Monday, November 4, 2019

Maidens and the Moon - Character Sheet

This is just a small post to gush about my players.

I love them. They are good.

For our current campaign, two of my players put together a character sheet booklet. It holds both the rules for my heartbreaker, His Majesty the Worm, as well as being a nice functional character record sheet. I think it's so cool, and I just wanted to share it.

Click here to download the full thing, if you're interested.





Thursday, October 17, 2019

Maidens and the Moon - The Forest Castle

Per my last post, I've been playtesting my heartbreaker using an amalgamation of blogs I like, Instagram artists that inspire me, and some A+ OSR modules. Read the big inspiration post there before going on. I'll try and call out the places I plagiarize gain inspiration as much as I can.


And, again, there's material here that my players have not uncovered yet. If you're in my game, be ye warned that this way lies ruin(ed fun). 


I haven't done a ton to clean my notes up for public consumption. Apologies. Consider this a, uh, a glimpse into the way I make notes. Perhaps the sketchiness will inspire you more than a beautifully laid-out module. Anyway, I can't be assed. 

I have done some work to inject commentary on how the playtest went as the players went through the dungeon. Retrospective-ing is one of the reasons I'm mocking up these play reports. 

The Forest Castle


The Moon King sent out the Siege Castle to conquer the suzerain cities of Gafferdy. 

The Siege Castle first went to the Forest Castle in the Forest of Drood. There, it squatted and shat out deep pits and assault tunnels. Huge, steam-powered axes began cutting down the gods of the druid-knights. 

It worked ruin. 

When the Father Tree fell, the druid-knights took up a desperate scheme to save their lives and their forest. They worked a ritual--ancient, dangerous, and bizarre. They shed their human forms, and let the forest run wild over the city. The population (what was left, anyway) was polymorphed into mushroom giants.

There was no longer any city to conquer. 

So it's a fallen city--a  huge ruined pile. Roofs have collapsed and roads have split open.  The aquaducts have toppled and now streams run through the streets. Coyotes slink out of tilted doorframes.  The buildings are covered with thick tufts of grasses and wildflowers growing from between the bricks.

And everywhere: the trees!


The Forest Meatgrinder


Note: The Forest Castle reviles the use of wood. Candles and lamp oil is okay. Those who bear wooden torches will be targeted first.


  1. Resources taxed
  2. Resources taxed
  3. Resources taxed
  4. Resources taxed
  5. Resources taxed
  6. [Curiosity] Salahander: You spot a giant pink salamander extending its long tongue, which is tipped with an opposable hand--to gather moss from the side of the tree to eat. Its gormless mouth seems to smile at you.
  7. [Curiosity] Nature Specters: From the edge of the path, a strange looking undead menaces you. Its skull is topped with a mushroom. It floats to a man’s height, but it wears an old worn cloak. Skeletal hands grip scepter. It throws clementines at you. If you harvest their mushroom, you can make a tea that allows you to see invisible spirits.
  8. [Curiosity] You hear the harmonizing of song sloths.
  9. [Curiosity] Jar Head and the Night Puppets: A giant wearing a broken earthenware jar on his head lumbers by, planting seeds. He’s followed by tiny fairies (called night puppets), glowing like fireflies. They gather around you curiously, but Jar Head doesn’t seem to notice you - unless you’re burning torches. Then he tries and puts the fire out, angrily.
  10. [Curiosity] Spracubi Warriors: A group of cube-like little fellows with sprouts on their head come running by. The last one in the line turns to you and lets out a yelp and runs to catch up with his gang.
  11. [Travel Event] Tumblesnatchers: [Discard: S2, P3, C4, W5] giant tumbleweeds come bowling through the area. Attacks people in the back of the party first. Prompts Pentacles tests. Failure means they’re rolled into a random zone. Fungal giants will get to them first. They will extract them from the tumblesnatcher and steal their gear.
  12. [Travel Event] Dum Drum Sprouts: A patch of dum drum sprouts grows here.
  13. [Travel Event] Strangler’s Oak:. Old Man Oaky - a strangler’s oak hive - looms over a particularly gloomy part of the forest. As you pass under him, he tries to drop his terrible seeds on you! He creaks and moans as he does so. Test Cups to avoid the falling seeds. If you fail, it falls on a patch of skin (your neck, most likely). If you fell Old Man Oaky, the Stiltsman comes for thee! You can use acorn potions to reduce him to a baby, though.
  14. [Travel Event] Tunkin: A walking treasure chest, filled with plants, replete with arms and legs comes walking across your path. He freezes when he spots you, then flees. If you recover the plants inside him, you can trade them to Dingle for acorn and oak potions.
  15. [Travel Event] Treasure, but in a trap like on Endor. If investigated, a net pulls everyone around the chest into a snare trap. Mushroom Giants steal items off of the trapped PC’s belt for shamanders. [Treasure = sum of discard pile in silver]
  16. [Encounter] Jimby Slick, expert bug catcher, asks you for help capturing a Boar Beetle--a beetle the size of a cow. He joins your party. The Boar Beetle is gnawing on the tree in the next place the PCs go to.
  17. [Encounter] Mushroom Giants: A shroomling steals the weapon of the PC with the lowest Cups and takes it to a group of larger giants. You notice right as they disappear into the bush. Somehow, they appear sad.
  18. [Encounter] Honey Bubble: A porcelain golem made of yellowish clay and painted with bright sun bursts. Smells sweet. Bees buzz around him. Carries jars full of honey. Speaks “Ancient Dweller,” which only a true Linguist knows. Sells you magical healing honey for 50 silver if you can speak to him.
  19. [Encounter] Turnip Wizards: Turnip Wizards cry for help in the sound of young children. If you follow, you walk right into their trap ambush! They’ll cast a spell on you for free during their “surprise round.”
  20. [Encounter] [PC+2] Shamanders are kicking a Mushroom Giant to death for not doing enough crimes.
  21. Ouzel - First warns you of the Stiltsman in a condescending way
Monster Playtest Note: These monsters--and almost all of them in this campaign--are borrowed from Ayejay_Make_Art. I love the feeling of them, and thought they hit that "Zelda" aesthetic I was going for without being otherwise recognizable. See "Lucky Pig" below.

Salahander HD 3 They are very agile. They can climb sheer surfaces like a spider and Dash as a move action. Major Dooms Excrete Mucus: Can excrete a fire-resistant mucus. Can extinguish even magical fire. Sidenote: Fairies love it. Wompem: Can cast Weald spells Their helms can be used as a component for any weald spell. It shatters after one use. Tumblesnatchers HD 2 These are monstrous tumbleweeds. They appear in groups of 1d4+2. Each tumbleweed attempts to trap someone inside itself, prompting a test of Pentacles. Once it has a prisoner, the tumblesnatcher immediately heads off in a random direction, exposing the poor prisoner to whatever perils await in that (potentially unexplored) room. If allowed, they just keep rolling around. Turnip Wizard HD 1 So damn annoying! Major dooms Poison Nettle: If they get you with their stinging nettle-like roots, they deal 3 piercing damage Poison Cloud: Play a major doom in response to an attack. Their puff of choking cloud deals 1 Wound and gives you the Silence condition. Elites -- Turnip Wizards with 5HD are surrounded by floating potato-like spheres which functions as an antidote to their poison if eaten. Dum Drum Sprouts If you fall asleep in a patch of dum drum sprouts, you’ll get infected by them. An infection starts with eye-like rashes on your skin. Soon, the eyes will sprout with bean-like green shoots. Each watch, the sprouts drain 1 Resolve. If you have 0 Resolve, you become a sprout zombie. Sprout zombies cannot talk. The GM gives this person a secret agenda: Kill the meat! Infect them with sprouts! How do you get rid of dum drum sprouts? You can pull the sprouts out, but the eye-like pox will remain. Dingle can cure you for 10s. The Strangler Oak Highly infectious if you handle the seeds with your bare skin. If you do so, a tree begins growing from your back. If you cut it off before it grows, you take 1 Wound, but escape a worse fate. If you camp while infected with strangler oak, the tree grows substantially overnight. It wraps its branches around your throat. It whispers commands in your ear. It’s filled with hate for the fleshies. During an Encounter, the strangler oak can change the targets of your actions. You can resist by taking 1 Wound as the strangler STRANGLES you. You have to kill the hivemind to kill the strangler’s oak. IF YOU DO SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO THE FOREST: The Stiltsman comes a’callin. If you’ve wronged the Forest in some way, he thirsts for your blood. He respawns each time a major grievance occurs in the forest.
Stats as a giant.

Playtest Notes: I didn't do a good job designating what "wrong to the Forest" entailed. I was excited to pull out the Stiltsman, and was inconsistent initially about his rules. From then on, the players were more scared to do "anything" than they should have been in ideal circumstances. Players should be able to play around. I would recommend using this character cautiously, with plenty of telegraphy, and some concrete bounds.

Zones of Drood

The "dungeon" of Drood

Playtest Note: I give the PCs a map of the dungeons they go through. There are hidden areas, weird paths, etc., but I don't see any harm in telling them up front what things look like. Mapping is tedious and detracts from the act of play. The Ouzel (the biggest, most talkative bird) gives the PCs the maps usually. Because this was the first session, the Popess gave the PCs this map during the first City action.

Entrance
The ruins of the Drood are like looking at the ruins of Pompeii: a city plucked out of time by disaster. 

The gloom of the forest is oppressive. You cannot see unless you have a light source. 

Mushroom giants running away from a Shalamander, who is messily devouring them. 

The General 
In a blasted, ruined building a hermit lives. The General is a deserter from the Moon King’s army. He wears a dirty parade uniform: doublet, striped poofing pants, tall hat with a broken plume. He has a peg leg. 
  • When approached, he barks: “FRIEND OR FOE?”
  • He calls the PCs “new recruits.” He considers them his subordinates. 
  • He has pockets full of treasure--the spoils of war. He wants the PCs to descend into the Siege Pit and gather cogs. Will pay you 10g per cog. 
  • “After the Siege Castle walked to the City of Drood, it stopped a short distance away squatted onto the farmland beneath it.  While its limbs were bombarding the city of Gafferdy, its ass was busy shitting out siege tunnels while turning the excavated earth into projectiles. The city has fallen and the Siege Castle has moved on, but the tunnels still remain.”
  • He uses the cogs to create a large model of the Siege Castle. The Siege Castle is fighting lots of little soldier figurines, carefully painted. He spends a lot of time getting the colors, positions, troop placement, and tactics correct. He rolls dice and plays war games with himself. He’d love for you to play with him. 
  • He worships the Siege Castle as the War God.
  • He doesn’t go into the Siege Pit himself because he “mustn’t leave his post.”
  • If asked about going to the Siege Castle himself, he seems nervous. “See the War God in person? N...no...no…He knows terrible things.”
The Siege Pit
There is a tunnel down into a pit. In the pit is the parasite’s web. It’s dark and wet. 

The Passage
There is a bad smell. Both rotting animal and vegetative at the same time. 
  • The passage is choked with the bodies of small, cube-like creatures (spracubi). Strange sprouts seem to be growing out of eye-shaped welts which cover their tiny, crystalline bodies. 
  • If you fuck with the spracubi, a cloud of spores is released. The fucker-with contracts dum drum sprouts. 
  • These reanimate into sprout zombies when the party tries to escape!

The Pit
It’s cold, calm, and dark. 
  • A tangle of machinery, flotsam, jetsam, and cogs. The pit is like a crater--somewhat conical. 
  • Total of [discard] cogs to be found here. 
  • Anybody who steps into the pit FALLS THROUGH.
  • You are TRAPPED! Webs! Rope, tattered chords, sails, and rigging crowd the hole. 
The Parasite:
Strong and somewhat smart
A rhino-sized spider, mechanical and made of stained glass - a ruined porcelain mask of a saint’s smiling face

What’s it doing?
S - Winding its web while telling you a story
P - Coming right at you while asking what you are
C - Picking trash from the web while humming some idiotic tune
W - Poised directly above you while screaming, laughing, then screaming 

Likes: Talking (never meets anyone down here), wants to reassemble you into itself
Dislikes: Its own image

HD: 12
Major Dooms:
Reassembly - Heal 1 HD by jamming trash in its wound
Spit Web - Can Roughhouse as a major doom to trap you in its web

How to get away?
Pull off the mask: Reduce it to a mindless pile of trash.
Beat It Up: Reduce it to HP 0 and flee as it reassembles.
Climb Out of the Pit: Someone can drop down a rope you can climb out. 
Or just Make Something Up.

Playtest Note: The players skipped the general and the pit. Because I believe that non-linear play needs skippable content, this is fine. The PCs missed some lore and some treasure, but bypassed danger and focused on the main quest. 

The Lucky Pig Statue
A copper pig statue, smiling and winking. Around its neck, a (copper) braided rope and bell. The bell says “Lucky” in an ancient mode. A slot on its back obviously accepts coins. 

Every 3 silver placed into the statue, a journal page extrudes from the pig’s mouth. 
(The journal pages are from the Knight with the Pentangle Shield)
Trying to pry open the lucky pig causes the pig to squeal. This is a magical effect and triggers a Wandering Monster’s check. 
Unless carefully disarmed, acid floods the pig’s stomach and ruins the remaining pages. 

Playtest Note: I printed out pictures of the monsters from Ayejay_Make_Art and let the players see them each time they put 3s in the vending machine. Because I wasn't using just "Goblins" and "Trolls," this let me telegraph the dangers that the PCs would be facing. It is a little gimmicky, but enormously successful. Really recommend using methods like this. 

The Garden Inn
The Garden Inn is an old ruined building with a huge tree growing through it -- but with a fresh coat of green paint. Crude white letters name this: The Garden Inn. 

Home to Dingle, Mingle, and Walamar, itinerant plant golems raised by some garden wizard of old. They all hate each other but live together in an inn. They don’t understand why nobody ever stops in. 

The plants basically know the history of the city and the deal with the four trees. They’ll tell you if they’re asked. 

Dingle, in the Garden
Master Weed Puller
Jolly and good natured
Complains about Mingle undoing his good work, guarding his garden against him
Blames Walamar’s murderous ways for nobody ever stopping in to his inn
Tends a garden
Digs holes with a stick
Has a worm friend named Ralff
Several of his plants have been stolen by Tunkin, a mimic
“Will you please get them back, please?”
If you do, will give you potions he has brewed:

Oak Elixir: If administered to plant, it immediately grows to be a large adult specimen of the appropriate type (as if 50 years had passed).  If consumed by an animal, immediately grows to be a large adult (1d4 inches taller than average, for a human).

Acorn Elixir: The opposite of an Oak Elixir. It turns plants into seeds and adult animals into adorable juveniles.

Walamar, in the Kitchen
Notorious killer
Damned cheerful about it
Thinks Dingle is a goody-two-shoes
Things Mingle is a jerk (he is)
Brewing a poisonous soup for guests over a bubbling cauldron
Ingredients include minced up root babies (mandrakes), nightshade, red and white speckled mushrooms
Green fumes leaking over side of cauldron
Happy to give you a cup of his “soup” for 5 silver

Poisoned Soup: Obviously poison. Radioactive green. Still, deadly poison is deadly poison. At 5s, this is a bargain. 

Mingle, in the Common Area
Plants weeds, hates flowers
A jerk!
Insults both of his brothers
Insults you too, while he’s at it
If you distract Dingle, he’ll tear up his garden
If you help him out with this, he’ll give you an ooli slime

Ooli: This slime filled with suspended smiling faces loves to devour crops. Deals 5 damage and withers any plant or plant-based creature. 

Playtest Note: Like the General and the Siege Pit, this stuff was straight-up skipped by my players. Ah, well. There will probably be content later in the game that gives the PCs a fetch quest back to deliver something here. 

Dungeon Grass
It's long: waist-high. You hear it whispering to itself, rippling as if an unfelt wind is blowing it. If it likes you, it's as soft as feathers. If it doesn't, it's as sharp as razors (1 Wound for every 10' traveled, or every 30’ if wearing full plate).  
If burned: They create a tremendous amount of smoke. This immediately enrages the local birds who begin dive bombing you, and prompts several Wandering Monster checks. The smell of burning dungeon grass makes plant-based monsters fly into a rage--especially the Stiltsman (Lore Bids can reveal this)
You can talk to it. It has the personality of a wronged samurai. 

Playtest Notes: An avoidable trap by just going around it. 

Fairy Fountain
Here sits an old stone fountain. Clear, cool water pools under a ruined wall and remains of a well. 

A shamander guards the well. As the PCs approach, it crawls out and menaces them.
If defeated and if the fungal giants stole a PCs weapon, an elf will appear hovering over the pool carrying the dagger of dendrification. 
She will say: “The trees told me that thou lost a weapon. Is this what thou lost?”
If the PCs are honest, she will give them the dagger of dendrification. If dishonest, she will give a Malediction to the PC who lied. 

Dendrification Dagger: The wielder of the dagger tests Wands. If they succeed, the victim is immediately turned into a small oak tree. This status remains as long as the dagger is not removed. (Yes, the item is essentially 1 use.)

Playtest Notes: The Fairy Fountain is a "hidden room" in the forest. You can see it on the map just below the Sister Tree, but it's not labeled. Therefore, the PCs did not know of it. I described the sound of "falling water" each time the PCs entered this area, but that did not inspire them to wander that way. I think this was a failing in two parts: 1) I needed a way to broadcast this better, and 2) my current PCs are still learning the ropes of OSR play. It's okay to have skipped content, but I could have helped support the "hints" about this better.

The Father Tree
...is cut down. The redwood sized stump is bone white. A shrine at the base of the tree has a stone reading “Father.”

As the PCs near it, the hair stands up on their arms. Anyone with Wands 3+ seems to hear a distant singing. 
Nature specters ring the ghostly stump, hurling old fruit at you. They scamper away if you pluck their mushrooms. 
Drinking mushroom tea allows you to see invisible, as if you had the sorcerer's sight. 
  • If none of the PCs can sense magic, Dingle offers to brew them ghost tea if they bring any nature specter mushrooms. 

Father Tree’s Song: The Father Tree will always sing. If you can see invisible, you can hear his ghostly song. 
C - Eflat - G - F - G - High C 

Playtest Notes: I literally played the songs of each tree on a piano with the expectation that the PCs would memorize the intervals and play them back to me when the time was right. I was skeptical about how well this would work. The first success they had, the PCs latched onto it. They thought that it was so fun. However, because the "gimmick" was repeated four times, they kind of got bored with it. They stopped paying a lot of attention to what the actual notes were. It was only by one or two PC's good note taking that allowed them to progress.  I'd consider it a mixed success. 

The Mother Tree
A weeping willow the size of a sequoia. Her long, feathery branches reach down to the leaf-covered floor. A shrine at the base of the tree has a stone reading “Mother.”

[PC] number of shamander dwelling in the upper branches cast spells on you. 
Can use devil’s dandelion seeds to get to the upper branches. 
Devil’s dandelions growing here are large as picnic tables. Their seeds dance in the air, like parasols. 
If held onto, a devil dandelion seed can carry you in the air about 1000 feet once. 

Mother Tree’s Song: The Mother will sing when a sad story is told to her.
High C - G - G - Gsharp - G - D

Playtest Notes: The devil's dandelions were immensely fun to play with, honestly. Put something like them in your game and let them interact with your combat mechanics. Fun, fun, fun. 

The Sister Tree
A shining silver beech tree. Carved on its sequoia sized trunk are hundreds and hundreds of names bound together with hearts. A shrine at the base of the tree has a stone reading “Sister.”

At the base of the tree is a carpet of flowers. 
The flowers produce a heady perfume. 
Smelling the flowers will produce a euphoric effect. You become Charmed by the next thing you see. 
If you and your lover carve your name into the Sister Tree, your relationship blossoms. 

Sister Tree’s Song: The Sister will sing when she sees two people kiss or hears a romantic story
Dsharp - D - C - G - G - G sharp - G

Playtest Notes: This was a difficult to get right. Some of the "rooms" of the dungeon didn't land because I didn't telegraph them appropriately. I feel like the Sister and the Brother presented stumbling blocks because my (newish) PCs weren't employing all the powers of lateral thinking. 

In this specific instance, the PCs knew that "kissing" needed to happen to hear this song. With the combination of weird NPCs in the forest and the charming flowers at the base of the tree, I had imagined this would be a weird/fun time. However, the PCs did not think outside of this zone. They thought they had to kiss each other. 

Because I wasn't trying to get the game into a magical realm situation, I let a fairly chaste kiss between two sisters activate this song. It wasn't my intention, but I certainly didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. 

The Brother Tree
The Brother Tree is a goro goro (bomb) melon tree. It occasionally drops a large beach-ball sized melon. 

During a Challenge, a bomb falls as a minor action if the focus character has an odd initiative. 
It hits a quadrant determined by the last discarded card (S = NW, P = NE, C = SE, W = SW)
You can catch goro goro melons before they drop to the ground. You can harvest unripe ones, too. If you heat them up in your hands and then let them go, this triggers their explosions. They begin to swell and pulse. 

Brother Tree’s Song: The Brother Tree will sing when it witnesses someone vanquish a foe. 
High C - G - D sharp - D - C 

Playtest Notes: In the playtest, one player heroically threw themselves on one of the explosive melons and actually died. It caused the Brother Tree to sing, but was more brutal than what I had imagined. 

Like the Sister Tree, I had imagined the players going in another direction. I never want to imagine just one solution to a problem (and, so often, players have thought up so much weird shit), but I am worried that they didn't have enough ideas here to get over the hump. 

The King’s Chamber
A building-sized stone face of a green man--you know, one of those guys composed of leaves--stands here moss covered. 

The great mouth of the green man is closed. Around the mouth is inscribed with the text:
Father tree always sings
Mother when she’s crying
Sister at a true love’s kiss
Brother when there’s dying 

When all four melodies are played
The door will open’d be
And into the king’s chamber come
For the king to see

The Mouth only opens if the PCs play the song of all four trees. 

Courtyard: Spore Hounds
Spore hounds are in the courtyard who savagely bark choking spores and threaten any intruders. Calm them down or fight them.

The entrance to the great hall is covered in heart-shaped symbiotic mushrooms that reflect damage back on the attacker. So, fireball reflects, but starting a fire doesn’t.  

There is a ruined tower covered in vines to the right of the great hall.
There are a series of outer buildings connected to the left of the great hall, with a n entrance to the buttery.

The Aviary Tower: The Fairy Cage
Former aviary, full of hanging, twisted metal cages and dry bird droppings
Currently hosting [PC -1] shamanders. They will be surprised unless the party made a lot of noise. 
The shamanders are carrying [discard] amount of silver hoarded in the aviary.
On one plinth is a metal cage. Inside the metal cage is a glass jar. Inside the glass jar is a flower fairy.
  • You can’t hear her through the glass.
  • The metal cage is electrified. As is the plinth. Touching it deals 1 Piercing damage or 2 Piercing damage if you’re wearing significant metal.
  • You can’t just push it off because that will break the glass jar and hurt the fairy.
  • If you save the fairy, she gives you a healing ungent she happened to have. She says she’s going to the Lighthouse. 

The Buttery: The Opossum Butler
Ansell Opossum-knight rules the buttery
“Crikey!" He'll say, "You cunts look dry, don'cha? Have a goon, won'cha? It's the Dickie Dee!"
Nominally serves the shamanders, but doesn’t really like them
The buttery is full of food, but it’s all infected with dum-drum sprouts. Eating it will infect you, too. 

The Great Hall: The Forest King
Zones: Audience, Stairs, Throne, Balcony, Alcoves

An archway leads into a vaulted chamber lit by glowworms that drip from the ceiling. 
So bright, no other light sources are needed. 

An unused chandelier hangs in the middle of the room.
At the back of the room is a raised dais, on which two human-sized thrones sit. On one is  a pile of pale flesh--the skin of Princess Sun!  

Swollen mushrooms half-a-man tall crowd the stairs up to the dais. These barbarian fungi cause a blind attacking rage to overwhelm anybody who disturbs them.

The Forest King, a titanic mushroom giant (look up that huge mushroom from Dungeon Meshi), is being blackmailed by the chief shamander. 
The Chief Shamander has kidnapped the Forest King’s daughter, a mushroom giant princess. 

There are ugly brown toadstools around the audience hall. If you miss the Forest King, you disturb a toadstool and become confused. Confusion means you must pick your Initiative card before looking at your hand.

The Chief Shamander crawls around the ceiling of the chamber waving his wand and disappearing into alcoves. 
“Get them, you huge oaf!”
Will try and drop the huge, hanging chandelier on the PCs
Will cast Wall of Fire to stop them from coming up the stairs
As the PCs enter, mushrooms grow covering the door. These heart-shaped symbiotic mushrooms.
If you defeat the Chief Shamander, the Forest King will stop attacking.
He gives you the flower sword as thanks. 

Flower Sword: By spending the sword’s charge, the wielder can drive the sword into the ground as a Wands action. The sword creates a zone of poisonous flowers around the wielder. This is equivalent to a Stinking Cloud, except it smells heavenly. The user is immune. Charge the flower sword by cultivating and planting rare plants. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Maidens and the Moon - A Frankenstein Adventure

For the past three years, I've been play testing my fantasy heartbreaker His Majesty the Worm with my friends. It's been fun!

Recently, we stopped playing a campaign in the "default" setting of HMtW and started playing a Zelda-inspired campaign I've called "The Maidens and the Moon."

The essential premise of this game was stolen from a lot of blogs I like and cobbled together. The main influence is Arnold K's The Moon Castle, which he made several posts about but ultimately never finished. I'm posting this because I've seen a few other campaigns on Reddit that also drew inspiration from this source and I wanted to compare notes with them since they've been generous enough to post their notes online.

For my players who might read my blog: HERE BE SPOILERS. Reading content out-of-play spoils the fun. Avoid reading this post. 


For the greater part of HMtW's playtesting, I've been running a megadungeon. The first two levels of the megadungeon (the Spires and the Castle of Crossed Destinies) have been mostly explored and their dungeon lords defeated. The deeper levels (the Moat, the City of Ruin, the Undercastle, and the hidden level) are mostly unexplored. However, a big sandbox adventure is never really "done." The players have both party wiped and completed big quests, but they're always adventuring until they want to stop. I wanted to play a game with a more traditional structure: do X, Y, and Z, and defeat an antagonist. It felt like it'd be a nice change after three years of sandboxing. 

"Good artists copy; great artists steal." - Attribution conflicted

My primary rules for adventure design are this:
1) Read a lot. You can't write if you don't read. 
2) Repurpose everything you like.

I'm Frankenstein. My adventures are my monster. I rob from the graves of content creators I admire and stitch them together. 

Inspiration

When I was laying out this adventure, I started digging up content from my favorite creators. Essentially, my RPG inspiration includes:

In terms of an Appendix N, I told my players to imagine a Zelda adventure (exploration, emphasis on item use, puzzle-based dungeons, "collect them all" quests) and Miyazaki movies (female protagonists, serious themes explored by juvenile characters, bright colors and beautiful landscapes). 

What I told the players


These are the house rules I provided to my players. It includes some inspirational art and teaser text. (All the rules are, obviously, for my heartbreaker. Ignore them if they don't make sense.)

The general premise was this:
  • Each player was part of the court of Princess Sun--a friend, companion, rival, or romantic interest. The gimmick was that most players would be young noble women. 
  • The Moon King has somehow stolen the Kingdom of Gafferdy from Princess Sun.
  • Princess Sun has had everything stolen from her. 
    • Her skin is in the Forest Castle.
    • Her hair is in the Siege Castle. 
    • Her eyes are in the Mirage Castle. 
    • Her memory is in the Skeleton Castle.
    • Her voice is in the Slime Castle. 

The Structures of Play


I made this map for them. 


The map is a point crawl. The players can see most of the main locations (all the castles) and a few extra side quest/mini-dungeons (cloud factory, lighthouse, black witch, goblin market).

Players choose which location to go to. Each bridge they cross prompts a draw on the Meatgrinder table. Each quadrant where a castle sits has a different encounter table. 

The encounter tables have various NPCs and micro-dungeons embedded into them. As players discover them, they can draw them into the map. That's why I left so many blank spaces. I wanted to discover (at the same time as the players) exactly what was there. 

Each bridge is manned by a troll. The trolls ask for tolls of 10% of total wealth as players travel east to west. As the party returns from adventuring to the city, they'll lose part of their coin.

Sidebar: Taxes are a GREAT way to incentivize your players. I've never seen so many people become sovereign citizens so quickly as when I introduced the idea of taxes into a fantasy game. 

Play, per my rules, is separated into four phases: 
  • The Crawl phase is where players spend most of their time. Here, they pointcrawl around the map or explore the dungeons. 
  • The Challenge phase is where the combat mini-game is played.
  • The Camp phase is where players rest up, use their supplies, and role-play with each other. Because this is a point crawl, I introduced a new resource called hearth embers that players need to use while camping to heal (see house rules). 
  • The City phase (at the Wicked City -- formerly "Blessed City") is where players restock their packs and gather rumors before they head back into the Crawl.

The First Session

I borrowed the first encounter from Silent Titans (with Dr Hog) as the first encounter for this game, substituting an engagement with the Moon King as the main antagonist. 

I asked my players to be patient with me as I started them both in medias res and without knowing what had happened to Princess Sun. After the PCs had stopped the Moon King's initial machinations, the PCs awoke at the Wicked City and made their way to the Collegium Vestal--essentially the Vatican--where they found Princess Sun's desiccated-yet-living-body.

From there, players had a choice of where to go. 

Part of the advantage/disadvantage of the way I run sandboxes is front-loading work. I spend a lot of time getting several dungeons/dungeon levels fleshed out with different encounter tables, NPCs, treasure, etc. 
Pros: This makes things very easy for the players: they can go anywhere and do anything and they're never going "off the map." 
Cons: Obviously, this is a ton of work up front. If your game falls apart and you haven't seen content, you might feel as if this is wasted work. 
Conciliation: If you ever have a game fall apart and your players haven't seen some content, you get to re-use that content. Blam. Free content. 

In a subsequent post, I'll lay out the Forest Castle (which my players have mostly completed, though they skipped a lot of the non-essential content)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Importance of an Appendix N

I had a shower revelation the other day: the diaspora of D&D is like running a piece of text through Google Translate a bunch of times.

For example, the Australian national anthem.
There is an entire generation for whom World of Warcraft is a primary source. They have never read anything on which D&D is based (despite the fact that they watched the Lord of the Rings movie, like, five times). I remember once trying to convince a friend that the character Bard from The Hobbit wasn't named for the D&D class ("Come on," he said, "a guy running around encouraging people during a dragon attack isn't a bard?"). To this audience, kobolds are tiny lizardmen because, of course, what else would they be? What do you mean they're a type of mine-dwelling Teutonic dwarf?

This isn't a bad thing necessarily. It just highlights the importance of Appendix Ns as a means of education and expectation setting. 

Ten Thousand
This is how we need to be to new RPG players.
When I first started the hobby, I was 13. I had read The Lord of the Rings the previous year and I wanted more. When my friends introduced me to the (Satanic, cult-inducing) Dungeons and Dragons, I expected a game exactly like the trilogy. I wanted to go on adventures. I wanted to be a hero. What I got was a confusing goal ("get gold") and a bizarre casting system ("what do you mean I forget the spell?"). I found out right away that system matters. 

Frankly, it wasn't until the OSR scene became a thing that I finally grokked why the play experience of early D&D was the way it was. I was introduced to Gary's Appendix N. It clicked. It made sense. Early D&D is very good at evoking the feeling of Howard, of Anderson, of Leiber. Those who seek for a Tolkien-ian experience have (famously) mixed results. 

When you're designing a game, a hack, a setting, a campaign, including an Appendix N can be enormously beneficial for getting everybody on the same page. 

(So can art (despite noism's objections).) 

--- 

To put my money where my mouth is, here are two Appendix Ns for my two current game projects: my Hobbit-ish Wilderlands OSR hack and my dungeon-crawling SWORDDREAM artpunk whatever His Majesty the Worm

Oh God! Not More Elves!
The origins of Wilderlands was a thought experiment about using The Hobbit as source material while ignoring the rest of the trilogy. As such, an Appendix N is both obvious and short. Just read The Hobbit, full stop.

What if the river floods beyond its banks, though? What other books evoke the feeling of the 1936 Hobbit?

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany
This book is masterful proto-fantasy. Like The Hobbit, it takes place in vaguely defined fantasy realm (called Erl) and the protagonists go on an adventure far from the fields they know into realms of the fantastic. Most importantly, folklore feels real, as if elves and trolls are living real lives with real concerns under mountains and in the clouds. There is a shared understanding of the "rules" of the world based on a fairy tale/linguistic akashic record rattling around the brains of English speakers. These rules are not elaborated on, but the truth of them "feels real" to us when we're shown them. (Of course, the Elf King only has one final rune he can use to open the border of Elfland. That makes sense.)

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
Don't cry foul. Farmer Giles has nothing to do with Middle-earth. It is another book set in an anachronistic England with a ridiculous rustic protagonist and a dragon. In this respect, it dove tails nicely with The Hobbit. I can imagine that the county of Ham to be just over another set of mountains from the Wilderland. Plus, Caudimordax is a great template for what magic swords should be in the Wilderlands RPG.

The Sword in the Stone and Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White
In the same way that Middle-earth might be England in the ancient past, White's Grammarye might be Middle-earth in the transitory period between the ancient past and the present. Though more grounded in English toponyms with a more established canon of characters, the first two books of The Once and Future King share a tone with The Hobbit. The Forest Sauvage is a direct analog to Bilbo's Wilderland. There is an anachronistic and humorous tone.

The latter two books of White's masterpiece have a more adult, archaic, and formal tone. I've not included them for this reason. I've also not included other works of proto-fantasy--like The Worm Ouroboros or The Faerie Queene--for this reason.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
If Tolkien wrote a fantasy book by imagining "What if all the characters and creatures from the Eddas were made of flesh and blood and still lingered in the Viking-haunts of an older England," Lloyd Alexander did the exact same thing with the Welsh mythological epics.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Some of MacDonald's works (say, Phantastes) are dreamlike and, thus, not appropriate for inclusion on this list. The Princess and the Goblin is more rooted in modern causality. It is a fairy tale, pure and simple. MacDonald's goblins and Tolkien's goblins seem more-or-less the same beast: hard-headed, mean, mine-dwelling ne'er-do-wells.

I also like the descriptions of moving around in the total darkness of the mines. Good stuff.


These Are All Comic Books
Here are some comic books that influenced His Majesty the Worm. Not sure why comics were the main inspiration here: something about the visual medium and the vaguely alternate aesthetic? I don't know. Psychoanalyze me, internet! You're cheaper than real therapy!

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Goddamn, Rat Queens rules. The friendship and interactions between the Rat Queens illustrates the core mechanic of inter-party relationships in HMtW. I want every adventure in HMtW to delve into each character's motivations, backstory, and interpersonal relationships in the same way that Rat Queens does. 

The one-two punches (e.g., the Betty Climber) that the Rat Queens perform in combat are half the reason the combat system works the way it does, too. Aid each other in combat to get the BIG numbers. 

Dungeon Meshi by Ryōko Kui
If we're talking about works that use D&D as a main influence (instead of the influences of D&D), Dungeon Meshi is the creme of the crop. Dungeon Meshi is the most thoughtful treatment of the physicality of dungeoneering that I've ever read. The characters, their gear, and their journeys have a practical weight. It makes considerations about exploration, food, and exhaustion seem fun and evocative. This should be required reading for anybody that wants to ignore mundane gear or avoid tracking rations. 

You can run HMtW directly as a Dungeon Meshi RPG if you swap the word "Alchemy" for "Cooking." 


I Roved Out In Search of Truth and Love by Alexis Flowers
A "warmly pornographic" comic. If you strip out all the pornography, you have a super fun fantasy story. If you strip out all the fantasy story, you have some damn good smut. It is humorous and beautiful in a way that I want a game of HMtW to be.

By default, HMtW isn't pornographic--that would require a lot of buy-in, consent tools, etc. etc. It's not the sort of game I'm trying to run 99% of the time. It is however an "adult" game. Characters can buy into relationships with each other by electing the Lovers bond. Sex is a human need, and is represented in the game better--I hope--than the random harlot table.

House of Orr  by Nolan T. Jones, Rilley Dutton, and Richard Zayas and artist Victoria Grace Elliott
A defunct and unfinished webcomic, it is currently super hard to find on the internet. (If anybody has a way to easily read it, please let me know.) As such, apologies for including it here.

That said, House of Orr genuinely shaped my thinking about "the party as a character." In the setting, political capital is held by adventuring guilds. A struggling guild, the titular House of Orr (who by tradition requires all members to take on a new name with the element "Orr"), hopes to establish itself as a political power. With its whimsical elements, House of Orr is genuinely delightful. It evokes the sense of playfulness that I want a game of HMtW to have. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Apparitions of Every Shape: Random Location Generation [Wilderlands]

...apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its specter, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!

- The Denham Tracts: A Collection of Folklore : Reprinted from the ..., Volume 2, by Michael Aislabie Denham


I've posted this quote before. It makes a powerful impression on me. 

I've said before that the text of the The Hobbit is QUITE magical and fantastical. Any claim that Tolkien is "low magic" is contradicted by just how much magic is squirming and pulsing on each page.

As you travel across Wilderland, no village, town, or city should lack a fundamentally magical feature. Each location you travel to should have a magic river, a shape-changing mayor, or be built on a lake. 

If you need some fantastic location quickly, use this table.  

The table is a d21 since I use Tarot instead of dice at my table. You can read across or mix and match. 


DrawNearby there is...haunted by...
1A wellA dragon who sleeps on a pile of treasure
2A dolmenA dozen bloody rawbones who will force you to dance with them--to DEATH
3A hillA troll cat who'll suck your breath if you sleep there
4A bridgeA faerie knight who challenges any man with arms who passes, but will allow ladies to pass unmolested.
5A barrowAn enchanted harp made out of a human rib cage that plays a sweet music
6A springRunning with holy water
7A graveyardA wild man of the wood, a wose, who tries his level best to scare you away
8A hermitageA nuckelavee, who is currently causing a drought
9A hengeAn elf woman who prophecies the hour and method of your death
10A boulderA huge, mean toad (seriously, just, so big), currently sitting on a clutch of snake eggs
11A towerRedcaps who burn magical candles and knock on the stones
12A ruined castleA cruel but sleepy giant who owns a goat whose milk is quicksilver
13A crossroadSpectral warriors who reenact their final battle on its anniversary
14A huge and ancient treeA clurican that gives away gold coins if you answer its riddle correctly and curses if you fail
15A monolithA door that opens to an entirely different part of the country
16A waterfallA shellycoat who'll pretend to fall, and then laugh at people's reactions
17A hot springA horrible old hag who can sell a love potion at a tremendous cost
18An innThe ghost of a drowned woman, singing a sad song about the sins of her sister
19A lakeA huldra who'll lure you into the water and drown you, if you let her; it's said she guards a treasure
20A forestA hermit (who's really a king? who's really a pirate?) who can lay on hands and heal any infirmity
21A mineKobolds (little dwarves with hard heads and soft feet) are guarding a vein of mithril


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Jousting (A Minigame)

With eight-hundred years of history and practice throughout a continent, it's really hard to talk about jousting in general terms. Some SCA nerd is going to yell at me, God bless them.

Let me put some caveats up. These are the jousting conventions for the Kingdom of Yr Hen Ogledd during the reign of the Joyous King. Similar conventions of martial chivalry are shared in Westeros and Arthur's Lloegyr.

These rules are written using Lamentations as a lingua franca, but since it's OSR I hope you can convert them to your weird homebrew easily.

Note to self: Make rules for feathers on your helm increasing your speed
Let's define a few terms.

What is Jousting?

Jousting is a martial sport practiced by knights within the bounds of chivalric law. The whole point is to knock the other guy off the horse in the nicest way possible. 

Who can joust? 

To joust, you must be a knight with:
  • Set of tournament armor
  • Strong oaken shield
  • Worthy warhorse
The organizer of the joust is usually responsible for supplying plenty of tourney lances, which are blunt and designed to splinter.  

What are the in-character rules of the joust?

In Yr Hen Ogledd, each joust consists of two knights and three passes of the tilt. Each pass consists of three separate phases, terminating in a CLASH! After three CLASHES!, whichever knight has the most points and is not disqualified is declared the winner of the joust. 
  • You gain 1 point for striking your opponent's shield. 
  • You gain 1 point for shattering (dealing 5+ damage with) your lance. 
  • You are disqualified if you are knocked from your horse and your opponent is not. 
  • You are disqualified if you kill your opponent's horse. 
  • You are disqualified if you are no longer strong enough to fight. 
Sidenote: Hang on. Can we talk about jousting for a second? Sometimes we abstract things in RPGs so far away from the real world that they seem mathematical to us--sterile, unreal, abstract. Jousting is fucking scary. You're perched on top of an animal that's way stronger than you. It obeys you. You're hurtling way faster than you can run towards another dude. You both are wrapped in armor that weighs half your bodyweight. They have a fourteen foot shaft of wood pointed at your head. If it hits you, it might kill you. Your only hope is that you hit them first. God damn.
Look out, Checker Boy. Axe Head gotcha. Your highschool crush is watching. She laughs.

What are the "mechanics" of the joust?

So, the basic gimmick is that the knights have three passes (three chances) to knock the other one off the horse while not being unseated. Each separate pass has three distinct phrases: the canter, the gallop, and the CLASH! Whoever has the most points at the end of the three passes wins the joust. 

1. The Canter

You enter the lists at a canter. 

Each player chooses one jousting action to perform in secret (see below). 

At the end of the canter phase, each player reveals what choice of jousting action they made to the other player. 

Play continues to the gallop phase. 

2. The Gallop

You reach the mid-point of the lists at a gallop. 

Each player chooses one jousting action to perform in secret (see below). 

At the end of the gallop phase, each player reveals what choice of jousting action they made to the other player. However, at this point, it is too late for your opponent to react to your actions--they must meet you at the CLASH!

Play continues to the CLASH! phase. 

3. The CLASH!

Each player throws one d10 onto their jousting die drop sheet. This happens simultaneously.

Download it here

I don't really care where you throw from, but both players need to throw from the same place. 

Wherever the d10 rolls, that's where your lance hit. 

  • If your die rolled off the paper doll, you miss your target. 
  • If you hit your opponent's helm, they take damage equal to the number shown on the d10. They succeed in a Save vs Breath to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's body, they take damage equal to the number shown on the d10. They must succeed in a Save vs Device to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's shield, they take damage equal to half the number shown on the d10. They must succeed in a Save vs Paralyze to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's horse, the horse takes damage equal to the number shown on the d10. Your opponent falls under the horse and takes twice the amount of damage. You are disqualified and victory passes to your opponent (no matter his health). 
If you deal 5+ damage, your tourney lance splinters. (This earns you a point.) 

Assuming no one was disqualified during the CLASH!, both contestants return to the top of the lists and play resumes at the canter phase until three passes have been completed.

Ties

In the event of the tie, a group of four judges (two per knight) advocate for one knight or the other to the master of the games based on their behavior during the joust. Assuming you have at least four other people at your table, I encourage you to make the players speak for the judges.

Did one knight put himself at a disadvantage to make the joust more equal? Was one knight more eloquent in speech? Was one knight more pious?

The tied knights should make a Charisma check (or equivalent). For each salient chivalric detail that the judges can come up with, that knight gains +2 to their check. Whoever wins the Charisma check wins the joust. 


CLASH!
From the Dunk and Egg comic

Jousting Actions

As you charge towards your opponent, you have two chances to take certain attitudes, positions, or maneuvers--jousting actions--to put yourself at an advantage during the CLASH! 

You can use the same jousting action during the first two phases of a pass and gain their cumulative bonus during the CLASH! 

It should go without saying you don't gain the benefits of last pass's actions on your subsequent passes. 

Aim: During the CLASH! phase, you may throw an additional d10 onto the die drop sheet. You choose which of your die "hit." (Even if this action is used multiple times, you may only choose one "blow" to hit.) 

Defend: You may cover another "zone" on your paper doll with your shield. For example, you may declare you are guarding your helm. If your opponent hits your helm during the CLASH!, you treat it as a shield hit. 

Grip Lance: You grip your lance and lean into your attack. You deal +2 damage during your CLASH! 
Note: A destrier gives +3 damage with this action.

Sit High in the Saddle: You stand in your saddle, ready to leap at a moment's notice. If your horse goes down for any reason, you can make a Save vs. Poison with a +2 to leap free of the horse. You don't take any damage from the horse's fall, but are still unhorsed. You cannot sit both high and low in the saddle. 
Note: A charger gives +3 bonus with this action. 

Sit Low in the Saddle: You straddle your horse, holding fast with your knees. You gain a +2 bonus to any save to stay in the saddle. You cannot sit both high and low in the saddle. 
Note: A charger gives +3 bonus with this action.

Wheel Horse: During the CLASH!, if you have taken this action you may choose to wheel your horse instead of throwing damage dice. You may attempt to Save vs Poison (or "Animalis" skill throw, or similar) to pull your horse away from the blow. If you fail, your opponent's blow connects but you do not strike back. This action is not disqualifying, but it is considered bad form. It accumulates a -1 point total each time taken after the first.