Saturday, December 31, 2011

Brief End-of-the-Year Omphaloskepsis

So I started this thing back in July with this :

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.

Let's look at that in some more detail:

"I'm starting this because blah blah crippling self doubt I never get anything done blah blah."

- If that's my stated purpose for doing the blog, I think it's helping me achieve it. I've gone from producing practically nothing to coming out with a good handful of gameable tools, occasional articles, actual play reports, and miscellaneous bullshit -- and it's all been generally well-received. 51 people are publicly following the blog, which is far more than I had imagined going in. So far, the few extended conversations in the comments have been interesting and civil. This positive response has fueled my desire to produce more stuff, which people seem to be using, which makes me happy, and want to produce more, etc. etc.

The other part hasn't quite played out as I'd planned. No real reviews, not a whole lot in the way of essays, and very little on movies, books, and other media. On the other hand, I don't mention artwork at all, and I've done a lot more of that in the past few months than I have in years. I've got a bunch of pieces in Secret Santicore, and another that I hope to see in a published supplement sometime in the new year. In the mean time, I'm gearing up for some collaborative work with my pal Nathan Ballingrud, and I'm working on scraping the rust off my skills and developing them further.

I'm always terrible about keeping New Year's resolutions, so I'm not going to list any here. I'll leave it at this: Personally and creatively, I'm in a better place now than I was at the end of 2010, and I think 2012's going to be even better.

Have a happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Secret Santicore is loose! Head for the Hills!

Thundering out of the post-Christmas haze like a turkey dinner washed down with too much eggnog,* the Secret Santicore pdf comes winging its way to gamers worldwide, for the low, low price of absolutely nothing.  This notice is a bit self-serving, as I've got some art and writing in it, but all glory to Jez Gordon, who lingered in a vale of ashes, tears, and layout issues that the rest of us might bask in the gaming Nirvana that is the finished work.  One Hundred and Four pages of decadent, deliriously delicious DIY D&D** delights for your table.

*I'm sure there's a more appropriate metaphor, but I'm in a hurry, here.
** There's at least some Shadowrun and Mutant Future stuff as well, but alliteration, man.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Secret Santicore: New Fantasy Race: VAT- SPAWN

I never got the requester's name, but here's my entry for Secret Santicore this year:

Request: Dear Secret Santicore...

I request a new fantasy race, not system specific so pick whatever one you are most comfortable with or go system-less.

Thank you very much!

Well, here goes:

by Jeremy Duncan

The sorcerer-kings of old, already worshiped as living gods by their subjects, and having grown bored with merely warping and molding nature to their whim, sought to fully assume the mantle of godhood and create life itself. With arcane secrets dredged up from the earth and sea and called down from the stars, they set to work, their forbidden knowledge wed to the toil of a thousand slaves, alchemists, and sages. At the expense of vast wealth, countless lives, and unquantifiable human suffering, they at last achieved their goal, as the first tottering form rose by its own strength from the vats, to stand complete before its maker.

Pleased with their new plaything, the sorcerer-kings whiled away their idle hours by creating variations and refinements enough to satisfy their immortality-strained appetites. Whole armies of vat-spawn were called up to re-enact legendary battles or duel to the death in elaborately planned and scripted combats. Harems of pleasure-slaves, their every feature sculpted in exacting detail, were bred in the vats to serve at their makers' grand debauches, only to be dissolved again when their masters had tired of their ministrations. So it went, century after extravagant, heedless century, until at last the power of the sorcerer-kings waned, and their empires were toppled amid fire and slaughter. The sorcerer-kings were put to the sword, their pale, anemic blood seeping into the blackened earth to mingle with the spilled ichor of their artificial slaves.

While most of their kind were ruthlessly exterminated, a tiny minority escaped destruction, having been posted to remote corners of the world, or waiting in stasis in their vats in some hidden laboratory. Their makers long since dead, and their original purpose unknown, these creatures, upon awakening and learning something of the world, often turn to adventuring to satisfy their endless curiosity and challenge their strange abilities.

Each vat-spawn is a hairless humanoid, with height and weight in the standard human range, though their features are often somewhat alien to modern observers, recalling ethnicities no longer found among the contemporary population, but glimpsed on the pitted faces of ancient coins, and in worn bas-reliefs on the columns and pediments of sunken temples.

If undisturbed, Vat-spawn are functionally immortal, though they are as susceptible to violent death as any other adventurer. As they are inherently unnatural, they cannot be Raised after death, nor can they reincarnate. Whether they possess souls at all is a matter of considerable theological debate.

They possesses functional genitalia, but are completely sterile.

After every 100 years, the vat-spawn's memory and personality will reset, returning it to 1st level.

Vat-spawn have a vibrantly-colored ichor (roll on color chart) in their veins instead of blood. This ichor has many alleged magical properties, and unscrupulous Magic-Users are always on the lookout for experimental subjects.

All Vat-spawn can graft on and incorporate body parts from humanoids and other creatures, as long as there is sufficient space. Any special abilities or attacks inherent to those parts (a medusa's eyes, etc.) transfer to their new owner. Removing one limb, eye, hand, etc. to make room for a new part inflicts 1d4 damage, after which it it is rendered useless, withering away to nothing. Characters attempting to graft on a new part must Save vs. Poison + the creatures hit dice – PC's level. The grafting process requires one hour * ½ the creature's hit dice of uninterrupted concentration. There are undoubtedly opportunities for abuse, here, but just use common sense or whatever the GM thinks would be funniest.

Roll your character's Ability Scores as normal.

Roll twice (unless otherwise indicated) on Skin/Eye Color chart, twice on Variations A and twice on Variations B, re-rolling in the case of a conflicting result. These indicate the PCs original function, as well as any modifications during his/her unremembered past

d20 Skin/Eye Color Variations A Variations B
1 bottle green Series Number and /or Function title dyed or embossed on skin. You have infravision, but your eyes glow in the dark.
2 heliotrope Someone did a half-assed job sculpting your face. - 3 to reaction rolls when/where applicable, but on the plus side, you can easily frighten small children. Skin prominently stamped or dyed with personal rune of creator.
3 ocher Skin embossed with a pattern (1-2) spirals (3-4) deep hatching) (5-6) A “Persian rug” pattern that changes with your mood. One hand can semi-detach & extend + retract 50 ft., connected to arm by ropy tendons. Can support PC + 2d100 lbs and do any normal hand tasks.
4 vermillion Your skin can temporarily take on the properties of any surface you touch for 2 rounds or more. You retain full flexibility and mobility, and skin reverts to normal in 1d6 turns, which you can extend by spending 1d4 HP per extra round. Lungs can inflate to extraordinary capacity, meaning that you can go 1 hour of game time without having to breathe. DEX is halved, because you're walking around with your chest puffed out like a bullfrog.
5 turquoise One forearm is a (1-2) mace (3-4) shortsword (5-6) axe. It does damage as usual and you get a +2 to hit, but you can't really do much else with it. Your facial features are an exact replica of (1-2) Your creator's own (3-4) their most hated rival (5-6) a legendary hero/ine.
6 pearl Silly-putty skin: you pick up shallow impressions of anything pressed against your bare skin. This also works with anything drawn or written in ink. Impression lasts 4 days. You were a Pleasure-Slave! You have enhanced pheromones: +4 to reaction rolls when dealing with (1-4) humanoids of the appropriate persuasion (5-6) GM secretly rolls on wandering monster chart. Other complications may ensue. Also, take a +1 to DEX and CON-- what the hell. Also, your sweat is a mild aphrodisiac. If it's distilled and enters the bloodstream, it's a powerful aphrodisiac, unless they fail a save vs. poison roll, in which case, they take 3d6 damage.
7 indigo Your body has been indelibly imprinted with (1) an epic poem (2 ) obscene doggerel in an unknown tongue (3) instructions for your intended master/overseer (4) a hymn in praise to a forgotten god (5) the formula for your creation, in an elaborate code (6) a spell (roll randomly ) You have a functional mouth with teeth, tongue, etc. on your (1-3) pick the palm of one hand (4-6) pick sole of one foot. Mouth does 1d4 damage in combat w/ a +2 to hit, can absorb and transfer 1 hp/damage inflicted up to max. Other applications at GM discretion.
8 carmine Though you are completely hairless, your maker has given you stylized hair and/or a beard as with a clay sculpture. You have d4 eyes in the back of your head. Cannot be surprised from behind unless wearing helmet.
9 black You have a small, translucent, circular “panel” of skin over your (1-3) heart (4-6) intestines, allowing these organs to be observed. The ichor you bleed is phosphorescent (as candle flame)
10 Mottled skin /different colored eyes (roll twice) You have a ½” x 4” secret hollow compartment in your left forearm. Any item stored there is undetectable by mundane means. You have gills. These are almost imperceptible slits in the side of your neck when outside water.. Underwater they open up and you can breathe normally.
11 mauve Short, irregular spirals of a coral-like substance sprout from the top of your head (roll for color). You do an extra d4 damage with a headbutt, and the growths count as a helmet. Designed for infiltration: +2 to DEX, chameleon skin: acts as Invisibility spell, but it hurts and you must be naked. Every round you have it activated, roll a d4. On an odd result, you take that much damage each time until you pass out.
12 charcoal Eyes can extend/retract on flexible stalks up to 50 ft (while retaining function). While this is going on, you must remain absolutely still, and you are disoriented and completely helpless (worst possible AC) for one round after they pop back in. Your bones are weirdly flexible and easy to dislocate. With one round's worth of preparation, you may squeeze into a space normally accessible to Small creatures, but your ST and DEX are halved until you are able to pop yourself back into place (1 round).
13 violet Created for the Arena! : +2 to STR and CON, can spend 1d4 HP to immediately upon being hit to seal up wounds and take ½ damage. If the damage you would've taken was more than ½ current HP, you lose a limb (GM discretion) and gain a fresh, sealed-over stump. Every 6 months of game time, your character molts, his/her skin flaking off to reveal new skin underneath. Roll again on color table for your brand new skin! Everything else remains as it was.
14 sky blue Your ichor corrodes metals like a rust monster. When damaged, this applies to any metal armor you happen to be wearing. If you are struck and damaged by a metal or metal-tipped weapon, the attacker must roll a d6. On a 1-5, the weapon (or the metal part, anyway) dissolves into useless flakes of rust. Lots of other fun uses! Your saliva acts as a hallucinogen. In addition to everything else that might imply, if a Magic-User drinks a few drops of it, mixed into any beverage, it will impart startling revelations of the cosmos and the innate mystic potential of every star, drop of rain, and blade of grass. When they recover in d20 hours, they will have gained a one-time permanent +1 bonus to WIS.
15 lime When under considerable stress (like combat, taking a difficult exam, or being chased by monsters), your skin darkens slightly and hardens into tiny, raised spikes, like on a horned lizard, making you look even freakier and giving you a +1 bonus to AC. This effect lasts until the immediate danger is past. Depending on the material, your characters' clothing may then be covered with tiny holes. If PC is sneak- attacked, etc., the AC bonus isn't applied until after damage (if any) is taken. An hour after grafting on a new part, and until that part is detached or destroyed, you gain the ability to verbally communicate with and understand members of that species. For responding to non-verbal forms of communication, you have some ability, but are still somewhat limited by your own anatomy. For example, you would be able to perceive and understand scent-messages left by creatures that communicated by smell, but you would not be able to leave messages of your own without incorporating the necessary scent-glands, etc.
16 crimson You may perfectly mimic any sound you hear at least once, but the mimicry must be exact – no improvising. Body covered in tiny, iridescent scales.
17 Two-toned (roll twice, decide areas of division) You can absorb liquid through your pores at the rate of 1 pint/round, storing it in elastic subcutaneous pouches, to a maximum of 2 gallons, at which point, your Dex is halved until the moisture is expelled (the rate of which can be as fast or slow as the player desires). Your hands and toes have tiny suction cups on them allowing you to climb up and down (and cling to: max weight= PC+2d100 lbs.) sheer surfaces if gloveless and barefoot.
18 puce When struck and damaged by a (non magical) weapon, you may sacrifice an additional d4 hit points to make it stick – your flesh temporarily fuses with the striking surface, making it impossible for the wielder to dislodge it. The effect lasts 1d4 rounds + 1 for each point of damage the weapon originally inflicted. Such is your physical control that you can stop your own heartbeat and cease breathing, entering into a state completely indistinguishable from death. Since Vat-spawn are immortal, this can theoretically last indefinitely. To come out of stasis, the PC must either set a time beforehand, or arrange some signal (a tap on the forehead, a whispered word in the ear). If the signal isn't given, the PC will remain in stasis forever, and the player should probably roll up a new character.
19 rust You may transmit psychic messages via drops of your ichor, which may then be imbibed, injected, etc; by someone else. One word per drop. Message is not diluted if mixed with other liquids. Costs 1 HP, unless you're transmitting a novella or something. Your body can secrete sharp, hardened darts, which can be fired (once/round) through the palm of your hand. You have a +1 to hit with this “weapon” and each dart does 1d6 damage. Range is 20 feet. Generating darts costs 1 HP each, which are restored after a full night's rest.
20 amber Your skin is soft to the touch, but shiny and reflective like polished chrome. Opponents attacking you in bright sunlight (assuming at least some skin is visible) do so at a -2 penalty. Also, you have no body odor of any kind, making you impossible to track or detect by scent alone. The GM can impose penalties to attempts to hide as the situation warrants. Your palate is super-sensitive, and you can clearly distinguish and identify the ingredients of any compound. You know the joke about the wine snob, where he's given a glass of someone's urine to drink, and then asked, “But whose is it?” Well, you can narrow it down to species (if that's an issue) sex, age, diet, and habits (smokes, uses expensive hair pomade, etc.).

Level XP Hit Points Paralyze Poison Breath Weapon Magical Device Magic
1 0 1d8 10 8 12 14 15
2 2,500 +1d8 8 8 11 12 14
3 5,000 +1d8 8 8 10 12 14
4 10,000 +1d8 6 6 10 12 12
5 20,000 +1d8 4 6 8 12 12
6 40,000 +1d8 4 4 8 10 10
7 80,000 +1d8 4 4 8 10 10
8 160,000 +1d8 4 4 6 10 10
9 320,000 +1d8 4 2 6 8 10
10 480,000 +3* 2 2 4 8 8
11 720,000 +3* 2 2 4 6 8
12+ 150,000/level +3*/level 2 2 2 6 6

*constitution modifiers no longer apply

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Galbaruc: Origins and 'Appendix N'

Since I've mentioned Galbaruc a few times now without giving out too much in the way of detail, I thought I'd take the opportunity to shed some more light on the setting itself, where it came from, where it's going, and what books, movies, etc, I've ripped off wholesale drawn inspiration from.

It started out as an ad hoc setting for a game I ran for some friends over IRC chat, sometime around 2003-4. The city was originally called "Venichmar," since I had pictured it in my head as a vague mashup of 17th-18th century Venice and Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar. It was only intended as a jokey placeholder, but the name stuck, though I always said I'd eventually come up with something else, but that wasn't until earlier this year, when I shoved it together with the seaside town I came up with for Chris Kutalik's Nautical Contest. The PCs originally consisted of:

- Marcos Gemulphen, played by my friend Clement. Marcos was a disgraced merchant-prince who was constantly shadowed by three demons he had summoned, but which only he could see and hear. Picture one of Jack Vance's stylish, amoral vagabonds.

- Durgu Nietzelschnitzel - an earth-sorcerer, philosopher, and skeptic. Based, at least in appearance, on Friedrich Nietzsche. Was constantly trying to argue against the literal existence of Marcos' demon companions. Played by my friend Jude.

- Arthurien La Fleur d'Avelin, esq., Gentleman Errant of the Elder branch of House Averoen, ruling family of Verrantz, Lieutenant in the Thaugarin Militia. Played by Doug, who I haven't heard from in years. Another privileged son of the elite, he was a roguish, hedonistic young military officer doing his utmost to shirk his duty. Could be incredibly reckless with his personal safety at times, on account of being a Struldbrug.

- Gurgie, Durdu's wayward son, appeared in one episode as the PCs found themselves stranded on the island where he had been exiled for unspecified crimes. If I remember correctly, this adventure resulted in the establishment of a Lord of the Flies- like cult based around the worship of Marcos' demons being established among the islanders (all exiled convicts).

Their adventures included:

- various comedy-of-manners intrigues involving inheritances, servant girls, distant relatives, debauchery, and attempted murder

- swordfights in alleyways with a gang of thugs and their pet monster

- taking refuge in a crumbling mansion inhabited by creepy undead monstrosities.

- Starting the adventure on trial for some unspecified offense which grew in the telling, and escaping the courtroom by means of a grain of sugar Durgu cast a spell on, which grew into an enormous sugarcane stalk. They climbed up and out of the courtroom on the stalk, at one point encountering some junior angels in one of the Lower Heavens, who they then blackmailed.


The game was originally run using Over the Edge, and the feel I was going for was Baroque, Weird, and Picaresque. Eventually, the game just kind of fizzled out, but I kept it in the back of my mind as an interesting setting that I wanted to develop further.

Eventually, I want to open up the setting for some G+ games, using LotFP for the rules, with some houserules and parts of Small But Vicious Dog. Transferring the setting from its hippy-Narrativist roots to something more D&D oriented will be an interesting challenge, and whenever I start getting too precious about it, I remind myself of Tekumel. The setting is essentially the same across the board, but it supports a broad range of assumptions and play styles, from EPT's dungeon-crawling barbarians to Tsóludhàliyal's focus on the high-stakes adventures an maneuvering of wealthy elites.

Also, the setting is nicely amorphous -- I don't have a static, canonical list of factions, gods, and locations, and I can build it as I go. So far, this is what's established:

- The primary religion on Galbaruc is the Church of Urizen, though there's a multitude of former and indigenous minor gods, cults of former gods syncretized into saints, etc.

- Magic is largely practiced by secret schools, orders, and societies, which often have philosophical, social, and political interests. Magic-users operating outside these groups are viewed with a mixture of envy, disdain, suspicion, and murderous rage.

- While there is a traditional aristocracy, Galbaruc is a Republic, heavily based on pre-unification Venice.

- Galbaruc is a colorful, bizarre, decadent city -- a flurry of frenzied activity, sober tradition, and ecstatic ritual, set against a backdrop of slow, magnificent decay.

- There are islands some miles from the coast, ruled by semi-autonomous "Island Princes"-- descendants of slaves, pirates, and renegade nobles who were instrumental in fighting for the Republic's independence when it split from the Empire that had ruled it for centuries. In times of war, they supply ships, troops, and armaments to Galbaruc's navy. During times of peace, they busy themselves with internecine wars and deadly intrigues.

- The city-state is littered with ruins, catacombs, and strange, isolated communities.

If we apply Jeff Rient's threefold model, Galbaruc as a setting is largely made up of Pretentious, with Retro taking up a close second, and with a great big dollop of Stupid.



- This list isn't nearly complete, but hopefully, it should give some idea of the setting, and the general feel I'm going for.


Bey, Hakim - TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism
Blake, William - The Prophetic Books
Borges, Jorge Luis - misc. works
Boswell, James - Journals
Bunyan, John - The Pilgrim's Progress
Cabell, James Branch - Jurgen, etc.
Casanova, Giacomo - Memoirs
Fielding, Henry - The Adventures of Tom Jones, a Foundling and Joseph Andrews
Mandeville, John - The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Potocki, Jan - The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
Rabelais, Francois - Gargantua and Pantagruel
Raspe, Rudolf Erich - The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Stephenson, Neal - The Baroque Trilogy
Stevenson, Robert Louis - The Suicide Club and Other Stories
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Vance, Jack - The Dying Earth, etc.
Vandermeer, Jeff - City of Saints & Madmen
Voltaire - Candide
Wilson, Robert Anton - The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles

Misc 'NonFiction':

The Elizabethan Underworld - Gamini Salgado
The Hell-Fire Clubs - Geoffrey Ashe
The Black Arts - Richard Cavendish
Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects - Time-Life Books
London: The Synfulle Citie - E.J. Burford
Life in Dr. Johnson's London - Richard B. Schwartz
Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters - Rosalind Purcell
The Morning of the Magicians - Louis Pauels and Jacques Bergier


Agone (Multisim)
Lace & Steel (AGC, Pharos Press)
GURPS: Goblins (Steve Jackson Games)
GURPS: Swashbucklers (Steve Jackson Games)
Flashing Blades
Planescape campaign setting (TSR)
The Dying Earth RPG (Pelgrane Press)
Over the Edge (Atlas Games)
Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium)
Stormbringer (Chaosium)
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit (LotFP)
In A Wicked Age (lumpley games)
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st and 2nd ed. (Games Workshop, Hogshead Publishing, Black Industries)


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Brothers Grimm
Barry Lyndon
Joseph Andrews
Tom Jones (miniseries)
A lot of Hammer horror films
Naked Lunch
The Devils
The Saragossa Manuscript


Ian Miller
Mervyn Peake
Henry Fuseli
Egon Scheile
Gustav Klimt
William Hogarth
Gustav Dore
Harry Clarke
Aubrey Beardsley
Sidney Sime
Edmond Dulac
E.J. Sullivan
Rene Bull
Jean Delville
William Blake
Francisco de Goya
Gustave Moreau

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gygaxian Naturalists: Your Campaign's Monster Manual According to the Players

This may have been proposed before, but just in case it hasn't...

So I was thinking about Galbaruc, and monsters, and how I wanted to handle monsters in my campaign setting, and what I wanted to emphasize, and avoid, and I got to thinking about a session of Jeff Rient's Caves of Myrddin campaign I was in a few weeks ago. We were somewhere beneath the East Tower, having just descended to a new level, and we encountered a grayish, winged creature we took to be a gargoyle. This prompted a brief discussion on whether or not our characters would know what it was, let alone its strengths and weaknesses, etc. And then Jeff said we were free to use any out-of-character knowledge we wanted. In fact, we were welcome to open the book right there on the spot, and look up the relevant entry.*

This came as something of a shock to me. For most of my (admittedly short, by community standards) gaming career, this simply WAS NOT DONE. "Metagaming" was high on the hierarchy of sins. This was madness. This was the Pope handing out condoms at a Pride rally.

So we looked up the entry, decided we had very little chance of taking on such an opponent, and ran like hell. But I didn't trust the entry anyway. The whole thing made me paranoid. No, there was a reason Jeff was so blase about the whole thing. This wasn't a gargoyle at all. Or maybe it was, but it had some kind of crazy anti-gargoyle powers and shot napalm out of its nipples or something.

I loved that feeling of uncertainty-- of having information right in front of you, but not quite being able to trust it. For all I know, Jeff might simply be running with absolute transparency, and I was getting all worked up for nothing.

But this made me think about Herodotus' History, medieval bestiaries and the accounts of early travelers and explorers. We've got information, sometimes very specific information, but it's not exactly reliable. Often, this information is second-hand at best, and you have writers and illustrators, often with the best will in the world, working from garbled accounts. And all this is further confused by a thick fog of lies, exaggerations, wishful thinking, and pious tempts to imbue these creatures with religious symbolism. I have a T.H. White translation of a medieval bestiary that describes the panther as a symbol for Christ, attests to the miraculous ability of the beaver to detach its own genitals (and thus become a symbol of chastity) and depicts the crocodile as some kind of wolf-creature with eagle talons.

This would be perfect for gaming, and even better for ConstantCon games, where you have a nice big pool of players and their characters hopping from game-world to game world. There's already a sizable amount of rumor and speculation flying around about the Caves of Myrddin, for example.
The PCs are explorers -- they venture into bizarre, uncharted territories and CHART THEM. Dungeons are explored, passages marked, traps, secret doors, and mysterious items cataloged and referenced for later use. Secrets are bought, sold and traded. Bounties are offered by other players for the heads of particular miscreants.

There's really no reason monsters can't work the same way. The party encounters some strange critter or swarm of critters they've never seen before. Half the party is wiped out, but the survivors take notes. "Large, single red eye and a black beak, wings, covered in dense, foul-smelling white fur. Can breathe paralyzing fog at least once a round. We needed at least a 16 to hit, so AC is 3 or lower. The one we killed was still alive after we did 18 damage to it, but then the cleric (God rest his poor soul) got it for 8 points in a single hit and killed it, so we know it had somewhere between 19 and 26 Hit Points. They seem to travel in packs of 3-5."

Later, these creatures acquire a name, maybe a sketch from someone whose character encountered one, or, even better, someone reading that person's account of the encounter. Rumors about possible weaknesses are raised. What if it's some kind of demon. Would Holy Water affect it? Only one way to find out... G+ chat sessions become Explorer's Clubs. "Didn't you try smearing your faces with gnoll bone marrow, old boy? No?"

*Now that I think about it, this may have just been so we'd stand around dawdling and he'd have an excuse to roll for Wandering Monsters

Saturday, December 3, 2011

EPT: Thursday Night on the Island

The Foreign Quarter of Jakalla has been abuzz lately with talk of the latest expedition to the Manse of Kotaru hiChakresa.

- Two stout warriors, Dagazar (Evan Elkins) and Orin "the Witless" (Jason Kielbasa) and a priest, Orin "The Wise" made their way to the mysterious island.

- They encountered two small boats already on shore, and, after some deliberation, decided not to ascend the steep, rock-hewn staircase, but to circumnavigate the island,looking for another point of entry. At the southern tip of the island, they found the mouth of a sea-cave.

- Upon entering, they found themselves in a small chamber that proved to be part of a larger complex. They also seem to have found some treasure, to judge from their satisfied expressions upon returning.

- Shortly after they began exploring the complex, they found themselves assaulted by a number (which seems to vary with each telling) of human foes. Dagazar has been proudly wearing the mummified, shrunken heads of two of these adversaries (a male and a female) from his belt.

Dagazar's own account of the expedition can be found here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Empire of the Petal Throne Game: the setup.

I probably should've mentioned this before, but I've been running Empire of the Petal Throne on Google Plus. I've been running it in conjunction with Chris Kutalik over at Hill Cantons, and we've hashed out a set of FLAILSNAILS-style conventions: The Jakalla Protocols as well as some houserules. Both games are set, as the name suggests, in and around the Tsolyani port-city of Jakalla, the "City Half as Old as the World" -- a teeming, decadent southern metropolis, where the PCs, bas fresh-off the-boat barbarians, attempt to earn gold, glory, and citizenship. To this end, we've staked out different locations -- Chris' games have focused on a section of the Jakalla Underworld - the labyrinth of tunnels, ruins, and passageways that lies beneath the city, while I've set up shop on a little island off the coast, where a member of a prominent clan has an ancestral manor house. We're both kick-starting our games again, after a brief hiatus, and I thought I'd share something about mine.

Here's what you know:

- The house currently belongs to Kotaru hiChakresa of the Golden Sunburst Clan.

- He hasn't been seen in over a decade, during which a meshqu plaque outside the gate has declared that he is indisposed and must not be disturbed.

- His clan suspects he may be dead, but, due to the strictures of Tsolyani etiquette, they cannot directly violate his publicly-stated wishes. Meanwhile, the house and the surrounding grounds have fallen into disrepair.

- His grand-niece, Mara hiChakresa, offers 300 kaitar per person to the party that can either provide irrefutable proof of his death, or convince him to sign a contract relinquishing the property back into the ownership of the clan as a whole. In addition, the Deputy Sub-Minister for the Housing of Foreign and Indigent Persons owes her a favor, and would be able to furnish the necessary paperwork to secure better housing for the party (most of whom are languishing in the Tower of the Red Dome, a notorious, vermin-infested flophouse.

- Kotaru hiChakresa is/was quite wealthy and had/has a reputation as something of a sorcerer.

- One adventurer has died trying to scale the wall. When he reached to top, he was incinerated by numerous beams of light.

- Undead caretakers have been found roaming the grounds outside the wall, and in the lighthouse. All encountered so far have been destroyed.

- There are hostile creatures of some sort inhabiting the nearby caves. It had been proposed that the caves might contain a secret passage to the manor house, though this theory has yet to be tested, as the party was attacked by arrow-firing assailants shortly upon venturing inside.

Monday, November 28, 2011

[NSFW] Ken Russell: 1927-2011 -- Thanks for 84 years of Beauty, Grotesqueness, and Lusty Excess

My favorite movie director died last night. The list of adjectives that were typically trotted out to accompany his often hostile reviews included: "vulgar," "tasteless," "shrill," "camp," "trashy," "exploitative," "lurid," "overheated," and "self-indulgent."

These are not, strictly speaking, inaccurate impressions. But if these are vices, then he made a unique virtue of them, and he never committed the far more common and far more damning sin of churning out work that was boring, trite, safe, and thoroughly respectable. I can't think of anything else to say right now that gets across the impact-- the lyrical, brain-shattering jolt this man's work has had on me, so I'll shut up for now and let the work speak for itself.

NOTE: Some of the following video clips would probably not go over well in an office environment, a day care, or a convent. Please exercise discretion.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Empire of the Petal Throne Character Sheet, and Brief Update

- So I made a character sheet for the original, 1974 Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. It's not perfect, by any means, but I hope it'll be useful. I know next to nothing about imaging, layout, and design software (I put it together on MS Word) so feel free to make any adjustments, improvements, or embellishments on it as you see fit -- just let me know so I can link to it, and use it myself. You can find it (in .pdf) in the "Downloads" sidebar to the right.

- I just realized that a few of those downloads were set to "private" so if any of you were trying to download a pdf and couldn't access it, they should all work now.

- "Rival Adventuring Parties" has been fixed so that it actually functions as a table.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Solomon Kane Wishes Ye Gluttonous Wretches a Happy Thanksgiving*

Everyone's favorite Puritan** bids you enjoy your nourishing repast and good fellowship (without ever losing sight of the fact that feasting, like all fleshly pleasures, is vain and fleeting, and that your sinful bodies are destined to fatten the worms even as the turkey does your mortal frames).

*Yeah, I know there's a distinction between Puritans and Pilgrims, but there's that hat...

** A pretty short list, as it turns out:
1. Solomon Kane
2. John Milton
3. ?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

These Guys are Getting Statted Up and Dropped Into Galbaruc

Well, not on the city itself, but beneath it, sure, and in lonely places in the wilderness, and beneath the sea, and inhabiting strange, unexplored islands. I found these pseudo-Rabelasian monstrosities on the always-excellent Monster Brains yesterday, and they're exactly the sort of bizarre creepy-yet-somewhat- whimsical monsters I want to use in my setting. They look like the guys who were taking a cigarette break when it came time for the Temptation of St. Anthony, or something Sir John Mandeville saw on his travels while tripping on strange drugs with Prester John.

Here's a few:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Miscellany and Update: 11/15/2011

1. If you're not playing in Jeff Rients' Caves of Myrddin game, you're really missing out. Odds are, if you're reading this, you're reading his blog already and have heard the wild rumors and speculations of this dungeon haunted corner of Cornwall. If the schedule (Jeff starts at 4:30 am CST) is putting you off, take a chance and sign up anyway. I'm not a morning person in the slightest, but it's been more than worth it, every time. In addition to being some of the most fun I've had at a gaming table, virtual or otherwise, each session doubles as a master-class in how to run a challenging, compelling, and satisfying game of Old School D&D (we're using B/X).

2. Jack Shear, author of 13 Flavors of Fear: Weird Setting Sketches for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (yer humble narrator has some material in the appendix) has just come out with a new blog: Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. And he starts it off with a bang -- 100 strange and phantasmagorical things to happen to your players when they miss a session. Check it out!

3. After a lengthy hiatus, I've started breaking out the art supplies again over the last month. I'm still experimenting and re-learning how to draw, but it's very satisfying to get ink and graphite (I haven't tried painting again yet) on paper. Here are a couple of recent attempts:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beyond Good and Evil: "Charming" and "Tedious"

I was thinking about this Oscar Wilde quote the other day:
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." *

At the risk of being tedious myself, I'd like to propose the following as an RPG thought experiment. It's not particularly profound, but it might be amusing. Strip out the "Good" and "Evil" from the standard AD&D alignment chart and replace it with "Charming" and "Tedious" -- so you end up with Lawful Charming, Chaotic Tedious, and so forth. I can't remember the number of "fictional character alignment charts" I've seen, sifting everyone from different iterations of Batman to the cast of Family Guy into the classic 3x3 grid, and I'm curious to see what such a chart would look like with that substitution. Take a character from real life, comics, books, TV, etc,, and drop them in. Take a character you're currently playing, and see where they fall on the grid. Just off the top of my head, Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks would occupy one end of the spectrum at Lawful Charming, while the late Muammar Gadaffi and, say, internet trolls typify Chaotic Tedious.

*Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gods of Galbaruc: Seppophis the Huntress

I posted this to Gorgonmilk's blog a little while ago, and thought I'd put it up here, along with a sketch. At this stage, Galbaruc is less a coherent, codified setting than a dumping ground for stray D&D ideas, but its slowly taking shape as its own thing.

I have a rough idea of that the city-state looks like, some of its institutions, even the way people dress, but there's no map yet, and not much of a detailed history. It was originally a mercantile and naval hub of a now-extinct empire. Like Haiti, it was born out of a slave revolt, the uprising swiftly joined by those aristocrats who saw where the tide was turning and switched sides while they still could. The fact that their descendants still retain a considerable amount of power and influence in the modern Republic is galling to some, but too much harping on this point is generally seen to be in bad taste. As a result of its origins, slavery per se is absolutely forbidden in Galbaruc and its territories, though there is an elaborately detailed system of indentured servitude.

Anyway, that's about all I've decided on for the history of the city-state. Future posts will deal with imported religions such as the Cults of Urizen and Orc, monsters, electoral fraud, coffeehouses, the Island Princes, piracy, drugs, conspiracies, the variability of goblins, and the cursed bloodlines of the Struldbrugs.

I talked about one local goddess (and one of her festivals) here. Here's another:

Seppophis the Huntress, Mistress of Snares and Entanglements. NE.

Usually depicted with the body of a nubile dancing girl holding aloft a length of rope and a dripping, barbed javelin. In place of her head is a mass of long spider's legs, extending in an irregular nimbus past her shoulders. She is the patroness of all who earn their living by pursuit and evasion, by enticement and sudden surprises. Thieves and other scofflaws on the run attempt to propitiate her with substitute sacrifices (she is believed to be partial to trapped, but uninjured flies) while watchmen, bounty-hunters and and frustrated revengers hope to secure her blessing as they pursue their quarry. Brigands and pirates offer prayers and sacrifices for wealthy, unguarded victims. Prostitutes, jewelers, and perfumers give her reverence, as do all manner of mountebanks and swindlers.

Every year, in Galbaruc, an elaborate ceremony takes place on the Street of Crushed Petals in which a fantastically costumed and masked troupe of stolid, upright citizens and officials representing Law square off against their opposite number, representing Chaos. Through a series of competitive dances, recitations, songs, and feats of strength and cunning, two opposing champions are chosen -- suitors to the goddess, and these are led in a winding parade to the outskirts of the city, to the cave believed to be the entrance to Seppophis' lair. Both champions enter the cave, though only one will emerge in the morning, maddened and screaming. The other has been taken as the Consort of Seppophis, and is never seen again. His faction will enjoy a bonus to all activities relating to their trade for the remainder of the year.

When Seppophis deigns to take human form, it is either in the guise of a slim, dark-haired girl, smelling faintly of cloves and cinnamon, or of a gaunt, silver-haired matriarch of no known family line. She is attracted to scenes of intrigue and hopeless entrapment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

State of the Dandy: 10/08/2011

Some of you may have noticed that posting frequency has dropped significantly of late. I originally intended to update the thing at least a few times a week. That later dropped to once a week, and from there, it's gone steadily downhill. The main reason for this is that I've taken on a second job. While this has improved things on the "being able to pay the rent, start paying off student loans, and not having to stockpile ramen" front, it's definitely thrown a damper on things as far as rhapsodizing on the theory and practice of pretending to be an elf goes.

"Believe me that's the last thing I'd like to throw."

But anyway, I'm hoping to get things moving again, with more frequent posting, and more interesting content. Here's what's currently in the works:

I'm planning to run a regular "mini-sandbox" campaign on Google + set about a generation after the death of Alexander the Great. While this is set in a specific historical context, I'm going for a looser, sword-and-sorcery feel than a strictly historical one. I'll be using Paul Elliott's excellent Warlords of Alexander along with a custom version of BRP consisting of elements swiped and modified from RuneQuest 2nd ed., Stormbringer, Elric!, and Call of Cthulhu, as well as bits of Pendragon and WFRP. This mutant hybrid, under the working title "Hellenistic FrankenQuest" is my current pet project. Luckily, a lot of the work has been done for me, and what I'm left with mainly consists of choosing which parts to scrap, which to tinker with, and which to keep whole. I'm definitely keeping hit location, for instance, but replacing the multiple rolls with the WFRP method, which reduces to-hit and hit location to one percentile roll (you roll under your score to hit, and then flip the number to find the location).

The nice thing about using BRP is that Elric! and Call of Cthulhu spells (of which there are a great many) can be freely inserted into the game with minimal fiddling. Pendragon's Glory rating (here renamed Kleos) charts your PCs growing fame and importance. Eventually, a character with high enough Kleos can achieve godhood, though your sphere of influence may revolve around a particular city and might only take effect posthumously.

I intend to make this campaign based on a location, rather than a consistent party, as Jeff Rients is doing with his Caves of Myrddin game. This means a lower commitment from those involved, and an ever-shifting cast of characters, with perhaps a couple regulars. The city of Trapezos, on the Black Sea, is the most tempting candidate right now. There are pirate raids at sea and along the coast, monsters in the hills and ruins outside the city, all manner of intrigue within, and innumerable petty kingdoms to the south.

2. The Tekumel- LotFP conversion is temporarily on hold, as I'm still waiting to hear back from the Foundation re: some questions I had. Also, I'm having a blast running and playing EPT right now, so I'm a little less interested in rules- tinkering with this particular setting at the moment. The next Tekumel thing I do will probably be the Jakalla Encounter Table.

3. City- State of Galbaruc - This began as part of an entry for Chris Kutalik's Nautical Contest, but the more I thought about it, the more potential I thought it had for a setting of its own, and the perfect place to bring together a lot of setting ideas that had been bouncing around without a fixed abode for some time. I ran an IRC game several years ago set in a city I half jokingly referred to as "Venichmar" (Venice + Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar). Eventually, it became something a bit more interesting and complex than the derivative name would suggest, but the game folded before I had an opportunity to really work out much of the detail. I'll deal with more of the particulars in a future post, but here are a few of the influences I'm drawing on, here:

- Mediterranean islands like Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia
- Over the Edge's Al Amarja
- Ahistorical, but leaning toward an Early Modern period feel (16-18th centuries) as opposed to Medieval.
- William Blake's cosmology and pantheon (Los, Urizen, Orc, etc.,) intermingled with other strange local gods.
- Pirate Havens
- The Saragossa Manuscript
- Ancestor-worship among traditional nobility
- Jacobean revenge tragedies


This isn't so much a concept for a single, discrete setting as a toolkit for running sci-fi games in a trippier vein suggested by early Heavy Metal comics, Metabarons, Jodorowsky's abortive attempt at Dune, stoner metal, psychedelic rock, (Hawkwind's Space Ritual, etc.) movies like Zardoz, etc. Still really vague, but it's something I'd eventually like to do.

5. Even more nebulous at this point, but I have a broad concept for a LotFP adventure with conquistadors in not-South America called Dreams of Blood and Gold. Still needs a lot of work even to bring it up to the outline stage.