Friday 14 December 2018

"It Came from the Blogosphere!" #1

(I'm still on holiday, I promise!)

I'm reading RPG blogs, as always. There's always good stuff on the blogs.

cowboy bebop at his computer
I think that, what with G+ going under, it's worthwhile sharing things I'm enjoying around like this, so I'm considering continuing to do so next year in monthly-or-thereabouts installments.

To that end...

Artpunk RPG juggernaut Patrick Stuart has his already-well-beyond-funded Kickstarter for Silent Titans running right now. Back it.

Meanwhile over on his blog, my heart has been captured by an adventure he's been writing in pieces this year called The Stolen Skin of Sun. It's a mystery of fairytale manners with Rossetti nods throughout, and I've been longing to run it since I first set eyes on it. Part one is here, it's tagged so you can peruse the rest and devour the whole thing like I did.

Everyone's raving about Mothership, and rightly so. I found Zedeck Siew's review/read-through particularly good, informative and as knowledgeable and insightful as one can expect the man to be. So check that out here. (Look at those layouts! Dang.)

Dan D continues his prolific output with some adaptations of SCP creatures, those weird short sci-fi creepypasta things, into monsters or items for Emmy Allen's Esoteric Enterprises. Something in there for everyone, whether you're doing fantasy or modern weirdness. The Interdimensional Vending Machine is so very much my thing that I feel, as the kids say, attacked.

Speaking of OSR luminary Emmy Allen (she's basically a figurehead for all this in my mind, at this point, her shit is Top Tier), her new game project is a pseudoscience secret-agent OSR thing with a whole system based on your heart rate and I love it. Check out the player-facing information here and tell me you don't want to play right now. This is the Hot New Game for me, 100%, I'll be following it all with eager anticipation.

I was unaware of this blog before now, but gosh darn if I don't love me some food. Here's Dunkey Halton's Brigade de Cuisine, like a mountain-sized food court directed by Miyazaki or Watanabe or both somehow. The chef in me appreciates the restaranteur detail and the whole thing has a very effective sense of atmosphere, plus my favourite kind of adventuring - exploring nice, weird places and interacting with nice, weird people. There's a link in there to a food generator too for some D&D menu items.

Ben Milton and Brendan S's OSR survey got a pretty decent level of response, and Brendan continues to analyse the findings in a hugely professional manner on his blog. Useful insights, suspicions confirmed, all that.


That's that then. I'll be back after the season's festivities with... geez, a whole bunch of stuff(?!?!).

Here's to next year.

Monday 10 December 2018

Adventure Collection 2018

The first year of this blog is coming to a close. Here's every adventure I wrote and put up here for free during 2018.

A Road On a Hill; A Forest in a Valley


Something may go amiss in a sacred forest as the players pass by.

Style: A side quest. Exploration and investigation.
How To Use It: Make the road one the players go back and forth on a lot, let them see things changing. The actual inciting incident is up to you. They'll probe further if they want to.

The Wyrmling Hive


Dragons are bees, gold is pollen. Kobolds stole the town's treasure to feed their queen.

Style: Dungeon, investigation.
How To Use It: Makes for a good one shot. Map the caves on hex paper if you're desperate for maps. (Btw this is still the most popular post of all time on this blog? People like the bees.)

Hell On the Moon

Link to Part One.
Link to Part Two.

A fly-thru diner sits on a lonely moon; nearby, a crashed spaceship is infested with bugs, aliens, untended house plants and a bunch of very odd demons.

Style: Dungeon delving for treasure and exploration, overwhelming odds.
How To Use It: Serves as a great bridge into space fantasy. Best over multiple sessions, making several trips into the dungeon. Play up the NPCs: especially Gramps, Nadia and the archdemons, but also the visitors and astral anomalies.

The Postbox in the Woods


Monkeys, forest spirits and wooden priests watch a folk hero while he sleeps, tired of magnanimity.

Style: Maze-ish dungeon, focus on non-violence.
How to Use It: Works as a one-shot or the start of a campaign. Encourage creative thinking - don't send 'em in guns blazing. The crossword thing means the prep is done for you.

d6 by 6d6


A coastal region. Colonial rule with murmurings of criminal insurgency. Wave giants, pterodactyls, salt skaters, lion people, antlion people, pirates, the boogeyman, ancient ruins, a massive staircase, the fabled Crab King, ghosts, goats and two types of mermaid.

Style: Hexmap. Bare bones.
How to Use It: I ran it as-is, Graverobbers works well but it can go high fantasy too. There's sea, mountains, grassland and multiple desert types so most dungeons you might want to add will fit.

The Mysterious Village of the Fishfolk


A secluded town of mutants hide their shame.

Style: Investigation and interaction.
How to Use It: Written for Journeylands but would fit anywhere weird enough. Not much to it - the town is a secret to uncover, with the reward for uncovering it being knowledge and fictional positioning, so it only really works in the context of a larger world.

The Kingpin's Getaway


The ruined jungle hideout of a drug lord. Snot sloths, skeleton staff and a race for glory.

Style: Short dungeon crawl.
How to Use It: Rewrite the ending if you're not using Journeylands, the rest is pretty self-explanatory.

Dead Gods Make Little Deserts


A god crashed into the ground. Now his guts are a desert, home to a city of fabric and nomadic earwig riders. Find his head, mine his brains and plant his teeth to grow magic castles.

Style: Small area, exploration.
How to Use It: Pop it on a map somewhere. Another weird place for your players to go and check out if they're interested.

The Witch's List


A cosy autumnal village misses their witch. Do her chores while she's away.

Style: Small-scale exploration and problem solving.
How to Use It: One shot, or a good low-stakes quest. Good if you want to reward players who think creatively and like investigating.


Here's to next year x

Saturday 8 December 2018

Marrying Off Your Player Characters for Fun and Profit

Marriage doesn't really come up in "standard" D&D, outside of occasional, memorable stories of old games in which characters developed and naturally grew closer over time. Or maybe when you think of the kind of D&D game that might involve a wedding, you think of the visual-novel-esque, tiefling-heavy 5e games that people play on Twitch, and all the fanart that comes with them.

Here's a quest hook for you though, no matter what kind of game you run: an NPC proposes to one of your player characters.

...who, me?
A marriage proposal is pretty much the ideal D&D encounter - it forces player characters to interact and engage with the world, it's immediately understandable and the stakes are clear, and all outcomes are player-driven, with basically any choice they might make opening up new complications and situations.

There are several ways to go about this, I've gone over some below. In all cases, make sure the person proposing is an interesting character with ties to your world - this raises the stakes no matter the outcome. Use your favourite NPC.

"The Gritty": Marriage is a patriarchal institution by which men can trade in their daughters for gold, land and oxen.

Adventurers, assuming they survive at least a session, have more gold and treasure than they know what to do with. As your PCs gain in wealth, they will garner interest as potential suitors. What enterprising fellow wouldn't want to marry his family into that? And if they die on their next excursion, his daughter will be a wealthy widow.

Of course, if the player doesn't die immediately after the reception (or during, go full Game of Thrones), they'll have gained access and influence in one of your world's factions, however minor, with ties to NPCs and some small slice of your world.

Or, with marriage as more of a commodity, maybe treat it as a prize, the "treasure" at the end of a quest: with the dragon slain, the barbarian king acknowledges your strength, and gives you his heart and the service of he and his warband - as is tradition.

Do bear in mind, those of you who love your "gritty, realistic" worlds, that there are a lot of popular myths about medieval marriage. F'rinstance, women marrying young was not a thing in medieval Europe outside of royalty - who, let's face it, were just generally pretty messed up anyway.

(A wife was for housework and childbearing, and she couldn't do either effectively - especially not the latter, which risked the life of both mother and child - until she was at least twenty-one or so. So things were still shitty for women, just not quite child bride levels of shitty.)

I think I actually watched this movie
"The Romantic": Marriage is a public declaration of love.

Check your players' CHA scores. Chances are they are, by and large, more attractive than the average person. OK, CHA doesn't mean hotness, but they're certainly more interesting than most. Why wouldn't someone equally interesting, or perhaps even more so, be intrigued? The court wizard, perhaps, or a faerie prince.

Make the proposal come from someone powerful so that both rejection and acceptance will carry with them a cost and a benefit - the gaining of both new influence and allies but also responsibilities, or keeping one's freedom at the cost of incurring wrath. Rejecting a demon queen is campaign-changing stuff; nobody will remember the time your fighter turned down a starry-eyed milkmaid.

(Unless, of course, a djinn or demon hears the milkmaid's lonely sobs, and offers comfort, or even revenge... Kind of a dick GM move imo but sure, fuck their shit up.)

"The Politician": Marriage is a means of social positioning.

This is for those Masked Ball kinds of games. Maybe someone has something your player wants, and they'll happily give it up in exchange for their hand. Maybe your PCs already have some influence, or gain some through questing, and that makes them desirable.

You'll need a succinct but tangled web of NPC motivations, and players willing to investigate and learn. Whose family wants what, and who in that family wants something different? Brush up on your Shakespeare, and mire the whole thing in ulterior motives.

"A Rose by Any Other Name": Not marriage at all, but the same idea.

Of course, nobody necessarily needs to propose, it's just a clear, immediate and dramatic version of the real plot hook at work here - an NPC puts themselves on the line and offers to start a relationship with a PC.

Take that however you choose. A flirtation leading to a possible one night stand, even a business proposition - anything that will make the player's situation more complicated than it was before, no matter how they react.

Thursday 6 December 2018

The True Elemental Planes

Mike Schley's map of the Elemental Planes for 5th Edition. Very pretty - ALL LIES
There has been much chatter and debate on the nature of the planes of existence over the centuries. Now that we can send helldozers and golden barges across the cosmos, and the brave and/or foolhardy souls who pilot them can, on occasion, safely return, we know the TRUTH.

The (Prime) Material Plane

A convergence of all four elements, with People as the ultimate expression of their confluence. Not a place of harmony, but one of such perpetual roiling imbalance as to create a perfect storm. The spearhead of reality, its potential draws the attention of the gods and its life is the purest expression of such that we can conceive (Editor's Note: grossly short-sighted but ok, sure).

Planets suspended in phlogiston, orbiting stars that extend for light-millenia in all directions. A Universe.

(not mentioned here are other dimensions, such as the plane of Faerie and several of the Hells - these exist on something of a metaphysical Z-axis, while we concern ourselves here chiefly with the X and Y of it all)
The Elemental "Planes"

Fire, air, earth, water. Not planes at all, but concepts - pure expressions of the four base realities that form the Material.

These are, contrary to the old wisdom, not Places one can Go. They are mathematical and alchemical constants, a sphere of pure existence that binds our universe.

The "Elemental" Planes

If the Material is where all four elements collide, then these are the other places within the Inner Planes in which they make contact. Pairs of concepts butting up against one another to form realities. They are remarkably similar to the Material, even if they lack all the base components.

Within each there exist areas where matter, time and space flow in such a manner to make them habitable to life as we understand it, almost like the planets of the Material realm. When we discuss the Planes, we speak of these areas specifically.

The Plane of Ash (Fire & Air)

A place of wild passion, the heat and smoke making the air unbreathable. Perhaps the least habitable of the planes - although helldozers, by complete happenstance, are ideal for traversing it.

Colour Palette: Pitch black, hellish red, vibrant orange, smoky grey.
The Wildlife: Sky-things, like fish and dragonflies. Beautiful and in a constant dance.
The Locals: Ethereal wisp-people of wild, joyful energy. Try to resist their calls to come outside.
Why Are There No Maps: Pure whim and passion without the stabilising natures of water and earth make for a directionless mess. There is no up or down here, only a whirling storm.
What Might Bring You Here: It's been suggested as less gruesome route for hellholes. Some wizards are showing up to places covered in ash rather than blood now - very hip.

The Plane of Ice (Air & Water)

A vast cold sea, almost entirely frozen. Nearly unerringly calm, its nights and days are each ages long.

Colour Palette: Blank white, cloud grey, pale blue.
The Wildlife: Transparent fish, blubbery mammals. A few slow leviathans, some city-like in scope.
The Locals: Of the blubbery, mammalian variety. Diminutive, stoic but welcoming and wistful, changing with their world while holding true to their values of community and peace. They have an almost spiritual bent, despite the lack of gods tending to their realm.
Why Are There No Maps: Floes drift, icebergs crash and change. What was considered a continent sunders overnight with a cracking sound that shakes the sky and leaves a new crevasse.
What Might Bring You Here: The Great Hunt for a legendary and gigantic beast by day, or supposed visions of cosmological truth in the lights that pass over the night sky.

The Plane of Ooze (Water & Earth)

A wet marsh of life-stuff. Organs and membranes and plant matter without drive or purpose, stagnant and resolved to do little but grow slowly and die.

Colour Palette: Jungle green, bile yellow, mud brown, gore red.
The Wildlife: Resembling that of the Material realm, but in fits and starts. Like errors of creation, stupid and pointless. So many plants, bugs, things like bacteria.
The Locals: Varied tribes of meat-plant-folk, each adapted by the cosmic joke equivalent of evolutionary luck to be driven to one thing: eat, kill, fuck, build, destroy, etc. The most agreeable are the placid majority who simply exist to exist.
Why Are There No Maps: Too complex. One would need to produce anatomical diagrams-within-diagrams in place of maps or charts on a 1:1 scale to be comprehensive enough to prove useful.
What Might Bring You Here: If a particular part of a plant or animal is needed for some reason, chances are the equivalent has been spawned by sheer randomness within this primordial soup. The locals understand living matter at its basest level and can guide you.

The Plane of Magma (Earth & Fire)

Rock and molten rock. Terrible, unbearable heat. Spires, cliffs, valleys, the only light from below.

Colour Palette: Soot black and stone brown, sun yellow and shining blood red.
The Wildlife: Of stone. Biology like engines or clockwork. Violent, hardy, quick: pick two.
The Locals: It would be a mistake to call them golems, for they are self-driven. Large, loud, passionate but unchanging. Tribal tradition, feats of bravery and strength are honoured.
Why Are There No Maps: That's just not how things are done. The only thing you need consult for direction is your own heart and the will of the elders, brother!
What Might Bring You Here: These are staunch and fierce allies to have, if allies you can make of them. Plus, enormous crystals like nowhere else are buried deep in the rare colder caves, a source of energy as yet unharnessed.

The Plane of Steam (Fire & Water)

Humid. The air endlessly thick with vapour to the point of opacity in places. Dim orange light from a hypothetical sun-like source. Evaporating pools and geysers.

Colour Palette: Coral and dull orange, mist grey, stagnant green-blue, more mist grey.
The Wildlife: Salamanders. Olms, wetfish with vestigial limbs. Macaques and balloon-beasts. Lichens and algae.
The Locals: Attractive, with an affinity for gadgets and tools - technology here is made of stone and crystal and light, rubbery worksuits made of lichen fibres. Wanderlust is common, and all are nomads or explorers.
Why Are There No Maps: They're working on it! Load a geode disc into a projector and take a look at what this explorer's got so far - a half-done map drawn in light, beamed onto the vapour in the air.
What Might Bring You Here: These are an adventuring sort - planestrotters would be in good company. Join them on an excursion, and who knows what loot may be found?

The Plane of Lightning (Earth & Air)

Like an asteroid belt in a storm cloud. Always in flux. These elements cannot find balance - welcome to the crossfire.

Colour Palette: Storm black, lightning white.
The Wildlife: Small and wary, or hardy beasts of burden. Not much of a food chain.
The Locals: Deeply mysterious. They ride the storm.
Why Are There No Maps: Yeah, good luck with that.
What Might Bring You Here: There is a strange beauty to the ensuing battle. The locals have much to teach, if you have the time and skill to learn, and the wit and luck to survive.

The Outer Planes

Beyond the inner, the Elements do not govern existence. Here dwell unknowable things: aberrations, old ones, gods.

All existence is bound in the Astral Sea, but this far out that is all that remains. This is not something a mortal mind can fully grasp. It is the stuff we dream in, the plane of the soul. A phlogiston of the ethereal, a crossing-place, a dark matter. Some call it the fifth element, quintessence, and claim it to be the birthplace of magic itself.

Better to focus on that which we can reach, for now.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

To Hurtle Through Hell

News item #1: A big ol' post just went up on the Patreon about what this blog is going to be up to next year. If you're not part of the Graverobber's Guild yet, sign up for just $1 USD a month!

News item #2: Ben "Questing Beast" Milton and Brendan "Necropraxis" S have written up a survey about what the OSR means to people and what they want out of it, if you have any opinions on this please fill out the survey here!

To business, then...

"Hell" is an old-fashioned term we got from cults and clerics, these days used as a general name for any plane or dimension that is either inhospitable or actively opposed to life as we know it.

There is one particular hell, a constant hungry battleground of writhing demonic flesh, which sits in a particular cosmic alignment with the prime material plane. Thanks to this proximity, it turns out that travelling via this hell results in journeys being shortened to the point of near-instantaneous travel.

Once can, with enough momentum, pop into hell and spring back out again at almost any location on Earth in a matter of seconds - assuming the detour can be survived.

your shortcut
The portals for performing this maneuver require a specific spell. They must be conjured immediately, sustained for exactly as long as they are being used and no longer, and be opened in quick succession - point of entry then point of exit.

The travel between the portals is messy, to say the least. If the traveler is not quick, they will be eaten or impaled or absorbed or flagellated or diced or sliced or gods knows what. Even if they are quick, something else's gore will likely get mixed up in the proceedings. Wizards still show up to parties drenched in demon blood.

sorry I'm late, lads, traffic's a nightmare
Spell: Hellhole. Creates a series of sphincter-like portals that form a detour through a hell dimension, then hurtles the caster through them at great speed.

Instantaneously appear at another general location on the material plane (must be on said plane to start with). You arrive covered in demonic gore, 1 in 6 chance there's a useful organ or piece of bone/horn stuck to you. Save vs spells or die on the way.

the point of exit
This rudimentary use of the hell dimension for travel was solely the purview of daredevil warlocks, until the development of the helldozer.

By the same logic of design that powers astral ships or golden barges, but to those as a sawn-off shotgun is to a sniper rifle. A helldozer is a transport craft which insulates its driver, passengers and cargo from the demonic onslaught as it plows onward towards its destination, throwing itself through an alchemically generated hellhole, propelled by a controlled cosmic explosion.

A dwarvish construction built on human recklessness, it is bulky, graceless and painfully slow when not blasting through dimensions, but as reliable as it needs to be. A helldozer that has its tusk-like prow stained deeply with ichor is a worthy one - a clean prow means the craft is untested. Of course, either way it's a risk - but sometimes you just need to get where you're going.
you laugh but this is actually fairly close. I'm sure there's a Games Workshop model that'd work
Helldozer: Roll 1d20 to hurtle through hell as with the effect of Hellhole but without the save: stranded in hell on a 1. Roll with advantage but no modifiers if you have a skilled pilot.

Price of a very nice warship, encumbrance of ~10 adventurers. Moves at half movement speed on land, any terrain. Anything on the helldozer's exterior when travelling through hell is lost unless the pilot rolls at least one 19+ (and wants to not lose the thing in question).

Extras: Bits o' Demon

Among the gore, guts and shredded miscellania your wizard or helldozer is coated in upon exiting the hellhole (1d20):

1: Small intestine, as rope
2: Meat chunk, as ration
3: Tooth, as dagger
4: Schpleenus, as flask of oil
5: Gigagizzard, as vial of poison
6: Suspicious meat chunk, as ration, save vs indigestion
7: Eyeball, a functioning replacement
8: Cursed eyeball, a functioning replacement with darkvision, save vs possession
9: Horn, as shortsword
10: Skin flap, +1 AC cloak, rotting smell
11: Grognad, ages you 1d20 years if ingested
12: Hairy scale, grow lustrous and enviable purple hair (d4: head/face/body/all) if ingested
13: Mumgristle, silent while chewing it: no voice, no clanking armour, nothin' (max 1 hour)
14: Pongle-giblets, you conduct lightning harmlessly while wearing them as a necklace (humans are put off by the smell, felines find it endearing)
15: Pupuukus, a blob of goo enough to coat one person, slimes or oozes think they are also slime and leave them be (wash off within a day or permanently gain slime-like qualities)
16: Slipworm, an extremely docile parasite - too big for your gut but for 1HP of your energy per day you can wear it as clothing, AC as plate with a fashionably meaty appearance
17: Vantoplaque, gunky paste that hardens and adheres over skin, make armour with it (as chain, cracks irreparably if critically hit)
18: Negablubber, completely inflammable, coat something up to people-size in it to make it utterly impervious to heat for 1 hour
19: Gongulary gland, huff the gas contained within to see invisible things (permanent, one use, the whites of your eyes go purple)
20: Phallus, as greatsword