Sunday, May 31, 2015

VDND Tieflings I Like Better

...and ones I'm going to be asking for in my G+ games and my Whiskeyworld game at the store.

Something I usually dislike in games that split race and class are races which basically exist to be race-as-class in addition to their class. These are laden with innate spell effects or racial features that make them either uniquely suited to a particular class (like how Goliaths are a race of Conans so they suit the Conan class well, to become Double-Conan) or better than a given class (like how 5e playable minotaurs put a level 1 monk to shame in the area of unarmed attacks and moving-while-attacking). It's like a free multiclass or class level instead of being at least a new way to do something in the world, or, failing that, at least a new CHOICE.

Tieflings and Aasimar being ethnic groups owing to tainting from extraplanar sources ages ago also bug me for other reasons, but the only characters I've ever seen from these camps have actually been pretty cool, played by some pretty creative, mellow people. And I want that in my games, so if these races be the price I pay for something like that, so be it. But I'm going to make it palatable to me, and especially where Tieflings are concerned throw in some fucking chaos in the mix.

Some of this is not so much stolen from +Zak Smith as it is me trying to duplicate something of his I read years ago without actually going back to find it, hopefully resulting in something of a different product. I also nuked Darkvision because I've been reading +Arnold K. some more lately.

Fukkn' Tieflings

Ability Score Increase: Roll 1d6 where each value 1-6 corresponds to the way your Ability Scores are laid out on your Character Sheet. Reroll sixes. +1 to the Ability Score corresponding to your d6 roll. +2 to Charisma.
Age: same.
Alignment: I don't care.
Size: CHOOSE: Small or Medium.
Speed: 35' for Small, 30' for Medium.
Hellish Resistance: You have Advantage on saves against fire damage.
Ancestral Chaos: Roll 1d6. 1- you also have resistance against fire damage; 2- you also have Advantage on saves against cold damage; 3- you are trained in Insight and Persuasion; 4- you do not need to eat or drink so long as you routinely warm yourself by the fire or smoke; 5- you do not incur two failures when rolling a 1 on a Death Save; 6- you gain a long jump and high jump from a standing start equal to your Strength score in feet.
Freakish Appearance: Consult the Freakish Appearance table in order to determine what you look like.
To Every Task Set They An Tool: CHOOSE ONE: you do not need to breathe or sleep; you gain a +1 cumulative bonus, up to +5, on Stealth checks made to hide for every round you stay shrouded in complete darkness; you learn the cantrip speak with normal flame; you may roll again on the options given for Ancestral Chaos and keep both results.
Languages: You can speak common and you may read, write, and understand Infernal. Speaking Infernal in polite society is an unthinkable taboo saved for curses and castigation.

Freakish Appearance

Your hair is...
  1. like quills
  2. shocking and white
  3. constantly wet and smells of smoke
  4. an elaborate wig
Your eyes are...
  1. deeply set and alive
  2. like snakes', always open
  3. like a cat's.
  4. solid yellow
  5. clouded like a blind person
  6. black and reflective like sunglasses
 Your ears...
  • Even: are rounded with long, dangly lobes
  • Odd: are pointed and tilt away from your face
Your voice is...
  1. soothing
  2. alluring
  3. like razors
  4. like sandpaper
 Your nails are....
  1. long and black
  2. yellow and thickened
  3. not there, just smooth flesh where a fingernail should be
  4. raised and gnarled
Your skin is...
  1. smooth and red
  2. rough and alabaster
  3. scaly and ash grey
  4. yellow and black in oil-pool swirl patterns
  5. striped with jungle greens and leathery
  6. covered in fine soft red hairs...let's just say you've been flocked
Your ancestry has left you with a vestigial...
  1. tail
  2. horns
  3. set of wings
  4. tail and wings
  5. horns and wings
  6. horns and tail
Your tail is...
  1. long and muscular
  2. thin and whip-like
  3. pointed at the end
  4. ridged along the back with dark hair
Your horns look like...
  1. ram horns
  2. devil's horns
  3. steer horns
  4. ibix horns
  5. four horns
  6. one horn, sprouting from the back of your head
Your wings look like...
  1. a bird's, but burned
  2. a ragged and malformed bat's
  3. an insect's, broken and asymmetric
  4. little nubby stumps
On odds/evens, your...
  • TEETH are/are not pointed and fanged
  • TONGUE is/is not forked
  • LEGS are/are not goat-like in shape
  • FINGERS do/do not number six
  • SHADOW does/does not mirror your movements exactly
 speak with normal flame

Choose a normal torch, candle, hearthfire, campfire, lantern, or other mundane light source from non-magical fire. Until you dispel this effect, or until you look away from the flame, the flame tells you in its dance, a language only you understand (even if others around you know this cantrip, they must also cast it for this effect to work), how many other living creatures can see the light of the flame. For the purpose of something like this mattering I guess it would be a Divination School spell.


...and if anybody asked me to make a Feat so their nails, horns, claws, wings, teeth, etc could be more useful, I'd work something out for them as that came up.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Second Book of Moon Slave

  1. There were many men before the first man
  2. he burned and destroyed, shining down on lakes full of monsters
  3. and there were others there with him, brothers and fathers and other mothers and motherfuckers and sinners and destructors
  4. Smoke shit all over the sun
  5. The sun burned all the dirt and turned it into old bones
  6. The grass was swords and the swamps were death, black and bottomless, tooth home, beast hearts
  7. In the days of the first man was the first wind
  8. This wind was fire. This wind was earth. A wind of pain swept all softness and weakness in life and polished it into smooth, thin, glass edge kill-kill
  9. These were the first men and from them came the first man
  10. There was the mother of the first man and we sing of her and call her goddess-fucker, great she hate, Mother-before-First, Creatrix, The explosion
  11. Nothing else but all life, the sanctified skeleton of this ancient almost ape
  12. Call her Meatgiver Killextra
  13. Of her sons, ten, and the living envied the dead, five stone babies at the beginning of the world
  14. Second came the great man of beasts, and third the great man of ale,
  15. next the seeker and seer, lastly and youngest to stone brothers the son who was Prima Female, the first girl in a time of Only Sons
  16. A time of only sun, in the shadow of the reflection, the reflection of the shadow, Gurin-Within-Unus-Muun-Maxes, the world and that which reflected the world
  17. But the First was
  18. The first was the strangler and made flesh in Prima Female and MEatgiver Killextra and made soft stone of beasts, ale, seer, and was the first mother, Motherfucker X, and was names Mother.
  19. And on the goddess before the god he made flesh and she the first and second lifemaker, and he the first Mother
  20. Thence Last Became First And Best
  21. There were many men, and many sons, and many homes, and many marks, and many tracks, and within this there was First Mother and his sons
  22. Consecrated to shadow-of-shadow, mirror-of-mirror
  23. sword sword sword sword sword
  24. Rising and destroying
  25. On fire and so very very on fire
  26. Muun infants set foot in the baked world and burned her forever
  27. First came Moon Father who would have the first Moonchild
  28. The first Moonchild died in one hundred days.
  29. There came Moon Killer the greatest and earliest murderer
  30. Moon Killer laid low by his own hands, his own throat, by the hands of another, by The other
  31. Then it was Moon Bastard
  32. Who slew the only good monster
  33. Who perverted seven colors
  34. Who ruined all desert
  35. Moon Bastard who could not stride
  36. Moon Bastard who could not stand
  37. Moon Bastard in his own blood, bubbling, burbling, alive, not alive
  38. The First Mother in every land, with every people, his sword long, the sword which reflected the First Sword, his blood his own
  39. A hundred thousand mothers in love and desperation and tribute and conquest
  40. Moon Killer is there, Moon Bastard is there, Moon Father is there, Moonchildren are there
  41. They are everywhere
  42. Cities burned and all mothers rose up and slew the fathers with rocks
  43. The first rain was blood rain
  44. The rain of the first blood, the blood before the world, washed the rocks of the Mother's blood
  45. and the First Mother became bone dust and red ash
  46. And Moonchildren
  47. Moon Bastard Moon Father Moon Killer
  48. And the women of the first world, all women, became the Moon Killer Killer, the ur-ur, the second goddesses, each, as a woman
  49. They were the First Women, and there were women before them, and their children were not the First Mother's
  50. And the blood washed blood and the rocks became a fire, and the fire became a new world
  51. This world within the world was blood within blood within blood, and blood from blood and blood
  52. And the swords of Mother and his children became the new lights
  53. And the First Women became extra gods, small in their world, and great within the burning world of blood
  54. They the goddesses
  55. And there was rain for a thousand years, red, as the world burned, and the world cooled like steel
  56. And the heart of the new world was steel and the heart beat with a life it should not have
  57. And the heart of the world was a child
  58. It was the first child
  59. He was the first child
  60. Heir smoke smoke smoke
  61. And the world heart beat and the heart was that of Thunder King
  62. and there was life and magic and horror and blood
  63. There stirred within stone and hate and rage life
  64. There came the child of the First Women, Moon Killer Killer, from the first mother but not the First Mother, not his to claim
  65. And there was the word and the word was MOON SLAVE

Friday, May 29, 2015

MONSTER TRUCK- A LOTFPish BXish old school class I am writing DRUNK

HD: d10
Saves: as Fighter
Attacks: as Fighter
Advances: as Dwarf
Requirements: Constitution 11 and Charisma 11
  • MONSTER TRUCKS may wear no armor and wield no weapons. Their default AC is 2/19 and their default unarmed damage is d4.
  • MONSTER TRUCKS have a speed of 160/40.
  • MONSTER TRUCKS have a 30' leap.
  • Every morning a MONSTER TRUCK gets a tune-up. During this tune-up it is customized. It may have a number of customizations equal to its level. You may select from the Customization Codex, selecting a customization whose entry number is equal to or less than  the level of the MONSTER TRUCK. Alternately, for every customization you forgo, you may increase the MONSTER TRUCK'S unarmed damage by +1.
  • MONSTER TRUCKS may advance to level 9.

Each customization may be taken once per tune-up.

  1.  You may pin a target of a successful attack, and may sustain this grab effect in future rounds.
  2. Any target your are on top of or are pinning takes additional damage equal to the amount of time you have been on them, e.g. 1 damage the first round after pinning, 2 damage the second round after pinning, etc.
  3. Once per level per day doors can fuck off.
  4. Add 10' to all modes of speed
  5. A fully customized MONSTER TRUCK always does maximum die damage on a successful hit.
  6. Your unarmed attack increases to d6.
  7. You gain a spin attack, usable 1/day per 3 levels, which attacks all creatures within 40' of you, and allows you to roll twice for each attack roll.
  8. You gain an extra attack in a round where you move your full speed first.
  9. You gain a fly speed equal to half your land speed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Ian Reilly has a genie's worth of wishes:

any or all would be much appreciated:
-a mechanically simple but interesting object found in the buried space drill ruins

This is the simplest thing I can think of: a ball that determines what down is. It has three grooves, like it was cut in half three times along different axes and reassembled.

Turning one segment determines which direction is down, affecting the immediate gravity for 100' in a sphere centered on the ball. Turning the ball to face in a particular way before rotating its parts gives you the ability to point down in any direction. If you fall and hold the ball then the gravity shift moves, centered on the ball, but if you fall without the ball your gravity corrects when you leave its sphere of influence.

Turning another segment affects how light or heavy things in this radius are, not changing the direction of gravity but its pull.

Turning the last segment attracts or repels things toward the ball, with the ball being its own gravity. It also roots your footing immovable (so long as you're on a surface where down is going) like the Blob from the X-Men.

All of this is written in simple to understand visual language, for eyes of a long dead kind of being, in a language no one should be able to read without crazy magic or thorough study. It's all easy enough to determine through experimentation, though.

After an individual uses the ball 1003 times they will have accidentally solved the puzzle ball and it will cease to work. I does however open. At its center is a miniature floating world, who will orbit you and revere you as a god. There are powerful scientists and sorcerers on that world who will do your every whim, and leverage their science and magic against your enemies for as long as this world survives. If it dies in your care, its inhabitants go to heaven, a.k.a. you, and you are haunted by one billion ghosts and lose your fucking mind.

Timeless Consequences

Arnold K lifted his skinny fist to heaven:
3 nasty consequences of creating a time paradox.

1. You're god.

You find yourself in a world where you have all encompassing, abject power. From outside it looks as if you burst into flame and burn forever, out of sight, never consumed. Within the flames, though, your universe pops and sizzles, and you will stay here forever until you use your limited omnipotence to resolve the paradox. This has the effect of taking you out of time indefinitely, meaning you usually are deprived of whatever you wanted to achieve with that paradox. It also means that anything around you burns, because you're like a small sun on earth, and even stone melts beneath you. You can kill cities from the heat. None can come help you or communicate with you, and if they WISH you out of your state, the wish undoes whatever made the paradox, undoing your efforts.

2. Tachyon Hyenas.

You can't kill them, because their younger selves from before you killed them or their ancestors or their descendents will appear and stop you. They arrive in twos and quickly escalate until they have completely devoured you. They eat only that which fucks with time, which is their territory. They are ultra aggressive and love time travelers and people who cause paradoxes. Before you travel time or cause a paradox, you can hear "laughing."

3.  Doc Daneeka

Time and space are constant, two things cannot exist in the same place, effect shouldn't precede cause, you know the drill. Picture timespace as a bag with 1 thing in it, all that bag has room for. When you create a paradox that puts 2 things in the bag, and it has to squeeze something out to make room. That's you. No one will acknowledge you ever again, because no one can hear you. If you have magic, you don't now, because your words are without power and your god can't find you. You may not attack or affect anything around you. You still need food and water and air and sleep but those things the universe will conspire to deny you. The only power you have is to speed up how fast time goes by for you, and in discovering and experimenting with that power you will likely waste to death quickly. There are probably countless such individuals around us at all times.

Cannon Pits of the Bullet Dwarves

2. Robin Zinc writes very well in his own blood:

"a dungeon outline for the old, sealed-off temple of a forgotten Dwarf god. Monsters, traps, whatever, dungeon stuff. Back story unimportant unless amazing and necessary. My tastes lean towards the weird".
Dwarves knew there was a hell because they found it. They kept digging and boom, there it is, right next to the salt vein and the drow opera house. Dwarved knew there must be a heaven, but they never found it. It wasn't on the surface, that they knew from maps and exploration, and it wasn't in the sea, which they knew mostly thanks to the drow and their underlurking gods. It had to be in the sky, then? But you'd see it if it was. Logic dictated that it was beyond the sky, behind it, which is also why dwarven prayers were never answered: that's a lot of rock to get through, and the sky must block all prayers which make it. It should be noted here that these so-called "quicksilver dwarves" lived in a mining community centered around the Dripping Castle and...well you can guess how level headed they all were.

The dwarves set out to kill the sky, erecting a temple up through the ground, opening into the surface world, and they fired their greatest warriors at it. These trajectories inevitable ended up inneighboring kingdoms and their pissed off armies crawled down the cannon and wiped out the quicksilver dwarves.

Their charges was an explosive untested by man, and any alchemist, conqueror, academic, or historian would pay a fortune for it. Any dwarf lord would pay that much to keep it a secret.

In this temple you will find rivals or allies in (roll), who are trying to find the secrets of the bullet dwarves, but hampered by the temple's new permanent residents, (roll).

1. Elves that look like Iron Maiden Ed.
2. A race of short, bald humans who speak like Bizarro.
3. Cannonball modrons who finally found a religion which makes sense to them; they have no limbs, they manipulate things where their hands would be, like the Powerpuff Girls.
4. Frost-encrusted apes.
5. A hippie commune of mercury-mad bards, who have the god-beyond-the-sky in their eyes, man.
6. Big psychic ants.

The temple will have 4d6 rooms +4. The four rooms it absolutely has are the cannon mouth/main temple, the powder room (hidden behind a secret door in a room adjacent to the main temple), the heirophant's chambers (2 cleric scrolls here), and the Quarrantine Zone (a series of caved in dead-end tunnels with warnings in multiple languages about mercury poisoning; there are some abandoned homes here, and some corpses that lay where they fell a century ago).

For every room roll a d6. On a 1-2 it's emptry, on a 3 it's occupied by one or more dwarf corpses 80% mercury contamination on they and all their goods, on a 4 it's occupied by (first party rolled above) and on 5-6 it's occupied by (second party rolled above).
For every 3 rooms a door is LOCKED.
For every 4 rooms a door is TRAPPED.
For every 6 rooms there is an underground MONSTER.
For every nine rooms there is TREASURE, 25% mercury contaminated.
For every 14 rooms there is a MAGICAL ARTIFACT, 5% contaminated.

Traps are either poisonous needle (mercury, roll d4, lose 1 con and 1 wis a day until you've lost an amount of each equal to your result, unless Healed) or massive explosions (nonmagical, but as fireball). All traps are obvious.

Monsters include:

1. Poisoned and confused rust monster, half HP and -2 to hit but if it hits you have to save vs poison or react as the needle trap above, because its jaws are filled with mercury.
2. Order of Iron Drow in hermetic suit set here forever to ensure this kingdom never rises again and produces so much damn noise.
3. galeb duhr with robot brains, most half dead
4. Bats made of silver, AC as plate, fruit eaters.

The heirophant is a mad mummy swimming in mercury and with the power of magnetism. It can use these magnetic gifts to sling mercury at you, or to manipulate the corpses of long-dead dwarves covered in the stuff. He can also attract your weapons and armor, save or he'll pull you 10' for every point you failed by. You're allowed a new roll each round to see how far he can pull you.

First Book of Moon Slave

  1. There was only blood the sky was blood the moon was blood the earth was blood
  2. everything was blood outer space was blood and nobody knew what that was yet
  3. men were blood the sea was blood there as no magic there were no kinds there was no flesh but there was still blood and it came from somewhere, from the world which existed,
  4. from the body dead and flame, from the soul pregnant and warrior, from the echoes of sunlight iron and a fucking tank
  5. everything was blood until there was a light from the blood, the first light, from the first metal, and the first metal was a sword, and the first sword rose slowly from the blood, and the blood parted in nine directions, and the sword also bled
  6. the sword bled for a thousand days and its blood was light and the light burned the blood and where the blood burned it became black rock and the black rock swirled and swelled and became the night with pools of swordblood the stars
  7. And the sword was sinking because there was only ever the blood for it to go but still it came still it thrust still it rose
  8. the sword cut against its fate and the blood split and to the right the blood became fire and to the left the blood became smoke
  9. the sword shone and was light, all the light, and it rose until it split the blackred brilliance of the overheavens, the above beyond, into the chest of Yrhin the bones of the universe, whose heart exploded, the ever dying cosmos
  10. blood came from Yrhin's mouth blacker than most and this fell through smoke and mixed with the black rock and blood which was everything and it reflected the first sword and this reflection became the second sword
  11. and shadow on smoke became third sword
  12. Gurin. Tirnim. Edlolk. Death. Deathafter. Deathdread.
  13. Buffeted in squall crimson came then the sword which lives, which is called Oul Kelash Im Arak, which is called DRO, which is called hammer-that's-wheel, which is called, life, which is called creation, which is called the world, which the seer calls the plane of man, which Yrhin calls soon soon soon soon
  14. The smoke swirled around the light of first sword which the light called Gurin, first name. In the swirl was darkness, and in the darkness Edlolk.
  15. Below, looking upon Edlolk, Tirnim. Always beneath darkness, always reflecting light, always a between, never the death, only the flicker, on blood.
  16. blood blood blood blood
  17. The light became the reflection, and the reflection became a world, a distorted shape from the perfect killing light of Gurin, a lesser and weaker glow, and this glow made its own shine,
  18. and Gurin was sun and Edlolk was night and Tirnim was smoke and mutable and unshaped, doomed.
  19. But the light of Tirnim, soon soon soon soon, which the far near sons call man's world, glowed, and raised and touched Gurin, and was the false Gurin, and was the night of Gurin which knows not night
  20. Fifth named, Unus Muun Maxes, drov calgabesh, light of light of light, flicker against Yrhin, blinder of Yrhin, mirror of only blood and black rock
  21. Out of the blood and the shadow of Edlolk came one hundred gods
  22. Tir, Um, Gor, Zeph
  23. ru, Majes, Kir, Dophies, Gorlen, Ibu
  24. Caphakas, Ibad, Cralk
  25. Cralk
  26. Cralk
  27. Their children and their dead the children of their dead the husbands of their dead
  28. Reflectiones en Unus Muun Maxes, the shape of Yrhin in the blood and black rock, the bodies of light and smoke and shadow
  29. Then there was Cormedetriakinosth, body of sword, the light of Yrhin-Upon-Gurin, and he was named
  30. Yrhin-Upon-Gurin, deadly peasant and first born kind, only true god, the shape of steel, making of all demons and gods, and he made war on the gods that were and none survive
  31. I will write it is said, Yrhin-Upon-Gurin, the names of all gods in my flesh with fire, and I will smite their very words, and cleave the eyes of all who read them, and Cormedetriakinosth swore against all the world
  32. He swore against a world which was made in answer
  33. He cursed all man who became in answer, cursed, aye, and despised
  34. And his words sworled and shaped Tirnim, and Tirnim was the world, and Tirnim is our world, and we are all reflections of the first sword, Bane-Within-Yrhin, and we are the sword which watches itself, and we are Tirnim
  35. And Tirnim was wet with blood and into this land was sown the bodies of Tir Um Gor Zeph
  36. Into Tirnim was sown all gods same Yrhin-Upon-Gurin, whom the drunk name YUG, ee-ug, the name of undoing the world
  37. There in Tirnim grew burning crop, the shape of wheat or corn in the shadow of the screaming dead, a corpse farm of a world, the world is a dead land of dead things.
  38. The first curse was recurse
  39. The dead separated the sky from the rock of the world, they bled and their blood became new seas within blood, they burned and their burning became Tirnim, the smokeshadow, and they were eternal, until eternal runs out
  40. And the dead separated the dead from life, and all that was only ever dying saw life at first, and Gurin abhorred it, and Yrhin cursed it, and Tirnim was shamed of it, and it rose and sustained in the blook of Cralk. Cralk
  41. Cralk.
  42. And life killed Cormedetriakinosth, the one true god, and from his body made many gods
  43. Sustainer, Builder, Keeper, Maker, Fearer, Fucker, Dreamer, Tricker, Eater, Shitter, Lover, Thunder, Killer, Bleeder, Darker, Nearer
  44. Forty seven gods from Yrhin-Upon-Gurin to rule the world which waited to die, which ebbed and swirled constant away
  45. These were sick apart from themselves, and they fell to the world weak, and they smothered the life there, and forced the dead into the black rock\
  46. And man raised himself as gods and smote all old gods. and forty seven gods died, and a thousand gods rose.
  47. Man was mortal though and so died. A thousand gods died and twenty-two gods rose to take their place.
  48. The twenty-two gods were all lights. The reflection of fire, the reflection of the reflection, the hope or Yrhin
  49. All light died in the smoke and thick of Tirnim
  50. The gods died and then came the three gods, Barapest, Forencaller, Uvengim, the fist face and throat of all worlds
  51. Barapest beat all the rivers. Forencaller sweated all the seas. Uvengim screamed all storms.
  52. Then came the one god who was magic, whose name was Thunder King, whose power and moustache were lightning and fire, whose word was something being, whose light was as the light of Yrhin burning, who was Yrhin burning, and Thunder King was Yrhin burning, though Yrhin never burned
  53. Yrhin will.
  54.  and Thunder King fell from the world, and there was darkness
  55. Ten thousand gods in darkness
  56. Then the light of Gurin and the death of ten thousand gods
  57. The reflection of the reflection rose and became the hand which held the first sword
  58. Gurin-Within-Unus Muun Maxes, and the hand was called the son, and the hand was called Muun.
  59. And against all power life
  60. Against all darkness light
  61. Against all fire smoke
  62. Against all night fear
  63. Against all god man
  64. And there rose a thousand and a thousand generations of man
  65. And there were gods within man and gods who man called and gods never there, and great kings and bloody chieftains, and wise queens and murder princesses, and brutal shamans and pious bastards, and there was always blood and sword and smoke and light and afterlight and night and starblood and rocknight and fear and weakness and death and flesh
  66. And there was Moon Slave.

Monday, May 18, 2015

REVIEW: Sweat of a Sun God, by Bloom Rose and IVANOV.

1995. Things weren't great at Adder Entertainment. The company was running in a dozen different directions, tied together at the tail, slowly skinning itself with its own momentum. It was an ugly company at the time. Naked. Raw. It was trying lots of things and none of them were firing. There was a conflict here, between being the company Æ was and learning how to make that profitable, even if it meant shrinking down, and the people who wanted to be as big as ever. Bigger! And, in fact, who wanted to use the might of their size to crush all pretenders to the throne. For a few people this was ego. Where Andrew William James was concerned, it was a cocaine addiction that would stop a Belushi in its tracks. They must never know.

In this chaos a lot of things were getting released with minimal oversight. Editorial, including Bloom, were just too busy trying to herd cats. She was so busy, in fact, that she could not give much notice when her office was broken into. The ledger was untouched, petty cash was there, seven completely disassembled snapdragons were individually filed in her cabinet, piece by piece, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Hindsight can make things seem obvious but you have to remember: Bloom Rose saw Ivanov die.

All of Æ did, during its disastrous inaugural team building exercise at a North Carolina white-water rafting firm. They saw him jump. They saw his tattered, bloody rags. They lost a weekend to his funeral, made without his input and without any personal mourners. (This is remarkable mostly because of how Ivanov's most recent funeral went, with his ashes being mixed into the ink for 111 members of the infamous Æ Tatoo Society. 57 are incarcerated today.)

As a result of faking his death to avoid service in Vietnam (Ivanov was doing a lot of ketamine and storm chasing during this period), Ivanov had not been paid in a while. He casually broke and entered with the intention of leaving a notice of change of address, and it was during some light pilfering and looting that he came upon the text for Bloom Rose's abandoned masterpiece Sweat of a Sun God.

Bloom had accidentally created the ultimate lure for Ivanov, a godcrawl through the fallen corpses of slavic deities where each body represented a distinct post-collapse region of the former Soviet Union. A strange squeezed-out vision of failed optimism, bloated grime, open-faced despair, lurid propaganda of the dead, bastard ass fire orthodoxy, nobody there at all, hollow follow walkers, cave rockets, spacemans all naked and silver and shining like starlight and marching in formation, the wet and hungry sucking roads sodden with the blood of all failure, cold, dark, colder, darker, mathematics, slavery, freedom, unofficial slavery.

Hey, it was the 90s. As usual with Bloom of course, this was about someone else. Bloom had a friend, little written about but dear to her, named Rapella Kruskin, and Bloom was by her side through the bulk of her father's esophageal cancer. If you've never had a family member who has suffered from it holy shit. It is the blackest most metal thing I've ever seen. Imagine drowning in the physical weight of your body. Your lungs filling with themselves. I imagine it daily in a "Spirit are these the shadows of things which may be only" kind of way.

This is not technically the first megadungeon but this is the first big, proper, high-profile megadungeon. Dazboh alone is a mini campaign to itself, whence the title hails: all the treasure here takes the forms of lasers your characters can make, but the longer they stay to loot lasers the more black holes the fight, and the more they are on fire.

There's also the pillar, deep in Vostok, which represents a perfect idea, different for each PC. A dead child at its base decided the pillar should be protected from all other minds, and so the longer you dwell at the pillar dithering on a course of action, or the more you come back, the more powerful opposition you meet. Compelling you to taking a desperate action, rather than letting beauty out into the world. People like to read into this as Bloom describing her own situation but I like to think that the woman who watched the American 60s die from its own kind of esophogeal cancer saw a kind of kindred suffering in the slow-crumble moldering of the eastern bloc.

Anyway, it was considered unfeasibly unprofitable and, so, was shelved by Bloom at James' request.

Ivanov. flipped. out.

1996. Barely.

The Æ New Year's party at O'Charley's is interrupted by a courier, slightly bleeding, with a bulging pocket and explicit instructions. For a moment, just that, it is sleeting thick and angry. Seventeen enormous canvases are toted into the O'Charleys, most depicting maps, some depicting bizarre portraiture, each with a K-Mart price tag attached for an entirely reasonable sum of money. Except for Ivanov's masterpiece, Perun Falling, where, in lieu of signature or price sticker, Ivanov wrote "chruck (sic) + ketamine."

No one knew what they were. Nobody knew where to put them. Nobody knew Sweat of a Sun God was pushed through production behind their backs and was in stores at that very moment. Ivanov hand-delivered a shipment to a nearby American Legion post, which cause no shortage of constarnation regarding Soviet terrorism from the near-dead legends. The Donnybrook O'Charley's still has one of the pieces, in which sharp-eyed fans spotted several hidden instances of coitus. At last count it was seventeen.

This was one of the biggest, fanciest, most gorgeous, original, well-thought out pieces of product Æ had put out in years. It is one of their single finest products ever, one of the single finest RPG products ever. It wasn't chasing a trend or trying to beat one of their new competitors at its own game. Andrew William James lost his fucking mind over it. The story of what happened next is known, but we'll get to it next.

It was a profound profit for the company. Some still say that this move could have saved the company, had Bloom lived, had the fire not happened, had Ivanov been more forthcoming up front, or if he hadn't tried to reinvent himself as a tiger motorcycle guy in his sixties. It's hard to say, though, because here's the fucking crime:

I have been researching this book since I started these reviews and I've never found someone who has finished it. Fact. Oh people played it, sure, and they loved it, fine, and they think it looks great on a shelf and they support every decision within it IN THEORY. But life always seems to find a way of pulling people away from the table. Sweat of a Sun God is a widowmaker for RPG campaigns.

Some people think that's perfect in a way and they make some horrible allusion to Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon or other rich white people and I say horseshit. I think that's just wrong all directions. But I do think it is a fantastic legacy.

Bloom Rose never set out to be a great games designer. She set out to be a great person, to change the world, to be respected in a field that thought of her as a creature, to achieve excellence in everything she did, to constantly read and explore, to care about other people, to make the world make sense with her typewriter. She just happened to make games along the way. Sweat of a Sun God is a perfect example of a singular, pearl-like creative expression from two individuals at the top of their respective games and at the end of their respective ropes, and it is perhaps the perfect example of the perfect game book as un-run-able thing. Because the perfect inspiration for any game you run isn't a bunch of monster math, it's INSPIRATION in the face of fear and suffering and wonder and beauty and trying and forward and better and vision and A Person as a whole, and that comes from life.

Forgive me for waxing a little Lovin' Spoonful but it's the truth. Bloom lived her life believing the world is a place we go to make a better world, and that such processes never really stopped. She applied those ethics to her work. To her company. It showed. It always showed. The idea that people draw enthusiasm and inspiration from her work, even if they never use it in a manner consistent with its presentation, is a hell of a way to live on and I should be so blessed. By I suppose the loss of all other media.

The slide toward the inevitable concludes with the end of the Bloom Rose Sequence, Lain to Rest At Last, At Last. At last. And then, I promise, a few more of these, at least, which aren't a bummer.

gambado. Gambado! GAMBADO!!!
What? You wouldn't just assume that all remains you come across are covering a small pit where this rubber band monster lives? You didn't automatically poke that thing with your 10' pole or send your henchman over? You haven't learned to fear anything that even remotely looks like a skull after living skeletons and demiliches and flaming skulls which are somehow a complete other monster?

I'm for once on classic D&D's side here. A little. It's silly to have you constantly probing everything to see if it could kill you but assume death is everywhere, and assume that bone piles represent one of the dozens of skeleton monsters. BUT. but but but but. There should be more to it than GOTCHA! and making you feel like a jackass. And a name that comes from a hopping horse. That doesn't mean I want to get into a full bullcrap knowable ecology and God Forbid gambado society...


They don't eat the dead. They eat what eats the dead. However, what eats the dead is pretty awful and deadly, and they are soft and squishy little things that look like 400 shrimp trying to quickly do a Jerry Orbach impression. To help protect themselves, and lure prey, they cover themselves in heaps of bone and discarded armor, which they affix to their body with an adhesive saliva. They are found wherever big piles of the long-dead are found. The necropolis. The catacombs. The killing fields. The butcher's. They are known also as Skullhermits.

Fully semi-erect and unsheathed, they resemble nothing so much as a naked mole rat composed entirely of star-nosed mole noses. Properly armored, they are protected as chain+shield, with only a few wriggly pink bits peeking through the carcass carapace. They are rarely fully glimpsed in either case.

Like alligators, Skullhermits can attacks swiftly and fiercely for like a minute, and lack the endurance to do much but watch they prey scamper away after fully exerting themselves. They wait until their prey is fumbling through their mounds, trying to pry away their exterior 'shells,' and then they snap.

They are immune to carrion crawler paralysis and most acid damage and disease. Their main method of subduing prey is a single long needle-tooth, which they push into the brain of prey. They then use a powerful four-sphinctered mouth to suck their prey hollow. They can eventually even invert flesh and suck it right off the bones.

They have shitty eyesight, and do not watch and wait. They simply lash out in the direction of vibrations, noise, and shadow. In this way even an illusion can attract the attention of a Skullhermit.

Despite their names, Skullhermits, while rare, are usually found in clusters, since their offspring never want to crawl away far, especially when an available food source is present. They can grow to be mammoth sized but are usually the size of a zaftig man.

HUNTERS- Doublecrossroads Wildermen, Trackers, Snipers, and Beastkillers

  • Hunters require a 9 Constitution and a 9 Wisdom.
  • Hunters use a d6 for their Hit Die.
  • Their Defensive Number is 16.
  • Hunters can use any Normal weapon (d8).
  • Hunters may also use rifles.
  • You begin the game with 3/6 in Wilderness (formerly Bushcraft). This improves by 1 point every 4 levels after that, at 5, 9, and 13.
  • They use different rules for Aiming than other Classes. Making a successful Wilderness roll allows you to add your Wilderness rating to your damage for your ranged attack. 2 rounds of successful Wilderness checks in a row allow you to instead add your Wilderness rating to both to hit rolls and damage.
  • You receive twice your Charisma bonus for the purposes of interacting with animals and many other creatures. An animal which considers you its friend, with a week’s training, may become a Helper.
  • At level 7, you roll Wilderness twice when tracking a specific target or specific prey.
  • At level 9, you either embrace the wild and attract up to your maximum of animal Helpers (consult DM to determine type) or you establish a Hunting Lodge, attracting level 1 Soldiers, Hunters, and Professionals.
  • Hunters advance until level 16.
Features Level XP HP
Great Aim
Wilderness 3
1 0 1d6+1+Constitution bonus

2 1750 +1d6+Constitution bonus

3 3500 +1d6+Constitution bonus

4 7000 +1d6+Constitution bonus
Wilderness 4 5 14000 +1d6+Constitution bonus

6 28000 +1d6+Constitution bonus
Great Tracking 7 56000 +1d6+Constitution bonus

8 112000 +1d6+Constitution bonus
Wilderness 5
Hunting Lodge
9 224000 +1d6+Constitution bonus

10 336000 +2

11 448000 +2

12 560000 +2
Wilderness 6 13 672000 +2

14 874000 +2

15 896000 +2

16 1008000 +2

If I Haven't Scared You Off With The SAT Essays, Let's Play Some D&D

One thing I've been doing a lot lately is not playing games. I want that to change and I think it will on Mondays, soon, but I've had a couple people approach me separately about running a 5e game for them, buttering up my ego something good. So I've been considering it. And I have some ideas. BUT I've known these people for a long time and played with them and, yeah, DM'd for them before, but never for an extended period of time. 6 weeks tops. So I'm giving a couple of people this little questionnaire. On the odd chance that this is more broadly applicable or useful to others, I'm putting it here.

  1. I like a deadly campaign. I never deliberately try to kill anyone as a DM but I like setting up boxes for people to get stuck in, or back into. I think this makes for a more exciting game with higher stakes and I think it makes accomplishments worth more. I prize this as a player as well, usually having several backup characters. All that said I don't want a slaughterhouse. I just thing failure is also the game. How deadly do you like your games? Safe as houses are difficult like a NES side scroller?
  2. I like a game where the characters begin relatively small in the world in terms of power. Even for a superhero game these demigods never kick things off as the baddest guys and gals on the block. I want true power to come from how the game is played, and for how long, and how smartly, rather than simply loading someone down with magic powers at the beginning of the game and shoveling on more as you level. Yet I've also made people permanently fireproof at level 3 if it makes sense. That said while I like running David/Goliath games I tend to play in games where the DM wants everybody to be Goliath. How powerful do you like to be in your games?
  3. I like for a lot of individual elements in my games to be fairly simple, becoming more unique as time goes on, or as each new facet is revealed through play. This extends to the characters I run for and play. The characters I most remember from fellow players began play as dirt simple creatures who became more individual and specialized through play, as their players felt them out. That's always been my favorite thing about playing my own guys, the things I've discovered along the way that I never would've thought of ahead of time. This even extends to my feelings on classes and races, but more on that later. How unique do you like for your player characters to be?
  4. I like for the world in my games to be dangerous. Dungeons have traps, natural hazards exist...the more comfortable players and PCs are the less reason they have to do anything, and the safer they are and the lower the stakes the more that decisions can feel interchangeable. I do think that critting a guy with a big sword should usually kill him in low level play or come close to it, just like running someone through with a sword would do to you and me. Same with drowning, falling off a cliff, acid pools, wild animals, bandits on the highway....Some D&D worlds are relative safe havens like Camelot or Hogwarts where the danger penetrares, and some D&D worlds are like 4th edition's setting, with very few places of light and safety in a big dark wood chipper of a world. How dangerous do you like your world to be?
  5. We've had elves, dwarves, Hobbits, gnomes and stuff in D&D for so long that we've become accustomed to them, but I like it when those things are still somewhat strange, alien, even distrusted by the wider world because they're part of a wider magical world than the average person'll meet a bunch as an adventurer because your job is going to exotic places and meeting strange people, but they shouldn't just be like "they come from South Carolina instead of Atlanta" normal. This extends by degrees to the other stranger races and classes. It shouldn't be a matter of course to see a bird person. This is part of why I also reskin the crap out of Monster Manual entries when I do use them: it's important for something to feel stranger and more new than "Oh, page 137, neat." I like making magic a truly arcane process with fairy tale logic and some gross out to the rituals. How strange do you like your games?
  6. I do like a bit of grossness in my games like I just mentioned. Horrible mutations. Nonviable lifeforms. Vestigial parts. Rancid maggoty decay. Foul stenches. The violence really giallo and over the top gory. This stuff can be pretty gross in real life but I find that, since these kinds of things are easier to imagine for people, it makes the mental picture of a scene more vivid. I understand of course that everyone has their own limits, and what they consider limits to good taste. How gross do you like your games?
  7. I like for the world, my monsters, and my villains, to be scary. I don't know that I ever truly achieve this but I like to try to imbue them with real horror. I don't know that I can ever truly scare a player but I like for them to be creeped out a little with the way I skin and describe my creatures. I also like using a lot of traditional horror imagery even more than a lot of high fantasy imagery, and even so-called cosmic horror imagery, although I have an internet-bred aversion to the word tentacle. How horrible do you like your game to be?
  8. I've said this already but I like the wider world to be more unusual, more unknown, than not. To me, dealing with the beyond is more interesting when it's really beyond you, not a known quantity. This extends to something like a displacer beast even; I prefer to describe the creature and see what the players make of it without just going "Here's four displacer beasts!" I also like seeding in little branching plots and riddles and stuff that runs in the background. It's a private game I play with myself, seeing if players notice this stuff and what they make of it. How mysterious do you like your games to be?
  9. I like a world where the ancient kingdoms are the largest, and none of those include human kingdoms. I like a world where the human world is small and, outside of a few larger, sprawling cities, are mostly represented by small little towns and villages, and all of these are few and far between. It makes getting anywhere more of a meaningful journey and allows space for more choices to be made along the way. I also prefer these kingdoms to be fairly enlightened by modern terms, in their attitudes toward race and gender equality. Racism and sexism are just gross is all. How civilized do you like your games to be?
  10. I am not above putting in some advanced cultures, crazy forethinking wizard experiments, or Gods of Machines in my campaigns. In general, though, I like a fairly low-tech, lower-magic world. It makes being a wizard a bigger deal if every asshole town you meet doesn't have its own level 4 conjurer. I also think it makes the interactions with the world and its dungeons more interesting to use simpler tools, using them for complex solutions. Simple building-to-complex is a theme for me, but I see the appeal of airships and trains. How advanced do you like your characters and world to be?
  11. There's a term in RPGs named after a game show host who gave out cash prizes for just finding a bobby pin on command and silly things like that: A Monty Haul. Every DM, I think, EVERY DM, has had trouble at some time balancing treasure with game difficulty and party expectations. Players want magic stuff, and magic stuff is cool to have in your game, and you need a certain amount of gold to do anything you want to do in a game. I like the so-called Domain rules in old D&D for example, where you build your own kingdom from the ground up. However too much gold removes money from even being a concern, and too much magic just creates a pile the players are bored with. How much reward do you like in your games?
  12. Some people like games where they level every other session, and some people like to just get to Super Power level as quickly as possible and just bat down any threat lazily. I like seeing players fight for their levels and their powerful rewards, but I do not want to reduce to game to a grind at any point. Old school games balanced this with their gold=xp mechanic, where greater risk always led greater reward, meaning the more dragons you killed the faster you leveled. Newer editions just bake that in with hard values, but it can still take longer. None of this even touches on how quickly the plot moves, both obviously and behind the scenes. How quickly do you want your campaigns to move?
  13. How much of a story reward do you like to see when completing a quest? In terms of intangible, non-currency, non-magical rewards, what do you prefer? Literal get out of jail free cards? Land? Titles? Boyfriends? Given two equally tasty prospects are you more inclined to choose a reward they offered (a pre-set reward) vs. one you negotiate (fulfilling your own desires)?
  14. There are games where every house has multiple magic devices, even if they're just sunrods or firestarters. There are games where something like a sunrod would be enough to inspire wonder. I'm fine throwing magic stuff all over the place, to be found if you look for it or earned if you try for it, but I don't like having magic just be technology. If you find a Flaming Sword, you've likely found THE Flaming Sword, as far as you know. There's no shopping for a Flaming Sword, or a +1 Sword, and I hate +1 Swords for that matter, if that's all they do. Same goes for scrolls and spellbooks and stuff. I also like for about 25% of magic items found to be magic in that they are CURSED items. How common do you want the 'technology' of magic to be in your game?
  15. Do you prefer to adventure in the city, in the wilderness, or in a dungeon?
  16. Would you prefer to act in the service of a god, a king, or the common man?
  17. What would attract you to a quest more: riches and reward, accomplishing a goal within the story and world, or accomplishing a personal goal as a character or player?
  18. I care very much about encumbrance, equipment, travel rates, and light during play, but I rarely enforce anything draconianly. What would you most prefer I be chill about?
  19. I screw with basically everything in my games. I tinker and can't leave well enough alone. What would you prefer I leave alone the most? That is, alter the least or not restrict? Races, Classes, Spells, or Feats? What of those would you like to see custom options for the most?
  20. Oldschool games like I tend to run a lot (and now 5e in the bargain) treat death in very gameable terms as not an insurmountable consequence. That's one of the reasons I don't mind character death and lethal dungeons: you can always pop right back from stone death. Some people don't like this aspect of older games, feeling it devalues the story, meaning that death should be a more permanent thing. There are entire games written about this. How do you like death to feel in your games?
Understand above all else that I will screw with everything in the game in the name of keeping things moving and having less shit to mess around with at the table. Understand also that like life every D&D game is a work in progress, so some of this may change over time as we try new things.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Unicorn Nemesis

There is no such thing as unicorns. This does not mean that you'll never see a unicorn, shimmering silver in the night like a river on legs, its horn shining like the moon, its eyes deeper than the night. Ageless. Untouchable. Perfect. There is such a thing as a unicorn, and even many instances of a unicorn, but there is no such thing as unicorns.

They are guardians of life and bringers of peace. Which means they are born to kill.

I've written about this in a couple of places before but bear with me for another paragraph: the planes which matter to me, less planes than overlapping spheres, inside and around each other, moving around a central pivot of what we call the world, are the Spiritual, Physical, and Arcane spheres. Lawful, Neutral, Chaos. The animating force of life, the material medium and matrix life can be sustained in, and the possibility which allows for life only by dint of allowing for all possibility. I like this interpretation because it helps, to me, sustain the idea of the world you're in existing by accident or whim. There's no divine plan, this is just some kind of fantasy Newtonianism. You're far more likely to not exist than to not not exist, and the epochs of the raised peoples are not just a blip in timespace but, in all sense, an accident, waiting to be corrected, or running out the clock before its own internal pressures pushing in different directions just disintegrate the whole thing. Of late I've fancied taking this one step further and looking on the physical world like a scab or pearl where the Spiritual and Arcane spheres meet, the important divide between matter and antimatter. But uh made of matter and mixed metaphors.

The point is, that this is SO and will not always be SO does not mean that these states of affairs aren't trying to sustain and perpetuate themselves. There Are Rules, unspoken and unlearned which everyone intrinsically knows. To even intellectualize these, so obvious they are, is like wrestling with a zen koan. "Describe water to a rock." There's not even entirely language for it. It's not even instinct because that's usually tied to survival or reproduction or safety but this is just an imprint on your double helix that reads You'd Best Not, Mate. It is the implication not of danger, or only danger, but of transgression, not a sense of cause and effect but of the invisible barrier of the procedure of law. Think of every reason why you would never rob a bank, and then think about still knowing all those things if you had never seen a bank and didn't know what money was, or stealing, or numbers. Like, reasons an eagle would never rob a bank. That's what we're talking about here...

and adventurers really only exist to interact with that level of existence. They're always adjacent to it, even if they never go digging into the forbidden things, but they're also always stumbling into it, lured forth with the promise of great powers, brought to the brink by an enemy who is near unto breach in the voids....

When you Do What You Don't Do this is a fundamental sin, and when I mean fundamental I don't mean like commandments I mean like gravity. There is an almost scientific reaction when these things happen. If we were talking in terms of the universe as a body we might say antibodies, but we're talking about D&D so the universe isn't made of atoms it's made of fairy tales, heavy metal, classical mythology, movie monsters, and Marvel Comics. Which means we are talking about nemeses.

Unicorns are nemeses.

If everything is fine in the world then there are no unicorns. If everything had only ever been fine in the world there would never have been any unicorns. Seeing one is not a sign that the world is more beautiful and perfect than we thought, or a reminder of a time when it was. It's the world we know fighting back as hard as possible against something terrible, something so horrible that an equal and opposite response of glorious fucking greatness happens. It should not be. It cannot exist but it does.

It's fucking pissed.


Unicorns are powerful magic. This is a one of a kind animal in D&D, so there are types.

1. A powerful magic motherfucker - if you care then say 9th level because this gets real - may cast upon themselves a seal. This is something of a literal seal, a mark which not only takes a portion of their power (level 9 spell slot or some shit) but also seals their power as sacrosanct and untouchable (and also unable to advance their power further). This mark is tied to their life, or, in the case of a powerful lich, this mark IS their life, a sustaining force in their flesh, apart from their flesh, which sustains them. The MU herself needn't be the target of this magic. Their home, or the borders of the land they own, or the unblemished virtue of one they love, may be subject to the same. If this is breached on the terms of the the most common manifestation, if someone casts this upon themselves and they are then killed...the unicorn appears.

2. A place becomes sacred the longer it is left alone, free from the footprints of gods or men, untouched by the warping tendrils of the arcane world beyond. Some such places accrue around powerful entities, like a grove of treants, or this guy, or a thornbush which has never been harmed and which has grown over the whole forest, or, yes, high level druids. They are pure places, or, rarely, places which have been irrevocably profaned and are not merely no-man's-lands but utterly forbidden to the tred and eye of any. Should the sanctity of these places be violated or corrupted in some way they will slide inexorably into the mundane and, for this crime, a unicorn erupts from the soul, or a tree splits and rolls open revealing a unicorn within.

3. A scion of the gods, their chosen voice on earth, their most holy of holies, or their most unforgivable sins are transgressed against. Certainly killing a so-called True God qualifies for this, which would be cut and dry if anybody agreed who the True Gods are. Simply being evil or stabbing a priest or teaming up with succubi won't summon a unicorn. It requires some Jesus-Tree level transgression. Then a unicorn will manifest in the sanctum and presence of the god in question, and then makes its way toward the transgressor.

Unicorns have the following abilities:
  • Horn does damage as a greatspear and they fight like a creature of HD equal to the level of the transgressor +5. They attack once per round.
  • They save as a Level 8 Halfling, or just motherfucker saves.
  • They have Morale 12.
  • They can move at warhorse speed x2 overland and in combat.
  • Their horn would be its own reward in terms of both coin value and as a magic item, except that it has no power if not taken from a living unicorn.
  • They have AC as Plate+Shield+1. They may only be harmed by magic weapons.
  • They cannot be ridden or tracked.
  • Their hit points don't matter, really. Unicorns are immortal and immutable. They may be hurt, and wherever their blood lands mutant flowers grow, even on human skin. But they may not be tamed or killed.

That's right. There are ways to kill a unicorn - wish, certain magic weapons, kill spell, certain other magics, decapitation, disintegration, petrification - but these are surmountable for the unicorn. A petrified unicorn will eventually burst out like Disney's Gargoyles and give chase again. A stopped heart will beat again. A unicorn wished away simply starts over. Cut off a unicorn's head and another emerges from the neck stump, slowly and grossly, stretched out and screaming. Reduce it to ash and the ash will swirl together, still smoldering, and give chase through a cloud of smoke.

Unicorns are inevitable.

When they reach the target(s) of their ire, these nemeses simply touch them lightly with their horn, transforming them into some unliving form. Fire. Crystal. Lightning. Ice. Tree. Salt. Ivory.

Then they will forgo all other presented enemies and simply fade out of the world like a film transition.

Much like Klort, the prospect of a unicorn became daunting to my players once it was introduced. They are something of a cheater monster but they also...aren't. Remember, this is D&D, so the door to death is never closed forever. Additionally they may be put off and avoided indefinitely through certain trickery.

As an example, one player used his final wish to erect a temple to himself where a mighty magic forest (to which he was the bonded guardian) once stood, burning and razing the green which stood in order to erect his golden ziggurat. This summoned the greatest nemesis the world had ever seen - The Ubercorn, a Smaug-sized unicorn - but the effect of the item he used to make the wish dropped him right out of the universe, to a place where the Ubercorn could not follow. So it simply waits by a temple it cannot destroy because of the details of the wish, kicking it for eternity, and my players just had to redraw the map to cross off yet another place they can't go.

Now why the fuck do I do unicorns like this?

Because Lisa Frank can back right off. Because Legend can take a hike. Because you shouldn't have to cover it in metal and fire and fangs and extra heads to make anything truly mystical and wondrous also shaking, frightening. "Oh shit it's a unicorn!" No one is meant to see one, and seeing it at all is usually a transgression, followed by further evil committed in catching it, riding it, keeping it, killing it. There is always disastrous consequences for this blasphemy, but the unicorn is the ultimate passive participant in these tales, Beagle aside. They might as well be a big fancy rock. Guy isn't supposed to take rock, guy takes rock, guy goes through lots of suffering to redeem self and restore fancy rock.

I wanted to give the unicorn more power so I cut out the middleman between the untouchable and the reprisal. I wanted "Oh shit a unicorn," something that would make people run because they immediately knew what rules were in play in a way that even dragons don't provide.

So I just literalized the metaphor and ignored their stat block.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Languages Your Game Already Has

This is how you make your Language skill work for you. These are your Alignment languages. This is how you set a trap with neither needle nor pit. Bards can speak all of these.

Lingua Franca

This is a common tongue agreed upon by many peoples and nations speaking disparate tongues. It is not THE common tongue, for many tongues are surprisingly common. This language has a lot of roots or loanwords common to multiple cultures. This is a language that you learn as a child but unless you travel a lot (by default all adventurers are this type of person) you won't get much opportunity to use this language. As a result you can communicate in it but not well. Finer conjugations and specific vocabulary may elude you but you can make yourself understood with a little bit more effort. Again if you're an adventurer it takes so much bumbling around and talking to clowns that by the time you can swing an axe with Level 1 effectiveness you're super fluent here. This is a conceit but a necessary one. It also means that every person from civilization - good evil elf goblin - will speak a little of this.

I'll circle back here later but this is a quick guideline for how you know which side of the argument is society vs counter-society: do you have to speak in the other's terms to make yourself understood? Then you don't have power. This reminds me of something else, probably everything else, but getting into specifics would do disservice to the overall here....


This is the language of coin. When purchase orders are made. When missives are sent amongst guildmembers. When inventory is taken or sales conducted. Traders and merchants usually speak another of the more common tongues, at minimum, and are of anyone in town the most likely to be able to talk or translate...if you're buying. Innkeepers and bartenders fall into this category, as do blacksmiths. Their individual employees may or may not speak the trade tongue but the owners and proprietors and operators always will.If orcs are running drugs or if a Chaos King sympathizer is funneling goldspice through a back door then this is the language they're using, a black market dialect steeped in sign and countersign but the same tongue. All rogues and dwarves speak this fluently but otherwise your day to day occupation reflects how good you are at this. Throwing in background fluff for a situational semimechanical logical advantage later on? Yes please. More of that and less of your entire life's story please. Again, by the time you've hit the shops and haggled a few times, been taken advantage of at least once, or if it can be assumed that your thief or dwarf friend can fill you in where needed, you're to be considered fluent in this, another necessary conceit.

Low Tongue

The way "common" is typically used in RPGs it's to refer to some form of Lingua Franca because Gandalf said common tongue once, but that assumes that the sentence he's speaking when he says that is in the common tongue. Possibly part of it is and part of it isn't, or the whole thing is but under different meanings. The tongue common to all peoples we've discussed, but what of the language of the common people? Unless your home game is very modern indeed the common man and certainly the impoverished are speaking a very different language from the nobles, the gentry, the aristocrats. This is one of the reasons nuveau riche in these cultures are so looked down on, still muttering and sputtering with a low mouth in a context where that isn't appropriate. There are some things, of course, that don't translate well, that the low tongue is particularly suited for. Rumor. Prophecy. Certain prayers. Certain types of poetry, the PEOPLE'S poetry, which is most types of poetry by volume. Fairy tales. Ghost stories. Cussin', innuendo, and fuck talk. Folk songs but who cares. If you grew up a common dirt farmer, out-caste, slave? You spend your entire day speaking this. Generally halflings, upper-dwarves, fighters, clerics, thieves, all speak this. Elves generally don't, and if they know Low Tongue at all they are still going to inevitably sound like condescending assholes.

The Word of God

In the beginning it was, and the faith of the land has been slavishly studying and sustaining it ever since. It's a dead language but in the way people look at ancient diction and idiomatic inconsistencies across translations, it is in many ways frighteningly alive. It is possible this language belonged to a party not entirely aligned with the values of its speakers, that it is a long-overthrown Lingua Franca which was taken back by the people in some bloody revolution. Perhaps it was once Black Speech, or still is to some. The thing with this language is, even if you revere a sect or path which strays far from the faith of the lands, if you're worth your salt as a spirit-speaker then you are at least a student of this language, enough to understand the holy book of another. These are the only words that the gods hear, which is why only the prayers of clerics are answered for the most part. Others may learn this language just as anyone may convert to the true faiths, but yeah: pretty much clerics. The nice thing about this is that no matter how ancient the scroll, these words never really change in their power. Perhaps that is WHY this language was chosen on the gods' behalf? Of course that supposition presumes the gods did not etch those words into the world which is a blasphemy, sometimes.

Secret Whispers

If you are a slave or servant or in some other way live a life not your own then you speak many of these other languages. However, for the important things, the intimate, personal things, muttering truth or safety, you also speak a hidden language only taught to the utter disenfranchised. If speaking your mind is a death sentence then you know how to disguise it.


A mix of code phrases and signs, rhyming slang, a hodgepodge of borrowed words, trills and noises, the meaning of this cant changes depending on the sex of each participant, mode of dress, and time of day. It's a way of talking about the most secret things obviously and openly. The general rules of this language can only be learned, and as a result each speaker has their own uniquely personal dialect like a fingerprint. This makes all the norms and ignorant out there none the wiser, sure, but people on the ball can pinpoint your ripples through the world using only your careless turns of phrase. Thieves and bards are the type who rely on this technique the most: those who need to discuss the illicit freely with their companions, with established codes of trust and noninterference and sharing in place which, when violated, are easily traced and punished using this very tool of their profession. Sometimes phrases make it into the other languages, and those who speak this tongue simply change what the phrase means.

Elevated Speech

Speaking high and speaking well is, at times, important. When you want to give an inspiring speech, issue an important command, lead men's bodies or hearts, make yourself known in no uncertain terms, be super direct, certain forms of song and poetry (usually of key historical importance or cultural identity)....there is a language people slip into which chisels each word with THIS. IS. IMPORTANT. Tolkein did this. Schwarzeneggar did this. Shakespeare did this. No mere dialect or grammatical shift, this is a tongue above. Fighters learn this because they receive most of their orders in it, and the great ones go on to lead with it. Politicians, priests, prophets, and all would-be tyrants know some of this. Elves obviously know it back to front, and everyone knows a little if only to make vows and curses. These are the syllables which seal such evocations.


All magic users, many dwarves and fighters, and scholars and scientists near and far know the arcane scripts and esoteric quinticlauses of the speech of all knowledge. A librarian is not a historian or storyteller with a wider array of devices at their disposal. They are spaceship pilots, capable of a unique interface with a complex array of nested and interdependent systems, and a vital one if you ever want to get any actual use out of your starship. Obviously anybody can learn this language with discipline and time but few lead lives which permit such extensive belabored study. This is also the language of lawyers, so criminals who've been caught at least once will begin to pick up a bit of it for situational use.

High Manner

The customs, addresses, introductions, taboos, posture, precedent, and dangers of the royal court and the interactions of great or ancient houses all add up to a tremendously demanding language, bottomlessly complex and getting harder with each new reign. You think some asshole with a magic sword can just come in and pledge to his majesty to slay the dragon? You'd be stoned to death before you finished saying your name. Speaking this language can be like playing story stick around the campfire, except everyone is acting to a script: you all take turns at positionally determined intervals, throwing in what you're meant to at this point in the script, and you've all got to go through the whole thing before anybody can add anything. Even casual conversation in this tongue is like reading the minutes from a meeting, or the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. The royal rulers themselves, whoever that might be, are never seen speaking anything but this in public, and so no noble or lesser regent dare do any different when not behind closed doors. Ladies in waiting, chambermen, aides and secretaries, and other personal servants may go their entire lives unable to speak anything but this, living so intimately with the court. They are given few places where they may chime in, but in this manner even one born a beggar may bend the ear of the living god. If your game has a royal vizier in it they ONLY speak this, EVER. Elves speak this like a mother fucker. These are most often heard as words of supplication or rage.

Black Speech

This may be alive in the world but usually even this is only a dark reflection, somehow brighter, of a darker light in the past, a hushed and screaming language whose very intonation boils blood and bubbles blackness from crevasses within the earths. To say it is to make yourself thinner and less because the word has taken something from you. It is to hurt the world, irrevocably, because you can never take those words back. They're out there now. It is UTTERLY FORBIDDEN, one of the ultimate taboos, blasphemies, or lawful transgressions. There are spells and gods which only work their art in Black Speech, so called because it's older than starshine. Cthulhu speaks this. Sauron speaks this. No race speaks this with facility, nor any career or creed, but some factions and nations out there do. These aren't just the Bad Guys. Those who speak exclusively or primarily the Black Speech do the worst of the worst, and if you're a big enough shithole you'll start learning it without realizing it, the words pouring from you like disease from a wound.

The First One

That for which Black Speech is the true shadow. The oldest of all language which has the power of true naming and real making. It is a language few can speak but all may understand, deep within them, the emotion and meaning if not the specific words. It is NOT the first language written down but it is spoken, in differing dialects, all across the world where oral traditions have thrived. When it was written down it was in places that knew writing ANYTHING down was some of the strongest magic you could possess, and that magic shaped those places. Finally it is the language spoken by the oldest things, things which were never created, which never developed, which never changed, which simple Were since there was a place for them to Were. This is a language all druids, some monks, fewer clerics and elves, and basically no other humanoid thing - few things an uneducated man would call alive in fact - speaks. Even in pitch dark and bone cold the First One warms and brightens the soul, though not the surroundings, and it is a language which powerful speakers can use to move mountains. It is the language of the so called savage or primal faiths but these people know nothing such as faith: they know things which are so, and which do happen.

Ancient Man

When the civilized peoples first erected their own codes of speech they were set down in this script, which can be read but not spoken. Some traditions hold that man's was the first writing. If those traditions are correct then this is perhaps the most powerful script in any world. We know that this is where modern languages of man came from but we cannot say what it was, who it belonged to, and how it was used. It is possible that every line read in the script is blasphemous. It is possible it was the first Black Speech. It has a relationship to modern tongues which only those who devote themselves to the study of man, or the studies of language, or the studies of power, can understand....magic users, bards, clerics, druids, and their betters.

The Machine

This is a manufactured language. First, it is one with rigid, sometimes recursing, logics; second, it is one which is hungry, devouring all known languages in search of new words and concepts; third, it transforms and destroys what it cannot use; fourth, it is the chief instrument of an ordered and Lawful society. This is not Lingua Franca yet but one day it will be. It exists to achieve reform and shape the world into one thing. It will never accomplish this but much will be burnt in service to this goal. It is revision and future. It is now and life. It is preposterously boring and the gods ignore those who speak it. That said if your characters' goals are served by the continued existence of society in any recognizable form, even an evil society of skeleton fuckers, then they speak this. Otherwise magic users speak it pretty well. It was rather their idea, for it makes them more powerful, in the same way that diverting a river lets you burn more forest.

Heaven and Hell

This is a language of ecstasy and agony which may be spoken but never accurately written. It is exaltation and babble and a communication of physical sensation which not even emotion may convey. Devils, Demons, Asura, Angel, Guardian, Servitor, they all speak this language. The creatures of hell speak it backwards, or in rhyme, or inversely, in accordance with DC Comics law. Some dwarves know this because they have dug deep enough to find heaven or because they have been infiltrated by hell. Mostly though it's...who you'd imagine. Everyone speaks this, all the time, they just don't KNOW that they do. Few types are fluent outside of the types we can never become.

The Last One

It's from the future. It hasn't happened yet. This is an entirely visual language, the province of prognosticators, and it echoes back to us for them to decode and translate. The Sight is not something you can learn but the tongue can be 'hacked' using all the drugs. I mean use just all of the drugs. Hunter S. Thompson saw the future. Spenser knew this language.

Body Language

We all understand it innately but the only people fluent and consciously so are certain monks and, of course, Muscle Wizards.


The language of all magic is a semiphysical form which magic takes, which means that the act of writing it, reading it, thinking about it, fights you back. This is why it's so hard to record a spell in a book or scroll, why it's so hard to keep them in mind, why when you study your book the script is never the same twice. This shit moves, resists you, and the words as you copy them physically try to kick your ass. That shit is harrowing. It is arguably worth it. These words come from the place all magic and fire came from, which isn't a place where those things come from: it is magic, it is fire. Magic and fire come from magic and fire. Even inoccuous spells like Light are taking something which shouldn't be possible in the world and ALLOWING THE POSSIBILITY OF POSSIBILITY, thereby making it possible, CROWBARRING in the force of another plane of existence and power using the physical manifestation of air circulation. Magic users ruin themselves in the effort and age of learning to do this without turning themselves into stone trees who shit gold, but elves have a bit longer to do so and are usually both healthier than these mages and also able to accomplish a bit of martial discipline in their time.

Sign Language



This is the language of military, of force, of war. This is the one time in this list I tell a lie because this is a hundred true LANGUAGES but they all owe to the same root language, the same root word and concept really: distrust. This is the Lilith tongue which gestates all codes, ciphers, and sign. When the word comes which breaks the world it will not come from a magician's tower or a squid faced Bat. It will come from here, and if you've ever lifted a sword in service of a kingdom's cause you know a little bit about it. Maybe you will be the lucky one.

Silent Language

Distinct from Sign Language, this is the language of true understanding or enlightenment, the ability to know what is said when it was never said, to know the heart of another you never met or knew. Telepathy is a wrong way to think about it. It is an instinct which can be honed, which many people tap into, but which few can accurately read. When comics in the 60s kept referring to women's intuition they meant this. Neo had this in the Matrix a little. Merlin from TH White definitely. Sherlock Holmes. Jesus. Buddha. Santa Claus. It is an understanding that comes before the phase of language where you try to understand something, which fucks up every model of communication I can remember but I started drinking 4 entries ago.


There is something out there moving outside of any system we know. Not in heaven or hell, and not better than them, just different, maybe stranger, and outside. Maybe it's older, but it's not oldest. It's just older. This is the language of causality, the language of things happening, and if you ever hear this language or speak in it the events surrounding that conversation will be momentous. No one in all creation or past it speaks this as a matter of course, fluently, but a few people are particularly attuned, who feel the vrmmmm vrmmmm of the entire universe, and strangely Halflings are among them.

There is a language of Beasts, and each beast has its own language to its species.

There are the languages the races cultivate - gnome, dwarf, elf - not versions of these above nor replacements for them, merely additional affectations and intonations that can't be accurately described in terms of what they aren't or how they are used by beings not raised in that culture. The concepts simply don't translate - speaking elf is being Elf and vice versa.

There are a million little dialects and neighborhood colloquialisms all across the great world but they are simply strange shapes in the sand rather than something else entirely, water or some shit, and so may be understood in the concept of sand. Languages. Sanguages.

There are of course the Songs of the Kind, which are something else entirely...

There is the Hush of the Dead, the unspeech where nobody speaks, which breeds silences, which few ever even hear and fewer hear without being terrified or mad. No one can be said to speak this by definition, and it has no script, but crickets shut the fuck up and dust falls hard enough you can hear it like snowfall.

There are the languages of colors which must only be spoken in conjunction with other tongues, lest they awaken things. There is also the language of Only Darkness Beneath Forever, which is mostly scratches, wails, and echolocation, and gives you a funny accent depending on what kind of metal you are wearing.

There is Robot.


It should be obvious from the Background or Career or character bio or circumstances of the module which ones you begin play speaking - for the most part the answer will be "most of them A LITTLE but some well" - but if you and your DM reach a dispute on it simply fill up your BX proficiencies with these or, if you're using LOTFP style skills, it's pretty easy there too: you begin with the logical ones and whenever you think you should have facility with a language, CHECK, and if you fail then just talk to someone who DOES understand that language. Talk to them a lot. You're allowed to try again after you level up.

This is a lot more usable list of languages to me than broad categories of humanoid types-by-language or every supernatural creature having its own languages. I mean of COURSE they do but how the languages are used, not who is using the language, should matter more in play. It matters more in fiction. Especially the fairy tale feel I like getting where I can in games. Or was the important detail whether the wolf speaking Common to Little Red Riding Hood?

And in case that isn't punishingly obvious, all Lawful characters know the Machine, all Chaotic characters know the Black Speech, and all Neutral characters know the First One, and you can fuck off with the rest of your alignment questions right out of here.

That was too confrontational and I apologize but won't erase it because, a little? Like I said this took several breaks to write and I began to drink.