Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Signs of Societies

I went looking for something I wrote about unicorns and holy god I forgot I did all this other stuff so while I work on the unicorns some more let me put this up as a placeholder.

I’ve put together a flair kit for when you don’t necessarily have a shadowy counter-movement, conspiracy, or secret society in mind for your game but your PCs suddenly want to go to the black market or meet the king of thieves. How might members of this order make themselves known to one another in public, or how might they prove their allegiance to gain entrance to an enclave?
Assuming that “secret handshake” or “the password is Swordfish” are boring (because they are) here are three Sign/Counter-Sign tables for use in pretty much any campaign, with some light tweaks here and there.
This first table is for symbols and is somewhat inspired by the old Jesus Fish and a similar table I once put together for pirate flags. Someone would draw a symbol and another would draw a symbol in response. Roll twice on this table, once for Sign and again for Counter-Sign. This can also be used to generate tattoos on the fly.

1. Circle within a circle/Dividing line
2. Sun/Scorpion
3. Fire/Half circle
4. Five lines radiating from one point/Diamond
5. Serpent/Arrow
6. Water/Stone
7. Cloud/Thunderbolt
8. Crescent moon/Hourglass
9. Eye-Male/Eye-Female
10. Hand/Horse written backwards
11. Skull/Holy symbol
12. Oak Tree/Bird
13. Snow/Hammer
14. Letter/Axe
15. Number/Claw mark
16. Arc/Twelve-point star
17. Triangle/Flag symbol of region or kingdom
18. Fish/Wind
19. Sword/Shield
20. 3 Wavy Lines/Quartering lines

The next table is for code phrases. These are often a little more awkward but quite fun because these are the easiest signs to goof on. Assume that many or most of these are forms of maxims in the campaign world, so that a person might accidentally offer the correct Counter-Sign with no foreknowledge. Roll once on this table for the initiating and completing phrases.

1. The twilight wanes/The shadows swell
2. The rains came early/Floods have small beginnings
3. My slave is ill/Sick of heart, sick of limb
4. Swords must remain sharp/Passions, sharper still
5. Wits are weapons/Arguments are armor
6. Five praises to the gods/Praise also the damned, favorites of gods
7. Never run with sabres/It can be lethal to stand and wait
8. Dragons can be friendly/Only when friendship excludes generosity
9. Nobles can afford noble intentions/Beggars must instead beg forgiveness
10. Blood follows blood/Waste follows waste
11. Let wine flow in dark times/And dark beer flow all the time
12. Saints must first repent/Sinners make good vicars
13. A man needs a good chair/A good throne needs a bastard
14. Crows nest at midnight/Magpies nest at noon
15. I have a golden snake to sell/I wish I was you
16. You must cross two rivers/I’ll cross one river twice
17. I’m as strong as ten men/And as honest as a thousand thousand
18. Miracles are all around us/True, you haven’t killed me yet
19. I seek a book on pottery/I have a book on narwhales
20. My wife says I should be king/Her Majesty does you disservice

This final table is for meeting agents in a public forum…players won’t necessarily know who they’re meeting and neither might the agent sent to meet them. By these methods they can quickly distinguish themselves in a crowd only by the correct exchange. There is room for confusion here but I feel less so than the code phrases. Roll twice on this table for Sign and Counter-Sign.

1. 3 taps on side of nose
2. Tug of ear
3. Fist to chest
4. Touching below left eye
5. Hands folded, as if in prayer
6. 6 Clicks of tongue
7. 2 fingers raised
8. Mouth covered, as if coughing
9. Hand closed around own throat
10. Thumb drawn in line down chest
11. Thumb drawn in line across chest
12. Hand held out flat/”paper”
13. Elbow tap
14. Hat brim touch
15. Chicken dance
16. Stick tongue out
17. Nod twice
18. Click heels
19. Crack knuckles
20. Index finger held under nose

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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Wretched Bells

I think by Maurice de Vlaminck?
Aimless peals shimmy down  cobbles, away from anything like a church, seeking beautiful drunk, sweaty naked people. Only soot. Chimes grind slowly across roofs of fortress, palace, and cloister, over ditches made of mashed and fluid once-homestead, shaking art down from ceilings of great places like dust in an hourglass, tears of a statue, rolling on a great millwheel,  kang kun kang kun kang                 kang

Down where the people would be is terrified scrambling, screamless mouthing, shadows and hollows of people and beings, shadow dogs, hollow birds, almost cats, they go nowhere with haste. Compelled to war, propelled to action, imperiled by the claps of a doom which came already, once, in a little town all green, ground down now all brown. Overseen by silk-threaded orchards, where spins fog the hillock cool. Inhabited by panic. Centeral to dread of a countryside. Downstream from the cursed place where children all vanish and dissolve.

Beneath tip press of a dark midday finger. Below throat of the ever-bellowing Chapel.

"We pray to the gods. They do not answer our prayers. Gods do not hate us, else they ruin us. We must reach farther to touch the gods, and speak quieter." Archenius Primus, named Followich Galendrood, once Pot Stik Ham, man under sun for the creators and fuckers of the universe.

We will glory the gods.
We will please the gods.
We will be heard by the gods.
We will be heard by the gods.
We will raise a temple.
We will raise a noise.
We will raise our voices.
We will raise a whisper.
We will whisper we love you.
We will hear their reply.
We will hear their reply.

Deep lay a poison though it may continue to strain, to wound, to kill, and oldest poison buried deepest in man earth and god is rage that's made of need. Hate of love.

Archenius Primus made him a place where no wind, no echo, no chirp or hum, no scrape could be heard, nothing, save the perfect, thin, low, humble, penitent whisper, and this humble throat clawed ragged through the passing stormclouds. Followich Galendrood set him there a bell, so all would know that he, that he, that Pot Stik Ham, had heard gods.

A man may be petty without being stupid, a man may be ambitious without going mad. These were not the case of Pot Stik Ham, who had no eye for patterns, who had no patois in foresight.

He built him a perfect throat. He set himself there a bell.
He whispered.

It is a pain which lasts forever, botfly in the wood and skin of the city. On distant ranges and peaks sage paladins and heartached crusaders look, seeing the Chapel fallen into sorrow and death, seeing a kingdom past misery's reach these last many years, yet not. An outline people, a scribbled corpse fear, running forever, from and to nothing, in always throes of mortal finality. Sin which must cleanse from the world, constant ringing of alarm, pain, hope and prophecy and love and a man and the ruin of the gods. It is shaking apart. It is crushing beneath. They champions of charity look on at the sad shadow play.

They ride past. They hear it yet for leagues.

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

Fleet

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.

Pursuer

Tracer 
 
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.

Swiftness

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.

Paralyze

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.

NO ESCAPE

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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WITCH- Cowboy Vampire Magic for Doublecrossroads

Moebius' drawing of two witches mid-breakfast, from Blueberry.
  • Witches use 1d6 for their Hit Die. They never receive a Constitution bonus.
  • Their Defensive Number is 13.
  • Witches can use any Minor weapon (d4). Heavier weapons get in the way of arcane ministrations and attract too much attention.
  • They may also use pistols, though they may not do so while casting, and typically abhor nonmagical pistols.
  • Witches add their Intellect bonus to their Languages skill. Otherwise they speak Lawful and a language of their choice.
  • Witches can cast spells, organized by power according to Tiers. At 1st level, a Witch knows 1+Intellect bonus spells (so a Witch with Intellect 13 knows 2 First Tier spells).
  • Spells may be cast in two main ways. First, a creature with HD greater than the Tier of the spell being cast may be sacrificed as part of a ritual, meaning that casting a Tier 2 spell requires a creature of HD 2+ or greater. The Witch gains no XP for this. Second, a Witch may pay this blood price himself, casting a spell by reducing his current Hit Points by half for a First Tier spell. Higher Tiers cost additional HP for each casting; +3 HP for Second Tier, +4 for Third Tier, and so on.
  • All spells must be studied daily because the recipes rewrite themselves when the Witch sleeps, as if defending themselves. Spells must be kept in a grimoire. A grimoire may be memorized from, and kept safe, or it may be read from aloud, and put at risk. When a grimoire is destroyed a Witch does not lose their spells for that day but cannot recover their spells once they sleep, and must take great pains to replace their grimoire.
  • Witches must find additional spells of any Tier in the course of play. The Table below indicates at which levels a Witch becomes capable of casting which Tier of spell. They may add spells they find in other books or scrolls to their grimoire: Read Magic must be cast, and the Witch must wrestle with the translation, sometimes literally, with transcription taking an hour per Tier of the spell for each spell.
  • Only gagging, blinding, and binding a Witch’s hands can prevent them from spellcasting.
  • They do not hire normal Helpers. Instead, they have Thralls, who exist to serve the Witch's physical needs.For each Thrall a Witch sleeps with the night before, his Defensive Number improves by 1.
  • A Witch may heal by drinking the blood of a willing subject or helpless sacrifice who has not been used to cast a spell: the subject loses an amount of HP equal to whatever the Witch gains.
  • REMEMBER: Any being may be used either to feed and heal from, or to improve your Defensive Number, or to cast a spell. If you sleep with someone you've gained all the power you can from them, same with feeding on someone.
  • At Level 1 a Witch may take a Familiar, sacrificing one of their First Tier spells for the ability to beckon a Familiar. A Witch may create a familiar at later levels but must wait until the next dark moon. A Witch’s Familiar may replace/eat/become their grimoire. A Witch drawing strength from its Familiar’s blood recovers half the Hit Points it would have healed normally. This counts as a Helper.
  • At level 5 a Witch may use a machete (Normal weapon) in addition to daggers (Minor Weapons).
  • At level 9, a Witch may erect a tower (if she can afford to) and attract a Level 1 Witch and a Level 5 Witch. Other Witches may be summoned in the future. Witches can spellcast together from their (geomantically positoned) tower for maximum effectiveness.
  • At level 9, a Witch can Create Magic Items. They can invest an item with a spell (or spells!) by casting the spell through the item as part of a ritual costing 10000g per spell level. A permanent magical effect costs twice as much, and a unique magical effect costs 5x as much.
  • Witches may advance to Level 16.
Features Level XP HP
First Tier
Familiar
1 0 1d6

2 2500 +1d6
Second Tier 3 5000 +1d6

4 10000 +1d6
Third Tier
Machete
5 20000 +1d6

6 40000 +1d6
Fourth Tier 7 80000 +1d6

8 160000 +1d6
Fifth Tier
Create Magic Item
Tower
9 320000 +1d6

10 485000 +1
Sixth Tier 11 640000 +1

12 795000 +1
Seventh Tier 13 950000 +1

14 1100000 +1
Eighth Tier 15 1255000 +1

16 1410000 +1

Invincible Colour

Lazurus are a rich and vibrant blue found few other places in nature. This is unusual but were it the only remarkable thing about Lazurus then their footprint on the world would have long ago faded, trod under by disease, by conquest, by the cruel march of time. They would have passed out of posterity and been forgotten by even that old whore rumor.

Yet the Lazurus have never been conquered, not once, not in record. They have never succumbed to plague or famine, not truly. They have disappeared for centuries, into their honeycomb mountains where the rain is precious and the junipers life itself, only to return as powerful as ever. A sapphire terror from the cragged lands.

They appear only to hum, constantly, like a small a capella band always warming up, most of the time, and they always travel in groups. It is extremely disconcerting. They are simply speaking through their lips, though not in the usual way.

The Lazurus are not bloodthirsty or conquest-minded but they represent the surest threat to the world, for the Lazurus have the power to turn the world blue. This is a metaphor, too, but I'm not using it as one right now. The Lazurus have the ability to turn material a rich, deep, velvety blue. They can use this once a day per hit die and may affect a total surface area equal to their number of hit dice x10 in inches. Young Lazurus must be in skin contact with a surface in order to affect it, while the elder witchmaking Lazurus can affect anything within their line of sight.

Those things which are remote (I wrote this phrase and forgot what it was going to finish with but it affects me so I'm leaving it in. It's also an apt description of Lazurus.)

That is a creepy enough power and has the ability to blind and destroy magic scrolls and stuff so it's cool. However, Lazurus also have the power to control blue things. A thing which is completely blue and weighs less than their current HPx10 can be manipulated by Lazurus if it be within 30' (+2 feet per HD) and moved up to the Lazurus' own speed in a round. They can also control the mutability of their own form; Lazurus may improve their AC by 4 as an action, and the rules governing this follow whatever edition you're playing's rules on dragon breath.

The Lazurus' senses are also blue. All Lazurus can hear from one blue to another blue of similar hue, even if otherwise deafened, which is why no one has ever heard the Lazurus tongue (mm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mm-mmmm-mm), a sibbilant and clicking plosive-free jabber. Elder Lazurus can also see through blue, and can see blue even in perfect darkness, even if otherwise blinded. The truly powerful among them can also step from blue to blue, so long as the area they pass through is enough for them to wriggle their slender, slightly flexible bones through.

They are beautiful and tantalizing, which explains why they have had so many enemies. They are Lazurus, which explains why so few of those enemies ever endure.

This is also the secret to the power of their nation. FACT: Few Lazurus still live. FACT: The ancient azure regents of the Lazurus commanded the power to shake the sky and wrack flesh. FACT: The Lazurus nation numbers in the millions. This is the truth behind the hollow eyes and slacked jawbones of Lazurus wanderers and cerulean centurions, behind the twisted god-mummies who sit in waiting. Any blue skinned man you meet may be a man, or else may be another man, far away, whose initiative is a sugar-burning fire within the emptying chest of the spearman before you.

The unreliable reports of Lazurus society suggest that even they have a hard time telling on most occasions.

Do not fuck with Lazurus or your lands will run blue with blood.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Them Men Who Are Drugs



There is a fourteen-page manual known as the Divine Handbook of The Mad Little Fucker: The Seven Winds, Four Seas, Two Suns, and One Heartbeat of the Apocrine, written 1013 years ago by the enchanted (and also SELF-enchanted) Cermyn Flia, otherwise forgotten despot of prisoners in the stone shaft penitence kingdom of Taletataltleatet. It is filled with mad recipes, unheard of taboos, and a language and pornography of his own devising. The mad do not want the world to be mad, merely broken, so that in their madness they can tolerate it. His followers abroad and within his gulag nation were rabid, and remained so long after his death (at their hands). His scriptures describe the coming of a new age, and a new man, an eye which shall be opened when all is darkness, after the final shit is had.

Cermyn Flia's last curse was to die somewhere with an expansive water table. His blood and bone are a powerful hallucinogen and mutagen, and it has been working its way into the supple flesh of the world peach  for a long time. Touching people. Altering them. They are transformed, mind and body, and become like Cermyn Flia: a transformer, a toad person, an Apocrine.

The Apocrine are an evangelistic people yet also very protective of their secrets. They live in large families and communities related by marriage, and they require induction into such a union before their secrets are shared. They are, however, a meritorious culture, and those who come seeking transcendental pleasures alone end up finding themselves numb to the world and handed all the chump work.

Apocrine possess strange properties in their biological fluids. Their tears are a powerful acid, able to corrode chain link in a little over an hour. Their saliva is toxic, acting as a paralytic poison on most creatures. Their blood, in concentrated amounts rather than the amounts absorbed by the Apocrine themselves, causes a powerful chemical burn when touching organic matter. Their skin is covered with a thick layer of hallucinogenic sweat. Their hair and nails can be ground into a delicious spice, and there are secrets to the rest of their bodies which the Apocrine have never evidenced to the world...but they are a surprising people. Some Apocrine masters have concocted a way igniting living material at a touch.

Bio-to-bio contact with the Apocrine or any of their separated and weaponized fluids is inadvisable and the effects of these contacts are instant. Additionally, a save must be performed, even when you are horribly injured by these agents, because each substance is incredibly addictive. It is said the Apocrine earned the valley they called home by inventing the world's only martial bathing practices. They have obviously weaponized swimming.

Apocrine do not find clothes comfortable, and their secretions dissolve most clothing over a short time anyhow. Even if you meet a heavily armored Apocrine in their tarnished steel, be assured that they have taken the precaution of coating their armor and arms with their own fluids.

Their minds are also adapted so that they have a 2/6 shot of understanding the intent if not content of any message, and they have a kind of special sight: even in perfect darkness, they can see anything which can die.

Hot water applied vigorously and thoroughly to the Apocrine neutralizes the effects of skin contact for a short time, though they will regain their potency within a day. Apocrine find that alcohol intensifies their effects, however alcohol affects Apocrine 4 times stronger than most beings. They do not get along with horses or mounts, leading to their reputation as the Walking People. They are relatively short lived, rarely reaching 60. As they walk and wander, as they are murdered and wake old and screaming in bed, as they die and are interred, they carry forward the circumstances of their birth. They can tell one another by smell. There are more every year.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Patrick You Talk Movies Good

Nobody who follows me doesn't follow other people who got to this already, but I was waiting for the whole thing to be done to talk about it and got busy. Here are the parts:

http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2015/03/nimoys-whales.html
http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2015/03/opening-my-doom-wings-takes-while.html

This is all going to come out a bit fever rambly but I've had a shit week, HAVE a splitting fucking head, and want to break my usual trend of mostly not just talking about what other people just talked about to pay what I think is an important compliment. Please forgive me the details I'm gritting through in service of my larger goal. Now:

This stuff is my god damned crack and it's the #1 reason I hate my job, which I actually love and which is some people's dream job, because the usual frame for conversation about films breaks down to one of the following:

"Well at least they stayed true to the comic/I hate that they didn't stay true to the comic." Fuck you that's not the movie, that's not even the film's story, that's complaining that ice isn't water.

"Oh god not another sequel/remake" Fuck you I've known you for four years and you've never talked about a movie that wasn't based on a cartoon or comic book or Star Wars don't start complaining about the bleakness of ideaspace now. Fist the llama, fine, but don't blame the llama.

"The book was better" A colloquial way to phrase something which is sometimes true (this book was a better book than the movie was a movie/what I liked about the book wasn't evidenced or executed well in the movie/I prefer the experience of reading a book to reading a film/I don't read my films) and fine as a statement on those terms but, strictly as phrased, stupid. If I complained that the Rolling Stones don't sound like they do on their albums when they play live or vice versa anybody with a brain in their head would understand we're talking about different methods and tools, different contexts, sometimes different audiences, in short wholly different experiences even though Brown Sugar is still about black pussy. Same with stage acting vs film acting. So why anybody acts like these whole different artforms can be discussed in equivocally compatibile terms - or, to put it more accurately, like "The book was better" is the end of a conversation or a complete statement rather than the beginning of a conversation - simply because many of them share a narrative-centric preoccupation is a sign of sheer madness.

"I hope they make a movie out of that." Fuck this mostly because I only ever hear this from people who say all of the above and usually in the same conversation. I like tea. American wrong tea. (I like real kinds too but people who get all uppity about vegetable garbage water make drinking a Georgia sweet iced tea incredibly satisfying.) I also like water because I'm a living being. If I am at someone's house and they offer me water, and I act very appreciative, but after a few sips ask them if they could take my glass back and brew up some tea with that water, well, that's not that appreciative for the awesome thing I've been given at all, is it? That's me not just disregarding the contributions of the giver a little, even if it's not meant as a slight, it's trivializing the effort that goes into effecting that transition. Again I mostly get man-period over this because this is said a breath away from the above and that laundry list starts sounding an awful lot like "People should make more stuff I like." I like having lots of stuff to like but surely people who make stuff should worry about making stuff THEY like, and to a lesser extent things their bosses like? I'm not even talking about a board of investors, I'm talking Produced by Lucille Ball, Produced by Danny DeVito, Produced by Howard Hawks.

"Spoilers." Yes because we started this conversation about the movie to not talk about the movie. If you worry about this kind of thing maybe don't butt in. We are trying to use grown up words to discuss ideas. Here is a plastic train.

"Raped my childhood." PLASTIC TRAIN OH MY GOD PHILLIP.

Films are discussed in terms of trivia and director's audio commentary insights like "That guy was the key grip" and "The pool flooded that day!" Or my personal favorite, things that did not happen, like Nick Nolte's Han Solo or how ORIGINALLY the movie was going to do THIS and then they did THIS, devoid of any insight into the craft or logic behind these choices. One thing that didn't happen is that Luke and Leia didn't just raw-dog it in the bathroom of the Falcon for twelve minutes, I love Star Wars! This is all fine for its own sake truly but it is not talking about the movie.

I could go on and on about what a bore I am and I'm sure there'll be people out in force to tell me how much I suck at art but I am saying this to say this, and please bear with me because this is all about praising Pat here:

I've done some true reviews in my time but I don't much care for them. Reviews are post-mortems. A thing happened, now it's in the past, now it's dead, let's see how healthy it was. It often amounts largely to that poetry graphing essay from Dead Poets Society, scoring something on a percentile, partial credit for showing your work, and far far too often is about either what the reviewer wanted the movie to be rather than what it is or banging on about whatever (often very important I'll grant) issue the author has a torch for, be it ending sexism or fighting child slavery or stopping trans abuse. This is really a subset of the first problem with reviews, though, I wanted this artist to eliminate sexism and yell at the sexists the way I wanted them to, and that didn't happen so I am SO. MAD. at them for this, for choosing to perpetuate (to CREATE) sexism, that I am getting my pitchfork and I am going to end sexism my bad self with this review and make an example of them!

Reviews are usually, then, buying guides. They are not Juxtapoz, they are Consumer Reports, and Juxtapoz is also Consumer Reports while we're at it.

I do nothing but digress.

What I aspire to, what I try to do, and what I love to read and hear, is critique, the art of seeing what is there, the art of seeing why something is not there. And there's always more to find. There's always more to learn. There's always more about the world, about humanity, to research, to find out from heartbreak and near-death experience, from fuckin', that deepens your understanding of any particular subject (like, say, Patton). More to explore about techniques, what is used and when and why, and,  more than what is being done, what more you can do that no one else has considered yet, or which is thought impossible. It's an illuminating, intimate, personal experience and above all else a LIVING experience, and it's why I'll always prefer to see a bad but interesting movie than a PRETTY GOOD CONSIDERING mediocre ("shitty") movie.

This is what Patrick brings to these videos, something I quite honestly dismissed when I saw it circling the internet at the top of the week because I had other things on my mind like not catching the flu. This is a thought process he brings to most things he writes about, especially those sculpture articles, and it's what he brings to his game material. It's also the reason I can see someone not finding all this very interesting or digging on DCO. A problem you'll hear talked about in academic literature, film festivals, the LA comedy scene, all over the creative world: among a closed system of people who all speak the language and more importantly READ the language your priorities can warp a little until you're speaking only that language, playing only to that crowd. It's at once limiting and liberating, and the conversation is always about finding a balance between making your signal effective even in wide transmission and not compromising the core principles and interests that drove you to this pursuit or this particular cloister in the first place.

What I'm saying is that Patrick looks for what is there. A natural consequence is that when Patrick produces something, a nonfiction article, a poem, a dungeon, he makes sure that there's lots of THERE there, a lot of stuff to be seen if looked for. I can understand the perspective of not liking that very much. I just don't approve of it. Because it's one of the big reasons I'm looking forward to Fire on the Velvet Horizon.

You Talk Movie Good Patrick.

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:

Crawstep
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
Aarakocra

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.

Vespers

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.
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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

My Players Captured One Of These And Named It Jeffrey

I know this is from The Gravedancers but my wife and friends and I all just call that movie Rape Ghost.
On your way to work, traveling across country for a funeral, reading about distant amazing places, you know - whether you ever construct this as an actual notion, you have a base assumption - that the world keeps going between the big important parts. The world isn't all majestic mountains, ancient temples, bustling whorehouses, pig contests, that one really fantastic bakery, and the place you poop. There's a lot of people out there living entire lives that are just as big, BIGGER, than yours. And even beyond them there are vast expanses of ice, forest, plain, sea, and sand, expanses which stretch on seemingly forever, their beauty unappreciated, the proverbial tree falling in the woods, unobserved and so unloved.

This is so wrong. It is wrong three times.

First, it is true that the world is much bigger than you, and much bigger than what you think of as civilization. But it's much, much bigger than that still, because so much of the 'discovered' world is still unexplored, accounted for by mapmakers and bookkeepers but not by eyes and mouths. It is simply taken on faith because lives are short, and even eternal lives are busy. I'm throwing out a word here: ocean. Have another one: intestine. One more word: scale. Also: spacetime.

Second, there are places (and some of them quite large) where there should be something and yet there is not. There is nothing there. You may even have been through these places unscathed, because the emptiness reacts to your presupposition. It quickly makes itself look like something. But not always, never completely. What it does make is wrong. Waving grass that is really flexing, part of a single organ. Shifting dunes of gold dust. Trees with no rings, which never grew, covered in reptilian scales. You may pass by without ever noticing. You may fall victim to the perils of a hastily assembled universe. You may be there still the the nothingness exhales, empties once again, and you're not there. There's no there to be. Maybe that's where they come from.

Third, you see, are the not-people who don't live in these aren't-places. SOMEONE must live here, you reason about such places. SOMEONE would have noticed this was happening. SOMEONE would have seen. It stands to reason. There must be SOMEONE around here. SOMEONE will come for me. And so they do, greasing into being, cruel little sculptures of things. Their eyes and teeth shine like Christmas lights in the darkness, out of which they resolve themselves, their skin taking on a pale yellow, a light pink, a pastel green, a sick and off-palette tone. Their skin. It's the texture you see on the skin that forms on good chicken soup. Their eyes and rictus jaws are bright and shiny even fully formed, but they appear almost painted on. They are sculpted of one piece.

The nothingness makes these aren't-people. They're the menything. I call them Nothlings.

Nothlings are not malicious but they are incredibly aggressive, mostly out of curiosity. Once they understand you or the world around you they will watch patiently until something new and interesting happens, then see if they can kill it. They like to strangle, and have a long, steel-sharp nail-appendage on their littlest finger. They are not in proportion. They have no willy atall, but they're gross and creepy in a "guy you'd never sit next to at supper" kind of way so it's easy to think of them as male.

They don't so much have blood, or brains, or anything you'd expect, certainly not until you consciously expect it to be there. Then you'll find yourself surprised to learn they are filled with little fingers, little ears, little elbow skin wrinkles, little copies of their own faces flowing over each other like dumplings. Liquid flesh pouring from wounds and piling up in ribboned sheets on the floor.

My players spared one of these creatures when they attacked, and named him Jeffrey. They are currently in a campaign that is patient corpses, cute, widdwe mousies, and never-ending bars, bars all the way down.

It's also this.

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.

Redmantle
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.

Witchflesh
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.

Awake
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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Walking It Off

Something that makes hypnosis, charm, and illusions such a big damn deal at the table beyond just believability (Gram-Gram? HERE? In Castle Fuck-Crag?) is illusory damage. If they imagine themselves to be stabbed, or falling on spikes at the bottom of a long fall, or their hand catches fire suddenly, sure, most of the time the illusion will be broken immediately. Hey, genius: not only am I fine but now I'm going to be harder to trick with illusions.

Okay, say some spells over the years, we'll throw in illusory damage, too! We owe damage typing mostly to skeletons and trolls, I think, and it got extremely fucking out of hand for a while there. Even if you have 14 types of damage 'illusory' shouldn't be its own category, should it? Maybe just make it psychic damage...4e did a lot of that for fear and illusion effects that damaged...but next thing you know everyone is doing psychic damage and to me the words "psychic damage" should carry more weight at the table than Type #12. It should be an "oh shit run it's the Clefft Beyonde Starse pouring into this world and undoing the basic notions of unmadness" kind of thing, a sign post that you've found someone for whom the world is their dungeon and any ACTUAL dungeon they're in right now is water off a duck's back, as consequential as ultraviolet light to us.

The idea is sound, though: you think you're hurt, you may think you're down for the count even, like when you Command someone to "die" and they pass the fuck out. But once the duration is up they say "Wait I'm not decapitated at all" and rally. I think the only reason it seems so weird and fiddly a subsystem is that it IS a weird and fiddly subsystem. If it were a concept/tool in the monster box as common as say old-school petrification or new-school domain effects then nobody's bat an eye. "Of course illusions can do that, illusions are MADE to exploit that part of the rules!" Rather than the other way around, yes? And it's not like there's not a ton of examples of ways we can use it.

There's a little place on a lot of late-edition character sheets for Temporary Hit Points.

Do what they say on the package: you have these HP for a while and then you don't. This can act as a kind of half-heal or a little shield, a buffer before you take REAL damage, like rings in the 1 1/2 Sonic games that's not entirely bullshit. The fluff justification for this is always a race, class, spell, feat, or item effect which confers this bonus, and there are some common expressions: berserker rages, drinking, empty-self serenity, mind-over-matter, some holy invigoration, drug, magic, possession by an elder spirit, inspiring words of encouragement or wisdom, being a plain old tough bastard, good old hodad magical crap, the ancient blood of your ancestors, just being from SPACE or a robot, the list goes on.

Now this isn't traditionally thought of as an OSR friendly mechanic but it jives with my impression of hit points as kung fu, using some technique or other (it hardly matters) to draw on an inner reserve to keep you up until you've saved someone/gotten revenge/found your way home/whatever. The current edition of DND doesn't use this feature as much as the last few but it's still a core feature.

So, lately, I've been thinking about Temporary Damage. I think it's a damage category more useful than which Mega Man bad guy weapon the damage is typed to, usually. A spell effect, environmental conditions, disease, toxins, whatever, affects you physically and de-centers your chi, making you weaker and weaker. Eventually, if Temporary Damage would take you below your  current HP threshold, you are rendered incapacitated, unconscious, and helpless, so that someone can deliver a coup de grace. OTHERWISE, left to your own devices, your body-mind will repair itself and you'll pop back up hale and hearty with a few hours of recuperation.

There's lots of situations where this would make sense. Lack of oxygen, for example, or a lot of things recent editions have used psychic damage for.

What makes something like illusory damage seem weird and annoying to track is because it just sits there on top of all the other systems of damage and saves. I say make Temporary Damage core to the components of the machine, and illusory damage just one facet of Temporary Damage. I mean BX already has a Temporary Damage mechanic discussed in the section on taming dragons: you beat their ass with the flat of a blade but don't stab or cast spells at them, and track their HP on a separate "whip you into shape" track. It makes sense that this works for other things like owlbears or T-Rex, too, so I use it for that purpose and I'm sure other people do, too. Why not just codify that a liiittle bit more so we've got somewhere to make things like illusions and POISONS (oh my god the horror stories of the pretzels some tables twisted themselves into over the use of poisons?!) easier to use?

I mean, I'm gonna.

The Lawman, Bold Iron-Nerved Keepers of Peace in XXR's Strange DNDable West

  • Strength 9 and Wisdom 9 are required to be a Lawman.
  • Lawmen use 1d8 for their hit die. At first level, they roll 1d8 twice and take the larger number for their starting HP.
  • Their Defensive Number is 18.
  • They may use any Normal weapon (d8).
  • They may also use pistols and shotguns.
  • Lawmen may Protect a number of times each day equal to their Hit Dice+1 (For example, 2/day at level 1). Lawmen choose to Protect during the enemy’s initiative. During a round wherein a Lawman protects, they may reduce their Defensive Number by any amount (including Dexterity and conditional bonuses) to confer that bonus to a target. This has the effect of either shielding an ally or target (making them harder to hit) or drawing their fire (since the attacker may target the exposed Lawman instead). They gain a bonus to hit and to damage during their next initiative equal to the Defensive bonus they gambled. In those instances where enemies have back to back initiative, a Lawman may Protect both rounds (should they have Protect uses remaining). The attack bonuses they gain from Protecting stack on their next initiative.
  • Lawmen may spend a point of Luck in order to regain 10 Hit Points, up to their maximum HP. They may spend any amount of Luck this way at once.
  • Lawmen may use their Strength score to determine their Helper details rather than Charisma.
  • At level 4, a Lawman may forgo a save to allow an ally who fails a save a second save.
  • At level 7, on a round after a Lawman has Protected, they may attack twice.
  • At level 9, a Lawman may become a Judge, capable of making summary rulings on any case or issue, and to swear warrants and set rewards. They also gain the ability to Turn Undead.
  • At level 10, they may roll twice when making attacks after Protecting.
  • Lawmen may advance to level 12.
Features Level XP HP
Protector 1 0 1d8 (roll twice, take the higher number)+1+Constitution bonus

2 2000 +1d8+Constitution bonus

3 4000 +1d8+Constitution bonus
Savior 4 8000 +1d8+Constitution bonus

5 16000 +1d8+Constitution bonus

6 32000 +1d8+Constitution bonus
Punisher 7 64000 +1d8+Constitution bonus

8 120000 +1d8+Constitution bonus
Judge
Turn Undead
9 240000 +1d8+Constitution bonus
Avenger 10 360000 +2+Constitution bonus

11 480000 +4

12 600000 +4