Friday, January 24, 2020

The Inciting Challenge

Here's a bit of unused content for another game.

Is it a blessing? Is it a curse? A gift from the gods? A mutation? A natural part of the world that anyone can invoke if they know something's True Name?

I don't know. It's your problem now.

The Inciting Challenge works as follows:

For all targets: You invoke The Inciting Challenge by invoking a character's True Name and issuing a challenge to fight. That character must make a save vs. spells (or Will, or Wisdom, or the local equivalent) at -10. If they fail, they are immediately overcome with rage and wish to kill The Challenger. They can still act intelligently, but automatically fail any actions that do not involve attacking or preparing to attack The Challenger and they will not willingly leave sight of The Challenger. Conversely, those affected by The Inciting Challenge gain a +5 to attacks and saves when fighting The Challenger. Once invoked, The Inciting Challenge is permanent unless undone by magic that removes curses, greater restoration or its equivalent, or any of the wish variants. Not even death revokes The Inciting Challenge; unless the corpse is sanctified or obliterated (and sometimes not even then), the decedent will often return as undead to attempt to kill The Challenger. If The Inciting Challenge is revoked, the target is aware it was magically manipulated. (The Inciting Challenge is otherwise not obvious, although an active detect magic spell can sense enchantment magic when The Inciting Challenge is invoked.)
     If The Challenger leaves the target's presence, the target will attempt to hunt down the target and confront them to the best of their ability. They do not have a supernatural ability to find The Challenger, but will usually devote all available resources to doing so. Additionally, if the target tells anyone about The Challenger, that person must also save vs. spells at -10 or else be affected by The Inciting Challenge against The Challenger.
     If The Challenger is slain, the target’s bloodlust ends, but it will return if The Challenger returns to life.

For non-player character targets: The target’s NPC attitude turns Hostile while under the influence of The Inciting Challenge, and cannot be modified by The Challenger or their companions under any means.

For player character targets: Player characters get a little more agency than NPCs, and so do not need to make a save vs. spells to avoid The Inciting Challenge. Instead, PCs get A Choice.
1) Ignore The Inciting Challenge.
2) Accept The Inciting Challenge. If the character accepts, they get the same +5 bonus on attacks and saves against The Challenger. They can take other actions without penalty. If they kill The Challenger, they gain a level immediately, gaining enough experience to be 1 XP away from the next level above that. (So a Level 6 character who kills The Challenger becomes Level 7 and is 1 XP away from Level 8.) This level gain is not subject to the one-level-per-adventure restriction of most old school games, so the character very well may gain a second level at the end of the session. If The Challenger gets away, the target automatically spends half the treasure they earn each session trying to find The Challenger until they find and slay The Challenger. If The Challenger plays in a FLAILSNAILS game, the GM should always grant a target of The Inciting Challenge a spot in the game if possible, even if session membership is usually random.

On True Names: In a pre-industrial society, True Names usually comprise a character's first and last name (or first name and title), although some characters may keep their actual names secret, instead going by an alias. (Although characters need to watch that, as an alias might become a character's True Name if it is more widely known!) Creatures such as gods, spirits, demons, and ancient dragons often exist in multiple planes simultaneously, and so have appropriately-complex True Names that are often obscure.
     The GM is the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes a creature’s True Name.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Legend of Drusilla God-Biter

Torinn's axe has tasted of the blood of a god, and now seeks more.

Since it's entirely possible this axe might show up anywhere in the multiverse, I put it into the aethers for the consumption of the internet.

The stats below are for 5e, but it's pretty easy to convert: +3 greataxe dealing extra damage vs. dragons and gods, it can be used to parry cleric spells with a visible vector (like spiritual weapon or whatever), it can cast dispel magic once a day (but the axe chooses when to do it and will usually target cleric magic), and it can destroy any god-wrought artifact (but is destroyed in the process).

Drusilla God-biter is Neutral, and wishes to goad its user into conflict with dragons and gods, particularly evil ones.

If you use Drusilla God-biter, let me know! Let its legend grow. (Although the rumor is that Torinn is incredibly possessive of his axe, so beware...)

Drusilla God-biter, the Wyrmfoe
Weapon (greataxe), legendary (requires attunement by a creature of non-evil alignment)
Once just a mundane blade, Drusilla God-biter is a rough-hewn greataxe of orcish make.  Its blade is marred by a black stain that runs along the edge and is splattered across the blade; this stain occasionally writhes and changes, shimmering like motor oil when illuminated.  The rest of the blade is strangely clean and glitters like platinum.  In sunlight, draconic runes in some ancient dialect are faintly visible along the haft.
You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic greataxe.  It has the following additional properties.
Wyrmfoe.  When you hit a dragon with this weapon, the dragon takes an extra 3d6 slashing damage. For the purposes of this weapon, “dragon” refers to any creature with the dragon type, including dragon turtles and wyverns.
Godsbane.  When you hit a deity with this weapon, it takes an extra 3d6 slashing damage and its regeneration trait does not function at the start of its next turn.  For the purposes of this weapon, “deity” refers to any creature as designated by the DM — typically a unique aberration, celestial, fey, fiend, or undead.
Doom of Divinity.  When you are targeted by a divine spell attack, you may use your Reaction to make a special melee Attack roll with this weapon.  If your attack roll is higher than the spell caster’s attack roll, the spell is negated as if by a counterspell.  For the purposes of this weapon, “divine spell attack” refers to any spell attack by a spell from the cleric, druid, paladin, or ranger spell list, as well as spell attacks by deities.  It can also refer to the spell attacks of other creatures with unique ties to the gods at the DM’s discretion.
Drusilla God-biter can cast dispel magic once per day.  It decides when to cast the spell, and will usually target divine magic.
Drusilla God-biter can be used to destroy even artifacts and unique magics wrought by the gods, but is destroyed in the process.
Sentience.  Drusilla God-biter is a sentient neutral weapon with an Intelligence of 9, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 14.  It has hearing and darkvision out to 120 feet.
The weapon communicates telepathically with its wielder, and can speak, read, and understand Common and Draconic.
Personality.  Drusilla God-biter seeks the destruction of dragons and deities, particularly evil ones.  Conflict arises if the wielder fails to destroy dragons or deities when the opportunity arises.
Drusilla God-biter is gruff, grim, and matter-of-fact, albeit with a vaguely maternal tone toward its wielder.  It is somewhat distrustful of arcane magic but seems to truly disagree with the precepts of divine magic, claiming the gods as petty tyrants who seek to control the fates and souls of sapient beings.  It similarly claims that dragons are attempting the same thing in a pale and rote imitation of the gods.
It has some measure of respect for the god Bahamut, whom it seems to regard as its creator.  (But it would probably still goad its wielder to attack him if given the opportunity.)
If someone proselytizes in its vicinity, Drusilla God-biter will speak out against them, trying to provoke an argument.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

That Old Silk Hat

And now, a bit of Christmas magick: an artifact for Unknown Armies, third edition.  Enjoy!

That Old Silk Hat

Power: Significant

Description: That Old Silk Hat is usually treated as a joke or urban legend (it seems soundly ludicrous to think the holiday song "Frosty the Snowman" holds mystical significance), but some checkers in the occult underground claim it's an actual thing.
     That Old Silk Hat appears as an old, unassuming, and somewhat battered top hat, made of cheap felt.  Any story depicting it usually indicates it's found in the garbage or has been otherwise abandoned — it usually smells like refuse, and is occasionally described as being crusted with blood.  The stories claim That Old Silk Hat rarely stays in one place for long, as misfortune tends to befall those who use it.  It won't be long before it shows up in some dumpster, or abandoned basement, or forgotten corner of someone's garage...
     Chargers in the know claim there are many such hats, each with a limited number of uses.  In that case, the magick is not in the hat, but in the ritual that empowers them.  The chargers who tell such tales claim a ritual to empower That Old Silk Hat is a significant one, and requires the ritualist to murder someone and entomb them in a snow effigy.  The hat placed atop the snow effigy is then empowered as That Old Silk Hat.
     (Such a ritual would probably take 2 significant charges, and would empower the hat for a number of uses equal to the sum of the dice.)

Effect: When That Old Silk Hat is placed on a mound of snow that has been sculpted to resemble a human shape (typically at least given a face and rudimentary limbs, although most people who receive That Old Silk Hat are under explicit instructions to make the snowman "as lifelike as possible;" some of them are quite elaborate), the hat summons the nearest demon to animate the snowman.
     While demons are always hungry for experiences on this side of the Veil, That Old Silk Hat does nothing to make the snowman stronger, or grant it significant structural activity.  As such, snow golems animated by the hat are pretty fragile, and will still melt if the ambient temperature gets too far above freezing.
     As a result, demons are usually pretty annoyed with being trapped in a snow-body.
     Still, it beats being on the other side of the Veil.  Clever (and stupid) checkers can use this to communicate with demons, and particularly smart ones use this as a negotiation tactic; after all, a summoned demon probably needs the occultist to enact any particular schemes it has in mind, so it allows a would-be demonologist to negotiate from a position of strength.
     While in a snow body, a demon's wound threshold is only equal to 20% of its Urge (round down), and it only deals an amount of damage equal to the tens place of the roll when making hand-to-hand attacks.  When a snowbound demon makes a melee attack, it takes the same damage itself as it shakes its snow body apart.  A snow-body only takes hand-to-hand damage from guns, although any explosions or sufficiently large trauma will probably deal full damage.  (When in doubt, the snowman is fragile and probably just falls apart.)  If you're tracking movement, snow-bodies can typically only move at half-speed (check out "Running Around" on page 63 of Book One: Play), and take 1d10 wounds if they move at full speed.  Likewise, if it's too warm outside, the demon can take anywhere from 1d10 wounds per hour to 1d10 wounds per minute.  (Although the degradation of a snow-body in high temperatures is ultimately up to the discretion of the GM.)
     A would-be snow-sculptor can potentially heal a snow body by re-packing the snow, restoring a demon's full wound threshold with a few minutes' work.
     A demon is released when its snow-body is destroyed or when the hat is removed.  Sensation-junkies they are, however, no demon will willingly remove its own hat.  (If, as some stories say, That Old Silk Hat has limited uses, any given found hat probably has 1d10 uses.  A single "use" ends when the demon is banished; there is otherwise no time limit.)
     At the GM's discretion, a particularly skilled snow-sculptor might be able to make a sturdier-than-normal body.  If a character has an Identity uniquely suited to building a particularly-sturdy snowman, then the snow-body has a wound threshold equal to the character's roll or 20% of the demon's Urge, whichever is higher.  Likewise, such a snow golem might deal additional damage on a successful Struggle roll, such as dealing half standard hand-to-hand damage, whole damage, or even weapon damage (for a sculptor adding sticks and knives to the snowman's construction).  Such a snow golem might even maintain its integrity when it makes hand-to-hand attacks.
     It is exceedingly unlikely someone could make a snow sculpture sturdy enough to use a gun, but who knows?
     A character living in a cold climate or otherwise with access to a sufficiently-large, frozen place could potentially keep a single snowbound demon around for a long time, if they so chose.  It's possible that a particularly demented charger has a demonic snowman familiar stashed away in an old restaurant freezer somewhere.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Land of Frozen Horror

Allegedly, I sometimes run a blog.

Shoe Skogen recently asked what I was working on, so I might as well show everyone.

One of my D&D 5e games was set in a brutal, frozen waste, but the PCs ran afoul of a local organized crime syndicate and escaped via the Gardens of YnnAs written, the player characters emerge in a random place (which might be the place they just left), but I figured my players would balk if I threw them into whatever randomness I wanted to run, so I gave them a choice.

I received the following two requests in response:

1) An arctic place, like Icewind Dale (this from the ranger with the arctic specialization)
2) Ravenloft (this from the wizard playing the spooky necromancer)

I figured, why not both?, and so was this cursed arctic land born. Here is the map so far:

Click to enlarge! Starfield hexes represent the Mists of Ravenloft.
As per standard Ravenloft, the land is cursed, tied to the Fisher King-like monster who rules it. In this case, our would-be Strahd is a ruler combining aspects of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Joseph Stalin: seeking to modernize and Westernize his land, he turned to greater and more dangerous technologies until the ensuing magical catastrophe destroyed his glorious utopia.

Where a sensible ruler might decide to scrap that experiment, our darklord instead decided that his attempts to modernize his city failed because just wasn't ambitious and ruthless enough.  That's how his realm was sucked into the Domains of Dread, cursed by the ambitions of one man. (And doomed to repeat the same cycle time and again.)

In the interest of avoiding yet another European fantasy world, I'm instead drawing inspiration from Inuit, Mongolian, and Siberian sources. I also have Skerples' Magical Industrial Revolution fresh on my mind (as you might gather from the "industrial magic city rapidly spiraling into disaster" setup), which likewise pushes me to draw material from dungeonpunk settings such as Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica languishing on my shelf. In addition to whatever other weird or spooky content I include in this game. (It's given me yet another excuse to delve into my 2e and 3e Ravenloft collection, which always brings me joy. And to revisit A Kayak Full of Ghosts, which you should absolutely read.)

Gearing up for a conflict between traditional cultures and industrialized ones, five main factions emerge:

  • The Khan, darklord and architect of the Cosmic City, rapidly leading his land to another cycle of industrialization and destruction;
  • the Church of Ezra, formerly a powerful political entity that oppressed the traditional religions of the native peoples before the Khan determined the Church comprised dangerous political rivals and purged them;
  • the druids and other followers of the Old Ways, attempting to desperately hold on to their traditional way of life;
  • the poor nomads and townsfolk stuck in the middle of this grudge match;
  • and the Idea of Thorns, which my players accidentally brought from the Gardens of Ynn.
A handful of interesting locations include a ruined port city that is the current stronghold of the Church-of-Ezra-in-exile, a crumbling factory upon the coast, a university thoroughly infiltrated by a secret society of sorcerers, the Cosmic City itself, the occultum mines on the far side of the continent, and the railway that joins the city and the mines (which is choking out the settlements that used to rely on traffic along the Khan's Road for survival).

I'd say it's more overtly political than some of my games, but then again, I'm also running a modern occult game about LGBT+ activism and the examination of violence as a public health concern, and another series of fantasy games where the central antagonist is an allegorical American nightmare. So at least I'm consistent, right?

When the setting is a little more developed, I might try to put it somewhere if I can navigate the thorny issues inherent in Hasbro's intellectual property copyrights. Or perhaps it will be yet another meditation on transience, a piece of art that exists only in the meeting of the minds at the table.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Voice Work

These notes are largely for my future reference, but maybe they're worth noting for someone else.

I recently introduced a handful of NPCs in my long-running D&D game that have goofy voices. Since I routinely juggle a lot of characters, some of which are only played occasionally but have distinctive voices, I should probably record my notes somewhere. (Were I really slick, I ought to actually record the voices, but that's only useful if I go back and listen to the recordings.)

Goruthrel: The wizard's new familiar, a spider summoned from Faerie. Vaguely midwestern — not quite a Minnesota accent, but that same sort of wholesome, overstimulated, swear-less mode of speech. She always seems scattered and disorganized. Put a lot of extra stutters and "ums" in your speech, and make sure to click your tongue and say, "Whew," when appropriate. Despite not swearing or even being terribly vicious, she is from Faerie, so occasionally say something totally untoward. ("Oh, well, I mean, ah, I guess we could just, just go right ahead and kill them all, right?") To get into character, my insertion phrase is, "Oh, oh geeze. Oh my." She always sounds flustered, but is actually pretty smart. (This is in direct contrast with the wizard's previous familiar, a quasit who was gleefully waiting for him to die.)

Tetposmeton: A devil and loan shark, cutting deals in Sigil. (An Amnizu, if that matters.) Smile incredibly wide while talking; if it almost hurts, you're probably smiling enough. He talks like some manner of mutant, Frank Zappa-esque radio announcer or disc jockey (the phrase "ice pick in the forehead" from "Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt" is a good insertion phrase), like Casey Kasem on entirely too much cocaine. If someone seems iffy, keep talking — bombard them with so much information that they'll eventually agree to the whole thing. You're somewhere between a used car salesman and their best friend; all participants know you're corrupt, so you might as well go whole hog.

Tingletam Finglefam: A creepy gnome alchemist. As per Noel Fielding, he's from Souuuf Londen. Sounds like The Hitcher when he's being gross, not when he sounds like an old man. Talks with his hands in this demented, Rumpelstiltskin-like fashion, like some sort of marionette. When I need to get into that character, his key phrase is, "stony giblets." Say, "stony giblets," in the Cockney accent, and I'm ready to go. Just be vaguely unseemly and gross.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Spider Sailors of the Super-Sargasso!

Artisanally-crafted fantasy worlds are often filled with logical concepts taken to their completely illogical conclusions. So here's a very stupid concept that might have to become A Thing™.

Winds and electric fields potentially blow anything sufficiently small into the upper atmosphere — viruses, bacteria, insects, whatever. (A lot of snow crystals form around plant viroids, for example.) There's a constant, dusty stream of life floating above our heads. Scientists call this "aeroplankton," and it's rad. Spiders do it all the time.

When the aeroplankton topic was mentioned the other day, it sparked the realization that fantasy worlds are replete with weird diseases and giant spiders. You can probably see where I'm going with this.

Imagine a layer of the atmosphere teeming with flying oozes blown thin and floating like weather balloons. Parachuting spiders, parasailing across the sky, occasionally landing on the decks of airships or raining down on unsuspecting towns. ("The farmers' alamanc says to stay in doors today, giant spider migration is supposed to hit. Lock your barns, or else they'll eat all the sheep.") Everything's fine one minute, then your town suddenly gets hit with mummy rot that's been floating in the upper atmosphere from that adventuring crew that blew up that tomb a few weeks ago.

In theory, only low-weight things can be blown about by this method, but fantasy worlds are dumb and filled with contradictions. Maybe giant spiders can ride the magnetic fields with their strange, magic webs. Slimes grow thin, blowing away like paper on the wind as part of their mass-migration strategy. Treants sporulate, their consciousness blowing away in the wind until they root and grow elsewhere. (The odds of some complicated magical life cycles emerging from this behavior are high. Cast purify food and drink in the right spot, and you suddenly have something a century old and 5,000 miles distant growing there. If you think aeroplankton and fire ecology are complicated, what happens when you add gods and magic and ancient conspiracies to the mix?)

Even if you find megafauna skating across the sky stretches credulity, you can still get somewhere with strange spores, eldritch diseases, and tiny animals being randomly blown into your town. One day, your town is normal. The next? You suddenly have a fungoid incursion, and now the political situation is significantly different.

Aeroplankton: add them to your random encounter chart today!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ynnian Changelings for 5e

(Skip my chatter and download the race here, if you want.)

My players fled the frozen waste by drawing a door in chalk upon a garden wall...

That's right, you heard right: one of my rotating 5e groups thought fantasy mythic Norway sucked so hard they fled into Emmy Allen's The Gardens of Ynn. Those poor goddamn fools.

Well, last session, there was an incident with some Splicing Vats, and the extremely gross goblin assassin turned into a grotesque plant monster before the rest of the party finally put him down. (Or did they?)

But that means the player needs to make a new character, and as per the rules set forth in The Gardens of Ynn, that character must be a Ynnian changeling, a person lost for so long in the Other Garden that they adapted. In The Gardens of Ynn, there's a custom race-as-class for it, but since we're playing 5e like a bunch of corporate sell-outs, I made a custom 5e race for it.

(Hey, we're not sell-outs, it's just cut-up! Truth be told, after dying repeatedly in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, my players voted to switch to 5e. Honestly, it has only seemed more kind because they're higher level. They're still mutated and mutilated, and we've had two deaths since the switch.)

If you care about balance, it's probably a little weak compared to other races at lower levels, but might get more potent depending upon which mutations you roll and which layer of the garden on which the changeling is found. Not that it matters; you can only play a Ynnian changeling if your replacement PC shows up in the Other Garden, otherwise you pick a standard race.

I considered having fixed stat modifiers (probably +1 Wisdom, +2 Charisma), but left them customizable on the theory that changelings can be from any initial racial stock. Otherwise, it looks like standard 5e races. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Anyway, enough chatter:

Download the Ynnian changeling for 5e

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