Friday, December 6, 2019

The Mind-Palace of Kurnacht-Te - A Location for Volmusia




Tags: Perilous, Lawful, Barren (Outside), Bountiful (Inside), Enchanted (Otherspace, Idestructable), Ruins, Personage (Kurnacht-Te), Monsters (Psionic Ghosts)

          On a secluded, snow-swept plateau high in Maaglurtet's Range is a strange sight indeed: The decaying skeleton of a stag-horned Storm Giant, fastened to a massive ornate stone throne by chains of tarnished adamantine. Surrounding the site are the tumbled, weathered stones which once made up a manse which seems to have once taken up the majority of the elevated plain. Even though it is utterly deserted of both plants and animals, visitors inevitably begin to experience the sense of being watched by dozens of eyes, and of being surrounded even though there is no one in sight. This feeling is compounded the longer one stays, and by the closer one nears to the skeleton - most find the sensation to be overwhelming and leave in short order. Owing to it's obviously eldritch nature, braving the area has become something of a dare among the local furred folk, but beyond that fame as an oddity no one has plumbed it's secrets. This is due to the fact that no suitably powerful practitioners of the Way have been in the area for centuries, the portal into the mental-manse takes an immense amount of will to drag open. 

Inside the Mind-Palace

          If someone were somehow to do so, they would find themselves in a place even more fantastic than the one outside - a finely appointed palatial estate, sized for giants. The grounds are fairly limited (by Giant standards at least) and only stretch for about five miles in each direction, but are of a gorgeous southern climate perpetually locked to noon on a sunny day; everything is there, the birds, the trees, the flowers in spring, the whole nine yards. Aside from the "wilds", there's a hedge garden, a giant-sized rock-garden, and an ornate fountain - all well maintained and finely crafted. The main attraction however is the mansion itself, it is huge, and is of a gothic and almost overwrought architectural style. Inside it is appointed with fine furniture, abstract art, a smorgasbord laid out upon a table, and a throne sculpted from Mithril, all sized for the massive inhabitants. There are perhaps three dozen Giants in residence in this place, mostly Storm, though there are a few Cloud and Stone Giants mixed in, all of whom are disciples to the
Kahraman Kurnacht-Te, Master of Immortals. The inhabitants have been driven mad by their captivity and their memories have decayed over the long centuries of their confinement. The only thing that ties them to the Mind-Palace are their own wills, and the prodigious mental powers of the Kahraman. Kurnacht-Te is in effect a Psionic Lich, though he long ago pulled his phylactery into the Mind-Palace, and destroying the Mithril throne of which it takes the form of would be quite difficult.

Kurnacht-Te, Master of Immortals
  • The inhabitants aren't violent per se, but their understanding of the permanence of harm has been warped by their long isolation within their otherspace. Kurnacht-Te himself is made of sterner stuff, and has kept a much firmer handle upon his worst impulses.
  • Dourage-Te was Kurnacht-Te's instructor, and the pyschic lich knows of his former master's actions against the Slaad & It's army, and their imprisonment in Joramir's Concert Hall. He might even be willing to part with the information if he were to be suitably convinced that it would be vital.
  • The Otherspace, as well as Kurnacht-Te are both well known by Giant sources, Nugash, Memnor's Steps & The Index of the First Scholar all have records or memories which contain references to the Mind-Palace, though they all neglect to mention what is required to enter.

          Treasure & More: Lucre is seemingly easy to come by, but any of it that is taken back through the portal simply disappears. The true riches of the Mind-Palace are in the elucidation of The Way, the beings living inside of it have had centuries to develop their mental powers to an edge nearly unmatched by the outside world. The problem of course is convincing the mad psychic ghost to teach you, and surviving the strange 'lessons' that they will occasionally try to impart upon their students. Training with Kurnacht-Te and his disciples (provided one survives) would grant a non-mystic character a basic psionic ability, usable once per day. Mystics however gain an extra psionic point per day, and access to an Immortal power of the player's choice, barring prerequisites.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Death to Racial Classes! - Alternative Character Creation for Lamentations & B/X



          B/X and Lamentations are renowned for how quickly character creation goes; there are very few actual decisions to make beyond your class and shockingly to those who haven't played it before, races are simply classes. Not to re-invent the wheel, or to trod too heavily on ground which would eventually become AD&D, but some of my players have begun to complain that everyone turns out fairly samey. While my knee-jerk reaction was to tell them that is likely a failure of role playing, I began to toy with additional aspects to both character creation and progression to add to my growing number of house rules. This first article will focus on my work with character creation. Most notably i'm throwing the racial classes in the trash. I don't like their implementation and I don't enjoy the problematic aspects which can come along with using them. Instead I have split rolling up a character into two aspects, Ancestry and Background. I made both into rollable tables because i'm obsessed, and everything should be random.

          Ancestries are simply where your character comes from genetically, they don't necessarily have to be purely an Elf or an Orc, but it's what they most resemble. The Elf Ancestry could suggest merely having Elven blood, or perhaps coming from a predominantly Elven cultural background. I normally try to be as setting neutral as possible and present at leas some alternatives to standard fantasy settings, but I chose not to make ancestries for human only settings for obvious reasons.

d6
Ancestry
1
Orc: +1 to Strength.
2
Smallfolk: +1 to Dexterity.
3
Dwarf: +1 to Constitution
4
Elf: +1 to Intelligence.
5
Beastfolk: +1 Wisdom.
6
Human: +1 to Charisma.


          Backgrounds are what your character did before embarking upon the life of an adventurer, whether that be recently, or years ago, their former lives give them a small bonus and familiarity with the ins and outs of their profession (or lack thereof.) The Backgrounds were made for use with Lamentations (my favored OSR system) but they're ported over to others easily enough. As always, these assume an early modern period at the latest for setting.


d12
Background
1
Carpenter: +1 to Architecture, you know how to accurately identify different types of timber, as well as the quality of items crafted of wood.
2
Hunter: +1 to Bushcraft, you are undoubtedly quite familiar with the local flora and fauna, as well as with how to butcher and dress an animal.
3
Miner: +1 to Climb, you know how to identify different types of valuable ore or gems, as well as tell when tunnels could be dangerous.
4
Burglar: +1 to Open Doors, you are skilled at picking out places and people who likely are possessed of a great deal of wealth.
5
Beggar: +1 to Search, you are relentless in your attempts to find food and shelter, and when in a settled area you can always find meals for free - though the quality may leave something to be desired.
6
Pickpocket: +1 to Sleight of Hand, you know the faces and personalities of local law enforcement officials, though you're likely not on positive terms.
7
Bandit: +1 to Stealth, you are familiar with several local hiding places such as caves, copses or isolated cabins.
8
Sage: +1 Language, you are familiar with the culture and history of the society from which your extra language is derived.
9
Apprentice: +1 to Tinker, whether or not your former master regards you kindly, you were nominally a member of a guild and can expect succor from them.
10
Soldier: +2 to starting HP, given your former association with the military you have knowledge of common tactics, ranks and proper etiquette. Fellow veterans may treat you better.
11
Servant: +1 to Initiative, you are not only quick on your feet, you are skilled at navigating courtly or other hoity-toity events.
12
Chosen One: +1 to a Save of your choice, the people of your home town (or neighborhood) see you as a hero, and will treat you accordingly if you live up to their ideals.


Friday, November 15, 2019

So what do we do 'til the stars are right?


          

        Cults are standard fantasy fare. Everyone knows the image of the huddled procession or circle of hooded folk, wielding strangely shaped daggers and muttering in a bizarre tongue. Though a mainstay, it makes for somewhat predictable results: the heroes kill the head priest, save the innocent folks about to be sacrificed and then chase the rest of the muttering cultist into the hills. No one generally questions *why* the cultists are attempting to summon some eldritch horror, only that their belief somehow necessitates that they do so. The reality is somewhat different, Cults were and are simply religions, often smaller or more localized and the term often finds it's least controversial use in describing the mysteries of the ancient world. Cults weren't necessarily always explicitly religious even - there were civic cults that were dedicated to venerating certain professions or families for instance - but there were certainly dangerous, even hostile faiths.


          Seventh in my series to produce a city on the fly with nothing but dice rolls. The goal of these tables is to give verisimilitude to various religions in your game beyond simply the worship of a specific deity or abstract concept; it is focused on extreme or otherwise new or exotic faiths. Roll 4d8 and then resolve any subsequent d4 rolls as noted. I do not want to wade into the morass that is the study of modern cults, so while this table could potentially be used to generate such things, it wasn't my focus during development.


d8
What kind of Cult is this?
1
Based around a single charismatic individual.
2
A mainline faith, pushed to extremes.
3
A new faith or mystery, perhaps from a far away land or inspired locally.
4
Hereditary in nature, passed along family lines or just a single gender.
5
Keeps to the old one(s).
6
A secret society, or another form of cryptic organization.
7
Decadent and listless, the members of this cult are in it for the thrill.
8
A doomsday cult, these folk believe that the world is ending soon, if not any day.

d8
What are they trying to accomplish?
1
A genuine exploration of their beliefs and inspirations. Note that this could still have negative connotations.
2
Summoning something, like a(n)...1) Aberration, 2) Fiend, 3) People from the Past/Future/Another Dimension, 4) Celestial.
3
Upheaval of the status quo or current government.
4
Engaging in some act unpalatable to the rest of society, like...1) Cannibalism, 2) Proscribed sexual acts, 3) Excessive drug or alcohol use, 4) Fight Club.
5
The death of some important figure, or more broadly, a faction.
6
The destruction of a rival faith, or any other faith.
7
Support and enrichment of it's members, whether that be through legal or illegal means.
8
Exploitation of it's members; roll again and ignore this result if rolled again. The second result is what they tell to new recruits.

d8
Where is their membership drawn from?
1
Ne'er do wells; criminals, beggars & transients.
2
The elite of society.
3
Working class folk, the salt of the earth.
4
All walks of life
5
Racially, culturally or ethnically exclusive.
6
A certain profession, such as fisher folk, merchants or farmers.
7
An isolated or otherwise insular folk.
8
Those who have been brainwashed, chosen or ensorcelled in some way.

d8
How do they operate?
1
Out in the open. They are passive, and unwilling to commit violence - unless their faith requires it.
2
Openly, with hostility and great abandon.
3
Clandestinely, with a vicious streak towards any who stumble upon them.
4
Covertly, those who discover them are met with bribes, cajoling and religious arguments.
5
The cult attempts to masquerade as a more pedestrian organization.
6
They recruit openly locally, but their true home is somewhere far away and hidden.
7
Through a cellular structure, each cell is kept ignorant of what the other is doing, but there is a secret architect lurking somewhere.
8
Coordinated through dreams, they move seemingly without communication.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Skoraeus' Brothers - an encounter for Volmusia



Unsafe, Enchanted (Genius Loci), Personages (Skoraeus' Brothers, Diodotus, Valley Keepers)

          Located far into the northern, snowy reaches of Maaglurtet's Range, nestled in a deep gulch, are what appear to be two massive faces carved into the sides of the stone. At first it would seem they are like many other monuments to the Nameless Empire, until one of the heads begins to query any interlopers in a low, rumbling voice. The questions are frustratingly focused on the minutiae of the geographical features of other places (they're especially interested in Ingram's Tangle) that the visitors have been to, though sometimes they'll shift to the make-up of whatever gems or stones that they happen to be wearing. Named after a Stone Giant deity, the Brothers are slightly different in personality, the face on the Left is pointed and brusque in their speech, while the one on the Right is diplomatic and oblique - they will not argue with each other however, they've long since outgrown that trick. Anything that happens within the underground reaches, the Brothers know about, from how long ago the last cave-in happened in the Cernunokian Depths to where a coin was dropped in a stream flowing through The Mushroom Forest. They are a fantastic source of information, the problem is getting them to talk about it in terms that mortal beings can parse, and of course keeping them on task. The Brothers are also exceptionally good at puzzling out the details of interpersonal relationships, if they're given enough information. 

          The only constant visitors to the site are the nearby members of the Valley Keepers Clan (Stone Giants if your setting supports it). Numbering perhaps a few dozen, the clan is extremely religious and devoted to Skoraeus Stonebones; it was they who named the faces after their deity and they who guard the Brothers from interlopers who would do them harm. The Valley Keepers are led by the towering Diodotus, a man of few words, with an intense, burning gaze and mastery over the elements of fire and ice. The Keepers live in a cave system a short walk away from the crevasse where the Brothers live. Their home is a spartan place of little more than a fire pit, some mats for sleeping and larder full of salted meat & preserved produce.

  • Asking a question requires giving out information first. The information itself is mundane, but it usually has to be quite in-depth for the Brothers to be satisfied enough to answer in turn. Responses are couched in terms that refer to geological features, rather than any sort of conversational terms.
  • If insulted, screamed at, or attacked, the pair will simply clam up and wait for the offending party to leave. They'll help in the future, but they will certainly bring the outburst up and ask for some sort of apology. They'll also be quite offended if any one leaves during their long-winded questions or responses.
  • The area has been the site of several small-scale battles over the centuries, as rival tribes or parties stumble upon another as they arrive to ask their questions. The Brothers find all of this terribly immature.

          Treasure & More: These guys are basically treasure detectors, but they aren't able to go out and grab any themselves, nor is there a tradition of votive offerings to them from the Valley Keepers or their other visitors. Outside of their obvious use, they would also be helpful in training a character who is focused on stones, mountains or other close proximity to the elements of earth. Meditating with the Brothers long-term could give a character advantage on a skill pertaining exclusively to geography, or perhaps a divination or locomotive spell based around a Terran element.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Who Killed the Mayor?


          
          Murder is easily the most serious crime that humans are capable of, at least on a personal scale. It deprives another of their very existence. Certain settings trivialize this to a one degree or another, but even campaign settings with the most liberal of interpretation on resurrection still attach great weight to death and murder. Murder comes in as many varieties as there are victims, from the coldly calculated assassination, to the robbery gone wrong. They're committed by individuals, groups, and sometimes even entire organizations. As long as there are three people left in the world, odd are one of them is going to want one of the other two dead.

          The seventh in my overall series on rolling up the goings on of a city, this entry focuses on rolling up a murder at random in the city at large. These can be used to kick off a plot based around a murder investigation, suggest the activities of some nefarious group, or even to just use as the backdrop of a particularly gritty world. To use this generator, simply roll 4d8.


d8
Who got killed?
1
Mayor/Village Elder/Chief
2
Magic User
3
Local Hero
4
Noble
5
Vagrant/Visitor
6
Notable Criminal
7
Well-to-do Citizen
8
Poor Citizen


d8
Who killed them?
1
Notable Criminal
2
Obscure Criminal
3
Well Known Citizen
4
Obscure Citizen
5
Kin to Victim
6
Vagrant/Visitor
7
Someone at the behest of another. Roll twice on this table, ignoring this result, as well as the following. The first result is the murderer, the second is the one who asked for it.
8
A number of people; this can be as few as a pair, as many as a conspiracy. Roll 1d6+1, that's the number of conspirators. Roll again on this table that many times, ignoring this result and the previous (unless you'd like the possibility of Dune level shenanigans)


d8
How'd they do it?
1
An animal, whether it be magical or otherwise. Kicked them in the head with a horse, had a dog maul them, hid a basilisk in their closet...
2
A directed weapon, from a candlestick, knife or firearm - perhaps even just a large rock - the variations are endless, but the results are the same.
3
Something which initially seems like an accident; a fall, drowning, or an overturned candle turned inferno.
4
With their bare hands, by strangling or beating them to death.
5
Poison, whether in their food, drink, or something more exotic.
6
A trap, whether that be a literal booby trap or sabotage to make something mundane into something dangerous.
7
Deprivation; this can be by starvation, dehydration or exposure. This also generally implies some sort of imprisonment or form of restraints.
8
Magic. A spell, a magical item, a curse, or some other manifestation of unnatural power.


d8
Why'd they do it?
1
Money
2
Romantic differences
3
Fury
4
Religious reasons
5
Compulsion - magical or otherwise.
6
Property
7
Secrets
8
Accident and cover-up


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cruel folk, and skillful to destroy.


         

          There are always those who do not fit in with society. Perhaps they are unwilling to bow to the requirements of others, or they could have committed some terrible offense or crime and were cast out. These folk have little choice but to turn to pilfering, robbing and murdering to survive without a community to support them. These folk quickly become hardened and brutal from their experiences, their former lives drowned under the waves of screams, terror and death that their survival requires. The bands they form often become infamous, attracting more doomed souls to their banners, usually they either tear themselves apart or are annihilated by those they've victimized, but some of these ragtag groups manage to claw their way into the "respectable" life of a mercenary or soldier.

          The sixth in my series of tables on how to roll up a community entirely from scratch, this one focuses on bandits, marauders and other road agents which may bedevil your group. Like the others, I've specifically left out any demi-humans, as well as most elements which explicitly call out the nature of the setting - with the exception of the 'Unique thing' table. Like the others, these tables are used by simply rolling 4d8, and then resolving any nested rolls with d4s.



d8
Where did they come from?
1
Veterans.
2
Rebels.
3
Bored Gentry.
4
Foreign Invaders.
5
Cultists/Fanatics.
6
Indigenous Population.
7
Criminal Gang.
8
Government Oppressors.

d8
How do they approach fighting?
1
Savage, all out attacks. The bandits will fight without regard to their safety or future.
2
Ambushes, supported by ranged weapons. These folk will run as soon as they are discovered or the tide turns against them.
3
Assassinations. Skilled in stealth and infiltration, they will never commit to any sort of direct attack, nor will they be caught together as a group.
4
Cavalry, whether that be on the backs of horses, or something stranger like wolves or vehicles. They favor hit and run style tactics.
5
Disciplined Tactics/Planning. These are not mere bandits, but soldiers. They will use any and all means at their disposal to launch more effective attacks.
6
Unruly and ill-disciplined mobs. Members fight and flee as individuals, trusting in their own judgments.
7
Performance. This is all an act to try and extract what they want. They act tough, but in reality they are cowards, who will flee at the slightest hint of trouble.
8
Swindlers. They do not attack in any direct way, but rather seek to get what they desire through guile and deception. They may pretend to be someone else, or try to worm their ways into the community.


d8
Why are they here?
1
Plunder/Wealth.
2
Purge.
3
Conquest.
4
Specific goal, like a person, piece of territory or item.
5
Generational rivalry.
6
Religiously motivated.
7
Political/Civil conflict.
8
Under contract to do so.

d8
What is unique about them?
1
Someone important from a nearby community is an informant for the group in regards to the comings and goings there. They're far more aware of potential heists, targets or attempts at reprisals against them.
2
These bandits employ animals or monsters, whether magical or otherwise, to help them with their work.
3
The group is led by or is employing a spellcaster of some sort. They may have an enchanted item, or they may have the occasional back-up of the spell user.
4
The brigands are led by a strange being such as a...1) Dragon, 2) Fiend, 3) Celestial, 4) Aberration.
5
The bandits themselves are some strange or exotic beings themselves such as...1) Undead, 2) Time/Dimensional travelers, 3) Magically summoned, 4) Underground dwellers.
6
The marauder's hideout is somewhere near impossible for a small group to assault; a mountain fastness, a fort built upon a river sandbar, or a ship which simply sails away.
7
The agents are drawn from the population of the town itself! A conspiracy of silence supports the members.
8
They are not here of their own volition, they have been forced into their current position by disaster or ill-luck.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dying Earth Monsters Part II - Deodand


          I kicked off this series by going over the enigmatic Chun the Unavoidable, a singularly horrifying character in the mythology of the Dying Earth. This article will focus on one of the most commonly appearing creatures in the setting, the vicious beastmen known as Deodand. This hungry fellows show up in nearly every story set within the world, and they are common enough that every character has seemingly heard of or had first hand experience with them. I have found some OSR-compatible stats for Deodand in White Dwarf 58, but I felt that it'd be more fun to come up with my own for both Basic & 5th Edition. The Dying earth is overrun with various beastmen, most of whom are given only this brief description:

"Gid: hybrid of man, gargoyle, whorl, leaping insect.
Deodand: wolverine, basilisk, man.
Erb: bear, man, lank-lizard, demon,
Grue: man, ocular bat, the unusual hoon.
Leucomorph: unknown
Bazil: felinodore, man, (wasp?)."




          Of the six creatures mentioned, only the Gid and the Deodand appear directly at any point, and only the Deodand is featured multiple times. (As an aside, I really love that the writers of Zork straight up stole Grue.) In our reality, deodand is an animal, person or thing responsible for a person's death, and this name is perfect for how they're seen by others. Objects of fear and dread to the non-wizardly inhabitants of the Dying Earth, Deodand are are persistent threat to anyone walking alone at night or in deep woods who is not armed with magic,


A black figure stole into her sight, creeping along the ditch. In the light of the fireflies she saw him—a Deodand, wandered from the forest, a hairless man-thing with charcoal-black skin, a handsome face, marred and made demoniac by two fangs gleaming long, sharp and white down his lip. It was clad in a leather harness, and its long slit eyes were fastened hungrily on T'sais. He sprang at her with an exulting cry.”


          Oof. Now, obviously the idea that the cast of the Dying Earth being menaced by bestial men with charcoal-black skin can construed as problematic. However, the Deodand, while similar to humans, are utterly alien in both mindset and lifestyle. They seem to simply rove the wilderness, stalking any they find and pursuing them to their homes and beyond. Deodand fear little beyond magic,


The Deodand outside had lingered, and had been watching through the iron-barred window. Now it knocked at the door.
"Who's there?" called the man in the black hood, twisting about.
"I desire the one who has entered. I hunger for her flesh," said the soft voice of the Deodand. The man in the hood spoke sharply.
"Go, before I speak a spell to burn you with fire. Never return!"
"I go," said the Deodand

          Boogey-man like in approach, the Deodand wishes nothing more than to devour anything it comes across, and speaks with the typically erudite style which define all of Vance's characters,

You have no control over the grisly appetites of your fellows?” Cugel demanded.
I have no control over my own,” responded the deodand. “Only the fact of my broken limbs prevents me from leaping at your throat.”
Do you wish to live?” asked Cugel, putting his hand significantly to sword-hilt.
To a certain extent, though with not so fervent a yearning as do true men.”


B/X Stats

HD: 3 (HP 21)
Armor: As Chain

Move: 30'

Attacks: 2 Claws, 1d4+2

Special: Berserk Rage; when a Deodand has under 50% remaining HP, it gains +1 to Attack and Damage.


5th Edition Stats

Monstrous Humanoid, Chaotic Evil
Armor Class: 13 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points: 36 (4d8 + 12)
Speed: 30 ft., Climb 30ft.
Abilities: Str 17 (+3), Dex 12 (+1), Con 16 (+3), Int 12 (+1), Wis 12 (+1), Cha 7 (-2)
Saving Throws: Str +5, Con +5
Skills: Athletics +5, Perception +3, Stealth +5.
Damage Resistances: None
Condition Immunities: None
Senses: Darkvision 120ft., passive Perception 13
Languages: Common
Challenge: 2 (450 XP)

Berserk Rage. While it has 10 or fewer HP, Deodand have advantage on attack rolls, and deal an additional +2 damage with their claw attack.

Actions

Multiattack. Deodands make two claw attacks.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 +3) slashing damage.