Friday, October 20, 2017

Game Review: Dramasystem

So I saw this video on a Youtube channel I watch sometimes, LindyBeige. It popped up in my feed and I clicked on it because of the title:"The coming revolution in role-play games?". Lindy talks about the story game Hillfolk and gives a rather rousing review of it. I showed the video to my gaming group one night when a game was cancelled and we were all just hanging out and there was a lot of enthusiasm to try it out.

So I got it!

And we played it!

And here is my review, both of Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow, the companion book that further expands the Dramasystem that Hillfolk establishes. The Dramasystem is published by Pelgrane Press and primarily written by Robin D. Laws with many guest authors for the settings (see below).

Design Notes:

There are two nicely bound books, both around 200 pages each with full color full page illustrations. They are on par with the production quality of the old 3.5 D&D books (the last physical RPG books I bought...).

Most of the art is pitch perfect, while some of the other art falls utterly flat:

Good art (Hillfolk)

Off color art (Blood on the Snow)

The text is presented in the standard two column format that has a sometimes confusing mix of hint boxes that consolidate rules (in a way the text never does), dramatic quotes ("You again!" -> "I told you I'd be back, when you least expected it.") (that I suppose is the author's way of showing how he thinks the game should sound like?), and the main text.

I have been consistently frustrated with the organization of the book, and it seems that others have been as well because there are several rule consolidating pdfs that fit on a single page as reference to use during play. This is a great resource, but its frustrating that the texts themselves don't fulfill this purpose.

One of the highlights of both books is the "Additional Settings" sections that take up the last half of both books. They are written by guest authors and illustrated by guest illustrators so there is a tonal shift in the writing and the art midway through the book, but many of the ideas are gold.My players and I were very intrigued by the additional settings, so to give a glimps at what the published texts claim to be able to simulate play in, here are some examples:

  • Support group for mad scientists
  • Undercover CIA agents spying on Soviet Moscow 
  • Courtiers fighting over the realm of the Rabbit King (think Watership Down)
  • An ant colony fighting the war on two fronts against a rival colony and a zombifying funagl pathogen
  • Professional Wrestlers turned thugs for hire in 1980s Ohio
  • Augustan intellectuals dukeing it out in 1700s London
  • Hyper-capitalist robot drama in a post organic earth
  • Orcs squabbling for the Chieftainship
  • Ninjas
  • A ship lost voyaging in Dreamspace, looking for reality
  • Robodoctor medical drama
  • Dolphin eco-quest
  • Magicians secretly fighting in WWI
  • Recently dead ghosts hang out together
  • Teenaged battlemecha pilots from Japan and America are stationed at the same base
  • And many more!
Basically if you can imagine a TV drama you can play that. The settings section also gives some good fodder if you want to run another game system with the setting concept.

System Outline:

Lets briefly break down some of the mechanics for the uninitiated masses. This is not a table top RPG in the sense that D&D or Pathfinder or Warhammer are, this is Role Playing. There are no dice, your character doesn't level up and hardly has statistics, gold and treasure don't matter, and most of the game is represented by "scenes" between players.

It is in short a story game.

Character Creation:

Characters are created as a group in the first session of play. Every one sits down together and decides on a setting (in my groups case the canon Hillfolk setting, Iron Age Middle East) and then take turns make declarations about their own character and their relationships with other characters. For example:
  • Get named (Jaw Bone, Savy, Flint, etc)
  • Their roles in their tribe are determined (chieftain, medicine woman, lead scout, etc)
  • Relationships between characters are established (siblings, lovers, raid partners, etc)
  • Desires are declared (I want respect!), with a strong emphasis on desiring more abstract emotional goals than concrete ones
  • Dramatic poles are chosen (spirituality or carnality?) that show how the character wavers between their conflicting natures
  • State something they want from any other character, the other character in turn tells them exactly why they can't have it ("I want your approval father!" -> "You will never have it because I loved your mother and I blame you for her death" etc)
  • Choose their strengths and weaknesses by ranking the following "stats" (you get 2 strong, 3 middling, and 2 weak): Enduring, Fighting, Knowing, Making, Moving, Talking, Sneaking
Once this process is done you have a fully formed web of relationships that can be mined for dramatic narrative tensions. The youtube video I linked to above does a good job of walking you through this using the TV show Breaking Bad as an example of how these narrative tensions look in a story that we are familiar with. There are also cool relationship webs that look like this:


Pacing (Episode vs Scenes):

Each session, as most of us would call the thing where we sit down together for a few hours to play a game and then come back for another one next week, are instead called episodes. Each episode has a theme that is chosen first by the GM (game moderator) then by the a randomly chosen player at the end of the episode before. Themes are things like: Hunger, Change is Hard, What's In a Name?, Progress, etc. Themes should be brought up and built upon or highlighted through their absence. i.e. the chief isn't going hungry when everyone else is licking rocks which highlights the absence of Hunger.

Within an episode scenes are called. First by the episode caller, then by a randomly chosen precedence order that cycles back around once everyone has called a scene. A scene has: a cast of characters who are there (and even what they are doing, "Jaw Bone you are evesdropping, feel free to chime in when/if you see fit),  a setting (down in the training yard, out by the freshwater spring, in my hut, around the central fire, etc), a time (especially if this is much later/earlier than the previous scene), and a "mode" (whether this is to be a dramatic scene or a procedural scene). Often the character calling is designated as the "petitioner", the person going into the scene with something they want on their mind. The caller doesn't even have to be in the scene and can designate anyone the petitioner.

Any one of the above attributes of a scene can can challenged by anyone at the table. Don't want your character in the scene? Just say so and the caller can allow or try and stop you from "ducking the scene". Or if the caller is amenable to the alteration it just happens, This is true for most of the game, there is a lot of negotiation and consulting with everyone for narrative elements.

Dramatic vs Procedural Scenes and the Relationship Economy:

Once the scene is called the cast begins to engage with it. This kind of just looks like talking if the scene is a dramatic one, think of a Game of Thrones scene where two or three characters are just being snide to each other and threatening and bargaining. Scenes should only take a few minutes, and once they start getting too long other characters can call "end scene!" to speed things up. At the end of the scene the petitioner says whether or not they feel like they got what they want from the scene. If they didn't get what they wanted they are given a "Drama Token", if they did get what they wanted they give a Drama Token to the one that conceded to them.

When players are in a procedural scene they tend to be in conflict with each other or some abstract opponent (a cliff face, a rival tribe, a herd of wild hores, etc) that they want to win dominance over. So if a character is challenging the chief for rulership they would have a procedural fight. This involves a deck of cards and drawing to match a target card. Its a little complex and I won't get into it here.

The Drama Tokens are a way to reward flexibility with narrative influence. If you allow your character to give a dramatic consession you can later spend that token for something that matters to them. They can be used to force scenes to happen the way they want, advantage in procedural resolution, and other boons.

Play Test Report:

My group and I played 4 episodes in the stock standard Hillfolk setting. We had a cast of 6 players all playing a family closely related to the current chief of their tribe.

Character Creation:

This took a majority of the first session. We sat down and literally read out of the book step by step how to create characters and it actually worked surprisingly well. This is a central part of the game set up, as having a sufficiently complex web of desires and relationships is what drives the whole game and the system that is presented is a good way to create these relationships.

Play:

In all honesty, it was pretty fun! There is a sufficient amount of structure to provide snappy and interesting play, but plenty of room (mile and miles of room) for creative collaboritve improvisation.

The largest complaint my group had about the system was the procedural scene resolution. Its clunky and we had to re-read through the rules each time we had a procedural scene. I don't think we ever satisfactorily learned.

It was also difficult to play with more or fewer players at a session, you are really tied to the cast of characters that you begin play with and its very hard to incorporate new players into the webs of relationships. On the flip side of the same coin, if you don;t have the whole cast present much of the tenssion dissolves; I am sure I am not alone in having trouble getting the exact same group of people together weekly for several hours at a time and having play rely on that is a significant weakness.

In Summary: What You Should Steal

The real innovation of Dramasystem is the web of relationships, I want to use it everywhere. You could have a fast version of the character creation process when rolling up a new party for D&D. This sets up the adventure to be more than just a hack and slash rampage through a dungeon. Having everyone give predefined relationships with each other also meets one of my goals of having a community driven adventuring party. It would also be a useful system to define tensions at a larger scale by running through the process with the factions in a setting (the Bloobloods want the capitol city of the Annix Empire back as their holy city, but the Empire will never let them have it because they think the Bloobloods are a shattered and broken people...)

The dramatic scene system has use in carousing. The party gets back to town and tries to blow off some steam and maybe some tension boils over (Matild! How could you let Hiens get slashed by the orc assassin, you know he is my little brother! I swore to protect him!) This also fits in with the longer time skips I am using in my games to allow for community scale events. The dramatic scene is also a way better way to handle negotiation with NPCs, certainly much better then rolling against a diplomacy DC!

The procedural scenes, as written, are my least favorite part of the system and I would scrap them completely. D&D and other simulation style games are built to handle these kinds of conflicts and do it better than Dramasystem attempts to.


Rating: *** /*****, worth checking out (more so with Blood in the Snow), but maybe not worth buying the hard copy, especially if you can't stand story games

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

1d6 Treant Knights and Their Quests

Lets talk about Knights and Quests.

A Knight is someone who, through ardent belief and pure heart, quests.

A Quest is a long-form search, often in the form of a journey, trial, mission or other strongly intentioned action, undertaken by knights.

(You may notice the circular nature of these definitions. Knights do not, it all makes sense to their dreamy eyes and airy heads filled with convictions and ideals)

Yes, even they were true Knights, even if they were very silly.
Source: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Your love is betrothed to another? Become a Knight and Quest for their hand against all hardships and societal convention!

Your grand-sire once lost a fight ? Become a Knight and Quest to return your family's name to its original status!

Decide you really like that bridge? Become a Knight and Quest to never let anyone across it who can't beat you in a fight!

The church say that those infidels a hundred hundred leagues away live in the town God was born in? Become a Knight and Quest to cross the continent and join hands with your brothers and sisters to slaughter the nonbelievers and cleanse the holy city!

For the right Quest anyone can become a Knight. Even Treants.

1d6 Treant Knights and Their Quests


1: Ser Phoenix the Resiliant, first of the name, sprouted long ago in a lush oasis in the middle of a harsh desert. As the years past Able fought with his cohort in the slow wrestling match for light, eventually succumbing to darkness and death, or so he thought. He awoke to the hard wind of the desert covering his now animate trunk with biting sand and he took his first steps into the unknown.

Ser Phoenix quests to kill the South Wind, that wind that drowns oases in sandy death. He haunts the dunes around where he grew up, waiting for the day the South Wind is foolish enough to blow that way again. In the meantime he protects travelers unused to the ways of the desert.

Ser Phoenix is a date-palm of short stature, hardly taller than a man, and wears only his fibrous bark for armor. His lance is the quill of a dire cactus and he rides a chariot pulled by wild jackalopes. He has a rather dry humor, but will eventually warm up to strangers.


2: Ser Pruner of the Blossom was cut down six winters ago after a long treelife of providing crabapples to homesteaders. Her human neighbors had finally moved away and a logging camp had set up to clear the land, starting with Ser Pruner's orchard. As the axes bit into her stem, she gave a horrific shout and ambled out of the orchard and out of those mountains forever.

Still a young Treant, and a new knight at that, Ser Pruner quests to bear the best apples in the world. Through her journeys she collects pollen from her inanimate kin to bear their fruit, and every traveler she meets she will offer a brace of fresh apples to be judged.  Those that do not provide constructive feed back, or that run from the walking apple tree trying to get them to eat apples, will be the victims of her other quest: make sure everyone world loves apples.

Ser Pruner wears her ever blossoming branches loose and free, but wears a chainmail shirt and tabard with the likeness of an apple upon it. She does not ride, but rather has a pair of mules that cart the fruits of her labors. She wields a longstaff and wears a pair of sharp shears at her belt.


3: Ser Popule the Shaking was one ramet of a large aspen grove. He first sensed something was wrong centuries ago, when the far edge cried out in slow pain. As the decades ground on, so did his looming death, a glacier. When at last it was him and the wall of ice Ser Popule took his first quavering steps out of the way of the ice.

Now Ser Popule has made it his quest to never been cold again. Keep in mind that treants, like trees, aren't especially warm in the first place, but Ser Popule will not be dissuaded! He treks from cozy cabin to comfy bed, always with a thermos of warm sap in hand, always looking for a home the with forever be warm.

You'll rarely see his white barked face, Ser Popule wears heavy woolen clothing and furlined leather armor. He will occasionally strip to immerse himself in a hot-spring or tub, and then you will see his is tall and lanky and forever shivering. He rides a great white bear, and wields a flaming mace.


4: Ser Salix the Shambling grew wildly and with abandon in her youth, her greedy stems reaching for any light, her greedy roots drinking deep any water. One fall in the little valley choked with willow where she grew a chill settled on the lowlands, blackening her neighbors before they could shed their leaves and blighting them. Ser Salix would not sit idly by and freeze to death, so she uprooted and wandered to milder climes.

Ser Salix quests to protect the weak and helpless from the evils of gluttony. The Church converted her early on in her new life as a treant when they found her wallowing in the shallows of a creek drinking as much as her road hardened roots could absorb. The holy man that found her taught her the virtues of abstinence and so she preaches on the road and challenges any she sees as gluttonous to a duel.

Ser Salix would cram herself into the plate mail of a holy order of knights if she could, be she has settled for an iron corset of sorts, binding her many wandering stems into a tube. Its terribly uncofortable, so she will only gird herself when duels are imminent. She wields the most abstinent of weapons, a simple rod of iron and rides on an old donkey given to her by a converted farmer she preached to once.


5: Ser Cary who was Burned speaks little of his past, though the sharp eye can read his history on his old hickory face. The burn scars that go that deep rarely heal well, and the dead charcoal flesh takes on a deep black sheen after years in the rain and sun.

Ser Cary is on a quest to extinguish all fires. He is deep into this endevor, an expert fire fighter. He is currently arming himself with everything necessary to travel to the Plane of Fire to do battle there in a purer sense of the word with the animal spirits of the destructive element.

His fire hardened flesh acts well as a human knight's plate mail, and over it he wears a heavy oiled cloak to retard flames. He travels on the in a boat on the back of a water elemental he met and befriended years ago, and wields a strange mix between of an axe and pick that he swings with vigor and rage.


6: Ser Tsugan Half-Rotten will tell you his tale with a his great wheezey voice, how when he was still a tree a fungal blight came to his forest in the high peaks where he grew. In the alpine hemlock forests everything happens in slow motion, he watched neighbors and friends succumb to the rot, and one spring found the death in his own trunk. He sighed and figured he should see the world before he died, so he ripped up his roots and half-walked, half-tumbled down the mountain.

Ser Tsugan walks with obvious pain, and the remains of his corky face and often twisted into a resigned grimace. For all his discomfort Ser Tsugan is kind to every soul great and small he passes. You may find him politely listening to a waterfall waiting for it to be done speaking, or gingerly watching robins hatching in their nest. For his quest is to show kindness, even when it is hard.

Half-Rotten is a large treant, but bent into a hunch. He wears only robes of moss, kindly giving them a home. He rides no beast, but prefers to limp along side them for company. He wields no weapon, for what kindness can a weapon give?

Source

Monday, October 9, 2017

Soul-Catcher Canyon

The idea of a plane traveling campaign has never really interested me. I always like it when I am gaining enough fluency with a setting that I can began to add lib on my own as a player. Jumping from gonzo plane to gonzo plane while playing a rat butcher from 1890s London sounds fun, but at a certain point the comedy of juxtaposition wears thin.

The idea of Purgatory similarly disinterests me. You die. Then you wait around a sanitary, not good, not evil place until all the little bad things you did in life are purified and you can go to Heaven. There is no tension in Purgatory, you aren't on probation where you can mess up and get sent to Hell.

So lets try and fix both of those with this plane/adventure(/dungeon?) concept.

Soul Catcher Canyon

There is said to be a place between this world and the next.

This place is said to be a network of canyons forming a circle around a faint and cold Sun. This cool celestial giant rises and sets, but in the center of the maze it oscillates on a vertical axis (not ringing the world as a faithful dance partner like in our good home). At night it sinks to kiss the center of the maze for a moment, and then it rises again to begin a new day.

The souls that find there way to this place call themselves Travelers, for they know that if they can reach the center of maze when the dim Sun kisses the earth and they touch the Sun the will be permitted to ask for one True Desire and will be allowed to move on to the next world. The Travelers hail from many different worlds, but they have all found their way to the Canyon.

Not many Travelers reach the center of the Canyon. Many loose faith, turning to cynicism and despair where they tarry on the Road. These cynics have built cities, claiming that this is the next life, that they should make the best of their time here by wasting away their time in hedonism and avarice. They take advantage of the hopeful Travelers, charging tolls for safe passage through their lands. But they wither and die in the Canyon, just like everyone else. No children can be born here, no planted seeds grow to trees, only rot blooms.

The cynics call the place the Meat Grinder, or the Labyrinth of Dust, or the Alleys of Despair.

The Travelers call the place Soul Catcher Canyon.

It kinda looks like that, but only kinda.
Source

Mapping Soul-Catcher Canyon

Structurally Soul Catcher Canyon resembles a large disk with canyons inscribed on it winding their way to the center. These winding canyons intersect regularly at nodes. These nodes are centers of meeting and conflict. Many toll takers have setup their booths to get their due from the striving Travelers working their way to the Center.

The canyons in-between the nodes are still inhabited but operate much closer to a wilderness than a dungeon/cityscape, and even then I recommend using them as flux space.

From Etsy

So using the basic geometry of the dream-catcher above we can make a point crawl map:
Key:
Big C: Center of the Canyon
Rectangles: Node [Ring #, Node #]
Green Line: Outer Rim of Canyon
Blue Line: Canyons Between Nodes

Structurally we can see that there are seven "rings" of nodes relatively equidistant from the sun, and there are seven nodes to a ring. Souls enter the Canyon in the Outer Rim and work their way to the center to leave the plane. There is a minimum of seven nodes that they must visit on their way, passing through eight canyon floors.

The scale of the Canyon is very large, with most canyon floors being a mile across and the canyon walls are all around a mile high. The circumference of the outer ring is on the order of 300 miles

There are many paths to take, none of them is correct.

Light, Water, Clones, and Soil Formation: Ecology of the Canyon

So the big thing we get to play with in the Canyon is "aspect", the angle that the sun hits a surface. In our case the surface that we care about is the Canyon floor and walls. More light, for longer, and at a more perpendicular angle leads to a higher energy input into a system. The below two diagrams shows the the relationship between distance from the sun and amount of light a given canyon will get:

Light at noon

Light at dusk

So with that we can derive the energy, and therefore the heat characteristics of our concentric rings of nodes. The farthest out ring will be the very coldest, with its sunward wall getting some direct light and its floor only reflected heat from the wall, and the outer-facing wall remaining very icy and dark.

Because this is intended to all be a viable adventuring location I will assume the outermost ring is as cold as the coldest earth ecosystem, a tundra. Each ring closer to the sun will be warmer and warmer until we arrive at the desert at the center that gets continuous light. Using our handy rainfall/average temperature ecosystem graph we can create an easy way to assign ecosystem characteristics to an area:
The ring number remains static and determines the average temperature at the bottom of the Canyon. For rain fall/water content simply roll d8 and use that value as how much water is present in that system. If there is no ecosystem mapping to that rainfall value round down to the wettest possible ecosystem for that temperature and add a river, lake or sea to account for the extra water. For example in ring 5 I rolled a d8 and got 8, meaning I got a temperate rain forest with many large lakes.

There is no sexual reproduction possible in Soul Catcher Canyon, and because of this clones rule the Canyon. You see, asexual reproduction is totally fine. This means that the ecosystems are dominated by lifeforms capable of clonal reproduction, and these lifeforms experience a glacial genetic drift relative to the rapid diversification of sexual recombination. To make things worse any plants or animals that make it to the Canyon must first survive the tundra in the Outer Rim and make their way to warmer climes where the can establish their hegemony.

Because of the low probability for a diverse and adaptive ecosystem the the entire Canyon food chain is based on corpses, not unlike the Lut Desert in our plane of existence. Most everything that enters the Canyon dies there, and they act like migrating birds caught in unworldly heat swell dropping them from the sky to be fed on by scavengers.

There is no vulcanism in this plane, but the canyon walls do shear off occasionally leading to the formation of sedimentary rock. Even down to the geology there can be no birth here, only death, for what is a volcano but an explosively pure act of creation in the blink of a geologic eye? No, the Canyon only decays, and on the dust of the bodies of the fallen are the brief lives of the Travelers lived.

Example Encounters and Locations in the Canyon:


Source
The Sky Gate: Usually just a stately carved archway set into the Outer Rim's leeward (?)(opposite of sunward) wall like all the other Gates that emit Travelers, it occasionally spews forth great vapors and mists into the Canyon. Those Travelers that have seen it rarely survive the super-cold fog or the shapes that scream in the twilight. When the fog dissipates and the killing cold passes they have found the bodies of creatures that have violently dedicated in the heat of the Outer Rim, the creatures seem to come from a much colder plane of existence.


Source
The Demons Passage: If you ask around in the Slush District of Hailifax some frost drunk fool is bound to tell you to go check out the Demons Passage. If you can make it all the way through you'll be in a warmer better place, close to the Center! If you can make it through...


Source
The Divine Cabal of Liches: Many forms of artificial life extension are available in the Canyon, one of the most expensive but sure ways is Lichdom. But first you must sumbit yourself for approval at the Divine Cabal, and if you are judged worthy they will not hinder your quest for immortality. They long ago gave up on leaving the Canyon, preferring to drink deep from the well of ego and squabbling amongst themselves, so woe unto the Traveler who would stand in their way.

Source

Source
Warbeast Strike Team vs Megapradator: When new Travelers come to the Canyon they often literally come in waves. Clonally reproducing megapredators lie dormant near an entrance portal waiting for the feast to come, while brave and kind souls riding a mishmash of cancerous vat cloned warbeasts rush to save them.


Demon Starfish, from Kamen Rider V3

Source unknown
Empire of the Starfish People: The largest nation in Canyon is the Starfish Commonwealth, dominating the seas and rivers of the inner rings with their dead eyes and blithe smiles. They reproduce easily in this strange land, a melee will do to hack off some limbs to grow new starfish people. The Commonwealth's goal is to perpetuate the cycle of death and decay, for it suits their strange lifestyle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ánemos Anthology

***This a formalized post that is to be used as a continuously updated resource for all of my writing on my current setting of fascination, Ánemos. The goal here is to have one page that links to all of the resources I have made and adding a little context to the links.

Its also a rewrite of this post that is meant to reorient, refocus and reaffirm my goals with the setting (a la this post by +Jack Shear) and to provide an evocative hook (a la this post by +Jeff Rients ) for fresh players.***

Setting Hook:

It is the end of an Age of Peace and Hope, across the Scattered Sea change is on the wind.

The Minoan Republic's grand democratic experiment is floundering in a sea of war and political strife quietly fanned by the  subversive poet-priests, the Vardini. Arsuf revolutionaries are working to shatter an Age old system of oppression with blood magic and ritual, while rumors of the rise of a new War-Leader spread. Monsters out of half remembered myth emerge from the sea foam in Chalcis to challenge the Council of Magi's dominion. Ramsay Stellar's company of hired killers, the Stellar Jays, have risen to prominence quickly and have proven to be an unstoppable tool in the hands of the highest bidder. The Obsidian Bank remain in the shadows brokering deals and lending captial, though they have begun to collect ancient debts and consolidating their power.

Dead things thought to be banished beyond the mortal veil have been seen on foggy moonlit nights proffering power in return for mysterious favors. The outcast Tribes of Arsuf wander the Sea with their patron Daemons lovingly feeding off of their binder's misery and causing a reign of horror on the high seas. The Spirits have sensed a change coming, and have redoubled their efforts to consume Civilization in feral fury. The slow machinations of the Hecatoncheires are coming to fruition, and the first sighting of one of the titans in generations is causing panic across the Windswept Isles.

The hunt for the Amphora of Dákrya is being called in Iolcus, whosoever returns with the Amphora will be granted any boon from the Lady of Iolcus. The siege of Gythium has finally been broken, the Orichalcum Citadel has been shattered, and the forces that were united under King Agathokles' Banner of Vengeance are scattered to the winds on their way home. The tombs of Sea Kings long buried are being rediscovered, and the brave and foolish are disturbing them in search of ancient relics. The Flowing Forest is descending on Oropus, and the Storm King Mountain Battalion has been hired to not only fend off the danger, but once and for all destroy the verdant scourge. The long-thought-lost Magi Trophonious the Fool has risen out of the depths on the back of a Kētos and is looking for a crew to sail with him to the bottom of the Abyss.

In the midst of all of this astronomers locked in their lonely towers are gleaning whispers from the stars about an Age of Blood and Thunder on the horizon...

Ánemos in Five Lines:

A Sea of Adventure: Your ship is your life blood, with it you have freedom to decide your own destiny. In the Season of the Sun you must travel across the seas to exotic lands where glory will be won, riches made, and ancient secrets uncovered.

For Home and Hearth: As a player you come from a small settlement in the vast Scattered Sea and your goal is to see your home grow and prosper in this time of upheaval and change. Every Season of Storms you return home to help mange the growing settlement and to bring back riches from across the sea. You must carve a place for your people in myth, or at least help them weather the coming storm.

Monsters of Myth: The people of Ánemos are plagued with beasts and monsters unleashed by spiteful Gods and Spirits. These mythic foes demand mythic heroes to rise to their challenge.

Of Gods and Spirits: In Ánemos metaphysical forces clash, the spiritual landscape is as important as the physical. Gods demand worship and the march of Civilization while Spirits necessitate placation to prevent Extinction. The immortals are petty and short sighted though, and each can be dealt with in their own time and manner.

War of Thoughts: There is a war of ideas being waged: Gods are the products of their follower's beliefs, Spirits are cast into opposition to the march of civilization, Daemons embody our darkest tenancies, the very geography of the Islands is mutable through belief. Who ever wins the war of thoughts may determine the fate of Ánemos.

Links:

Character Options and Information:


Monsters and Creatures:

Random Encounter Tables:


Races and Factions:

Locations:

Gods and Spirits:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Disremembered Tribes and their Patron Daemons

(Just a fluff post continuing to flesh out my home setting Ánemos)

(I'm eventually going to re-write my Intro to Ánemos post, compiling all of the fluff and islands and monsters and ships and cultural ideas and generators and tables I have written for the setting so that someone can just open one page and play in the setting. Eventually.)

The Tribal Government of the Arsuf Islands:

The Tribes of Arsuf are more than just an ethnic group, they all participate in a regional government known as the Comitia Tributa (this form of governance is loosely based on the Roman "Tribal Assembly", the Comitia Curiata, that are defined by the 30 curiae that are in turned based of off three ancient tribal lineages in Rome (the early Republic was super interesting. There is a very very good RTS based in this time period)).

The Comitia solves inter-Tribal disputes of a very specific scope:
  • Economic; no selling goods dishonestly or monopolies, especially no price fixing or collusion with other Tribes for profit. The goods must flow.
  • Philosophic; no propaganda campaigns against other Tribes, the ruling Tribe of an island get full thought control. Minds must be kept compliant.
  • And most importantly, Militant; there is to be no use of resource destroying methods for the Sea is a barren enough place and the fertility of the few islands must be preserved. Conquest is encouraged, for the strong deserve to rule, but foolish squandering will be punished.
These disputes are heard and judged in an open court where every Tribe has equal voice, housed atop one of the great monoliths in the sacred island-city of Ierá Aktés. This mountainous Court is also the temple of the lion headed goddess of Law and Vengeance, the Judge Léaina. No Tribe lays claim to the holy shores of Ierá Aktés, but each of them builds and maintains a sovereign fortress within the city where their laws stand (these are especially useful after the Comitia has made a decision, more on that in a second). Léaina presides over the Comitia and drinks the blood of equivocators so that no lies are uttered in the Court.

Many of the decisions made at the Court are reflective of the crime. Economic slights are met economic sanctions for a year and a day. Philosophic attacks will be met with firm refutation of thought and reinforcement of preferred ideals. Military crimes are met with military actions, where identical violences against a Tribe are allowed to be repeated in order to teach the Law breaker.

Ierá Aktés (source)

Judge Léaina's Court (source)

The Disremembered Tribes

A Tribe that does not agree with the ruling of the Court has the option to go rouge, to spit on the conventions and traditions of the Comitia Tributa and stand defiant or flee Arsuf. There are legends of Tribes standing up to the fury of the collective Tribes, that stood firm in the face of opposition, and that eventually laid bare some conspiracy against them to show that their cause was righteous. And the righteous always win in the end...but these are legends.

In the modern Age a Tribe who has been condemned by the Court has a better chance of survival by taking to their Clancraft and leaving Arsuf. There they can decry their ill luck and damn their enemies. There they can lick their wounds and pray to Gods that they abandoned who will never hear their prayers. There, on the tumultuous Sea, they make pacts with Daemons.

Lost Tribe Daemon Binder (source)


Their Patron Daemons

You are a child born on a Big, Old, Boat. All of your siblings were born on this Boat. Your parents were born on this Boat. But your grandparents talk about when they lived on the land, when they ruled a whole island, when they were a real tribe. But the Boat is the only world you have ever known. You have been on land a few times, but there aren't enough enough fish there, it's too hot, and everyone looks at you funny. You like the Boat, the Boat is where your Daemon lives. The Daemon is scary, but it keeps everyone on the whole Boat safe. It's a small price to pay for safety...

You get the idea. To stay safe when the world has agreed that you and yours are dangerous scum means making allies where others wouldn't even look.

Daemons want offerings for their service. The Tribe's Binder will have formed some agreement with the entity, "You keep us safe, we'll give you the blood of our young every new moon and I will not share your truname with other Binders". Since Daemons are the manifestation of some dark part of a group's psyche the offerings they demand nurture that dark emotion.

In return for their favorite horrible emotion the Daemon will manifest however the Binder wishes and will fight their battles (you can treat this as some ambiguous large-huge monster with 4-10 HD and flavor specific abilities). The larger and more emotional the Tribe the more terrific their Daemon.

When a Tribe has a dispute with another Disrememebered Tribe tradition dictates that they will both summon their Daemons and have them engage in a clash of words, a debate. The winner of the debate consumes the form of the loser and that Tribe is victorious. Its a common trope in the Legends of the Isles to have the wandering hero come across two Clancraft tied together on the high seas while titanic Daemons bicker at and debate each other across the decks about the state of politics in Minoa, the price of mutton on Sheep's Head, or what it means to live a good life.

When Tribes clash with outsiders they do not lend them the courtesy of their words, instead the invoke their Daemon to empower them. If they are in high favor the Daemon may even manifest to join the combat themselves.

1d10 Patron Daemons:
  1. Asag the Dark Drinker: Asag hungers for the words that are whispered in the dark out of anxiety. She lurks in that darkness and groans with pleasure as the words are uttered. Asag's favored can cloak themselves in darkness and she will debate their foes with dark logic and nihilistic tendencies.
  2. Abyzou that Drinks Our Tears: Abyzou craves the tears of terror, not tears of grief or sorrow or happiness but pure terror. As often as not it is Abyzou themselves who strike this terror in the dead of night or the flames of battle. Those that appease Abyzou will find that they can resist their worst fears when needed and he will berate his debating opponents with an encyclopedic knowledge of human nature's shortcomings.
  3. Ronwe the Wizened: Ronwe thrives on the little complaints an aging body makes. When the back aches and the eyes darken the curses of the Elders strengthen his power. But when they need to Ronwe's supplicants can shrug off the yoke of age and fight as in their prime, all the while he explains in the patient tones that come with the wisdom of age why he is correct.
  4. Barbatos the Swollen: Stomache aches from rotten food are Barbatos's favorite misery. The Tribe who patronizes him feasts on fetid meats the night before conflict to empower their fearsome protector. Come the engagement the feasters can use battle emesis while he paints straw men out of his opponent's arguments to watch them crumble.
  5. Beleth the Smoldering: They lay out on deck all day, nurturing their puss filled burns and moaning at the pain of it. Their discomfort is the anguish that Beleth draws her form from. When the flames of combat are high her Tribe will not feel the lick of the flames while they burn their enemies and she will use her fiery rhetoric to argue for her side.
  6. Eligos the Cutting Gale: With dark clouds on the horizon fear of the storm wells in even the heartiest of sailors chests, and Eligos drinks up the terror of the strong like water. Come their time of need though the sailors in the Tribe stand firm to ride the gale into battle, while Eligos's keening voices and verbose arguments overwhelm her challengers.
  7. Agares who Sees: When ennui bogs down the heart and mind, when utter world weariness overwhelms, or when sheer dread of the unknown and unknowable seeps in Agares is there to soak it up and in so doing stoke it. In conflict his Tribe is unshakable in their belief while Agares's opponents are met with his razor insights and worldliness.
  8. Buer the Shifting: They stare into the mirror and see a torso too think or too thick, sagging flesh hangs off of bones, wrinkles appear and are loathed; the imperfections of their body and the frustration that breeds is Buer's favorite dish. But when needed they cast aside their doubt and turn it to their foes who waver with their advance, while Buer attacks the moral fiber of his opponents with cruel mockery.
  9. Paimon who Hungers: They are happy they claim. Their partner is the one they want, their soulmate. They settled down with them, had children with them. But still, they wonder, what if I had chosen another? Don't I still think of them sometimes? It is this doubt and insecurity that nourishes Paimon. When called upon he will cast visions of lost loves to distract enemies while he uses traditional logic that all recognize as truth.
  10. Aka Manah the Laughing: It is a rare thing on the Open Sea, the sight of a strangers misery. They know their shipmates intimately, and strangers are kept at shouting distance for the most part. But Aka Manah must be kept happy. So they lay traps in the rock shallows, false lighthouses are built. And when misfortune finds the faceless men in the dark of night the Tribe laughs and blesses their own luck that they do not share their fate. And Aka Manah is glad and will lend some of the misfortune gathered by the Tribe back to enemies, and in debate she will stand tall and relate heart wrenching tales to sway others to her side.
You could also pull things from this list from Swords and Stitchery.

(Much of the idea for these Daemons comes from David Edding's concept of demons from his sprawling fantasy series The Belgariad and The Malloreon, magicians bind demons to a form of their choosing and make them fight. Its like Pokemon kinda)

Paimon who Hungers (source)

Eligos the Cutting Gale (source)

Vanth who would Posses (source)

Asag the Dark Drinker (source)

How to Use the Disremembered Tribes and the Comitia Tributa

One of the main themes of my Ánemos setting is a war of thoughts. Philosophers and wise men litter the Isles bickering amongst themselves, Magi and Priests quarrel about the meanings hidden in the stars, and senators and the chiefs of tribes debate policy. So what better way to ingrain your PCs in this oratory culture than a courthouse drama type encounter. This can occur in an expected place (the high court of a ruling body) or an unexpected place (between titanic daemons perched on massive ships on the open sea).

This is a superb example of how you might run a courthouse drama type encounter, by the illustrious Patrick Stewart from False Machine.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Treants

Treants are trees that should have died a horrible death. Calamity has struck their grove and some animus has seen fit to not only let them survive but become something other than a tree. This is a rare occurrence, even the elves can't reliably awaken treants (though they will claim that thats because the tree wasn't ready yet).

When you stumble across a young treant they often are simply sitting and marveling at their articulating twig joints and the way the other side of that rock looks. It's not until they have weathered a few winters and the novelty has worn off that they begin to seek even more novel horizons. Old treants are prodigious walkers, often covering 30 miles in a day simply for the joy they find in the rhythmic creaking of their wood and the exotic crunches and tastes of distant soils beneath their root pads.

As treants age their forms grow more and more complex (think the incredibly complex and brushy crowns of old growth redwoods) through years of wear and variable climates. An ancient treant hardly looks like the tree it once was, with foreign moistures flowing through it's xylem and distant suns vivifying it's leaves. But they can never truly shrug off their origin, their morphology is plastic but their innermost rings will still tell of their ancient bondage in the place that they first grew.

Don't confuse them with dryads, they hate that. Dryads are the free flowing avatar of the id of a tree and forever tied to their groves. Treants are a wholly tree realized as a walking, talking, growing entity. Fuck dryads, those whimsy fucks.

If you want to generate a random treant use the table below:


(Gosh writing tables like this is fun) (It's also really hard for me to pick proto-typic/ universally recognizable trees. I was going to write about the habits of each of the 10 above, but then I thought that no one would give a hoot. So I didn't. Let me know if you give a hoot.)
This might be helpful for understanding their original biome.

How to use the above generator:

  • The tree type tells you some personality details of the treant (pines are hardy and drought tolerant, so a pine treant might be stubborn and resourceful).
  • The biome they grew up in is like the circumstances of their childhood, was it a hard lonely life (like the alpine) or an easy social life (like the rainforest)?
  • The events that lead to their awakening should be the dominant aesthetic descriptor after the tree type (a fire scarred treant bears those scars as cat faces).
  • And obviously what the treant wants should indicate their motives when encountered.


Thats for life

So is that (example of what bug kill can look like) (I took this picture!)

Treants and Wands

It is well established that the wood of a treant makes an exceptional wand. Perhaps some of their life force furthers the magic infused when created or maybe wizards just fetishize exotic materials when crafting their items of power. Regardless, the wands made from treant wood often share some personality traits with their parent. If the treant awakened in a fire the wand will be especially well suited to fire magics for example (but it also might be temperamental and brittle).

One of the greatest gifts a treant can give you is a length of their body to use as you see fit, thought they are notoriously hard to befriend.

Some wizards claim that once a wand is all used up you can soak it in water and then plant it in rich soil. If you are lucky and very nurturing it may root and leaf out again and a wyrwood tree will grow. Wyrwood is very useful, especially in the crafting of magical ships.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

(Video) Game Review: Crawl


So my gaming group all hang out together and one of us had this new video game, Crawl from Powerhoof  We got so distracted we didn't even play out scheduled game that night. Its a blast, so I thought I would give it a review since it stole table top gaming time.

Premise:


Above is the launch trailer, basically laying out the way it works.

You were an adventuring party delving into some horrible dungeon, but you and your buddies got cursed and are now doomed to fight each other for humanity as you descend deeper into the dungeon. You get to play as monsters/traps when you are not the only human. When you kill the human you get to be human again. You level up, buy magic weapons, loot chests, and when you are strong enough you can challenge the boss. If you kill the boss you win your freedom from the cycle!

Game Play:

User Experiance

All of the gameplay takes place on the same screen, no split screen silliness.

Nice and simple controls, just direction and two buttons. It handles pretty well. I use an Xbox controller, but the keyboard controls are totally functional as well.

The graphics are a nostalgic pixel style with an acceptable amount of detail for each monster/boss/weapon/room. The lighting effects are well done. It looks great.

The soundtrack if fun, but a little repetitive after a few rounds of play.

The AI is well written, the three levels (easy, medium, hard) are well balanced.

Mechanics:

When starting the game you choose an Immortal that you worship, this gives you some mechanical advantage (25% more damage done with traps, monsters have more health, etc) and lays out which monsters you can manifest as.

There is a face off in the first room where as humans you all fight, the last one standing starts out as the human. This is pretty fun.

When playing as the human you run around the dungeon level looking for treasure, the item shop to upgrade abilities/weapons/artifacts, and the way down to the next level. Once you hit level 10 you can challenge the boss.



When not playing as a human you fly around as a ghost and can: interact with atmospheric things (torches, chains on the wall, blood fountains, etc), traps (buzzsaws, spikes, flame throwers, throwing crates, etc) and most importantly become a monster when you fly into a pentagram on the floor (more on this in a bit).

There tends to be a lot of changing of who is the human. When playing with all four players its a very fast paced game, and it can be hard to keep track of were your character is in the chaos.

Probably my favorite part of the game is the monster mechanics. Every time a human gains a level the non-humans all get "wrath" points that they can spend to evolve the monsters. For example you start with three wimpy little guys: a dire rat, a skeleton, and a gnome. You fight the human a bit and they gain a level, giving you some wrath to spend on upgrading your monsters to scarier things like a skeleton archer or skeleton duelist. This is a lot of fun, especially when you start playing as some D&D classic monsters like beholders, dragons, mind flayers, giants, and pit fiends.


And the big trick is that you don't have every aspect of the game unlocked initially. By beating the bosses you unlock more features, ie a new weapon type, a new trap, or new monster evolution paths. Its super addicting, you finish the game and just want to play again to try out the new stuff!

Summary:

Pros:

  • Addicting, fun to play with friends or alone.
  • Well designed graphics/ambiance.
  • Fun leveling system for humans and monsters a like.
  • Feels like arcade games you could play against your friends as a kid and get really emotionally invested and fight about. Good shit.

Cons:

  • Can be very hard, especially when there are all four players in play and can get frustrating if you don't get your time as the human. The soundtrack and dungeon level diversity is shamefully limited (each dungeon level has a cool name that implies an atmosphere but they all look the same!).
  • Some monsters are blatantly better than others and you don't get any information about them other than their picture until you try them out.
  • Games can take a long time when on higher difficulties, like more than an hour.

What You Should Steal:

This could be a cool way to run PvP. You throw player controlled monsters at them until they die then the killer becomes a character again and runs around some more. It would require a super streamlined system to allow leveling and monster advancement to happen quickly.

The boss fights are pretty inspired, they generally each have a gimmick and escalate significantly in difficulty through the fight. I could probably write a whole post on that, but +Arnold K. basically did that here, so I wont.

Rating: ****/*****, worth the $15 if you have controllers for everyone.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Magic Tattoos

So this topic has been beaten to death with a stick, starting at 3.5E (feat and equipment, I guess?), creeping into D&D's wayward child Pathfinder (archetype and feat, I guess?), and of course finding a modern home in the homebrewing sphere of 5E.

I don't have any interest in writing more rules for if you get infected when you get tattooed, there are too many of those already. I already wrote about the tattoos barbarians and monks have, so lets use that as a jumping off point.

Acquiring a Magic Tattoo Design:

Magic tattoos are uncommon and unsightly things. You must inscribe in your flesh the arcane geometry in the appropriate materials to warp reality around the nexus of ley lines living on your skin. Finding a way to do this is a pretty rare occurrence, few Magi spend their valuable time researching ways for warriors to get stronger so they can kill more warriors (they are too busy staring at the stars). So when a new magic tattoo is designed it is often by accident or by madness.

Pirate captains and warlords have these special tattoos, not emperors and generals. These are relict knowledge of a savage Age and polite society tends to close their gates and turn their noses the tattooed heathens from beyond the waves who come to their white cities.

Rumor has it you can find magic tattoo designs here (1d6):
  1. On the corpse of a long dead Sea King, you have to go dig them up and cut off their skin and take it to a tattooist to be deciphered and transcribed. They are interned on the Ivory Island of course.
  2. In an ancient text deep in the archives of one of the Minoan Universities. You'll have to either enroll as a student or break in to gain access, But beware! Those musty old men are steeped in bureaucracy and have deep institutional power behind them, get caught stealing and you'll like never be allowed in the Republic again.
  3. Scratched into the dungeon walls of one of the Towers of the Moon by insane prisoners of the Nekros Archanis in their insights of eternal near death. If you ever find yourself in these dungeons it may be worth while to copy the scrawling, but good luck discerning arcane diagrams from the scrawls of a fevered and broken mind...
  4. The ruling line of the Wayward Clans of Arsuf often has a clan magic tattoo inscribed once they reach adulthood. Their detractors say that each clan's patron Daemon taught them their tattoo and that its actually a way for the Daemons to manipulate them. Maybe you can go hunting for one of them and kill one of the ruling line? Or perhaps you can bind a Daemon and ask for a magic tattoo yourself...
  5. That company officer tattoo of the Steller's Jays, the mercenary company led by the enigmatic Ramsay Steller, is supposed to actually be a magic tattoo. They just rarely have the appropriately skilled tattooist do the ink job, so not many of them actually work. Join up and maybe you can get a copy of the designs if you get promoted, or perhaps you can kill a few and take their hides to be studied.
  6. The guild of grandmaster tattooists known as the Seven Sages, are said to know a few powerful magic tattoo designs but they will only tattoo those they find worthy by passing their Seven Trials. (Think of them as like a mix between philosophers and master martial artists, they could probably also teach monks a thing or two about fighting)

Finding a Tattooist and Getting Inked:

This guy will tattoo you, if you're cool enough.

At least an expert tattooist must be employed to inscribe a magic tattoo, and depending on the complexity of the tattoo more talented tattooists must be found (it may be in the party's interest to try and convince a tattooist to move to their settlement and work under their protection, but they'll have to build them a studio).

Once an sufficiently skilled tattooist is found they will have to be given time to study the magic tattoo design and to gather the appropriate materials, this will take around a month and they will require half of the payment up front to acquire the components necessary.

The tattooing itself will take 1-4 months (same as getting tattooed for defense by the different levels of tattooist) of dedicated time every day to be done. This means you will be lying down for 8 hours every day in a quiet studio with a lot of incense and sandal wood burning, a good activity for the Season of Storms when travel is dangerous.


Example Magic Tattoos:

Mechanically magic tattoos are magic items that you can never un-attune from, until you have them removed by some painful or very expensive manner (in 5e, system agnostic they are just magic items). As with mundane tattoos they must be uncovered in order to work. Each tattoo has a minimum "level" of mundane tattoo for the tattoo to work properly.

Remember, every tattoo has to have a really cool story to go with it.

Here are 12 ideas based on the above sources:
  1. Aeropos's Pride: Master level tattoo, +5,000 , you can a +2 bonus to your Cha score and the ability to cast Viscous Mockery as a cantrip, using your character level as your caster level.
  2. Cassander's Secret: Expert level tattoo, +3,000,  you apply double your proficiency bonus when making a deception check and once per day you can detect whether a statement is a lie or not.
  3. Lysimachos's Swiftness: Expert level tattoo, +4,000, your base land speed increases by 10ft and you gain one of the following movement speeds: climb (half max), swim (half max), or burrow (quarter max). This choice is made at the time of tattooing.
  4. Demetrios's Hubris: Grandmaster level tattoo, +10,000
  5. Stain of Filth: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, you can cast Detect Undeath (as Detect Magic, but it only works on Necromancy magics) at will and you get advantage when parlaying with undead but disadvantage when parlaying with the living.
  6. Blemish of the Starless Night: Master level tattoo, +5,000, you bind your soul to your mortal coil and become undead (usually a ghoul). You no longer have to eat, drink, sleep or breath. You also gain a empathetic bond with the Nekros Archanis, driving you to do their bidding in the land of the Sun.
  7. Steller's Jays' Insignia: Expert level tattoo, +2,000, you can communicate silently with anyone else with the Insignia within a mile radius. This communication cannot pass through 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood.
  8. Mark of the Cresting Wave: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, you gain the limited ability to command water. This lets you create a current out of still water, slowly (10 min/gallon) boil or freeze water and mostly-water-substances, lets you ask water to not drown you quite as fast (double the duration you can hold your breath), and allows you to cast Cresting Wave (as Thunderwave but you must be on or near a body of water) once per day.
  9. Mark of the Barbed Harpoon: Master level tattoo, +4,000, you gain proficiency with the harpoon (as trident, but range 30/120), or if you already have proficiency you gain double your proficiency bonus with the harpoon. In addition on critical hits with harpoons opponents are considered restrained until they take a full round to rip out the harpoon which deals damage as normal when removed.
  10. Mark of the Lonely Albatross: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, once per day you can extend your arms into long white wings and float to the ground, as the effect of Feather Fall. In addition you can now speak with sea birds.
  11. Mark of the Starry Sail: Expert level tattoo, +1,500, you apply double your proficiency bonus to sailing checks and you can never become lost when under a starry sky.
  12. Wisdom of the Seven Sages: If you pass their trails the Sages will agree to tattoo you for free as long as you have up to a Master Level tattoo. The tattoo will be of Grandmaster Level has the following properties based on how the trails where overcome:
    1. You overcame the trials through shear strength, your Strength score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can hurl things (objects, people, yourself) twice as far as you normally could.
    2. You overcame the trials through skillful agility, your Dexterity score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can get extra slippery and automatically succeed some feat of acrobatics that would other wise be impossible (scale a glass wall, balance on the edge of a knife, the Iron Lotus)
    3. You overcame the trials through  steady resilience, your Constitution score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can choose to ignore one round of damage, this must be declared before any attacks or damages are rolled.
    4. You overcame the trials through cleverness and insight, your Intelligence score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can learn one weakness or strength of a living thing from 10 minutes of observation.
    5. You overcame the trials through intuition and temperance, your Wisdom score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can intuit the honesty of one statement after meditating on it for 10 minutes.
    6. You overcame the trials through force of personality, your Charisma score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can generate a basic level of communication out of something that generally has no language (golems, eels, trees, clouds, termites, etc). This takes 10 minutes of intense observation and evocative dance.
    7. You overcame the trials through dumb luck, you now gain the Lucky trait as a Halfling (When you roll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll). If you already have the trait you reroll on 1s and 2s. In addition once per day you can roll with advantage on any attack roll, ability check, or saving throw even if you have disadvantage.
Mark of the Barbed Harpoon
Mark of the Lonely Albatross

Stain of Filth

Monday, July 10, 2017

Re-skinning for Ánemos: Monstrous Humanoids

I don't want orcs or goblins or kobolds or giants (get your gently Germanic folkstory hands off of my game!) in my Weird Greek Mythic Fantasy setting, Ánemos, but I want their functionality of intelligent, society having, trap laying humanoid enemies. So let's give the classic D&D monstrous humanoids a facelift, like I did for the playable races. This should be pretty easy because many D&D creatures are already in/based off of Greek monsters, but the Greek versions are usually a lot weirder. (And yes I know that some of these monsters aren't explicitly "mythic", but they come from the weird travel literature written in the Classical period).


Centaurs (They had those in Ancient Greek myth, no real change)
Bacchanalian and feral man beasts, their hedonism and virility are legendary. At the merest whiff of wine they fly into a revelrous rage and can drink a town dry in a night, eating cured meats and the flesh of men with identical abandon. The centaurs claim it is the corrupting influence of the house-people on their innocent natural state that drives them into their rampages. They beg, "Please! Do not bring me more! My distended stomach aches! My liver throbs with wine! My knees grow weak!", but not many speak their strange language....

Any creature, human or otherwise, unlucky enough to lay with a centaur will always bear a centaur child that will gallop out of their womb and straight into the wilds to join the Herd.

It is rumored that if you can keep them out of their cups they are actually a wise culture with deep knowledge of philosophy and astrology. They accept payment in the form of wine or silver, but it is up to the supplicant to make sure that the centaur sage doesn't start drinking until they have answered their questions and they have put some miles between them and the Herd.

Not distantly related to centaurs are satyrs, though they especially love to revel in music and pleasures of the flesh.


Cyclopes (Ogres and Ettins)
Cruel and petty creatures known for keep herds of sheep and men alike to satisfy their hunger for fresh raw flesh. They live solitary lives in caves, but near enough to others of their kind so they can share gossip and gang up on unsuspecting travelers coming to their islands.

They have been known to leave their islands on wanderings, venturing to far off lands on crudely made rafts or stolen vessels to eat exotic meats and sleep under strange rocks. Scholars argue about the purpose of these travels, some propose that this is for mating reasons or migratory instincts while their opponents argue that it is a mechanism of population control to send out small bands of cyclopes to hostile lands to be killed or to conquer.

If you ask the cyclopes they will simply say they are going on an adventure, and you may have to deal with them carefully to avoid ruin. When treated well, ie with lots of hot bloody meat, its possible to steer cyclopes in more productive directions like: adventuring somewhere else, smashing all of this stupid wheat, or building large stone laying projects (cyclopes are surprisingly talented masons). But don't mistake them for eager laborers, they are notorious for cutting corners or eating those that gave them work.

A two eye cyclopes is not unheard of, though these beings have two mind occupying their single body and they bicker incessantly with themselves and everyone they meet.

Hecatoncheires (Giants)
Standing taller than most ship masts the Hundred Handed Ones, the Hecatoncheires, are many armed and many headed giants. Only a few dozen are known to exist, some believe that they were once a race of beings not unlike humans. The story goes that they fought amongst themselves they discovered that the victors could claim the heads and arms of slain opponents until all of those that survived were fearsome hundred armed giants. Others some claim that anyone can become a Hecatoncheires, one must simply rip the head and arms off of an oponent in combat. These limbs are rumored to be attached in a long and painful ritual, with new limbs growing every few years.

Fearsome to behold but more fearsome to quarrel with, the Hundred Handed Ones are smiths of mythic skill. They jealously guard their wondrous creations from any they distrust, which is nearly everyone. Far flung across the many islands of Ánemos they toil away in their volcanic workshops under their isolated fortress isles acting as master, father and god to those that also toil on their behalf. One thing is for certain, they hate and fear each other, always plotting to destroy their brethren. It is a long, quiet, and deadly game of chess.
 

Spartoi (Orcs)
First made when the Mágos-King of Histria was but a young scholar; he captured, studied, and eventually wed the Drakon of  the Ephyraen Narrows. He learned from his beloved about the many wonderful properties of the teeth of drakes, that among other things they could be planted like seeds in the earth and tireless and loyal servants would rise up after a year and a day. In secret the king studied the teeth that his beloved had gifted him until he discovered a way to grow the teeth in a fraction of the time. He slayed his wife for her rows of razor sharp teeth (and he also bathed in her blood), and with the teeth he grew an army overnight, claiming island after island for his until he grew to the dread figure we are familiar with today.

The Mágos-King is long  entombed, but his great invention the Spartoi still click-clack through the night in Ánemos to do their current masters' bidding. Slay one and the Drakon tooth may remain intact and ready to grow you a new Spartoi that is strong in body if rigid in mind.

Tooth of Drakon: Bury any tooth of a true Drakon in a few inches of soil and water well while chanting the battle song of Histria. In 10 minutes a Spartoi will climb out of the earth to serve you (stats as a 4HD orc). After being slain their is a 1-in-6 chance that it is destroyed, decreasing by 1 for each subsequent use (ie 2-in-6 the second time, 3-in-6 the third, etc). Roll a d6 to randomly determine how many uses a found tooth has.

Cynocephalus (Kobolds)
Once nearly driven to extinction by the taller races of the Spangled Sea the hated Cynocephalus live in far flung den-caverns on quite islands far from Empire. With the swollen heads of dogs and the lumpy bodies of midgets, Cynocephalus are a clever and wicked people with their own barking language and perverse goals. They can hunt like stubby legged dogs and are fiercely devious when devising traps.

Some powerful Cynocephalus witches are said to be able to shape-shift; their preferred forms are that of the hooded seal, griffon vulture, and giant sea slug. All of their forms still have the horrible twisted faces of dogs. These witches' heads are highly valued by Magi working on transmutations.

Some Cynocephalus have been known to tour with menageries or are kept as oddities by collectors (with against their wishes). In the great metropolises of the world there are even small communities of Cynocephalus that live in warrens beneath the slums. Many blame them for spreading the plague and causing birth defects, though that is actually due to the fleas that live in their filthy fur.

Acephali (Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears)
A race bizarre near-humans that have no heads but wear faces are upon their chests. You can tell how old one is by the length of their limbs, a very young one has an adult human sized torso but stubby little arms and legs and a fully grown adult will have freakishly long limbs and will tower over humans. They reproduce asexually by budding a new torso where a humans head would be, and when the new Acephali's torso reaches full size it tumbles off of their parents shoulders and begin to scrabble around on their new hands and feet.

They seem a silly people, prone to extended ludicrous games and extravagant pranks. But be careful! Behind their nasally laughter the Acephali are cruel beings without the capacity or desire to empathize with anyone not of their kind. It is reported that liberated texts from Acephali philosophers describe their belief that they are the only true thinking and feeling beings in Ánemos and that everyone else simple simulates emotion and thought like the beasts of the field.