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]

2018. október 14., vasárnap

[Actual Play] The Gardens of Ynn [LotFP]




Ran a Lamentations game, set in 1897, for two players. Sent them into The Gardens of Ynn. Still love this module, it provides a totally new experience every time, random, but with a general overall consistency and vision.

Characters:
The Two-Gun Kid, a masked vigilante from the USA (Fighter 3), and
James, an occultist and dabbler in the dark arts from a noble family (Magic-User 3).

In the morning after a masked orgy party at a rich mansion, James wanted to try out a ritual, rumored to open a door to a magic garden. The ritual worked, and the door they drew with chalk on an ivy-wrought garden wall turned into a real doorway.

It led to small clearing, surrounded by trees. In the middle stood three glasshouses. One was like a tower. There were bodies of dead birds all around, without any injuries on them. The adventurers checked the first glasshouse and harvested some unknown herbs with bluish leafs. The second glasshouse's windows were covered with yellowish dust from the inside. When James opened the door, the gush of air sent spores flying from the inside, poisoning the players. At the same time, James noticed an object gleaming under the floorboards of the glasshouse. He made himself a mask against the spores, and retrieved an exquisite dagger with silver decorations.

They checked the glasshouse/tower next. Inside they found some small apple-like fruits with unknown properties. There was also a ladder leading to the flat roof of the tower. Two-Gun Kid climbed out first, and wanted to get a better look at the surrounding lands from this vantage point, but when he tried, he got a severe headache, and couldn't look over the treelines. James had a similar experience.

James went back to the spore-infested glass house, to search it better. He found some wide tracks, leading to the far corner of the house, where he found a small crystal bottle with an emerald liquid inside. Two-Gun Kid took a sip, and established, that, luckily, it was some sort of a healing solution - although it also made his eyes glow green for a few seconds. He climbed back up the tower, to check whether he can survey the land now - but again got hit by the migraine.

James searched the glasshouse some more, and heard a dragging/raspy sound from behind. Coming down from the tower, Two-Gun Kid noticed the statue of a beautiful nude male standing next to the spore-house's entrance - where no statue was before. James exited the glasshouse, and in this moment the statue came to life and attacked him!

Combat ensued. The animated statue (who was defending the lair he set up in the glasshouse) proved to be a very strong opponent, slamming his rigid marble body against the adventureres. Arrows and spear attack barely scratched its surface; but Two-Gun Kid's revolvers turned out to be quite effective, breaking off the statue's nose and splintering the marble. However, it was clearly not enough to stop the statue. James resorted to magick, and entangled the statue in a Web. They tried to destroy the immobilized statue, but it was rapidly breaking free. So the two adventurers jumped on their mule and horse, and fled deeper into the garden.

Unfortunately, during their flight they couldn't track where they were going, and got lost. The new place they happened upon was a small park, with several statues in the middle....... They wanted to go back right away, but the statues didn't animate... They cautiously circled around, and went deeper into the garden. They passed an ice-rink with a lamp-post standing next to it (knocked off a candle from it).

The next area was quite a surprise... The trail they followed lead to a bridge - which led to a small island just floating above the abyss! Cogs and gears and other parts of corroded (but still slowly moving) machinery were visible on the bottom part of the floating island. And there were some other floating islands nearby. The adventurers used a 10' ladder and ropes to slowly make their way to the next little island, to find that there was a huge turtle trapped between some grinding gears protruding from the surface. The turtle also had a bonsai tree growing on its shell. Two-Gun Kid managed to free the turtle from the trap, and tried to cut off the tree (which was rooted in the flesh of the turtle), but the turtle hissed and pulled away. The bonsai tree was part of its body now.

The next little island had a hedge or bush cut in the shape of a giant bird - a topiary; which, like the statue before, turned out to be animate! It was guarding its nest and eggs!

James risked going over his usual magic limit, and cast Web again - only to vomit up his own intestines along with the sticky web!! James fell unconscious from the pain. The topiary bird got caught in this mess, and tried to break free. Two-Gun Kid set the web on fire, *whoosh*, and the whole web and the bird caught in it went up in flames. The burning bird charged at the Two-Gun Kid, but was quickly reduced to a burning heap of twigs. The Two-Gun Kid found two eggs in the nest - who knows how an animate topiary can lay eggs? Then he carefully carried back James to their animals, and tried to backtrack to the garden's entrance.

He found his way back to the statue park, but lost the trail back to the glasshouses. He visited a few locations: a cluster of small ponds, a dark, dense forest, but decided not to venture deeper.

He happened upon a gazebo, with three dead bodies laying around it. He looted them, and also found many interesting expensive items in the gazebo: porcelain teacups, opium pipes, playing cards, velvet gloves...

He heard a strange, but beautiful voice, a mix between a choir and flutes. He noticed a group of strange cratures approaching: four plant-ladies, with huge roses in the place of their heads. He asked them for help, help to heal James. The four maidens approached James' body, entwined him in their twig-arms and thorny vines... Two-Gun Kids hoped that this was some sort of a healing magic. When the maidens were done, they retreated back to where they came from, leaving behind James' body - which now had beautiful roses growing out of it!!! But the Magic-User remained unconscious.

Two-Gun Kid decided to camp at the gazebo. Night descended, and there were creatures moving in the shadows, but didn't approach the gazebo. In the morning Kid searched around some more, and found another little crystal vial, with the emerald liquid he knew to have healing powers! He used it to restore James, and also himself... But alongside the healing, the liquid caused some weird changes: James gained the ability to smell magic, while Two-Gun Kid had sticky hairs sprout out of his body, like a spider, allowing him to climb up vertical surfaces.

To be continued...




2018. október 8., hétfő

[LotFP] Napoleon's Egyptian campaign as a sandbox setting?



I have this idea in the back of my mind. A pseudo-historical exploration/adventure sandbox game.

Take Napoleon's Egyptian campaign (1798-1801).

The player characters are soldiers, officers, personnel in Napoleon's army. They learn about the riches of the land - the tombs to plunder, the treasures to find. Henchmen/replacement characters are local guides, guards, workmen, and lower ranking soldiers and camp personnel.  Each night, they sneak out of the encampment, risk being shot as a deserter, to reach the Valley of the Kings and get some of the sweet ancient gold. Avoid guards, Mamluk patrols, sandstorms. Gather information from locals, try to decipher hieroglyphics. Or perhaps the players choose the "legal" route, and get an official commission from Vivant Denon.

Monster-wise, as much as I like Hammer Horror/Universal Monsters, I'd like to break away from the standard "fantasy ancient Egypt" routine. Mummies and scarabs are tried and true, but perhaps some other things can be introduced. This is a hard task. Something to think about.


So, I'm not working actively on this. Just slowly accumulating ideas...

1d6 Rumors


1
Napoleon entered the Great Pyramid and came out pale and shaking. He’s seen a vision of the future.
2
One of the officers found a gold bracelet, but the next day, he was found dead, strangled, in his own tent.
3
All the nearby tombs are already robbed. You need to venture deep into the desert to find riches.
4
Scrapings of mummies have healing properties.
5
A man named Vivant Denon is researching the tombs on Napoleon’s behalf. He knows more about these monuments than anybody else, and is ready to pay for artifacts.
6
The ancient tombs are always bigger than they seem!

And some standard spells, now noted down as Egyptian incantations (pulled from historical sources):

1d3 Spells


1
Unseen Servant
O shabti, allotted to me, if I be summoned or if I be detailed to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead, if indeed any obstacles are implanted for you therewith as a man at his duties, you shall detail yourself for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks or of conveying sand from east to west; 'Here I am', you shall say.
2
Speak with Dead
My mouth has been given to me that I may speak with it in the presence of the Great God.
My mouth is opened, by mouth is split open by Shu with that iron harpoon of his with which he split open the mouths of the gods.
3
Protection from Evil
May I have power in my heart, may I have power in my arms, may I have power in my legs, may I have power in my mouth, may I have power in all my members may I have power over invocation-offerings, may I have power over water ... air ... the waters ... streams ... riparian lands ... men who would harm me ... women who would harm me in the realm of the dead ... those who would give orders to harm me upon earth.




2018. október 6., szombat

Cosmic Crawl



Cosmic Crawl is a group-sourced Lovecraftian cosmic horror setting book, drawn, written / compiled by Evlyn Moreau of the Chromatic Cauldron! I contributed some bits and pieces to it, and I'm very happy that now it's all finished.

You can find the awesome complete pdf here:

2018. augusztus 18., szombat

40 masks for secret cults




Recently in my campaign the players encountered a secret underground cult (as usual).
The gimmick is that all cultists wear different masks, so I came up with a bunch of them:


1
Animal
2
Demon
3
Theatrical
4
Carnival
1
rat in a hat
horned god
young lover
gold frame
2
sinister cat
beak of horrors
rich old geezer
blue velvet
3
smiling pig
red with fangs
hag
frills and glitter
4
gnarling dog
three-eyed
comic relief
butterfly wings
5
raven with huge beak
iron teeth
single tear under left eye
comes with
a veil
6
bat with bloody snout
completely flat; no face; red
cheated & angry
Cyrano de Bergerac
7
fish with feathers
mouth behind bars, Dr. Lecter
cuckolded husband
mirror surface reflects others
8
owl with bleeding eyes
blue with vertical mouth
distorted by pain
seductive silver eyelashes
9
wounded wolf
orange scales
happy face
crimson tears
10
deer, antlers sawn off
three tortured faces
ignorance is bliss
classic Venetian

Most masks are relatively simple, but expressive, hand-made by cult members. The masks don’t have big protruding parts, because they are meant to be worn while moving around in confined places (tunnels and dungeons), or while cavorting naked in the forest.

Animal masks are more or less identifiable natural animals.

Demon masks are nightmarish visions of carved wood and papier-mâché.

Theatrical masks are meant to represent a single emotion or a well-known character type from popular plays.

Carnival masks are halfmasks, covering the area of the eyes and nose. They were obtained in the city.




2018. augusztus 17., péntek

[Monster] Amazonian River Creeps (using the Random Esoteric Creature Generator)


I wanted to have some fun with James E. Raggi IV’s Random Esoteric Creature Generator (the old edition, not the new fancy one, unfortunately…). I started rolling, and this is what I came up with.

Basic Body Shape: Combination = Quadruped + Quadruped
                [I rolled quadruped twice, so… Octoped?]
Basic Characteristic: Avian, +3 AC (Oriole)
                [Orioles are not very creepy, but they can be very colorful, so I’m taking that feature]
Size: Small, -1 HD, 1d8 appearing
                [A swarm of small avian/insectoid eight-legged creatures, with tropical colors?]
Movement: Swimming
                [Nice twist! They slither in the water, then, like flying fish, jump out and attack]
Attack: Tail (extra attack, 1 die type less damage)
[Their basic attack is beak-based, and they do an extra tail attack. Sounds logical, because they already have an elongated body to accommodate eight legs]
Features:
1.       Wings
[Reinforcing that avian type… I don’t want to make them fully airborne, so maybe they use these wings to perform leap attacks and jump down waterfalls. Or maybe I’ll treat this not as wings, but as a single crest. More rolls are in order! And of course I roll “multiple features”…]
2.       Rubbery Body
[This is a crazy strong feature, each damage die is halved, missile attacks bounce off in a random direction]
3.       Multiple Legs
[Ahahahahahaha this is great! Even more legs! Up to 16! Rubbery colorful fishbird creepy-crawlies]
Strategy: Attack least armored
Motivation: Hunger

Straight away, a creepy and actually usable monster! And it even sort of makes sense, how all these features come together.

Amazonian River Creep
No. appearing: 1d8
HD 1 (4 Hit points), AC 15, Move 120’ (when swimming; 60’ on land)
Bite +1, 1d4 damage; Tail +1, 1d3 damage (next round after using its tail attack, the Creep is AC 13)

Nimble fast-moving river predator: Elongated, segmented creature, with eight pairs of legs. A bony crest protrudes from its spine (for better navigation in strong river flows). The whole body is covered in yellow-to-orange-to-black scales. A flock of scaly river worms hellbent on taking a bite out of your flesh.

Rubbery Body: The scales are extremely strong, and attacks easily bounce off it:
“If an attack is successful, but the rolled damage is less than half the weapon’s natural maximum (for example, a roll of 1–3 for a weapon that does d6 damage, before any modifiers), then the weapon bounces off and does no harm to the creature. Missile weapons that bounce off have a 10% chance of bouncing directly at another randomly chosen combatant, and if this happens, the original attacker should make new to-hit and damage rolls against the new target.”

Combat: The Creep attacks either with its beak (full of small, vicious teeth). May deliver an extra attack with its long tail, however this option leaves its soft underbelly exposed to damage.

Tactics: Lives in packs (1d8) in jungle rivers. The pack’s hunting tactic is simple: they sneak up on their victim underwater, then leap out, try to make hit-and-run attacks.