Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Starling & Birch

 Out beyond Flower-Town you'll eventually come upon a village that some folks call Two Churches; others refer to the place as Starling-Town, or Birchville, and that's the crux of the problem.

Two Churches was founded when a wagon train of settlers, trudging through scrub hills, beleaguered and heel-bitten by gnoll raiders for days, came upon a flourishing birch tree with a big fat starling in its branches.  Taking it as a sign of arable land and the potential for rain, they settled (that's what settlers do).  Unfortunately, the two clerics on the wagon train had different interpretations of the miracle: one thought the tree more significant, and the other, the bird.

Now, forty years later, Two Churches is exactly that - a village with two near-identical churches, one at either end of the main street.  The two congregations don't even disagree with each other on much, save the bird/tree conundrum, but they've spent four decades backbiting (politely) and trying to poach one another's parishioners.  At times it got contentious, but thankfully it's never yet escalated to violence; currently there is a truce, some unwritten rules, and general peace.  At least, until some strangers wander through and screw it up (that's what strangers do).

In the center of town lies a cleared spot where once there had been plans to erect a statue of the tree with the bird in it.  Predictably, squabbles began about the relative size of the birch and the starling, and about how they should be colored and detailed...and the project was abandoned.  The blank space is considered slightly-holy by the townsfolk, and nobody walks on that circle of grass.  Perhaps someday, they'll come to agreement and get that statue.

At the north end of town is the Church of Perpetual Hope, a steepled wooden structure in white with blue shingles run by Father Ignatius Rompers (Lawful fifth-level cleric).  Ignatius, a pointy-nosed man in his sixties, wears his beard bushy and his hair slicked straight back with the aid of a cheap pomade that smells like a hospital.  His beady grey eyes cast suspicion wantonly around the room, uninvited, but so powerful is his air of derision that he causes people to remember something minor they did wrong years ago.  Ignatius resents Father Carl's cheerful nature and considers it all a big put-on - nobody could be that happy, it's all a work.  Father Ignatius is unmarried but of late is considering his chances with the widow Dank. (1)  Ignatius is a respectable, skilled cleric of Law who could likely teach a cleric a bird-themed spell or ritual.

At the south end of town sits the Church of Everlasting Aspirations, a steepled wooden structure in white with green shingles run by Father Carl Hardskiffle (Lawful fifth-level cleric).  Carl is portly, bespectacled, and sausage-fingered; his few remaining wisps of white hair leap outward from his shiny pate like dandelion seeds.  Always ready with a laugh, Father Carl is a skilled dobro player, and knows many popular songs (including "The Potbelly Mining Disaster" and "Under Lulubelle's Sundress").  Carl was once married, back in his adventuring days, but his wife left him after a caper Carl refers to as The Affair Of The Mummy's Curse (whether he means this to indicate that his wife cheated on him with a mummy is still unrevealed).  In his youth, Father Carl was a fighting-cleric who served as an acolyte under the famous Father Cornelius (who fought at Cenotaph Canyon and later came out of retirement as an elderly man, started adventuring again, and was tragically killed at a jousting tournament).  One of Carl's prizes from that time yet hangs in his cedar closet: an enchanted buckskin jacket of free action, stunningly beaded in the style of the Red Sky People (2).  Carl is an affable, gregarious cleric of Law who could likely teach a cleric a plant-themed spell or ritual.

Visitors to the town will likely be wooed by both congregations, in hopes of getting them to sign "the book" as non-resident parishioners and giving one church a meaningless numbers advantage (until the next group of strangers pass through).  Friendly townsfolk will accost visitors at the stables, or at the lobby of the Blueberry Hotel (really more of a low-rent inn), offering anecdotes on how "nice" their church is.  Most will not denigrate the other church directly - after all, they have friends in that flock, or perhaps they themselves were once a member.  It's a war of niceness.  A visitor who is convincingly torn between the two equally-appealing options will find himself invited to a string of spaghetti dinners and bingo nights without end, as the Starling and the Birch attempt to woo him.  And if he drops hints about possibly building a home in town, and becoming a resident?  Palpable escalation!  Non-resident parishioners are all well and good, saving souls and all that, but the prestige of tilting the accounts by adding a real-life, gonna-live-here parishioner?  It would be the talk of the town for days.

Everyone in Two Churches suspects that one day - possibly soon given the ages of the good Fathers - only one cleric will remain, and the churches will unify.  Due to the truce, neither cleric has taken on an acolyte, so nobody currently exists to take over either Perpetual Hope or Everlasting Aspirations upon the untimely (or predictable) expiration of its good shepherd.  Certainly, however, any visiting cleric who spoke too loosely about founding a third church in Two Churches would be run out of town, and there's little chance of any other subtle cult gaining a foothold here. (3)


1. Mrs. Frangelyne Dank, in her early fifties, has been widowed since early winter when her late husband Scooter was eaten in one gulp by a particularly large specimen of tusked grizzly.  Although the widow Dank would consider remarriage - even to Ignatius Rompers - she is convinced that she cannot even entertain such ideas until her dear husband's body is put to rest with a proper burial.  Scooter's corpse was never recovered, and hunters still sometimes spy the grizzly stumbling about with distended belly, moaning softy in pain.  You see, Scooter always wore his father's boots - a pair of hydra-skin cowboy boots of protection +1 and acid resistance.  Thus the poor grizzly has been largely unable to digest or break down Scooter at all, and has been carrying Scooter's body around in its gut for about four months now, with little prospect of a meaningful dump.  Perpetual Hope, indeed!  There is win-win-win-win potential here for clever visitors to Two Churches: slay (or assist) the grizzly, recover the magic boots, free Frangelyne to marry Father Ignatius, and so forth.

2. So distinctive is the beading-pattern that Red Sky People will recognize it as belonging to Father Carl, even if it is worn by someone else.  This might be an efficient way to get oneself righteously executed by the Red Sky People.

3. The town's apprentice baker, Stilwell Sconeworth, unfortunately came into psychic contact with something dark while hiking in the woods, and now that Idea Of A Thing dwells in the bowels of his brain (or the brains of his bowels perhaps - demonology is an inexact science).  Slowly it grows, and one day soon Stilwell will perform a small violent and unholy act, then a large one, sealing the deal.  This slow progression toward dark powers will likely end with one or both Fathers ended, serial-killer style.  If things get so bad that Stilwell vomits forth a physical manifestation of the Dark Thing - likely a shooshuva, given the history of gnolls in the hills around Two Churches - that critter from beyond can be transfixed by a stake of birchwood, or caused real pain by a starling's song.  See, just because people are stupid and like to fight over little things doesn't mean the bird-and-tree miracle wasn't real.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Tales of Organized Play, Part One

 I've been involved with several different "organized play" attempts - two D&D, one Pathfinder, and one White Wolf, plus DCC Road Crew (which only sort-of counts).  There are lessons to be learned from all of these dalliances, so I'm attempting to put down my thoughts in blogpost form.

Organized play is a weird animal in practice, but simple in concept.  You make a framework that increases "interoperability", "repeatability", and "standardization", and (in order to get those things) decreases "DM flexibility" and "player agency".  Given that setup, it could never be my first choice for a gaming fix, but it's nice to have options at a convention.

 My Forays Into the Pathfinder Society

1. The Pathfinder Society tables I sat at, both in game stores and at cons, were universally welcoming, especially considering I was never a "Pathfinder guy".  Folks were always happy to explain crunchy bits and help me make informed decisions in combat, etc.  I blogged about my first PFS experience back in 2014.

2. The Pathfinder Society games I played in online, via play-by-post, were less so.  There was definitely a cultural assumption among many of the players I encountered that characters should be fully optimized in certain ways, and my character - a rogue-leaning bard who would make a solid fifth character in many parties - was not cutting the mustard for some of them.

3. After playing several sessions at a con the first time, I felt it was worth keeping my character around so I could play him in PF events at cons as applicable - and that's what I did.  I don't remember what level he made it to, I want to say it was fourth.  If PFS at the time, three games equalled a level-up.

4. I don't remember which scenarios I played - even looking at some lists - but I definitely had some pirate-themed ones (since they were run at TridentCon), and then the online sessions were ones that involved monks and samurai I think.  I did participate in one multi-table affair that was pretty fun, and my introduction to such things.  PFS calls these "Specials" - other orgs might call it an "Epic" or a "Battle Interactive" or something else, but they all share the common setup of "something to do for low-, mid-, and high-level tables" where everything feeds into the storyline for the night.

5. Observation: While the hardcore players craved the new-season content, many of them had multiple characters and were generally eager to play "old" content as well.  I mention this because it was not the case with D&D Adventurers League.  Also note that PFS, in addition to PFS scenarios, encouraged people to run content from the Pathfinder modules and even the Adventure Paths as well - although I saw less of this in a con/store situation, given the time requirement.

Surprisingly not required.

6. PFS does a neat thing where if you don't have a PC of qualifying level, you can still play the session with an appropriate pregen.  Your PC still gets the credit for having played the adventure, but you can't use the magic item or other boon until you have a PC of appropriate level.  This meant that I could get in on games of much higher level immediately, and also that a short-handed high-level table was very content to have a relative noob sit down with a pregen (more than once was I handed the mid-level cleric as I filled an empty seat).  There was also a time when I played in a session in which everyone at the table was using special pregens - we were elemental creatures or something.  That was particularly neat because nobody was playing their standard PCs, we all had new sheets to learn, etc.

7. PFS had player factions (ie groups within the guild) that probably had secret missions and roleplay effect occasionally, but I didn't play enough to get a good look at it.

8. When Pathfinder switched over to their second edition, the org-play program rebooted completely.  No conversion of old characters, everybody starts fresh.  I can understand why they'd want to do that, but I was a little miffed that my "occasional character" was now out of play for an out-of-game reason.

9. The regular players were hardcore Paizo-heads.  The most experienced GMs had the most STUFF - minis, flip-mats, whatever.  It wasn't cult-like but there was a cultural expectation about grid play with minis, and it was supported by a fan-club acquisitive vibe.  If you have the right swag with you, you get in-game bonuses.  Yes, really.

Kudos to the Pathfinder folks in my area - they kept it friendly, welcoming, and fun throughout.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Fear the Monkeyplague

 Of late, rumors of a fresh outbreak of monkeyplague up in the Freeholder lands has caused some small concern among savvy wizards of Wampus Country.  It is believed the monkeyplague is the remnant of a failed attempt by a magic-user from the Time of Apes to create a virulent disease which would turn other humanoids into simians, in a bizarre attempt to stave off the decline of that civilization.

Two things are certain about the monkeyplague: first, that it mutates the infected to a greater or lesser degree, and second, that those who are fearful are far more likely to become infected when exposed to a carrier.

A person who spends more than five minutes or so within fifteen feet of a monkeyplague carrier must make a saving throw against a fear-like effect (depending on your local metaphysics, this could involve resisting enchantment, magic in general, or something to do with your Wisdom).  Bonuses to save versus fear or charm effects apply.  Those who succeed on the saving throw will contract a Minor Monkey Mutation which appears within 1d6 rounds, and lasts for about twelve hours.  Those who fail on the throw will contract a Major Monkey Mutation which will last permanently, or until a combination of cure disease and remove curse is laid upon the victim.  

Humans, dwarves, and halflings can definitely become infected, and will be communicable for around twelve hours.  Simians, orcs, goblins, and so on are immune to the disease.  Elves and gnomes cannot become infected by the monkeyplague due to their faerie ancestry, but can be communicable carriers for twelve to thirty-six hours.


1  MONKEYFACE.  Your head shapechanges into that of a small monkey (your choice; may I recommend one of the dapper marmosets?).  Yes, the whole head, so it’s tiny monkey head on your normal human shoulders.

2  MONKEYFEET.  Your feet painfully shapeshift so you have a thumb-toe.  These boots are ruined.  With practice you can do tricks with your feet (like throwing playing-cards into a hat), but you cannot wield weapons or use normal objects with them.

3 MONKEYTAIL.  You gain a semiprehensile tail.  It is insufficiently dextrous to use weapons or tools, but you have +3 on any checks to climb trees.

4 OOK.  Your ears enlarge slightly and grow fur, but you can now understand the tongue of the great apes.  You do not automatically speak it, but have the capacity to learn to speak it.

5 IMPROVISED WEAPONRY.   You instinctively know that you are now pretty ace at flinging poop (+5 to hit if it’s your own scat, only +2 if it’s somebody else’s).

6 HOWLER.  Your throat and lungs overdevelop, allowing you to bellow loudly and be clearly heard a mile away.

7 GIBBON IT ALL YOU GOT.  You gain the ridiculously-long arms of a gibbon, which drag on the ground.  Neither your strength nor dexterity improve.  With your arms and fingers all weird, and these janky elbows, you’re at -2 with all weapons for at least three days if you still have the arms.  

8 BARREL OF MONKEYS.  Over the next 1d10 rounds, you vomit up 1d3 spider monkeys per round.  These are normal monkeys which will scurry off and do monkey things immediately.  If it happens to be a full moon, the monkeys are winged, and fly out of your butt instead.  Either way it’s painful and embarrassing, but you suffer no harm, other than perhaps missing those monkeys once they run off.

9 MONKEYBLINDNESS. Regrettably, all simians, apes, and monkeys are now invisible to you.

10 BANANA STENCH.  You smell strongly of bananas, out to twenty or thirty feet.  Many monsters and beasts will smell you coming, or be able to follow you by smell. 


Victims of any full-shapechange result will thenceforth count as both simians and persons for the purposes of adjudicating magical effects.

1  MONKEYFORM.  You’re a small monkey now.  You can still talk, and use a dagger as a two-handed weapon.  Reduce STR, CON, and INT by 1d8 each.  You probably retain your class abilities, unless a stat drop screwed you over.

2  OLD MAN OF THE WOODS.  You are an orangutan now, with vibrant orange fur and a weird face. You gain a halfling’s ability to hide in the forest.  You may still talk and use weapons & tools normally.  If you happen to be a cleric, increase your WIS by 1 point, Doctor Zaius.

3  HUMANZEE.  You’re now mostly chimpanzee, but still a little human. Once per day you may boost your STR by 1 point for 1d4 rounds.  You can still talk and use weapons and tools normally.

4  HUMANDRILL. You are now a mandrill with a gigantic blue ass that glows faintly even in magical darkness.  You can still talk and use weapons and tools normally, but dating may be problematic outside of a major city.  With sufficient downtime and training, you can teach your gigantic ass to glow different colors in the presence of certain types of creatures (undead, orcs, lawyers, etc).

5 BOON OF THE BAB.  You are now a baboon.  You shed all your class levels and can only speak the tongue of the great apes; however, your Charisma is considered 1d6 points higher by baboons.  Soon you will gather about you a loyal troop of baboons to do with as you please.

6 AMATEUR SIMIAN.  You shapechange-regress into a lemur, bushbaby, or slow loris.  You are subject to the find familiar spell of any wizard within range, the effects of which will remain even if your monkeyplague shapeshift is cured.

7 MONKEY ON YOUR BACK.  You grow a conjoined chimp on your back; you share a spine, a nervous system, and your cardiopulmonary systems are linked.  You feel each other’s pain, and share a single pool of hit points (your current max, plus 2d8).  He is a normal chimp, and wants normal chimp things.  Your clothes and armor probably don’t fit anymore, but since you have a chimp looking behind you all the time, you’re impossible to surprise.

8 PITHEKOTOKOS.  Congratulations, you’re now pregnant with an ape baby.  No, I don’t care what your sex is.  In 1d6 weeks you will deliver a perfectly healthy su-monster which, while still considerate of its relationship with you, is irredeemably evil.

9 OOK-OOK. A slight change to your larynx and lungs, plus instantly-developed instinct, allow you to speak the language of either the great apes (70%) or the small monkeys (30%).  Once you know one, you can spend four weeks’ downtime with the appropriate critters to learn the other.

10  PRAISE HARAMBE.  You are now a noble gorilla, losing the power of speech but boosting your STR and CON by 1d4 points each.  You develop a fondness for kittens, and your alignment shifts one step toward Good or Law, as is appropriate to the campaign metaphysics.

Writes noted wizard The Magnificent Montranto in private correspondence, “It’s only a matter of time before some gang of brigands all infect each other and we have a roving gang of monkey mutants to deal with.”

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Return to the Freakness

 Once again Spring blooms in Wampus Country, and before we know it, it's time again for the running of the Freakness Stakes.  What spectacle!  What pageantry!  What an opportunity to make money or get stabbed in a crowd of drunks!

If this is your first time attending the Freakness, here are a few things you must understand:

* First, the jockeys must ride things which are not horses, and which cannot fly, and which are not man-shaped.  A triumvirate of judges look at each potential entrant, and If Your Steed Too Horsey They Kick You Off The Coursey.  Each running gets a smidge more bizarre; the days of zebras, centaurs, and skeletal horses being allowed on the field were over long ago.  If you find yourself without a more interesting mount and the Freakness is but a few weeks away, consider bribing a pink elephant or capturing a snollygoster - both are classic choices, and generally more easily available than a very-fashionable animated furniture.

* Second, the jockeys who win, place, and show are awarded bizarre magical items as prizes.  Typically these are not particularly powerful, but like many weird enchanted objects, can come in very handy in certain situations.

* Thirdly, whether you win or lose, there is significant prestige in competing and showing off your very weird mount.  If you finish the race at all, some wealthy businessman may try to purchase your steed.

* There is considerable official and unofficial gambling surrounding the Freakness, and not all of it has to do with the race itself.  You can easily get odds on which entrant will be injured first, that sort of thing.

* The Freakness Stakes is accompanied by raucous drinking and shenanigans in the infield, including the famous Outhouse Running Contest in which blotto contestants attempt to race one another across the tops of a long line of outhouses.

* In recent years it's become fashionable to wear enchanted racing livery, as follows.

Racing Livery.  A gaily-colored bespoke silken suit designed for horse-racing, and lovingly emblazoned with runes, glyphs, heraldry, and gang signs best representing the jockey for whom it was made (often a wizard themselves, or a hired halfling).  The racing livery provides a single step of armor class and may not be combined with other armor.  The enchantments on the livery allow the wearer to reroll one racing-related check per day, and provide +1 on the first saving throw made each day.  The gods are inclined to define ‘racing-related’ as including not only animal handling checks, but certain gambling ones as well, so caution is advised.

Prizes awarded at this year's Freakness Stakes include the below:

(Win) Periapt of Early Voting. This platinum pendant bears a worn cameo depicting a mule and a pachyderm in the act of mutual fellation. The wearer of the periapt automatically wins initiative in any non-combat, verbal situation, such as determining who said "shotgun" or "not it" first, or answering questions like "where shall we go to dinner?"

(Place) Epicenter Epee. In all other respects a sword +1 in the form of a fencing blade with a tiny tuning-fork mounted on the pommel, the epicenter epee has one special ability. When wielded against a creature made completely or partly of stone (ie a stone or clay golem, possibly a stone giant, living statue/caryatid, etc), the epicenter epee causes nanotectonic resonance waves in the creature (inflicting a further 2d6 sonic damage with each successful hit). If the epee ever manages to inflict five killing blows on these sorts of creature, the blade will shatter, but the remaining hilt and bell will act as a wand of earth and stone with 1d6 charges which telepathically communicates its command words to its wielder immediately.

(Show) Diadem of the Creative Minister. Placing this jewelled tiara on the brow of an an animal (including a familiar) boosts the creature's intelligence slightly and shifts its personality to enjoy problem-solving. Any critter wearing the diadem will offer fairly decent, out-of-the-box, and possibly terribly honest advice on one problem per day.

Precocious jockey 'Lil Bill' Onionsocks, winner of the Saltvale Junior Scurry just a few weeks ago, mounted astride his rallygator, Herbert.  Bred for swamp-racing across mixed courses of dry- and wetland, a properly-trained rallygator can be as speedy and responsive as any pony, with the added benefit of a congenital taste for rival children.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Thirteen Tomes

I came across the below in my files; I think I wrote it for a Secret Santicore but now I'm not sure whether it appeared or not, so here it is: Thirteen Magical Tomes. 

The Enfolding

A surprising amount of oddly-shaped vellum pages folded together into a hexagon and interleaved.  Folding and re-folding the overlapping pages in various configurations reveals new combinations of sigils and encrypted writing - including spells, observations on pandimensional tangents and astrological anomalies, and several rhyming verses which serve as songmaps to places long-hidden.  Skillful diviners may use the ritual folding and unfolding of the hexagon as an aid in predicting the future.


A heavy, square tome bound in mastodon-hide; tufts of fur along the spine are braided to make an integral bookmark.  The pages are chocolate-brown, and the words within and scribed in an opalescent white ink which contains both powder of ancient mastodon-bones, and mother-of-pearl.  The enchantments within are most ancient and savage, and deal primarily with the control of feral spirits which linger deep within the earth - shifting, predatory things that skulk in the peripheral vision of the zeitgeist and periodically attempt a bloody return to reality.

Dreams of the Traveler

Copious pencil-scrawls lurch and stumble across the dog-eared pages of a vintage repair manual for a 1967 Volkswagen bus; this tome, fallen through time or perhaps imported from another world, contains the wisdom of a great wonder-worker, as filtered through the mad ramblings of a drug-addled second party.  At first glance, the writings are primarily fiction fragments, bits of bad poetry and song lyrics, and half-remembered tales of dubious sexual conquest.  Wizards who study this book for several weeks - aided by an altered state of consciousness - may extract a number of fell sorceries and amusing enchantments, including several suitable for the use of bards specializing in six-stringed instruments.

Silent Witness

Between nondescript covers dwell beautifully-illuminated pages, with an illustration for each spell depicting its use against monsters, knights, kings, and demons.  When a spell is memorized from this tome, then used, the illustration within the book magically changes to represent the spell’s most recent use.  Typically the illumination is lavish enough to provide the context leading up to the casting.  The Silent Witness does not sugar-coat reality - the artwork will depict whatever happened, even if was a misfire or the spell was cast while fleeing.

5 Zingal’s Web

A round book decorated with spiderwebs in drizzled wax; within, each page contains a spell, written out in a spiral.  The writing is in an old script, from the time of the Priests of the Ziggurat, but most well-educated wizards should be able to puzzle it out after a few weeks of study.  The initial word in each spell, taken sequentially, tell of the demise of the book’s author, the genie-tamer Zingal, who crossed the wrong efreet noble.  

The Phoenix-Tree

This small bonsai fits in the palm of the hand, but contains volumes of wonder.  A wizard examining the tree instinctively knows which tiny branches contain which spells.  The twig-like branches must be plucked and tossed, one at a time, into a fire - the flickerings of the flame will then impart to the sorcerer the power and technique of the enchantment.  The branches will regrow quickly over the following day so long as the Phoenix-Tree is given good wine and some of the ashes from the fire.  Should the main trunk of the tree ever be sacrificed to the fire, a new, unknown spell of the highest level castable by the wizard will be revealed, but the Phoenix-Tree will be no more.

The Most Glorious Handbook Of Enlightened Ploob

All that remains of the sundered nation of Ploob are refugee clerics and rare artifacts like this one, a small vade mecum bound in crimson silk.  The Handbook contains an assortment of spells useful to arcane scientists in hunting and purifying those slaves to haughty extradimensionals who would pollute our ancient culture with their corrupt religions...

Butterfoot’s Handy Primer

A small book, easily portable, and all parts of it rugged enough to take a beating, including its difficult-to-tear and waterproof pages.  Its title appears on the front cover, with the description ‘Being A Treatise And Convenient Reference For Thee Novice Enchanter’.  The book contains not only basic, reliable spells, but also chapters on crafting and procuring supplies and accessories, fashion advice for the upwardly-mobile wizard, and ‘Thoughtful Selection of Familiars’.  A series of humorous illustrations, captioned ‘Don’t Do This’, appear every few pages.


Although it may first appear to be a bizarre cloak of human innards - and it functions nicely as such - closer observation reveals carefully-crafted knots in the lengths of intestine which convey deep sorcerous knowledge to those wizards familiar with the bizarre and dark culture which created the quipu.  The information encrypted in the knotwork includes several spells, as well as the geometric arrangements necessary to construct glyphs of use in certain protective scrolls and talismans.

10  This Final, Gleaming Splinter

Although the pages of this grimoire appear to be glass, they are in fact flat, sorcerously-shaped pieces of crystalwood; each page is translucent, with strange symbols shallowly carved and bevelled.  When a single page is held up before a significant light source (to include the daytime sun or a strong full moon), the shadows cast by the symbols on a wall or floor manifest as an easily-readable magic script.  The tome includes a number of mid- and high-level spells of indeterminate age.  A sage familiar with botany or geology may be able to identify the crystalwood of the pages, and suggest that it has been taken from one of the largest known specimens ever to grow - the so-called Legacy Tree which bloomed and shined in the center square of the long-crumbled dwarven citadel of Mors Mundar.

11  The Swirling Window

When the star which warmed the great world of Rindaril went nova, that realm’s greatest archmage stood atop a mountain on a more distant planet, awaiting his own destruction.  Behind him he placed a psychographic plate, slightly out of phase, which captured the image of his mind during that moment before the nova consumed him.  Since that time, the plate itself has been alchemically developed, and passed through the hands of numerous wizards in several realms.  The Swirling Window appears as a brassy metal plate about the size of a door, etched with green and purple whorls.  A wizard who lays upon the plate and meditates may manage to access the remnants of the archmage’s memory - which can be plumbed for wisps of lore, or as a means to learn and memorize the spells of a long-dead world.  Rumors that overuse of the Swirling Window are a sure path to possession by a milennia-old archmage are surely hyperbole.

12  Manual of Madness Manifest

Bound in black leather, this spellbook contains a mix of blank pages and those covered with writing in an ink which seems to contain a mixture of human bodily fluids.  Although the handwriting is inconsistent, once decoded and read the tome reveals its secrets: page after page of rare and unusual spells, with particular focus on enchantments dealing with sanity, blindness, mind control, and the invasion of dreams.

13  The Spectacular Opuscule of Lady Primrose

A thick, encyclopaedic tome with robin’s-egg blue cloth covers contains page after page of cramped mirror-writing.  Within the grimoire are numerous common and uncommon spells, as well as recipes for a number of basic potions, unguents, and alchemical preparations.  Here and there are representative diagrams, layouts of summoning circles, and the like.  The spine of the book serves as a sheath for a matching enchanted dagger (which may be lost, or present).

Friday, May 13, 2022

Hand Over The Reins

 The best gaming comes from high-trust setups.  If you and your players trust each other, you can do seemingly crazy things like assign Patrons to real people, or let someone else DM your campaign for a bit.  It certainly seems like many of the "improvements" people try to build into rpgs or rpg culture are designed to compensate for a low-trust situation.  That's a shame.

As DM, you should not be afraid to hand the reins over to someone else, in either a small or a large way.  When you use someone else's random tables, you're surrendering some control of your game.  When you trust in the rules in the rulebook, you're surrendering some control of your game.  When you use dice to determine the outcome, you're surrendering control.  These are all GOOD things.  Nobody deserves to be stuck playing with a frustrated novelist who won't share any control of the game.  The referee is the final arbiter, but that does not mean they have to be the sole input.

I strongly encourage you to let someone else DM your game, if only for a session.  Once you do it, and see that your world has not crashed and burned, you'll be more open to doing it again, or empowering players to take on more responsibility in the campaign.

Some years ago, in a BESM game, I had each of the players take a turn running a session, and that paid off handsomely.  They did things I wouldn't have thought of doing - and that's the point.

In the Wampus Country campaign, I've handed over the reins twice that I can recall...


Drawing from the Deck of Many Things had been eventful for all of the Rat-House Bastards, but most of all for Chauncy.  He had pulled the Gaol card and gotten himself imprisoned on another plane.  Whoops.  After several months trying to figure out where he'd gone - with the player using a different PC - they learned he was trapped in a place called Carcosa, and went to get him.  You can read about it from the player's point of view.  If you're not familiar with the Carcosa setting, there are plentiful reviews which might demonstrate it's pretty different from Wampus Country.

The interesting thing here was that one of the other players volunteered to run a session (or sessions) that constituted the rescue attempt.  I acquiesced immediately, trusting that Brendan would do a great job with it.  It was understood that he would have the choice of interplanar destination in which to set the whole thing, and that it would not necessarily comport to Wampus Country physics (and expectations of lethality).  This was borne out when the amazon warrior I was playing for the session got messily killed!

The session had some permanent effects on the campaign.  First, the wizard Chauncy returned changed - physically, and mentally.  His roleplay was different from this point, and that seems only fair given the torture he had endured.  Second, one of the Carcosan natives came back with the gang to Wampus Country.  Though he took the name 'Miguel' eventually, this was the Speaker-of-All-Graces, a savage bone man warrior who later participated in the Coalpepper Expedition.  

I admit I balked at the idea of the PCs bringing the He-Man tank back through the portal.  I think if I were doing it today I would've let the chips fall where they may.  Trust takes practice.


Some time later, the player of scheming wizard Valentine McGee asked if he could run a couple sessions taking place in Wampus Country, for the benefit of the (sizeable) player pool.  He wanted to run The Mad Chefs of Lac Anchois from Dungeon #64.  I took a quick look at the adventure, a comedy setup about rescuing frog-people from giant chefs (which was what made him think it Wampus-appropriate) and said "yeah, go for it".  I couldn't make it for the sessions he scheduled, and that was fine.

Later on I got a readout from the Guest DM - no PC deaths, although I think there were a couple close calls, and no bizarre magic items that I recall.  By all accounts it was a fun pair of sessions.  I have no idea what happened at them.  That's okay.  I'm the head referee, not the all-seeing eye.

You can, and should, do this too.  Hand the reins over to someone else for a session or two.  Take a break.  Play alongside your players and see your campaign from their vantage point.  

Thematically related, check out this video in which Mr. Wargaming farms out the results of a battle to people not involved in the campaign:

Good stuff.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Zebulon Versus The Frost Giants

 In anticipation of #JULYGANTIC, I'm thinking of my own experiences with G1-2-3.  Such classic modules, so formative of what D&D was to become!  Back in the day I ran all three of them, but not in sequence.  At the time I was doing a lot of "module cannibalism" and yoinking parts of modules for parallel uses, or reskinning.  I know I used all three portions of them at various times - probably all with 2nd edition.  Yes, we ran 1e modules without trouble in 2e.

The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl saw use, uncoupled from the Against the Giants saga, in fairly true form - the icebound palace of a mighty frost giant.  I don't remember why the PCs at the time wanted to deal with these giants (and by "deal with", I mean fatally).  They definitely wanted to assassinate the Jarl, possibly for political reasons, and make off with some treasure.

Here's how it went down.

First, you need some context about the PCs.  The roster had changed a number of times throughout the campaign as PCs were killed, hung out on the shelf for a bit before rotating back in, or were retired for other reasons.  Only one PC was still alive from the very first session: the wizard Zebulon (later dubbed "Zebulon the Cruel" after the Basically Genocide Incident).  I don't remember what level he was at the time of the Glacial Rift, certainly 10th, possibly 11th or 12th.  Zebulon had been all over the world, visited other planes, got stuck in 20th-century America for a couple days, nearly died many times, quested to the center of the planet, and so forth.  He was a wizard's wizard - powerful, with a considerable selection of spells, a ring of flying, and he had an item called the Sunstaff which let him use charges to cast fireball, wall of fire, and so forth like a Staff of Fire, plus some light-related junk.  Zebulon was fiendishly clever and stupendously arrogant.  Lawful Neutral, but chiefly in the sense that he kept his word once given, and he hated to leave things feeling unfinished.

The PCs arrive in the environs of the glacial rift, and Zebulon - de facto leader by virtue of his level, adventuring experience, and volume of speech - suggests a bold plan.  He will enter the rift alone, invisible, flying, (possibly ethereal, I don't remember).  He will penetrate deep into the chambers, find the Jarl, slay him, and then high-tail it out of there, emptying his magazine of fireballs and other fire spells on the way out.  The other PCs were (rightly) skeptical.  It didn't sound possible, or practical, or prudent, and it would leave them on the sidelines.  "No no" said Zebulon, "you guys stay out here and take out any fleeing giants once the chaos starts, and waylay any returning hunting parties.  That sort of thing."  Eventually Zebulon convinced them to let him try ("we get all your stuff back in town if you die down there" may have been a factor).

So in he went, one wizard, alone, invisible.  Took him ages to find the Jarl's chamber, even though he could overhear and understand the conversations going on throughout the complex.  Once there, he took a look around to see if there was anything he wanted to grab on the way out, and then set about murdering the hell out of the Jarl and his wife.  The actual assassination wasn't that difficult, he had no problem pouring out appropriate damage.  Obviously the alarm was raised, and Zebulon set about throwing what he could see in the party's bag of holding (which of course had been handed to him prior to the excursion).

Then it was time to book it.  Zebulon flew back upward, hurling fire behind him periodically, or chucking a fireball down a side-passage.  We did not "narrate" this part - lots of dice were rolled.  Because it was important to know how many giants were around, and how near they were to Zebulon, and whether their attacks hit him, and MOST OF ALL did he kill any of them.  Sorry, frost giants in the barracks.  There were significant discussions about the volume of a fireball explosion.  You can imagine.  There were further discussions about the integrity of the tunnels.  Suffice it to say I was not convinced that the attacks would bring down the whole glacier (nice try, though) -- but lots of frost giants were killed by fireballs, trapped by wall of fire, and so forth.  Keep in mind that frost giants do not take double damage from fire or anything like that, they're just impervious to cold attacks.  I don't know how many kills he got on the way out, but it was a stack - the last couple spells on the way out, at the top level full of smaller-HD creatures, were particularly effective.

As he flew out of the entrance, bleeding badly and probably at one-quarter his normal hit points, the other PCs unloaded into anything that tried to come out for a number of rounds.  Eventually the frost giants stopped probing outward, and the PCs took their opportunity to depart.

Only a handful of loot made it out of there, but that wasn't the point - the goal was to snuff the Frost Giant Jarl.  At least, in-character.  Zebulon's player knew full well that he was going to reap significant benefit in the form of xp.  Yes, the other PCs got a share of it, but recall that in 2e a frost giant is worth something like 7000xp, and there were six players at this session, so with an even split every dead vanilla frost giant was worth over 1000xp to Zebulon.  Old-school magic-users must be constantly hungry for big xp scores by virtue of their crazy xp table.  The sortie was absolutely worth it.

"That was insane, I can't believe that worked, Zebulon.  You're [expletive] crazy."

"Perhaps I am.  But the Jarl is dead, and the rest of them will be in disarray and mourning.  Easy pickings for when we go back tomorrow."

Monday, May 9, 2022


 Giants are great.  They're a huge part of D&D.

Dad jokes aside, giants of all sorts bring an important folkloric tradition to your D&D table.  Dragons get top billing in the game, but giants are just as important to the vibe of the game.

So we need more giants.  I mused about what to do...one of those fashionable game jams?  Probably not - those are focused on writing, not on running and playing games.  Thus, instead of a charge to create content, I offer a call to arms.

Hereby proposed: #JULYGANTIC.

In the month of July 2022, I want you to run adventures with giants in them.  Especially the classic Against The Giants.  I want you to run games with giants, and talk about them.  I'm bringing it up now so you can think ahead about what you want to do.

Any giants.  Any game, any edition.  Whatever floats your boat.  Against The Giants is the tip-top, but anything counts.  We're looking for nice mythic humanoid giants here, though, so be aware that kaiju and giant robots won't count for full credit (unless you run Glacial Rift as a nest of kaiju and the PCs are in mecha or something - if you do that, I definitely want to hear about it).  


1. Run or play all or part of Against The Giants.  This is the pinnacle representation of #JULYGANTIC.  The old versions are best, but if you're in the middle of a 5e thing and want to run the 5e version, do that.

2. Run or play in something else featuring giants.  This could be another classic module with giants in it, Pathfinder's Giantslayer adventures, Storm King's Thunder (or That Dungeon Magazine Where They Did King Lear The First Time), DDAL stuff with giants in it (Season 5 or otherwise), or whatever.

3. Throw some giants into your home game.  Add them to your wilderness charts, even if it's a temporary bump.  In the month of #JULYGANTIC the Big Ones get frisky and incur into human lands.  Play a miniatures battle with giants in it.


4. Review something with giants in it.

5. Create original content focused on giants.

6. Muse about previous sessions with Giant Stuff in it.

These things are all optional and sub-optimal because they don't involve PLAYING THE GAME.  Playing is our goal.


Post about it somewhere, tagged with #JULYGANTIC.  Full session reports if you can manage it, because that's how we learn.

It's just that simple.

For my part, I look forward to not only blogging about Giant Stuff (less helpful), but also running some Giant Stuff (much more helpful, and precisely the point).

Who's with me?