Friday, December 4, 2015

REVIEW: They're Here Already II, by Judas Babbage

Bone pioneer and lysergic athlete Judas Babbage was fired from Adder Entertainment with extreme prejudice and served 2 years for the assaults which followed. He entered the pen with a half dozen adventures complete and ready to publish, including the inciting incendiary book behind his termination, Go Fuck A Baby. Failed by the mental health industry Babbage felt he had no one to turn to when his medication not only stopped being effective but completely turned on him. Before his death in the early 90s he expressed a lot of regret over how things went down, and specifically for GFAB.

"What I set out to do was make a game no one else would do. I didn't believe [in] such a thing as things you shouldn't do, creatively. I guess I still don't. So when everyone kept insisting what I was doing was terrible, my response was fuck you, get more babies...

"Someone calls themselves an artist, you call yourself an art lover, you don't want them to give you what you ask for. You want something only you can do...I think I was the only one who would do that one, but looking back I think anybody could do it. It's pretty tacky. I mean I don't know that I shouldn't have done it but I wish I hadn't...I was a hurting young man trying to find someone to listen to me, only I just incensed people. I didn't interest them."
- A Tunnel Special (1995)

Babbage's wife Copernica published several of the titles Judas had completed in order to defray legal expenses and help support herself. GFAB was never published but cam-paks such as Hey Iron Devil and Killing Age Heroes did see the light of day, fully compatible with Æ's contemporary releases. They were not allowed to promote themselves as such but they did still contain some signature language and reference to other Æ titles. All credits apart from Judas and Copernica's names were stripped and this led to a continuing controversy over the provenance of certain artworks. These problems, very real and very shady, should not detract from the fact that Judas Babbage was our dirty grampa and we are all his deformed children. Judas Babbage was the Batman that games needed.

When Æ reconvened in 1999 people were ready to feel good about giving strangers money to play games again. In the spirit of that enthusiasm Babbage was posthumously welcomed back into the fold. Before she died in 2000, Copernica signed a deal granting Babbage's finest work, They're Here Already, to be republished and re-edited for the initial wave of NovÆ reprints. They're Here Already II is an improvement where changes are made but the original material is largely, and shockingly, untouched.

Near the city of Knife Hole there is a great pit, around which there are seven churches. The pit is a Throat straight to hell, a dungeon massive in description if not in size. If there's one complaint which rules all others and in the darkness binds them it's that Babbage's kamikaze antipsychotics were on a bleeding roll and you get descriptions all over the place here. Thoughts completely abandoned and picked up in another room. Inconsistencies like what color the blood is. For the most part this is an issue for the person shepherding the game with those playing likely not to even see much in the way of nits and tears, but that itself begs the question of the necessity for such elaborate assessments. Babbage was never one to trust an artist, it seems, and reading They're Here Already II I can believe that. Box text is often at best a barnacle but Babbage seemed to think that 10,000 words was worth a picture. If there's a strange bit of praise to offer here, however, it's that this is one of the few adventure modules which would work better as an audiobook.

Each of the churches has been given a prophecy, one which will be fulfilled in 7 days. Thwarting any of these requires delving down the Throat. Seven champions are selected, and one or all of the party will represent these champions. You've all got two things you have to do in order to stop your prophecy but those things will be at fixed points in your descent so you can't control how fast you do them. You can't stay in the Throat safely so you keep having to go up and down and back to town.

Problem: every night one of the prophecies comes true. The town you return to is much changed from the one you left, usually, and represents its own dangers. It's entirely possible, after a couple of days of play, to get trapped in town dealing with its complications and never make it down the Throat at all.

The complications themselves usually involve the transposition of an asset, resource, or ally with some kind of non-union EC Comics equivalent, and by the end of the week not only has the town become a Tim Burton wet dream but the throat inverts, becoming a moving column of hell scorching its way across the world.

The actual meat of the cam-pak though is the time you spend in the Throat. The Throat-Threats within are all suitably deadly and the best way to survive anything you meet is running, as they seem to all have been designed after crocs and hippos: deadly, shockingly fast in the short term, but slow lethargic to the point of stillness in the long run. Of particular pleasure was the Answermander, a monster which screams advice on defeating the dangers as it chases you, but will absolutely slice you to ribbons if it catches you. Nothing really hurts it apart from a secret he only reveals when he kills someone. I used to use @nswerm@nder as my handle in the old IRC #AE room on the goatz network. This concludes the sad little peek into my life.

The chief innovation here is the Rules Table. The demonians of the Throat love rules, and love to talk. Any rule stated by a denizen becomes fundamental physical and magical law while in the Throat, but these rules are assigned randomly whenever a demonian interaction occurs. It makes one confident that no two people who played They're Here Already II have ever played nearly the same game, something always said about only the best games.

The revisions are largely on the lines of a proper table of contents and index, proper art credits, some new art, and some thorough proofreading. One large change, however, is that the connecting thread one followed from the bottom of the Throat to the Babbage release Siege of Blood Ants has been removed. In its place is a circle of counter-churches, one each devoted to the prophecies the churches above are trying to prevent. They do not have their own champions, but players can choose to switch their letter over to these new counter-churches. It's an improvement which Æ credits still to Judas and Copernica Babbage, but which has been surreptitiously confirmed to be the work of Killer Ivanova.

While much of Babbage's other catalog saw print in the Sibbilants anthology a few items will likely never be reprinted due to art right disputes the Babbages laid the ground work for. Go Fuck A Baby remains unpublished, of course, but several small companies have made reference to its infamous title, such as the Cyclopean Romanse novel Go Hug a Babylon (insufferably) and the controversial Cobra Party Free RPG Day release G-Fabulous! (interminable for different, 'hilarious' reasons)

Perhaps the best legacy Babbage could have is a gamer support group for people suffering from mental illness, They're Here Already, dedicated to speaking out about mental illness among gamers to destigmatize it and remind people they aren't alone. This organization drew fire from their choice of name but there is no such thing as a perfect ally. No unblemished legacy. And as forefather and object study Babbage means more to our little community than his game books ever did, really.

Friday, November 20, 2015

VDND God Sorcerers

Stuff of the Gods

At 1st level, you physically transform your aspect into a splinter of the god you were, for we were all gods, for all of space was carved from the bodies of the gods. Apologies to turtleneck but we are made of GODSTUFF. In this aspect, you resemble yourself, glowing with power, but you resemble something far beyond yourself. You gain the ability to cast mage armor at will, without components. This celestial accoutrement crackles with energy and life. For the duration of mage armor, you gain the sacred flame cantrip and have Disadvantage for Stealth checks.

Wisdom of the Spheres

At 1st level, you understand the secret orders of the universe, intrinsically, a race memory burned into carbon by starforge. You gain training in Religion and Perception.

Might of the Stars

At level 6 your limbs remember their old strength. Whenever you roll a natural 20 you gain 1 Sorcery Point.

Shape of the Champion

At level 14 you are becoming an unstoppable force of nature. You can leap 30' horizontal and 20' vertical from a standing start, adding half that distance from a running start. You gain a swim and climb speed of 30'. Additionally, you have Advantage on all Constitution saving throws against magical effects.

Lord of the Cosmos

At level 18 you are god taking new flesh from the old, through the shape of man meat. Whenever you roll a natural 1 you gain 1 Sorcery Point. You gain an additional Metamagic option: You may spend 1 Spell Point to sustain a spell to its maximum Duration without having to maintain Concentration.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Toxic Blood for VDND Sorcerers

Toxic Saturation

Beginning at 1st level, you have resistance to poison damage and advantage on saves against poison.

Blow Chunks

Also at 1st level, you learn the poison spray cantrip. You can cast this without components by vomiting this vile sludge.

A Way of Something Like Life

At level 6 you are immune to the Poisoned condition. Additionally, you have advantage on saves against necrotic damage.

Death in the Blood

At level 14, whenever you take damage, you may bleed buckets as a reaction. Each creature within 5' of you must make a Constitution saving throw or suffer the Poisoned condition. Additionally, you have resistance against necrotic damage.

Walking Wasteland

At level 18 you may spend 6 Sorcery Points to compel a Constitution saving throw from any target you touch: at a failure, the target is Poisoned and drops to 0 HP.

Friday, October 30, 2015

VDND Bone Man


Ability Score Bonuses: Strength +1, Intelligence +1
Size: M
Speed: 30'
Languages: Common, 2 of your choice.
Living: If you remain silent, observers must pass a Perception check equal to your Charisma Score+Constitution Bonus to distinguish you from an undead. Turn Undead has no effect on you.
Skeleton: You are trained in Intimidate. If attempting to blend in with other skeletons, consider yourself trained in Performance.
Clacking: Your Passive Perception for seeing things is -4. Your Passive Perception for hearing things is +4. In a round where you spend a bonus action chattering your teeth to echolocate, you negate both of these modifiers.
Incense: You have proficiency with Herbalism Kits and may treat as a Healer's Kit.
Blood of Carcosa: You have been trained from birth in the blooded rituals of Carcosa. At the following character levels, you may cast each of these spells once per day, as rituals. You must finish a long rest to use these rituals again, unless you have Spellcasting as a class feature or the Ritual Caster feat.
Level 1 - unseen servant
Level 3- augury
Level 5- feign death*

All Bone Men are either Warriors or Maguses.

Warrior: You have proficiency with the Greatsword. Additionally, you may use a Greatsword coated in blood as an Arcane Focus.

Magus: You learn the cantrip chill touch, with no components but at a range of Touch. Additionally, you also learn the following rituals at later character levels:
Level 7- divination
Level 9- contact other plane
Level 11- forbiddance

* casting feign death on a target gives them the appearance of Bone Men.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Am So God Damn Mad About Pearce Shea's In The Woods Right Now

I want to get some things out of the way up front.
  1. I forgot about +Pearce Shea.
  2. I hate his game.
  3. In the Woods is not even the kind of adventure I like to run.
  4. If he wants another proofreader to take a pass before he releases another version of this down the line, I'm available.
Even if all of that sounds good to you, I don't think you should buy it.

1.

So there's this phenomena common in the DIY scene that I want to talk about. Common to me at least, I certainly experience it a lot, and it's similar to a problem I had at the comic shop. See I handled every customer's pulls every week and I saw thousands of customers a week, including hundreds of regulars and hundreds of subscribers. Now to make a name up, I knew Dick Longhard's subscription inside and out. I knew when he added series, dropped series, noted when he just wanted one of something, kept him in mind for certain variant covers. I also knew Dick Longhard personally. We had extensive conversations every week and sometimes talked for hours. We liked a lot of the same books and I convinced him to try a few titles with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It didn't take but it led him to something he did enjoy, usually.

What I often did not know is that these two people were the same person.

It happens. I see a lot of people and I'm a busy guy. And, yeah, it's shitty, but I care a lot more about who you are RIGHT NOW in front of me and whether you're interesting, fun, surprising, engaging to talk to than I do who you are, where you're from, or anything at all about your life. Some of that is just guy-ness but even if you tell me your name I'll probably forget it until I've had a couple of interesting conversations with you.

Which is all to say that I know +Pearce Shea from G+ conversations and being one of the stewards of Santicore, praise be his horrible name. He is always watching. Nice guy, smart guy, against all better judgment seems to like me okay which always helps. Like I said, I'm a shitty guy. So when he released In the Woods and I tagged his post to remember to check it out when I got home, he reached out and comped me a copy. It was super sweet and I appreciate it a lot, being broke as a joke right now.

So since I cross my T's and I knew I'd read his stuff before somewhere, I looked him up, and oh goddamn it he's that guy.

Of course I'd read games with others. A lot. Because it's good and I read good things. The only reason I didn't have it on my sidebar is because I kept forgetting the name of the site, too, because I'm a fucking mess. I can't often use his writing for my at times purposefully narrow purposes but his work has a focus mine could sorely use a lot of times. We'll come back to that point.

Basically, I liked Pearce Shea in three different directions before I read this book, but forgot him twice. Hence I feel a public apology is in order.

So given.

2.

One of the most rewardingly frustrating things in our community is when I read something that does a thing I'm doing better than I was gonna do it. It's often not close, just enough for association - to make someone go "Oh like in Fire on the Velvet Horizon" - that I revisit what I've done and readjust until it's a whole different thing and I'm satisfied with it. That's the key to me, not to see a good thing and go "I can do that better" but to see yourself on someone else's path and go "I can do ME better." This is a personal issue affecting The Work and doesn't exactly bear on In the Woods, though, because, after all, In the Woods is the kind of thing I'd love to see and do more of. Again, we'll circle back to that.

So it was upon reacquainting myself with Monsterparts (that problem of mine with names again, I kept thinking this was that Apocalypse World game) that I cursed to myself and immediately made a note to make major amendments to 2 projects, one of which I'd already given up for drunk work and the other of which was a big sprawling DUNGEON MIX post I'd been percolating. This experience is thrilling in a way and came back to bite me.

Billed originally as "attribute-less D&D" on his site, Monsterparts is a game where all the PCs take on the roles of The Kid Who Saw And Was Not Believed. You are not here to save the day. The world does not revolve around your actions. The day cannot be saved. The world is a goner. This isn't expressed through typical King In Yellow language or symbolism but rather the Lynch/Burton view of suburban sprawl as funeral mask, scab on the wound, or, in terms the games protagonists might grok, through Goosebumps sandboxing. You can cheat death and survive the horrors around you....for a time. No one believes you, and even the memory of what you saw, what you heard, weighs on you. Knowledge kills, and you can convince people to help you but you won't be doing them a favor.

The name of the game is inventory management and survival. Its old school D&D roots may show through in play at times more strongly than its Goonies roots.

All of this is shit I want more of, but it's specifically the Endurance rules (and especially those governing the taxing presence of monsters) that had be enviously hurrying to strike through my hard efforts.  My favorite rule in the game is how simply acknowledging the bad things in your life brings the darkness. It's such a kid logic kind of thing, such a part of that post-traumatic coping, the idea that to even express how you're hurting is to make it real, like the Event. I've seen grown ups struggle with this, a lot, sometimes from shit they experienced as kids, sure in the knowledge that this rule were true.

Related is the book's admonishment that authority figures and adults will only believe you at the worst possible time. The rules then go on to explain how to convince someone of something, but I would (and did) add a wandering monster roll triggered by attempting to convince a grown up of the world around you. It seemed super genre appropriate. "Stop it, kid, there is no such thing as bigfoot." "RAAAAHRRR argh gagble!"

There is a countdown in play, a timetable that probably works a lot more smoothly in person. I ran this online, with my camera focused on the Oblivion Clock, which was super creepy and effective when I finally addressed it NOT by describing it but by using it. That's not how it will work at a table but is, itself, a gag I really should have thought of before now, so damn you for that, too.

3.

"Kids in the creepy woods" is one of my favorite anythings and the result of being not just a monster kid but also a ghost kid (and dinosaur kid who taught 6th grade sometimes but that's another tale). I mean I grew up a kid in the creepy woods and manifest has seen fit to put me back smack in the middle of some creepy woods with howly swaying pines on the night I ran In the Woods. This is tailor made for me in concept, but it practice this is a more unusual animal.

In the Woods is also the first time the Monsterparts rules are being released commercially to my knowledge so it kind of ends up working like a Free RPG Day adventure demo, spending a little time saying "Here is the implied setting of the larger world of this game, here is how you play this game, but AT THE SAME TIME here's the setting and background for this adventure and here's the rules information specific to this booklet." Reading through the whole thing is required to get it, I think, but once YOU the guy running the game has it then it's easy enough to explain. I talked players through character creation in G+ and while it took longer than it would have if we had pass-around handouts it still only took about 30 minutes for me to finish setup. (It would have taken longer if I hadn't done some of my bits earlier. Given the online issue I would say resist the spirit of the rules here and do more prep than you're specifically told to, fill out your whole roster, and just replace entries with ones the players make as needed.)

In saying that it feels at times like a Free RPG Day adventure that comes off as a slight, uh, slight. Certainly some people eying this book are doing so with the aim of playing around with a new ruleset, and they might come away miffed because in terms of the game IN GENERAL there's not a lot to tooth on here and very little in the way of tools to run a more general Monsterparts campaign. The tools are mostly focused on creating strange experiences in itself, which means you have to work specifically to adventure content.

I am bad at this because I hate it. With a lot of adventure books I feel like I am surplus to requirement if I run it straight. They lack the invention, surprise, fucked up sex shit and cannibals that fuel the enjoyment I find in running games. I literally cannot resist making changes and personal touches, to the point where (as alluded above) I made up more rules, ignored the advice about crocodile names, and invented another monster. It's a part of me, and therefore when a game actually comes with room to maneuver in its adventure modules it raises my eyebrow.

In the Woods has this room and doesn't has this room which leaves me pretty damn flummoxed. I'd compare it to Better Than Any Man except it lacks some of the open ended anything can happen nature of Better Than Any Man. It shares its sandboxy structure and its no-matter-what-you're-probably-fucked context but otherwise they're fairly dissimilar. I mean if nothing else BTAM is something you can use to begin or continue any campaign while In the Woods is packaged as a complete experience itself. Sure you could tack on a campaign to the end of this but if the same spooky kids keep thwarting the darkness time and time again then the world revolves around them, they are special, and that seems to run counter to the feel of In the Woods.

In the Woods is like....bonsai sandbox, which led me through a unique experience of not Mastering this adventure so much as curating it. So many people writing about story games are very concerned about controlling what the player CAN do or what the GM CAN do to the point where, terrified of anything but ultimate Goat Simulator freedom, they end up sounding a little tyrannical about what you can't or shouldn't do. Instead I found a lot of profit in making my job about gently reminding people they're kids, repeating creepy descriptions, avoiding too much genre awareness, and otherwise constantly reinforcing the CONTEXT and TONE. That doesn't mean that we weren't silly sometimes, kids are silly sometimes, eldritch horror sometimes looks like Zoidberg, but the hex grid is already set up to drive home the notion that this is a situation which must be escaped, not overcome, and my job is to pull a Tom Noonan and work the slide projector shouting "DO YOU SEE?!"

I had a lot of fun with the specificity of that experience. I wasn't their enemy or their friend like a bad GM and I wasn't an interface for the world and a cast of thousands like a good GM. Instead my hands were as tied as if I were a player character by my choice to run this adventure, and I only really played one character, who was The Situation At Hand.

That is praise if it doesn't sound like it. It's not something I'd do every week but I really appreciate when this hobby shows its war game and board game DNA and In the Woods feels a lot like one of the better "bottle experience" board games.

Digression: Cabin in the Woods is great and all and Betrayal at House on the Hill is basically that in board game form. I think throwing everything in a soup tureen and going "haha GENRE, am I right?" can be done well, sure, but I don't think it's much fun to play out in a RPG because you're really playing the game of Spot The Reference. I don't even like that in Feng Shui but if I may say so I've usually avoided that with my games. Say what you will about Friday the 13th but it didn't hinge on your breadth of experience. It was devoted, overly devoted, to delivering its singular experience. I may not like it more than a lot of more modern horror movies, who want to have their cynic and platonic at the same time, but I respect it more.

4.

I can't say whether I did a good job proofreading for Santicore because nobody has called out something I've missed to me yet. But I am rated highly in performance testing and, format issues aside (there are a few clarity issues caused by formatting but none so serious and never so frequent that I think they're worth addressing), there are a few places here and there where it looks like your word processor decided you meant something else. I imagine you've heard about these by now but, if not, I can take a pass at it. It'd be my pleasure.

I've also done up some fan art of a kind for you, visual aids from when I ran this. Use them however you want.

Don't Buy In The Woods....

The basic gist is that you're kids lost in the woods at night and there's horrible monsters. It's a kid's idea of spooky woods and a night that is oppressive and alive. Some notes, then: I don't think they're too spoilery but I'll white them out anyway.
  • I made the badger very pregnant because I'm gross.
  • Lizard Yolanda sounds like an Elvis Costello song.
  • New wave 80s horrorsynth worked well to get me in the very specific mood, and +Dunkey Halton regretted that I shared this with him.
  • I think more that all game theory can ultimately come down to a divide between the kinds of games where players go "There's a reward, let's go after it" and the games where they go "There's a reward, FUCK that, go go go" and never speak of the reward again.
  • Since the party was small and camp was so near the path the players opted to try to Nope down the mountain with little thought toward rescuing their friends. While I know a lot of groups would take a different tack on this, the lure of the nearby trail and therefore steps to be retraced to/in relative safety (one might assume) is one I can see being hard to overcome.
  • I think this is a six hour game, basically.
  • While not exactly breaking kayfabe I let the players know, when asking about reasonable expectations, that a logical supposition would be (and this is why I brought this up earlier) Friday the 13th NES game rules. You know there are specific places where you'll get killed for sure, versus the trails where you could still be killed at any time but it's more spread out and less certain doom, but in the broader context you are definitely fucked either way.
  • The players come from a summer camp associated with their school. That means a mix of ages but there aren't camp counselors, only grown up teachers. Next time I run this I'm going to impose a 30-and-under rule on myself, replace the teachers with shitty college kids, and make the park rangers some in over their head grad students finishing arboreal studies masters.
  • Hunger is basically the best.
  • Getting back to the board game comparison, the grid mapping rules are justly advised as the first rules you should master, as it basically helps tip over dominoes for you.
  • Tim is the worst.
Now Over the Edge was a similar kind of bonsai sandbox and it advised players strongly not to read the whole book if they ever planned on playing the game. The game was built around a specific lore with specific SHOCKING REVEALS!!!

And I know a lot of people ignored that and read the whole thing anyway because some of y'all's contrary fucks, and also some people just read entire game system core books for fun or to pull ideas from.

If either of those describe you, do not buy In the Woods.

At least for yourself.

...PLAY IN THE WOODS.

If you want an idea of what you're getting or you want to pick Pearce's brain for ideas, read these old Monsterparts rules.

If after reading the above you want to RUN In the Woods for your group, buy In the Woods.

If after reading the above you want to PLAY In the Woods, buy this book for someone and ask them to run it for you.

But don't buy In the Woods just to have another PDF. I mean one of your friends MAY end up running it for you down the line, and you'd be doing yourself a big favor right now. Support +Pearce Shea by throwing a buck or two his way, sure, he deserves it, but you know damn well that the PDF sitting in your documents folder will get too tempting eventually and you'll break down and read the whole thing and then be afraid to play the game EXACTLY as much as you WANT to play the game. This is apparently already a spreading phenomenon.

But if you are buying In the Woods buy it here and buy it now, because it's deeply discounted until November only.

FIN

I don't finish running a lot of my adventures or dungeons. Schedules are hard to pin down and by the time I have the time to set up another game I've become enamored with some OTHER idea and want to run that instead. It's a sickness, and it leaves a trail of broken toys going back about oh shit have I been playing these games for like six years?! When did that happen....

In any event, I'm finishing In the Woods. And then maybe I'll run it again, if I don't take that time to write my own Monsterparts adventure first.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

I Lost and Forgot This Lost Forgotten Dungeon

Long ago the party was rattling around the dwarf cliffs day-deep in a town called Skorkida. There's really one dwarf kingdom, one dwarf city, in a way, and the individual city states are more like boroughs. They were sort of in a...dicey position, legally, for reasons I'll gloss over, and wanted to ingratiate themselves to the locals a bit more by exploring this structure the dwarfs discovered. Some dwarfs intruded into the tunnels belonging to another clan and found this system of chambers, and it had to be mapped by impartial outsiders to settle whether right of salvage and discovery belonged to the tunnel owners or the intruders.

Anyway. I had an idea for a dungeon gag I wanted to use, so I decided that's what this was. A 'monsterless' dungeon where all the dangers were from doors or chests.

First I made this table:

1. smiling chest, must tell a joke to make the chest laugh or it bursts into flame, Breath-dex save or 1d12
2. skull chest, covered in poison, do not touch this chest
3. tooth chest, unlocking this steel maw puts metal jaws in place of character's mouth, save vs spell or bite 1d6 uncontrollably
4. bear chest, contains a folding bear, as grizzly bear but can collapse small enough to fit in a 1' cubed space.
5. steam chest, 60' radius scalding trap 2d8
6. bat chest, makes everything invisible visible in room until unlocked
7. crimson chest, fills room with blood when opened, like a Shining elevator amount of blood
8. nesting chest, 3d6 chests within chests
9. inscribed chest, reading it casts as from scroll, "and then i found myself inside the chest." Inscription is in a language at least one character can read, if you read the message you vanish and appear inside the chest, even if there's not actually room in there because it's full of guys....
10. chasing chest, covered in spikes and floats after party once observed
11. beckoning chest, first draws adventurers, then draws monsters 4/6 wandering checks each round
12. eye chest, can only be picked open by invisible person
13. bird chest, filled with eggs (cockatrice)
14. sphinx chest, must answer riddle to open (riddle: We're green with no gills, lizards with no frills, scaly but no snake, rhyme for the riddle's sake. Answer: skinks.)
15. many-locked chest, fucking covered in them. 10% to open and 10% to activate spike trap, raise both by 10% for each attempt. Spike trap does 3 damage +1 for each failed attempt +1 for each spike already set off.
16. snake chest, charms someone failing to unlock it into attacking party, they may wait until they can get sneak attack damage. No save, successfully unlocking the chest is your save
17. growing chest, occurs naturally in a tree, home of cursing sprites (all party members failing saves become incapable of seeing, hearing, or in any way perceiving another party member, like even if they write a note or carry around a potted plant)
18. tiny chest, unlocks hidden door nearby
19. shadow chest, can only be unlocked using the shadow of thieves' tools, always has Shadow cast on it (Oh right uh I turned a lot of BX monsters into spell effects and living shadows was one of the obvious candidates, so the chest's shadow can animate and try and eat your shadow and replace it, and then move on to another shadow, when your new shadow leaves it kills you, if attacked treat like normal living shadow)
20. displacer chest, must be truly found to be unlocked, as searching for secret doors
21. illusion chest, disguised as creature
22. night chest, only exists in the dark
23. getaway chest, contains stairs that lead to escape, portable. Stairs terminate in a sylvan glade far from here and vanish when you step off of them
24. mirror chest, reverse treasure roll for chest (5% becomes 95% etc.), unlocking will just lock and jam further, so you have to try to lock it securely before you open it
25. wax chest, touching it causes one to adhere to it, may save vs Petrification to escape, 3 failed saves means it's stuck on there until Remove Curse but you can do d8 damage with it
26. pandora chest, fills he who opens it with unshakable hope and aspiration, save and this effect wanes in d6 rounds and is infectious (no save), failed save means the effect takes root until shaken by a Command, Remove Curse, Fear effect, something that makes sense...
27. haunted chest, 3rd level spellcaster, counts as ghoul for turn undead
28. reliquary chest, soul trapped in chest
29. curse chest, 1d2 mutations
30. heart chest, as love potion, mirror inside, save to avoid narcissism, if you save you just love whatever is directly behind you. If they break it to you harshly and break your heart then the effect ends but for the next week you have to make Morale checks in battle with Morale 7.

There were no Mimics exactly. There were chest golems (as wood golems but with chests for uh, chests, so a successful unlock check killed them) everywhere and many of the doors, in addition to being trapped or locked, were Shrieking Doors. The Shrieking Door was one of the very first rpg things I made and my answer to hating the ear borer. How to accomplish the same thing without being a shitty player punisher? ac5, 2+hd*, 12hp, sonic attack does 1d4 and deafens plus after 1 round it will rip itself from its hinges and totter after you with a 1d8 crushing attack, no loot or language, roll for wandering monsters every round until killed. Like the chest golems above, you can incapacitate them with a successful unlocking check.

Grabbed a map, randomly figured out which doors were locked or trapped etc, then randomly figured out which rooms had chests in them and randomly rolled for what those chests were. It ended up like this:

Door to 14 trapped(pit, 2d10)
Door to 19 trapped(needle, save vs poison or sleep for 24hrs), locked, shrieking
Door to 10 trapped (polymorph the PC into a chest mimic)

Door to 3 locked
Door to 17 locked, shrieking
Door to 6 locked
Door to 8 locked
Door to 9 locked

Door to 4 shrieking
Door to 8 shrieking
Door to 13 shrieking

room 13 monster (wood golem, ac7, 2+hd, 14hp)
room 17 monster (wood golem, ac7, 2+hd, 14hp)
room 18 monster (wood golem, ac7, 2+hd, 14hp)

room 8 manylock chest x2 (key to 2nd chest contained in 1st, key to 9 door in 2nd)
room 6 crimson chest
room 10 night chest (time travel, everyone in the room transported to same room right before the party enters the dungeon) and snake chest (containing valuable dwarf mummy)
room 13 eye chest (diary of nearby secrets) and bat chest (key to 14)
room 19 curse chest (contained gauntlets, also cursed, each containing spirit of dwarf brother, +1 AC but you have to make Wisdom save to do anything with them because the brothers fight)
room 3 inscribed chest (OK this was inscribed in dwarf obviously and this terrified my players like few other things. They kept sending their dwarven retainers to read it but in short (heh) order the chest was so full of crushed dwarf it began extruding their gore through the seals of the chest)
room 7 reliquary chest (Blacksmith, the opposite number to the Craftsman. (Oh right the dwarf holy wars, uh don't worry about this just imagine it like the black chests from Paper Mario. The short (still funny) of it is that dwarf faith was very forceful, the Craftsman represented force of will to be meticulous and persevere, the Blacksmith represented force of effort and strength and pressure, the party never met Force of Personality....)
room 4 heart chest
room 18 nesting chest (key to 11 in smallest chest)
room 15 bird chest

This represented some challenges. Getting through all the unlocking in room 8 was a potentially daunting prospect, room 13 was basically made to make things difficult...in play, pretty much everything terrible happened which could. Everything was failed.

There were some timetable elements I didn't recall, like so:

If PCs take 1 day to get up in the dungeon, ghost awakens (silent, looped actions like Speed, slowly draws party toward 11)
If PCs take 2 days, 36 kobolds invade and set up shop
If PCs take 3 days, rat-dwarves invade and force kobolds into inner rooms. These are ratmen but dwarves so they can outmaneuver you in tunnels easier.

The party ended up getting through to room 11 on their own, which subjected them to illusory flashes of the past, PCs taking on different roles in the dwarf holy war. They came to in the midst of a room filled with mummified and petrified offerings, treasure type H, stone statues which looked hungry and terrified, braziers on dais which must be lit before the stone crypt is opened. Black pudding inside, PCs hit who survive suffer as potion of madness until dispelled, lose all gear carried. The pudding moved at full speed 120/30, and I added two* for XP. The party was luckily smart enough to light the braziers, which meant the old god did not crawl from its crypt but did speak to the minds of all, casting a powerful Fear on the room.

It has been a while but I know a lot of people failed the pudding fear, the snake chest ensnared the crocodile man with the wand of fireball, the mutant chest went off, and the party just generally got its ass kicked. I've been meaning to run something like it again lately...maybe for the monthly 5e game....I had completely forgotten all this notes were on this old laptop.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour: Killscreamer


I don't know that this accomplishes the much debated task of making Bards cool, but it basically turns them into 4e Warlords and those guys were cool. The prototypical Killscreamer is probably someone from a Mad Max movie like the Doof or the announcer guy from Thunderdome.

Bloodthirsty Commander

Beginning at 3rd level, you may sacrifice a Spell Slot in order to regain a spent die of Bardic Inspiration. The level of Spell Slot sacrificed determines how many spent Bardic Inspiration uses are recovered, up to 5 Bardic Inspiration dice for a level 5 Spell Slot.

Additionally, if a use of Bardic Inspiration is used and, as a result, a creature is killed, that use of Bardic Inspiration is not expended.

Grim Visage

Starting at 3rd level, you may add your Charisma Bonus to your Armor Class instead of your Dexterity Bonus. There is no maximum Charisma Bonus which may be applied in this way, as with Dexterity bonuses on some armors. However, if you take advantage of this feature, you are so loud (and are dressed even louder) that you have Disadvantage on Stealth checks.

Driving Force

At 6th level, you may use your Action to allow another character to Attack or Cast a Spell. This does not count as that character using their Reaction, since it uses your Actions, and they may still make their Reaction as normal this round. You may still move but cannot perform any Bonus Actions allowed you.

For Glory

At 14th level, on each of your turns, you use a Bonus Action to allow another character to Disengage or Dash. This does not use their normal Reaction and they can still React normally this round. Characters may only benefit from the opportunity to Disengage or Dash if it positions them closer to an enemy.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

REVIEW: Lain to Rest At Last, At Last, by Bloom Rose and Steve Olsen


No one must know.

When Big Screamin' Andrew died his hellish drop, Andrew William James, popped the freshness seal on his medulla. Without the James sire to lean on and fall back on, Adder Entertainment was truly all this addle-pated addict had going for him, and Adder was by then beset by the buzzards. Spunj, AWJ's magnum opus of procedural relationships told through evolutionary leaps, where the characters played psionic non-motile sea life, had just pulled quite the Cosby after James' clever idea of designing the expensive hardcover (filled with educational color plates, true) after his high school biology textbook got them in a little hot water. A Newfoundland school board had received a case in error and distributed them. The backlash was laughed off by the community apart from resulting in a little more Newfie discrimination than normal for a week, but it was a deathblow to planned expansions for the line. People: this game was so lame, it wasn't even cool enough for schools. Canadian schools.

Æ was definitely about to go bankrupt. When those books were opened, James' embezzlement would be apparent, his drug use would be found out, lawsuits, jail time...He did the only sensible thing he could, which was to blame the whole thing on Bloom Rose, the last of the old guard and his biggest rival within the company. His conscience appeased, he started a big ol' fire.

When you are hiding your drugs and prostitutes with a warehouse fire you are probably not a detail oriented person...

Little gets written about Steve Olsen. Stooge impersonator and Stooge cover artist Steve Olsen was a valued member of the Æ typesetting pool and holder of the inter-office Doom high score. He was also a shadow photographer, taking stills of the discoloration in cheap paint and old wallpaper created by harsh light and conspicuous obstacles. Because he worked cheap and studio space was hard to come by, he had many installations in progress around the Æ offices and warehouse. Eccentric decorations to a fairly staid office job. Not thought of by many, and, as a consequence, Steve Olsen was also not thought of.

Lain to Rest At Last, At Last opens, controversially, with a photograph of the place where Bloom Rose burned.

She of course knew Steve Olsen was inside. She had given him the key and her leave. She knew the financial records, the projects which might help raise them from bankruptcy, evidence of the criminal acts she suspected, all had to be inside the burning structure, TRUE, but first she had to help Steve Olsen.

A company laptop found in her apartment had the detritus and the Kubla Khans of decades backed up onto it. It's these documents that Steve Olsen and editor Marna Grisby combed through to form the blue octavo notebook that is Lain to Rest At Last, At Last. It is a document unique: an artist eulogizing herself with the greatest hits she never had. The accompanying pieces by Steve Olsen are, to be sure, non-traditional compared with Æ's other artistic output in their expedition journals, but they do lend the whole proceeding a somber, memorial tone like a true crime novel or a trashy pictorial of Princess Di's headless body.

There is a Mega Man approach to the dream state of faerie nation the players find themselves in. The order in which you proceed through the hills and thickets affects what happens next. There are fourteen vignettes in all, not counting the Belle Damme Sans Merci framing device. I'll address each in the order they appear.
  • Crooked Bird is a minor encounter originally intended for an issue of A Tunnel. The bulk of the Halcyon Swap was ditched for inclusion in this book, and only Crooked Bird's riddle remains. Originally, this conferred you passage back to life (if you survived the trip) but in its final form it transforms the mouth of Crooked Bird into a path for Shadow of the House of Shadow. The trick to this one is to do it last, when you have more flickers following you, and therefore get more attempts at its riddle.
  • Reflection of No Mirror is one of the most visible encounters and it's by design, since it's best to do this one first. It sets out the premise and the rules you abide by on your quest fairly well, and if you wait to do this one after the Falls then Her Weeping won't be here.
  • Tern By Rock will accompany you if you kill Her Raging, and if you get it all the way to the Falls it becomes Her Remaining. Patterned after Bloodstone's Puffin from the Æ miniatures line.
  • Awful Children dance around the base of one hillock, fourteen in all, and if you abandon the flickers and attempt to save the children they shall be washed white and remade in the Falls. All remaining flickers will vanish, and the Shadow of the House of Shadows may not be entered through normal means.
  • Falls blanket the stony mushroom shapes surrounding the foetid geyser. Once the rocks wash the water it becomes clear and pure, but the geyser is certain death over the next ten minutes as your body finishes cooking and sliding out of itself. This part is controversial for its graphic nature, and is considered poor taste given Bloom's death. I say it's Bloom's work, and the worst thing you can do to someone after they die is make them the kind of person no one has to feel awkward about. I could be biased here.
  • Old Mill features Her Waiting and collapses after you visit Blue Road, so you can watch it fall. Dwelling within is sort of an endurance exercise for players and controller, with the latter encouraged to describe, ceaselessly, and with increasing bombast, a storm which begins to rage without and the way the mill seems about to come down any second, the panic of the wildlife within...No storm rages, in reality, but the players have to make a decision between the mounting death outside and the certain but knowable death inside.
  • Her Yearning stands at the beginning of the Blue Road. Her Rembring (sic) stands at the end. At the cross of the river stands the flicker of a flicker, and though she looks and acts like all the others, she cannot come with you. She watches the water. You never meet Her Feeling.
  • Terrible Fox walks a cone of death through the hills. First encounter her here. There's no way to survive her breath but if she does kill one of the flickers the entire zone you picked them up in resets, so it's a way to keep yourself from getting into an untenable position. Only, at risk.
  • The Sky Moves Past in this zone and only here does it ever fall real night. Only from this vantage point can you track the light where the sun should be. If you go here first, Her Waiting can be found here, and vanishes from Old Mill.
  • Credible Skeleton is also the name of a Brazilian metal band from the 90s apparently. I've never checked out their stuff, but King Diamond covered their hit "gregory" on a tour a while back...Anyhow, washing the skeleton in the Falls reveals it as Her Staying. Originally intended to be part of the expedition journal Kill the Scorpions.
  • Shadow of the House of Shadow is kind of always spinning and rotating here. I picture it looking kind of like the pillar which comes out of the floor in the first Hellraiser. This zone can be entered conventionally but divorces you from any useful equipment, and your retinue remains outside (except for Credible Skeleton if you haven't transformed it). Surviving the house and escaping with Her Working  means that she destroys the house, leaving an empty knoll and a vast stretch of nothing until you reach the Stair.
  • Burning on a Horse rides here only if you observed a sunfall at The Sky Moves Past. Her Fighting is here, and killing him makes copies of Her Fighting. These can be used in lieu of other flickers but vanish in the Falls. Otherwise, you find a long and winding platform bridge taking you over other zones to the Stair.
  • One is a secret okay
  • The Stair is a massive pit. There's no bottom and it's sure death to everyone but the flickers. It's death to them too, though, but they at least have a long walk down.
The flickers are never named explicitly but there's nobody who missed Steve Olsen's intent. This means that there are actually two "ideal" pathways through the cemetery hills, one in which all the flickers escape and one in which none do. I'm all for symbolism and bullshit but I have no idea who the people championing the second one are, SURELY I could just feel depressed on my own and save three hours of my life.

There are movies where this would save the company and everyone would remember her legacy and dedicate everything to Bloom and Æ would reach greater heights starring Tommy Lee Jones for some reason, but nope. Losing all assets and all records of all assets was hard to come back from. Æ shut its doors officially shortly after James' trial concluded, and Lain to Rest At Last, At Last was one of the final things to ship. (The last product of the Æ era, of course, was Wurming Places, an A Tunnel compilation and itself a fitting cap to Bloom's legacy.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

These trickled out a little more slowly because I've been going through some shit and the Bloom Rose sequence demands a little more than my normal reviews. There's a lot to fact check and cross reference so I can present an accurate picture behind the scenes and a mostly cohesive timeline. It's also just more draining than normal because of how inextricably tied these books are to not the rest of Bloom Rose's bibliography but the rest of her biography, and the sad way in which she died, gaming's sainted grand dame.

We all know now that Æ's story was far from over at this point, and I do promise to get into some of those latter day Second Age releases, but first I'm going to backtrack to some other old school favorites, including some of Æ's stranger dalliances with other popular rpg genres. There are a few in partial draft form I know I want to finish off before the end of the year, for example, in particular Ezra Nudibranch's Know Fist.

I do think the individual books in the Bloom Rose sequence play well but the informal fan grouping of them suggests an over-arc which just isn't there at the table. In that respect the sequence is one of those rarest things, a game series which is both good and actually reads better than it plays.

Lain to Rest At Last, At Last, in particular, is the kind of experience other people would found whole gaming genres trying to recreate, and the fact that it both HAS monsters (in the house/the house) and doesn't give a fuck about having monsters seems a decidedly modern flourish compared to the toothy gauntlets Æ was known for at its height. The Sixth Cycle of Cyclopean Romanse and Steve Olsen found one another, and in a strange way were the best things that could have happened to one another. Meanwhile, Bloom's lack of estate has led to some legal complications with reprinting much of her work outside of A Tunnel. Instead, Æ turns a willfully ignorant eye toward the rampant torrenting and bootlegging of her other vital contributions. In fact, a few booths at Gen Con this year were circulating the Elephant, an ivory-covered compilation of Bloom's work featuring some new illustrations which first appeared somewhere in Oregon two years ago and rose to fame after that Patton Oswalt AV Club article.

Next up: something really fun.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

DUNGEON MIX- Rambling Collection of the Sky-Thieves


It appeared in the night, a strange ziggurat jutting up from the forest, beckoning like a gold-dripping finger. Many fear this sudden intrusion and assume the devil is involved but you know an opportunity when you see it. Anybody willing to spend a fortune on golden buttresses is packing some serious quality items inside.

or

The Foul One's work is afoot. You are awakened in the night by your local bishop, your order, perhaps even the booming voice of one of your strange gods itself. There is a task before you: repel the master of the moon-shewn cathedral and, if possible, raze her to the ground. It would also be meet to return to the local church any items of occult power or great value, purely for safety of course.

or

You have been after a particular item, for personal reasons or because you were contracted, for a long time, and have reason to believe it lies within Watchtower Rambling. You have traced its movements, the predictable devastation and horrible miracles it leaves in its wake, the unexplained vanishings of bandits and lessers across the countryside...You had all but given up, and now here it is.

or

You awake, fully vested with whatever power is available to you (MUs have spells and shit), whole and healthy, standing still alongside the rest of your party. You are all fully armored and armed, set behind a rope. On the rope hangs a tin-seeming, gold-looking metal sign embossed with some alien message. This all comes as an enormous surprise to you, and you may find some of the fellows you stand with to be strangers. None of you know how you got here. None of you know the way out.


                                                                          --------
 
An entrance may present itself when you arrive at Watchtower Rambling but on entering the structure it deposits you at a random point on the map, and no exits will present because there are none. Except in areas where it would make sense for the dimensions to be larger or more constricted due to an exhibit, assume 15' ceilings and 40' wide corridors. The walls are all lined with objects and specimens which take up roughly half this floor space. Someone who can Comprehend Languages will be invaluable to follow the signs and read the information provided for many BUT NOT ALL exhibits. Without this aid, conventional mapping is actively resisted by the structure; mapping must be made not by noting meters traveled and turns but relative position of exhibits, e.g. "Two rooms from the insect man, enter to the right of the horned shield, pass beneath the flying pond." If you find your way to the map room, of course, and assuming you find the map of the structure, then you're golden. It would suck if that's what you wasted your good fortune on, though.

Not everything in Rambling may be a fantastic, alien, or magical, and indeed most things will be old and mundane. There is nothing truly normal or boring here, though. Picture every room as if a 1980s movie's idea of a professional inventor became a hoarder.

Many exhibits are alive and will animate. This includes exhibits which seem as if they should not be able to animate, such as hanging plesiosaur skeletons, vivisected models of cyclopskind, and wax sculptures, which are a type of Gargoyle. Almost all will be hostile. There are many kinds of creature on display here, including the following...
  1. Walking marsupial dolphin
  2. Frogs with human faces
  3. Vacuum beetles who eat flesh and can propel themselves through suction, and form airtight seals.
  4. Blind albino cave psychics. They fight like kung fu masters, but their thoughts are drowned out by others, so they are almost reasonless.
  5. People filled with holes and spikes like iron maidens. Not like they've been in one, but as if they were living iron maidens, and they open their fleshy peel to envelop you, like a vampire squid
  6. A slime-like blob with lycanthropy, who transforms into a paste of wolf parts in the moonlight. If you escape its burning hunger, you are now a were-oozewolf. This effect keeps rolling over the more generations is undergoes.
  7. An adventurer suspended in sand who is many crabs. The crabs will hold hands and link legs to approximate a man, and he attacks with gentle hugs for 1d12.
  8. An ox turned to stone
  9. The mummies of a hundred nations. Most aren't undead. Most undead aren't able to animate unless you fuck with them. Most animate are not evil. All are fucking terrifying and dangerous to you even if they don't intend to be.
  10. Wax figures of spiders, cut in half
  11. Animated furniture possessed by demons, chained in place in a model room, treat all as wooden golems
  12. The original fly.
  13. Pit God. His jaw elongates the length of his body to snap from afar. Apelike with bloody mantis-like hands and small ratty legs and tail.
  14. Antimaggots who spin skin
  15. A green guy
  16. A purple guy
  17. A woman you cannot look at directly for her color swirls and whirls and is sickening and seizure inducing. No save
  18. The empty space left behind by dead cloud jellies
  19. Fuck apes. They will fuck you if they kill you. If they can't kill you, they will find things which can and lead those things to you. They will also try to destroy all your shit and make your life hell.
  20. A scorpion-like creature with a mirror on its tail, whose image reverses your personality
  21. A clockwork octopus which all good people call a clocktopus but which is actually a type of minor cherub
  22. Jars of eyes which blink messages using complex sequences. They tell much of recorded history but flit from subject to subject wildly and random.
  23. A skeletonless baboon. Twice as strong, will slither up the rafters and hang waiting if freed.
  24. A hairless opossum with seven foot limbs. Fights like a weasel but with a 15' reach.
  25. A freakish mutant wolfbat thing frozen in time. Too heavy to fly, if freed from time it will crawl along ground snapping at ankles and slashing with claws.
  26. Pieces of an immortal giant, separated by rooms and floors and bolted fast in place, which will crawl to one another if they can. Treat organs like mace if they batter past you, if giant reassembles your path is obvious
  27. Animate castings in brass of the ancient Pelephoroneanes Spear Kings. AC as plate+shield, +3 to normal spear damage, immune to normal weapons
  28. The paintings which crawl, and also btw eat, 1d6 each round until shaken, dead/consumed victims join the image of the painting
  29. A hairy caterpillar creature the size of a nurse shark, whose 'hairs' are all also legs, every surface is legs, just legs. 60HP, guileless, if forced to defend itself it will run over you like a car for 4d10.
  30. The final pig
  31. An ice golem
  32. A frozen cadre of cavemen, who all have John Carter style double strength and leaping powers
  33. Lightbending gravity eggs which can never hatch because of the weight of themselves, the forever babies within are PISSED about this.
  34. A tongue golem
  35. Living examples of all of the Kevarikan zodiac. Each carries a spell effect with its presence, which changes entirely in different combinations with its fellows. Assembling all of them lets you create a new star in the sky but no one knows this so no one has tried.
  36. Undying zombies (not undeads, but the cool kind of zombie) waiting to be freed, eager to resume their duties: constructing Watchtower Rambling
  37. Troll princess held in place by the steel grating she healed around
  38. Ultima Thoul. Double damage and triple HP of normal thoul, no save on paralysis
  39. Scale model and fully functioning city in miniature of ancient Lirrkusk, filled with tiny alive guys. 1hp 1 damage each.
  40. A hundred vampire kings dead and staked to the ceiling.
  41. A talking cat. A huge bitch.
  42. Disembodied head of a steel gorilla, floats seven feet above ground, occasionally alive, never useful
  43. Sphinx without jaw, rendered powerless. If you let it to a surface it can scratch glyphs into then it will pose you a riddle, regaining its power.
  44. Haunted forest trapped in a dragon's eye
  45. Rat kings
  46. Alligator king
  47. Elder tapir. Eidetic memory. Voiceless.
  48. Hollowed out wasp god
  49. Pangaean crawler. The ultimate blob.
  50. Pedestrian mimics, as themselves
  51. Secret mimics, posing as (roll again), sometimes several together to achieve the illusion
  52. Hidden mimics, not on exhibit but a component of an exhibit, like a pedestal
  53. Ancient children with no belly buttons or gender. Alignment-changing gaze.
  54. Isopods
  55. Monsters who resemble what incorrect Victorians thought dinosaurs looked like
  56. Accurate dinosaurs
  57. Jurassic Park dinosaurs
  58. Normal men sawed through at the waist, whose innards slop and writhe against the bars of their enclosure, otherwise dead
  59. All tortoises
  60. Teacup pigs with teakettle boars
  61. Pantaloon bird
  62. Manticore fly, a cat who inflates and hackles up false appendages to appear as a manticore
  63. Lichen which talks, growing on bloody canvases
  64. The ashes of an extinct simian kingdom
  65. Firefish, walking catfish who burst into flame when dry, unharmed. Burn as a torch.
  66. Arm baby
  67. Plants made of light
  68. Ossified gelatinous cube
  69. Petrified dryad
  70. Fossilized cat dragon skeleton covered in aware slime mold
  71. Invisible screamer, in infrared soundproof glass.
  72. The greatest party ever held, under vacuum glass, perfectly preserved forever, waiting to pick up mid-toast should air be restored
  73. Kaiju butterfly collection
  74. Vegetable amphibians
  75. Fire-eyed raccoon. Steals all food from you magically when you look at it.
  76. Questing beast
  77. Reassembled ur-virgin
  78. The shadows of destroyed heroes, which look like art but animate and approach you in magical light or magical firelight
  79. Archdeacon in formaldehyde
  80. Dolls made from mutant human children, moving with coal-fired hearts
  81. Anemone-like semihominids.
  82. I guess a Thark
  83. Githyanki cat. Stoic.
  84. Nowhere spider. Catches and eats imaginary things, useful in spell research.
  85. Rabbit sex god. Treat as Level 14 Magic-User.
  86. Orangutan mermaid
  87. Elf but red
  88. Dwarfly proportions but truck sized
  89. Canopic oracles, opening a jar utters a prophecy, 'salright? 'salright.
  90. Wandering faces, who crawl like spiders and flap like bats and cover your face in the night, smothering you and taking control of your body with long nerve tendrils, on model figures of hosts and indistinguishable from the same
  91. Manmade hyena
  92. Spidergoats
  93. A race of archers frozen in time, who awaken if you interact with them
  94. A race of scholars frozen in time, who awaken if you say something wrong nearby
  95. A race of ravenous furry muppety creepydoodles frozen in time, who animate in darkness, their eyes glowing like light bulbs
  96. An adventuring party made entirely of races and classes not represented in the current adventuring party
  97. An adventuring party made up entirely of unseen races and unheard of classes
  98. A mist, purple as madness, which roams this wing but nowhere else. Shows you how everything around you died.
  99. Plants which follow you if you notice them
  100. The living thing whose footprint is the form of dragons in the world of men, Birishaptore, peeking out from a room far too big for the space allowed it, through an opening he cannot escape from
There's a lot of cool, weird crap here, objects you may not even know the use of, things made by hands inhuman. Examples of the materials found here include...
  1. Seven runestones, each which represent a word. Arranging these in any order creates a completely new expression. Some of these are magical (roll 2d100, on two 100 results the phrase is magical)
  2. Nails which disappear when driven into a surface, but they make a thing whole. These may be used to heal a tree or to turn a castle with a wooden door into one solid wooden piece.
  3. Boomerang shoes, which retrace your footsteps to where you woke up today.
  4.  Longship made of fingernails, can be Resurrected into 10,000 men
  5. Chasity belt which de-ages you to the point you lost your virginity
  6. Barrel of apples from another dimension
  7. Pouch of gnome dust
  8. Fingers of many nations
  9. Shrunken heads of star giants, piled loosely in middle of the room
  10. Fountain of mortality
  11. Shirt made from werehog skin, in moonlight turns to human skin
  12. Altar to a sea god which absorbs endless amount of seawater.
  13. Amontillado
  14. Tom Swift's electric rifle
  15. Clay like the Puppet Master had in Fantastic Four
  16. The Crusher of Hoon, a great man killer used by the executionists there
  17. A clock which stops time when music is playing
  18. Tapestry of classic alien abduction scenario
  19. A pen filled with angel blood, which only writes the author's sins, though they are always oblivious of this
  20. Lexicon of fourteen dead languages with a translation guide between them, also inscrutable
  21. Hive mound of the fire fairies
  22. Sarcophagus adamantine
  23. Flesh magnet, which draws you inexorably, -1 to your saves for every HD you possess.
  24. Goblin crown jewels
  25. Ice-9
  26. Senmurgh skin rug
  27. Horrible masks which give you Charisma 0 and +10/-10 AC
  28. Reverse Last Crusade Room: one of these pitchforks belonged to the lord of Hell. The right one will burn away in your hand but will transform you into a vicious demon.
  29. An powerful orb which shows scenes of sweaty men chopping wood and only that
  30. Giant dental tools, rusted
  31. The grave marker of a great king
  32. Da Vinci submarine
  33. Sculpture of a fox which is only there sometimes
  34. The only really bottomless pit
  35. An organ which summons bats
  36. A pipe organ which summons vampire bats
  37. Bottled thunder
  38. A medicine which soothes all burns and heals all burn scars
  39. Children's toys of a strange and outworld kind
  40. Trumpet which blows quiet, silencing the din around you
  41. Cloak of visibility, which makes you look as a being of shimmering daylight
  42. Metal ring which shapes other metal that hand touches
  43. A red paste which is iron strong but voice controlled
  44. A stove which cooks everything but witches
  45. Tripod walker craft
  46. Clone tubes
  47. Body vats
  48. Kirby Fork, striking it swirls the fork with kirby dots which remain while it vibrates, anything the dots touch dissolve like sand through your fingers
  49. Goggles which let you see Hell
  50. Teleporter circle on the ceiling
  51. A Downball
  52. Wax figure of the Fear Father
  53. Stuffed world turtle
  54. Gnoll pornography folio, save or vomit, gnolls -2 to save because they get off on that
  55. Treasure map to a solid diamond garden which lets you walk out of worlds
  56. Small star, turned into lead
  57. Recipe which makes you hunger for flesh of your own kind
  58. Cuckoo shield, where the bird emerges to chime the hour
  59. Powdered mountain, just add water
  60. Candles made from immortal tallow
  61. Pure war (concentrate) 
  62. Invincible string, which can never be cut burned or knotted
  63. Ever-Miss Arrow
  64. Always-Tie Tiles
  65. Magnetic chalk
  66. Eggshell bracers
  67. Fear flavor. Anybody tasting something coated in fear flavor becomes abjectly phobic of that thing, be it mashed potatoes, agua, or Jeff.
  68. Anything compass, which points to what you ask it to
  69. Beer goggles, let you see like the Predator but for alcohol content/how drunk someone is
  70. Everlocked cabinet, large enough to hold a man, impossible to open with normal means, there is music inside
  71. A bowl which fills itself with blood, endlessly, bottomlessly, spilling over the sides, slowly, forever
  72. Ancient underground war walker, coal powered
  73. A mounted collection of elf horns
  74. A white pool of cloud blood
  75. A magical gate to the Rocketway of the Sky-Thieves
  76. Bonsai hells
  77. Apollo spacesuit, +2 to AC
  78. Complete dinner set of the Noxivores, devilishly proper sound eaters from beyond two suns
  79. Toys of all cultures (NSFW)
  80. Castlevania laser whip
  81. Book of Alien Erotica
  82. Book of Alien Mathematics
  83. Book of Alien Biology
  84. Book of Alien Languages
  85. Book of Alien Cooking
  86. Personal letters from a man who never lived
  87. Documents from war trials over crimes which occur as you read them
  88. The walls that once held in all of the time, riddled with graffiti
  89. A collection of Magic Mouths that share last words of the universe's bastards, but they rarely cite their sources
  90. A sculpture garden which grows like a regular garden. You can pick a bouquet of Venuses.
  91. An oral history of the Sky-Thieves, trapped within a conch shell
  92. The complete history of Watchtower Rambling, updated magically
  93. A complete catalog of all within Watchtower Rambling
  94. The Library Which Walks
  95. The Skeleton Key of Watchtower Rambling
  96. Ghost exits, ripped from the exterior of the building and put on display
  97. A scale model of Watchtower Rambling
  98. The Great Glass, which sees across time, space, and thought
  99. One of the 100 Plague Cards of the Godly Game, capable of bringing about horrible catastrophe if united and drawn from
  100. Tome of the New World, a book which allows you to create a new plane by writing into it. Its pages are nearly full and may be stepped into, representing countless dream worlds ruled by fearsomely and destructively satisfied masters
In addition to all these, Watchtower Rambling is home to six great treasures, artifacts of storied power and dire consequence.

The Vestment
 

A brittle-seeming thing, like pages of an old book or translucent deathflesh of old insect molt. The whole thing seems ready to crumble, as it has for decades, remaining permanent as stone. To the eye of a craftsman it is inexpert work. To the eye of a tailor it is bulky, formless, like a small ceremonial tent. To the eye of the naturalist it seems that what it was cut from belonged to some insect thing nature has no truck with, with altogether more limbs and orifices than Godly beasts. To the eye of a drunk it looks like the wearer is being shagged by an enormous flea and hummingbird simultaneously.

She calls, constantly, not just to one but to any who are wise men, whose pride lets them consider themselves so, or whose shame drives them to aspire to wisdom.

The Vestment is a fixed, permanent thing in Creation, and flytrap of minds. It copies the minds of those who wear her and keep them within her folds. These copies whisper to each other and become wiser, more powerful, devising their own magics. The copies create new minds to test their theories. They speak to minds from centuries ago, from eons ago, across planets, across stars. The new minds also make new minds, and copies of the copies, and echoes of the oldest and strangest and most dangerous voices, whose thoughts have no tongue, whose urges are all stronger than any magic made to express them.

Within the Vestment are also the minds of her kind. There were others like her once, her children, long since consumed. To touch her own mind, the oldest mind, which constantly calls to everyone around her, is to wake that mind, which, fat with power, will begin a new seeding. Then the wearer will undergo a physical change using secrets known only to her, and begin issuing eggs from its mouth to gestate in the apostles and rivals surrounding the wearer.

The lure of the Vestment builds over time. Every day someone spends in its presence makes them more certain they must possess it. They will try to wear it at the same time as the wearer, if they must. Saints will kill to possess it after a number of days equal to the character's Wisdom. Even knowledge of the Vestment and the rumors about it are strong enough to compel one to seek it, which is why its records were once burned.

What would you die to know? You have but to ponder it and, wearing the Vestment, and you will know it. However this knowledge comes with voices and urges you must overcome in order to even act of your own will, with a penalty to the save equal to how many times you've relied on the Vestment, and the difference by which you fail equaling the number of rounds/actions it may take using your body before your mind reasserts itself. Wearers quickly lose themselves in the Vestment, slaves to alien and extraterrestrial desires. The more you use it, the older the voices, the more of your mind you lose, and the greater the danger of waking her: the hungry, sleeping locust mind within, who tumbled through galaxies.

 The Closet

It looks like an antiquated magician's cabinet, the kind a charlatan uses to falsify the power of the beyond. It has a painted moon on it. It is a lie twice. Stepping into the cabinet, shutting the door, and setting his assistant to task, the trickster waits within for swords to skewer him alive! It's a trick, of course. The showman is perfectly safe, and the swords never come near him. The crowd applauds.

It's a trick, of course. The swords pierce his brainpan, spill his insides, sever his spinal cord. The trickster is a dangling puppet of meat and impulses. When the swords are withdrawn, he crumples like a toy with its strings cut. When the door is opened, he stands up and walks out unharmed. The magician is fine.

It's a trick, of course. The magician can no longer tie his shoes. He no longer sees the color red. He no longer clots. He no longer sings. He cannot sleep. The cabinet protected him from mortal danger, but it did not protect a part of him from being killed. All injuries sustained in the cabinet bear out in some fashion. Every time you hurt the cabinet takes a part of you, kills it, and uses that to heal you.

Nothing persists indefinitely, and everything comes from somewhere. The cabinet does what it was built to do, exactly, and only.

It is worse when magic is concerned, because magic knowledge which changes the world. Not only will this alter the magician's mind, it will alter their relationship to the world. The huckster has forgotten his children. His native tongue. The concept of mercy. The taboos against cannibalism. He cannot touch glass, physically, as he repels it like a magnet. Each strand of his hair is alive and behaves independently. He hears prayers from another world. His soul has forgotten its home, and a dark thing just took it.

If these effects are known, they cannot be controlled. At first, the act of using the cabinet feels empowering, like a drug. You lose all fear. You shed all pain. But all we have is necessary, and the lack of them is soon keenly realized. By then of course the ache sets in. The lure. It is like a drug to shed a part of yourself and be made whole, strong, vital.

It's a trick, of course. Death is preferable.

The Machine

It doesn't have any obvious source of power. Its levers don't seem to have an effect on its work. It shows no rivet or toolmark. It is filled with fire, but it is never fed any fuel. There is a great ringing piston which rises slowly and clangs down with a horrible peal. When you find it, it is switched off, and the floor around it singed from its heat.

Activating it will always draw blood. Lose 1 Constitution.

Its cycle takes a long time, the better part of a day. When the piston slams home, it presses a shape into the world. It is a printer of nightmares, and its work is slow but it is constant. It will first make a memory of a thing, an image or a sensation. It will next make a fear in you, a terror of this thing. With the next ring of the piston you will dream of it when you next sleep.

From there it is inevitable. You will experience fantoms, minor illusions here and there. No one else will see them and they will think you are mad. Clang. You feel its presence everywhere. You may see it in your reflection, if it is a thing which can be seen and not only a sound, an absence, a dread. Clang. You are sure it is here now, bodily, following you, even if it does not have a body. This is a constant concern, and if you go a round without this affecting your actions the DM will remind you it is out there, right behind you, waiting to strike.

Clang. It is strong enough to come for you now. You can drive it away, or even kill it, but your death knell now tolls. Clang. The world is changed. You are gone, claimed by the thing while still in your childhood. Time rewrites itself without you. Your great achievements now belong to another. Your magic spells are only fortuitous miracles. Your children call another person mommy, because she was. The thing is still out there. Now, it always has been.

The Machine progresses through this chain for every living creature who has seen or heard the Machine. It advances this track of horror randomly, so that everyone is at different stages of this experience. It can be switched off, but its heat grows the longer it runs. Turning off the machine means you suffer 1d8 damage from the heat, compounding additional d8 for each time the piston hammers home. This heat will wilt plant life but will not ignite flammable objects. It is not a true heat. It is the heat which unmakes life for fuel and solidifies fear as its product. 

When every living creature who has seen or heard the Machine is dead or replaced, the Machine turns itself off. It waits.

The Skin

This is an enormous ancestor of a tiger, stretched out and turned into a luxurious rug, hung up on the wall. Those who lay the skin out on the ground and step onto it experience a sensation like falling down a deep tiger-shaped shaft forever, though they stay exactly where they are. They cannot trust their perception of the world around them, for all their senses are getting their input from somewhere else.

Atop the tiger it seems as if one has been taken to a night with new stars, red sky and redder rock, which they are plummeting toward. It takes roughly three minutes for them to fall. If only the fall were the only problem. Strange trees, swaying, reach up toward you. They're getting a lot closer a lot faster and you know they mean you harm, that their boughs are laden with death. If you get close enough to see that those are not trees, they are faces, then it is too late to step off of the rug.

Otherwise, you have complete power over yourself and everything else which is on the rug with you. This does not apply to the world of your senses, falling and faces. But for the body you left behind, which you pilot blind, you have an omnipotence. The problem is, none of the effects and abilities you will into being leave the outline of the tiger skin rug. You may flicker afire, transform into a living tiger, gain eyes that shoot daggers, but none of those daggers fly farther than the edge of the rug. Any spell or beam or weapon you would cross that threshold with vanish, and are visited upon your falling body in face space. You may defend yourself accordingly.

If your body in any part crosses over the line set out by the shape of the tiger skin, you are wrenched violently from your place. You forget all your experiences, anything you said and did or saw, and you lose all your abilities. I do mean all: if you had spells left today, you don't now. You certainly forget the strange vision of face space.

If you stay on the rug for three minutes, where your perception of time is decidedly skewed, you fall far enough that the faces can reach you. Your body here explodes violently from within, with far more blood than you should have. The skin will remain immaculate.

You can will yourself off of the rug magically while in its effect, but you cannot control where you end up, and there is a 50% chance you will appear wherever that is as a tiger.

The Gun

This weapon is a small bit of metal which fits in your hand. It is shaped like a toilet paper roll. There is a dial at its base which can be turned right or left. Turning the dial right means that the cylinder shines a wide beam and a target unattended object in the beam vanishes. This is keyed to the wielder's will, so the cylinder may be slightly telepathic. This may be used on living/undead/animate/whatever creatures, but they get a save.

Turning the dial to the left shines out a different-colored beam. In the light of the beam, one thing which the cylinder causes to vanish reappears, exactly as far away as it was when it vanished, wherever the beam is pointing. At this point living/whatever creatures must make a save vs Death to survive reappearing.

This item has 1d100 uses remaining, and no one can know how long they have when they find the cylinder. Attempting to use either beam after the charge has run down traps the user in the cylinder (they may save at -1) and then renders the cylinder inert. Its power source is from another time and universe.

The Carriage

This is the Smokey and the Bandit car. 77 Trans-Am. It gives you shield bonus to your defense while riding in it, its own AC is like Plate, and it has as many hit points as a Gold Dragon. It never needs fuel. Otherwise, it behaves exactly like a car, and if a car can't do something or drive somewhere safely then neither can the Pontiac.
 







The Sky-Thieves

Magpie-minded men from another world, the Sky-Thieves have journeyed across a dozen worlds and realities gathering gems and weird, pretty shit. They have kept a lot of trophies from those who opposed them. They are relatives to terrapins, perhaps. They extend their head and limbs from large carapaces churning with bio-fire. The Sky-Thieves have adapted organic jet packs for short distances. They do not speak, even to one another, but they are incredibly clever. They can read, everything. They work together. They are fierce warriors, if slow on the ground.

They will let you live if you give them a treasure, but they will not let you leave. Eventually you will run into them again, and again. Eventually you will run out of treasures. Eventually you will go on exhibit, or, worse, into storage where no one will ever find you again.

The Sky-Thieves may pass through the great clock face on Watchtower Rambling like a rippling pond, but they may not take anyone or anything else OUT with them. They are slaves to enchantments from their old home. Dispelling this effect simply traps them as well.

Escaping Watchtower Rambling

There are no exits at all, and the building actively resists just blowing out the walls, putting another room impossibly in your way. There are undoubtedly ways to use the things found within Rambling to escape from it, but there is only one sure-fire way to ensure an exit: Setting a lure.

Turn the big crank at the top of the tower, in the clock room, to change the time and strike the hour. This slips the tower to a different time and place in the universe. Then, with all your haste, make for the entrance. The tower plays fair here, freezing in anticipation of new arrivals. Entrances present themselves, but cannot be opened from within. Only beings coming into the tower can allow anyone to exit through normal means. You've got to get to the door before they enter and the exit is done. You've got to stop them from closing it, and from entering the tower which automatically shuts the door. This may mean killing them.

Docents

HD: as Fighter
Saves: as Halfling
Attacks: as Thief
Advances: as Elf.
  • If you die in Watchtower Rambling, you have two options: wait for your party to stumble upon and awaken a creature suitable for PC use, or have your character reappear after 1 day as a Docent. If they die again, another Docent replaces them.
  • Docents collect spell slots like a MU or Elf but they do not cast spells. They use spell slots to heal either a number of d10 equal to the spell slot used, or to exercise Expertise.
  • Docents have omniscient sense of Watchtower Rambling at all times, but they may only answer questions if they are specifically asked. When asked, they will burn a spell slot and speak mechanically (the DM speaking through them) in detail, with no tricks or double speak, about what was asked. They will do this and then open the floor to questions. The level of spell slot burned is equal to the number of minutes the players may engage the Docent's knowledge directly. If the knowledge requires knowledge from outside Rambling, the Docent may not know it. If questioned on anything wholly belonging to the outside world, the Docent has no knowledge of it and the spell slot is not used.
  • A number of times per day equal to the Docent's level, it may decide it is unaffected by one of the exhibits. Basilisks won't petrify, sabretooth tigers won't attack, black holes will not destroy.
  • If a Docent crosses the boundaries of Watchtower Rambling, they are killed. They may only be raised as a Docent, and if outside of Rambling they will immediately die again.
  • A Docent begins play with no weapon or armor proficiencies.
  • A Docent speaks all languages.
  • At level 5, a Docent gains proficiency in all weapons and armor in Watchtower Rambling.
  • There is only ever one level 8 Docent, known as the Curator. Docents may not attack or disobey they Curator, but if he is killed, then your Docent may reach level 8 and become Curator. Curators can order all Docents as if they were under the effect of an unbreakable charm spell, and may animate any dead being as a Docent. Docents retain the wounds they had in death but are otherwise fine, and may magically speak intelligibly.
  • Docents may reach level 8.