Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm Pretty Sure That Horse Is Dead

I asked artist Ashe Rhyder for something depicting a "cowboy versus a Seussian creature", and here it is:

Very excited!  Thanks again, Ashe, for the very first piece of Wampus Country artwork!

Hybrid-inator 3000!

A short table perhaps useful in generating hybrid monsters or reskinning current hybrids is here.

Four columns represent man-parts, herbivore-parts, predator-parts, and winged-creature-parts.  I didn't do an all-aquatic column (sorry, hippocamp), but there are some aquatic features in the columns.  Here's how to use the darn thing to reskin a hybrid monster.

1) Select the hybrid you want to reskin.  Let's try an owlbear.
2) Check out the current 'parts'.  With an owlbear, we're looking at a bird head on a predator body.
3) Roll on the appropriate columns for replacement species.  In this case, let's say we rolled 'vulture' and 'weasel'.
4) Decide (very quickly if this is mid-game!) whether you can just reskin it (describe a vulture-weasel and use owlbear stats) or whether you want to tweak the stats.  In this case, I might make the creature slighter (lower HD) but faster or something.

Same thing works with chimeras, pegasi, griffons.  Egyptian gods.  Whatever.

The last result on each column says 'column shift' - you roll on the next column over (to the left or right, as you please, or you can dice for it).

Some sample results:
Hippogriff - was eagle/horse, is now cardinal/koala.
Chimera - was lion/goat/dragon, is now badger/tortoise/squid.
Manticore - was a bat-winged lion with the face of a man; is now a moth-winged cobra with the face of an evil clown.
Sphinx - was an eagle-winged lion with the face of a man/woman/hawk/ram; is now a duck-winged cheetah with the face of a savage ape.

Cedric awoke to find he had lost his job to a raven-faced badger.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Downriver, at the edge of Snollygoster Swamp, perches the curious town of Frogport, a ragtag assemblage of slippy-sloppy buildings on stilts, rope walkways between treehouses, and barges roped together.  Although a number of humans call Frogport home, its majority population is of course the eponymous frogs - bipedal, intelligent frog-men who have called that part of Snollygoster Swamp home since the time of the ancients.

Frogport began as a trading-post where men and frogs came together to barter at the traversable end of the swamp.  In time, however, merchants began building, hunters moved in, and some of the frogs became enamored of human culture.  Although even the frogs living in the deep of the swamp benefit from the trade, it is the syncretism of frog and human culture which has caused an uproar in what was once a traditional, almost monolithic society.

For centuries, the frog-folk lived as savages in Snollygoster Swamp - hunting, gathering, and cavorting about without clothing.  Now, they have rapidly adopted the ways of their neighbors - wooden homes instead of muddy burrows, waistcoats and pocketwatches, and worst of all, a shift in religion.  The young generation of frogs may still pay lip service to the traditional faith of Wug-Ba-Wug the Mud-Matron, but it is a new deity who truly holds their attention.  This new godling, known as Mix-Gun-Jai or ‘Lord of Great Waters’, represents cultural advancement and enlightenment, and perhaps a bold new era for the frogs.

The young frogs who follow the new faith and fashion tool around town in tweed jackets and are fascinated with both entrepreneurship and the possibilities of foreign travel.  Frog-folk are still a highly musical people, but the old sacred chants are fallen by the wayside, replaced with raucous music made with man-crafted brass instruments.  Although percussionists still use handmade drums and carefully-trained giant crickets as instruments, most prefer explosive drum solos to the maudlin cadences which were ancient when their grandparents were tadpoles.  This year acapella quartets are all the rage.

Frogport is a fairly safe town, policed as it is by some of the larger frogs and willing human residents, always on the lookout for natural predators - including giant cranes and immense swamp-spiders - and more recent rivals, such as the gator-men.

Frog-men are treated as halflings in all ways, save their special abilities.  

Frog-folk can hide with 90% ability in less-than-clear water or swamp terrain; they are fully amphibious and may breathe both water and air with ease.  Frogs have good low-light vision as well as good underwater vision.  Their small size grants frogs a lower armor class (-2) when attacked by creatures greater than human sized.  In addition, each frog PC must roll once for a Froggy Special Ability, representing a beneficial mutation.  The frogs are a surprisingly diverse species, constantly evolving; spawn often do not resemble their parents in the slightest.  A human wizard resident in Frogport has just begun to study this strange phenomenon.

These represent mutations in the adult frog-folk, usually caused by the outside environment during the tadpole stage rather than something inherited.  Other, wilder mutation tables may be used if you’re feeling lucky; three-eyed frog-folk are not uncommon, for example.  Recent experiments by the aforementioned human wizard suggest that frog-folk mutate very easily, even after reaching adulthood - best to be cautious of wild magic, glowing slimes, and evil-looking idols; any adventuring situation which might cause mutation in a PC has double-chance of doing so in a frog, and if there’s a mandatory ‘mutation table’ roll involved, the frog must take two.

1 - Celebrated Jumper - long legs and powerful musculature combine to make this frog an incredible leaper.  The frog may jump twice the normal distance for a creature its size.

2 - Dreamwarden - patches on the frog’s skin, usually on the back, exude a mild hallucinogen which can affect both frogs and humans if tasted.  Normally this drug is used as a corollary to frog religious rituals honoring the Mud-Matron; goodness only knows what a PC will try to do with it.

3 - Revenger - the frog’s very flesh is foul-tasting and poisonous.  Predators which get a taste of him must save vs poison or drop/recoil from the frog.  A creature which actually eats the poor frog must save vs poison or become violently ill for 2d4 hours - perhaps allowing the frog’s surviving friends a chance to gain revenge of their own.

4 - Amazing Tongue - while all frog-folk have sticky tongues, yours is particularly long and strong, and nearly prehensile.  While it cannot effectively hold a weapon or tool, you can fire it out at melee range as a bludgeon which does 1d2 points of damage, or use it to grab light objects and bring them to you.  

5 - Mind of the Ancients - although it’s difficult to say whether this power is an atavism or an evolutionary advance, it’s certainly useful.  You can “speak” with nonsentient frogs, toads, and salamanders (including giant ones) using a form of mental empathy, and sometimes bend them to your will.

6 - Wartoad - a small proportion of the frog population manifests retractable claws.  Your shiny yellow claws only do 1d3 damage, but they are always by your side.

7 - Water-born - Your toe-webbing is very grand indeed, and you have the swimming muscles to back it up.  Your swim speed is increased 50%.

8 - Frog of Thunder - evolutionary saltation has provided you with small glands in your palms which generated bioelectricity; you may discharge them (together) once per day for 2d4 damage, not unlike a Shocking Grasp.  However, you react very poorly to electrical feedback, and suffer -2 to all saves versus anything to do with lightning.

First, roll a d6:
1 -  solid color, roll once below, underbelly is lighter shade of same
2 - solid color, roll once below; then roll again for underbelly
3 - spotted, roll twice below
4 - striped, roll twice below
5 - mottled, roll once below, with patches of a darker tone
6 - harlequin, roll four times below

1 - a very pleasant green indeed [1]
2 - olive drab
3 - bright green
4 - british racing green
5 - chocolate brown
6 - mud brown
7 - baby-poop yellow-brown
8 - so brown it’s black
9 - mustard yellow
10 - bright yellow
11 - golden [2]
12 - turquoise
13 - granny smith
14 - deep red
15 - bright red
16 - wow, that frog is seriously blue
17 - pumpkin orange
18 - dun/tan
19 - practically white [2]
20 - pinkish

[1] Your tone is the pinnacle of froggy beauty; your CHA is considered to be +2 when dealing with other frog-folk.
[2] The more you have of this color, the more useful you probably are to some freakish cult or wizard-hermit for rituals which end with you splayed open and shouting for your Mommy.  Just thought you’d want to know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ill-Fated Heatherington Expedition

Four years ago, outdoorsman and amateur natural philosopher Mr. Darbury Heatherington led a large, well-funded expedition eastward, beyond the bend of the great river, in an effort to survey the unknown lands beyond.  What truly happened during the Heatherington expedition is unknown, but Mr. Heatherington returned to River-Town by himself one year ago, gaunt and addled.  He spent three days in Colgate Hill Sanatorium under the care of various medical professionals, arranging his notes into a memoir, to which he affixed the following letter.

Outside my window at this facility I can see men, women, and children of all classes intermixed in the streets, tipsy and masqued, celebrating the day of the Satyr as they have each year for as long as I can remember.  And, in truth, I have some few happy memories of the occasion in my youth -- yet today is grim, and no revels can long draw my attention.  

As grateful as I should be to have returned safely to the edge of civilization after such desperate travails, my heart is broken.  I departed intoxicated with dreams of wonder, and return but a shallow husk.  Forty-seven men were under my charge; now they all sleep the sleep of ages.  Battered by the elements, rent in twain by horrible beasts, perforated by native arrows - each death preventable, had they but lacked foolish confidence in me as their leader.  The weight of their needless deaths is a burden I wish to bear no longer.  I have returned and delivered my records of the journey, as promised, though the map be incomplete.  

And I’ve little faith that any reasonable man will believe my tales of purple pygmies, the impossibly corpulent Emperor of Rubbish, the Valley of the Anti-Primitives, the Man Who Killed Ghosts, or anything else contained herein.  But I must fulfill my promise as tribute to those men who died along the way, sacrificing themselves for greater knowledge.  This is the only means I know of memorial, of coping with the crushing grief.  This memoir must stand as my Satyrday mourning.
Mr. Darbury Heatherington was found hanged in his room at the Sanatorium the next morning.  The publisher presents his unaltered manuscript, without comment regarding its veracity, as a monument to those men and women across the frontier who risk their lives in the name of discovery for the common good.

Sanford Grantle
Grantle & Brown, Bookbinders, River-Town

What remains of the Heatherington party makes camp in the unknown wilderness.

Side-project on the burner that's got my brain-pistons going full steam. A populated hexcrawl map alongside expedition notes, it's called Satyrday Mourning, and it's exactly what you think it is.

I am super-excited.

What's He Riding?

I forgot I had a half-finished random table of mounts sitting around; so I took a couple minutes and finished it up.

It's simply called "What's He Riding?".    d20, four columns: mundane, wealthy, unusual, magical.

The 'mundane' column tells us something about common mounts and pack-animals in the Wampus Country - horses, donkeys, some alpaca.  'Wealthy' includes warhorses and such, as well as moderately-unusual mounts that eccentric folks might keep.  'Unusual' is weird but nonmagical, and 'Magical' is...well, you get the idea.

You could use a table like this when someone casts mount and randomize the outcome (I'd say roll a d6 and add the wizard's level, 2 mundane, 3-6 wealthy, 7-12 unusual, 13+ magical or something like that).

Some definitions for Wampus Country purposes:

horse - a pony, palfrey, or work-horse, pretty average and not trained for combat.

courser - a horse bred for speed.

destrier - a warhorse.

riding-snollygoster - any of a number of bipedal or semi-bipedal saurians suitable for taming and riding (like a duckbilled dinosaur, for example).

ponderous snollygoster - any of several huge (between rhino and elephant), quadripedal snollygosters (like a triceratops or styracosaur).

double-gator - a monster the Boy came up with, like a Pushme-Pullyu (a head at each end), but it's a giant alligator.  I seem to recall one head breathed fire and the other ice or something; I need to stat this up.

raincloud - y'know, like a little stormcloud you surf around on like a slow hoverboard.

lil' twister - bigger than a dust devil, smaller than a full-grown air elemental, these adolescent sentient cyclones roam the prairie and are occasionally tamed as riding animals (a la Pecos Bill, but smaller).

chrome mustang - a shining silver-and-red (or silver-and-whatever) magical horse, apparently composed of metal and quite fast.  The creature is exceedingly rare, and said to be blessed by the Lost Gods of the Sixty-Sixth Path, who watch over travelers.

Bang Bang, You're Dead

I'm going to grossly oversimplify and state that there are two schools of thought on firearms rules for D&D.

The first school wants to simulate reality, which means making firearms incredibly deadly, able to do more damage than an axe to the face, penetrate armor, deny you your DEX mod to AC, that sort of thing.  Purveyors of this philosophy also tend to want misfire rules, realistic reloading, and the like.

The second school just thinks guns are a cool addition, and they don't want to add "unnecessary" rules to complicate things.

I'm squarely in the second camp, and so is Wampus Country.  We're not exploring "the effect of ye harquebus on warfare" here, we're firing revolvers at witches.  To that end, I present...

"Bloody Hell, Watkins!  Whoever sold rifles to these Blue-Feather barbarians is a damnable rotter!"


1)  Most pistols do 1d6 damage; most rifles do 1d8 damage.  You'll note this makes them functionally similar to the short and long bow, respectively.  Muzzle-loading pistols do greater damage in exchange for just getting the one shot (see below).

2) I'm assuming the firearms are either muzzle-loaded (like a Hawken) or break-action, and all the revolvers are single-action.  That's my mental guideline.  If you're a gun aficionado, that's great, feel free to describe things about your character's weapons as we play.  I don't want to hear a bunch of "tut-tut" about weapon realism, though, any more than I'd want you to question why there are goddamn owlbears.  The firearm inspirations are a mishmash of 18th-19th century just like everything else, so if we have a Kentucky Rifle in the same party as a Colt Dragoon, nobody cares, go kill something together.  I'm stopping short of lever-action rifles because I don't want repeating rifles.

3) Since we're using Labyrinth Lord and implementing no weapon specialization hoo-ha, I'm going to go ahead and say that every class can use firearms.  The great equalizer - til you run out of rounds, I suppose.

4) Precise range increments are for bean-counters.  Have faith that I will let you know what's in range and what's not, what's just at the edge of your range, etc.

5) I'm not worrying about caliber or grains, period, except to say that you can't put a freaking musket-ball in  a cartridge revolver.  If you have a muzzle-loader, you can get a bullet-making kit ($12) and cast your own bullets from lead and scrap; otherwise, you'll be paying for ammunition.

All pistols come with an appropriate holster as part of the listed cost.  All muzzle-loaders come with a ramrod and stuff.  Please consider the prices listed below to apply for River-Town; the further one gets from civilization, expect these prices to skyrocket.

Muzzle-loaded pistol ($10-20, 1d8, 1 shot) - reloading in combat is problematic, but you can cast your own bullets.

Top-break revolver ($15-20, 1d6, 5 or 6 shots) - reloading in combat is possible with a speedloader.

Muzzle-loaded rifle ($10-30, 1d10, 1 shot) - reloading in combat is problematic, but you can cast your own bullets.

Break-action rifle ($10-30, 1d8, 1 shot) - reloading in combat takes one round.  Yes, this is arbitrary.

Double-barreled coach gun ($20-30, 1d8, 2 shots) - reloading takes one round per chamber (2 for full reload).  This is just to match the rifle reload times.

And since someone will ask, a bayonet counts as a dagger ($4, 1d4).  Also in the 'someone will ask' department, getting silver bullets (or bullets coated with anything unusual) is custom work and will cost accordingly.

Bows are in common use amongst savages; crossbows are unusual (the frontier sort of skipped over them).

Although many craftsmen can easy crank out a homemade Kentucky rifle, the finest line-made firearms come from Margate & Rapp, who have a facility just outside River-Town.  Although well-known, Margate & Rapp don't dominate the market, as there are several other smaller manufacturers, including the economy-priced Stickell, known for their exceedingly cheap one-shot pistols and single-barreled coach-guns (as the magazine ad says, "If You're Ever In A Pickle / You'll Be Glad You Had A Stickell").

I'm sure I've forgotten something.  It'll come to me.

If You're Ever In A Pickle
You'll Be Glad You Had A Stickell!

A Tuxedo Is As Good As A Cuirass

Armor in D&D is a pain.  There are a lot of assumptions about what should be available and the armor levels are a bit 'hard-wired' into our brains.  If you start mucking around with what 'AC3' means there's some potential for misunderstanding.  But maybe we can get away with making a three-piece suit equivalent to leather armor.

In preparation for running Wampus Country via G+, I'm trying to get a bunch of half-formed house-rules out of my head on onto the page where they can be seen.  I'm going to push through several subjects in quick blogposts, then try to assemble that info on a 'page' or in a pdf or something.

So let's talk about armor and clothing.  Here's the armor from Labyrinth Lord, updated to include Wampus-specific house rules.  It might be easier to do this two ways, as an AC chart and as an equipment list.

AC  ...  applicable armors/clothing to achieve that AC
9     Unarmored
8     Leather, Padded, Buckskins, Three-Piece
7     Studded Leather, assorted reinforced hide, Ironwool clothing
6     Scale mail
5     Chain mail, breastplate over leathers
4     Banded mail, Splint mail
3     Plate mail

Banded mail ($90) - unusual; a number of well-maintained sets of banded mail are still floating around from Grandpa's War in good repair.

Buckskins ($5-15)  - classic frontier outfit for year-round wear, protective and fashionable yet allowing superior mobility.  Usually fringed for quicker drying.  Elaborate beadwork will increase the price.

Chain mail ($70)  - chain hauberks are not uncommon amongst the bandits and monster-hunters.

Ironwool - the fibers of the tufts of an ironwool tree are woven into a reinforced cloth with unusual kinetic properties.  To commission a bespoke item from ironwool quintuples the cost - and that's presuming it's even available.  If you want a dashing suit made out of the stuff, best to harvest the fiber yourself first.

Leather ($6-10) - various combinations of soft and boiled leather, or layers of cloth and leather.

Padded ($4-7) - layers of quilting, etc.  May not be 'armor' per se; put on enough clothing and a winter fur coat and you're certainly padded.

Plate mail ($500+) - no one in their right mind wears a full suit of plate mail in Wampus Country; not only is it impractical, but also a blatant reminder of the 'old country'.  A man in plate is picking a fight just by walking around.

Scale mail ($60+) - most scale mail armor seen in Wampus Country is lovingly handcrafted out of actual animal-scales, rather than pieces of metal or ceramic.  Some young bucks take pride in wearing a suit of armor (leather & scale) composed entirely of a snollygoster they killed themselves.

Shields ($10 and up) - shields are available, especially the wooden sort.

Splinted armor ($80+) - again, likely handcrafted and passed down; a good deal of the splinted suits one sees in Wampus Country are family heirlooms.  Maybe not that guy's family, but the family of the guy he brained to steal the armor in the first place.

Three-Piece ($8-20)  - there is nothing so liberating and magical as a well-tailored suit.  A properly-tailored three-piece suit is the hallmark of the frontier gentleman when he is in town; some even wear 'field suits' when out on the hunt.  (Note: equivalent fashionable clothing for ladies is of course available)

"It is with some regret that I must now ruin the wonderful suit you are  wearing in order to stab you to death, sir.  I shall not miss you when you are dead, but I will shed a tear for that gorgeous herringbone."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

One Hundred Magic-Users

When hiring a sorceror, one must be careful regarding reassuring stereotypes; they are not a universal indicator of  experience, wisdom, or sanity.

Here's the latest: a d100 table for generating traits for wizards and the like, entitled One Hundred Magic Users.  Let me know if the link doesn't work right, I'm experimenting here.

The table offers kennings and nicknames, outstanding features, hobbies/goals, and a hundred different familiars.  Perfect when you have a room full of wizards and need to distinguish them on the fly.  I didn't do names - they're often campaign-specific in flavor, so I left it out this time.

d100 or Bust!

I'm addicted to d100 tables.  There, I've said it.

Don't get me wrong, a table with twelve or twenty or thirty results is perfectly good.  But when I'm writing a random table, I'm not satisfied anymore unless it's got a hundred rows and multiple columns.  This is a good and bad thing, depending, of course.

Populating a d100 table takes longer, sure, but in order to do so I find myself reaching into nooks and crannies of the brain I might otherwise not explore.  'Forced creativity'.

Conversely, however, this can sometimes affect the tone of the table - you're less prone to edit yourself, more likely to include a little gonzo maybe.  And sometimes 100 results is too many!  If I did a "100 businesses in town" table, that would be well and good, but I might roll twenty results for a small town and somehow not get anywhere to eat on the map.

Anyway, I'm putting the finishing touches on a table that generates magic-users.  Not stats, just nicknames/kennings, appearance-related gimmicks, and hobbies/goals.  Trying to think of a fourth column to throw on there.  100 familiars?

In other news, I have to say the search terms people are using to find Wampus Country are pretty amusing to me.  Some of them, you have to wonder whether they were really looking for this site.  Here are the top contenders:

wampus country  - presumably they're looking for this blog, which is fantastic!

hunting for skunk ape  - this one puzzles me, as there's only one 'skunk ape' mention on the site, so any 'Finding Bigfoot' fans who click through are going to be sorely disappointed.

lady on velocipede cartoon  -  well, we do have one of those.

laugh so hard my head fell off  -  presumably this leads to a certain coyote.

"transformed into giants"  - I still need to do more on the whole giants thing.

fairytale lumberjack  -  you're in the right place.

beast with three heads  -  now I'm disappointed I don't have an illustration for our resident three-headed beast!

frontier name generator, frontier town name generator - these two have a lot of search-engine hits.  And that post with the table in it is one of the most popular posts on the blog, yet has no comments, which I find interesting.  I hope folks are getting use out of these tables.

why ladybug the witch -  I know which post this might lead to, but I'm confused as to why anyone would use 'the' in a search engine. ;)

If you're getting use out of one of my tables, please drop me a line or comment!

"'Don't forget the sandwiches,' I said, must've  done a hundred times.  How are we to have a successful adventure without sandwiches?  For heaven's sake, Nigel, what kind of hobbit are you anyway?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Walking Between Worlds

When characters jump between campaign worlds being run by different DMs - as has become commonplace in FLAILSNAILS circles - that travel raises a lot of questions, even if you handwave the 'how' of it.  Mike at Terruizeng raises some of those questions here, and they're worth thinking about.

Focusing on the tech-transfer aspect, linking up campaign worlds means you have to deal with higher tech levels (or higher magic levels) leaking into lower-tech (or lower-magic, you see the pattern) worlds.  As a DM whose setting includes firearms, this is something which concerns me.  Now, the FLAILSNAILS conventions include a very simple 'out' for those DMs who don't want ray-guns and stuff showing up in their game on the hips of visiting PCs.  You just say 'no': you don't have it on you (you'll get it back when you 'port out, one presumes), or you have it but it functions differently or not at all.

And that 'no' is all well and good...but can't we find a way to do this that adds to the game in a meaningful way?  No, not a life-affirming meaningful, but something that adds cool or generates plot hooks or something?  I think we can.

Here's a draft of a little table to determine what happens to "banned" items when their owner jumps from one world (the 'old' world) to another (the 'new' world).  The table presumes that you're looking for some kind of transformation of the item rather than "it disappears" or "it works fine" (you don't need a table for those, I hope).  As I'm drafting this, I'm primarily thinking about guns, but it could be applied to anything with some wiggle room.

Item transforms into...
1 - sand
2 - a (poisonous?) serpent
3 - a replica of itself in stone
4 - a hunk of driftwood that vaguely resembles its former shape
5 - a handful of leeches
6 - small swarm of bees or wasps
7 - an oddly-colored crystal
8 - a mysterious key
9 - a map to hidden treasure(?) (1-3 new world, 4-6 old world)
10 - a bottle of unusual wine or liquor (origin: 1-3 new world, 4-6 old world)
11 - a rather sizeable pearl
12 - fragrant dung from an unknown creature
13 - a mysterious letter, from/to parties unknown (DM's option: letter is 'to' a PC, or even better, 'from' a future version of a PC)
14 - mummified hand (1-2 simian, 3-5 humanoid, 6 seemingly demonic)
15 - functionally equivalent new-world item, but better (ie, revolver turns into masterwork hand crossbow)
16 - large egg of strange hue (contains 1-3 creature, 4-5 liquid silver or gold, 6 non-sequitur (ie, a pocketwatch, a foil-wrapped chocolate bar, collection of tiny poetry scrolls)
17 - 'passport stone' - a small ceramic disk with seven sections; one section is a different color.  As it is examined, a second section changes color; these wedges represent different campaign worlds (the old one, the new one).  What happens when all seven sections are 'activated'?
18 - small box of chocolates or petits-fours which have the effect of micro-potion doses; no 'which is which' insert is included, sadly
19 - micro-figurine of less-than-wondrous power which can be activated once per day and accomplishes a mundane or unimpressive task (ex: cobalt echidna which will lace up your boots for you; amber vole which cleans your ears or teeth)
20 - velveteen bag of strange seeds

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Mad Unicorn at Rainbow's End

I was trying to think of a St. Patrick's Day post - something to do with leprechauns, I imagined - when the Boy blew through the room playing with his new Tokidoki rainbow pega-corn thing, an impulse buy at the game shop earlier this evening.

"Pew pew!"
"Is that your new unicorn?"
"Yeah, she's shooting rainbow lasers at you.  Pew pew!  Her name is Aleeza, she's a flying rainbow unicorn from space."
"Mmhmm.  She's got a really disproportionate head for an equine.  That head is huge, man."
"She has a big head to hold all her crazy brains."

Insane rainbow-laser unicorn?  Yeah, that takes care of the St. Patrick's Day post just fine.  Thanks, kid.

Happy St. Patrick's, everybody.


Upriver, 'beyond the bend' as they like to say, lies a secluded little wood, obscuring within a beautiful waterfall.  This forest - or more properly, the region around the waterfall - is known to some as Rainbow's End.  Once the gathering-place for those few leprechauns in Wampus Country, in recent months it has taken on a rather different tone, and a new purpose altogether.  Where once there was merriment, dancing, and inspired levels of imbibing, now there is only paranoia and pain - for the Mad Unicorn rules Rainbow's End.

Aleeza, the mad unicorn, hails from a different realm entirely, a world composed chiefly of rainbows and laughter and happy songs.  Chief amongst the sentient species of this land were the winged rainbow unicorns who frolicked upon the heather and flitted through the clouds, carefree.  In time, however, this idyll was disturbed, as the elders of that race - wise beyond aeons and quite powerful - detected that realms beyond their own had been fouled by the taint of evil, and selfishness, and burnt cookies.  Left unchecked, such chaos could one day penetrate into the rainbow-realm itself - and this thought, the unicorns could not abide.

The elder unicorns called together the rulers of the other intelligent species of their world - the Psychursinoids, the Fruit-Folk, and the Sphere-Folding Beasts, as well as representatives from other, lesser species, into a grand council.  Each community sponsored several contestants into a grand tournament which would decide who among them was best suited to traveling to distant worlds to combat the growing chaos.  In the end, Aleeza won the tournament, and was chosen to be the first hero catapulted into another world.

So Aleeza, the flying rainbow unicorn who smells like birthday cake, was hurled through a swirling portal of eldritch magic...and landed in Wampus Country.  She did not like what she saw one bit, and it wasn't long before man's obvious cruelty to man drove the poor unicorn over the edge.  All thoughts of the rainbow crusade crumbled within her massive magical cerebrum - the unicorn just plain snapped.

Seeking refuge from the bloodshed and greed which she could smell in the air like so much swamp-gas, Aleeza was quickly drawn to Rainbow's End, a hidden forest village populated by a troupe of leprechauns who had escaped Mab's grasp by fleeing the Summerland entirely.  When she landed in their midst, the leprechauns were at first fascinated - here was a fine and unusual specimen of a unicorn, and winged to boot. Also, she smelled like birthday cake and apparently found defecation magically unnecessary.  This would be a tale for the ages!  But as Aleeza looked around Rainbow's End, she began to see the leprechauns in a very poor light indeed - a mess of drunken louts, greedy, mischief-loving, all back-slapping and fart jokes.

Perhaps it was then that the madness truly boiled forth inside Aleeza, and she became the Mad Unicorn in earnest.  Using her substantial magical power, she quickly subdued the majority of the leprechauns, and telekinetically seized their pots of gold, hurling them into a pile at the base of the waterfall and transforming said pile into a single lumpen mass of rock.  The leprechauns stood slackjawed and bruised - so long as Aleeza controlled their pots of gold (which, as you may know, contained their souls), she had them in thrall and could command them.

The Mad Unicorn quickly set about bringing her version of order to Rainbow's End.  The leprechauns were forced to redecorate, raise defenses, and - horror of horrors - tear down every single brewing-still and pour out all the alcohol.  You can perhaps imagine the angry veins pulsing on each leprechaun's forehead.

Now, several months later, the Mad Unicorn continues to rule Rainbow's End with an iron hoof, using the leprechauns as her near-slaves, attendants, and occasionally spies into the world of men.  The leprechauns would like nothing more than to overthrow her, but while she controls their souls, they cannot speak ill of Aleeza in any way, per her command.  On two occasions leprechauns have tried to 'get smart' and act out against the Mad Unicorn; on both occasions she transformed them into bunnies and crushed their skulls underhoof.

Rainbow's End has a population of twenty-seven leprechauns living in a number of small houses strewn about the forest and up in the trees.  Aleeza, the Mad Unicorn, is often flying about the perimeter of the region, but can also be found holding court beside the waterfall.  Aleeza has 9HD and the sorcerous abilities of a 10th-level magic-user, as well as the talent of speaking animal tongues (which she can impart temporarily to another by the touch of her horn).  The Mad Unicorn can polymorph other once per day in addition to her compliment of spells.  In addition, she can fire rainbow lasers (3d8 damage) from her eyes every other round; the range on this attack is considerable, and Aleeza may elect to fly above the forest canopy and rain hot orbital rainbow death upon her foes.

Adventurers may find opportunity to challenge and overthrow the Mad Unicorn on behalf of the leprechauns; if slain, the rock beneath the waterfall turns back into a pile of gold, and the PCs have likely gained new friends amongst the wee folk.  The leprechauns will gladly give the adventurers a portion of gold, as well as reward each of them with a magical mug which produces, on command, a thick heady lager thrice daily.  Conversely, those who approach the Mad Unicorn humbly may be able to conduct a small quest on her behalf in exchange for magical knowledge (rainbow-themed spells strongly recommended).  If harvested, Aleeza's horn naturally serves as a shortsword +3 which smells like birthday cake.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Entire Post About Hats

Now it’s time to play “clever, stupid, or both?”

Over at Brendan's Untimately, there was some talk about “helmet rules”.  I whined that I didn’t want to reward the wearing of helmets in Wampus Country, because the setting is about coonskin caps and bowler hats, not pot-helms.  I think that was a legitimate whine, and something approaching actual awareness of what I was trying to emulate by nudging my players toward “in-genre” behavior.  (Okay, hats are not a genre, but you know what I mean.)

If that was a nudge, here’s the shove.


First Hat Rule: “Clothes make the man.”  I have a tendency to call for ‘roll-under’ stat checks.  A lot.  Wearing the appropriate themed headgear will boost a PC’s stat by +1 for the purposes of these stat checks, as listed below.  Magical or masterwork headgear might boost more. For right now this rule applies only to player characters.  

STR obviously bestial or balls-out savage headgear (feathered headdress, anything with horns (to include both buffalo headdress and faux-viking-helm), animal skull, wolf’s-head, coonskin cap)  [1]

DEX bowler/derby, ‘gambler’, ascot/gatsby/cabbie,  suitably saucy lady-headgear of any sort (for lady-thieves and gals of ill repute)

CON metal helmet (pot-helm, conquistador), shako/busby or ‘bearskin’, pith helmet, kepi, slouch, ushanka (Russian fur hat)

INT turban [2], ‘clerical’, deerstalker, homburg, ‘leprechaun’, kufi or taqiyah, any beret or tam

WIS skullcap, ‘quaker’, capotain [3], wide-brimmed, tricorn, continental, suitably staid or frumpy lady-wear

CHA top hat (Wellington, D’Orsay, stovepipe, Gibus, beau), extremely dandy wig, ‘navy cocked’ or Napoleon/bicorne, musketeer hat with crazy feathers, suitably fancy lady-headgear [4]

Terribly common, unevocative hats (straw boater, porkpie, stetson/cowboy etc) provide no bonus.  Go big or go home.  The DM is the final arbiter of the awesomeness, or lack thereof, of your chapeau.

[1] - A complete lack of headgear may ‘count as’ this category if the hairstyle is appropriately barbarian and not readily covered-up by a hat.  As in, a regular mohawk isn’t going to cut it.  I’m talking about an immense green mohawk, with bone-in-nose, filed teeth, and facepaint to match.

[2] - fabric-only turbans apply here.  A puggree is technically a metal helmet (see CON).  If the turban is ridiculous and shiny enough, it might be CHA instead, especially if you’re a wicked fat merchant.

[3] - the capotain is a ‘pilgrim hat’.  Y’know, the thing with a buckle from elementary school.  You learned something today, and so did I.

[4] - this includes tiny top hats and the like.

Second Hat Rule: “Oh crap, my hat!”   This replaces the “Shields will be Splintered” house rule common in some games.  Any PC may gain a +1 bonus to a single saving throw by sacrificing their hat.  The hat is thrashed/on-fire/trampled/fallen-down-the-crevasse whether you succeed or fail the save.  You may put the thrashed hat (complete with ghoul claw-marks) back on your head if you wish, but it no longer functions as a hat for the purposes of the Wampus Country Hat Rules; best to repair or replace it. On occasion the DM may declare your hat un-thrashed, but in danger of being lost (ie, Indiana Jones), in which case you're more than welcome to risk life and limb to fetch it.

I welcome comments of “clever”, “stupid”, or “both” in the space below.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Appendix N, as a Random Table (ooh meta)

Early on in the development of Wampus Country, I tried to refer to it as 'Daniel Boone versus Baba Yaga'.  That's a fair enough shorthand, but like all such instant-explanations, it falls short.  The other day Jez of Giblet Blizzard asked if Wampus Country was essentially "True Grit plus trolls", and that's true enough as well, albeit only one facet.

Sometimes it's easy to put into words all those influences on a campaign or setting; other times it's more difficult. I don't know that I could summon up a complete (or accurate) 'Appendix N' for Wampus Country in the sense of a bibliography, but there are distinct influences and choices made as I go about the pretentious business of thinking about recurring themes, imagery, and tone of the setting.  Rather than go for a list of books or films, I've put my influences in a random table format, for no particular reason other than I found it amusing to do so and have convinced myself (only half-jokingly) that weighting the thing properly will allow me to use it as a design tool when drawing a blank.

APPENDIX N for WAMPUS COUNTRY (a d12 random table of influences and directions)

1-3  EARLY AMERICANA and WESTERN EXPANSION.  The wide-open frontier.  Colonial period.  Oregon Trail, prairie schooners. Fur trappers and buffalo hunters.  Manifest Destiny.  Louisiana Purchase, Louis & Clark.  Daniel Boone.  Coonskin caps.  Negotiating with natives.  Bold missionaries.  You're on your own.  Individual initiative and self-reliance.  Majestic expanse of unconquerable Nature.

4-5  FAIRY TALES.  Talking animals.  Witches.  Benevolent and malevolent fairies.  Transformed people.   Evil queen in an enchanted castle on a mountain-top.  Dark forests.  Booger-eating trolls.  Implied morality-tales.  Tricksters.  Cleverness as the ultimate virtue, foolishness as the ultimate sin.

6-7  HORRORS & VIOLENCE.  Death as a perceived immediate certainty.  Blood on the snow.  Hatchet to the face.  'Horror' more common than 'Terror'.  Starvation.  Freezing to death.   Dessicated cadavers in the desert.  Violence as an easy and legitimate option.   Blood/death common enough to be de rigeur; the accompanying jaded nonchalance.

8  LOST WORLDS, PULP, WEIRD.  Hidden valley of dinosaurs.  Abandoned mound cities and catacombs beneath.  Hollowed-out mountains full of strange people.  Inexplicable Roman Legion; people from different places and times thrown together.  Implied Ancients.  Time-slippage.  Ancient astronauts.  Evil spiders from space.  Tentacles.

9  DUNSANY & BORGES.  Genteel orientalism.  A nostalgia and a fatalism.  Infinity in a small space.  Confusion or duplication of identity.  The labyrinth.

10  BAUM & SEUSS.  The American Fairy Tale - classic patterns + new symbols.  Child or child-like protagonists.  Marvels hidden in plain sight.  Everything is alive.  An innocence.  The ubiquity of whimsy.

11  TALL TALES.  Bold men doing the impossible.  Ridiculous scale.  Embellishment, the art of the lie.  Storybook logic.  Pecos Bill mounted on a tornado.  A giant eats a mountain.

12  AMERICAN VIRTUES, EXAGGERATED?  American entrepreneurship/consumerism as virtue.  Snake-oil.  Catalogs.  Panning for gold.  Advertising icons reinterpreted as legendary beasts.  Roadside kitsch Americana, giant plaster Paul Bunyan, Route 66, geographic mobility.  Nothing's impossible.  Egalitarianism, melting-pot, color-blind, secular.

I think scanning through that it might become apparent to folks that Wampus Country is in many ways supposed to be a 'fantasy America'.  Whereas D&D often relies on 'fantasy Europe mishmash' (covering multiple centuries and jamming them together), Wampus Country is intended to be a comparable mishmash for fantasy America (squishing together the 17th-19th centuries in a fantasy setting).  There's also a conscious choice to examine qualities which are said to be part and parcel of the 'American character' - rugged individualism, love of personal liberty, egalitarianism, social mobility, entrepreneurial spirit and consumerism, dedication to exploration, and a willingness to use violence.  Some folks might use a faux-America in a fantasy campaign as a means of critique -- some money-grubbing imperial power, wasteful with natural resources, paying only lip service to high ideals.  Perhaps you've seen GMs (or writers) do that pastiche.  But I'm not interested in that.  Wampus Country is not my critique of 'America', but my love letter to it.  "...and to my faults, a little blind."   I fully expect to get comments on this last bit.

Looking at it all spread out, there's definitely some Romanticism going on here.  And as long as we're getting literary, I'll go ahead and say that the central American story from its early history - and some would say, to this day - is a combination of picaresque and bildungsroman.  The young, upstart nation, making its way, forging forward, breaking the old rules along the way.  America is a D&D character.  D&D, although enjoyed globally, has an essentially American nature to it when played in old-school ways.  And, if we acknowledge that, why not construct an 'American' setting?  That's Wampus Country.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Unquiet Graves

A recurring issue throughout Wampus Country is that unliving scourge known as the gravekinder - ambulatory, sentient corpses who feast on the flesh of the living, despoil cemeteries, and work in small groups here and there throughout the countryside.  Sometimes called ghouls or chompers, they may be found at the edge of towns or lurking in ancient necropoli; the gravekinder also haunt the darkened woods and swamps.  Wherever there is meat to be had, human or otherwise, the gravekinder can survive.

Gravekinder are quite obviously dead when seen in even a modicum of light: sallow skin stretched taut over prominent, sharp bones; predatory eyes which reflect a haunting pale yellow color.  Some gravekinder, perhaps the older ones, sport visible fangs or tusks.  In most specimens, hair on the head and body has fallen out completely, and the finger- and toe-nails have grown into wicked, dirty claws.  Their clothing is often in tatters - what use has a corpse for modesty? - but some woodsmen claim to have seen gravekinder attacking a coach and stripping their victims for their clothing - no doubt to some nefarious, obscure end.

Although they prefer the taste of mankind, gravekinder can and do subsist on animals with little difficulty.  While wolves or other natural predators might target the weak and the old amongst a herd of deer or elk, the gravekinder need no such crutches, pulling down the largest and meatiest animals with aplomb.  It is said the claws of the gravekinder bear a paralytic poison which affects bears and moose as easily as it does man, woman, and child.  Many gravekinder live and hunt in packs, and seem to have an uncanny awareness of where their packmates may be - and whether they have been destroyed.

Although they display great cunning and intelligence - as compared to the shuffling dead raised by sorcery - the gravekinder must be some sort of similar creature, as they too can be temporarily banished by the proper holy words.  Those slain by gravekinder sometimes rise the following night as new gravekinder; it is not uncommon for the mouths of the dead to be stuffed with holy scripture in an attempt to prevent this kind of dark resurrection.  And yet, some say that the dead may rise for no discernable reason - perhaps motivated by some lingering darkness within, a hatred or longing which transforms them post-mortem into gravekinder.  Of particular note is the tale of No-Nose Wilkins, who was hanged alongside several of his conspirators for banditry.  The corpses were left to hang overnight, and in the morning, No-Nose and two of his friends were gone, the gallows-ropes snapped cleanly.  A week later, the village was raided by a pack of a dozen gravekinder - including one with a noose around its neck, and lacking a proboscis.

There is a simple reason the gravekinder (ghouls) seem so different from other lesser undead (zombies, skeletons) - they are not the reanimated dead in any traditional sense.  They are, instead, fleshy suits piloted by the tiny necromantic spiders nesting in their brains.

The ghost spider is very small - four or five could sit comfortably on a dime - and nearly translucent when seen in the light; in twilight, it is near-invisible.  The ghost spiders are an ancient and malevolent intelligent species, merely a single caste - the scouts and hunters - of a larger, sinister society of spiders which forms the body of the Web of Darkness.  Thus are gravekinder found in the service of all manner of evils in Wampus Country.  Ghost spiders enter a humanoid corpse - either through ear or nose, or by burrowing through the flesh itself - and make their way to the remnants of the corpse's brain.  Once settled in, they plug themselves into the vast neural network of the body, and reactivate it - this is their natural skill, and they are bred for it.  Now recharged with necromantic or 'negative' energy, the corpse is animate as a gravekinder, and the ghost spider may 'drive' it.  It takes only minutes for the ghost spider to become accustomed to the neurology of a particular corpse, and bring to bear its former agility and strength.  Older, more skilled ghost spiders can access the muscle-memory of the corpse, and thus its fighting instincts; in some rare cases the spiders are able to pluck actual memories from the brain-tissue, and use this to their advantage, learning about entire families or business enterprises from the corpse's knowledge.

When a gravekinder consumes the flesh of the dead, a small portion of necromantic energy is generated which feeds the ghost spider; this process is inefficient, thus gravekinder always seem to be ravenous and willing to eat.  Given time and proper feeding, the ghost-spider can cause its mount to change shape in minor ways (growing claws or fighting-tusks; lengthening arms and legs; reinforcing the ribcage and skull; developing musk sacs) by the exertion of will.  At egg-laying time, the ghost-spider will exit the brainpan and lay its eggs in a sticky, milky-white paste under the nails and behind the teeth of its mount, to better implant them in a victim.

The ghost-spiders themselves are devilishly difficult to kill; when the gravekinder sustains sufficient damage to shut down, the ghost-spider will either flee immediately through a tear duct or nasal passage (or previously-burrowed sally port in the back of the skull) or, if reasonable, wait until the aggressors have departed, then casually find a new mount nearby.  Despite every other explorer or woodsman having destroyed handfuls of gravekinder, their numbers never really seem to dwindle - and this is the reason.  Ghost-spiders communicate with one another verbally, through their mounts; hatchlings from the same brood also possess a limited form of empathy amongst themselves, and will often join together in a pack.