Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Treasures of Feh Ling (Tomb of the Rocketmen)

The Treasures of Feh-Ling consist of a great mound of broken machine parts, spoiled foodstuff and valuables looted from military convoys heading toward the Certopsian, plucked from ancient tombs and found in various ruins.

Obviously some of the more valuable items in this hoard are terribly heavy and unwieldy.  Without a dragon to move them a great deal of labor and a large amount of cables and tackle will be required to remove them from the tomb through the large airlock door and then up through the mud and water to the surface. Such activities will take 1D4+2 weeks for a large party (50 plus) laborers and several heavy carts will be needed to haul the larger treasure items back to civilization.  During this time the laborers will need to be protected from the denizens of the woods and slough as well as overseen to avoid thier stealing the bulk of smaller valuables.  Additionally is returned to Denethix, both the government (in the case of the military supplies) and  powerful private individuals (in the case of the roadster, furs and anything else they think they can claim) will seek to recover the plundered items and pay only a small 5-10% salvage fee to the party.  Protracted legal wrangling and the use of high priced lawyers or bribes may resolve these disputes in the PCs favor, but these will be costly.

I believe this is a Talbot-Lago T-150.  It seems appropriate in this hoard

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dwarves are Horrible

Now I've always hated Dwarves.  They are my least favorite fantasy race, I'm not sure why.  Even reading the hobbit I didn't like the Dwarves much.  I like them less now with the strange hybrid of Warhammer Fantasy, LOTR movie and Warcraft that makes them utterly uninteresting gruff stumpy goons one dimensionally interested in Brew (though rarely actual drunkenness or beer), fighting, mining, axes, prickly senses of honor and beards.  The Scotts' accents only make them worse because they are always played for laughs.

Yet many adore dwarves, stereotype and all.  I don't want to speculate why.  The point is I am reexamining the little creeps and doing my best not to change them into horrible mole people, or robots, earth elementals or living statutes.  Below is my conception of Dwarves for Anomalous Subsurface Environment, attempting to follow the majority of Dwarf tropes in standard fantasy: avarice, booze obsession, beards and clannishness.

It is perhaps worth noting that Elves are also horrible - likely more horrible...

One of Callot's Dwarves 1592–1635

Dwarves of the Home Warrens
North of the plains, beginning in the low hills and winding high into the bitter brown stone peaks beyond are the home warrens of the the Dwarves.  It is commonly known that Dwarves are a clannish lot, obsessed with wealth and fixated on the production of alcohol and high quality metal work.  They are often cruel to outsiders, or at least entirely lacking in charity and obsessed with honor, family and revenge.  The situation only get more confusing as one interacts with the dwarven emigrant communities of human lands.  Below are excerpts from the lectures of Azimuth Red 721 Alpha, Scientist and leader of a recently returned expedition to the regions of the Dwarven Home Warrens.

What are the Home Warrens?
Dwarven society is one of stasis, hopelessness and endless tiny humiliations.  The homeland of these strange subhumans reflect the grim facts of dwarven life.  Like Elves and Halflings, dwarves are a manufactured race, likely a hybrid between humans and something else.  Whatever alien masters created dwarves, they created them for a particular type of obedience, and most likely a particular type of warfare.   The Home Warrens reflect this origin - a seemingly endless labyrinth of utilitarian passages made from whatever is at hand with whatever technology the dwarves can master: ceramicrete, vitirified stone, reinforced concrete, carved rock or brick and mortar.  Unlike underground elven fortresses, dwarven warrens are almost without decoration, and are designed so that the majority of dwarves will not and cannot never leave them.   The warrens are constantly being built, downwards, and outwards, with many sections long abandoned based on the whims and internal conflicts of the dwarven creditor nobility.

To visitors dwarven warrens are confusing and monotonous, gallery after identical gallery, connected by cramped passages.  When in use some distinction between distillery, workshop, storage rooms and living quarters can be observed, but once abandoned all that remains is cold stone without signage or evidence of original purpose.  The only differences from monotonous plan are found in the homes of the creditor class of dwarven nobles, who live in luxury surrounded by wealth and decoration (much of it imported from above ground) and the fortress areas of the warrens, where traps and ingenious defenses break up the sameness of the warrens with pits, bulwarks, mazes and redoubts.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the Familal Impulses of Dragons - Pahvelorn Play Report

Comprising sessions 32 and 33 of play, in which the world appears to move too fast for the party, dragons are revealed for the awesome majestic beasts they are, and promptly slaughtered for their valuable byproducts.  Rumors about the transcendent nature of elves also prove to be untrue.

The return to the town of Gazeamoral was a success, loaded down with objects of value from the ziggurat of the now defunct purple worm cult, Beni Profane and his companions were feeling wealthy again.  The Fifteen year old Hegemon of Gazeamoral was willing to make Beni into a knight, and the party had recently stolen a map to a great treasure from some kind of necromancer/diplomat. From any angle the sometimes 'Order of Gavin' was moving up in the world.
My favorite dragon form the Monster Manual

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why you should read old novels...

Of late I've been reading a fair amount of H. Beam Piper.

Piper was a writer of pulp sci-fi the late fifties through sixties who is far more compelling than he and his lot are given credit for.  Comapred to contemporary sci-fi pulp authors he's a better writer and provides more interesting ideas per novel than any contemporary pulp novelist.  Let's place Piper in his proper intellectual slum - his fiction is space opera, soft sci-fi or military sci-fi (Federation stories) and sword and planet romance (Paratime).  His contemporary imitators are people like Harry Turtledove, David Weber and Eric Flint.  This isn't to say "On Basilisk Station", "Mother of Demons" or the first couple "World War" novels aren't a nice read, but frankly Piper is a better writer - not technically, but because he knew when to let a story die.  Now perhaps had Piper not died himself before the advent of endless mass market sci-fi/fantasy series we'd be subjected to endlessly churning Little Fuzzy novels, but as it is there are a few book by H. Beam Piper that are well worth reading.  Worth reading if you like adventure stories, worth reading if you don't demand literary excellence, worth reading if silver age sci-fi is something you can tolerate and more important to this blog - worth reading if you want some gameable sci-fi ideas...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dogs aboard the HMS Apollyon

Dogs are among the most common beast in the human controlled area of the HMS Apollyon, and many breeds of dog have adapted and mutated within the hull to become dangerous predators. Players may purchase war dogs and scent hounds in the Rustgates, and perhaps find a witch hound or Hunter if they know the right person, but even these relatively simple breeds require a certain level of skill to handle in mass.  An adventurer can generally handle 2 HD of beasts before they will become unruly, while an animal handler can safely control 2+level HD of beasts.

It is noteworthy that below are just examples of dog breeds.  Other races and factions within Sterntown and the hull use different species, including crabs, giant rats, squid and hyenas.

A monstrous dog - specifically Woola from the recent John Cater Movie

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Feh Ling the Dragon (Tomb of the Rocketmen)

Dragons are creations of the Apocalypse. The first dragon was born with the initial salvo of planet busters and hell burners that began the final war between ancient empires, over 3,000 years ago.  Dragons were birthed by the psychic reverberations of the millions who died in the collapse of humanity's golden age and embody the various varieties of destruction that humankind brought upon itself.  The monstrous wyrms have no souls or culture, and seek only to propagate themselves and finish the ancient Apocalypse that created them.

Verdiginous Dragons are relative late comers to the spawning of dragonkind, creatures of hopelessness, failure and want.  The desperate spasms of starvation and inequity created by societies struggling to maintain a technological way of life after the collapse, but failing tragically, birthed Verdiginous dragons. Physically Verdiginous dragons appear more machine like than animal, a conglomeration of rusted and corroded cogs, conduit and engines, coalesced into a monstrous animal shape. Unlike more warlike dragons born from instantaneous death and destruction, Verdiginous dragons are not often whirlwinds of fury that lay waste to vast regions.  Instead, these dragons are hoarders and collectors of machines, technology, supplies and wealth, which  they guards jealously while their hoard decays and corrodes beneath them, giving birth to numerous verdigionus dragonlings which swarm about their parent's lair until they become big enough to flee or are devoured. 

Feh-Ling (Adult Verdiginous Dragon)

Hit Dice: 13 (78 HP)
Attacks: 3 (Up to 5) THACO(10)
Damage: Claw 1-8/Claw 1-8/
Bite: 2-20 (or breath)/Tail 2-12/Buffet 1-6
Move: 30'/120' Swim/60' Fly
Morale: 11
Save As: F10
XP: 5100

Attacks: Feh Ling may attack any creature in a 180' arc in front of him with his bladed bronze fore claws, as well as a crushing bite.  Targets to Feh Ling's sides may be buffeted by his wings, huge sails of ragged plastic, rubber and leather strung between umbrella like ribs of hinged metal.  Enemies behind Feh Ling can be lashed with his powerful tail.  Both wing buffet and tail slap attacks by Feh Ling require any struck to roll a D20 under Dexterity to avoid being knocked prone, stunned or tossed back, and unable to act in that round or the next.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tattoos as a Magical Item

The denizens of the criminal underworld, phantasmagorical cults, ancient orders of fallen knights and shamans both wise and treacherous know that there is power in marking the flesh, that the life-force of the marked twists and fuels strange magic, while sigils of arcane power warp and empower the flesh they mark.

Classic American Tattoo
Magical tattooing is a potent form of sorcery that relies on the permanent linkage between the life energies of the marked individual and simple magical formula to create lasting magical effects without overly complicated arcane knowledge.  Generally such tattoos will be protective in nature, and almost all will effect only the tattooed individual as they are linked to his or her personal being.  Another common form of magical tattooing, is that of certain wizards (often deemed barbarous or simple by more academically inclined thaumaturges) who will tattoo themselves with their spellbooks.  This has the advantage of making it very hard to deprive the sorcerer of his store of mystical knowledge and provides a clear warning to other practitioners of how advanced a specific caster's knowledge is.  The tanned and preserved skins of great warlocks are a valuable magical commodity amongst sorcerers of this kind for the knowledge they contain, and it is not unheard of for casters to seek the skins of their enemies as trophies and to craft into magical garments.  Red Balthazzar, a puissant lich of the horse tribes was also known as Balthazzar the Skinner or Nine-Skin Red due to the large number of potent shamans he slew and flayed for their knowledge.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lau Taxan - Pahvelorn Henchman

Lau Taxan - Rat Cultist
In Brendan of Necropraxis' excellent Pahvelorn campaign (Whitebox D&D with some wonderful rule hacks - the man is a genius for rule hacks) about 19 sessions ago I went carousing with my newly minted thief, trying to gain a few more (perhaps 100) experience points so I could catch up to the rest of the party.  I had recently immolated my alcoholic bastard of a fighter, Lune Cha Met (it's phonetic), in a pretty obvious flame trap. I picked Beni Profane the rat catcher as my new PC, both because I wanted someone who'd level quickly (1250 XP to 2nd level!) and because I had just looked at some great block prints of 17th  century rat catchers.  It was also a metagamey attempt to figure out an excuse to carry around a wardog and a sack of rats.  Beni's equipment list still says "Small but vicious dog" and "sack of six sewer rats" - though at 6th level and newly knighted the man should perhaps not be toting around rodents.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Even a Worm will Turn - Vaults of Pahvelorn Sessions 28 - 30.

Beni Profane, now Knight of the Western Marches, vassal of the Hegemon of Gasmoral, Favored of the Mother, makes the following report - drunk on Gazmoralian floating fruit brandy, from beneath a tarp in the back of a battered wagon heading West along the old road.

"See here all this around, this forest, this wilds, it's mine now! By patent of nobility! Profanes are coming up in the world. A Genty Cove, Beni Profane is now.  It wasn't easy, but with a bit of Rum Dab, a willingness to sing when it's needful, the audacity to be a cutting gloak when it's not, the ear of the gods, and a good crew - it's possible to rise the gutter up to the spires.  Now see here this is how these good fellows [arms waving wildly seemingly including a dingy furred grey ratling, a sinister twelve year old girl and several heavily armored crusaders] and I knotted the worms in their lair and got ourselves a road to warden!" [Beni begins to snore loudly, and his hollow eyesd companion Lao Tauxian takes up the tale].

This  - sans gnomes/goblins

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Stuff That's Cool in D&D

Look at that Strigiforme Murdermachine!

Below is a list of things I like in D&D - it's pretty stupid, but it's true.  I think there are some important lessons taught by the things listed though - games should have things to run away from, enemies that are not monsters - but are worse than the PCs, trick monsters that require thinking about, and objects of pointless wonder.

1. Owlbears - You're thinking "who crosses a bear with an owl?" "What a stupid monster!" Well apparently Chinese plastic dinosaur toy manufacturers of the late 70's find these terrifying.  Dudes who grew up during the cultural revolution - so you should listen to them about terrifying.  That's were the best OD&D monsters come from, the plasticized nightmares of people who spent their real childhood in the 3rd or 4th darkest nightmare of 20th century autocracy.  The rust monster, the Bulette - are any monsters more D&D than that?  Lately WOTC has talked about rationalizing the Owlbear, No!  The Owlbear is not rational, it cannot be a PC race, standing stalwart next to your Teifling sword-mage. I want to play an Owlbear PC just so I can grab a D20 and roll it three times at the "describe your character" part of the night and be like "well that's caw-caw 2D6 for you, and a hug for you! The inn is destroyed ... some jackass let an Owlbear in!"  The Owlbear is a ravening destroyer from the chaos dimension of unreasoning hate!  Owlbears exist for one reason, Owlbears teach 1st level parties to run.   They don't have treasure, they don't make sense, they can't be reasoned with.  They are real monsters, and D&D needs monsters that are strange and horrible and without reason.  I also think they come in strange colors (with peacock feathers say), like to eat magic and reflect spells - that's just me though, yours can be woodsy and devour 200lbs of vermin a day.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shrines and Churches of the Rustgate

The religious presence in the Rustgate is greater and more varied than in most other areas of Sterntown, perhaps the trapped and desperate population provides a more fertile ground for religious recruitment.  Yet despite the volume of believers in the Rustgate, the churches of the Rustgate are not ornate and at least two serve as missions and soup kitchens.  All the major religions of Sterntown and one unique local cult are established in the Rustgates, while the streets host a myriad of self proclaimed prophets, lost flotsam holy men and ranting preachers devoted to a variety of gods and devils.  Strangely there is little religious violence within the Rustgate, and even the Church of the Queen does not attempt to enforce its orthodoxy with more than words and the occasional pamphlet.