Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fire on the Velvet Horizon Ends Prejudice With Birds Drunks and Children, Film At 11

I generally have a low opinion of rpg fluff for someone who puts out so much substandard rpg fluff. That's really the crux of the issue for me. In this room, my office, next to the television, in the can, under the bed, heaped in the garage, accessible from space at the touch of a button, I can reach out and find awesome RPG inspiration in terms of plot or story, or even structure, or modular obstacles. I have the entire make-em-up world and can choose from Lovecraft or LeGuin, Jack Kirby or Jack Kerouac, Li Po or Edgar Allen Poe. From Shakespeare to Star-Spangled War Stories. Even better, I have the entire real world, all of human endeavor and history, the record of centuries of fuckups and bumps in the night. BOOKS ABOUT DINOSAURS. I can put together a thousand nights and hours of dungeon, town, and castle, all without ever having an original idea. I imagine many would say I in fact do this. This is the seed of my distaste for established D&D settings. I have access to the stories that created the tableau you're set against, why would I settle for the fire shadows dancing upon it? It's also why I have little patience for lore-packed books for licensed RPGs. Hate it, fine, but Star Wars changed how films worked as a business, how they were marketed and to whom, and opened doors for people's perception of science fiction as a fiction-first vehicle for the masses. Anything that makes me want to play a Star Wars RPG is in that film's running time, not in Wookiepedia articles debating Trandoshans or information on Geonosian commerce. I don't know if I spelled all of that correctly but I hope I did not. I even hate it when games front-load their book with lore. Legend of the Five Rings looks like a fun time in the tradition of "Guys it's all basically just Asia right?" but I'll never know, because the rulebook in the store is 100 pages of history and factions and strictures and homework before a character creation section which goes "Now based on what you just read, A, B, or C?"

What I look for in a RPG book is tools. If I find tools I like to use, I will wrap any old thing around them. Your lore may be vast and beautiful and just as good as anything I could get from anyone else, but I doubt it, and were that even the case it would still be a case of asking for blueprints to build a home and being shown a verdant and chirping forest. The amount of time it takes to make even one pass on your fluff and I could be a third of the way through a real book, or spend that time reading about real history...

A real book.

+Patrick Stuart and +Scrap Princess sent me a real book recently, much to my surprise.

I was certain this would be something like a monster manual, which is sometimes a great set of tools, a house of irregular and malshaped dressmaker's dummies one can hang different forms and patterns on as needed. Not like any monster manual I'd ever read, I was certain, but still of its genus species. That was my expectation. My expectation can fuck off I guess because Fire on the Velvet Horizon is better than me.

I don't mean that it's better than I expected, although it is, even with expectations heightened by things like Deep Carbon Observatory or Knowing Who They Are At All. I don't mean that it's better than anything I could have written on these subjects because obviously it is, and obviously it would never occur to me to write about the Mobiusnail because I'm not name level great yet. I mean that I have failings as a person which the book charitably ignores, reaching out a hand to draw me into its panic-sweat-smelling darkness. In compassion. I recently described the art of reading The Invisibles as fucking the book back, and I think that applies here, too, though Fire on the Velvet Horizon is the more gentle lover. Albeit one filled with spiders.

Before I start sounding like the infamous Harry Knowles review of Blade II, how about some usable information:
  • This book is bigger than I thought it would be, dimension-wise. It's a full-sized RPG product which means it's like having a ream of night slotted into your bookshelf.
  • There are 100 creatures in here although technically that number is a bit fuzzy and there may be more, thanks to discussion of types.
  • It costs 30 bucks and you can only get it on Lulu.com I think.
So that's $0.30 per creature, cheaper than most gumball machines these days, though if you approach the book like that you have already lost to the book.

An implicit setting emerges from this book and the sniping sages quoted therein, one where these creatures are all strange, rare, remote, yet the populous of the monstrous is so large in general that it's impossible not to form some observations regarding these creatures. These perspectives, like the blind men and the elephant, give you another shadow for the world each time without seeing what the source of the fire is.

The individual creatures are strange and bigger than us and indifferent to us, largely, unless we are useful to them, which is to say usable and disposable by them. There's a boat of Patrick's text resting on an ocean of art from Scrap Princess. I don't mean her illustrations, actually, because of course those are great. I mean the hurried punk rock art school layouts Scrap has hand-customized for each creature. There is a secret care and exactness used to make the world of these creatures intense and frenzied.

The book is not entirely devoid of tools, particularly its brief appendices, but this is not the kind of RPG book I get excited by or seek out.

I fucking love this thing though.

When I look to histories and bestiaries and Wikipedia and Swamp Thing and Snow Crash what I'm looking for is things beyond me. Well this book certainly is. Great art insists on being engaged on its own terms first, in addition to whatever you bring to things. Great art makes you want to make great art, even knowing it will take years to get there. Great art makes you want to tell people about it. Great art is, first, itself, and you can call it singular I suppose but I prefer to label it A Thing Which Needn't Be Another Thing. Beause, y'know, a thing can just be itself.

Fire on the Velvet Horizon is not here to impress you but it will. It'll impress you pregnant. This is an example of those fine hand-crafted artisinal terrors they have down at the evil farmer's market.

Here's one way you know it's good: I care not a whit for spoilers as a concept but I don't want to discuss anything in detail. Not on your behalf. I don't want to take that experience away from the book. From Pat and Scrap. They worked hard and the book demands it.

I will push past this impulse for a few specific points:
  • I have been yelling MY TEEEF at my wife for days now and she wants it knows first and foremost that This Is The Worst Thing And I Hate It.
  • BLATSITSU! is a delight.
  • I enjoyed the twin introductions to this book more than I've enjoyed some books.
  • I keep calling the Mobiusnail the Snailsnail, which is a lack of careful reading on my part but I am sticking with it. This is also one of my go-to entries for reading to people to get them interested in reading the book.
  • Every. Single. Person. I hand this to comments on Swamp Drunks.
  • Aeskithetes are going in prrrobably the very next thing I run.
  • There kind of are dinosaurs in it.
  • This book teaches you a dialect you need to read it.
  • Specific layout standouts: Priest of Hooks, Thug Bugs, Blathering Bird, much-linked Flammeous Lads, Monster Maiden.
  • Specific illustration standouts: Hadeans, Colour Monster, Moon Ape, Valkyraptor, Vore Bull
  • Specific description standouts: Jukai City, Mobiusnail, Umbra-Technical Elemental, and for that matter the copy on the back is faboo.
I feel guilty for describing everything in such an attention deficit fashion, as if failing the book,  but that is what the book demands: that directionless enthusiasm from the kids when Willy Wonka finally shows them the factory. To stand back, academic, objective, is to be Willy Wonka, bored with The Great Work, which is failing the book.

It deeply shames me to know that, six years ago, four even, I wouldn't have given this book the time of day. It doesn't come with convenient stat blocks and tool chests for me to bust out on the fly and set up a lean-to adventure, and it doesn't come super conveniently. I was one of those who may now balk at the price for what amounts to a crunchless monster manual. It's just...that's not what this is, guys! And it casts the world of DIY D&D in new clay to think how much I might be missing out on like this. Because this is a work forward. This is the next thing. This is a vision which energizes me, a delicately crafted voice, and an excellent physical thing.

It's like it's a real book or something, oh fuck that's because it is, because I realize now that I don't hate established settings and RPG lore and licensed fluff or any of that, I just hate reading things that suck. That gives me a lot of hope, because things can always suck less. So can I. Maybe that will be what we all have after everyone buys Fire on the Velvet Horizon right now.

I hope so, but at the same time oh fuck are we going to have to bust our asses to get past that.


Review proper (or as proper as I ever do anything) over and done, I'd like to talk a little bit about why this pushes my buttons so much. There are a number of trends in this book, basically just the kinds of things Scrap likes to draw - birds, loping curling shapes that lend well to serpents and tentacles, insects, sad or bothered people, dead eyed intelligence, mouths, bugs, darkness. The creatures have their father in them as well, wearing Patrick proudly in age, rumor, confinement and traps, madness and lies, darkness of the soul, darkness of the down deep, darkness beyond age, strength, waiting, hunger, and dignity, and prose poetry. I love these people so I'm obviously likely to be in the bag for them.

However, there are different ways to approach monsters, and this book isn't chiefly concerned with them. This is another reason I don't call it a monster manual. (Bestiary sounds too placid, something like creature compendium too fancy and uh legally protected...I'm going with Thingtionary.) The monster sections of RPGs I usually play or the monster manuals in support of these worry about how frequently you run into them, how dangerous they are, and how likely they are to run away in the middle of a fight. Sometimes these things are addressed in Fire on the Velvet Horizon but it is usually incidental to concerns of why and where you might encounter these creatures, how they behave and what they can do, and whether they fit into a previously unconsidered or unexplored aspect of the natural or social system you dwell in (and, when they don't, detailing the separate but linked system which they do inhabit). It does more than paint the invisible world layered on top of us, but instead something like a quantum matroyshka effect, where a hundred worlds are all inside and around each other.

That's what I like in a monster. I like a creature who wouldn't necessarily have its life bothered or improved if man went up in a puff of smoke one day, or Vancian spells just stopped being things. A creature with a behavior and an agenda, sure, but not a directive and a pattern prescribed to my table. Not a dragon but a 'grate wyrm.' Something bigger and older than the idea of giving a fuck about anything so impermanent as human ambition and sorrow. Little furry avalanches and huge scaly-winged things which breathe AIDS. Not just animals and not just people with bits on and not just magic powers in a neat row with Morale 12.

Wildness. The wildness of life, wilder than the physics of life could normally allow to be. Not just existence but little lives of their own. Like how any cyclops that isn't Harryhausen's cyclops can just piss off.

Strange Bestiary, Iron Kingdoms Monsternomicon, Numenera monsters, four phone books of Pathfinder stats including some for Mothra and Cthulhu, and the nice shiny 5e DMG mostly don't give me this. They give me Star Trek ecologies and the notion of nature and threats as kingdoms, as clusters, and following conventional causality. Fire on the Velvet Horizon does that for me. I mean, of course there are Colour Monsters, it's such a lived in concept that it has to come from the lived in world.

This review would have been up already except I had to stop twice to go write around something Patrick and Scrap did in here, making sure I didn't hew too close to one of their ideas.
This review would have been up already except I had to stop and write something else like RIGHT NOW while reading some of this because my brain just slips into that gear.
This review would have been up already except I kept stopping to answer "What are you reading?" by reading long passages out loud.
This review would have been up already except I kept chasing people down to show it to them and I couldn't very well finish writing it in the cold lonely empty world of No Book Now where no one even pities you but they should.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour - Stranger Rangers

First of all, a Fighting Style that people like Rangers, Fighters, and Paladins can exploit


When not wearing Medium or Heavy Armor, your base speed increases by 10' per round.

If you want to be a Fighter who's styled after a samurai or Robin Hood, or a Paladin who skews a little more Captain America, this'd be a good trait to have. It also nicely complements the direction I went for the Moon Rangers: Pursuers.

There's an aspect of Moon Slave as a horror movie villain that I haven't worked in as hard in previous entries but alluded to in a lot of talking about Moon Slave, and that's the idea behind this form of Ranger. I always liked the ranger-as-tracker-first, and even the Hunter archetype doesn't do this enough for me. That combined with the inescapable, inevitable quality of the Terminator, or the stillness-and-fearsome followed by tremendous bursts of speed and FUCK THERE HE IS of Jason Voorhees (particularly the Freddy vs Jason Jason which was the apex of that approach). Not so much the baddest motherfucker who RSVP'd to the war. The Relentless Warrior. The battle is over, but not for fuckin' HIM it isn't. That's quite the spirit of a god who shot a bunch of monsters into a thousand ladies on the chance that he could come back as one of those kids and kill more motherfuckers.


Beginning at 3rd level, you do not have to make a Survival check in order to trace a certain target or read tracks if the beings you're tracking have been here in the last 24 hrs, without regard to normally mitigating environmental conditions. Additionally, you have Advantage on checks made to smell blood anywhere, and to distinguish different types of blood and blood from different targets by smell or taste. If you are traveling with companions, they set their overland speed using your base movement.


At 7th level, you may expend a spell slot to add 15' to your base speed per level of spell slot (15' for 1st level spell, 60' for a 4th level spell, etc) for a duration of Concentration up to 5 minutes. You also don't have to make a Survival check in order to trace a certain target and read tracks if the beings you're tracing have been here within a week.


At 11th level, you may cast Hold Person, as a 2nd level spell, as an action. This action does not use spell slots but you may not use it if you have expended all your spell slots for the day. You can also sense how recently a target within 60' has been injured.


At 15th level, you know the direction and approximate distance to any specific being you are aware of (this is, which you have met, or chased, or injured, or have been shown or made aware of magically). You can also sense when any creature within 90' of you is near death (that is, their HP is less than the maximum value of your weapon's damage die).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Farmers' Market Gnomes (Whipping the 5e Elemental Evil Players Guide Into Shape pt. 2)

Svirfneblin. I am amused that nobody is even 100% on why they are called that but they are otherwise just another synonym monster, near as I can tell. They have persisted in D&D for decades but have only really had an Earth-3 style justification for their existence. Drow are the deep earth version of elves, Duergar are the deep earth version of dwarves, Tunnels and Trolls' Black Hobbits are presumably a deep earth version of Regular Hobbits, for every Grass Type there must be a Shadow Type. This isn't much of a justification for keeping a race of people around in a game flush with interesting creatures to meet and rob, and it's not why they have endured.

Part of the reason svirfneblin are so boring is because nobody can agree on what a gnome is, including D&D. That's not true, actually, but the one thing we all do agree a gnome is - a squirrel-sized do-gooder voiced by Tom Bosley - is not what RPG/fantasy gnomes are allowed to be. Instead, gnomes occupy the valley of the shadow of dwarves and elves, picking up whatever traits from each are omitted from any particular characterization, to the point where I literally just made the gnome race the product of aaaaages of elf-dwarf fucking. D&D goes back and forth on this, usually having multiple types of gnome at a time, and that's currently codified in the 5e PHB: you can be a dwarf gnome (an underground gem-loving tinkerer) or an elf gnome (a magical waffle who talks, walks, and squawks with the animals, do).

When you get down to making the goth underdark version of elves you can make them an effective "black mirror" to crib a descriptor from Gaiman. They are beautiful and graceful, but not like an elf, like Ridley Scott's Alien. They have truck with the creatures of this world and the next, but not stags and talking eagles and wisps. Spiders. Eyeless, formless aboleths. The damned or buried, a.k.a. next door neighbors. You can cover a lot of ground with it. When you try to make a "black mirror" for dwarves, surly chauvinistic xenophobes who toil endlessly underground and are defined by violence and greed, you've a harder time of it. D&D has traditionally responsed by giving them crazy magic powers (which I love) or setting them on fire (which I don't). So if it's an uphill skate with dwarves and gnomes are just spare-parts-dwarves then doing anything interesting with svirfneblin at all is going to be next to impossible and then D&D does the worst thing they could possibly do with them, which is to make them GENERALLY PLEASANT AND UNAGGRESSIVE and their power is literally to be ignored.

Do you know why snifflebitches have endured? Because they, like the salad bar at Whole Foods, are sourced local. They are a place where you can have a cuppa and a shave before getting back to the adventure, maybe hire some retainers or sell some enchanted amber, and get on with the actual fun part of the adventure, the reason you are in a tunnel system so deep that normal subterranean races don't even get to come to the party to begin with. When you are in the bowels of the earth, walking to actual Hell or Hell's PO Box, they are always around. And so they have always been around.

Now, I find that lame. It's one thing to see something lame in this hobby but when the answer to why they're still lame is "They've always been lame" then that's lamer.

You can do amazing stuff with these guys, obviously, by basically taking the fact that the only thing they have going for them is a name that sounds like a sinus infection and dumping just a pile of good ideas on it. I really could stop this article right here and say "Just do everything +Patrick Stuart says about these guys or duergar or derro" but I won't. (Seriously though, why wouldn't you just ignore these guys in favor of derro? They're techhhhnically related to dwarves not gnomes? Fuck that, when the source material paints that as a meaningful distinction THEN I'll pretend to care. Besides, even if you never get to any of the D&D lore about derro or anything that Patrick wrote for them, they are still murderous psychos from the lost continent of Lemuria who definitely caused WWII and the Holocaust and their old school picture looks like Karg from the He-Man movie. Which isn't just more interesting than sirfverbeefle, it's more interesting than the DROW.)

Instead I decided to look at what they can do, what makes them a unique gnome subrace, and....I liked what I saw? I was surprised, too. A score bonus, an extension of Darkvision (120' is enormous, that's 36 1/2 meters, pace that off and tell me that doubling their Darkvision isn't a huge gain), and a Stealth trick. I do feel like the Stealth trick just keys off their "ha HA I look like a rock if I don't do anything, rocks and inaction are awesome!" schtick, but I like the idea of the trick. It was thinking over these subrace qualities that I decided what I needed to do with these guys, first, was to approach the gnome, and, second, approach these guys as a subrace who live deep deep within the world only incidentally, because that was the only place they could find a comfortable dark on a regular basis.

Midnight Nomes

Gnomes are Pygmalion as political cartoon. A forest gnome is a dwarf's idea of everything stupid about an elf: skittish little rabbit-fondlers whose magical tricks are at best cute distractions and at worst useless. A tinker gnome is an elf's idea of a dwarf, busy with some useless little toy that'll just break and is no substitute for real magic anyway, obsessed with THINGS instead of life, instead of the world quite literally around them in their uncomfortable, cramped homes. These racist caricatures evidenced themselves in the art of their respective cultures over the centuries, tapestries, filigree, statuary. Then came Garl Glittergold, shining-eyed god of brotherhood and mischief. If he could unite dwarf and elf with a common brother then the world would be a better place, and if he failed then he would unite them against a common enemy, so same end result.

Garl Glittergold kissed the breath of life into the carvings of enemies and made gnomes.

The plan worked tremendously. After a period of suspicion and persecution elf and dwarf settled into calling the gnome Friend. After all, elves found they actually did have a lot in common with forest gnomes after all, and their vision of tinker gnomes was still, at the end of the day, an elf's type of dwarf. The inverse was true for dwarves, concerning the different manner of gnomes. It actually succeeded in giving elf and dwarf an excuse to find common ground. Over the centuries, however, divisions grew once again, because the only ones who seemed unable to tolerate tinker gnomes were forest gnomes and vice versa.

The rise of man and man's fear of everything provided the solution. Y'see, gnomes are wrong. They look wrong, they move wrong, like in a horror movie when they film something backwards and run it forwards. They have faces that don't quite work or correlate to standard expressions, like chimpanzees. And since all gnomes enjoy a prankish sense of fun, they were constantly playing with the humans they encountered during the ascent of man, whether the humans liked it or not. A different view of gnomes emerged, of hairy little creeps who always lurk in the darkness, beautiful only in the way arthropods are beautiful, and the literal things of nightmares.

Obeying the rules of stories and sympathetic magic more than anything else, Garl Glittergold did it again.

Midnight Nomes are hirsute as a Mexican circus werewolf. Their heads and clever hands are distended, like a goblin's. In the harsh light of day, torch, or full moon, their hair has a dreamy dandelion property like those fiber-optic light toys. It is a good thing that they're so hairy, because their skin, eyes, and other organs all have a slight translucence to them. Nothing approaching a magical status or a gelatinous cube effect, more like a Visible Man. But a nome. They wear lots of clothes, layers, sweating buckets from creepy cloaks and hoods, anywhere bright light might be found. It doesn't hurt them but it makes them itch, makes them nauseated, and makes them self-conscious. Midnight Nomes abhor the sight of one another in the light of day, and are appalled at their own reflections.

They prefer the night, and shadows, and grow bolder and roam wider as the month and moon wane. Midnighters are invisible in the unlight of the True New Moon, the period of middle darkness.

The nights are far too short, however, and so the Midnight Nomes went down, past the forges of the dwarves, past the shimmering gem caverns of their tinkering brethren, down to where a liquid dark suspended every individual molecule in a solution of naught. They were comfortable there, where their skin melded with the black and their bodies became nearly imperceptible. They walk looking up, where on the surface they always walked looking down, still careful not to meet one another's gaze. They built modest little villages, and began to venture surfaceward only at True New Moon, for food and supplies and trade and mischief, a constant ascent/descent trek to their little hovels. Underdwellers and explorers found the Midnight Nomes gracious and hospitable because they found villages where only the young, weak, or old dwelled, too infirm at least to make the trip up and back. The helpless have nothing to offer even animosity except welcome. In this manner, through these tales, did stories of the Midnight Nomes' generosity spread, endearing them to both man and gnome, while becoming a new kind of nuisance for elf and dwarf.

It never ends.

Superior Darkvision: You have 120' Darkvision.
Jellyflesh of the Midnighter: You have Advantage on Stealth checks made at night, and are +5 to Stealth in total darkness. You are invisible for four hours from midnight during the True New Moon.
This actually incorporates a form of a Garl-gnome-creation-myth I found on wikipedia, keeps my view of gnome as midpoint between dwarf and elf, gives them their own weird Wonder Woman origin, explains why they're so different while so similar to existing kinds,and makes the deep gnome in particular governed by weird motivations and tensions and gives them a character beyond existing. I did ditch the ability score bonus they normally get in favor of augmenting their Stealth trick and making it more conditionally robust.

It'd also give them a good reason to have a hate-on for all the other Underdark races, since these would be preying on only the Midnighters' most vulnerable and convenient, which is monstrous.

Friday, March 13, 2015

So Terry Pratchett God Damned Died

Terry Pratchett was Britain's best-selling author until Harry Potter came along, but it was never particularly popular to read Terry Pratchett.
His work had a fairly strong academic following, but it was never considered terribly smart to like Terry Pratchett.
His output over the years has been massive but he wasn't seen as such a steward of the genre or as formative to our hobby's conventions over the last nearly 40 years, not as much as a Salvatore or a Sanderson.
He won awards and stuff but wasn't often discussed as truly great, except perhaps in the context of Douglas Adams' Roger Moore.
He was funny, but is usually remembered for when he was being silly.

It was never really considered COOL to like Terry Pratchett, really. Certainly not in the way it was cool to like his buddy Neil over the years.

I'm of the opinion that a lot of the above notions are mistakes, just plain wrong, or wholly stupid. Obstinate in the face of evidence.

It took me a long time to actually realize I was a fan of Terry Pratchett, speaking of stupid. That he wasn't just some I'd bought 13 books by because they were there. I'd have never bought him at all had I not worked in a bookstore and noticed how often we had to restock those books with the striking cover dress in the fantasy section. You wouldn't be reading these words if I hadn't noticed the combined edition of GURPS' Discworld RPG, decided I didn't really like the book that much, and sat down to write an easier one. Oh I guess I never finished that, so I guess I'll do that this week.

I had the mis/fortune to come upon Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Kurt Vonnegut at the same time, and I don't think my sensibilities ever entirely recovered. Certainly my writing didn't. But Pratchett wasn't as much of a formative figure in my life as, say, Ray Harryhausen. So his passing sucks but doesn't affect me like that did. Instead it was his final years, suffering from a rare form of Alzheimer's and contemplating suicide, that brought a new meaning to me, since both of those things have affected my family so much. I may be lucky enough that I'm never in the exact same position someday, but my family's medical history puts doubt on that. I hope I manage myself with half the aplomb in my later years, degenerative malady or no.

I'm not going to list a bunch of famous quotes, but I could. I'm not going to give you a where-to-start reading order, though I will if anyone asks me. The internet has you covered on these fronts already, although I WOULD like to know where all these people suddenly sucking off Small Gods came from, since I've been saying that was his best book for ages only to be shouted down by Good Omens and Mort fans. But then that was my experience with Pratchett: being alone. Even in college I never found anybody who knew him, much less was a giant fan, and certainly nobody in my family or circle of friends. Even the internet community seemed to prefer him more just for this sequence or that sequence, and in my tenure at the shop the people who are familiar with him are mostly not fans.

Here's something you might not expect or think appropriate to a memorial article, though: I get it. I get why. The simple fact is that while I might like this about Terry or that about Terry what I really love is the style of his prose. I mean you don't read this many books just because of Latin puns. Conversational while not (until his most recent, dictated books, understandably) just "how people talk," a literary serious free of mainstream literature as-a-genre's self-importance, as deft an incorporation of the language of motion pictures and the basic prosody unit of The Image as I've found in even better writers. Something I've never seen him get enough credit for (and this is my poetry love talking) was his facility with a living text, the way he would write in things that worked only when read, things that worked only when SPOKEN, or HEARD, and even things that worked only when LOOKED AT. But it's exactly the kind of work that openly invites you to find reasons not to enjoy it, and that's before you even get to things like subject matter (medieval rock n roll! soccer!) or differing senses of humor. (Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove has been rightly praised by cineastes new and old for containing 'every type of joke,' including shitty ones. Honesty demands the comparison.)

And as much as the Discworld series has been eulogized, and Good Omens sequel/motion picture lamented, if you think those are the only novels he ever produced, or that novel-length-and-structured narratives were the only fiction he ever produced, or that he didn't put out some fantastic nonfiction, then you are really missing out.

I never held much hope for meeting him since I've never crossed an ocean before and it was unlikely to run into him at Wendy's. I did write him a whole letter I never sent, that I since lost. So I missed out, too.

There will be a few more Pratchetty posts mixed in here for a while. That's not to most people's taste but fuck you- I don't have a boss for this page and I'm sadder about this than I expected so I'ma get some mother fucking catharsis.

Maybe it's still not super cool to like Terry Pratchett as much as I do but that dude in the picture up top responded to being knighted by learning how to forge and making his own sword out of a meteorite when he was older than most of my living relatives. And that's more metal than me or most anyone else reading this post. And THAT is cool.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nac Mac Feegle- A Race For Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

Because sometimes all you can do is to just do something at all. It's a sentiment I think he'd approve of.

I'll write more about this crap later but for now:

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength increases by +2.
Alignment: Chaos. It doesn't matter what the question is in certain circumstances, the answer'll always be the same. This is one of those times.
Size: Feegles are Tiny, and may only use weapons and armor and magic items usable at that scale. They can wear rings as necklaces and so on.
Speed: 30'
Quick Little Buggers: In a round in which the Feegle has taken the Dash action, they may Dash as a bonus action.
Not Bad, Just No Good: Feegle have trained in Animal Handling and Sleight of Hand.
Playin' Dirty: A Feegle can take an action to add their Proficiency Bonus to an ally, to be used on a check or attack roll.
Crivens: Feegle have proficiency with unarmed strikes, doing 1d4 damage on a hit.
Languages: Even when speaking Common, Feegles are sort of still speaking Feegle.

They also have a feat particular to them:

required: must be Feegle.

You may perform Rope Trick without material components, or even Rope! You have to take a short rest before you can do this again, or else that'd seem cowardly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Whipping the Elemental Evil Player's Companion Races Into Shape, pt. 1

David Hitchcock does commissions

So if anybody was wondering, we're going to be getting one of those Unearthed Arcana PDFs like they did for Eberron but for Oriental Adventures material eventually. This is just a guess, of course, but there is no better reason to use the most boring of all D&D's many boring bird people for this document (Which they more or less cop to in the document "Yeah aarakocra aren't really around so much and have traditionally never mattered to the Realms," man can't wait to play one now!). They are more boring than Tolkein eagles because at least those guys suggested the larger and ancient and alien expanse of nature and its sagacity and ferocity and weren't just the worst member of Infinity Inc. WHICH TAKES SERIOUS DOING. Why are they in this book instead of Tengu (or Kenku if you are a strict traditionalist about only the wrong things), who are and always will be cooler and whose inevitable game stats are going to be damn near identical? Well the booklet is all about elemental heritage and it turns out aarakocra hate rocks. Oh my god they hate rocks so. much. you guys. They hate rocks more than rock hates scissors. Isn't that fascinating? Isn't that scintillating?

So if you don't want to just forget about these guys and live happier lives because But Product Identityyyyyy!!! then fine. And you don't want to use Tengu. And you don't want to just do what Zak did to these guys. Fine. Okay. But if you want to make a race that's tied closely to the air that hates rocks for this thing let's make their association more intimate so that struggle is more of a daily concern. I'm talking about bat people.


Less awkward to say than Aarakocra for a start. Let's use the Aarakocra stat block as a starting point. Lose the Wisdom bonus, because these are no distant philosophers. Let's reduce the walking speed to 20' and turn the Fly speed into a Glide speed. We'll give them advantage on Str (Athletics) checks made to climb. We'll give them Vulnerability to bludgeoning damage because of those brittle hollow bones. Finally, let's give them sonar: at-will natural ability to to detect any physical impediment in a 60' radius, even in perfect darkness. This basically lets you roll a Wis (Perception) check blind with advantage. HOWEVER it also confers advantage to any beings in the darkness hunting you in that radius to notice you with their own Perception check, because they hear your sonar.

Ability Score: Dexterity +2
Age: Vespers mature by the end of their first year but are pretty stupid until they're 11 or 12. They live up to 40 years. Nobody cares.
Alignment: Vespers do not give a fuck about alignment which I guess makes them neutral. They are aligned anti-earth. That's a more usable concept really.
Size: Vespers are 2-4' tall, depending on the variety (not true subtypes in RPG terms but physical characteristics vary wildly depending on the last cool picture of a bat you saw). They are Small, then.
Speed: Your walk is more of a crawl or controlled tumble forward like an old man with a walker. Your base land speed is 20'.
Wings: You have a Glide speed of 50' and must either land or fall at the end of this movement. You cannot finish Gliding higher than when you started without making use of an updraft with a successful Actobatics or Nature check. You cannot do this in medium or heavy armor, while carrying a versatile weapon (since you need 2 hands at your size and your digits are too far apart to do both), or while bearing a shield.
Cave Dweller: You have Advantage on Athletics checks made to climb. After a successful check, you may hang upside down from an overhanging structure while you sleep without losing your grip.
Hollow Bones: You have Vulnerability to bludgeoning damage.
Claws: You are proficient with unarmed strikes, which do 1d4 damage on a hit.
Sonar: You may make a Perception check with Advantage to determine any physical obstacles (even those normally not visible) within a 60' radius, even in complete darkness. However, you confer Advantage to any Perception checks made to locate you by creatures within that radius.
Languages: You know Common, Undercommon, and Vex, and you can speak these at both a normal and ultrasonic register.

Once there was only dark, and pain, for once there was only stone. Fire split stone and breathed the first breath into the world. Along the throats of darkness, mangled and scratched by the reaching earth, learning the breath, loving the breath, devoting their lives to the breath, came these Darkspeakers. They scratched their way free through great wounds in the face of the world and into the breath outside, breathed around the world, which created the Up. They came Up hungry, away from the fathoms-deep pools of cockroaches, away from the blind fishes. They hunted in this world, and their cries were taken as evil speech, as black magic spells. As Darkspeak. As Vexing. They were themselves hunted near the brink of extinction. Many took refuge in the forests, and their fortunate descendents flourished. Some have made their home these past ages in the cities and sewers of the other man-kinds, and theirs is an uneasy balance. Most, however, were beat back into the caves, forced back into the hungry stalacmite jaws waiting to scoop them up and swallow their story, their struggle, down, down, all the way back down to the belly of the rock where fire never touched. Down to the He who always hungers, always consumes, who absorbs all the dead and takes them into his heart to grind forever. Never-See-Moving. Eyes Without Eyes. Ogremoch.
Vespers love air, love the idea of the plane of air, and some great few have, perhaps, touched it, but these may just be stories. They're big fans of fire for obvious reasons but they adore the air, the SKY, forever denied them, and they have been made by elect or manifest the front line in the war betwixt skythings and the earthformed. They are the Air-Within-The-Earth, cave-kind, and their struggle is eternal and nearly certainly fatal. Their distant relations in the forests and cities offer solidarity and hope but scarcely any aid. Only the bravest. Only the best.
The Vespers believe the fact that the world as we know it came to exist at all means that the world is in the process of ending, and fast. They have glimpsed what might have been if not for stone. They are furious over it. Vespers do not align with Law. Vespers align with Justice.
I know this is a very "Do not make loon soup" approach to making the aarakocra better but frankly I want to just say "Use samurai demon crows instead" and piss off back to trying to put my better bird ideas into a book I can eat sushi off of. The benefits of swapping these guys out are pretty straightforward, though. 1: They don't look like a US college football mascot from one of those teams that can only get a game on television when they're playing a better team. 2: Bats are beautiful, and cast a more interesting silhouette than a bird guy, which is just "Angel with shitty legs." 3: Bats ar raw and metal as fuck. 4: A better reason to be polarly aligned against the elemental plane of earth than You Told Me To, Drill Sergeant. 5: Better name. 6: Not a ton of bat people in RPGs so more singular. 7: There is more give and take with their abilities without approaching the min-maxing endless tradeoffs that 3.5 was somewhat notorious for...but since they aren't a 100% dungeon avoider what with their free and endless and expansive flight, maybe they're a better fit for organized play? The answer is yes. 8: They are a race basically born and bred to come from dungeons and tunnels and caverns, but bats are just EVERYWHERE, so no matter how deep your lost crypt or glittering your spired city they always have a good and likely reason to be there, without becoming so populous that they overtake the specialness or roles afforded to the core race types. If nothing else despite what Johnny Depp insists there is no bat country, no great kingdom, just a lot of smaller communities living in fringes, spread out thin enough that you need never interact with them as a concept yet always have them close at hand.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour- Devilish Feats of Metal

I don't-quite-hate feats but I like that the 5e feat list is spare, since I think outside of the most basic feats any feats you do allow in your game should flow from setting info. And now your setting has Moon Slave in it. Good for you.

These may not be balanced but then the thing to do for people worried about feat balance is to not use them.

These feats have an additional requirement of yelling "MOON SLAVE" as metal as possible whenever you would gain their benefit.

Requires Charisma 12+

Your enemies fear you, fear even striking you. By anointing yourself in your own blood, you gain a +2 bonus to AC.If you take slashing or piercing damage during combat and do not have this bonus active, you make take an action to smear your blood all over yourself in order to gain this bonus. Additionally, anointing yourself in the blood of a creature you have personally killed increases this bonus by +1, and the blood of a humanoid you have killed increases this bonus by +2. These bonuses stack up to a +10 total bonus to AC. However, being water soluble, any contact with rain, streams, urine, acid, slime, Holy Water, or the blood of a creature you haven't killed - really any liquid enough to wash off or mar this red masque - will remove this effect entirely. Snow is an interesting middle case: exposure during active snowfall reduces this bonus by 1 point each round.

Requires Wisdom 12+

Choose a cantrip you know which requires a save. Targets of ONLY THIS cantrip have disadvantage.
If you do not have any cantrips, choose a cantrip which requires a save from any Class. You may choose the ability score this cantrips keys off of, and targets of ONLY THIS cantrip take a penalty to save equal to your Constitution modifier.
Additionally, you may cast spells and rituals without material components.

Scorched For Glory
Requires Constitution 12+

Whenever you would take fire damage, you invoke your own sacrifice in Moon Slave's name. Gain Temporary Hit Points equal to that fire damage and advantage on your next attack. Your Temporary Hit Points vanish after your next successful hit, and you have advantage on your next save against fire damage.

Requires Dexterity 12+

You have advantage on Perception checks made while you sleep, and gain Surprise on anyone they attack from a sleeping position. You must sleep at least 2 hrs to gain this benefit.
Additionally, you only need to sleep 4 hrs a day.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Secret Santicore Bonus Material- More Groups, More Tables.

My prompt for Secret Santicore 2014 was a 1d20 table of secret cults and guilds of the Desert Kingdoms. The Santicore 2014 PDFs up now have what I turned in, a d30 table. However, it was meant to be a d40 table with a lot more information attached to it. Time didn't permit the larger tables and so I just edited everything down to what I thought were the most unique/easily usable 30 (it was a hard ratio to judge) and have been pecking away at the supplementary material when I've had a minute in the interim.

First we'll pick up where the Santicore table on page 10 of the People book leaves off, and then there's an embedded table of the combined 40 groups, along with their signature weapons, their token or sign or mark, which of the other guilds and cults they ally themselves with, which groups are their sworn enemies, and superstitions and taboos within this subculture.

31. Large stick insects, boulder-sized antlions, and chittering, burrowing skin cicadas whose mating call vibrates your teeth. These once roamed parts of the desert like a plague, or perhaps like kings, until from distant seas the serpent-stranglers of Huecefaim arrived with their whistles and secrets and books of scars on their arms. In the language of trade people they’re called Crabsellers, a name not too disjointed from their current role: keepers of the creature caravan, makers of insect armors, trappers of snapping mandibles. They have become perhaps too fascinated with their charges. They trade blood. They board them like pups. Perhaps they have tamed the desert, and perhaps the creatures have found new ways to be kings.

32. Sometimes a guy just wants to get drunk and blow off some steam and complain about his husband. Even the most discrete saloon has ears in the walls, however, and maybe you want a little privacy from time to time, especially to discuss important business matters. Is that too much to ask? That’s not what the stoneshapers of the Corridoreans think. It takes at least six of them, and they have to be pretty drunk. To be honest the order has been around a long time and everybody was pretty wasted so they’ve forgotten just how they came to learn to do this, or how long it has been going on, or how many chapters there are. But this secret society of honest, hard working people create secret places for themselves to drink, whore, and maybe set up an...arrangement between members? A little you scratch mine I scratch yours? That wouldn’t be WRONG, would it? Of course not. Ahaha Olmenoc farted!

33. Murderers live. They know things. Thieves live. They know more things. Kings live. They know fewer things but the things they know are more valuable. Sorcerers, monsters, heroes, and demons all live on thanks to the Tallowists, the custodians of the dead, the ferrymen of the necropolises, and the lamplighters of war. The Tallowists are necromancers who form the sin and secrets and fire and flesh of a being into magic candles. They burn these to various magical effects, and know how to speak to the living creature which helped to create any candle, the spies we not only keep close but purchase for the purpose of spying on ourselves. They are well protected by the Melting Men and the Whiter Fire. They are much needed by cities burdened with the dead and dying. We would live in a world of rot and stench if not for them. Instead they bring us candles perfumed with ginger and lavender, and expectant with hate.

34. Little Tall Scratch comes in at night. Little Tall Scratch is there when you don’t see him. Little Tall Scratch walks on your houses. Little Tall Scratch smells blasphemies. Little Tall Scratch lives for the wicked. When a person is exorcised from the Plume of Jekjek they are cursed. Their face is marked with horrible scabs and oils, their body twists in shame, and they cannot walk in their city, cannot breathe their city’s air, cannot bear the light of its sun or else their blisters bubble and burst and scar and they slowly turn to a waiting-for-death-thing. There is one way these heretics may earn their way, not out of damnation, but an early release from a life of pain. The Plume employs them as ghosts, as spies, as murderers, as bedtime stories. They walk the city on stilts. They touch the city only with scythed polearms. They clamber about the city in heavy sacking shrouds and disappear people and sussuruss and generally make themselves known, and feared, as demons. Only the good graces of the Plume can protect you, they say, from these demons. They’re right when they say that but not for the reasons they thing.

35. The Arbikine are called often the Warters, and they are guides and bodyguards for the right price. They have their own agenda, of course: the glorying of the bloodfrog. Any coin taken is done for the price of the Dig. The Arbikine have been unearthing the great Toad of Worlds, a temple carved from a statue, a statue made of a single piece of star-metal. The Dig has uncovered the servitors of the Toad of Worlds, dextrous, intelligent, hungry, servile. They regenerate from any wound, but they are not clever. They serve the Arbikine now at World Toad’s behest, because man and his kind are more useful. They carry their new minor lords across the desert stoically, knowing that man is more useful for now….but nothing can kill these riding toads. They need but serve a while longer. Not much longer.

36. Hunters and messengers, companion and fashion, the birds of the desert have been turned to the needs and luxuries of its kingdoms. There are some, though they serve, they rule: these are the chiefs of falcons, Cloud-Climbers, soaring tsars. They abandon their terrestrial flesh to fly in the bodies of hawk, of eagle, of pigeon, of vulture. They take up the new flesh of a waiting vessels. In this way a messenger bird always brings two gifts: the intended message, and a new mind inside a trusted face, able to further the kingdom of the air in unexpected ways, employing new secrets and magics. The Feniphex are so feared that those who keep birds are never confronted with the existence or nature of their organization, lest they rouse the ire of the sky. Some keep birds for this reason: to be afforded respect and station they do not deserve. The Feniphex are merciless towards these.

37. In wetter country and prettier states there is a saying that weak men say: “Fat makes farmers, suffering makes spears.” The intended message (that a populace allowed to sate itself on its own excess is a peaceful one) is lost on the Fleshtillers, hanged men all, spared by the gallows-god to make its war preparations. They are the whispering torturers who drag folk into the scrub wastes and mine their pain, their sorrow, their deaths. From these they have the craft, from gallows-god, to produce steel, a kind redder, lighter, stronger, and more toxic than any steel of man. To be cut with this steel is to feel the death of another man, which is usually enough to kill anyone outright. The Fleshtillers grow fewer each year because of this awesome power, but they grow bolder and more dangerous, too.

38. Before the desert there were things unlike men who were drowning in endless salty sea. They cheated their end by transfiguring themselves into eleven glorious golden sabres. Any swordsman of repute or skill has heard this story, as well as of the many warbands, mecenaries, and assassins over the years who have taken that name. In actuality this is not several groups but one: the same race from before man, before the desert, whose spirits override those of any who carry their sabres. Usually the sabres wait in a cave, waiting, going madder through the centuries. When a vessel comes upon them they take first him and then his companions, his countrymen, his family, whoever is at hand. Then they cut a swath of legendry thick enough that they may not be forgotten before sending their vessels back to the sabres’ resting place. The Glorious Sabres must be remembered lest their power fade and they pass out of the world, and that must not happen for, though they are remembered as accomplished swordsmen, the things which were not men called themselves something closer to Keybearers, and they still seek the door they sought when all was ocean.

39. A skeletal trane marches between the Rubied Empire and the Opium Cliffs. They were turned about in a sandstorm, refugees from the Empire’s sacking a century ago, and their flesh was sandblasted from their bones. They march in despair and desperation, sustained by the horrors wreaked upon them, for sanctuary at the Cliffs. This sanctuary was denied to this macabre march, and so they turned homeward, only to find their old Empire rebuilt more glorious than ever...and fearful and hateful of the Last Caravan, barring her way. They have marched between these poles, sometimes getting lost, sometimes needing guides, sometimes waiting weeks on provisions which the dead don’t need. Some are aware of their fate and are resigned to it. Within the caravan, though, is a hate stronger than any curse or tragedy, which would see both kingdoms and the desert itself burned from the world for this injustice. These are the Sandmothers, and their wrath and agents have shaped trade, religion, and folklore for decades. They have killed two kings and one emperor, while only marching, and they still can’t get their babies to feed...

40. In the towns there are tiny, thin blue beings who crawl around like mice. In the waste they climb onto the stumpy hands of thin blue beings the size of children, becoming their fingers, but retaining their body and shape. Those children run into the distant scrubs beyond the sun-scorched steppes and join with thin blue beings as tall as trees, and then those beings turn toward distant canyons, toward mountains….These ancient shadows have existed as long as the desert, running to and fro. No one knows their mission, though many rumors and small religions have sprung up around them. There are also the Fingerwalkers, adept at tracking the little blue devils, who seem to know every safe passage, every hidden cache, every invisible secret of the desert. Fingerwalkers paint their own fingers blue in solidarity, so can easily be found, and they will guide you along the blue paths for a price...and for all of your fingers. Some say that they need these to appease the blue people. Some think they’re just dicks.

Click on the image above by a guy named MightyGodOfThunder to go to the aforementioned d40 spreadsheet of all the desert clans and their extra tidbits! 

It should work like that but if not then the info can be found here