Saturday, February 27, 2021

Strawberry Fields Forever

Something terrifying is growing near the village of Snailshingle; something other that threatens to consume the town...

The Situation

On the southern shore of Shining Lake sits Snailshingle, a picturesque village known only for the beautiful and tasty abalone found in their waters.  Locals harvest the plentiful snails for meat, and to use their iridescent lavender shells in jewelry-making.  There was a small problem a few years ago when one of the snails grew quite large and intelligent, but rather than let him start to think of himself as king of the snails, the savvy villagers taught him about adventuring and barrow-delving, equipped him with top-notch gear, and sent him on his way, apprenticed to a group of mercenaries that were passing through. Today, the charismatic whelk called Lawrence of the Lute is considered a local hero, and he even owns a stake in the pub that overlooks the beach.

Beyond the pink stucco walls of the tiny homes of Snailshingle are a series of gentle hills which were once host to surprisingly soft fescue that bore a faint cinnamon scent.  Today, however, those hills smell chiefly of strawberry - for they are covered with massive strawberry plants which seemingly came out of nowhere, sprouting and spreading over several weeks last Spring.

The folk of Wampus Country are a food-focused people, so you can imagine that the Snailshinglers rapidly descended on the newly-grown strawberry plants, seeking to harvest the succulent, sweet fruit the moment it was suitably large and red.  Tragically, the harvest went the other direction.  First, several villagers were found passed out at the edge of the strawberry patch; a few days later, the first corpse was discovered.  Word spread quickly - the strawberries were not to be plucked.  A party was dispatched to burn the strawberry field, but they retreated back to the town after two of their number started to bleed from their ears and collapsed.  One thing was certain: something was protecting the strawberries.  After a town meeting, a fence was erected some distance from the edge of the field, surrounding it.  The local priests march to the field each day and hurl blessings over the fence, in hopes of stemming the tide of the strawberry plants.

The Truth

The strawberries now grow plump and crimson year-round.  Those who touch the fruit immediately lose 2d4 hit points via blood loss, as the flesh of the hungry vampire strawberries rapidly exsanguinates them.  Hostile movements toward the plants invite psychic attack from the hive-consciousness among the strawberry plants.

The interconnected plant colony is - or perhaps was - a visitor from another plane or timeline, an intelligent strawberry plant of considerable psychic power.  Arriving in Wampus Country by unknown means, it planted itself and began to spawn... resulting in the current situation outside Snailshingle.  The underlying intelligence can probably be contacted via speak with plants - it can no longer utter humanoid tongues.  If contacted and negotiated with, the genius-intelligence plant may be convinced to be less dangerous to the villagers, but in exchange it will want assistance in investigating this world, reproducing peacefully, and achieving its own goals.  The strawberry-creature is capable of growing a pseudo-humanoid body in a matter of days, and investing it with a portion of its life force and mind.  This creature may make a fair sidekick for the right frontiersman.  Alternately, the plant-creature might be convinced, cajoled, or bullied into calving off a piece of itself into the shape of some other animal - a steed, a wolf, or even a hawk - to serve as a mount, companion, or familiar.

Creation notes: To give an impression of how we come up with things around here, this blogpost has its origin in the five-year-old saying something random about a 'vampire strawberry'.  The fifteen-year-old riffed on this, musing that a vampire strawberry would better be deemed a 'suckleberry'.  Fair point.  Contemplating this, I remembered a mutant strawberry plant I played in a Metamorphosis Alpha game at North Texas RPGCon... and thus we have a blogpost.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Myriad of Goats

 In antiquity, much of what is today called the Wampus Country was the subject of contention between several on-again-off-again empires, known to us as the Peacock Throne and the Great Eye.  As the battle lines - and lines of cultural influence - shifted back and forth across centuries, the relics and influence of both empires remain throughout Wampus, dotting the landscape here and there with barrows, mounds, crumbled ruins reclaimed by the forest, and so forth.

One legacy of the Great Eye culture is the presence, and influence, of goats.  We know from illustrations on stelae that the warriors of the Great Eye rode massive dire goats into battle, and it seems the literal and figurative descendants of these proud goats are still with us today.

Who doesn't like goats, after all?

The Gunkey

In the north of Wampus Country, there exists a breed of creature called the gunkey.  Whether it truly contains the blood of both goat and donkey, as its name implies, is arguable; what is not up for debate is that the gunkey is perhaps the most intelligent non-talking goat-creature in Wampus Country.  Renown for their hardiness and loyalty, the gunkey is favored as a mount and pack animal throughout the Lumberlands and points north in the Snowdeeps (where long-furred gunkies have been successfully crossbred to have "a smidge of aurochs" in them).  The gunkey may even be distantly related to the "something between a ram and a mountain goat" animals the ice dwarves use as mounts and working-animals in the region around Rimespire.


Goats bred for intelligence in Thistlemarch have, in the past few years, made their way further afield, and have become a favored accessory of some frontiersmen and explorers.  Smarter than a dog, and willing to eat basically anything, the guard-goat pays for itself very quickly.  It's possible that goats in general were once much smarter than they are today, and this particular breeding program woke up slumbering talents.


Tombs of the Great Eye culture sometimes feature massive stone goats, intricately carved and glyphed, in which are entombed warriors of repute or members of royal lineages.  While Professor Goldthimble refers to such constructions as "cabraform burial statuary" in his monograph Fascinating Distasteful Funereal Practices Of Our Antecedents, the tomb-robbing community knows them simply as "sarcophagoats".  These stone goats sometimes house the restless dead, or are magically-animated statues.  On occasion, they are both, with a hinged lid popping open to grant the entombed armored wight within the ability to hop out and ride the stone-golem goat in bloody pursuit of vengeance against those who disturbed its rest.  I am told there is a small tomb on the southern shore of Shining Lake which contains similar ancient constructions in the shape of a goose, but I have not visited that site yet myself to independently confirm.


Less numerous than they once were, three-headed monsters remain a threat in the wilderness.  The wizards of the Peacock Throne knew them as chimerae, and described in more than one codex the combination of heads common during their period (lion, snollygoster, goat).  Some scholars today presume such passages are metaphorical and describe a political alliance between three other kingdoms (with the goat representing the Great Eye, perhaps), but it is a well known fact that scholars today lack imagination, and spend their days competing for institutional grant money by inventing novel facts which they hope are less interesting (and therefore more prestigious) than those crafted by their rivals.  Regardless, we know three-headed, flying predator critters to be real because we occasionally see them in flight or terrorizing a farm.  It seems far more likely that these chimera are critters of chaotic bloodline, and their heads need not be heritable or even sensical.  A wizard of Dropfinger Pass, in the far north, reports having a tussle with a white-furred chimera which bore the heads of a polar bear, a mountain goat, and a cross-eyed ermine.  If accounts such as this one are to be believed, then the chimera likely manifests heads based on its place of birth (or hatching), or conception.  We might presume a desert-welling chimera could have the heads of a jackal, gila monster, and serval.  The premier newspaper out of Thistlemarch published a story several years back about a chimera with three turkey-heads, but we may attribute that strange mutation to the fact that the turkimera's belly contained an enchanted purple chicken, doubtless the cause of the beast's poultrification. 


Once thought a threat of a bygone era, in recent years we have heard more new reports of goat-man activity in the east.  These barbaric, goat-headed, cloven-hoofed bipeds are considered dangerous servants of Chaos and Death.  Goat-folk are sometimes found in league with cruel and evil minotaurs, cannibal porcs (pig-men), and other nefarious humanoids which ought to be edible domesticated farm animals but which are most certainly not.  One of the holy texts of the Scorpion Church speaks of a time under the Peacock Throne when these species were slave-races, who rose up against their human masters and embraced the service of a dark god.  The pig-men think this deity to be pig-headed and call him Porcus; you can imagine the goats and minotaurs have similar biases toward their own kine.  At any rate, the hoof-cults of the sub-men believe their time for empire is nigh, and some cells have begun to act toward that end.  It is further rumored that advanced goat-men of particular psychic talent can speak to and command any creature bearing a goat-head (cf. chimerae, above).  The enduring variety of the hoof-cults suggests that somewhere, right now, there are evil sheep-men sharpening weapons and contemplating our extinction.

Ghouts (Horned Ghouls)

No less a respected personage than the explorer-wizard Unctuous Rambunctious tells us one further secret of the death-cults of the sub-men: the existence of a class of ghouls who serve the Hoofed God, and have the heads and/or horns of goats.  The aforementioned magic-user tangled with a pack of these "ghouts" last year in a barrow-mound near Saltvale whilst he was giving chase to a rapscallion who owed the wizard money and thought a barrow might be a safe place to hide.  More the fool, he, for he was torn apart by ghouts, and now serves out his time as a legless ghoul chained to Rambunctious' tower wall.  Ghouts, we are told, may look like undead goat-folk, or more like the standard fanged ghoul, with tiny 'button' horns the only clue as to their allegiance.  Rambunctious has vowed to continue researching the topic, but is currently of the opinion that the ghouts are neither ghouls gone goat nor goats gone ghoul, instead being something in-between, existing in the middle of the goat-ghoul continuum.  The wizard has exchanged several letters with another sorcerer in Dawn Valley who claims to be an expert on thouls, but the two have not yet had the chance to confer in person.

Wild goats of the mountains have been known to deliberately sharpen their horns against rocks, making them in to wicked scythes.  Wild goats also like angry music.

Full credit to Chris (player of Go-Boom) for coining the word 'sarcophagoat'.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Critter Gitters: Housekeeping


Pips Mulligan, halfling gunslinger

Umber-Hulk Hogan, beetle-man wrestler

Go-Boom, turtle tinkerer

Josshua, lizard wizard 

Pips, Hulk, Go-Boom, and Josshua, after working together to build/install the wrestling ring Hulk wanted in their new subterranean digs, realize there are some loose ends down there.  It's Go-Boom and Josshua's first time in the chambers beneath the tower, and they are very quickly appalled at the fact that the Gitters left the place insecure.

First, the quartet investigates the rat tunnels, encountering some giant ("Baltimore-sized") rats which are quickly dispatched.  The tunnels seem to go on a long way, it's quite a maze and probably a significant nest, so rather than try to fit further into rapidly-shrinking rat tunnels, Josshua uses magic to collapse the tunnels.  The group spends a day cleaning up some of the major rooms to prep them for regular habitation.  There's a lot of talk about using the immense room as a wrestling arena (with an audience), and the adjacent room as a bar.  Go-Boom suggests pushing together all the sarcophagi to use as a fashionable bartop.  Note that the Gitters are wary about opening the sarcophagi, and have yet to do so.  The last time I used this module, that group was afraid to open them as well.  What gives, modern player?

Next they investigate the underground lake.  I'm using The Ruined Tower of Zenopus here, but rather than have the edge of the map poke out into a sea cave, since we're definitely inland it is instead a large cavern with an subterranean lake, leading to a system of underground rivers.  Plenty of opportunity for spelunking, and they have the map in Lord Halitosis' spellbook to intrigue them...

They lack a boat, so rather than getting a boat before investigating, Josshua uses shape water to make an ice bridge so they can walk out a good ways into the dark lake and see what's what.  Doing so, they learn of the underground river, then return to the beach.  A mystery for another time, perhaps, but they aren't 100% certain where they are on the map as a starting point.  The original Critter Gitters have forgotten that they were told the old tower was the 'Tower of Zenopus'...

They resolve to ask the enchanted Brazen Head in the dungeon, and the Head confirms that this, indeed, is what remains of the Tower of Zenopus.  So now they know generally where they are on the map, and they resolve to get a boat in time, but they start to get worried about that 'Citadel of the Ghouls' entry so close to their current position.

It dawns on them that on the original sortie into the dungeon, they did engage some ghouls in one room, and heading over there they are reminded of the door that led to an earthen tunnel (which they had noped out of previously).  Probable ghouls?  They gird their loins and head in, and almost immediately they are hit with the scent of rotting meat.

The tunnel descends and they find themselves in a new part of the complex (I scrambled to grab a Dyson Logos map!), where they can hear ritual chanting up ahead.  Comprehend languages tells them the chant has something to do with 'rising' and 'conquest' - always good to know. The prospect of a dozen voices did not frighten them, but they did jaunt down a side passage first, encountering a lone ghoul who was wearing some mismatched armor and carrying weapons.  He was easily dealt with but they knew now these were no ordinary ghouls, perhaps.  

In an instant they can hear the chanting has stopped, and realize that the reports from Pips' pistols has alerted the complex to their presence.  The Gitters move to the next room, trying to throw a magic earthen barricade behind them.  In a moment, they have a pack of ghouls charging at them from around one tunnel-corner, and another group trying to claw through their earthworks behind them.

Comment: ghouls in 5e are either really scary (ie you have a low-level, crap-AC party) or not scary at all (you have a low-to-mid-level, high-AC party).  We have the latter.  Go-Boom and Hulk stand shoulder-to-shoulder as a bulwark against the eight ghouls at the south end, take almost no damage, and supported by Josshua's magic, destroy those ghouls.  The remaining ghouls at the north end retreat, scurrying into the darkness. At the south door, something heavy is dragged to block it from the other side as the ghouls pull back, but Go-Boom isn't having it - he uses his considerable strength to force that door open, and three more ghouls are destroyed as the combat continues.

A voice rasps out from the shadows, offering a chest (really a foot locker) the ghouls have left over by the stairs in exchange for the interlopers' departure.  The Critter Gitters aren't buying it, and resolve to push onward into the Citadel of the Ghouls...meanwhile the voice that was leading the ritual chant previously maneuvers around to a different room to fetch the [REDACTED] for the coming violence...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Trident Bay: Glittering In A Starless Sea

 Carrying the Eye of the Leviathan with them, the Company of the Black Pearl (now joined by ranger Little Crow) set out into the wilderness to seek fortune and glory.  I'd thought the campaign might have a more maritime bent, but these cats were determined to avoid even the beach.

The four companions find their way to a ruined keep, and quickly deduce that it is held by some of the rapacious goat-men that have been sighted in the region.  Welcome to Sailors on the Starless Sea, adventurers...   They scout the grounds, do the usual, and eventually end up in the subterranean chambers beneath the keep, where the chaotic goat-men are attempting - nay, succeeding - in raising a lesser daemon-type chaos champion-thing.  There's even a convenient ziggurat for a climactic battle, which the Company wins.  I think Sailors is well-enough known that I don't need to go into it too much - it's a fine adventure (a bit linear once you hit the underground, but so be it).

Of note, since I was running the adventure modified for these 5e characters - now 3rd level or something - there were some consequences of my choices in play.  First, for this run I kept the goat-folk's original hp, despite the PCs not being zero or first level.  I call this the "paper people" implementation, and it definitely lets PCs mow through minion-like baddies when it's appropriate.  I also use this gimmick pretty extensively in the duet campaign I run for my son.  On top of this, you have 5e spellcasters in the party, so by the time we were doing the ziggurat encounter, one of the casters - I presume Viktor - threw an enlarge on Big Derek so he could step easily up the step-pyramid and powerfully bat goatboys into the water.  Pretty neat scene that I wouldn't have predicted - and that's why we play, right?

At the end of that session, the Company is in a dragon-headed boat being pushed out into a subterranean lake - the eponymous sea.  I had them went their way through various tunnels on an underground river until they could sail no more in a ship of that size.  The PCs were beached, with two obvious choices (besides try to head back, of course): on the left, a boarded-up tunnel with warning signs about danger and certain death.  On the right, what looked to be the remains of the entrance to a probably-dwarven mining facility, long-abandoned.  Electing to explore the abandoned mining facility, the Company of the Black Pearl walked into Glitterdoom, albeit on a lower level instead of at the surface, and they proceed to explore that location sort-of backward.

Glitterdoom is a Goodman Games 5e adventure by Michael Curtis that involves ghost-dwarves and greed.  It's straightforward in setup but there are definitely options to explore in playing it.  It's the only one of the Goodman 5e modules I've run, so I can't much compare it to the others, but I think it's a good 5e adventure overall.

By they time they escape the haunted mine, they're a little roughed up and have actually missed the Medium Bad in the adventure...although they do come back later.  And they return to that keep again later, as well, since they deliberately skipped the Scary Devil Church upon the surface.  This is an aspect of the player-driven campaign that perhaps we don't see much in a forced narrative game - the players have the ability to return to previously-explored places at any time.  And when the Company of the Black Pearl returns to the keep, they make it their own... but that's a tale for another time.

Can I take a moment to whine about the Goodman 5e adventure covers?  I hate them.  It's not a technical thing, it's the fact that someone chose to make them all NPC (or PC) headshots instead of action shots.  The first handful of covers don't necessarily have much to do with the adventure within, so I was definitely convinced that Goodman was using up headshot paintings to which he already had the rights.  Later covers are obviously painted based on the content of the module, but they're still...headshots.  I just don't get it.  Why doesn't Glitterdoom have a badass ghost dwarf on the cover?

Monday, February 15, 2021

Mascot Monday: The Maw of Justice

 The past several years have been a little rough in some parts of Wampus Country.  You'll hear the wizards admit, when in their cups, that Chaos seems to be on the rise here and there; and reports roll in periodically from far and wide that some Old Thing has woken up, or the land has shifted more than it usually does.  Chaos, indeed.

It's in times like these that we frontier gentlefolk would do well to remember that although we are beset upon by gribbly bits of the Outer Dark from time to time, there are also supernatural forces of Order and Law out there which - while not exactly nice people - do stand astride the river of entropic collapse and shout "hey, what gives?"  Today we cover one such scion of Law.  

Magh-Rouf, the Maw of Justice

An ancient and terrible spirit, Magh-Rouf despises disorder, chaos, and crime, and manifests in Wampus Country (and no doubt other worlds) to combat those forces of entropy.  Magh-Rouf is that implacable force which restores order by swallowing whole those creatures of chaos and cruelty that dare wander from their prescribed demesnes.  The avatar of Magh-Rouf appears as a canine-headed man of grim demeanor, cloaked in a dun longcoat.  Magh-Rouf directs his retinue and devotees to act unceasingly against demons and devils of all sorts, but he reserves his special hatred for rakshasas - creatures of Law twisted to deviltry.

Those Who Follow Magh-Rouf

On occasion, Magh-Rouf inspires devotion in those who see him in visions, or spy his invisible paw manipulating fortune in the cause of true justice.  The followers of Magh-Rouf - often wizards, fallen priests of other faiths, or even directly-invested fancy modern warlock-types - will meander the realm, seeking crimes to investigate.  Some favor the garb of their lord - long coats in neutral colors, typically emblazoned with protective sigils on the inside lining.  Spellcasters who align themselves with Magh-Rouf - always of Lawful alignment, of course - will be granted access (via dreams and signs) to several common spells of a protective or abjurative nature as they prove their devotion.  They may also be granted the ability to speak with canines, gifted a speaking canine familiar, or, eventually, to shapeshift into a dog themselves.   Any humanoid who has been a praiseworthy servant of Magh-Rouf for six months may choose to count as a dog for all magical purposes. Most Magh-Roufians know the formula to craft a delectable hallucinogenic tidbit which acts as a remove fear spell upon those canines who consume one.

Lothar's Ferocious Dog (level 2 spell)

This conjuration/summoning spell, created by Magh-Rouf devotee Lothar Ramelle, summons forth one or more angry, drooling dogs of substantial size (as guard dogs of max hp).  The dogs appear within five feet of the caster, and will happily follow his verbal commands according to their Intelligence and Wisdom of 13, remaining until destroyed, dismissed, or until one round per caster level have passed.  The dogs can track as a ranger of a level equal to the number of dogs summoned.  The number of dogs summoned is calculated thusly according to the known mantras of Magh-Rouf; one dog, plus:

Magh-Rouf Rewards Loyalty: +1  per character level the caster has been a devotee of Magh-Rouf

Magh-Rouf Knows His Own: +1 if the character is them self a dog, or in a canid form currently

Magh-Rouf Loves The Dog-Coin: +1 if the caster carries upon them the symbol of Magh-Rouf (a platinum coin stamped or etched with the face of a dog)

Magh-Rouf Hates The Devil-Cats: double the number of dogs summoned if there is an enemy rakshasa within 120 feet.

Spell Commentary: This incantation seems underpowered for a one-off, until you realize that a sixth-level dogfolk devotee of Magh-Rouf can quickly throw eighteen german shepherds at a rakshasa.  That's got to be worth something, right?

The ancient spirit Magh-Rouf has little patience for disorder.

An ecstatic of Magh-Rouf, his familiar, and his long-suffering adventuring party.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Tokens of Love

 In the Long Ago, when the tumbleweed deserts of Wampus Country were known as the Painlands, and iron-thewed warriors crushed the skulls of rival city-states under their sandalled feet, True Love seemed but a myth.  The world was primarily composed of the base elements of misery and suffering, even after civilizing forces like the Empire of Koz ruled from horizon to horizon -- what time was there for even the most pedestrian love, let alone something mythic and compelling?  Into such an existence came the experimental art of love sorcery!  Dangerous, volatile, difficult to harness - but impressively powerful when carefully cultivated and aimed, love sorcery was popular as a fad among the wizards of the Painlands for nearly a generation before fading into obscurity.

The basic art required as a focus a token of love.  This object could be a piece of jewelry, a perfumed scarf, lock of hair, a cameo, or even a morbid relic of a lover; whatever its material form, the token of love had to be invested over weeks with the emotional charge of a properly-inspired lover (not necessarily the caster creating the talisman).  Soaking in tears, direct exposure to erotic moments, sitting in a brazier which burns a stack of love letters - all possible methods of infusing energy into the token via sympathetic magic.  What few records we have from that time period suggest that while most tokens of love were charged up with ongoing, romantic love between two partners, there is passing mention of tokens based on unrequited love and even filial love.  A token of love does not last forever, for it is but a representation of the love; the token must be recharged every 90 days to retain its functionality.

Once the talisman is suitably invested, and the spellcaster has attuned himself to it for several days' time, then the token of love has three powers:

Cupid Speech - While holding or wearing the token of love, the bearer (who need not be a spellcaster) can speak to spirits of love and similar supernatural creatures associated with romantic love.

Love's True Face - While holding or wearing the token of love, the bearer will always recognize their love and cannot be deceived in this way by disguise or illusion - they will always see their love, even if shapeshifted, etc.

Sorceries of Love -  The token of love can be used to learn (via ecstasy), memorize, and cast certain spells of love sorcery, learned no doubt from love spirits (cupids and so forth).  Despite the name 'love sorcery', typically these spells do not create or catalyze romantic love - instead the love in the token is used to fuel completely different, often defensive, spell effects.  Examples of love sorcery spells alluded to in the recently-unearthed Codex of the Broken Heart follow; different versions of them may have borne different names in antiquity.

Love Gun (level 1)

The caster makes the traditional wizard's 'gun fingers' gesture with the token of love clasped in one hand, and aims at a target capable of love within sixty feet, then triggers the evocation with one or more pelvic thrusts.  A blast of pink or reddish eldritch energy flies forth from the casters' fingers and inflicts 2d4+caster level psychic damage to the target, no to-hit roll necessary.  If the target's lover is within one mile, they, too, will suffer 1d4+caster level points of psychic damage.  Be careful you don't assault a town guard and accidentally murder his wife four streets over.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot (level 1)

Holding the token of love against their heart (even if it's already hanging there on a chain; you need to use one hand to keep this spell going), the caster calls upon the powers of love to preserve them from harm.  So long as the caster is holding the token thusly and concentrating, his armor class against ranged attacks (including magical attacks which require a to-hit roll) is improved by 4.  A level 4 version of this spell, supposedly called Love Is A Battlefield, extends the protective effect to four willing creatures who remain within five feet of the caster.

I Want to Know What Love Is (level 2)

The caster holds the token of love between both palms as if in prayer and concentrates on a sentient creature within 120 feet.  After several rounds of concentration, aligning their love chakra with those of the target, the caster may then use the token of love to "dowse" for the target's actual lover, true love, or unrequited love (the caster does not choose; the spirits of love will lead you).  This spell acts otherwise as a Locate Object spell, with similar duration.

Love Will Tear Us Apart (level 2)

Presenting the token of love with a forceful thrusting motion, the caster telekinetically shoves one target (typically an ally) up to (caster level x 5 feet) away.  Said target receives a save vs spell to resist, but if the target is an ally and the caster is acting to protect the target (ie to push it out of range of an incoming fireball or similar), the save is at -4.  The spell will not function on targets that weigh more than twice as much as the caster (no shoving iron golems).  Rumors suggest this spell has a reversed version that will, in fact, Keep Us Together.

What Is Love?  (level 3)

Another defensive sorcery, this incantation requires that the caster place the token of love in their trousers or skirts, and rhythmically bob their head with a force sufficient to addle the brain.  For a number of rounds equal to the caster's level, they are immune to pain (but still take damage) and resist all fear and charm effects (including the pain of romantic rejection) - continual movement of the body and head are required to keep up the spell.  The caster may extend the protective aura to one willing companion within five feet if the target also performs the necessary ritual movements.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Critter Gitters: Emasculating the Krampus

 D&D is a weird game.  And bizarre things inevitably happen in it, unless you're constraining your genre and players so tightly as to prevent that kind of stuff.

This rundown contains SPOILERS for The Old God's Return.  You have been warned.

Last week the Critter Gitters (five of them, anyway - Okrem the rogue is on the shelf for now) finally went after the flying iceberg, which is now a good bit further south than when they first encountered it.  Luckily it doesn't move that quickly, and they had air transport in the form of Kipper's dirigible.  The party now owes Kipper two favors to be named later.  This will be useful to me, the DM, in inserting any old scenario I like down the line...

They fly to the iceberg scout the top, seeing the top of the ancient ziggurat poking though the ice.  Jossshua the lizard wizard sends his owl familiar (dubbed "Owl Roker" by me since the player didn't have a name on tap) to fly up to the open, dark doorway and see what's what.  Poor Owl Roker is immediately ventilated by a series of thrown knives.  Goodbye, Owl Roker.  This is 5e, so he's basically a Pokemon, and Jossshua doesn't lose a point of CON, but we do take a moment to point out familiar loss as a Bad Thing.

The Critter Gitters hop off the gondola of the dirigible and take positions around the door, supporting Hogan's charge inside.  He's immediately engaged by three ice-gnome-looking dudes, who eventually got referred to as "frigid midgets", later elided to "fridgets".  They aren't difficult to deal with, and fall apart into crushed ice when slain.

Down into the ziggurat!  A chamber full of creepy pine trees that whisper horrible things, and then another fight with fridgets (wielding icicle javelins) and a large goat-ish dude that the Gitters immediately assume is some kind of Krampus - and so he is.  Did I mention this was the winter holiday session that they'd been dodging?  Mid-combat they learn that the Krampus has a sack which easily swallows people up (Jossshua loses a summoned creature this way - you do not want to work for this wizard if you're a conjured critter, it doesn't end well.)

At the end of this combat - disappointed that the magic of the sack seems to lie with the Krampus himself and not with the sack (sorry, looters), Pips Mulligan the halfling immediately declares he wants to butcher the Krampus and take the parts which he deems are likely to have magical or mundane value - to wit, the horns, fangs, and manhood.  Okey-dokes.

In another chamber, the Gitters find a dead wizard entombed in the ice.  Seeking to free the corpse (and the amulet around its neck) using fire magic, they trigger an ancient protection spell that summons a lesser spirit in the shape of an icy mantis (this is all in the adventure - Michael Curtis is good about predicting what most groups will attempt, and writes accordingly).  It's demon fightin' time!  The Gitters are banged up but victorious, and continue onward...

Reaching the final room, they find the horrible (un?)dead reindeer proto-deity-demon-thing perched on a throne of rough-hewn stone.  Before throwing down, warlock Fear-Not parleys with the thing.  He's out of spell slots, and the terrible reindeer can sense it (after all, this thing probably had warlocks of its own, the last time it was awake)... Awful Reindeer suggests that if HE were Fear-Not's patron, the warlock would not have nearly died that time, or been returned to life with a tomato for a head (for that is what happened).  The creature offers succor to Fear-Not and all those who swear into his service, and hands Fear-Not a baby's soul like it was an hors d'oeuvre.  

Without hesitation, Fear-Not eats the baby.  I say "okay, you get a spell slot back instantly".  Then combat breaks out as the other PCs have had quite enough of this nonsense.  Later in the combat, Fear-Not burns that one spell slot to attack the Awful Reindeer, so there's a smidge of irony there I suppose.  The fridgets in attendance are slaughtered, and when the second Krampus bodyguard is felled, Pips once again goes straight for the genitals.  Because once you have one Krampus pizzle, of course you want a second one ("Gotta geld 'em all"), and Pips muses aloud that maybe the party wizards can make them into gun-barrels for him. When the Gitters finally kill the damn thing, the iceberg and ziggurat start to fall apart... you know how this goes.  Book it for the exit, and get the heck out of there.

Back in town, we wrap the session (leaving poor Go-Boom the artificer a mere 27xp from leveling, how delicious) and I ask for downtime actions.  Most of them are research-oriented; the ancient pictographs in the ziggurat, the strange pine needles they collected, and...what can you make out of Krampus dong. 

I gave them several options for what minor magical uses a Krampus bit might have.  Including, of course, what it would take to work both of them together to make an enchanted blunderbuss.  I suspect they'll bite on that offer and want to invest the time and resources into that; the temptation is surely too strong.

D&D is a weird game.

Poor stupid Krampus doesn't know what fate has in store for him.  
(art by Doug Kovacs)

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Trident Bay: Company of the Black Pearl

 I know we're padding content with session reports and look-backs, but I have a lot of catching up to do.

Several years back I started a 5e campaign called 'Trident Bay' with a group of gamers I'd known for ages and ages - guys I'd been playing with off and on for thirty years.  The point of the run was to get together with these folks, about once a month, and blow a weekend afternoon like we used to back in the late 80s/early 90s.  We'd use D&D 5e because we were all interested in giving it a proper shakedown, and I resolved to try to use a combination of Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures and OSR/TSR stuff as the skeleton.

Was Trident Bay in continuity with Wampus Country?  Maybe.  Yes.  We'll address that ongoing question in a later post.  The region was a bigass horseshoe shape around a large bay, the vibe was low medieval / sword-and-sorcery, and the religious setup was basically a tweaked Roman pantheon (the setting postulated a war between Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, with Neptune winning the war and becoming the new god-king of both sky and sea).  I had previously run con-games and public-play in sort-of-this-setting - sessions of Under the Waterless Sea, The Sea-Queen Escapes, Adrift on the Sea of Love (from Gus at Dungeon of Signs), and even B4 The Lost City.

The characters:

Big Derek (aka Derek the Impetuous).  Brash fighter.

Brother Shin.  Idealistic priest of Neptune Triumphant.

Victor.  Warlock, accompanied by his lecherous imp, Zup.  Victor had been an acolyte of Selene (moon goddess) before falling under the spell of his current patron, who we think might be the dark side of the moon - Hecate or similar.  It was an ongoing mystery.

Little Crow.  Joined several sessions in.  Ranger.  Accompanied by his haughty/delusional pet crow, Falcon.

Now I might get some of these sessions out of order...this is why DMs should take good notes.  I also talked about some of these adventures on my now-classic podcast, Tales of Valor & Sorcery (find it wherever podcasts dwell), a broadcast so timely and beloved that all seven episodes still exist on the internet.

The first session, I used Tower of the Black Pearl, a DCC joint by Harley Stroh.  Destitute and packed to the gills with both wanderlust and the youthful impression of invincibility, Derek, Shin, and Victor follow weird rumors to check out a tower that rises out of the sea only once every umpty-ump years.  They fight pirates and some other lingering critters, but most importantly, they make off with the Black Pearl.  In fact, they name themselves the Company of the Black Pearl, after this first big score together.

SPOILERS...Here's the thing about the pearl, as depicted in the adventure.  It has a magic power worth keeping around, BUT it also attracts the attention of every evil thing in the land.  Well, there's the campaign right there, at least until they dump the pearl, right?  MEANWHILE, dark forces are rising - because they're always rising - in the form of some nasty chaos goatmen and minotaurs, basically evil livestock as far as the eye can see.  It's coming.

So they know the pearl is Big Magic, but not exactly what it does or its origin, so they set off to find a wizard who can take a look at the thing.  They end up in the village of Tealeaf, where they've been told multiple wizard-types reside.  Cue Three Sad Wizards, an OSR adventure about the eponymous wizards who have each been kicked out of their suitably-themed residence by something different.  The Company of the Black Pearl agrees to work to reclaim the wizard-homes in exchange for whatever the wizbangers can tell them about the bigass pearl.

Three Sad Wizards is basically three small locations; one is bug-themed, one plant-themed, and one bird-themed.  Across two sessions the Company hustles their way through all three.  They solve/botch the bird house, failing to save a certain apprentice from peril but reclaiming the house.  The plant house?  Fire was their friend as they old-schooled their way through the garden (thank Big Derek for that).  And at the bug house, they ended up surrendering the house over to the new occupant, a rather scary lady spider.  A mixed bag of results, but they did their best.  In return, the wizards tell them that the pearl is probably the Eye of the Leviathan, a dangerous artifact of Long Ago - something that can protect them but will also be coveted by great evil.  Satisfied, the heroes bed down for the night in Tealeaf, and wake the next morning to find two of the wizards have been murdered overnight, apparently by one of the wizards' apprentices, who has since absconded.  Deciding it isn't their problem, the PCs promise to keep an eye out, and leave town seeking further fortune.

NEXT: Sailors on the Starless Sea, and Carnival of the Damned

Three Sad Wizards; now Two Dead Wizards and One Really Depressed Wizard Rethinking His Surprisingly Dangerous Lifestyle

Tragically, no elves were stabbed during our run of this adventure.