Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Island of the Blue Giants - Player Map of Trondo's House

Below is a map one of my players drew of Trondo's house (The Alexandrian's Halls of the Mad Mage) over the course of the first two sessions.

The map is drawn on the back of the player's 0-level character sheet, so the red marks bleeding through are my skull-and-crossbone drawings  indicating the deaths of Peregrine and Batman.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Session Report - Island of the Blue Giants - 25 Feb 2017

Poseidon, the merman
Batman, the flyer
Jim, the gemcutter

Beastmaster, the animal trainer
Will, the smith
Kerhs, the half-orc
Litoli, the cave-woman

Sid "Vicious," the sage
Johnny "Rotten," the spy
Siouxsie, the nomad
Nico, the spy

Traveling from Trondo's bedroom, the group made their way to the observatory off of the library. They were a bit surprised to realize that the sitting room, the library, the triangle room, and the aquarium all made a single circuit, since it was upstairs the whole way around.

Inside the observatory, Johnny looked through the telescope, which was initially pointed at his fellow party members. Most of his friends were nearly invisible, looking ghostly and insubstantial, but Poseidon and Beastmaster seemed solid and real. Wheeling around, he surveyed the rest of the house. Again, most of it was so gauzy and thin he could hardly see it at all, but the aquarium was obviously full of water and fish, and there was a menacing, shadowy presence lurking in the gravel on the floor... Looking farther afield, he was able to see the boulder field where he and his friends had first woken up. The field seemed sparse; most of the boulders were invisible, but the ones carved with faces were plain to see. Also plain to see were a small crowd of human-like figures (the first they'd seen since awakening) although they seemed to be shorter and paler than Johnny's friends. Wheeling around the other way, he saw what appeared to be a giant aardvark sleeping in an unknown den (it must have been giant, because of how large it appeared at a distance, even without many landmarks to judge it against,) and nearby, a single hut, and nearby that, a giant spear.

Johnny reported all this back to his friends. Beastmaster wanted to see for himself, but was unable to touch the telescope to move it. With Will's help, he managed to take in the same panorama and Johnny, then announced his intentions to return to the aquarium to catch more fish. Poseidon agreed, and Siouxsie bravely volunteered to join them. The group returned to the sitting room with the miniature aquarium, and Siouxsie deliberately touched it, becoming insubstantial like her two friends.

The group all returned to the aquarium room. To most of them, it appeared as a bare room with stone sculptures of fish hanging from nearly invisible strings from the ceiling. To Poseidon, Beastmaster, and Siouxsie, it appeared full of water, waving seaweed, and live swimming fish. The three also noticed a menacing presence lurking around the edge of the room, but opted to try catching more fish despite the sense of danger. This looked a bit silly to their friends, who saw the three darting and clutching at thin air, before triumphantly grasping the statues which had remained motionless the entire time. Unfortunately, the larger group didn't get to enjoy watching their three friends at this for long, as the dark presence revealed itself - a giant snail with four mace-like tentacles growing from its head! Unlike the fish, which existed (in slightly different forms) in both the physical world and the ethereal realm, the snail had no physical counterpart, and was completely invisible to most of the observers.

A brief, but intense combat ensued. Siouxsie tossed her lance, but it bounded off the snails invulnerable shell. It then rushed her, pummeled her body to paste, and began loudly slurping up her remains! Beastmaster also proved unable to wound the monstrous mollusk, but in two separate attacks, Poseidon first severed one of its tentacles, then slew the creature with a mighty blow from his trident. He decided to keep the severed tentacle to use as a mace, and he and Beastmaster sawed the snail's body in half to eat later. They made seaweed-wrapped bundles of escargot and fish to carry out with them, and divided Siouxsie's weapons between them. Siouxsie's body, and her armor, were irrecoverable, too badly mangled while the snail devoured her.

After their initial bold entry into the aquarium, the whole group left in a dour mood. Sid "Vicious" and Johnny "Rotten" declared their desire to kill Athern for sending them into the house, and Nico started panicking that her protector, Siouxsie, had died. "I'll be killed for sure!" she wailed. Batman stepped up to calm Nico, offering to defend her in case of danger. "I'm Batman," he said.

The group decided to retreat from the house. They had the information they'd come for, two of their friends had died already, another two had been turned insubstantial, and neither the items they'd found nor the promise of a nice party seemed to make up for the losses they'd already suffered. They went back to the sitting room and library (avoiding the triangle room because it made Jim uncomfortable and nervous,) and then returned to the balcony over the foyer.

From the balcony level they could clearly see the seven remaining weird statues, and the one that Will broke earlier. Although the statues looked like odd collections of spikes and angles, the shadows they cast looked just like the puppet-like monsters they'd fought earlier, and before their eyes, the shadows cast by the intact statues thickened into gibbering little humanoids who immediately began prying up the cobblestones to hurl at them. A couple also grabbed bits of the broken statue, a material that looked especially dangerous to Beastmaster and Poseidon. Unfortunately, they were helpless to defend their friends as the little monsters attacked, hitting Litoli and Will with rocks, and killing Batman with one of the bits of broken statue. Nico momentarily dissolved in tears at the lost of her newest defender, then started waving her knife around threatening anything that came too close to her. Jim withdrew from combat to make sure that none of Batman's valuables would be left behind in the house. Litoli slew one of the shadow-puppet creatures with her spear, Will hammered two, and Sid and Johnny stabbed three of the creatures to death. Beastmaster also found a way to contribute at the end, ordering his guard-weasel to attack the creatures (which it did with gusto, killing another) and his pack-rabbit to stand in front of the shattered statue, blocking the monsters from getting any more of its deadly stone.

Dejected and angry, the group made their way down the spiral staircases in the corners, carrying Batman's body out with them. They emerged to find the street before them more or less deserted, with only the normal town bustle going on in the distance. Storming across town, they eventually found Athern doing some gardening along the city wall, near where they first met them. Athern seemed surprised to see them, and possibly to have forgotten the task they'd asked the adventurers to complete. Undeterred, the group explained that Trondo had died of old age after completing their masterpiece, and had decided to become a ghost so that they'd have time to enjoy their accomplishment. They also explained that Trondo had named Athern in their will, and that their lawyer should have all the details that would eventually allow Athern to inherit the great house.

"You know," Johnny said, "some of our friends died in there. We couldn't even get all their bodies out." He was angry at the Bo-al for sending them on such a dangerous task, unprepared for what awaited them, but Athern seemed oblivious to the group's pain. "You left garbage inside Trondo's house?!" they exclaimed. A moment later though, the giant gardener turned wistful. "Oh poor Trondo!" (And our friends!) "It's so sad that you've died!" (And our friends!) "We'll all be diminished by your loss!" (And our friends!)

The group didn't get the satisfaction they wanted from Athern, but the Bo-al gardener was (eventually) good to their word, and by sunset a grand funeral was in order, with tents and pavilions sprung up all over town, mounds of food-cubes, and great bowls of punch. Poseidon and Beastmaster munched glumly on the cold fish stored in the pack-rabbits saddle bags, while several of the others lost themselves in a night of drinking and debauchery. Under Poseidon's guidance, Jim and Nico put Batman's body onto a reed raft, floated him onto one of the canals, and set him ablaze. Most of the others avoided succumbing to total depravity during their carouse, but Johnny had a tryst with one of the hermaphroditic Bo-al in the bathhouse (and only narrowly avoided becoming married to them) and Sid made a series of ill-advised gambles and wagers that lost him everything, including the clothes off his back, except the tome he'd taken from Trondo's house.

(We began the session in media res inside the house, got the group back outside, caroused for experience bonuses, and then spent the rest of the session leveling up their characters. I used Jeff's Gameblog's carousing table, which seemed to work well. I'm of two minds about both the beginning and end of the session.

On the one hand, I know other referees prefer not to allow their players to end a session inside a dungeon, and even make them roll on special tables (like Jeff's Gameblog's again, or like Unofficial Games's) to determine whether and how they made it out by the start of the next session. At the end of last session, I could have also simply ruled that as long as they went straight to the exit, they got out safely. We might have gotten more done in the session, perhaps even accomplishing some of the things that eventually happened in Session 3. On the other hand, if I'd done that, there never would have been a fight with the flail-tentacled snail, and the danger of the foyer guardians would have been halved. (And at 4 HD, the snail could have easily wrecked all three of the characters fighting it, especially after critting Siouxsie on its first attack.) Making the players work for their exit emphasizes that they're always in danger in the dungeon, even when they're trying to escape, and it forces them to plan accordingly - you don't want to go so deep in that you can't make it back out alive. And since we have a consistent group so far, there was no sudden appearing or disappearing of characters as they walked from one room to another. I haven't decided how I want to handle this in the future.

I also have mixed feelings about spending the end of the session leveling up (instead of doing it between session) and leveling up every surviving character (instead of having each player choose one to focus on for now.) Again, on the one hand, it took the rest of our time, and we didn't have the chance to do any more gaming. On the other hand, we got to talk through the class options and everyone's visions for each of their surviving characters. Everyone also got to learn more about the rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics as they related to each character's abilities. Crits and Fumbles, Mighty Deeds of Arms, the random nature of spellcasting, and burning Luck all got discussed in some detail. I don't generally want to force my players to memorize too many rules (that's what the referee's for!) but I also don't want anyone's character to die because they didn't know what it was capable of doing to defend itself. I don't regret doing things this way this time, but I reserve the right to consider if I want to do it the same or differently in the future.

I also made everyone decide where they were headed next, and they chose to investigate the giant aardvark and the mysterious hut and spear...)

a tentacle mace
more spectral fish and half a giant spectral snail
a very nice funeral


1 flail-tentacled snail
7 shadow-puppet guardians 

2 for fighting the snail (Poseidon and Beastmaster only)
0 for fighting the puppets a second time
1d6 each for carousing at the funeral (Will, Kerhs, Litoli, Sid, and Johnny)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Rhythmic Gymnast Bard Casts "Light"

Another recent story from the Gray Lady includes an illustration of a rhythmic gymnast looking rather magical. Seen here, a bard uses her ribbon apparatus to cast light, illuminating a rather dark situation.

illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Index: Snails

Below is an index of snail-related materials I might use in my own games.

At the time of creation, this Index has content from Dyson's Dodecahedron's "Snail Lords of the Salt Flats" mini-setting, (which may someday be published by Lost Pages,) and from Bernie the Flumph!'s "Blorgamorg, the Chthonic Snail" patron for DCC. More categories, as well as more entries within the existing categories, will be added as it becomes available.

from Dyson's Dodecahedron:
Snail Lord Character Class
Polearms of the Snail Lords
Dark Spire through Salted Lands
Twelve Bodies in the Firmaments of the Salt Flats

"Snail Lord" by Dyson Logos

from Bernie the Flumph!:
Patron: Blorgamorg, the Chthonic Snail
Invoke Patron, Patron Taint, and Spellburn (Blorgamorg)
Patron Spell 1: Snail Mail (Blorgamorg)
Patron Spell 2: Slobber Globber Lobber (Blorgamorg)
Patron Spell 3: Shell House (Blorgamorg)

As an aside, I keep wanting to call this patron "Blorg-ma-gorg" instead.

"Blorgamorg" by Josh Burnett

from Le Chaudron Chromatique:

"Snail Flailer" by Cedric Plante

Update Log:
22 Feb 2017: Index created 
31 Mar 2017: Snail Flailer Character Class added

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mechanics I Want to Use - Boomerage Stealing Attack

The second use for the boomerang in the Legend of Zelda games (besides stunning / paralyzing your enemies, as in my earlier post) is picking up objects and carrying them back to you. Other games have similar "fetching" weapons, like the grappler in Super Metroid. What's even cooler than simply picking up objects off the ground? Plucking them out of your enemies hands, and depositing them directly into yours, obviously.

But I also wanted this deed to capture the feel of something else - the moment when you kill an enemy and they leave behind arrows, or missiles, or a special weapon recharge, or money, or a bomb, or a grenade, or (most often) a little refill of health. The Mega Man games employ this same mechanic.

So, what we have is a deed for rangers that lets them either disarm their opponent and steal their weapon, or steal a little power-up / prize. As a mechanic, it absolutely is a bit video-gamey, since you get the prize based on your Deed Die roll, regardless of whether or not that item was on the judge's list of treasures to be found on that particular opponent. (Although the judge could insist that this only works on humanoids who are carrying some kind of equipment, or that you have to accept a lower result if it doesn't make sense for them to be carrying the item in question.

Weapon Specific Deed - Stealing Attack (boomerang)

The ranger throws her boomerang to knock away a piece of her opponent's equipment and return it to herself. If possible, the boomerang knocks away her opponent's weapon and return's it directly into the ranger's hand to wield next round. Otherwise, it returns adventuring equipment as listed below.

The judge is encouraged to tailor these results slightly to fit the nature of the opponent and the setting (for example, by choosing the denomination of the coinage, the type of ammunition, or the specific grenade-like weapon.)

3     The ranger steals a weapon up to the size of a dagger, or 1d12 coins.
4     The ranger steals a weapon up to the size of a short sword, or 1d6 rations, 1d6 torches, or other basic equipment.
5     The ranger steals a weapon up to the size of a longsword, or 1d6 arrows, 1d6 sling stones, or other ammunition.
6     The ranger steals a weapon up to the size of a two-handed sword, or 1 vial of holy water, 1 flask of oil, or other grenade.
7+     The ranger steals a weapon up to the size of a lance, or: 1 mushroom elixir (imbiber heals 1d4 hit points of damage immediately) or other medicine.

After getting some feedback, I also want to revisit my advise for when a boomerang returns to its owner.

Weapon Boomerang, Damage 1d4, Range 10/20/30**, Cost in gp 25

Although it is a thrown weapon, the boomerang follows a curved flight-path that allows it to sometimes brings it back to its owner's hand. If the ranger misses her attack, the boomerang will return to her at the end of the combat round. If she makes a regular attack or regular deed, the weapon hits her opponent and falls to the ground nearby. If she makes a critical hit or a weapon-specific deed, the boomerang hits her opponent but continues on its flight, returning at the end of the round. If the ranger fumbles, the boomerang returns, but she is hit by it instead of catching it; depending on the fumble result, this may be deadly, painful, or simply embarrassing.

Both Stun and Steal could probably be used as weaponless deeds by very roguish warriors who were trained to sap or mug their enemies. The stunning attack and stealing attack could also both probably be used as weapon-specific deeds for the whip, in any kind of Western setting.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mechanics I Want to Use - Boomerang Stunning Attack

I like the idea of weapon-specific deeds in DCC, because they feel like an easy way to add "tricks" that certain kinds of warrior can learn (possibly by "questing for it") without overwhelming the game as a whole with too many options. In deciding what kind of weapon to specialize in, a warrior is already committing herself to a particular combat style, and perhaps a particular style of play more generally. So some warriors might be very grim, others might be rather show-offy, and still others, perhaps, might be a bit whimsical.

In the Legend of Zelda games, one use of the boomerang is to fetch objects (which I'll return to later.) But the other use is to temporarily stun or paralyze enemies so that you can attack them more easily (or run away from them without being followed.) This deed is meant to imitate that mechanic from the video games.

The main question I had in mind when writing this up was "What do you call a warrior who uses a boomerang?" But then I realized that "boomeranger" shortens to "ranger" quite nicely. (I'll leave it to the reader to decide if that should be pronounced like the-one-who-ranges or like the-one-who-rang.)


Weapon Specific Deed - Stunning Attack (boomerang)

The ranger throws her boomerang to stun her opponent, briefly knocking the breath from their lungs or the thoughts from their head. This deed is most effective with the ranger acts before her opponent in the initiative order.

3     The ranger’s opponent acts last in the initiative this round.
4     The ranger’s opponent acts last in the initiative this round, and for the next 1d3 rounds.
5     The ranger’s opponent cannot act this round, and acts last in the initiative for the next 1d3 rounds.
6     The ranger’s opponent cannot act this round, or for the next 1d3 rounds, and acts last in the initiative until the end of combat after that.
7+     The ranger’s opponent is knocked completely unconscious until the end of combat.

Of course, to learn this deed, the warrior first needs to own a boomerang, which might be a quest in itself in the pseudo-medieval setting of most DCC games.

Weapon Boomerang, Damage 1d4, Range 10/20/30**, Cost in gp 25

Although it is a thrown weapon, the boomerang follows a curving flight-path that usually returns it to its owner at the end of each combat round. However, if the ranger rolls a natural 1 on either her Action Die or Deed Die when using the boomerang, it lands on the ground near her intended target rather than returning.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Session Report - Island of the Blue Giants - 04 Feb 2017

Peregrine, the pilgrim
Poseidon, the merman
Batman, the flyer
Jim, the gemcutter

Beastmaster, the animal trainer
Will, the smith
Kerhs, the half-orc
Litoli, the cave-woman

Sid "Vicious," the sage
Johnny "Rotten," the spy
Siouxsie, the nomad
Nico, the spy

A dozen humans found themselves standing in a misty hollow, the ground studded with boulders before them. Each could remember an earlier life as a professional, of one sort or another, but none could recall quite how they'd gotten to that spot. Beastmaster was a bit surprised to find his old mule and hound replaced by a deer-shaped pack-rabbit and a dog-like guard-weasel, and Souixsie was certain she used to have a horse instead of a riding pea-hen.

The group investigated the field, saw that the boulders were moss-covered and ancient, and that several were carved with faces. The faces were human-like, but with wide alert eyes, and ears that looked like spiny fish fins. Spending a little more time, they heard running water coming from the west, saw through a break in the clouds circling humanoid flyers in the sky to the northeast, and later heard the sound of marching musicians approaching from the south. Litloi wanted to secure a safe water source, and Poseidon agreed. Batman felt curious about the flyers, but agreed to follow his new-found friends.

Walking for awhile through the morning fog, the group eventually saw the source of the sound, a flowing river, with dozens of canals and irrigation ditches branching off from it, and a walled town near the water. At first, they thought the town had a low wall, with dozens of the inhabitants' faces visible above it. They saw that the canals and ditches were in extremely regular rows and straight lines with right angles connecting them, while each building seemed to be a unique structure with an assortment of towers and extensions. As they got closer, they realized the wall was human-height, and the inhabitants were at least 8' tall.

They began walking around the outside of the wall, looking for a gate, when one of the beings called down to them. The giant said they looked strange, too short to be Cadjula, their bottoms to small to be Nif, and asked them if they wanted to come in. The group agreed, and the giant used a wooden crane to lower a platform and then raise them up over the wall.

On the left: a typical Bo-al

The giant told the group that their name was Athern, and that their people were called Bo-al. Athern seemed to be guessing every time they called one of the humans "young man" or "young woman," and when asked, explained that they knew the other islanders had genders, but there was nothing like that among the Bo-al. A little more questioning revealed that the Bo-al are a town of architects, engineers, and builders, who spend a lot of their time drawing blueprints, improving their homes, and tinkering with this and that. Athern admitted that they were only looking over the wall because they were thinking of doing a little gardening. When asked where the group could secure some food or employment, Athern mentioned that everyone in town had been worrying about their greatest builder, Trondo, who'd been missing "for days and days," ever since finishing their new house. There would certainly be a find party if Trondo came outside! (Or a fine funeral if Trondo's body were discovered!) Athern explained that it would be terribly rude for any of the Bo-al to enter Trondo's house without permission, but that if some "wild animals" happened to get inside, well, there was nothing the townspeople could do to prevent it. Athern led them to the two story structure, pointed to the observatory on the roof, and then knocked on the door, holding it just ajar to call in to Trondo. "Are you there, my friend? I hope that no wild animals sneak into your house while I'm calling on you!" The group took their cue and hurried inside.

They found themselves in a great two-story foyer, with a balcony ringing the room on the second story. Light from high windows filtered in, but Krehs felt good to be indoors during the day. They saw a wide staircase on the far wall, accessible only from the balcony, a pair of hallways on the right (one on the ground floor and one overhead on the balcony), and a pair of spiral staircases in the corners leading up to the loft. They also quickly noticed that eight short skinny humanoids, with curvy limbs and pointy joints were standing on the railing of the balcony, yelling at them in gobbledygook, and brandishing rocks that looked like smashed paving stones from the floor.

A foyer guardian

Jim started to offer that they should try to reason with the creatures, but he was over-ruled by Litoli's split-second decision to pitch her stone spear, stabbing one through the chest and pinning it to the wall, killing it instantly. A chaotic few rounds of combat followed, with several of group beginning to rush for the spiral staircases, and others using missiles against the creatures. One creature hit Johnny "Rotten" hard enough to knock him over (although he survived the blow,) while another overbalanced and fell off the balcony. Sid "Vicious" and Nico threatened the fallen creature with their daggers, but it was Peregrine who killed it with his staff. He felt guilty for a moment, and then felt a divine inspiration to kill more monsters and ran upstairs too. Batman and Siouxsie threw a javelin and lance upstairs, but only Batman got a hit that way. Peregrine beat down one of the creatures on the balcony, only to be killed when it punched him with a rock in its fist. Siouxsie got revenge by shooting the killer with an arrow, and Poseidon and Beastmaster worked together to mop up. Poseidon tore one of the creatures to shreds with his trident, and Beastmaster took out the final two, siccing his guard-weasel on one and gutting the other with his knife. Jim and Nico spent most of the fight hiding under the balcony, where the creatures couldn't reach them.

Retrieving their weapons afterwards, the group noticed that the bodies turned flat, then into shadows, then disappeared completely. After the confusion cleared, they realized that everyone who had run up the right staircase ended up on the left side of the balcony, while those who'd gone up the left were now standing on the right. They also noticed eight abstract sculptures around the balcony. They looked like nothing but jagged irregular shapes, but their shadows had the same silhouettes as the creatures they just fought. Litoli and Krehs tried toppling a couple of the statues, but couldn't get them to tip. Will had more luck with a solid hammer strike that broke one in half. The group wondered if Trondo would be mad that they killed his guards and broke his statue, but then Nico pointed out that the creatures killed one of them too. She said that the death of one of their friends seemed like a pretty high price to pay just to get to go to a party, and went back to the front door to find Athern. They were gone, of course, with nothing but the usual town bustle in the distance. Dejected, she returned to the others, and Poseidon, feeling high on his victory, began striding confidently up the wide staircase.

At the top of the stairs, they found a room lined with built-in bookshelves, the books all Bo-al sized, 3' high and heavy by human standards. They began calling out for Trondo, and a book flopped itself off the shelf, and a half-dozen illustrated outlines of Bo-al emerged from the book. The illustrations were suprised to hear that Trondo was missing, and (after a really bad reaction roll) became agitated that "wild animals are in Trondo's house!" and started attacking. Poseidon was ready, again shredding one of his foes to tatters with his trident, the illustration turning to torn paper as it died. Jim used his magnifying lens to focus the light coming in from a high window, setting one illustration ablaze. Three others failed to distance themselves, and died too as the fire spread. Beastmaster's guard weasel tore the last one apart with its teeth, before licking its lips to get the taste of paper out of its mouth. Litoli quickly slammed the book shut, convinced that here suspicions of all writing were well-founded.

The group headed upstairs and into a sitting room. At first, the parlor with its couch and chairs and coffee table looked normal, but moving off the stairs, it quickly became clear that all the furniture had only three legs, and all the drawings hung on the wall had triangular frames, the sketches of the other buildings in town shown in extreme perspective. Several group members searched the room, but all they found was another three-legged footstool under the sofa. Jim felt there was something badly wrong with the space in the room, and insisted that they keep moving.

Up the stairs, they entered a room with a gravel floor, a model of the house in the center of the room, the ceiling hung with stone fish on barely visible strings. Poseidon liked the room, although he couldn't recognize any of the fish. Jim felt nervous again, and suggested they take the door to the right.

The group next entered a room with a large white circle surrounded by runes drawn on the carpet. Looking about, they quickly noticed that the 20' ceiling overhead had a circular pond immediately over the circle, with dozens of potted plants sitting on the ceiling as well. As they approached the circle, a demon appeared within. The monster (which we randomly generated on the spot) looked like a humanoid wasp with fish fins for her hands and feet and gills on her neck. She introduced herself as *the smell of salt-water* and a queen of the Nif. One by one, the group members dropped to one knee to pay homage, and Batman introduced himself: "I'm Batman." The demon told them they could ask her questions. They learned that Trondo was in the house, in two places, both ahead of them and behind, and that like anyone whose in two places at once, no, he's wasn't at all fine. They learned that the demon didn't care about Trondo, but that what she did care about was the Nif, who live in the desert to the east, and that if the group did a favor for the Nif, she would do a favor for them. Nico tried to ask who killed Trondo, but the demon said she'd answered enough questions, and disappeared.

Poseidon wanted to get a closer look at the pond, and stood on Will's shoulders. As he got up, and his head crossed the vertical center-line of the room, he became dizzy and disoriented, feeling like he was about to fall upwards. He managed not to lose his balance, but realized he'd need to get most of his body-weight above the center to actually transfer to the other side.

The group seemed to decide that Trondo had been beheaded or cut in half. They debated simply leaving with the news, but decided they needed to return with part or all of the body to be sure to get the really nice funeral they'd been promised. Sid "Vicious" led the way down the center of the next wide hall, and about a third of the way through, found himself nearly swept off his feet, but just managed to jump back in time. Litoli tried to carefully control her fall up, and took a nasty spill, but landed with nothing more than some shin splints and a bloody elbow. She asked the others to catch her when she walked back toward them, expecting to fall back to the floor, but remained standing on the ceiling. Poseidon suggested that the others should join her by returning to the pool room so that the water would break their fall.

They all went back through, with Litoli passing through a door on the ceiling, but when she approached the pool, a creature rose up out of it. This creature appeared to be a mermaid with compound insect eyes and large bee wings. She introduced herself as Ussa, and warned Litoli not to listen to the demon in the circle below her, saying that the demon lies about everything. Ussa claimed that Trondo was not dead, but was simply in the library. She also claimed that Athern was the one who built the house, and was also inside now somewhere. However, when asked to point to the library, she pointed back down the hall the group had just come through. Litoli felt suspicious, and asked the others to stay put for a minute. She crossed the hall, then entered a room where, on the ceiling with her, were the lifeless bodies of a dozen Bo-al all sitting in chairs. Litoli slammed the door and ran back to her friends. Ussa continued to insist that her Trondo was alive and well, and began inviting Litoli to join her in the pool. "I like you Litoli. You seem so nice. You'll like it in my pool with me." Litoli began to suspect that not everything Ussa said was true, and elected not to get into the water. She rolled up the room's 25' wide carpet, and used it as a bridge back down the floor, as Ussa began screaming that her friends were liars, that they're all wild animals, and they'd be much happier if they came up to be in her pool. The group quickly retreated back to the gravel-covered aquarium room.

Unsure of what was true, or how much of what they'd heard had been lies, or even who to trust, the group returned to the library, and Trondo was still not there. They debated whether Athern was the real architect here, or was responsible from Trondo's death, but then couldn't decide what they'd gain by sending humans in to find them. They spent an hour searching the library before finding a book in a language they could read, where an inscription on the front page said (in the same language) "Property of Trondo." The rest of the books were all floorplans, equations, and other engineering texts, all in a variety of unreadable scripts. Sid "Vicious" kept the book to read later. They decided there was no way Trondo planted a single book in Athern's library, and decided to trust the demon and look for the other part of their body where she said it would be. They returned to the triangular room, then the large aquarium room, and then went upstairs to find another sitting room with a small model aquarium on a table in the middle of the room. Looking around, first Poseidon and later Beastmaster stared too deeply into the fishtank and then vanished. They found themselves back in the large aquarium room, now filled with water, and the fish all alive and swimming. They also sensed a sinister presence in there with them, and both hurried out and back into the sitting room with their friends. Unfortunately, they realized they'd become intangible. The building itself seemed solid to them, but they couldn't touch their friends or the furniture.

Sid led the way from the sitting room into what turned out to be a clothes closet, then through to a bedroom. There, Poseidon and Beastmaster met the ghost of Trondo, looking ethereal and translucent even to them. (To the others, the ghost was nearly invisible and inaudible.) Trondo explained that they'd simply died of old age. After finishing the house, they'd gone to sleep in a chair in the room where Litoli found so many bodies, and then woken up dead in bed, a ghost. They were sticking around as a ghost now, because they wanted time to enjoy the house they'd spent so much time building. They authorized Athern to come inside to collect the body, and claimed to have some paperwork on file with a lawyer and in the town bank to handle the eventual disposal of the property. When asked about the dozen bodies, Trondo exclaimed, "Oh dear, it must have duplicated!" About the aquarium, "Oh the fish are harmless, although I hope my snail is okay. It might have gotten hungry!" The two personalities in the hall? "The one in the circle is alright. She's good conversation when she visits. But I wish I'd never installed that damn pool. You can't trust a thing that faerie says!" And last, of course, what's in the triangle room, Trondo? "Triangles!" Of course. Good night, Trondo.

The group thought they had enough information, and agreed that they'd skip the celebration they'd been promised if it would force them to go into any more Bo-al houses. My friends also decided to pause for the night before preparing to leave the house next session.

(Attentive readers may recognize this as The Alexandrian's Halls of the Mad Mage, with a bit of re-skinning. With 11 characters still alive, I'm a little worried I made the guardians a bit too weak, although they players were also quite cautious, and have so far managed to avoid some of the most dangerous areas of the house. The remaining foyer guardians might also be more dangerous on the way out, now that they can throw pieces of a broken statue. I'm also a little worried that not enough cool stuff has happened, but I think the book and the intangibility have promise to help make the characters unique. I also liked how the random appearance of the demon suggested an obvious faction alliance - to one of the factions Athern mentioned earlier, no less - and let me point my players toward another of the humanoid species on the island. Resolving the intangibility problem might also involve appealing to another faction for help.)

a promise of a very nice funeral from the Bo-al
a promise of a favor in exchange for aiding the Nif from a wasp/fish demon
an oversized Bo-al architectural treatise

Poseidon's and Beastmaster's solidity (hopefully temporarily?)

8 shadow-puppet guardians
6 illustrated librarians
the faerie's dreams of luring the group into her pool

2 for fighting the puppets
1 for fighting the librarians
1 for encountering the reverse-gravity trap
2 for conversing profitably with the demon *the smell of salt water*
2 for conversing non-fatally the faerie Ussa
1 for searching the library
1 for the ethereal trap
2 for finding and conversing with Trondo

(I may try to particularize this a little bit, based on individual actions. I may also decide to give out Luck bonuses for the magnifying glass trick, and for negotiating with the demon.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Campaigns I Want to Run - Reskinning Isle of the Unknown & Pars Fortuna

Since the holidays, I've been wanting to referee my own game again, and for the last couple months I've been mulling what kind of campaign to run.

Part of me has been tempted to run a reskinned version of Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of the Unknown. The isle is a tempting target for reskinning. McKinney has divided his island into 6 kinds of hexes - towns (of which there are relatively few), clerics, magic users, monsters, statues, and nature. This straightforward categorization makes it easy for you to keep the same map, and swap out one type of hex for another of your choosing.

The simple way to do this would be to make the swap-outs solely on the basis of the categories. The more complex way would be to note some detail from each original hex, and make sure that the replacement reflects or resembles that detail.

My original plan for re-skinning the island was to replace the towns with the lairs of the islands apex monsters (more on that below), replace both clerics and magic users with the villages of various humanoids, replace statues with ruins (and the statues that animate with active dungeons), and replace McKinney's natural sites with ones that gave the place a new feel.

Gloomtrain considered a similar prospect, and published a series of posts proposing an "Isle of the Undead" that replaced monster hexes with vampires, replaced clerics with undead-hunting crusaders, replaced magic users with necromancers, replaced statues with graveyards, and replaced nature with horticulture. After considering the project in some detail, he seems to have abandoned it, for much the same reason I'm thinking of giving up my re-skin.

I've considered the project in a bit of detail myself, trying to imagine how to replace the original isle's features with reflected counterparts. But there are some problems with map that make it difficult to use this way. First of all, I think it's simply too big. Filling every hex of that space with something interesting stretches the imagination, and seems to have pushed McKinney's random monster generator to its limits. There are over 80 statues on McKinney's Isle, which in my planned version, translates into a lot of ruins and live dungeons. And while the 42 clerics and magic users more or less matches the number of humanoid villages I've settled on, I want a more social game, with a denser population, on an island perhaps ½ or ⅔ the size of the original.

Secondly, I think I want slightly more logic in the placement of the settlements and ruins. I believe that McKinney determined each hex's contents randomly. The result is that several of the supposedly hermetical magic users live right next to a town, or in a virtual community alongside several clerics. You also see some of the weakest monsters in the island right beside the most deadly. And in general, I don't get the sense that traveling further from town, or deeper into the center, brings you closer to danger. Danger and safety appear to be scattered randomly. I think I prefer a little more order than that. As much as I like the idea of a simple re-skin, I don't want this to be the rock that I break my ship on.

So what I'm thinking about instead is drawing my own island map. I want the outline to resemble the Isle of the Unknown in its general shape, and I hope to draw inspiration from at least a few of McKinney's hexes to pay tribute to his book as a source of inspiration. (Although since I hope to referee my first session on Saturday, I might have to start with only a very partial map of the few hexes the players are likely to encounter right away.

I've also been wanting for awhile now to use Land of Nod's Pars Fortuna to populate a campaign setting. I like the idea of a "non-core" game, where nothing from the "core rules" of whatever system is used, and the setting is filled with people, magic, and monsters that were originally supplemental or peripheral. (I'll probably post about "non-core" gaming again another time. Also coincidentally enough, John Stater reports that he's been thinking about revising Pars Fortuna recently, an idea he possibly started toying with around the same time I started thinking of using it, over the holidays.)

So my plan for the humanoid villages would be to use Pars Fortuna's twelve race-as-classes as the twelve main humanoid factions on the island. These humanoids include large, genderless blue architects, flying psychic koalas, and multi-tentacled alien plant sages. They mostly get along, although there are a few that make very bad neighbors.

The players would all have human characters, although humans are unknown on the island (at least as far as the humanoids are concerned.) I intend to use Dungeon Crawl Classics as my rule-set, although I'm thinking of using Zenopus Archives' OD&D-style human backgrounds in places of DCC's starting occupation list. The human characters would have memories related to their previous lives and backgrounds, but no memory of how they got to the island.

Characters could meet and befriend the local humanoids, explore the weird nature, discover (and kill?) bizarre monsters, find and explore dungeons, meddle in the balance of power between the twelve factions, or try to learn more about the mysteries of the island.

Incidentally, my version would be called the "Island of the Blue Giants" (although those architects I mentioned would insist that the island isn't named for them, and should be called the "Island of the Blue Dragons," after its true masters.) Who are those masters? I mentioned wanting a hex category for boss-monster lairs. Those aren't really "lairs" so much as they are cities seemingly grown from skyscraper-tall crystals somehow coaxed to rise up from beneath the earth.

And who lives in those cities? Every humanoid on the island knows.

The blue Draagans.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pseudo-Preview of BPBM4

Stormlord Publishing has just released the fourth issue of their Black Powder Black Magic zine. I proofread the issue, and I also wrote up a list of familiars more suitable to a Weird West or other American setting. The familiars below aren’t on that list, but they do fit nicely on the end of it, and they give you some idea of what the other alternative familiars look like.

Lawful familiars
21 Pigeon (caster can "home in" on route out of dungeon or back to town)
22 Groundhog (caster knows coming day's weather each morning)
23 Child-sized scarecrow (opponents are -2 Morale)
24 Fey school-teacher wearing glasses and elbow-patched tweed jacket, never speaks, communicates using writing slate (caster can attempt to read any unknown language as a Lawful Thief of the same level)

Neutral familiars
21 Mockingbird (caster is able to speak 1 additional language)
22 Armadillo (caster is proficient with shields, suffers no spellcheck penalty from carrying a shield, and can shield-bash as a Dwarf)
23 Tumbleweed (caster can withdraw from melee combat without opening themselves up to a free attack)
24 Fey woodcutter wearing plaid shirt, carrying axe (+1 to attack and damage against plants and fungi)

Chaotic familiars
21 Black swan (once per day, caster may reroll any natural 7, and once per day, caster may also reroll any natural 13)
22 Giant maggot, transforms into giant black housefly during combat ("skin crawling" feeling alerts the caster to the presence of disguises and shapeshifters)
23 Giant mosquito (bite attack deals 1d4 damage and heals 1 hp)
24 Miniature black stagecoach with large glass windows revealing interior casket (+1 AC and +1 to saving throws vs. the undead)