Sunday, July 22, 2018

Downhill Race - a cheese-rolling contest minigame

Need a merry and possibly deadly folk festivity for your setting’s rural areas? Why not consider the famous Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling race at Gloucester?

I wrote up some rules for a minigame for a cheese-rolling contest player characters can enter, and, possibly, win.

There are two eerie alternative outcomes of the contest too, for that weird horror touch.

Have fun!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

[LotFP] Extended laboratories for research

This post is a collection of things a high-level wealthy Magic-User can use to stock her laboratory and library. This is mostly for flavor, extending and fleshing out the abstract approach of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rulebook (p. 80-83). With a distinct early modern science feel.

Cabinet of curiosities

No laboratory can be complete without a nice collection of curiosities! 

Strange creatures
Creatures preserved as skeletons or taxidermic mounts can be added to the cabinet of curiosities. The preparation of such objects requires special knowledge and skill. For taxidermy, the corpse must be relatively fresh (1d6 days after death). For skeletal mounts, most of the bones must be present.
Where to find: Collected personally or purchased from adventurers.
Price & value: Depends on the type and hit dice of the creature.

Price & value / hit dice

Minerals, gems, jewels, crystals, stones, metals and ores, various substances (resins, oils, liquids, etc.); and also seashells, corals; butterflies, insects.
Where to find: Collected personally or purchased.
Price & value: If the value is not evident, set it as 1d10 x 10sp.

Medical oddities
Specimen displaying signs of illnesses, pathologies, malformations. Usually preserved in fluids, displayed in glass jars.
Where to find: Purchased from medical facilities, collectors, unfortunate parents...
Price & value: Depends on the rarity and state of preservation: 2d10 x 25sp.

Curios and various objects from faraway lands. Masks, costumes, jewelry, paintings, drawings, dolls, puppets, idols, art pieces, musical instruments, anything.
Where to find: Collected personally or purchased from merchants, travelers, agents. Good connections with trading companies can give the opportunity of first picks from any haul…
Price & value: Calculated based on the distance the object had to travel to get to the collector. Add 1d10 x 10% on top of that for agents’ fees (only added to the buying price, not the value).

Distance & complications
Price & value
For every 100 miles over 500
Transportation included both land & sea
The original owners of the object would kill to get it back

Laboratory equipment

A well-equipped laboratory must include a wide range of vessels, both simple and complex, which can be used for sublimation, distillation and other processes. Including, but not limited to:
  • alembic – two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling chemicals
  • aludel – clay subliming pot, made up of two parts
  • athanor – a special furnace that provides uniform and constant heat
  • crucible – a small vessel or container that can withstand high temperatures
  • “Moor’s head” still – distillation apparatus, with an extra vessel for cooling water
  • mortar – for grinding up various substances     
  • retort – spherical vessel with a long neck, protruding downwards
Where to find: Most of the equipment is available for purchase only in major cities. Some pieces are produced on special orders.
Price & value: Any amount of money can be invested into this sinkhole…

Extended and specialized laboratory spaces

These rooms are counted towards the value of the laboratory as usual, but might give situational advantages (a bonus on the Magic save, etc. – Referee’s discretion).
Additional space is a one-time extra, counted over the base space requirement of a 10 feet square / 1000sp value.

Additional space required
Price & value
Anatomical theatre
50 feet square
Animal kennels
Botanical garden
20 feet square
Ä Hothouse, greenhouse, orangery, conservatory
20 feet square
50 feet square (tower or top floor)

Special implements

Additional space required
Price & value
Calculating devices
Printing press
10 feet square

Monster Man II Contest

The Monster Man II Contest has now entered its voting phase: you can check out all the entries on James Holloway's blog.

My entry is the Cloud of Chaos.

[Laird Barron] Swift to Chase

Swift to Chase is my favorite Barron collection. It has some weak stories, but I just absolutely love the interconnected narratives concerning the lives and afterlives of Alaskan teenagers. Cosmic slasher horror forever - literally. Time is a flat circle. Jessica Mace is a kick-ass character as well, and I'd love to see more stories about her. Jessica was assaulted by a serial killer, but fought back, shot it, and lived to tell the tale. This episode is a linchpin around which many of the stories revolve, or relate to, in some way.

So let's break this down!

I: Golden Age of Slashing

Screaming Elk, MT -- The opening of the collection is, unfortunately, one of the weaker ones... It's a good introduction to Jessica Mace as a character, but the story itself is a so-so report of her encounter with a haunted traveling circus.

LD50 -- Now this is a good one. The characterizations are great. Gritty and raw. The story and its resolution might not be a groundbreaking idea, but it's good enough and it's only a background for Jessica anyways.

Termination Dust -- A disjointed account beginning with Jessica's encounter with the Eagle Talon Ripper, with some more stuff thrown into it. I think this story really starts to shine when you return to it after finishing the whole collection.

Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees -- My favorite Barron story. He does a great job creating a unique voice for the narrator - cheerleader and alpha female Julie V - without it becoming a parody. Then there is high school weirdo / genius / fixer figure Steely J (one of his many "incarnations" throughout the collection). Barron weaves urban legends, Mean Girls, pop culture into a single strain, leading to a most horrific climax... I absolutely love this story.

II: Swift to Chase

Ardor -- This story picks up the Alaska themes, but otherwise I feel it's a bit underwhelming and uninspired. I usually skip it during my Swift to Chase rereads...

the worms crawl in, -- This one is quite a mess! But the mess has certain hypnotic qualities, as the paranoid ramblings and stream of consciousness quickly blow this tale of domestic violence into cosmic proportions - only to collapse back into the mundane?

(Little Miss) Queen of Darkness -- Back to the horrific lives of the Alaskan teenagers of Eagle Talon! We revisit those fateful nights, and see the aftermath, or one of the aftermaths... The account is once again radically divergent from all the others: maybe it's an unreliable narrator, or perhaps what we read is the description of how it all went down in one of the personal pocket hells.

Ears Prick Up -- Given the collection's overall coherence, this story is kind of a weird choice... A piece told form the point of view of a genetically/robotically enhanced combat dog, set in a pseudo-Roman futuristic science fantasy world. At the same time, the title of the whole collection comes from it ("My kind is swift to chase, swift to battle"). This story loosely fits into Barron's pulp / gonzo line of output, it also lines up along stories like "Vastation". And it is a great story in its own right, with the stream of dog-consciousness just driving it forward.

III: Tomahawk

Black Dog -- Barron's stories often have a romantic / existentialist (?) streak. They are about outsiders, damaged people, individuals who don't necessarily fit into society. "Black Dog" is about two of these people going on a date and sort of just clicking? It might sound lame, but actually this is a great short story, almost purely in dialog form, with an eerie horror undertone.

Slave Arm -- "...and begin, again," Barron writes, and once again recounts the story of a party turning into a slasher massacre. I love the enumeration he provides: a 100+ names of everybody who's here: "Your friends are here. Your enemies are here. Everybody you’ve ever slept with is here." After the massacre comes the lengthy period of DEALING with the trauma. Survivor's guilt. Flashbacks. A very strong story, especially in combination with the others in the collection.

Frontier Death Song -- Barron's take on the Wild Hunt motif. Of course, filtered through Alaska, horror and 1980's rock radio. It is a good story, although, weirdly, I don't enjoy the link with the folklore motif much.

Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle -- And finally, one more long account of the various horrific events that befell the Alaskan teenagers. I absolutely LOVE this story. It's such a mad ride, and a perfect final for the collection. Of course, given what we've already learnt, this is just one of the possible outcomes. This story is permeated with the fallout of our favorite Barronian cosmic horror conspiracies, leaning towards slasher / pulp. Clandestine experiments, secret government organizations, Planet X... I get a buzz from reading and re-reading it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[Magic Item/Book] Tome of Higher Constellations

The Tome of Higher Constellations was created by an anonymous scholar in Prague, for the library of Rudolf II. The first half of the book consists of astronomical tables: meticulously compiled and corrected, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the second half introduces more charts, graphs, from a wide range of sciences natural and occult. Through complex calculations these are cross-referenced with the heavenly constellations. Uncanny patterns, otherwise hidden, emerge… making it possible to trace and predict the finest shifts of the celestial spheres that command the fate of the whole universe. The final result is a single date in the future, when all factors align, and major, cosmic changes are possible. Actions undertaken on that day will bear major consequences: warlords bent on world domination crave to know this date, alchemists and magicians seek it as the date of their opus magnum or most complex ritual…

The catch: this prognosis is not descriptive. It’s prescriptive. Once a date is divined using the Tome of Higher Constellations, something world-changing is bound to happen. But the exact details are malleable. Anybody who knows the time can attempt some insane endeavor.

To peruse the Tome, one must have a strong academic or arcane background, and then spend 2d4 weeks working on the calculations in a library or laboratory.

After the period of study, a date in the future is predicted.

Dice type
Time unit

Roll two d6’s and consult the chart. The first d6 gives a dice type. The second d6 gives a time unit. A roll with the given type of dice defines the amount of time units.
Example: roll #1 is 3 = 1d8. Roll #2 is 5 = months. The 1d8 roll comes up as 6. This is combined as 6 months.
Repeat this process two more times, then sum up all the results to learn how far into the future will the grand constellation take place, counted from the FINAL day of work with the Tome.
Example: #1 = 6 months; #2 = 8 days; #3 = 12 years. The constellation will take place 12 years, 6 months and 8 days into the future.
If one time unit comes up more than once, just add them up as usual.
Example: #1 = 6 months; #2 = 13 months; #3 = 2 days. The constellation will take place 19 months and 2 days into the future.

Yeah... This is how I envision "epic level" games in LotFP, mwhahah...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Clive Barker's Undying

Recently, inspired by Noah Gervais' excellent analysis of Clive Barker's games, I've started playing Undying.

There are so many things I love about this game! The atmosphere, the story, the environment design, the journal entries... But at the same time, unfortunately, I'm not really into, uh, actually playing it. It's a very hard game, and I have to reload and retry a LOT. It's survival horror, so resources (like ammo or health kits) are scarce. And I grow tired of it quickly. I usually play at most 20-30 minutes in one go, then take a day-long break..

Also, so far it feels very linear in a way. Of course, the maps are complex, there are many doors and corridors... but ever so often when you want to go through a door where you are not supposed to go at the given moment of the game, it is jammed ("it won't budge," the protagonist announces). And there is lot of backtracking. E.g. early on in the game you have to go out to the garden through a door in the west wing of the building. When you get there, you learn that the key is in the east wing, so you have to backtrack, then explore the east wing. Ugh. Am I spoiled by tabletop RPGs? :)

Monday, July 9, 2018

[Actual Play] The Belly of Gargantuel playtest [LotFP]

Ignore the whale penis.

Ran The Belly of Gargantuel for two friends. They rolled up two characters each, a level 2 and a level 1. The game was set in the Baltic area in the 17th century, just as a basic historical background.

Characters: They are a small group of amoral con-artists: Isaiah Spielmann, the con-artist (Specialist 2), Klara Moroz, Isaiah's bodyguard (Fighter 1), Jebediah Smith, self-proclaimed prophet (Cleric 2), Pupa, Jebediah's discipline (Dwarf 1)

During their travels, they stopped in a small nameless village. In the morning, there saw the locals gathered before the inn. They were all listening to a small boy, who was telling about a gigantic dragon fish monster carcass which lays in the field. He found a valuable gold medallion in the monster's mouth, and saw some more treasures - but he had to retreat because of the rancid rotten smell. The village elder took away the gold ("this belongs in the orphan support fund!").

Jebediah Smith went into fire and brimstone mode, and proclaimed that the appearance of the carcass is the Devil's work, and must be investigated. Jebediah's miracle worker prophet cred was supported by Klara, who said that Jebediah healed her brother. In the end, a small mob of seven villagers joined the expedition.

The boy led the party to the rotting sea monster. However, they stench of decay was so overwhelming, that they couldn't even get close (vomiting and Constitution losses all around...). Jebediah Smith managed to improvise protective masks out of rags and various herbs - enough for eight people.

The PCs and four villagers approached the hulking mass of flesh from the side of its maw. They broke some teeth to create a gap to crawl through. Inside they searched the flotsam and produced some valuables, but decided against lingering for too long. They turned their attention to the "throat" instead. They found a fishing net which was clearly set up intentionally to block the opening.

A villager was the first to pass through the throat muscle... and got crushed by it to near-death. After some experiments, the players learned they can "trigger" the muscle from the safe distance (suing a scythe brought along by one of the villagers), then quickly jump through.

In the first belly, they found a copper tube with a tap inserted into the flesh of the creature. Jebediah opened the tap and gathered some of the oily substance into his palm... and gave it to Pupa to try. Ever-obedient Pupa tried it, but spit it out instantly, announcing it to be like lamp oil. The players used their vessels and waterskins to drain the contents of the oil cistern, with the intent to sell it later.

They proceeded to the next "room", and found that a huge gaping wound in the side of the creature was opening to this place - an entrance/exit point they haven't noticed earlier.

A big chest was found in the place. Instead of opening it, Klara began to haul it outside, but she got attacked by a kelp monster, which lay in ambush... One of the villagers panicked and ran out through the wound. The monster slashed open Klara's veins with its razor sharp leaves. The rest gang upon the weird monster and valiantly fought it. Isaiah fired his arquebus, almost deafening everybody in the vicinity... Jebediah panicked and fired his crossbow into the melee, and hit Klara, who collapsed to the ground. Pupa noticed that the creature had a single orifice on its body, and with a lucky roll buried his sword inside it. The monster hissed and died.

Klara was brought back to life by Jebediah's healing spell: but as they neglected to remove the crossbow bolt first, it essentially got fused with her body! The players found two more monsters, but in a dry and passive state.

The exploration of a third belly revealed more signs of habitation, including a hammock. Jebediah crawled into the hammock to rest, giving orders to the others to search the room. Isaiah spent some time reloading his arquebus.

Pupa found some muscly meaty flaps on one side of the belly, which could be folded back like curtains.

Behind them, there were hidden niches.

In the middle one, there was a treasure trove. When it was opened, crustacean creatures swarmed out of it! They climbed up on Pupa, and two of them even managed to crawl under his armor... and started slicing and cutting him with their claws. Pupa fell to the ground and started rolling over, trying to remove his armor or crush the crustaceans. Meanwhile, Klara and the villagers crushed a few more. Eventually the colony of creatures retreated into the shadows. Also, the meat of the crustaceans turned out to be edible.

The players continued exploring the hidden niches behind the belly's lining.

In the left one, they found a huge wooden statue depicting a siren: a figurehead, from a ship's nose. Although it was clearly something valuable, the players decided to leave it behind due to its great weight. However they did remove a golden crown from the statue.

Finally, they opened up the last compartment, and found a skeleton overgrown with corals, and a naked man with a long beard! The man held a harpoon and was shouting obscenities at the characters, calling them thieves and robbers. Pupa understood the language the man spoke, and tried to learn more about him. The man had lived in the belly of the monster (which he named Gargantuel) for many decades, and lost all memories prior to that time. His only companion was another man called Donato: the coral-encrusted skeleton was actually Donato, and the niche was a burial shrine. He objected strongly to the characters stealing his stuff, of course... but turned out that the highly amoral Jebediah Smith had an even viler plan! Jebediah decided to seize the man, and show him in a religious themed sideshow of sorts: come, see the modern Jonah, who lived in the belly of a whale for 40 years! Of course, he told the villagers, that freeing this man is a pious act... so they all quickly overpowered and bound the poor fellow.

The group left Gargantuel's carcass through the big wound. We decided to wrap it up at this point. Hopefully soon we will pick this up, and see whether they can get all the treasure or will be forced to donate it to the village's "orphan support fund".

I have to say, the players got extremely lucky with the encounter rolls. On the other hand, they did miss out on searching some parts of Gargantuel more thoroughly...

Overall, it was a fun little session.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

[Monster] Cloud of Chaos

Created for James Holloway's MONSTER MAN contest II!!! Based on a neural-network-generated monster. A weird science fantasy riff on clouds and neural networks... A bit meta-gamey, but fun, in my opinion.


The inhabitants of a distant pocket of the infinite multiverse are creating a massive repository of knowledge. This ephemeral, invisible system is called “The Cloud”. However, the eldritch spells (“cloud technology”) used to contain the ever-growing mass of raw information have damaged the time-space continuum. The Cloud is leaking through the rifts, the wormholes, the folds of non-Euclidean space, infecting the whole multiverse.

In your campaign world, this influence manifests as... the Cloud of Chaos!

  • The Cloud of Chaos has a chance of appearing as a random encounter whenever there is a thunderstorm or strong electrical- and lightning-based activity. 
  • It is also possible to summon the Cloud of Chaos intentionally, by concentrating high-power electric charges in one location.

Description: a shimmering, billowing, whirling mass floating above ground.

Size: variable. It manifests as a 40’ cloud. Roll 1d6 each round and consult the chart. On 1-2, the Cloud shrinks. On 3-6, the Cloud grows.

Size chart
1’ – the Cloud disappears
ñ 1-2 shrink
roll 1d6/round
ò 3-6 grow
40’ – starting size
175’ – the Cloud disappears

Movement: the Cloud of Chaos doesn’t move, just fluctuates in size

  • The Cloud of Chaos is not a physical manifestation. It’s information.
  • It doesn’t have hit points, cannot be damaged by any physical means.
  • The Cloud of Chaos is not a magical effect and cannot be dispelled.
  • It is not a real cloud. It is not dispersed by wind; it is not subject to weather magic.
  • Lightning strikes and other strong electrical discharges make the Cloud change size (according to the size chart).

  • The Cloud of Chaos is affected by spells and psychic powers connected with mental faculties, cognitive capabilities and willpower (Command, Confusion, ESP, Message, Suggestion, etc.). The result of this interaction is resolved on a case-by-case basis. However, as the Cloud of Chaos is still a program at its core, it responds beneficially to attempts at organizing information, information queries, commands.
  • Spells directed at the comprehension and manipulation of information (Comprehend Languages, Read Magic, etc.) increase the chance of beneficial interaction with the Cloud of Chaos.
  • Mind Switch… oh boy! The Cloud of Chaos enters the caster’s body. The caster’s mind is instantly dispersed. The character becomes an NPC, and will try to take over the world using the Cloud’s random knowledge from another dimension.

Being inside the Cloud of Chaos:
  • Each round when a sentient living being is engulfed by the Cloud of Chaos, it must Save vs. Paralyze (Wisdom save).
  • If the save fails, roll 1d100 on the effects chart.
  • If the save is successful, roll 4d20+20 on the effects chart.
  • Prior interaction with the Cloud through the spells described above can grant a bonus on the saving throw (Referee’s discretion). If the characters do something very smart to exploit the Cloud as a source of information, the Referee can grant something cool to them.
  • Spells like Mind Blank protect against all effects of the Cloud.

As the effect of a Mind Switch spell. See above.
The information overload instantly kills the character. The cloud grows one size category.
The character becomes part of the hivemind. They start acting in accordance with the Cloud’s masterplan. Whatever that may be.
Spellcaster characters lose their magic abilities. Non-spellcasters lose their ability to speak.
The surge of otherworldly information corrupts the character’s mind forever. The character develops delusions based on a random piece of alien pop culture (“Random Media” over at TV Tropes).
The character’s personality and memories are overwritten by the contents of a random Facebook user profile.
The character’s memory is pumped full of junk information. Whenever they need to remember anything, they must pass an Intelligence check.
The character is convinced that their name is now something else, generate it randomly.
Whenever the character closes their eyes, they see an endless scroll with depictions of felines in funny situations.
The character develops a tic: they insert random words into their speech.
Useless trivia floods the character’s mind. They now know all the information contained in a single “Random article” from Wikipedia.
The character learns a language, alien to the campaign world.
Gain 2d6 x 100 experience points.
The character notices a pattern in the Cloud of Chaos. Next time they roll on the effects chart, they may roll twice and chose from the two options.
The character’s mental faculties improve significantly. They gain +1 Intelligence, and read, study, do research two times faster.
The character is able to commune with an interdimensional alien hivemind. Due to bandwidth limitations, only one question is answered per day.
The floorplans of a high-security military installation are revealed to the character. Coincidentally, they are almost identical to the map of the home base of a warlord / king / rich merchant of your campaign world.
A randomly determined spell is embedded in the character’s mind. It is always memorized (above the usual limits). It can be cast once per day, without any restrictions.
The character now knows an exotic martial art. A natural 19 becomes like a natural 20 on attack rolls with one chosen weapon or attack type.
The character’s mind connects to a neural network for machine learning (yeah, that’s right! it is now modeling a computer which is modeling a human brain! sort of…). The character always gains +20% experience points, but makes up strange new words when talking. They sort of sound like real expressions, but really aren’t?
The character gains knowledge that can lead to a major technological breakthrough, previously impossible in the campaign world. May not be able to create it alone, but the theory is in their brains.
The character becomes omniscient – but all their knowledge is about another dimension!! So perhaps they should find a way to travel there?

...accessing the Cloud...

Sunday, July 1, 2018

[Adventure] The Belly of Gargantuel

I had some time on my hand and a surge of creativity, so yesterday I finally put together my notes and ideas for a small weird adventure location.


This PDF describes the rotting carcass of a giant sea monster. It can be used as a one-shot, or slotted into an on-going campaign or hexcrawl. Inside, there are three new gross / weird monsters, an insane sailor who made the belly of the beast his home, treasure, and some other things industrious adventurers can profit from.

Gargantuel was a gigantic sea monster (a whale? a prehistoric serpent? the Kraken? Leviathan itself?). She used to roam the high seas, destroying ships and devouring everything. Some of the people she swallowed survived in her belly. One of them, the sailor Torsti Seppänen, actually managed to turn the place into a comfortable habitat.
One day, Gargantuel passed away. Her body now lies out in the open, luring the carrion-eater, the curious, the foolish. Strange creatures and artifacts await in the mounds of decaying flesh, and the insane Torsti Seppänen will do everything to defend his “home” from intruders.

I hope you like it and find it useful. Comments, opinions, suggestions are welcome!!!