Monday, April 30, 2012

Deadlands, Part XIV

When last we left our heroes, they arrived in San Jose, found a place to stay, had some money turn into maggots, equipped themselves, received correspondence from Ruby O'Flahertie's husband, and took the train to Boston.

Our first stop is in Denver.  Astute observers will note that the last time we were in Denver, we had dinner (and Ruby ate her own hand), fought some demonic entities and blew up a house, and fled the city under the nose of the Pinkertons.

Naturally, we're less than thrilled to hear that we will be in Denver for about two days; the cannibals are probably gone, but we're basically fugitives out there.

After we disembark the train, David Hood notes the mail caller, and picks up his mail.  He finds he has several letters from his lawyer, all with the same message — that David needs another lawyer to settle his family's property dispute, and that he shouldn't trust anyone.  Then, David, Father Seward, Jake, Jeb, and Ruby O'Flahertie find a little saloon while Rufina — the only one among us who wasn't connected with the Pinkerton incident — goes to find a halfway decent flophouse for us to stay.  While we lay low in the saloon, she is successful and returns to us.  We spend some more time in the saloon before Ruby notices that a man in a black coat and black bowler hat is petting a horse outside.  He's been standing there a little while, and she suspects he's watching us.

Many of us are sitting separately, but she is sitting next to Jake, so she explains what she noticed.  They decide to leave, and after a quick discussion, we split into two groups.  David and Rufina will take the most direct route to the flophouse while Jake and Ruby take a more meandering route.  As some of the group are not communicating, they fall into step — Jeb starts trailing behind David and Rufina while Father Seward starts trailing behind Jake and Ruby.

While the two groups walk, they are trailed by men in black bowlers and black trenchcoats.  Three are on David and Rufina, three are on Jeb, three are on Jake and Ruby, and three are on Father Seward.

Two of the three pull shotguns and press them into David and Rufina's backs, telling them to get into a nearby alley.  Rufina whips around and grabs the shotgun pointed at her back, wrenching it away from the man.  In the chaos that follows, something like eight shots are fired at Rufina, and though several hit, she doesn't go down (she's a big 'un; Fate Chips help, too).  This is enough to frighten the men and prompt them to flee.

Meanwhile, the three men following Jeb step to the side of the road at the commotion.  They actually have a decent little conversation about how they serve some crime boss in Denver, and would he like a job?  When they see the other guys running, they decide to go after them.  Jeb then rejoins the others and everyone darts into an alley, taking a roundabout way back to the inn.

While David, Jeb, and Rufina are dealing with their pursuers, Father Seward, Jake, and Ruby encounter their shadows, although all three of them have noticed the black-clothed men.  Father Seward makes no move until the men come behind him, press a gun in his back, and tell him to enter a nearby alley.  He refuses, and the man responds by bashing him in the head with his gun, which doesn't hurt quite like it ought to (funny story: when Father Seward first met Jeb, Jeb gave him an acorn for good luck; that would be my acorn's good luck, expended).  Father Seward turns around and indicates that they probably don't want to manhandle an old man in the street.  Then, he starts rambling about the crazed zombie cannibal he met when last in Denver, and says that they were so busy following him that they didn't notice the sniper watching him.  Bluffing, he explains that after his trouble the last time he was in Denver, he hired an ex-Union sniper to keep an eye on him.  Oh, sure, they'll probably kill him, but he guarantees that his man will put a bullet through his killer's head.  While the men are standing around, bewildered, Father Seward turns around and keeps walking.

The men following Jake and Ruby never make it to them; instead, they are intercepted by a woman who slips Jake a lacquered box and says, "Complements."  The woman wears heavy makeup to obscure smallpox scars, and Jake feels that she looks familiar, although Jake cannot place her.  He peeks in the box to find a silk-lined box containing the King of Hearts — the "suicide king."  Father Seward catches up with them — he passed the woman while walking, and she smiled and nodded at him — and the group makes it to the hotel.  When everyone reconvenes, David gets Father Seward to examine Rufina's wounds — he managed to bind her leg, but he didn't have the time to treat her further.  Father Seward warns her of what he's about to do, and then lays on hands.  After the day's excitement, the group retires — Ruby and Rufina in their room, David, Father Seward, Jake, and Jeb in the common room.

The next day, Ruby and Rufina go shopping to get Rufina a new dress, as her old one is ruined with bloodstains and bullet holes, while the men lay low in the hotel.  While talking, reading, and gambling to pass the time, the innkeeper leaves the room (deciding to trust a group of folks with a priest), and David decides to read his newspaper.  The front-page story relates the Hood family drama in Boston; apparently, the fight boils down to the fact that the heir (presumably David) is missing, although he has several months before he is declared dead.  Specifically, the current issue is the Peerless, a Hood family shipping interest which ran aground while carrying "mysterious cargo."  The legal ownership of this cargo is open to debate given the lack of a clear heir as well as the definition of "safe delivery."

After reading this, Father Seward inquires about the contents of Hood's letter.  When David explains that he needs a lawyer, Father Seward indicates his family has a law background, but it's no good — David's law firm is already Seward and Taft.  He probably shouldn't trust anybody in Boston, anyway.

Apart from this news, there is no further excitement before the train departs.  The group successfully boards the train to Boston and David Hood manages to secure a lawyer's services in New York City.

Once arriving in Boston, Father Seward chances to purchase a newspaper.  The three tales of interest are:

  • "The Angel of Death."  Pretty young women and ex-Union soldiers are being slain by an unknown assailant.  People are disappearing off the streets, subsequently seen as the victims of savage murders.  Some witnesses claim to have seen an actual angelic being in the vicinity of the slayings.
  • A pox epidemic has overtaken one of the Irish sections.  A quarantine is being considered.
  • Regarding the Hood family legal drama, one Hood shot another.  No deaths, although the assailant has been detained and the other is in treatment.
Armed with this information, the group prepares to greet Boston.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday Werk: Jaladari

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Jaladari.

The Jaladari are a curious race, secretive and sullen.  Like many things connected with the Plane of Shadow, the Jaladari display a certain amount of affinity with shadows of all sorts.  Their magicians conjure them, and all members of the race draw power from shadows.  They even forge their own shadows into the distinctive shadowy blades they carry.

The Jaladari are open to barter, but they are strange, aloof beings.  Given their need for shadows, they will frequently barter for shadows and other, stranger things.  They are dour creatures, typically providing unpleasant company, but some contact them as they will trade for magical items.

The creatures are probably better known by scholars for reports of Jaladari raiding parties, savaging passing travelers for their shadows.  Their tactics in combat vary depending upon how magically puissant the individual may be, but they are stealthy and shadowy, difficult to injure and capable of bypassing physical obstacles and feared combatants with their umbral blades.

The following specimen represents a Jaladari more capable with combat than the arcane arts.  In combat, the creature will frequently attempt to catch foes off-guard by assuming Planephase Form and invisibly moving next to an opponent with Shadowstep.  The Jaladari will then strike, typically opening with Shadowreaving Strike.  It then attacks with Umbral Blade, using Shadowreaving Strike whenever it is available.  The Jaladari will always attempt to use Planephase Form and Shadowstep, when available, to improve its position in a fight.  Jaladari are intelligent enough to avoid fighting to the death, although they have been known to do so.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Adventuring Can Make You Crazy

This is a bit of a ramble, but bear with me.  There's a point to all this.

So, this past weekend, Nicole and I did a double-feature of 200 Motels and Lisztomania, largely because she hadn't seen them and sometimes you just need to watch psychedelic, surrealistic rock operas.

200 Motels is Frank Zappa's first foray into film, and it depicts life on the road.  The premise of the film is neatly summarized by the phrase, "Touring can make you crazy," and the title comes from FZ's estimation that he and the Mothers of Invention stayed in roughly 200 motels in their first five years of touring.  The film can be seen as a documentary of sorts, and the plot (as much as it has one) depicts the band going nuts in small-town America (the fictional Centerville, "a real nice place to raise your kids up").

The last time I watched 200 Motels, I was a significantly younger man, and I was still firmly entrenched in the World of Darkness and other horror games.  Watching it now, with a firm grounding in D&D, it changes the movie.

How's this for a game: replace each reference to "the band" or "pop group" or whatever with "adventuring party."  Suddenly, you have a bunch of mid-level adventurers (not too big that they're fighting gods, but not so small that nobody's ever heard of them) in a small town, trying to relax and spend gold between jobs.

For that matter, you could even adapt the movie with minimal alterations.  Their patron has an agent who is snooping around, trying to keep tabs on them (and possibly trying to make a little money on the side by publishing their adventures in book form; he's listening to them as they recount their adventures and incorporating the stuff into his book).  A mysterious figure, posing as an agent of the king — who may or may not be the Devil himself (I'm fairly confident that Rance Muhammitz still subconsciously informs my portrayals of Nyarlathotep) — is also hanging around, trying to tempt them into offering up their immortal souls.  Another entity is trying to tempt one of them into leaving the group on the pretense that he's big enough to strike out on his own (and then he won't have to share the gold and XP).  And all this is set amidst the backdrop of famous adventurers in a small town, as they have to deal with groupies and angry townsfolk.  You could easily use this in a small town, like, say, Pembrooktonshire, possibly leading to a setup like the Fiasco Playset "Dragon Slayers."

If you happen to be up for it, you can watch the whole movie below.  It's roughly an hour and forty minutes, and it contains cursing and nudity if that sort of thing bothers you.


Lisztomania is a different creature altogether.  It still deals with the challenges of fame and traveling rock musicians, but like a lot of British humor, it has a heavy basis in history and the liberal arts.  In this case, Lisztomania is a loose biography of Franz Liszt (in fact, a large primary reference is Marie d'Agoult's Nélida, her fictitious work which forms an unofficial biography of Liszt) and the title refers to the "Lisztomania" or "Liszt fever" of the 1840s — young women would scream and go into hysterics at his concerts, a practice still noted with Elvis and the Beatles and the various boy bands and pop stars thereafter.  In this case, the film portrays him as the first pop star, and depicts him making music and having lurid affairs across Europe.  It falls apart in the second half — Richard Wagner takes over Germany as some sort of Nazi/vampire/undead golem and Liszt returns from the afterlife to kill him with a heavenly jet plane — but the basic portrayal of the free-wheeling bard should be fairly familiar to D&D players.  Plus, I feel the movie's anachronisms hit in the Samurai Champloo vein where most D&D games reside: primarily medieval Europe, but with other elements included as per the Rule of Cool.

Besides, Liszt totally multiclasses into cleric later in life, both in the film and in real life.

The movie is below, and like 200 Motels, runs about an hour and forty minutes and contains cursing and nudity, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

All in the Family

So in Crux of Eternity, I have two cities primarily run by noble families.  Sorgforge, which takes traits of Sharn (basically enough traits for me to run Seekers of the Ashen Crown without changing much), is run by a coalition of seven noble families in tandem with the Citadel.

And then there's Scandshar.  Scandshar is at once the most prosperous jewel and the most shameful secret of the Sorrowfell Plains, as it is the city with the strongest economy, but it holds the seat of the area's slave trade.

Which is to say, it has any slave trade at all.

Slavery is legal in Scandshar, and you don't have to be a conspiracy wingnut to hypothesize that the mob runs everything.  They don't, but it's a pretty safe bet that they run enough.

In any case, I've been wanting to write up the thirteen noble families of Scandshar, and so I figured I'd do so here.  Why?  Because you might see something you like and decide to roll with it.

No more foreplay; we'll start straight away.

House Anghelescu

Colloquial Name: The Scarlet House, (vulgar) The Craven House, (temporarily) The House of Fools

Influences: Dracula.  Ravenloft.  Clan Tremere.  Every creepy little horror-movie village with too much mist and burgomasters wearing pickelhauben.  (Knowing PCs, though, if anyone ever played a character from this house, at least one person would take the Slavic aspect and run with it to play Borat.)

Background: House Anghelescu is a rather secretive noble house.  Unlike most houses, Anghelescu does very little adoption (and the old rumor is that you have to be ritually slain as part of the initiation ceremony).  Strangely, those adopted by the house slowly but surely adopt some of the notable characteristics of its inhabitants, such as pale skin and red hair.

House Anghelescu is known for its pomp and circumstance, as well as a rather decadent lifestyle.  In many ways, they're the quintessential stereotype of a noble house, but they keep to their duties and manage to avoid the worst of everyone's ire.

House Anghelescu is the current House of Fools, which requires them to retreat to their ward and withdraw from politics for the year.

Rumors: The most pervasive and persistent rumor — almost common knowledge, really — is that they're Vryloka.  (If you haven't heard of them, Vryloka are living vampires, a recent racial addition to D&D 4e; read more about them here and here.)  Anybody who accepts this rumor adds a further level of speculation — how can you trust these nobles to uphold the law of the land when they owe fealty to each other and the Red Witch?

House Brissot

Colloqial Name: The House of the Righteous, (vulgar) The House of Do-Gooders

Influences: The abolitionist movement.  Dune's House Atreides.  The Wayne family.

Background: House Brissot is probably the most beloved noble house, and the one that has won the hearts and minds of the people.  They are a philanthropist house, best known for charitable donations and good works.  They have helped establish clerical and medical orders to keep the citizens in sound health and body. They help the impoverished.  They contribute to the public welfare.

They do have one problem, though.  They're staunchly — and more importantly, openly — opposed to slavery.  They lobby in the Council of Lords and make public speeches about the subject.  Occasionally, they purchase slaves for the express purpose of freeing them or adopting them.

This makes them popular with some, but unpopular with the other noble houses.  Still, what are they going to do?  Attack a fellow noble house and risk a populist uprising?

That seems about as likely as it sounds.

Rumors: House Brissot has the best reputation of the lot, but even they have whispered dealings (although supporters claim these are lies seeded by the other noble houses).  Some claim that the slaves they purchase and free are never actually seen again, while those they adopt are just brainwashed slaves.  Others claim that their philanthropy is a ruse, and they are secretly diabolists or necromancers or some such.  Other rumors suggest the complete opposite: House Brissot hopes to overthrow the other houses and lead Scandshar into total anarchy.

House Chilikov

Colloqial Name: The House of Steel, (vulgar) The Heartless House

Influences: Soviet propaganda.  Metropolis.  Anything with cool robots, really.

Background: The Chilikov weren't always Warforged.  Once upon a time, they were a warlike house of humans, dwarves, and the like, poised to overcome obstacles with military might.  The family was already dwindling by the time of the Cackledread War — most people think good, old-fashioned fertility problems were to blame — but they contributed soldiers and their own Warforged to the war effort.

At the end, only the patriarch, an old dwarven artificer by the name of Stalbek, remained.  Tired of the politics and intrigues of the noble houses, Stalbek retired, leaving the Warforged in charge.  He left for parts unknown, likely in the Hoarfrost Mountains.

These days, the Warforged help carry out the industrial functions of the city.  Nobody has ever had trouble with House Chilikov, and indeed, they are considered the least duplicitous of the noble houses.  They also don't typically hold slaves, as they apparently do not understand why anyone would use reluctant workers to do important tasks.

Astute observers note that they do not oppose slavery; they simply do not understand how it is efficient.

Rumors: Common rumor suggests that old man Stalbek still controls the house from behind the scenes.  He either went into hiding so he could remove himself as a target for his enemies, or to add a level of deniability between himself and his plots.  After all, if his patsies don't comprehend his plans, the nobody can interrogate them.

House Claasen

Colloquial Name: The House of Fate, (vulgar) The House of the Doomed

Influences: Dark Shadows.  Every creepy, New England family from H. P. Lovecraft.

Background: Despite the name, Fate is rarely kind to House Claasen.  They are an ancient family, possibly the oldest in Scandshar (if true, they may very well be the founders of the city).  They control the shipping lanes, and so have an important role in the Scandshar's commerce.

And yet, many strange things are said about House Claasen.  Some claim there are family members too deformed to see daylight, or that there are secret and ancient rituals that take place in the depths of their estates.  Some claim the elders are no longer human; some even say that the original bloodline founders are still around, either existing as undead, or undying sorcerers, or disembodied spirits, or an amalgam of grey matter not unlike an illithid Elder Brain.

Who knows, really?  Like many of the families, the Claasen are quite secretive.

Rumors: Rumors are rampant that House Claasen labors under some ancient curse — maybe from the land, maybe from the stars, or possibly even from the first slaves who lost their freedom in Scandshar.  It would certainly explain a lot of things while raising further questions.

House de Rais

Colloqial Name: The House of Velvet, (vulgar) The House of Killers

Influences: Hunter: the Vigil's Ashwood Abbey.  Gilles de Rais.  The Most Dangerous Game.

Background: House de Rais is considered the most decadent of the houses.  They are known for wild orgies, insane parties, and eccentric behavior that leaves them the talk of upper class salons and low class taverns throughout Scandshar.

House de Rais is particularly feared by the citizens due to the rumors surrounding them — known to be incredibly jaded, House de Rais engages in increasingly twisted pleasures to amuse themselves.  Rumors suggest that they will hunt their own slaves or even strangers off the street, staging bloody contests in the darkened alleyways of Scanshar, or the countryside beyond the city walls.  Some even suggest that they are diabolists and steal human sacrifices by night.

The city always seems to breathe a little easier when House de Rais is nominated for the House of Fools, as the night seems just a little safer without the House of Killers on the prowl.

Rumors: House de Rais is primarily known by its rumors, as there is precious little evidence to suggest they are anything other than cynical pleasure-seekers.  Still, the rumors continue to fly, and the occasional mutilated body is found in the vicinity of their Ward.  One of the most striking rumors is that they perform these ghastly rites not out of ennui or devil worship, but because they are desperately trying to keep something locked away.  Similarly, some say that they cultivate the rumors themselves so as to hide a true agenda.

House Ehrenfest

Colloquial Name: The Inspired House, (vulgar) The House of Torturers

Influences: Frankenstein.  Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth.  Steampunk.  Mad scientists of all stripes.

Background: House Ehrenfest is continuously engaged in scholarly research, but unlike Gorupa, Helltalon, or Silversgleaming, they're all about field testing and experimentation.  A collection of Artificers, builders, Grease Monkeys, magicians, and tinkerers, House Ehrenfest aids the town's commerce through constant innovation.  They build the blueprints of Scandshar's future infrastructure, they develop new magic items and new technologies, and they keep Scandshar the shining jewel of the Sorrowfell Plains.

Of course, the price of genius carries its own set of challenges.  This isn't true across the board, but the constant pressure to study and compete leaves precious little time for the Ehrenfest to socialize.  A notable number of Ehrenfest probably rank on the modern autism spectrum.  And some members have trouble understanding why others find their experiments — such as dabbling in necromancy — distasteful.

There's a persistent claim that Ehrenfest maintains its own calendar, which they call the Circle.  Unlike the Dozenmonth, the Circle follows mathematical principles rather than astrological ones.

Rumors: The annals of history are rife with Ehrenfest dealing in the black arts, and at least one lich haunts the family tree.  Additionally, persistent rumors suggest that some Ehrenfest will subject their slaves to horrid experiments, or kidnap people off the street.  It is also worth noting that while they may not be the most sociable sorts, they are still masterminds of ruthless intrigues.

House Gorupa

Colloquial Name: The House of the Dead, (vulgar) The House of Liches

Influences: A hodgepodge of Shaiva rites, Thuggee cults, and death rituals from all over.

Background: Nobody knows when the changeover happened, but at some point, House Gorupa went from death cultists to being dead.  Revenants occur when a sapient being swears fealty to the Raven Queen, goddess of death, upon its death.  They reincarnate as pale humanoids with minimal memories of their previous incarnation, and they go about their business.  Like mythological revenants, they have some sort of agenda, although this typically comes from the Raven Queen (although not always — some Revenants owe fealty to whatever force raised them while others owe fealty to no one).

House Gorupa continues with the same intrigues as the rest of the noble houses, but they practice private death rites.  Back in the Cackledread War, when House Marantu's ward was razed by marauding gnolls, House Gorupa immediately abandoned their ward to live in the ruins.  They still live in the slums, occupying the rotting graveyard of Scandshar, plotting deathless plots.

Rumors: An entire noble house that theoretically pledges fealty to the goddess of death?  That's hardly disconcerting at all.

House Helltalon

Colloqial Name: The House of Penitence, (vulgar) The Damned House

Influences: D&D 4e's Bael Turath.  Hunter: the Vigil's Lucifuge.  The typical penitent sinner schtick.

Background: Despite the fearsome name, House Helltalon is generally well-regarded among Scandshar's natives, although they are not entirely trusted.

Because they're all tieflings, of course.

House Helltalon is apparently an offshoot of some noble house in old Bael Turath.  After the fall of the Turathi empire, they scattered, finally settling in Scandshar.  Many think they may be the wealthiest of noble houses, having built their wealth atop anything they retained from the old empire.

House Helltalon helps bankroll Scandshar's libraries, as well as the temples in the Temphill district. With the aid of House Brissot, they keep the city's citizens fed and healthy.  They still practice slavery, but their slaves are typically among the best-treated slaves of the lot, and are practically considered members of the family.

Strangely, those who are adopted into the house are typically found to have infernal blood somewhere in the family tree.  Indeed, many such prospective family members bear strange birthmarks or deformities (like tieflings prior to 4e).  Typically, they can easily interbreed with tieflings and tend to "breed true" in a generation or so.

Rumors: Isn't it obvious?  There are pretty long-standing claims of diabolism and demonology amongst the scholars and ascetics of House Helltalon.  Some claim that the slaves are well-treated only because they are brainwashed, or because mistreated slaves are never seen.  Others claim that House Helltalon is deliberately seeking to adopt those with infernal blood, so as to strengthen their lineages.  One rumor notes that Duchy Jepson was built on known ruins of the dragonborn's Arkhosian Empire, and suggests that Helltalon deliberately came to the Sorrowfell Plains to pilfer the ruins.  Secret archaeological expeditions supposedly occur so that the Damned House can torture the ancient dragonborn souls of Arkhosia beyond the veil of death itself.

House Kardec

Colloquial Name: The Illuminated House, (vulgar) The Slumbering House

Influences: Doctor Manhattan.  The Brotherhood of Mutants.  The eugenics movement.  Probably more than a little House Harkonnen.

Background: House Kardec values the perfection of the self.  For quite some time, House Kardec has trained its adepts in psionic powers, suggesting the members of the house perfect body and mind.  Exercise, biofeedback, and psychic mastery are all drilled into all young Kardecs.

Apart from giving House Kardec an ego that rivals House Silversgleaming, House Kardec does maintain a psychic academy as well as gymnasia and all manner of similar things.  They try to be movers and shakers, a part of the world but apart from it.

House Kardec adopts the fewest new members of any other house, primarily because they wish to maintain their psychic supremacy.  Inbreeding is rampant among the family, although they try to intermarry distantly whenever possible.  They typically only adopt those displaying psychic talent; it is suggested that they pay families who add new blood to House Kardec, leading many desperate families to present their children for testing.

Strangely, many members of House Kardec appear almost as perfected specimens of their respective races.  Scholars in the know suspect that Kardec has obtained a copy of the rite of Awakening and are forming their own cadre of Elan.  (The Awakening and the Elan are described in D&D 4e's Psionic Power, pg. 124-126 and 142-144, among other sources.  Those without the book should check out their entry on the d20srd.org as well as their entry on the D&D Wiki, both of which describe their 3e incarnations.  Note that the elan are not born; they are deliberately made through the rite of Awakening.)

Rumors: House Kardec is so arrogant and separated from their humanity that its members barely recognize sapient life anymore.  The whispered claim is that they are decadent and cruel partially from ennui and partially because they are turning into something other than human or demihuman.  Some also whisper that the high number of Elan in their midst is tainted by a similarly high number of Foulborn (that is, people with Far Realm taint in their blood).

House MacBeth

Colloquial Name: The House of Silence, (vulgar) The House of Blood

Influences: The Tragedy of Macbeth.  The Godfather.  The Sopranos.  General Hospital.

Background: House MacBeth doesn't have the mortuary duties of House Gorupa, but they perform a lot of other tasks regarding infrastructure and sanitation.  The other houses sometimes look down on them, although it is typically tongue-in-cheek — it does not do to offend the nobles of House MacBeth.

Why?

Funny story, that.  Bad things happen to House MacBeth's enemies.  People tend to suffer accidents, or go missing.

See, it's a pretty open secret that House MacBeth has their own thing happening, and that they are more than capable of keeping it together.  Of the other noble houses, they are the most likely to adopt, but those who are adopted are typically drawn into MacBeth's rackets.

Rumors: House MacBeth always has some pretty wild rumors — if a prominent citizen leaves town for more than a fortnight, some wag always says that MacBeth whacked him — but the whole "organized crime syndicate" thing is pretty much an open secret.  The most prevalent rumor these days is that the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks would not leave a rival alone, and that they probably oversee all of House MacBeth's rackets.

House Silversgleaming

Colloquial Name: The House of Enchantment, (vulgar) The House of Arrogance

Influences: High elves everywhere.  Beauxbatons.

Background: House Silverslgeaming is better than you.

No, seriously.  House Silversgleaming is composed primarily of eladrin (that's D&D 4e high elves, not the celestial beings of 2e and 3e), and it shows.  They are true heirs to the aristocracy, and are more likely to spend their leisure time practicing magic, swordplay, or some other art rather than engaging in debauchery.

Although they manage to do plenty of that, too.

House Silversgleaming typically only adopts members of other fey races, such as elves, gnomes, and so forth.  They are known to particularly look down upon House Zantaal (for being monsters) and House Weogora (for being nouveau riche).  The long average lifespan of the family gives them a different perspective on events — their plans are more intricate, but take longer to reach fruition.  It doesn't bother them that they are the House of Fools for an entire year, but that they are the House of Fools every thirteen years — it is frequent enough to the fey mind to be quite annoying.

Rumors: House Silversgleaming has the typical diabolist/demonologist rumor that tends to follow families with an arcane bent.  Some also claim that they're attempting to enact a grand ritual to shake the nature of the planes.  Others claim that they have a Ring of Three Wishes — one of the few left, certainly — which they hold as a trump card.  One particularly odd rumor is that they are all secretly Gruumsh cultists.

House Weogora

Colloquial Name: The Novel House, (vulgar) The House of Children

Influences: Nouveau riche.  Anything written by P. G. Wodehouse.

Background: The founders of House Weogora are all foreigners, being Nerathi officers shipped to the Sorrowfell Plains as part of the war effort during the Cackledread War.  When the war ended, many of these officers were left in a very odd position — the military campaigns in the Sorrowfell were very successful, but Nerath still lost the war.  There were no accolades from the Emperor, and no home to which they could return.

Fast forward a couple of years.  These veterans typically had a little bit of coin from the war, and they supplemented their income with dungeon delves and the various odd jobs the Sorrowfell needed in the aftermath.  Since House Marantu was destroyed during the war, and House Gorupa abandoned their ward to live in the ruins, there was an open position in Scandshar's Chamber of Lords.

House Weogora filled that position.

In the roughly fifty years since, the uncouth veterans of the Cackledread War raised their heirs to be genteel aristocrats.  They're still seen as arrogant bumblers and upstarts by the other noble families of the city, but nobody can deny that their aid helped Scandshar's recovery after the war.

They aren't as decadent as some of the noble families, but they do have a reputation as layabouts and Hooray Henrys for a reason.

Rumors: Oddly, House Weogora triggers some of the worst rumors of the lot — people either say nasty things because of their low-born origins, or they assume a hidden agenda.  House Weogora is putting up an act; they're either Moriarty or the Scarlet Pimpernel.  All members of House Weogora are kidney-eating diabolists.  House Weogora secretly controls the other houses.

House Zantaal

Colloquial Name: The Primal House, (vulgar) The House of Monsters

Influences: Sword-and-sorcery without the humanocentric trappings.  Think of bugbears and hobgoblins acting as characters from Kull or Conan or He-Man or John Carter and you'll be okay.

Background: The Zantaal are a noble house containing what is sometimes called the "monstrous humanoids."  They still retain ties to their savage roots — they are among the most notable practitioners of primal magic in the city and possibly in the region (that last is a pretty tall order, but you have to sell yourself, right?) — but they stand in Parliament and debate with the best of them.  Nobody's really sure if being the embodiment of primal, humanoid hindbrain fears is a boon or bane to their ambitions, but then again, you try figuring that out when a mongrelman is shouting at you about tort reform.

Not so easy, is it?

Rumors: According to rumor, the Zantaal plan on overthrowing humanoid rule in Scandshar, establishing the goblinoids, orcs, and suchlike as the dominant races.  Some truly paranoid types offer one obvious piece of evidence: how often do you see goblin or orc slaves versus human or elf slaves?  (Some people quietly suggest "market pressure," because what rich guy wants to get served by a hulking bugbear over a graceful elf?)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Deadlands, Part XIII

When last we left our heroes, they were all separated by the chaos that erupted after a Rattler destroyed the Flesh Menagerie.  Fire swept through San Francisco, and all six were lucky to escape with their lives.  They met up with a family en route to San Jose, which seemed to be a good destination for the moment.

So, the family and our heroes continue the trek to San Jose, parting company when they arrive that evening.  The place is packed, and every vendor is doubling their prices to fleece the refugees.

Our heroes — that's David Hood, Father Seward, Jake, Jeb, Ruby O'Flahertie, and Rufina — go looking for a poker game.  Jake can't find anything, but Rufina notes a group playing in the dining area of a decent hotel.  We arrive and inquire about rooms.  The owner charges us $15 a head, but Father Seward takes a page out of George Costanza's playbook and tries to persuade a discount out of the manager by telling the sob story of their trip from Boston to San Francisco (sans occult events, of course).  He manages to get a room rate of $8 a night.

Jake plays a game of poker, and loses his last hand before it becomes obvious that a gunfight is going to erupt.  He still wins $600.  The money is divvied among the group and we go upstairs.

Before heading to bed, the group gathers in one room and discusses what happens next.  The group shares its visions from the moon jar gas and their travels.  Father Seward explains that he saw the man crossing out the "Population: 191" sign in Sweetwater, Arizona.  He further explains his vision of the man who took his daughter — prompting Ruby O'Flahertie to mention her vision, wherein she saw the man in the purple gloves, riding a black horse, delivering Father Seward's daughter to Indians in a cliffside/badlands environment.  The Indians called him "Manitou," and the indication was made that they sought Father Seward, but settled for his daughter as she shared his blood.  He evidently traded her for a bag of purple dust.

Nobody else has notable visions, although at Father Seward's behest, David Hood shares his vision regarding a boy and a girl, roughly five or six years old, playing "doctor."

As the group is discussing what to do next, they hear someone knocking on a door — one of the doors in the block of rooms they purchased.  The knocking moves down the row.

Everyone grabs weapons and takes positions.  David Hood stands out of the way.  Father Seward also stands out of the way, but just on the other side of the door so that he is not visible.  Although he has a rifle, his job is to grab Ruby — who is going to answer the door — and pull her aside in case bullets and mojo start getting thrown around.  Jake stands in view of the door with his shirt partially unbuttoned, presumably to offer the appearance of going to bed shortly.  Jeb is also in view, and hides his shotgun behind Ruby's back.

Rufina, also out of view, watches this whole scene with macabre interest, as she starts wondering about these people with whom she has started traveling.

When the knock comes, Ruby opens the door.  It's the hotel owner.  He indicates that he has a letter, and a man downstairs gave him ten dollars to not deliver it.  When Ruby asks, it's to a Mrs. Ruby Manning.  She says she would be interested, and when she looks for a consensus, Father Seward opens and closes his hand three times, meaning give him fifteen dollars.  She offers $15 and the man leaves after muttering about a bunch of men in a lady's room.

Father Seward repays her the $15, and she starts reading the letter.  Curious about the man who didn't want the letter delivered, David Hood decides to go downstairs and inquire with the hotel manager.  Rufina decides to accompany, and after they leave, the group decides that Jeb ought to follow at a distance with his rifle — just in case.

As they leave, Ruby reads the letter, then shares it with Father Seward and Jake — her husband has evidently seen the error of his ways, and wishes for Ruby to meet him in Richmond.

Meanwhile, David and Rufina go downstairs to find the manager closing up.  They ask who paid to have the letter withheld, and after some bickering and money exchanging hands, the manager says it was one of the guys at the poker game in the lobby — by description, we noted him when we entered, as he was a  pacing man with a cigar — a fellow by the name of Butler (I'm pretty sure the name was Reginald Butler, but I'm not sure at the moment).  He's not our Mr. Butler, but the odds of him being related seem high.

Rufina returns upstairs, although David lingers for a moment to apologize to the manager for her rudeness.  Once everyone has gathered together, we repeat our respective stories.  Having a few things to ponder, we go to sleep.

David awakens in a cold sweat to his nightmarish visions, while the rest of us awaken normally.  Many of us — Father Seward, Jake, and Jeb — awaken to find maggots among our personal effects (we would later note that the maggots emerge from wherever we kept our money, and that $10 is missing from each person so affected).  Ruby, unfortunately, discovers this when she puts her foot in her boot and squashes several maggots.  She freaks, prompting a tense scene when Father Seward and Jake go to check on her, but Rufina refuses to open the door because Ruby is basically completely nude.  At Ruby's behest, she relents, and after we're confident that Rufina didn't try to murder Ruby, we leave her to dress.

With the apparent choices of going after Father Seward's daughter, determining whatever happened in Sweet Water, trying to figure out what is happening with Hood's family, or visiting with Ruby's husband, the group decides to return to Boston to find out what's happening with the Hoods (Jake figures Seward's daughter and Sweet Water can wait, and the group thinks Ruby's husband might be a trap — although Ruby suspects he's just a jerk who deserves to wait a little while).

We also use our new found wealth to stock up on supplies.  With many commodities being sold at inflated prices, the money goes fast, but we outfit ourselves with clothes and weapons and feel a little more confident about traveling.  Jeb also takes the opportunity to check the bounties — he indicates he was once a bounty hunter — and does not find David Hood's bounty (so it's either fake, which we somewhat suspected anyway, or it just hasn't made it out to California yet).  He does note the bounties of several people at the Flesh Menagerie poker game, but since they stand a good chance of being at the bottom of the bay, he ignores them.

When we regroup, we decide to take the train to Boston.  We only have enough money for seats, which would make for a very uncomfortable trip, so we ponder ways to get money.  We decide on Ruby trying to convince her husband to wire us the money.  She sends a telegram.

He comes through.  On the day we depart, we receive $300 with a note that he cannot wait to see her.  She sends a note back that our train is headed for Boston, and she will get to Richmond as soon as she can.

*********************************

As an aside, Rufina's player commented that as a group, we're incredibly polite, but we're paranoid and react to anything remotely threatening by readying our weapons.  She coined the phrase "guns and politeness," which I think would be a heck of a name for our group, but Nicole wanted a single word that would encompass the concept.  After pondering, I settled on the idea that we're strictly gunteel, "gunteel" of course being a portmanteau of "gun" and "genteel."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday Werk: Drilg

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Drilg.

The Drilg are a race of beings that would probably be relatively unremarkable were it not for their...talents.  The Drilg are compulsive skulks; not only are they good at sneaking, they feel a need to do so.  Why?  Because they are sensitive.  The Drilg have little magical ability, but they are good at detecting magical phenomena.  What's more, their ability to see through illusions and such means that they have few barriers between themselves and the secret lives of others.  The Drilg feel the need to invade others' privacy.

As such, the Drilg are considered a menace by just about everyone.  Nobles and thieves tend to be exceedingly wary of these creatures, but they are better known in legend for drawing the ire of nymphs, dryads, and women of legendary beauty — they are well known as peeping toms of the highest order.  It is also theorized that they can somehow resist or break the inevitable hexes cast upon them, sloughing them off as a snake sheds its scales.  Since the Drilg are so secretive, the truth of this is unknown.

But few have ever encountered a Drilg laboring under a curse, and none have noted any afflicted by a long-term curse.

Supposedly, they are willing to work as information brokers, but the cost of their services is typically information or some invasive task.  ("Give me the key to your home whilst you are away.")  Most people consider them more trouble than they're worth; better to pay more than draw the attention of the Drilg.

Drilg are typically not aggressive — combat is much more likely to erupt after they've been discovered and someone angrily attempts to kill the fleeing creature.  More than one guardsman attempting to chase the fleeing creature has been led into an ambush, suddenly alone and facing four or more Drilg.  In combat, they typically like to charge from hiding and catch a target off-guard by goring the poor sap with their horns.  Drilg only fight to the death if no escape is possible; if a fight goes against them, they rarely stick around and risk serious injury or death.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Weird Hit

So I previously received one Google hit from some guy searching for "strangling her" porn, but now I have three hits from something that topped that.


The weird part?  I had to know.  I did the Google search.  I got sixteen pages into the results and I still didn't find my blog.  After adding my blog to the search heading, I finally figured out that you can input that phrase and find this post.

I just don't know sometimes.

Start Your Engines!

(source: http://ericbelisle.com/weblogs/2009/07/06/add-riders/)
So, as previously noted, I'm all about Richard Guy's Carcosa Wacky Races.

In fact, I'm playing!  Taking a page from Jeff Rients' book, here's my guy.

Haakon Moonarm, Scourge of the Old Ones




Haakon is a Bone Man from grim Carcosa.  Apparently, he's got some weird birthmark that prompted his tribe to consider him the Chosen One, destined to strike down the Great Old Ones, but then he got banished for some reason.  Rumors state that it has to do with his cybernetic left arm.  Slow and plodding, but his speech has the measured quality of a scholar or warrior-poet.

As the picture suggests, Haakon bears a resemblance to Frazetta's Death Dealer, except he looks like a skeleton.  He has occasionally been known to cover his skin with ash or paint so as to downplay his skeletal appearance, but it's doubtful he'll do that in the races.


Edward "Red Ed" Czarnecki




As best as anyone can tell, Eddie is a Polish immigrant, a factory worker in 1920s Chicago.  An ardent Socialist who claims that he was "too extreme for the IWW," Eddie somehow fell into Carcosa and ran into Haakon.  Recognizing the Great Old Ones as another oppressive hegemony, he threw his lot with Haakon and the two have been buddies ever since.

Oh yeah, one more word about the whole "Polish immigrant in 1920s Chicago" thing: most people think that, but Eddie makes reference to things that are in no Windy City anybody has ever heard about.  Some of his lurid, retro-futurist descriptions suggest something more akin to Lang's Metropolis or whatever bleak future civilization will eventually give rise to Wells' Morlocks.

As the picture suggests, Eddie bears a resemblance to Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times.  He deviates from the picture by being more disheveled and possibly on speed.

The Blessed Brian

(not pictured)

The Blessed Brian is a bizarre vehicle, some sort of sleigh or chariot.  The body is formed by what appears to be the inverted shell of a giant horseshoe crab.  It is pulled by some large, mutant creature from the Carcosan wastes — something resembling a ten-legged camel with no head.  The whole assemblage is shaded by a large, garishly colored brolly or North Korean traffic girl's umbrella; the brolly is an assortment of reds, oranges, and jales, like a radioactive Carcosan sunset.  The pièce de résistance, however, is the figurehead mounted on the front of the sleigh.  It appears to be the limbless torso of screen and stage actor Brian Blessed, set to gnashing its teeth, singing, and yelling at all who draw near.

Known Competitors

Oogah

Joan of Shark

Addendum: Robert Guy released the racing lineup, and you should look at it.  The Ayatollah of Racin' Rollahs is probably my favorite, based upon his over-the-top personality and, ahem, "unique" look.  Red Ed roundly claims that the Ayatollah has the look of someone who does not comprehend the emanations of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Roaming the Planes

So, I've previously said that Jeff Rients' post on FLAILSNAILS gets at the meat of planar travel.

So, too, does Brendan's recent Visitors post — although this one focuses on why planar travel is actually really common.  What do you call what Alice Liddel and John Carter of Mars were doing?

And while we're talking about planar travel, here's some surreal art to get you in the mood.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You Should Read This Thing

So Digital Orc just published his new module, THE HORRENDOUS HEAP OF SIXTEEN CITIES!.  It is now available at RPGNow.

I'm not going to lie: I haven't read it yet.  But I've previously talked about the quality of this guy's modules, and I'm going to go ahead and say that you should give it a try.  I'll probably end up purchasing a copy in the next few days.

So go ahead.  Take a look.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Carcosa Wacky Races

I doubt I'll find the time to participate, but you bet I'm interested.  This is for the FLAILSNAILS crowd.  Over-the-top Carcosa races.  Motorcycles that run on blood vs. battle vans that run on plutonium vs. dinosaurs that run on your opponents.

Read more, chump.  If I don't have time to jump onto Google+, at least I now have some low-prep option for when I'm down a player and/or drunk.  The charts are what make this entry.

So make sure you read it!

Wednesday Werk: Koponu

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Koponu.

The Koponu are a race of subterranean, amphibious humanoids.  Koponu are typically found as slaves of other subterranean races, such as troglodytes (the specimen below knows Draconic for this reason).  Some are free-living, however, and are typically found in caverns and subterranean ruins (old aqueducts, cellars, dungeons, and the like).

Free Koponu form their own underworld ecologies, replacing the typically mammalian and avian pets and farm animals of humanoid civilizations with amphibians.  Supposedly, they have even bred and trained creatures such as warfrogs and fighting-newts.

Koponu are most notable for the bioluminescent slime they secrete.  Even stranger, those attacked by Koponu have been occasionally "infected" by this slime, causing the victim to glow like the Koponu.  Although harmless, this can be fairly unfortunate on dungeon delves, as glowing adventurers make better targets.

The following specimen is indicative of a typical sort of Koponu (despite the name, it is not only found in sewers).  Knowledge of Draconic suggests a relationship with troglodytes — either this is a slave, an escaped slave, or a descendant of escaped slaves.  Free Koponu are typically more inclined to run away if a fight begins to go unfavorably, but enslaved Koponu will fight at the whim of their masters, knowing that the penalty for failure is likely death anyway.


At the DM's option, characters successfully attacked by Koponu may be exposed to the affliction known as "The Glows."  At the end of the encounter, the character must make at DC 12 Endurance check (if the Koponu has been altered to be higher than 1st level, the DC should reflect a moderate Endurance check of the Koponu's level).  Failure indicates that the character has caught "The Glows," which lasts until the end of the victim's next extended rest.  While under the effects of "The Glows," the character sheds dim light in a 1-square radius, and while in total darkness, grants a +2 power bonus to any creature attacking her.  This is typically more annoying than debilitating, although stealth tends to be difficult (if not impossible) when one is glowing softly, for example.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Remarks About Dave Arneson

I've talked about Arneson before, but it bears repeating as this past Saturday marked the second anniversary of his passing.

Presently, my player group is investigating the appearance of monsters in a nearby swamp.  This swamp is known as the Black Moor.

The adventurers were also informed that the weird monsters recently appearing in the swamp have been displacing the bandits that lair there, forcing them to make forays farther south.  They were tasked with, among other things, helping apprehend the bandits.  They were informed that Arneth, the bandit's leader, was to be taken alive.

Upon confronting the bandits, they learned that Arneth was slain by the swamp monsters, but that David, Arneth's son (see what I did there?), has been leading the bandits in his stead.  (Incidentally, this is the same encounter in which the tracker jackers made an appearance.)

Coincidentally, I had neglected the fact that April 7 marked Dave Arneson's passing, so I'm quite pleased that the adventurers made it to the Black Moor on our April 6 session.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tracker Jackers

So.  The Hunger Games.  After hearing a ton of hype (including writers and people older and wiser than I), I decided to read it.

I can always explain it away as research, or some such.

Anyway, after reading the first book, I can say it's about as good as all those people say.  Some critics will say that it's just a Young Adult rip-off of Battle Royale or The Running Man, and that's also entirely true.

That also handily ignores the fact that cavemen already told all the stories that will ever be told before we started writing them down, and that new literature comes about because people take old stuff and recombine it in new and exciting ways.

In this case, The Hunger Games has the same basic set-up as Battle Royale or The Running Man with a little post-apocalyptic action and a little bit of The Prisoner and A Clockwork Orange thrown in.  And it's Young Adult so there's a love triangle, because apparently the constant threat of death and the future threat of bloody uprising just isn't enough conflict for adolescents with raging hormones.

Anyway.

I told you that story to tell you this story: I love the tracker jackers from The Hunger Games.  What are tracker jackers?  They're genetically-engineered wasps developed as a bioweapon.  If a nest is disturbed, they will attack the source of the disturbance relentlessly, following it as far as it goes.

Also, their venom is very potent (a few stings can easily be fatal) and hallucinogenic.  As in, one or two stings suddenly turns you into Hunter Thompson.  Just like that.

So what's a guy to do?  Obviously, turn them into a D&D monster.  What follows are some D&D 4e stats for a jacker swarm (and some notes for retroclone versions).

Tracker Jackers (4e version)

If you care about that sort of thing, these guys haven't been playtested.  Their attack pattern is pretty simple: attack the nearest target with swarm of stingers until it dies.  If the target moves, the swarm follows it.  If the primary target is dead, choose another target.  If no more targets are available, return to nest.

Tracker jackers choose targets indiscriminately, which makes a jacker hive an interesting wild card in an encounter.  Maybe one faction or another can use it to their advantage.


For the record, I placed this swarm with a group of bandits.  Both the PCs and the bandits considered shooting at the swarm to activate it, but in the end, nobody did.  Partially because it was a dangerous gambit, and partially because the bandits surrendered really quickly.

But S. P., 4e sucks!

Not to worry.  Labyrinth Lord has an entry for "Insect Swarm" (for that matter, Monsters & Treasure has an entry for individual insects).  Treat tracker jackers are ordinary wasps with a few adjustments:
  • If tracker jackers are disturbed by nearby creatures, typically when they pass too close to a hive (or disturb one), they are always considered "aggravated."
  • Tracker jackers will follow a creature and attack it until that creature is dead.  They cannot be dissuaded by weapons, although other methods may work at DM discretion.  As with mundane bees, they can be subdued by smoke.
  • The sting of a single tracker jacker requires a save vs. poison; on a failed save, the poisonous stinger deals 1 hp damage along with a confusion effect — tracker jacker victims start hallucinating and may lash out, run, or go catatonic without regard to outside stimuli (as such, I'd recommend using the linked chart because it includes an option for running away; many retroclone Confusion spells do not).
  • The above rule considers only a single jacker; whole swarms probably require several such saving throws, or to make a single saving throw at a notable penalty to avoid confusion and injury.  Maybe the victim makes a single save vs. poison to avoid confusion and 1d10 damage, or some similar contrivance.
That should at least get you started.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spell: Baron van Hook's Microcosmic Eye

So, in a couple of Wednesday Werks, I've been referencing a character named Baron Lee van Hook.  He's a minor magus and botanist who also has been researching something he terms "microphytes," which a modern audience would recognize as microorganisms.

Observers might ask the logical question, "How does a fake-medieval fantasy guy see microorganisms anyway?"

The answer: Baron van Hook's Microcosmic Eye.

As part of his plant biology studies, Baron Lee van Hook determined that he needed to be able to see how plants work in miniature.  How do these things fit together?  What action pulls food and water from the soil?

When a magnifying glass wouldn't work, he turned to specialized applications of magic to answer his questions.  It took a lot of research, but Baron Hook finally developed specialized scrying methods to view the microcosmic world around us.

Persistent rumor suggests Baron Hook is researching a refined version of the spell, Baron van Hook's Fundamental Eye.  He suspects there are things even smaller than what he can see with his microcosmic eye.  Modern observers might infer that the fundamental eye would have resolving capabilities similar to electron microscopy.

Baron Hook would likely be willing to teach the spell to others (tell your FLAILSNAILS friends to come to the Sorrowfell Plains!), but no one knows because most people consider his microcosmic investigations to be somewhere bordering on quackery.  It is likely that he has already taught the spell to some of his colleagues or that it has been otherwise archived at the Wizard's Tower.

What follows are three versions of the spell, one for retroclones, one for D&D 3e, and one for D&D 4e.

Retroclone Version:
Magic-User Level 1
Duration: 1 turn/level
Range: 0
This spell augments the caster's sight, allowing him or her to magnify objects.  While focusing on an object, the caster can "zoom in" to a magnification as high as one thousand times, essentially the upper limit of modern light microscopy.  As an added benefit, the spell automatically enhances contrast, replicating some of the utility of microbial staining.

Among the typical components required of magic-user spells, this spell requires a small, finely-crafted lens worth 100 gp.

Third Edition Version:
Divination
Level: Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 1 (the jury's still out as to whether any clerics have channeled this spell, but the Knowledge domain seems like a good bet)
Components: V, S, M, F
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: 10 min./level
You can magnify objects by sight and will alone.  While focusing on an object, you can "zoom in" to a magnification as high as one thousand times, essentially the upper limit of modern light microscopy.  As an added benefit, the spell automatically enhances contrast, replicating some of the utility of microbial staining.

Baron van Hook's microcosmic eye can be made permanent with permanency.  The caster must have a minimum caster level of 9th level and spend 500 XP.

Arcane Material Component
A pinch of crumbled, dead leaf litter.

Focus
A small, finely-crafted lens worth 100 gp.

Fourth Edition Version (Ritual):
As you finish the ritual, you find that a microcosmic world opens for you.
Level: 1
Category: Divination
Time: 10 minutes
Duration: 1 hour
Component Cost: 5 gp, plus a focus worth 20 gp
Market Price: 50 gp
Key Skill: Arcana
For the ritual's duration, you can "zoom in" your sight at will to see microscopic objects and creatures.  At the DM's option, this may allow you to re-roll a failed Perception check — as well as a failed Nature or other knowledge check — when appropriate.
Focus: A finely-crafted magnifying glass you look through as part of the ritual.

Wednesday Werk: Lurm

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Lurm.

The Lurm are a diminutive, unpleasant race of magicians and planeswalkers (they originally hail from the distant plane of Jiloth).  The Lurm have a rather unfortunate obstacle when learning magic, however; they are utterly incapable of understanding magic.  Most sapient races have the facility for the weird mnemonic devices and odd symbols used in typical occult writing, but the Lurm are almost completely devoid of this capability.  (The Lurm do innately comprehend exactly one spell, their signature Gloomlight.)

Like most sapient races, the Lurm are resourceful creatures and remain undaunted in the face of adversity.  As such, they have since devised a way to capture errant arcane energies and learn spells from them (rest assured that many have attempted to duplicate this ability without success).  As such, any spell cast at a Lurm can potentially be captured and learned by the Lurm in question (another reason why this ability is hard to duplicate — try learning how to cast a fireball when it's coming at you at high speed).  Once successfully learned, the Lurm can then cast the spell as appropriate.

Lurm can also trade spells and rituals, but expect them to haggle mercilessly.  It is typically more trouble than it's worth.

The following Lurm is a somewhat young specimen, only capable of learning lower level spells.  It already has a couple at its disposal, but is always interested in learning more.  And it is more than happy to initiate magical duels to learn more spells.  Other Lurm may already know different spells of the DM's devising, and may be higher level and thus able to catch higher-level spells.


On the subject of Catch Magic: For example, if targeted with Icy Rays from a Level 4 wizard with Intelligence 18, a +1 Magic Staff, and Staff Expertise, the lurm spellseeker can use Icy Rays once in the encounter with a +8 vs. Reflex and deals 1d10 + 5 cold damage.  Likewise, if the same wizard attacks with Magic Missile, the lurm spellseeker deals 8 force damage.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More Fun with Microbiology: Brewer's Bane

So, I've previously noted a love for microbiology, as well as modules in which it is a plot point.

Why?

Well, in addition to my own proclivities, microbiology has driven the world.  Just as early humans had to follow the herds and plants to survive, so were they vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the microscopic world.  There are more bacterial cells in and on you than cells of you.  (Your cells are just bigger.)  If you could scour your system of every microbe, you'd die, either from bacterial infection (the flora on your skin typically out-competes any interlopers), starvation (the flora in your gut helps you digest your food), or some thing I haven't thought of yet.

Apart from that, agriculture created a whole host of challenges.  Since you're not following the plants, you have to avoid leaching too much nitrogen from the soil in your planting cycles (which is easily-remedied by planting legumes, whose symbiotic root nodules help enrich the soil again).  Also, now you have to store food, which gets into the problem of storage and spoilage.  You have to figure out what to do with your corpses and your sick people so they don't infect the whole village.

And so on.

Anyway, forgive my rambling.  Hereticwerks posted a write-up about the myxogastrids, also known as Brewer's Bane.  These are slime molds that like to eat yeasts, thereby ruining bread and beer production.  Since this stuff is important to any fantasy medieval society (scholars tend to think that bread and beer, along with animal husbandry, were among the first examples of biotechnology harnessed by humans — and your typical agricultural society thrives on all three of these things), it's just the sort of thing a group of adventurers might have to worry about.  Maybe your traveling band has the knowledge necessary to stop the infestation, or maybe the Ancients knew how to do it, and the device/spell/aseptic technique lies in a dungeon somewhere.

For a truly unfortunate story hook, what if something your band of murderhobos is carrying has become infested with the slime mold, meaning that you bring it to every town you visit?

Anyway, go read the post, would you?

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