Thursday, November 13, 2014


you aren't using kappas you should be using kappas  use kappas look at this fucking guy  kappas man
When I found a copy of Oriental Adventures hardcover all beat to hell (yet intact) for 3 bucks, I considered this a mighty fine find, and it would be an exaggeration to say that I leaped on that bargain for the sole reason of having some off-the-shelf Kappas I could use, but, also, I pretty much did that yeah.

The minotaur was a specific monster that meant a specific thing and had a specific context. Separated from that all we have is Cow Man, a seventh level fighter with some extra crap tacked on. But that is ok. Our games can take a race of Cow Mans because we can all do something cool with that visual and put together a race of monsters that talk like Brad Garrett and Patrick Warburton.

Medusa is even more specific and the stories surrounding her are more interesting. It's almost a shame to remove her from that, like encountering A Cain or a pack of Herculeses. But man can you do stuff with the idea of an entire race/subrace of these people. Guy medusas, the petrification ecosystem, where they all came/come long as you remember their blood makes weird horses then I'm fine with that and fuck Euryale anyway.

There are Magic-Users in this game but they made gingerbread cottage June Foray EE-HEE-HEE-HEE witches a separate monster.

So why, in monster manuals bloated with 14 different kinds of vampires, far too many interchangeable reptile men, mermaids, DOLPHINS, WATER WITH A MEANY FACE ON IT, and JUST REGULAR WATER all statted up as off the shelf options to murder your players, how absolute gold like the Kappas gets lost in the shuffle?
Kappas are a lot of what I love as a DM: they have a fairy tale logic to dealing with them, they're slightly goofy, they're off the Kobold-Goblin-Orc ladder, they're gross and creepy, they afford all kinds of fun atmospheric horror and gore opportunities, they imply the world is way weirder at all times and ground the spirit world as a real and present concern, they have structure and institution and culture and HOBBIES and everything built into them, and they're slightly cute. I just love monsters who make players go "Hey that's weird  and cool haha wait are we DYING oh fuck what the how do we kill it run away run away." They've even got all kinds of varieties you can play with from different folklore, even Oriental Adventures gives you two.

Like ghosts, they are geography in a way that even Dracula can't compete with. Dracula has an address, just stay home, but if there's a shitty pond around your life could be endangered. They're also versatile. You can find all kinds of behavior from outright horror shows to mere mischief to the spirit of honorable wrestling in tales of the Kappas so that they can fill many different roles in a dungeon map or provide several kinds of encounters. They come alone or in bunches. They don't hoard treasure as much as some monsters but they hoard "dead adventurers at the bottom of a lake" and adventurers usually have swag.

They also pass the quick and dirty monster manual test of "would Hellboy kick this thing's ass."
I've used Kappas before. My party's first encounter with Kappas was during a torrential rainstorm, threatening a town at the behest of an oni (disguised as a kappa) who was tricking them. Some of them weren't sure what to think of these things but the rest of the group filled them in. Which is why everyone was surprised when the kappas got back UP, because their head bowl refilled itself within two rounds in such heavy rain. So then it became a game of luring the kappas indoors to properly defeat them WITHOUT further endangering the people hiding inside those same buildings. It was a fun, brutal night, and one of my favorite session ideas I've run.

The next time they met a kappa it was a gluttonous, gambling fool who competed against the party in a race across the city that turned into an escape across the city, which WOULD have been one of my best-of sessions if I was the DM I am today back when I ran that. He got killed by a half elf pirate queen who was sponsored by space jail. Yes, I've used kappas before, almost as early as I'd begun running games, with the energy and inelegance of unbridled enthusiasm.

For those kappas, every kappa was one species and they changed over their life. the little yellow ones were like young nymph forms, the big hairy fuckoff scary ones were like a disease old kappas could catch where they went mindless and got awesome, like Gamma Alzheimer's, so on. Their brain was actually layered on the inside of their skills like a motherboard and they needed the tissue fluid in their heads to act as a cooling agent and conductor for their synapses. There's a membrane that connects their heads, though, like when you see a plastic skull that opens? And that membrane degrades as they age, so that by the time they're adult it tears away and they're fully exposed. They usually then invert that bowl and use it to help keep water inside their kollow skulls, and dislodging that bowl spilled their water and killed them.

This is called overthinking a monster. I'd been a DM for like 3 months at this point, so what excuse D&D has after multiple decades for not being able to leave Awesome enough alone, I have no idea.

When you staked a vampire you were literally nailing him to the fucking box. That's why that worked and dealt with a vampire. Similarly a kappa losing their water leaves them helpless, but they can always come BACK. They're in some ways a trap monster, also one of my favorite kinds of monster.
I would allow kappa PCs. They'd work like how you think, claw attack, swim speed, water breathing, 1 pt AC bonus, infravision. I'd leave all the bewitching and vampiric stuff for NPC kappas. I WOULD however be permissive about what fluid can fill their head so their fellow PCs can reactivate them easily. Blood, urine, beer. I would let them carry a magic potion in their head, benefiting from its enchantment, until they let someone else drink from the potion. Then either their head is empty so they can be easily dealt with or, if there's still potion left, it becomes poison so they HAVE to dump it out themselves. You can only play a kappa if one of your other PCs has wrestled a kappa naked and won.

I don't feel like you're supposed to run into 12 different kinds of frog monster in DNDish games, and then each kind has another 14 types within that, and they're all effectively just frog monsters to Nongnards. I feel like frog monster, snake monster, lizard monster, are all options, like what fits your world? And now all th creature creep we've seen means "Ok you decided frog guys, how complicated do you want your frog guys? How much lore do you want? How specific do you want it?" Bullywugs are remarkably free of baggage compared to a slaad, so you can use them more places, but they also come with fewer ideas than frog guy brought to the table so they're a less attractive option sometimes.

Anyway I can see eschewing all that and saying "How about kappas instead of frog/lizard/snake/turtle/whatever guys?"

The kappa has one problem, one big problem, for a specific kind of player, and that's that Mario kicks their ass all the time. If you're one of the people who just realized that's why he fights turtles who die when they flip over, ruled by a giant fanged turtle monster, you're welcome. If you can't stamp out thew Nintendo references then any creepy mood you want to make with these guys can be kissed goodbye. At that point I suggest just trying to murder people with a wandering kappa pack.

Strangely I feel like 5e could work for kappas in a way that previous editions have been unable to adequately translate, and I solemnly vow that if I ever get to run a 5e game I actually made up myself then I'll come back here and post my kappa statblock for everyone.

 I may drop a few into one of my Deep Carbon Observatory sessions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Long Ago Ceased To Be Anything But Auld Darrel

The town is quiet and unassuming. It's really a small city, the kind that have been squatting in the cliffs around salt lakes like hungry crabs for centuries, hungry for history, hoping to go unnoticed, unneeded, by the herons of empire. The locals take no notice of you, even if you're one of those newfangled dragon people, which is weird. I mean they respond when directly addressed or confronted, rent you a room, sell you an ale but...maybe if you just...

Yep, you walk right out of that shop with that crossbow. You lift that lady's purse and other than looking concerned for a moment nobody really reacts. You start seeing how much you can get away with. You take a horse. You start a fire. Everyone is lazily putting out the flames and then they go about their normal business. If you cared to notice you'd see that everyone eats but they don't eat well, they have money and finery in their homes but they don't dress well, they don't seem concerned for their minor don't notice this, of course, so busy are you in fleecing this city's aforementioned finery. You spiral through the city and end up in the center square...

When a building burns out or rots from within sometimes the walls still hang together, sallow but standing, there but only radiating a sense that there WAS something there. He's sitting near a fountain, or perhaps in the shade in early afternoon. He punched holy men and saved churches and burned fields and fed children and forgot things and remembered too many things and long ago ceased to be anything but Auld Darrel. People walk past him and drop him some coin, and your grouch sack is awfully you need ALL those silver candlesticks?

You feel better once you've given Auld Darrel some of your stuff, invigorated, but somehow also drained. Perhaps you'll leave tomorrow.

The keeper shows you the bungalow and takes your deposit. You're not paying attention to him, just going through the motions at this point. You dream of sandwiches. The next day the way out of town seems steep, bright, and it's such a long way to your destination. You persevere, but you seem to have gotten lost. The road slopes down here, perhaps leading out of the mount-

He danced on his wedding and once when he had too much sherry on midsummer. He buried three sisters and two fathers. He fought in the war once, and was in all the other wars anyway. Auld Darrel is thin, and old, and so small...

Speaking of thinness, now that you've given Auld Darrel a few coins you seem to have found where you laid your appetite. You don't order much, and you don't order the best...just a quick bite to keep going. You'll have a big meal later. To get out of town now...

But it's nearly dusk.

Maybe you'll leave tomorrow.

Auld Darrel has lost who he once was, depending upon the kindness of strangers to survive. Who he once was, among many other things, almost not worth mentioning, really, was a Magic-User. He was no wizard or conjurer or summoner or warlock or whatever fancy title you want to use. He was a man in love who learned something he shouldn't have. He could extend his mind. First in mice, then cats, then dogs...he worked up his courage for weeks to ask Emma out, and he knew just how to do so by the time he'd gotten the nerve. He never controlled, never forced, not really, but his mind put up a little room and a home in her mind, and they were as together as anyone has ever been, and he loved her like he never loved anything or believed in anything


                                                    he was





Auld Darrel is empty now but not. Auld Darrel is wide open. Auld Darrel is turned on. Emma is buried in the village crypt, a part of the stone, a part of the city, and Auld Darrel is a part of Emma. It started with mice. It started with cats. It worked its way up to people.

Auld Darrel does not control this little squat city, which by now I'm just going to name Bunning. Not actively. He goes through his motions, just enough to get by, and influences the people around him subtly but strongly to pity him and help him along. He is not evil. He is not greedy. He is, however, kind, and gentle, and terrified. He sleeps in a barrel and sends everyone home to a warm bed. Everyone. No one can leave Bunning.

The longer he influences them the more he influences them. The thinner their minds become, sallow, rotted. They become a part of Emma. But they are patient and forgiving and kind. Vestiges remain and so they busy themselves with their custom, with walking, with eating when they remember that they probably should have eaten hours ago...

No one especially wants to leave Bunning but no one particularly can, either. They come to stay in a little crablike overlook that has only the fattest, fattest, happiest stray dogs, everywhere, surrounded by people who are slowly collapsing into each other, buildings which are love, in a people and city which long ago ceased to be anything but Auld Darrel.


When a city breathes in and out like a city and rises and falls like a city, a great big yeasty loaf that is never baked but just grows, what else grows there? What else lurks about it, within it, beneath it? What kind of thing would choose to nest there, unaffected by the enchantments others suffer? And why?

When a mind is left open like a shack, what takes up residence there? When you are part of the dead what are you part of? When everyone is part of the dead what are they? When everyone is part of the stone, what else did they become, and wait a minute doesn't that sound incredibly familiar and old and Dark Run Screams Dark Run Red Wet Dark Dark Silence?

Exactly how long has this been going on and what the fuck happens with Auld Darrel dies? And what the fuck else was he into that he can't tell us about? How screwed COULD everyone be?

Why did Emma die?

Save vs. Spells.