Friday, June 28, 2013

Fighter, Rogue, Magic User, Cleric

This is one of those things you post so that you can reference it later. Classes.


Pit fighters, soldiers, thugs, paladins, protagonists, warlords, leaders, champions.

Hit Points 6 hp at level one, +HD every subsequent level
Health Die(HD) d8 
Attack Die(AD) d8
Chance to Hit: +1 at levels 1,3,4,5,7,8,9,10
Starting Gear: Medium Armor, Three Weapons (Ranged and/or Melee) or Two Weapons (Ranged and/or Melee) and a Shield, Adventuring Gear, a little money.
Class Features
*Can use any weapon and armor without penalty.
*Knows how to make d3 things.
*Chance to Critically Hit increases by 1 at levels 3, 6 and 9
*When attacking, can do something spectacular after successfully hitting a target at the cost of rolling damage two AD smaller. Discuss this with your GM.
*You are harder to stun, knock unconscious, trip, disarm or overpower

 (pictures: can't determine attribution for the first, second is Prince Albert c1890)


Sneak thiefs, assassins, bon vivants, swashbucklers, ninjas, burglars, tricksters, magicians, experts and scouts.

Starting Health 5 hp at level one, +HD every subsequent level
Health Die(HD) d6 
Attack Die(AD) d6
Chance to Hit: +1 at levels 2,4,6,8,
Starting GearLight Armor, Two Weapons (Ranged and/or Melee), Adventuring Gear, a Rogue's Toolkit, a little money.
Class Features
*Can use any weapon and armor; wearing anything heavier than light armor, and not having both hands free makes Rogue Skills more difficult.
*Knows how to make d3+1 things.
*Can automatically critically hit an enemy when undetected
*Rogue Skills can be used once in a specific situation with a 2 in 6 chance of success; chance of success for all currently known Skills increases by 1 in 6 at levels 3, 6 and 10.
                          -At Level 1: Rogues can Know Secrets and two of the Optional Skills (Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Pick Pockets, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Hear Noises)
                          -At Level 2: Rogues gain facility in two more of the Optional Skills
                          -At Level 4: Rogues gain facility in the remaining Optional Skills and can use Know Secrets to Read Magic
                          -At Level 7: Rogues can use Know Secrets to operate Magical Devices without penalty

(pictures: Julian Callos, can't find attribution for second)


Wizard, punk priest, chaos catholic, mage, spell spitter, hexagrammarian,mathematician, occultist, lunatic.

Starting Health 4 hp at level one, +HD every subsequent level
Health Die(HD) d6 
Attack Die(AD) d6
Chance to Hit: +1 at levels 2,4,6,8
Starting GearLight Armor, One Weapon (Ranged and/or Melee), Adventuring Gear, a little money, whatever the Magic-User uses as a spell book.
Class Features
*Can use any weapon and armor; not having both hands free may make spell casting difficult
*Knows how to make d2 things.
*Can use magical devices without penalty.
*Can Cast Magic-User Spells of increasing complexity

(pictures: Denis ForkasKorehiko Hino can't find attribution for second (help me out here, if you can))


Initiate, cultist, priest, templar, hermit, magi, seer, saint, fiend, transcendentalist, celestial.

Starting Health 5 hp at level one, +HD every subsequent level
Health Die(HD) d6 
Attack Die(AD) d6
Chance to Hit: +1 at levels 2,4,6,8
Starting GearLight Armor, Two Weapons (Ranged and/or Melee), Adventuring Gear, a little money, several holy implements.
Class Features
*Can use any weapon and armor without penalty.
*Knows how to make d2 things.
*Can use magical devices without penalty so long as the device only replicates spells from the Cleric's Spell list
*Gains Cleric Spontaneous Miracles
                          -At Level 3: Choose a single Cleric Spell of the first complexity. 1/day, the Cleric may take a specific action and have this spell occur as a result of that action. Choose the triggering action (should make some sense - Cure Minor Wounds affected by touching the wound, Purify Food and Water by dipping one's hand in the Water or rubbing rot and impurities away from ruined food or squeezing out the poison, etc). Choice of action and spell is permanent.
                          -At Level 6: Choose a single Cleric Spell of the first or second complexity. 1/day, the Cleric may take a specific action and have this spell occur as a result of that action. Choose the triggering action as described above. Choice of action and spell is permanent.
                          -At Level 9: Choose a single Cleric Spell of the first, second or third complexity. 1/day, the Cleric may take a specific action and have this spell occur as a result of that action. Choose the triggering action as described above. Choice of action and spell is permanent.
*Can Cast Cleric spells of increasing complexity

(pictures: Adrian Borda, Jake Badley can't find attribution for second (help me out here on this one too, if you can)) (much thanks to +Scott Martin for pointing me to two of the missing attributions)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Knowing Stuff, Knowing How to Make Stuff for Older D&D, Survival Games

You know something or you know how to do something. Outside of what a thief does, these are the only "skills" I like* to use.


It's safe to assume that your character knows more about the world than you do. If your character has or had some kind of profession (soldier, cobbler, joiner, alchemist's apprentice, etc, etc) prior to the adventuring life, then it's likely they know something more about that than you, their player, does. They probably also know stuff relating to where they are from (townies know more about trade than villagers, villagers probably know a bit more about the local monsters than townies, etc), but that's about it.

There are times when something not immediately obvious is presented the players, be it a puzzle, monsters, location, idea, cult, etc. Ideally, the GM will remember where the characters are from and what they used to do and will tailor how information is relayed to the players based on that knowledge, but I can never fucking remember, so:

1. When presented with something unknown, players are encouraged to ask whether their players might know anything about it, but please be specific and explain why: "does my character know anything about how old it is, given her background in archaeology?" is more likely to get a useful response than, "does my character know anything about this?"

2. There are times when the GM just doesn't know what the character might know. It's possible the character knows something, it's possible she don't. In these cases, reframe the question as a statement: "Morgan thinks this is really old" and then let the dice force the GM to get creative:

Roll a die; you've about a 1 in 3 chance to force the GM to confirm whether or not the hunch is correct (if it's correct now, it's always been and always will be true [haha, fuck you GM!]), but, regardless of whether your hunch is correct or not, you've also about a 1 in 6 chance to have the GM also tell you something about the subject at hand that your character might have put together, given her general knowledge. Memory is, after all, associative.

Obviously, the specificity of the hunch is inversely proportional to the likelihood it is true (the GM is confirming whether or not the entire hunch is true, not if the general sense of the hunch is true or if it's mostly true, etc).

We're talking hunches here and not stuff like observable evidence, no using your hunch on stuff like that. Also: these are usable once a session (unless you are a bard),


You know how to make a certain kind of trap, or you can kludge together a spear that won't fall apart the first time it hits something. Kludged stuff works as well as the standard thing, but is fragile. Kludged stuff require a general formula to put together, and these formulas are a list of broadly defined materials and the amount of time required for assembly. At level 1, Thieves know how to make d3+1 things, Fighters know how to make d3 things, and Magic Users and Clerics know how to make d2 things. This starting knowledge has to make sense given the character's Background and origins. Like, a townie that used to be a clerk and is know a Cleric probably doesn't know how to make traps right off the bat.

Any additional knowledge about how to make stuff is learned through play ("great, you helped them make the spears with the other defenders, you now know how to kludge together a working spear"), and my carousing tables usually offer some useful crafting knowledge.

You'll need materials, but these are to be cast in a broad way:

kludged sword
Need: 1 long blade, 1 grip, binding material and 2d3 turns.

kludged club*
Need: 1 grip, 1 relatively tempered, sturdy material bar, stick or the like and d2 rounds.

kludged armor
Need: 3 binding material, enough of the base material to cover the chest and legs of the wearer, 4d5 turns; AC as base material (consult with GM to determine)

kludged exploding junk trap
Need: lots of edged, hard junk, a container, an accelerant, a trigger and 3d3 turns.

So like, anyone can know this formula in the abstract sense (sharp thing + handle + glue = dagger), but when a character knows the formula, they know the formula as the actual knowledge required to build this stuff. Players are encouraged to try out variations (like adding a crossbar to the grip of a kludged sword to make a hilt).

This can get highly involved, with interim components being put together (making hilts instead of grips, making triggers, accelerant, tempering wood to make a proper spear shaft or club body), but we've found the simplest iteration being the easiest to manage and the most conducive to having fun. 

Giant bee wax might serve as a binding agent, as might strands from a giant spider's web but a the players should ask when gathering this stuff to confirm, though both could serve other purposes (like giant bee wax might be molded into a container?). I don't worry too much about weight or even space. 

The GM is responsible for (a) ultimately determining what might serve well as a material component/ingredient, but ought to be open to a lot of fun variability and (b) determining how much of something is needed (ie, what constitutes a quantum/unit needed to make something). The player should come up with the notation that works best for them and then note the stuff on their inventory, like: enough spider silk to bind three things, or spider silk, 3 binding uses or binder x7 (spider silk, bee's wax, vials of clay golem blood).

To put this stuff together your character expends the necessary materials and time and then you add d6 + Int modifier and write it next to this item in your character's inventory (so like, "kludged leather armor 4"). This is its "kludge value." A value of zero means it's broken, useless, doesn't work.

After the item is used, struck or put under duress, roll a d6. If you roll at or below the kludge value, nothing happens, if you roll above it, reduce the kludge value by 1. If the thing is one use anyway (like an exploding trap), then obviously it's all used up after the one go but being struck or the like may cause it to break or go off (if it can explode, it will). You make this roll for weapons and armor at the end of combat and only once (not for each hit given/taken).

You can spend some time while resting or while in town to shore up your kludged stuff. Expend whatever materials you and the GM think makes sense, spend some time (probably at least a couple of turns) and roll a d6 again. Roll at or above the kludge value and nothing happens, roll below and increase the kludge value by two.

You can probably sell kludged stuff at a third of the price of the standard gear, but probably only in villages or some rougher towns.


I used to use a way more complicated crafting system that involved Int checks, the kind of homebrew thing that has got vestigial bits and long, blind alleyways agglomerated together. I ditched that as soon as I read this from +Jack Mcnamee , which is just so good.

*I almost always buckle or forget how much I dislike skills and we wind up incorporating other stuff with which we're dissatisfied, try to fix and then drop entirely.

pictures: top is, I think Sam Mameli or Pablo Clark Dan Zazzera then Jensine Eckwall, then, I don't know (if you know, PLEASE let me know) Guillaume Singelin.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kill all D&D Deities + the Apocalypse

When we talk about apocalypses in RPGs we usually talk about a single, cataclysmic event. It's measured in terms of, at the longest, months, but usually the metric is more modest. Often it's meant to be averted or remembered.

All of which seems wrong to me.


The word, "apocalypse," has christian roots: it's the Greek equivalent of, "revelation," and its usage in this context gestures to the Revelation of John. This, "apocalypse," doesn't describe a random cataclysmic event but is the revelation (revealing, discovering, uncovering) of the true nature of the world. In the christian sense it is the visceral realization of the moral mechanisms undergirding a seemingly unjust universe, the final accounting of eternally saved and eternally damned, the necessity to always be prepared for the thief in the night, to always lock one's shutters against Satan, who prowls like a lion in the outer dark.

In most* professionally published, WoTC/TSR-sanctioned D&D settings, every day lived is a day lived in a perpetual, eschatological drama. Each adventure is often a bit more of the apocalypse received  the true nature of things revealed. The literal hands of the gods make landfall on a regular basis, the moral order of the universe is immediately reaffirmed by divine interference and that order is often pragmatically, selfishly ordained. And this appears to be the preferred mode of D&D.


Deities are real and they are horrible, even the nice ones. They fight and kill one another, they induce war among the people of their planet, they attempt to undo all creation, or, in a baffling confusion of roles, require human assistance to thwart the nefarious deeds of their own kin. In their absence they aren't less culpable, just differently culpable. They are the worst, most negligent parent.

Furthermore, they are frequently the beneficiaries, guardians and enablers of a moral order whereby all living, sentient things lower than them on the food chain are subject to long-term punishments, torture in a variety of hells, psycho-spiritual correction facilities and afterlife trash heaps where the "bad people" are dumped. The existence of the soul permits a lost player character a return to life but is also a mechanism whereby everyone not lucky or wealthy enough to be raised is cast into a system of seemingly eternal judgment by gods of no one's election. In most of the popular, published products, this is understood to be the natural way of things; players and GM are happily complicit.

Accordingly, the end game of certain strains of D&D is to achieve god-like power, to break this weird Samara of our own imagining and hopefully kill every single last one of the gods we created together. Pull down the heavens, burn the golden halls and hand and drop the reigns of tyranny. 


*Eberron comes to mind as an exception, what others?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Chromatic Dragons, Scale Addicts


Once, the One Being Dragon ringed the world, moved over pre-creation like a wave.

Come the First People, Ix and Ixiandar, Gilgamesh and Humbaba, many others. They devour mountains, swallow streams, become mountains, streams. They shed lesser life forms like we shed skin cells, flora and fauna the product of blind, random apoptosis. They grow monstrous and stupendous and strange in proportion and size, their eyes pierce high into the once-was-sky to rest greedily on the curlicue circlet of the One Being Dragon, a spiral of light, forever chasing the sun, the gold pit of chaos.

The first and greatest of the First People, Ix, tries to pull down the Dragon, stripping from it reams of flesh and intestines like contrails of light and scintillating radiation. She drapes the Dragon flesh over her head and the heads of her companions and they swing the dragon guts and whoop and dance but the Dragon remains aloof. Try as Ix might, she cannot grasp the Dragon fully around and cannot pull it down. Ixiander and Gilgamesh instead bend the Lens of Nature and the Dragon blurs, a chromatic aberration increasingly fringed until it diffracts and splinters, thus is born the icy, sharp, Dragon of the white aspect, the vicious, plodding, flat Dragon of the black aspect, and then Dragons of each of the other ten aspects.


To be a Dragon is to be diminished. The Dragon forever lists the complaints: bowed limbs, creaking wings, rotting teeth, the grind of massive ball in massive socket, the excruciation of nerve endings and a body growing heavier, more real, less like the old self, the One Being now barely-recalled by a rebellious mind falling from the light of pure thought into reptile emotion. Each dragon longs for a past it remembers incorrectly, longs for gems as large as the stars it once dandled from the point of a single, ephemeral talon, longs to clutch and cavort in gold as bright as the radiance of the pit of chaos it once chased.

Most of all Dragons long for as long a sleep as possible and pursue this goal almost monomaniacally,  consuming everything enormously, carving out caves and gobbling the rock in its hunger, emptying and consuming forests and then falling into a hibernatory peace in which it recalls its once-divinity and only dimly retains the current, diluvial nightmare. To wake from these dreams is to relive its generative sundering and from behind a heavy lid and a crusty lens, the fractioned dragon perceives an increasingly squalid, squabbling, foreign Babels and feels its center slip further away.

A just-waking dragon bellows with fury and self-righteousness, and takes to wings, moving over the countryside in search of food and treasure, moving over towns and villages like the quickening of twilight, carrying with it into the night the souls of dogs, invalids and children.

Above the gate of Uz-Amon, fallen city by the sea, an ancient Dragon of the Green aspect has carved with an unsteady claw:



Ix, Many-Named, Queen of us all, towers like a Brocken Bow over us, the Children of the Sun. We build cities on her feet, and at night recline in the strange half-light from above, cast by her dragon-flesh crown. We sharpen weapons and the warriors of the Right and the Left stalk always contested boundaries.

Our bravest warriors ascend the body of Ix to pick clean the celestial lice, Valkyries, infant Sun-Brothers, star-children and foreigners that clamber down the spikes of her crown and nest in her feathers. Should they descend further, many in our cities would die.

These brave warriors are expert Delvers, dungeon-clearers, Dragon-tested they return home before carts of jewelry and gold, knighted in powerful relics but it will take days to clean the ancient lizard's blood from their weapons and skin.


A Dragon remembers what it was even as it slowly aligns closer to its own aspect, its new nature. Red Dragons become cruel, impetuous, love torture. Black Dragons ooze acid from every orifice, painfully, are wild, hateful, hate everything. Sap Dragons lair in enormous trees or swamps and their scales shudder as the pores beneath weep oozes and jellies capable of absorbing all the works of the children of the sun, turning them into fertilizer so potent that the Sap Dragon leaves fully-grown forests in its wake. Ultraviolet Dragons are exceedingly rare, speak all the languages of ghosts and gods and are entirely invisible to most of the children of the sun who, to consult or kill the Dragons of this aspect, keep reindeer, butterflies or even stranger creatures like ghosts or celestial lice. 

Dragons of the same aspect avoid one another, while they hunt those of different aspects so that they may harvest from them their scales and create a chime garden on some distant, windswept mountain side.

More ancient Dragons, those still close to their original self can experience the lives of their aspect like a shared memory. The experience is nauseating and most require obscene amounts of payment (a city's worth of "food," or the location of the dens of dragons of a number of different aspects, for example) to be willing to try it.

A Dragon that capitulates and takes a name is spurned at all costs, no Dragon will help it and only the most desperate for its scale will even hunt it. For example, the God-Emperor of the City of Bone and Brass is a Dragon that has long forgotten its original nature. 

No two Dragons of even the same aspect are the same. One may be two-legged, seven-winged and spider-eyed, another may be a nucleus of howling, snapping bear mouths, fur displacing scales. Dragons can freely shapechange from their true form.


A Dragon's roar is like a thunderous, skull-fracturing, orgasmic tone. It peels back the miniscus of the mind, it blasts across several planes of existence. A chime made from a single scale can produce a weaker, but still wildly addictive tone. Many of the Dragon-Killers of the Children of Sun are addicts, ringing little scale chimes in secret over and over again, longing for the next adventure, desperately seeking rumors of a Dragon den willing to sign up with a Dragon cult for guard duty knowing full well the cult will offer them up to a Dragon. Hoping they're offered up, actually.

Dragon cults trudge up foggy mountain trails, bearing enormous wealth to present the Dragon. Once at the Dragon's den, all of the initiated will kneel in supplication and wait for the Dragon's roar, which will leave them convulsive, drooling, littered above the den entrance in orgiastic clumps. They will either try to kill their hired guards themselves or just leave them bound up, with the gold, for the Dragon. Most Dragon cults are insurrectionist, violent, anti-authoritarian, its members criminals, fiends, artists, liberals, the dregs of society. Their religious practices, such as they are, are castigated where they are not outlawed (they are usually outlawed) and Dragons are accordingly often conflated with demons and devils.

The scale of a Dragon, when struck with a rod carved from pure chaos, chimes expansively. Reality trembles as the Dragon-tone moves across it. The larger the scale, the more resounding the tone and the more transformative its affect. Ixiandar has sealed his treasure vaults with wards which surrender only in the presence of correctly played, elaborate dragon-tones. Dragons themselves cannot hear the tone of their own aspect, but are filled with longing and furty upon hearing the chime of another aspect. Dragons covet the scales of other aspects and cultivate chime gardens. The tones produced by these chimes are deeply pleasing and can put a Dragon to sleep (the more the chimes, the larger the scales or the purer the tone, the more powerful the affect on the listener). Playing a chromatic scale in the presence of a Dragon can cause it to denature entirely for a time, become gelatinous piles of light, of a firm but plastic  consistency and capable of withstanding extreme pressures and temperatures. Touching the Dragon with bare skin can lead to translucency, photosynthetic digestion, madness, light-blindness, achromatosis or its opposite, involuntary chameleonic-pigmentation of all tissue of the body (living and dead), the loss of one's mind, the loss of one's body as it melts into Dragon-flesh, horns, the ability to speak to rainbows, and other numerous and various other affects (incidentally, similar after-affects are seen in survivor's of dragon's breath). Many ancient Dragons have cultivated a chime garden plentiful enough to complete this transformation and spend much of their hibernation in this form. 

Ix herself stands transfixed, each of her finger nails and the nails of her two canine teeth enameled with polished Dragon scale; her lips remain curled back to expose the slowly gnashing teeth while her fingers dance, weaving the same spell she has been casting for hundreds of years, her Dragon-nails slicing into various planes, knitting, sealing, unsealing. Her spell will either save the world from some unknown threat (Ogdru Jahad, the Final Dragon) or else end it, bringing on a new golden era for her companions (Ragnarok).

The scales of each of the twelve aspects presents a distinct scale of notes. To produce a purer tone, the scale must be struck with a rod fashioned from chaos. The femur of a swamp mutant might suffice, but the purer the chaos, the purer the tone (an implement carved from the heart of a Sun-Brother is preferable, or, best of all, a rock from the face of the Sun itself).

Pantagruel has been known to pretend to be a Dragon but only in order to fart on cultists. He will also surreptitiously "drop" method diagrams for scale chiming patterns nearby the Dragon-addled and addicted, delighting in watching them "mistakenly" open a portal to gravity-less void or distant hell-planet. He usually kills whatever star creature or demon sallies forth, but not always and especially not if he finds the creature amusing.

pictures: top (unknown), Prophet, Chase Stone, Project Copernicus Concept Art (RIP), Phillipe Druillet, John Blanche, Nico Delort, Stephen Hickman

Monday, June 10, 2013

Alignments and Orders

PCs are Aligned or they don't have any kind of alignment at all (unaligned or whatever).


Aligned characters have sworn to align themselves with a creed, goal, organization and/or ideal.

Creeds, Goals and Ideals are meant to be a statement or a short list that summarizes the conduct or beliefs the characters values most highly in herself and others. The terms, "creeds, goals, and ideals" are meant to indicate a devotion that, by its nature, highly and broadly impinges on a character's lifestyle. The terms are not used prescriptively: "Bushido" is certainly a creed, but the category could include, "a Devotion to the Rusted Heart of Vorn" as well as, "Sworn to the Dug of Lady America," and also, "Believes in Knightly Virtues," and also, "Lawful Good" or "True Neutral," etc, etc. The choice ought to be cleared with the GM, but broadly should significantly impact character lifestyle. Anything less is "unaligned but with beliefs." Most of this stuff is either already in the player's head or is something that arises out of play. Either source is great.

Organizations are things like orders (religious, monastic, warrior or otherwise), guilds, lodge, confraternities, sororities  bands, tribes or any other social construct that has established rules of conduct and etiquette.

None of these are necessarily mutually exclusive (Evil Samurai: Lawful Evil, Follower of Bushido, Member of the Lodge of the Rotten Lotus), but the more of these the character has, the more they're limited by their oaths. 

Characters can start out aligned or can pick up an alignment during play, usually as the result of something major happening to the character or as part of the process of the character joining an Organization. Other than the most simple "conversion," the actual process will vary widely, but will nearly always involve an epiphanic experience and then a more prolonged process of joining the group/being mentored. Starting characters that begin aligned usually won't hold membership in an Organization (perhaps, with the exception of Clerics of a particularly monastic or monomaniacal bent).


I use points. When a character acts in accordance with the dictates of her alignment, she may earn an "alignment point." Likely no more than one is earned per session and the range here is just from zero to three. If a character earns an alignment point, the player should note it on the sheet and write down a couple words about how the point was earned. I award points at the same time as XP (ie, at the end of the session), but whatever.

Acting against one's alignment generally results in an immediate loss of at least one point.

Instead of points, you can come up with some other metric, ideally one that is tailored a bit to the alignment in question ("oh man, I finally got three Nurgles!" or "Awesome, now my Cthulu is totally colored in"). I like the level of granulation I get from 0-3, but maybe more would work better for you (might be especially useful in campaigns oriented strongly towards aligned characters).

These points don't translate into anything a Player can pull out and use, but they do indicate to the GM how closely the character has been cleaving to their chosen alignment. A higher score likely means access to more stuff. A highly Lawful Good Fighter might get invited to join an order of Knights Mendicant (and maybe get to become something like a Paladin). A highly Evil Fighter might get an invite to a Chaos Cult or a Assassin's Guild. Deities may take notice of the highly aligned and deign to send signs or messengers to provide quests or even provide boons. Importantly, none of this stuff comes without strings. Not only do you have to act in a certain way to get the points, but the interesting thing that might come from having those points will have some kind of cost or ongoing risk associated with it.

Carousing while aligned will often yield strange and interesting results.


Joining an Organization will likely involve time for contemplation, a specific cost and perhaps the performance of certain tasks. Order membership usually comes with a number of perks and services; there is a relatively corresponding cost to join. One of the costs is always adopting an alignment or code or creed (likely one of the latter two).

Time for Contemplation
Can mean time for reflection, devotion and contemplation; may be solitary, may be communal, will almost certainly always be spent with like-devoted people. Could still be spent during rest time at camp; while everyone else is researching spells, poisons or getting fantastically drunk; or even on the march ("cleric, teach me they ways"). It might also be as simple as reading a trusty, dog-eared, book like the Enchiridion or Sir Marveaux's Primer on Conduct Becoming a Knight.

Specific Costs
These might be a large donation, evidence of certain social status (owning land, retaining certain employees), a pledge to tithe a significant portion of future income, or certain, special items (a very well made knife, a jade frog, a breastplate painted green). The GM will likely have ideas here but might solicit input from the table. These may be associated with certain tasks.

Certain Tasks
"Bring me the skull of a virgin," "bring me evidence you have been chosen by our deity," "Bring me a black breastplate and the blood of a lecherous unicorn." These can be simple fetch quests, but really ought to be more cryptic and thematic. If there is a specific location required, it should be only a day or so away. If there is a thing to be brought it ought not be something you can buy over the counter somewhere in town.

Everything in between will require a character's time and perhaps also tasks and costs in some combination. 

pictures: Antrhopofagy Chronicles 1 by Atanasio, still from Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

Friday, June 7, 2013

Other Frontiers (Dungeons, Megadungeons and Monsters)

Dungeons and monsters are virulent and metastasizing. The below is from this conversation, which was spurred by this and this.


Abandoned buildings left unused for too long grow grow weedy, dusty, strange. The angles twist and the geometry buckles under the barometric pressure of anti-life. Among the dust and cobwebs, traps blossom. A brood of goblins rise out of the earth and shake clods of birth matter from their heads. Exotic, threatening beasts settle down and nest; below these lairs, trap doors lead to newly-formed but entirely ancient and archetypal stairs, dank tunnels with torch brackets that never held a torch. 

Sewers have to be regularly patrolled, newly-budded secret doors smashed and burned. Behind these doors may be shimmering teleporter mist, writhing, glistening gristle or simply mundane wall. The door is destroyed, what lays behind sealed away under rocks and incantations.

Dwarves have a sense for these things, when ancient edifice or natural cave is about to "turn," dwarves appear, clear the dungeon (or die trying), pull up the root and leave Delver's Eyes to mark where they've been. The lashes and pupil of a Delver's Eye indicate certain facts like, "No dungeon here in two years," or, "Goblin nest burned last winter solstice," or "this dungeon cleared by the Bronze Fork." If you know dwarven runes or if you can cast read languages, this is all apparent to you. Dwarves will teach the Eye to others that commit themselves to the cause of dungeon eradication.

Dwarf clans left too long alone in dark become fanatical Duergar, monomaniacal dungeon-clearers. Dwarves live a long time, but Duergar are seemingly immortal, though they grow increasingly old, decrepit and insane. Duergar may watch a dungeon "grow" or even "clear out" settlements to make room for a suitably large dungeon, just so they have something to do or because they believe only the "big ones" are suitable for their own capacities. Know them by their cruelty and their madness.

Some few dwarves may instead fall prey to the whispering of a dungeon far below, slowly becoming Derro. They may befriend the children of the dungeon, or they may keep to their own. Derro colonies often devote themselves to deep dungeon biological studies, creating machines of strange and enormous power, machines that run on the nightmares of an entire city and must be placed deep in the city's sewers or which must be fed all the works of an entire civilization to create an army of firmir-golems, all of whom are haunted by memories of the art they once were. Most of the Derro's creations are incredibly powerful and often quite beautiful. While the Duergar eschews the devotion to craftsmanship common to many dwarves, the Derro are possessed of finely refined aesthetic sensibilities. Know them by their black, paper-thin skin and enormous eye. 

When travelling through an abandoned place and you do not see the eyes of the dwarves or explorers that went before, beware or turn back. 

Maps sold to travelers are concerned less with relative distance than keeping accurate records of which Delver's Eyes the plot safest passage. Explorers will find their own maps valuable, especially if the maps provide relative safe passage to something useful or valuable.


This could be just humans, or whatever. Humans, like, work really well, because:

The impulse of the human being en masse is basically: multiply, civilize, colonize, dominate, cultivate, as if the impulse to expand, build and civilize is a design feature. As if human beings are something's solution to dungeons and monsters because: dungeons and monsters are virulent and metastasizing but they can't really grow in the presence of a human. 

The presence of a single Daylight Person causes dungeon growth to slow to a crawl if not stop completely. The dungeon is sluggish, confused when humans wander through it and it begins to wake monsters, set traps, and otherwise expel its guts to purge and frighten away the intruder (like a sea cucumber).

Dungeon entrances serve as cloaca, both mouth and anus. Dungeons swallow adventurers and belch out orcs. They fart great clouds of goblins and excrete gnolls, ogres, giants and titans. Plenty of dungeons hide their true cloaca by budding off lures, like angler fish casting in the deep (Acererack's tomb has two lures, even).

What's the relationship between these people and the dungeon? It's not clear. They're a bit like an antigen, and they're a bit like a spore. Other People long-since separated from a dungeon will talk about other worlds and other places. Maybe they hail from subterranean civilizations lit by strange suns, maybe other planes, other planets. These New People that can remember their places of origin miss them keenly and are often morose. Few are capable of reproducing, even fewer are interested in reproduction. 

All are highly susceptible to the ambient environment. Orcs left too long in swamps grow moss, ooze poisons, goblins left in plague zones strain against a load of ominous buboes.Giants left in caverns deep are half dirt and half rock. Driven by a mostly stupid, half-god will, crawling, digging slowly through the deep like enormous worms. Their bodies serves as sieves, collecting ants, worms, centipedes and every other thing of the earth and passing it through its dirt until it emerges different, larger, vicious, mandibles dripping venom.

Giants sleeping atop mountains grow trees, put down mineral roots to lure miners, explode in volcanic fury or else elongate and dissipate into the ozone to flood crops and carrying swarms of strange, dancing insects whose touch causes outrageous violence.

Most giants with physical form are partly hollow, gestating dungeons, growing to accommodate the inner structure within.

A titan is a being of cosmological existence, is essentially a megadungon stretched between multiple planes of existence. Most sleep and grow and never wake; they are congenitally unable to survive waking existence very long as they are simply too large and impossible, their constituent, generative magics unable to sustain them upright for very long.

As a waking titan rises from the ground it shakes towns off its forehead and sweeps a city from its belly button. Most collapse at birth, moaning, crumbling, shedding wizard's towers and evil cleric's keeps, flinging dungeon seed hundreds of miles away in their death throes. A few make it to the standing position, their head and shoulders fully piercing the membrane separating space and planet, their head spewing dungeon seed far into the beyond and perhaps becoming a doorway for other, stranger people.

Other planes burble and pop in a titan's guts; their brains are a massive clutch of ab-reality (beware the places where wizard's tower gather in unnaturally close proximity for they likely plumb and quarry a titan's mind below) and they shed monsters constantly, like dead skin cells.

The Other People hear dungeons; they close their eyes and feel the thrum of the dungeon's blood. Its heartbeat is tremendous, throbbing under their skulls like a final migraine. An Other Person kicked into the depths of a dungeon will tumble, jamming hands to ears to stem the growing throb, becoming orc, gnoll, troll, ogre, giant even as brain and blood vacate their skulls and their bodies return to the dungeon's original matter: hatred, madness, cave mud and worms.

At nights, around fires, the Other People sing the songs of the dungeon, it's first incarnation (was not-stream bed), it's growth (oh cube, jelly belly), it's first kills (farmer-digs-too-deep), its mazes, its traps, its first lich. They sing of their new selves: atavism, cannibalism, an occult tumult into chaos, madness, the antidote to creation. 

Sometimes a new-born dungeon simply comes into being complete with traps and monsters. In these first moments of their new life, before the dungeon's song has truly taken hold, Orcs draw blasters and peer in confusion into the dark, all are confused, in pain, frustrated, frightened or else enrage. And then the dungeon's life becomes their own and they blink, and set about digging latrines. 

The archives of a lich-explorer contain reports of watching a dungeon-becoming, the sandy floor fusing into stone, the beholders unfurling from a few rotting pillbug corpses to swivel eyestalks in panic, the pit fiend bellowing far below.

The larger the creature, the harder it is to shed the dungeon's hold. Goblins independent of a dungeon are civilized in months. In generations, they no longer hear a dungeon. Orcs take longer. Ogres are never properly, fully civilized; their minds unable to totally adjust. Giants and titans are carry dungeons within themselves or are dungeons, never "away" from a dungeon.


Has to be civilized (turned into a hideout for characters, converted to a mine, used as a storage cellar for a keep) or systematically pulled down. Some municipalities, those far from the frontiers, retain sappers for the purpose, but most frontier settlements need help keeping the dungeon clear. Every room must be explored, cleared of treasure, traps and monsters, every secret door unlocked or else the dungeon will slowly reconstitute itself, perhaps where it was, or perhaps somewhere else. It will likely return meaner, with foreknowledge of the characters and their methods.


Dungeons dream in forgotten places and long to be born. In the liminality of the taking form, the dungeon's dreams and fantasies blow like a hot breath from its hiding place and cause confusion and nightmares. Where abandoned sewer lines and city intermingle, usually in the poorest places, dungeon birth is foretold when the poor suffer from madness & mutation, plot riots and insurrection.

Dungeons also appear in uncivilized minds, in items of power too-long unused. Wizards have dungeon-bent minds, cultists, punk priests, chaos Catholics all find themselves compelled to live by nascent dungeons, total capitulation to the dungeon and it's reigning deities. Wizards summoning monsters are essentially just wizards peeling back the difference between this place and the cloaca that first ripped open their minds.


Effectively, every dungeon is somehow connected to every other dungeon by a network of ideas, deities and tunnels. Some dungeons are too small to grow fully navigable tunnels to other dungeons and transport between them requires acts of veneration and sacrifice to the governing malignant deities. Dungeons are also connected by certain conceits, the dream-contents of the dungeon made coherent: the sulfurous dungeon of precarious rock dancing in churning magma is connected by dream-song to the volcano dungeon which is likely connected to the hotter hells. 

The more potent and dungeon-minded traveler simply need to close their eyes and fill their minds with the entire song/spell/dream of a dungeon. The more broken and dungeon-bent the mind is, the easier such travel becomes.

Older, deeper dungeons bud misdirection- sublevels or full on symbiotic relations with stranger planes, alien planets and other hells.

pictures: Dali from Spellbound, Blake, Zumart and Blake Again
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