their living by vicious and dishonest means. Sages, savants, and theologians imagine this abode of the forsaken as anything from a sort of double-sided griddle or waffle iron in the hands of a vengeful Deity, to the state of a soul for whom the absence of said deity is felt with severe and unexpected keenness, to a chaotic, formless nightmare realm of pure thought and sensation existing parallel to our world, to an inverted and exaggerated representation of the Metropolis itself. Such metaphysical considerations and barely-disguised Social Commentary is beyond the scope of this primer. We concern ourselves here with Hell’s Native Denizens—in particular those grotesque and fantastic worthies who serve as Courtiers, Impresarios, and Middle Management in that Sorrowful Country. Many of these are said to take an interest in the affairs of mortals, and to aid and inspire acts of malice, cupidity, and vice among Men, for such is their delight and pastime. The rascal who attracts the attention of one such may aspire to outrages that will keep the moritat-printers and snatch-singers in capons and gin for months, though he may in consequence grow careless, and find himself face-to-face with his Patron earlier than he had anticipated, following an appointment with the Noose or Flensing- Spoon. There is a prolific and cut-throat trade in the criminal demimonde for scraps of lore, rituals of summoning, rites of appeasement, etc., that will secure even the fleeting attentions of these entities.
 

Incarceration is little employed, except a perfunctory stint prior to flogging, placement in the stocks, branding, mutilation, execution, or in some societies, sale (see Just Desserts, below). Someone suspected of possessing valuable information may well be detained for a considerable time, during which their only respite from the lonely gloom of the cell lies in their captor’s periodic attempts to Persuade and Extract. Princes and other individuals of high estate will often find themselves held captive – in varying degrees of comfort—by their enemies, who weigh the expense of their lodging against the expectation of ransom. If there is a significant public-minded spirit of reform, lesser offenders (especially minors) may be set to some improving task, instructed in an honest profession and in the precepts of religion. All too often, the proximity to other young people of like disposition proves too great a temptation for mischief, so that likely boys and girls become apprentices, and apprentices become journeymen in some loathsome trade or other. Persons in search of eager young recruits, already well-schooled in the ways of petty evil, will find plenty of newly-idle applicants on the steps of such institutions, tossing prayer-books in the gutter and pawning their tools for gin.
 
Just Desserts: As few malefactors merit prolonged Incarceration, their punishments will most often be meted out soon after arrest, on the spot, or after a perfunctory and largely symbolic trial. These may consist of time in the stocks or pillory, branding, flogging, mutilation, amputation (hands, fingers, ears and noses are popular), or execution, with or without preceding torture. Most of these will take place as a public spectacle for the edification and entertainment of the citizenry. Executions afford characters an opportunity for gallows speeches of pleading oratory or vulgar contempt, and the planning and carrying out of daring escapes. If a PC is not the star attraction, or if their associates are of a particularly practical or vindictive cast of mind, there are additional opportunities for profit and diversion. Souvenirs of personal effects may be sold, along with tickets to balconies, roofs, etc. (whether or not the characters own the building in question) refreshments, impromptu skits or puppet shows depicting the prisoner’s career of sin, ballad-sheets and replica gallows, flensing spoons, etc., for the children. In addition, opportunities for purse-snatching and pick pocketing are legion, and the PCs may wish to take the opportunity of such a city-wide distraction to commit some new outrage in another part of the metropolis when vigilance will be relaxed.
 
Kidnapping: A venerable and storied pursuit among brigands of all nations since time immemorial. It is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly, and each aspect of the scheme – choosing a target, contacting the family or guardian, the amount of ransom demanded, selecting and securing a safehouse, and the transfer of ransom and hostage itself must be considered in great detail. Even then, fresh complications may arise at any point, and the unfortunate kidnapper may find themselves saddled with a burden too valuable to dispose of safely and too unpleasant for company. By all means, avoid becoming entangled in the schemes of husbands to squeeze money from wealthy but recalcitrant fathers-in-law by kidnapping their wives and splitting the ransom. It seldom ends profitably for anyone.
 
Loot: At once a driving motive and a logistical nightmare. A few points to consider after counting that sweet, sweet lucre.

1.  What form is it in? Coins and jewelry, while cumbersome in bulk, will be much easier to get rid of than an exquisite antique chest of drawers. Those bottles of excellent wine will be worthless unless stored properly. Kidnapping the duchess’ lapdog seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now it’s yapping its head off at all hours and you’ll have to move safehouses again, or risk discovery. And you can’t stay at Vassik the Eel’s place again after that incident with his rug.

2.  How are you going to spend it? Conspicuous consumption sure is fun, but each new purchase makes it harder and harder to act in secrecy, which is how you were able to acquire it in the first place. Perhaps a some changes are in order…

3.  The more you acquire, the more time, money, and energy you have to devote to guarding all that loot from everyone else.

 
Magistrates: Eventually, a PC or associated NPC will find themselves dragged before one of these. It should soon become apparent whether you are dealing with a pinch-faced censorious type whose sentences favor the Draconian, and who may or may not carry on a double life of utter depravity in private, or the usual ruddy faced drunk from a Hogarth etching with a gouty leg, a terrifying social disease, and whose wig is conspicuously askew. Either way, courtroom drama should be indulged in shamelessly and with indifferent regard for the niceties of the law. Your players probably don’t have an intimate grasp of your campaign world’s legal system, you may not have considered the problem in great detail yourself, and there’s a good chance their legal representation is a bit shaky on the subject as well so theatrics and bombast are your friends.

 
Narcotics : When dealing with wacky fantasy drugs in your campaign, ask yourself the following:

1.  Why is it illegal? There must have been pressure at some point from some commercial, political, social, religious, medical, or philosophical concern for there to be an all-out ban on it. Is it purely a matter of economics? A moral panic? A combination of these factors?

2.  How is it manufactured? Are the raw materials readily available, or must they be imported? Is the process of its manufacture a closely-guarded secret, known only to a particular group or faction?

3.  Has the substance been legal (or at least unofficially tolerated) within living memory? Until very recently? This will have a huge impact in how its manufacturers, users, and purveyors are seen in society at large, and the respect or contempt in which efforts to enforce its ban are regarded.
 
The Occult: Even when not attempting to enlist the aid of the dignitaries of Hell in their pursuits, superstition is rampant in the underworld, and the use of amulets, talismans, “lucky” tools of the trade is widespread. Spells and charms of dubious efficacy are sold and traded, strange rituals are observed before heists and murderous rendezvous, cobbled together from half-remembered childhood observances, bits of stray gossip, popular music-hall routines, and desperate, muttered blasphemies.

 
Peaching: While those partial to romantic novels may hold some notion of “honor among thieves,” and this fiction may be of use when practicing on the inexperience of the young and foolish, it is best dispensed with by those who wish to get about the business of lining their pockets with backs unpierced. Informers, finks, rats, stool pigeons, snitches and squealers riddle the underworld like maggots in meat. Though held in the strongest loathing and contempt by their peers, greed and self-preservation will out, and it is a rare scofflaw who will hesitate to inform on his fellows if the reward is large enough or the hangman beckons. The fear and suspicion that an associate has turned informant is a powerful motivator, and may send the campaign spiraling off in any number of entertaining directions.

 
Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Some thought should be given to the size, quality, and disposition of the Police, Night Watch, etc, which are in turn informed by the character of the City itself. Does the City even retain such a force, and how common are outbreaks of lawlessness? In Republican Rome, for example, there was no police force to speak of, and no one of sufficient means braved the streets after dark without an armed escort of slaves, clients, and retainers. Is the force large or small—well-funded, or shabby and struggling against a vastly superior force of thieves and cutthroats? How are they viewed by citizens? More to the point for committed criminal types, how corrupt are they? Is there a level of “honest graft” that any officer can be expected to more-or-less adhere to? Public outcry against laxity or corruption on their part may trigger sudden brutal crackdowns and shows of force, and your malefactor will find themselves made an example of for behavior that last week was pardonable with a wink and a small consideration.

 
The Racket: The chief means by which the PCs’ organization makes its dishonest living. At first, this may be confined to one particular activity in one particular area – running a protection racket in the Plaza of Drowned Men, for example, or supplying Purple Lotus Powder to a string of brothels, gambling houses, and cabarets along the Waterfront. There may be an initial struggle with The Competition, but once secure in their position, they can begin to expand geographically and/or in the scope of their influence as they grow in wealth and power. It’s up to the players whether to “diversify their portfolio” or focus more narrowly on a particular activity over a broader area, but either choice is sure to invite conflict as the PC’s sphere of influence threatens to encroach on those of the existing factions.
 
The Sporting Life: Whatever sports, games, and public spectacles are available in the City, there should be plenty of opportunity for the PCs to claim a piece of the action for themselves. Murdered bookies, crooked fight promoters, Halfling-doping scandals, sabotage in the hippodrome – something for everyone!
 
Thugs: Of great necessity when kneecaps need breaking, protection money paid on time, and interlopers discouraged, the PCs will want to acquire the services of a few of these at the earliest opportunity. If at all possible, try to find a short, verbose, almost offensively polite guy and partner him with a hulking brute with fists like Parma hams and a tendency to speak in monosyllables. I love those two.

 
Unforeseen Complications

1.  War! Martial Law is declared, sudden influxes of refugees, once common items become incredibly scarce as rationing goes into effect.

2.  Plague! Families shut up in their homes, the dead are stacked up like cordwood, and no one’s allowed in or out. If only some altruistic soul could be found to smuggle people and goods past the guard patrols…

3.  The City is hosting a great exhibition! The population will swell by tens of thousands, fantastic inventions and creatures are on display, and a countryside’s worth of well-scrubbed rubes is steadily trickling in to see what all the fuss is about.

4.  An important foreign personage and their sizeable entourage is visiting the City. New suppliers, new customers?
 
 
Vice: What’s seen as a vice in a particular campaign setting might be wholly innocuous in our world, and vice-versa. Perhaps there is no taboo attached to imbibing any substances, but certain fabrics are considered indecent when worn against the skin. Prostitution might be a wholly legal, and without any stigma of impropriety, but eating meat is regarded as decadent and depraved. Novels, plays, vocal or instrumental music, the display of certain colors or subjects in works of art – anything that gives pleasure could potentially be regarded as a vice and be subject to laws and restrictions which will be the PCs’ business to exploit. Watch as the PCs claw their way up through the vicious cutthroat world of trafficking in purple dye, or rise to become chocolate kingpin of Waterdeep, or whatever.
 
Some Weird Crimes:

Stealing the sense of worth from money.

Performing the office of Psychopomp without a valid license

Grimoire forgery/boobytrapping

Creating a Tulpa

Distilling nostalgia-moonshine from memories with all unpleasant facts boiled away.
 
 
Xenophobia: Many criminal organizations in the City are divided along ethnic and cultural lines, holding sway in certain neighborhoods and providing protection and a sense of continuity for recent immigrants, in exchange for support, acquiescence, and noncompliance with the Law. PCs blundering into these spheres of influence may unwittingly re-ignite centuries-old feuds and grievances between historically opposed groups, which may in turn bring reprisals as representatives from the Old Country arrive to sort out the affairs of their soft semi-assimilated cousins. Fear, mistrust, tragic misunderstandings, and plain old fashioned bigotry erupt as the City’s melting pot boils over. Or not. You may ignore this side of things all together. X was a tricky one. Is it time for Y yet?

 
Yegg, or Yeggman – a species of Burglar that specializes in cracking safes and strongboxes. They tend to be lanky and long- fingered or short and plump, with small, supple hands unadorned by rings. They take little care with their appearance, often going about their work in greasy shirtsleeves and stained trousers, though their leather satchels, glittering with the tools of their trade, will be well-worn but scrupulously maintained. They affect an air of lofty indolence and will demand exorbitant prices for their services. They will be insulted if you do not dicker at least a minute or two over this fee, but once agreed upon, always pay in full. A Yeggman will never forgive a slight, and will spend months or years constructing an elaborate and frightful revenge.
 
Zeal: Inexplicable and unpredictable, this is perhaps the quality the PCs should fear the most. As cynical, selfish entrepreneurs, they will be accustomed to dealing with other cynical, selfish entrepreneurs. Everyone can be relied upon to look out for number one, everything’s for sale, and everyone has a price. The Zealot throws all of this out the window, then lights himself on fire and leaps after it. Zealots are what remains when the acolytes throw off their purple robes and flee. They are the steely-eyed vigilantes who will not be paid off, will not see reason, and will gladly die before compromising an inch. They are the ambitious Watch Captains whose promising careers are over if they ignores their superiors but have dedicated their lives to seeing you hang and will bring you in anyway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Presenting The Solid Gold Easy Action T.Rex Gaming Oracle

Because the world cried out for it, here is a random generator that will spit out four lines of exquisite gibberish from the oeuvre of Mr. Marc Bolan (1947-1977).  I made it during an unusually productive fit of insomnia and put it up on Abulafia.  It can easily generate ideas for NPCs, locations, magic items, story hooks, setting details, you name it.


A couple examples:


I can feel earthquakes inside of me
The Elf lord
A likeness in flesh of the magic
Rameses born with platinum future

He left us in the room of faded scrolls
Statues that say, worship the day
Are the textures of Earth's distant future
Spun in lore from Dagamoor


Enjoy.





Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hellenistic FrankenQuest: Arranging the Limbs on the Slab



So I mentioned a a while ago that I'm working on a set of BRP rules for sword-and-sorcery adventure in the Hellenistic world. After comfortably ignoring it for months, I find myself drawn to the project again.

Originally, I had planned to simply use a pre-existing version of BRP and just combine it with Paul Elliott's Warlords of Alexander -- maybe with a few minor tweaks and house rules here and there. But the more I thought about it, and the sort of game I really wanted to run, I realized that the number of exceptions would be in danger of exceeding the rules-as-written.  Why not simply cobble together a purpose built version of BRP that did exactly what I wanted it to?  And why stop there?  Why not graft on bits I liked from other Percentile systems?

Now BRP's great -- gritty, fliexible-- and I especially like how characters improve organically based on what they've actually been doing as opposed to simply "leveling up."  But the Combat system still bugged me.  RQ 2nd ed. was too complex and fiddly for my tastes, and yet Stormbringer 1st was a little more abstract than I wanted.  I kept picking at it though, trying to decide which parts to keep and which to jettison -- fine-tuning it so it had just enough detail to be really satisfying without having to deal with things like Strike Ranks.  I needed something fast, lethal, intuitive, and with enough detail to really reward fighting smart and gaining a tactical advantage on your opponent.  As an added bonus, there should be a hilariously gory critical hit chart.

But  Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestley, Graeme Davis, Jim Bambra, and Phil Gallagher already did that in 1986.  And the gang at the late, lamented Black Industries, together with Davis and Priestly, polished it to a mirror sheen in 2005.*



So here's my first stab at reconciling the two, and I think it's going to work.  D&D, of all things, proved to be the glue.  Note that I haven't made any provisions for Magic yet, and have yet to add options for Homelands and Class Backgrounds.  The former I'm still figuring out how to implement at all, and the latter will be comprised of modified versions of some of the options in  Stormbringer 1st ed. and Warlords of Alexander.


1. Roll Attributes:

3d6 (in order) : 

Strength (STR)
Constitution (CON) 
Power (POW) 
Dexterity (DEX) 
Charisma (CHA)

2d6+6 (in order)

Size (SIZ) 
Intelligence (INT)

2. Derived Attributes:

Hit Points (HP) How much physical damage a character can take before dying.  HP= the average of CON + SIZ (rounded up).  Once a character is brought below 0 HP, The Critical Hit Chart is consulted.**

Damage Modifier.  You add this to damage rolled on a successful hit.  To find your Damage Bonus, take the Average of your STR+ SIZ (rounded down) and apply the number to the following chart.  This number is added to (or subtracted from) your d10 roll when rolling damage (along with any other modifiers).

1           -5
2-3        -4
4-5        -3
6-7        -2
8-9        -1
10-11     0
12-13    +1
14-15    +2
16-17    +3
18-19    +4
20-21    +5


I think this will make a pretty good substitute for WFRP's SB + d10 = damage, while still allowing SIZ to play a part, as in BRP.


* Before any purists take me to task on this, I think the 1st ed. rulebook is more flavorful and complete, and it's my preferred take on the setting, but I can't help but prefer how 2nd ed. cleaned up the mechanics.

**That would be the expanded Critical Hit Chart Booklet included with the WFRP 1st ed. GM Screen. Have you SEEN this thing? Pages and pages of horrible injuries, divided by body part and again by they type of damage -- Blunt, Slashing, Piercing, Firearms...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oriax Image-Dump #2: Pics from the Forsaken Planet, Mother of Blasphemies.

I haven't been able to devote much time and energy to either of my settings lately, but I thought it would be a shame to let these languish on my hard drive.  Anyway, in the mean time, here's some of what you might encounter were you to be stranded on the cursed planet of Oriax.



































Friday, June 15, 2012

Items of Psychotronic Might #1: The Mask of Tor

 Part 1 of ?  Collect the set!


Believed to be the ancient death-mask of Tor, legendary hero-saint and patron of Strength and Unreasoning Belligerence.  The mask was once kept in a place of honor at Tor's Heroon, a small, well-tended shrine on the outskirts of the hero's reputed birthplace.  At some point (record-keeping not being a well-developed art by Tor cultists) the mask was stolen, and, despite a series of enthusiastically joined but logistically incoherent quests, has yet to be recovered.
The Mask in its dormant state
The character donning the Mask of Tor rolls 2d10, and adds this number to both STR and CON, even if (especially if) this takes their score well beyond the maximum.  The wearer's INT and WIS are dropped by the same amount, and the effect lasts a number of rounds equal to the higher of the two rolls, at the end of which, the wearer's eyes glaze over and they collapse to the ground with a thud, where they remain insensate for 1d4 rounds.  The Mask is usable once per day. 


Cheap replica mask worn by Cultists.


The Mask in action!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Player's Campaign Questions [Galbaruc] Part 2.

Picking up from the last post:  This batch of questions is from Antion:

Where do I live? How private is it? Enough to muffle a scream?


All native PCs begin play as boarders at a Low Lodging House run by a 'Mother Clinkscales.'  It's a shabbily respectable looking structure in a disreputable corner of the Contrada of the Shark.  It is overcrowded, indifferently maintained, and offers little to no privacy.  On the plus side, fewer stabbings are reported to take place on the premises, guests may store bulky or cumbersome items in a locked storeroom, and Mother Clinkscales herself has a reputation for honesty, discretion,  and even a touching proprietary concern on behalf of her boarders.

Where did I go to school? How prestigious is that?  


Galbaruc has its own university, though it has a reputation as a breeding ground for heresy, hedonism, and weird fringe philosophy.  There is also a medical school, whose curriculum occilates between the archaic and the dangerously experimental.  Most people have no education beyond a simple grammar school (and even that's a rarity in the countryside and the poorer parts of the city), so a University education of any sort is extremely prestigious, a fact often exploited by charlatans.

How many people care what religion I am? What if I'm an atheist?


Though nominally Urizenite, Galbaruc is more religiously pluralistic than many of its neighbors, and the local form of Urizen's faith are considered by more Orthodox believers to be hopelessly corrupt, compromised, and riddled with heresy, superstition, and foreign influences.  Many foreign and indigenous gods have been syncretized as Saints, and in the countryside, especially, older religions are practiced alongside the new.  Even in the city itself, indigenous gods such as Yash-Kunag and Seppophis are worshipped openly by more heterodox Urizenites, and the rites of Yash-Kunag are tied with the panoply and rituals of state.

That said, there is a sizable minority of hardline Urizenites, and brawls and even pitched battles between opposing sects and faiths have been known to take place.  Religious prejudices may inform legal decisions and hiring practices.

Atheists are mostly found around the University, and in artistic circles.  They are considered by the majority to be odd, overeducated, and delusional, but are generally tolerated outside of orthodox Urizenite circles.  Many atheists find gainful employment during the Festival of the Great Culling, as their skepticism makes them less succeptable to the awe-inducing aura of the godlings.

Finally, atheist "clerics" exist.  They do not attribute their wonder-working powers to a deity, and offer their own explanations (if any) for their strange abilities.

What languages do I speak? Common, Ancient, Foreign?


Most people in the city speak "Common."

Other languages encountered so far include:

Zhaibari -- The dominant language of the nearby Sultanate
Kozak -- Language of the rampaging hordes.  Hyperborean's hillbilly nephew, twice removed.
Hyperborean - Dominant tongue of the 'civilized' regions of the Far North.  Lots of dialects.

Some Scholarly/Dead/Exotic languages include:

Naga-Maya
Classical Hyberborean
Ancient Hyperzephyrian
Protong
Northern Tlönic
Southern Tlönic
Seraphine
Voynich
Duvan'Ku 

How easy is it to acquire new magic-user spells?

Access to M-U spells is pretty much limited to what you can find while adventuring and what you can get from other M-Us in the city.  Usually this would involve joining an Occult Order, but theft is also an option.

Is "adventurer" its own social class? How shitty can I treat commoners (or vice versa)?


Adventurers occupy a similar status to actors in Renaissance Europe and Genroku Era Japan -- dangerous, disreputable, and lower-class, but often possessed of a certain glamour and swaggering style that captures the imagination of their betters.

Most common people treat them as they would a chapter of Hell's Angels -- with an amount of distaste mixed with fear of physical violence.

Where can I buy or sell something illegal? (Drugs? Poison? A dead body?)

The subterranean Night Market, which changes locations frequently, is the place to go.  In addition, many unassuming shops do a brisk trade in contraband goods in back rooms and under the counter, if the customer knows who to ask. 

Can I auto-buy new equipment while in town or shouId I ask you to bust out your Ye Olde ShoppeKeep voice?

Standard equipment you can auto-buy unless you're in the middle of fighting a small army of waterlogged living corpses dragging themselves out of the canals or something.  Something exotic or custom-built I'll either do as a scene in-game or settle with you outside of the game so as not to slow things down.

Is a rapier v longsword duel considered ridiculous or merely unsporting? for which side?


In a formal duel, the choice of weapons is left to the offended party.  Generally, it's seen as sporting to allow each duelist to fight with the weapon he's most familiar with.  Sword and pistol duels are common, and more exotic arrangements involving poisonous plants, cursed bells, and lethal gastonomy have been heard of.  The most serious affairs of honor are settled with knives, and anyone interfering in a knife duel is held in the lowest contempt and disgust.

Any random charts or formalized lists of frivolous shit I can waste my money on?

I'm working on it.  I'm using Chris Kutalik's Conspicuous Consumption rules from Hill Cantons in which you can earn XP by spending your hard-earned cash on fripperies and gewgaws.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Players' Campaign Questions [Galbaruc] Part 1

So I put out a request to my players over G+ for questions about setting, playstyle, etc. for my campaign.  As with Jeff's 20 Questions, I think this is a useful and more interesting method of defining a setting, and it forces me to supply details I'd normally be inclined to gloss over, and also to determine what should be left vague.

I'll be doing this in two parts (unless I get another post's-worth of questions).  First up is Michael Moscrip:




How is the local ruler chosen, and what sort of government is it?

Galbaruc is an independent city-state and a republic (though this hasn't always been the case).  The closest historical/cultural analogue is probably the Republic of Venice.  The Princeps (First Citizen) is elected by the Council of Ten, who are in turn drawn from the ranks of the Senate.  There is still a traditional aristocracy, but its power and influence has weakened considerably with the resurgence of the merchant class.




When and where are religious services held? What's it like to attend?


Most religious services are held in churches and temples.  Urizenite churches are typically massive and architecturally dazzling, or strive to be.  Shrines and temples to more obscure deities can be as tiny as a niche in an alleyway, or a back room in a private home or business.  Street preachers of varying persuasions will rant and cajole from impromptu booths and platforms set up around the city, though these are appreciated by most spectators as entertainment.  Mystery cults, etc. usually meet in some underground or secluded outdoor areas.  The structure of these services will differ greatly according to religion or sect, but it has been noted that religious practices in the city tend to take on a more baroque and sensational character than elsewhere, with a greater emphasis on decoration, showy vestments, eccentricity, and theatrical flourish.

Note -- at some point, I might rename they days of the week, but until then, let's assume our own 7-day week with Sunday as a holy day/day of rest for Urizenites, just to keep it simple and familiar.




Are there frequent holidays or festivals? What is it like to be there?


Holidays and festivals are frequent - -both the native celebrations of the city and those brought by immigrants from all corners of the earth (and beyond).  Sometimes, two or more of these may be in full swing at the same time, the streets and canals thronged with celebrants.  Galbaruc's festivals are noted for their insistent observance of rituals and forms forgotten, banned, or unobserved elsewhere, as well as a tendency for ostentation and novelty.  Typically, you can count on a relaxation or reversal of social conventions, lots of booze, sex, drugs, music, and dancing, and swarms of pickpockets and other petty thieves. Two notable festivals are the Courtship of Seppophis and the Festival of the Great Culling.



What sort of thing could people find out about someone that would make them a pariah? That would make them celebrated?


Often, the same behavior will make one celebrated in some quarters and despised in others.  A sense of style and dash can do much to turn a common thief or murderer into a bold, picturesque rogue, subject to the embellishments of popular imagination and the guest of honor at the homes of those wishing to arouse envy and controversy in others of their set.

Acts and attitudes generally applauded:
- defeating enemies of the Republic as well as local dangers and nuisances.
- hosting a public event, funding parks, monuments, fountains, pleasure-gardens, etc.
- donating to charities and philanthropic pursuits
- performing some other act of civic pride
- Acting in a bold, striking, and decisive manner.
- Displays of Courage, Wit, and Cunning.
- Achieving Revenge on one's enemies, or perishing spectacularly in the attempt.
- Rising to the height of one's chosen pursuit or profession  -- the Beggar-King of Galbaruc is still a beggar,   but commands a grudging respect for his position within his milieu.
- Acting according to one's own philosophical, ethical, or aesthetic convictions, with a lofty contempt for death and other consequences of same.

Acts and attitudes generally disdained:
- Treason or collaboration with enemies of the Republic
- Pettiness and miserliness.
- Displays of cowardice and indecisiveness.
- A lack of style and grace -- Coarseness of sensibility.
- Failure to take action due to despair or complacency
- Engaging in slave-trading
- abuse of the elderly, the pious, the innocent, and the beautiful. (according to public opinion)
- Failure to keep one's promises.
- Acting contrary to one's established character and reputation.

All of the above are subject to exceptions, excuses, unforeseen variables, and the fickle whims of the public.




What's the most common job for a common person?


Most working people in the city are unskilled laborers, followed by skilled laborers, small tradesmen & their assistants.  Outside of the city, most people are farmers.  






Who shows up if there's a fire? A murder? A riot?


Fire:  In poorer neighborhoods, it's usually up to an impromptu bucket brigade, perhaps led by a member of that contrada's watch, or some other upstanding citizen.  There is no single permanent paid firefighting force in the city, but several ruthlessly competitive rival organizations have sprung up.  They will often brawl with one another over territory and haggle with property owners, refusing to take any action until arriving at a disproportionately favorable settlement.  In truly dire circumstances, the city militia will be called into action.

Murder:  Each contrada is responsible for arming and organizing a local watch to patrol itself, which can take the form of anything from an ad hoc brute squad with cudgels and torches to a well-trained, uniformly equipped force in distinctive uniform.  In theory, serious malefactors captured by these forces are to be transferred to the custody of the city's nascent police force, but all too often, such things are dealt with internally, with rough justice administered on the spot, in the privacy of a local barracks or a shopkeeper's basement.  Suspects apprehended for murder, rape, etc., often find themselves dragged in front of their supposed victims' families/kinsmen/business partners, who may then determine their fate.

Riot: If it isn't stopped at the Watch level (or if the watchmen join the mob themselves) the City Militia is called out.  The cavalry is particularly brutal in their methods.  Their efforts may be enhanced by those of sorcerers and alchemists in the employ of the City.



If I'm an upstanding citizen, who do I tell if I find a body? Who does that person answer to?

In a good neighborhood (where a body has a chance of lying intact and unmolested for any length of time, and Watch/Police patrols more frequent and robust) an upstanding citizen should inform a man or officer of the local watch, or an officer of the police, if one happens to be in the vicinity.  The police are widely considered to be ineffectual, unsympathetic, and dangerously new, and most established citizens of good character prefer to work directly with the local watch, who more often than not know the citizen, at least by reputation, and can vouch for his character.  Foreigners and those of lesser social standing may prefer to deal with the police, who are held to be more impartial in such matters (for good or ill).