Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Very Model of Responsible Parenting

(Being a response to this letter.  Chauncey receives a package which contains the below letter from his father, as well as some other items, listed afterward.)

Dearest Chauncey,

I could not have been more elated to receive the parcels you sent, and trust you are well.  We all enjoy reading your letters and wish you the best.

Knowing you to be of practical mien, I shall launch forthrightly into the financial matter at hand.  The paintings you sent were indeed valuable, but their journey to my hands was not easy.  The poor postal rider who delivered them unto me - a scraggly, gap-toothed boy of no more than fourteen - ran afoul of some centipedes during one leg of his journey.  The lad demonstrated enviable pluck in continuing his ride, but I felt it only proper that I use a portion of the proceeds from the paintings to assist in funding the boy's hospital treatment - after all, we Woolstrikes are nothing without our reputation.  He is now recuperating nicely in the sanatorium, the elephantine limb having been cleanly removed by surgeons.  The parcels arrived with minimal damage thanks to his bravery and sacrifice.

I found a collector to purchase three of the paintings, and donated the fourth to a university with which I believe you are familiar, in hopes that it will be displayed with our names, that all may gaze upon the splendour of a former age.  All told, the sale of the paintings netted us just over a thousand dollars, after expenditures for transport, some restoration, glad-handing dinner meetings with potential buyers, and the amputation of a leg.

The next concern to my mind was, rightly I think, the wisdom of dispatching back to you, on the lawless frontier, a package containing a large amount of cash.  This enigma puzzled me for some time, until Stumpy came up with a solution.  I trust you remember your 'Uncle' Hergenthal Stumpwhistle, a longtime friend of our family.  Twas Stumpy who looked in upon your mother those many times when I was out of town on business; and so too was it dear Stumpy who assisted us on occasion in meeting our financial obligations when you were very small.  His suggestion was to eschew the transportation of actual valuables, and instead set forth a very clever scheme which would ensure the safety of that which was due to you, my Chauncey.

You see, your Uncle Stumpy is owed a significant amount of money by an acquaintance in Frogport, which is a great distance from us here, but rather close to you.  I gave Stumpy the cash in exchange for a letter, in his hand, directing this associate of his to pay the debt owed to Stumpy instead to you; and as the amount owed is significantly greater than what I gave Stumpy in cash, I feel this is a wise deal with much profit in it, and safer besides.

My dear son, you will no doubt be refreshed and pleased to hear how well things go here at home, and I can be coy no longer in announcing to you that I have again married.  The third time shall indeed be the charm, and all the horoscopy seems in alignment.  I cannot wait for you to meet my dear Anne - she is the sweetest, most agreeable young lady on this green earth, and I am chuffed to bits to have the privilege of being the one to raise her social station and rescue her from a life of horizontal drudgery.  She sends you all her love, as is only right for a step-mother, and looks forward to meeting you one day in person; she has knitted you a gift which I include in this care package.  I hope to soon have further news for you as regards a new baby brother or sister; we have cleaned out your old room for a nursery and found all manner of things hidden there, some of which I now return to you.

In other news, I continue to do well in my equestrian predictions, and have made acquaintance of a gentleman who will sell me his Baronetcy if I can raise the funds; we shall see if Fortune smiles upon your dear old Dad yet.  With Anne in my life and such a son as you I have little about which to complain.  In related news, the mysterious bollocks-boils have returned, but I am soaking in black tea as you directed.

We all pray for your well-being and prosperity of yourself and your companions daily, and in fact I have recently undertaken a kind of reverse-fast in your name, whereby I pray for you and drink a tumbler of whiskey.  This ritual must surely bring you luck if the gods have ears, for I perform it twenty or thirty times each day, all in memory of my beloved son.  Please continue to write to us, and include newspaper clippings of your wondrous adventures.

With all filial love,
your father,
Ruprecht Woolstrike

The care package contains:
* a letter from Stumpwhistle directing one 'Stirling Coalpepper' of Frogport to pay unto Chauncey the sum of $2000 cash upon demand
* a hand-knitted winter scarf in Woolstrike family colors which smells of perfume
* assorted month-old local newspapers from back home
* a moth-eaten teddy bear from Chauncey's childhood
* several erotic postcards

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Booze, Banjos, and Bazoul

"Howabout y'all attack them monsters, an' I'll accompany ya on this here banjo. C'mon, Bill, I'll even play yer favorite tune - that one that goes 'ding ding ding ding ding'." 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” --Plato

The music of both the proud and the humble rings throughout the Wampus Country; the ability to contribute to music, either by playing an instrument or through song, is an expected skill developed by almost all residents of the fantastic frontier. It is a cultural foundation which resonates through both the land itself and the magic and faith which sustain it.

Herein, a few things about music and related matters in Wampus Country.


With few exceptions, any intelligent, speaking creature which has spent enough time in Wampus Country has likely developed a modicum of ability with music or some other talent which supports fellow-feeling. Far from civilization, such skills are as important as the ability to skin a deer or fire a rifle; for when the glittering canopy of the night sky makes you feel small and insignificant, it is good and appropriate to share a song or a tale with your companions, and renew within your heart that latent connection between all living things.

The Music Rule: In much the same way that everyone in a kung-fu movie somehow knows a bit of kung-fu, everyone in Wampus Country is musical. Any intelligent creature which has either a) lived in Wampus Country for five or more years, or b) emigrated to Wampus Country and has since hit third level, is automatically skilled in one of the below-listed activities. This skill is developed gradually and may be hand-waved away with whatever backstory or play-time seems appropriate; it is not a miraculous talent which arrives overnight.

Song (this represents particular talent at singing lead; everyone is capable of harmonizing and singing along)

Guitar (includes multiple styles)

Bass (upright and plucked, not bowed)

Banjo (includes dobro and anything with a resonator)

Piano (includes harpsichord, accordion, and anything with a keyboard)

Fiddle (includes any bowed instrument)

Percussion (all drums and improvised drums)

Brass (all)

Woodwind (all)

Harmonica/Mouth-Harp/Slide-Whistle/Kazoo/Comb-and-Paper etc (all nonclassical instruments played with the mouth)


The unorthodox healing rule: The lifting of the spirits corresponds to the power of the body. A number of activities are sufficiently well-aligned with the cosmic nature of Wampus Country that they act as healing for the purposes of regenerating hit points.

First bracing drink of strong alcohol following combat: +1d3 hp. Does not stack with magical healing of any sort; you knock back a red-eye when you don't have a cleric, you don't get both. A bracing drink will not help if you're at negative hit points, but it will work at zero hp if somebody jams rum down your gullet while you're KO'd.

Participation in a spirit-lifting activity during rest time: heals 1d3 hp during overnight rather than 1. Appropriate activities include sing-along, tall tale swapping, gambling with actual stakes, raucous carousing. This is actual participation; the character can't sit by the fire and eat pork-and-beans while party members rock out on the banjo, you have to really sing along.


"In dreams nobody speaks English, everybody speaks Bazoul." -- The Boy, age seven

Passed down to the wizards and priests of today is the ancient concept of bazoul, first given theoretical form under the reign of the Peacock Throne millenia ago. Those without understanding dismiss bazoul as some sort of 'dream-tongue', but oneiric scholars know better.

Bazoul is the name given by the wizened ancients to the dream-field which connects all living things; each creature with a consciousness is connected to bazoul to some degree. One modern wizard refers to the concept as "the low-level psycho-empathic field which permeates the mental plane"; a wild-eyed priest names it "the strands of webbing between the minds of men"; a furtive witch calls bazoul "a wavelength beamed into the brain by space-fairies". Perhaps they all have it right, in their own way.

However one describes it, we know bazoul, or something like it, to be a very real thing. It is the bazoul which is tapped by some forms of divination magic; it is the bazoul which allows a trained wizard to read the hidden meanings in magical glyphs etched long before he was born. Some otherwise-mundane activities - like music, dancing, and generally having fun - seem to temporarily strengthen this strange effect in a localized way, and this shift has positive effects on both mind and body.

Controversially, a few scholars have suggested that the bazoul is somehow extremely strong in Wampus Country as compared to the Western Kingdoms and more distant realms, and this amazing mental connection helps to explain why everyone in Wampus Country, including the nasty sub-humans and zombies and talking animals, all speak the same language.

Or hadn't you noticed?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

d100 Amusing Diversions

Here's the first of the d100 tables which were prizes for the Summer Contest.

Jeremy asked for something that would generate sports, games, amusements and the like, and he was pretty specific - a couple columns to help generate a name for the sport, and a couple columns to generate an action and a target.

So here's d100 Amusing Diversions.

To use the table, roll once each on columns A&B to get a name; rearrange, pluralize to taste.
Roll at least once each on C&D to get an action/modifier and a noun.
Then mix it all up and come up with a game using everything.

Example:  I roll percentile dice four times and get 91, 46, 4, 55.  That's "Dwarf" and "Pie" in the naming categories, as well as "stack" and "turban" for an action and a target noun.

"Have ye ne'er played Dwarf-Pie before, lad?  It's dead simple.  You take three or four of these poofy turbans, like the merchant-dwarves of the Painted Desert wear, and you throw a handful of pennies in each one.  The two players take turns stacking the turbans on their head; whoever's stack falls first, they lose, and the winner gets the pennies from those turbans.  Now, when you're up north here and don't have turbans about, sometimes we use beer-mugs or pie-plates.  An' that's where the name comes from, y'see?  It's one o' those games that's a wee bit more fun when you're properly pissed..."

Example: I roll four more times and get 68, 59, 58, 97.  That's "Murderer", "Skeeze", "upside-down", and "lizard".

"Right, gentlemen, we'll settle this argument with an old-fashioned round of Skeezemurder, if nobody minds.  Very well, let us begin.  I will suspend this gecko from the rafters with yarn; apologies that we don't have a proper skeeze-lizard in this climate, but the gecko is of comparable size and feistiness.  You two gentlemen will be blindfolded and held upside-down by your companions at a short distance from the lizard; when I say go, whichever one of you can bite the lizard's head off first shall be considered the winner of the argument."

Mr. Barksboro was well convinced he could fit the entire snake in his mouth, thereby winning the twenty dollars.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ruins of Crumbledown

East of Thistlemarch lie the lonely stones and broken walls of a small city which once represented the edge of the frontier: the ruined city of Crumbledown.  Two generations back, during the beginning of Grandpa's War, the allied forces of Law built a small castle upon a defensible motte, and soon a large camp city sprung up in the surrounding fields.  In another world, perhaps that city could have become something permanent, a shining beacon of civilization - but it was not to be.

Several months after the castle was first constructed, earth tremors destroyed fully half of the walls and buildings.  Although these areas were rebuilt - in some cases, larger than before - parts of the city collapsed again that winter when the seismic activity returned.  Again, the defenses were rebuilt, bigger and more complex than ever, in expectation of a siege by the forces of the Great Desert Lich.  However, that siege came in the form of flaming bombards and hideous flying creatures rather than ground troops, and Crumbledown once again earned its nickname.

Today, Crumbledown is considered cursed and haunted; the ruins of the old castle sit atop the hill, with a series of concentric walls spiralling outward from the base of the hill.  Many city buildings, stone and wooden both, remain in various states of destruction and disrepair, overgrown by two generations' neglect.


* The castle was originally called Brambledown, as evinced by the vast growth of thorny plants in the valley east of the city.  Only after disaster struck did wags begin to call the construction "Crumbledown".

* The hill upon which Crumbledown castle sits is not a natural hill, nor was it built up by the architects; it is some kind of burial mound or nest, under which sleeps something massive whose occasional stirrings sundered the city.

* Many residents dropped everything and fled during the siege, never returning.  Who knows what riches and rarities remain within the ruins?

* Within the courtyard of Crumbledown castle, a union of allied priests had constructed an impressive cathedral, in praise of the various gods of Law.  Although the cathedral itself was all but leveled during the siege, the blessed altar and any number of holy items may still lie among the scattered stones.

* Much of the ruins are overrun by hideous giant insects, including acid-squirting beetles, massive spiders, and several nests of rapacious skullwasps.

* The southern approach to the hill of Crumbledown is claimed by a coven of devil-fairies who leap upon passersby with cannibalistic intent.  Devil-fairies are wicked fey who long ago traded their essence to demonic creatures of the Midnight Sea in exchange for magical prowess; as such, they combine the mischievous nature of faeries with the simmering evil of nightmarish devilry.

* Even the fields around Crumbledown are unsafe, prowled as they are by at least one pack of where-wolves.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Don't Ninja Turtle the Pizza

In the course of providing (sometimes unsolicited) DMing advice to a friend, I have been forced to confront the "why" behind some of the things I do and don't do as a DM.  Years of playing and running build up habits, and sometimes we have a good idea why we do things, other times...not so much.  Now, I don't claim to be any sort of expert when it comes to DMing, but I like to think that I know a thing or two about what works and what doesn't work for me, at least, and there's nothing wrong with trying to translate these lessons for the absorption of others.  This is the first post along that theme...

Newbie DM Lesson 1: Don't Ninja Turtle the Pizza

I love to cook and am a bit of a foodie, so you'll have to forgive all the cooking analogies that are about to come tumbling out of my mouth.

D&D (and similar games; same applies to many sci-fi rpgs) is a glorious mish-mash of times, places, genres, and cultural pastiches.  It's a recipe for success, and has been since the game's inception.  It's also a potential pitfall when talking about setting design with a new DM.  There are so many wonderful options, you might be tempted to throw them all in there.


Just because you have a million options doesn't mean you need to use all those options; and, in fact, if you do use all of 'em, you're going to get a nasty mish-mash of garbage instead of an elegant mash-up.  Think back to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first cartoon version) and how they'd pile bacon, ice cream, anchovies, and gummi bears on a pizza.  It's amusing, but disgusting.  Would you go to a buffet and dump literally some of everything on your plate, then stir it all together into a gloppy slurry?  I sure hope not.

Awesome plus Awesome does not automatically equal SuperMegaAwesome.  Stacking everything you think is cool into a setting all at once is going to do several things: first, it's going to make things look and feel messy.  Second, your players are going to be paralyzed by the vast amount of crap laying around (or paralyzed by the choices when they roll up characters).  And third?  The original awesome vision you had for your setting is now buried under a bunch of other junk, all because you couldn't tell yourself 'no'.

If you're going to make a pizza, make an awesome pizza.  Use classic ingredients in the right ratio.  If you're going to make chicken tikka masala, do that instead.  Later on, when you're more experienced, if you want to try to make a "tikka masala pizza", go for it.  But start small and start clean.  That's the takeaway advice.  When you have more experience you can get crazy and play the DM equivalent of Chopped and mix weird stuff together just as an exercise.  Don't do that right now for your first campaign.

Start with an initial concept that you can state plainly.  Often this is a "LIKE/EXCEPT" statement - "It's like Renaissance Venice, except with noble houses of wizards in charge".  Other times it's just a general concept: "Hardscrabble rogues in the big fantasy city."  Write that concept down, because even though it might change a little during the setting creation process, you need to keep coming back to the vision statement as a reminder.

As you come upon things you think would be awesome to add to that setting, think long and hard about whether they fit your vision.  Maybe they do, maybe they don't.  You may come upon (or come up with) stuff that doesn't quite fit your vision, but is so inherently cool that you decide to tweak your vision to accommodate - and that's fine, too.  You're going to have some 'setting drift' as you go on.

Don't assume that your setting needs to have everything that's legal in the game.  Restricting races, classes, and spells isn't screwing your players, it's determining the initial flavor of your game.  If you're running a 3.5 game and tell your players "anything from any book", you're hanging yourself - not only will they arrive at the first session with all kinds of weird crap that might not 'go with' your setting, but they're going to roll up characters with powers you haven't read yet!  That will not help your confidence or control at the table.  If you don't know psionics, don't let 'em be psionicists.  Saying "no" is not cruelty, it is a mercy.  And don't shoehorn every monster in the damn book into your campaign, either.  Limiting the sorts of monsters you use is also controlling the palette of your setting.  If you want the classics, great - reskin 'em to fit your setting. (We'll talk a lot more about reskinning in a later advice column).

Don't assume that your setting needs to have stuff that everybody else uses.  Cthulhu cults?  Demons?  Drow?  Druids?  Only if they make sense in your setting.  When in doubt, leave it out - you might get inspired down the line (especially once the game is 'live') and find a good way to incorporate something later.  The start of your campaign is the first course of the meal - there might be some flavor shifts later and that's fine.  Yes, steal good ideas mercilessly and without remorse; but don't feel like you have to do "what everybody else does".

Start small, start clean.  "Medieval colonists explore a tropical island full of dinosaurs, barbarians, and ancient ruins."  Small.   Clean.   Simple, but with room for expansion.

Don't Ninja Turtle the Pizza.

Down with the Sickness

I hate being sick.  I don't mind the phlegm, or the sneezing.  I can tolerate the sinus pain at anything short of icepick-in-the-ear levels.  What drives me crazy is the fuzzy-headed feeling that keeps you from thinking straight and getting stuff done.

After two weeks of wrestling with something I've been calling the "Sinus Whatever", I think I'm getting over it.  Probably would've been better off, y'know, taking time off work and sleeping properly, but hey.  The major downside has been the impact to my writing and creativity, sparse posting, plus having to cancel my Friday night Wampus Country game this week.  Sad panda.

Anyway, things are looking up, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the groove properly.  Here's what's up:

G+ GAME:  the Friday night online game continues apace.  I'm learning new things all the time - while Hangouts is an awesome medium for a game, it's definitely not the same as being around a table.  It's harder to parse things when people are talking over one another, I can't stomp around the table and DM standing up as is my custom, and myriad other little things which require getting used to.  That aside, though, I think everybody's having fun.  The big Hokum tournament experiment went okay, and kept the PCs in town for a NPC-chat-heavy session, and that's fine once in a while.  Now they're headed off to the ruined city of Crumbledown to headhunt (literally) the devil-fairies which are said to reside there.  Meanwhile, another pair of FLAILSNAILS PCs are trying to rob the winner of the tournament via some G+ PbP; that should be wrapped up soon.  I'm constantly wishing I had more free time, not only to run occasional pickup games outside of the Friday group, but also to play in other people's games regularly.

Play-by-Post: I got this bug up my rear to try a PbP as a parallel group.  On the recommendation of one of my online players, I put up an ad at, which is all-PbP, all the time.  No responses.  Sure, I got some blog hits out of it as people checked out the setting, but then they didn't ping about playing.  Interesting.  Another friend - from the 3.5 group of work-buddies I've mentioned - suggested I start it up at Giant In The Playground, which is a possibility.  Although the forums there definitely read as 3.5-focused at first glance, I do get the impression there are PbP-friendly folks there that might be interested in giving LabLord a try (and with a strange setting, to boot).  I'll cogitate on this more and see about getting an ad up.  If you're interested in playing in a PbP, drop me a line via email or comment below.

WORKING ON:  Well, Crumbledown, first and foremost.  Gotta stay one step ahead of the players, right? I want to be prepped for a decent amount of the easily-accessible bits of this ruined city in case the PCs wander.  I have a couple d100 tables in various states of done-ness (I'd call it 50% and 30% at this point) which are requests from the Contest winners, and the prize boxes are just about done.  And I need to start putting the 'Rumpscullion's Summer Holiday' pdf together, which feels a little daunting...I need to wrap my brain around LibreOffice and what I can do with it. I MUST BEND IT TO MY WILL and all of that.  Once that's in the can, I'll reformat the Arcane Abecediary to demonstrate my (hopefully) newfound mastery of basic non-stupid layout using layman's digital tools.   aaaaand then I have other sort-of-started projects to work on.  I need to learn to replace dilettantism with discipline and stop bouncing around.

And, now that I'm aware of it, I'm sorely tempted to throw something together for the contest Chris is running over at The Secret DM.  10-20 rooms with a 'first edition feel'.  Which, in the scheme of things, isn't that much - it'll be doing it in an interesting and fulfilling way that's the trick.  Click on over to Chris' blog and read up on the details, it might be something you want to give a shot as well - especially now that he's extended the deadline til late September!


Saturday, August 11, 2012

What's In The Backpack?

This month's RPG Blogger Carnival, hosted over at Game Knight Reviews, poses a simple question: What's In Your Backpack?

To answer that question, here's a four-column d100 table for generating backpack contents.  The four columns are 'tools', 'personal', 'edibles', and 'strange'.  Mix and match to taste.

Hokum Tournament Results

NEVER AGAIN. That was a crap-ton of die rolling. Basically I sketched out what a game of Hokum would look like as a series of contested rolls between the players, modified by their INT, WIS, CHA, character level, and playstyle. As the series of challenges went on, player scores went up and down and eventually started dropping to zero (elimination) as we got into the later portion of the game (which was more about subtracting from scores than adding to them).

In-character, everyone who isn't a player in the tournament gets booted out of the Thistlemarch Hotel for the duration of the contest. Out in the street, it's an all-day party, with much hooting and hollering each time a player reveals their elimination by stepping out the front door into the street (usually to be bought a few drinks). The tournament lasted about six hours, all told, between the two rounds. We ended up with four PCs participating in the tournament proper.



Right Reverend Ornibus Jones, snake-priest (PC)
Prince Zandal of Khelibesh, turbaned gentleman with prehensile moustache
Three-Legs Hoolihan, mercenary
Hexley, Lord Chuffington, tuxedoed snobgoblin
Argyle Mac Argyle, minotaur in a kilt

Prince Zandal and Lord Chuffington take an early lead and continue to hold onto it despite other players' best efforts to winnow them down. All five players survive the early part of the game, but Reverend Jones is barely hanging on to any chips, and as soon as the Monster (Dealer) is eliminated, the other players casually eliminate Jones. As the backstabbing continues, Hoolihan and Argyle fall out, leaving Zandal and Chuffington to trade blows for a good long time before finally Hexley, Lord Chuffington is the final victor.

ROUND WINNER: Hexley, Lord Chuffington


Horvendile Early, gentleman-adventurer (PC)
Erasmus Muddypaws, a well-heeled dog
Dancing-Tiger, barbarian prince of the Cloud Rabbit tribe
Engleton Peacock, tittering fop
Crazy Willie Barstow, talks to a hand-mirror

The early portion of the game is tightly-contended as the patient players size each other up; but once the Dealer is eliminated, all hell breaks loose. Crazy Willie is eliminated almost immediately, and Mr. Peacock soon after. Then comes a long slog of attack and counterattack; each player has some impressive moves and tricks up their sleeve, but at the end of the match, the canine Mr. Muddypaws stands victorious when Mr. Early and Dancing-Tiger are both eliminated during the same amazing hand of Hokum.

ROUND WINNER: Erasmus Muddypaws


The Magnificent Montranto, famous wizard and raconteur
Elegant Fart Doodle, exotic cloudfolk warrior-woman
"Backfire" Templeton, flatulent sideshow star
Ruphus Flounder, hard-drinking fish-man
Ahab Wanderer, umm...wanderer (PC)

After several unusual hands in a row, Mr. Templeton is eliminated before the players even assault the Dealer! Play continues, with Mr. Flounder and Mr. Montranto racking up impressive stacks of chips quickly. However, luck does not stay with the flamboyant sorceror, and Montranto is knocked out, followed by Ms. Elegant Fart Doodle. Mr. Flounder and Mr. Wanderer swing at each other for a few hands, but Mr. Flounder is victorious.

ROUND WINNER: Ruphus Flounder


Miss Almandine Pryce, debutante
Captain Pinkbelly, The Happy Pirate
Grammy Witherspoon, cackling hag
Volgar Beseltov, bearded big game hunter
Old Man Hut-Tep, a curmudgeonly mummy

Play proceeds in textbook fashion for a number of rounds, then as the late-stage game approaches, Mr. Beseltov acts decisively to eliminate a seemingly-distracted Grammy Witherspoon. This is followed by a panicked dogpile of the other players on the aggressive Mr. Beseltov, and they knock him out. By the end of the game, only Captain Pinkbelly remains.

ROUND WINNER: Captain Pinkbelly


Mr. Tandoor Chapatty, rotund gentleman with a wood-stove in his belly
Shamgaster Blinkle, shifty-eyed sailor
Frandish Bell, lumberworks heir, more money than sense
Gustav the Belligerent, angrier than most (PC)
Gleeb Toorp, an orange slime

Jabs are traded back and forth constantly - not only within the game, but outside of it. Table Five may not be the most famous assemblage of gamblers, but they are certainly among the loudest, as Mr. Gustav won't keep his trap shut. If it was some sort of psychological strategy, it seems to have worked, as once the late-game begins, the emotionally-sensitive slime Mr. Toorp practically throws his cards away and is eliminated. Mr. Chapatty takes it upon himself to strike at Mr. Gustav over and over, but he can't seem to take all of Mr. Gustav's chips, and Chapatty is sunk by a clever attack from Blinkle. The three remaining players circle one another for several hands, then finally, with a string of unprintable curses, Mr. Gustav wins the day.

ROUND WINNER: Gustav the Belligerent


Gustav the Belligerent
Captain Pinkbelly
Erasmus Muddypaws
Ruphus Flounder
Hexley, Lord Chuffington

All players who managed to scrape out a win in the previous round, this table doesn't waste any time - with $10,000 at stake, everyone comes out swinging. Captain Pinkbelly, perhaps of a temperament too kind for this sort of game, is knocked out early. Mr. Gustav is the next to fall (and he had something colorful to say about it, as well). Mr. Muddypaws walked out looking dejected, shaking his little furry head. It's down to Flounder and Hexley, and they look about evenly matched in terms of chips. After a few exchanges, Hexley wears the fish-man down and is finally victorious.

TOURNAMENT WINNER: Hexley, Lord Chuffington

I'm a little sad more PCs didn't make it to the final round, but it was up to the dice at that point. I am, however, a little excited to see Lord Chuffington now flush with cash, as I really enjoy doing that NPC's voice. It's the little things that get you through the day, y'know?

Now we'll see what the PCs end up doing...
Mr. Erasmus Muddypaws struts confidently into the Hokum Tournament.  Sadly, it was not meant to be.  After losing, Mr. Muddypaws scooted his rump up and down Main Street for hours, sobbing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Contest Winners!

This was crazy difficult.  The submissions for the Wampus Country Summer Contest were awesome.  Seriously awesome.  Eighteen entries from fifteen different gamers, including NPCs, monsters, magic items, random tables for encounters and plots, maps, artwork, and even a recipe.  With the able assistance of Mrs. Wampus and The Boy, I pored over the entries and forced myself to select winners from amongst the pile of digital awesome which lay before me.

Without further ado, here are those winners:

MONARCH OF SUMMERLAND (GRAND PRIZE) goes to Gustie, who submitted a whole subsystem for hot-air balloon travel, construction, and combat for Wampus Country, along with a sweet aerial encounter table and illustrations to match.  Fantastic stuff.  Other campaigns will be borrowing these ballooning rules, that's my prediction.  Gustie wins the 'Travel DM Kit', which includes a handmade duct-tape messenger bag, handmade box for his dice, a box of gaming junk, and a custom d100 table.

Our two EXALTED WINNERS are William and Jacob.  William gave us a very flavorful (pun intended), fully-stocked dungeon inside a giant birthday cake.  Jacob's entry contained two magical items which were not only very Wampus-y in flavor but chock-ful of obvious utility and adventure-hook inspiration.  William and Jacob will each receive a box of gaming junk and a custom d100 table.

The committee has also selected three HONORABLE MENTIONS who will each receive a custom d100 table: Jeremy, Jason, and James, who gave us some interesting and useful monsters, items, and a random table of use to any fantasy GM.

This is being cross-posted to G+...  Gustie, William, and Jacob should email me snail mail addresses for the meatspace prizes, and everybody should think about what they want in the way of a custom multi-column d100 table.

Mega-thanks to everybody who participated in the contest!  The next step for me is to get the prizes finished and shipped out, then to assemble all the entries (plus more stuff) into a pdf - hopefully we'll all see Rumpscullion's Summer Holiday before the rest of us hit the winter holidays...

The Family Wampus attempts to tackle the monstrous Pile of Contest Entries.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hokum: A Game For Gentleman Bastards

Although a number of card games are popular in Wampus Country, by far the most iconic of local games is Hokum.  Utilizing multiple decks of standard cards and a set of domino-like tiles, Hokum is easy to play but very difficult to master.  Bluffing, betting, bursts of aggression alternating with defensive play, trading of cards and tiles with other players, and eventual backstabbing all contribute to the strategic depth of the game.

"Naw, I don't play Hokum anymore.  If I want to get screwed over, I can do that in real life."

In the classic version of Hokum, five players (no more, no less) and a dealer sit around a table.  Each player represents the head of an army or other influential force, all of whom are temporarily allied together against an external force (the dealer, representing the House).  The goal of Hokum is to continue to win against the House each round while building up your defenses and stockpile of money up until the inevitable moment when the players begin attacking each other's holdings (represented by the tiles and stacks of chips), and the whole thing descends into chaos.  At the end of a full game of Hokum, there are only three possibilities: 1) one player has defeated the others subsequent to the destruction of the dealer and claims the entire pot; 2) two players remain in stalemate or cold-war, splitting the pot; or 3) the players all fall before the dealer.  In a multi-round Hokum tournament, players eliminated during a game lose their stake completely and are out of the tournament; surviving players (either via victory or stalemate) move on to the next round.

"The trick to being good at Hokum is timing, pacing yourself.  You want to be just bastard enough, and at precisely the right stage in the game."

Hokum uses standard poker cards, but "Hokum decks" are also manufactured, which are a double poker deck decorated in accordance with the themes of Hokum.  The tiles used for Hokum are typically wooden, although fancy gamblers sometimes own an ivory set; the tiles themselves contain numbers and abstract markings dividing them into seven 'suits' or 'types', representing things like fortifications, supply lines, natural resources, magical sponsorship, and the like.  When playing in upscale casinos or sponsored tournaments, table dealers will be masked as a lich, demon, or other threatening monstrous character; when the dealer is defeated, he lays the mask upon the table, and it is customary for spectators to applaud quietly at the defeat of the monster.

"When Billy told us he got a job at the casino dealing Hokum, we all chipped in to get him a mask that looked just like his wife.  Freaking hilarious is what it was."

Skilled Hokum play requires patience, a sense of opportunism, the ability to read ones' opponents, and to keep track of what cards and tiles have been played - as well as the odds as to what is likely to occur next.  A combination of intelligence, common sense, and interpersonal skills go a long way to making a strong Hokum player.


There's a Hokum tournament coming up in my online campaign, in which one or more PCs are going to participate.  Obviously, playing out games of Hokum isn't going to work within the context of a roleplaying game, and it's the exciting bits we care about.  To simulate the game-within-a-game, I'll use a series of rolls which are modified by the players' INT, WIS, and CHA at various points, complemented by their declared playstyle as selected from the below.  Each tournament player may declare their playstyle to include two of the below adjectives:

Aggressive - the player attacks early and often.
Balanced - the Hokum player attempts to juggle all portions of the game equally.  (This is the only playstyle trait which may be selected twice)
Chaotic - this player is all over the place, and sometimes makes moves that appear to make no sense initially.
Conservative - the player does not like to lose or risk losing money or tiles, and plays accordingly.
Defensive - the player focuses on contributing to the early "team game" portion while maximizing their own defenses for the later, chaotic portion of the game.
Diplomatic - the player tries to maintain balance between the players in the early game, and aim for stalemate in the late game.
Gambler - the player is willing to take dangerous risks for high pay-off.
Patient - the player waits for just the right "sure thing" before striking.
Sneaky - the player makes small, unnoticed moves which add up in the long run.

We'll see how this works out.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Meebs of Djelu

Keith wrote something about 'allodial systems of inheritance/fealty' and I briefly parsed it as 'colloidal fealty'...which led directly to this post.

The recent southward expedition of Messrs Heartley and Roundtree returned to River-Town bearing a number of unusual floral samples, a living specimen of a giant four-horned death-ibex, and an amazing account of the explorers' time spent in a small, previously-unknown settlement known as Djelu.

Situated in the center of a small caldera, Djelu is simultaneously an above-ground town, a subterranean complex, and a series of canals and tunnels running between the two.  The reason for this strange construction is simple: the residents of Djelu are almost entirely slimes, puddings, and jellies, those bizarre amorphous creatures which slop about like great whopping amoebae.

The learned Doctor Hornapple has been telling us for years - chiefly in his controversial monograph My Bones Are Shackles: Amorphous Intelligences and Cultural Bias - that the scum-sucking wall-sliders we recognize as 'slimes' may in fact be possessed of at least an animal-level intelligence, comparable to rats or cats.  Now, with the evidence provided by Heartley & Roundtree, if it is to be believed, then at least some specimens of these genera are blessed with human-level intelligence, or something approximating it.

Within Djelu, innumerable subspecies of puddings and slimes not only coexist peacefully but cohabitate, interbreed, and work together on community projects such as repairing collapsed tunnels and carving out new canals or 'buildings' (typically hollows in the rocks).  While we outsiders know each phenotype by a handed-down etic designator such as 'black pudding', 'green slime', etc, the residents of Djelu refer to themselves all as 'meebs' or 'meeblings'.  Very few meebs can speak in a way that we understand, but they communicate with one another via a combination of shapeshifting, pheromones, and tactile empathy.

The meebs told Mr. Roundtree that their ancestors came to Wampus Country from another world [1], crashing to earth in a meteor ages ago; for his part, Roundtree suggests that the caldera is not a volcanic remnant, but the remains of the blast crater from a massive collision event sometime around the fall of the Owl civilization.  Meeb faith and tradition suggests that their cosmic purpose is to share knowledge with other species: "When there is ignorance below, the slime must descend from the heavens."

Heartley and Roundtree and their entourage spent a fortnight camped at the edge of Djelu, trading simple goods with the meebs and learning to communicate with them via hand signals.  As the touch of some meebs is at best painful, and at worst fatal to humans, very little cultural exchange was achieved over such a short time period, as the meebs speak most clearly when they are touching you.  And what a quandry!  A race of gregarious chatterboxes who touch to speak, and yet their touch kills.  Mr. Heartley wrote in the Gazette of the experience, and he posited that due to the need for the social reinforcement of tactile telepathy, a lone meeb encountered in the wild may be literally hungry for attention and desperate to give passersby a tragically fatal embrace of brotherhood.  Many meebs seemed enamored of the very concept of human comedy; Heartley goes so far as to suggest that a well-delivered joke might stop a slime or ooze in its slithering tracks as it attempts to understand the humor [2].  While meebs can be found throughout the land, it seems that distance from Djelu, and other meebs, is detrimental not only to their mood, but also their intelligence.  The oozes found in distant mountain caverns are the meeb equivalent of slavering savages relative to the genteel and culture Djelubians [3].

The explorers were shown, briefly, a metallic stone bearing meeb historical pictographs, something referred to as the Agar Codex.  Interpretation of the writing and artwork of wholly different species is something of an art form, but if the Codex is to be believed, the meebs were granted dominion over Djelu during the early days of Man, under the reign of the Peacock Throne, when the wise Huxt of Koz parcelled out the caldera, signed peace treaties and trade agreements, and named the meebs' leader an ethnarch under the contemporary empire.  It is for this reason most meebs refer to Huxt as the Father of Puddings, with great respect and bowed pseudopod.

To this very day, the meebs of Djelu are ruled by a hereditary king, currently one "Doobleep Kamoob", a massive lavender-colored pudding [4].  Beneath King Doobleep is a byzantine overlapping hierarchy which determines which meeb answers to which; color and viscosity are not sound indicators of caste, as centuries of interbreeding and shifting political relationships (not to mention fashion and social prestige) have ensured that only a native even has a hope of understanding who is whom [5].  Some of the younger meeblings actually attempted to hold a vaguely humanoid shape while the expedition was in town; perhaps, in time, we will see bipedal meebs gracing the streets of frontier towns as they wander forth to seek their fortunes and find this legendary thing called 'whiskey'.

Social forces within Djelu include the Church of Liquidity, a zen-like faith which encourages its followers to "go with the flow", and its counterpoint the very conservative Cult of Conformity, which demands its faithful take the shape of their surroundings (such cultists are known as 'cubes', a parallel to the human term 'square').  A number of more recently-budded meebs have demonstrated interest in swearing additional fealty to foreign lords and becoming vassals elsewhere in Wampus Country.  Curiously, while all meebs are hermaphroditic, from a cultural point of view Djelubians acknowledge seven different genders, some of which are adopted only during the holidays.

In the months and years to come, it is hoped that other brave explorers will return to Djelu and continue developing a relationship with the meebs, including rekindling the old trade agreements.  No, I don't know what we'd want from them, either, but it's the principle of the thing.

[1] - according to subsequent research by Dr. Hornapple, this homeworld likely sits in the northern sky as part of the visible nebula known in Wampus Country as the 'Stellar Marches'.

[2] - Rule: Telling a joke to an ooze of any sort forces the slimey thing to make a Save vs Paralyzation (bad puns apply a -2 to the save); if the meeb fails the save, it pauses for exactly one round.  This only works once, sadly, as a meeb who has failed to understand a joke becomes enraged and murderous in a fit of low self-esteem.

[3] - "Djelubian" is the accepted scientific and cultural term for a resident; some civilized meebs refer to their backward, underdeveloped cousins as "Djelibabies" to highlight their infant-like intellect.

[4] - King Doobleep may be treated as a 6HD ooze.  He has developed an inordinate fondness for bagpipe music after watching Mr. Roundtree's cousin play; possibly Doobleep thought that young bagpipe player was doing something erotic with a tartan-colored meeb.

[5] - Plus, not to be racist or anything, but all green slimes look alike, etc.  Until the communications issue is surmounted, meeb society will remain a frustrating puzzle.

Roll d20, d3 times.  Add an "i/e" type syllable to connect parts if you wish.

1  Oobl
2  Teep
3 Bloop
4  Nub
5 Joob or Joobl
7 Glop
8  Deep
9  Loop
10  Toob or Toobl
11 Blob
12  Heep
13 Ooo or Ooz
14  Doop
15  Yub
16 Oosh
17 Smoop
18  Foop
19 Poop
20  Ek or Ex

For making and naming new ooze-things with which to terrorize and surprise.

First word in name of ooze-thing
1  green (chartreuse, sallow, sickening, ochre..)
2  black  (midnight, shadow, penumbral...)
3  deadly (death, doom, accursed, forgotten...)
4  corrosive (acidic, ravenous, face-melting...)
5 gelatinous (jiggly, wiggly, bouncing...)
6 stunning (paralyzing, blinding, deafening...)
7 other color (brown, white, dun...)
8 material (crystal, stone, iron...)
9 body component (blood, brain, flesh...)
10 abstract concept (time, hate, war...)

Second word in name of ooze-thing
1  pudding
2 slime
3  ooze
4 jelly
5 sludge
6 cube
7 algoid
8 muck
9 goo
10  scum

Roll a random ooze-thing name to replace the next boring old green slime in your encounter table and either just re-skin the stats or tweak to reflect the new nomenclature.  "Gods above and below, it can't's an immense bloodsludge!"

Yes, yes, I know you want to play one of these, you can stop shouting.

Not So Different A World

This is the tale of a man who stepped into another world, and found it pretty much the same as his own.

Last night I guest-GM'd for some friends from work.  They play 3.5 with rotating GMs in their current campaign, and asked if I'd be interested in coming by for a one-night-only kind of deal, anything goes.  How could I refuse?  It's the next day, and I'm exhausted from staying up extra-late then getting up extra-early to do in-law yardwork (the best kind of yardwork!), but here's a go at a summary.

Some background on this... The group in question leans CharOp, numbers-focused.  Of late the campaign had been very "that one's dead, next encounter please" in pattern.  There was an overarching motivator underlying things - something about the potential return of an evil god.  There was a recent plot-thread under the current GM that involved some dragons, some elemental stuff.  And, most importantly from my POV, some of the players were talking about how they wanted "more roleplay" and a little less combat-train action.  You can imagine how my ears perked up.  I agreed to come in and deliver something that was a little different, maybe a mystery or investigation, maybe some kind of heist or something, with heavy roleplay.   I warned them that I do funny voices - and this is a group in which not all the players are comfortable speaking in-character, and some folks are accustomed to spending more time tweaking their sheet than thinking about what their character might do in a situation.  In addition, the milieu as they were playing it involved what I came to call "magical Costco", whereby they had easy access to any magic item from any book and could just buy the damn thing between sessions if they had enough gold (which they usually did).  Oh, and PC-on-PC violence was not uncommon.  Mixed alignments, petty feuds ending in spectacular arcane murder, that sort of thing.

Now, let me be clear - there's nothing wrong with the way they've been playing: high power, high magic, combat focused, numbers focused, all of that.  Zero things wrong with it... IF they were all happy.  Which they were not.  So my agreement to come run for them was not intended as some sort of badwrongfun pooh-poohing, or "teachin' them kids how ta play right dagnabbit" or anything like that.  I had already experienced plenty of old-man heartburn at work every time they referred to their "toon" and what sort of "mobs" they'd dealt with the previous week (I've no doubt some of 'em started doing it intentionally to make me cry).

Here's how it went down, and my observations during and afterward.

I gave a little impromptu speech about my playstyle, how I wasn't concerned about the minutiae of the 3.5 ruleset, and what I was setting out to do with the session.  I wanted to be clear about things - I didn't want folks pawing through books all night, arguing about rules, any of that crap.  JUST PLAY YOUR DUDE.

The party members were all 15th/16th level, with an ass-ton of gold and carrying enough assorted magical items to level a city.  Not kidding.  Everyone in the party had a bag of holding or a handy haversack to hold their crap; almost all of them have the inborn or acquired-from-a-worn-item ability to go invisible (including Greater or even Superior), to blink, to teleport, or several of these combined.  About half the party was of evil alignment.  (This is me crying)  Last night's PCs consisted of:

Kael, human sorceror/arachnomancer
Hairtrigger McMurderpants, human rogue
Shade, halfling monk/assassin/shadowdancer?
Wocka Flocka Seagulls, bard/dirgesinger
Munthrek, pyroclastic dragon disciple
Dash Shieldwell, something inexplicable for the Tome of Nine Swords (warblade?), carefully built to do all sorts of Captain America-like shield-throwing.

Three players were absent from the session due to other stuff going on, so the party didn't have its primary spellcaster (a wizard/incantatrix or something specialized in orbs, a pixie sorceress, and a half-minotaur frenzied berserker killeverything.)

I prepared a hook to get the group somewhere cool - The City Behind The Moon, basically a fairyland resort/market-town in space, and a mini-setting I'd been messing with mentally for some time.  (Yes, it's part of Wampus Country, but I didn't want them tromping around the main area, after all...)

I lightly prepped for a heist-type mission, along with five NPCs: a go-between, a patron, and three suspects in the investigation.  All in all about a page of notes and a couple of sketches so I could properly explain the folding nature of the city when the time came.  I readied Secret Santicore to use the castle and shrine maps therein, as well as the deadly plants; I also reviewed the turtle-themed map Ian had given me so I could use it to improv one of the suspect's hideouts.

The only other thing I did was finish up a d100 table of "fairyland weirdness" that I could use on-the-fly to generate appropriately odd/silly NPCs for the location and stuff they'd see on the street.  The table has three columns, and generates results like "a camel", "in a tuxedo", "riding a pennyfarthing bicycle".  You get the idea.

I was expecting a six-hour session, but a late start (lots of book-flipping and loot-buying and crap...apparently this is normal for them) and some odd pacing got the best of me/us as things went on, I think.

Tired of having no actual HQ ("At sixteenth level?  For serious?" I said), Kael starts the session by blowing a wad of his superfluous gold and buying the tavern/inn combo they'd been staying at.  Awesome - that's going to continue to be real fun for them.  We start the action two days post-buyout, with the PCs straightening and rearranging this dumpy tavern.  Munthrek is in the store-room, shifting boxes, and comes across something rather strange - an oblong, relatively flat object, covered in colorful gift-wrap, suspended in the air.  There's an envelope tacked to it which bears his name and those of his (in town) companions, written in Draconic (or so it appears to the dragon disciple, anyway).  Within is an invitation to lunch with the Curatrix Scintilla Umber, and the implication that they share an enemy (which the party rightly presumed to be the overarching evil-god-plot guy).

The party tears the wrapping paper from the object, revealing an emerald mirror in a bronze frame.  The rogue checks it for traps while everybody agrees its some kind of portal; then, while looking for an activation stud or command word, the mirror suddenly falls to the ground and shatters in a bajillion pieces, tossing little green shards all over the floor.  The metal frame also clatters down.  (In typical PC fashion, the rogue says "I didn't do it" without missing a beat.)  The emerald fragments start to melt and scoot around, merging and growing along the floorboards and up the walls, and the frame stretches and starts to turn into a gondola.  You can perhaps imagine the chatter during this bit; it was appropriately paranoid.  As the gondola finishes resolving itself, the bottom clack-click-clacks down into a stairwell, and the party hears the footfalls of somebody coming up.  It's this guy:

Festivo, the jolly Falstaffian boatman, greets the party and explains that they really ought to get into the boat before the rest of reality fades away - at this point the "greenness" has almost completely enveloped the room.  They do so, and next thing you know they're drinking beers with this dude as he poles them through a vast, horizonless Green that eventually darkens to black then becomes an obvious starfield.  The party is now on their way to the City Behind The Moon, the crossroads of nine hundred worlds.  Wocka the bard (who has a tendency to ask for a bardic knowledge check every thirty goddamn seconds, I'm not even kidding) recalls hearing that phrase - the City Behind The Moon - as a euphemism for "far-off fairyland" in children's stories from his youth.  Surely it can't be a real place?  Festivo assures them that it is quite real, albeit founded on the stuff of dreams.

In the distance the Moon is finally seen - an immense platinum plate hanging in the sky, bearing a smiling face.  A tongue lolls out of the mouth - an infinite bridge heading down into the dark vastness of space; who can say what's at the other end?  (The PCs don't ask.)  Festivo pushes the boat around the Moon and into the docks.

The City Behind the Moon is difficult for me to describe without a sketch.  Imagine huge square plates hanging in space, connected by edges; some are horizontal in orientation, some vertical.  They all move as though hinged - like a deconstructed cube (but with more 'faces').  Each square contains various buildings with matching-colored shingles, so if someone says they live in Viridian Square, you know which zone they're in; there are buildings on both sides of each square, as gravity is localized.  I was able to draw it well enough that they got the idea, especially once the squares started slowly moving.

The party disembarks and is ushered through customs, where they learn all about the rules of the city.  They are greatly pained to have to put their bags of holding and such in lockers, as they cannot bring them inside.  Serious PC heartburn (although the players grokked it), which is totally fair.  They get a glimpse of the gendarmerie - hulking exosuited guys who will arrive rapidly after any law is broken, etc.  Railroady?  Yeah, maybe, but I had to set some guidelines.  As tourists from a meat-realm, they were issued twelve-hour visas.

Several on-the-street encounters occur as they walk toward their rendezvous, strictly flavor stuff.  The table ends up giving me a mix of silly and disconcerting which I hope got the 'wonder' bit across.  Anyway, it didn't take long for the party to arrive at the Gallery Infinite, ostensibly one of the greatest collection of paintings in the multiverse.  The butler (a two-dimensional shadow dude) shows them in and they sit and have lunch with the Curatrix, Scintilla Umber - a practically-porcelain lady of obvious faerie extraction.

The Curatrix lays the poop on them - the evil god dude has agents in the City, so she suspects, and she thinks they may have been involved in stealing a painting from her.  The painting in question - unseen by the Curatrix - was being brought in via ship by her procuring agent when the poor agent was gutted and the painting stolen.  The painting itself contains great magical potential and power - which is why she acquired it in the first place!  Who knows what EvilGod(tm) could do with such an item!  As the crime occurred outside of city limits in the vastness of the void, the gendarmerie are of no use.  This, she explains, is why the Curatrix needs men such as the PCs - heartless murder-machines who also hate the same evil-god and who will be out of town in less than a day regardless - as a catspaw. In exchange for their aid, the Curatrix will give them new information about the evil god's return blahblah (actual content to be determined by whoever DMs next).

After some chitchat, the party agrees.  The Curatrix gives 'em the lowdown on the three people she suspects might be the culprit.


I was explicit in telling the players they could literally do whatever.  Break in to steal the painting back.  Try to con or browbeat a suspect.  Gather information.  Kick in the door.  Or say 'screw it'.  I would roll with whatever they did.  The players discussed for a bit which suspect to tackle first?

Baron Czlzgaht, a hedonistic drow swordsman (using Shinto Shrine map from SS; Czlzgaht's servitors are spider-faced gorillas dressed like footmen)

Jasper & Gnitwick, a two-headed dragonblooded turtle dude who runs an extraplanar import/export concern (using Terrible Towers of the Treacherous Terrapins map from Ian; Jasper & Gnitwick employ a cadre of turtle guys)

Mazzle Kappulsham, a green-skinned faerie lady and professional rival of the Curatrix; Mazzle is equally famous for her art collection, beautiful garden, and series of lovers (using Castle Santicore map from SS paired with whatever deadly plants seemed useful at the time, also from SS)

As they're discussing what to do, I make it clear out-of-character that the culprit is not pre-written, and I was randomizing who the culprit was right that second by rolling a die.  Turned out the villain was Mazzle, the faerie; and that's exactly who the PCs wanted to investigate first!  Maybe I wasn't going to run short on time after all...

The idea was to pretend to be art collectors to gain entry to the castle; while some of the party talked with Mazzle, a second invisible contingent would have run of the place and could search for the painting (which they knew was probably still inside a magically-sealed protective transport tube).  As a codicil to the plan, Dash (the warblade) was going to attempt to "interest" Mazzle using his massive throbbing Charisma.  Do they sound like your players yet?

Well, since they took the con approach, I didn't end up needing to attack them with evil plants - at least not on the way in.  Mazzle led them through the outer courtyards herself ("Please don't step off the path"), so the giant venus flytraps and vines-with-eyeballs and all of that didn't get a shot at attacking a PC.  There's an extended scene where we're jumping back and forth between talking about magical art with the suspect and team two tossing the upstairs.  In the end, Mazzle was far more interested in the half-dragon Munthrek than she was the earnest Dash (again, randomized), and those two sneak off for a tryst off-camera.  Meanwhile, the rest of the party runs through a Scooby-Doo montage of the PCs trying to search an entire old, crumbling castle as quickly as possible without breaking anything or arousing suspicion (this ended up involving several Search rolls, which seemed a very 3.5 thing for me to do at the time).

Shade, the halfling shadowdancing assassin (who's STILL invisible) ends up finding the shipping tube in the icebox next to a talking head of lettuce.  After some communications issues (this is bound to come up when half of you jackasses are invisible at any given moment), the PCs make off with both the painting AND the sentient head of lettuce ("You'll be a star at my new tavern...").

They hightail it back to the Gallery Infinite, where the Curatrix confirms it's the right painting as she pulls it out - a very simple child's fingerpainting.  This is supposed to resonate back to all the previous talk about the painting potentially having great power blahblah imagination dreams yadda yadda wankery.


Happy ending?  Not quite.  Before they leave town, the PCs want to screw with the drow, as after several conversations around town regarding the Baron, the PCs are now pretty sure that 'hedonist' really means 'pedophile and slaver'.  Dash Shieldwell - who, by the way, always refers to himself as "the Hero's Hero, Prince of the Sword" - can't let this stand.  The party heads to a cigar bar not far from the Baron's complex and starts talking crap about him in hopes of it getting back to him (quickly, I guess).  In the meantime they run into a giant severed head with a glass dome for a skull; his brainpan is full of smoke and he has hookah attachments.  It was weird.  Dash ends up spending "seven years from the end of his life" to buy a small bottle of the most expensive thing in the place, Afterlife Cognac from Gehenna, in order to look like a high-roller.  Eventually, despite the giant prawn bartender's attempts to taunt the drow from the rooftops, the drow doesn't come out.  So the PCs go to him.

They knock on the drow's door after using makeup and disguise magic to make the halfling and the rogue look like little kids.  It's like 'To Catch A Predator', and it was getting really strange.  Anyway, the Spiderilla footman lets them in, challenges are thrown around, and Baron Czlzgaht strips off his samurai robe to reveal a second set of arms.  Take a second to process that if you have to: four-armed drow samurai.  And I continue to maintain that it's no sillier than what the PCs were.

Now, killing a sentient is illegal in the City, so the PCs have this plan whereby Kael, the arachnomancer, will use his spider-kind command ability to tell the spiderilla servitors to kill their master - the idea being that the drow bites it and the gorilla-dudes take the blame, with he PCs aleady out of the complex when the gendarmerie show up.

Well, it worked.  Because dice, that's why.  They dominated the servants while combat was ongoing, and Baron Czlzgaht met his maker while his butler choked him and his gardener stabbed him repeatedly with pruning shears.  (Note to self - I have a real "scissors" thing going on lately, need to knock that off or figure out why it's in my brain).

At this point, it's like two in the morning and at least two of us are past Spousally-Approved Depature Time, so we wrap it up; the party hauls arse back to the docks and departs the City Behind the Moon.


1. A nice reminder that good food helps make for a good game.  Those ribs were awesome.
2. Players are players.  The game doesn't matter, you'll get the same combination of laughter, stupidity, bravado, smack-talk, and dick and fart jokes.  Edition shifts do not impact this whatsoever.
3. Initial playstyle exposure may indeed influence you for life.  The player of Shade, the assassin, started with AD&D, and he was a very deliberate, cautious, even paranoid player.
4. Random tables are awesome.
5. Using improv to run a session makes you look really smart if the players are accustomed to DMs who plan every little thing.  I'm not smart, I'm a decent liar.  Big difference.
6.  A mix of stupid and faux-fantasy names feels appropriately D&D.  No, seriously - scroll back up to the PC list and tell me that assemblage of names doesn't look like a FLAILSNAILS party.
7. I will crow this one 'old-school victory':  "So, wait...basically you always set things up so that you, the DM, have literally almost zero idea what's going to happen in that session."  "Yep."  "And you don't plan out changes to the status quo based on the characters, you just let the NPCs do whatever they do and stuff, and whatever happens happens, for good or ill."  "That's right."  "Holy fuck, that's some kind of brilliant insanity or something."   You have to imagine that response with a "kicked my brain in the balls" kind of face.  That player's supposed to run the brand-new-start-at-the-bottom campaign after this one, and he's been asking me questions about "sandbox" and "world in motion"...

I have no idea what the next DM will do or whether the heroes will be able to stop the return of the Huge Evil Death God, but I know one thing: they now own a bar and run around with a talking head of lettuce, and that means my work here is done.  PEACE!  /drops DM screen

Friday, August 3, 2012

Scenes from Wampus Country: Not What They Seem

A pair of Boxtoon mercenaries attempt to infiltrate a troupe of flying monkeys.

Sir Bors of Nutnibble, one of the few legitimate paladins in Wampus Country.

Attempts to get a serious horse-cult going have met with some resistance, despite Princess Fancyprance serving only the finest lemon meringue pies at all of her get-togethers.

Nobody solved crimes as expertly as Inspector Hogass.

"Look, darling, I think I've been very understanding about this whole curse thing.  But the fact of the matter is, I have to get to the office to close the Andersen account, and this is a deuced inconvenience."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We Gotta Kill This Guy

Creatures that are "only hit by silver or magical weapons" are all over every edition of D&D. They're really scary to a low-level party who can't hit them, as they should be. But it's also a bit of a cheat, and a bit samey. You need silver to hurt a werewolf, fine, that's right from the inspiring legend - but you also apparently need an enchanted blade to even think about hurting a wight. Which is material! I could see maybe a "mundane weapons do half damage due to the unearthly nature of the creature" or something...I mean, a giant can't drop a tower on a wight and kill it unless you assume 'massive damage' then counts-as-magic or something.

This came up, sort of, in game last week. Faced with a creature they believed required magic to assault, the PCs were at a bit of a loss and were attempting to strategize a way of minimizing risk while still going after the ghostly thing. Then it occurred to me that the PCs knew the ghost's name. That's a pretty special thing to know, either from a 'laws of magic' point of view, or from a fairy-tale one. Magically speaking, knowing the name of a thing ought to give you some sort of advantage over it. Storybook-wise, this wasn't "some ghost-thing on level one of the dungeon", it was a former person with a name and a (presumed) backstory who had already escaped one conflict with the PCs. Didn't he deserve a little more?

In the end, I went with a quick-and-dirty consecration of weapons to the destruction of the ghost; an expansion of what we used is below. The other way to go would have been to give the creature a fairy-tale-style weakness - perhaps he remained as a ghost because of a particular sin or something, and confronting him with evidence of that sin would banish him or make him vulnerable ("Look upon this mirror, vain spirit!" or even "And yet your son, thought dead, lived! AND HERE HE IS..." followed by cackling and ghost-go-asplodey or something).


A cleric may, via consecration, dedicate an item or weapon to the destruction or downfall of a single named creature which is immune to mundane weapons. Although the process varies from faith to faith, the principle is the same - weapons are blessed, prayed over, etc in the hopes that the cleric's patron will smile upon his effort and temporarily make the weapons proof against the beast. The process, being faith-based, does not always function, however. All clerics are presumed to have some knowledge of this ritual at first level.


A single consecration of this sort takes the better part of the day. Typically the priest will place the weapons to be consecrated in some sort of basin (if using liquid ingredients such as blood or holy water) or coffer, or perhaps a hole in the ground for the earthier hippie-type druidic faiths. These items are then covered in holy water, animal blood, fresh water, oils and unguents, or whatever is appropriate to the faith, along with an admixture of other ingredients - perhaps iron filings, a drop of serpent venom, the spittle of an honest man, hot peppers, liquified gold, etc. This combination is then prayed over for hours as the cleric calls upon the Gods to dedicate these few material items to the destruction of the creature in question; in some cases the priest may also promise things to the deity in exchange for this meager favor. Brief visions are not unknown during the ceremony.

A single concentration affects only a handful of items - three daggers, two clubs, ten arrowheads or bullets, or perhaps one shortsword (or appropriate combinations of same).


Add together the below modifiers to find a percentage chance that the dedication worked properly; GMs may elect to roll once for the batch, or for individual items within the batch ("...maybe this one last bullet will actually work!"). In all cases the dedication must be toward the destruction of one individual creature - not "those darn things in the cave".

Base chance 5%
True name of creature known +10%
Piece of creature present and used in ritual +5%
Level of cleric +level%
Target is of opposite alignment to Deity +10%
Materials used in ritual are particularly fine +1-5%
Cleric has very recently done great stuff for the church +1-5%
Cleric swears an oath to accomplish something awesome/dangerous in near future +1-5%
Ritual performed at proper altar of the faith +5%
Extra worshippers (real ones, not hired chanters) praying over the batch +1% each

Weapons successfully blessed by this form of dedication count as silver or magical as necessary for the purpose of being able to strike the creature. Dedicated weapons remain so for twelve hours. If an expedition to slay the creature is mounted and it fails (for example, if the creature cannot be located, or the party flees) the dedication fades.

Obviously, at higher levels, this all becomes rather moot.
The dashing but thoroughly eeevil Phineas Gristle, a dapper phantom in league with the Necronauts.
Some player notes & doodles from the hunt for Phineas.  The orangutan pictured is a PC.