Monday, August 22, 2016

The Blog Turns Five

So I apparently missed the five-year anniversary of the blog earlier in the month.  Happy birthday to me.

The blog's been quiet as working more and running less has subsumed my activities (I've been playing more, but typically don't have much to say about that.  A TPK here, a demonic incursion there.  The usual.)  Oddly enough, though, the D&D game I mention in the first post is still going strong (if infrequently).  It's fifth edition now, and we just played Session 52, which should tell you how infrequently we play.  (You can hear about it at the Crux of Eternity wiki and the Crux of Eternity tag.)

My blog post with the highest pageviews continues to be my commentary on the God-Machine Chronicle.  (Most of my posts with high pagecounts do not feature original content, which I should probably take as some sort of sign.)

A comment on current events: I ended up hearing about Invisible Suns via D&D With Porn Stars (although I saw the mysterious countdown page last month), and I'm amused by the setup, because my old gaming group was doing the guerrilla RPG thing a decade ago.  My only concern about the $200 price tag is that I would then be obligated to run the damn thing.  It looks like my absolute jam, but getting my friends motivated to play anymore is exceedingly difficult.  (I should probably also take my friends' lack of desire to play things I run as some sort of sign.)

So it goes.

The Gen Con after action report is still in development; I had another (less-fun) conference the following week, so work has understandably been busy of late.  I expect it to be out by the end of this week.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Artists of Anhak

This got bumped from last week's schedule in favor of the Convent of St. Brigid, but makes a nice post while I'm recovering from GenCon.  I've been devoting headspace to the Isle of Anhak campaign, and I determined the Isle is apparently known for its artists.  (Incidentally, if you want source information for the portraits that follow, just click the pictures below.)  Here are three of them:

The Magnificent Joop van Ooms
Left to right: Ooms, Charles Paisley, Bluebeard; portrait by Jez Gordon
Joop van Ooms is a renowned architect and artist from Vor Taluum.  I won't detail him at length, as he's basically unchanged from the module of the same name.  (He's now in a different city — the fantasy city of Vor Taluum rather than 1615 Amsterdam — and his associates have different nicknames that are not dependent on real-world history, but otherwise unchanged.)

Yerffej Dlues'arabizea
Yerffej D.; portrait by Jeff Dee
Yerffej D. (for most non-elves have difficulty with his surname) is a haughty and aloof high elf living in Dolmvay.  Known for sketches, paintings, and philosophical treatises, particularly on law and cosmology, some dislike his clean, almost dwarven lines, while others take issue with his contention that the Powers are not true gods, but merely potent-yet-petty entities undeserving of worship.  (Those with a familiarity of the old Factions of Sigil might recognize the philosophy of the Athar.)  Regardless, he's a popular resident of the District of Scholars, and many of the city's elite pay great sums to have him paint their portraits.  While other artists may sometimes act as patrons to adventurers, Yerffej currently has a group in his employ.  Called the Fellowship of Albritton, after the tavern in which they began their careers, this group delves dungeons looking for lost art for him to add to his collection (and to inspire him).  Despite only being active a few years, the Fellowship of Albritton is relatively famous, comprising notable names such as Morgan Ironwolf, Silverleaf, Frederik, Sister Rebecca, and Black Dougal.  (In private, those who consider them to be mere lapdogs of Yerffej call them "Dee's Nuts."  The name, unfortunately, has stuck, and threatens to be more recognizable than their actual name.)

Ool Eurts
Ool Eurts; portrait by Erol Otus
Noted drow artist Ool Eurts is relatively popular among the Slave Lords of Scandshar.  Exiled from the drow proper, Ool Eurts lives in the dwarven settlement of Baritherdar, the last bastion of dwarf architecture on Anhak.  His art is somewhat grotesque — perfect for the decadent nobles of foreign Scandshar.  Although the prestige he brings to grim Baritherdar is appreciated, many suspect he is secretly a drow spy, an embed sent to spy on the dwarfs.  For his part, Ool Eurts cares little about what the inhabitants think, instead content to paint his paintings.  Like the other two, Ool Eurts may act as a patron to adventurers, although his quests are likely to send parties into the Deepearth.  (Like Joop van Ooms, Ool Eurts comes from a published module, having been mentioned by name in A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Kingdom of Trias

A bit from the archives while I'm partying (read: probably sleeping) at GenCon.  One of my associates (the guy who ran the Deadlands game, actually) started a D&D game.  As of this writing, it died after two sessions.  (A common fate, I find.)  Although, I think he plans to resurrect it.  Eventually.

Anyway, the game was set as three human kingdoms and two demihuman kingdoms (the gnomes used to have a kingdom, but it was destroyed during the war) are reunifying after a brutal twenty-four-year war against the monstrous humanoids.  As part of the preparation, he had each player write a specific kingdom in the world.  Since I put a lot of work into it — it's got history, geography, even sidebars! — I share it with you.

I was given the kingdom of Trias, and no guidelines to flesh it out.  After brainstorming, I came to Papal States meets Warring States, with the end of the Han dynasty thrown in for flavor (I had just seen the abridged version of Red Cliff — it's so rad I got the five-hour unabridged version, although I have not yet carved out time to watch it — and had magnificent bastard warlords on the brain).

Without further ado:

The Kingdom of Trias

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

GenCon Bound

We're headed to GenCon, so I'll probably have an after action report sometime next week.  It's my first convention of this size (my largest previously was Dexcon, which I miss terribly; longtime readers will recognize the very, very small Madicon as my current con in rotation), although Nicole once worked at it many moons ago.

Let's be entirely real, though: the selling feature was that James Raggi is going.  (That Zak S. is also going is an added bonus.)

Be seeing you.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Convent of St. Brigid

Author's Note: If you've read any of the articles going around about roach milk (here are examples from the Toronto Star and CNN), you already know everything you need for this blog post.

Customizing the Setting: The convent depicted below assumes an early modern setting, as per Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  (St. Brigid's association with hedges and witchery may even suggest that this is the unnamed convent from The Pale Lady.  Alternately, the convent's insect veneration may also suggest this convent is in Germany, somewhere within the vicinity of Karlstadt, as per Better Than Any Man.  Or perhaps both or none of these things are true.)  If you're using a standard fantasy setting, make it a convent (or monastery, or other cloister) representing a prominent religion in the region.  (In Isle of Anhak, for example, I'd probably use the Church of Pelor-Who-Is-Paladine.)  I'd assume the nuns or monks are level-0 nobodies (maybe with a level 1 Cleric for an abbot), as are the townsfolk, but if you want to make it a monastery of D&D-style kung fu badass monks trained to protect the secret of their temple, feel free.  Names and locations have been left deliberately vague for Referees to adapt to their own campaigns.

Off the beaten path, there is a little village where all is well.  (In true Lake Wobegon fashion, "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.")  Containing 105 residents, the village is primarily thatch huts and a few wooden buildings.  On the nearby hill is a stone convent with an attached chapel; the residents come here for services on Sundays.

Of interest to adventurers, the village has a store for general provisions and tools (and they will also accept trade or engage in resale), although almost no weapons.  The local carpenter can make arrows, but that's about it (if you place the settlement near water, he's also a boatwright; otherwise he just repairs and builds the wooden buildings in town).  The local smith doesn't make weapons (he'd no doubt make weapons or metal armor if you asked him, but I wouldn't trust the quality), although he does do a bit of leathercrafting (so leather armor is available), and he also sells tools.  One of the local wives does some sewing and mending, so clothing (even fine clothing if you've got the coin) is available.  Travelers can also receive medical attention through the local church.  If you need a scribe, one of the acolytes will no doubt be able to help.  There is no inn (not even stables), although the local families will no doubt be willing to put up travelers if they're willing to do a few chores.  (There might only be enough room for a couple of people to stay at a house, so the PCs will likely need to split up to stay the night.)

The townsfolk are all friendly and earnest — perhaps a little too earnest, just to make the PCs paranoid.  Observation indicates this is genuine, as they even interact among themselves in this fashion.  They're strong, attractive, and healthy.  (If your game is set in The Dung Ages with filthy, pock-marked peasants, this is probably the first clue that something is amiss.  Even if not, it should be described as being somewhat uncanny.)  The only notable difference in their habits is that they drink a lot of milk.  A lot of milk.  Some residents may even be observed consuming nothing else — no food, no water, just the ubiquitous milk.  If asked about their apparent good health, they will readily attribute it to the milk, and encourage the PCs to try some.  If asked, they say that the local convent produces it.

It looks like regular milk, but tastes a little odd.  For starters, it's as viscous as cow's milk, but tastes the consistency and thickness of buttermilk.  It combines several flavors that one wouldn't expect — it mostly tastes like cow's milk, but it's got a bit of the creaminess of butter, the savoriness of cheese, the saltiness of goat's milk.  There's also a savory fat taste to it, like roasted meat (or more accurately, fried chicken skin).  It tastes rather odd, but once the initial surprise is overcome, most people rather enjoy it.  (Imagine fast food in a world without it, and you can likely understand how it could become popular.)

Consuming the milk also offers a couple of benefits.  For twenty-four hours after consumption, the character gains a +5 bonus to saving throws vs. poison, and all healing is doubled (including magical healing).  Most importantly, the milk acts as liquid rations.  You still need to find an adequate source of water (which is why townsfolk tend to consume so much of it), but a pint of the milk acts as a day's rations.  (Assuming a typical wineskin holds two quarts, that's four days' rations.  If you prefer metric, about two liters is a single day's rations.)

Drinking the milk for the first time requires a saving throws vs. poison, made at a -5 penalty, to see if the character is addicted to the milk.  This addiction is subtle, but pervasive, almost subconscious.  The character seeks to have some milk each day; not necessarily a lot, but at least a mouthful.  (It's remarkably resistant to spoilage, and so carrying a cask of it will keep someone supplied for quite a while.)  More importantly, the character will do anything to make certain the milk supply is not threatened.  The character doesn't feel a compulsion to guard the convent or anything like that, but the character will respond to any credible threat against the convent.  If you're halfway around the world and hear a rumor that bandits are threatening the convent, you'll probably traipse back to make sure everything's okay.  If border patrols look like they're going to crack open your cask of milk and dump it out, you will prevent them from doing so.  If you know the secret of the milk (as detailed below), you'll make sure no one threatens it.  (Up to and including your companions.)

There is a more insidious effect of the milk.  For each week of regular consumption (assuming some milk per day), the character makes a saving throw vs. poison.  The first week, this saving throw is made at +20; each subsequent week of consumption, this saving throw takes a cumulative -1 penalty.  If a character stops consuming the milk, this penalty fades at a rate of 1 point every two weeks.  (So, if you've been drinking the milk for six weeks, you make your saving throw at a +14, and so probably do not risk side effects.  If you then avoid the milk for twelve weeks, your saving throw will again be made at +20 the next time you encounter the milk.)  Failure means that the character starts mutating slowly, gaining 1d4+1 random mutations at a rate of about one every month or so — if you're stuck for a rate, say 2d10+20 days between mutations.  (Use Carcosa or The Metamorphica or your favorite random mutation list to dispense mutations; if your list includes multiple types, you should probably stick to physical and physiological mutations rather than psionics or super-powers or whatever, but that's up to you.)  Although the mutations occur slowly, they start immediately — so if you're getting wings in a month, you'll probably have two scaly and sore nodules on your back in about a week which will then sprout and grow in size until they are fully-functional.  Astute observers will note that mutations may very well begin after a character has stopped drinking the milk, or may compound if a character continues drinking the milk.

It's up to the Referee as to whether or not she makes these saving throws in secret (thus leaving the PCs to wonder why they've started gaining weird mutations), or in public (thus leaving the PCs paranoid about what the milk is doing to them).  It likely depends on your particular playstyle, group, and what you think will get the PCs most involved.

If PCs get suspicious about all these attractive peasants, they'll likely go to the convent on top of the hill to investigate.  The convent is dedicated to St. Brigid (although Referees are encouraged to conflate her with the goddess Brigid and/or the Swedish saint Birgitta Birgersdotter), and maintains the convent by raising cattle and harvesting the milk.  (They also sell baked goods using the milk, so cakes and pies are available.)  The nuns will sell their milk for 4sp per pint.  (They usually sell it to townsfolk for 1 or 2sp per pint.)

Suspicious observers investigating the local ranch will note (1) that the nuns don't have enough cows to supply the town with all this milk, and (2) that some of the cows aren't even dairy cattle, instead being more appropriate for leatherworking.  (In fact, the local smith pays the convent for their cows for just this purpose.)  The nuns are friendly, but for obvious reasons, are disinclined to allow men into their nunnery.  They'll still be somewhat standoffish with women if it becomes apparent that they're snooping, and so may give them a tour but will quickly try to get rid of them if possible.  If inquiries become obvious, they will stonewall as much as they can.  All the nuns are addicted to the milk, and while they try to avoid violence, they will easily kill to protect the milk supply.

The tale runs thusly: some months ago, the convent began suffering an infestation of roaches.  They thought this was a normal problem until the roaches swiftly began getting larger and larger, resulting in these pale, white beetles about the size of a dog that got into the food stores and started making a huge mess of things.  (The little bastards bite, too, and the bites tended to abscess.)  The nuns put out quiet inquiries, and before long, an adventuring party appeared to handle the problem.  They traced the monster roaches to the catacombs beneath the church, finding that a wall had collapsed into a natural cave system.  Therein, they found a giant cockroach, giving birth to these monstrous things.  (Smaller cockroach nests were also found, but weren't nearly as interesting.)  The adventurers being adventurers, they thought it safer to deal with the thing by collapsing its tunnel.  Gunpowder was involved, but an accident resulted in the adventurers being trapped with the monstrous roach.  Strangely, however, they found it left them alone as long as they didn't attack it.  (It, and the other roaches, seem content to feed on the lichen that grow naturally in the caverns.)  However, only planning on a quick expedition into the caves, food quickly ran out, and the adventurers took to killing and eating the white immature cockroaches birthed by the giant mother.  By the time they dug themselves out of the caves, they were addicted to the milk found in the immature cockroaches, and had learned that they could consume the milk directly.

Isn't she lovely?
They presented their findings to the nuns, somehow convinced them to try the milk themselves, and the rest is now history.  Once the mother stopped producing young (nobody has been brave enough to ask what monstrous cockroach must have mated with it), the nuns found they could stimulate milk production by feeding ground up male cockroaches to the mother.  Removing the liquid and crystal slurry from the cockroach's hindquarters is somewhat unpleasant work, but it pays the bills and keeps everyone happy.  The nuns also mix the roach milk with water dairy cow milk to make the taste a little more familiar and to stretch out the crystal supply.  (Although they've got a surplus to last them quite a while.)

If someone tries to kill her (a likely outcome, assuming they're not addicted), the St. Brigid roach has 7 hit dice, armor as plate, and a bite dealing damage as a shortsword.  (That's AC 18, +7 to-hit with a bite dealing 1d6 damage in LotFP terms.)  She scuttles as fast as an unencumbered man (120', or 40' per round), although she's pretty sedentary most of the time.  (She seems to enjoy being milked, as near as anyone can tell.)  If she ever ran out of fungus, she'd get more aggressive, but that doesn't seem to be a problem yet.

Good luck trying to murder a well-armored and angry roach the size of an SUV in tight caverns, though.

There is a possibility that the St. Brigid roach is related to the Shab-al-Hiri Roach, although whether this is accurate is up to the Referee.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bundle of Lamentations

Over at Bundle of Holding, they're doing a Lamentations of the Flame Princess bundle, and it's doing really well.  I've talked about why Lamentations is awesome before, so if you need to round out your collection or if you just want to test drive Lamentations, take a look at it.

Also, James Raggi put up a post about how the Bundle breaks down and why you should support it.  You should read it.  Of note, the bundle is one of the top-performing this year:

The longer you wait, the more expensive it gets to get everything.  So, you know.  Get on it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Obligatory Update

Combing through my archives, it appears I never mentioned the two big changes to my games these days.

1) Crux of Eternity made the jump to D&D 5e.  We started in fourth edition about five years ago, and just made the upgrade.  (For those of you playing along at home, we made the switch at Session 48: Revenge of the Giants, Part 10)  Everybody is happy with it, so far as I can tell.

2) Bread and Circuses is over.  It ended with the fellowship heading in four separate directions:
  • Dhavita, her wife Marguerite, and Thava head northwest to possibly book passage back to Dhavita's homeland, since she's apparently a princess there?  And her vampire dad might be willing to do something about these slavers.
  • Rat and Resh head south, possibly to crusade against (and gain control of) the goblin tribes there.
  • Croitus heads west to continue working for the spirits.
  • Southie was infected by some eldritch parasite and recaptured.
We'll likely revisit them sometime in the future, but that seemed like a good place to stop.  With Bread and Circuses over, the sequel to the Deadlands game is upon us.  Graduate school devours a lot of time, so I probably won't be providing regular updates the way I did for the first game.

The Actual Point of This Blog Post:

Updating the D&D game to 5e required a few conversions.  I'm currently running the Revenge of the Giants adventure (which works much better as a 4e adventure than a 5e adventure, but we're rolling with it).  I've included a couple of them below.

First, for the "D7: Three Corners Gambit" encounter, the PCs potentially face a doppelganger trained as a rogue.  As such, I took a regular doppelganger (Monster Manual, pg. 82, or in the DM Basic Rules) and added rogue (assassin) levels.  It's a glass cannon by itself — against five level-fifteen PCs, it didn't stand a chance (it's really hard to use stealth when you have five pairs of eyes on you), but it almost killed one of the PCs when it got her alone.  (I mean, look at its stats.  If it gets the drop on someone, it attacks with advantage and deals 2d8 + 22d6 + 4 damage — an average of 90 damage.)

Doppelganger, 16th level Rogue
Medium monstrosity (shapechanger), neutral
Armor Class 14
Hit Points 156 (24d8+48)
Speed 30 ft.
Str 16 (+3), Dex 18 (+4), Con 14 (+2), Int 11 (+0), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 18 (+4)
Saving Throws Dex +7, Int +3, Wis +4
Skills Deception +10, Insight +7, Investigation +3, Perception +4, Persuasion +10, Stealth +10
Tool Proficiencies thieves’ tools, disguise kit, poisoner’s kit
Condition Immunities charmed
Senses blindsense 10 ft. (must be able to hear), darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Giant, Thieves’ Cant
Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)
Shapechanger.  The doppelganger can use its action to polymorph into a Small or Medium humanoid it has seen, or back into its true form.  Its statistics, other than its size, are the same in each form.  Any equipment it is wearing or carrying isn’t transformed.  It reverts to its true form if it dies.
Ambusher.  The doppelganger has advantage on attack rolls against any creature it has surprised.
Assassinate.  The doppelganger has advantage on attack rolls against any creature that has not yet acted in a combat.  Additionally, any hits the doppelganger scores against a surprised creature are critical hits.
Cunning Action.  The doppelganger can take a bonus action on each of its turns in combat; this action can only be used to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
Evasion.  When subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw for half damage, the doppelganger takes no damage on a successful saving throw and half damage on a failed one.
Impostor.  With three hours of study, the doppelganger can unerringly mimic another’s speech, writing, and behavior.  It gains advantage on any Charisma (Deception) checks it makes to avoid detection against suspicious parties.
Infiltration Expertise.  The doppelganger can spend 25 gp to establish a convincing alternate identity.
Reliable Talent.  When the doppelganger makes an ability check that allows it to add its proficiency bonus, it can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.
Sneak Attack.  Once per turn, the doppelganger can deal an extra 28 (8d6) damage to one creature it hits with an attack if it has advantage on the attack roll.
Surprise Attack.  If the doppelganger surprises a creature and hits it with an attack during the first round of combat, the target takes an extra 10 (3d6) damage from the attack.
Uncanny Dodge.  When an attacker the doppelganger can see hits it with an attack, it can use its reaction to halve the attack’s damage against it.
Multiattack.  The doppelganger makes two melee attacks.
Slam.  Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.  Hit: 7 (1d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.
Rapier.  Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.  Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.
Read Thoughts.  The doppelganger magically reads the surface thoughts of one creature within 60 feet of it.  The effect can penetrate barriers, but 3 feet of wood or dirt, 2 feet of stone, 2 inches of metal, or a thin sheet of lead blocks it.  While the target is in range, the doppelganger can continue reading its thoughts, as long as the doppelganger’s concentration isn’t broken (as if concentrating on a spell).  While reading the target’s mind, the doppelganger has advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion) checks against the target.

The other bit involves the frost giant soldiers from "F1: Attack on Flotsam."  The contingent of frost giants has a leader called a "frost giant windcaller."  It's supposed to be some manner of elemental shaman.  To make one, I took the standard frost giant (Monster Manual, pg. 155, or in the DM Basic Rules) and upgraded its Charisma from 12 to 18.  Instead of adding spellcasting, I just gave it a magic item to call winds:

Drum of the Four Winds
Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)
The drum of the four winds allows a user to summon and manipulate winds.  Made for giants, the drum weighs 750 pounds; a frost giant can easily carry it, but a typical character will have to be creative to move the thing.  The caster must spend an action playing the drum to cast the following spells:
At will: gust of wind
3/day: wind wall
1/day: conjure elemental

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