Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Saint Nick

Unknown Adventures is coming soon - it's a website that will regularly be featuring systemless gaming content from a number of authors (some of which I'm sure you know), posting themed columns using the faces of some original supervillains.  It's like getting gaming advice from the Legion of Doom.

Anyway, one of the nefarious columnists is the dapper time-traveller Professor Yesterday, who will contribute occasional columns on the interface between history and gaming, and using obscure or unusual inspirations from real-world culture and history as fodder for your games.

The following is presented as a seasonal contribution from that cad Yesterday, and a preview of Unknown Adventures.  Sign up over at Unknown Adventures for notifications on the site's grand opening, and watch that space for more previews in the coming months!

When not hopping through time stealing artifacts and manipulating the chrono-stream for his own nefarious purposes, the loquacious and arrogant Professor Yesterday occasionally deigns to pen a few words on using historical events and cultures in role-playing games...


in which the holiday spirit motivates Professor Yesterday to ramble about mythological verisimilitude

Given the season, it behooves us to take a look at Old Saint Nick and draw a historical lesson from that dominating cultural figure. You are no doubt familiar with Santa Claus, and that legendary figure’s perhaps-slight connection to Saint Nicholas. So, too, you know of the many variant Santas scattered across the globe, and how the march of time has changed our concept of the jolly old elf.

To review briefly, the whole process begins with Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, in fourth-century Turkey. St. Nick had a reputation as a worker of wonders, and for giving gifts, and thus is the kernel around which Santa Claus is built: the secrecy, the gift-giving, the placement of money in shoes. St. Nicholas becomes Sinterklaas who becomes Santa Claus, with much pagan symbolism stapled on over the years. The growth, expansion, and localization of the legend has given us the Krampus, Black Pete, flying reindeer, magic toymaking elves, an omniscient and moralizing list, and beyond. Wandering through the internet can quickly take us on a strange journey into the world of infinite Santa Claus variants - and I recommend you do so - but, as always, our purpose here is to take a look at history and apply it to your game.

What does Saint Nicholas have to do with your campaign? He is a fine illustration of the way legends and religions change, stretch, warp, and adapt over time. Consider taking a look at whatever fantastic religions you have in your campaign, and ask yourself whether they’re a little simplified. “Thurgok, the God of Fire. Does fire-stuff.” Surely that’s an excellent starting-point, but it ought not be your goal. In the real world, religions are complex, messy things that steal from one another, absorb each other like gigantic amoebae, and react to historical events and cultural change. Saint Nicholas is a great exemplar in that we begin with a historical figure and end up with myriad national variants of a legendary figure which are all fairly different yet still compatible. Would swords be drawn over what color coat Father Christmas must wear? Perhaps not.

Regional variants of legendary figures and gods is not the only issue; there is also their agglutinative nature. Saint Nicholas is not just a toymaker and gift-giver, after all. He is also the patron of pawnbrokers, barrel-makers, archers, and the falsely-accused! These juxtapositions seem odd, perhaps, but that’s precisely the point - the real world is odd. Real religion, real culture, is not designed to fall neatly into four elements or nine alignments or whatever other metastructure a game designer or GM has elected to use to sketch things out. You’re not making a Mondrian, here - you’re making folk art, ie something that looks like real people came up with it over time. Real culture is a mess. Thus, Professor Yesterday advises you to look at your in-game religions (and cultures) and make them a little more messy than they already might be.

If your fantasy campaign has a polytheistic setup and you’re working with a list of deities, invest the time to add incongruous details. Remember that in the Greek pantheon, horses are associated with Poseidon, the god of the sea; use that as a touchstone. Go down your list of deities and add one seemingly-incongruous association to each of them. It doesn’t matter how strange - use a random table (or the ‘random’ function on Wikipedia) for inspiration if you like. Then consider why your fire god - our old friend Thurgok - also has something to do with turtles. You might get a neat myth out of it, or a more logical association (turtle, natural armor, the forge, fire god) that actually makes a kind of sense the more you think about it. Distance in time and space makes allowances for the truly strange, and perhaps your modern campaign denizens don’t even recall the original association or legend. Recall that it took sixteen centuries for a generous bishop to transform into something which inspires the annual erection of inflatable lawn-idols.

You may also wish to apply this thought process to other bits and bobs within your campaign, in an attempt to build verisimilitude (a dread and charged word indeed). What about heraldry? How many fantasy or pseudomedieval campaigns have you seen in which the noble houses are all ably represented by wolves, bears, deer, gryphons, and dragons? It must be very nice to be a member of one of those houses, but at some point you reach the fantasy equivalent of the Reservoir Dogs problem where everyone wants to be Mr. Black, in competition to be the greatest heraldic tough guy. But when you take a look at real heraldry, it’s not all “wicked monster my ancestor slew” -- somebody ends up being an anchor, a pelican, or a chalice. Might it not be more interesting to have something more subtle as your heraldry, and then consider the backstory of how it was earned? The knight with the wolf on his shield might be yawn-inducing, but the knight whose tabard bears a dead squirrel in a stewpot? I want to hear his story.

For many campaigns, the creative process is collaborative, and players are allowed or even encouraged to make up cultural and religious details in advance, or on the spot. This setup will likely give you the most “realistic” progress, as you have contributors with very different ideas all attacking the same problem, with suitable twists and turns. If the player of your party cleric is the sort of person who’s very comfortable making up stories on the spot (“Yes, of course, everyone knows the tale of the paladin and the scarecrow. It’s why I keep sardines in my boots”) you’re in for a lot of ongoing culture-building at the table.

Think about a modern holiday - any of the big ones will do - and consider the complex of legends and associated items that go with it, thanks to the march of history and the tendency of religions to cannibalize one another. That kind of seeming ridiculousness lies at one end of the spectrum - the realistic end. At the far end is the lamentable Thurgok the Fire God, about whom we know nothing save perhaps his cosmic alignment and the fact that he really, really likes fire. Somewhere on that continuum lie the faiths you’ve included in your campaign; I encourage you, in the giving spirit of Saint Nick, to invest a little time in moving them a smidge further from poor old Thurgok.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

State of the Wampus: Thistlemarch

What's going on in the Wampus Country campaign?  It's been on hiatus for several months, but PCs still have downtime actions, and time still passes even when we're not playing (partly because I like Wampus to be in sort-of realtime, and partly because FLAILSNAILS allows some of the PCs to adventure elsewhere even when I'm not running games).  Through the end of the year, I'll be doing some 'update' type posts covering what's up in various subregions, with associated dangling plot hooks implicit in the text (I'll call them all out explicitly later).  This is all a work in progress, of course.


Little Thistlemarch is not so little anymore; the past six months have seen a number of new homes and businesses built in the area, perhaps encouraged by the change in the status quo.  The Mad Margrave, who occupied the garrisoned keep north of town, has passed away, and the scent of change is in the air.  Thistlemarch feels as though it is at the cusp of a rise.  Trade is bustling along the river - in part due to the continuing growth of the town of Promise, to the north - and the population has increased a bit as well.  Shop owners are expanding, and houses are acquiring second and third floors.  It's a good time to be a carpenter in Thistlemarch.

Down on Main Street - which used to be the only street - Sheriff Horvendile Early has recruited a handful of people to serve as probationary deputies, all of whom are currently under assessment.  Chiefly these civic-minded volunteers are occupied in building a new Sheriff's Office and attached jail.  The townsfolk have varied reactions to this obvious sign of law and order; while some enjoy the idea and see it as a mark of their town putting itself on the map, others express concern that the badges of law enforcement might slowly transform into the sign of a political elite which is counter to their frontier instincts.

Resident sorceror, Chauncy Woolstrike, breezes in and out of town - his young apprentice and some hirelings in tow - every few weeks.  He says he's been spending time with the Cloud Rabbits, which makes sense as his assistant is one of 'em - but nobody knows for sure.  Sometimes he is seen at the Blue Rabbit on the edge of town, commiserating with other adventuresome types, including local journalist Abel Killiejoy.  Killiejoy has procured a printing-press and has been putting out his own little irregular newspaper, when he isn't out of town chasing rainbows.  No, seriously, that's a thing he does.  The Church of the White Mouse has finished expanding their church-hall and associated garden, and Father Andrew is proud as punch.  Although he got into more than one argument with that halfling, Barnaby, a few months back, it seems that Brother Barnaby has been content to remain in Saltvale recently.

Up at the keep, a little reconstruction work has been done; the keep itself is in decent shape, but the trappings of the Margrave are long gone.  The garrison of guards no longer patrols the ramparts or the hills around the keep, although local luminaries occasionally visit or use the keep's spaces (it has a rather large dining room suitable for weddings and the like).  The poggles - little dog-folk - have dug a series of tunnels beneath the keep and in the surrounding land, including a conveniently-located opening in a side of a hillock closer to town.  This small tunnel serves as the interface between the poggles and their new neighbors in Thistlemarch - some folks are calling the site "Dog Hole" or "Poggletown" - and there's a bit of trade going on there.  People from town march up the hill once a month on the first Saturday to see what odds and ends the poggles are selling at their little bazaar - the "Flea Market".  Under the rule of their leader, Red Blanket, the surviving poggles of this tribe seem relatively civilized and have been treating fairly with the Thistlemarchers.  Red Blanket, chieftain of the semi-civilized poggles, hopes to recruit some eager mercenaries who can return to the poggles' former subterranean home and oust the portion of the tribe still loyal to his father.  The underground complex cannot be too far from Thistlemarch, yet Red Blanket refuses to disclose its location to anyone not signed on to the mission.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ancient Yuletide Carols

Recently an old tome was recovered from a cave-tomb near Dropfinger Pass; the well-weathered book, bound in troll-hide, contained some smattering of cosmic lore as well as a series of hymn-spells linked to the worship of moribund lesser godlings of winter and song such as Komo and Mathys.  Once the text of the hymn-spell and the corresponding commentary has been read, these new prayers may be uttered by a priest of any faith or alignment.  We know little of this old cult, but judging by their hymn-spells, they were definitely skilled at espionage and secrecy, and concerned about mutant or lycanthropic infiltrators; any connection to certain green-furred beings is unknown.  Since the cult held power in the north, it will not surprise us that their texts mention reindeer and evergreen trees.  Further mention in the tome of brightly-colored knit sweaters may perhaps place this cult's dominance after the reign of Huxt.  Any relation between this old singing-church and the Rime-Singer cult on the rise in the north is unknown.

Angels We Have Heard on High  (Listen to the Heavens) (level 2)
Using the feather of a non-flightless bird as a focus, the priest incants the prayer, imbuing himself and up to four other people within twenty feet with the temporary ability to understand - but not speak or read - heavenly and angelic tongues.  The effect lasts only 4+1d4 rounds, but this is often sufficient for basic communication with otherworldly visitors.

Children, Go Where I Send Thee  (Scattering the Beardless)  (level 1)
With a mighty exhortation, the cleric demands that younglings remove themselves from his presence (and that of his lawn, no doubt).  When the spell is cast, all sub-adult creatures (humanoid or otherwise) of less than 4HD within 100 feet who fail a save versus spell must depart quickly, scattering back to their snot-nosed hidey-holes.  The casting priest has no control over the direction in which the children will flee, although if the caster is blocking an exit, the tots will react logically and attempt to flee in the opposite direction where reasonable.  Children, Go Where I Send Thee counts as mind-affecting and a fear effect.  While this incantation is potentially curmudgeonly, at least it stops short of the over-the-top effects of a spell like Summon The She-Bears of Vengeance.

Do You Hear What I Hear?  (Sharing the Ears)  (level 2)
This prayer requires the use of two tufts of lambswool, one of which is carried by each recipient of the spell (the caster may be one of these, but need not be).  Once the hymn is sung, the two willing targets can each hear whatever the other one hears, even if separated by up to a mile.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Shaming of the Deviant)  (level 2)
The priest gathers together a group of people, four to ten in number, and casts the spell; one of the subjects who is not like the others will be magically marked by a crimson glow floating in front of their face.  The spell itself is simple, but its use can be difficult, as the caster has no control over what quality - or lack thereof - the hymn detects.  It may discover a single werewolf amongst a group of innocent villagers (which seems to be its purpose), or it may single out the only adulterer (or non-adulterer!) in the group.  The incantation is thus best used as a tool for coercing confession, rather than a reliable detector.

Silver Bells (Alarum of the Skinchanger)  (level 2)
Bathing some silver sleigh-bells in holy water, the priest sings the hymn.  For the next week, the sleigh-bells will jingle of their own volition when a lycanthrope or shapechanger (doppleganger, etc) comes within ten feet.

What Child Is This?  (Most Infallible Determination of Paternity) (level 1)
The priest spends a full hour anointing a child less than a year in age with holy oils, smudge sticks, etc, and chanting.  By the end of the ritual, the priest hears the name of the child's father whispered in his ear.  The spell always works and always speaks the truth, but there is no guarantee that the name spoken is the same name by which the priest might know the father - aliases, shapechangers, and the like can make a mess of this hymn very quickly.

Let's Go Kill Werewolves, Charlie Brown

Friday, December 6, 2013

Behold, the Blingdingel

Adapted from a lecture given earlier in the year by Dr. Hornapple at the Heaudrybock Institute for Scientifactual Education.

Although the Wampus Country features numerous creatures - many of them strange - it is important to remember that they do not exist in a vacuum.  Metaphorically, I mean - surely there are life-forms which dwell in the airless void beyond the sky, but they are not the topic of today's discussion.  Animals, plants, sapient species - they all form an interconnected web of life, no one existing in true isolation from the rest.  As students of natural philosophy, you of course have some familiarity with the idea of ecology, but I mean to suggest a larger interconnectedness still, combining ecology, culture, and history.  We cannot examine a creature's biology or behavior without also taking a look at how it is related to the practices of thinking people and intertwined with our own history.

Let us take, as exemplar, the humble blingdingel.  If you are not familiar with the beast, please take a moment to look over the illustration mounted here on the wall.  The blingdingel is a semi-bipedal, predatory beast which was once common in the Snowdeeps, now nearly extinct.  Note the long, muscular arms - you can easily imagine the beast's lumbering gait.  The face and cranial structure resemble that of a short-snouted baboon or banderlog, yet the blingdingel is blessed with these massive tufted ears, which is uses to locate prey in the snowdrifts.  Snow-lampreys, certain polar oozes, that sort of thing, but I assure you the blingdingel is quite happy to consume manflesh as well...which leads us to the next step in our journey.

Were the blingdingel a passive species, the men of the north might never have bothered to hunt it.  After all, it does not provide much meat, and is generally clever enough to make difficult prey.  But the rapacious blingdingel does threaten northern communities, so men and women had to learn to kill it.  No mean feat!  Look here on the drawing, and consider these overlapping scales which cover the entire torso of the adult blingdingel.  Those scales are remarkably tough, and behind them hides a thick layer of subcutaneous fat.  The blingdingel is, in essence, a massive, armored, potbellied yeti.  You see?  Difficult to kill, even with modern firearms.  Imagine those early clashes, in which hunters accustomed to mastodons, snow tigers, and the like found themselves faced with a huge, creative predator immune to their weapons.  Imagine them describing the blingdingel as a giant bipedal tiger wearing armor.  I don't envy them their task.

A small sculpture of a Blingdingel; such idols are common near hearths in the north, used to ward off evil spirits.

As the hunters strove against the blingdingels, they came to learn about their natural armor - those brilliant silvery-white scales.  First, they came to learn that spears cannot easily threaten a blingdingel.  And then - more importantly - they learned that the talons of a blingdingel can cut through the scales.  Perhaps they were lucky enough to witness a pair of young blingdingel bulls competing for territory, or tussling over a potential mate during rutting season.  But, armed with this knowledge, the hunters knew that the key to killing blingdingels was the acquisition of their claws.  One hunting-party, armed with bludgeons and axes, stuns a blingdingel and makes off with a pair of paws.  And that singular event set the whole thing into motion.  Stolen claws made into weapons; weapons make it easier to kill blingdingels.  With each dead blingdingel, it becomes exponentially easier to kill blingdingels.  And what do we do with dead blingdingels?  Always industrious, we use the claws to skin the damn things, and peel off their natural armor.  A quick tanning of the connecting flesh, and very rapidly we have a cottage industry turning dead blingdingels into superior scale armor jackets.

You can surely see where we are headed in this tale: blingdingel extinction, or very nearly so.  And indeed, that is precisely what happened.  The combination of demand of blingdingel-based armor and weapons, and the ever-progressing ease of killing them -- which I can depict on the blackboard like so - can have only one result.  A short Blingdingel Boom, then no more blingdingels.  As a side effect, you also end up with a number of northern warrior-types - thanes and mercenaries and such - armed with Blingdingel-claw spears and daggers and superior armor.  Most of whom have gotten quite accustomed to living high on the hog, as it were, from blingdingel-related profits.  What comes next?

That's right.  War, or something resembling it.  The blingdingel events directly precede a series of small-scale wars in the Snowdeeps which create some political situations we can discuss later.  Let us try to stick to the biology while we can, shall we?  Here's another side-effect of the blingdingel boom.  While the claws of the beast are a direct way to pierce the scales, there is another way - and of course the clever folk of the north puzzled it out, or some of them, anyhow.  A few hunters, who lacked talon-made weapons, took to coating their spear-points in the spoor of snufflehausers.  Snufflehauser dung is rather corrosive, and becomes more corrosive and even a bit explosive when exposed to friction and heat.  So, in theory, you jab your coated spear into a Blingdingel, and the combination of the acid and minor external pressure from the friction of the point against the scales would serve to force apart the scaling and allow some purchase to your weapon.  If you were lucky, of course.  Now, compare the snufflehauser to the blingdingel.  One creature, the blingdingel, hunted toward extinction; the other, the humble snufflehauser, needs to be kept alive, in order to hunt the blingdingel.  For a solid decade, a handful of snufflehauser farms were quite successful in the lands around Dropfinger Pass, and the only thing they produced was snufflehauser dung.  Can you imagine?  The snufflehauser is edible, but scrawny, you see.  Its furs are suboptimal due to the size, but  even today you can meet Freeholders who wear heirloom snufflehauser coats or stoles in brilliant blue or purple colors.  There are no snufflehauser ranches extant, however - the profit just isn't there.

But back to the blingdingels, and their relation to Freeholder culture.  The northmen believe the blingdingels themselves have an unusual origin.  One of the ancient heroes in their sagas, a brilliant swordsman called   Bjerd Blingding, is thought to be the father of the entire species, in a strange, roundabout way.  Blingding was transmogryfied during his adventures into a sentient coat of scale mail armor - these things happen when one is an adventurer by profession, you understand.  Although his pillaging days were over, Blingding could still think and speak, and...apparently do other things, as the saga tells us he wedded an auburn-haired ogress.  The blingdingels are ostensibly their descendants.  Now certainly as reasonable people and inquisitive students, you are wondering whether this isn't just some quaint explanation after the fact.  After all, here we have these scaled, ogre-like creatures, let's come up with an amusing fireside tale that explains everything.  And you would be right to question it, but in the end it doesn't matter whether it's true - what matters is whether the Freeholders of the north believe it.  For they surely do, and it influences their behavior.  I shall illustrate.

According to the sagas, Bjerd Blingding had a younger brother called Thurfinn, and Thurfinn and most of his direct descendants were natural shapechangers, able to take on the form of a wolf or several other creatures of the ice and snow.  They were not large in number, and mostly lived out in the wilds, as one might expect.  But what happens when Thurfinn's great-great-great-grandchildren come to learn about the wholesale slaughter of the Blingdingels?  Nothing good.  Learning about the mass murder of their cousins, and the very insulting fact that fat Freeholders were wandering about wearing their kin's skin as armor, Thurfinn's line resolved to make war against the offenders.  And they, arrived in the civilized areas of the north just as the aforementioned small political battles were dying down.  Even the mightiest warriors amongst the Freeholds were worn out, tired, wounded -- and here come scores of skinchangers out for blood.  Worth noting, perhaps, that blingdingel armor is not proof against werewolf claws.

So we have much of the north stained crimson with blood, and all of it because of the interplay between the blingdingels and mankind.  And there's still more, you see.  The devastation of the wars had a deleterious effect on the population in the north, as you might imagine.  This gap allowed for an earlier and easier introduction of giant-kind into the north than might otherwise have occurred.  The giants stepped in and did the work, and the Freeholders could hardly complain, as they were unable to do all the work themselves.  Yet a discussion of the interrelation of giants and men must be left for another time, for I can see by the clock on the wall it's very nearly time for the test match to resume, and I've no intention of lecturing at the sides of your heads as you all stare out the windows at the pitch.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In The Valley of Babababa

From the journal of Major Eustace Shortbread Hootenanny -

I fear we have wandered far from our goal in the attempts to follow Heatherington's trail, yet avoid some of the more dangerous regions his expedition encountered.  Nevertheless, our motley party has found a few bright points, not least of which was our visit to a secluded, verdant valley inhabited by a friendly, if odd, people.  The sides of the valley are dotted with their domiciles, and the basin is lush with banana and starfruit trees.  These folk call their valley Babababaland, and though they are civilized and ruled by a Queen, they live a simple agrarian lifestyle dominated by zealous adherence to a very strange religion.  The Babababalanders - or Babababarbarians, as we have taken to calling them half-jokingly - follow some kind of pantheistic faith, and they are ever-concerned that their actions please the various gods and never offend them.  Their savage superstition seems to be agglutinative in that, over the generations, they have developed a lengthy list of laws which control their lives.  We spent only a day and a half in their valley to restock and rest, but we saw the apparent laws change five or six times during our stay - in the morning it was illegal to touch a cow, and by nightfall one could touch a cow, but could not wear the color red.  The Babababalanders believe the gods are always watching, and any violation of these ancient laws could offend the heavens and bring disaster upon the valley...


The laws of the Babababarbarians shift regularly according to their byzantine holy calendar.  On any given day in the valley, roll one Must (a thing which everyone must do) and one Must Not (a thing which is forbidden).  Every few hours of game-time, change one; if that isn't manic enough, change faster.  Roll multiple times for the sabbath or holidays.  The people of Babababaland have lived in the valley so long they have a near-instinctual sense of which laws are in effect at a given time; however, they're not very good at predicting what the next law to take effect will be, or when.  Some explorers who have visited the valley seem to think the heretical thought that there are no holy calendars, and the Babababarbarians just make it all up via silent consensus as they go along; however it is also possible that the calendars exist, but are hidden away from outlanders.  Major Hootenanny's journal suggests the former, and notes that the Babababalanders seem to switch laws faster (and add multiple laws) when they are agitated, or in times of crisis.

Failure to follow the strange laws of Babababaland is punishable by imprisonment, fine, dismemberment, or death, depending on the violation.  Outlanders must also follow the laws, and ignorance is no defense.  Refusal to submit to a punishment will, of course, incur more punishments.


1.  Greet others with a sound smack across the face.
2.  Wear a banana-peel on your head.  (These are plentiful in the valley, as babababanana trees are everywhere)
3.  Punctuate the end of each sentence with a loud WHOOP.
4.  Declare yourself the Queen and act as such until the law changes.  Note, however, that the Queen does not have the power to change the laws.
5.  Do everything backwards to the extent possible - walk backwards, reverse word-order when speaking, spit tea into empty cups, etc.  When this law kicks in during binge-drinking, it is not a pretty sight.
6.  Dance.  Chair-dancing is acceptable should you need to sit or ride a horse.
7.  Refer to everyone by the opposite gender.
8.  Sit down immediately, wherever you are, and stay there til the law changes.
9.  Make sweet, sweet love to the nearest person.
10.  Sing holy hymns at the top of your lungs.  You may engage in other activities whilst doing so.
11.  Put a fish down your pants.
12.  Pretend everyone else is invisible and inaudible.
13.  Hold hands with someone.  No holding hands with yourself, with animals, or with inanimate objects.
14.  Fist-fight anyone who says your name.
15.  Hop everywhere you go.  One-legged hops are considered particularly pious.
16.  Pretend to be an animal.  No doubles - you have to pick an animal that nobody else is being.
17.  Replace normal speech with gibberish.  Locals favor "bababa", of course.
18.  Grab any paper you see, rip it to bits, and throw it over your shoulder.  This also applies to paper money and spellbooks.
19.  Jam a finger up your nose til it hurts, and keep it there.  If it stops hurting, shove farther.
20.  Catch and eat a butterfly.  Note that the pretty blue butterflies in the valley are fairly poisonous, although natives have built up an immunity.


1.  Wear pants.
2.  Look anyone in the eye.
3.  Belch, fart, hiccup, or cough.
4.  Lift a foot from the ground.
5.  Touch livestock, or the products of livestock (meat, milk, cheese etc).
6.  Walk on the grass.
7.  Urinate.
8.  Bear arms.
9.   Eat or drink anything.
10.  Open your eyes.
11.  Use the definite article, in speech or in writing.
12.  Handle money.
13. Remove or change your clothing - this means no unbuttoning, no doffing of hats, and no dropping trousers for any reason.
14.  Touch another human being.  (The arrival of demihumans in Babababaland may trigger some debate on this one)
15.  Light or extinguish a fire.
16.  Make any noise above a whisper.
17.  Wear or touch a certain color (pick one or roll on your favorite color table).  If you're particularly cruel and pick a color humans can't normally see or distinguish ('ulfire', perhaps?), the Babababarbarians will be particularly paranoid and refuse to touch anything just in case it's that color they can't see.
18.  Whistle, hum, or sing.
19.  Say "no" in any way.  You cannot deny anyone anything, and must always agree and acquiesce.
20.  Touch, or be touched by an insect.

Roll d6 for failing to do a "Must"; Roll d6+d8 for doing a "Must Not".  If you're playing DCC and need another excuse to roll a d14, roll a d14 for everything, because why deny yourself the simple pleasures?

1.  Minor fine (d6x10 dollars)
2.  Major fine (d4x100 dollars)
3.  Divested of all property.
4.  Exiled from the valley.
5.  Indentured servitude to a prominent Babababalander for 2d6 weeks.
6.  Mandatory marriage to an eligible Babababalander.
7.  Head shaved and painted blue.
8. Scourged with braided-banana-peel cat-o-nine-tails.
9.  Tip of pinky-finger clipped off.
10. Loss of a foot.
11.  Loss of a hand.
12.  Tongue pulled out with heated tongs.
13.  Death by stoning.
14.  Death to you, and the last person you touched before committing the crime.

Vintage portrait of Major Hootenanny as he was when he commanded the Sunset Lancers.  In his later years, he worked as a mercenary and was very inconveniently turned into a snake-man.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Learning to Accessorize

Although the hardy frontier-folk of the Wampus Country tend to favor reliable, hard-wearing equipment, it has become fashionable amongst high-rollers, mad adventurers, and poseurs to demonstrate their prestige by means of ostentatious custom-built weapons.  The trend began innocently enough, with grips and hafts built to fit their owners, and weapons decked out with custom paint jobs and decorative baubles.  In time, the predictable oneupsmanship of the wealthy fringe took hold, and the accessories got ever-stranger.  Here, a rifle stock that dispenses rum; there, a footman's mace with a compass in the hilt.  Soon, all manner of impractical upgrades were ordered, and it became a point of pride for a well-heeled mercenary to bear a custom-made weapon which was not only built to specification (using a series of nineteen different body measurements, including "width of palm" and "optimal thumb angle"), but which had one or more ostentatious accessories - often a second weapon - either built in or clamped to it.  It will come as no surprise that many of these weapons were less than practical in actual combat and can today be found on corpses across the countryside; a charging owlbear is not impressed by the fact that the hilt of your rapier dispenses shaving cream.

Here is a d100 table of nonmagical weapon upgrades and accessories, from the practical to the ridiculous.  I look forward to hearing stories about PCs fighting over possession of a crossbow with a flail attached to it.

Yo dawg, I heard you like accessories on your weapons...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Famous Explorers of Wampus Country, Part One

Many of the most famous explorers of Wampus Country are martial types, quick with a pistol and a blade, the better to survive in the often-dangerous wilderness.  But some get by purely on their wits, or with a little magical aid.

One such is a daring young lady called Izzy of the Gifts; she is so-named for the several enchanted accoutrements she bears which aid her in her travels.  Although young, Izzy has ranged far and wide over the countryside, using her skills to cover ridiculous amounts of ground in a short time.  Plainly dressed and kind of word, Izzy is quite happy to nonviolently aid any who cross her path.  Her surname is unknown, perhaps abandoned in the old country, but rumor has it she hails from a magically talented family.  Indeed, both she and her cousin James are known to possess the power to speak the tongues of animals, and travel in their company.  Izzy's primary traveling companion is a banderlog who enjoys human fashion; James prefers the company of a young spotted wampus-cat.  Like many Wampus Country wanderers, Izzy has had her share of strange adventures, including once being transformed (temporarily) into a mermaid.  Despite being peaceful at heart, Izzy of the Gifts has earned several enemies in her travels, including a larcenous kitsune who has become obsessed with her in a dark and inappropriate way.

This adventurous explorer's magical items are detailed below:

Fortuitous Rucksack - A leather bag, with shoulder-straps, of the sort commonly worn by adventurers; the worn calfskin shows great age, and the wrinkles and folds almost seem to twist into a smiling face.  The fortuitous rucksack has the singular magic ability to produce, once per day, a mundane item which the user either needs immediately, or will need within the next six hours.  The rucksack radiates both conjuration and divination magic, and can additionally function as a normal container of its type.

Fateful Cartographic - The fateful cartographic bears similar divination sorcery to the rucksack; once per day it can alter its appearance so as to become a guide to the requested destination, so long as it is within 24 hours' travel.  The cartographic does not display words, numbers, or distances, instead using primitive petroglyphs to represent obvious landmarks along the journey.

Izzy's cousin James, known to be a druid of some power, is also the bearer of the fantastic metamorph of salvation, a gaily-colored item which can transform from a bag into a means of transportation (canoe, dinghy, bicycle, hang-glider, hot-air balloon, etc) once per day for an hour.  The similarities in form shared by the metamorph and the fortuitous rucksack suggest that James and Izzy's family line may have been wizards specializing in container-related sorcery.

Rumors that these adventurous cousins may have other relatives who share their magical skills, or variants thereof - for example, the ability to speak to inanimate tools - are yet to be confirmed.

The Candy That Kills

In the Halloween spirit, some scraps about candy...



(The below excerpted from The Candy That Kills, a propaganda pamphlet which occasionally turns up in Wampus Country, origin unknown)

In the distant east, the punishing heat of the rising sun bakes the land dry and makes brittle the hearts of men.  There lies the harsh realm of the Witch-Queen, her bizarre sorcerous creations, and the put-upon Kandylanders.  Who is this dire harridan?  What does she want?  How can regular folks like you and I protect themselves from her depredations?

The Witch-Queen of Sugarplum Castle is a horrible faerie of some sort, immortal and dark and cruel.  Do not be fooled by tales of her beauty, for she wears an elegantly-sculpted face of fondant over her true, daemonic visage.  Her castle, constructed of confections and chocolate, perches like a buzzard on a high basalt cliff overlooking the impoverished villages of Kandyland.  The Kandylanders themselves are like unto slaves, toiling day and night in the fields and mines, digging defensive trenches for the coming war which their regent believes to be inevitable.

Once before, her armies marched out, cutting a swath of devastation seaward into the marches of Khelibesh before she was driven back, at great cost to the southlanders.  It is only a matter of time before the call to conquest sounds yet again, and the Witch-Queen unleashes her full fury on the frontier settlements of the Wampus Country!

Beware the Witch-Queen!  Her spies are everywhere!


There are many dark, odd, or nearly-forgotten magical lores floating about the Wampus Country, but none of them inspire as much whispering as sucromancy, the magical manipulation of sugar.  Most wizards - and some well-traveled adventurers - have heard of sucromancy, perhaps in connection with the semi-mythical Witch-Queen of Sugarplum Castle.  Perhaps the unschooled believe the dark art to be solely involved with crafting weapons or constructs of sugar, candy, and chocolate; but, in truth, these manifestations are but the first circles of sucromancy, as practiced by the Witch-Queen's many mage-vassals and those independent wizards who stumble upon the art via experimentation.  The true secret of sucromancy is not the manipulation of sugar crystals, but of carbon itself - and through it, all life.  An initiate of sucromancy can create a peppermint sword, or sculpt a marzipan golem and bring it to life, but a true master of the art can kill with a sidelong glance.

Apprentice sucromancers - who are already wizards of note before being accepted into the order - tend to specialize in a particular manifestation of sugar: hard candy, peppermint, ice cream, bubblegum, chocolate, etc.  The type of candy is not chosen by the mage, but comes to them naturally, as a representation of their understanding of both magic and life itself.  A spiteful sucromancer may command the bitterness of dark chocolate, while a fun-loving homebody embraces the pillow-like wonder of marshmallows.

Through the centuries, the immortal Witch-Queen has groomed many sucromancers (some of whom were perhaps also lovers); she tired of many of them, tossing them aside or slaughtering them for tactical failures, personal offense, or imagined slights.  The lure of secret magic is great, and there are always more wizards looking to learn, no matter how dangerous the apprenticeship.  Notable sucromancers in years past include the wizard Rheez (chopped into pieces, parts of his corpse are said to be enchanted; survived by his own apprentice, his daughter Marie-Jeanne), and the Triumvirate of Swordsmen (all of which were slain by righteous rabbitjacks).


as reported by Sweet Jimmy Peppermint

Sugarfather - A huge, gloppy caramel monstrosity which spawns a swarm of halfling-sized sugarkinder as it charges into battle.  Possibly related to some vanilla-filled caramel minotaurs spotted on the grounds of Sugarplum castle.

Balloonheads - Able to inflate their taffy-like heads and float about, these vile humanoids are known to descend on their prey from above with a fusillade of rifle-fire.

Wailing Infants - Tumbling ever-forward as a mass of screaming toddlers, this hiveminded monstrosity cries out with a hundred mewling voices as it denudes the countryside of plant and beast.

Gummy Owlbear - Perhaps too horrible to think about, this beast blends the worst parts of a ferocious predator and a gelatinous cube.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

(Early) Halloween: The Haunted Mills

Have you ever been running way late on blogposts, and then you get a pretty dumb idea and run with it anyway?

Yeah, me too.

The Haunted Mills is the skeleton (ha!) of a Halloween adventure.  Mostly it's jokes.  But at least it's out of my system now.

Presented nice and early so you can flesh it out in time for a Halloween one-shot.

You know precisely where this is going.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

But Wait, There's More

Recently some PCs took a trip to the City Behind the Moon, a faerie tradestation hung amongst the stars.  During that visit, they saw all manner of shops hawking strange goods, including several which offered odd liqueurs, strong drink, or potions of the magical variety.  One shop in particular - the Apothecary Most Legendary - was essentially the multiversal faerie equivalent of an "As Seen On TV" store in the mall, and it had goods such as these on the shelves...

Takhisian No-No Juice - A foul-smelling liquid distilled from the innards of naughty and self-important dragons, Takhisian No-No Juice - known as TNJ to its fans - has three distinct effects.  1) When an entire bottle is consumed by an evil, sapient creature, TNJ acts as a healing potion, restoring 2d8+2 hit points.  With each use, there is a cumulative 1% chance of draconic mutation.   2) When TNJ is used as an oil for gears, it magically enhances the functioning of vehicles which run on tracks, such as locomotives, mine-carts, and roller-coasters, improving their speed by 20% for about an hour.  3) TNJ is a deadly poison to certain halfling subspecies.

Pocket Fish-Or-Man? - This palm-sized device is a wooden box with a spinner on top, and two icons representing a fish and a human; there is also a small square on the surface which seems to contain some kind of gauze.  When a drop of bodily fluid (blood works best, but spittle also functions) is placed on the gauze, the little brass arrow spins rapidly for a moment, then settles on either fish (source of the blood is a fish) or man (source of the blood is a mortal humanoid - anything from human to dwarf to orc, etc).  Liquid from a creature which is neither fish nor man (a chicken; a demon; a vampire) will cause the arrow to spin wildly, then point off at nothing.  Placing the blood of a mermaid or similar creature on the device will break it.

KaBlam - A small packet of crimson powder which may register as magical and/or 'good' to some highly-attuned detection techniques; the paper packet is decorated with a drawing of an exploding angel, and the salesclerk insists the powder is mostly "genuine Throne plasma harvested by the haemogoblins of Thrux".  If a packet of the powder is mixed thoroughly with a flask of common lamp oil or other mundane flammable, any explosion caused by said oil will do double damage to creatures susceptible to "holy stuff" - usually devils, demons, undead in some realms, etc.  Heavenly creatures of substantial power will be able to smell the powder from some distance, and may be less than pleased at its use.

Pajama Plate - This comfortable neck-to-toe bodysuit has the appearance (sort-of) of a full suit of plate mail, and conveys protection like studded leather, but is soft and stretchy enough to sleep in.

Jinnsu Stake Knife - This steel dagger has been specially enchanted by earth elementals such that the entirety of the blade counts as wooden for the purposes of staking vampires.

Jaxlalan's Power Juicer - A whirring, clunking machine the size of a small cart, the Power Juicer was invented by the Muscle Wizard Jaxlalan.  Magical items go in the top, and the Power Juicer breaks them down into healing potions (of the 1d8 variety).  Each "plus" of a weapon recycled, for example, will generate six draughts of healing potion.  Other miscellaneous magical items will generate 1d30 draughts, irrespective of gp or xp value of the magic item, for Jaxlalan was insane and his Juicer is fickle.

The Sluggie - A warm, hooded length of mottled green velvet, the Sluggie functions as an all-weather cloak.  When worn backwards, however, the Sluggie casts its enchantment upon the wearer, who now appears to be a man-sized garden slug.  The illusion affects all five senses, and lasts until the wearer reverses the Sluggie, or touches salt (which will disenchant the device).  Most Sluggies have cute little antennae on the hood.

Spray-On Beard -  A tin canister which allows the user to quickly generate a beard (color of hair matches color on top of can) for disguise, for fun, or for holy rites like the Feast of Saint Zizzytop.  One can is enough to generate three reasonable beards, or one Amazing Wizard Beard.  The magical liquid turns to hair upon contact with the face, but it will only do beards - no unibrows or top-of-head hair.  It does, however, function just fine on females and creatures who don't normally grow beards (such as lizard-men or stone golems), producing a luxurious man-beard with a simple press of the button.

Sheikh-Weight - The size and shape of an oversized metal coin, the Sheikh-Weight attaches itself to a target when thrown and immediately weighs a hundred pounds; however, it only functions on nobility and royalty, hence the name.  Now a curiosity, the Sheikh-Weight was a decisive invention during the Gentry-Slaughter of the city-state of Plarg, and even some current models are emblazoned with that old motto, "We are the 18/00 percent".

The UroBlade - Ever find yourself in the middle of a dungeon with no-where to relieve yourself?  Don't trust your party members or henchmen?  You could use a UroBlade.  This fully-functional longsword (okay, not really, it only does d6) has a secret - the pommel flips open so you can take care of your business inside the sword and empty it out later.  Also available in "shortsword" (for halflings) and "glaive-guisarme" (who are you trying to impress?).  A UroBlade which has been, ahem, utilized has a 25% chance each round of popping open during subsequent combat and spilling all over you and your melee opponent.

The ChopSlap - It slices!  It dices!  The revolutionary ChopSlap replaces all your melee weapons.  Basically it's a handle that can manifest a dagger, shortsword, longsword, or ten-foot-pole depending on the button pressed.  All these modes work pretty great, doing the usual (nonmagical) damage; but the ChopSlap doesn't stand up to repeated use.  After 10+1d20 rounds of actual combat with the darn thing, the buttons start to get a little wonky, and the weapon produced will be totally random each time (including weapons not listed above, like a battle-axe or main-gauche, and even some improbable implements such as a rake, trowel, gaff, or marital aid).

The Sham-WoW - A small fluffy square of fabric which, when held over the eyes, impedes most sight but places a golden aura around passersby who may be in need of help or have work you could do.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miniatures & Wampus Country

Horrible guilt for not posting for a month, blah blah.

Work proceeds apace on a non-Wampus Labyrinth Lord module - with art and maps and stuff! - for publication later in the Fall.

And, now, this:

("My God, Helen!  He's browsing for miniatures and acting like it's a blog post!  The nerve!")

Wampus Country is not a miniature-friendly game, even leaving aside the fact that I've been running it primarily over the internet.  When I did my session at NTRPGCon, we used some plastic dinosaurs, but I didn't bring miniatures for the PCs (I might next year...).  I'm not a battlegrid guy at heart, but if I had a face-to-face group, I'm sure we'd use miniatures for some things - set-piece battles, maybe, that sort of thing.  In the past I've stolen my son's 54mm plastic cowboys to run a thing or two, but if you want broad minis selection, these days you're mostly looking at 25-28mm scale.

Fashion and armament vary a bit in the Wampus Country, so looking for 25-28mm models that "go with" the setting should be easy.  Some Victorian, VSF, and pulp minis will work; cowboys work; Napoleonics work.  If I painted some of these minis up in "Wampus" style, I think I'd aim for brighter colors than the historical standard.

Here are a handful I've come across lately that get my want-to-paint-minis juices flowing.

Blue Moon Manufacturing has a line called "Drums In The Ohio Valley" that's just chock-full of goodness; they also have highwaymen and cowboys!

Perry Miniatures has some nice-looking American Civil War dudes - in plastic, no less.

Over at Wargames Factory, they have these sweet multi-part plastics I know I could do something with.

And of course Foundry has plenty of models that would be fun to paint up.

And that's just the tiniest slice of the 28mm historicals that are out there; not to mention fantasy pieces (and bits of pieces).

Which is not to say I'm getting back into minis wargaming or anything.  But I could see getting back into painting...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pazoodle's Lexicon: More Words From Wampus Country

(See here for original batch and concept)

slooptippy - noun.  1. Hideous, gape-jawed canids which pass the time by picking up sticks in their mouths and attempting to spank one another from positions of stealth.  2. Drinking game derived from behavior of same.

angafel - noun.  A thematic dictionary of inference, in which words are not defined directly; instead, each word is vaguely referenced in a short story a page or two in length.

pruppadump - noun.  Any of several home-brewed carbonated beverages flavored with garbage.

zarkaruff - noun.  Exceedingly puffy men's pantaloons of legendary warmth, crafted from the fur of giant wolves and typically featuring myriad internal pockets.

blemmis - noun or verb.  1. A word used to signify that the speaker does not know the answer to the question posed, but cannot stand to be so impolite as to say so directly.  2. To awkwardly avoid a difficult situation.

chempovagums - noun.  A book consisting of a sequence of wordless illustrations, intended as a moral lesson for the illiterate or a taunt for the blind.

phoolcom - noun.  A preserved flower in a vacuum-sealed bottle, carried by explorers as a companion.

appoinepidals - noun.  A series of wooden racks which hold paintings horizontally, face-down, over water, so that fish may appreciate them.

quavora - noun.  The option in the middle of other options; a compromise course of action.

shangtmap - noun.  A single blossom sprouting from a discarded shoe; the flower, much coveted by sorcerors, cannot be seen directly and must be observed with peripheral vision.

ektreem - noun.  A soccer-like sport in which a rubber ball is propelled toward a dangling hoop with alternating kicks and swats from a wooden paddle.

condindock - noun.  The oppostive of active, without being inactive; a state of laziness characterized by doing something meaningless while avoiding actual work.

swartful - noun (1) or adjective (2).   1. A powerful martial arts move involving simultaneous headbutt and throat-strike.  Hand over my money, or I'll do you a swartful.   2.  Exceedingly difficult to enact, yet final.  As in "Howling, he struck a swartful blow, and into the pit the beast did go", in the children's rhyme.

gesterammer - noun.  A houseguest who doesn’t actually know anybody, but stays anyway; ie, a party-crasher who somehow spends the night on your sofa.

murdstaked - adjective.  Covered completely in dried dung.  "The savages stepped out of the mist, murdstaked and hungry for blood-glory."

hoofilly - adverb.  Moving as a hoofil does, with elbows bent akimbo and forelimbs flapping wildly.

prodler - noun.  A criminal who dresses and acts as a normal person, but is compelled to reveal himself to be a villain mid-crime.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adventuring Chefs

"So let me get this straight.  This guy wants to not only sponsor the expedition to find the gargoyle lair, he wants to come along?"
"Yep.  He says he prefers to kill his own food..."

The Adventuring Chef seeks out new flavors in the wilderness, searching for exotic flora and fauna which he then kills and uses in his groundbreaking recipes.  He's no snooty school-cook - he'd much prefer to be tooling around with a group of adventurers, living off the land, and hacking at weird beasties with a meat-cleaver.

"An otyugh, you say?  I've never had one of those.  Suppose it might go nice with some saffron."

I watch a lot of cooking shows, so it should come as no surprise that I've been contemplating the idea of an adventuring Chef class for some time.  It's a ridiculous concept, of course, but that's why Wampus Country is probably the best place for it; the Chef is somewhere between Man Vs Wild and Man Vs Food, tromping through unexplored hexes looking for something novel to stab and barbecue.

You can check out the current version here.  It's a cleric variant, essentially.  Will it still look like this by the time it makes it into the Wampus Country Alamanac?  No idea.  Some folks have suggested adding some details on food preservation and storage, or tweaking the way casting works; I'll play with it now and again and see what comes out at the end of the process.  It still needs a "potion-making" power, probably at about level 5, so the Chef can make a certain amount of permanent, transferable items.

"I ain't gonna lie, I swiped a piece of that goblin king and frizzled it up with herb butter."

As a bonus to the Adventuring Chef, here's a random table of types of food preparation (there is a meat bias).  You might be able to use it for...  wow, I have no idea.  The request of a decadent noble?  Means of artifact destruction?  Potion preparation by witches?  You'll come up with something.

1 - grill
2 - pan-fry
3 - roast
4 - deep-fry
5 - boil
6 - bake
7 - broil
8 - ceviche
9 - marinate
10 - steam
11 - simmer
12 - braise
13 - blanche
14 - saute
15 - caramelize
16 - sear
17 - barbecue
18 - spit / rotisserie
19 - poach
20 - infuse
21 - coddle
22 - smother
23 - smoke
24 - salt
25 - bain-marie
26 - stuff
27 - press
28 - grate
29 - grind
30 - raw

Oh, and if you play a Chef, this list of utensils might come in handy.

No snarky caption required.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Crumbling Epoch

Andrew over at Fictive Fantasies has released Crumbling Epoch, which takes a stripped-down variant of B/X and does some interesting things with it.  Full disclosure: Andrew included some reskinned spells from the Wampus Country Arcane Abecediary in this bad boy, so I'm less than objective.  The game's pitch follows in italics:

The gods have left, magic has been reinvented when the old powers burned out, and humanity has survived multiple extinction-level events. There are five classes, including humans touched by the divine, and weak-blooded vampires called Thirsters. Fighters can focus on weapons and armor, or reflexes and style. Wizards use their life energy to fuel their potent magic. Anyone can use armor and weapons in this dangerous world.

This simple game has 12 pages of rules, and the rest is support. There are no attributes, one saving throw roll, and damage-reducing armor–a whole new flavor. Here you will find all you need to run a dungeon crawl without a DM, all on a 2 page spread, for 2 settings! Quick-start tools for a campaign world include a region generator, a religion generator, and a unique monster builder. Several examples of play help grasp the new rhythm of the rules. Finally, each class in the book comes with a Pocket Mod character sheet, so a quick-start game has sheets for the players with rule summaries and class-specific information!

Other fine writers contributed to this game. The appendices include three classes to allow play in Jack Shear’s Devilmount, along with his essay explaining Lumpen-Ones. An adapted spellbook from Wampus Country, based on Erik Jensen’s work, expands what spells wizards can find.

Crumbling Epoch is several things at once.  First, it's a game system that resembles B/X but isn't B/X by a long shot.  Andrew has made some fairly major changes in this area - primarily to combat, which feels more like Tunnels & Trolls in some ways by abstracting an exchange into an opposed roll, and armor soaks damage instead of helping you avoid it.  Saving throws always have a roll-under target of your level plus four, but the size of the die changes based on the difficulty of the threat.  There is a basic skill system, and a surprising amount of detail on encumbrance and stealth.  I knew Andrew was working on a "stripped" B/X, and here it looks like he ran with some very different ideas as far as the underlying engines of the game.  However, everything in Crumbling Epoch is set up so you can use it effortlessly with classic D&D adventures without conversion (or at least, anything beyond on-the-fly adjustments).  The entire ruleset is only a dozen pages and covers a lot of ground, including converting D&D monsters to CE.

The book is also an implicit setting - well, two, really.  Crumbling Epoch features a dying-earth type setting, but we don't have pages of prose or history.  Instead, the setting is reflected throughout the rules in the available classes (which include a vampire-type and a martial artist), the language list (which gives us an idea of the kinds of creatures around these parts), and so forth.  Reading the rules for special weapons, we can see that this world has blackpowder firearms.  There is also an appendix which covers using Crumbling Epoch to run Jack Shear's Devilmount megadungeon, complete with CE rules for the races featured in that setting and some new tidbits from Jack.

Hidden gems lie in the appendices to Crumbling Epoch (and I'm not just saying that because that's where the Wampus spells are).  You'll find some nice table-systems for generating a geographic region and the quirks of a religion here, both of which are nonmechanical and system-agnostic.  Then come the adventures, which are difficult to describe.  Andrew fits each into two pages, describing an entire adventure area, its denizens (including their stats and a line of hit points to use if you need to), and more.  The two adventure areas given (Warren of the Murder Diggers, and Death On Ice) are more like cheat-sheets for crafting your own adventure based on the 'zone' Andrew has created; these are followed by an example using the Warren and a map to gin up a night's worth of excitement.  It is specifically suggested that these adventure layouts can be used for solo or GM-less adventuring as well, and they'd make good Mythic Emulator fodder for sure.

Andrew follows this up with a monster generator, an alternate skill system, and the aforementioned redone Wampus spells (all told, there are a lot of spells in this thing - and I should note that this appendix has all the spells reskinned/rethemed to suit the Crumbling Epoch setting).  Then, to put it over the top, the final appendices are a lengthy example of running CE combat, and the entire CE rules in pocketmod format for you to print and fold.  Very cool.

All in all, there's a lot of content in Crumbling Epoch.  Inveterate rules-tinkerers will enjoy the included variants for their own sake; others may like the implicit setting or the supplemental Devilmount material.  For my part, I'm intrigued by the adventure formatting in CE - I think I could grab either of these and riff an entire night's session pretty easily.  And there's more in the works for the game as we speak.

Did I mention it was "pay what you want"?  Yeah, go get it.

Check out Crumbling Epoch and Andrew's other work (there's a ton of it!) over at Fictive Fantasies.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

There Is A Season


Let's talk about turning.  Not the wonky mechanic, but the philosophy behind the whole 'turn undead' shindig.  If we do this right, it'll be essentially edition-agnostic, because we don't care about how turning is done, just where we aim it.

Even without 2nd Edition's specialty priests coming along, the idea of turning something besides undead makes good sense; it's just a question of how to fit it into the game without throwing every other assumption out of whack, or overpowering a cleric, or underpowering a cleric.  It's easy to get behind the idea of the fire-priest turning a water elemental - the question is how to do it without making it, or something else, suck.

Here's the thing we sometimes forget about turn undead: it's not about alignment - not really.  Sure, we associate turning the undead with "good guy priests" and hanging out with (and creating) the undead with "bad guy priests", but that's secondary.  Somewhere in the reams of Forgotten Ravenloft there is a Neutral Good elf-lich whose poise, sheer force of will, and stunning fashion sense allow him to be a "good guy" even though he's undead.  Besides, we're talking primarily about Labyrinth Lord here, so we're looking at turning as super-basic, without all that later kibble.  We'll start simple and go from there.  And by "simple", I mean "D&D cosmology", so if that stuff freaks you out, grab a drink.  A lot of this might elicit a big "duh", but I'm walking through it anyway.

Turning is about opposition.  Life versus death in the classic setup; actually, it's more like Life versus Unlife, really, in the sense that big-D Death is part of the natural cycle, whereas Baron Von Killabride is decidedly out of whack with the way things are Meant To Be.  So when we're talking about opposition, the elements are a natural thing to conjure up (ha!).  Here's a way to do element-turning without too much mechanical weirdness.


An elemental cleric is just like a vanilla cleric, except instead of turning undead (and later infernal stuff in LL), they can turn the opposing element.  Sounds simple, is pretty simple.  Here's a picture!
Forget the Great Wheel; here's the Cosmic Donut.

The classic pic above shows us the classical four elements as well as the para-elements that lurk between them.  If you're not familiar with para-elements, it's pretty self explanatory - magma is earth plus fire, and so on.  But we can arbitrarily make the whole thing more complex, if we like...
click to cast Enlarge.  Dig that Planescape font!
Pretty much the same setup, only they've added the Positive and Negative Energy planes, as well as the quasi-elemental planes (which exist where the Big Four touch either the Positive or Negative).  Let's walk through a hypothetical elemental turning system using this map as a reference.

Suppose you roll up a cleric, decide to name him Pyro and make him a Fire Cleric.  Pyro's deity (or pantheon, or saint, or whatever - it's your campaign) is associated with Fire, so Pyro is as well.  This means he'll probably get along with Fire elemental creatures and might be able to speak to them, but that's not what we don't care about that right now - we care about what Pyro can turn, and that's Water elemental creatures.  Water is the OPPOSING element.  For simplicity's sake, we'll assume Pyro can also turn elemental creatures from areas adjacent to Water (Ice, Ooze, Salt, Steam), but maybe at a minus since those creatures aren't entirely composed of water-energy (or whatever).  Whether that's a minus to his effective turning level or to his die roll is a DM call - I don't want to get into mechanics, just philosophical blahblah.

So at first level Pyro can turn Water element creatures, and by that we mean creatures actually composed of water elemental energy - water elementals, water weirds, that sort of thing.  Not mermaids, not giant crabs - unless they hail from the Plane of Water, in which case maybe he can (and maybe then at a minus if you want).  We're also assuming we're going on a by-Hit-Dice ranking on the turning table at this point, of course.  Pyro's lifelong rival, the Water priest Lord Moist, can turn Fire creatures, probably including efreet, but maybe not salamanders and azer and stuff (unless you want him to, and then at a minus perhaps).  Got it?

There's a problem with this setup.  First, unless you're running a campaign where there are a lot of elementals around, Pyro is a chump for swapping his undead-turning for water-elemental-turning.  You may have to be more liberal with your definitions to make the power feel "right".  Secondly, what about the other elements - in this case Air and Earth?  And the other para-quasi-elements?

How about at a certain character level - I'd say sixth, you might want it higher - Pyro can start turning Air and Earth creatures just like he does Water dudes, albeit at a lower turning level (say five levels lower?).  Okay, now we're starting to get more use out of this elemental stuff - as Pyro gains levels he's a badass against Water stuff, and has an additional, diminished capability against Air and Earth.  I'm still working on the assumption that anything which is Fire or part-Fire is going to be treated more like a "friendly" much of the time (after all, Vanilla Clerics don't get to Turn the Living) so Pyro can't turn them.  We can call them allied or COMPANION elements or whatever.

Here's the breakout for how I'd try it:

REACTION BONUS and/or SPEECH with HOME element and COMPANION elements.
TURN the OPPOSING element (and its COMPANION elements) as a cleric of your level.
TURN all OTHER elements as a cleric of your level minus five.

Obviously, an elemental cleric would need a tweaked spell selection to support the flavor.

This all seems pretty simple, really.  Now comes the fun part - applying it to other things.

Any time you have four things in opposition across a table like the classical elements, you can do the same thing.  You can do it with Derleth-style Cthulhu stuff.  You could do with with fairy stuff (replace the four elements with Winter (Unseelie), Spring, Summer (Seelie), Autumn and you're good to go.  You could even shift the chart around or change turning effectiveness as an adventure hook ("Haven't you heard?  The oracles at the basilica say that the Archduke of Smoke has betrayed the Firelord and thrown his lot in with the Empress of the Air...").

Only have three major powers in your campaign?  Think of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Imagine these are the three deities or cosmic forces of your campaign setting.  Each one turns in one direction, and is turned by the force behind them.  In your sword-and-sorcery campaign it might be Grogo the Spider King, Zazzagaz the Ooze Queen, and Pho Sho the Faceless Sky-Hawk.  Spider turns Ooze, Ooze turns Hawk, Hawk turns Spider, and thus is the cosmic balance maintained.  (If you need to print out the Lizard-Spock diagram to run your campaign, you may have gone too far).  It's even easier with just two Powers - Light and Dark, or Rainbows and Shadows, or Ahriman and Ahura-Mazda...

Now, what about campaigns where evil priests can use their 'turn' ability to command the undead?  I see that as a function of alignment, not the life/undeath axis, and we can try applying it the same way to the elemental setup.  In other words, Pyro (the good guy) cannot rebuke/command fire elementals, because he's a good guy and they don't do that.  Lord Moist, however, is Chaotic Evil (that's some nasty water, y'all) and has no problem using the turning table to rebuke/command water elementals.  Evil has no problem pushing people around.  Just use whatever rules you're already using and slide it over to the elements.

If you want to go even more campaign-specific, you can adapt the turning tables to apply to completely different stuff.  In a post-apocalyptic setting, maybe the technopriest can turn androids or something.  For example, in Wampus Country, we have the (Lawful) Church of the White Mouse.  Their god is a mouse, they think of themselves as (metaphorically) mice, etc.  By rights they ought to be turning rats and cats, their in-setting enemies.  So let's do that - at first level a Mouse-priest can turn rats instead of undead; at sixth, they can do cats (at a lower level of effectiveness).  Bizarre, but it should work.  Oh, they'll laugh at him until he turns a room full of were-rats...actually, being able to turn rats and giant rats is pretty badass at low levels.

If this all seems too underpowered, treat it like they do the "favored enemies" in 3rd Edition.  At various levels, let the cleric pick up another creature type they can turn (albeit at reduced power).  Note that this can get really weird.

In a forthcoming post we'll explore using the turning mechanic more broadly still, by moving the focus of the turning action from the cleric to the monster, and a marginally-fiddly try-it-out system for applying turning to devils and demons beyond that "Infernal" line on the chart.

Regrets of a Plane-Hopping Mole-Man

FLAILSNAILS Theatre presents...  Bumphrey's Lament

In which a mole-man begins to acknowledge that he has become a murderhobo.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I was a soldier - trained as a sapper. We were at war, and I had no qualms about killing. Give me a rifle and I’ll do my part. Maybe I wasn’t the most effective killer in our outfit - I mostly did the cooking and washing-up - but when push came to shove, I got stuck in with the gang, and I took my share of tangoes.

Then I got lost. Not just time-tossed and shoved back and forth across a dozen worlds, but really and truly lost. Maybe I lost my mind, I’m not sure.

I guess it makes sense that, having grown up in Avalon, idolizing the messenger-knights there, I would start thinking I could be a knight. After all, here I was, bouncing around these different places surrounded by serious adventuring knight-types with their chain mail and their swords. Maybe I could be a knight, too...

But knights don’t do the things they did. The things I did. In the hunger for security, pushed ever-forward by the thrill of the chase, we did some bad things. I don’t mean the killing - I’m still pretty sure I never swung on anyone who didn’t deserve it. I mean the destruction, the not-caring. Kicking over altars of known gods just to see if there’s treasure beneath. Not sticking around after a crisis to help people rebuild.

There have been high points. I think I do better when I stay in one place a while, build relationships, remind myself to care about strangers. I’m proud of some of the work I’ve done on Kalak-Nur, and helping out with things in Barovania was good. Yet there have also been low points. I regret that we fled that vampire’s cave - I didn’t even realize the cleric was down at the time, and we should not have left him there, and giving money to the temple of Apollo there will not bring him back or assuage my guilt for long. I’ve no pride in recalling my time in the company of cutthroats - and that damnable demonologist - that got us trapped on the Purple Planet for a time. I don’t enjoy thinking about the companions I took when delving Castle Tract, or the jobs I worked for the Vory gangsters on the Apollyon. I even have a gang tattoo. We search shit-crusted latrines in case they have pennies in them! I feel like a homeless drug addict. My mother would not recognize the mole I’ve become.

Especially lately, since poking around with ancient sea-magic a few weeks ago got me turned into a woman. Well, not into, exactly - it’s more like my mind in one of my companion’s bodies. And someone else’s mind operating my little mole body. Right now I’m a young girl, and the muscles of this body seem to remember her breaking-and-entering skills. And it’s going to stay that way until the curse is broken - whether I’m there or not. I should’ve stuck around to finish the job, but I think I panicked. Suddenly having bazooms messes with your head.

So now I’m sitting here in a tavern after spending the evening in the company of a reprehensible warrior and his freaky china-doll assistant, both of whom I’m pretty sure worship some kind of devil-thing from Beyond Time or whatever. I watched them coerce a simpleton ogre into destroying an altar to known, licit gods. And I didn’t say a word. I never say a word, because I know they would murder me. I’m an adult mole living a life bounded by the fear of being murdered by people I call my friends.

They are not my friends.

Look, I’ve done some amazing things, really memorable things - those frost titans come to mind. But I’ve also gotten myself Very Nearly Killed two dozen times. What the hell am I doing? Tromping around in black plate mail, charging in headlong? I mean really, black armor? I wouldn’t feel so bad about being the door-kicker if I felt that my companions actually had my back half the time.

I feel like I need to atone for so many things, and I don’t know where to start. I’m not even in my proper body. What if I’m stuck in this body? What if I’m a lady for the rest of my days? This is an untenable situation. I’ve spent weeks trying to bathe and use the bathroom without actually looking at my own body, it’s pretty much impossible. Feels like somebody’s trying to teach me a lesson. And I hope I’m not too stupid to learn it.

If I could just get back into my proper furry little body, I could start over. Give it another shot at being the mole I’m supposed to be. I don’t shy away from battle, but that’s not who I am. I want to help people, and do right by them and Heaven both.

Some problems are only solved by getting drunk and passing out in a church.

Will Bumphrey get his own body back?  Will he change his murderhobo ways, or simply drown his doubts in booze?  Only the chaotic winds of FLAILSNAILS know...tune in next time!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Achieve Mediocrity Today!

Apparently there is filthy lucre to be made not only in the RPG industry, but in the meta-RPG-industry.  Pursuant to this discovery, I hereby offer my own secrets to RPG writing success (cost reduced from $77 to abso-freaking-lutely free).

in just a few simple steps!

1) Learn to embrace the "NFA" principle - Never Finish Anything!  Come up with several good ideas every few weeks.  Blog about one-third of them, and studiously fail to write the rest of them down.  It is imperative that only the ideas you have while sitting in front of the laptop are actually developed or shared - that half-a-kernel of an adventure you somehow manifested while on the crapper at work should never see the light of day, even though it's far superior to your last dozen blogposts.  Bounce from one campaign idea to the next, while you're at it.

2) Neglect to write for weeks at a time.  Ignore your blog completely if possible, and definitely don't write a little bit each day like you're building some kind of skill.  Ridiculous.  Ten thousand hours to become good at something?  Who has that kind of time.  Not this guy.

3) Don't read anything.  Stop reading evocative fiction and inspirational nonfiction.  Definitely do not invest twenty minutes of your precious time to transfer things from a dying RSS reader to a new one; in this manner, you will almost completely stop reading other people's rpg blogs.  Rediscover your ability to watch entire seasons of television shows in one go (thanks, Netflix!).

4) When you're spending time with your family, daydream about writing; when alone with the laptop, make excuses about being tired or needing to spend more time with your family.  At no point should you actually be writing anything on a regular schedule or dedicating time to the task.

5) Market yourself by ignoring rpg forums and limiting your public interaction to leaving snarky comments on other people's G+ posts.  In this way you're sure to build a reputation as a knowledgeable gamer.

6)  Start huge.  Learning skills on a small project first is for sissies.

"You may refer to me as an author, although I prefer the title 'game designer' - or, when I'm feeling cheeky, 'creative'. "

Okay, now the serious stuff - besides the complete opposite of the above, of course.  I do all of those things - sometimes occasionally, often habitually.  And they are horrible habits for someone who wants to be a writer, or wants to pretend to want to be a writer.

Here's the one thing I'm maybe good at when it comes to pursuing rpg fame and fortune.  It's a well-kept secret.  Ready for some wisdom?

Run your damn game, and play in games other people run.

Play, play, play.  Run, run, run.  Fight the excuses you make and run your damn game.  I can't tell you how many Fridays I've stumbled home from work and said to Mrs. Wampus, "I dunno, sweetie, I'm pretty tired.  I wonder if I should cancel game tonight."  And every time she replies, "You don't have game for another five hours.  Eat, relax, and wait for the second wind."  If you don't have a top-notch spouse like I do, learn to give yourself similar good advice.  You will gain more insight from actually running your game than you will from poring over blogposts and old forum navel-gazing.

The thing is, you can talk all you want about being a gamer and loving games, and how you want to design games and maybe publish them and this and that.  But if you aren't actually playing games, it's all meaningless.

Of course I want to get something out the door, in print.  It'll come.  But worrying about it and making excuses isn't going to bring that day any closer.  It's like when I was a kid and used to enjoy fantasizing about running a restaurant.  Then you come to find out "cooking takes real practice and art and incredible discipline" and "running a business is a huge damn deal that involves math".  I no longer want to run a restaurant after coming to realize I just really liked eating.  So I'll never have any Michelin stars or own a restaurant, but you know what?  I like to mess around in the kitchen, and I get a kick out of seeing people's faces when they're enjoying food I made.

Same thing with gaming, I guess.  Now, I'm going to keep screwing around in the kitchen, and some of this stuff may come out weird, or burnt, or underdone.  But one of these days I hope I serve up something that makes some people smile, because that's the whole point.

Bon appetit!