Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nameless Cults 665

Earlier editions of NAMELESS CULTS: I, II, III, IV, V

*****

So a while back, I was looking through the 2nd edition Forgotten Realms book "Faiths and Avatars" to find a god for my cleric in a buddy's game. The struggles of finding a specialty cleric that can do the few things I wanted was really frustrating and not worth describing.

My real objection to that book is this:

Why in Lucifer's name are there four - count 'em, FOUR - hippy-dippy, best-friends-forever, green thumb, pat a unicorn on the head nature deities in the Forgotten Realms?

Google Image search for "tree hugger"
Chew on this granola:

Chauntea - goddess of agriculture, plants cultivated by humans, farmers, gardeners, summer

Eldath - goddess of quiet places, springs, pools, stillness, peace, waterfalls, druid groves

Mielikki - goddess of forests, forest creatures, rangers, dryads, autumn

Silvanus - god of wild nature, druids

One nature deity? Of course. Two? There's an outside chance. Three looks a bit silly, and by the time we have four I can't think of any explanation but trying to pad out the size of the book.

I imagine bringing my new character to the table: "Oh yeah, my guy serves the goddess of calm and peaceful groves." Then being laughed out of my gaming group forever, insults and Dr. Peppers hurled after me as I run out the door crying.

Honestly the "super harsh bad guy" gods aren't much better. Bhall is so exactly what you'd expect, anybody could have written out that entry. Here's a hint: his domain is death & murder. The specialty priests are called "deathstalkers." I'm absolutely not the first to say that they all seem about the least exciting fantasy-adventure extradimensional ultimate beings anyone's ever heard of. Tie that noose and start with me please.

Too topical? Or not enough?
Give me some old-fashioned CULTS god damn you! I want to see bizarre, hair-raising initiations and terrible prices paid for incomprehensible extrahuman power. I was reading Clark Ashton Smith and thinking about how bloody magical The Door to Saturn is with Eibon's patron deity Zhothaqquah, and its relative Hzuilquoigmnzhah. You know your god truly can't be fucked about you when even pronouncing its name is impossible. Another thing I liked about Dungeon Crawl is they take a shot at this kind of thing: the death god is Yredelemnul, and the god of necromantic magic is Kikubaaqudgha. Pretty damned alien. Followers of those gods don't stand on a milk crate on the avenue Friday nights, yelling at people through a badly set-up PA about abortion. You have to find them, and it won't work out the way you think.

After I get done the classic Mythos cultists I will try to branch out a bit. I am considering Arioch, Thasaidon and Mordiggian, and then maybe I'll do a few D&D standbys like Orcus, Demogorgon, Jubilex and Lolth, although they do feel a bit odd next to the Ancient Ones. I will have to think harder about how to put a fun spin on the classics and take them out of their usual fantasy context. Also, that's a A LOT of evil gods, considering all the "real-world" pantheons have bad guys built in already. Law definitely has the deck stacked against them here.

Just like in real life I guess.

Okay that was a lot of ranting. In the mean time, for tax purposes, here are some stats for a monster I was thinking about yesterday, adapted from another classic '90s computer game.

*****

PUKING DEMON
Feel lucky punk?
No. Appearing: 1d4
Alignment: C
Move: 90’ (30’)
Armour Class: 16
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1+
Damage: 2d6
Save: Fighter
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI
Experience: 245

Yep, you heard right. Short, fat, slimy and bilious as hell, these fiends look like a typical red-skinned devil's underachieving, cheeto-loving cousin. They dangle morningstars from their long sideways horns, and attack by spinning around to smash any- and everyone nearby. Their melee attack (2d6 represents the two morningstars) hits everyone in close combat with the puking demon, with a progressive -1 penalty to hit each opponent beyond the first (so a normal attack against the first guy, -1 to hit the second, -2 to hit the third, and so on. Or you could save time and just give them a middling penalty on all rolls). Note that this spin attack won't work on enemies that are too short (<4'), lying on the ground, etc. Common sense applies.

They are used as heavy shock troops in demon armies because they're tough, hard to kill and have some truly morale-destroying abilities! Because they usually terrify or incapacitate their enemies, they don't have the stomach for a fight and will flee if they meet stiff resistance.

Other puking demons are of course immune to both of the following abilities:

HALITOSIS: The foul breath of the puking demons surrounds them at all times in a horrifying miasma. Beings that breathe the air within 10' of a puking demon suffer -2 to attack rolls, morale checks and anything involving swiftness or movement (some saving throws, DEX bonuses, etc) from the debilitating gases. Creatures of 2 HD or less must save vs. poison or be incapacitated, gagging and choking for 1d6 rounds or until they are out of the area. If more demons group together, the area of effect will expand accordingly.

BILE: Instead of melee attacks, the puking demon can Exorcist-style vomit a vile, corrosive slime in a 30 degree cone, extending 20 feet forward. They can do this every third combat round. It does 1d4 acid damage to anyone affected, and the bile sticks to every surface until scraped or washed off. The floor and walls become highly dangerous and corrosive surfaces. Creatures take 1d4 damage each round until they aren't in contact with the bile anymore, or it dries and becomes inert after an hour.

*****

Further, I promise either Yog-Sothoth, the King in Yellow or Tsathoggua getting dished up soon in:
NAMELESS CULTS V!!

EDIT: Nameless Cults V is done! I'll keep adding links to all CULTY posts back here just so I have a nice clearinghouse for them.

Now go listen to this for the rest of the day. Doctor's orders.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Demihumans in Annwn pt2: Slightly Weirder Ones

A few announcements first.

1:
In case I didn't make myself clear:
MANSCORPION!
MANSCORPION!!
MANSCORPION!!!

2:
Running Maze of the Blue Medusa is going fairly well. The characters are way overleveled and overequipped for it, but they're scared of EVERYTHING so it ends up playing as if they're all first level anyway, until the combat starts and the monsters get hacked to ribbons. And they all complain that the NPCs are "useless" because nobody will tell them where the moon-man's kids are.

3:
Here's another kick at the can, with some more flavour for my PC races.


Goblins AKA hobs, hoblings, boggarts, bogies, brownies, gnomes and so on

Brian Froud - close, very close
There are scores of different faeries spoken of in Britain, each governing a different domain - sprites of dirt and ditch, field and farm, home and hearth. In fact there is only one. The goblins have always and only lived in Britain - they are connected to the land, and can't leave. A goblin has no otherworldly home like an elf or underground kingdom like a dwarf, only the patch of soil it walks upon. They can swim in the waters around Britain and even travel to other dimensions and back, but their feet cannot step on the soil of another country. Maybe a little bit of Gaul or Benwick if you're feeling charitable and there aren't too many frogs around!

Many goblins never leave a small region they call home (a village, farmstead or patch of forest), hence their reputation as household spirits. Like the legends say, they will do some chores or housework during the night if the residents leave them some milk or a bit of sweet food. They sleep out in the fields and ditches, or in holes they dig in the ground, for the earth of Britain is their home and where they feel the safest. Not all goblins live this way - there isn't actually any magic binding them to a certain place the way a Dryad is to a tree - most just don't want to go around looking for food on their own.

They have never been seen in groups or families, and how they reproduce is unknown. Most peasant folk think they just spring up out of the soil, fully grown, although nobody has ever witnessed this.

In fact this is true. Goblins are just a product of the unknown magics and mysteries permeating Britain. A few spring up with a perverse lust for human gold in their hearts and become wanderers, rogues, thieves and adventurers. Some of the best cutpurses and assassins are hobs, because they're small, quiet, can endure almost any hardship and do not think the same way humans do. Their morality is strange and animalistic - they don't have to grow up and have no parents to teach them, being creatures of the wilds only. They don't have 'friendship' really, but can understand a sort of group loyalty and mutual advantage. Wise are the adventurers who ensure their goblin allies have full bellies and a scrupulously fair share of treasure, and woe betide any who betray a goblin, or indeed who trust one overly.

FROWN. HOARD. FROWN AGAIN.
Goblins are usually earth-toned, ranging in colour through orange, red, brown, olive green, grey and even eggplant. They can be as light as a well-tanned human or almost coal-black. Their skin is dull, weathered, and usually dirty. There are no bright green goblins! Get outta here. Goblin eyes are usually human-shaped, or occasionally reptilian, and every colour variation imaginable has been observed.

(They are my reskin of halflings who are way too annoying, Tolkienian, pastorial longing-for-a-simpler-age to be in this setting.)

ALSO: Once again, go hit up Middenmurk for this. A few don't really fit, it'll be okay, just use my best judgement.




Sea-Bloods AKA Dagon's children, fish-men, "the creeping rot within our society," etc

(You know the deal. Straight out of RoCC. Get into it.)
Even mother probably didn't love this face.
Sea-bloods! The genetic terror from beneath the waves. They could be among us right now.

The Dark Ages was already rammed with superstition, mistrust and wild accusations. Britain AD 500 will be no exception: this isn't the golden age yet kiddies. These guys make it so much worse. Until they gain a few levels or reach a certain age, you can't tell a sea-blood from a normal human, except that they may be odd-looking or ugly, and let's face it in the Dark Ages everybody was ugly. These creatures serve their lord and master Dagon, and work to bring about a fishy domination of all land-dwelling beings on earth. This is not the kind of thing you want working against you when you're trying to build a perfect society.

PC sea-bloods may have some idea of their origins at first, or they may not. The only thing I'm not sure of is how things will go in an adventuring party when a level or two has been gained and it's obvious that the character is somehow "monstrous." My players will probably just leave him to twiddle his thumbs in the forest whenever they go into town and not think any more of it, but who knows what yours might do? The fact is that most peasants and regular jackoffs won't think anything of another ugly dude tramping through town - they don't even know that the deep ones are working to destroy their way of life. Anybody in the know, though (wizards, most of the clergy, any Round Table knights, etc) will be quite exercised to spot a sea-blood just wandering around town with his heavily armed chums. I look forward to the PC vs. town guard bloodbaths, or other fun ways of dodging this problem.

(I originally included Subhumans in the second version of the Spoils of Annwn. The first version was almost completely stock LL. The fact is that they're way less exciting than they seem. They're really just fighters. If you were playing straight out of RoCC with no dwarves or elves they might be useful, but not for me.)


4:
Now go fall asleep with this on:





Monday, April 24, 2017

Roguelike: DCSS

My weakness for roguelikes rears its ugly head again!

Check out this madness. I have been playing it on and off for a few years, and finally achieved a 3-rune victory a few months back with a troll berserker who worshipped Jivya, the god of slimes (I know right?!). I have 28 dead characters to show for it.

For life.

Some of the monsters in Crawl are too good not to stat up for my game. Luckily, the wiki has info for quite a few of them, making adaptation easy. I just looked up the Crawl stats for monsters D&D already had numbers for until I got a base of comparison: goblins, skeletons, orcs, giants, trolls, dragons and many other Crawl monsters already exist in D&D. The monsters that don't, though, are some pretty neat stuff.

Based on perusing the stat blocks, it seems like hit dice run high at the top end in Crawl with things like Pandemonium Lords and the most powerful demons (this is to be expected, as characters go up to level 27), while the low-level monsters are on par most of the time. AC is a bit tougher to port directly, since Crawl separates it from EV (evasion) and SH (shielding), but mostly it looks like Labyrinth Lord AC is in the ballpark of Crawl's AC+EV.

Watch out for the mermen.

So here are Labyrinth Lord stats for a few of the cool and weird monsters that I'm using from DCSS. I don't use the classic demon/devil split, I'm mean the term 'demon' much more broadly to refer to any monsters from a real crap dimension.


NEQOXEC

"A weirdly shaped demon, pulsing and shifting with mutagenic energies, its belly distended with the devoured brains of its victims."


No 1, AL C, Mv 120’ (40’), AC 16, HD 6, Att 1d6, Sv Dwarf, ML 10, HC XIV, XP 1070


Human-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to silver/holy weapons.

Malmutate: One victim in line of sight. Save vs. Petrification or gain one random mutation. Roll on whatever chart strikes your fancy, I am working one up right now that I'll try to post later on.

Brain Feed: One victim in 80' (line of sight is not necessary, but the Nequoxec must be aware of its target). Save vs. spells or lose 1d3 points of intelligence. Restoration or similar magic will heal this, or regain 1d6 lost points when gaining a level.

Summon Minor Demon: Summons 1-3 low-ranking demons under the Neqoxec's control. Imps, quasits, pick anything of 1-2 HD from your own list.

I have never fought the Neqoxec in Crawl, they hang out in Pandemonium and a few other places I've never been. Don't screw around with these guys, the Malmutate ability will take your adventuring career down a dark turn real fast.


CHAOS SPAWN

"A being of pure chaos, its form is constantly shifting, growing and then losing eyes, mouths, claws and tentacles. It corrupts everything it touches."

No 1-3, AL C, Mv 120’ (40’), AC 18, HD 6, Att 1d10, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC -, XP 820
Ogre-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to silver/holy weapons. 

Chaos Touch: All their melee attacks roll randomly for damage type (fire, cold, acid, whatever exists in your game) and an additional wild magic or random spell effect. I suppose I'll have to whip some tables together if I want to use these guys.
Chaos Dust: When destroyed the chaos spawn will explode into clouds of dust and smoke (2d10' radius) as their essence diffuses. Anyone stepping into this cloud or breathing in its vapours is affected as if by the chaos spawn's melee attack (roll on the same chart).

These guys crop up in the Abyss and other places. I will probably just use them as summoned monsters, or maybe as the results of wizardly tampering.


SOUL EATER

This demon looks like a malignantly shifting shadow gliding through the air. It radiates an intense aura of negative force.

No 1, AL C, Mv Walk/Fly 120’ (40’), AC 20, HD 9, Att 1d10, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC XIV, XP 2400

Human-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons.

Life Drain: The soul eater can gaze at a group of enemies in a 60 degree cone. All victims in line of sight take 1d10 damage as their bodies are withered and blighted, healing the soul eater for half the total damage dealt. Save vs. breath weapon for half.

Experience Drain: The soul eater's melee attacks suppress the victim's spirit, making them weaker, slower and stupider. XP lost equal to damage dealt x100. Keep track of this damage, and it will gradually heal as the character gains experience again: every two points of XP gained will heal 1 point of XP damage from the soul eater.

A slightly nicer version of classic level-drain. Maybe I might put this on some wights too, and then just strew them around everywhere?


DEMONIC CRAWLER

A hellish insectoid creature with a long and bloated body, supported by dozens of short jointed legs and topped with an almost human head.

No 1-4, AL C, Mv 150’ (50’), AC 16, HD 7, Att 1d6x3, Sv Dwarf, ML 10, HC XIII, XP 440

16'+ long. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons.

Just a big mean ugly millipede-man thing.


EXECUTIONER, aka BLADE WHEEL

A horribly powerful and swift demon, its shape obscured by a cloud of swirling scythe-like blades.

No 1, AL C, Mv 240’ (80’), AC 21, HD 10, Att 1d10/1d6x2, Sv Dwarf, ML 12, HC X, XP 2400

Ogre-sized. Standard demon/outsider immunities. Vulnerable to holy weapons. 

Pain Ray: A single enemy within line of sight takes 1d12 damage as waves of agony wrack their body. Automatically hits, no save.

Speed Wheel: Self only. Move 50% faster and 1 extra attack per round. Lasts for 10 rounds.

If Dark Souls taught me anything, it's that spinning things are always terrible.


*****

Some of these guys are really tough, I would be careful when I throw them at my players. A few I toned down from the Crawl version, just because they seem fun and I want to use them more often. And this is just a few monsters from ONE region of the game! There are plenty more (terrifying demons) to adapt, which I'll do in future posts.

Now jam this next time your PCs are getting MUTATED:


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Manscorpion / Vancian Magic

N. Manscorpion's most recent guest post. After he sent this to me, he started his own page, so let's link to that right now:

lairofthemanscorpion.blogspot.ca

In the mean time, here it is.


-HDA


*****


Make Magic Weird Again

Hey everyone, just a few disjointed thoughts and musings this time. I’m still working on the setting, and hope to have something substantive enough to run some sessions with this summer. I feel a burst of inspiration coming up, spurred by finally picking up and starting Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, which obviously has a lot of parallels to what I’m trying to do with Xish and the Crater. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’ve already seen a million ideas I want to steal.

What I want to talk about right now, though, is the obvious thing to talk about when Jack Vance comes up in the context of D&D: magic. I have to say, it’s been kind of surreal to see just how close to the magic system we all know and love Vance’s original iteration actually is, and also how different. What really stands out is just how weird the magic comes across, the way Vance writes it.

That stands out because, at this point, D&D magic is the banal default. It’s in a thousand officially branded books and, I’m sure, even more unofficial ones. You use it every time you sit down to play Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of what edition you’re using. When you read about it, whether in Dragonlance Chronicles or some Salvatore bullshit, there’s nothing particularly interesting about it, and it’s more often than not described in a rote way, because those authors know you already know how it works. At the gaming table, it’s pretty much taken for granted. It’s just a set of rules that define and constrain the kinds of actions your wizard can do in order to actually be useful.

But when Vance describes that shit, he never lets you forget how strange it actually is. Here’s where he gives us our first glimpse of how magic works, in the first couple pages of The Dying Earth:


The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on the long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. There were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time.

Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violent Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.


The way Vance describes it, a wizard never just “memorizes” spells: he “forces the space-twisting syllables into his brain.” And yet, I defy you to think back to all the D&D you’ve ever played to a moment where a wizard memorizing their spells was even narrated at all. It’s just some lines you cross out and add on a piece of paper sometime between the DM saying “You go to sleep” and “You wake up.”

Reading Vance has made me realize that, as mundane as it’s come to seem after years of playing, D&D magic, even divorced from its source, is still really weird. Think about it: in D&D land, spells are strings of words so powerful and rarefied that just reading them puts the spell into your brain, in a way that it literally takes up space in there, and it’s discharged out of your brain wholesale and manifested into the world just by you saying those words again. Shit is fucked up, for real.

But how to communicate this, as a DM? How do you make magic weird again? I think this is a problem whose potential solutions are mostly going to have to be tested in the field, so to speak, but I have a few ideas.

The most obvious one, I’ve already hinted at: actually take a second to describe what memorizing spells feels like. Make it clear that it’s not just a matter of sitting down, opening a book, having a little read, and then going to bed. Vance always makes it clear that this is a process that takes effort. One neat thing I’m thinking about ways to incorporate is that, at least so far in the story, the hardest spells for Vance’s wizards to memorize aren’t necessarily the most powerful ones, they’re the last one or two that they cram into their heads, regardless of what the spells actually are. I like this because it implies that spells aren’t supposed to be in your head at all, let alone five at a time – it’s something you have to train yourself to be able to do, because that shit ain’t natural.

I’m not quite sure how you’d effectively communicate this in game – maybe require INT rolls or something for your last couple of spell slots filled: if you fail you still have the spell, but you’re fatigued all day. I’m not entirely satisfied with that, but it’s something to mull over.

Another idea I have is a bit of a gimmick, but I think it would work. It’s illustrated nicely by citing the first couple of times Vance gives us the list of spells a wizard prepares. The first time, the spells are: the aforementioned Call to the Violent Cloud, Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, and the Spell of the Slow Hour. Later, another wizard settles down and brain-crams: Phandaal’s Gyrator, Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell, that Excellent Prismatic Spray again, the Charm of Untiring Nourisment, and the Spell of the Omipotent Sphere.

You see where I’m going with this, yeah? That dusty old scroll or tome your wizard just found? Instead of telling them “It’s a scroll of Sleep,” tell them it’s a mildewey parchment whose contents purport to describe the means of casting “The Fifth Bolt of Unconsciousness.” And because spells are just weird syllables that in themselves don’t indicate anything about what a spell actually does (at least, that’s how it’s coming across in Vance so far), don’t tell your player what the spell is actually called in the rulebook until the first time they cast it, or maybe only give them some cryptic remarks that the wizard who last had this book scrawled in the margins. And make them write “Fifth Bolt of Unconsciousness” on their sheet. Like I said, gimmicky, and maybe you players will hate and even if they don’t they won’t appreciate the extra work you put in (they never do), but I think it helps magic feel like a real thing in your world, and not just a set of rules for doing certain things to monsters.

Which brings us to the final thing I think you could do, also pretty obvious: don’t just say “Okay, you cast fireball,” have the player roll their dice, and then move on – take a second to tell everyone what casting a fireball actually looks and feels like. I feel like there’s a lot of room to get creative with this; mechanically, the only things that really matter about a spell are the numbers and the in-game effects, which means you make the standard spells seem completely fresh just by describing them differently. Remember that Call to the Violent Cloud, from The Dying Earth? In effect, it winds up being the equivalent of Plane Shift, i.e. a spell to enter a different dimension. In narrative terms though, what happens when it’s cast is that a sentient cloud is summoned, which the wizard then commands to take him to the dimension he needs to go to, and it heaves up and bats him around for awhile before depositing him there. How much weirder and more, well, magical does that feel then just “And then he cast Plane Shift and now he was in Baator,” or whatever?

To sum up: Vancian magic doesn’t have to be boring and routine, because in Vance, it’s fucking not. I’m not claiming to be the first person to have ever realized this. Maybe everyone reading this is just going “Well, duh,” but for me it’s been pretty eye-opening.

*****

Once again, this stupid Blogger interface won't cooperate with pictures, so you guys just get a wall of text. Now go out and be the beast you worship.

-HDA



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mission time tomorrow.


Just loading up my laptop with music and making some notes, getting ready for running the MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA tomorrow!!

OUGH OUGH ARRRGHHHHHHHHH