2019. január 9., szerda

Machen's "The White People" and The Gardens of Ynn

Just a quick follow-up: another quote from "The White People". This time a good fit for the Rose Maidens in The Gardens of Ynn...
"What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning? "Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is."

Machen's "The White People" and LotFP-style alignment



I'm re-reading Arthur Machen's "The White People", which is an awesome story, and also some of the quotes are great for explaining the alignment system of LotFP - specifically the Prologue in which Ambrose explains his philosophy of Sin. Probably it's where Raggi got it in the first place?
"Alignment is a character’s orientation on a cosmic scale. It has nothing to do with a character’s allegiances, personality, morality, or actions."  (LotFP, Rules & Magic, p. 8)
There is this fatalistic predeterminalism: Magic-Users and Elves must be Chaotic, Clerics must be Lawful. All others are free to choose their alignment. I actually really like this part of the LotFP rulebook, because it captures the cosmic horror part so well, and transforms this old D&D trope into something else. Being Lawful doesn't make you a "good guy" or vice versa. Both Lawful and Chaotic are deviations from the norm, and signal a transgression.

The following passages are quotes from "The White People":

"Sorcery and sanctity," said Ambrose, "these are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life."
...

"Great people of all kinds forsake the imperfect copies and go to the perfect originals. I have no doubt but that many of the very highest among the saints have never done a 'good action' (using the words in their ordinary sense). And, on the other hand, there have been those who have sounded the very depths of sin, who all their lives have never done an 'ill deed.'"
...

"You astonish me,” said Cotgrave. “I had never thought of that. If that is really so, one must turn everything upside down. Then the essence of sin really is—” “In the taking of heaven by storm, it seems to me,” said Ambrose. “It appears to me that it is simply an attempt to penetrate into another and a higher sphere in a forbidden manner. You can understand why it is so rare. They are few, indeed, who wish to penetrate into other spheres, higher or lower, in ways allowed or forbidden. Men, in the mass, are amply content with life as they find it. Therefore there are few saints, and sinners (in the proper sense) are fewer still, and men of genius, who partake sometimes of each character, are rare also. Yes; on the whole, it is, perhaps, harder to be a great sinner than a great saint.”
...

"Then, to return to our main subject, you think that sin is an esoteric, occult thing?” “Yes. It is the infernal miracle as holiness is the supernal. Now and then it is raised to such a pitch that we entirely fail to suspect its existence; it is like the note of the great pedal pipes of the organ, which is so deep that we cannot hear it. In other cases it may lead to the lunatic asylum, or to still stranger issues. But you must never confuse it with mere social misdoing. Remember how the Apostle, speaking of the ‘other side,’ distinguishes between ‘charitable’ actions and charity. And as one may give all one’s goods to the poor, and yet lack charity; so, remember, one may avoid every crime and yet be a sinner."

2019. január 7., hétfő

[Actual Play] D&D Campaign Re-cap, 2017-2018 - PART 1 [5e]




My current long-running campaign is a game of fifth edition D&D with some friends. We started it in 2017. The first long adventure took us about 12 sessions (in about 10 months), most of them conducted online (due to everybody living in different places), but with the "finale" (an epic 6-hour long double feature!) played out in person - which was actually a very nice thing.

So I'm writing a re-cap! I cannot do it session-by-session, because this all took part over the course of a year, and I don't have exact notes, so I will just summarize what I remember.

The setting is on the low-fantasy side of things, all homebrew, I flesh it out gradually as we go, adding in elements when needed. Tone-wise, I try to keep things weird and unusual; but not overtly horrific or grimdark.

Characters:

  • Gawin, Dragonborn Ranger, who was brought up by humans, and became the protector/folk hero of his small village
  • Jandar, Tiefling Paladin, from the Order of Monos (an outdated archaic order of self-appointed judges and avengers; hated by most) (yes, he is Hellboy)
  • Tofu-san, Forest Gnomesse Monk, aficionado of fine herbs, calligraphy and meditation
  • Avi, Human Wizard, comes from a noble family, studies at a battle wizard academy, loves to party, dresses with style
All characters started at Level 1. Player-experience-wise, the group is quite mixed. Two people have been playing for almost 20 years (the players of Jandar and Avi). The two other player were essentially new to the game. Gawin's player started recently in another campaign. For Tofu-san's player, this was the very first experience of RPGs ever - so I ran a short intro/prologue for her.

Tofu-san's prologue:

It started with Tofu-san, a travelling hermit, camping in the forest. At night she was attacked by a small but vicious humanoid creature (a Fey darkling). They fought, and Tofu-san pinned her enemy to the ground and interrogated him. The creature turned out to be on a ritual mission: his task was to kill a person, in order to be initiated into the senior ranks of his tribe. Tofu-san let him go, but the creature attacked again. Tofu-san didn't want to kill him, so just tied him up and took away his weapons, and left him behind.

Some time later, Tofu-san fell asleep between the roots of the huge old tree. She had a vision or a lucid dream. In the dream, she was in an underground cave system. She explored it a bit, then followed a narrow passage, and arrived into an almost perfectly spherical small room. There was a hole in the ground. She knelt down and looked into the hole --- and she found herself staring into the abyss, the infinite cosmic void. She sensed a terrible malevolent presence between the stars, reaching towards her.

She woke abruptly, holding a polished pitch-black pebble in her hand.

Early sessions:

The early sessions were just Gawin, Jandar and Tofu-san. Avi joined later.

The set-up: It all started in a big city called Voln. Voln is menaced by a series of earthquakes, unnatural freak events. Part of the city was in ruins, people are in panic. Even worse, dangerous creatures swarmed forth from the underground crevices. The city council was in dire need of people to help secure the city and combat the monsters.

Jandar, Gawin and Tofu-san agreed to help. They had the motivations to do so. Partially because of the small fee attached. Partially for their own personal reasons. Jandar's Order has a collection of prophecies, and one of these prophecies tells about earthquakes and the "wisdom that hides in the rifts". Gawin's home village was also hit by an earthquake, and rotting undead spewed forth from the split ground. Gawin the folk hero fought them, and then decided to do the same at the city. Tofu-san had a feeling that the cavern she had seen in her vision/dream might be in the newly found passages under the city.

Thus, the first two or three sessions were spent exploring a dungeon, made up of parts of the city and its buildings that collapsed into the underground cavities. So it was a nice mix of architecture, transformed and mingled by the quakes, and natural caverns. One of the running themes was the correlation of what's overground and what's underground. Where it was possible, the characters tried to orient themselves based on what they see in the collapsed underground parts. They explored the remnants of a collapsed alchemist's workshop (fighting an ooze). They found some big underground caverns, with roots hanging from the ceiling - which they figured must have been somewhere under the city park - and got into some fights with some purple mushrooms.

They also found a corridor, leading up towards the ground. The corridor was weird, twisted. Just looking at it caused headaches for some reason. It led to a cellar, that had a huge magic circle drawn on the ground... The characters failed to understand its function, but broke it - just in case. They also copied some of the glyphs for further research. They understood that this cellar must belong to one of the city's buildings, but couldn't go up, because of the rubble covering the cellar's trapdoor from above.

I gradually started piling on more weird stuff. The fungal theme was expanded with mushroom-controlled zombie-like humanoids, who were guarding certain areas.  The players also found places where mushrooms were clearly "planted" and cultivated, by the unknown inhabitants of these tunnels. The characters killed a few fungal zombies, but also learned that by destroying the mushroom-infestation, the zombies revert back to non-aggressive (although sick and unconscious) humanoids. The group decided to save one of these ex-zombies, and took him back to the surface, where a small hospital was set up for earthquake survivors.

While exploring the passages, the characters also started noticing strange distortions of space. They called them "soft spots". Essentially these were small invisible portals all over the caves, which had random connections between them. If you squeezed yourself into one of the holes, you'd pop out of a different, randomly determined one, possibly in a different area of the dungeon. Alas, travel between these "soft spots" was dangerous: Jandar, for example, was attacked by some unknown force while traversing the black void inbetween two portals, but survived.

The group started experimenting with the "soft spots", and ended up in a hitherto unexplored hall of the caves, where they encountered some humanoids. They looked like the fungal zombies from before, but were instead sentient and, well, non-zombies. The characters tried to communicate with them. The humanoids answered, but they spoke a rather archaic and almost incomprehensible version of the currently spoken common language. So the players had to resort to using just basic vocabulary, which was understandable by both (like "home", "food"...). Basically they learned that these people live in a cave system, don't even know that there is supposed to be a city above them... They explained that they have their own city, somewhere even deeper underground, and showed the players that the passage leading there has collapsed due to the earthquakes, essentially cutting them off from their homes (their place is a guardpost of sorts, next to the mushroom farms).




The player characters explored some more passages of the dungeon. In the collapsed shop of a diviner, Mme. Xanadu, they encountered a group, led by a dwarf. The dwarf (who introduced himself as Veid) claimed to be looking for his brother, who disappeared during the earthquakes. The player characters promised to alert him if they find a dwarf in the tunnels. Veid and his companions retreated.

After some more exploration, they happened upon a cave area that Tofu-san recognized from her dream/vision. All the stalactites and other details were in place --- expect for one, the small spherical room with the "window" overlooking the cosmic void...

They backtracked and followed some other paths, and soon found a cave passage that led to the cavern that they accessed before through the portal. But the cave-dwellers from before were dead, their throats cut! The corpses were fresh, still warm, so the players looked for the assassins, and in the dark caves, were attacked by a small coterie of creatures. Tofu-san recognized not just the type, but one of the individual creatures as her attacker from back from the prologue. The Darkling came back to retry its failed initiation/assassination attempt, but this time with a couple of friends. After a tough and sneaky fight, the players killed most Darklings, but captured one. Turned out, the creatures got into the tunnels through a portal they found in the forest - under the tree where (as she recognized by the description) Tofu-san rested. The forest is actually a good hundred miles from the city, so the portals/"soft spots" system is bigger than they suspected...

With this, the players have exhausted most of the accessible passages, and returned to the surface, to claim their small reward - but also to think about what to do next. The cave system clearly held more mysteries then it first seemed, and the earthquakes didn't seem natural either.


To be continued...







2018. december 17., hétfő

Just a quick thought about healing magic

I like weird, low fantasy settings, where magic is alien and dangerous. So I'm not a fan of the instantaneous, no-risk magic healing that's a staple to fantasy RPGs. I wrote about this before.

So, if I want magic to be inherently alien, and opposed to the natural order of things, the easiest way to go is treat a "benevolent" healing spell as you would a curse: the target of the spell must make a save or a resistance roll. There is no option to "let the spell take effect". If a character can shake off a curse or hex, then why should the reality-bending, flesh-mending healing be different?

Consequently, if the character rolls a save against poison, then why not roll against healing potions as well?




2018. november 24., szombat

Cheat sheet for The Gardens of Ynn

Ran another session in The Gardens of Ynn, for some new people. I'll try to write up a play report, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the little cheat sheet I made:


I copied most of the tables (but not the descriptions) out of the book, slightly edited and organized them; and added references to page numbers. This way when you roll up a location, you know right away which page it is at in the book.

Sheet 1: Locations, Details, Events
Sheet 2: Encounter tables, Ynnian alterations
Sheet 3: Cosmetic alterations, Treasure tables, Magic weapons
Sheet 4-6: Creature stat blocks, armor ratings, saves.

You can also use one of the Ynnian generators created by the people of the internet:
https://instadeath.blogspot.com/2018/04/gardens-of-ynn-generator.html
http://meanderingbanter.blogspot.com/2018/10/ynn-generator-and-tracker.html

Have fun!

(c)

2018. október 29., hétfő

[Review/Overview] The Stygian Library by Emmy Allen


Emmy Allen released a new book, The Stygian Library. Emmy's stuff is always great (I'm really looking forward to trying the ice age weird fantasy, Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow), and, of course, she is the author of The Gardens of Ynn, which I'm a big fan of.

The Stygian Library follows the same structure: it is a procedurally generated environment, with plenty randomness, but also with a strong thematic coherency at the same time.

The Library is made up of randomly generated locations (mostly rooms). The player group begins on Depth level 0, then move deeper and deeper. For each step, the DM rolls a Location and a Detail, combines them. The Depth rating is always factored into the generation of the next room, so the Stygian Library gradually opens up, and the players are able to reach the more obscure and weird places.

There are also randomized Events and Encounters with the inhabitants of the Library. The Bestiary is quite extensive, full of library-themed creatures: animated books, origami golems, dust elementals, and, of course, the Librarians: they are divided into five color-coded orders, each with its own set of duties, spells, abilities.

I really dig the atmosphere and the tone of this setting. This is how Emmy describes it in the introduction:
Whilst some of the contents in this book can be portrayed in a rather dark light (it is, fundamentally, about necromancy), it’s not intended as a particularly grim setting. One thing that often strikes me about the fiction I enjoyed in my youth is how the dark and the whimsical so often go hand in hand. Not as a subversive contrast, but rather how the imagination (when allowed to wander) will flit between ideas that fill us with wonder and with dread. Like exploring an empty house, all it takes is a slight change in context (nightfall, say) to make the experience creepy.
So, The Gardens and the Library are built using the same principles, There is one major difference between the Gardens and the Library. Ynn is all about exploration, wonder and adventure. The Stygian Library offers the same "sense of discovery", but it is also vast (potentially infinite) repository of knowledge, so it is very likely the player characters visit it with a specific goal in mind.

Emmy presents a simple, but elegant subsystem for tracking the players' progress towards their goal. There is a Progress score, its initial rating is tied to the highest Intelligence rating in the group. The score increases if the group talks with somebody knowledgeable, or finds a book about the topic they are researching, etc., and decreases if the party is lost or misinformed. The DM sets the difficulty of finding the information (e.g. 20 for basic knowledge, 35 for dangerous obscurities). If the Progress reaches this value AND the group is deep enough into the Library, the precious information is found.

Furthermore, the presence of the Librarians, their active and engaged factions, also gives the Stygian Library a different, more "narrative" style, than the slightly more passive, dreamy, utterly lost inhabitants of the landscapes of Ynn.

So, overall, I think The Stygian Library is not only a great follow-up to The Gardens of Ynn, but also presents its own developments.

The only minus is that the .pdf is still just a simple text, without any hyperlinks or bookmarks... This book would benefit ENORMOUSLY from a well-marked structure. For example, it'd be great to be able to click a header on the Location Table, and be taken to the description. Maybe something for a future edition?

Get the Library here, it's $4. And check out this hilarious mind-bending play report!





2018. október 20., szombat

[Magic Item] Whistles!




Whistles are cool. 

Most of these whistles can be used as simple musical instruments or for signaling. However, if they are played in a special way, under special circumstances, they produce interesting and even magical effects.

Non-magic whistles

These whistles don’t count (detect) as magic items, but have special uses.

Bird call whistles

This covers a whole category of small whistles that very closely imitate bird sounds. Most whistles can only reproduce one given call. However, there are more advanced instruments that imitate a range of sounds related to a single bird (e.g. a magpie’s distress call, mating song, etc.). This type is commonly used by hunters to lure their prey.
When sounded, birds of the given type (and also some other animals that might know the given call) in the vicinity react in an appropriate way: gather at the sound’s source, flee, “answer” and so on.

Shriller-triller

Small, simple tin whistle.
The loud, piercing tone of this whistle is unpleasant to most, but downright painful to creatures and people with exceptional hearing (canines, most fey, characters with high Wisdom, creatures with bonus/advantage on Perception checks related to sounds, etc.). Such creatures instantly take 1 [1d3] damage. Additionally, they must save against Paralyzation [DC 12 Wisdom save] or be deafened for 1 minute.
                                                                       

Pipe of a Thousand Shrills

Small metallic whistle, with a single blowhole. But then the pipe is divided into many tubes, twisted, interlocking, with many holes for the air to exit. This strange configuration produces a chaotic mess of simultaneous sounds when blown.
Everybody who hears the whistle for the first time must save against Paralyzation [DC 12 Wisdom save] or be confused for 1d6 rounds, suffering a -2 penalty [disadvantage] on all checks, saves, attack rolls. If somebody has already heard this whistle, it has no effect.

Dream whistle

Medium-length bone whistle with three holes. Adorned with engraved floral patterns.
If the eight possible notes of this whistle are played quietly, in a rising-falling succession, for at least 30 minutes, over a sleeping person, their dreams become exceptionally sweet and soothing. This sleep facilitates natural healing, effectively doubling healing rates. Furthermore, if the sleeper is tortured by recurring nightmares, night terrors, sleep paralyzes or other similar natural or supernatural effects, going to sleep with the Dream whistle playing negates them.
In the right (or rather – wrong) hands, the Dream whistle can have detrimental effects as well. Different rhythmic patterns can be developed through lengthy experimentation. They cause severe nightmares, make the sleeper sensitive to hypnotic suggestion, bar the sleeper from waking up…


Magic whistles

These whistles count (and detect) as magic items.

Hound-master’s whistle

Made from a piece of a deer antler, with a silver mouthpiece. Its single mid-range tone is strong, audible at a long distance.
If sounded during dawn or twilight (20 minutes before/after sunrise/sunset), a blink dog (HD 4, AC 16, 120’, Morale 8, bite +4, 1d6 damage, blink = teleport, range 40’, can attack once before or after teleporting) [MM, p. 319] appears. It serves the sounder of the whistle loyally in combat and hunt. It disappears after 1 hour.
The whistle holds 1d8 charges.

The Three Lovers

A set of three bulbous clay whistles, shaped to resemble nude humanoid figures, with emphasized sex organs marking the place where one has to blow into the whistle.
If three people play the three whistles simultaneously for 10 minutes, they enter into a state of shared consciousness. Roll 1d6 for the effect. Some forms of this connection are hierarchic. In such cases, the person with the highest Charisma score becomes the “Center” of the connection. Resolve draws by comparing Wisdom scores next, then by rolling.

1
A telepathic link is forged between the three participants. The Center can freely send and receive messages. The other two participants can only receive from and send messages to the Center.
2
Two participants are merged with the Center’s body, essentially forming a new character. It retains the Center’s class/race, on the Center’s level + 2. Take the highest Strength, Dexterity and Constitution scores among all participants. Combine all their Hit dice and roll up hit points. Retain the Center’s Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma, spell-casting ability, known spells, special features. One spell and one special ability/feature can be added from each of the other participants.
3
For the duration of the spell, the physical appearance and biological traits of the participants change to resemble each other. They all take on a combined, merged look, which contains elements of all their original features. Body type, sex, voices, pigmentation, etc. all move towards a middle ground between the three of them. They cannot be distinguished without magical means.
4
All participants can use the highest Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma bonuses among them instead of their own while they are connected by the Three Lovers.
5
All participants perceive the world through the Center’s five senses, but lose their own.
6
If the participants fall asleep during the effect of the whistles, they enter a shared dream world. Here they are the Three Lovers, a mythical love triangle.

After 1 hour, the connection is severed, and all effects are reverted. All participants must save against Paralyzation [DC 18 Wisdom save] or take 1d8 [1d12 psychic] damage. Furthermore, if the save fails, there is a 3-in-6 chance that the participants fall in love with each other, forming a complex and deadly love triangle.


* Stats/mechanics for LotFP [and 5e D&D in square brackets]