Thursday, April 29, 2021

aka 'Scrumberlands'

 I'm hoping to run Wampus Country - in particular the Lumberlands - at a number of virtual cons this year, and the season is upon us.  First up was ScrumCon, a wonderful local con that I've enjoyed attending in recent years.  To prepare for it, I did a couple of things.  First, I committed to the bit - all my con games this "season" will be Lumberlands, and they'll all be wilderness exploration using the low-prep tables in the book.  That's the whole point of the Lumberlands book, you're supposed to be able to use it at the table or for quick pre-session prep.

The next thing I needed was pregenerated characters.  Since I was running in B/X this go-round, I invested some time in writing up six pregens, all first level:

Hugo, a fighter

Red Rae, a thief

Olga von Sprinkle, a cleric

the Radical Razmatazz, a magic-user

Needles, a dwarf

Pvt. Hambone, a dog

Hand-drawn character sheets, y'all

As I wrote them up, I ensured they matched with the stellar illustrations Alex Damaceno did for Lumberlands (I did not have illos for Needles or Hambone - perhaps later this year).  I resolved to use these pregens throughout the summer, and further, to advance them as they gained xp through play - even if that meant they advanced unevenly.

The Sunday of ScrumCon arrived, and it was time to kick the tires on the Lumberlands book.  About half an hour before game-time, I prepped some content.  Grabbing a sheet of paper, I put the starting town of Squeamish at the bottom, and then drew three vectors coming out of it to the NW, straight N, and NE.  Along these vectors, some circles representing points of a pointcrawl, and links from side to side.  At the end of each vector, I made a note on a destination, corresponding to a rumor.  If they chased the sasquatch rumor, they'd go this way, etc.  Then I used the encounter tables in the book to roll an encounter for each point.  Lumberlands includes critters, carnivorous plants, NPCs, and other assorted weirdness, so there was a decent mix of "stuff" on the pointcrawl map by the end of it.

We had five players, so every PC save Olga was chosen (a first-level cleric in B/X doesn't get a spell, I wonder if that was a factor).  They elected to head northeast, pursuing rumors that might lead to the secret squirrel city high in the trees.  Along the way they dealt with things like:

* a weird reverse-gravity area

* a headless ghost

* man-eating plants

* warring gangs of lumberjacks

...and a couple other things as well (critters!).  I don't want to spoil the tables too much by reciting everything that happened, but they survived and even thrived (and were unafraid to run away when necessary).  At one point they encountered some squirrels, and stole - or maybe traded for - a mysterious package one squirrel carried.  Within the folded oak-leaf was a piece of magically-charged root.  When Razmatazz chewed the enchanted root, I rolled on a table to see what knowledge it contained (certain magic trees containing memories and knowledge is one of the central gimmicks of the Lumberlands), and surprise surprise, I rolled that the root contained a secret the imbiber sought... so of course that was the location of the squirrel city.  Jackpot!  The PCs sought out the city and managed to parley with the squirrels there for a bit before we wrapped the session.

I think it all worked nicely as a con session and allowed the players to explore the highlights of the Lumberlands setting.  A pleasing conclusion!  I still need to assign and track xp for the session.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Professor Bindlestaff

Sometimes I see random things and like to use them as writing prompts.  My younger son used to have a particular alphabet book that always amused me because I saw the juxtapositions of the words on each page and wanted to try to make them into spells or monsters - I think they were mostly animals, so it was probably monsters I was imagining.  That book has disappeared (does your house-with-small-child work like that, too?), but the Little Boy recently picked out a dry-erase writing-practice book that also had juxtaposed words. Thus, the below.

Selections from Professor Bindlestaff’s Meandering Book of Somewhat Practical Enchantment

The visionary wandering wizard known as “Professor” Bindlestaff was, in his day, considered the clear authority on spontaneous magical glyphs, and invented many of those which are today used with regularity.  Throughout his peripatetic existence, Bindlestaff encountered all manner of lesser-known magical items and strange critters across the breadth of Wampus Country, and he took notes on a few in his one published work.

Ant acorn.  A figure of dubious power, appearing to be a palm-sized ant made out of acorns and twigs. The ant acorn may be commanded to burrow into the earth, transforming over three rounds into a majestic oak tree.  Among the leaves and branches of that oak will be 2d6 magical +1 arrows which can be easily plucked.  Each year, in perpetuity, the oak tree has a 10% chance of producing one new +1 arrow.  Further, if the oak is felled and its wood carved into a breastplate or shield, it will naturally be proof against insects - not just termites, but improving the wearer’s armor class against (even giant) insect attacks by +4.

Bee ball.  A bronze ball, fitting easily in the palm, cast with relief images of numerous bees; two different command words are inscribed in tiny print.  The bee ball can be invoked once per day by speaking the appropriate command word and hurling the ball at the ground.  The first effect summons a swarm of angry bees who will remain for 4+1d6 rounds and follow the wielder’s command. The second effect summons helpful bees who can shape themselves into the equivalent of a Tenser’s Floating Disc (cast at 12th level).

Crab duck.  Bindlestaff tried desperately to draw this critter in his notebook, but kept getting the angles wrong.  The crabduck is an unholy mingling of crustacean and waterfowl (see also ‘lobster-loon’) that menaces the southern shore of Shining Lake.  A bit larger than a standard duck, the armored crabduck has massive crab claws instead of duck-wings, and six webbed duckfeet allowing it to swim quite handily above or below the water.  The claw- and breast-meat of the crabduck are said to be quite delicious, and according to legend, he who sups upon crab-duck will have pleasant dreams.  (Eating crab-duck meat provides extra protection against nightmares, dream-domination, and the charm and fear effects of nocturnal critters).

Elephant fork.  This enchanted silver fork, emblazoned with a heraldic pachyderm, bears a simple yet unusual magical effect: it allows the user to take bites of food which are twenty or thirty times larger than usual.  An entire haunch of venison, down in one bite, for example.  The food is digested normally, and some intestinal distress may occur if the fork is used to enable overeating.  Although not mentioned in the text, the rumor is that Bindlestaff himself owned such a fork, and at one point during the siege of Starling Castle he gave it to a summoned xorn and commanded the beast to go eat the fortifications.  Oh, you’ve never heard of Starling Castle?  See, that’s why.

Giraffe glasses.  These spectacles are carved from giraffe bones and bear lightly-tinted green lenses.  When worn, the wearer can see as though he were four times taller than normal, allowing him to peek into second-story windows and over walls and hedges.  That’s it.  Not everything is a wand of fireballs.  Bindlestaff writes that although he could not be certain, he thought the glasses he examined may have had a secondary enchantment that allowed the wearer to speak the secret love language of giraffes (probably allowing a bonus when attempting to charm or convince them, among other possibilities).

Heart hat.   Once properly attuned to the owner, this chapeaux doubles as the wearer’s actual heart; that organ and the magic hat are inextricably linked, at any distance.  Applying a healing spell or other touch enchantment to the hat will target the owner.  Damage inflicted on the hat will be critically carried to the owner.  However, death of the owner does not intrinsically destroy the hat.  In fact, the hat can be used as an appropriate necromantic focus in lieu of the owner’s body for purposes of resurrection, speaking with the dead, and so forth.  The hat remains attuned to the previous owner, no matter the passage of years, until someone else puts it on.

Iguana Jump.  The particular example of a leaping lizard blade owned by Bindlestaff, in form much like a lightly-curved shortsword bearing etchings of a tipsy iguana along the blade.  Like all leaping lizard swords, Iguana Jump was +2 to hit and damage, and in the hands of an orphan allowed the casting of jump (caster level as character level) thrice per day.

Kite lion.  No doubt a relative of the much-storied paper tiger, the kite lion is a diamond-shaped origami man-eater which can flit about on the breeze and swoop down quite rapaciously upon its quarry.  The kite lion preys chiefly upon paper goods, and finds spellbooks and hand-drawn maps particularly delicious.  Bindlestaff himself recoiled as the kite lion attacked, not realizing the beast was going after the scroll-cases in his pack; the kite lion made off with weeks’ worth of work.  Based on Bindlestaff’s sketch, the creature was nearly the size of a normal lion, and flew at quite a speed.

Moon mop.  In the hands of a practitioner of magic, the moon mop can soak up pools of moonlight from the ground and then be wrung out into a bucket.  The liquified moonlight has myriad magical applications, as you well know, but if consumed straight, as a potion, the moonlight will heal 2d6+1 hp per dose.  Liquid moonlight may also cause damage to lycanthropes or trigger their transformation.

Necklace net.  Once a common item created by the Lakeborn and sometimes given to their agents, this choker looks like a fishnet of interlocked colored string.  The wearer can snap off the net and hurl it, causing it to expand into a dangerous binding net which counts as a web spell (caster level 5th) save that instead of appearing as a sticky arthropod product, it is instead a seaweed-choked antique fisherman’s net (random boot optional).  The necklace net is a one-use item, and it dissolves into fragrant chum at the end of its efficacy.

Owl pencil.  Bindlestaff only ever saw one of these, but presumed more existed - a wooden writing-implement filled with a “lead” composed of powdered owl-bones, dyed a deep crimson with the blood of an unknown critter.  Given the magical potency of the item, Bindlestaff supposed the skeletal powder was obtained not from a mundane owl, but one of the ancient owl-sorcerers who once ruled Wampus Country in antiquity.  The owl pencil can be used by any caster to inscribe a magical scroll of any spell he knows; said spell, when read from the scroll, has a 25% chance of having maximum efficacy in any variable of casting (range, damage, duration, etc).  The pencil has enough “lead” to inscribe a total of fifteen spell levels of scroll, then is exhausted.

Quilt rocks.  Sewn from fabric woven from cryosphinx wool and decorated in bright geometric patterns, these irregular spheres look like lopsided baseballs or rocks made out of grandma’s favorite blanket.  The quilt rocks (usually found in groups of 1d4+1) are very light when held, and quite squishy like a stuffed animal.  They have the curious property that when held in the hand, their weight is that of cloth and batting, but at all other times they are as heavy as a rock twice their size.  This feature allows the quilt rocks to be easily thrown as weapons, inflicting 1d6+1 points of damage to their target.  

Star spider.  Although it may sound like a horrible creature from the outer dark, in truth the star spider is an animated, five-legged trivet which has the ability to spider climb at will.  In addition, whatever object is placed up on the trivet - a fern in a planter, a plate of scrambled eggs, a spellbook - will adhere nicely to the trivet even when the star spider perches on a wall or upside-down on the ceiling.  The star spider is a construct and cannot speak.  The gravity-manipulating magic within the micro-golem is very temperamental; the nearby presence of any other levitation, gravity, or similar magic will disrupt (80%) or violently reverse (20%)   the star spider’s clinging ability.

Tiger turtle.  Also known as the snapping-cat, this house-cat sized critter makes a fine familiar.  It has a turtle’s shell and water-loving nature, but a tigerlike head and webbed, clawed paws.  The tail is a tiny, striped nubbin.  The tiger turtle is comically slow, even in the water, and - like some housecats - seems to spend most of the day asleep, but is totally content to snore away in a backpack much of the time so long as it is regularly fed smelts, kippers, anchovies or the like (preferably canned and as salty/disgusting as possible).  A happy, well-fed tiger turtle familiar grants its companion the singular ability to exude from the palms, once per day, a caustic solvent (“terrapintine”) that can disrupt or erase a magical glyph or warding-circle with a single swipe of the hand.  Bindlestaff surmises that glands from the critter could certainly be used in the construction of “something wicked big”, such as a staff of the magi.

Unicorn violin.  It takes an entire unicorn to make a violin; the neck is the alicorn, the body is part of the skull (with the eyes as sound-holes), and instead of catgut, luxurious hair from the unicorn’s mane is strung.  The instrument is decorated with a rainbow of colorful swirls, and produces a sweet tone without requiring any tuning.  When played, the magic of the unicorn violin restores the virginity of all females (of any species) within thirty feet.  Existing children do not wink out of existence, but any current pregnancies are mystically erased (somewhere in the Pit, a new lemure shows up), and fertilized eggs become unfertilized.

Whale x-ray fish.  Another Lakeborn gimmick, this time one of Wampus Country’s infamous figurines of dubious power.  This soapstone orca, carved in rustic style, has a cavernous open mouth and a semiprecious stone (typically a lapis) marking the whale’s blow-hole.  When the owner squints and looks into the whale’s mouth, he can see out the blow-hole as though wearing a ring of x-ray vision.  In an emergency, the whale’s owner can utter the command word inscribed along the roof of the sculpture’s mouth, and transform the whale x-ray fish into an actual immense whale, which heeds commands, for one hour before terminally collapsing into approximately one ton of delicious chocolate fudge.

Yak yarn.  This yarn is created from the wool of certain yak-men whose menace is well-known throughout the multiverse; there was once a colony of these nefarious humanoids in Wampus Country.  The yarn itself is enchanted, of course, but does not reach its real potential until it is crafted into a different form.  Crocheting it into a length of rope may create a rope of climbing; using ancient macrame techniques could yield an enchanted net, or a hat or coif.  The final enchantment of the product cannot be controlled by the knitter, but if a particular magic item is considered common, it is more likely to be produced.  Beware bizarre results!  Once transformed, the item cannot be unraveled back into yak yarn.

Zebra zipper.  A metal zipper sewn into a scrap of striped cloth, the zebra zipper has remarkable transformational power.  The owner holds the textile to their belly and slowly closes the zipper while thinking about zebras; in the space of a single round, they are polymorphed into an adult zebra.  The only downside is that to transform back, they will need the aid of a second party who can reach under the zebra’s belly and unzip the zipper, ending the spell.  Some examples of zebra zippers (25%) can also transform the user into a zebra-hippocamp or a zebra-pegasus.  While in zebroid form, the owner of the zebra zipper has statistics appropriate to their new form.