Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 6 - Jungle Tables 2 and 3: Landmarks and Hints

The tables below continue the random encounter structure for Jungle travel - they represent Landmarks and Non-Combat/Indirect encounters with jungle inhabitants.  With encounter checks three times a day, and the expected length of the party's time in the jungle 6-10 days the point of these encounters is to both provide relief from more dangerous combat encounters and to make each day of travel more interesting.  Landmarks serve the additional function of providing milestones for travel and a place to retreat to if the party becomes lost.  The general goal of these tables and those that follow is descriptive - to make wilderness travel more then a chain of monster encounters.  Some of the landmarks might themselves make for small adventure locations if a GM felt enterprising or a party was less goal directed and wanted to search the dangerous jungle rather then head for the ruins or fallen god.

Landmarks
Landmarks and areas of interest are often found in the Jungle of Midnight, and are useful as they provide points that a lost party can often find their way back to.

D10
Table 2 - Landmarks in the Jungle of Midnight
1
Abandoned Village - The sense tragedy fills this clearing, and above hangs the unraveled crumbled ruins of an Autochthon village.  A search will reveal a dread emblem of corrupt magics and/or a midden of cracked fire roasted human bones.
2
Marble Ruins - Graceful arches, fluted columns and decoratively carved blocks crumbled and scattered by time.  Often these ruins are blanketed with flowers.
3
Waterfall - From a high plummeting cataract to a series of small drops and turbulent rapids, waterfalls in either jungle streams or the great river make a cacophony of falling water can be heard for miles, making them excellent spots for an ambush.
4
Legion Post/Grave - Ancient forts and cenotaphs of sorcerously sculpted stone mark the Jungles of Midnight as a former march of the Imperial Legions.  These near imperishable vestiges slowly sink beneath the riotous life of the jungle.
5
Improbable Growth - Groves of tall bare trees with roots that erupt in lavender foliage, meadows of tree sized orchids and twisted paths wending through man-high succulents.
6
War Machine - Trapped in vines and entangled by jungle trees, the twisted remnants of an ancient Imperial Colossus towering above the canopy, the crushed crumbled stones of a floating Vheissuian fire temple blanketed in pink coral like growth or the moss colored stone bones of a dire wyrm are a monument to ancient wars.
7
Autochthon Village - Like mussels clinging to a rock, the people of the Jungle build their homes from wicker and black clay, stuck fast in the branches of the greatest of forest giants.  Among the foliage and fruits the Autochthons can go about their domestic tasks protected from many of the Jungle’s predators.
8
Stone Face - Colossal and timeless, carved boulders or entire sheer cliffs marked by vanished carvers with a variety of faces: human, beasts or god.
9
Monolith - A marker of forgotten deeds, antediluvian or simply ancient.  The history of the great stele and rain channeled statues is lost, but they still stand in the jungle.
10
Bone Yard - A stinking hole in the jungle, like a cancerous growth, where the bones of unlikely beasts and slaughtered sentients rot in great, piles of spongy yellow on brittle bleached white.
11
Dead Water - Glassy clear to the depths of the river, where the pristine wreck of an ancient war machine rests, tangles of wire and struts of bonewhite gleaming among polished river stones this area of river is devoid of life.  The water here is a polluted sink of deadly magics.  Drinking it or swimming here requires a save vs. poison (every round for a swimmer) or it results in a convulsive, corrosive death.
12
Bridge - A thin span of near translucent marble, ancient beyond reckoning, a tumble of fallen logs, tangled artfully with vines, or a brutal manipulation of bedrock into a low arch that marks the Successor Empire’s poor grasp of military geomancy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 5 - Jungle Encounter Table 1: Monsters.



BEAST OF THE JUNGLE

D10
Dangers of the Jungle of Midnight
1
Autochthons (3D6) - A band of Autochthon hunters or gatherers, peaceably finding their sustenance.  They may be fishing for glassy eels from a bark canoe on the river, checking fish traps in a jungle rill, digging purple bulbs from the undergrowth or stalking birds, many armed monkeys and fat slate lizards.  They are usually suspicious, unfriendly and ready to flee.
2
Brutes (2D6) - From deep in the jungle, hulking, slope skulled, dulled eyed and decked in bones, these massive warped humans hunt and kill, and their favorite prey is their fellow man.  Brutes travel in bands and are usually hostile unless they have recently eaten.
3
Owlbears (2D6) - Usually arcanovore scavengers, the jay feathered ‘growlyhoots’ of the Midnight jungle have grown more predatory in an environment where all life is infused with magic.  They are lean pack hunters, tracking, circling, and distracting their prey with quizzical hooting and then rushing in from the rear to drag it down beaks snapping.  
4
Hunting Glass (1)  - Filaments of spun blue glass drape the trees and form mystical sigils that can stun a warp the mind.  Above its trap of symbols, hangs a colony of hunting glass, it will subsume and devour prey that becomes hopeless under the effect of its symbols.
5
Blue Monks (2D6) - blue monks roam from the city on a mission from their “god”, they are unlikely to talk but also unlikely to attack, preferring to return immediately to the city a inform their fellows before organizing a hunt for trespassers to sacrifice.
6
Azure Apes (1D6) - Monstrous, four armed horrors are cavorting in a clearing, gorging on fruit, hooting at each other, smashing termite mounds or travelling in a line.  They can rarely resist the distraction of crushing smaller ape-like creatures.
7
Revenant Legion (4D20) - Only the geases of the ancient empire and perverse professionalism keep this company of ghoulish soldiers endlessly marching.  They plod slowly, noisily through the forest in rusted armor, with broken weapons in warped, lichen splotched hands. The legion has no mission beyond the ceaseless march and sating their undead cannibal hunger.
8
Cockatrice (1) - small and solitary, the blue cockatrice is one of the jungle’s greatest predators.  It will hunch silently (often in a stolen nest over crystallized eggs) and then burst into its beautiful and and deadly song, leaving prey a fragile petrified statue of blue crystal.
9
Razor Birds (1D6/2) - A quarrelsome and deadly flock of tall birds, somewhat akin to giant cassowary’s except with long wispy feathers of gentle purples and black over scaled skin that gleams like quicksilver.  They are territorial, sadistic and fond of trapping prey in covered pits.  
10
Colossal Serpent (1) - over 60’ long this leviathan of the forest has grown almost immortal from devouring godflesh, and is far more intelligent and malicious than any mere animal. It coils in a great pool below a waterfall, whose bottom is blanketed with bones.  The snake considers anything the enters the pool a sacrifice to its divinity but will not attack those who offer proper sacrifice.
11
Divine Crocodiles (1d6+1) - A pack of crocodiles polluted by the Beaked God’s presence, they are blue and each has a huge third eye, capable of emitting a beam (BV 3 at range, single melee target) that turns all who fail a save vs. paralyzation into glass. The strange creatures guard sunken ruins and are never far from some piece of ancient carved marble.
12
River Draugr (1D6/2 ) - The bodies of drowned explorers, slither from their river den and float to the surface, waiting for ‘rescue’.  The Dragur will demand help in blubbering watery voices, with bloated faces weeping bloody tears.  If offered a line they either try drag rescuers to the river bottom or sit sullen faced in the rescuers’ boat, obviously dead, and waiting for a chance to stave in the boat’s bottom or seize the helm and dash it against rock.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 4 - Jungle Introduction


THE JUNGLE OF MIDNIGHT
Dense foreboding jungle the color of a bone bruise, but vibrant with squalling life, spices and bursts of strange color.  Its dangers leak from the body of a fallen god, decaying at its heart.

The Jungle of Midnight is a unfinished country, prehistoric, where a tall, many layered canopy combines with heat and damp to create a steaming, shaded pit, full of obscenity - violent and base.  All nature in the jungle is fighting for survival, choking, asphyxiating, writhing, fornicating and rotting away. Despite the startling blues and jewel greens of feathers and leaves, the jungle it is a place of misery, the trees live in misery, the birds live in misery - they do not sing only scream with misery.  With an overwhelming misery, overwhelming fornication, overwhelming growth and an overwhelming lack of order, there is no real harmony as a human could conceive it in the Jungle of Midnight, only the natural harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 3 - Ibian NPCs


NPCS OF POWER IN UNDEFENDED IB

Bakesh, The - Liche (INT 18, WIS 18, CHR 16) HD11 (46 HP), AC 0/20*, ATK 1** freezing touch, ATK BONUS +12 to hit, DAM (2D6), MV 40’, SV MU 10, ML 10.
* The Bakesh is ringed in powerful wards and is permanently under the effect of a shield spell, protection (effects Imperial Clergy/outsider entities) and protection from normal missiles. The Bakesh can elect to counterspell any spell attack against her instead of taking her next action which will negate the attacking spell and on a successful Save v. Spells reflect it at its caster. She also has the inherent abilities to speak with dead, detect magic, read magic and identify magic items (though it sometimes takes a while). 

**The Bakesh can levitate at will, and create powerful missile attacks that necrotize flesh, decay the inanimate and drain life in lieu of attacking with her touch. These attacks strike a single target as a magic missile (negated by the shield spell/save for ½ damage) for 11D6 damage or as a fireball like blast with a burst value of 11, doing 11D6/2 points of damage (save for ½ damage). She may also cast the following spells once per day: change self, sleep,comprehend languages, detect invisible, unseen servant, dancing lights, mirror image, darkness 15’ radius, audible glamour, stinking cloud, invisibility, ESP, phantasmal force, blink, fly, dispel magic, suggestion, fear, wall of ice, monster summoning II, minor globe of invulnerability, ice storm, confusion, animate dead, cloudkill, teleport, feeblemind, hold monster, wall of force, magic jar, death spell, freezing sphere, invisible stalker, grasping hand, monster summoning V, maze, mass charm, gate, time stop. It should be noted that all of the Bakesh’s spells are necromantic in nature and character: her stinking cloud smells of rotting flesh, her monster summonings will bring the undead, her unseen servant is a tormented spirit and her timestop pulls all effected into a shadowy spirit world. 
Should the Bakesh desire to cast alternate spells, she can with a day to prepare and as long as she is near her home and/or The Grimoire of Woe.

The Grimoire of Woe - (6HD, AC 9/11 immune to normal weapons, ATK 1 Bite, ATK BONUS +7 to hit, DAM 1D10) An animate  6’ tall 4’ thick book of evil intent, anthropodermic pages and carnivorous tendencies that contains a great deal of arcane knowledge, including the vast majority of spells in a necromantic form and the process of transforming oneself into a liche. Unless mastered (a process that takes more than a lifetime of effort - the Bakesh has done it) it will require a successful grappling attack vs. the book’s strength of 12 (note as with all grappling efforts the book freely attacks the grappler) to open the book to a page that contains 1D6/3 random spells (Roll 1D10 for the level of each spell, on a 10 there’s no spell but some fascinating fragment of esoteric knowledge instead). Turning to a new page will require an additional effort in the form of another grapple and reactive attack by the grimoire.  The Grimoire may only be opened by the intended reader.  If the book successfully devours a reader it will add their soul and knowledge to its pages.

The Bakesh normally looks like a wealthy Imperial noble in the comically outdated fashions of Ib and wearing an enameled mask of a woman with stately but sad features.  Underneath she is a shell of carved ivory limbs filled with grave dust, ashes and fragments of bone.  Beneath her mask is another mask of an ivory skull and beneath that the Bakesh’s original skull of pitted, burnt bone.

If the Bakesh is challenged she can also call upon several charmed human guards/stranglers (3rd to 6th level fighters) wearing heavy scale armor and skilled in unarmed combat (damage with gauntleted hands is 1D6+2) or if truly concerned a hidden cohort of 20 armored skeleton warriors (HD 3/AC 16) and 6 wraiths under her control.  She also has an 8HD flesh golem buried in her lovely formal garden, but it’s unreliable, berserking in combat and messy - the Bakesh would hate to call it up to hunt her foes as doing so would require digging through one of her favorite topiaries.

Hex Ruttergund - MU10 (INT 16, DEX 5, WIS 14) HP 14, AC 8/12, ATK 1*, ATK BONUS +4 to hit, DAM by Weapon, MV 30’, SV MU 10, ML 6
Wand of Ash and Sighs - BV 8 fire attack - save v. spells or paralyzed (12 charges), Coward’s Ring - AC 12, casts mirror image if attacked (6 charges)
*Hex Ruttergund has the following spells memorized, but might be convinced to memorize more combat oriented spells if he had to: detect magic, read magic, unseen servant, detect invisibility, rope trick, ESP, tongues, suggestion, hold person, polymorph other, polymorph self, dimension door, teleport, contact other plane.  

Coward’s Ring ugly squared brass ring with 6 charges - AC 12 protection and if wearer is attacked in melee, ring will cast mirror image with 3 images using 1 charge.  Ruttergund can recharge it, but it’s an annoying chore.
Wand of Ashes and Sighs  A tooled steel rod with a burn scarred tip - 12 charges - Cone of hot ash 1 target in melee, BV 8 at short range - cause D6 damage and humans/humanoids save vs. spells or collapse, paralyzed and weeping at the injustice of the world for D6 rounds).  Ruttergund can recharge it, but it’s an annoying chore.

Hex is a fussy, dusty man with a pot belly who often has egg in his mustache.  He wears expensive, old, threadbare, clothing that is unfit for the climate and has only several elderly servants to attend him.  His rather extensive and cluttered laboratory/library is concealed behind a secret door and several strong wards.  Ruttergund trapped a 10HD earth elemental several month ago (compressed to melon size in a sphere of elemental water) and is interrogating it for the secrets of transmuting minerals.  It is very, very angry.

Rook Devi - CL6 (STR 16, DEX 15, WIS 14, CHR 17) HP 30, AC 2/18, ATK 1*, ATK BONUS +4 to hit melee/no ranged, DAM by Weapon +2, MV 40’, SV CL 6, ML 10

The Iridescent Flock (Light - AC 16, first successful missile attack each round is intercepted), Decorative Shield beautifully enameled with scenes of herons fishing, Hatred of War (As mace - on a 16 or above it destroys non magical  armor, shield or weapons of the target). 99 Psalms of the Beaked God (allows the reader to speak the language of birds)

*Rook Devi usually has the following spells memorized: sanctuary, light, cure light Wounds, hold person, spiritual hammer (summons an angry bird of blue light), resist fire, dispel magic, curse

The Iridescent Flock:  [AC 16 - Light Armor] A cloud of tiny blue glassy animated birds that perch on their master’s shoulders, and throw themselves between him and attacks before reforming from their shards, intercepting
Hatred of War - Blessed and sanctified by the Beaked God, this golden scepter of office is ornately decorated with scene of warriors in feather like armor arriving in a pastoral paradise.  It can be used as a weapon effectively (as mace) against even spectral and other weapon immune targets. On a natural attack roll of 16 or above it will entirely shatter the weapon, shield or armor (wielder picks) of a target.  It cannot destroy natural armor or weapons, or those that are themselves magical.  As a mace the scepter has the standard ‘penetrating’ +2 bonus against heavy and medium armor.
99 Psalms of the Beaked God - Written in tiny gold letters on translucent leaves of thin blue jade (Worth 5,000 GP as an art object and fragile), this holy book is the liturgy of the Beaked God written in a dead language.  While holding it the owner can speak (or more precisely sing) and understand the language of birds.  Most birds are quite idiotic, boisterous and petty - with nothing to discuss except egg size, bird pecking orders and braggadocious plumage grooming tips.
Rook Devi wears artifacts of the Beaked god over a blue silk loincloth embroidered with golden designs, aping the style of the jungle’s autochthons. Rook has money and connections and can call upon several house guards (fighters) of 2nd to 4th level in bronze plate armor (AC 17) who specialize in unarmed combat (attack with feet and hands for 1D6+1 damage) or hire mercenaries for any expedition he mounts.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 2 - Undefended Ib

Every wilderness adventure needs a starting point and the tradition for "Jungle Adventure" is to start in an exotic port - a polyglot and strange place filled with sailors, wanderers and mysteries that startle the civilized explorer.  The use of North African tropes is traditional for building the liminal space between the civilized 'North' and the unsullied, wilderness, unexplored 'South'  and I don't think I've entirely avoided it here.  I'm not sure what Undefended Ib is beyond a dingy timeless place of exile for the Fallen glories of Empire.  Clearly remains the entrepôt for decadent jungle trade goods, but it was once more I think - a legion fortress city - the ultimately precarious distant limb of Imperial overreach, unaware that its body is as dead as the ghost legions that guard it.


UNDEFENDED IB

Sleepy and decadent, the far outpost of a dying empire and home to exiles, ghosts and depravity.  Weapons are forbidden in Ib as to carry them breaks an ancient compact with the city’s ghostly protectors.

Beyond the fecund waste of the Sea of Grass, past the square peaks of the Ravening Mountains and the great demon corrupted sink of the ever burning Heart Provinces is the Jungle of Midnight. The crumbling spires of the Undefended Citadel of Ib erupt from the headwaters of a long nameless river on the Hook Shore beyond the Inner Sea, where the ghost herons hunt in the shallows waiting for fish to swim between the transparent shears of their glassy beaks. A few traders sail there each year, spending months on the tossing salt waves with the haunted shores of the Old Empire to the North, enduring in anticipation of the wealth a hold full of dangerous foreign cargo will bring.

The town of Undefended Ib is a small port on ancient slime covered pilings of black alchemical iron. No man is allowed to bring weapons into Ib’s streets for fear of calling a tide of spirits down from the citadel above.  The few ancient nobility, their ancestors exiled here to rot happily among the tropical breezes and narcotic blue mango of the jungle, keep a languid peace by employing enormous wrestlers, stranglers and pugilists or resolve disputes by contests at drunken poetry.  The common people trade in goods from the jungle, most traded from the lantern eyed men of the interior.  Black jaguar skins, glowing cockatrice feathers and potent drugs are exchanged for bronze spear heads and glass beads.

The town itself consists of nine crumbling late Successor Empire mansions, stone block and riveted arcane steel wedding cakes eight to ten stories high, dwarfing the riverstone and thatch huts, warehouses and market of the trade town below, but equally dingy and small in the shadow of the massive black spires of the Undefended Citadel of Ib.  Like four of the mansions, and the top five or so floors of the others, the citadel is utterly abandoned.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Divine Wight Part 1 - Intro and Rumors



In my recent review of Tomb of Annihilation I mentioned that I'd started work some time ago on a jungle adventure and included some bits of it.  Some people seem to have enjoyed the small parts of the unfinished work that I shared, so I'll do some editing and maybe put up bits and piece in more or less sequential order here until I run out.

THE DIVINE WIGHT

An ancient deity rots on a distant jungle shore, and promises immortality and wealth to those who are unafraid of meddling in the Gods’ cruel games.
A legend popular among those who find both present regimes and their opposition oppressive, especially those dusty secret cabals that claim long memories, is that of the Hated Pretender.  The story is that of a cruel ‘false’ emperor in a time before the current powers of earth and heavens who battled even the primal deities of his age, and who in defeat still spited his enemies among the gods. Once the great Demesne of the Pretender stood supreme among nations, its glory tainted by the obscene cruelty that its hated master used to shore up its power, build its magnificent works and spread its influence.  The Pretender’s foes were many, and many fell before his numberless armies and his ever more powerful champions. Only those who joined the Demesne as lesser lords survived.  Alone, the Theocracy of the Beaked God didn’t break, and in the end the Pretender’s frontiers crumbled before the paladins and interventions of their avian deity.  Knowing defeat was imminent The Pretender sought revenge and sent his greatest divisions, led by a cadre of most powerful champions, to penetrate the heart of the Beaked God’s realm, his holy city, where they were to ascend to his throne in the firmament and assassinate the God. As the Pretender’s allies turned against him below, his cities burnt, and his armies fell one after another, the heroes of his cause succeeded above and from the crumbling towers of his scourged capital the Pretender watched the blue comet of the Beaked God’s fall.

Few now know of that holy city’s existence, and fewer its location in the hungry vastness of the Jungles of Midnight, but it is still there, the remains of its shattered god nearby, immortal but ravaged and trapped in a nightmare of pain and insanity.  The ancient city and divine flesh offer many reasons to travel there for those brave, well equipped and foolish enough to do so. The most obvious is treasure - both in the form of the city’s golden decorations and the divine flesh of the Beaked God - a magical panacea. Other motives include retrieving the weapons used by the Pretender’s agents, which are likely some of the few in existence capable of harming the divine, or even resurrecting the Beaked God on behalf of his diminished and secret cult. Conversely there are still deities that remember the primitive Beaked God, but wish what is left of him destroyed as they hope to absorb the morsel of power that remains in the Beaked God’s shattered form, and are willing to risk mortal pawns like clerics or paladins to do so.

The Rumors below will provide an interested party of fortune hunters with a rare means to locate the fallen god.

Monday, October 23, 2017

TOMB OF ANNIHILATION - A Review

WIZARDS CAN STILL SURPRISE ME - TOMB OF ANNIHILATION REVIEW

Another 203 page behemoth from Wizards of the Coast.  I’ve read Out of the Abyss, Curse of Strahd, even Hoard of the Dragon Queen and more, and everything from WotC these days is over 200 pages.  They aren’t all entirely bad, but they all contain the same grievous failings, failings that one can guess from the fact that the teams writing them often appear to have little experience doing professional writing for editions of Dungeons & Dragons prior to 3.5. Even with 5E adventures that have stronger open world elements, such as Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd (both also headed by Chris Perkins) have a devotion to scene based adventure design, excessive backstory, muddled text lacking evocative detail, a focus on set-piece combat as the default solution/climax of any scenario, a disdain for both player critical thinking ability and GM choice.  You end up with a huge volume that’s so optimized for a GM to read it like a novel that it is almost unusable at the table, and when used, focused on dragging the players along a specific story and campaign arc in a largely predetermined way.
This and all other art appears to be promotional imagery for the adventure or related (videogames, boardgames) products.

A first sign of hope is that the writing team wasn’t entirely the same with Tomb of AnnihilationSteve Winter was involved and has a long history with earlier games: Star Frontiers, early Dragon and as the writer of Ruins of Adventure (The basis for Pool of Radiance).  Even Chris Perkins who has been a lead writer for Wizard’s later editions and 5E products provided an adventure to Dungeon Magazine Issue #11, that Bryce of 10-Foot Pole describes as “A tournament module, with scoring. It revolves around a four-level keep/castle with about fifty rooms in it. The party has to make their through it to the end. The two major occupants are betting on the parties outcome and if they’ll make it, with the adventure eventually ending with the party fighting both of them. It’s not terrible for a tournament adventure: it’s self-contained and there’s a decent amount of variety in the encounters as well as options available to the players in navigating the keep.”  Pretty high praise from him for anything published in Dungeon.  WIll Doyle and Adam Lee are newer game writers who seem to mostly have worked on 5e product.

Despite having some writers who might understand how location based adventure design works, and presumably have run games where the most important use of a written product was providing a skeleton and overview of a location or set of locations for players to adventure in rather than providing pages of boxed text to read aloud as justification for moving from complex tactical combat to complex tactical combat, Tomb of Annihilation doesn’t start with much promise.

Like every other Wizard’s product Tomb of Annihilation promises epic adventure that will raise a party from low level (1st) to high level (11th). Using 5th Edition’s default experience points for bloody handed killing this means a lot of dead monsters. The book that follows includes its share of the rest of WotC’s big design flaws (copious read aloud text, promise to adhere to larger underlying story, dense writing that conceals important location aspects/elements, requirements for the Monster Manual to determine enemy strength and assumptions of PC morality).  More hopefully Tomb of Annihilation is a throwback and an intentional re-framing of Tomb of Horrors (It includes the infamous Acererak) and Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Like the unofficial marketing for Tomb of Horrors, Tomb of Annihilation claims to be exceptionally deadly to characters - with the suggestion of an optional “meat grinder” mode (which amounts to a harder death save), and a story mechanic that makes character death more or less permanent.  There are even a few words on providing replacement characters for the dead. 

Despite my initial foreboding Tomb of Annihilation won me over - it's by no means a great adventure, but it's solid, interesting and usable in a way that prior 5th edition products haven't been.