Friday, March 15, 2024

The Ludologic Plague: Practical Advice for Running Derro Encounters

To understand this post, I need you to go read this post from False Machine. Ready? OK, let's move on.

The Derros are characters with a history before D&D, and Patrick Stuart's interpretation of them in Veins of the Earth is my favorite iteration.

Whereas he relies on these wonderfully flavorful and evocative splorshes of text to give you a sense of the Derro, I am going to give you practical advice on using them in your games. 


The Derros understand that they live within a metatext. This is a terrifying existence for them. The second they are forgotten or unobserved, they do not exist. In the frenetic moments that they do exist, they put all their thought into escaping.

The Derros recognize that PCs are special. They torture various "named" creatures to see if they are PCs, but can quickly find out that they are not. They interrogate PCs to understand the "Machines" they use.

A machine is a game mechanic. 

The Derro lack the language to describe game mechanics, but understand some things as metaphors. A book of rules. Fate is random chance--sure, call it dice. These are all machines

They ask about the machines. Is the book brown? Is the book little and brown? Does it come in a white box? The one that is brown does not come in a white box? Do not lie. 

They address the "people behind your eyes." The people who "inhabit your skin."

They want to go back with you to the "upper world."

Every encounter with the Derro has this motif, has this refrain. 

Eventually, the PCs will begin to understand the gimmick the GM is trying to pull with the Derros. Then, they are infected.

The Ludologic Plague

Derros carry a magical disease called the ludologic plague. When PCs start wondering out loud, at the table, if the Derros understand that they are in a game--BAM! 

Every time a player says something about the Derro understanding the real world, the GM takes a post-it note and puts it inside the book. Put it anywhere. The game text hidden by the post-it note no longer exists. The GM can't see it, the players can't use it. The post-it note represent the ludologic plague spreading. 

If the players ever tell the Derros about the "machines." If they ever metagame and start talking, in character, about the mechanics of the game--the PCs become infected themselves. 

Put a post-it note over parts of the PC's character sheet. That part does not exist. That part cannot be read. 

The Derros have false machines that can control the plague. They can write on post-it notes that exist in the real world. They can rewrite the rules for reality.

Whatever is written on top of the post-it note is what the "real rules" are. Oh, you have PASTA HP now? Sure. That's how that works. You've always had PASTA HP. D&D is well known for giving fighters PASTA HP. 

The PCs can beat the Derros up (in the game world) and break their false machines to erase (or rewrite) what is written on the post-it notes. But the notes can't be removed until the plague is cured.

The plague is cured by obtaining, in real life, a copy of the Veins of the Earth. Then, rip the pages out from 167-172. The Derro no longer exist. They can no longer hurt you.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Four Rival Adventuring Parties

I love rival adventuring parties. I half use them to express ideas I have for characters in games I'm GMing. "I wish I could play this." Here are four that might appear in the first supplement to His Majesty the Worm: the dungeon named The Castle Automatic

Rival Adventuring Parties

The Debtors

A team of debt-bound dwarves. They travel under the cover of a giant's brass helmet. They speak Cant exclusively. They warn about the presence of any traps in this room (less out of kindness and more out of fear that the players will set them off while they're still nearby). 

Quest: They are searching for the Coin of Pentacles to pay off their collective debt. They will pay 20g for solid advice about how to navigate the Palace of Pentacles. 

The guild consists of:

  • Sam Miner the necropolis architect (dwarf, Path of Cups) - De facto leader. Fights with a mattock. Knows a lot about dungeon design due to his background in building trapped necropolii for other underfolk. Owns Zach, a sassy canary.
  • Albus Sapper the sapper (dwarf, Path of Cups) - Fights with a flamberge. Pyromaniac. In possession of a homemade bomb and is looking for an excuse to use it. 
  • Ethel Tinker the trapsmith (dwarf, Path of Pentacles) - Fights with a crossbow. Professional to a fault. Just there to do a job.
  • Sue Hauler the dumb muscle (dwarf, Path of Swords) - Fights with a maul. Loves her mates. Loves her beer. Loves her work (bashing heads and hauling heavy shite). Simple as. 

Mr. and Mrs. Not

Gnomish husband and wife duo who are looking for rare and exotic flowers. They travel with orcish guards who are paid to protect them. 

Quest: Exotic flowers. They are willing to pay high prices for flowers from the Castle Automatic depending on how rare they are: white lotus from XX - Ossuary (500g), roses from XX - Bower (25g), Fidelis Rose from area XX (1000g), and black lotus from XX - Pleasure Dome (50g).

The guild consists of:

  • Mr. Waste Not the cantankerous naturalist (gnome, Path of Wands) - Fights with a wand. Grumpy all the time. Traditional and conservative.
  • Mrs. Want Not the garden witch (gnome, Path of Cups) - Prefers not to fight, but will wield her cast iron pan in a pinch. Kindly. A good cook. 
  • Maer Finrydottir the mage killer (orc, Path of Pentacles) Fights with a pair of daggers. Always wears iron armor because she hates the feeling of magic being cast on her. Utterly in love with Peta. 
  • Peta Ulysdottir the pathfinder (orc, Path of Swords) Fights with a razor boomerang. Half hyper competent, half lazy. 
  • Oyster the dead one (orc, Path of Wands) Fights with a bone club. Came back from the dead once and came back weird. 

The Penitent

Templars, sponsored directly by the Cult. Believe themselves to be on a holy crusade. On one hand, they see themselves as agents of a temporal authority in the otherwise lawless space of the Underworld, which makes them come across as true dicks. On the other hand, they practice what they preach and will treat others fairly. They hate ogres, the undead, and vampires, and will always join in on battles against these opponents.

Quest: They are searching for the Chalice of Life, which they believe to be the sacred Grail of Mythrys. 

The guild consists of:

  • Philo "The Confessor" Heartsbane the inquisitor (human, Path of Swords) - Fights with a warhammer. Cautious and disciplined. Holds his guild to high standards. Comes off as joyless. 
  • Dyvin Minor "The Shield of Faith" Heartsbane the knight  (human, Path of Swords) - Fights with a mace. Lives in the shadow of his father. Overeager to prove himself.
  • But-by-Every-Word-that-Procedeth "The Holy Demon" the convert squire (troll, Path of Swords) - Fights with an iron-studded war club. Struggles with their identity as a troll living among humans. A true convert. Rich, baritone singing voice. 
  • Sister Miriam "The Water Bearer" Ormulon the war nun (human, Path of Cups) - Fights with a censer flail. Skilled healer, bad bedside manner. Has an incredibly grim view of sorcery. 

The Ones

A group of failsons who each believe they're the chosen one. 

Quest: They are searching for the Perfect Sword. Each member believes they are the true inheritors of its legacy. If they ever actually get within sight of the sword, things will get dark fast. 

The guild consists of:

  • Kinwa Too Tall the dashing bravo (high elf, Path of Swords) - Fights with an archwood sword. In love with the nymph, Imaga, who lives in a different section of the Underworld (you wouldn't know her). 
  • Franklin "The Wart" Noname the mage knight (human, Path of Wands) - Fights with a quarterstaff. Marked with a solar-burst like burn on his hand. Dismissive of dangers because he believes himself to be the child of prophecy. 
  • Bingo Beekeeper the people's burglar (halfling, Path of Pentacles) - Carries a hive of trained bees on his back. Fights by directing the bees to attack his enemies using two signal wands. Comes from a noble background, but dedicates his life to helping the poor and unfortunate.