Monday, October 22, 2018

Seizing the Initiative

I've seen some posts in the OSR blogosphere about initiative that are interesting in their takes on the idea, but to which I want to respond ...

In Dungeons and Dragons, of course, "initiative" is the roll that one makes at the beginning of combat (either once, or every round of combat, depending on editions ...) which determines the order of combatants and their actions.

Noisms at Monsters and Manuals talks about it directly in "Seizing the Initiative", in which he points out that "initiative" is a thing that one can actually observe "being seized" in sports matches or in historical accounts of battle, even if the precise ... Platonic ideal, one could say ... cannot be directly observed. In a match between two teams, one of them suddenly takes charge seemingly of everything and destroys the other team. This is not modeled well in the D&D "roll for initiative" rule, he argues, and might better be modeled by some action that could be taken by players or NPC enemies to "seize the initiative" for their team and ensure that they act first (until the initiative is taken back).

Emmy Allen at Cavegirl's Game Stuff has an excellent post about how RPGs fail to model the realities of skirmishes and combat when one has actually partaken in modern recreations of melee combats with swords, spears, shields, etc ("Shit games don't get about combat situations"). She doesn't talk about initiative in particular, so much as "reach" weapons (spears), missile weapons, shield walls, and formations in general, and their effects on the people involved in a combat. But these things are basic parts of "initiative" ... some D&D games use "reach" as the deciding factor for "initiative", i.e. spears always strike before swords ... AD&D complicated things by having smaller/faster weapons strike first after the initial round, though this is not unreasonable when considering the effect of the Spanish rodelleros (using sword and buckler) against pike formations in the 16th C.

And just recently, Patrick Stuart at False Machine has written an idea for initiative in which it is literally a physical thing carried by the characters which can be seized back and forth, OR as a mechanic related to how much information the player/characters are trying to ascertain before they act, this post being, "Physical Initiative and Query Initiative". In a sense, I quite like the Physical Initiative--you could tie it to a standard bearer-character, or a drum/pipes character keeping time for the march, and if they are captured or killed, they can no longer provide initiative for their own team (Patrick has even more bizarre and interesting versions that are worth checking out).


So these are all interesting ways to think about what D&D or its descendants are modeling, and about how one might model things in one's own game to better match what one thinks "initiative" is (or more broadly, just to remember that any game mechanic can be fiddled with, changed, or forgotten, to fit what you want to happen in your game!).

But, I think this quibbling over "initiative" as a mechanic actually misses the initiative of those playing the game. Sure, in my game as in most "OSR" games, a d6 is rolled each round, one for the player/characters, one for the monsters they're fighting, and the higher result wins. There are lots of fiddly particulars depending on the referee--Aleksandr Revzin has the players win on a tied roll; I ask magic-users to declare spells before initiative is rolled, and if their side loses initiative and they get struck by an attack, their spell fizzles; also, concerning tied rolls, I have all attacks happen simultaneously, so that even those "killed" in the round still get their attacks off.

All of this is largely cosmetic, though.

Initiative proper is whether the players understand what's going on well enough in the melee to coordinate their attacks. Better yet, initiative is the players having planned the melee before hand, lured the monsters to where they want them to be, and then to attack them with maximum force.

A die roll, you go first/they go first doesn't matter much when one side has overwhelming odds. Players who understand that, set the situation up to have overwhelming odds, and then engage--those are the players who actually have the initiative.

As referees, truthfully, we could always have the initiative. We have fuller knowledge of the environment, of the numbers the goblin (or whatever) tribe could bring to bear when fully alarmed, of the tricks, traps, and spells that can be brought to bear against the players. But the game is designed to allow the players to have the initiative (usually); they enter the goblin-caves of their own will; they are the ones sneaking around, choosing where to go; if they set off the alarm, so be it, but they have their own wits about them to try to silence any alarm they can.

Even when they do end up in melee combat, the player/characters can take the initiative. Stand in the hallway rather than the broad chamber so you can set up an un-flankable battle-line; lay down flaming oil to keep enemies off your flank when you can't withdraw in time; focus attacks on one enemy at a time to make sure they go down, rather than dividing attention among multiple foes; all of these and more are tactics that will see a party through, regardless of what they roll for initiative any particular round.

I don't know how many combats I've watched as a referee in which players just attack whatever, and nobody takes the initiative to direct their fellows as to the best course of action. Melees like that go fine against goblins ... but against well coordinated enemies, they tend to go poorly. I think initiative is already in the hands of the players ... the dice roll is just there to keep things from being stale (yeah, don't get me started on waiting an hour to get back around to my turn in 3e/Pathfinder/5e!!)

Monday, August 20, 2018

DIY 30 #16: Three Scrolls

Continuing the "three magic items" theme, esp. those that are not magic swords, have three new scrolls:

Scroll of Tongues
A short vellum scroll; all writing on it disappears after a day, leaving the scroll free for further writings.

The value of this scroll lies not in any permanent record, but rather in the fact that anything written upon it in one language can be read by any literate creature, regardless of their own native language. E.g. a human might write a message on the scroll in the Common tongue, and an Elf might read the same message in Elvish while an orc would read it in Orcish, or a giant in Giantish.

Alas, it is nearly useless for learning new languages, because the reader comprehends whatever was written in his own native tongue ...

Scroll of Spellcatching
Prized especially by spellcasters eager to learn new spells, nevertheless, this scroll is useful to any class of character. It is a blank scroll; when carried upon one's person, it will "catch" the first spell cast against the person, totally negating the spell's effect, and inscribing the spell's formula magically onto the scroll (even a fireball spell would be affected, albeit partially; the carrier of this scroll would be immune to the damage of the spell, and the spell would be inscribed upon the scroll; but the magic would act normally upon all others within the radius of the spell's effect).

Though any spell level may be "caught" and negated in this way, the scroll will only every "catch" one spell. After that, it counts as a spell scroll with that particular spell inscribed upon it (to be used or learned by a magic-user, and unusable by any other class but perhaps a high level thief). Those unable to cast or learn spells from scrolls will find the item useless at this point ...

Scroll of Psalms
A scroll of paeans to the right gods ... only clerics (or other priest-like classes) may use these scrolls, and then only by chanting the psalms or paeans round-by-round.

A character chanting the poetic prayers upon the scroll cannot otherwise act; they are essentially casting a spell, though insofar as they are chanting prayers from the scroll, the effects cannot be fizzled like a spell in melee.

After 1 round of chanting, all allies within 30' gain a +1 to hit; after 2 rounds, allies within 30' gain a +1 to damage; after 3 rounds, allies within 30' gain a bonus of 1 to their armor class; after 4 rounds, allies within 30' receive 1-6 hit points, either as direct healing, or as "temporary hit points". The "chanter" of the scroll must continue to chant each round thereafter for his allies to retain these bonuses; if the chanting ceases, so too do the benefits proffered by the scroll.

Rune Wand
A bonus "scroll" type ... Items of this sort are long wands carved with a series of runes representing a spell; they are functionally identical to spell scrolls (whatever spell is contained within is "used up" when the runes are activated by reading them), and are just a different medium of storage of the magical dweomers.

DIY 30 #15: Three Potions

Continuing the thought that I tend to think of items as magic swords or magic rings, here are three potions to offset my predilections:

Potion of Elemental Fury
These potions imbue the drinker with the power of one of the four dominant types of elementals (fire, water, earth, air; roll a d4 to randomly determine the type associated with the potion). A fire potion burns as it goes down and fills the drinker with a fiery heat; an earth potion is gritty like thick coffee, and fills the drinker with a sense of gravity and deep connection; a water potion tastes of seawater, but fills the drinker with a sense of liquid grace; an air potion seems but a breath of heavy gas which leaves the drinker light-headed and with a sense of "floating".

All potions of elemental fury cause a creature to fight as a staff elemental of the potion's type (AC 2, HD 8, unarmed damage 1-8), but each potion also grants additional abilities appropriate to its type:
-- fire grants fire immunity, so that even magical fire attacks deal no damage;
-- earth grants regeneration of 1 hit point per round, and poison immunity so that poisons do not affect the drinker;
-- water grants waterbreathing and immunity to any kind of gas-based spell, e.g. cloudkill or stinking cloud;
-- air grants the ability to fly, as well as protection from normal missiles as the spell

Characters affected by a potion of elemental fury are incapable of breaking through a circle of protection against elementals like that created by a scroll of protection versus elementals.

Memory Moss
Not a potion per se, but a "helping" of obliviax (memory moss), this black mold can easily be swallowed over the course of a melee round. It is alive with the "memory" of one spell from 1st to 3rd level (determine level randomly with a d6, so 1-3 is 1st level, 4-5 is 2nd level, 6 is 3rd, and roll the spell randomly once level is determined). The only way to know what spell is contained within is to eat the moss.

A character eating the moss gains the ability to use the spell contained within as if they were a magic-user that had memorized it (i.e. just the once). Even a fighter or a thief could eat the moss and thus be able to cast the spell, but neither such character would be able to cast the spell while wearing armor.

There is, of course, the risk of attaining undesired memories by eating memory moss. A successful save versus spells allows a character to ignore such alien memories, but the referee is free to create new plot hooks or strange behavioral hang-ups for those who fail the save ...

Dweomer Potion
Without access to a good reference library, this potion is night worthless; such a potion, dripped over an enchanted item, throws off certain auras and other magical signs that may be cross-referenced in the correct tomes to identify the magic item's properties. The potion is viscous and tastes vaguely of salts and minerals; anyone with memorized spells will cause it to react as it would to a magic item, such that the dwimmers give off an aura and a slight scent of ozone.

Each potion contains enough material to identify 2-7 items or potions. Characters with extensive libraries for magical research (worth 5000+ gp), or perhaps specific encyclopedias, will have a decent or better chance to succeed with the potion for themselves, using their own reference works.

Sages will always buy these potions, though they will talk the price down as much as possible. It is up to the sellers to determine its real worth for the buyer.

Love Potion
Bonus potion, don't forget love potions. They're good for role-playing, and/or for getting players to come up with creative ways to get past encounters using them.

DIY 30 #14: Three Staves

Yes "staves" is a correct plural for more than one staff, i.e. walking stick, and the one that I prefer. For multiple groups of employees, "staffs" is correct.

Anyway, these could be staves or rods; but the idea was that I tend to focus on magic rings, magic swords, and miscellaneous magic when I devise new items, and so I should begin expanding my horizon.

Rod of the Gerontes
A short walking-stick, shod in iron, usually topped with a disc bearing the seal of the office the rod was dedicated to (i.e. the mayor of the palace, the high priest of the city-cult, or the head of a particular guild).

This rod grants +1 to all reactions, +3 to reactions with those specifically associated with whatever office it was originally dedicated to (e.g. a harbormaster's rod would grant +3 reactions when dealing with ship captains, rowers, or other seafarers). It may furthermore be used to cast a charm person spell, each use costing 1 charge (and the rod will be found with but 3-30 charges).

Unfortunately, for those who take up this rod, it is a walking stick meant for old oligarchs; merely handling it permanently ages a character 1 year. Bearing it as an item temporarily ages the bearer a further 10 years, thus reducing strength, dexterity, and constitution each by 1-3 points ... one week of rest apart from the staff will restore one ability score back to its "prime/original" score, but no amount of rest will restore the 1 full year first lost when handling the rod--only a wish or similarly powerful spell might restore lost youth.

Flowering Staff
A staff of dead wood that has since sprung into new life, bearing green shoots of new growth and a flower (or more) miraculously blooming at the top. Perhaps the gods themselves have caused it to flower as a sign of forgiveness that was thought impossible (the Pope's staff at the end of the Tannhauser legend); perhaps the life-blood of a god of life and death has washed over it (Jigo's staff at the end of Princess Mononoke).

The staff now has the following powers (and from 3-30 charges):
-- entangle per the spell, costing 1 charge
-- control plant per the ring, costing 2 charges and lasting as long as the user concentrates on the magic
-- animate tree (or similar plant) per the treant ability, costing 3 charges and lasting 7-12 rounds
-- and lastly, the power to absolve a character of major transgressions, per an attonement spell, or to reinvigorate a character of one lost life-energy level, per a restoration spell; use of this power exhausts all remaining charges

A flowering staff may not be recharged, but if one of its green shoots is planted and cared for over the course of a year ,with proper blessings, a new staff of the same type might be grown ...

Thyrsus and Tambor
Staves of this type are long ceremonial staves topped with a pine cone (or representation of one), with tambors that hang down on either side of the pine cone. When shaken, they produce a rattle and a clash of tiny cymbals.

Combined with prayers to the right (Chaotic) gods, the sounding of these staves and their tambors serve as a call to revelry. All creatures within 30' of the chanting must save v. spells or join in the chanting and the enthusiasmus, being essentially charmed by the staff-bearer. If the staff-bearer or her associates are carrying wine, it may be offered out to incur a -2 penalty on the save against the magic of the thyrsus.

This charm is not as powerful as the spell; it lasts for 1-3 hours, and those charmed are generally unwilling to join any combat, preferring revelry, song, and the drinking of wine. Calls to fight will be ignored at best (or allow a second saving throw at +2 to throw off the charm!). The bearer of the thyrsus must also remain in the midst of the revelry, egging the party on and indulging in excesses herself, to keep the charm going.

It is of course eminently reasonable that charmed creatures should offer intelligence about the dungeon or situation to the staff-bearer, or be otherwise helpful without directly engaging in combat. Perhaps they have treasure they should wish to share, magical or otherwise; or perhaps they have advice that they can offer. The possibilities should be extensive.

Friday, August 17, 2018

DIY 30 #13: Three Magic Rings

Dragon Ring
This ring was created by a too-ambitious magic-user hoping to harness the power of the dragons, and though it certainly does benefit its wearer with certain powers, it ultimately comes with a major drawback.

First, the benefits: First, the wearer of the ring is able at will to detect precious metals within 60', able to determine direction, but not precise location. Second, the wearer gains the ability 3 times per day to breathe fire as a dragon. This breath attack extends from the wearer's mouth in a cone, 60' long and 15' wide at its furthest point, and it deals damage equal to the wearer's current hit points. Those caught within the cone are allowed a saving throw versus breath weapons to take half damage. Third and lastly, the wearer gains an aura of dragon awe, so that creatures entering melee against him must succeed in a morale check or forfeit their first attack (but are able to attack normally thereafter).

The wearer of the ring will ultimately discover that it is a curse, however. Immediately putting on the ring, the wearer will find himself unwilling to relinquish any wealth for frivolous purposes (including unwilling to remove the ring or otherwise give it up); this means that gold may be spent for lodgings and food, and to purchase necessary equipment, but for no other purposes: no carousing, no spell research, no wages for hirelings or mercenaries, no magic item creation, etc, etc.

After a month spent wearing the ring, the character's alignment changes to Chaotic as the draconic nature of the ring exerts itself on his spirit. Any class whose powers rely on alignment will suffer the full penalty of losing their class abilities, but be unable to atone without also removing the ring (e.g. a Lawful cleric who changes to Chaotic will lose all spells and undead turning abilities until/unless they atone or confirm their new alignment). It is at this point that the character's skin and eyes really take on a reptillian, draconic cast.

After a full year wearing the ring, a character is actually transformed bodily into a dragon. And no, this is not supposed to be a cool "I get to play a dragon" thing, it is rather at this point that the referee takes the character sheet away and informs the player that the dragon-character has settled down into a long draconic lethargy, sleeping on whatever wealth he has acquired, aroused only in defense of its hoard.

Ring of Cold
This ring is perpetually covered with a dusting of brown mold, which might be mistaken as rust. It is bitingly cold to the touch, and putting it on will reduce the wearer's hit points by one until the ring is removed (and the hp must then be healed back).

It otherwise acts as a ring of fire resistance, so that it grants +4 on saves against fire attacks, allows the wearer to ignore all normal fires, and reduces damage from magical fire attacks by 1 point per damage die (or per hit die of the creature in the case of a dragon's breath, which isn't rolled).

The fire resistance in this case, though, is granted because of the brown mold colony that has been enchanted into the ring. After suffering three major magical fire attacks, e.g. a fireball, dragon's breath, etc., the brown mold explodes forth from the ring, growing over the wearer's body. The mold deals 1d6 cold damage cumulatively for 5 rounds as it grows, after which it continues dealing 5d6 cold damage per round. This damage is also dealt to anyone within melee range. The body of the wearer will quickly be devoured and transformed into a brown mold colony once the character's hp reach 0, and continue to deal 5d6 cold damage every round to those within melee range.

Cold spells will cause the mold to go dormant for a number of rounds equal to the number of damage dice of the spell; and in the case of this ring, the mold is susceptible to acid damage, so that 8 acid damage will cause the colony to discorporate.

Ring of the Skeleton
This ring is formed of pale white bone. It acts essentially as a ring of sustenance or a ring of warmth; the wearer does not need to eat or breathe, and is immune to all kinds of cold damage. It further grants immunity to charm, sleep, and hold spells.

Unfortunately, its use entails certain downsides. The wearer may be turned as an undead creature of hit dice equivalent to the character's level (as close as possible). Furthermore, the wearer's body begins to show the effect of not-eating ... the character's body quickly wastes away until it seems only skin and bones remain. If allowed to continue (and the ring can only be removed with a remove curse spell) in this way, the flesh actually will wither away, leaving the character as only an animated skeletal figure. If the ring is removed at this point, the character will die. The character's charisma is permanently reduced by 6 due to becoming undead and a walking memento mori. As undead, the character will be destroyed by a raise dead spell, and cannot be merely raised from the dead if destroyed; once undead, only a wish spell or something similarly powerful is able to restore such a character.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DIY 30 #12: Harpe of Castration, Ring of Darkness, Shadow Cloak

Three items associated with the cult of Skotia, goddess of darkness, silence, and death, or with goddesses of darkness in general:

Harpe of Castration
A "harpe" is a kind of sickle-sword; the most famous depiction is of Perseus' sword, which resembles a short sword with a hook on the back of one side of the blade--but what is more likely is that a harpe was more of a real sickle-sword, with a curved blade and perhaps with the cutting edge on the inside of the curve.

This particular harpe has been enchanted in imitation of the mythology of Skotia and her emasculation of her son, Ophalle. It is a shortsword +1, +3 vs. men. Additionally to the extra bonus to hit and damage, when a critical hit is rolled against a man in combat (a roll of a 20 on the die without modifiers), the blade threatens the opponent's genital integrity. Whether this actually risks castration or emasculation in such a moment is up to the referee, but the effect of the threat is such that the target of the attack must making a saving throw against fear (or paralysis if there is no particular fear save), or fight at -2 on all dice rolls for the remainder of the combat.

There are tales of priestesses sent out to collect fifties of cut-off phalluses for their goddess, in much the way that David was sent by Saul to collect the foreskins of the Philistines. The reward for such a quest is conjecture, and the truth of such tales is debatable as possible fear-mongering by more male-centric cults.

Ring of Darkness
A thin ring of a dark metal, a ring of darkness is so light that it seems almost nothing in the palm. And yet, worn when under darkness' cloak, the power inherent in the ring is palpable.

A ring of darkness confers several benefits on its wearer while the wearer lurks in shadows. First, the wearer gains the ability to heal through regeneration at the rate of 1 hp per turn. Secondly, the wearer may become invisible at will. Thirdly, rather than becoming invisible, the wearer may become incorporeal, and thus struck only by silver or magical weapons, as well as capable of passing through walls and other solid objects.

However, if the wearer is exposed to sunlight or any other significantly bright light while using the powers of the ring (e.g. the daylight spell, or a chamber filled with bright torches that banish any shadow), the powers immediately cease, revealing the wearer in whatever capacity they were intent upon.

Lastly of note, the use of the powers of invisibility and incorporeality incur a risk with every activation: upon activating the power, the wearer must make a saving throw versus death or suffer one permanent point of Constitution loss (only a wish or some similarly powerful magic might restore it!). If a character is ever brought to 0 Constitution by the invocation of these powers, they immediately fade away into the Shadow Realm, a place from which they can no longer access or affect the Prime Material Plane. This is permanent; though it is left up to the referee to devise some means of restoration from such a fate, if they so desire ...

Shadow Cloak
This cloak is nearly insubstantial and seems to be but an ethereal wisp of shadow that one throws about one's shoulders and secures with a silver cloak pin. The insubstantiallity is no illusion--this cloak is a shadow, literally pinned by the cloak pin.

Any character wearing the cloak while in melee may command the cloak to attack exactly per the description of the shadow creature in the rule book. It attacks on the wearer's initiative.

It is possible for an enemy to strike the cloak pin that binds the shadow, rather than the character wearing it. Only particularly intelligent or aware monsters should generally take the option to do so. The cloak pin has an AC equal to that of the shadow monster, plus any Dexterity bonuses (or penalties) appropriate to the character wearing it. It can sustain 6 hp of damage before breaking; if broken, the pin no longer binds the shadow, and the creature will most likely (1-4 on a d6) attack the wearer of the cloak, or (5-6 on a d6) continue attacking whatever creature it had been commanded to attack, before fleeing away and seeking some dark hole in which to hide and succor itself in shadow and hatred ...

DIY 30 #11: Vows of Good

One of the ways available for Good characters to "advance" in the Cult of Good is to swear great vows in accordance with the values of the Cult. (using my alignment rules)

These vows are 1) the Vow of Peace, 2) the Vow of Poverty, and 3) the Vow of Purity. Before any of these vows may be sworn by a character, that character must first pay at least 5000 gold for a public liturgy of Good, OR perform such a boon for the Cult of Good that the character is blessed by a leader of the Cult. This blessing (of the liturgy and/or the leader) confers a permanent +1 bonus to all saving throws.

As to the Vows themselves:

To swear the Vow of Peace, a character swears to: 1) always attempt peaceful resolutions for any encounter with "monster", and 2) never to kill, except in extremis in self defense. The benefit of swearing such a Vow is that the character becomes capable of laying on hands for healing like a paladin of equal level, i.e. 2 hp/level.

To swear the Vow of Poverty, a character swears to 1) never own more than one suit of armor, one shield, four weapons, and four other magic items, and just enough gold for day-to-day expenses; 2) all other gold must be donated to the Good Cult, though 20% of such donated counts for bonus experience. The benefit of this Vow is that a character may summon a divine Warhorse (or other servant?) that will serve faithfully unto death, HD 5+5, AC 5. If the Warhorse is slain, another may not be summoned until at least half a year has passed.

To swear the Vow of Purity, a character swears to 1) never again carouse (spending gold on drink and whoring for xp); and 2) never to engage in illicit sex, nor to become inebriated in any manner. The benefit of this Vow is that a character receives +2 on all saves, cumulative with the blessing conferred by the Good Cult before any Vow might be sworn.

(These are, of course, generally the restrictions and benefits of the AD&D Paladin class ... I wrote them for my game when it was strictly B/X D&D, and Paladins were not an available class. Other benefits for taking on these Vows might be negotiated between the character and the leaders of the local Good Cult)

Monday, August 13, 2018

DIY 30 #10: Six Ways to Redeem Cursed Items

(I'm behind on my DIY 30 thing because I went on a short vacation, so I'm going to try to post a couple a day to catch up ...)

It's been my impression that cursed items--e.g. that sword -2 that your character picked up in the dungeon, and now won't part with barring a cleric's remove curse spell--were originally intended to be redeemed through quests, and to gain a magic bonus commensurate to the penalty of the curse (so that sword -2 would become a sword +2, if only you could figure out how to redeem it!)

I've introduced one item with a clear means of redeeming its curse into my game notes (the players haven't found it yet). I figured I'd share that means, and a few other ideas here, both for myself and for whoever wants to use them (and I intend to come up with more in the future ...):

1) wash the item in the waters of Lethe (the River of Forgetfulness), so that it forgets whatever evil caused it to be cursed, and then have it blessed by a cleric of a reasonable alignment along with a sacrifice of not less than 1000 gold per its magic bonus, i.e. a sword +2 would need a 2000 gp sacrifice

2) (for those of Evil alignment) the item has not yet been finally and completely corrupted. It must be used in the course of three murders (or other serious crimes, like betrayals, or human sacrifices) and then sealed in its new alignment by the "blessing" of an Evil cleric, naturally including a donation of 1000+ gold to the cult of Evil ...

3) the item must receive the Kiss of Peace from the Queen of Elves (or some other magical prince), who cursed the item to begin with. Perhaps it was a sword that stood bare between her and her would-be lover--the wielder--preventing consummation of their affair; or a magical cloak worn by a rival-in-love; regardless, the item will not now return to its former power until "forgiven" by her (or his) kiss

4) a weapon used for evil, armor that shielded a murderer, or an item that aided in some crime--the item must be formally broken and its original purpose renounced, esp. by breaking a sword-blade or spear-shaft. Then the item must be reconsecrated by a Good or Lawful or Clannish cleric with a bless spell and a sacrifice of 1000-6000 gold, and it gains a new and different function. Perhaps the broken sword becomes a virtual staff of healing, or the broken links of a murderer's mail become capable of turning undead and detecting evil

5) the curse is a test of humility, per faerie-story or Arthurian legend. Suffering it out with the item for a year and a day will prove the wielder's character, and the item will reveal itself in its full glory--a glory likely better than a mere reversal of its former penalty!

6) a demon or other spirit dwells within the item. This spirit can be exorcised by the correct cleric or magic-user for the right price, and so becomes a normal item +1 (whatever it may be), OR if the spirit is properly appeased on a regular basis, it may grant some extra power beyond a mere bonus, e.g. a fire spirit may allow the sword's blade to be sheathed in flame, causing 1-6 extra damage per a flaming sword, but only if appeased with burnt offerings of 500 gold per month (and otherwise, the sword functions as a sword -1 which automatically comes to hand in melee, as cursed swords do ...). Even better variations on powers and their costs should be easy to develop per the item and its situation ...

DIY 30 #9: Aeolan Singing Bowl, Staff of Wind and Storm, Ring of Absorption

Got a storm giant and a greater djinni in conflict in my game, so I thought I'd develop a couple weather/lightning magic items for the players to seek out between them ...

Aeolan Singing Bowl
A large bronze bowl, decorated with imagery of winds and storms, especially over seas, mountains, and rolling hills. When struck, it sounds with a long, clear tone that reverberates over great distances (automatic roll on a wandering monster check when in an appropriate area!). But furthermore, through practice (or experimentation), a character may learn to build the tone by drawing the striking instrument around the outside lip of the bowl, "chasing" the sound's vibration and making it grow and grow ...

Merely striking the bowl three times within one round (one minute) so that it creates a cacophony of sound will deal 3-18 damage to everyone within 60' of the bowl, save v. breath for half. Three strokes may be performed in a round, and every round so struck, the bowl will deal its damage; but every round thus struck also incurs a cumulative 10% chance of summoning an air elemental (device-type) that will attack the user of the bowl first, then everyone else nearby, and will fight until slain.

Striking the bowl once, and then drawing out the sound will summon clouds after 1 turn (ten minutes), rain after 2 turns, a storm after 3 turns, and then allow the user to call lightning once per round on any target within eyesight on turns thereafter.

Meanwhile, striking the bowl twice, and then drawing the tone out for at least 1 turn, will summon an air elemental that makes obeisance to the user, and then waits, neither attacking, nor serving him. For every turn that the tone is sustained unbroken, the air elemental will serve for one day; but for every turn attempted, the user must roll a d20 under his dexterity score, OR his wisdom score, or lose control of the tone. A roll of 20 indicates that the tone is violently broken, and that the air elemental will attack the user of the bowl, then anyone else nearby, and fight until slain, or until no one remains so that it then returns to the elemental plane of air.

Staff of Wind and Storm
A six foot tall staff of black iron, topped with an iron disc depicting: on the obverse, the Storm God in his chariot drawn by stormwinds, thunderbolt high in hand; and on the reverse, the Anemoi cavorting amidst clouds and winds. The iron crackles with electrical energy when held.

The wielder of the staff may use it to call upon six different powers:

1) upon striking in melee, the staff may discharge 1 charge in a stroke of electricity, dealing 1-6 extra damage as per the striking spell

2) a gust of wind spell, 1 charge

3) the ability to control weather, 1 charge

4) the ability to call up a guardian wind, which acts as protection from normal missiles and may be further discharged as a fly spell that lasts for 7-12 rounds, 1 charge

5) an 8-dice lightning bolt, 2 charges, and

6) the ability to summon an ice storm, 2 charges

The staff will contain 3-30 charges when found. Unlike many other wands and staves, it may be recharged ... This is done by carrying it out into the midst of a thunderstorm (summer being the best time to do so); and once under a thunderstorm, the staff must be raised on high to attract lightning. Every hour so exposed will provoke one to three strokes of lightning, depending on the intensity of the storm; and every stroke of lightning that strikes the staff will deal 3-18 damage to the wielder, but also recharge 1-3 charges in the staff.

Ring of Absorption
An arm- or finger-ring of a dark, black metal. It feels cool to the touch unless it has absorbed energy, in which case it is warm and subtly vibrates.

The finger-ring version of this item will absorb up to 24 damage from fire or lightning type attacks, including natural lightning strokes, damage caused by natural or oil fires, or even magical attacks like fireball or lightning bolt. The arm-ring version will absorb up to 48 damage from the same sources. This energy is stored in the ring; excess damage still "washes" over the character and deals appropriate damage to them without benefit of the ring.

The energy stored in the ring may be used by its wearer, however; by making an attack roll, the wearer may attempt to expend stored energy in a melee attack. For every 6 points of energy (damage) stored in the ring, the wielder deals 1-6 damage to her target (multiples of less than 6 deal only 1 damage, i.e. if the ring has absorbed only 4 points of energy/damage, a successful attack with it will only deal 1 damage). Creatures immune to fire OR electricity are immune to damage from this ring (it expends stored energy as both).

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

DIY 30 #8: the Mourners -- Cult of the Dead God

To the east and south, on a peninsula far and away where the tribes of the Druugii, Dravidians, Aldacians, and Cassites now dwell in dominion under the Cytherean Kingdom, the Good God himself once stepped down to the world, incarnated in flesh, to teach mortals how to love one another.

Born to a virgin shepherd-girl, Tumuzid was raised as a shepherd himself, and his childhood was marked with the little miracles of enlightenment that usually accompany miraculous births; but it was not until his full manhood that he was called to the wilderness to dwell in a cave as an anchorite, from thence to return to civilization revealed in his glory as the Good God made flesh.

He wandered the wilderness and the little towns, preaching love and simplicity and mortification of the flesh to turn to higher virtues, and crowds gathered round him, and many miracles were performed by him and his followers. And in the cities, he disputed with the priests of the Lawful city cults, the priests of Bel, the philosophers of Zalmoxis, and the priestesses of Cytherea, and too rebuked the Snake-Handlers for their evil ways.

But all this earned Tumuzid the hatred and envy of the priestly sects, and they complained to the Four Kings that the shepherd-prophet was slandering the gods and teaching people to turn away from anything but their own selfish salvation, and refusing to give money for the liturgies of the city-gods. So Tumuzid was arrested by the Four Kings; each questioned him, and disputed with him as to the nature of virtue, and he bested each in his knowledge and personal piety. But though the other Kings would have released him, the King of the Druugii was ashamed of his failure, and acting alone without the consent of the others of the Four Kings, he had Tumuzid scourged at a pillar and crucified in the wilderness.

Then all the land was aggrieved; calamities were reported for and wide, of storms suddenly blown up, of the earth cracking open, of plagues descending on cities. The followers of Tumuzid took down his body and washed him and buried him, and prayed for his return--but he did not return. He lay dead in his tomb, cold and unmoving.

So this is how the cult of Mourning sprang up; the followers of Tumuzid, who saw that the Good God was dead, put on their mourning black, cut their hair and flagellated themselves in anguish, and refused to touch good things to eat or wine to drink. They held a funeral game for Tumuzid, in which the most wretched among them took up swords and in pairs plunged the blade into their partners' bellies to die alongside the Dead God. And though is is not mete for the mourning period for a mortal to last more than a year, the Mourners did not put off their black cloaks, and still refused good things even after thirty years, still waiting for the return of their god.

Two major sects arose out of this Mourning: 1) those who believed that because the divine Good had died, then mortals must perforce resurrect the Good in themselves; and 2) those who believed that because the divine Good had died, that all Goodness was gone, and that therefore all moral strictures and boundaries are henceforth broken. Needless to say, there is much bad blood between these two sects ...

Unfortunately, for those not well versed in the intricacies of Mourning theodicy, the two sects can be difficult to distinguish. Both go about in robes and cloaks of black, shave their hair, and mutilate their flesh, all in accordance with public displays of mourning. They are to be found in their places of worship keening and wailing, and each sect holds regular funereal games in which men and women are encouraged to kill one another. And both sects advocate the abandonment of the traditional city-cults--though the former because they wish for people to turn toward righteousness and salvation, while the latter ridicule the other gods as upholding a meaningless facade of "order".

The clearest distinction between sects is whether they allow the drinking of wine or not--those who seek righteousness tend to abstain completely from any wine, preferring milk as it is the traditional libation for the dead. Those who flout strictures, however, prefer wine at their funereal games.

And the games themselves are another way to distinguish the Good sect from the Evil sect, for the Mourners of the former hold austere games with sober food, simple wrestling-matches, and simultaneous dispatch of the death-seekers. The latter, meanwhile, often throw elaborate games that for all intents and purposes resemble great gladiatorial games, sometimes with slaves forced to fight one another, sometimes with trained gladiators dueling in earnest before the assembled Mourners (and perhaps other citizens attracted to the sport of blood ...).

Because of their excessive mourning practices and because of the unclear mingling of Good and Evil philosophies, the Mourners are often reviled by other cults, and must practice their cult on the outskirts of civilization. Nevertheless, many slaves and others who are downtrodden are attracted to the philosophies, be it the promise of salvation for all men, regardless of status--or the promised transgression of the boundaries established by Lawful and aristocratic elites.

As a final note, the cult of Tumuzid the Dead God is often confused with the cult of the God of Shepherds, Aristios, who also performed miracles for herdsmen and rustics, and who also died. But Aristios died because he gave himself up as a sacrifice, and when he died his gut split open with good crops and good things to eat, given of himself for the people; and in the hollow breast of his corpse, a tribe of bees built their hive, and from the honeycomb of the bees, Aristios himself was reborn, to walk the earth again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

DIY 30 #7: Magic of the Star Elves

... or just a taste of the magic, really. I can't go revealing everything to my players on this blog!

But Ikasha is a member of the party of characters adventuring in my Greyhame Game, and she is a Star Elf, clad in a body of flesh fashioned for her by the Goblin King before his demise; and so Ikasha knows a few of the spells of the stars, which I will describe here.
I will note that magic-users are not able to just "come by" these spells as they level up--they must find some means of learning them in-game, perhaps through communication with Star Elves and then spell research, or perhaps through an ancient spellbook secreted away in a dungeon somewhere ...

Cloak of Dust
level 1
range: the caster
duration: permanent until dispelled
A spell used by Star Elves to form a corporeal body for themselves out of star dust. If used in this way, the body has from 1-8 hit points which act as "temporary hit points" for the Star Elf and will be "used up" first. Once the body's hit points are diminished to 0, the body crumbles away, revealing the luminous semi-ethereal body of the Star Elf.
May also be used as "armor" for the caster. This "armor" of dust grants AC 3; the first time the caster is struck in combat, this AC is reduced to 5; after the next hit, AC is reduced to 7; after the next hit, the dust is fully dispersed and the spell dispelled.

level 1
range 240', 20' radius
(inspired by a similar spell from Master of Magic)
By means of this spell, the caster throws a portion of the cold fires of the stars against her undead enemies. It will destroy 2-16 hit dice of undead of up to 4 HD, and cause 1-6 damage to any undead of higher HD caught within its radius.

level 2
range: caster
duration 1 round + 1/level of caster
This spell causes the caster to shine with the brightness of a star.
All who look directly at the shining caster are blinded for 2-5 rounds (at -4 "to hit" and a penalty of +4 to AC); a save versus spells prevents this blindness.
Those who attack the caster but turn their gaze to avoid the brightness attack at -2 to hit, but save against blindness at +2.

level 2
range 240', one object or creature
The target of this spell receives a large dose of radiation. For living creatures, this means 2-12 radiation damage. A save versus death rays will reduce the damage to 1-6.
This is a potentially lethal dose--from 5-12 radiation damage itself forces a save versus poison to avoid immediate incapacitating nausea, and a save versus poison at the end of the session to avoid death.

Monday, August 6, 2018

DIY 30 #6: Star Elves

In the depths of space, strange things lurk, things alien and inscrutable to man. When the stars themselves were singing over the world, singing for their lost child, the players in my Greyhame Game came into contact with just a few of these bizarre entities; meanwhile the townsfolk of Brakeridge and its surround were threatened by the slavers of the Star Beasts, who descended in their black ships to carry men and women away to the stars.

But the Star Beasts in their black ships are not the only dwellers in the vast abysses. Shining in the depths, singing their eerie songs, sailing on the solar winds that blow ethereally across the void are luminous beings without body--the Star Elves. Not truly Elves, nevertheless of all terrestrial races they resemble Elves the most, and their language is rooted in the same starsong that sounded over the world when the Elves first stepped down under starlight.

One such of this race of star-beings walks the earth now, clad in flesh and accompanying the Greyhame characters. Ikasha is her name, and she looks like this (of course):

She was lured down from the solar winds by the ancient magic of the Lord of Werewolves, and given a body of flesh by the Goblin King, and then was held in the dungeons of the Greyhame Mountain as the Goblin King and Lord of Werewolves attempted to negotiate some kind of alliance with the star-things. But the stars and the other Star Elves were uninterested in anything terrestrial creatures might attempt to offer them; they only wanted their child back, and so the stars began to sing above the world, calling for her (but she couldn't return to them!) and slowly approaching the world ....

But the characters rescued her from the dungeons beneath the Howling Tower (I don't think I wrote a play report for that session). It turned out that Ikasha loved having the sensations of a corporeal body, and wanted to remain on the earth for a time. The characters had her communicate with the Star Elves on a Throne of Seeing in the dungeon, and the Star Elves agreed that so long as Ikasha was happy with her body and sensations, they would allow her to remain.

And so the doom of the world at the hands of the Star Elves and their fellow alien creatures was averted ...


Star Elves
AC 0 (or 9/as-armored when embodied)
HD 1-12 (per level, max level 12 like Elves)
THAC0 per level
damage: touch 1-6 cold fire + 1 radiation damage

irradiating presence -- revealed in their full luminosity, a Star Elf irradiates the area immediately around itself (in melee range), causing 1 radiation damage per round (metal armor is enough to shield against this radiation damage); undead are also affected by this radiation

turn undead -- per a cleric of a level equal to the Star Elf's hit dice

semi-ethereal -- not truly ethereal, Star Elves may pass through anything through which light may pass, e.g. a Star Elf could pass through glass, or through a chink in a door, but would not be able to pass through solid stone

cast spells as an Elf of the same level as their hit dice, though the magic of the Star Elves is alien and unknown to Earthly magic-users

save as Elves
240' ethereal movement, or as an Elf when clad in flesh or otherwise embodied
morale 9

Star Elves are luminous beings, literally shining bodies of coherent light. If they require a body for some reason, they have a kind of magic that allows them to form a body of stardust or nebular material which to inhabit; this body could resemble anything, but the Star Elves tend to prefer a slender Elfin form.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

DIY 30 #5: Slaves of the Star Beasts

(This post was written several months ago concerning a development in my Greyhame Game in which Star Beasts were descending to terrorize the land; the trouble has since been dealt with, but I haven't written about my Greyhame Game here for a while because the number of games--two per week--got to be too many ... anyway, I'm posting it as DIY 30 to save a bit of time!)

My players ignored the descent of the Black Ships of the Star Monsters three times (session 30, 31, and 32 of the Greyhame Game, none of which really appear on this blog), other than to send hirelings off-screen to aid with the defense (and/or to die, killed by bizarre star-things). In a kind of Blackmoorian fit, they continued to delve into the dungeon, ignoring the crisis in the realm of men, and so a great number of the people of Brakeridge and its nearby towns have now been captured and carried away to the stars as slaves of inhuman monsters ... Well, such is player agency! I figured I'd post this, now that the Star Thing has generally been settled, and there's little chance of encountering them again for some time.


The Star Beasts are re-worked Moon Beasts from Pathfinder and from Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry version of them in the Cyclopean Deeps and its sequel. Likewise their associates, the Denizens of Leng ...

They dwell as parasites on the vast Star-Things that carry the Star Elves here and there across the cosmos, following Solar Winds and Star Seeds, and whatever else may be "Out There". In the way that humans and cats dwell one by another, neither quite subduing the other, never quite communicating, yet nevertheless associated, so the Star Beasts and the Star Elves dwell ... and which is which in the terrestrial analogy??

Regardless, where the Star Elves are content to travel and Sing among the Stars, the Star Beasts descend and take slaves wherever they may, and sell them on the next terrestrial or jovian world, OR across dimensions in some other Place unknown to the ken of those not well versed in the secrets of the universe ...

These Star Beasts descend in Black Ships, preceded by a silvery mist, upon which their black shape may be seen against the starry night; then their slave-contingents and their crew of Beasts and Leng-Denizens descend to round up the next batch of slaves ...


Each Black Ship of the Star Beasts carries 1-3 contingents of slaves (d20 roll for each contingent):

18 P'wek, tripedal and three-armed creatures from a distant world. They each wield 2 spears with wickedly barbed blades (1-6 damage) and carry a shield; they advance with the shield in front and thrust over it with their spears.
AC 4 / HD 2+2 / THAC0 17 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6/1-6 / Save as Fighter 2 (SF2) / M 8

20 Tachii, reptillian creatures with finned heads and without tails. Once per day they can spit up to 10', and the target must save v. breath weapons or be blinded (-4 to attack, +4 to AC) for 1-3 rounds.
AC 6 / HD 1* / THAC0 19 / MV 180' / ATK 1-6 / S F1 / M 7

24 Klackons, insectoids with armored carapaces like plate armor and armed with spears. They need never check morale, as they are united in purpose by shared pheromones and consider any individual's life worth only what it offers to the greater good.
AC 3 / HD 1 / THAC0 19 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6 / S F1 / M 12
(source: Master of Orion and Master of Magic games)

24 Humans, from another world, pallid and miserable. They speak no known tongue. Four of them are armed with laser wands, which when directed against someone, force the target to save v. death rays or take 2-12 damage, half of which is radiation damage.
AC 7 / HD 1-6 hp / THAC0 20 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6 / S Normal Man / M 6 (8 with leader)

24 Sectoids, small humanoids with grey skin, bulbous heads, no nose, and large black eyes. They are armed with light crossbows (1-6 damage); 2 are psionic, and 1/day may mind control (as charm person) or cause panic (as cause fear), and may use ESP within 60' at will.
AC 8 / HD 1-1 / THAC0 20 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6 or psionics / S NM / M 6 (8 with leader)
(source: X-Com games)

18 Mutant Humans, taken from a Tomb World from across the stars. 6 have useful mutations (d12): (1) spit acid 20', 2-12 damage (save v. breath for half); (2) third arm, gain second attack; (3) acid blood, causes 1-3 damage to opponent when struck in melee; (4) immune to fire, even fireball-type sells; (5) poisonous bite, 1-3 damage and save v. poison or die in 1 turn; (6) horned skin, AC 5; (7) defensive vomit 1/day, all within melee save v. poison or at -2 to attack for the rest of the melee; (8) psionic, may use ESP 30' at will; (9) third eye, able to see invisible; (10) redundant organs, take only half damage from all attacks; (11) stinking sweat, all in melee save v. poison or nauseated and at -2 to hit and damage; (12) super-chameleonic skin, able to become invisible at will
AC 7 / HD 1 / THAC0 19 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6 / S F1 / M 8

8 Kzinti, ferocious bipedal cat-men with naked rat-tails, ears like naked bat-wings, and who only speak the Heroes' Tongue. Each is armed with a wtsai short sword with which he can deal 3-8 damage, in addition to a claw and a bite attack.
AC 6 / HD 3+3 / THAC0 16 / MV 210' / ATK 3-8(wtsai)/2-5(claw)/2-7(bite) / S F4 / M 10
(source: Larry Niven's Known Space stories)

24 Alkari, bird/pterasaur men from a low-gravity world. Because of their keen eyesight, they are at +2 to hit with their light crossbows (1-6 damage). They cannot fly in normal gravity.
AC 7 / HD 1-1 / THAC0 18 (ranged) / MV 180' / ATK 1-6 / S NM / M 8
(source: Master of Orion games)

12 Synths, synthetic humanoids that are immune to charm person, sleep, illusions, poison, or cold (and maybe some other effects, appropriate to androids). They strike with their fists, each dealing 1-6 damage.
AC 5 / HD 2+2 / THAC0 17 / MV 180' / ATK 1-6/1-6 / S F3 / M 10

18 Kuo-Toa, amphibious fish-men ancient enough to evolve in parallel on other worlds. They suffer a -1 "to hit" in direct sunlight, but due to their slippery skin, they are only grappled or affected by a web 25% of the time.
AC 4 / HD 2 / THAC0 18 / MV 90' / ATK 1-6 / S F2 / M 9

18 Slug Men, disgusting and slimy slugs with arms that leave trails of slime wherever they go. They have a decent armor class because of the secretions from their skin, and take only half damage from blunt or piercing weapons because of their rubbery make-up.
AC 5 / HD 2 / THAC0 18 / MV 90' / ATK 1-6 / S F2 / M 8

Green Men of Mars, genetically modified for normal gravity--so, 10' tall and with four arms. They disdain shields, but may fight with up to 4 weapons or 2 two-handed weapons (or 2 normal and 1 two-handed).
AC 7 / HD 3+3 / THAC0 16 / MV 120' / ATK (by weapon) 1-6/1-6/1-6/1-6 / S F3 / M 9
(source: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories)

18 Hlaka, grey-furred creatures with 2 leathery wings and 3 eyes on their flattish face. They have a tail with a poison sting (save v. poison or die in 1 turn), and may attack with it (2-in-6 chance) or their weapons (4-in-6).
AC 5 / HD 2 / THAC0 18 / MV 150'/fly 300' / ATK 1-6 or 1-4 plus poison / S F2 / M 6
(source: MAR Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne RPG; same for entries 14, 15, and 16)

12 Hlyss, vaguely insectoid creatures with 4 segmented legs, 2 arms, and a chitinous exoskeleton. They have a tail that stings (save v. paralysis or paralyzed for 1 turn). They may attack with both their weapon and sting in the same round.
AC 4 / HD 2 / THAC0 18 / MV 90' / ATK 1-6/paralysis / S F2 / M 9

18 Pe Choi, creatures vaguely like man-sized walking sticks with black chitin that provides an armor class like plate+shield. Their broad senses of hearing and vision (which extends beyond the spectrum humans can sense) allows them to see invisible within 200' with a 60% success rate. Furthermore, they are surprised only on a 1 in 10 chance because of their natural ESP.
AC 2 / HD 1+3* / THAC0 18 / MV 120' / ATK 1-6 / S MU2 / M 8

12 Shen, black-scaled, dragon-like humanoids with beak-like snouts and glittering crests along their skulls. Their tails have a knobbed, bony appendage with which they strike on a 2-in-6 chance, while they have a 4-in-6 chance of striking with their weapon.
AC 2 / HD 3 / THAC0 17 / MV 90' / ATK 1-6 weapon or 1-4 tail / S F3 / M 9

8 Mutons, buff humanoids skinned with green cybernetic and nano-reactive armor. Their muscles are similarly enhanced, and their organs are doubled in order to be redundant, and they take only half damage from any physical attack (even magic weapons). But for all that, they have no mind to themselves and are extra susceptible to mind-influencing effects, saving at -4 vs. charm person, suggestion, illusions, etc.
AC 3 / HD 4+1* / THAC0 15 / MV 210' / ATK 2-7 / S F5 / M 11

12 Silicoids, creatures whose structure is silicon-based. They are essentially rock-men; their outer hides are tougher than plate armor, they are immune to poisons, and any type of fire-damage heals them for a number of hit points equal to the damage that would have been dealt (by a fireball, for instance). And yet, their silicon nature makes them slow so that they automatically lose initiative ...
AC 1 / HD 3+3 / THAC0 16 / MV 30' / ATK 1-8 / S Dwarf 5 / M 9
(Master of Orion games)

8 Tentaculats, otherworldly things which resemble nothing so much as brains with a single beak, held up by a fringe of a dozen tentacles. They float through the air rather than supporting themselves upright, and may attack with 4 tentacles, each of which forces a save against paralysis or the target is paralyzed 1-4 rounds, plus 1 bite attack for 1-8 damage.
AC 7 / HD 3 / THAC0 17 / MV 120' / ATK x4 paralysis/bite 1-8 / S MU3 / M 8
(X-Com 2: Terror from the Deep)

18 Taxxons, ever-hungry, sapient, centipede-beings. Their soft flesh is easy to cut, but their voracious mouths deal 1-4 damage and may bite twice, and if they strike with both bites, they may seize a character to deal 3-12 damage per round automatically until thrown off some how; moreover, given their hunger, their morale is almost unbreakable as they seek to devour the next creature (unless strongly commanded not to by their masters).
AC 8 / HD 2+2 / THAC0 17 / MV 180' / ATK 1-4/1-4 plus seize 3-12 / S F3 / M 11
(K. A. Applegate's Animorphs series)

DIY 30 #4: Wood Wights

Not a form of undead, in this case "wight" is meant in the semi-obsolete sense of "a human being/a living being" (per the dictionary).

the Wood Wight
AC 3 (7 for tree)
HD 5 (8 for tree)
THAC0 15 (12 for tree)
damage: 2 slams 1-6 / 1-6 + petrification (2 slams 2-12 / 2-12 for tree)
petrification -- 3/day may "breathe" a 10' x 10' x 10' cloud of pollen, those within save v. petrification or transform into wood over 2-7 rounds
piercing and missile weapons never deal more than 1 damage to a wood wight or its tree, bludgeoning weapons deal half damage, fire deals double damage
immune to hold, sleep, charm, and other enchantment-type spells
save as a Elf 5, -2 on all saves versus fire or lightning
180' movement (0' for tree)
morale 9

Wood wights are a kind of evil forest spirit, similar to a dyrad, but malicious where a dryad is shy. Like dryads, wood wights are attached to a particular tree in the forest, and will discorporate if that tree is destroyed; unlike dryads, the wight's particular tree is capable of animated movement in defense of itself and its wight (it cannot actually uproot itself, but it strikes with its limbs as a treant). Just what the relation between wood wights and dryads might be scholars are still arguing; and too, it is unknown whether the wight is a spirit that springs up sui generis within a particular tree, perhaps one struck by lightning but still living, or ancient enough to develop a will of its own; or if the wight is rather some wandering form of spirit that alights in a tree when the conditions are right, and thereafter remains attached to it and the woodland around it.

Wasn't sure just what a wood wight looks like until
a Google search for "dryad" turned up with this

Being suddenly attacked by the tree animated by a wood wight's presence is certainly a fear any seasoned woodsman might have (wood wights and their trees surprise on a 1-4 on a d6); but more fearsome is the wood wight itself, which possesses an ability similar to the gorgon (the iron-scaled bull version), that is, a wood wight is able to "breathe" a cloud of pollen in a 10' x 10' x 10' area three times per day. All who inhale this pollen must make a saving throw versus petrification or begin to stiffen as their limbs and then their entire bodies are transformed into hard wood. This transformation takes from two to seven minutes (2-7 rounds). A cure disease spell cast during the time of transformation will undo the effects; but once the transformation is complete, only a wish or a wood to flesh spell will restore the transmogrified individual. (Magic-users in areas known to be haunted by wood wights will often research wood to flesh as a variant of stone to flesh, which spells will both be of the same level, and may grant access to their spellbooks to those in need ... for a fee; without recourse to that, it is up to a magic-user to research the spell for himself).

The wooden bodies of those transformed by a wood wight's pollen make excellent base-bodies for the creation of wood golems, and can be sold to powerful magic-users for large sums of money. Prudent would-be creators, however, make sure to expel or destroy the life-force remaining within the body (just like in the case of flesh-turned-stone, the spirit of the one transformed is trapped within the unliving body until the body is restored or destroyed ... woe to those ancients petrified by Medusa of old and now forgotten!). For if the spirit is not expelled in some way from the wooden form, there is a significant possibility that a wood golem created therefrom will become self-willed and attack the creator in a berserk rage. Such free-willed golems do not possess any actual memories of their former life; but they are instinctually drawn to familiar things, e.g. family, home, or friends. And drawn there, but incapable of understanding why, it is almost inevitable that the spirit's impotent anger transforms into a berserk rage by the golem!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

DIY 30 #3: Skotia, Goddess of Darkness and Death

She is the darkness. And out of the darkness of her womb sprang Mother-born Ophalle, who has no father. And Ophalle walked the earth, planting his seed in the fields that they might grow thick with good crops, and filling women and animals with children, so that all the earth teemed with living things. Where sheep and cattle were, he learned from the shepherds and kine-herds how to increase their flocks; and where wheat grew, he learned how to reap it, and where grapes grew, he learned how to press them, and he gave seed to the mash so that it fermented and so wine was made. And when the darkness of night came again, Ophalle was delighted that men and women would pair off and go into the darkness of their rooms to lose themselves in sleep, or the little deaths of love.

But in the darkness Skotia came, and Ophalle saw her and was smitten, but he knew her not. He called to her and she did not answer, for she is the Silent One. He gave her wine, and she drank it, but she did not laugh for she was silent. Then he came to her, and together they lay down in the darkness, and the night lasted for many days, until she got up again from his couch and went away; but she was ever silent.

And she was his mother, so she was wroth that they had lain together; and when she came again and found that Ophalle was asleep, she took up his sickle for reaping, and she reaped the hair from his head, and it was wheat, and it wilted in her hand. And she raised the sickle again, and she reaped off his phallus, and it was a gourd that she devoured. Then she raised the sickle a third time, and now she cut apart his body, limb from limb, bone from bone, and she scattered the pieces across the earth and buried them.

Then winter was upon the world, and crops died, and the animals starved, and the people shivered. The sun himself was wan, for he feared the anger of Skotia, and the heat of the world had gone out of it when Ophalle's life-source was cut from his trunk; and the winter was dark.

But Skotia is the darkness, and in her belly Ophalle grew again. And out of the darkness again sprang Mother-born Ophalle, and again he walked the earth, and filled it with his seed and with growing things.


Skotia, that is, Σκότια,
She is the Darkness, the Silent One, the Destroyer, She of the Long Sleep

She is the Darkness (to quote Glen Cook), the darkness that was before the world, and which some believe comes with death, or will come after the crack of doom. Her shrines are either secreted in necropolises, or hidden away in unlooked-for places, and always shrouded in shadow. Her visage is fearsome: skin black as obsidian, she dances with her six arms upraised, each bearing a sickle, a harpe-sword, a kris-knife, and other symbols of her godhead--including the phallus of her son Ophalle, a Priapus-like god of sex and fertility, whom she castrated for the sin of seducing her.

Yep, I just based Skotia on images of the goddess Kali ...
a many-armed goddess of darkness was a fixture in my
dungeons well before I codified her as Skotia. Also, notice
the harpe (sickle-sword) in the top-right corner ...

Not specifically a goddess of the night, nevertheless she is associated with that darkness; and because she is Death, and sleep is a presage of death, and orgasm is metaphorically the "little death", so she is also a goddess of sleep and a fertility goddess in her own right. But ever is she silent, never revealing what happens to those who enter her embrace in the long sleep; not even her priestesses (and few priests) have ever received an answer from her after their most strenuous prayers--nothing but the vaguest of omens are offered to her followers.

This silence has allowed for a great schism to arise in her cult, and differences in the particular interpretation of her place in the cosmology are as myriad as the priestesses who serve her. Most devotees fall into one of the two major cults (and the majority of all devotees fall into the first): 1) the Silent Sisters, and 2) the Death Cult.


The Silent Sisters do not exactly worship Skotia, so much as recognize her embrace as the ultimate destination for all mortals, and so do what they can to aid the passage into the Long Sleep. They do this primarily by accepting the bodies of those who are too poor for proper funereal preparations, or those who have no family and so have no family tombs in which to be interred; these bodies the Sisters wash and prepare for burial, and then inter in their necropolis-shrines. The Sisters also take in and care for those who are too poor or downtrodden to receive proper care otherwise--beggars, lepers, plague-victims, etc. are received into their shrines to receive care under the Sisters until such a time as they are healed, or have passed on in Skotia's embrace, thence to be interred like the others ...

Most people understand Skotia in this light, that of an embodiment of a natural inevitability. Her footstep is feared as the tread of doom, but she is certainly not seen as any kind of demon or moral evil--all men die, and so all men must eventually come face to face with Skotia.


Some, however, would use Skotia as an idol and object of a Death Cult whose members revel in spreading death and destruction in imitation of the goddess' avatar as the Destroyer. These Death Cults of Skotia are some of the secret Evil cults that plague the world; and sometimes those who worship the Destroyer intermix secretly within the cults of the Silent Sisters, making their detection even more difficult.

The cultic imagery of the Death Cults is virtually the same as that of the Silent Sisters, including an idol of the goddess, six-armed and dancing, shrouded in shadow (sometimes magical, sometimes not); but the rites include monthly blood sacrifice, of kine or swine at least, but preferably human or demi-human, be they slaves, prisoners, or free and willing. Such rites take place only at night, in utter darkness and utmost secrecy; and those initiated into the higher mysteries of the Death Cult are often tasked with further secret rites.

Priestesses who worship the Destroyer are often accompanied by undead, which they raise as walking avatars of the end that comes to all mortals, and high priestesses are also often served by demons, much as any Evil cult might be. The Spiders of Darkness, those silent and implacable hunters, are their preferred servants.

Most of those initiated into the higher mysteries of Skotia tend to be women and priestesses; nevertheless, males are not excluded from the priesthood, and many do rise to power. Of these, however, many priests are self-made eunuchs! For in their enthusiasm in the greater rites, it is common for men to emasculate themselves in imitation of the myth of Ophalle or to become more feminine like Skotia (similar to the Galli, priests of Cybele and Attis, who castrated themselves during a certain holiday, and thereafter went about dressed as women)


She is the darkness. Out of the darkness of her womb sprang Seed-sowing Ophalle, who took the earth as his bride, and forced her to bear his myriad children.

The earth groaned with the pangs of her labor, and in her despair, she cried out to the gods to relieve her of her woes, but the gods denied her. "We have built our kingdom over your children," they said. "Shall we give up everything we have made?"

And the earth groaned, for her pains were great, and she called out to the sun. But he turned his face from her, saying, "Do not ask this thing of me. I would help if I could, but the gods have set me here to light their kingdom, and they would destroy me if I desert my place." So it was night because his face was turned.

Then the earth called out to the stars, whose children are the Elves, because she was wracked with the hurt of her labors. But stars only shone and laughed among themselves. "It is absurd," they said. "What do we, who are so high above you, care for your pains?"

"Will no one aid me?" the earth cried at last.

But Skotia had heard, and so she stepped down. In silence did she walk, and in the night Ophalle saw her, and was smitten. And he went to her, and he asked her name, but she was silent. And he gave her wine, and she drank it, but she did not laugh, for she was silent. Then she took his hand and led him to lay down, and he laughed, but she was silent.

And when Ophalle slept beside her after his exertion, Skotia rose up, and she took his sword, called Harpe, so that he would go unarmed at the final battle when the Gjallarhorn is sounded. And with Harpe she cut his hair so that she might bind him with it, there and thereafter; for witches often use the hair of their victims in rituals of binding and unbinding, and so Skotia would do at Gjallarhorn's winding. And raising Harpe again, Skotia unmanned Ophale a third time, cutting off source and member; these she took, and holds them yet.

So, taking Harpe, hair, and phallus, Skotia went her way again, and Seed-sowing Ophalle was left unmanned in his pain. And when Gjallarhorn sounds, he will try to rise up; but he will be weaponless, for his sword is gone; and his limbs will be bound with the magic of Skotia; and his blood will be cold for the lack of his life-source, and all things will pass again into darkness, and the earth will groan no more, but will know peace in oblivion.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

DIY 30 #2: Seer Cauldrons and Augury Stones

(continuing the DIY 30 ideas begun yesterday)

A seer cauldron is a large magical device used to divine the future, the past, far-away places, or sometimes deeper or more eldritch secrets. It is a large black cauldron, usually made of heavy iron, and set over a fire perhaps on a massive tripod; as such, it is more of a permanent-fixture kind of magic device that a magic-user might keep within her tower, or a sage within his library.

But the enchanted cauldron alone is not sufficient for visions of the past, future, etc.; it must, of course, be filled with water, and once the water has been brought to a rolling boil with a fuel marked with the right runes, it will reveal upon its suddenly, supernaturally glassy surface the object of inquiry.

The cheapest means of fuel is to carve the correct runes into the single largest log that will make up the fire under the base of the cauldron, and which will be burned to achieve the boil; unfortunately, such an unstable fuel, which burns away as it imparts its heat and energy into the cauldron, supplies only unstable visions. The future seen may be fundamentally correct, but will probably be easily changeable by sufficient application of will.

Those with real means, on the other hand, prefer augury stones. These are stones, specially enchanted and carved with the proper runes for augury and divination. To use them with a seer cauldron, one heats the augury stones up in a fire--a particularly hot fire, perhaps even the heart of a fire elemental!--until the stones are burning-hot, and then dumping the stones into the water of the cauldron and allowing them to bring the water to boil. Visions achieved via this means will be clearer and more likely to be true than those achieved merely through a wood-fire.

Augury stones can also be used without a seer cauldron--either by the same method, heating them and then boiling water with them, and looking over the water for a vision of the object of inquiry, OR, merely by casting them as an augur might "cast the bones". This latter, of course, produces the least complete of auguries.

Certain magic-users and seers who wish to protect their seer cauldron and augury stones from unwary thieves or users will mark false augury stones with glyphs of warding, or (as insurance against a too-ambitious apprentice perhaps?) with magical runes that will cause the false stone to explode when placed in the fire to heat before boiling the water.

The particulars of divinations or auguries allowed through the means of these items is left up to the referee; the spells divination, augury, contact other planes, etc. might be considered in rulings on them, but the ultimate results should remain somewhat mysterious, and never completely accurate or regular, to maintain the air of magic and mystery.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

DIY 30 #1: Troll Wives

(I was thinking that perhaps this DIY 30 thing from Shane at 3 Toadstools, via Dan D on Google+, would be a good way to get back to writing--to create and write down one thing for every one of the thirty (one) days of August, so here goes ...)

First off, Troll Wives, i.e. the Drow

In the deep places of the earth, where light never shines save from the torches of the foolhardy or the lost, it is said that the trolls, those sons of Antaeus who can never die unless their feet touch not the earth and its succor, keep in secret their wives of darkness. Black-skinned, black-eyed, and yet as beautiful and lithe as lost Elves, these Troll-Wives are said to be kept in captivity in wondrous, underground cities, raised from the living stone by the tireless hands of the trolls.

Like the Elves, and yet unlike them; their ears are more wolf-like, and they shun even the light of the stars that the Elves love so much, and their speech is as different as between the soughing of wind in the pines as to the quiet clatter of stone in places deep and deeply silent.

... But in truth, these Troll-Wives, also called Drow (Drow from "Trow", a cognate of "Troll") would better be known as Troll-Mothers, for they are the ur-spring for all other trolls that plague the world of men. As the Elves are known to produce goblins as degenerate offspring, and to only rarely breed true, so the Drow produce trolls as degenerate offspring, and also rarely breed true. And all are female; reports of male Drow are few, far between, and have never been seen to be true. Their cunning in craftsmanship is equal to the dwarves, whom they hate, though they shun the use of panoplies of armor that cut them off from their lifesource, the living stone around them; and their use of magic is like to that of the Elves, of whom they are cousins, present in the beginning of the world, but dwelling in the darkness between the stars, while the Elves danced in starlight.


Drow as a B/X class:

the level progression and spell progression are exactly as that of the Elf class, though the titles are different, of course: I Granddaughter, II Niece, III Daughter, IV Cousin, V Sister, VI Aunt, VII Mother, VIII Queen, IX Queen-Mother, X Queen-Mother 10th level.

Drow are always female. They may use any weapon and carry shields, but may not wear armor of any kind, lest they give up their ability to regenerate hit points. They fight and save as Elves of the same level, and may cast magic spells while wielding weapon and shield, just like Elves.

Regeneration: Drow regenerate lost hit points at a rate of 1 hp per round per 3 levels of experience, so from the first to third levels, they will regenerate but 1 hp per round; at fourth through sixth, will regenerate 2 hp per round, etc. They are unable to regenerate if cut off from contact with the earth, i.e. by flying, or by wearing armor; and like a troll, fire or acid damage is unable to be regenerated, but must be healed either through normal rest, or by magical means. A Drow reduced to negative hit points will continue to regnerate, and return to 1 hp after 1-6 turns; the only way to ensure her death is to burn or dissolve her body, or to remove her body from contact with the earth for at least one day per her level of experience.

Light sensitivity: as creatures of darkness, Drow are accustomed to acting in darkness. If exposed to direct sunlight, a Drow is penalized by a -2 on each of her rolls; she can never be "acclimatized" to direct sunlight. Meanwhile, when exposed to lesser light, e.g. dawn or dusk, torchlight, or a light spell, a Drow is penalized -1 on each of her rolls.
Naturally, Drow are able to see in darkness out to 60 feet or so, and operate normally in near- or total-darkness.


I've always been ambivalent about the Drow. On the one hand, their (literally) darkly seductive aesthetic and their Italian-renaissance-style backstabbing House politics is certainly attractive. But I've never really been happy with "Dark Elves" as a thing, especially outside of wargames like Warhammer or 4x games like Master of Magic where they can be a separate faction. And I can't overstate how much I dislike Drizzt and the idea of Chaotic Good Drow running around on the surface world.

And anymore in my game, Elves already are Chaotic creatures inimical to the Lawful civilizations of man ... they are seductive, cruel, arrogant, and devoid of true love or real empathy. So what use to me are "Dark Elves" that are just more of the same, but under a different skin color?

But I got to thinking the other day ... there are no female dwarves in my setting (I wouldn't disallow players to play female dwarves if they want, but such a character would be unique and strange should one be rolled up). The dwarves refuse to talk about it, such that it is considered a grave insult to press the matter with a dwarf; and dwarves do rarely take wives, though of other races (usually human), and even more rarely, actually love them.

So I've got this all-male race; why not have an all-female race? If the Drow are already "matriarchal" in the D&D material, why not let that be because they're all women? And if, as in my setting, Elves produce goblins as degenerate offspring, why not let the Drow be ur-trolls, who produce trolls as degenerate offspring?

Those are my thoughts on the matter, anyway. I've introduced Drow into my game already, albeit only briefly, and now with one Drow character running around. I intend to develop them further in the future.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Rings of Power

"There are many magic rings in this world, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them should be used lightly," says Gandalf when confronting Bilbo at the (for the hobbit-guests) surprising end of his "Long Expected Party".

The Lord of the Rings movies certainly did some tricks of the camera to make the Ring seem bigger and heftier than any ring has any right to be; these, along with tricks to make the hobbits seem shorter, while the men and Elves seemed taller.

And sometimes I look at my wedding ring, and it really is just a thin gold band; it feels like nothing in my hand, and I can easily hear myself quoting Boromir: "Is it not strange that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! ..."

Marriage-jokes aside, it really is a tiny thing, almost weightless in my hand, and yet freighted with such meaning as if it should be heavy to wear. And that's just a wedding ring, no Ring of Power as Galadriel, or Elrond, or Cirdan the Shipwright wear!

Now, the simple gold band of a husband's wedding ring is a perfect image for the metaphor of Sauron's One Ring. First, as I said, it is a tiny, unassuming thing. I've always joked that if I should need to create a "lich's phylactery" or a "horcrux" that the best thing to imbue with a piece of myself would be a pine needle on a forest floor, or a grain of sand on the beach, impossible to differentiate from all the rest. There is an undead creature in one of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books whose soul is bound up in a finger secreted away inside an unassuming pine tree that the hero just happens to find. The less conspicuous the better! And a simple gold band, rather than something ostentatious with runes and gems and all manner of signs of magic is just the kind of unassuming secret thing that I would pour my power into if I were a Sauron or a lich ...

Secondly, metaphorically, Sauron seeks to overmaster everything, and so could be considered to be a bad husband: a man who seeks to control and dominate, to overmaster everything to his will; a tyrant! This is a metaphor, of course, something to be drawn out of the imagery, not something directly allegorized by Tolkien, who hated allegory. Still, there is much to the image--the ring-wearing man, commanding all others to do as he says, rather than working with them toward the end of real justice for all ...

Okay, but I originally started this post to suggest other kinds of rings of power. The ring I wear is so little, but the oath-rings that the Norsemen and their gods used to lay their hands upon were surely not tiny finger-rings, right? I imagine they were arm-rings or torcs--weighty things upon which a man could lay a hand with a real sense of presence.

So why not sometimes describe magic rings as arm-rings or torcs or key rings, or some other kind of ring? E.g.

1) Arm-Ring of the Serpent: a Celtic-type gold ring formed like a serpent and worn around one's upper arm; when worn, it conveys a +2 bonus on saves v. poison; on command, it becomes a viper per the rules, attacking on the wearer's initiative, and when killed reverts to the arm-ring, to be called into viper-form again after one day; similar Eagle- and Wolf-Torcs exist, which provide different specific bonuses and become the animals they represent until killed ...

2) Knotted Arm-Ring: gold lattice in a Celtic-knot-type pattern, it provides from +1 to +3 protection (to both AC and saves ... 1-3 +1, 4-5 +2, 6 +3)

3) Oath Ring: a heavy iron ring worn around the arm, any oath sworn upon it acts as a geas spell for the swearer

4) Torc of Nobility: a well-made golden or silver torc that provides an air of authority. It grants either a +1 to reactions (1-4) or a +2 (5-6).

5) Torc of Thorns: reduces max hp by 2-7 (roll once; no creature can be reduced to fewer than 1 hp by wearing it); otherwise acts as a Ring of Plant Control; and furthermore, grants the power to animate up to two trees per the Treant ability, and to have them fight while concentration is maintained as if concentrating on a device controlling elementals ...

6) Draupnir: or an imitation; be it a finger-ring, arm-ring, or torc, every ninth night it drops nine copies of itself. 1-3 finger-ring worth 25 gp each; 4-5 an arm-ring worth 50 gp each; 6 a torc worth 100 gp each.

Many other such things are possible--why limit "rings" to finger-rings? One could even include ear-rings, nose-rings, and more!