Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour- Let's Talk About Moon Slave





1. So nonspecific evil.


Picture a good person, not even a great person. Would that person do a thing? No? Then that thing is evil. Picture Sir Galahad, the quintessential paladin. Would HE do a thing? No? Then anyone who mostly looks and acts like Sir Galahad is an ANTI-paladin.

Look at how useful this is! You could get twos of ideas out of that.

Evil is the May Contain Nuts of D&D's stupid morality alignment system. There might NOT be nuts but there's not the pure and wholesome certainty of the absence of nuts so To Be Considered Nutted until further notice by order of Her Majesty.

The thing to me is that most people don't go about their lives considering whether something is evil, like platonically evil in the Red Tim Curry sense. We know evil. We see evil. But when we see evil we know it in horrifying specificity. I won't belabor this at the moment. I needn't. But it's not just the sum of all bad things, it's something specific making the world more terrible in some very specific ways. Often the subject of something being EEEEVILLLL will only come into the conversation because, somewhere, someone decided that something was so bad that God Himself (or gods themselves or whatever) actively hated it and despised it, sometimes discussing something so bad and onerous that you HAVE to believe there is a force actively campaigning to rid even the notion of, say, murder from the world in order to store much faith in the power and beneficence of such an entity.

In this way evil things are shown being a subset of bad things.

Ah, now bad things: without bringing culture or religion or manifestations of Not Goodness into the mix we could all list off several hundred bad things without much effort because bad things are self-evidently bad from a practicality sense. Hurricanes are bad because shit gets fucked up and people die. Earthquakes are bad because shit gets fucked up and people die. If you're in a nice Germanic Grimm situation then witches are bad because babies get stolen and corn gets blighted. Or maybe you live in a fertile flood plain, and, yes, you understand what a flood plain is, but look at how fertile those floods made this plain! Until one spring when oh shit FLOODS ARE BAD AGAIN NOW.

None of this is evil. In fact some of this may be happening for a very good reason or have a beneficial side to it. Sure maybe Hecuba cursed your crops but maybe doing so appeased Fangfagor the Despiser, or at least scared idiot farmers away from His unholy place of rest. But still: bad things. Things that make the hard millstone of life considerably more difficult and sad and dangerous and depressing. You still don't need morality in that gradient because you can always easily identify the baddest worst no-goodest thing around. It's whatever the rich people/king/president/emperor is pissed about. You know that because something has to be pretty bad to pierce the cushion of convenience the well off have and make their lives as miserable as a poor person, or at least you know that because they TELL you so. Of course by that point the actual poor people are being ground into cornmeal.

2. So mythology.

People don't remember the Japanese or Norwegian or Egyptian or Sumerian or Greek or Hopi or Aztec pantheons because they make such a cool list of names, or because their statues are all so great, or because it's nice to know who the local fertility god is in case of time travel-induced-sterility. People remember all these gods because of their stories. For that matter people remember Jesus and Allah and Buddha for the stories around them as much as their philosophies. There are stories that come from wants and desires, even when the desire is to eliminate desire. Not always those of the gods themselves but they come into the story because of how they react to the desires of others, and so DO SOMETHING.

Let's take Ares. I could tell you Ares' position in his pantheon the way some people discuss the placement of constellations: rival of Athena, patron of Sparta, son of Zeus, dad of Fear and Dread, lover of Aphrodite, God of War. Ok that's a nice enough list. OR I could tell you about him and Aphrodite getting caught in a net trap left by Hephaestus, who suspected their union, and all of the other gods coming over to look at their naked god asses and laugh at them and poke them. That's better.

D&D gods by and large don't have that story because they are their station. We started getting setting information and the gods who literally stride across the world are a big part of that. OK, I get that. But D&D gods usually break down into one of two paths, either the path of having nothing to differentiate them or make them special or notable other than a generic Genus-Species listing of what they cover for mechanical purposes and easy field identification, or they have way way too much history because they got written into a novel series at one point as a patron or antagonist and oh my god shut up shut up.

It gets worse when the D&D alignment system comes in, because god of Neutral Evil has never been a helpful descriptor.

Sometimes you get both, like you get with Lolth, and if the demon queen of spiders' overexposed ass can't get some due consideration what choice does say Lirr have?

It's extra frustrating because we are all rolling in the shadow of the ultimate god of GENERAL, vague evil who nonetheless has specific personality and resonance and who we all associate with specific things he did and will do: Sauron. Sauron is the mack daddy of D&D gods and while he can't get in the books by name he still haunts the hobby, D&D and otherwise, in the form of all his imitators. Some people are pulling their hair out because Sauron isn't technically a god but he fits every definition of what I think makes a good god so I'm counting him.

3. Quick aside here for later clarity, when I was a kid and I played with GI Joes and Cobra, I didn't own Duke or Sgt. Slaughter or Cobra Commander or Serpentor. I did however find a Warduke toy at a comic shop, bagged loose, and I bought the shit out of him, not knowing what he was (but guessing). From then on he and his machine gun and ninja sword ruled Cobra as Warlord (close!), a muscular warrior soldier who was also a wizard. I basically just put Skeletor in charge of Cobra.

GI Joe was run by King of Cars, a living talking green monster truck whose headlights shot lasers.

I'm great.

4.  When I first wrote about Moon Slave I wasn't specifically thinking about Warlorduke or Sauron or anything. I wanted to frame him as that kind of "this guy was great and terrible and powerful and let's worship him" cat that your old Norse myths or even Arthurian mythology is full of. Zeus had a lot of shitty boring kids but like Hercules or Orion were big deals, all the more because they EARNED their place in the canon. So I looked at it from a perspective of "Beowulf's Greatest Hits." If this guy was this much of a badass, A) what did he do that people remember him for, B) what sounds like something you'd get in a story where, say, Thor tries to drink all the seas? And even that was only to get a starting point to free associate how fucked up his kids must be.

If I had to lay out his D&D Domains I would say they were Smoke, Nightmares, and Witches. If I had to give him an alignment I'd say fuck off with that, but if I had to had to had to then I guess he'd be CN or CE because he's the god of fucking up things in his way and taking everything he's already fucked up and making it weirder. If I could I would make him the god of Everybody Run Away From Him.

He is also a family man, a fathering god, the kind of figure you get in mythology whose big job is shooting someone full of gods and monsters and forces of nature and creating, basically, end-stage-bosses for your campaign. There is a Dr. Wily element to Moon Slave.

If he has edicts then they would be...
  • The terror of you is a form of worship, so let some survive.
  • Fire is life, spread the seed of life wherever you can.
  • You are not owed ever waking up.
  • The creation of strange, new, dangerous, surprising magic is scary and great, and those who do these things are priests to Moon Slave. Those who do so in his name, or in the name of fear and discovery and the destructive transformation of creation, are saints.
  • Never kill someone in defense you can murder later, gruesomely and publicly, in revenge.
  • Do everything fast. Do everything hard. Do everything loud.
  • Life is meant to be lived high on the drug of terror, the drug of power, or just some kind of drugs.
  • Your family will kill you. Progeny are life. Play with fire.
  • You understand mercy. You afford mercy. But you do not brook escape.
  • If Moon Slave has chosen you you're dead already so fucking take some risks.
Moon Slave can be communed with through the smoke in front of the moon by any who A) believe, B) tempt him, C) offer meat, D) have ever killed someone.

Moon Slave has wives but everybody is too scared to ask about them. They are his equal and they are many and though custom dictates it never be spoken once suspected pretty much everyone is sure they killed Moon Slave so don't get their attention. They continue to give birth to his children. One day, one of them will give birth to Moon Slave, if they haven't already. It may be that Moon-Slave-Not-Yet-Moon-Slave walks the world now, waiting for his flesh to awaken to his soul.

If he has a realm to speak of it should be a cracked plane of lava and stone and once-great castles constantly smoldering, his victims and his Swordtouched all mingling in a great throbbing Godzilla-refugee mass, while his throne waits empty atop a mountain shaped like an eagle.

Tradition says his body was burned and its ashes rest on the moon.

If you manifest an aspect of him, for as long as he remains in the vessel, everything he says casts a spell. For every sentence, some spell effect goes off. These all revert once his aspect departs, EXCEPT that for every question you ask one effect is permanent, and for everything you ask him to DO consider him as casting a powerful ultra Wish. Invoking his restless spirit briefly in aspect is difficult, and the dangerous secrets of this ritual are well guarded.

Believers may summon him more easily and less riskily in nightmares, at the consequence that you save or die in your sleep, and you wake up pants-crapping insane.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour- Background- Unspeakable

Moon Slave Moon Slave Moon Slave spoke to you screamed at you His name must never be spoken, must never only be spoken, Moon Slave. The nightmare stabbist. The world burner. The mountain rider. His voice is not the sun because it is closer, His voice is not the thunder because it scores flesh from bone, His voice is not gentle because fuck you that's why MOON SLAVE.
On one holy day, at some sacred massacre, His sword fell upon you and in that moment you were mankind no more. You were the changed thing. You were fleshtoken. You were pawnkind. You are the fingertips of Moon Slave, His ear in the world, existing only to hear Him shouting his rage at it. You are not evil. You are not wrong. Moon Slave is a volcano. Moon Slave is the murderer who keeps you safe. Moon Slave is just also the murderer who changes His Mind. He has changed Your mind.
When you choose this background, first of all, your alignment is Chaotic, whatever it is. Secondly, understand that you're worshiping the god of what you picture when you listen to Iron Maiden while super drunk. This means, thirdly, that any time anyone else says Moon Slave, you must scream His name like a power chord.

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Athletics
Vehicle Proficiency: Longships, War Kites, Chariots
Tool Proficiency: Leatherworker Tools, Smith Tools (for restraints, interrogations, fun)
Equipment: Battlehorn, chains (30'), torches (6), 1d5 trophies, 1d2 cloaks, 1 enormous sack

Swordtouch

You shew yourself to be Moon Slave's creature in the following way.

1. Your eyes (d6: 1- catlike, 2- green, 3- red, 4- white as if you were blind, 5- never blink, 6- constantly weep blood)
2. Your voice (d4: 1- is accompanied by distant thunder, 2- can be heard in a loud room at a whisper, 3- slurs your sibilants  like a motherfucker, 4- echoes in normal conversation)
3. Your hair (d6: 1- has fallen out, 2- is missing large clumps, 3- has begun to grow at an alarming rate, 4- has gone all white, 5- has a big red lightning bolt pattern in it, 6- is always filled with bugs, not like fleas or lice but big ones.)
4. Your scar in the shape of (1d4: 1- sword, 2- skull, 3- crescent moon, 4- screamprayer to Moon Slave)

Feature: You Were There.

It was the deciding battle of the war. It was a sudden and horrible natural disaster. It was the slaughter that moved the kingdom to action. So recent yet already so legendary.

You Were There.

Most people you meet will have heard of it, and be impressed if you can convince them of this. The specific parties involved (including instances of Speak With Dead) know what you did. The military authorities, regents, and magicians of these lands know you and your deeds by name. The churches know you to be servant of Moon Slave.

This helps cut through the bullshit a lot of times. For better or for worse. If nothing else it's a good way to get any attention in an area snapped toward you: just start talking about it. You'd be surprised at what you can accomplish with this badge of honor.

Suggested Characteristics

You are not uncontrollable, but you are not subtle. You are not simple, but you are direct. You are not berserk, but you do glory in the right people being murdered. You may not be brave, but you are terrifying. You may not be evil but you have no comfortable hole in modern society. Remember Moon Slave prizes no piety or ascetics: the only form of worship Moon Slave rewards is getting out there and doing the most metal thing possible. "Turning off" is a sin.

d8 Personality Trait

1. You are always a little too interested when a victim recounts their story.
2. You are hard to separate from your torches. You may light small fires and scream into them in your down time.
3. To know Moon Slave is to fear Him, so you sleep little, and can be easily confused.
4. You are much more relaxed at night and in dungeons than during the day, in cities.
5. Your mode of dress is...unconventional.
6. Your livelihood is/was fairly prosaic, but you have elected to bring Moon Slave's touch to that part of the world. You may own a metal-as-fuck farm. You may own a murder library.
7. You listen longer than you should to the exhortations of the mad and the cruel and the butcherous. They have a point, after all.
8. Mmm...dogs...

d6 Ideal

1. Action. Never talk when you can do.
2. Fear. Never talk when you can yell curses and bellow animalistically.
3. Surprise. Never be anticipated.
4. Magic. Never use a sword when you can use a cursed burning sword that eats souls.
5. Choice. All dichotomies are false dichotomies.
6. Beauty. Blood is life. Fire is life.

d6 Bond

1. There are others like you, Unspeakables, and you must find them. There is work to do.
2. There is another like you, a survivor, not Swordtouched, and you must avenge yourself upon them.
3. You hear her calling in your sleep, a great witch. She has need of you. She will not let you rest.
4. There is a creature who has defied Moon Slave, awesome in his terror, and you must seek him out and smote him for the glory of smoke.
5. You must raise a beacon to Him and His, an enormous bonfire, visible for miles, on darkmoon-before-Harvest Night.
6. Your charge, and your trade, is secretly that of Jack Ketch.

d6 Flaw

1. You attract a lot of attention. Obviously. A lot.
2. You always reek of smoke and meat.
3. Your pyromania has a tendency to interfere with your other aspirations, as you burn whatever you can get away with, including important things like maps, including magic things like cloaks.
4. You sleepwalk. You sleepfight.
5. You will not deliver the killing blow to any creature who hails Moon Slave in scream song.
6. You've got red on you.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour- Barbarian Path

Exhorted in the name of Moon Slave to ruin. King of smoke and witches. Starlight blacksmith. You are the sword which is broken against the bone. You are the god smasher and the drunken night fire.

Blood For Blood

Beginning at 3rd level, when you Rage you take on the armor of no fuck YOU. Roll 1d12. Lose that many Hit Points and add half the bonus (rounded down) to AC and the rest to your Damage. When your Rage ends you lose both these bonuses. Bow your head beneath your weapon and anoint yourself in its blood. Roll your weapon's damage die. Gain that value (plus any applicable remaining damage bonuses, such as from Strength) in Hit Points as a bonus action. Neither of these effects count towards conventional healing.

Blade to Blade

Beginning at 3rd level, your weapon is soaked in your own blood and the blood of your enemies, and you are attuned to its scent like a bloodhound, like a shark. You can always find your weapon if you are separated, so long as you are within your Constitution x20 yards of it.

Eye to Eye

Beginning at 6th level, you see Moon Slave in those around you. He whispers their glories. Regarding any intelligent or animal creature reveals to you the last thing they killed: its identity, its nature, and the method used to dispatch it. You do not learn WHY. Why is always Moon Slave anyway. Intelligent creatures can save against this effect if they are aware of you observing them, but they have Disadvantage. When you are Raging they may not save.

Steel to Steel

Beginning at 10th level, while you Rage you can destroy objects and sunder weapons more easily. When consulting the material strength chart the DM should consider any matter targeted by you to be 1+ Constitution modifier categories weaker, so that a Barbarian with a 17 Constitution would treat material as 4 categories weaker. You also do not suffer any penalties tohit for calling your shot against a nonmagical weapon.

Ashes to Ashes

Beginning at 14th level, while you Rage your skin and weapon are considered On Fire for incendiary purposes, and anything you hit must save or take fire damage equal to the number of times you have hit while Raging. This effect DOES extend to any mundane equipment you are carrying but not to any magical items you carry or wear.

REVIEW: In Mansions For Flowers, by Bloom Rose, Uriel Uter, Kimberley Keane-Felton, INRI, and The Sorceress Sisters

Baroness- Red

1979. And here I'm lost.

There is far too much written today about the history of RPGs by people who read something once, who owned this game, who remembered that rumor, who were mad about something on Usenet before I'd even heard of bbcode. There is far too little cobbled together from multiple fisthand accounts, almost as if we can't trust anybody who was actually there, who actually made history, or the people around them. It does seem that small communities (and we are SO small) can be smaller still in their pettiness, and perhaps that is the real history of RPGs.

Nah that's the history of a bunch more stuff, too. Anyway I so hesitate to add to the signal noise yet here I am.

We come to "the Bloom Rose Sequence," an adventure series in the loosest sense, and one which is hard to talk about. Released decades apart, containing no common story thread, without the expressed intent of being considered part of a larger whole. The Bloom Rose Sequence is nonetheless discussed as a unified critical unit by game historians and the tattooed masses for three reasons.

Chiefly, each of the modules contains a "contribution" of some sort (We'll get to what THAT means) from Bloom Rose, co-founder of Adder Entertainment, chief creative director, payroll accountant,and author of every. single. foreword. to every adventure, game, and A Tunnel until her death in the great Donnybrook fire. Secondly, while artists like Tiny Mitch, Ivanov, and Philip Jaksun contributed art during the series, and while Lain to Rest was completed by Steve Olsen, all the books have the distinction of being written and designed by women, curated by Bloom.

Third and last: they got Bloom killed.

In Mansions For Flowers is one of the Adder Anthologies that Bloom specialized in, and probably the second best they ever made. Its name comes from Bloom's actual botany background showing itself in the interstitials between adventures. Articles about how flowers die. Articles about how flowers fuck. Articles about how flowers kill. Articles about how people kill for flowers. The lessons I always chose to take away from these articles were:
  1. Nature is a vicious two-faced prick.
  2. Campaign matter is everywhere.
  3. Do not fuck with the Palm of Christ, which Sunday School had already taught me sort of.
...but looking back I think it's about context. Gardens must be tended, pruned, fed, and even plowed under to make way for new growth. So to it is with adventures and dungeons. You gotta kill the fuck out of Buddha or he'll never take you to Enlightenment Prom. You could fill a monster manual with everything you remember from your Bullfinch you swear you bought in high school or you could skip that and fill a book with interesting ideas, written well, and presented attractively, and trust your customers to think goblins are cool on their own.

I think it's about context. There is cleverness in addition to beauty. There is danger, not just delicateness. There is utility, history, and a far and wide shadow cast by the rose bush, not only thorns and sweetness. Did I mention that this was a lady gamer showcase? There's probably no reason I mentioned that again.

Bloom's Seventies Sunshine feminism aside, the adventures themselves are all illuminated with a jarring cocaine fashion twinge  by the Sorceress Sisters, Sara and Sybil Sobcyznski, as well as the modest map and monster contributions of the individual designers. Most of the art is...cute, and good enough. I always feel bad for shitting people on art, especially people for whom the expression is a means to an end, a bridge by which they can reach their end goal and truly express themselves. Uriel Uter's Moat Man is a standout favorite, since he's made entirely of whatever is going on with Magneto on the cover of X-Men #1. On the other end of the spectrum, whatever Bloom's other virtues her life as a cartographer was thankfully put in the hands of a horse doctor early on.

The Cabin At The Castle by kickboxing columnist Uriel Uter is a weird little puzzle adventure where a shotgun shack appears in the middle of the royal gardens and nobody can get it open. The guy inside, Elias Pelias, is one of my favorite NPCs to play ever because for almost the whole adventure he talks like an old John Ford Cookie type and I freebase that shit. It plays out a little like There's A Hole In The Bucket but with wizards and knights and Moat Mans and shit but once that pinata pops open I can guarantee nobody at the table is anticipating the death to follow. We lost the kingdom once. Not the castle, I stress.

Nobody Sculpted the Gods by self proclaimed silver dollar Kimberley Keane-Felton starts with a talking pocketwatch and ends with murdering the sea in this anarchic romp against enlightened self-interest through the Roman pantheon and the British History Museum. Like most people my favorite part of this brief adventure is the encounters table, particularly the Bulldogs. However I don't think enough attention is paid to Docent the Docent, one of the best examples of GMPC I've ever seen executed. Or heard of. While Kimberley's title is great and all, I do think this would be better remembered if it were titled after its penultimate set piece and her finest, Last Supper-inspired illustration, the House of Mummy Lords.

Many Dragons by INRI of Pet Shop Boys and QVC fame is perhaps the most popular of these, a race against time cited as an influence by a lot of video game designers. It mostly revolves around tense negotiations, a wagonload of save-or-die spelunking, and sleep poisoning. The answer to the final riddle in this section ("I was a king. Then I was a son. Then I was the dawn. What am I?") was left out of Appendix Red and it's still doctrine for the Tattoo Society that INRI had this secret on her body somewhere. Her noble sacrifice tending to the wounded in Bosnia means we'll never know for certain, but the Society's annual exhibition games of Many Dragons have yielded some interesting responses. The seances haven't, though.

Lastly there is Appendix White, featuring short essays by Bloom describing six hidden regents: The Eastern Phantom, Spire, Queen of Barnacles, Mummy Lord Pharoah, Terrible Thunder Chief, and the Revolving Crypt. These NPCs seem more inspired by the work of her collaborators than anything, since none of them actually appear in this book, although Crypt King Revolving would eventually make it into the Bone series of releases.

Reception to this one was interesting. Decades later the RPG community has become much more interested in engaging discussion on important issues of expression and inclusion in a way that leads me to believe, were it released today, the response would be entirely the fucking same. Bloom didn't shy from it, though, and for the remainder of A Tunnel's first volume she printed every letter criticizing In Mansions For Flowers without response or commentary, letting the dedicated letterhacks write in and take her biggest and most beligerently sexist detractors to task for her.

I DO agree, however, that Appendix White, however good it might be, might have been jettisoned in favor of expanding one of the adventures. In particular Many Dragons could/should have been its own expanded release. You can do a lot in eight pages - hell you can do a lot in one page - but there's a sense of scale and ghost details that gets lost with an adventure like Many Dragons when it only has room to hit the high points. I've always been curious whether running it as Many Goblins would feel substantially different, actually.

We'll continue looking back at the rest of the Bloom Rose Sequence from here, meaning that up next is the so-called "pregnancy adventure," My Judgment Day Clothes.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

RPG ABCs


Grover: O.G.
There are people who make a whole month out of something like this but fuck that I'm busy.

A- Asia. My default fantasy land isn't fake Europe. There are kappas and Monkey Kings and rakshasasasases in it. The monsters aren't all stand ins for Swedes or Celts or Jews. They're here to remind you the natural world around you will fuck you up and never care.
B- Backup Character. Always have one, one you want to play at any moment. Don't get too attached to your guy. Take risks because that's the only way your guy is any fun and if things don't work out just play your other guy.
C- Conan. Inevitable. Thankfully. Another post and time.
D- Do It Yourself. This need not be a hobby where we wait to be given something. This must not be that. The life and liberty of this medium is the ability of any idiot who knows how to make a 4 and what pencils do to create everything anyone needs to play anything on the spot. At DENNYS.
E- Easy. GMml equations are not tricky per se but they are my threshold for how difficult it has to be to engage your system, or your world, or your dungeon, or whatever. For my players I want everything to be even easier. If resolving any one particular judgment takes more than four steps piss off with that.
F- Funny Business. Do not force comedy but let comedy happen. I ask that people enjoy playing the games I'm in and take enjoying them (and that the rest of us want to enjoy them) seriously. I never demand they take the lich king seriously. Either I or the other DM can MAKE them take the lich king seriously or he deserves to be laughed at, and yknow that's a fun night too.
G- Good, Giving, and Game. Line Dan Savage always uses about being a lover. In bed you always want to be Good at what you're doing or try to get better, Giving and caring and selfless and attentive and communicative, and Game for all kinds of new experiences, knowing that not everything is going to be your cup of tea but that discovery is part of the fun of all this. So all that, but at the table with cheetos and acquaintances.
H- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. No, fuck you. Shut up. The animation is slow and like 3 guys are pretending they're not the whole cast and sometimes there's Andy Griffith Hobbits or Orko but I'd rather watch this than read Pern or whatever. There's a word for people who can't find a metal dungeon in even the worst episode of He-Man. Asleep.
I- Intrigue. I have never run a game or at least never run one long enough where all the high hall dealings that frame the web of activity has been fully explored, and often it goes unnoticed. But it's important to me as a player and it simplifies your life as a DM sooooo much to have some bigger behind the scenes revenge across centuries because did you hear what she said about Our Richard going on.
J- J.R.R. Tolkein. Unavoidable also. Quick aside I actually think his biggest contribution to fantasy and to literature/culture in general is just going "Hey Academia, let's maybe give people from the past the benefit of assuming they had a brain in their head and that, say, whoever compiled these "quaint" little anecdotes in Beowulf made some authorial choices that might be interesting to look at and revelatory, okay?"
K- Kirby. Never use a good idea when you can use a great idea, never use one great idea when you can use five. Fill the world with interesting characters. Everything is color. Everything is motion. Everything is important and urgent. Don't build in meandering of placeholders or Normal, players will do that for you. Make things big and detailed even when you don't have to. Revel in the petty evils and the power from physical expression but know how small these things are in the grand cosmic scale. Have lots of robot space devils.
L- Low Cost. If I'm playing a game that makes my players feel like they all have to buy more than a core book to enjoy something or they'll be missing out on the complete experience, fuck that we're not playing it. In fact I prefer games where nobody at the table has to spend any money because I spent that money for them. I of course also prefer those books to be really affordable, or even free rules. One of the big barriers to entry for me into this hobby was the outsider assumption that you HAD to spend gobs of money because everyone did and publishers seemed to expect you to. I face that at work daily, that expectation of financial bitchslapping for even thinking about RPGs. I resist it. If you buy an RPG book buy from me, I'll try to save you money and still get us all paid. But you know you don't HAVE to buy these rules, right? All you need is an afternoon and the assent of the friends you're going to play with and you have your RPG.
M- Miyazaki. Airships that flap, the inherent sadness of forgotten and unloved places, the ability to connect with Rightness even if the rest of our beliefs divide us, the idea that there is this big grand spiritual side to our world and that it's BUSY and everyone has chores, that everyone has to earn their keep and prove their worth and test their convictions.
N- New Player Friendly. When I got into this hobby and wanted to start running things I very quickly ran into the situation of wanting to run games that nobody around me was running or had run before. I've had to introduce a lot of games to a lot of people and for a couple years there I ran for a lot of first time RPGers and prided myself on trying to make that as accessible as possible. When I say New Player Friendly I don't mean you take the time to include five pages explaining what a RPG is. I mean your How To Get Started and then How To Do Stuff conversations about your game go quickly, and that information is laid out simply and easily referenced in your rules.
O- Online Gaming. Majority of games I've played, vaster majority of games I've run. I don't go in for Roll20 and similar products because prepping material for that is time i could spend prepping other weird shit for my adventure. I don't worry about having one unified die roller everyone can see because I trust my players. (After all players have to trust the DM rolling behind the screen. Nobody wants to use cheat codes and we're all friends here, and if we're not then why are we playing this game together?) I don't worry about a camera usually (partly because I sometimes run games shirtless because I get hot easily) but that's going to change once I find my camera again (uh with my shirt on though). POINT IS there are people out there disappointed they can't find a local group to play a game they want to try where I feel like if you put in the effort and do the legwork and make some accommodations there isn't any reason you shouldn't be able to find a game to get in on online unless either you are the game aren't really worth the trouble. Or to phrase that less shittily if I can do it with my stupid cowboy game then anybody can do it.
P- Podcasts. I like actual play podcasts. With games I do not care about review podcasts, interview podcasts, news podcasts, or roundtable podcasts, except where +Topher Kohan is involved. I wish there were a greater variety of really fun to listen to rpg actual play podcasts that do campaigns instead of a rotating series of games. I've made peace with the fact that the only way I'm going to get an extended Feng Shui campaign podcast is if I do one.
Q- Quick Prep. I want to be able to sit down and be ready to roll twenty minutes after I've decided to run something, if I have to. A lot of that's on me (tools vs tomes and all that) but don't make it any more challenging than it needs to be for me to put together a chainsaw baboon on the fly.
R- Ray Harryhausen. The fucking man. The twin poles of monsters who are only monsters because we make them monsters and HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT THING.
S- Stealing. Not plagiarism or anything but always be on the lookout for good ideas, good TOOLS, good set pieces, and rip that shit the hell off for your table. Do not wait for say Dark Sun to become more awesome. Make Dark Sun more awesome with five minutes and Google.
T- Thunder Lizards. Games can choose to never have dinosaurs in them. I don't know why they would do that, though.
U- Ultra-Violence. Everything is dangerous. Everyone wants to kill you. Nothing is safe. Everyone RUN. Never settle for "You kill the basilisk" when "You slice off the front half of the basilisk's face and concrete blood spills out on you, wash that off before it dries or attracts stone-eating scavengers" could do instead. Mother invention with murder opportunities.
V- Victory Conditions. When I play Mario Kart it decides what I have to do to win. When I play Uno it decides what I have to do to win. Same with even a relatively flexible game like Fluxx or Betrayal at the House on the Hill. When I play a tabletop RPG (or to an extent a full Skyrim style sandbox) I decide what it means to win. Maybe it's leveling my character as high as possible. Maybe it's marrying the prince. Maybe it's becoming President. Maybe it's getting revenge on someone or just getting to the ocean like Merriwether Lewis. Survival alone could be my goal or leading a revolution and then retiring to open a shop. I am always playing another game, a secret game, private to me, layered over whatever you people are doing.
W- Warrior Code. I read someone saying that Howard was a good example of the adage that we create our ideal world when we write because he fetishized the noble savage so he took every great "savage warrior" culture from history, barely renamed them, and put them all on the map and same time period to coexist each other to death. If I have a particular kink of that kind it's for the code of honor. Bushido and Klingons and vampire rules and Enemy Ace. My Conan world would probably be just a world of everyone politely barely murdering each other, then I introduce Space Godzilla into it.
X- Marks The Spot. Fuck Xorn. Anyway in the board game sense of the game, in terms of that part of our DNA, the object is to complete enough goals to have the most power, which get abstracted largely with XP and levels and TREASURE. The default game was a treasure hunting survival horror game, Raiders of the Green Inferno style. The monsters were just there to make things interesting. Honestly it's iterations of the game where monster killing become the focus of these goals that are generally turnoffs for me unless I know that going in. A campaign where we're basically the crew of the Orca keeping the waters safe for trade through murder could be fun. Replacing all the Monty Hauls with more gnolls with healing surges does not interest me. This doesn't have to be a physical reward, even; I still roll for hoard size in GP and just award the XP, keeping my players poor to reinforce my Dungeon Crawling Is Fight club motif of working class survival horror fantasy exploration. The game isn't exactly about that reward but about everything that happens in getting the reward.
Y- You Can't Always Get What You Want. You know how the rest of that song goes. I'll give my players a lot of liberties, I'll let them have a lot of stuff they ask for, but anything important to actually accomplishing the matter at hand is going to have to be earned with blood and sweat and fires. It has to be or else it never fucking matters. It will be hard and not everybody is going to come back happy. In fact my favorite way to prep is to put my playrs into a scenario where whatever they do SOMETHING will be mad at them for it and things domino from there, and then sit back and watch them write the adventure.
Z- Zen and the Art of Character Maintenance. There is no "supposed to have happened." I ran Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess and they never went past the hedge, they just went home to make invisible sausages. That was not a wrecked game or an unsatisfactory result. It meant they missed some stuff I think they'd enjoy but the GAME is what HAPPENS in the GAME. It isn't what you want the game to be or what the game should be or could be or can be. Did you crit miss? That's supposed to happen. Did you FAIL something? That's supposed to happen. Because life and chaos meeting artifice and order is the game. The game is what happens in the game.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Everything Has Teeth

Daniel Dean
Nov 12, 2014
Is there actually anything that anyone would like me to write about?

Scrap Princess
Nov 12, 2014
Monsters? 

Daniel Dean
Anything in particular?
Nov 12, 2014

Scrap Princess
Displacer beasts , mimics or elementals?
Nov 12, 2014
----
1. Monsters

Mimics.
They are the most beloved and traditional, most Core To The Brand, of all the stupid monsters. Independent of other cues they border on Player Punisher, with emphasis on any new players going and fucking themselves. Oh you DIDN'T just ASSUME this box would eat you? What an asshole. It's also a monster who represents the idea that players need to study the playbook before sitting down, having intimate familiarity with the monster manuals and bestiaries, and that the DM should then stick to that playbook so not to buck player expectations. A principle I loathe, and maybe that's an article to itself. Remind me. Anyway mimics ALSO represent one of those things that slowed down so many junior high games across the lands. Better take twelve minutes to open any door or step into any room in case it eats us. Fucker the goblin who stole the royal pants are four rooms down, let's wrap this up before DS9 comes on.

Mimics can really be anything but it's that image of the chest wanting to eat you which endures because nothing else but a dragon in old school D&D so neatly sums up the experience in a single image: you're trying to get wealth, but you'll be killed and eaten a lot in doing so. Monsters have endured for dumber reasons than being a good image, so it's hard to begrudge their existence entirely. But what do I do with them? Especially when D&D over the years tripped over itself to get into the mimic's way. Mimics could be anything, but suddenly they were nothing, because we had other creatures who were rocks who ate you, other creatures who were tables who ate you, other creatures who were pants who ate you, other creatures who were stalagmites and stalactites and ceilings and walls and floors who ate you. Now they were just the chests, just a set of numbers that really only had one idea, "Make something they don't expect to eat them eat them," but almost immediately all surprise was vacated from that concept.

Elementals.  
Fire is scary and once upon a time someone wanted to invent double-fire. Not just big fire, which could kill you, or spreading fire. They didn't put legs on fire to make it chase you because fire already does that. They put arms on fire so fire could reach out and grab you as it chased you. They gave it a Scooby Doo villain quality which suggested WANT and boom: elementals, driven by the desires of their conjurer, but surely if they can HAVE desires they can have their OWN desires? This is how we end up with fire universe. Fire chairs, fire tables, fire ham. And if there's fire universe then surely they're friends with air universe, hate water universe, constantly pick on earth universe, etc. I find all of this a little too rock paper scissors and that's one thing when it comes to other elements but oh my Crom do I hate this for fire. It suggests A place where fire comes from, originally, and the point of fearing fire is it can come from anywhere. It suggests, accidentally, the reverse: a place fire can go, or is supposed to go, or may be sent to. That is terrible. Fire must be FOUGHT, it must be QUENCHED, it must be allowed to run wild and BURN ITSELF OUT through its devestation...it must be STARVED, SUFFOCATED, fire must be stopped. Fire cannot be dismissed. Dismissed?! Waited out?! Fire should not be easier to get rid of than Randy Quaid from a Vacation movie. And if we don't tolerate that shit for fire it's unpatriotic to start tolerating that for mud and diamonds and hurricanes and crap.

I think you can make cool drawings of these and I think you can have a memorable fight with these but I don't think mimics and elementals will be what is memorable ABOUT it. Even the Temple of Elemental Evil was memorable for the scale things were playing on, not say Ogremoch. Yeah I maybe spelled that wrong but I'm not stopping to look it up, guess what Ogremoch called and said it's okay. I ran an entire chest dungeon once, nothing but chests and locked monsters, and couldn't even get excited about putting the mimic in there.


2. Alignment

BX alignment to my mind works like this: Are your interests served by the current status quo? Then you're Lawful. Even thieves, because if society collapses A) who are you going to steal from and B) who will honor the coin of the realm? Even if you want to take over the kingdom, you want a kingdom, that kingdom, more or less as it looks on the tin. Are your interests served by the removal of organized society, or with completely supplanting it with the kind of society which cannot coexist with the organized society which exists at large? You're Chaotic. You don't want the king's castle and the king's fortune. You want the king's midden and a palace of decay to Ruinous the Entroloper. Can your needs be met or will your life remain largely unchanged no matter what the prevailing organized society is? You're Neutral. You pick sides in a given conflict like a mother fucker but you're your own closed system, or you're part of an open system which doesn't intersect with an existing one.

But who cares.

Traditional ideas about D&D involve a lot of planes of whatever and to my mind one of the biggest wastes in the 5e dmg is the attention given to this and how early they want to throw you into the idea of using your space boat to go to fire world. I played Mario 3 a lot too but you're not getting to that shit for a while and psyching your players up with that is going to just make them disappointed when you throw them in a land dispute between the Rat Prince and Orklops or a dungeon full of screaming bees.

I will never use those planes.

There are three I care about. Physical plane, sandwiched between Spiritual plane and Magical plane. The world we know is the occluded front between The Potential For Existence and the Animating Factor Of Life, a medium for these things to actually occur. Earth is a scab. I keep doing this. Once they were actual sheets rolled out on each other like a science class example but for my weird cowboy D&D game the world is built around Hell, which is built around the Magical sphere, and outside the world's atmosphere is where the Spiritual plane kicks in. The earth is more like a pearl here. Seemed more westerny interpretation.

Fire does come from the Magical sphere because we're talking about the fundamental potential of existence and creation. So there's something for pissing off Neil Tyson.

3. The takeaway here:

Everything.

A table.
A puddle.
A frog.
The wall.
The air.
The forest, and its individual trees, and individual animal KINDS, and individual animals.
Douglas.
Komo.
Meredith.
Kenshiro.

Has a Physical, Spiritual, and Magical component. In theory.
You touch these three perspectives of the world at all times.
This is what Alignment means to me, by the way. Most of the time you aren't particularly aligned one way or another, but Clerics are more closely aligned with the Spiritual plane, Magic-Users are obvious, and Druids are aligned obviously with the Physical plane. Other esoteric types beyond that are Aligned as makes sense.
This is where Alignment languages also make sense to me. Nobody bats an eye at the notions that, say, only a Cleric's prayers are directly answered, only MUs read magical writing, only Druids speak their secret cant. Well, that's what that is.

This is spirits poking their heads out of objects as you pass by in a Miyazaki movie. This is Le Guin style controlling the world because you know the secret names of things and can address the spirits and demons within, say, a rock directly. Hell this is even Final Fantasy explaining how a buzzsaw faced clown robot can come from the after-effect of a dead person, really: the influences of the other planes of being override and corrupt the Physical form.

This isn't exactly my monstrous-magical string theory or anything. If you still want to pull off any level of surprise or fear or wonder then one-stop-solutions are death, and if we didn't already know that we have 90s superhero universe startups to remind us. But it is a default assumption I carry with me without usually expressing it as doctrine. It seems to creep in to a lot of what I do. Some people have chaffed at this in discussion until I cast it in terms of gods. To me, gods=monsters, and Crom can sit and spin next to The God In The Bowl. If we're talking about alien forms of understanding, we're really just talking about monsters regardless of their intent. A love for getting wasted and doing incest as a goose may make them more relatable but if you read the beginning of this sentence again I don't think you can say it doesn't make them more monstrous. If it helps to think of it as Heaven, Hell, and the Old Gods, well that's not right but it's close enough.

So Mimics.
So Elementals.

A box can't sprout a face and teeth and try to eat you, except it can because Magic.
A box isn't a feeling, sapient creature, except when it's possessed, which is always.
Fire can't sprout arms to grab you except it CAN and is sometimes ALIVE, and then it does.

So sometimes something wholly impossible happens and sometimes forces of nature come to life and sometimes statues develop a bucket list.

4. Summary

What you're really asking, +Scrap Princess, is what kind of games I run, and I think despite delusions and aspirations otherwise the answer is fundamentally "Muppets Survival Horror."
 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

DUNGEON MIX: Doomsday Bride in Gargoyle City

Add...a bunch of stuff this time I guess, this is not that usable really?
Weeks ago a note was delivered to you by an indistinct bird-like space. It formally requested your attendance at a wedding for two people you’d never heard of, much less met, in the city of Morlojog. Your curiosity has gotten the better of you - or maybe you just can’t resist an open bar - and here you find yourself, at Morlojog, surrounded by strangers, near the Mouth of Morlojogoth, the cathedral of Morjog the Inevitable. (These names can be confusing but they make more sense in the original Molg.)

or

Your local lord or duchess or whatever received such an invitation. Perhaps they are curious, perhaps they are embarrassed at having forgotten such an occasion, perhaps they are furious, perhaps they are merely observing courtly custom. Either way you are their envoy, and you have very specific business with the bride and groom once all this is over.

or

There’s a gift in your pack. You thought it was absolutely delightful at the time you bought it, and later decided to give it to someone special. Now you’ve lost your way, and wearing your finery at that! It’s odd that you decided to dress to the nines for this ride. Now you find yourself outside this hard to pronounce town...hey a wedding! That sounds like fun. And you won’t even feel uncomfortable crashing because you have a gift with you! That was fortunate! A string of coincidences has led you here, like an anglerfish, and you are none the wiser.

or

You were at home, in bed. It was night. Now where are you? Did you get dressed in the dark? Did you giftwrap your spare boots? Without knowing why you know you’re at a wedding and that you need to just go along with it and not upset anything. You know the bride and groom on sight...well, not KNOW them, you’ve never set eyes on them before, maybe not even someone of their species, depending on where you're from and what you are.

or

Morlojog is an up and coming city-state that has made tremendous strides in the last sixty years. You'd been meaning to see what all the fuss was about and on learning of the upcoming festival, the 100th Flowering Festival Morlojog has had since installing their first monarch, you decided that now was the perfect opportunity. The inns are all at capacity and even the citizens are turning away would-be-lodgers and their gold, strangers stuffed in the rafters. So you wander, and in wandering you come upon this church...

AND

Your hands are shaking. Your mouth is dry. The air smells like iron and fire. Your breaths are quick and deep. Everyone’s eyes look stoned, and you’re sure that yours do as well. Forgotten instincts that once screamed at you in the dark about serpents, about wolves, ABOUT the dark, howl and scratch at you now. You’ll die here if you don’t do something…but you cannot stop the ceremony. You cannot change this one moment of crystallizing salt, this fate. Somebody’s getting married. That is etched as fact in the bedrock of your existence.

However you've arrived, you're here now, and you're having a bit of trouble remembering what you've been doing lately. You may know where you are, or even why you came here in the first place, but the story begins as in a dream and you never learn much about what you dreamed just before. You may have walked into town, had a sandwich, rented a room, fucked a dude, it's all a blur. You set out, and now you're here, Ed Helms as shit.



This all started centuries ago. It begins with the wedding.

THE BIG NAMES

Felias the Bastard- Fuck Druid and vagrant. Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Invisibility, Dispel Magic, and Cantrips (everything he does can be done with a magical fancy flair but to a terrible-at-a-party extent, nothing more). For AC assume it's been a while and he had no partners the night before, but he IS high on shrooms. He's in this for power and riches but he doesn't know the true cost or risk. He is a pawn and foolish and easily manipulated.
Tarrywhile- Flower Girl in name and act. Faerie-touched child whose curse made her uniquely suited to withstand the Queen's presence and act as her voice, Queen In Name with all her power and authority. She has been wooed by another party, darker and older, and acts as her second here. Can animate plants and is something of a young womandrake herself. Mind and shape of a child.
Gamorjog- Underpriestess of the Inevitable, conducting a lone vigil in the Undercathedral Worldgut. Knows Charm Person, Snake Charm, Entangle, Web, Spider Walk, Fly. She is ashamed of her body and how far it is from death, so she hides it in thick wraps and long robes. Her beautiful face is detachable, revealing green muscle and blood beneath. She is about 20' tall. Whispers everything because gargoyles are everywhere.
Shoof- Gamorjog's familiar mongoose. Speaks Elf, can cast Forget, has 20% chance to Identify on any attempt, 12HP, base AC, 2 natural attacks(d2) per round with +1 to hit. He'll follow the party if they flee Morlojogoth.
Candecima fa Greenlion- Queen for most of Morlojog's 100 Years. Architect of her recent splendor. Bulwark against the symbiont. THE MEGADUSA. Appears nude, 14' tall without snakes, her skin the color and texture of a chalkboard. Her snakes billow out like a cloud, filling any chamber she's in in time. They obscure her face and, should she feel modest, her naughty bits to get by the Comics Code Authority. She has a limited ability of brachiation and locomotion with these snakes, and they keep her untainted by the influence of the Party Crasher. Enthrall x2, Cause Fear x2. Her snakes know 6 spells and can Summon as if casting a Level 9 spell. They constantly nip at the air, though the enlightened can see they keep her free from the tendrils of Morjog.
Hadriach Quicksilver- Devout chaplian (dwarf if you like that shit) coming to scourge from the very face of the world a gargoyle army which roosts at Morlojog. His god (roll on table or other) does not answer his prayers, to his dismay, but he has a bunch of cleric scrolls and a column of warriors stepping to his lead on a divine crusade (he assures them). He approached Morlojog roughly the same time the PCs did and has set up camp several hours' ride out, within sight of the city and the blood at its gates, praying for a sign.
Greenlion Ducagne- First Regent and Dead King of Morlojog, first to be taken in the movings of the underchapel. Lays untouched on an altar to 'Morjog' within Worldgut. Acts as fifth level fighter, all weapons and armor magic. Can only be woken from his patient death by a kiss from a snake.
Food- Goat with a demon in it, waiting in Morlojogoth to be sacrificed to the union of Felias and Gamorjog and seal it. He will beg for death in the tongue of elfs, and if slain outside of the ceremony frees the demon within. The demon is a threat but can be bargained with once free.
Handsome Prince Skeleton- Heir to the Bone Throne of the Skeleton Kingdom and if your game doesn't have a skeleton kingdom what is mouse guard like i always wondered. His touch turns you into a skeleton who can level, poison and gasses don't affect you but neither do potions and you can be turned. When transformed you must save with a minor penalty to avoid being Charmed with no additional save on the immediate horizon. You can learn the skeletonization spell using Speak With Dead or Read Brains after killing him, and while you can kill him that will cause many of the festivals to snowball and the Party Crasher grows stronger and big chunks of Morlojog start crumbling as a hundred years' dead starts dancing. He will re-emerge from this, a vessel for the creature. Guest at the wedding.

CHIEF GODS VENERATED IN MORLOJOG

Morjog the Inevitable- The local sports team, bringer of destruction and death and the clearing away of stones and spires, whose adherents' only prayer is "But Not Yet." The believe fundamentally in the eventual doom Morjob brings but ask him to postpone a wee bit. Morjog is the name ascribed to the great stone face Morlojogoth was built around, a carving which predates Morlojog. Nothing true is known of is provenance and Morjog has become something of an anchor for loose beliefs and superstition, a religion accruing about him like a reef, or like voodoo. Many things are like voodoo with Morjog. In truth many who worship Morjog hang a convenient face over the one whom their actions truly serve, the Party Crasher, and it is its undercathedral which is nested in Worldgut beneath the face of Morjog.
Adl- The godtwin children who have no names of their own, worshiped as one being. They are the feeders of the sun and their governances are youth, fertility, and harvest, so the city's into them right now in a BIG way. A traditional deityform whose holy rites are being profaned by this Intrusion.
Nekkiuradedafesasas- Beautiful and austere goddess of color, luxury, and remote beauty, she brings vim and savor to life so in a way all festivals are hers but she abhors the baseness and vulgarity of them.
Good Queen Skeleton- Standing Goddess and ruler of the Skeleton Kingdom, empress of undeath and alms, quartered at the castle, only came to town to find her son a mate. Same abilities as Handsome Prince Skeleton and so long as she lives neither can be turned. She also can confer a Quest and Bless at will
Toferum- Self-loathing and ashamed god of shame, not normally worshiped much in Morlojog  but many of his pilgrims are in town trying to restore order and more were ensnared by the Party Crasher's subtle side effects.
Moon Slave- Haunting god. Wager of victory. Father to horrors. Not specifically worshiped in Morlojog, like there are no temples to Moon Slave, there are fields and graveyards and orgies and camels to Moon Slave. His prayers are the lamentation of the basically fucked and the fucking-done-with-this.

THE PARTY CRASHER/THE INTRUDER/THE SYMBIONT/MORJOG THE INEVITABLE/THE WORM

You wake up one morning and realize you can't find your wedding ring. Where is it? Did it come off in the night? In the bath? In the street? While you were drunk? At the gigolo? You must find it. Your emotional attachment to your spouse, your conditioning to the ritual, your investment (financial and psychic) in the tradition, all drive you on this hunt. It's a symbol of the bond you share and the vows you made when you got married.
There's no such thing as spouses.
Not really.
There is no tradition.
Society recognizes your union as it recognizes a mosquito.
You did not have a wedding ring before this morning.
You are forging this bond and your memories and your friends' memories by searching for that ring, finding it, putting it on.
Weddings are predators.

Everyone knows there is an invisible ecosystem which nests over ours like a laminate. This is what Gelatinous Cubes actually are, for one, cubelike within architectural confinement but otherwise sprawling, sometimes towering, consuming cellular intelligence. [[This is also one reason I find outer planes so boring, there's so much weird shit right here that we can't perceive.]] But there are other things out of there, and many which don't have the same relation to physical contact as most things we understand, and some of them feed on flesh and some of them feed off of dreams and some feed off unicorns or some shit and there is ONE creature which feeds on a collective knowledge of our own mortality. There was a time when it fed on something else, OVERFED, to extinction, and it lay dormant like a water bear all that time until the current age when we (and I guess elves and shit) became evolved enough to be susceptible to its influence. Foxes don't have birthdays. Birds don't have funerals. We retain the memories of the most traumatic and exceptional periods, build our personality around them, and that's catnip to this creature. If this were some kind of space telephone show I'd say that the creature puts out psychic filaments through the past that we follow like bread crumbs to an unavoidable conclusion, like a slime mold or an angler fish, and if I was some Hercules motherfucker I'd say this thing ties strings of its own onto the threads of fate we all inexorably follow.

It keeps us busy with a shadow, and that shadow is togetherness, happiness, remembrance, community, family, tradition....Oneness. Shared Milestones. What casts that shadow is a little ticking away going on in the back of our minds at all times noting how much closer we are to death, how much we have to lose, the unavoidable nature of change.

It hunts with holidays.

We know this creature in many forms and could be forgiven for assuming that there are many types of creature like this when, in fact, they are all part of the strange life cycle of this creature, stretching across multiple epochs all at once, a contiguous space caterpillar, constant across cultures in part, capable of conceptual bilocation, yet not constant across itself.

This is the Very Hungry Calendar.

We are all of us inside it to an extent and its little cillia and hookworm-like appendages are attached to our soulstuffs. MUs 2nd level and up constantly perceive the creature we are inside, even if they are not sure of its nature, as a kind of filter atop normal life. If you have orcs and elfs and shit then they're being fed on too, though the tendrils which drag through them may be a different shape or color to a MU's eyes. Clerics may be shown by their gods or illuminated in some fashion, treat it like a Detect Evil spell that doesn't so much Detect Evil as it does Show Me The Maggot I'm In. The undead will have some vestigial or emaciated connection to the beast's inner stomachs, though not nearly as much as a living thing, and powerful characters in Morlojog such as the Megadusa may control their connection to this creature. Otherwise if they exist they are part of the inside-out parasitic relationship we all are.

This ur-thing has no will. It has no commands or aspirations, it is a process-as-entity. But it is KNOWN and worshiped by many faces and names, often by MUs of some stripe. One such follower has conflated her service of the creature with the traditions of Morjog, our friend Gamorjog the underpriestess, and she wants to allow the great worm exit into physical existence (insty-death for the world entire) by completing a ritual to summon it within Worldgut and having it exit through the ornamental stone doors carved into the Mouth of Morjog in Morlojogoth.

Gamorjog, pulling together threads of her own, has summoned people from the forty-seven kingdoms, and has anchored herself to the summoning with the wedding to Felias, whose mind will be cleansed and through whom she can touch and copulate with the 'mind' of 'Morjog.' As the manifestation grows closer the coils of Morjog wrap tighter around the city-state and other holidays begin to break out from the weight of the thing, to the confusion of all.

Morjog can be directly targeted with some spells (up to DM which) IF you are aware of it, otherwise the conceptual framework of the wedding and the other festivals and their execution must be disrupted as much as possible. See below.

Morjog and Gamorjog are both opposed.

GARGOYLE

Imperial Megadusa Candecima is Majordomo to Gargoyle. Not gargoyles, although that, too.

You and I don't see eye to eye. Nobody sees anything like you. Nobody remembers those events the way you do. Nobody remembers anything the way you do. We are each of us different creatures whose recollections are shaped by the baggage we already bring to the table. This is a spell effect and it's how gargoyles hunt and reproduce. Gargoyles are the same in mind, flock mentality carried to bees-level, one will that is only a parliament of itself broken down into form so it can touch other form and therefore grow. Most creatures are naturally of a consciousness with their kin but gargoyles, being the apex predators they are, have shaped the world around them in the way that they hunt. They break us up into individuals, divide and conquer, major rule of engagement. These individual perspectives make uniting against the gargoyle menace increasingly difficult and also allows for us to experience inspiration and creativity. We carve what we are afraid of, and provide them with a vessel to kill us with. "That's a gargoyle. The building is covered in them. They're all over this part of town, really, from centuries ago. THAT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL. It gives me an idea..." and then gargoyles on album covers, bands NAMED Gargoyle, cartoons, stat blocks, form after form and we can't kill ourselves with gargoyles fast enough.

We live under an enchantment. This is the whole reason language and the press evolved, abstraction, giving the gargoyle a form they can't use, trapping them in all their forms in description on parchment. Memory and self awareness are actually defense mechanisms, then, against Gargoyle. Those who can recall things perfectly and who have perfect self awareness are canny evaders of the gargoyles, but they are also so boring that they can't populate an active resistance.

All the interesting people get to fuck, quickening the death haste of our species, while we subconsciously try to fight sculpture with poetry.

Gargoyle can manifest in any prepared 'gargoyle' but not every 'gargoyle' is always aware and animate. They can bop around and coordinate like the bad guys in the Matrix a little. Candecima has orchestrated the growth of Morlojog solely to build up the gargoyle presence, partly through attracting artisans, partly through taking castoffs from quarries and colleges around the world, and partly through her own gifts as the Megadusa, giving Gargoyle an endless variety of forms and a ubiquitous presence.

Morlojog happens to be where Morjog is going to be made manifest so Candecima insinuated herself into its history at the behest of Gargoyle, preparing against this day, because 1) the methods of predation used by Gargoyle and Morjog oppose one another and Gargoyle needs to protect its crop, which means B) they can't let it get wiped the hell out by an extinction level event. As the wedding approaches they all wake and flock, once the wedding begins the skies and streets are full of the things and they will seek to weaken the strength of Morjog's hold in an area by killing whoever they see most caught up in the spirit of things. This may include the PCs.

Gargoyle exists completely apart from the tendrils of Morjog, and they have no contact. The strength of an individual gargoyle will depend on the care, craft, and creativity that went in its carving.

THE HUNGRY CALENDAR

The adventure begins in Morlojogoth. Stepping foot outside will thrust you fully into the belly of the thing and you'll be subject to a side-effect of Morjog's mounting presence if you don't save. Associated effects and distinct features for each are listed, as well as any local customs specific to Morlojog. Each festival/effect/stage in Morjog's life cycle corresponds to a district in and around the city, and outside of your initial save (first person outside saves vs Wedding, all others roll 1d12 and saves vs that, I'm thinking save vs spells) you won't encounter the worst each district has to offer unless you venture there. Some effects float from district to district. Some effects and some quarters are worse than others.
  1. The Wedding. Centered around Morlojogoth. Til death do you part. Most of the major players listed above are here, excepting the Queens and the dead King and Hadriach. Even the officiant is going to be just an ensorcelled victim consecrated only by Gamorjog's will as underpriestess. Many attendants and guests are simply the faithful of Morjog who don't even blink when things start getting nasty, so deep into the Kool-Aid are they that they don't register it. Tarrywhile can animate the blue lilies here and force them into your mouth, magically transporting you to another part of the town where you IMMEDIATELY encounter some other aspect of the madness. She is accompanied by a bodyguard loyal to the Megadusa, whose spears are petrifying. Tarrywhile's bouquet is semi-alive and will crawl around aimlessly if dropped, like a Roomba, catching it or picking it up binds you to Felias like a powerful Quest and you must marry him on pain of death. There are some general city watch here, providing security. Gargoyle WILL interrupt the service, crawling from all over,  can even take possession of the ice sculptures in the room. The harpists here are shrill but compelling agents of the underpriestess, and you take a penalty to saves the longer you're in earshot or until you kill the harpists. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You become paladin to this wedding, wanting it to succeed at all costs, and more SPECIFICALLY you want to have the most and best presents for the bride and groom.
  2. Your Birthday. You don't know how you forgot. You'll be dead soon.You are shadowed by a past version of yourself, dead from some brutality, who can read your thoughts and will announce if you're being misleading. Otherwise it bears you no ill will but you must kill it in order to be free from it. The music is strange, the dumbest thing you ever said set to music, and you have to save or dance like a drunkard. Loud drunks will hang on you, telling you how great you are, weighing you down and attracting attention and prompting a wandering enemy check. Passing clowns dressed like birds of paradise wear paper masks, and will try to force one on you. Removing it sees your face transformed into that of a fleshless gory bird face, which is what you'll see if you remove their masks. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: Someone gives you a present, 30% creature otherwise roll loot table, and you really feel your age...-2 to Con and Wis. 
  3. The Harvest. The Morlojogoth faces this district so if you leave the temple and run straight away toward the city walls you'll run through here first. The streets are cracked with wheat and her borders are a twisting maize. Running through the thick sawgrass that grows there draws 1hp per round of blood. Everything is bad if you are here. Scarecrows, which are really only another form of Gargoyle, stalk the streets. The lashes of Morjog are thicker here, at its hungriest, and will attempt to consume you, gaining +4 to hit any who can't see them. Swarms of locusts cover many things in this quarter and people go about obliviously, even as they are consumed. There is a thick smoke wafting through the district which (save vs poison) may choke you, aging you 1d6 years. Headhunters can be found lurking within. There is an entire house which has been boarded up for the purposes of stirring a rich spiced ale. People around the house are all fighting. Drinking the ale grants you 1 level and summons 1d4 headhunters. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You reap bounty, gaining 1d10x10 extra gold, but your d10 result is the number of scarecrows who immediately manifest and book ass to your location.
  4. Fertility. The streets here on the far side of town are completely deserted, and everyone from neighboring districts assumes the worst, especially when the people exploring this territory don't come back. In reality all the children in this district have been bound into sacks and thrown in the street, and everyone else is inside just rabidly fucking. The sacks the children are in are being nipped at by mongooses. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: Your Charisma is now 18. Don't tell the player this but if you have sex, both parties become pregnant, the painful gestation period takes about 30 minutes, birth does 1d6 damage, and you give birth to an adult feral mongoose who attacks you.
  5. Midwinter. You're halfway toward life, in the kingdom of death and hunger, and you'd do anything to feel alive again. You'd sacrifice anything. You'd sacrifice anyone. There is a darkness here, a night dimmer than night, even at midday. Magic and fire lightens things up, sure, but cannot disperse this moltendark. Without fire or magic you will only stumble blindly, seeing glimpses of owls, of wolves, of other things. There is a hunger here and the starving and emaciated crawl and writhe in the streets. They mean you no harm but will reach out blindly for you, grasping at you, seeking help, and they will overwhelm you unless you whack em a little. There is a cold here. Save +2 vs experiencing a ghoul-like paralysis (ghoul-LIKE, so if you use elves it affects them too). This paralysis can be 'thawed' with proximity to fire, but otherwise may only be Dispelled or broken by leaving the city walls. 60 minutes of unattended paralysis of this kind brings death. There is a sacrifice going on in the square here, a pitiful and beaten elephant in the full glow of raging fires. If the sacrifice is carried out the participants will smear themselves with blood and race around attacking onlookers. The district of the city where this is happening has a temple to Adl. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You don't quite become full berserker but blood is your answer to everything. Think of it as an alignment change: you're not lawful neutral, you're VIOLENT PROACTIVE.
  6. Midsummer. Things are pretty okay here, maypoles, picnics, doe-women and rabbit men....those bird clowns listed in the Birthday section are here, and there's a bit of a wicker man situation brewing this twig golem full of ducks, but the golem keeps the other quarters out of this one's business so whatever. All the flowers on the posts and windows here are wildflowers. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You are eternally cheery and optimistic until you get out of the city. You're pretty sure you can handle anything. Everything's coming up Milhouse.
  7. Honoring the Dead. The dead live, and are one-tier-resistant to turning. All the alive people seem to have fled. Nope: they simply take on a deathlike appearance. The dead people are trying to pick up their lives where they left them and the seemingly-dead are huddling in the only quarter where people aren't trying to kill them on sight. The cemetery here is like a pay-per-view wrestling event with every bastard who ever lived fighting all the other bastards, and every hero who ever lived trying to contain every monster they ever slayed in this city. Everyone is fair dripping in valuables that they were buried with. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You take on a corpse-like appearance. Turn Undead does not hurt you but can send you running.
  8. Holy Meditation. Religious unrest throughout the city manifests in a weird price-war-of-the-soul in this area as every inhabitant tries to show themselves the most pious, the most repentant. There's whipping, self whipping, stranger whipping, wailing, heaping ash, mutilation, suicide, burning of worldly possessions....acolytes of different faiths wage war with one another openly, a crusade in the streets. If you worship your own strange god you may entreat them and feel them closer to you. Clerics should be considered 2 levels higher for casting purposes but casting a spell means everyone in eyeline to you has a Morale 12 desire to fucking kill you for your blasphemy. There isn't much rhyme or reason to which of the deities listed above everyone is fighting for. Families are split apart. Morjog devotees have bouquets of the teleportation lilies. All the weirdest people are fighting for Moon Slave. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: Consider yourself under the Quest effect of one of the gods listed above. Each session you ignore this quest you suffer -1 permanently to Max HP.
  9. Gorge. Every culture has a feasting, in celebration or sadness, and there is a feasting at the walls of the city. The villages and private farms surrounding the kingdom have emptied. Their peoples pound against all of Morlojog's gates in an atavistic frenzy. They attack and consume one another. They all smell like delicious food, and animals and monsters flock to feed on them. More show every hour. If the gates fail then the city will be quickly overrun with punching and biting cannibals and mad dogs and carrion seekers. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You smell distractingly delicious and small animals will seek you out, following you or attacking you.
  10. Remembrance. You're gathered here to mark an occurance. It was a long time ago. It was probably more important than anything you'll ever do, and everyone who did it is dead. Soon you'll be dead too. Probably. Everyone is very solemn about it and adorned in signifiers - bands, flowers, strange hats, paints, stains - if you ask them why they'll say "tradition" and ignore your further inquiries. Many people are openly sobbing in the streets, and others are raving from the rooftops about sings long past and glory which can never be reclaimed. This district is centered on Candecima's palace. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: A regret which haunts you physically manifests. You vomit out a small animal with 1HD, gaining 1HD when you level. This animal will stick close to you and remind you of what it represents, even if you're sneaking. It can be killed but immediately Summons a creature HD equal to the creature's current HD.
  11. Passage. An item must be conferred by you, or to you. Mutilation is required, yours or another's. You are invited to dine on living manflesh. A quest is issued. Obesience is demanded. You are to be scarred in consecration to the gods, and gain 1d6 to an ability. You must kill. You must be killed. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You're now 12 again and won't be considered a man/woman until you either break the spell by leaving the city OR do some of the above bullshit all the pre-teens are doing to each other in the associated district. When you're 12 you get +1 Charisma, +2 Dexterity, -2 to all saves.
  12. Wake. There is a pile of dead people by/in/draped over the fountain, surrounded by mostly tipped over but still burning candles. Everybody else here is fucking ripped on something and will fight you for not showing the proper respect to...whoever. Anybody who they kill gets added to the pile, there's 3 minutes of crying, and then back to the bacchanal. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You are piss-ass drunk. -2 tohit until you're out of sight of the town.
  13. Rebirth. There must always be a renewal and change. A passing of moons, seasons, and years. A shedding of an old skin. The mood is somewhere between Times Square on Dec 31 and the video of that Puppet Master guy from the Heaven's Gate cult. Orcs kissing dwarves, that kind of shit. SAVE VS PARTIES OR: You retain all your abilities and skills but lose all specific memories like Jason Bourne. You can never roll to recall something specific from before this save was failed. If you have spells you forget them, and even that you are a caster, but if you still have a spellbook or a mentor in the faith you can always relearn them tomorrow.
When the ceremony begins: Gargoyles will attack. Felias will freak the fuck out and throw his spells at it, Dispelling the effect that holds his side of the church enthralled. You're free to flee but while within the church the gargoyles will not be interested in you. You're momentarily free from Morjog's direct influence, only connected from past events and cultural touchstones. If you can steer clear of Tarrywhile you can do a little looting of the church and the gifts table.
When you step outside the church: Roll your save as mentioned above, and if you fail it then the gargoyles are suddenly interested in you and in killing you. They try to gobble you up but you just fall out of their mouths like Cookie Monster.
If the Wedding completes: Felias will become temporary conduit to the Morjog-thing. He will open the not-actually-doors in the Mouth of Morlojogoth and descend stairs that shouldn't be there into the Underchapel. If he makes it all the way to the dais there he and Gamorjog will consummate their union. His body will be popped like a balloon, hers will be destroyed, Morjog will manifest more materially, the city dies instantly, its tendrils wrapping around the world become too heavy, the ground breaks up, and like animals and shit not already killed by their connection to Morjog all die as they burn in space.
If Felias is killed: A new groom with some casting ability will be chosen and everything will begin again, but there are rules to these things so it will take a few days for all social rituals to be observed and the wedding can recommence with a new cast. The rest of the situation deteriorates throughout the city.
If Morjog is targeted directly: Some holy crap "I wish there was no Tiamat" magic can get rid of Morjog but nothing short of that. That said disrupting and destroying the sacraments and observances of the other festivals throughout the city should be enough to unbalance things to the point where this ancient plan has to be scrapped. Interpret that as narrowly as you like, and assume each stage of Morjog's life cycle has 1000 'hit points.' Obliterating any segment of the worm reduces the other segments (except the Wedding) by 100hp. Obliterating the Wedding before the other segments obliterates all but one aspect of the worm's life cycle, which pops back up to 1000hp and spreads across the entire town thicker and stronger than before.

While all of this is happening, by the way....
  • Stray dogs and loose pets roam the streets, glorying in the chaos.
  • The rats swarm and surge, unable to get out of the city, a near-mad mass.
  • Opportunistic robbers who made their saves are ransacking the place.
  • All the food stalls, taverns, and inns are open, but all stores and private residences are shut up, guarded, as is local custom, by 1d4 baboons.
  • And, as mentioned, the holy and pious chase one another across the city with murder in their hearts.
SMALL ENCOUNTER TABLES

  1. Morjog cultusts. 3rd level Fuck Druids. Charm Person, Command, and Drunk Reversal prepared.
  2. Gargoyles. Roll 1d5 to determine HD of each, they get their HD-1 attack each round. This reflects the quality of their construction.
  3. Drunken revelers who pick a fight when jostled.
  4. The overwhelmed authorities, making frazzled demands of the PCs and others, imposing violent will on any they can.
  5. Felias, hiding in terror.
  6. Effigy Priests, servants of Candecima and Gargoyle, carry knives tainted by Megadusa venom, will stab themselves to become new Gargoyle vessels.
  7. Piecemeal Hydras, balls of dismembered snakes controlled by the Megadusa, they can separate from their balls and chase people, trailing petrifying blood.
  8. Children. They will scatter and be picked off without your help. 
Features Unique to the Caverns and Underchapel:
  1. Moleman slaves.
  2. Stalacrabs,  who tunnel in and drag away the moleman slaves.
  3. Mosaic gargoyles, from the great glittering tableau the molemen busy themselves in destroying, one of the earliest salvos against Morjog by the ancient peoples.
  4. Morjog cultists, Summon prepared x3.
  5. Full strength gargoyles.
  6. Stained glass gargoyles, found only within the Underchapel herself, a last ditch Hail Mary against Morjog.
  7. The Untouched King, Greenlion Ducagne, lying in state perfectly preserved. Can only be woken by a kiss from a snake. Level 5 Fighter with all-magic armor and weapons.
  8. Altar of Morjog, six big pieces of loot here, taking anything from altar turns it into a giant bloodworm, killing it restores it to the item it was.

NOTES:

I used a picture of King's Landing from Google for the city map and random interiors.
Thanks to +Zak Smith, +Scrap Princess, +Chris P., +A. Miles Davis, +Josh Stone, +Claude Weaver, and my wife for helping me to get my notes in order.
If you get the Megadusa and Gamorjog into some giant naked sorceress wrestling constest, Godzilling through the town while everyone runs screaming, congratulations on the best thing anyone will do at a game in 2015.