Saturday, December 27, 2014

Alice, 5e

Zak's Alice class, for 5e. All the usual caveats about 5e stuff apply: I've not run or played enough of it, and I'm sure the math is not great (like, the proficiency/advantage thing is an obvious issue I need to work out).

to hit/attack +2 at level 1, gain 1 ever 4 levels after that (so +3 at 5, +4 at 9, etc)
HD d6
HP at level 1 6 + Con
Armor light*
Weapons simple*
Saving Throws Dexterity, Wisdom
Skills choose three from: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Insight, Perception, Survival, Persuasion
(a) simple melee weapon or (b) light crossbow and 8 bolts;
(a) a dagger or (b) a sling with 12 stones; and a
dungeoneer's pack.

*disregard proficiencies awarded by race or other choice.

The Alice Die begins at d4 and increases once the level exceeds the maximum die value, up to level 12 (so, 1-4: d4, 5-6:d6, 7-8: d8, 9-10: d10, 11+: d12).

Exasperation works as in original, but doesn't work properly in medium or heavy armor (it's just hard to get worked up properly in all that protection): when in armor heavier than light, can't choose to become exasperated and abilities that trigger exasperation roll a smaller Alice die.

Cunning Action bonus action in combat to: Hide, Dash or Disengage actions in combat.

What if it went like this instead... may use any old thing as thieves tools to disarm traps or pick locks so long as it makes some kind of sense. The thing in question is, of course, imperiled should the roll fail.

Proficiency Bonus is rolled using the Alice Die.

Advancement: Every odd level, including first, roll a d100 on the below. At every even, roll two.

1-30 Precisely where I left it. 1/session, after a round of casting about, may find that thing you lost (a random bit of Adventuring Gear). On a re-roll: "I think it started with a..." can now choose the first letter of the item. On subsequent re-rolls, increases uses/session. Must be searching a plausible area (items don't appear out of thin air, but anything could be behind a bush or buried in the mud or in your pack somewhere.

31-50 Books without pictures... Add one to any save made against spells or magic being spoken, sung, etc., as they are just too boring to bother paying attention. Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency, then wasted roll.

51-70 Why, the effrontery of it! 1/session, gain advantage when wriggling out of a grapple, escaping manacles or any other mundane means of restraint. Re-rolls add uses/session.

71 She noticed the Red Knight always feinted to his left— she was a very perceptive girl. 1/Fight: add 1 to attack roll and damage roll you make against a creature for every round spent analyzing the creature in action (target must have organs and be living for this to work). Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency, then wasted roll.

72 Alice liked pies, although sometimes people did not want her to have them. add one to find any foodstuff. Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency, then wasted roll.

73 She closed her eyes and said the words just as she’d been taught... gain Magic Initiate Feat. Always use Wisdom or Charisma for Spellcasting checks, regardless of source of spells (pick which when you first roll this). Re-roll if rolled again.

74 Oh, I do so apologize... when an enemy triggers an attack of opportunity, you may trip them on a Successful Dex check (knocks prone). Does not count as an action, reaction or attack of opportunity. On a re-roll, add one die of damage (same as whatever weapon you currently have equipped) as you take a sideswap at the falling opponent. On re-roll, add additional die.

75 Her sister had mentioned they were dreadful people... +1 to recognize the faction or function of any aristocrat in any land. Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency. After that, for each time this bonus is re-rolled, you are in fact, as you just now recalled, related to such and such to-be-encountered NPC (player designates whenever, but not long after the NPC is first met).

76 All that hiding in the dumbwaiter has finally paid off. The Alice knows a secret - 1/session you're proficient in a single Arcana, History or Nature check. Add another 2 to the roll if you're arguing with someone being condescending, snobby, etc. Re-rolls: add uses/session.

77 It seemed nearly everything was dangerous if handled improperly. gain Tavern Brawler Feat. If re-rolled, increase one of the following: Strength or Con by 1 or unarmed strike damage.

78 It was very shiny and stuck out like a soup spoon... gain the Thief Archetype feature Free Hands 1/session: may use Cunning Action to make a Sleight of Hand check, use thieve's tools to disarm a trap or open a lock or take the use object action. Re-rolls increase uses/session.

79-85 She was not such a mouse as she used to be. add d4 to Charisma or d3 to Dexterity or d2 to Wisdom, or 1 to Con, up to the 20 max.

86 Alice then did something quite astonishing... 1/session, upon failing an Int Saving throw, trigger Exasperation for free, immediately. On Re-roll, increase uses/session, up to 3, then triggers upon upon being interrupted while doing something tricky, stressful, while arguing, etc. Afterwards, a wasted roll.

87 The blue one certainly did make the Alice taller, of that Alice was certain... The Alice is +1 to identify drugs and plants with drug-like properties for each time she rolls this. Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency, then wasted roll.

88 She could be very charming when she needed to be. Add one when making a Charisma (Deception) or (Persuasion) check. Re-roll: add 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency (or double proficiency, if already proficient), then wasted roll.

89 “It really was curious,” she thought— “How many times could this kind of thing happen?” The Alice may escape death or another equally awful fate exactly once. The Alice must spend at least a round playing possum to build tension but...surprise, the Alice jumped out of the way just in time! Re-rolling this means the Alice gets to do it again.

90 She knew to curtsey at times like this, and so she did. Despite the low company the Alice keeps, she’s been working on her manners. Members of the upper classes instinctively recognize the Alice as one of their own (even if she isn’t). Re-roll if rolled again.

85 It was so lovely, and— according to the book— it was right there. The dress made of manticoreflesh, the house full of lilacs, the magical fishgutting knife— whatever the thing that the Alice always wanted is, it’s there. 4 sessions worth of adventure away or less. Tell the Alice’s Referee, who then must place it. The Alice must have a fair shot at it— like any other reward in a game— but there’s no guarantee the Alice will get it. If the Alice doesn’t get it by the fourth session, the Alice can keep trying or let it go and roll again on this table. However, if the Alice chooses to roll again and then gets the thing somehow anyway, the Alice loses whatever new gimmick the Alice rolled on the table. Referee: think up some clever reason why.

86 She had not known her mother’s cousin very well, and decided that it was a bad thing that she had died... The Alice has been willed 5,000 units of the local currency (Gold pieces? Silver pieces? Kroner?) worth of random mundane (nonmagical) objects. Here’s how it works: the player of the Alice has exactly ten seconds real time to say what she bought. The Alice now has all that stuff, assuming it adds up to less than 5,000gp. The Alice does not get experience points for this treasure.

87 They kept talking as though Alice was a rhododendron in a pot. Advantage on Stealth checks. Re-rolling 87 on this table means she can re-roll it twice and keep the best of those 3 results if any succeed. Re-rolling 87 after that means she can re-roll any roll failed three times, then four, etc.

91 She knew from school what the word meant, but did not know if it was rude or not. gain Linguist Feat. On a re-roll, apply the bonus to Int. After hitting max, wasted roll.

92 Alice quite liked drawing, and had an impressive box of crayons at home. May forge without a forger's kit and may use a Charisma (Persuasion) check in lieu of another. On a re-roll, re-roll on this table.

93 She thought it might be a saltcellar, or at least that seemed like a good word. The Alice can appraise treasure to a nontrivial and nonboring degree: the value of mundane things can be estimated flawlessly and if a piece of treasure is not what it seems on any level the Alice will get an inkling. As in, if the Alice player goes “Is this not what it seems?” and the Referee will go “Yeah, you’ve seen
a lot of jade urns in your day and this is not what it seems somehow— you’re not sure how.” If a treasure has some unusual or hidden feature of a mechanical or physical nature, the Alice will sense that it is there on a successful Intelligence roll. The Alice won’t know what it is, but the Alice’ll sense that it is there.

94-95 Has that always gone in there? 1/session, advantage on a Perception check, on a re-roll, add 1 to passive perception. On subsequent re-rolls, add use/session, then 1 to perception, etc.

96 She began to feel somewhat neglected. If the Alice is attacked in a round that she spends doing nothing but dodging and her attacker misses, the attacker will not only miss but fumble and lose his or her next turn (if s/he or it has multiple attacks, s/he will lose a number of attacks equal to the Alice’s level). This only works once on anything of better than zombie intelligence that sees it happen. If the Alice re-rolls this result, the Alice gets to do it twice in a combat, then three times, then four, etc.

97-98 She tried to remember what she knew about stoats. Charisma skills may be applied to communicate with animals.  Re-roll: add 1 to these Cha checks, then 2, then treat as advantage, then add proficiency, then wasted roll.

99-00 Alice had seen so many unusual things lately, it had become usual. Nothing phases the Alice any more— she is immune to insanity or confusion in any form. Even mind-altering cosmic horrors from the far edge of the cosmos are like whatever. The Alice still knows fear. Fear is good— fear keeps the Alice alive. Re-rolling this grants the Inspiring Leader Feat and then is a wasted roll.

image attribution: John Tenniel

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dwarf in the Machine (5e D&D Race/Dwarves/some subraces)

Nearly all of the dwarves in modern fantasy are from Tolkien. Tolkien's dwarves are an amalgamation of the Hebrew language, second temple period Jews, the more negative characteritics of certain Norse heroes (stubbornness, alcoholism, violence, volatility) and the Nordic Dvergar (short, wise earth spirits, experts in crafting and mining who dwell in mountain halls or below the earth).

And then there is Adam, the created man (the only thing that the god of Genesis appears to make with His bare hands) whose name in Hebrew is a sort of neologism for ruddy dirt.

Forged are dicordated humanoids. Their frames fleshy and broad, they are wide-handed and wide-mouthed and usually hirsute (or, in certain environments, hairless and hyperdense or scaled and gilled). Each Forged is bound to its home Forge and all the Forged bound to a Forge are called an Iteration (as in, "we are the Iteration of Gaz'sham").

Forged show less phenotypic diversity within a single Iteration than humans do among a single population group: while their hair and skin color may vary, facial features and general physique remain startlingly similar, making it difficult for most non-Forged, and for many Forged not of the same Iteration, to distinguish at sight between two Forged of the same iteration.

There are phenotypic distinctions that resemble human "male" and "female", but Forged are sterile, and most find a pseudo-sexual release in work, power, research and creativity. Their numbers are replenished: whenever a Forged dies, a new Forged appears fully formed from their Forge's creation matrix, pursuant to their Forge's preservation procedures and their Iteration's birthing rituals. Birth rates (Forgings or Smeltings) sometimes increase or flag, with multiple Forgings for a single death or no replacement born at all depending on the needs of the Forged: in times of war as many as four or five Forged may be born for each death, in times when the Forge's halls are crowded, some deaths may go without a corresponding birth.

Forge worshippers hold this as the considerate hand of Mother Forge, while others suggest that Forges may be acting in their own defense or simply responding to birth and death rates (more frequent death rates indicating a stress on the Forge's environs and the need for more Forged).

Diversity of appearance within a Forged population may be down to bugs in a Forge's code, an ancient signalling mechanism, simple caprice or environmental variation (the palest Formostian are born in the higher reaches of their homes, the more blue their skin, the closer their birth port is to the Ocean Below).

*are born mature, average lifespan of 350 years
*their laws of utmost importance, but they disregard the laws of all others
*4-5' tall
*25' walking speed
*60' darkvision 
*advantage on poison saving throws and resistance to poison damage
*proficient in battleaxe, handaxe, throwing hammer and warhammer
*proficient with one of smith's, brewers or mason's tools/supplies
*proficient in Int(History) checks relating to stonework
*speak read and write Common and their own language
*there are multiple subraces, detailed below
(ie, as PHB for dwarves)

Forged eventually wear down and collapse. Stilled Forged rot within seconds and are gone within hours, as if designed to leave no trace or else be immediately forgotten. 

The body is Still, but the spirit continues and most Forges give voice or even spectral form to the Still. The Still of Gaz'sham retain some form, like ghosts or specters and work alongside their fully corporeal cousins. Gaz'sham is more dead than living. 

Similarly, the Still of Formost are rooted in place in the sea bed fathoms below their stalactite home, are composed primarily of photons and speak in gargling Deep Speech. They stand and sway in the deep, softly glowing in the trillions, making the ocean bed like a moon, like an endless bed of anemones (their knowledge of the deep is said to be fathomless).

The Still Dwarrow retain no form but are a cacophonic voice and force, rolling stones and cracking trees but at times have appeared en masse, as a tribe of ghostly mountain warriors stretching from the observer to seeming infinity and it is in this form they have their centennial games of ninepins in remote mountain vales. They know the names of most things.

Still Agnians disappear, their burial cave sealed tight by elves. They will someday break the seal and pour over their home like a tide of ice, freezing many to death, locking their homes deep below ground, fouling their own forge unless aided. The Agnian Still regularly seek aid from any they can reach, but have reached no one as of yet.

Reincarnation is unheard of and not necessarily desirable. When not speaking through their Forge, Still Forged are still working, praying, interacting with one another and their ancestors in a cold, dark, vast and seemingly infinite cave. If there is an end to the cave or to the Forge's storage capacity, there is no clear end in sight. It's possible that the active Forges share space with the inert ones.

Each Forge is fortress- or city-sized. Some are worshiped (depending on the Forge, the Knowledge, Tempest, Fortian, Forge or Void Domains). Most are embedded in rock and only partially excavated, the Forged living in their empty spaces, not within the Forge's bulk, where its workings are.

Most Forges are clearly enormous machines of some kind, usually composed of brass and a dull super hard metal as well as poured stone and each Forge is unique in its design. Many are inert, humming and twinkling but cold and otherwise dark. Others are superheated, churning, literally deafening or blinding if you end up in the wrong place or look into the wrong port or hatch.

There are always sealed doors in. The Forged usually guard all open access points into their Forged to their death. 

Some are gears and clockwork and Modron scholars explore and catalog the interiors when allowed and others are gas and coolant and tubes and cold green displays and Illithids and Gith try to steal their guts and there are whole ecosystems living in those tubes, most of them stow-aways from somewhere and time very, very distant, their minds like a map to cities no Common-speaking sapient has ever heard of let along visited or else a spellbook of great and alien power.

Most Forges have some motive power, likely all can teleport anywhere in an instant. The Forged have never discovered how to enable these fucntions and those Forges that do move mostly hover or scuttle a centimeter or so every year one way or the other, listless.

Most Forges contain writing composed largely of arrays of lines, some leaning or curling, as if composed by an impatient, brutal hand. The language shares roots with Giant and Infernal and takes loan words from Deep Speech. This is called "Dwarvish".

Forged keep records of all the other known Forges and they lock these records up tight and keep them encoded and cursed. Most Forges are keyed to the others, making travel from one to the other a matter of tapping a portal key to a portal, though the portal keys are largely lost or else have been intentionally disseminated, to allow certain individuals ready access to the Forges. Forged will pay great sums or craft mighty devices for the return of these keys. Some portals are dead and others are prohibited or malfunctioning. The portal for Formost, for example, is shut. When it was open it just spewed crawling piles of flesh.


It's possible that:

*Forges are some biomechanical computer or sentience of alien purpose or intent and Forged are some kind of maintenance race or defense system or both

*or that the Forged are some kind of very specific defense system: the Forges may be thought structures of pure order, crystallized into matter, the Forged a response to sapient life or perhaps a means of communicating with them (in which case there is a fundamental flaw or break in the communication relay because the Forges don't speak to the Forged; an alternative theory is that the Forged are, themselves a kind of language or symbol - akin to the plaque on Pioneer 10 "I see you, I understand you and make things like you" as well as some kind of maintenance or defense mechanism)

*Forges may be probes and their Forged a kind of data collection system

*the creation of the Forges is often attributed to old, lost creator deities, usually a demonic titan (creator perhaps also of the Dungeon Virus and Elves and other soul-less beings)

*the Forged may be a kind of internal signalling system, organelles gone haywire

*some Forges make things, with or without the help of their Iteration of Forged, but not all and this production itself could be some other kind of bug, information gathering or dissemination technique, etc.


Formostian live in Formost and their home is full of monsters (a sort of bubbling froth of flesh and mouths and magic and rays of force) and they're living on its outskirts (or what is believed to be its outskirts, the Forge's location and nature having been long lost to the memory of even the oldest Stilled Formostian still interested or capable of speech). More precisely, they live in holes and tunnels roughly quarried from stalactites and eat fungus and they are broken (either whatever part of their forge that gives them things like empathy is broken or they were made to be like people pretending to be people who are actually a little more like machines). They are born out of rock. It is unclear if the rock itself is some extension of their Forge or their birth is some last ditch defense mechanism or means of perpetuation or the Formostian are a kind of distress signal.

Their forge is lost to them and they sacrifice themselves in great numbers deep in their stalactite home or in the rock above or far below them, breaking like waves upon unceasing hordes of crawling, mutant life. They have yet to even find the original halls of their forge and are birthed from the stone of their new home, rock spaces crudely excavated from stalactites hanging over and suspended in an ancient, black underground ocean. Their skin is blue-grey to white, their hair, when it grows sticks out straight and ranges from deep green to black. They stink of brine and the bio-luminescent fungus they eat makes their teeth and mouth glow.

*can drink salt water and eat rotten food without ill effect
*when suffocating, adds half its con score in rounds it can survive without breath
*advantage on trying to communicate with mollusks and most low-intelligence fish

Gaz'shamen live in Gaz'sham, First Forge, Cathedral of Polumetis, so long forgotten it's falling into (is partway into) the primordial soup of Limbo, and the Gaz'shamen are relatively recently born, kickstarted into existence either by warning sensors in the Forge-cathedral or else by some intruder. They're frantically trying to save their home and themselves from extinction. Their home is the sole source of new Dirge Walkers (space ships in Limbo) and they swear that production will cease when they die out (it will certainly cease when the primordial soup takes Gaz'sham entirely).

The technopriests of Gaz'sham spend most of their time researching their home, the Dirge Walkers and some means of pulling their home Forge, what amounts to a small planet, out of the soup, if not out of Limbo entirely. They're all for taking whatever offers of help come their way. They still haven't figured out a way in to Gaz'sham even and everyone lives on buildings cobbled together on the factory's outer structure.

The warpriests, on the other hand, already stretched thin defending their planet against the chaos beasts that clamber up its hull from the primordial soup, are much less enthusiastic about dealing with the thousands of petitioners from all over the planes who offer help in hopes of getting a spot at a Dirge Walker auction. 

Gaz'sham is crawling with monstrous constructs and sentient engines (technopriest attempts at automated defense systems and/or help reversing Gaz'sham's descent, many of which are simply left to run wild near Limbo, some of which have decided it makes more sense to organize and Xaositects are in their number, coaching the more rebellious) and higher and lower planars, often acting on their best behavior and only trying to kill eachother in secret. Black markets for artifacts and lost tech and assassination attempts are common here as there is no Lady of Pain here to keep such potentially destabilizing intrigues in check.

*+1 Wis
*advantage on Int(History) and (Arcana) checks to identify or discern basic information as to lost or far-planar tech

Agnians are red- or black-haired, volatile, and often drunk or strung out. They claim to be fled from deep below the surface, escaped from siege cities built in plutonic igneous rock floating amid magma like a clot in the terrestrial blood or like an inverted asteroid. It's unclear if they're all talking about the same city or many, and they gather regularly to compare copious notes and diagrams of their home(s).

Their Forge has melted and now circulates as magma, its functions intact, its processes continuing. Functionally the whole terrestial circulatory system of an Agnian's planet is their Forge and in the rolls of the other Forged is known as Bast-Thurm. If only these exiles could get access to another Forge's rolls, talk to the eldest among the Still there they could confirm the existence of Bast-Thurm, point to its name stricken from the list, and proclaim it lives still, if in a terrible form.

Once upon a time, the story goes, Bast-Thurm was a city of gold filigree and platinum instrumentation and then the Elves cracked its spine, sent it into the earth, melted it down to its formulas and intentions, wove their gods into its codes and turned to their own cold wills the mind of the Agnian.

According to the refugees, the Agnians still trapped below congress with Fothians (fire elementals) and Star Lice (emissaries of the stars), lead armies of char-orcs, and claim demons and red dragons as counselors and ambassadors, build enormous siege weapons to lay surface civilization to waste, refining the art of telluric theurgy (planet magic) whereby they will convert their plutonic homes to volcanic weapons, cracking their planets. They cultivate a death-cult and sorcerers, warlocks and barbarian-berserkers are common.

They have discovered what all Fothians know: that all magma is one and these sub-crust rock battleships sail from one planet to another effortlessly, via nodes and byways through the elemental plane of fire.

The satellite Agnians claim that every so often the Elven coercion fails and some of the Iteration flee their brethren. For these few, their Forge feels like an oppressive, numbing fever and live like the medicated insane, dulled and cutoff, their heel to the edge of a terrible abyss that will claim them happily and from which they could never return. 

Satellite Agnians throw themselves into art (brutalist sculpture, often highly political, may involve self mutilation or harm), and drinking and dangerous living and try to master the formulas of telluric theurgy, refactoring the thousands of pages of calculations so that they work outside of magma, further from the gravitational nut at the planet's core.

*+1 Int
*can create sparks with a snap of their fingers (treat as flint)
*advantage against fire saving throws

Dwarrow live in Dwarrowhelm, a network of cities built into mountains and hills. They are fractious, wild and violent, like an antibody against any other thing that stands in their way or is in their home without explicit welcome. They eat meat and drink strong liquor, though they can survive on rock or sunlight and ambient moisture, as if built to last in the depths of the earth or in a vast wasteland. Dwarrow hibernating in the sunlight closely resemble statues, their skin hardening to a grey, flaky stone, their limbs locked, axes and hammers clenched tight, but they're just barely breathing and waiting for something more interesting to come along. There are expedition or raiding parties of Dwarrow, frozen still for millenia in some desert.

When they aren't fighting, they are making things or plotting how to get more materials to make more things. Ownership and personality are not distinguished: a Dwarrow's axe is the same as its arm and anything in Dwarrow land not only belongs to the Dwarrow but is Dwarrow in some fundamental sense. Loss of an axe is like loss of an arm and physically hurts (though not as much as the pain a human suffers upon losing a limb - the Dwarrow have so many limbs, the nerves are attenuated). This also means that, at least when within their Dwarrowcraft (the term extends to everything the Dwarrow makes, including its section of Dwarrowhelm), Dwarrow can feel the theft of something (a singe coin like a pin prick, a prized possession like the loss of a child). 

Dwarrow name every bit of their Dwarrowcraft, they are obsessive namers and catalogers and mappers and Dwarrowcrafting is incomplete until the thing in question is named. Names tend to be mosntrously long, including narrative and history and are usually shortened to one or two words, but each Dwarrow knows all the names of all its Dwarrowcraft.

Accordingly, the gift of Dwarrowcraft is either a pseudo-sexual sharing of personhood (something frowned upon by more conservative Dwarrow while the most liberal and rebellious have been known to gift their whole selves to one another or, rarely, those not of the Iteration), or it involves a severing of the Dwarrow's person. 

Dwarrowcraft coexist in a delicate balance of long-negotiated and oft-re-negotiated contracts whereby one Dwarrow has egress through another's Dwarrowcraft in exchange for the same. There are whole dead areas within Dwarrowhelm, where the Pure let none pass, keeping themselves entirely separate. Most Pure are old, violent and a bit insane and are generally treated as something like saints.

Territorial disputes are constant and often end only in death. Seizing such lost Dwarrowcraft take days as the conquering or exploring Dwarrow has to slowly go through and read each name in full to incorporate it into itself.

Forcing a Dwarrow to invade another's Dwarrowcraft is nearly the highest crime possible.

Dwarrow tend to narrowly construct the boundaries of Dwarrowcraft - it's boundaries are usually coterminous with their Forge halls - but the Dwarrow Iteration sometimes revises the definition. A popular, minority opinion of ownership/self runs that Dwarrowcraft is wherever a Dwarrow plants its feet, whatever it wears, whatever it holds and names and little else.

The Sightless, preaching a dual concept of communal self that was coterminous with the ends of a Dwarrow's sight, built massive claiming/observation devices at the tops of mountains and rallied great armies of Dwarrow who claimed and named all they could see. The Sightless's empire was eventually toppled, and its survivors were blinded by those reborn into the Iteration. The Sightless persist among the Still, fomenting perpetual expansion from their spectral generalships.

*+1 Str
*can eat rock in lieu of starving to death, can hibernate if given roughly 10 hours of sun and some ambient moisture, hibernating Dwarrow can live indefinitely with a little air, their skin forming a seal, granting them a natural AC of 18.

attributions: armandeo64, Carl & Linda Sagan & Frank Drake, Mignola, Blanche, Adrian Smith

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kobolds or, Episode 1 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen (D&D 5e)

I am on vacation, but I still ran the first episode of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. This isn't about that. This is about reading the first episode (I have a rule about not talking about something someone else made without playing or running it first. My notes are too long and copious and also I left some of them at someone's house. +Bryce Lynch  is doing fun stuff though, look Bryce up on G+.).

"wearer of purple" is what the cultist call their leaders. They wear purple. 

One antagonist is a "half-black dragon". She is hated by a rival, "Talis the White".

Two major allies are named, "Leosin Erlanthar" and, "Onthar Frume", both of which roughly translate to, "this is where fantasy tropes go to die."

There are "dragon masks" that have to be combined into a single mask in order to raise the evil god (guess which one). Rather than require some kind of surgical grafting on of multiple faces onto a single host and the resulting multi-faced failed horrors along the way that would need helping or putting down, the masks probably just all sort of mush together into a single glowy thing, like when the planeteers put their rings together to summon captain planet.

good things: there is some general consideration paid to the sensual elements of each area, the maps are easy to read (EXCEPT LIKE THE FIRST ONE, WHY IS EVERYTHING LIKE DARKBROWNGREEN)

Episode 1
An important trade center is under attack by mercenaries and kobolds. The town has no walls but is a center of trade. We should rob this place blind and make a new home with the money, and the new home will have walls, and then we will invite everyone from the old town to come live in our new town and they won't stay mad at us, because walls make better neighbors than no walls and bandits forever.

A sky blue dragonperson (ahem, half-blue dragon) challenges one person to a fight but doesn't cheat,  because he has a, "deep sense of honor about one-on-one combat," which seems sort of like saying, "Barry can always be trusted to watch the children, he has a deep sense of honor about cooking with locally sourced ingredients."

[pretend this is a sidebar]
In a story, facts accrue and the readers come to conclusions. Reversals can happen at key moments to heighten the tension and prolong interest. Having a series of encounters that tell the players, "these guys seems like sneaky, terrible assholes," followed with, "if you fail to trust the boss asshole, and maybe even if you try to hedge your bets because, hey, this guy looks tough and all his friends are untrustworthy, it turns out you probably get some innocents killed and you should have probably trusted him," that seems like a shitty "gotcha". Or maybe it's meant to kick off a dark adventure where no one is clearly good or clearly evil and there is no ideal solution... but no, that's not what HotDQ is (yes, Hot Dairy Queen).
[the sidebar is over]

The town does its best to save any hero that fails to win the fight with Sky Blue and if Sky Blue is defeated, he's rushed off and healed. So, you know, no player's character dies and we get to set up a (dramatic!) encounter in Episode 3. 

[pretend this is a sidebar]
And, throughout this Episode (mostly throughout the whole book) mercenaries and kobolds stand around, waiting to be foiled. Another thing they do: running and dancing away (to be encountered later, when it is more "dramatic" [there is an obsession with deferring things for drama's sake, and no advice as to what would be most dramatic]). Or else they are standing around, waiting for heroes. It's like you walked into a crowded room and only as you appear do people start moving, speaking, does the sound kick in. What is this strange simulacrum of life? How did we fall into this nightmare?
[the sidebar is over]

What we learn about kobolds: They are small and they like dragons. They comport themselves menacingly.

When Paizo released Rise of the Runelords they reimagined goblins with Wayne Reynolds, and Goblins lit themselves on fire by mistake, drowned in half-full barrels, feared and hated horses (horses are kind of like their dragons) and one eats a man's face off (is eating it, through a hole in the wall, when you find it). They roast limbs for fun, carry molten tongs and try to shove adventurers into a furnace. There are optional feral goblin babies to kill (or to try to raise). They have a song (it is lame), and a druid that moves through their bramble walls as if the brambles were no obstacle at all, and a chief that rides a giant gecko. There will be a man encased in glass, an aasimar becoming a demon, a barghest, seduction, romance, betrayal, two patricides, a boat hunt, family squabbles, rangers giving reports about goblin activity, flirting, grave robbing, lost mega weapon-type defense systems, ancient temples and fonts of evil power, demons, a mutant goblin and an imp that imagines itself queen. That's in 60 pages or so (the first of six chapters). Half the length of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. fuck.

attribution: FFXII

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ghouls (5e D&D race)

And from the seed of Mary, rotten, teeming, turgid, swollen with life, a great pregnant mystery hidden in the rock, came a new life so that we may live again.

And we proclaim that we are Her people, set apart, we keep the festivals, we punish the corrupt, we keep sacred the night, we carry Her word, our flesh a monstrance our lips trumpets.

The ghouls in our catacombs and slums are a symbol of a final hunger, a need that turns one's mouth on its own flesh. It borrows its name and its lethal ability from the Arabic,  where it is grasping.

The ghul is like a nightmare about gluttony so total it transforms the man into a hyena that hunts its own kind.

The Ghouls of Kievs are gluttons, forever hungry for power, order,  control. They form empires, they prolestyze endlessly by sword and church and culture. They are intellgient,  forming symbiotic relationships with the larva they host (their skin translucent, often luminous, cilia waving, appendages dark cyanotic shades), devouring  the unfaithful monstrously, alive, gouts of gore drenching their smart imperial uniforms, confecting and submitting to self-perpetuating machines of torture and correction, massing huge serf populations to build earth cracking mining machines and factory-cities. They retain armies of artists and craftsman as everything must be embellished, epaulets,  claws, tromplouiel, frogging, liveries, all the signs of imperial power, acknowledged by the ghoul but never appreciated, just a skin to pull over walls and clothes, to make them acceptable.
The Russian aesthetics are most likely an accident of larva finding host.

Kievs is bound to a meteor lodged in Limbo's primal soup and the meteor draws to it lost cities and in the meteor is a larva and it has made our leaders pale and cruel and beautiful.

Or else

Mag, evangelist of torment and living saint of the church of christ unburied, with her parasitic double (Gog), is Mary. Or an incarnation of the Maggot Bride. Or she made the whole thing up, but she visited Kievs before it was much of anything, and she visited the ghoulgiving larva upon them.

Or else

The larva crawled from some lab dish or some holding pen in Inner Kiev and infected the scientists and crashed Inner Kiev into Outer Kiev.

Or else

The larva are some experiment in exploration and colonization of extreme places, gone out of control.

any such suggestion is, however deeply offensive.


Ghoul life cycle goes larva > moth > ethereal cyst > astral mites > larva.

The larva attaches to the base of the skull, requires a weakened host (or one recently dead, mostly intact), is white, with scrabbling black forelegs and a long, fat body and hard tiny head. It gestates for hundreds of years, eventually blossoming into a butterfly like the moon, wet and beautiful, eating rational thought and grammar (so that words happen, but never conjugation or sentences, and scientists are uncertain if this indicates a similar loss of memory or memory - making ability or if the past is locked behind a failing, broken communication machine) and all the colors but black, which is like poison to it.
Then excretes rationality like a filthy black shell,  wraps wing over wing and buries itself in a cyst on the tissue of ethereal matter, causing ghosts paralysis, seizures, clogging the flow along the Astral plane, bulging and then hatching thousands of crawling Astral mites, plaguing the hunting hounds of elysium, keeping Odin up at night until they grow fat and long and white and then swimming back down to limbo, called by some strange magnetism back to Kievs.


The larva consumes colors and blood and other humanoid waste, like it was made for it and filters out a blood substitute, like a second heart, kidney and liver. The ghoul grows pale, then translucent, its skeleton visible beneath strangely fleshy pulsing tissue, the coursing of circulatory matter obscuring the tissue. Watching or talking with a ghoul is disorienting, like talking to three different things at once (bone structure followed by lagging tissue and fluid exchange structures while trying to pick up the common human expressions).

Damage to the human tissue,  if extreme is regrown as waving cilia. The scalp and forearms, neck and chest are sometimes gouged to produce ornamental rills. The digits and cilia, at their extremes are blue, purple, black cyanotic flesh.

Ghoul art is nearly entirely mimetic, hyper - realistic copy of life or aping of the art stolen from some other people or place (conquered or coveted).

Poetry is generally accepted as the true and most authentic expression of ghoul self/ves, the humanoid self writing mostly doggerel, the larva, in Deep Speech, writing about dreams of wings and another birth and strange shores planes away and travelling astral tides and what cerebus tastes like. Ghouls refer to themselves in the plural, or as 'ves (drop the "sel" or short for vessel) as either an adoption or royal affectation or as an honest assessment of their personhood. It's unclear how much of the larva intrudes on Ghoul thought. It appears to be inconsistent. The Ghouls talk of a walking ves and a dreaming ves, and, among conservatives of a certain streak, male and female ves.

Art is also often terrifying. The less sensible and mimetic it is, the less it can be like a metaphor or a set meaning, the more it may contaminate the sleeping ves, making it wake early in confusion and revulsion, leading to the death of half ruptured host and unripened larva. 

+2 CON
Advantage against poison, impurities of the blood, the extreme pressure of deep sea and space
Medium size
Walking speed 30 ft
Usually lawful
Speaks common and halting deep speech as the humanoid ves and the sleeping ves translate for one another
Advantage in grapples
There are two sub races

Luminary Ghouls
+1 Wis
Have access to the light cantrip, centered on their own bodies. This is a strange light and may attract predators, especially spectral or astral ones.

Paralyzing grasp, DC 5+proficiency bonus to save or else be paralyzed for d4 turns.

Of the Palm
+1 Cha
Paralyzing grasp, DC 10+proficiency bonus to save or else be paralyzed for d4 turns.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rituals (5e D&D )

A wizard did it

Concept: beyond a prescribed spell list, magic users (or anyone with the right books, ingredients and facility (likely a mix of Int, Wis and Cha, or just pure Cha)) can effect anything they want. The idea is to let the players and GM redefine the solution to an obstacle using magic, but at a steep cost and to add sub quests.

Rituals are broadly defined by effect. To cast down a foe, to find what is lost, to learn a true name, to learn a secret of an enemy.

Books and scrolls found in old and lost places may contain ritual instruction though wizards and the like may discover a ritual by spending as many days (or hours, if the effect is duplicative of a spell known and trivial to the caster) in contemplation.

Ritual foci are required for ritual's not confected by magic user contemplation, and then are still strongly desirable as they guarantee success. Foci tend to be macguffins, and confected rituals have pseudo foci kludged from pledges, the casters will and body.

There are three poles to consider.

1. Relative ease. The caster posits an outcome or desire. The GM considers the obstacles to obtaining the outcome naturally. Compare this difficulty to the magnitude of die sizes here and eyeball the die size. If mimicking an existing spell, use the spell's level to determine the size (sl6 is a d100,  a cantrip is d4, if greater than an sl6, add 55/additional spell level to the d100).

Divide the max die value by 2, rounding down.  This is the ritual's inertia (effectively, hp).

2. Similarity to spells. A caster with knowledge of spells or any spell - like ability may have advantage on all rolls. Dragonborn of a blue chroma may have advantage when calling thunder, aboleth and illithid and squids all gain advantage on ink, obscuring, psychic effects, etc.

3. Time and Power. Takes a day for its relative power (a d100 ritual takes seven days, a d4 one). To speed things up, add another half die to the inertia or another 2 pledges (reduces time by one step or d20 hours).

Resolution. Rituals are resolved narratively. Non casters can pledge blood (reduced to 1 ho for a day), treasure (1,000 gp, must be in jewel or statue or unworkable ore. All ancient or long lost. Hideous obelisk of Leng, reliance of the stars, etc. Coins stamped in infernal or lost mints also work), promises (enforcement of which the GM will extract in force at the worst/best time. Usually involves infernal or terrible agents.) Or  spell slots (all for the day) or an uncommon magic item (consumed or destroyed or exhausted, rarer items.counting as more pledges, but similarly depleted regardless if all pledges are necessary). 

The GM establishes the steps before casting, each step requires a contribution of the above and reduces the inertia by a die roll. Casters may also pledge as above. Pledges may be made in addition to the steps. At each step/pledge, roll a die and reduce the inertia by that much.

Steps may be opening portals or creating a jackdaw of rubbish and paper and bird bones or whispering into a bole in a frozen tree. There are as many steps as the GM wishes, usually as many as characters in the party less d4 (the point is to make things interesting). What constitutes a step is up to the GM, and the GM may, probably will, solicit suggestions from anyone casting or pledging.

Additional pledges can be made, and must be made if the ritual's inertia isn't overcome at the end of all the steps and after all the pledges are rolled or else the ritual fails.

Using a foci guarantees success in most cases though defeating inertia with rolls likely means you can keep the foci for reuse (like a catalyst).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Slaadland (D&D/Planescape, places more suitable for lower-levels)

each square is roughly 18 square miles

This is about the those land masses and the people living on them.

By an internal logic similar to Aristotle's striation of the sublunary sphere into concentric elemental slices, the biomes sinking around the Slaad are oriented to one another by temperature, climate and native life such that the temperate biomes often agglomerate into a band on which either side is a more tropic and more arctic band. This isn't universally true and fingers of ocean - impossibly deep cracks teeming with ocean life - span biomes and offer routes for trade, transport and communication (both via sail and submersible, especially the latter, as many share subsurface tributaries). Similarly, deserts and arctic cankers may sit in the middle of a jungle and while, over long centuries, each biome wanders along its borders and the oceans spread and swallow deserts and jungles flood or dry out, natural processes are much too slow and the inevitable inclination toward ultimate dissolution and end in the primal soup of Limbo prevents more serious transition.

Tectonic action occurs here too as the Slaad shifts or the Limbic body, both like an ocean and a plate, rubs against the Slaad's crust of biomes, but at the level of biome (one biome interposed over another in quick tectonic action - what life can survive in that new place doing so, most of it dying off, most such under-places being complexly dead in a generation or two).

More jumbled: the agglomeration of biomes can be both vertical and horizontal, meaning that there may be forests under forests (one the mirror of the other, their roots tangled or else actual layers where the roof of one is dotted with the root-tips of the other) or a forest swallowed by a swamp. The inhabitants of the Slaad's districts refer to upper- (lit by the weird light of the Slaad's mind palace) and under- (usually lightless). Oceans may fill such undertructures, but many are dry.

The gentry of the Witchocracies that populate Slaad-touched swamps talk of going to under-forest and upper-swamp, and weave into their long black hair the little bones of the birdlike and lamp-eyed goblins that roam those lightless woods. Some such places are lodged like a bezoar and have petrified, bushes like sharp grey teeth to the touch, or are otherwise well preserved, treasure troves of older technologies.

The city-states of the Slaad lands (Ariesne-Orlay, the Atlantis-Ys Protectorate, Kievs) all have on lease from Gaz'sham traitor-pirates drill-tanks, boring rigs, assaying instruments the size of a house, are seeking caches of lost technology sufficient to kill or incapacitate their Slaad or one another or rocket themselves either out Limbo or at least keep them from sinking further.

The closer a biome is to the Slaad or the Limbic body, the greater the variation, the greater the deformation due to radiation. 

Each biome pulled from the material plane tends to be in a state of natural decline even before its capture. Accordingly, any civilizations and peoples brought with their homelands are usually living in ruins, People living among technologies they no longer understand in a land that has turned against them:

"Had satellite imaging existed, those distinguishing features of civilized life - towns, roads, cultivated expanses - would have been mostly invisible to the camera eye under their canopy of primeval growth. Beneath the green scrim, millions of wolves roamed the twilit forests, packs prowled the rutted streets..." (God's Crucible pg 152-3)

What remains: roads left to the depredations of forests, roots and erosion, and the casual habitation of highwaymen and independent tollbooths, aqueducts full of stagnant life and weeds, their vast cisterns home to salinae burbling water songs in brackish or water-goblins making earth-bombs at the behest of beings vast, ancient and aqueous, factories (into which teams journey to salvage metal) in which lurk old guards in rusting armor and books of inscrutable power, museums and laboratories to be ransacked for arcanum and histories, castles being squatted in by revolutionaries or sorcerers looking for help or people to use or someone to do some nasty work, cities teeming with people from a multitude of biomes and planets, refugees from a collapsing or long lost biome.

Memories of one's home being taken by the Slaad are consonant with myths of cataclysm and apocalypse; Slaad capture mechanisms are as different as possible from the subtle engagement of Ravenloft.

Xaositect cells pamphlet civilized areas, establish dischoirs, overthrow tyrants and recruit the more democratically inclined. 

Over all this looms the Slaad, and over the Slaad, its mind palace, radiating psychic abreality and chaos and entropy, a forever mouth and gut swallowing whatever is around it, pullulating monstrosities, Slaad-intention spreading over the sky like a foul borealis moving in waves of mutation. This is a place from which the eye is averted, to which no maps lead, but to which every compass points.

Slaad mind palaces are like machines, massive circuits of chaos and maleficence, its hooks and conduits like flumes into other planes, chutes down into a gnawing and total chaos, its few pools and more still chambers huge networks like dungeons, teeming with nastiness, mutation and horror, hordes of psychic weapons and engines.

And into which come Xaositect Legions on their continent-ships, nothing offends them more than the vestigial order and civilization that clings to Slaad land masses and they often attach great weights or engines to drive these masses into the primal soup at a much accelerated pace.

Some Slaad share biomes at their extremes, most, however, do not and at the far end of any biome is what appears to be a vast sea of alien, inhospitable landmasses floating according to obscure tectonic action, swallowing and shitting out one another like amoeba, blind and idiot flagella, geometries that sicken the mind, over which or through which crawls the black ships of Gaz'sham or the cumbersome 'zerai missile boats.

Slaadland peninsula into the Limbic body

attributions: me and Avalon Hill
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