Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Quick Thing

While I'm here, I might as well let you know: this post over at Teleleli and this (older) post at Grognardia make good points.  We've never really seen a science fiction kitchen sink the way we see a fantasy kitchen sink (Warhammer 40,000 might actually come the closest, at least in terms of well-known settings).

I've contemplated doing it before, but for some reason, genre-mixing has never really seemed right.  Maybe I should revisit that?

Anyway, it's Thomas à Becket's death day, so here's a little something for the clerics:

So, um, hope you like fighting in the Blood War when you die?

And then, for all you bards who think the clerics are full of it, here's a little Edmund Blackadder I:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Terrible Pun

Also, regarding the earlier entry on the Queen Lobster (and check out the original at Hereticwerks, too):

It is my understanding that the Sixteen Regents form a parliamentary council, headed by currently-appointed President Pro TempuraCue sound.

...I'm sorry.

Wednesday Werk: Petrocloptrian, Flytaur, Queen Lobster

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Petrocloptrian, the Flytaur, and the dreaded Queen Lobster.

The Petrocloptrians are a sapient, aggressor race scattered throughout the planes.  They ignore things not worth hunting, and compete amongst themselves to bring back the biggest trophies.  Typically working singly, but sometimes working in twos or threes, Petrocloptrians' origins are unknown, but the creatures are definitely alien-seeming: Petrocloptrians float under their own telekinetic power, and appear to have six limbs (and a seventh limb in the form of a prehensile tail).  These creatures could conceivably appear anywhere where blood is shed: in hunting parties, gladiator bouts, and battlefields.

Petrocloptrians develop potent psychic abilities, but these require contact with potential targets and contactees.  Note that Petrocloptrians must also touch other creatures to communicate with them.  Rumors of powerful psychics among their number exist, but most creatures only ever encounter Petrocloptrians on hunting forays.  Presumably, the psions of their race either form another caste or represent a mature specimen, meaning that they are rarely seen outside their extraplanar homes.

Let us hope that is the case.

The Flytaurs are a slightly militaristic scavenger race.  Like the Petrocloptrians, they are frequently met on hunting forays; unlike the Petrocloptrians, they have no sense of self-preservation and can consider anything as "food" if they are sufficiently motivated.  The lack of self-preservation can prompt Flytaurs to use their numbers as military strategy, throwing hordes of drones at an enemy in the hopes of winning a war of attrition.

If you want those aforementioned "hordes of Flytaur troops," here's a minion version for you:

Finally, we have the Rock Lobster Queen Lobster.  This terrible specimen lives in the Bitter Sea, served by hordes of loyal lobster-merfolk hybrids.  Her messengers will demand tribute from any ships pass through the area, and if they refuse, she will rise to the surface with several of her larva-soldiers to annihilate the trespassers.  In addition to her formidable combat abilities, the Queen Lobster is also a powerful psychic, capable of attacking with bursts of pyrokinetic and telepathic energy.  She frequently begins by hitting a ship with Psychoclastic Dysjunction before her larva soldiers surface to finish off the survivors in the charred hulk.

Naturally, one might also want statistics for her larva-soldiers, as well:

And finally, I'm going to link to "Rock Lobster" one more time just to get it thoroughly stuck in your head:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deadlands, Part VIII

When last we left our heroes, they walked away from a smoking crater where the Carstock estate used to lie, had all their gear confiscated by the Pinkertons, and were en route to San Francisco with $200 and the clothes on their backs.  Father Seward was speaking with the Gentleman, and everyone else was enjoying room service.

Jeb excuses himself and heads to the working class car (his player was absent this session).  Father Seward returns and explains his conversation with the Gentleman — the Gentleman is the unborn or potential child of a woman he killed.  Oh, and by the way, Father Seward was a killer for many years while he sought his missing daughter.  This particular woman was the victim of Seward losing his temper when asking her questions, and he killed her.  Strangely, that was also the night he found his faith again.

He indicates that the Gentleman wants him to obtain a moon jar from the poker tournament at the Flesh Menagerie in San Francisco.  This jar holds secrets, among which is the secret to a loophole in God's covenant with man which would allow the Gentleman — and sinners destined for Hell, such as Father Seward, apparently — to finally ascend to Heaven.  Father Seward admittedly does not fully trust the Gentleman, and is disturbed at the implication that the Gentleman might be the source of his miraculous abilities, but he rightly doesn't know what to believe or expect.

Father Seward further asks David Hood why he can see the Gentleman — it implies a connection between the two that he cannot fathom.  Other than the fact that they both hail from Boston, they cannot determine any connection.

Seward also asks Jake why they were nearly arrested.  Jake explains that the charge is for a crime he didn't commit; supposedly he killed a prostitute and a rich man, based on the evidence that he was seen leaving the house as it erupted in flames.

Jake further explains his history — in his youth, he ran with a Mr. Cobb who taught him magic.  Mr. Cobb and his group of bandits would raze towns, leaving no survivors and stealing anything of value.  This catches Father Seward's attention — his town was razed about forty years ago, and the fact that he couldn't find his daughter's remains led him to search for her, leading him away from his faith into his days as a gunfighter before he found his faith again.  Seward can't place the name of Cornelius Cobb, but he knows he's heard it before, and his modus operandi is certainly familiar.

The following weeks are miserable.  With only the clothes on their backs, the group has no changes of clothes for the trip across the open desert.  The cabin becomes stuffy and unbearable.

As they cross the desert, some members of the group note a rustling in the sands as several bandits on horses stand up.  As Father Seward notes, this is not just a tactic to hide, but a way to avoid the desert sun.  Father Seward rings the bell, and when the porter arrives, he informs him that there might be bandits attacking the train.  After some porters with guns come running through, the sounds of gunshots are heard before they stop completely.

There is some debate — largely as the heroes have no equipment with which to handle this situation — but the group goes to investigate.  After jumping between train cars, they enter into the lower class car to find a group of bandits shaking down the passengers.  Strangely, they are stealing nothing, instead asking to see everyone's hands.

Given the lack of left hands in the group, the heroes instantly know that they are being sought.

As the group enters, a jumpy young fellow shoots at David, and a chunk ricochets and hits him in the chest.

The bandits quickly point guns at them and take them hostage.  Jake goes for his playing cards, but the leader tells him to drop them.  The bandits' leader — an imposing man with skin stretched so tight over his bones that they are almost visible through his skin — then demands to see their hands.  Father Seward's atrophied left hand, and Jake and Ruby's missing left hands lead him to agree that these are the people he seeks.  David is marched off to the side as the leader demands to see their cards.  Jake and Ruby explain that they lost their cards, as they were taken back in Denver.  Father Seward says nothing, but the man demands his card.  Father Seward initially refuses, but since his other option involves being shot, he hands over his playing card.

The leader starts to lead Ruby from the car.  He orders his men to search Jake.  This leaves several guarding David, Father Seward, and Jake.  Before the leader is out of sight, Father Seward grabs the pistol of a man pointing a shotgun at him, and points the gun at his head, threatening to shoot him.  The leader responds by grabbing Ruby and holding her over the gap between the cars, explaining that Father Seward likely cares more for her than the leader does for that fellow.  He shoots him in the head for emphasis.

Father Seward spins the gun around to present to the other man with a shotgun trained on him.  He gives him a grizzled stare for emphasis.

The situation calms quickly.  The leader demands that his boys strip Jake and then he takes Ruby into the other room.

In the other room, the leader asks Ruby to strip, though he lets her do it herself.  She notes that his skin is too hot, and he smells atrocious — like whiskey and cheap cigars.  She strips and he goes through her clothes.  Satisfied, he tells her to put them back on.  With the one hand, though, she is having a bit of trouble, and finally he gets impatient, returns to the other car, summons an older woman, and forces her to help.

Ruby notes that the man doesn't look at her with anything resembling a leer.  No matter how nice, even a doctor or a priest might have a slight look of acknowledgement that there's a pretty, young, nude girl in the room.  Not this guy.

Meanwhile, the bandits strip Jake, go through his clothes, and toss them back to him.  Coincidentally, they toss his clothes right on top of his deck of cards.

Everyone returns.  The leader of the bandits asks to address the leader of the group, either Father Seward or Jake.  Jake defers to Father Seward.  The man explains that he doesn't want to see them at the tournament in San Francisco; when Father Seward asks to what purpose, what is this man trying to prevent, the man explains that he's only eliminating the competition.

The bandits then leave.  Father Seward starts to talk to the people in the car, attempting to assure everyone that everything is going to be all right.

The train slows, then stops.  The bandits can be seen walking off into the desert.

The group returns to their room to find Jeb naked and bloodied.  They awaken him to find that he was interrogated, and when he resisted, he was waylayed.

After porters and such come around, the train starts again.  It passes into Salt Lake City for a longer layover than planned so that there is time for the investigation.  The group takes the opportunity to buy some changes of clothes among other things.  Father Seward finds a fence-painting job for a couple of days and earns $4; with some borrowed money, he also buys a revolver and a box of ammunition.  Jake manages to uncover an undercover gambling den and gamble.  He arrives with about $20, leaves with $5 and a mule that he sells for $40.

When it is time to continue, the group continues to San Francisco.  The trip, for once, is uneventful.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, the group disembarks.  David and Father Seward see the Gentleman on a nearby bench, and after informing the group, they go to speak to him.  The Gentleman welcomes them to San Francisco, and explains that they have little time to prepare themselves; they have to retrieve their cards if they wish to enter that tournament.  He recommends that they begin their search at the Federal Building.  He further addresses David, offering a box with a knife inside if David wishes to remove his left hand — for Dead Man's Hand poker, he explains, one must ante up to show one's willingness to play.  He declines, but the Gentleman acknowledges that there is time to decide.

David and Father Seward relate the Gentleman's tale to the rest of the group in preparation for the heroes' next move.

Sharpened Hooks: CAPTCHA Diviners

There's a group trolling the internet, looking for CAPTCHAs.


Well, this group tries to hit as many CAPTCHAs as they can.  I don't know what algorithms they use, but they somehow sort through this data as a form of divination.

I've also heard of a variant, using StumbleUpon or similar services, wherein the diviner "stumbles" until finding a site with a CAPTCHA, and then interpreting this information.  Supposedly, the context of the CAPTCHA is just as important as the CAPTCHA itself.

Note: The Wikipedia link refers to CAPTCHAs as a sort of reverse Turing test, which I bring to your attention because that could be another story hook — simply, our computers are testing us.  CAPTCHAs aren't actually man-made, instead being a primitive test proctored by the internet's limited awareness.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Assortment of Christmas Presents

Here's some stuff you might have missed.

First, a collection of illegal taxidermy from one rogue taxidermist.  If you can't find inspiration in that, I can't help you.  Hamster crabs are absolutely terrifying.

Next, here's a superpower wiki's random feature.  Click that link and *bam!* random superpower.  That might actually be a neat superhero game — make a character in whatever system you want, and then get a random superpower (or two or three, depending upon how powerful you want your characters).  You were normal until this superpower manifested, and now what are you going to do?  See, story hook.

Collegia Titanica has a blog post about fleshing out NPC backgrounds.  Always a good idea, and this post is worth reading if you're stuck or just want to think about the process.

Hill Cantons brings us some random plot ideas.  They're all interesting reading, but the one that stuck with me was the "Point of Light" one; particularly the idea that the settlement where you start is the only settlement in the world.  There's no merchant path to follow, no rumored other town.  Just you in the middle of all the wild.  The video game Terranigma begins like this and only gets weirder from there.

Also from Hill Cantons, you may want to check out this contest.  It's passed, but all the entries are in the comments, so there's likely to be something interesting there.  I have yet to slog through it.

Here's some random artwork.  Much of it is popular culture, but so stylized as to be unrecognizable (Realistic Kirby is horrifying).  This was brought to my attention by a recent Wizardly Wednesday post.

Finally, E. M. Lamb has made a couple of Lovecraftian posts with postmodern flair at Role-Player Hater.  The first is the iPod of Erich Zann, which is an iPod containing songs that act as an Elder Sign.  The good news: the sounds affect all mythos creatures in hearing range, meaning this has decent range for an Elder Sign.  The bad news: the battery lasts six hours.  Better have a backup plan in place.

The second such post is about the Yell0k1ng7 virus, which is confusing authorities because it's only affecting some sites in the midwest.  In a V-pattern.  Needless to say, it's bad news if nobody can stop this thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Tidings

As noted in this blog post, The Dread Gazebo has statistics for a 4e Krampus in Kobold Quarterly.

Similarly, my associate David Philips has a 4e mini-adventure also featuring the krampus at Nevermet Press.

And just so I'm not reporting other people's stuff, here's a chart to add a little Christmas cheer to your game session:

Have You Been Naughty or Nice?

For the last year, consider your character's actions.  Think hard.

For every good deed performed, give yourself a point of Good Karma.  For every evil deed performed, give yourself two points of Bad Karma.  If, for whatever reason, your game system already has something like that, just go ahead and use those.

Be honest with yourself.  Misreporting your evil deeds automatically earns a place on the Naughty List.

Tally up your Karma.  If you have more Good Karma, roll on the Nice Table for your Christmas gift.  If you have more Bad Karma, roll on the Naughty Table instead.

Nice Table (roll 1d10):

1 - You don't get anything, but you are present for a talking animal at midnight.  This animal tells you an important secret — the location of a treasure, the solution to a puzzle, the method of defeating a difficult enemy, or some similarly important piece of information.

2-4 - You get an item, but not something you particularly wanted.  Note that this doesn't mean a useless item; you just don't get something you asked for.  In some cases, this can work to your advantage: if you just wanted a +2 longsword and get a Synchronocitor, well, perhaps that works in your favor.

5-9 - You get exactly what you wanted.  And for any devious GMs who are used to corrupting wishes, we mean the spirit rather than the letter.  You ass.

10 - You get exactly what you wanted, and you can roll again to get a new item.  Yes, if you roll another 10, that means you get something else you want, and another thing.  Yes, if you're lucky enough, you can walk away with eighty Christmas presents.

Naughty Table (roll 1d10):

1 - You don't get anything, but you are present for a talking animal at midnight.  This animal speaks blasphemies that wreck your resolve — save vs. spell or take an appropriate penalty as decreed by the GM (possibilities include insanity, fatalism, feeblemind, confusion, etc.).

2-7 - You get a lump of coal.  If the shame of being naughty isn't enough, maybe the coal is a cursed item of some sort — maybe you incur a penalty to your actions, or it encumbers you automatically, or the coal is actually a swarm of nanobots that foul your tech.

8-9 - You are visited by Black Peter, an angry Moor who arrives to give you a thrashing.  Black Peter is a Lawful 10th-level Fighter (or system equivalent), and if he reduces his quarry to 0 hit points, he attempts to abduct the person to take him to the Big Guy.

10 - You are visited by the Krampus, a former devil who arrives to give you a thrashing.  The Krampus is a Lawful 15 HD creature (or system equivalent) who can only be harmed by magic weapons and regenerates 1 HD per round.  If he reduces his quarry to 0 hit points, he attempts to abduct the person to take him to the Big Guy.

Variant: If your character has done something really good in the past year — we're talking about saving villages, continents, or the gods themselves from certain doom — add a +1 to the Nice Table and a -1 to the Naughty Table for each superlative act.  If you've done bad things on a similar scale, add a +1 to the Naughty Table and a -1 to the Nice Table for each superlative act.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Werk: Gronk

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

Last time, we looked at their swords, but we didn't actually investigate the Gronk themselves.  This will be rectified.

The Gronk are a proletarian military-industrial collective, evidently formed by rogue homunculi.  These homunculi formed a society and are now self-perpetuating; the Gronk are parthenogenic, and some reports suggest they are more grown than born.

The Gronk do not feel emotion, and toil ceaselessly like their construct forebears.

Despite the homogeneity of the Gronk, outsiders have suggested that some Gronk military units have more training than others, or that some are just luckier.

The Gronk Minuteman is the Minion version of a Gronk footsoldier.  What they lack in skill and style they gain in sheer numbers.

The Gronk Infantryman is the Standard version of a Gronk footsoldier.

Warbands may contain both types in any proportion.  Though they are not the most effective troops, their natural immunity to charm and fear effects makes them fearsome in their own right.

Expect a somewhat longer post next week, as I delve back into Hereticwerks' August archives and move slowly toward the present.  Next week will likely include the Petrocloptrian, the Flytaur, and possibly a dash of Queen Lobster.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Neat Things

HDA at My Terrible Sorcery Is Without Equal In The West gives us this Secret Santicore post about RPG drugs.  Try it, you'll like it.

Also, I told you to read E. M. Lamb's Role-Player Hater for stuff like this.

One final note: E. M. Lamb did a post about character generation for our upcoming Traveller game (hint: it was awesome).  If playing Traveller is half as fun as making a character, it'll be a great game.

For the record, I'm happy with how my character's backstory ended.  My stats were basically unchanged, but as I aged, my mental and physical statistics switched (he started out with high physical statistics and roughly average mental statistics).  Quite frankly, I'm happy with the arrangement, as it pretty accurately reflects a wise, old, ex-military commander with a war wound who went a little soft in retirement.

I still haven't decided if I want to play my retired Space Marine as Hunter Thompson or if he is more subdued in retirement, but we'll see.  Either would be entertaining.

Review: Carcosa

You should buy this game.

Okay, so, my history with this game is...well, unfortunately short.

I started hearing about it when delving into OSR blogs.  Typically by encountering reviews discussing the controversy surrounded it.  Like this one.  Or this one (also available on

For those who don't know, Supplement V: Carcosa by Geoffrey McKinney was released a few years back.  It was touted as a supplement to the 1974-edition D&D, and was written with that fact in mind.  It was available at Geoffrey McKinney's blog, but by the time I heard about it and went looking for it, that was a dead link (I now suspect that this occurred because he was in talks with James Raggi to get the thing published).

After looking around for it with no luck for a few months, I saw that Lamentations of the Flame Princess was going to publish it.

With my problem solved, this was one of the few products I actually awaited and ordered on release date (strangely, the other was another LotFP product, Vornheim, which I pre-ordered the day pre-orders went live; I've yet to get my hands on Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, but I plan on picking it up, and I expect damn good things).

Anyway, Carcosa details a fantasy setting taking place, well, on the world of Carcosa (you know, where Hastur lives), a setting combining sword-and-sorcery fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, and the typical weirdness of Erich von Däniken and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos (himself a Delta Green friendly).  Horrible entities stalk the empty wastes, and humanity is a cosmic accident (we were actually bred as a slave race for the Snake-Men).

As for player races, there are only humans.  Humans are weird, though; there are thirteen human races, and these aren't ethnicities, these are actual species, although this does not alter their game statistics in any way.  Each race has dark hair, dark eyes, and skin entirely the color for which they are known (Blue Men are as blue as the sky, Green Men are green as grass, Bone Men have transparent skin and hair, Black Men have skin black as pitch, etc.).  In addition to the typical colors, there are three additional colors on Carcosa, and a race of man for each.

There are rumors and superstitions about the different breeds of men.  They do not trust each other as a rule.

The number of classes is reduced to two: Fighting-Men, and a new class called "Sorcerers."  Sorcerers are basically Fighting-Men who can learn spells.  Unlike typical D&D, they start with no spells, instead learning them in their travels.  Also unlike typical D&D, spells are rather unfortunate beasts.  With the exception of dismissal spells, all spells are horrible and should never be cast by anyone.  They take a long time to cast, require exotic components, and will almost uniformly mark the caster as a bad space person.

So, if magic is primarily evil and everything is trying to kill us, how has humanity survived?  Simple: they scrounge the technological detritus of the Space Aliens (basically Greys, by description), using these items to bring the fight to the Old Ones.  These items essentially replace magic items, leading to a setting where loincloth-clad men with bone weapons also have plasma cannons.  As noted in Carcosa, this reliance has stunted humanity's growth; it is far easier to steal advanced technology than invent some.

Ah, well.

The game has some other little neat things that make it worthwhile: tables for random spawn of Shub-Niggurath, random robots, and random alien artifacts.  One of my particular favorites is the random hit dice/damage mechanic.  It slows combat a fraction, but makes combat completely uncertain.  Characters have set numbers of hit dice and set numbers of damage dice.  However, the die type and value is randomly determined.  Those bandits might just have one hit die, but are you facing down d4 bandits or d12 bandits?  Does each one have 1 hp or 12 hp?  Are they swinging with d4s or d12s when they hit?  What about that monster with 10 HD?  Is that 10d12 HD, or 10d8 HD, or 10d4 HD?

Do you want to risk getting into a fight with him to find out?

All-in-all, Carcosa is a fully-detailed sandbox setting, and probably has neat stuff no matter what you play.  For example, you could totally use some of the monsters, spells, artifacts, and random charts in any game (retroclones require the least translation, of course), with some modification.  If you play oD&D, though, this game is truly an inheritor to the title — it combines gonzo, pulp adventure (Conan steals a fusion rifle from the Grays and kicks ass) with pulp horror (sadly, a fusion rifle doesn't protect you from saying, "Hastur") in proportions to do Gygax and Arneson proud.

After all that, I should probably address the controversy about the book.  This is a game of brutal, violent combat, and morally grey people doing morally grey things to other people likely worse than they.

Carcosa is ultraviolent.

People had problems with the graphic violence of the game.  The article at the beginning of this post notes the most egregious example, that of the spell Summon the Amphibious Ones.  The ritual component for the spell involves coitus with an eleven-year-old virginal girl, followed by her murder.

I completely understand why that's offensive.  In fact, if you find that offensive, congratulations, you're not a sociopath.

However, I also think that gaming is probably one of the better places to explore these themes, as the environment is "safe."  (We'll ignore all the horror stories about people with bad roleplaying experiences regarding this sort of thing, and briefly assume that we're roleplaying among people we know and trust.)  Granted, a lot of people don't want to explore heavy themes in RPGs because they don't find that fun.  That's fine (and again probably puts a check somewhere in the "not a sociopath" column of your chart).  But I don't necessarily think it's monstrous to include it, particularly if done with an eye toward the subject matter.

Which leads me to the second point: sorcerers are bad people.  This was a deliberate choice by the author; sword-and-sorcery sorcerers are almost always bad, and if they aren't, they're still somehow wrong (even if Solomon Kane accepted him, N'Longa was still creepy as all hell).  Nobody is stopping a character from playing a sorcerer, but the heights of power are only reserved for those who are willing to sacrifice their humanity.  Sure, you can do this awesome thing, but is it worth it?

The question of character responsibility is always appropriate, in gaming or elsewhere.

Basically, this isn't FATAL.  Horrible things aren't included to indulge in a twisted power fantasy, but instead to balance power with consequences.

So that's that.  If you have anything that really bothers you, you probably shouldn't read it (or look around on the internets to see what people are saying about it, and make a choice based on some other reviews).  If you like your gaming to be light-hearted fun, you likely won't like it (though maybe you'll find something you do like, such as the random robot tables).  If you want some gonzo ridiculousness with a little sanity-blasting horrible, you'd probably like it.

Consider it added to one of the many things I'd love to run someday.

A Word on pdf Layout: While waiting with baited breath for the print version (and the map!), I've been looking at the pdf.  It's a gorgeous beast.  The monsters, spells, and map hexes are all keyed together, so that if Summon Atrocious Beast summons the Atrocious Beast from the Well of Generic Pulp Awfulness in Hex 666, links will take you to all these places.  I typically don't like to read pdfs, but this one is pretty friendly.

A Little 4e Note: I'm currently playing 4e, so my awareness is geared toward 4e.  This post asks about porting Carcosa 4e.  For the record, I agree with the author's conclusion: limit characters to Martial types (maybe Psionic types, too?) and only allow magic through the Ritual Caster Feat.  Mess with the rituals to match spells in Carcosa, cutting out the generic component types and replacing them with specific components from Carcosa spells.  I'd be inclined to respond to the post if I didn't have to go through the rigamarole of signing up for, so chronoplasm, this one's for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Damned

So, maybe you summoned a demon and negotiations went poorly.  Maybe you made a dark deal with dire consequences.  Maybe you accidentally murdered a Gypsy witch.  Maybe you ran afoul of the Fair Folk.  Maybe you crossed a pantheon of uncaring, thrill-seeking gods.

More importantly: maybe you're stuck on how this all turns out.  Maybe you're a GM looking for inspiration, or maybe it's game day and you literally never thought that the PCs were going to butcher the friendly Gypsy fortune-teller.

Take a breath.  The Random Damnation Table is there to help you out...after a fashion.

Pick or roll 1d20:

1 - Food is no longer palatable. The afflicted character either eats less, or just has a general malaise about eating.

2 - The character automatically fails an important roll in the future. This failure is likely spectacular — you don't miss, you accidentally throw the magic sword into the nearby pond.

3 - The character is cursed with bad luck. Critical failures, if they exist in the game, have an increased likelihood of occurring. If they do not exist (as in 4e), they are activated.

4 - The character is afflicted with malaise, suffering a penalty to all actions.

5 - Animals react badly to the character. Depending upon the interpretation of the curse, this may include magical creatures; typically, sapient creatures should be exempt (although maybe this acts like Disquiet instead).

6 - A misfortune will remove all the character's worldly goods.

7 - The character gets a wound that will never heal, causing permanent health loss. Alternately, the next wound the character sustains never heals.

8 - A limb withers and atrophies or is removed. Pick a limb or roll a d4 (1=right arm, 2=left arm, 3=right leg, 4=left leg). If a hand or arm is missing, characters cannot hold anything with that hand. If a leg is missing or mishapen, it adversely affects the character's movement rate. Either affects climbing ability.

9 - The damned receives a slow, wasting illness.

10 - A person close to the character is affected by the curse instead; roll again but apply the result to someone important to the character. If the character is one of those heartless loner types, ignore this result.

11 - The character is struck mute (frequently an ironic curse for bards and wizards).

12 - The character is struck deaf.

13 - The character is struck blind.

14 - The damned is cursed to never sleep. The character never benefits from sleep, and if penalties accrue, they eventually stop, but can never be erased. Sorry about those daily spells.

15 - The character is cursed to always wander. Bad things happen whenever the character stays in one place for more than 24 hours. Bad things might continue if the character returns within a time limit, such as a week or a month. Note that this could be anything — bandits might attack, disasters might happen, or the land itself might reject the character.

16 - The character is cursed to forever be alone. Bad things happen to people who associate with the character, or everyone somehow becomes convinced that the character is a truly bad person who must be killed.

17 - Food is no longer nutritious. Maybe it turns to ash in the afflicted character's mouth, or maybe it just no longer satisfies. Life might continue for a week or two, but starvation's a pretty nasty way to go.

18 - The damned character is immediately struck dead.

19 - The character does not die immediately, but instead is cursed to suffer some terrible misfortune (likely involving death) at a future point. At the GM's option, the character might have premonitions of this disaster, resulting in occasional nightmares (these may cause penalties the following day).

20 - Roll twice, taking both results.

Most curses last until the curse is broken; somebody casts remove curse or the character finds the Gypsy fortune-teller's youngest daughter and secures her forgiveness.  Some take effect instantly, and "breaking" the curse involves healing the condition; the character fails the important action, the character dies and is successfully raised, or the missing limb is regenerated.

(At the GM's discretion, some curses may be placed on the entire party, such as if everyone in the group stands in a circle and brandishes iron at a fae noble.)

However, some particularly potent hexers (fae nobles, archdemons, uncanny wise women) may be able to extend the curse to affect whole lineages.  If you're stuck, roll another d20 for examples:

1-12 - The curse runs until broken, as normal.  Depending upon the GM's ideas for the curse, death might also break the curse (this isn't recommended if the party has somehow turned the Pearly Gates into the Revolving Doors).

13-15 - The curse affects the target beyond death; the target will be cursed to remain as a ghost until the curse is broken.  Raising the target might cause the ghost to disappear, but it certainly won't remove the curse.

16-17 - The curse affects the target's children as well, unless the curse is broken.  If the character gets result 18 (death), upgrade to result 19 (fated to die) instead.  If the curse is otherwise temporary (such as result 2, fail an important action), perhaps it has some lingering effect (or just reroll).  This sort of curse will also subtly encourage the character to have children, even if s/he is cursed to forever be alone.

18-19 - The curse affects the target's grandchildren as well, unless the curse is broken.   If the character gets result 18 (death), upgrade to result 19 (fated to die) instead. If the curse is otherwise temporary (such as result 2, fail an important action), perhaps it has some lingering effect (or just reroll). This sort of curse will also subtly encourage the character to have children, even if s/he is cursed to forever be alone.

20 - The curse affects the target's whole lineage until broken.   If the character gets result 18 (death), upgrade to result 19 (fated to die) instead. If the curse is otherwise temporary (such as result 2, fail an important action), perhaps it has some lingering effect (or just reroll). This sort of curse will also subtly encourage the character to have children, even if s/he is cursed to forever be alone.

Finally, note that these penalties escalate such that powerful characters may have modifiers to the d20 roll.  Portoblax, Archdemon of the Hell of Desperate Men, could get a +5 to the Damnation Table and a +3 to the Lineage Table.  Faerie Princess Tatiyana of the Burning Glade gets a +2 to the Damnation Table but gets a +6 to the Lineage Table.

As always, tweak as necessary.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aggregation Post, Take Two

Two archival posts in one day?  Either I'm lazy, or there's a lot of awesome stuff on this internet.

First, some random magical items from From the Sorcerer's Skull.  Excellent for, well, anything — random merchant trinkets, oddities at a Goblin Market (or this Goblin Market, or even the original Goblin Market), something for the Swap Meet, and so forth.  I'm sure the Terrible Old Man sells them, as may Octoscholars, with the typical risk of cursing and horrible side effects.

And then there's this offering from The Tao of D&D.  The author discusses the American Constitution in relation to the typical roleplaying epochs explored — as he says, the Colonial era is frequently ignored, trapped between the Renaissance and Victoriana.  He further states that this is an incredible poverty, as the world is aflame with revolution and the people are becoming unified in a way that forms the bridge between the medieval world and the modern one.

He further mentions that this revolution falls somewhere between the old and new view of the gods.  In fact, making this new society might involve killing the gods themselves.

Whether you agree or disagree with all of the author's points, you should read "Constitution."  I keep saying a revolutionary setting would be interesting, and the idea of killing the gods themselves ties in nicely with E. M. Lamb's post on religions in RPGs.

Review: The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz

The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz was just released over on RPGNow.

I'm fairly fortunate; I had the opportunity to edit this, so I got to see it evolve and grow.  The original four-page module is still all there (it's the beer shortage involving the monks of Pilz, and I talk a little about it here), but has been expanded to include the surrounding areas; enterprising DMs could turn this into a whole campaign, because there's a lot of stuff crammed into those 17 pages.

In fact, this is no longer one module, but several — characters can investigate the mines (drunken dwarf rumors suggest strange happenings there), the monastery (less beer is coming out of the monastery these days), the hot springs (the springs supposedly have healing powers), and the forest (savage elf tribes are performing guerilla raids on civilization).  Each location is mapped and marked for easy reference.

In addition, the module contains plenty of information to expand these adventurers.  Like I said, you could run a whole campaign along the Tarf River.

There are also a lot of other good ideas in the module; I'd recommend it just for the vile, mutated ragnocchio spiders and the Shadow of Grass ritual (the latter is a spell and story hook all rolled into one).

It's $2.99 over at RPGNow.

...and don't forget to look for the Easter Egg in the licensing information.

Here's Some Stuff You Might Have Missed

Grognardia gives us this D&D playset.  No joke.

Porky's Expanse talks about the possibility of prehuman civilizations.  Exceptionally timely as I'm reading Carcosa, which is all about how insignificant humans are in the scheme of things (to compare, Lovecraft suggests humans are a cosmic accident; Carcosa posits humans were bred as sacrifices for the serpent people).

Two from Hereticwerks: they just released Zilgor's Repose, a tomb-raiding dungeon crawl (despite several tomb robber excursions, people keep finding treasure in this tomb, causing suspicion of sorcery among adventurers).  Additionally, they released a table of lone survivors of previous expeditions, perfect for that adventure hook shaken guy in the corner of the tavern or the random guy you find in a dungeon delve.

Speaking of which, Jeff's Gameblog has a very good Caves of Myrddin update.  Those who enter the dungeon return with three attractive, nude women and a tale about killing a vampiric Frida Kahlo.  Worth a read if you like game anecdotes.

And that, in turn, leads into D&D With Porn Stars' post about being featured in a Maxim article.  Admittedly, it's less roleplaying related and more interesting for the artistry that goes into making a magazine article (the picture accompanying the article was taken weeks after the actual game session described, and the magazine fudges a few facts).  Additionally, there are links buried in the post to Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor (which I have previously mentioned) and Female Fighters In Unreasonable Armor (which is apparently new).  Image resources are good.

Also, as a warning the aforementioned D&D With Porn Stars post (and "Female Fighters In Unreasonable Armor") also features naked people, which might be troubling if you can't turn off the naked people.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sharpened Hooks: The Cursed Throne of the Sun

The kingdom's treasury dwindles, because the court needs constant attention.  A mysterious wasting illness troubles the court; there is a sickness in the blood, and it cannot be stopped.  More troubling, the king is affected the worst by this mysterious ailment, and those who are closest to him are affected proportionately higher than the rest of the court.

Strangely, there is no poison in the food, and no magic upon him save that which keeps him alive.  It is almost as if some invisible force crept into the palace and damned the place.  There are whispers of ancient curses and foul deeds performed behind closed doors.

The mad architect who built the king's throne used some odd materials, including a strange metal he called "the Dross of the Sun God."  He claimed it was a byproduct of creation, and that the Sun God has graced this material with his glory.  The Drossmines are somewhat remote, but they still lie within the kingdom; they are rarely accessed because nobody has determined any practical purpose for Dross, and because foul rumors surround that place.

A Geiger counter would likely detect the problem.  The Architect is wholly correct about Dross, albeit with an animistic frame of mind.  The Dross is better known to us as uranium, and has heavily irradiated the king's court.  The cancer and radiation poisoning took so long to develop that nobody made the connection between the disease and the new throne.

Three Notable Things

Nevermet Press wrote up a weird inn.  They had me at singing spiders and illithid plots.

Also, Time just released the Person of the Year, and it's "the Protestor".  If Time is throwing its support behind archetypes, that's a free Unknown Armies adventure hook for you.

Also, Carcosa had me sold at variable hit points and damage.  I appreciate combat as a terrible gamble for everyone involved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday Werk: Gronk Sword, Octoscholar, Synchronocitor

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Gronk Sword, the Octoscholar, and the Synchronocitor.

The Gronk are a highly industrious people, and Gronk Central Command looks after all Gronks.  Gronk Central Supply Service oversees production of the famous Gronk-Swords, and they also make certain that they get into the hands of adult Gronks.

(For some oddball reason, the strange non-Gronk creatures of the planes seem to avoid using Gronk-Swords, likely in a display of their inferiority.)

As suggested in the original entry, Gronk-Swords will probably never break, but there are several uses that suit them better than being actually used as swords.  Gronk-Swords count as greatclubs in most respects, save that a character is only proficient with the weapon if s/he takes the Weapon Proficiency (Gronk-Sword) Feat.

Strangely, the Gronk seem to have little difficulty with these weapons.

Octoscholars are extraplanar octopoid entities.  When not warring among themselves or with other transplanar creatures, they have a reputation as scholars of a sort.  Octoscholars are interested in arcane and historical knowledge of all types, and when they are not engaged in forays to find some piece of esoteric lore, they will frequently aid those who come to them.

Unfortunately, everything comes at a price.  In game terms, octoscholars will cast rituals for PCs (they tend to specialize in Divination rituals, although Comprehend Languages from the Exploration category is popular, and they sometimes Enchant Items).  In fact, they'll cast rituals and provide services at 60% of the market value.  So, for example, if you want something translated, an Octoscholar will do it for 36 gp (versus the typical 60 gp), and if you want one to find some secret information for you, it will do it for 840 gp (as a comparison, getting Consult Mystic Sages cast for you will run 1400 gp).

However, this comes with problems: Octoscholars will typically keep copies of whatever information they learn (unfortunate if you don't want another copy floating around, but then again, you should probably learn the ritual yourself in that case).  Additionally, Octoscholars lie.  Every transaction carries a flat 50% that the Octoscholar's mercurial mood prompt the creature to lie about the outcome, providing an incorrect translation or fallacious information.  This lie will, according to the original writeup, feature "hidden pranks or spurious gibberish to complicate matters or cause things to fail, explode or melt-down spectacularly."

Octoscholars may use spells or carry items.  They can frequently use an equivalent of the Enchant Item ritual, though these items take the form of strange, technological wonders that cannot be disenchanted (and if an Octoscholar makes one for an outsider, the item carries the abovementioned 50% risk of being cursed or unusable — but, hey, it's cheaper than it would normally be, right?).

In case your PCs get burned and want to attack an Octoscholar, here's a sample Octoscholar with knowledge of the Twist of Space spell (Arcane Power, page 106):

There are likely other specimens who swap out that Twist of Space Encounter power for another, and there are likely creatures who exist at higher levels.  As the more powerful creatures are typically either warring or buried in research, they are rarely seen.

Finally, there's the Synchronocitor.  This odd device — obviously a byproduct of strange sciences unknown to most fantasy worlds — appears to be a staff covered in globes containing a purple liquid.  This liquid depletes as the staff is used, replenishing during times of rest.

Several variants have been found.  Most staves appear to be examples of odd craftsmanship, while some appear to be sapient.  These latter staves gain Concordance as noted in the DMG, pages 164-165, or in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, page 105.  It's up to individual DMs to determine what goals a sapient Synchronocitor might have (likely, each one would be slightly different).

The following Synchronocitor does not appear to be free-willed, though it's possible that it is merely exceedingly quiet or patient.

I hadn't noticed that Word tried to correct this entry. Ah, well.

Note the planar shift ability.  Sure, a low-level party might get excited about it ("This staff gives me a level 6 spell, a level 10 spell, and the ability to Plane Shift without needed a weird and expensive ship?") until they go plane-hopping and get stranded for several days, likely in a place where they did not hope to stay.

Again, there are likely other versions of this artifact, some of which may be sapient or may have different capabilities.

Wednesday Werk: An Introduction

Here's the deal:

A little while ago, I wrote this post.  In the aforementioned post, I gave 4e statistics for Hereticwerks' brilliant gore-worms.

Well, a conversation happened in the comments, and garrisonjames mentioned doing more Labyrinth Lord to D&D 4e conversions.

So, here it is.  There are a lot of truly inspired ideas over there, and if the oD&D format doesn't float your boat, maybe this will help.

Also, unless otherwise stated, assume that whatever I post hasn't been playtested, so if it murders your entire party, cherish the horror and make new characters?

I guess you can submit feedback if you actually use them before I do.

View the most recent Wednesday Werk entry here.

Table of Contents

1. Gronk Sword, Octoscholar, Synchronocitor

2. Gronk

3. Petrocloptrian, Flytaur, Queen Lobster

4. Bruthem, Glimp-Shell, Xulg

5. Irving the Impressionable Shoggoth

6. Acephali, Almas

7. Candle Head, Grikflit

8. Zaldrim, Scarletscales

9. Walmakash, Urglun

10. Triloo, Rattong

11. Quindra, Hallimox

12. Phorain

13. Ordrang

14. Pseudoblepas, Nerglid

15. Molg

16. Lurm

17. Koponu

18. Drilg

19. Jaladari

20. Illigom

21. Mind-Slime

22. Plodder-Shell

23. Quintapoidal Fungi

24. Necropixies

25. Hagtessa

26. Ractur

27. Sanguinovore

28. Withering Mist

29. Rulak

30. Fantomist

31. Vilg

32. Grobbly-Bonk

33. Miasmagaster

34. Flutter Worm

35. Monoptrian

36. Yirgao

37. Elajess

38. Blatherer

39. Crannit

40. Crudiv

41. Xilmpa

Help a Brother Out

Time to come clean.

The regulars have no doubt seen Nicole commenting on my blog.  She's my oldest friend — you know Victor and Elizabeth in Frankenstein?  That's us (except without the whole one-of-my-biology-experiments-murdering-her thing).  I take credit for introducing her to roleplaying, all because I wanted to hang out with her more.

Well, my second-oldest friend, a bloke by the name of E. M. Lamb, just started a roleplaying blog.  He has precisely one post at this time, but I'm going to vouch for him anyway because I know the quality of his ideas.  You know The Imperial City I occasionally mention?  He co-GMed on that, and wrote some stuff for it.

You know how I keep musing about a sequel?  He wrote a potential sequel, like, ten years ago.  I even set it up in-game, just in case he ever wanted to run it.  (Omega-14 still remains the best idea I never thought of.)  I'd also take credit for introducing him to roleplaying, but really, I just got there before he did — he was getting InQuest before I ever started talking about Vampire: the Masquerade (in fact, one of the first games I ran for The Imperial City was a module I swiped from one of his issues).

For that matter, I suppose I can never forgive him, because it's his fault I went to Avalon and still dabble in LARPing.  Even worse, back when I was content with Vampire, he got Werewolf: the Apocalypse.  It sounded neat, and rather than keep borrowing his copy, I got a copy, prompting the first "well, let's see what the other books in this game line are like..." kick that started a roleplaying collection that threatens to devour me in my sleep.

After all that rambling, let me introduce you to something you can actually use.  Read his first post.

Uncaring, decadent gods and cruel, malevolent gods are nothing new.  As he says in that post, this type of pantheon is a staple of pulp fiction — the gods either do terrible things because they're filled with ennui, or they do terrible things because you're beneath their notice.  Do you weep for all the bacteria your immune system kills daily?  Doubtful.

I'd like to draw your attention to the cycle he mentions — the gods grow decadent, the PCs discover this, decide they can do better, and quest to dethrone the gods.   But now they're the new gods, and after a few centuries, they're just as corrupt as the old gods.

What if that's the cycle that drives the universe?  It's like Unknown Armies, except rather than the ideological struggle that drives existence, it's an ongoing, physical war.

Really, a constant cycle of unrest and revolution could fuel a whole campaign.

Like I said, go give Role-Player Hater a look sometime, would you please?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some Stuff You May Have Missed

Just a couple of things.

First, Zak Smith did a picture post yesterday.  If you don't find something good in here, I can't help you.  They had me at turtle tanks.

Second, as of this writing, Hereticwerks has fewer members than I, and I'm pretty certain that's a crime.  Here's two bits to get you started: the roofcrawling tables (a must for any city-based campaign) and the first low-end loot table (the first of many, I'm certain).

I also mention Hereticwerks (see, that's twice I mentioned it — now you have to check it out) because this will all tie into something starting tomorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Deadlands, Part VII

When last we left our heroes, the group got their gear and made to leave.  However, a mysterious boundary of nausea prevents the party from leaving, and the enchantment must be broken before the group can continue.  One of the servants rushes outside.  Dynamite makes an appearance.  David Hood, Father Alex Seward, and Ruby O'Flahertie bolt to the other side of the house.  Jake, Jeb, and Miss Hannity remain to see the servant become some terrible void into Hell.

Things happen quickly.  David, Father Seward, and Ruby run around the back of the house and try to determine what to do next.  They don't get the chance to figure it out because everything goes crazy within the next, maybe, fifteen to thirty seconds.

The void-thing withdraws, leaving Jake to reorient himself.  Miss Hannity chucks a stick of dynamite into the house.  Jeb runs to the stables to set up a firing position.

A giant, purple hand erupts from the house and grabs Miss Hannity.  Try as she might, she cannot wriggle free.  The hand floats back into the house.  Jake gives chase.

With no one in view, Jeb climbs upstairs in the stables and rifles through some stuff.  Finding some lamp oil and alcohol, he lights a fire upstairs before coming to the top of the stairs in the house to shout down at Jake and Miss Hannity.

Miss Hannity is withdrawn into the basement, where a giant, void-thing is erupting from a human form.  She wriggles free slightly, and the void-thing draws her closer and bites at her arm.  She manages to use her free, bitten arm to light one of the dynamite bandoliers on her thigh.

Jake makes his way into the basement by this time.  Seeing a dim light from her skirts, he reaches up, grabs the bandolier, and shoves it into the thing's mouth seconds before it bites at that leg.  Most of the leg is gone.  Jake starts to run back upstairs when the dynamite detonates.

David, Father Seward, and Ruby see the house start to warp.  The first stick of dynamite detonates.  There is a pause, then a slight rushing of air before the inside of the house goes orange.  The sound rips through the quiet, morning air.

Jeb is thrown clear of the blast with a busted leg.  Jake is also thrown clear, but he is a charred husk, barely living.  If Miss Hannity lives as anything other than a loose confederation of molecules, there is no sign of her.

The nausea subsides.  Father Seward prays and crouches over Jake's shattered form.  The ghostly gentleman — the fellow only David and Father Seward can see — appears and lays a hand on the priest's shoulder.  Though painful, Jake's nerves and muscles regrow — until the gentleman stops the process, leaving Jake with no scars save a skeletal, unusable left hand.

The group gathers their equipment, most of which was already on the lawn in front of the house, and proceeds to leave.  Two observers, a father and son, sit upon horses.  Having witnessed these events, they bolt towards town.

The walk back to Denver is uneasy.  Jeb asks Ruby if she had brothers in the war — officers — and explains that Confederate officers killed his brothers.  Tempers flare.  Father Seward snaps at them both, silencing the argument.

They arrive in Denver and ask for directions.  David explains the bandage on his face as a shaving accident, so the passing traveler directs him to a barber.  Upon examination, the barber directs him to a doctor.

The doctor looks at his face and recommends a treatment.  David starts to mention Ruby's hand, but they play it off, and the doctor assumes it's a feminine issue, prescribing laudanum.    Finally, they get to the business of amputating Jake's hand, which he explains as a run-in with bandits who tortured him.

Rain starts to fall, and the group notes that the only people on the deserted streets appear to be several men in black dusters.  Jeb waits with Jake and the doctor, while David, Father Seward, and Ruby leave to investigate.  When they ask the men in dusters what they're doing, they are greeted by guns and led into a nearby alley.  One of them, a Pinkerton by his badge, asks about their association with Mr. Jobson — Jake.  He explains the man is wanted in this area, and what can they tell about it.  Only able to explain that they've been traveling with him and haven't noticed anything untoward, they are searched and led to a backroom, where they are guarded by two Pinkertons.  Despite knowing Detective O'Malley in St. Louis, their pleas to be released or to contact the Detective are ignored.  The gentleman appears, telling Father Seward that he must rescue Jake, as he is important to the journey at hand.

Meanwhile, Pinkertons storm the building as Jake is undergoing surgery.  Jeb is taken into custody, as is the now-drunken Jake.

Everyone is thrown into the local jail.  Jake gets a cell by himself, and Ruby is in a chair.  A police officer guards them.  Ruby pleads with the police officer to let her go, as she is will cause no trouble, but must return to her family.  After a truly impassioned performance, the police officer, a Confederate himself, sympathizes with her plight and leaves the room, giving her the keys.

The doors are opened and everybody makes their way to the train station.  Despite looking for their equipment, they find none, meaning they are now down to the $200 David Hood swiped from Miss Hannity's trunk before leaving the ruined manor house.

David sees the bellhop he has been tipping generously during the trip, and convinces him to convince the conductor to scrounge up some tickets.  The group is again San Francisco-bound.

After getting reasonably settled, there is a knock at the door that only David and Father Seward can perceive.  It is the ghostly gentleman, though once the door is opened, Father Seward sees only a member of the train's staff, giving him a dinner invitation.  Father Seward explains where he is going, and at everyone's request, promises to send one of the help to take room service orders.

Father Seward goes to the dining car to see the ghostly gentleman, who has ordered a steak and wine for Father Seward.  The gentleman again admonishes him for not following orders, but says that he will explain some things.

The gentleman explains that he has no name, as Father Seward robbed it from him — Father Seward killed a woman about five years back, and this took the fellow's name (Father Seward assumes that she must have been pregnant, assuming this tale was true).  The nameless gentleman explains that since he has no sins, he can't go to Hell — but since his father was a truly bad man, Heaven doesn't want him, either.  He's trapped in this half-state where he cannot experience life, nor can he pass on.  However, there is to be a high-stakes poker game at a place called the Flesh Menagerie in San Francisco.  One of the prizes is the moon jar he mentioned at the Carstock estate, and he must win this, as it holds the key to salvation.  The jar holds secrets, among them a loophole to overcome God's covenant with man.  Through this way, this restless spirit can enter Heaven — and so can Father Seward, as he is currently damned due to his past crimes, and Hell would love to get the soul of a holy man.  Indeed, the gentleman indicates that God has turned away from Father Seward, and it is only through the gentleman's grace that he is capable of the miracles he wields.

The gentleman further suggests that Father Seward, being a sinner, may try to something ruin this deal, and the gentleman assures him that such would be unwise.  He then tells Father Seward to eat, but when he asks for a graphic description of how it tastes as he cannot enjoy it himself, Father Seward expresses his distaste and the spirit angrily leaves.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Request: Secret Doors

Happy Christmas from the Santicore!

This year, I participated in Jez's Secret Santicore, and the random number gods paired me with someone who has trouble with secret doors, and so wanted some sample secret doors with concrete methods of activation and specific reasons to be in the dungeon.

(At least I think I got that right.  If you happen to be the requester and find this doesn't suit your needs, feel free to comment — we do returns and exchanges here.)

Anyway, I made a table of thirty secret doors.  1-20 are "mundane," meaning that they use mechanical means, however improbable.  21-30 are magical, meaning that they use magic mechanisms or somehow require interaction with a supernormal creature, like a ghost or golem.  They might need slight modification depending upon where you put them ("Why is there an assassins' training ground in the Temple to Love and Squirmy Little Puppy Dogs?"), but they should at least be good inspiration.

Feel free to peruse the table or roll a d30.  If you just want a random mechanical secret door mechanism, roll a d20.  If you want a random magical or fantastical secret door mechanism, roll a d10 and add 20 to the result.

Without further ado, the table:

1 - This door is hidden behind a statue of a local lust deity recessed into the wall.  The statue and the section of wall swing open, revealing a secret passage, when the lips are pressed.  Supposedly, supplicants were to kiss the statue, and variants with switches placed to simulate other sexual acts likely exist.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall or the pedestal around the statue’s base, or they might notice seams around the statue’s arms.

2 - This door is hidden behind a bas-relief depicting showing historical scenes from the local kingdom.  The door slides open when the reliefs of the rulers are pressed in order according to the chronological order of their reigns.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams around the bas-relief, or seams around the buttons on the bas-relief.

3 - This section of wall contains a mechanism with a switch that vibrates at a certain frequency.  It will slide open when a certain note is played, requiring either an instrument, a singer with perfect pitch, or an appropriate tuning fork.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams around this section of wall.  Characters with supernormal hearing might notice the reverberations in the wall, indicating the presence of some small, acoustic chamber.

4 - This section of stone wall has a switch disguised as a stone.  Pressing the stone causes the wall to slide open.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall.

5 - A fresco depicting a local deity will slide open when a particular tune (a hymn or paean, perhaps?) is played on a nearby pipe organ.   Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall.

6 - A nearby message admonishing the faithful to not fear evil is accompanied by a statue of a black dragon recessed into the wall.  Reaching one’s hand into its mouth will allow one to press a switch in the back of the throat, causing a nearby section of wall to swing open.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall.

7 - A statue of a local deity of peace, its arms outstretched, stands in a place of prominence in the room.  A wall panel slides open when at least twenty-five pounds of equipment are placed in its arms — roughly the weight of weapons enough for six or so people.  Modern adventurers might not put their weapons in its arms, but the old supplicants did so before entering the secret passage.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall, or they might notice seams around the statue’s arms.

8 - A bookcase or other large, heavy object sits in front of an open doorway.  Astute characters might note scuff marks on the floor or a slight breeze.

9 - Astute characters might notice that this wall is hollow when tapped, or that there are seams in the mortar.  A simple people, the builders of the dungeon just used a prybar to open this wall, which can slide aside when pressure is applied.

10 - A statue to a local folk hero or maimed deity sits in the room.  A ceremonial weapon of the type who originally wounded this figure rests somewhere nearby.  Recreating the legendary figure’s wounds with this ceremonial weapon — in the order they were received — causes the statue to rise on a pedestal into the ceiling.  The pedestal has steps so that characters can climb it as a ladder, literally ascending into the heavens with the passing of this entity.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the statue’s base, or that the figure’s wounds contain seams or buttons.

11 - An astrological diagram has several recesses where nearby stones can be placed.  Each stone has an astrological symbol on it.  Placing the stones to recreate the birth chart of the Chosen One causes the wall with the diagram to iris open.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall where each wedge of the diagram is in place.

12 - This emergency escape route was installed by a corrupt ruler who attempted to eradicate the influence of the old regime.  This figure’s final affront was to place a tapestry of the region’s founder over the escape route, so that he would have to cut it open in time of strife.  This escape route was never used, and has lain that way since the ruler was killed by the servants.  Characters searching the area might feel a slight breeze from the direction of the wall.

13 - A subterranean river and a broken waterwheel dominate this room.  Anyone fixing the waterwheel — or harnessing enough power to turn the drive shaft — finds that a panel in the far wall slowly rotates with the waterwheel.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall.  Some characters might just wonder what the waterwheel powered.

14 - This room in a military barracks features a relief on the wall depicting an example of a hated enemy (“The 304th Dwarven Legion will exterminate all bullywugs!”).  Hitting the appropriate locations as per the old drills causes the wall to slide open for about five seconds, long enough for a few people to go through.  The old idea was that a recruit showed a superior officer his training by rapidly attacking the target, causing the wall to slide open and allowing the recruit to enter the next room.  Astute characters might notice the seams in the wall or in the “pressure points” on the foe diagram.

15 - Two statues stand is this room, holding their swords aloft.  If their sword arms are lowered, a trapdoor will open between them.  Characters searching the room might notice the seams in the floor or on the statues’ arms.

16 - A tangle of rooms was used as a training ground for assassins, and only those who recalled the teachings of the order could pass to the next chamber.  This room contains a statue of a humanoid resembling a typical member of the town watch.  As a mechanical feature, it rotates to face the largest concentration of weight in the room, either looking at a closely-packed group or the heaviest person in the room.  This room and the surrounding hallways are fitted with highly-sensitive pressure plates, built in such a way that they may be mistaken for old, slightly loose stonework by those who do not know better.  Passing through the secret passage is simple — the subtle handholds on the walls allow initiates to climb without touching the floor.  A hidden wall panel slides open if weight is removed from the floor tiles for more than a minute.  Characters might notice the pressure plates in the floor or the seams in the wall.  Some characters might grow suspicious at the rotating statue, particularly if they are unable to detect magic emanating from it.

17 - Strangely, the same room has another secret door — those who can leap from the wall and twist the statue’s head as if snapping the neck before the statue rotates to face them cause a trapdoor in the ceiling to open.  The trapdoor stays open for five minutes before the assembly resets.  Travelers must possess their own rope and grapple — or just be able to jump or climb very well — in order to proceed.  Characters might notice the pressure plates or the seams in the ceiling, as well as the seam around the statue’s neck.

18 - A large statue of a cyclops dominates one wall of this room.  If someone scales the statue and depresses its eye, the statue animates in a mechanical fashion and smashes the wall next to it (it may also incidentally hit the person activating the statue).  Characters might notice several seams on the cyclops statue, indicating articulation, or they might notice that the wall is weakened or hollow.  It is highly likely that the dungeon designers meant this as an escape route or a place for something well-hidden.  Some artisans also leave little trinkets behind, so this little treasure room might only contain some bizarre little fetish or some such.

19 - A treasure chest in the room contains treasure, but it also contains something else.  If the lock is locked while the chest is open, the key will turn past the point when it normally stops, opening the false bottom of the treasure chest.  A ladder leads down into another section.  Though it is time-consuming to clear out the treasure chest, the designers felt that most tomb robbers are too greedy to look further.  Characters might get suspicious about the fact that the treasure chest cannot move, and some might notice something strange about the lock.  Others might notice the seam at the bottom of the treasure chest.

20 - This circular room has a bas-relief on the wall depicting a sea deity or a legendary seafarer.  The ship’s wheel on the wall can be pulled from the wall and rotated.  This will rotate the entire room, closing some exits but opening others.  Some variants may not rotate the room, but may instead raise a pedestal in the middle, revealing a spiral staircase leading downward.  Characters might notice seams in the bas-relief, or in the floor or ceiling.  This very well may lead to a shrine to the deity in question, or perhaps a subterranean, aquatic passage leading elsewhere.

21 - This section of wall is a bas-relief or fresco depicting a local deity or folk hero.  If the proper supplication is performed before the wall, it swings open.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall, or the subtle arcane iconography in the wall revealing its magic.

22 - This secret passage is activated by a nearby painting of a local foe (likely historical).  Staring into the eyes of the painting for at least a minute causes the nearby section of wall to recess into the ground.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall, or the subtle arcane iconography in the wall revealing its magic.

23 - This section of wall isn’t stone at all, but an ooze that has taken on a consistency appropriate for the nearby wall.  Applying the appropriate reagent causes the ooze to assume its normal state and move aside.  Setting fire to the wall (or otherwise attacking it) prompts the ooze to attack.  Astute characters might notice that the wall quivers slightly, or that the acoustics in the room aren’t quite right.

24 - This section of wall bears an emblem of a local mage’s guild or equivalent.  The wall disappears briefly when struck by a particular spell, such as magic missile.  Inner chambers require higher-level spells to activate.  Characters might notice the subtle arcane iconography in the wall revealing its magic.

25 - This section of wall depicts the local deity of slaughter.  Spilling blood on the image causes it to open.  Strangely, spilled blood soaks into the image and is absorbed.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall, or the subtle arcane iconography in the wall revealing its magic.

26 - Invisible, incorporeal ghosts guard a crypt in this room.  They will open a hidden wall panel to any whom leave offerings to them in excess of 100 gp worth of coins or goods.  Unscrupulous characters who detect the ghosts might coerce them with pain or magic instead.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall, or they might detect the presence of the ghosts.

27 - In a chamber dedicated to a local deity, an oddly-placed statue of an opposing deity is recessed into the wall.  A holy book of the local deity sits in the room; reading a passage wherein the deity defeats the opposing deity causes the enemy deity’s statue to recess into the ground.  Characters searching the area might notice the seams in the wall around the statue, or the subtle arcane iconography in the statue revealing its magic.

28 - A large, flaming brazier sits in the middle of the floor, generating light and heat.  Following the temple’s instructions to be purified by flame, anyone who actually leaps into the brazier finds only a moment of pain before finding it is just an illusion.  A trapdoor leads into the floor.  Characters searching the area might notice the subtle arcane iconography in the wall revealing its magic, or perhaps that an object near the flame is not scorched.

29 - A sundial sits in the center of this room, whose entire far wall is dominated by a scene from an historical battle.  Shining a light on the sundial to recreate the supposed time of this battle (“Ah, yes, I remember from my time at university that the Battle of Gloaming’s Dark supposedly happened around the fourth watch after midnight, hence the name.”) causes the far wall to recess into the floor.  Other dungeons may make use of this trick, using times important to the builders of the tomb.  Astute characters might notice the seams in the far wall, or the subtle arcane iconography in the sundial revealing its magic.

30 - Undead stand silent sentinel in this room, but do not attack unless they are attacked.  If they are commanded to open the wall — possibly by a command word issued elsewhere, or possibly just by someone commanding them to open the door — they will do so.  Characters searching the room might notice seams on the wall.  Suspicious characters might make note of the fact that there are undead guarding the room with no apparent purpose.  Some magi architects, not wanting to delve into necromancy, might use golems instead.

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