Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Traits for Older D&D (v2)


Traits are facts about the character's background, skills, characteristics.

Characters start with up to two Traits. Traits might have some kind of non-combat benefit (maybe a Cave Elf knows something about this kind of cave, maybe a rat picker could recognize this disease). 

Pick a Birth and non-birth Trait from the below or roll a d20 on the one and 3d20 on the other.

These are some recently used traits. 


1  Tinkering Gnome
2  Elf (either City or Cave)
3  Dwarf
4  Human
5  Halfling (68% chance City-born; 23% chance sewer-born; 9% jungle born)
6  Roma
7  Genasi (d4: Voltaic; Clod; Ember; Diluvian)
8  Tiefling 
9  Dungeon Folk (either Orc or Goblin)
10 Dryad Child
11 A Titan's Chosen (Wolf-rider, Thunder talker, Stormcloud, Puddle, Rust, Ice, Honey or  Glass)
12 Ghoul (alchemical, cursed or necromantic)
13 Gith
14 Foreigner (either Rhodian or Wookie)
15 Mutant (30% chance Fly-Headed, 50% chance Goat-Headed, 20% Frog)
16 Kobold
17 Construct (either Gearforged or Homunculus)
18 Viking
19 Star-Cousin (gold-skinned, tick-like mandibles)
20 Gill-Necked/Head in a Jar (50% chance of Vestigial Tentacles (d6: Neck fringe; Above mouth; shoulder fringe; hands; knees; feet))


3   Forked tongue 
4   Large Nose
5   Long Fingers
6   Extra Fingers (roll d3 for how many)
7   Missing Fingers (roll d6 for how many)
8   No Nose
9   Cool Hair
10  Piercings (roll d6 for how many)
11 Tattoo (roll d6 for how many)
12 Prestidigitator
13 Ship Rat
14 Wharf Rat
15 Farmer's kid
16 Merchant's kid
17 Child of Privilege
18 Good with Animals
19 Gutter Punk
20 Birthmark (s) (roll d4 for how many and again for location: 1 is head, 2 is torso, 3 is legs, 4 is arms)
21 Great facial hair
22 Hunter gatherer
23 From the Dye towns around Black Mt
24 From the cairn stackers
25 Pig Farmer
26 Child
27 Really Old
28 Fat
29 Third Nipple
30 Vestigial Tail or Leg (50/50)
31 Missing Teeth
32 Filed Teeth
33 Clothier Guild raised
34 Schoolkid
35 Heterochromia Iridium
36 Forester
37 Miner (for ore, gems or through weird tech dumps)
38 Glider Pilot
39 College/Academy raised
40 Missing Eye
41 Missing Ear
42 Rat Catcher
43 Rag Picker
44 Bald
45 Alopecia areata
46 Albino
47 Limner
48 Tenter
49 Brewer
50 Cobbler
51 Quarrier
52 Tax Samurai
53 Sword sharpener
54 Cultist (True Green, Black Mountain, Witch-Cult, Dunwitch)
55 Hermit
56 Starlet/Actor
57 Musician
58 Well-thewed
59 Sparklepony
60 You have a secret (log lady)

pictures: some cover or something cool, Paul Reid,  Masateru Ikeda

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stopwatch HP, no HP

Josie mentioned treating HP like a stopwatch. We played around with this for a while and here's what's been extruded through our game and come out the other end:

Get rid of hit points. No hit points, "endurance points." Fending off attacks, hurting yourself in a non-debilitating way (bruises, bumps, scrapes, cuts that aren't going to kill you) and particularly strenuous or taxing actions cost endurance points. Endurance points represent your energy level and, accordingly, your capacity to forestall some immediate, debilitating danger; when someone lands a successful attack, the loss of endurance points represents how much it costs you to fend off the attack and prevent it from doing serious damage and being reduced to 0 EP means you're too drained to do anything. Losing EP is being "worn down."

Catastrophes and calamities (ingesting lethal poison, falling ceilings, being stepped on by a giant) are systemic traumas you can't avert with endurance or force of will. Saves cover this. Save as normal or here. Generally, save or die, earn a wound or suffer an enormous reduction in EP.

Being reduced to zero endurance means that you are exhausted, can barely move, lift a sword, everything feels like it costs a ton to do it. There's no "extra exhausted," so no negatives. When you're at 0 EP, anything that would otherwise result in a loss of endurance points but isn't the result of a deliberate effort to kill you (like, falling) automatically causes a wound. If the attacker is trying to kill you, save v death or die; a successful save earns you a wound. If an attacker is trying to knock you out, save v paralysis or get knocked out; a successful save earns you a wound.

Being encumbered, swimming in medium or heavier armour, running in armour with a heavy pack for more than a few minutes, holding your breath too long, being in combat or any other highly stressful, dangerous, tiring situation wears you down.

Each go round the table (in whatever time metric the GM deems appropriate, given the current action), everyone being worn down loses an EP.

If you can spend a round catching your breath without having to do anything else (including patching up an ally), your EP increases up to half its maximum. So like, you flee combat with a couple of ogres; if someone has to hold the door against the ogres, then they don't regain any EP but if you spike the door, then everyone can get EP back.

Resting for a turn restores all EP.

Wounded characters must be treated before they can regain EP and their max EP is halved until they can get some bed rest and serious medical attention (likely takes a few days or weeks, depending on the wound) or sufficient magical healing. A second wound is automatically fatal (no save).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

ghostland is coming to end you


Here are things that have happened as you travel back from the dungeon. Something you just did or looted is bad and you can't put it back in the bottle:

1. All the trees in the area burned to ash overnight, from the top down, like a candle or a torch. They were lighting the way for something.

2. Boulders in the Stony Hills lift themselves up and crack themselves in half over and over again until they're dust. None of the ogres can get any sleep.

3. Ghosts are everywhere and people are burning whatever they can to keep their houses well lit. Many sleep in groups and have abandoned their homes.

4. On the second day of travel, a well dressed woman waves you over to her carriage. She clasps a random PC's hand and you realize she has no eyes and her mouth stretches across her face. The carriage is full of children and all of them are biting one another. The woman digs her hands into your palm, draws blood and the carriage and everything in it disappears. There is something important you can't remember.

5. A hermit sits by the side of the road, skinning himself with a sharp rock. He shivers but makes no sound.

6. Later, two hermits are found, their heads swollen and enormous with oozing lumps. Biting flaws crawl from their nostrils.

7. The city gates are closed and preachers from all the major religions are announcing the end times. Ghost land is emptying into our world and we, all our works, all our gods, will soon be as a dream.

8. At a tavern back in town, you hear talk of a second moon approaching the town. That night, the moon draws close enough that you can see a face on the moon and the mouth splits wide to swallow the church spire. The next morning, no one but you remembers anything. The church spire is gone and all the clergy have weird mismatched eyes (one tiny, one enormous and rolling) and their heads are on at weird angles. Pointing that out is extremely impolite and if you keep asking about the church, someone is going to get so offended they come at you with a cleaver.

9.  You open the door to a shop but inside is a strange landscape. People are walking on white worms that squirm over a deep black ocean. The worms have mouths and they are all gossiping about your exploits in the last adventure.

10. You see holes in the ground and sky, out of which crawl strange, misshapen creatures. They walk about slowly, curiously. When one touches an old woman she looks at it and shudders, stumbling away. No one can see them. By the following night, everyone in town is dead and you can't open the door to where you are. A hole opens in the floorboard and six sets of inky hands with long, spidery fingers grasp the edge of the hole.


1. There is a lens grinder in the city that has organized a society of scientists and explorers in the hopes of  finding a way to stop the influx of ghosts. Some of their number have heard of you and can get you into the city. There is a crush of people wanting to get behind the city walls and most will claim to be adventurers. They lack the experience and equipment are are repeatedly turned away; frustration and desperation are sure to lead to riots.

2. Urz-Uk the Hollow God says he knows a way to save the living and is gathering worshipers and arming them. They gather every evening at the bell temple. Among there number are spies from a rival church but also from the Janissaries of the royal guard. At tonight's meeting, the spies will be outed, stripped, frog-marched to the Exchequer and impaled. 

3. Certain doors now lead straight into ghost land. Explorers and tourists stream in, bribing whoever holds the door for access, most like. Those that return speak of strange creatures and often sport fiendish-looking weapons and armor. Tourists often need guards and explorers are looking for investing partners.

4. The wealthy of the city and the royal family are funding a colonizing effort, looking for some place to live in relative comfort once the land of the living is totally consumed. Look for the brass and bone armor of the Janissaries of the royal guard.

5. A number of gods have disappeared. Some have killed themselves (the hot, bloody corpse of Thamon the Iron Whisk appeared in his cathedral and all his priests are insane).

6. Among the burning trees, giants shadows with arms longer than their bodies furtively search. They ignore you and may not even be able to see or hear you. People have been disappearing in the forest.

7. A band of teenage mercs led by Badgirl, a life-size doll with one cracked eye is trying to find one of their number, who was taken into ghost land a day ago. They hang out in the town's sewers. They want help.

8. The villagers all worship a new god named mama blue and they have dyed their lips a purple-blue so that they look as if they are asphyxiating  Tonight, they will try to murder the trader that runs the depot for being a "bad little boy." It's not clear what he did, but it has something to do with you.

It's unclear how long the living world has until it's consumed entirely.


Ghost candles are wax (or whatever) candles with a bit of a dead person inside, at the end you don't intend to light (can be any part). Light cast by a ghost light kindles a similar flame in any ghost that sees it (the ghost glows and a large flicker flames appears within it).  A candle will captivate all ghosts that see it. They will be drawn by its light and will stare at its flame until it goes out. Can be extinguished as a normal candle, though there is a only a 1 in 6 chance a ghost will try to extinguish it. Burns downs as fast as a normal candle. Alternatives: scented ghost candles, ghost incense (doesn't illuminate a ghost), ghost plugnfresh things, ghost potpourri (doesn't illuminate them, ghosts will often play with potpourri and do weird shit with it (jam it into eye sockets, shove it into wounds; They like dead stuff).

prayer books closing your eyes, chanting a prayer and holding a prayer book aloft while you march through an area in ghost land will prevent any ghost from attacking you, though they may follow you and wait for you to stop chanting. they find you pretty annoying, at best.

pictures: Nakayama Masaaki from Fuan no Tane

Wednesday, July 17, 2013



Ghosts aren't normally visible when they're outside of ghost land. Being perfectly still and breathing slowly may relax the rules separating ghost land from the living world and you may be able to see a ghost. If you can see a ghost, it can see you. In ghost land, you can see a ghost like any other thing.

A ghost in the land of the living will find something to haunt and haunting causes the ghost to grow without limit. Larger ghosts are more powerful, dangerous, harder to banish. A ghost banished from the living world stops growing, but never shrink so each time they return, they're as large and as bad as when they left and then they continue to grow until banished again.

Ghosts all live in ghost land and ghost land is basically the planar/planetary version of a ghost. It haunts entire planets. There is no known way to extricate a haunted planet from its clutches.

Every so often, the rules delimiting ghost land and a living world are no longer able to keep distinct the world of the living and the enormous, writhing mass that is ghost land and all the people and gods of the living will be consumed. This has happened three times already.

It's about to happen again. Ghosts are pouring into our world. Some go to to ghost land to find some way to fix the imbalance and plug the leaks. Some go to revel and delight in this strange new world or just to have something to do before we all die. Cults worship certain ghosts (and are granted spells). Some go to earn glory and some go in the hopes of actually colonizing the place (especially the wealthy and powerful, who are paying gobs of money for a safe place of relative comfort and power in ghost land), finding some place safe for the living once our world is destroyed. 

Urz-Uk the Hollow God says he knows a way to save the living and is gathering worshipers. 

Many other gods have gone silent, perhaps already consumed by ghost land, perhaps having given up or killed themselves. The laws of nature on the living world are buckling under the systemic pressure of dying, absent gods and being slowly consumed by a world-eating alien creature.

It's unclear how long the living world has until it's consumed entirely.


In any event, ghosts are pretty much ignorant of what's going on in the real world outside of how it relates with their particular need, if it relates at all, and if they were once a living person, they don't remember it. It's a rare ghost that cares about the living world, it's an even rarer that might care if it were destroyed.

Ghosts tend to be oriented towards a single action or emotion and pursue their desire unceasingly. Their bodies are bent to it, their minds are made only for it. Usually, the desire is horrible. If a ghost is a ghost of pleasure it may desire nothing more than to fill its cavities with dirt and may try to do the same to you, not because it wants to hurt you, but because it needs every open place within you to be packed with dirt because that just feels so good. A ghost of beauty may clip from children certain fingers it found particularly objectively beautiful and give them to you; it will be greatly offended if you don't enjoy it's taste. Most ghosts serve a desire less sane/comprehensible.

It's uncertain as to why so few ghosts are in ghost land when so many of the living have died and why ghosts have little to no memory of once being alive. Those that do remember, though,  don't really care; they aren't what they once were by and stretch of the imagination.


Curses and hexes work this way: the witch, warlock, magic-user or cleric invites a ghost to haunt an object, location or person. The influence of the ghost causes some deleterious affect. Removing the curse simply severs the connection between ghost and whatever its haunting, and doesn't banish the ghost who is still free to roam the living world. Clerics know the rituals to banish ghosts. Most people don't know it works this way, including the people casting these curses and hexes.

As the ghost associated with a curse grows, the complexity associated with keeping its power in check grows as well. Eventually the curse that calls down early baldness on an unfaithful lover strikes hairless everyone in sight. Some curses are simply never invoked as whatever they once did, they now cause instantaneous death to all within range, including the invoker. Some bonemen will slip a too-potent curse into the spellbook of a rival to just this end.

Ghosts in our world can never be killed, just damaged enough that they lose their grip on this reality; "killed" ghosts float back up to ghost land in a puff or cloud of smoke that smells like burning rubber or electrical fires. Ghosts that are banished forget the last day they spent in the living world.


The parts of ghost land we can get to easily clearly correspond to places in our world; the terrain and buildings of the living appear in ghost world as well, albeit empty of every living, sentient thing (semi-intelligent constructs and the undead may appear, but only as swaying, empty shells of themselves.). There are other places in ghost land that are entirely novel. They may belong to another living world to which ghost land is attached or, in some cases, appear to belong to now-lost places, having fallen to war, overpopulation or having been swallowed by ghost land entirely.

It is, of course, possible, that some of these stranger places are simply one of the many places we've yet to discover in the living world.

The weather in ghost land mimics that of the real world, but for the tides and the winds. The moon in ghost land is incredibly close, close enough to touch much of the time and this causes incredible tidal reactions. The ghost land towns whose real world originals are located along shore lines may spend part of their day under water and often stink of rotting seaweed and have barnacles all over.

There are also the change winds that blow across most of space, the freezing cold breath of the north (like, literally freezes blood in the veins and ruptures hearts) and the boiling hot scald of the south (again, blood so hot it issues from you as steam). Not that the winds interfere in ghost land all that much; while they can utterly destroy an area miles and miles wide, ghost land simply reconstitutes itself in seconds.

Despite being a map of the real world, ghost land has problems with consistency. Sometimes the cup you left on the table in the real world is a crying wax tot in ghost land. Rooms in ghost land can be inversions of what they are in the real world and some things can forget they're meant to be inanimate objects (the door that becomes a mouth, the wall that wriggles and feels like skin). Sometimes the person who was standing next to you is over there and whatever is standing next to you isn't a person at all. After all, ghost land is, itself, a ghost.

Ghost land re-maps itself to the real world every morning. Buildings destroyed in ghost land grow back together to match the real world and similar alterations in the real world are adopted by ghost land. The enterprising and unscrupulous can duplicate things left in the real world using ghost land as a factory. There are factories in ghost land; ghost copies often come with creepy or terrible sideeffects (haunted by a ghost, is some kind of ghost, it's user never sleeps but travels to ghost land every night until she dies of exhaustion, possesses the user, melts into a relatively useless mushy pile of ghost guts at some point, poisons everyone you or the person you love, can only be sheathed in the body of something living, creates an endless supply of ravenous frogs, etc, etc). 

The lost places in ghost land that no longer correspond to anything accumulate glitches and deformations over time. They slowly stiffen and petrify. Similarly, ghosts that grow old enough they forget their purpose eventually harden and petrify. There are whole forests of these things in ghost land and many tourists and adventurers seek these out as ghosts tend to steer clear of these areas (and petrified ghosts are great for making stuff).

The stars seen from ghost land are entirely alien. Astronomers are mapping them and may need your protection for which they will pay you in maps.

cities, towns and the rest of civilization in ghost land are copies of the ones in the real world. The precise nature of the copy varies; like, the city of A____ in the real world is mirrored (ie, left is right, right is left) the "reverse city of A". In ghost land, there are upside-down cities, reverse cities, mirrored cities, light-less cities, under-water cities, etc. Clever thieves with a bit of magic or the permission of a powerful ghost may use the strange geometries and inconsistencies of a ghost city to get into places otherwise impenetrable in the real world (for example, there may be a door into a vault in ghost land where no door exists in the real world; enter the door in ghost land, then use a  modified rope trick to climb through the ghost land vault's ceiling and arrive in the vault in the real world). Bonemen, witches and the ordum malus are often employed by the rich and powerful in the real world to prevent or limit such incursions.

Ghost land can be surprisingly empty of ghosts. Travellers can walk for days and see only a few. Most cluster around certain areas and generally prefer places that are less frequented, dark, and full of narrow little places to hide or hunt.

Some Ghosts

these are some of the more common of the ghosts (ie, there are more than one of these). Communicating with these ghosts is generally impossible (they aren't interested in communication).

Snatchers, ticklers, grabbers, pokers all hide in the shadows and try to interfere with anyone walking by. If they grab hold of you, they may not let go and try to possess you (see Possession), strangle you to death, wring one of your appendages or squeeze your middle until they've squeezed you into separate parts, twist your limbs off like sausage makers, rub and tickle you relentlessly until their fingers eventually slipping past ruined, chafed skin to the soft and bony insides, or else their touch is lethal or imparts some doomed fate. Their lightest touch leaves a dark bruise.

Wax tots are made of wax and mangy hair and dull, rotten old people teeth and have to be melted or breast 
fed or their cries will wake their parents. Wax tots are whispered about by mothers and wetnurses (you must feed them or you'll be found next morning, your body slightly doughy, a bit runny and your hair burning steadily).

peeping toms, evil eyes are generally indistinct, though they may have some kind of face and will always have wide, penetrating, unblinking eyes. The relationship between the peeping tom and its victim is unknown, may be entirely at random or may be tied to some fetish or ideal the peeping tom seeks but once the victim stares into the eyes of the peeping tom, they are doomed and will some days later walk into a bit of shadow and vanish.

Reeds are incredibly narrow, stink of rotting marsh grasses and spend most of their time with their fingers and toes buried in swamp water, staring and moaning at the deeper parts of the water. Won't attack unless you interfere with them or their swamp (including breaking their line of vision with the water).

Dirtyfingers will try to stuff you full of the rancid mud they pull from their orifices. Often found in areas where soft dirt is plentiful and uncontested where they roll about and shove dirt into their many opening and roll their eyes in ecstasy. Usually around wetlands or in forest. As they hold you down and stuff mud into your mouth they will whisper into your ears from clogged mouths, "Excellent, excellent."

The hive are sentient flies, albeit with ragged fingernails clippings for legs. They delight in dancing across the nape of your neck. They have a single intelligence and they are building something inside the hollowed head of a mad titan in the reverse city of Lahz'anshleez.

Envies are made of eyes and arms and that ignore all attacks in an effort to get to their prize (usually are shaped roughly like writhing balls, but not always). They will grab an attacker's sword, shearing off their own fingers or impaling the sword deep within their central cluster, just so they can grab their attacker's arms and legs, pull them to the ground, clamber atop them, unbuckle their armor and then begin removing parts from their victim which they try to jam onto themselves (they just stick them there, so the eyes, tongue, jaws, genitals, liver, what have you simply falls away, which is highly frustrating to the envy).

lantern heads live in forests and congregate around bigger trees. None is taller than three feet, most are much smaller. Some have heads like lanterns, others like a carved stone face out of whose eyes, nose, mouth and ears issue light. Usually are shy, but they know where the scary guys in the forest are. these feature heavily in the stories of the Ent.

weavers look just like spiders and are no larger than a quarter, but they remake reality, slowly reworking it with their spinnerets as they move. weavers hate nothing more than the art of another weaver. none can be trained but you might be able to find a weaver to suit your needs. Of course, being ghosts, you can't really communicate with them. you'll need a catalog of weavers.

gotchas like to hid in dark places and terrify the unsuspecting. They know all your secrets.

ragwomen are roughly woman-shaped huddled creatures with large yellow teeth and grasping hands. They are incredibly quick and they love nothing more than to hold a baby and cuddle with children. Little grey, desiccated corpses hang from their belts on silver chains. they are very lonely and will follow anyone they think is interesting. They know a lot about children, and can tell you what some children in the real world are dreaming about right now. Generally not hostile, but if attacked, a ragwoman will defend herself, and her children will unwind their chains, clamber off her skirts and help her. 

paper ghouls  are white humanoid apparitions of almost two dimensions. They will drop down from a wind and slip into the chinks in your armor with ease, burrowing deep. Beware fluttering white clouds.

pink dobeys look like knobby pink clouds with enormous spindly legs and they eat and shit out one another. They are often used as means of relatively safe transport (rope ladders descend from rickety wooden carriages suspended from the dobey's knees, though ghost land wind patterns are hardly understood so the most reliable dobey-routes are educated guesses at best.

Some known ghosts

Most ghosts don't really have much of a form other than vaguely humanoid, with something a bit off. Many wear masks. Some ghosts can be communicated with, though even fewer of those are interested in talking about anything other than what they want to talk about. "Known" ghosts are ghosts of the singular variety, likely capable of communication and likely quite dangerous. There are thousands, these are just a few of them.

The hanged man
walks on his hands and will tell you one true thing about anything if you bring him a fully bound human being wrapped in a carpet or stuck in a bag. the living petrified are especially desired. lives in a tree that is always in bloom, in a place never touched by the tides or the change winds.

wrath looks roughly like one person curled in on itself. wrath is extremely difficult to find and is almost always hidden in a cupboard, wardrobe or the last place looked. scraping wrath's feet or elbows yields a spicy powder which, when snorted, renders the user a hulking, violent brute, of incredible strength and ferocity. Wrath addicts often spend their free time self-mutilating.

dressed like a police officer, teacher town guard or similar figure of authority whose neck terminates in thousands of waving frond-like antenna. Usually wears a burlap sack over its head with eyes and smiling mouth painted on, though the bag wriggles. Is always asking if it can come in. If you let it in, it will touch your face with its antenna; if it doesn't like you, you will be punished; it it likes you, it will invite you to a party.

the whispering crowd
a collection of dark, long, roughly humanoid shapes. They appear around someone fated to die and steal his dying breath. they know the last words of everyone that has ever died. it's unclear if they cause the deaths or they simply feed off the mechanic.

Mama Blue is dressed in a blue, floor length dress and will heal any wound, provide whatever help you need so long as you agree to be a good little boy or girl for her and do just as she says. she towers over you and even when she bends down close you cannot see her face.

Mama Green is long limbed, wild eyed and has long, snarled nails. She will offer help and will reward anyone who helps her enormously, but will often ask you to tell her how good she is, how pretty, how kind, how sweet. She knows when you lie. She doesn't take disappointment or liars well. she is taller than mama blue and her head is often in cloud cover so that when she bends down to speak to you, rain falls from her face. She walks among a field of silent, softly rolling envies that will part to make way for anyone looking for mama green.


Ghosts don't evict or subdue the will of those they possess. Instead, they simply play with them like a doll. The first sign your buddy has been possessed by a ghost is that he has cut out his tongue and snipped tendons and muscles at crucial points, making him a totally pliable witness for what's to come... (of course, because you can see ghosts in ghost land, all of this is totally obvious; in the real world, you likely can't see the ghost)


Ghosts are made out of ghost guts, a doughy material studded and woven with hair, wire, teeth, rotten food, glass, bones, rusted implements, old, ruined houses and anything else that's been discarded in the real world. Everything in ghost land is made out of this stuff except for water which is more or less the same. Ghost guts can be cultivated and turned into powerful drugs or spell components. Weapons made from petrified ghosts can cut shadows and whither limbs. Armor made from ghost guts will likely be highly immune to mundane damage, but will slowly seep into the wearer causing them to become progressively weaker, prone to obsessions, easily fooled and misled.

If ghost guts are used to supplement a will-altering spell, the spell has a 1 in 6 chance of being permanent (and a 1 in 6 chance of being horrible, causing madness, violence, turning the caster sensitive to ghosts [ie, easy to possess)).


Ghost candles are wax (or whatever) candles with a bit of a dead person inside, at the end you don't intend to light (can be any part). Light cast by a ghost light kindles a similar flame in any ghost that sees it (the ghost glows and a large flicker flames appears within it).  A candle will captivate all ghosts that see it. They will be drawn by its light and will stare at its flame until it goes out. Can be extinguished as a normal candle, though there is a only a 1 in 6 chance a ghost will try to extinguish it. Burns downs as fast as a normal candle. Alternatives: scented ghost candles, ghost incense (doesn't illuminate a ghost), ghost plugnfresh things, ghost potpourri (doesn't illuminate them, ghosts will often play with potpourri and do weird shit with it (jam it into eye sockets, shove it into wounds; They like dead stuff).

prayer books closing your eyes, chanting a prayer and holding a prayer book aloft while you march through an area in ghost land will prevent any ghost from attacking you, though they may follow you and wait for you to stop chanting. they find you pretty annoying, at best.

pictures: Nakayama Masaaki from Fuan no Tane, dunno who did the second one, and Agostino Arrivabene (x2)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Saving Throws, Critical Saving Throws, Class-Specific Saving Throws (really, for any D&D)

I left saving throws off my class rundown, because I struggle with them. Some days I think they're flabby, on other days, I like the granularity multiple saves afford. Here is the cleanest iteration I've been able to come up with. Admittedly, this is far from original. I've used a similar version in the past but it was clunkier, and +Mike Mearls's recent post about saves in Next brought me back to this concept. It's seen a single session of play, in this form, at this point.


Are a mechanic that assist in determining your fate when you face a catastrophe.


are things like:

  • Character death
  • poisons and toxins
  • getting hit with an undesired spell or magical affect
  • massive area of affect attacks
  • catastrophic damage (hit with a giant stone, falling ceiling, stepped on by a massive monster)


Roll d20 + your level, aim for 19+.


A Character's class indicates a certain extra facility or luck when facing down certain types of affects or when facing down catastrophes in a specific way and may also grant a critical save (roll a natural 19 or 20; or not). Players must declare their intention to use their character's class to augment their saving throw before rolling. 

Fighters can try to "withstand" catastrophe. Whenever a fighter grits her teeth and bears the brunt of an incoming assault, add two to the roll to save. Describe how you intend to do this. To critically save  you must be in a position to prevent others from taking damage; so long as you can convincingly repel the oncoming source of damage, you can prevent if from affecting others.

Rogues can try to avoid the attack entirely. Describe how you intend to do this and add two to the roll. To critically save you take way less, maybe no damage at all. 

Magic-Users can try to withstand spells or magical affects that can be cast by a Magic-User (add two to your save). When you critically save you can counter-spell and thereby unravel and the spell entirely.

Clerics can try to withstand spells or magical affects that can be cast by Clerics or Magic-Users (add two to your save). When you critically save you can counter-spell and thereby banish and negate the spell entirely. 


When you fail:

you take the full affect, likely death, GM describes, likely gives you a last word or gesture

When you succeed:

if you're just rolling without  using your class, then the GM decides how what your character has done to minimize or avoid the catastrophe; or

if you're rolling using your class, the GM will decide how the save unfolds, based on how you've described your character using their class to augment the save.

Monday, July 8, 2013

These are Dragons (Dragons for S&W Whitebox)

Talk of how to create a dragon in Swords & Wizardry inspired me to put this together.

First, Dragons are ridiculously dangerous opponents. They're intelligent, shaped for mayhem and murder, long-lived, possessed of enormous amounts of resources which they'll happily use to hire someone to kill you. 

So, things like HD, attacks, breath damage, etc. aren't super instructive when differentiating between Dragon ages (for me). They're also kind of boring; the granularity is interesting, but much less so if we're just talking about a change in a few mechanics. None of the below has to be true at all, it's just an ecology of Dragons based pretty much solely on the Dragon section in S&W Whitebox (free download of the whole thing here).


Standard S&W rules apply for HD and damage, so roll a d8 for age:

1. Very Young Dragons (years 0-3 or so)

          "Hatchlings," about 5 feet long from end to end, lives in a brood of 3-18, flies at half speed and is ungainly in the air. Highly intelligent hunters, will likely lure prey into a trap,  when solitary, will fight only when cornered, otherwise, will prefer to nip/breathe/claw and run until its full numbers are available at which time all will pounce on the weakest looking target. Highly incautious and may not necessarily view adventurers as threats, more as playthings (they still kill their playthings). Most will hunt nearby wildlife or small humanoids. A forest devoid of game is often an early sign of a nearby brood. Most will nest near where they were born as they tend to be born in locations well-hidden.

2. Young (years 4-5 or so)

           "Whelps," about ten feet long from end to end, lives in a brood of 3-12. Will fight as hatchlings, will also have hunting patterns more established, will be highly aware of the terrain and may have more elaborate traps established. By this point some of its brood have likely died to illness, predation, roughhousing or adventurers and the Dragon will be much less eager to engage in melee if numbers aren't on its side, prefer to flee and fight another day (or more likely, return with the rest of its brood and stalk its former attacker).  Will begin to hunt and stalk larger, more intelligent creatures, especially orc and other humanoids living along the fringes of civilization. Eat less frequently than younger Dragon but tend to glut themselves when they do, mimicking the feasting/hibernation pattern of older Dragon.

3. Immature (years 6-10 or so)

            "Hunters," about fifteen feet from end to end, live in groups of 3-9. Dragons of this age will still often hunt and live in a group, but as they age, they begin to feel a certain distrust of others of their kin and the first roots of their greed and covetousness take hold. They will develop a craving for privacy and independence from the brood, but still prepare these lairs with the help of the brood, carving out a network of caves, mazes and traps replete with murderholes and the like which take maximum advantage of their breath weapon and other natural abilities. The obsession with preparing the most defensible lair is highly ingrained, part nesting behavior, part a coping strategy for leaving the safety of the brood's numbers.

Most will lair where their nature inclines or where they are best adapted (white dragons in areas with lots of snow, black dragons in swamps, blue dragons in abandoned, lightning-blasted wizard's towers), but this is far from a necessity. Immature Dragons are highly proud of their lairs and the various traps therein and the brood will compete and obsess over these lairs and increasingly elaborate tricks and traps.

Immature Dragons intentionally hunt and bait intelligent humanoids and pride themselves on their ability to take down increasingly dangerous prey. Most will intentionally hunt away from their lair and will bring food home for later. Some may even store food away from the brood, to prevent discovery of their siblings.

4. Adult (years 11-60 or so)

          "Lairing," about 20 feet from end to end. May live with one other of its kind, if only to have someone around to defend the lair while you're out foraging through towns and villages for food. Dragons of this age are frequent and wide-ranging hunters. As they begin to acquire more material goods, whether from conquests or as the result of defending its lair from looters, a Lairing Dragon will become slowly covetous and jealous, increasingly solitary and acquisitive. It's rare that any Dragon of this age that his laired with another will make it to old age without killing its partner in a fit of jealous, mistrust or abject fury.

5. Old (years 61-99 or so)

           "Solitary," about 20 feet from end to end. At this point, the Dragon is truly greed and solitary. If any of its brood or a Lairing partner have thus far survived, the Solitary Dragon is obsessed with finding them and silencing them and accordingly, Dragons this old are likely to die by the hand of one another than looters. Dragons of this age rarely hunt or even leave their lair but when they do, the result is often catastrophic for the surrounding area. After a good meal, the Dragon will sleep for days.

6. Very Old (years 100-200 or so)

            "Hibernating," about 20-40 feet from end to end, depending on precise age. Hibernating Dragons are rarely awake, but will decimate a series of towns or even an ill-prepared city when hungry. Most sleep for years and spend their little waking time not dedicated to eating to shoring up their traps and burying their hoard ever deeper. As they age, their waking/sleeping cycle is increasingly associated less with hunger and more with nearby cataclysmic events, making their awakening fortuitous (waking the day of an enormous battle, the winning side easy pickings, waking on the day of a high holiday in a nearby city, when the revelers are least cautious). The Dragons hoard likely contains at least one truly unique magical item, likely something from another age, perhaps an intelligent item. This will undoubtedly be the Dragon's prized possession and it may risk all to get it back.

During hibernation, particularly the last, long sleep it undergoes at around age 195 or so, the Dragon will begin to change, grow larger, grow more horns, eyes, wings, may take the ability to shapechange, may be able to cast magic as a Magic-User of its HD. It's scales become thicker, hollow.

7. Aged (years 201-399 or so)

             "Chiming," about 60 feet from end to end. The scales of Chiming Dragons are hollow and they produce alien tones when they move. These tones can be addictive, hearing them can be similar to taking psychoactive drugs (save v paralysis or you're tripping) but will grant visions of strange cosmological significance. Dragon addicts/cultists will likely attend/worship the Dragon. Dragons no longer sleep and rarely eat. When they do eat, they eat any and everything: rocks, sound, trees, the living, the dead, shadows, thoughts. Chiming Dragons begin to care less for their material hoard and more for lost knowledge, secrets. They may well kidnap religious leaders, powerful wizards in hopes of teasing out secrets from them (or attracting the attention of those even more powerful). May trade quite a lot of gold for a good secret (but then may try to kill you as they prefer their secrets...secret).

                 Near the end of this period, the Dragon will begin to build hundreds of cocoons thickly walled by its dropped, chiming scales.

8. Ancient (400+ years old)

             "True," about 80 feet from end to end (or much, much larger). Most True Dragons take on a different shape as their original is often painfully arthritic. True Dragons likely grant cleric spells as any other divine being. They now eat only strange, intangible things and they burn for the secrets of the universe. True Dragons may live for thousands of years before their memory begins to fail. This is the Dragon's greatest fear and many will do whatever they can, including inciting their worshipers into single-minded pursuit of a means of halting the progress of dementia and memory loss. Those Dragons that fail (it's believed that all have) commit ritual suicide, vomiting all of their secrets into the cocoon left in their lair. The cocoons will hatch into other Dragons or perhaps things stranger still, depending on the secret.


Dragons are highly intelligent and clever but they fight like animals. They will try to bullrush, headbutt, use their tail and the length of their body to knock down and crush before bringing tooth and claw to bear. Larger Dragons will likely just try and step on you.


Dragons are pathologically acquisitive and this behavior extends to less material goods as well. They collect and covet information (especially secrets), spellbooks and other sorts of less immediately tangible power. Accordingly, a Dragon always knows secrets about the area surrounding its lair. If the elf fortress has a secret backdoor, the Dragon knows it. If there is a cure for the plague ravaging the nearby towns, the Dragon knows it. How you get that information out of the Dragon is another matter.

Adult and Old Dragons know one of the things below. Very Old know two things, Aged know three and Ancient know three plus something apocalyptic.

the secret of a star
the recipes necessary to cook star flesh
the weakness of a god
why the elves do not die
what dwarves fear most
the language of an old, lost race
the location of something a character most wants/needs
the location and key to the treasure vault of another Dragon (or God)
the true name of another Dragon
a book containing the most powerful spell (ritual) the Dragon knows
what is buried beneath the city of the overlord
the magical sentence that will cause the giants to curl up like dead spiders
how to learn the secrets of trees or stones or the wind or rain
the secret of crow boy
what happened to the leader of your religion
where they've stashed their hoard
how to eat time
how to swallow sound


this should include stuff that makes sense in the context of your setting, like:

the location of one of the pillars that holds up the world
the true name of the worm that encircles the universe and is slowly devouring itself. When sated, it will crush the world between two hoary talons
a ritual that remakes reality
the location of the forge in which the world was fashioned

pictures: Albín Brunovský, Brian Froud

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gnosis, Logos and Esoterica (Magic Users, "Mage Guilds" in Older D&D)

I've never been much of a fan of the default setting for OD&D. This is about what society looks like when the putative OD&D Magic-Users are separated from their generative cultural context. 


This has my take on the mechanics of older D&D Magic-Users sans the influence of Gandalf/Tolkien. YMMV. Freed of being book-bound Merlins-in-training, Magic-Users live in self-sufficient communes, live as naturalists, religious hermits or wandering hawkers of strange artifacts, live as academics, researchers, artists, politicians, lunatics and brothers and sisters of religious orders. They are competent melee combatants, certainly not as dangerous as a Fighter but certainly more dangerous in a melee than the local 0-levels in the Town Watch. They can farm or manage farms, they can hunt, trap, tend gardens, teach, run an estate, advise the local ruler, rule.

For all this normalcy, there are plenty of stories of Magic-Users who simply dissapear, or bury themselves alive, or turn themselves to brain-dead crystal sculptures. Short of adventuring, casting mishaps and other occupational hazards, suicide by transmutation is the likliest end facing a Magic-User; many choose to leave behind their old life, body, memories and intelligence and live isntead as a mate or companion to their once-Familiar. The local villagers or townsfolk can no doubt point you to two crows, cats, robins, iguana or the like, one much more intelligent than the other, the Familiar having retained some uncanny cleverness.

Magic-User's minds are Dungeon-haunted and each new spell memorized crinkles and folds the Magic-User's brain. The more complex a spell, the more brain damage caused by its memorization; the Magic-User forgets the face of a parent, a childhood song, the name of a friend, has difficult walking, develops palsies, cannot speak without a slur, has a useless eye. Eventually, the Magic-User's cerebral cortex is swiss cheese, precisely plotting a three-dimensional map of the Dungeon whose song first touched the Magic-User's mind and opened it to chaos. 

Treasure hunters will pay enormous sums for information leading to the capture of the brain of a powerful Magic-User. They will pay even more for the brain itself

Dungeons are also virulent, so messing about with a Magic-User's brain can leave you Dungeon-touched yourself, longing for more and more ruined brains, a brain addict's desires becoming so particular and attenuated that only snorting a powdered Mummy or Demi-Lich brain will ease the compulsion. 

For some, exposure to wizard brains has made them Magic-Users in their own right; the worst brain addicts are all Magic-Users. A Magic-User that consumes the brain of another Magic-User immediately knows 1-3 spells that dead Magic-User had memorized.

Most Magic-User choose to live communally, among others of their kind who can monitor them for signs of decline, many dedicate their lives to protecting the works of the Children of the Sun, and to stamping out and uprooting Dungeons wherever they take root while others give themselves over entirely to obsessions and compulsions, chief among them the creation of their magnum opus, their spellbook. Really, a Magic-User will throw herself into anything that can distract her from the pull of Dungeon-Song that seems ever-present, waiting in the back of her mind like a fluttering corner of slowly peeling wallpaper.  

Communities of Magic-Users tend to all be touched by the same Dungeon-song and accordingly have similar interests.

Fear the Magic-User that whispers nonsense into sewer grates, the Magic-User who longs for nothing more than to put their ear to the dirt and bury their head, the Magic-User who disappears at odd hours with digging implements or who spends too much time with the Dungeon-born peoples.


Magic-Users "write" their "spellbooks" as variations of the same Dungeon-Song that first opened their mind to chaos. These are almost never words and formula in books and are sometimes called compositions, collages, zoos, assemblages, sculptures, gardens, poems, songs, menageries, collections or chapters. They may take any number of forms, may be entirely olfactory, may be written in a spectrum of light invisible to the human eye, or rely entirely on the use of some other stranger sense organ. These pieces take a lifetime or longer to complete, with many ancient Magic-Users collapsing at the foot of the spellbook they've spent decades to craft. A lich is often just a Magic-User whose devotion to their art has become so monomonaical that they cannot let it go, Magic-Users for whom their art can never be complete.

Spells are often collected, modified or invented not for their own sake but for the ultimate aesthetic they may help to affect in a Magic-User's spellbook and there are a multitude of examples of Magic-Users or communities of Magic-Users who have dedicated centuries to finding the perfect expression of a single spell of even the first complexity. These vanity spells are often (much, much) more complex and more intricate than they need be and their collection and use is often not profitable for a wandering Magic-User.

The Spell-Garden of the Uttermost Resplendent Magi of the Order of the Infinite Tusk, containing the spells Charm Person, Sleep, Wizard Lock, ESP, Fire Ball, Lightning Bolt, Confusion, Dimension Door, Wall of Fire, Wizard Eye, Cloudkill, Telekinesis, Pass-Wall, Contact Higher Plane, Hold Monster and Move Earth


Throughout the map, in cities, in towns, underneath cities & towns, in wizard's towers, caves and in remote hunting lodges or country estates are like-minded Magic-Users who study the blank spaces between hieroglyphic scripts, the worm-chewed holes in ancient historiographical tapestries, the infinite coils of mandala and the liminal void between each photon with lenses ground on demon hooves (barring that, a Tiefling hoof will do just fine). 

There is a hermit-wizard on X_____ Mountain who studies giant bees, lives in their hive, carries on an amorous relationship with their queen, sells rich, dark honey by the gallon in town. His treaties on giant insects are highly prized by natural scientist, though the pages often stick together.

There are three Magic-Users who run with the elk of the B_____ Forest. You can see them some nights in the distance, standing naked and backlit against the sky or moon, their antlers enormous, strangely gesticulating hands, softly rubbing velvety fingers in invocation of the primal spirit they are certain resides within each of their own chests. 

There is a small school in the town of G_______ where they keep the secrets of all portals and doors, including the first and last door.

Similar associations, institutions, gatherings and organizations populate and penetrate the landscape. Most are small, have no more than ten members, and are organized around a single, esoteric precept or highly idiosyncratic ideal followed to obsessive excess (becoming elk, speaking the language of grasses, growing pinecones from one's arms). The Society of the Limned Eye, the Sisterhood of Brother Thorn, the Schola Magma, the Cult of the Purple Tongue, the Miskatonic College of Tentacularium (complete with underwater carillon) .


Wizarding organizations tend to know, practice, teach and perhaps even make available to a paying outsider a certain number of spells. They'll probably teach you any of their spells if you are willing to pay and show enough enthusiasm for their particular brand of magic (carousing tables!), but of those spells, only a certain number will be practical for adventuring purposes. Any spell taught in this manner will have a random component requirement. 

Smaller organizations usually only know about 1-2 spells from each of the first five complexities that are sufficiently portable and performable to be of worth to the adventuring Magic-User. They might know a ritual of sixth complexity (4 in 6 chance).

Larger Institutions can know as many as 4 portable spells from each of the first five complexities and will know as many as two rituals of the sixth.

rollrequired component
1must be shouted at top volume
2requires dance (spend all casting time dancing)
3requires the recitation of an aporia
4must be sung (spend all casting time singing)
5requires something to be broken during casting
6requires expensive ingredients (10gp x complexity of spell), which are left burnt, twisted, tarnished, foul smelling and the sight of which will ever after cause inexplicable nausea
7requires total darkness or daylight or moonlight
8verbal component must instead be written
9must be cast with eyes shut, makes aiming problematic
10must be cast while causing damage (can be very minor) to one's own body
11requires two of the above (re-roll twice)
12requires participation from one other (roll once to determine requirement)

pictures:  Thomas Ott, unknown, Kris Kuksi
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