Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dopplegangers

For my fantasy heartbreaker, His Majesty the Worm, I recently ran the party through a doppleganger encounter. It was fun! We had about three sessions of doppleganger nonsense; one where the players freaked out, and then two more when they weighed the pros and cons of just letting them hang out. I was impressed with how the players handled the situation (TONS of creative solutions) and how the general premise worked at the table. I found that this monster encouraged puzzle-esque OSR play.

In the game, dopplegangers are a type of fungus that read the minds of your companions to construct the perfect image of you. They want to be you.

They want to be you so bad.

From Dungeon Meshi

Doppleganger Fungoid
Encounters with the doppleganger fungoid start out the same way. Adventurers tromp through a patch of them when they're in ther larval state. At this point, they look like some mildew on the wall, just barely probing their dark world with their flagella. Then, they get a sniff of the adventurer.  A little bit of psychic residue stains them. They push upwards. They grow. They follow.
Doppleganger fungoids use psychic images to choose their appearance, behavior, and demeanor. They, essentially, form themselves into clones of the first people they encounter as mushroom children.
Adventurers often encounter doppleganger fungoids while they camp. If there's ever darkness, ever a moment of sleep, the fungoids slip in and bed down. They want to belong.
The fungoids will try and tag along with adventurers for a while. At first, they'll even be helpful. They continue to refine their appearance and behavior on the original. They love to be as close to perfect as possible.
But they make mistakes. This infuriates them. They develop body dysmorphia. They develop self-image disorders. They get confused, genuinely confused, about who is the original and who is the clone. They begin to self-harm. They begin to lash out.
What does it look like?
Well that's the question, isn't it? What does it look like? It looks like you. A little taller than you. Its left boob is a bit lopsided. Your eyes are hazel but its eyes are brown. But other than that, it looks like you.
That is, until you stab the imposter. And mash it. And burn it. Then it reveals its true form: moldy, tubular stalks of fungus. A lopsided mushroom head. A face like a carven jack o' lantern. Hallucinogenic spores spilling out of it.
They are a painting of you in fungus.
The doppleganger fungus derives its image of self not from the original's self-perception, but from the perception of their companions. To run encounters with these creatures, ask the players to each text you a description of themselves and a description of each of their guild mates. A player's description of themselves becomes canon for what the original looks like. A player's description of their companion becomes a description of one bloom of doppleganger fungus.
For example, if you are running the game with four players, each player would text you a description of their own character and a description of each of their three companions. Then, when you wish to reveal the fungoids, you would reveal twelve new creatures—each described as one of the originals, but seen through the eyes of another player.
Likes: Dampness, rain, tearing things up (obsessively shreds paper, sticks, etc.)
Hates: Fire, mirrors, probing questions about childhood

Special: Make it clear to the players that during an encounter, a "loyal" fungoid will follow the commands of the original like a henchmen. Do not tell the players that the dopplegangers are imperfect. Roll a dice. If the result is odd, the doppleganger misinterprets the command or makes a mistake. This usually ends up with them attacking an adventurer by accident.

HD: 4
Attacks: Pretending to attack as base creature, 1d6
AC: Same as base creature
Save As: 4th level Fighter
Morale: 9
# Encountered: The dopplegangers appear in a crowd equaling n * (n - 1), where n = the number of adventurers. See above.

Abilities:
Minor Illusion: A doppleganger can replicate through illusion any item that the original could believably have. A doppleganger can replicate through illusion any class ability that the original has demonstrated previously. 

Perfect Imitation: If they have not yet acted during the turn, dopplegangers may elect to move simultaneously to their "original." When the original takes an action, they also take that exact action. If this happens, the original and the dopplegangers have become mirror images of each other. If they are in the same zone, it is impossible for an outside observer to tell who the original is. Essentially, the clones act like mirror images. 

Fungal Regeneration: A doppleganger may spend an entire action thinking about who they really are (you). They heal 1d12 HP. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Matter of the Marcher Lords

John Howe, Celtic Myth
The knights of the Round Table were sent out as a measure against Fort Mayne, and the choleric barons who lived by Fort Mayne took up the cudgels with the ferocity of despair. They would have written to The Times about it, if there had been such a paper. The best of them convinced themselves that Arthur was newfangled, and that his knights were degenerate from the standards of their fathers. The worst of them made up uglier names than Bolshevist even, and allowed the brutal side of their natures to dwell on imaginary enormities which they attributed to the knights.
- The Ill-Made Knight, T.H. White 

I want to run a Lamentations pick-up game with themes of The Once and Future King and The Faerie Queene. Lamentations products are centered around the weird, and although Arthurian romances aren't obliquely horrorific (horrifying, maybe) or sexual (well, never mind, yes they are), they are overwhelmingly weird

This is a set of house rules that I intend to use when I run this game, ostensibly running through the Hexcrawl of the Marcher Lords. I'll use City of Iron's Dolmenwood Hexcrawl Procedures. I intend to use the old Knights of Camelot board game rules ostensibly as an encounter table

Classes
Characters may the following Lamentations classes, each with a particular contextual skin. 

Characters are bound together by service to a feudal lord. All characters serve the same lord. Tell me which one, and what his deal is. 

Knights
...that other of gigantic frame, on his right hand, is the ever dauntless Brandabarbaran de Boliche, lord of the three Arabias, who for armour wears that serpent skin, and has for shield a gate which, according to tradition, is one of those of the temple that Samson brought to the ground when by his death he revenged himself upon his enemies. 
Don QuixoteMiguel de Cervantes

As Fighters. Knights represent the noble class. Knights are really the star of the show. Every player can play a knight if they wish. I totally wish someone would play a sweet lady knight like Britomart. 

  • Each knight is awarded the right to bear a personal set of arms. Tell me what your heraldry is. What's your motto or warcry? 
  • Each knight begins the game with a warhorse and a set of full plate in addition to his normal allotment of equipment. Beware, however. Your armor is forfeit if you lose in a tourney, and must be ransomed back. 

Henchmen (like squires) and pets (like horses) can utilize Ten Foot Polemic's excellent rules

Les Innocents
And now it is empassioned so deepe, 

For fairest Unaes sake, of whom I sing,
That my fraile eyes these lines with teares do steepe,
To thinke how she through guilefull handeling,
Though true as touch, though daughter of a king,
Though faire as ever living wight was faire,
Though nor in word nor deede ill meriting,
Is from her knight divorced in despaire,
And her due loves deriv'd to that vile witches share.
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spencer

As Clerics. These are often ladies, but this class is called "les innocents" to be more fucking inclusive and allow for shepherds and hermits and stuff. 

  • Les innocents must pray at the beginning of each day and be in good standing with the Holy Church and the Lord Our God to perform miracles (i.e., spells). However, these miracles are not prepared. Any cleric spell of appropriate level can be cast via divine provenance at any time, as long as they have not exhausted their allotted miracles for that day. The only thing les innocent must do to evoke these miracles is pray to our Sweet Lord Jesu. 
  • Les innocents cannot use or create spell scrolls. 
  • Les innocents can create holy water. 

Specialists
"Robin Wood!" 
"Aye, Robin 'ood. What else should un be, seeing as he rules 'em. They'm free pleaces, the 'oods, and fine pleaces. Let thee sleep in 'em, come summer, come winter, and hunt in 'em for thy commons lest thee starve; and smell to 'em as they brings forward their comely bright leaves, according to order, or loses of 'em by the same order back'ards: let thee stand in 'em that thou be'st not seen, and move in "em that thou be'st not heard, and warm thee with 'em as thou fall'st on sleep—ah, they'm proper fine pleaces, the 'oods, for a free man of hands and heart."
- The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White

As Specialists. These could be your bandits, ala Robin Hood, or your learned clerics, ala Friar Tuck. Heck, everybody in the Merry Men could be called a specialist. Specialists often serve as retainers, advisors, viziers, stewards, men-at-arms, or jesters serving knights. 

Sorcerers
"She was trying a well-known piseog to amuse herself, or at any rate to pass the time while the men were away at the war. It was a method of becoming invisible. She was not a serious witch like her sister Morgan le Fay—for her head was too empty to take any great art seriously, even if it were the black one. She was doing it because the little magics ran in her blood— as they did with all the women of her race." 
Queen of Air and Darkness, T.H. White

As Magic-Users. Through infernal pact (ala Archimago) or infernal heritage (ala Merlyn) you know the arts of sorcery.
  • As sorcerers are aligned with the forces of Chaos, it's possible that they follow some old pagan religion or dead god. The Church just hates this. 
  • We'll use Wonders & Wickedness spell rules and lists.  
Dwarfs


            The false Duessa leaving noyous Night,
Returnd to stately pallace of Dame Pride;
Where when she came, she found the Faery knight
Departed thence, albe his woundes wide
Not throughly heald, unreadie were to ride.
Good cause he had to hasten thence away;
For on a day his wary Dwarfe had spide
Where in a dongeon deepe huge numbers lay
Of caytive wretched thrals, that wayled night and day
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spencer

As Dwarfs.  Those commoners who have been warped by infernal Faerie into stunted (if sturdy) forms. By ancient tradition, knights keep dwarfs as servants for good luck. It is often dwarfs who carry the knight's gear, gird them before battle, and keep their arms and armor in good repair. 


  • Dwarfs start with 3 in 6 Tinkering (not Architecture). All other class abilities are standard. 


Faerie Knight
As it fell out upon a day,
A-hunting I did ride;
There came a wind out of the north
And woe it did betide.
And drowsy, drowsy as I was,
The sleep upon me fell;
The Queen of Fairies she was there,
And took me to herself.

- Tam Lin, Traditional

As Elves. Knights who dally too long in Faerie gain a little magic. Unfortunately, every Halloween, they have a one in ten chance to be given to the devil as a tithe to hell. (This tithe is why fay are immortal.) 





Also, Halflings represent the fair folk, the tylwyth teg, the little people. This class is locked until the players actually form allies in the land of Faerie.  

Character Weirdness
Weird Skills: Some skills are gone (unchivalrous Sneak Attacks won't be found here!), some are changed, some are added. The skills are: Bushcraft, Climbing, Husbandry, Languages, Lore, Open Doors, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Tinkering. 

Per normal rules, Languages benefit from Int bonus and Open Doors benefit from Str (but can't be leveled up via Specialist). 

Husbandry deals with wild animal taming as well as animal training. It lets you do things like coax your horse into a crazy stunt or tame a unicorn with your gentleness. Your Husbandry rating benefits from your Wisdom bonus. 

Lore is a broad "Hey, does my character know about this legend?"

Weird Saves: I replaced the standard saves for these (in order): Stun is movement, Doom is poison/instant death, Dragon Spume is area of attack, Geas is Law Magics, Enchantment is Chaos Magics.

Force Majeure! 
Here are some house rules for combat. 

Grit and Flesh: Borrowed from Last Gasp Grimoire, reproduced here with small amendments. 

Flesh is the measure of how much physical punishment you can take before passing out, and caps out at your full class HD, plus anything gained from a Constitution bonus. Players begin level 1 with their max HD + Con in Flesh. Grit is the rest of the HP you gain, and is a measure of ways you learn to avoid injury, plus glancing blows, exhaustion whatever.

  • Attacks reduce Grit first, and when it’s gone you start taking Flesh wounds.
  • When you're at 0 Flesh, you're defeated. This usually means you're on the ground and gasping for help, but you may be knocked out at your discretion. 
  • If an enemy specifically performs a murder stroke against you while you're at 0 Flesh, you die. This is very unchivalrous. 
  • If someone rolls a Critical hit against you it bypasses Grit and rolls double damage.
  • Being attacked from behind or by surprise also bypasses Grit. This is very unchivalrous. 
  • Spend a Turn to regain your class HD. Knights rest in tourneys between fights to keep the fights fair.

Gambit: A player can try to do anything they want: trip, push, disarm, etc. 

  • The attacker describes what they want to do, and if they successfully perform a to-hit roll, they do it. The victim can decide to take weapon damage instead
  • However, if the player attempting a gambit fails, they suffer whatever outcome they were attempting. If that doesn't make sense (e.g., they can't be disarmed if they're not wielding anything), they take weapon damage from the creature they were attacking. 

Shields Shall Be Splintered: A classic. Similarly, you may sunder your helm to reduce a critical attack to a normal attack. 


Experience
Gold is an evil. A necessary one, to be sure, but an evil. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that. We'll be using an alternative form of character advancement that divorces itself from silver for XP. 

You gain 1000XP when you achieve one of the following glories. Sometimes, these only work once. I got a ton of these from Into the Depths by the Retired Adventurer

  1. Win a tournament (each one)
  2. Resolve a situation scourging a town or more’s worth of people (10,000+) (each one)
  3. Slay a famous villain (e.g., dragon or wicked knight) (each one)
  4. Deliver a holy relic to the Church (each one)
  5. Depose a powerful ruler by any means (each one)
  6. Behold a miraculous event (each time)
  7. Map new lands (20+ hexes or locations) (each time)
  8. Destroy an evil organization with at least 50 members (each one)
  9. Recover 3 lost or secret books (each set of 3)
  10. Resolve 3 situations scourging the innocent without reward (each set of 3)
  11. Train at least 3 followers or apprentices until they gain a level (each set of 3)
  12. Foil the plans of a powerful villain well enough to permanently stop those plans (each time)
  13. Swear allegiance faithfully to a lady (once)
  14. Search out a wise mentor and learn their secrets (once)
  15. Establish and hold a permanent base of operations (once)
  16. Own more land than you can easily take in with a glance while employing 150+ people (once)
  17. Own a ship or other vehicle with a crew and stores sufficient to travel great distances (once)
  18. Stop a wicked social custom in a region (once) (Stop it everywhere for another)
  19. Resolve an apparently unresoluble conundrum through cleverness (once)
  20. Lead an institution with at least 30 loyal members for a year (once)
  21. Obtain an official title with real powers and responsibility from a powerful government (once)
  22. Make a lifelong enemy of a powerful foe (once)
  23. Exact revenge for a misdeed done to you by a powerful foe (once)
  24. Assemble an astounding library or trophy case (once)
  25. Survive an event that slays everyone else in the party (once)
  26. Save another PC from otherwise certain death (once)
  27. Get a curse or geas removed from yourself (once)
  28. Get initiated into a mystery cult or magical tradition (once)
  29. Make something lasting (e.g., write a book, build a castle, found a town, create a spell) (once)
  30. Become famous enough that almost everyone in a country can recognise you on sight (once)
  31. Build an elaborate and difficult-to-plunder tomb for yourself (once)
  32. Donate 100,000 SP to a charity or other good cause (once)
  33. Become the ruler of a country or kingdom. (each one)
I also have some rules coming out for jousting. 



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Making of a Lich

The word lich means "corpse." (It is sometimes more polite to call a lich a "flesh body bodhisattva" to their face.) A lich is a corpse that remains animate and passably sentient long after death. 

A lich is a miserable creature. 

I'm not playing the tired refrain that "Living forever is a curse and a burden." It's not. Life is usually desirable. Life unending is a desirable thing. 

But lichdom is not. Lichdom is not eternal life; it is eternal death. 

Lichdom is only possible for the truly mad and the truly obsessed. One does not, cannot, become a lich if you have good intentions sadly bounded by brief mortal constraints. A lich has an obsession that they cannot give up, not even in death. Some love; some vengeance; some task; that must persist, long after their muscles give out, their skin is torn away, and their bones crumble into dirt. 

Many have attempted to attain a state of lichdom. Few have succeeded. Those who have enter into a unique infamy. Their names are forever remembered by the Men whose ranks they have left, but also forever cursed. They are the devils of the stories the Men tell each other. Their names become synonymous with evil. 

Xanthoceras...

Saphronia Wort...

Draco Scabra...

Zygmunt...



Becoming a lich is, well, not secret. The Tower Gnostic probably has a text that explains the procedure. It's just difficult, lengthy, and unlikely. 

The process goes thusly...

Step the First
Before death, a lich's diet must be one of wood*: nuts, pine needles, seeds, roots, and bark tea. This diet must be strictly maintained for somewhere between 3,000 and 3,600 days. This diet reduces body fat to nothingness. The would-be lich is literally mummifying himself. 

Over this time, the intake of liquids is curtailed and, finally, eliminated. A lich must die of thirst. 

* The diet varies from tradition to tradition. Sorcerers practicing weald magic have a different diet from those practicing weird magic, for instance. 

Step the Second
Only master sorcerers are afforded the option of lichdom, for reasons which will soon become clear. The would-be lich must memorize and maintain a rigid proscribed panoply of spells for a period of at least forty-one days. (In D&D terms, this is something like "a wizard of at least 15th level must fill all available slots with spells, with at least two duplicates at each level.") 

Holding spells and not releasing them is incredibly difficult. The process requires strict concentration and meditation, lest some cantrip slip out unbidden. 

This burden literally causes changes in the sorcerer's physiology. Their brains cannot handle the weight of the spells, and twist and grow cancerously. They bulge painfully against the skulls of the sorcerer. 

Step the Third
During the period of spell memorization, when the brain-swelling becomes too intolerable for life, trepanning is required. This step requires the help of aides. The flesh of the center of the forehead is carefully cut away and pried open, like a flower or a citrus fruit. Then, a boring utensil makes a hole in the skull. A runic inscription is then written around the edge of the exposed skull. If done correctly, this inscription magically calcifies the lich's skull--it is no longer vulnerable to any physical damage. 

Though this is (obviously) incredibly painful, no pain-dulling drugs are allowed the sorcerer. Total calm must be maintained, lest the spells escape and ruin the process. 

Step the Fourth
In the last week of spell memorization, the sorcerer must cut all water from their diet. As the sorcerer is dying of dehydration, a deep state of meditation must be maintained. It takes about a week to die once all water is refused, and the meditative state cannot be broken during this time. 

During this time, the phylactery is made. 

The phylactery can be anything, as long as it's an object of complete obsession for the lich. It is usually a love letter, or a shell, or a broken dagger. It's almost always transitory and vulnerable--that's why he's obsessed with it. It is some object of significance. It is the reason that the lich has been undergoing all this suffering. A lich does not choose to be obsessed with the item. The item is obsessive. It drives the lich. 

During the last week of dehydration, all the sorcerer's attention is placed on this item. It is held and cradled and loved and obsessed over. Nothing else is touched or handled during this crucial period. 

Step the Fifth
Now comes the dying. During this time, the need for complete concentration is greatest. Normally, all spells that a sorcerer has memorized come pouring out of their brain upon death. The lich must not, cannot, let this happen. If he does, all is ruined. 

A save (Con? Fortitude?) is necessary for each of the spells memorized as the would-be lich dies. If even one save is failed and a spell is released, the entire process is ruined. 

Step the Sixth
At this time, the sorcerer has either interred himself or is relying on aides to inter him. The place the corpse is buried is important. It must be soft and rich earth, thick with worms. Good crop ground. 

The would-be lich's corpse must be devoured by worms and other detritivores. This step is only compete when they get to his spell-swollen brain. 

Step the Seventh
If the phylactery was truly obsessed over, spells in the dead brain get confused about where they belong. Should they be in the rotting material they're currently trapped in, or should they be in the phylactery? Where is their master? What are they? 

This epistemological concern is the catalyst for the seventh step. 

As the worms eat the brain, the spells get confused and begin to effect a change on the detritivores. The spells incite change and mutation. Over the period of many years, the worms--their lives unnaturally preserved--begin to merge and shape themselves together. They try and cross the gap between "worm" and "the sorcerer." 

With difficulty and pain, these worms form themselves from many into one, and from death into undeath. Using the phylactery as an emotional anchor, the lich is given a body. 

--- 

And there you have it. Now you know the deep secret. 

Insanity and evil begets eternal life. Virtue has no such counterpart. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Magic of the Wilderlands

A continuation from my last post, I wanted to investigate the sort of fairy-tale magic you find in The Hobbit. I wrote my thesis about magic in The Lord of the Rings, and found that I was interested in what we could extrapolate just from the text of the first book.

What Do We Mean By Magic?

For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. 

In old-school D&D, you could assume that the world would conform to understandable Newtonian principles and scientific rationalism except when magic crops up. Players interacted with magic only in two ways: (1) spells and (2) magic items. Both were nullified by something like an anti-magic field. (These terms might get a little muddied in later editions of D&D: in 4E, someone blasting a fireball might just be their class's normal attack.)

In a setting like the Wilderland, the world sans spells or artifacts doesn't necessarily behave like our world. Animals speak their own languages. Entire forests are enchanted, to say nothing of its inhabitants. Is a troll turning to stone magical or natural? The terms seem confused and overlapping. 

This is what I mean when I say Wilderland is fantastic, even if it is "low magic." Sure, Gandalf casts about as many spells as a 1st level magic-user playing Red Box, but Bilbo's world absolutely stinks of folklore. It's a satisfying space for an RPG setting to inhabit. Things seem mysterious, magical, and unique, but never modern, formulaic, or scientific. 

But how do we emulate that? First, let's investigate what gameable elements of "magic" exist in the text. 

Items of Enchantment

“Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered?"

I can't tell you how bored I was of magic items having played a level 1 to level 20 Pathfinder game. The Monty Hall was baked into the system! If you didn't have a magic item in each of your "slots," it felt like you were playing the game wrong. Each character twinkled like a Christmas tree, and looked about as ridiculous in my mind's eye as a WoW toon with a mismatched set. Somehow, Wilderland's magic items avoid this feeling entirely. 

From weapons like Sting to Gollum's funny (krazy! kooky!) ring of invisibility, magic items are at once frequent but also interesting. This is because Wilderland has a feeling of deep lore, and each magic item is a clue to this lore. They are keys to history. 

I think it is also important to lump items of surpassing skill into this group. Was the archenstone magical? That is, did it confer magical abilities to its bearer? Since the text does not say so, I assume not. At the same time, it has a feeling of magic about it. Similarly, techniques like writing in moon-letters might not be explicitly sorcerous, but are so close to magic that it should be indistinguishable. 

Here is a list of enchanted items in the text:

  • The Old Took's magical cuff links, which fastened themselves and did not accidentally come undone
  • Gandalf's staff, which glows with blue light (note that this text calls his staff "magical" explicitly, in contrast to Gandalf using the staff as a target for his light spell in Fellowship)
  • The troll's wallet, which could speak up if burgled
  • Gollum's ring, which turns its wearer invisible, except for a shadow in broad daylight
  • Glamdring, a magical sword that shone with a blue flame near goblins and could cut through chains with ease when "happy" -- seems to get happy when killing goblins
  • Orcrist, a magical sword that glowed blue near goblins or when danger was near
  • The Elf King's magic doors, which opened and shut at the command of the elves
  • Bard's black arrow, which always flew true and was always able to be recovered 
  • The dragon's hoard, which was "enchanted" and made those who looked upon it desire it
  • Magic harps, which preserved their tune and integrity through the years
  • The hidden door to the Lonely Mountain, which appeared as stone and could not be opened except by key
  • Moon-letters, which only appear in a particular phase of the moon, or a particular season
  • Coat of mithril mail, which was sturdy as steel but light as cloth
To remain interesting, items of enchantment need to check the following boxes:
  • Be active. An item that gives a flat bonus is going to be factored into the character sheet and forgotten. An item that gives you a new way to approach problems is going to be remembered. An item that requires a certain activation is going to be remembered (be it magic word or immersion in troll blood). 
  • Tied to lore. An item with a name and a history give a sense of setting. People remember if they are wielding Glamdring the Foe-hammer, but forget a "+1 sword." Items that come from a character's class/lineage/race/enemy will be especially interesting to them. 
  • Be evocative. Enchanted items should feel appropriate to the Wilderland setting. This is the most finicky point because not everybody might have the same opinion about what is appropriate or cool. However, if the item would be at home in a European fairy tale, it's my sense that it would be appropriate for this sort of game. 

Using Items of Enchantment
The main characters (Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin) each get one or two items of enchantment in the journey. I posit that accumulating enchanted items are rewards of leveling up. They are every bit as defining as a new class feature. 

A rule: Instead of gaining a new class level, you can claim an enchanted item. The GM will put it in the hoard of a recently vanquished foe or have a mentor NPC grant it to you. Use the "just in time" identification rules from the last post. 

Objection!: Wait, so the GM can't put magic items hidden in the game as treasure? You only get items from leveling up? What if it would make sense that the goblin had stolen the dwarf king's magic axe, and the players take the risk to get it back? They have to spend a level to get it? 

Well, no. The GM can still sprinkle enchanted items in the world. He can also sprinkle "Gain 1 level instantly" potions, too. They should be roughly as powerful and roughly as frequent. Objection overruled! 

Objection!: Items are different than class features. You can lose items, but you can't lose class features. How are they equivalent? 

Well, actually! A piece of advice I've taken to heart from Arnold K is that you can attack every part of the character sheet. A belt of alignment shift can attack your alignment. A witch's curse can attack your race or gender. A vampire's kiss can attack your character's motivations. An axe of mutation can attack your character's appearance or, yes, even your class features. 

Items being lost or stolen should come up about as frequently as you feel comfortable using these other techniques to enact character change. And, like most things, these setbacks can be overcome. Curses can be cured, items lost can be reclaimed again. Objection overruled!

Spells

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells
While hammers fell like ringing bells

The term "spell" doesn't come up a lot in The Hobbit. Let's look at each instance the term is used:
  • We know dwarves made spells while forging from the song
  • The dwarves cast "a great many spells" of safe keeping over the trolls' treasure, which they buried
  • The elves cast a spell of sleep on the dwarves after having been bothered by them three times
  • The dwarves tried to remember spells of opening to use on the secret door into the mountain (to no avail)
  • Smaug apparently possessed a power referred to as the "dragon spell," a power which tries to compel Bilbo to reveal himself as a thief
Okay. So "spell" can accommodate apparently a "safe keeping ritual," creating enchanted items, guessing at command words for a magic door, and displays of power from both elves and dragons. 

If the elven and draconic displays of power can be considered spells, you can probably also consider the following as spells: 
  • Elves creating and snuffing out the light of their forest feast 
  • Beorn skinchanging into a bear
  • Gandalf's lightning blasts 
  • Gandalf changing the color of smoke rings
  • Gandalf lighting pine cones with magical fire
Using Spells
What a great many variety of things spells can be. From a gaming perspective, spells seem all over the map--and there's no talk in the text about a drawback or limiting factor.

I propose that a Wilderlands game use a three-part system to define spells: cantrips, enchantments, and runes. 

This system is inspired by Beyond the Wall. Beyond the Wall is probably  my favorite OSR game because it has such a perfectly evocative folklore feeling. It's a great example of rules inspiring a particular type of game experience. 

Cantrips

Then Gandalf’s smoke-ring would go green and come back to hover over the wizard’s head. He had a cloud of them about him already, and in the dim light it made him look strange and sorcerous.

The least art of magic can be called "cantrips." Cantrips are minor displays of sorcerous craft, such as when Gandalf uses his lore of smoke on Bilbo's smoke rings, or when the elves snuff out their feast's lights. 

You may cast any cantrip you know as often as you wish. It is a minor magical ability you possess. 

I probably have a persnickity opinion about what are appropriate cantrips and what aren't (Light? Nope. Create Food and Water? Absolutely not.) but it's beyond the scope of this post to post custom tailored spell lists. Beyond the Wall's cantrip list is fine. 

Enchantments

But not Gandalf. Bilbo’s yell had done that much good. It had wakened him up wide in a splintered second, and when goblins came to grab him, there was a terrific flash like lightning in the cave, a smell like gunpowder, and several of them fell dead.

An enchantment is a single expression of magical power which requires some component or reagent of arcane potency. An enchantment is roughly equivalent to a first level spell in D&D terms. Sleep is a good marker for efficacy. 

Enchantments require consumable components to cast. Each casting of an enchantment consumes one component. As long as he has components available, a wizard may cast as many enchantments as he wishes. 

Each enchantment requires a specific component. For example, Sleep's component is a pinch of river sand gathered under the starlight, whereas Open Door's component is an iron nail etched with a peculiar rune. 

Wizards must track their components. Each component takes one item slot. (I'm imagining Lamentations-esque encumbrance rules) 

Gathering components in the wilderness should be treated like hunting. If it takes one hex action to hunt, it takes one hex action to gather components. Test Wisdom to gather components in the wilderness. Success yields 1d4 + Int bonus components of the wizard's choice. 

Runes

“They were not made by any troll, nor by any smith among men in these parts and days; but when we can read the runes on them, we shall know more about them.”

Runes of power are the most powerful expression of magic. They create a significant spell effect, such as the creation of a magic item or laying an enchantment around a large area. Crafting runes on wood, metal, or stone requires time, tools, and a steady hand. 

Runes of power, unlike enchantments or cantrips, have levels. You can only master runes of your level or less. Writing a rune requires a number of hours equal to the rune's level. 

When you cast a rune, make an Intelligence or Wisdom check (the ritual in question will list which to test). If successful, the ritual effect is successful. If you fail, there will be some twist or danger associated with the effect. 

Other games, like 5E or Beyond the Wall, might call this level of magic "ritual." The flavor here is not dissimilar. For this spell list, I would use Beyond the Wall's ritual list. But, really, any D&D spell is fine. If you want to Fly--you can--but it requires a lengthy rite of runic magic. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

1937 Hobbit as a Setting

I only recently read this post, which speculates about what the Middle-earth intellectual property would look like if The Hobbit existed in isolation. It is a good post and the context for today's treatise, so go read it real quick. I'll wait here.

Ready? OK.

If The Hobbit (1937 edition) existed in isolation, what would we know about that setting? How would the setting work for an RPG?

The Hobbit is usually thought of as a more juvenile text. The Hobbit is more of a fairy story, in contrast to the trilogy's modern fantasy worldbuilding. If you see Norse influences in The Hobbit, they are the half-forgotten memories brought by vikings to England and reimagined by the people there. In fact, a word search in my pdf of the text reveals that the term "Middle-earth" doesn't even exist in this book. As such, I refer to the setting as "Wilderland," using the name on the map provided to us.

Here are some observations...

What is the Game About?

A game based on a literary setting would do well to emulate and support a type of play emblematic of the central themes of the text. This is done by 1) a shared understanding between the GM and the players and 2) mechanics that reinforce the central themes. So this raises the question: what is The Hobbit about? 

I offer that the central themes of The Hobbit are:
1. Treasure hunting
2. Journeys
3. Singing

Treasure Hunting

"And I assure you there is a mark on this door-the usual one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that's how it is usually read. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do."
Smaug from the Romanian edition
The plot of the The Hobbit is recognizable: an unwilling hero, a wise mentor, a descent into danger, a transformation, and a return home. One of the central conceits, however, is that Bilbo is a burglar i.e., an expert treasure-hunter. The text supposes that there is an adventuring class. It tells us that these people advertise their status via runic markings on their door. Burglars can be contracted to go on adventurers for/with you. 

I assume a game based in Wilderland will have the players will all be professional burglars. Instead of meeting in an inn, clients will knock on their door (ala Sherlock Holmes) and offer them a contract similar to the one Thorin offers Bilbo: "Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all traveling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for."

Journeys

Roads go ever ever on / Under cloud and under star, / Yet feet that wandering have gone / Turn at last to home afar. 
Bilbo and Gandalf from the Portugese edition
The Hobbit is essentially about a journey, as one can gather from the subtitle There and Back Again. A hexcrawl seems a likely play style for this sort of setting--but not a meandering, wandering colonial sandbox. I picture a "get from point A to point B" style hexcrawl, where a map is handed to the PCs and they are allowed to choose the best path, as the default play style. One map is provided by Tolkien in the book. Without the trilogy to pin you down, you can imagine how many more maps could be made by those wishing to explore other corners of Wilderland. (The One Ring RPG has done a great job of creating both player- and GM-facing maps which are used just for this purpose.)

New Rule: Journey-Based Experience
  • You earn 1XP for each hex traveled. 
  • You earn 2XP for discovering a new adventuring site (ruin, monster lair, natural wonder, etc.). 
  • You "cash in" your earned XP at a safe haven (the Shire, Elrond's house, Beorn's house, Laketown, etc.).If you have enough XP to level up, do so at the safe haven, then discard all extra earned XP.  
  • You level up when you reach 20 x [Current Level] XP.  
(NB: Jeff's Gameblog has an alternate system for this.)

Singing

Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure, and with a knowledge of the road they must follow over the Misty Mountains to the land beyond.
Dwarves from the Swedish edition
There are more songs than battles in The Hobbit by about a thousand to one. Songs in the text do a lot of work. They are 1) mnemonic devices for remembering lore 2) truisms and appeals to authority 3) taunts 4) inspirational battle chants 5) humorous 6) comforting. 

Although it obviously wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea, songs are so important to The Hobbit that I would make them a central mechanic. Imagine the stunt system from Exalted or the haiku duel system of Warrior-Poet.

New Rule: Sing for Success
Whenever a PC speaks or sings at least one verse from a song in compliment to his action, they gain an extra +1d6 bonus to their d20 roll.
You get a single bonus dice if the song is not original (just a Tolkien or folk song).
You get two bonus dice if the song is original, maintains a Tolkien-esque aesthetic, and seems pretty applicable to the task at hand.

What is the Setting Like?

I would describe the lay of the land as both fantastic and ancient.
Bilbo and friends from the Russian edition
Despite people always going on about how "low magic" Middle-earth is, The Hobbit has magic pouring out of it. Without the added histories of the trilogy, The Silmarillion, and other supplementary materials, Gandalf becomes "just a wizard." Magic rings are given away for winning riddling contests. Trolls have wallets that can cry out when picked and holes full of magic swords. Eagles, spiders, and wolves can all speak. I would describe Wilderland as "fantastical." 

New Rule: Animal Tongues
Animals speak their own languages. Foxes speak foxish, eagles speak eaglese, thrushes speak thrushican, etc. Animals with high Intelligence scores can learn additional languages, including the Common Tongue. Player characters with high Intelligence scores can learn additional languages, including animal tongues.

The setting also maintains the trilogy's feeling of "fading grandeur." The dwarves no longer had access to the astronomical sciences needed to reckon when Durin's Day would come about. The Kingdom of Dale had been scourged away by the dragon, and its bloodline had run thin. Elrond talks about how the realm of the High Elves, Gondolin, had been destroyed by goblins. And yet, all of these ancient roots have branches that reach into the current age. 

Gollum from the Romanian edition
New Rule: Identification
You can tell when an item is magical because it has runes on it. Until identified, all found magical items exist in a quantum unknown state. If a player character tries to use the magic item, the quantum state collapses. The GM rolls on his favorite magic item chart and determines what the item is. As the player experiments with it, the GM informs them what happens. Does it catch on fire? Does it return when thrown? This is worked out as normal.
If the player keeps the magic item until it can be identified through a) research at a safe haven or b) identification by a loremaster NPC, the player has authority to state what kind of magic item was found. The GM should provide players a list of acceptable magic items that exist in their setting (perhaps any +1 equivalent?) and let the players choose which one they found.

What are the Characters Like? 

Battle of Five Armies from the French edition
People who read Bilbo's story have a peculiar view of "who's who" in Wilderland. Goblins capture and imprison Thorin's party--but so do the wood elves. Wolves trap them and eagles rescue them, but we are told that eagles are not "kindly birds." We are told that neither elves, nor goblins, nor Beorn had any love lost with dwarves. We see why when Thorin retakes the Kingdom Under the Mountain: dwarves can also be jerks.

Lacking a Dark Lord to unite the forces of darkness, and thus unite the forces of light to oppose him, we are given a picture of disparate races each preoccupied with their own interests and problems.

Bloodlines seem to be important to the folk of Wilderland. Bard can speak to thrushes because he is of the true blood of Dale. Bilbo is perhaps a little brave because he has Tookish genes. Gandalf refers to Radagast the wizard as his "cousin," so maybe magic travels through bloodlines, too.

Because of this, I think that random advancement OSR classes that Zak S and Jeff make would be fun for this sort of game. When you get a weird roll and suddenly talk to badgers, you can say "Ah, of course. The bloodline of the ancient Brockhouse runs through my veins. They were known to keep badgers as pets."

Player characters may be:

Humans
No one had dared to give battle to him for many an age; nor would they have dared now, if it had not been for the grim-voiced man (Bard was his name), who ran to and fro cheering on the archers and urging the Master to order them to fight to the last arrow.

Wilderland seems to support a few different tribes of humans. The ancient kingdom of Dale has been reduced to the men of the Long Lake. Beorn comes from somewhere time out of mind. The map mentions Woodmen. The elves trade with the people of Dorwinion. I assume there are other kingdoms of men. I'd model them after the folk of Ham in Farmer Giles of Ham or the men of Erl in The King of Elfland's Daughter.

Humans level using catch-all random advancement. Unless they're wizards. Those guys level up as witches. 

Hobbits
There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it).

Hobbits level as halflings. Except they are called hobbits. Don't tell the Tolkien Estate.

Dwarves
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells, / While hammers fell like ringing bells / In places deep, where dark things sleep, / In hollow halls beneath the fells

Dwarves level as dwarves. It's possible nobody likes them.

Goblins
Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and badhearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty. Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light. It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far. They did not hate dwarves especially, no more than they hated everybody and everything, and particularly the orderly and prosperous; in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with them.

Goblins level as half-orcs. They seem to be generally "bad news."

An Observation
The text makes mention of "guns" in a few oblique ways. They credit goblins with making machines and explosions. Gandalf chastens Bilbo for opening his door like a "pop gun." Gandalf's spell makes a smell like gunpowder. You know what? Put blunderbusses in the Wilderland setting. Go for it. Play a gun-toting hobbit.

Elves 
In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew tall in lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk. 

The text differentiates high elves and wood elves. It's said that wood elves are more dangerous and less wise.
High Elves level as elves. There are three tribes of high elves: deep elves, sea elves, or light elves.
Wood Elves level as rangers. They are distrustful of strangers but are not a wicked folk.

Elf-Friend
The master of the house was an elf-friend— one of those people whose fathers came into the strange stories before the beginning of History, the wars of the evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North. In those days of our tale there were still some people who had both elves and heroes of the North for ancestors, and Elrond the master of the house was their chief.

Elf-friends level as half-elves.

Great Animals
Whether wolf or spider or eagle, it seems that animals are as active in the world as anything that goes on two legs. If somebody really wanted to play an animal, I'd hack something together using Arnold K's Very Good Dog.

New Rule: Critical Names
When you score a critical success (either a 20 or a 1, depending whether you roll low or high), you may sacrifice 10XP to declare a new byname or name one of your objects.
For example, if you pick up a club and manage to hold off a goblin's attack with a critical success, you can give yourself the byname "Oakenshield." If you take out your magic dagger and stab a spider right in his stupid spider face with a critical success, you can call your dagger "Sting."
When your name (or your item's name) comes up and is relevant to the task at hand, you can add +1 to your roll. For example, if your weapon's name is the goblin cleaver, you get a +1 to attack goblins.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Random Encounters with Illuminated Texts

Sometimes writing random tables is hard. You know you need a few more interesting entries, but your brain isn't working right. 

Well, worry not. The internet exists, and it has Pinterest boards of Medieval Bestiaries


Look at those cool pics. Look at those weird creatures. Look at that strange scenario. What's going on there? Filling out your random encounters is only a matter of answering that all-important question. 


Let's do a few together, shall we?

d20 Illuminated Text Encounters

1. Eclipse Wyvern
You know, of course, that dragons are elemental creatures. Wyverns are the dragons of the air. 

A wyvern is always trying to fly to the sun, but the incredible heat always turns it back. They're like moths flapping into candle flames. A wyvern's only desire is to eat the sun, but it's attempts are always frustrated. 

Except during an eclipse. 

During an eclipse, the wyvern can actually fly into the sky and start biting that sweet, sweet sun.  Like looking at an eclipse, though, the experience is still harmful--but tolerable. 

The encounter: The PCs are riding along. Unless they have an astronomer who's been paying attention or access to the advanced astronomical codices of the dwarves, they'll probably be very surprised when the sky changes tint and they see the moon slowly crawling across the sun's face. 

They'll be more surprised when a wyvern, who makes its nest on the nearest mountain peak, wings its way into the sky and begins gnawing on the corona around the moon. 

As the wyvern bites, it screams in pain and pleasure. It's body is burned and prickled by the sun's sharp beams. The wyvern bleeds. The blood falls like rain down on the PCs. 

Wyvern blood is extremely cold. It's like dry ice. It smokes it's so cold. Collecting it is difficult. 

Wyvern blood is extremely useful. It has healing properties. If collected and distilled, wyvern blood acts grants regeneration. Roll the drinker's HD--the regeneration effect lasts that many rounds. 

2. Mantyger
The heraldic beasts were not made by God. They were made by sorcerers. 

It was men who started thinking up "What if lions had a human face and a scorpion's tail and maybe a bat wing" and then put them on their shields and banners. It was men who said, "The lion has an eagle's head and eagle's wings and a serpent as a tail." 

It was sorcerers who said, "OK. Now that exists. Neat." And they cast their spells and drew these beasts forth from the tapestry, forming them out of the weirdness of dreams, and then let them loose into the world. 

Once the heraldic beasts were in the plane of flesh, they obeyed the rules of that place. They ate. They died. They bred. 

Like an invasive species, heraldic beasts are a nuisance. They have no ecological niche that they really fit into. They outperform God's beasts in almost every way. They're like kudzu, or Asiatic carp. They swarm. 

Luckily, heraldic beasts are extremely good sport, and nobles love to hunt them. If your family's sigil is the griffin, and there are an overabundance of griffins in the mountains, it's considered very good luck to go out and bag a few for the Yuletide feast. 

The encounter: The PCs hear a man's rich bass voice proceeding through the forest, saying "Roar. Roar. Roar." It's a handsome voice. It sounds like George Sanders voicing Shere Khan in the Jungle Book

If they investigate, they see a mantyger strolling along. The mantyger has a large tiger's body, a kingly head, and three rows of teeth. When the mantyger notices them, he asks why they do not bow before their king. 

(Mantygers perceive themselves to be the kings of the wilds. In fact, they are false kings. The lion is the true king of beasts. Do not mention this to them, or they will eat you.)

If the PCs show deference, the mantyger will allow them to pass unmolested. Otherwise, it's time to roll for initiative. Unfortunately, because the mantyger is a false king, he requires a lot of flattery. He really wants you to pile it on. He wants you to, literally, kiss his feet. He wants you to malign the lion as a false usurper. 

Will the PCs put up with his bullshit to avoid combat?

Mantyger
HD: 3
AC: Medium
Attacks: 2d6 pounce, which knocks its target prone if the mantyger does damage. If the mantyger attacks a prone foe, it does Blood damage (not Sweat). If the mantyger ever scores a critical hit against you, it bites off your head (ala vorpal)
Special: The mantyger ALWAYS goes first in initiative. 
Move: A mantyger is extremely fast. It gallops faster than a horse. It can leap up to 50'. 
Wants: Compliments, to humiliate and put down others
Hates: Trueborn nobles, plays that feature deus ex machina, lions
Smells: Like sandlewood, like old straw
Sounds: Like a deep-voiced man speaking with an extremely attractive, foreign accent

3. All the King's Horses, All the King's Men

The encounter: The PCs hear the sounds of battle nearby. If they investigate, they see two knights and two horses fighting. The knights are from nearby rival fiefdoms. One, bearing the red shield with a red lotus, is from House Hedonix. They're known for their lotus wine exports, and for being huge sluts. The knight bearing the blue shield full of bends and lozenges is from House Diamondelve. They're known for being fuck you rich. 

Both knights have horse companions, who are aggressively hugging this fight out. The horses are both intelligent, well-trained war horses. The horses both speak several words of Vulgaris. 

The knights are obviously flagging and getting winded. Plate mail is wonderfully protective, and their arms are cramping up from trading blows. They've been at this all day. Even the horses are looking extremely tired. 

Both knights beg the PCs continue the fight as their champions. If the PCs want, both knights will sponsor a PC to fight in their stead, and let two PCs actually duke this battle out. 

Whoever wins gets the other knight's armor, sword, shield, and horse. The knight has to walk back to their castle, naked and ashamed. If a PC fought as a champion, the victorious knight is willing to split this loot with them. Or, alternatively, they might offer them an unspecified favor to be collected if they follow the knight back to their castle. 

4. Mermaids and their Cetus (Cetii?)
Mermaids live near shore and are vassals of the sea god. They prefer human spouses to mermen because humans are better looking. Mermen have fish faces. Wouldn't you rather marry someone with a human face than a fish face? 

A cetus is a big ass fish. I'd say "It's the size of a whale," but in truth, a cetus can grow much larger than a whale. It's said a cetus never stops growing. They're sometimes called apocalypse fish because a cetus can whip up a giant tidal wave. A large enough cetus can call up a tsunami large enough to wipe out Atlantis--which may (or may not) be exactly what happened. 

The encounter: The PCs hear the sound of female voices arguing down near the seashore. If they investigate, they see two mermaid astride their cetus mounts lingering in the shallows of the water. The mermaids are having a hair-pulling argument about which one of them are lovelier than the other. As soon as the PCs see them, they spot the PCs and cry out for help.

They ask the most striking PC to help them settle an argument (whoever has the highest Charisma). Both will be quick to present their assets: the roundness of their belly, the wideness of their hips, the straightness of their teeth, the whiteness of their eyes, the sharpness of their nipples, the fullness of their lips. They'll also be quick to point out the deficiencies of the other: the veins on their hands, the redness of their neck, the weakness of their chin, the tangles of their hair, the smell of their breath. 

Frankly, though, both mermaids look pretty much the same. The mermaids will never accept this as an answer, however. To be compared to the other is an insult. Taking this tack will cause both mermaids to grow angry at the judge. 

The PC judge must answer artfully, because whoever is declared the loser in this beauty contest will seek revenge by having her cetus flood the nearest town. She'll make sure to tell everybody why she's doing it, too. The PC might very well find himself as an unwilling ecological terrorist. 

(If it comes up...)
Mermaid
HD: 1
AC: Unarmored, but roll with advantage if in the water
Attacks: Grab and drown. The mermaid is surprisingly strong (Str 17). 
Special: Clerics of the Sea God: Mermaids are the hand-maidens, wives, concubines, and clergy of the god of the sea. As such, they are all clerics with a number of Faith points equal to their rank in the undersea hierarchy. 
Smite: By expending a Faith point, a mermaid can deal an extra d6 of damage. This becomes 2d6 damage when fighting their favored foe: cheating spouses. 
Lay on Hands: By expending a Faith point, a mermaid can heal a HD of damage. 
Miracles of the Sea God: Roll a d6. If the result is 5 or 6, the sea god hears the mermaid's supplications and grants a miracle equivalent to a spell. The most frequent miracle granted summons a nearby random sea monster. 
1. 2d4 skeletal pirates 
2. Water elemental
3. Giant jellyfish
4. Giant sea snake, still gripping the skeletal remains of Laocoan
5. Coral golem (as a stone golem, but fishy)
6. Kraken
Ocean Bounty: Mermaids keep vast hordes of drowned treasure to use as bargaining chips. At any point, a mermaid can fetch one of the following:
1. 1d100 silver in sunken treasure
2. Potion of Water as Air -- When drunk, the imbiber has complete freedom under the water; can even fire bows or run along the ocean floor
3. Pearl of Fish Speech -- When placed under the tongue, you can speak to fish.
4. Black jellyfish -- This is a rare jellyfish with a deadly poison that can be harvested by assassins and alchemists
5. Altar Turtle -- These turtles are low level functionaries of the sea god. They will serve you like a trained pet if you pay at least lip service to the sea god. 
6. Animate Figurehead -- A wooden figurehead carved from livingwood, this figurehead is treated as an additional crew member if fixed to the prow of a ship; knows lots of sea shanties and folklore; excellent at star maps and directions; will often taunt pirates to "just come and try" (which is how her last boat got sank)  
Move: Normal in the water, Slow otherwise
Wants: A human husband, gossip, fresh meat 
Hates: Insults, "drama," clerics of the land
Smells: Coconuts
Sounds: Like Dutch sailors, pronounce "see" as "zee," curse demurely and then blush

Cetus, or, the Apocalypse Fish
HD: 4 for cetus the size of a whale (more HD for bigger cetus; there's no upper limit)
AC: Medium
Attacks: Slam 1d10+1 per HD / Bite [HD]d4 
Special: Inhale: The cetus can take a big sip of water. Everything nearby floods into his mouth. If the PCs are a) in the water and b) close enough to him to engage in melee combat, there's no save. If the PCs are further away, a Strength check can be made to avoid the intake.
While the water is inhaled, the cetus is left floundering on a now muddy, puddled sea bottom. If killed, set on fire, or tickled, the cetus will release his swallowed water prematurely. 
If you are swallowed, you are suddenly in a dark hell of saltwater. There is no air or light. No, you cannot attack the cetus from the inside. Make a Wisdom save each turn to avoid swallowing water. If you fail, you take d4 Blood damage. 
Exhale: If the cetus has held his swallowed water for 3 uninterrupted turns, he will expel it forcefully. This causes a flood. The displaced water will move inland for [HD] miles and drain back towards the shore over the course of two weeks. 
Move: Normal (swimming)
Wants: Smaller fish to eat (to grow large enough to fulfill its destiny and flood the entire earth) 
Hates: Being tickled, vikings
Smells: Salt and vinegar  
Sounds: A thunderclap right overhead, a barn falling down

05. Boars Making Love
The encounter: Do boars fuck in the woods? The answer is yes. You can see them right there. Doing it. 

06. The Hairy Thing
In town, there is a rumor of a werewolf in the nearby woods. There is a general panic. People are bringing their sheep into their cottages for safe keeping. Nobody goes out after dark. After all, didn't the werewolf drag the alchemist John Subtle into the woods, never to be seen again? You don't want to end up like that nerd, do you?

The encounter: You catch a glimpse flashing in front of you of a hairy thing. It runs on all fours into the brush. 

If the PCs give pursuit, they quickly run down a man covered in brown hair. It wears no clothes. It looks wild, savage, and nasty. 

It cringes away from the PCs, trying to hide itself behind trees. It whines. 

If the PCs try to kill it, they can do so pretty easily. Roll initiative as normal, but the beast mostly just tries to escape. It cowers and dodges away. If they bring its corpse back to town, the village rewards them greatly for ending the werewolf threat. They'll get sheep! Maybe a daughter to marry! Maybe even some coins! 

If the PCs ask about the phase of the moon, a Wisdom check will reveal that, no, last night it was only a waxing crescent moon. An Intelligence check will reveal that folklore confirms that werewolves only stalk during the full moon. 

If the PCs have second sight or similar ability, the creature before you is not an illusion. It is not transformed. This is its "natural" state. (This is misleading. Read on.)

The hairy thing cannot talk. It can only whine and grunt. It has large tusks and teeth that prevent it from speaking intelligibly. It can understand speech, however. It can pantomime. If the PCs have quill and ink and literacy, it can even write. 

This hairy thing is in fact the vanished alchemist John Subtle. John was experimenting with potions to increase his male potency; to increase his strength; to regrow his hair; to get rid of his paunch. And boy howdy did it work! The potion he drank inflicted a permanent change on his person. 

John doesn't know really how to cure or reverse his condition. The PCs might be able to find an alchemical cure, but it will take weeks of experimentation. Use Lamentation's spell research rules to figure out how long and how expensive it is. 

The village might be able to accept John Subtle if the situation was explained articulately to them. Heck, John might even like his new life as a bizarre beast. This will take an 80s montage of love and acceptance to accomplish, however. Mostly the villagers will just want to scream "Werewolf!" and "Get 'im!" 

07. The Gluttony Devil 
Devils range from small to titanic, and are riots of corporeality. Gluttony devils are on the smaller scale--devils that lurk in the second level of the pit. Gluttony devils are covered with mouths. They are nothing but mouths. Their joints--elbows, knees, wrists, etc--hide hungry little mouths. Their stomachs are spheres of annihilation. 

The encounter: A gluttony devil meets the PCs near a graveyard, where he's recently de-interred several corpses. He's currently messily devouring them with both of his ends. 

He'll offer the PCs a bargain: for the rest of their life, he'll bring them whatever food they want to eat. In exchange, when they're dead, they give the devil permission to eat them. What do they care? They're dead! 

Obviously, this means the PC will never have to care about food ever again. If this isn't a huge deal in your D&D games, reevaluate how you play D&D. 

If the PC agrees, the devil will present a contract written in shit on a hog's skin. The contract is written in an archaic language; roll Intelligence to see if the PCs can speak it. Roll again to see if the PCs can parse the legalese. To seal the contract, the PC must kiss the devil on his ass mouth. The devil will try and slip him some tongue. 

(Some loopholes in the contract: the contracted must eat all of what the devil brings them; the contracted must never give away the devil-brought food, being devoured means that the PC can never be resurrected--not even during Judgment Day, etc.) 

If threatened, the devil will just run away. If caught, here are his stats:

Gluttony Devil
HD: 2
AC: Light
Attacks: Bite d6; can't be healed except by magic
Special: Undying: A devil can only be killed by magic. If brought to 0 HP by normal weapons, it is merely stunned. A stunned gluttony devil expels all swallowed opponents. 
Unholy: A devil cannot step foot onto consecrated ground. It is repelled by holy water. 
Swallow: If the gluttony devil grapples you, it will use its action next turn to swallow you. Make a Strength saving throw. If you fail, you are swallowed. When you are swallowed, during your round you make another Strength saving throw. If you fail 3 times, you fall into his stomach and are annihilated. If you succeed 3 times, you make the devil vomit. 
Shit and Vomit: If you can make the devil vomit (either by punching his guts while swallowed, or any other way a PC can devise--like forcing it to swallow holy water), the devil blasts a 30' cone in front of and behind him of shit and vomit. Roll twice for the miasma spell from Wonder & Wickedness as one cloud is expelled from his front and one cloud is expelled form his back.  
Move: Surprisingly fast!
Wants: For people to accept his bargain, to eat people, to turn people into cannibals
Hates: Vegans, clean water
Smells: Like a diaper that washed up on the beach 
Sounds: Squishy, like a garbage bag full of water

08. The Grumblepig
Some heraldic beasts are better than others. The griffins, the sphinxes, the manticores--those houses got all the good beasts. 

Some people got the grumblepig. 

The encounter: The PCs hear the blowing of a horn and the baying of hounds. Soon, they find themselves in the middle of a great hunt--gentlemen and their attendants race forward on haggard horses while goofy dogs bark and run amok around them. Just ahead in the wood, the PCs can see the hunter's quarry: a grumblepig. 

The grumblepig is about the size of a boar. It's head is that of a large hawk. It's rump is that of a large pig's head. It's runs around on two chicken's legs, but badly. It makes a sound like "root root root root" as it runs and snuffles. It's favorite food is truffles. 

The hunting party is of House Grundle. They're all mildly inbred and quite poor, but mostly good-natured folk. Catching grumblepigs is pretty easy, and once the hunt is over, they invite you to share in a feast of the meat. It tastes a little like chicken. 

House Grundle doesn't know why their heraldry is a grumblepig. They wish they could trade up for something nicer. 

09. The Marvelous Menagerie
The encounter: COME SEE  ALBERT THE LESSER'S MARVELOUS MENAGERIE!
BE EDUCATED BY HIS FABLES DIVERSE AND VIRTUOUS.
BE DELIGHTED BY HIS ANIMAL PLAYERS.
WATCH THE STORIES OF REYNARD THE FOX, YSENGRIM THE WOLF, AND THEIR BESTIAL FRIENDS.
DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED, LADIES.

A magician is putting on a travelling puppet show using real life farm animals controlled by a Dominate Animals spell. The animals all wear shabby costumes. Being put under the spell terrifies them. Their bodies are forced into farcical shapes and poses. They're made to dance, play instruments, and act out battles. It's awful. Albert the Lesser provides all the voices via ventriloquism. 

You can pay 2 copper to watch the show. Or don't. 

10. The Starveling Cat
The starveling cat, the starveling cat
It knows what we're thinking
And we don't like that!
Cats have nine lives. Everybody knows this. 

What many do not realize is that a cat can have more. They do this by eating lives. Each human life eaten adds another life to their tally. 

The starveling cat has lived for over four-hundred years using this one simple trick. 

The encounter: When the PCs camp, a little grey kitty climbs down out of the tree and mews and runs through their feet and kneads at their bedroll and looks pitiful. Its ribs stick out. It looks hungry. 

If the PCs don't shoo it away, the starveling cat will begin to follow them everywhere. It hunts for itself and is generally agreeable, but will always hungrily eat any food offered it. They have a pet. 

However...

Whenever the PCs engage in combat, if an enemy falls in battle but is not deathblowed, the starveling cat LEAPS into action. The cat rushes over to the fallen foe and begins biting at its mouth. The cat strangles the fallen foe, then sucks out his soul as it flies away with the death rattle. 

The cat will also do this if one of the PCs falls and starts making death saving throws. 

Stats? The starveling cat doesn't have stats. It's a cat. It has like 1HP. 

What the starveling cat does have going for it is meta-think. The starveling cat knows everything the GM knows. It can use this knowledge against the PCs. It's old enough to know that he's actually in a game. He understands that he's not real, and neither are the PCs. Sometimes, the starveling cat will look at the players. Not the player characters. The players. 

11. Aeolus's Bags 
Aeolus is what some people call the Daemon of Winds. He lives on the Isle of Winds. It would be a nice place, except that the Winds dwell there. The Winds are sort of like frat boy caricatures. They'll call you "buddy," but you're not their buddy at all. They knock your hat off and give you a noogie and mess up your hair. They drink too much. They fuck shit up and then say, "Relax! It's just a prank!" Aeolus tries to keep them under control but is only mildly successful. When they go on real ragers, hurricanes happen. 

There is a rare plant that grows on the Isle of Winds which is called "Aeolus's Bag." It has a brushy top, but most of the plant is hidden beneath the earth. When dug up, it resembles a large, fleshy tuber. Sort of like an organic bagpipe. When you cut off the very tip of its root, it releases a steady stream of air. A human can breathe on this for about an hour. 

The encounter: The players are crossing a field covered with strange plants. A successful Intelligence check will reveal them to be Aeolus's bags. (A Wind drunkenly brought the seeds with him as he came to shore and scattered them around nearby.) The players can spend some time harvesting them if they want. It requires a successful Wisdom check to harvest d4 of them without puncturing the air root and spoiling them. 

These are nice treasures. However, next time the PCs try to cross a body of water, they will be stopped by an undine. She accuses the PCs of blasphemy and crimes against the ocean. All creatures who live underwater hate these plants. As long as they're carrying them, no water dweller or elemental spirit will let them cross their domains. Forget trying to travel by boat--it'll be Odysseus all over again. This problem will escalate from the undine to leviathans in a relatively short amount of time if the PCs continue to hold onto the bags. 

12. Normal Medieval Lions

Medieval lions are pretty different from the creatures that you or I know. What if the monster you encounter in the game is a Medieval breed of lion? 

The encounter: You encounter the scat of lions. There is a family of them nearby. If you spend too long nearby, you'll soon encounter them face to face. 

Medieval Lion
HD: 3
AC: Medium
Attacks: Savage with claws and teeth 3d4+3
Special: Noble: A lion will never kill a prostrate or surrendered enemy.
Roar of Life: If a creature dies without sin, a lion's roar can bring them back to life. Usually only children are without sin, but maybe an adult could be sin-less if they've JUST gotten cleansed by a sin-eater or god or something and haven't had time to have any covetous thoughts. 
Untrackable: If a lion knows it is being hunted, it will cover its tracks with its trail. This prevents both magical and mundane efforts to track it. 
Move: FastWants: A mate, fresh ape meat
Hates: The sound of creaking cart wheels, white chickens, fire
Smells: Like a horse, but better 
Sounds: Like a clarion call, but better
* A lion and lioness mate face to face. They produce five cubs their first liter, four cubs next year, then three, and so on. After their sixth litter, the lions become sterile. 
Lion cubs are born dead. After the third day, the parents bring them to life. 
** A lion can also mate with a great cat called a pard. The offspring of this union is a leopard. 

13. A Siren's Bargain
People who illuminate manuscripts rarely go outside. This is why lions all look like horses that got smashed in the face with a "bad haircut" stick. Because sirens live in the ocean, crafty illustrators convey that information to you by giving them fish tails. They make them look like mermaid. Adventurers and sea-goers will tell you that this is fanciful and false. A siren is half woman and half bird, like a harpy. 

Actually, harpies, furies, valkyries, and sirens are all related creatures. They see each other as cousins, and they do not get along. They are spirits of the far realms: those planes of existence that are tangential to our own. A siren is a spirit of the weird, the realm of dreams. 

A siren is dangerous, sure. The sea is also dangerous. But sailors bargain with the sea. Men can also bargain with sirens, if they dare. 

The encounter: A siren comes winging over the ocean and alights on either a rock out of bow shot or, if unmolested, will come aboard your ship. 

The siren is seeking new songs. In a fortnight, she will attend a musical contest with some of her cousins, and wishes very much to win. She thinks a new song will be enough to clinch the deal. 

If the PCs can trade her a new song, she will give them an echeneis. 

An echeneis is a small fish about six inches long. It has a sucking mouth like a remora. If you affix it to a ship, it acts like an anchor. Well, it acts better than an anchor. A ship fixed with an echeneis cannot be moved. It cannot be capsized. Waves will not overturn it. Winds will not blow it. A cetus cannot swallow it. It is stopped. Removing an echeneis is pretty easy--you just have to tickle it under its chin. 

The siren has an extensive musical knowledge. It knows every song from the PCs homeland and any song the PC has previously sang in front of others. 

If a player comes up with an entirely new song and sings it at the table, the siren is very impressed. She will happily give that character an echeneis in an amphora filled with sea water. 

(If it comes up...)
Siren
HD: 2
AC: Medium
Attacks: Claw for d6; plucks out an eye if she scores a critical success; can pick up and use normal weapons
Special: A siren can sing as a free action. A siren can sing a variety of beautiful songs, and interweave melodies and themes effortlessly. When a siren sings, everybody close enough to hear (30' or so in an oceanic environment) makes a Charisma saving throw. People attracted to women suffer disadvantage to their saving throw. People who have been harmed by a siren gain advantage to their saving throw. Players can elect to do things like stab themselves to keep their minds clear. They gain a bonus to the saving throw equal to the damage taken. GMs can adjudicate this in an ad hoc way. 
If a target fails his saving throw, the siren inflicts one of her song's effects on them. 
If a siren takes damage while singing, everybody under one of her effects makes a new saving throw as her song falters. Otherwise, the effect only ends when the siren quits singing. 
Charm: The target is charmed by the siren. As long as the siren does not directly attack the target, the target cannot attack the siren. 
Come Hither: The target moves towards the siren in the most direct manner possible. If piloting a ship, they immediately pilot it towards the siren. If just standing on deck, they will leap into the water and start swimming. If the siren is over a big pit, they will walk headlong into the pit. 
Sleep: The siren's most potent attack. The target falls asleep until the siren stops singing or somebody slaps him in the face. All damage done to you while you're asleep and defenseless is dealt to your Blood. 
Move: Normal speed; can fly, swim, or walk
Wants: Flowers, new instruments made from exotic things, to eat you
Hates: Being read poetry, sour tastes
Smells: Storms; ozone
Sounds: Like Morissey, if Morissey was a woman

14. Sir Peter Shows Up Again
Put Sir Peter on your encounter tables. Watch your players groan. 

The encounter: CALM YOURSELVES AND STEEL YOUR HEARTS, COMRADES. JUSTICE HAS PREVAILED AGAIN. SIR PETER IS HERE. 

You turn around from whatever you were doing. The owlbear was basically already slain. The bandits were already running away. You were just about to get the princess back to her castle. And then? 

He comes flying down from the sky. Again. Like a big jerk. 

YOU HAVE PERFORMED ADMIRABLY GIVEN YOUR LIMITATIONS. I AM PROUD OF YOU. DO NOT FEEL BADLY THAT YOU DID NOT DO AS WELL AS I DID. YOU DID YOUR BEST. 

I mean, seriously. Look at his dang outfit. He's wearing plate mail. His horse has wings. His winged horse has plate barding, even. He's wielding that big +3 scythe all one-handed. Jeez, how much did that cost? Where did he get that stuff? 

NOW, MY JOB HERE IS DONE. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, ADVENTURERS! ONE DAY, PERHAPS YOU SHALL ACHIEVE GLORIOUS DEEDS! 

And just like that, he's taken credit for your hard work. And then he's off. His horse neighs and flies into the sky. Into the fucking sky. Can you believe that?

(If you get Sir Peter's tabbard or a splinter of his shield or something, you can sell it to a rube for a solid 10s. I mean, you hate the guy, but silver is silver.)

15. The Saint and the Dragon

The encounter: Everybody knows the best saints are tended by fierce beasts. Everybody knows that the truly holy can handle asps and adders and not be bitten. Everybody knows that lions, the kings of beasts, will actually bow and pay homage to holy men. 

That's what Tomás the Living Saint thinks, anyway. That's what he calls himself. The Church has yet to recognize Tomás's status as a saint. He knows that if he's going to get canonized for real, he's got to do some real saint shit.  

The PCs encounter Tomás at the base of a mountain waiting patiently by a shrine. He wears a gaudy clerical costume. He promises to give the PCs some dispensations if they can venture to the top of the mountain and raid a wyvern's nest for eggs. It's his plan to raise the wyvern from infancy to make it tame. Then, everyone can see how holy he is that he's tamed a wyvern. 

His plan is poorly conceived. Will the PCs brave a dragon's den for this man? 

16. The Wounded Cyclops

The encounter: The PCs hear a thunderous moaning and groaning from a nearby valley. If they investigate, they find that the valley is rocky with a black mere in its center. Seated on one of these large, glacial stones is a cyclops. The cyclops seems to be in some distress. He's holding his head, which looks bandaged. He's continually complaining and crying. 

If the PCs approach, the cyclops will tell them that he has a toothache which is bothering him very much. He's bound his head to put pressure on his jaw. If the players can fix his toothache, he will tell them their future. 

The cyclops will generally operate in good faith, and his powers of prophecy are potent. However, a cyclops with a toothache is an unpleasant creature. If the players go about trying to pull the abscessed tooth, the cyclops will kick his feet in pain, sending PCs sprawling across the stony ground. If they try and cast soothing spells on him, he will jerk back reflexively and accidentally step on their horse. He wants help, but he doesn't know how to sit still or be good. He is, after all, an ogre. 

17. The Pale Rider
The encounter: As they travel over a green and grassy field, the sun suddenly darkens, the air suddenly grows cold. The PCs are shocked to see, standing in the middle of the field, Death. 

He wears no flesh. He carries two golden spears. He rides a horse-like-thing. In his shadow, the grass wilts. 

Death stands implacably. Passive. He doesn't really notice the PCs yet. He thinks he is invisible. 

Death has come to this field for this afternoon a great battle will take place. He waits to harvest the souls and carry them on to the otherworld. He knows he is a bit early, but he is fine waiting. 

If the PCs try to interact with Death in any way, Death will be quite surprised. How can they see him? Who sent them? What do they want? 

Once Death realizes that his magic cap of invisibility has fallen off, he will ask the PCs for one of two favors: 1) Find the cap for him, and quickly. (Of course, someone else has found it in the meantime, and now they are invisible.) Or, alternatively: 2) Borrow his spear, stay here, and harvest souls at the battle while Death rides back and retraces his steps.

Performing these favors for Death will give the PCs one "Get out of Death free" card. Just one, not one per person. Anybody in their party can call on it at any time. They can use it for themselves, or for loved ones who die. 

Of course, if the PCs play their cards right, they can walk out of this with a cap of invisibility and the spear of death. And Death, of course, will have neither of these implements. The world might just become very weird

18. The God of Wine
Pagans incorrectly worship the spirits of the far realms, whereas the just and virtuous followers of Mythrys worship the True God, the many-faced Monad. Powerful spirits from the realm of weird are called genii (sing. genius). The genius of wine is sometimes called Bacchus. 

Bacchus is a spirit of revelry. He is a spirit of inspiration. He is a patron of madmen and poets and town drunks. 

Bacchus is the medieval fantasy equivalent of a party bus. He is always surrounded by his followers, who are half spirits/half flesh (you know, spirits who have sort of "gone native" and mortal followers who have become a little preternatural). Some of his companions include:

Silenus - An old drunk dude. He rides a donkey backwards. The donkey is also drunk. 

Comus - An extremely sadist and sexual pervert, Comus is a cup-bearer and servant of Bacchus. He carries a torch which he is constantly dropping. 

Acratopotes - A cool rival adventurer who is taking a summer off adventuring to drink some wine. He is treated as Fighter 5. 

The Maenads - A bunch of insane women.  They will tear apart anybody who pisses them off. I mean this very, very literally. 

Bacchus himself is a handsome youth with dark hair. He wears a wreath of grape leaves and flowers. His red robe is falling off of him. He bears a wand tipped with a pinecone. He is incredibly fun, extremely outgoing, and seems to genuinely get you. He throws the best parties. 

The encounter: The PCs come across the encampment of Bacchus and his retinue. They are welcomed with open arms and told that they were just about to start the evening's festivities, and beg that PCs join them. They freely offer food, drink, and a good time. 

It seems that Bacchus has recently come into two treasures while traveling in far lands: a griffin and a unicorn horn. He enjoys riding the griffin around (and even asks the PCs to "joust" him just for fun). He wears the unicorn horn tucked into his leafy crow, but will let you carry it around for a while if you want. 

Should the PCs agree to share some drinks with Bacchus, things get progressively out of hand. Ask a few PCs what shenanigans they get up to. Frame each successive question as "And THEN, after you drank another bottle, what happened?" 

Annnnd...scene. Blackout. 

Then, roll for a new random encounter. The next thing the PCs know, they are thrust unwillingly and unwittingly into a new situation. The PCs wake up with a splitting headache and find that they are in the middle of some trouble. The PCs do not have context for this new encounter. Everybody knows the plot but them. 

Here are some ideas:
1. The PCs have slept with somebody's wife. 
2. The PCs wake up and find out they all got Vegas married to one of the maenads. 
3. The PCs wake up and find out that they are in the middle of a parade. Everybody is cheering. 
4. The PCs wake up and find themselves in jail.
5. The PCs wake up and find out they stole Bacchus's new griffin and unicorn horn. He's probably pissed. 
6. The PCs wake up and find themselves in a goblin fighting pit. They're the new crowd favorites. 

Whatever happens, the PCs get to piece together the full story of last night's revelries, like they're in the movie Hangover. It's a mystery, and the PCs are the villains in their own story. 

19. Hellmouth
A mountain and an ocean are two very different places. A creature from the ocean cannot live on a mountain, and visa versa. 

This is also true for the far realms and the plane of flesh. However, there are places where the far realms prolapse into our world. This creates a meeting of two planes. 

When the realm of the wastes--the gloomy realm of death and decay--bubbles into our world, the result is a hellmouth. A hellmouth has the appearance of a giant's head protruding from the earth. The giant has empty eyes and a mouth like a cave. 
It looks like this.
When a hellmouth is open, spirits from the waste can invade. These spirits crawl inside the mouths of dead bodies and use them as vessels. Everybody that dies in the general region of the hellmouth comes back as a ghoul. 

Sometimes, bigger and stranger entities from the wastes will find the hellmouth and crawl out into our world. These leakages are notable events in the history of the world. 

The waste does not invade our world without impetus. It takes root in our world when a symbol of Platonic importance becomes so charged with psychic energy that the wastes cannot help but spill out. This object is called a key. 

A key can be anything you'd find in a horror movie. An adopted orphan killed his new parents with a hammer because Mr. Smiley told him to. That hammer is now a key. Six mean teens bullied a retarded kid until he jumped off a bridge. The wooden doll he used for comfort is now a key. A guy bricks up his best friend in his wine cellar because of some insult. The bottle of wine the victim is holding is now the key. You get the idea. 

If the key is destroyed or purified, the hellmouth closes. The world returns to normal. 

The encounter: The PCs come to a village named Queensburg; preferably the PCs have visited before or have some contacts here. You notice there are only women and children here. They are all weeping. Even the animals are weeping. It is a terrible sound. 

If the PCs try to talk to a villager, between sobs they will tell you (in order):
  • Everybody in the village is under some terrible curse
  • I am so, so sorry that I 1. slept with my husband's brother 2. stole a pie when I was twelve 3. masturbate so much 4. killed my first daughter
  • It all started when a strange new river began flowing into town
  • All the men left town to follow the fell-river to its source
  • I really am so truly sorry
Everybody in Queensburg has drank from Acheron, the river of lamentations, one of the five rivers of the wastes. The river is issuing forth from the hellmouth about a day's ride from the village. Whoever drinks from the river suffers a) disadvantage on any task hampered by heavy crying, especially perception (from tears) and speech (from blubbering) and b) must constantly confess their greatest sin and apologize. This curse lasts 20 - Wisdom days. 

The PCs can follow the river out of town, following the same path that all the village men took. About a day's journey north, the PCs will encounter the source of the hellmouth. 

This is what they find. 

There is a monastery here called St. Aceso's. It acts as a sanitarium for the sick and insane. It seems that the river is issuing out from beneath the sanitarium. 

St. Aceso's is run by somebody named Alphonso of Rederra, though he is usually just called "The Doctor." The Doctor is an extremely well-respected natural philosopher who is the foremost regional authority on the internal workings of the human body. He has speculated (correctly) concerning some basic tenants of hygiene. He recommends that chirugeons wash their hands and instruments before undertaking their surgeries. He has written treatises on how and why women become pregnant. 

The Doctor is also a mass murderer. 

St. Aceso's is secretly the home to rampant human experimentation and medical torture rivaling that of Mengele or Unit 731. The basements of the monastery are a mass grave. When the Doctor determined that a particular pilgrim's afflictions were too severe (or just interesting and applicable for his work), they were taken into his intensive care. They were then vivisectioned and exposed to various mutagenic poisons. The Doctor has so many questions. Can you attach severed limbs again? What about severed animal limbs? Can humans regrow the brain? Why do women miscarry? Is baldness a disease? What happens when a wound is cauterized? Can a baby be carried by the father using surgery? Can one's sex be changed? What makes twins? Is decapitation always fatal? 

Most of the Queensburg's men are encamped outside of St. Aceso's. The men are currently engaged in their second assault on the sanitarium. Their initial attempt to go into the monastery was rebuffed by the living dead. They lost four men during this time. All of the men are currently weeping, having drank from the waters of Acheron. 

The men of Queensburg would give up and go home if it were not for the cries of help from the belltower. The Doctor is trapped up there. They can't let such a good man fall victim to the hordes of hell. 

St. Aceso's is full of the undead. The Doctor's experiments have risen again. Picture Hellraiser-style body horror. Men and women stitched together. Corpses with flesh peeled apart. Corpses dangling with hooks and chains. Eyes and noses stitched shut. Sexual organs bisected and inverted. Elaborate scars that map the internal workings of the body. 

The basement of the monastery is the location of the hellmouth. A river flows from it and floods those chambers. The flood bubbles up and out, rushing in a river. 

The Doctor is safe in the upper story of the monastery. He has barred the door against the undead. He is safe for now, and has enough food and water to last at least one or two days. 

The Doctor has not drank from the river Acheron. He is clear eyed and sharp minded. The Doctor does not regret his experiments. In his mind, he has been furthering medical knowledge. In his mind, he is saving future lives. 

The key to the hellmouth is the Doctor's Grand Working, a magnum opus of medical lore. This text is the most systematic and complete explanation of the physical machinations of the human body, surgical techniques, neurological theories, and natal medicine to date. The text could very well modernize medicine in a medieval setting. 

If the text is not destroyed, the hellmouth remains open. The river will continue to flow and eventually poison the landscape in this country. If the river eventually flows into the ocean, the ocean could become tainted with waste mana as well. And, of course, all who die in the region will raise again as the undead. 

What will the PCs do?

20. Pretty the Pink Monkey

A familiar is made when a sorcerer feeds an animal one of his spells. He loses access to that spell permanently. Its sigils are burned out of his spellbook. The spell rewrites itself on the animal's brain. If you crack open a familiar's skull, you can harvest the spell back by drawing down the symbols imprinted in their pink brain flesh. 

Familiars are not normal at all. They have an arcane physiology. They can sometimes speak. They sometimes know things they shouldn't. They grow clever and wicked--in fact, they're smarter about acts of evil than they are about acts of kindness. They have powers based on the spell that lives in their heads.  

Apes make some of the best familiars. Cats and bats are fine for witches, but real sorcerers are all about ape familiars. They're smarter than dogs. They're quicker and stronger than a henchmen. They have graspy little hands to open doors and chests and hand you magical implements. Apes are great. 

The encounter: A sorcerer and astronomer of some infamy, Guennar, has dwelt for many years in his observation tower outside of town. He spent his life looking upwards into the heavens and drinking quicksilver in the belief that it expanded his mental prowess. He had a familiar named Pretty, a pink monkey often seen in a rich, blue cape. Pretty has the spell of Opening and Closing wrapped around his brainstem. 

Pretty is a fairly common sight in town. Guennar would send him to run errands for him; fetch food and supplies; sell tokens and charms. Nobody liked having a pink monkey familiar around town, but what were they going to do--complain to the sorcerer? No thank you. 

Nobody knows it yet, but Guennar has died. Pretty is now without a master. And he is getting up to mischief. Here are some things that Pretty is going to do:

  • Pretty will creep into the PC's room at night. He wants to look through their stuff. He likes adventurer's stuff. It's interesting to him. The PC with the highest Wisdom can attempt a Wisdom saving throw to see if they wake up with Pretty in the room. If they awaken, Pretty will leap out of the window that he crawled in through. 
  • Pretty is going to unlock every door in town. Petty theft will go up. 
  • Pretty is going to unlock the church lockbox and steal from the tithes and offerings. The local priest is going to be upset. 
  • Pretty is going to open the animal pens and attempt to ride them. 75% of the town's animals will get away. Despite the town's careful efforts, 10% of their livestock will go missing, and weeks of legal issues will ensue as farmers renegotiate who owns what. 
All of these headaches will continue until the PCs manage to deal with the issue. They might decide to try and enlist Guennar's help in dealing with his familiar (in which case they'll find an undefended sorcerer's tower with its sole occupant dead) or they might try and take Pretty's fate into their own hands. 

In any event, here are his stats:

Pretty
HD 2

AC: Medium 
Attacks: Claw for d6
Special: Open: With a touch, Pretty can open any locked door or chest. If Pretty tries to touch you, make a Dexterity saving throw. If you are wearing armor and fail, Pretty unlocks all the buckles and straps on your armor. It just falls off. If you are not wearing armor and you fail, Pretty unlocks your chest cavity. Your chest is now open, exposing your guts. This is magical, and so doesn't hurt--but you now take 2x damage that goes straight to your Blood points. This can be cured by having someone cast Close on you. 
Close: With a touch, Pretty can lock any door or chest. If Pretty tries to touch you, make a Dexterity saving throw. If you fail, your mouth seals shut. You cannot speak or eat for an hour, or until someone casts Open on you. 
Move: Fast walking and climbing 
Wants: Shiny things (especially magical trinkets), to laugh at other people's misfortunes, practical jokes and slapstick are hilarious to him
Hates: Being told that he's not a "real adventurer," being put into extradimensional time out
Smells: Like a barnyard
Sounds: High pitched laughing, constantly giggling


It seems necessary to shout out to Coins and Scrolls whose very excellent post got me off my ass and made me finish this.