Friday, July 29, 2011

Update, Upcoming Projects...

1. "Rival Adventuring Parties" and "Rural Inns & Taverns" took 2nd Place in Zak S.'s Vornheim: Hack This Book Contest, losing out to Dan Voyce's wonderfully weird "Nasty Little Idols" and "Theatre Amphisbaena".

2. I've now put up "Rural Inns & Taverns" as a 1- page pdf here. Other tables should
follow shortly.


For this weekend and the coming week.

1. I really want to flesh out the Galbaruc setting first detailed here. I'm thinking Encounter Tables, Holidays, NPCs, Monsters, Societies and Factions, etc. I really like what Trey's doing with The City and James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount campaign (not to mention Zak S.'s Vornheim) , and I think it would be fun and challenging to do something similar.

2. Get down some details on Psychadelic Warlords. What it is, for starters.

3. Encounter table for the Foreigners' Quarter of Jakálla.

4. Some movie reviews.

5. Get to work on that YA novel.

6. Get back to drawing and painting -- especially now that I have a scanner.

7. Run something on Google +.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's a Dazzling Urbanite Like You Doing in a Rustic Setting Like This? [Vornheim Contest entries #2 and #3]

Here are two tables for when the party is somewhere between civilization and the wilderness. I may expand this post a little later, but I finished these things not that long ago, and my brain feels like burnt tapioca.

First up: Rural Inns and Taverns. Roll once on each name column, or twice on the second, adding ampersands or possessives where applicable. Add Qualities and/or Encounters to taste.

Name 1

1 Jolly
2 Roasted
3 Blue
4 Lusty
5 Roaring
6 Spotted
7 Crowned
8 Green
9 Dancing
10 Hanged
11 Blind
12 Singing
13 Drunken
14 Gilded
15 Brazen
16 Rampant
17 Yellow
18 Prancing
19 Leaping
20 Wicked

Name 2

1 Miller
2 Cat
3 Boar
4 Huntsman
5 Hare
6 Hound
7 Stag
8 Hammer
9 Hangman
10 Fool
11 King
12 Hedgehog
13 Bishop
14 Boot
15 Head
16 Bantam
17 Rose
18 Dragon
19 Knight
20 Sinner

Unusual Qualities

1 Scene of a famous murder 50 years ago. Still haunted at night.

2 The interior of the tavern is marked floor- to- ceilling w/ wards against evil, painted, carved w/ a knife, & scrawled emphatically in charcoal. No one seems perturbed by this.

3 Is a safehouse for a notorious local outlaw & his gang.

4 Innkeeper & his wife are high priest & priestess of a forbidden cult/heresy. Are otherwise friendly & accomodating.

5 Apples on the tree outside are poisonous (the skin alone is a powerful hallucinigen). The innkeeper will explain that the tree keeps regrowing despite his efforts to destroy it.

6 Innkeeper & clientele are cannibals. Well-armed PCs have nothing to fear, but may discover source of last night’s meal too late. The tallow in the candles is made from human fat.

7 The food is amazingly good, due to the fact that the cook is a captured fae creature. It will plead for rescue (removal of iron horseshoe over kitchen door) through messages in marbled fat on meat, steam rising from stew, etc.

8 Innkeeper + staff are actually bandits (real Innkeeper, etc. bound and gagged in cellar). The food is consequently terrible and the service lax.

9 Several tavern patrons have an ashen, listless air about them. Barmaid is a succubus.

10 Brews the Best Cider in the World.

11 The Devil (or equivilent) stops in for a quiet pint once a month.

12 The manticore head on the wall is a piece of enthusiastic, if not seamless taxidermy. The teeth, however, are quite authentic.

13 The dartboard nailed to the far wall is a portrait by a famous (now dead) artist. The subject’s features are unrecognizable from years of regular play, but the signature is clear.

14 Innkeeper is former adventurer. As such, will be instantly suspicious of PCs, locking up his wife, daughter & valuables, & claiming to have no vacancies for the night. If pressed, will sullenly relent.

15 Hosts cockfights in the yard. Innkeeper’s bird always wins.

16 The ancient bronze sword above the bar becomes red-hot & smolders in the presence of Magic.

17 Local poacher keeps inn plentifully supplied with trout from the Duke’s private fishing grounds. His claims of intimate dealings with a court of river spirits is dismissed as drunken nonsense.

18 A conclave of rival necromancers meet here once a year under a truce to talk shop. They are particularly fond of the pheasant.

19 The stableboy bears an uncanny facial resemblance to a prominent local official.

20 No flowers bloom within a mile of it, & no birds sing.


1 A conjurer performs feats of prestidigitation before a packed crowd. 2d4 people in the crowd are his confederates, who are busily cutting purses & picking pockets.

2 Events will repeat in a loop every half-hour. The innkeeper, clientele, etc; will acknowledge PCs, but in a vague, half-interested way. If PCs go about their business as normal, the inn dissolves into fog at dawn. Locals encountered nearby will have no knowledge of such a place. Cause/solution up to GM.

3 Rowdy group of local rustics take offense at PCs’ manners/wardrobe/accent/faces and try to pick a fight.

4 Innkeeper’s cat knows the location of nearby buried treasure. Will lead the PC who pays it the most attention to the site.

5 8 + d8 armed revolutionaries have taken over the inn, forcibly drafting everyone into their ranks. They are awaiting a wagonload of gunpowder from one of their confederates, which will arrive at dawn the next day. From there, they plan to march on the house of the nearest local magistrate.

6 Sheriff & his party, accompanied by magistrate, enter, escorting a prisoner (NPC from previous encounter or PCs backstory) in irons. S/he is to be hung from a nearby gallows-tree, but the magistrate insists of the formality of a trial. All present are sworn in as witnesses.

7 Wandering minstrel, accompanied by local musicians, will start up an impromptu ballad about one of the PCs, which will contain increasingly embarrasing & shameful (but true) details. Will only stop if paid 25 GP or sufficiently threatened w/ violence. The song is extremely catchy & will be remembered and repeated by all NPCs present for some time.

8 A small semi-aquatic demon has taken up residence in the ale keg, The oils from its skin impart unique qualities to the ale. Roll on Magical Effects table for each drinker.

9 Bandits burst in w/ heavy crossbows, demand valuables from staff+clientele and (unless thwarted) take inkeeper hostage & escape in a waiting coach. Are in league with innkeeper.

10 Innkeeper’s wife plots to murder her husband w/ the help of the pot-boy, her lover. Tonight’s the night.

11 Innkeeper’s son/daughter will beg PCs to take him/her w/ them, pleading boredom & drudgery. If they accept, will join them when they leave, along with contents of their parents’ strongbox.

12 Innkeeper & his wife are scouts for a brothel in the nearest large town/city. Will attempt to isolate, drug & kidnap particularly attractive or distinctive-looking PCs.

13 PCs will awake to find themselves trapped by thorny vines & brambles that have encased the inn overnight. All doors & windows are held fast. If cut w/ non-magical weapons, these will regenerate w/ even greater density within 4 rounds.

14 PCs (especially Elves/Magic Users) are attacked by vicious bedbugs in their sleep. These will inflict 1 damage every third round, ignoring armor & clothing. Observant PCs will note a trail of them leadng to the innkeeper’s room. If they force the door, they will discover the innkeeper lying in bed, his eyes glazed over, a stream of bedbugs scuttling in & out of his mouth.

15 The ale brewed here inspires poetry in those who drink it for the 1st time (lasts until dawn).

16 Group of men in rustic garb will accost PCs, asking them for news & gossip in a poor imitation of local dialect. Are obviously a nobleman & his retinue in unconvincing disguises.

17 A dishevelled young woman can be seen walking calmly around the outside of the inn, setting fire to the thatch w/ a torch. If challenged, will respond only that she is “doing what ought to’ve been done to this vile place years ago.”

18 Eloping couple are persued by an agent of the girl’s father, who can be glimpsed through the window, dismounting from his horse. The couple beg the PCs to create a distraction while they slip out the back.

19 An eccentrically dressed man waves PCs over to his table, where he importunes them to join him in a game of chance. He is a compulsive, but terrible gambler, a 6th –level Wizard, & a sore loser.

20 Inn becomes site of battle between outlaws and sheriff’s men, who arrive w/in minutes of each other.


And here's 50 Encounters for when you leave the Inn: It doesn't matter so much if no town or village is indicated on a map -- such places are tiny and numerous, and beneath the notice of most cartographers.

1-2 PCs come upon the body of a man, stabbed, stripped of weapons, cloak, and boots, and left dead at the side of the road. He has a letter tucked into his stocking informing him that a distant relative of his in a nearby town has died and left him his entire estate.

3-4 Inhabitants of the village take PCs to be an Inspector + their retinue from the Capitol (this explains their odd clothing and behavior) and treat them accordingly. The real inspector is about a day’s ride away.

5-6 A young man or woman, filthy, covered in small cuts, naked save for a fox’s tail tied around their waist, comes panting over the hill toward the PCs, and hides behind some nearby trees. A group of nobles on horseback appears a minute or so later and, with a chuckle, ask PCs if they have seen a fox passing through.

7-8 A group of young boys are fishing at a placid lake. They wave lazily to the PCs, just as two squamous, humanoid arms break the surface and drag one under.

9-10 A fire-and brimstone preacher is giving an impassioned sermon in a hastily-erected tent to a large crowd. The sermon has some bearing on one or more outer characteristics of at least one PC.

11-12 A group of angry peasants are burning the local duke in effigy, shaking farm implements and cursing his name. The crowd will encourage PCs to join in. An agent of the Duke’s is hidden nearby, taking down names and descriptions.

13-14 PCs come upon the body of a young woman, but closer inspection reveals that she is playing possum. She scampers away, whistling, at which a party of d6+6 hideously inbred cannibal hillbillies, led by her oldest brother-husband, attack.

15-16 PCs are waylaid by a masked Highwayman and d6+4 accomplices. He will attempt to kiss the hands of any females present.

17-18 A group of d8+4 figures dressed as religious mendicants approach, their heads bowed in solemn prayer. If the roll on the d8 was even, they draw back their hoods, produce shortswords from beneath their robes and attack.

19-20 A travelling carnival has set up on the outskirts of town. They are (1-2) a bizarre and sinister cult of degenerates and necromancers (3-4) Fae creatures in disguise (5-6) mere Carnies.

21-22 The local duke’s army is drumming up new recruits in the town square. Their methods are brutal and insistant, and will extend to any able-bodied PCs.

23-24 A magistrate is hearing cases brought by well-to-do local peasants. At the sight of the PCs, both parties offer compensation if any of them will represent them in a trial by combat.

25-26 Rival adventuring party (roll on table or supply your own) appears at the next crossroads, heading in the same direction as PCs.

27-28 PCs encounter an NPC from a past adventure or character background in the stocks in the town square. The details of the NPC’s crime can be obtained from passers-by.

29-30 A group of villagers are celebrating a fertility festival, featuring much drinking, dalliance, and the parading of an ithyphallic mannikn made of straw through the nearby fields. PCs are encouraged to join in.

31-32 A group of travelling players are putting on a performance in the village square, costumed as the PCs. They are performing an episode from their adventures, though misrepresented. If the deed was noble and valorous, it is depicted as trecherous , cowardly, and bloodthirsty, and vice-versa.

33-34 A hunting party is being assembled in the town square. Three village children have been killed in the last week by some half-glimpsed monster. The creature was sighted less than an hour ago by a local woodcutter. The villagers plead with the PCs to join the hunt, though some of the younger men grumble about involving outsiders in their affairs.

35-36 A mountebank has set up his wagon in the village square and is loudly proclaiming the virtues of his new “miracle elixir.” Will call out to one of the PCs to assist in the demonstration.

37-38 Two men are hurridly loading barrels of moonshine into an already loaded wagon. After percieving that the PCs are not, in fact, the Sheriff’s men, they will offer a barrel or two to the PCs before one of them hops in the driver’s seat and takes off. It is extremely potent, flammable, and illegal under local sumptuary laws.

39-40 A funeral procession winds its way to the outskirts of the town. A persistant banging can be heard from within the coffin, but this is ignored.

41-42 A Witchfinder and his retinue arrive in the village shortly after the PCs. The suspect they are persuing closely resembles one of the party, and they will shadow them closely until confronted.

43-44 PCs find themselves in the middle of a shootout (bows, crossbows, throwing hatchets, etc.) between two families involved in a generations-long feud. PCs are enjoined to declare for one side or the other. Neutrality will be met with incredulous outrage.

45-46 The whole town has turned out to watch the hanging of a notorius local brigand, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a respectable NPC of past acquantance. Upon seeing the PCs, he will greet them by name, shout a cheerful “See you all in hell,” and leap from the platform with the noose around his neck.

47-48 2d8 mounted bandits have arrived at the village first, and busy themselves with slaughter, rapine, and pillage. They will pause in these activities at the approach of the PCs and will either attack (if they outnumber the PCs at least 2-1) or attempt to flee.

49-50 A poacher runs past the PCs, dropping a large sack at their feet as he leaps a fence and dashes into the undergrowth. A few minutes later, a groundskeeper and 1d4 assistants appears from the same direction. He is interested in the poacher and takes the sack to be the PCs property. The sack contains 2d8 freshly killed eels. If eaten, they are quite tasty and the eater can speak and understand the speech of water-dwelling creatures for 3 days after ingestion.

51-52 A group of minor demons are engaging in a musical contest at the crossroads with lute, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, tabor, and harp. They will ask the PCs to judge the contest, and the winner will present the PCs with a coin bearing its sigil, which can be used to summon it to fulfill a single favor.

53-54 2d4 Shrouded bandits spring out and attack PCs. At the first sign of resistance they flee. Any injured or captured member of the band will reveal themselves to be a member of the local aristocracy, that the PCs were mistaken for someone else, and that this was a prank that went horribly, horribly wrong.

55-56 PCs meet with an outlandishly-dressed foreign traveller on the road. He is affable, charming, and seemingly gullible, and does not quite understand the local exchange rate.

57-58 PCs arrive to find villagers in a mad, hallucinatory daze. Ergot in the wheat is the culprit, but witchcraft is, of course, a viable second hypothesis.

59-60 A wizened figure in a tattered robe has been nailed to a tree with silver nails. The placard around his chest reads “For Vile Necromancie.” The man’s eyes open wide and he screams.

61-62 PCs arrive in the midst of a wedding party. The fare is plentiful, simple, and tasty, and the ale is served with generosity. Unless the PCs find a way to screw this up, the evening ends well for all involved, and the PCs are sent on their way in the morning with free provisions.

63-64 The skies open up, and the rain comes down in torrents. The nearest shelter is the half-rotten ruin of a fortress. It is haunted, and the ghostly inhabitants will offer information about the surrounding area (150 years out of date) in exchange for a few drops of human blood left in a pewter dish in the mess hall.

65-66 PCs hear shouts from a group of laborers digging up a barren field to lay a foundation. Upon inspection, their digging has unearthed a bronze door set into the ground at an angle.

67-68 PCs pass a roadside graveyard, startling 2d4 ghouls at their meal.

69-70 PCs arrive at a small monastery populated by ogres. These have renounced their old ways, and offer shelter for the night, though any wounded PCs must remain in the storage shed, as the smell of blood will arouse old appetites and undo the work of religion.

71-72 A toll-bridge straddles the river at its narrowest point, guarded by a colorfully-dressed man who hails the PCs and announces that they cannot cross without answering a riddle. The riddle itself is completely nonsensical, and the man has no magic powers of any kind, and can be dispatched in the usual manner.

73-74 PCs find themselves surrounded by d6+10 outlaws with swords and longbows. If they convincingly deny allegiance to the local duke, they are brought (blindfolded) to the outlaws' hideout and receive an offer to join their band. If they refuse, they are merely feasted and entertained, before being returned to the road in the morning.

75-76 A small boy sits on the fence by a grove of trees playing a flute. Will demand payment for his music (name an outrageous sum). If the PCs refuse, he plays louder, and the trees uproot themselves and lumber slowly but inexorably toward them. The only way to stop them entirely is to break the flute.

77-78 A young girl in a white smock, garlanded with flowers, stands in the middle of a field, surrounded by other peasant farmers. Her eyes are glazed over and she walks as if in a trance toward a figure in an elk-skull mask wielding a dagger.

79-80 PCs arrive in the midst of a fair. Competetion for prizes is fierce, and they will be assaulted on all sides with demands to taste an endless array of jams, pies, cheeses, ales, etc. Offers of bribes will be constant and not particularly subtle.

81-82 Two rival brewers are competing for the prize at a festival, demand PCs do a taste-test as neutral parties. Finding in favor of one will earn the violent emnity of the other.

83-84 PCs hear giggling and splashing up ahead, and spy a trio of water-nymphs bathing in a nearby stream, their garments left on rocks. These garments, if successfully stolen and worn against the skin make the wearer proof against drowning.

85-86 PCs pass a rotted corpse hanging in a gibbet by the side of the road. A scrap of parchment nailed there proclaims the name of the arresting magistrate and the identity of the corpse (a friend, relative, or past associate of the PCs).

87-88 A violent, impassioned scene breaks out in the village square, starting with threats and accusations, leading to attempted murder and/or rape. PCs attempting to intervene will discover that they are wielding stage weapons. The participants disperse, grumbling, and a man in a neatly-trimmed goatee will loudly complain that "these ignorant shitkickers wouldn’t know experimental theatre if it bit them on the ass."

89-90 The PCs unknowingly violate some unwritten code of conduct in the town, and a lynch mob soon forms.

91-92 1d6 tough-looking village lads, eager for excitement and opportunity, offer to join PCs.

93-94 A crowd has gathered around a makeshift stage, where a series of bare-knuckle matches is taking place. Betting is frantic, pickpockets are rife, and the purse to be won is tempting. The local champion is heavily favored.

95-96 The village is holding mayoral elections. Since citizenship is determined by baptism at the village church (an office the local cleric is willing to perform), the PCs can theoretically cast a legal vote. Factions representing both candidates sieze the opportunity with both hands.

97-98 PCs arrive to find village in mourning, with a young woman in black being escorted down the road. It is explained that the local lord has taken her as his latest wife, and none of the 14 women previously chosen for this honor have been seen again.

99-100 Passing farmer offers to give unmounted PCs a ride on his haycart to the next town over in exchange for stories from afar (more than 30 miles away).

And because I'm an insomniac:

Jeremy Duncan took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You're probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

Not bad for 4-5 hours of sleep.

And now I'm off to bed. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hong Kong Cavaliers, Random Tables, and Hammer Horror

Anyone coming here based on the title along is probably going to be disappointed. There will be more actual, y'know, content later in the week, but right now, it's hot and sticky and I my brain is starting to drip out my ears, but before I check out completely for the evening:

1. This was just announced. I'm not sure when it's coming out, exactly, and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to find anyone interested in playing it with me near my zip code, but I'll be buying it anyway like the monkey-boy I am.

2. Random tables-- really useful ones anyway, are a lot trickier than they seem. This may be obvious to those of you who've been at this a while, particularly in the OSR community, but I've been looking at a lot of random tables and reading posts like this lately, and it's had the effect of a) Making me want to crank out a bunch of random tables and b) Questioning every decision along the way. Is it too complicated? Too long-winded? Can I make it more simple and elegant? How generic can it be and still be interesting? How specific and flavorful and still useful for others? Then again, I could simply be hot, tired, and overthinking this thing way too much.

3. Thurday night means horror movies at the Carolina, and this Thurday, it's a Hammer film, which I enjoy like other people enjoy fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa. They'll be showing The Kiss of the Vampire (1963).

Because If you've already got Evil Science, you're pretty much obligated to breed a race of the living dead with it.

And now to bed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Epilepsy? Have You Tried Drinking Gladiator Blood? [Weird Rome]

I read a post the other day at the always-fascinating rogueclassicism blog that should be of interest to anyone gaming in a Weird Roman setting, or looking for a new twist on vampirism. No sparkling, hair gel, or abstinence, I promise. I recommend reading the full original article, but here's what I thought was most interesting:

Here's Pliny the Elder (trans. John Bostock)

Epileptic patients are in the habit of drinking the blood even of gladiators, draughts teeming with life, as it were; a thing that, when we see it done by the wild beasts even, upon the same arena, inspires us with horror at the spectacle! And yet these persons, forsooth, consider it a most effectual cure for their disease, to quaff the warm, breathing, blood from man himself, and, as they apply their mouth to the wound, to draw forth his very life; and this, though it is regarded as an act of impiety to apply the human lips to the wound even of a wild beast! Others there are, again, who make the marrow of the leg-bones, and the brains of infants, the objects of their research!

And Celsus:

Some have freed themselves from such a disease by drinking the hot blood from the cut throat of a gladiator: a miserable aid made tolerable by a malady still most miserable …

The post's author goes on to hint playfully at a connection between Julius Caesar's interest in gladiatorial games and his purported epilepsy, but any GM running a horror-tinged campaign can surely see the potential in this. Here, we have a form of vampirism still tied to superstition, but without any overt supernatural elements. It's one thing to locate and destroy vampires when you're dealing with immortal undead monsters with relatively well-known powers and weaknesses, but quite another when the monster you're looking for is an ordinary person who casts a reflection, can walk freely in the sunlight, has no fear of holy symbols, etc.

Your range of potential "vampires" includes everyone from family members pushed to extremes to find a cure for a stricken child to the sorts of unscrupulous persons hinted at in the end of the Pliny passage -- physicians and sorcerers conducting vile experiments in secret. The efficacy of any of these cures is up to the GM, of course. Rumor and superstition are powerful motivators all by themselves, and an unsuccessful "vampire" might simply be convinced that there's a flaw in their methods, or that they haven't found just the right victim.

Monday, July 18, 2011

General Update and New To-Do List


1. Weird Rome and Weird Greece can be found, in their entirety, in Appendix 4 of Jack Shear's compendium of concentrated awesomeness that is Flavors of Fear: 13 Weird Fantasy Setting Sketches for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. If you haven't already, you should really check it out. Jack has done some amazing work on this one, distilling 13 unique mini-settings to their sharpest taste and potency, like a deranged moonshiner working his genre-still out in Wellman country.

2. Hey, I won something! "The Spawn of Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed" took "Best Critter" in the nautical contest at Hill Cantons, in such mighty company as Trey's The Moon Rake and Porky's The Former Scree. I've been thinking about doing some more work on Galbaruc and environs. Maybe some details on the festival, some encounter tables, etc.

3. My wife's short story "Amor Fugit" was included in The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction 2011, which just hit store shelves earlier this month. Also included are stories by plucky young unknowns Neil Gaiman, Paul Park, and Gene Wolfe, among others. You can read another of her stories, "Swamp City Lament" for free here.

To-Do List:

1. More entries for the Vornheim Contest: Rustic encounter tables.

2. Decide whether Psychedelic Warlords would be best as a stand-alone game, a rules-free setting/genre supplement, or to go with an established ruleset.

3. More Weird Rome

4. The BBC's Human Planet as a gaming resource.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fishing for God-Spawn [Hill Cantons Contest Entry]

Here's my entry for the contest ckutalik put up at Hill Cantons.

Galbaruc, Yash-Kunag, and the Great Culling

Every year, the port town of Galbaruc holds the Feast of the Great Culling, and the town's population swells to over four times its normal size. Innkeepers, hoteliers, and any citizen with so much as a spare broom closet raise their rates to an astonishing degree, but seasoned travelers have learned by now not to haggle, grateful for even the most modest accommodation for the 12 days of the Feast. Galbaruc looks out on the Bay of Maidens, and it is in these waters that Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed makes her annual trek to birth her young. This enormous, immeasurably ancient sea-creature, whose massive form has never been reliably set down, is worshiped as a goddess by the inhabitants of much of the surrounding coasts.

She is seen as the living embodiment of the sea, in all its bounty, danger, and pitilessness. Local artisans most commonly depict her as a humanoid female, with generously- proportioned hips, pendulous breasts over which hang garlands of seaweed and coral, with a skirt made from the lashed-together bodies of dead men, and topped with a monstrous shark's head.

In all, she will birth many thousands of young over the next ten days, though a tiny fraction of that number survive to adulthood. The larger, faster, and stronger spawn will devour their brothers and sisters in a frenzy of hunger. Others will be picked off, in turn, by other sea creatures, which are always at hand in the waters surrounding the bay to pounce on any godling foolish enough to stray out into the greater depths. The rest are taken in the Great Culling, where mariners, fisherman, and enthusiastic amateurs from every corner of the world converge to hunt this precious bounty. It is believed by the devout, and allowed by the skeptical, that Yash-Kunag herself tacitly approves of the Culling, as a way of weeding out the weak and slow from her progeny, and to reduce the number of rival claimants for her power, which she must battle and devour ever season in turn.

Spawn of Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed (Stats are for B/X D&D)

Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 6
Move: 90'
Attacks: Bite/Tail + Special
Damage: 3-24/2-16
No. Appearing: 0 (1-8)
Save As: Fighter 6
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Neutral

Each Spawn, from birth to the first two weeks of growth, measures some 8-12' in length. Their tails are ridged with long, flexible spines, and their mouths filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth, which are constantly replaced throughout their lifetimes. At this stage, Spawn are creatures of pure instinct, though they will develop a formidable intelligence in later life- cycles. They are drawn to sources of food and devotion. Thanks to their heritage, they have an uncanny ability to inspire religious awe in humanoids. Every two rounds, all humanoids within 20' of a conscious Spawn must Save vs. Spells to avoid being the victim of hold person, unable to do anything save falling to their knees and chanting unintelligible syllables. If removed from the water for more than three rounds, a Spawn will enter a helpless comatose state, losing 1d4 hit dice every subsequent round until death. If returned to the water before death, consciousness returns instantly and it regains hit dice at a rate of 1d8/round. As their natural armor has yet to fully develop, they do take damage from non-magical weapons, but all such damage is halved.

The Spawn of Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed are highly prized for their carcasses, which have many and varied uses. The meat is tender, rich, and flavorful, and is often grilled or fried in butter and garlic, and sprinkled with salt and herbs. The shimmering, reflective skin, multi-hued like mother-of-pearl, when dried, makes an attractive, water-resistant leather, and some artists and poets attest to the strange, seductive visions half-glimpsed in its surface. Its oil burns brighter and longer than conventional lamp oil, and exudes a pleasing aroma. This oil is also used in cosmetics, and imparts a youthful glow to the skin and a lustrous sheen to the hair. The flexible tail spines find use as surgical tools and writing implements. The teeth are often made into small daggers with delicately serrated edges. These never lose their sharpness. The bones are both strong and flexible, and used in everything from garment foundations to ornaments for the hair. Many of the most daring hairstyles displayed by gentlemen and ladies of fashion in the Northern Cities would be impossible without strategically-placed supports of Spawn-bone.

Spawn-Fishing Boats, and Techniques of Capture

A bewildering array of craft ply the waters of the bay during the Great Culling, from the swift, fragile catamarans of the Broken Knife Islanders to the lateen-sailed dhows of the Western Khanate. The merchant house of Pinfeather and Brassbolt have lately had much success with their unique design, as well as their methods of capture. The ship itself is a two-hulled catamaran, but built significantly larger and higher than those of the Islanders, sacrificing speed for size, cargo-space, and more solid construction. A net is lowered into the sea in the space between the hulls. Designated members of the crew stand near the edge, armed with incense censers, prayer rattles, and flutes, all of which serve to attract Spawn and bring them swimming in the path of the net. When 1-3 spawn are so positioned, the net is hauled up, leaving the spawn struggling in midair and mitigating much of the danger from teeth and tail.

At this point, the Ship's Atheist, recruited for the season from one of the Northern universities, takes position, loudly denouncing as irrational, primitive and servile the worship of large sea-creatures, however impressive in size and power they might be. It is believed that this serves to discourage the Spawn and act as a buffer against its natural powers of instilling awe. This power is justly feared, as it often results in death, failure, and numerous small cults spontaneously developing among fishing crews. Harpoons may also be employed, though this is frowned upon in many modern operations, as they are not always effective, and may damage the skin. Once the Spawn is comatose, it is hauled aboard and flung into special lead-lined compartments built into the side of the ship.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vornheim Contest Entry #1: Some Rival Adventuring Parties

Here's my first entry for Zak S.'s 'Vornheim: Hack This Book' Contest.

It's a table for quickly determining some rival adventuring parties (and what they're up to) to give your PCs some much-needed competition. GMs should feel free to change any names and details to reflect the setting and mood of their game. Roll a d10 for each category and a d6 within each entry whenever indicated. Category 2 (Notable Fact) can be rolled more than once, as desired. Stats for individual members are not included. These can be rolled up easily enough along with any retainers, etc. the GM thinks appropriate. Levels of party members can be determined by adding or subtracting 1-3 d4 from the average level of the PCs. This is my first real attempt at anything like this, so any comments or suggestions would be welcome.


1. The Forsaken: Remnants of a betrayed mercenary company. They alternate between dour humorlessness and insane bravado and carry a reputation for surviving against impossible odds. As survivors of a massacre, they trust each other more fully than most adventuring parties. Roll again on any result that indicates inter-party betrayal, but keep the second result. Everyone has their limits.

2. The Dragonslayers: Loud, boistrous, and garishly attired, with an ever- changing lineup of braggarts, seasoned professionals, and thrill-seekers. They adorn themselves in bits of what they claim is dragon skin (nothing containing any useful text, if genuine) Their clothes, hair, weapons, etc. are decorated with dragon teeth, talons, horns, etc., or a decent facscimile. They travel with a wagon-mounted ballista, which they ostentatiously turn over to the Watch whenever they enter a new town or city.

3. The Progeny of Lorbis Vul. Core members consist of 4-6 vat-grown male and female humanoids, with skin dyed in a range of colors from sky blue to Vermillion, and marked on their foreheads with a seemingly random number from III – XXV. They are physically perfect, athletic specimens except for one glaring, disturbing flaw (1) Eyes (2) Voice (3) Arm (4) Leg (5) Chest or torso (6) Not readily apparent.. They are seeking the wherabouts of Lorbis Vul, a notorious sorcerer. For now, they pay their way by adventuring.

4. Lord Farthingale's Men. Lord Farthingale is a fop, dressed in whatever outrageous finery the GM wishes, but he has the cunning and brutality of a Blackbeard. His party, by contrasts, is plainly comprised of the worst sort of scum and riff-raff from every corner of the earth. He has a list of (often arbitrary) proscribed behaviors for his men within city walls, and will have any offenders killed on the spot, tossing a bag of silver at the feet of any wronged party.

5. Gorelick, Kesselmann, Voboes, Inginok and Fritch: Adventurers. Sons and daughters of the merchant class., all with the finest university educations. While their clothes, weapons, and equipment are new, they are nevertheless well-maintained and profesionally wielded. Their occasional naivite is offset by an almost frightening amount of efficiency and good sense. They are very well-read in the lore of adventuring, and are determined to learn from the mistakes of the dead, maimed, and insane.

6. Halma-Khet. A party of horse-nomads, led by an exiled nephew of the current Khan. They are both curious and contemptuous of the ways of “soft city dwellers” and eager to prove their skill and valor. While they are expert horsemen (and seldom dismount if they can help it) they are less sure of themselves on foot. In public they (1-3) cannot or (4-6) pretend not to speak or understand the common language of the area, and rely on a slave who acts as interpreter (1-2) accurately and without bias (3-4) twisting words and meanings to please his masters (5-6) mistranslating everything in the worst possible light, either out of perversity or a desire to punish his masters.

7. Order of St. Halachris. A militant religious order (Group contains no fewer than 3 Clerics) dedicated to St. Halachris, Bringer of the Final Death. Party members are chiefly concerned with destroying the undead in all forms, though they are also called upon to deal with lycanthropes and witches. They are plentifully supplied with holy water, blessed weapons and amulets, etc., and each carries a silver dagger on their person at all times. They are (1-2) corrupt and venal – Matthew Hopkins would fit in perfectly, (3-4) Devout, intelligent, and reasonable, and suspicious of false accusations and exaggerated claims (5-6) Dangerous fanatics who see evil and corruption everywhere.

8. The Gallant Comrades: This consists of five adventuring companions and their retainers. They have been at this for longer than most of the PCs have been alive, and time and riotous living have left their mark. Their hair is greying or disappearing altogether, their faces have gotten fleshier, and their armor is bit more snug these days. For all that, they haven’t made it for this long by being careless. They’ve made and lost fortunes several times over, but now they’re planning something big—something that will set them up for the rest of their lives in comfortabe retirement.

9. Morgenstern and Sons: This is adventuring as a family tradition. A husband and wife team and their teenage children -- three boys and a girl. This is the only life they’ve known, though their situation is certainly odd- more commonly found among troupes of circus performers or the nomads of the Cold Wastes. They are all inured to the adventuring life, and will generally slit a throat or pick a pocket with practiced ease.

10. Sisters of Ynis Nagahl: An all-female group, bound together for mutual protection and opportunity. Several are former slaves, and the group will often make a point of harassing or attacking slavers on principle. Their current leader is a berserker from an obscure northern tribe, from whose warrior-goddess (her image takes the form of a she-bear holding aloft an axe and a human head) the group takes its name. In person, she is affable and somewhat flirtatious, though many find her necklace of dried human ears to be distracting and in poor taste.

Notable Fact

1. The Party, through one or more of its members, have a relationship with a noble in the city (roll on the Aristocrat and Relationship tables). This individual has a vested interest in the party, for better or worse, and will take any interference from the PCs as a personal affront.

2. One member of the party feels slighted after the last job and is looking for some petty revenge before skipping town. Will seek out PCs to aid in this purpose.

3. Party is wanted for some outrage committed outside the City – (1) Church or Monastic House, (2) Foreign Aristocrat, (3) merchant house (4) Peasant village (5) Criminal Organization (6) Large extended family. Representatives of this concern have tracked them to the city and are waiting for their chance to strike.

4. On their last adventure, one of the party members was (1-2) bitten or scratched by a were-creature (3-4) Possessed by a minor demon (5-6) infected with a parasite that is reproducing inside his/her body at an alarming rate, only to burst forth in a glistening, wriggling horde from the abdomen. S/he has managed to hide this fact from the rest of their party, but it is about to become profoundly apparent.

5. Are imposters. The real group is: (1-2) Incapacitated or Slain, probably by the imposters (3-4) Alive and Well, about a week’s journey from here (5-6) Never existed—the whole thing is an elaborate hoax.

6. The core members are part of a proscribed cult or sect. (1-2) A despised heresy of the most common local religion (3) A new messianic cult gaining in influence abroad (4-5) A known foreign deity –legal to worship in more exotic parts, but whose rites are illegal locally) (6) Servants of an actively malign horror from beyond the stars, unknown but to the most abandoned decadents, incautious scholars, and gibbering lunatics.

7. The party travels with an exotic, dangerous, and/or previously believed mythical beast. The creature is kept in a cage, large bottle, on a leash, etc. as appropriate.
(1-3) The creature has been tamed by means magical or mundane, and will obey the commands of a designated party member(s) to the limit of its intelligence and abilities.
(4-6) While the Party belives the above to be true, such is not, in fact, the case. Roll 2d6 every minute or so in which the Party is in the immediate vicinity of the PCs. On a roll of two odd numbers, it escapes its bonds.

8. Are in possession of (1) a (1-4) genuine (5-6) fake treasure map (2) A document incriminating (roll any number of times on Aristocrat and/or NPC tables) in a serious crime or scandal (3) A mundane treasure— unremarkable on the surface, but quite valuable to those in the know (4) An attractive but not obviously valuable objet d’art – worth a great deal to collectors. (5) An enchanted object or talisman, not readily apparent as such (6) A weapon (1-4) unenchanted but flashy (5-6) enchanted but ordinary-looking. The Party (1-2) is aware (3-4) suspects, but has not confirmed (5-6) is wholly ignorant of the item’s true qualities or import. PCs can pick up hints by overhearing tavern boasts/conversations, interrogation, pillow talk, talkative or easily bribed former members or retainers on the make, close observation, etc.

9. Have taken a Public Vow of (1-2) Chastity (3-4) Fasting- water and thin gruel, and only after nighfall (4-6) (Poverty) until the completion of their current mission. Their reputation will prosper or suffer according their (known) success in keeping the Vow.

10. Have heard of PCs and are actively trying to:
(1-3) Involve them in a lucrative joint venture. (1-4) They are sincere (5-6) They plan to betray the PCs as soon as it’s expedient.
(4-6) Hinder or sabotage the PC’s current plans. The GM should determine their seriousness/willingness to kill or maim in this regard.

What they're doing in the City right now

1. About to intercept PCs at the next crowded thoroughfare: The street is only wide enough for one group to pass at a time.

2. Desperately short of funds, the Party is attempting to sell off the meager loot from their last (disastrous) expedition, along with any surplus weapons, armor, or equipment. (1d4) members desperately seeking employment, with the remainder actively looking to split from the group and join another party.

3. Indulging in epic debauchery at the most expensive tavern/brothel in the city.

4. Recruiting for 1d4 new members in the town square, village green, etc. Will have hired 2d6 touts to announce this fact across the city.

5. In attendance at a funeral procession for a slain former comrade, accompanied by the appropriate clergy and 3d6 professional mourners. After a day or two, consult #4 of this column.

6. Engaged in a (1-3) heated argument (4-6) brawl with (1) Local Aristocrat and their retinue (roll on Aristocrat Table) (2) Another Adventuring Party (roll again on chart) (3) City Watch (4) Criminal Organization (5) Monster(s) (GM’s choice) (6) Other Tavern Patrons.

7. Pursuing individual interests (roll for each member/group of 1d#total in party-1) : (1) Doing research at a Library (2) Taking in a Show (Play, concert, bear-baiting, etc.) (3) Shopping at a Store or Market (4) Engaged in Secret Business with 1) Aristocrat 2) Random NPC 3) Criminal Organization 4) Outlawed Cult 5) The Regent/Mayor 6) Demonic/Extradimensional Entity (5) Attending public Church or Temple service (6) GM’s choice of results 3,6,8-10 on this column.

8. Breaking into (1-3) Private Residence (Roll on NPC or Aristocrat Table) or Public Building (4-6) Building (Roll on Building Table). If it’s daylight, they’re still casing the joint. If nighttime, they’re in the act.

9. At the center of a parade in their honor which winds its way through the streets, to end at the estate of an Aristocrat (roll) or the Regent, where they are wined and dined with great pomp and extravagance. In all the excitement and confusion, It will be relatively easy for PCs to gain admittance to the celebrations.

10. Fleeing the city, with (1-2) City Watch (3-4) Aristocrat’s retinue (5-6) Angry mob of citizens in hot pursuit. Their path of escape will intersect with the PCs, at which point a party member will drop a (up to the GM whether accidentally or not) (1-2) map (3-4) incriminating document (5-6) valuable or magical object where a PC can unobtrusively pick it up.

UPDATE: PDF version here

Later tonight or tomorrow...

A random table of Rival Adventuring Parties for your PCs to encounter, their quirks and secrets, and what they're up to right now.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weird Greece: A Setting-sketch for Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Here's part two. I'm a little less happy with this one than the Roman setting-- I don't know if it's the nebulous semi-historical setting I chose (The Hellenistic Age might be a better fit for a gritty swords-and-sorcery feel, but I don't think I could improve on Paul Elliott's Warlords of Alexander) or what, but something just feels slightly off. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Weird Greece:

“A dead weight hung upon us. It hung upon our limbs-- upon the household furniture --upon the goblets from which we drank; and all things were depressed, and borne down thereby -all things save only the flames of the seven lamps which illumined our revel. Uprearing themselves in tall slender lines of light, they thus remained burning all pallid and motionless; and in the mirror which their lustre formed upon the round table of ebony at which we sat, each of us there assembled beheld the pallor of his own countenance, and the unquiet glare in the downcast eyes of his companions. Yet we laughed and were merry in our proper way-which was hysterical; and sang the songs of Anacreon-which are madness; and drank deeply-although the purple wine reminded us of blood.” -- E. A. Poe, "Shadow: a Parable" (1850)

A Mythic Greek setting presents a unique paradox for gaming in a Weird Fantasy idiom. It is supremely suited for the conventions of fantasy roleplaying games-- wandering adventurers, a pantheon of gods, savage monsters to be fought and overcome, perilous quests into the underworld, etc. are a more natural fit to a Greek-inspired setting than a cod-medieval one. The gods, men, and monsters of Greek mythology are iconic and familiar. But this very familiarity and accessibility can be a serious obstacle for a Referee wishing to preserve the feeling of "the Weird" that informs LotFP. Throughout this setting sketch, I'll offer tips on how to exploit the unique flavor of a Greek-inspired setting while never losing sight of "the Weird."

The Setting: The ancient Mediterranean -- the last gasp of the Heroic Age, and the beginning of the degenerate Age of the Men of Iron. History is still fluid and murky, and legends may still be made of the deeds of such heroes as are born in these latter days. The gods still meddle in the affairs of mortals, but not so openly as they once did, and their semi- divine progeny are scarcely to be found upon the dark earth.

The known world is divided into petty kingdoms and city-states, ruled by a collection of kings, queens, ruling councils, and tyrants-- the sort of upstart adventurers the PCs might aspire to, who have seized control by unorthodox means and now crouch on their troubled thrones, claiming descent from some god or hero. The great- walled city of Troy has fallen, and men will never again attempt to build on such a scale again. Even now, the PCs should encounter monumental, eerily-deserted ruins of the age that has just past, which dwarf in size and grandeur the squalid huts of their home villages. The large cities that remain should be grand, imposing, and in a state of gradual decline.

Everywhere, the signs of the gods' displeasure are evident. Women give birth to horrifying monstrosities in secret, which are kept carefully hidden or run free to despoil and ruin as they will. The roads are unsafe to travel, save in large, well-armed bands, being the haunts of brigands, monsters, and men who, living beyond the flickering light of civilization, have become little more than beasts themselves. The seas are treacherous as well, and mariners find themselves prey to reavers, petty wars between island kingdoms, and terrifying creatures of the deep, who multiply unchecked in waters far from the common trade routes.

The Themes:

Competition and Strife bring out excellence: Closely tied to the concept of arete (excellence) is the idea that someone, somewhere, must be the best at a given thing, and that one must constantly strive to be the best and be recognized as such. The Greeks applied this attitude toward all facets of life -- athletics, poetry, song, horsemanship, warfare, etc. In a properly Greek setting, there should be constant pressure between characters (PCs and NPCs-- even on the same side) to outdo each other in feats of daring, ingenuity, martial prowess, etc. The one who comes in second is to be pitied, but the one who does not compete is only worthy of contempt. On the level of clans, communities, and city-states, this often leads to years of protracted warfare, bitter feuds, populations slaughtered and enslaved and cities burnt to the ground.

Man is mortal, glory is eternal: Player characters, particularly in games like this, are rather fragile, especially when starting out. This is to their credit. The immortal gods cannot be valorous, as they can never risk death by their actions. That honor and distinction is left to mortals, like your player characters. The only way for them to achieve immortality is to perform deeds worthy of song. Play up the importance of kleos -- the glory spoken of by others. This should serve as a spur to action, and a few obols here and there to the right bards and minstrels will do wonders for their reputation.

The Age of Heroes is passing away, to be replaced by the Age of Iron: While many continue to publicly uphold the ideals of the past age, they do not hold them in their hearts as they once did. Honor and Glory are sacrificed for expediency. Sons rebel against their fathers, wives murder their husbands, strangers are turned away at the door or betrayed by their hosts. Emphasize the growing sense of lawlessness, danger, and decline. Will the player characters stand out as anachronisms-- boldly embodying the virtues of the Heroic Age? Or will they make the most of this unscrupulous new era?

The Foes:

The Gods The gods are superhuman, but not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. Like mortals, they are subject to the Fates. They are by turns benevolent, wrathful, perverse, lustful, petty, and majestic, according to their whims. While the gods may walk the earth from time to time, the PCs (and their players) should never be quite sure whether they have encountered one "in the flesh." Like Nyarlathotep, they assume many guises and masks as they go about their business on earth. Keep the gods offstage for the most part-- if they must speak at all, let it be through the cryptic, ecstatic utterances of Sibyls and Oracles. Since the gods are basically the personification of observable forces-- thunder and lightning, wine and drunkenness, love, lust and obsession, plague and sickness, the sea, etc., let the gods manifest through unusually strong or freak displays of these forces.

As I mentioned before, the iconic status of the monsters of Greek Mythology make tempting antagonists, but their appearances, strengths, and weaknesses are so well known that "The Weird" is compromised through this familiarity. Use monsters like Medusa, the hydra, etc., sparingly if at all. Rather, use them for inspiration to create your own monsters in a similar vein. Many of them were formerly ordinary men and women, cursed by the gods for some real or perceived wrongdoing. When designing a monster in the Greek tradition, first think of a person, and then a transgression for them to commit. Murder? Rape? Incest? Unusual cruelty? Cannibalism? Refusing the advances of a god or goddess? (never mind that the gods themselves are frequent offenders in many of these areas themselves -- the laws of proper behavior are for mortals). Then think about the punishment and how this could manifest in the hideous monstrosity they've now become. A malicious gossip might now literally drip poison into the ears of her victims. A blaspheming poet might be given a voice that drives his listeners into a murderous rage. Each such monster should be singular and local to a particular area.

Outlaws, pirates, and brigands
These haunt trade routes and mountain passes, a symbol of the growing lawlessness of the world. Particularly memorable brigands will have some horrific trick to how they dispatch their victims. In the legend of Theseus, the hero must contend with Prokrustes, who stretches or amputates his "guests" in order to fit his bed, and Sinis, who tied his victims between two bent pine trees and then let them go, splitting them in half.

Beast-men and wild women. Encountered in wild places. These have forsaken civilization entirely and live like beasts, often (as in the case of satyrs) taking on the features of the animals whose behavior they have come to typify. Alternately savage and beguiling.

The Underworld
Wealth buried in the ground is the de facto property of Hades, and adventurers venturing beneath the earth are not only plundering the dead, but stealing the rightful spoils of a god.

The Soundtrack: Basil Poledouris- Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer soundtracks. Other than that, I'm outta suggestions. Any help filling in this section would be appreciated.

Literary and Cinematic Inspirations:
Euripides- Medea, The Bacchae, Hippolytus, H.P. Lovecraft- “The Tree,” E.A. Poe- “Shadow: A Parable,” Ovid- Metamorphoses, Homer- The Iliad and The Odyssey, Mary Renault- The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, Robert Graves- Hercules, My Shipmate and Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze comic book series, Appolonius of Rhodes- Argonautika.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Clash of the Titans (1981), Jim Henson's The Storyteller: The Greek Myths(1990), various Italian sword-and-sandal movies -- Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) is particularly stylish and useful, as director Mario Bava introduces an element of horror and creepiness), Iphygenia (1982) Troy (2004) (for the visuals, anyway)

Historical, Mythological, and Fortean Inspirations: Herodotus- The Histories, Robert Graves-- The Greek Myths (heavily influenced by J.G. Fraser's The Golden Bough, and packed with an odd blend of scholarly erudition and wild-ass theorizing, but the book's eccentricities only make it that much better for gaming inspiration), The Eleusinian Mysteries, the palace complex at Knossos, the citadels of Mycenae, The Oracle at Delphi, the Labyrinth, Pliny's Natural History, The Legend of Theseus, Orpheus and Orphic cults, The Trojan War, Atlantis, Circe, Medea.

Gaming Inspirations: GURPS: Greece, Mazes & Minotaurs and Tomb of the Bull King, Caverns of Thracia (Judges Guild), Mythic Greece for Rolemaster, AGON by John Harper, Age of Heroes (AD&D 2nd ed.), "Stealing the Histories" by Michael Curtis (article on using Herodotus as inspiration for sandbox campaigns-- Knockspell #4), "The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld" by Philotomy, Jonathan Walton's notes for Argonauts (sadly, all that was released before the project fizzled into vaporware -- Daedalus #1 .

Weird Greece Kickstart Table (d4)

1. A local tyrant clings precariously to his throne. His claim to legitimacy rests on his alleged descent from a semi-divine hero of the Trojan War and founder of the tyrant's city. He will offer an exorbitant sum for the retrieval of the hero's armor, which he plans to display prominently in appearances throughout his capitol. The armor itself is huge-- larger by a half than the tallest man living, and is said to lie beneath a nearby cave, rumored to be one of the many entrances to the Underworld.

2. Women in a nearby village have been giving birth to monsters-- strange, pale, silent things with useless, elongated hands and feet, a set of pointed teeth, and the cold, black eyes of birds. What is the reason for the curse that has settled on the village, and how can it be broken?

3. A city is holding its Games when the PCs arrive. The material rewards (not to mention the fame) to be won are considerable, but the contestants are soon dropping dead from a mysterious sickness. Is this a case of poisoning? Sorcery? Some of course, will blame the PCs themselves...

4. The PCs find themselves shipwrecked on a mysterious island. The island's inhabitants (about 20 people in all) have constructed a tawdry replica of Troy out of driftwood, the hulls of other shipwrecks, and what appear to be human bones. They are all quite insane, and play out an endless drama of their own devising, drawing on elements of mythology and their own obsessions. The PCs, of course, will be cast in parts of their own. Do they attempt to play along, hoping to find a means of escape, or do they take their chances in the surrounding forests?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

To- Do List

A few things I have planned for the blog's immediate future. I jotted this stuff down earlier in my little pocket notebook but I'm putting it up here to shame myself into actually doing everything on the list. This isn't exhaustive, by any means, but I want to at least make a sizable dent in it by the end of the month.

1. Lament for the Wheel of Black: an LotFP hack for M.A.R. Barker's world of Tekumel, stripping it down to the more gonzo, pulpy sword-and-planet version of Tekumel presented in Barker's original Empire of the Petal Throne RPG.

2. Some entries for Zak S.'s Vornheim contest. Deadline's fast approaching...

3. Weird Greece, with revisions.

3. More material for Weird Rome, with notes on RPing in the ancient world.

4. Psychedelic Warlords (working title) A mini-setting for trippy space fantasy in the vein of Jodorowsky's Metabarons, The Fifth Element, Zardoz, the Art of Richard Corben, Philippe Druillet, and Moebius. The sort of thing that comes to mind while listening to Hawkwind's Space Ritual.

5. A Hexcrawl set on a fictional Mediterranean island. If you're familiar with Over the Edge, this would be my take on Al-Amarja -- what I wanted Al-Amarja to be, anyway, rather than the surprisingly bland venue for a hodgepodge of weirdness that it was presented as.

6. I like what Nathan Ballingrud's doing with his serialized "Cannibal Priests of New England." A fiction serial might be fun.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weird Rome: A setting-sketch for Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Well, I might as well get started with some content.

I originally posted this to this thread on, where MisterGuignol has done an excellent job of breaking down and delineating a slew of mini-settings for James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG.  Since LotFP is skewed more toward the "weird fiction" of Howard, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, et al, establishing the proper atmosphere becomes very important-- to really play to the game's strengths, you need to establish a markedly different feel from the more "epic fantasy" tone of D&D 4th ed., for instance, and MisterGuignol's mini-settings provide vivid, easy-to-digest capsules of concentrated weird.  Anyway, someone asked for Greek and Roman settings with a weird slant and MisterGuignol generously gave his consent for me to actually get some use out of my Classics degree.  This will eventually be collected (along with all the other mini-settings from the thread) into a .pdf, but in the meantime, I thought I'd put my contributions up on the blog.

First up is Rome:

Rome: ad limites Imperii

“Inscriptions still visible in the sub-cellar bore such unmistakable letters as “DIV*.*.*. OPS*.*.*. MAGNA. MAT*.*.*. “ sign of the Magna Mater whose dark worship was once vainly forbidden to Roman citizens. Anchester had been the camp of the third Augustan legion, as many remains attest, and it was said that the temple of Cybele was splendid and thronged with worshippers who performed nameless ceremonies at the bidding of a Phrygian priest." -- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Rats in the Walls."

Here, the players are citizens of a powerful, expanding Empire. While it may appear stable and solid from the outside, fissures appear here and there in the fabric of Empire, growing wider and deeper as it grows in influence and dominion. A Roman or Rome-inspired campaign can easily accommodate themes from "The Weird North," "Pilgrims in a Strange Land," and "The Urban Weird," but Imperialism imparts a unique flavor of its own. With some tweaking, the Referee could substitute a later empire for the Roman model presented here-- imagine the film Gunga Din with Roman legionaries instead of British officers, for example, with the Cult of Cybele replacing that of Kali.

The Setting: The mid 2nd-century. Rome is at the height of her power, with her borders stretching from the scorching deserts of Arabia to the freezing, forested wastes of northern Britain. All roads lead to Rome and those roads are crowded with folk of every description. Players will encounter merchants and traders on the make, crafty slaves and uncouth freedmen, soldiers in gleaming array,, inscrutable Latin-mangling foreigners, bringing their strange customs and stranger gods into the Empire's very heart, aristocratic officers and administrators, burning with family pride, aghast at their own waning fortunes and the success of the upstart, lower-class "new men" who have flourished since the demise of the Republic. Here are prostitutes and actors, swaggering gladiators living in pampered servitude.

But this is all in the open. On the fringes and beneath the surface, outside the rigidly proscribed boundaries of fort walls, Roman roads, and social conventions, strangeness breeds and multiplies, and corruption and decadence take root. The plain, no-nonsense agrarian soul of Rome, the mos maiores (customs of the ancestors) that defeated Hanibal and brought the Greek city-states under Roman domination are themselves under constant threat. Women of good family, not content to be obedient daughters and chaste matronaeforsake their duty for luxury, admitting the embraces of slaves and freedmen. They abort their lawful and unlawful offspring, the better to enjoy enjoy unabated those pleasures to which they have accustomed themselves, and concoct poisons to serve their husbands when the latter become too dull or troublesome. They make a study of charms and curses to ensnare potential lovers and punish rivals and unwilling suitors. Young men, in defiance of their manly forbears, give in to softness and effeminacy,preferring poetry and music, silks and perfumes to the soldier's boot and the sober toga of a citizen. Both seek out strange new gods, imported from far-flung regions of the empire, and attend outlandish and unseemly rites in their honor, in their insatiable desire for novelty and stimulation.

The Themes: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis intulit agresti Latio --"Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium."- Horace, Book II, epistle i, lines 156-157. Even as the Empire conquers the world without, she is conquered from within. While the Empire's strength is far-reaching and overt, dangerous elements from conquered territories work their way insidiously into the Imperial bloodstream, coursing along the arteries of Rome's roads all the way to the Empire's very heart. This is an inescapable consequence of the Empire's success, as those very qualities that once defined Rome's national character prove vulnerable to the onslaught of foreign influences as she acquires new territories and dominions. While many find Roman ideals desirable (as well as the benefits of citizenship) the attraction goes both ways, as the influx of wealth and novelties (in religion, dress, etc.) prove irresistible to a populace raised on stark, rustic ideals. Play up the "strangeness" and "otherness" of everything "non-Roman" and the constant tension between the rough-and-ready, hard-headed, practical Roman ideal, and the cultured, Greek-speaking, cosmopolitan ideal of the polished urbanite. How much polish can one acquire without a loss of virtue and good sense? Which elements from the cultures of subject peoples can be safely and usefully acquired, and which lead inevitably toward corruption, decadence, and madness?

Others (I can well believe) will hammer out bronze that breathes
with more delicacy than us, draw out living features
from the marble: plead their causes better, trace with instruments
the movement of the skies, and tell the rising of the constellations:
remember, Roman, it is for you to rule the nations with your power,
(that will be your skill) to crown peace with law,
to spare the conquered, and subdue the proud.
- Virgil, Aeneid VI lines 847-853 trans. Kline

While the PCs themselves may be dutiful servants of Empire or (more likely) a gang of violent misfits-- who else goes adventuring for a living?-- the Imperial mandate exists as an ever-present stamp on their daily lives. Unusual eloquence, artistic skill, and more arcane arts are often considered somewhat suspect, at best. Slaves, freedmen, women, and religious and ethnic minorities operate, to some extent, outside the mainstream of Roman public life, and adventurers (by their very nature being unusual and extraordinary) often find themselves the victims of injustice, indifference, and suspicion from a society which stresses assimilation, tradition, and conformity. Emphasize the gulf between the PC's expected roles (gender, social status, ethnicity) with the iconoclastic realities of the adventuring life.

Patrons and Clients-- the ties that bind. While many bemoan the current state of the patron/client relationship, it's still a powerful force in society. Loyalty to one's patron and (to a regrettably lesser extent) responsibility to one's clients and dependents informs everything from political and family life to religion. Roman religion, after all, is merely an extension of this relationship toward the divine-- an arrangement between worshiper and deity in which the former provides honors and sacrifices and the latter provides protection and favor, in turn. When this relationship breaks down in any of these contexts, the forces unleashed are often violent, corrosive, and unpredictable.

Applicable Themes from Other Settings:

Civilization versus the Wild—make the outpost a place that the characters have a vested interest in defending. Make it clear that the outpost is civilization's first and best line of defense against something monstrous that could spell doom for all humanity. Imperil their community; make them scramble to protect the life they know.

Class warfare—the town is home to barely-repressed social resentments. The poor and the rich hate each other instinctively, the old money has a vested interest in keeping the middle and working classes from gaining too large a share of cultural capital, the disenfranchised minority is kept at the menial, abject fringes of society. If your group has the stomach for it, you might even work racial tensions into this heady brew of contention.

Discipline is survival—the only way to persevere against the savagery of the new world is to remain stoic and disciplined in the face of chaos. Rigid adherence to law and order requires that the colonists forge their souls from cold iron to weather the misfortunes of this strange land.The beacon of civilization is surrounded by barbarism—the colony's survival is a fragile thing. Natural dangers, bloodthirsty braves, and supernatural threats encircle the colony and any venture into the forest is a likely suicide mission. While the subjugation of the wilderness will necessarily entail some loss of life, the greatest threat is that the colonists will abandon their civilized ways and fight savagery with savagery.

Many of these themes are already familiar to readers of Weird/Pulp Fiction-- particularly in Howard (the corrupting, softening effects of civilization) and Lovecraft (the threats to civilization from barbaric and/or decadent forces), and these concerns are mirrored in Tacitus' "noble savages" portrayal of the Germans and Juvenal's xenophobic portrait of foreigner-infested Rome in the Satires. Referees and players must decide how much of this reactionary attitude they wish to stress in their games.

The Foes:
Barbarian Hordes from the North - Huge, uncouth, and undisciplined, yet possessed of certain simple virtues that Rome herself has lost. The implacable foe is feared and hated but respected, and the Romanized native accepted to a certain extent, but perhaps viewed with some suspicion and contempt.

Barbarians from the East-- Cowardly, devious, and deadly. In war, they strike with lies and arrows from fleeing horsemen. In peace, they seduce and corrupt with their decadent ways and strange gods.

Sorcerers and Mountebanks- pretty much foreign by definition. At best, they will merely cheat you. At worst, their powers are real and harmful to all involved.

The Ancient Gods of Conquered Peoples, and their Cults-- While Rome has co-opted and conflated many of the gods of the conquered, some are not so easily tamed or assimilated. The ancient Etruscan gods of Rome's deposed kings, worshiped in secret by citizens of certain lineages; The Great Mother Cybele, whose castrated priests are an unnerving sight as they wind their way through the streets in bizarre processions... Certain cultists of Bacchus might fit into this group, as the rites have been at times suppressed in the ostensible interest of public order and decency. What other nameless cults and orders observe their rituals throughout the empire-- inimical to Rome and her allies?

Witches and wicked women-- From withered, disgusting crones collecting the bones of dead children to beautiful adulteresses skilled in poisons, curses, and love-draughts, these represent a total rejection of feminine modesty and decorum, and leave chaos and evil in their wake. Unlike the barbarians, these women are all the more dangerous because their wickedness is masked by an outward show of venerable age or respectability.

The Soundtrack: Peter Gabriel- Passion and Passion Sources, HBO's Rome Soundtrack.

Literary and Cinematic Inspirations:  Apuleius- The Golden Ass (sex, violence, casual cruelty, and witchcraft!) Petronius- The Satyricon (featuring, among other things, depraved cultists, tasteless spectacle, thieving and con-artistry, more sex, violence, casual cruelty and witchcraft, and a story about a werewolf) Catullus- LXIII (a shift in tone and style from his “Lesbia” poems-- this is an exhilarating and terrifying account of the goddess Cybele and her consort Attis, and his ecstatic self-castration), The Book of Acts, the satires of Horace and Juvenal, R.E. Howard- "Men of the Shadows", "Worms of the Earth," "Kings of the Night," misc. novels by John Maddox Roberts, the "Roma sub Rosa" series by Steven Saylor, H.P. Lovecraft- "The Very Old Folk," Richard Tierney- The Drums of Chaos and The Scroll of Thoth: Tales of Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones, Shakespeare- Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus

Fellini's Satyricon, Centurion, The Eagle, HBO's Rome, I, Claudius (both the BBC miniseries and the Robert Graves novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God).

Historical and Fortean Inspirations:*Lead cursing tablets, the vanished 9th Legion, Lucan- Pharsalia 6.588-830 (A Thessalian witch reanimates a dead soldier), Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds by Daniel Ogden, Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels (A 2nd century Charles Fort's account of “prodigies”), Georg Luck's Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Mystery Cults (Mithras, Isis, Cybele), Lucian of Samosata-- “Alexander the False Prophet” (a hatchet-job on a 2nd century con-man and founder of the prophetic cult of Glycon-- a human-headed snake worshiped today by Alan Moore), Etruscan tomb-mounds and divination with sheep's livers.

Gaming Inspirations: Cthulhu Invictus for Call of Cthulhu, Jason E. Roberts' FVLMINATA, Paul Elliot's Zenobia, Requiem for Rome for Vampire: The Requiem (set in the Late Empire, but the long intro by Ken Hite is pure gold), Paul Czege's Bacchanal.

Weird Rome: Kickstart Table (d4)

1. The PCs are stationed at a distant outpost of the Empire. The province is officially subdued, but can the supposedly Romanized new auxilleries be trusted? And what of their still-barbarous cousins beyond the fort wall? Will they put aside their squabbling and unite? You can't think about that, now, as the garrison commander has just been found murdered in the settlement's new forum in broad daylight.

2. The PCs must journey to visit an important friend or patron, but the road to his villa lies beyond bandit-infested hills and lonely roadside graveyards. And what of the old Etruscan tomb-mounds that dot the landscape, and the sounds that issue forth at night?

3. The PCs are guests at a lavish party held by a wealthy local freedman. As the night wears on, the entertainments become more bizarre and grotesque, and reality blurs with strange, fevered visions. How to leave, and how to find the way home again through now-unfamiliar streets? What was in that wine?

4. A friend, family member, lover, or important contact of the PCs has disappeared while visiting the provinces. Why are the local authorities so evasive, and what's the meaning of those strange, nightly processions?

Testing... testing...

I'm starting this blog as a spur for creativity and production, and as an attempt to get past my habits of procrastination, chronic laziness, crippling self-doubt and perfectionism to actually produce something and put it out there for people to see.  Time will tell.

It's ostensibly a gaming blog focusing on material for tabletop RPGs, but I'm expecting to veer off into other subjects with some frequency-- movies, comic books, fantasy, horror, science fiction, reviews and essays, and any random things I get interested in or obsessed with.  Possibly some fiction as well, though that'll probably be quarantined in its own section.