Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Why is this boat?

I was thinking up some possible passing ships before I did the research and found Zak S.'s Wavecrawl kit. Consider these 20 boats an addition to that.

Why is this boat?

  1. Wine merchants traveling in a large circle to age their cargo of Madeira. Very bad at sailing because they weren’t willing to pay any experienced crew.
  2. The hold is filled with crates of earth and a coffin. Otherwise deserted.
  3. Lycanthropes who set out to sea with no plan other than to escape their curse.
  4. Pilgrims seeking a spot in the middle of the ocean where they believe their patron saint drowned.
  5. Scientists hailing from a distant land. Tasked with charting the seas, recording other cultures, and taking samples of flora and fauna back with them.
  6. Salvagers, attempting to recover a previous salvaging expedition. Know where they’re going, but not what the original was seeking. Increment if re-rolled.
  7. Monkeys. Do they know where they’re going? How did they learn that?
  8. Smugglers who can’t return to port until they figure out how to stop their ship glowing at night.
  9. Lone man in a kayak. Does not speak any common language. Grateful for assistance, but unconcerned that he is far from home.
  10. A diver convinced that there is an underwater civilization right below him. No one else sees any evidence, but he’s wealthy, so everyone humors him. He endeavors to be the first ambassador to that civilization.
  11. Mutineers who never agree. Any given member of the crew has been captain, prisoner, or both. They want the PCs to take the most recent captain off their hands (they have no more rafts).
  12. Heretic monks who were kicked out of their monastery.
  13. Lone pirate captain, stranded on a life raft after a mutiny.
  14. The entire navy of a local noble’s vanity micronation (two vessels). Out practicing war games.
  15. Woman with magic boots can walk on the surface of the water (no boat).
  16. Weird merchants. See e.g. Gorgonmilk's Goblin Market.
  17. Cannibals.
  18. Tax collectors / excise ship. See A Red & Pleasant Land, or maybe they just collect normal taxes.
  19. Stowaway who has just escaped your ship in your life raft.
  20. Conquistadors.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Here Are Some Characters

Here are some backgrounds for characters. It's mostly specialists, because that's where I started.

Your specialist . . .

  • is a jeweler, seeking gems of great value.
  • is an explorer, seeking or returned from exotic lands.
  • is an archaeologist, searching for the secrets of lost civilizations.
  • is a political exile, waiting to return home.
  • is a black priest, charged with keeping the church's secrets secret.
  • is a barbarian, skilled in ways that civilization has forgotten.
  • is a migrant worker, willing to help out locals for a bed or a meal.
  • is a tinker, but will take on other odd jobs.
  • is a busker, but with a lost instrument.
  • is a common beggar.
  • is an organ grinder, whose monkey ran away.
  • comes from a nomadic culture.
  • is a traveling merchant, freshly cleaned out from a deal gone awry.
  • is a fence, but is branching out into "acquisitions".
  • is a jester who spoke too much truth to power.
  • is an actor, separated from their troupe.
  • is an acrobat.
  • ran away from a terrible apprenticeship.
  • is a sailor on shore leave.
  • trained as a domestic servant.
  • is a smuggler, on the lookout for new routes.
  • is a quack doctor, peddling alcoholic tonics.
  • is a professional burglar.
  • is a pickpocket street urchin. Singing optional.
  • is a con artist, in search of a mark.
  • is a con artist, whose parter was recently taken in.
  • is a gangster, whose connections have soured recently.
  • is a rake, seeking to take his mind off of a doubtless life-threatening liver disorder.
  • is a spy, awaiting orders from a foreign nation.
  • is a bandit/pirate (depending on feasibility).
  • is a poacher.
  • is a halfling in search of adventure.
  • is a trained assassin.
  • was a military scout.
  • escaped slavery.

Your fighter . . .

  • was a bouncer.
  • is a bodyguard.
  • is a noble knight on an inscrutable quest.
  • is a digraced knight, exiled from the court.
  • was an infantryman.
  • is a mercenary, between jobs.
  • is a bounty hunter.
  • is a barbarian, unmatched in the art of combat.
  • escaped from a laboratory.
  • was a prizefighter, but is getting old.
  • apprenticed as a blacksmith.
  • was a collier or miner.
  • escaped from prison.
  • is a lawman.
  • is a bandit/pirate (depending on feasibility).
  • is a dwarf.
  • is from a long line of warriors.
  • is a deserter.
  • is a berserker.
  • is a local hero in their remote hometown.
  • was an Olympian athlete.

Your magic user . . .

  • is a wild talent with psionic powers.
  • made a pact with the devil.
  • speaks with elementals.
  • is an elf.
  • proud to be self-taught.
  • learned Atlantean secrets.
  • was abducted by aliens.
  • apprenticed with an insane wizard.
  • graduated valedictorian at Wizard Academy.
  • dropped out of Wizard Academy.
  • was taught magic by nature spirits.
  • has dragon blood running through their veins.
  • has no memory of his life before now.
  • happens to have not died in the last century (but is still mortal).
  • was an advisor to kings and generals.
  • died once. Might even still be dead. Isn't sure.
  • is a bard.
  • can't return to it's home dimension.

Your cleric . . .

  • is an orphan, raised by the church.
  • once was blind, but now can see.
  • once could see, but now is blind.
  • is a pacifist.
  • is a reformed death cultist.
  • once received a vision.
  • is personally an atheist.
  • is a millenarian, convinced that the end is nigh.
  • is an inquisitor, charged with rooting out heresy.
  • acts obsessive about rituals. Practices them like clockwork.
  • is a shaman, who calls upon ancestral spirits.
  • is a druid, who remembers the old ways.
  • is not the child of prophecy, but sees how you could make that mistake.
  • was an ascetic monk, living on the fringes of society.
  • was recently accused of heretical beliefs.
  • is a street preacher, spreading the gospel to all who will listen.
  • is a pamphleteer, too shy to preach on the streets.
  • almost died once, but was saved by grace alone.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anniversary and Crowdfunding Analysis

I apparently missed my one-year aniversary, but the blog's been slow recently. A lot has happened in the last half-year: I've graduated, I've moved (Boston to Buffalo), I've found employment. Unfortunately, I may not be gaming as much any more, but we'll see how that plays out long term.

Just because I wsn't blogging doesn't mean I haven't been busy, and one of the things I worked on was an analysis of Kickstarter data. Because it was for a class, it assumes a certain vocabulary, has some wierd stylistic artifacts, and has some persistent errors that weren't severe enough to merit fixing at the time. Eventually I would like to revisit this more completely, but until then I may as well "publish" it:
The Paper
The Handout
The Presentation
I would like to dedicate this to Erik Tenkar, whos sharp coverage of Kickstarter campaigns made me to think that this might be a worthwhile project.

Looking back at this post, it's very much about myself. I can't be sure that I'll keep the blog up, but I do know that I've got at least a few more posts in me and that they'll be more gaming-related than this one.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cladogram and Notes

I embark upon a new project and shortly thereafter abandon it to the winds, and collect up some random notes I've taken.

An RPG Cladogram

Someone on G+ made the comparison between the proliferation of retroclones and the many distributions of Linux. Inspired by the GNU/Linux Distribution Timeline, I started one for gaming:
It has a couple of problems: one, it's horribly incomplete, and two, it doesn't handle child nodes born after the parent's death very well at all. I think it's a solid idea, and if anyone wants the sources I can send those along (it's just a csv file), but I think I'll let it go until I can work out the child nodes thing.
There is some precedent for this:


  • An impromptu mechanic I was proud of: you have a keyring. Each round, you try a key. Roll 1d12 on a 1, it fits. Next round, on a 1-2 it fits. The round after on a 1-3, and so on.
  • A pop-o-matic should be a very fair way of rolling dice. If it isn't though, it might be modelled best as a Markov process.
  • I've been playing Bang! with some people. Our group tends to be small though, so that any weapon will do just as good as another. To fix this, I propose that people can only fire in one direction, like an M. C. Escher staircase.
  • Mr. Sivaranjan comments that it's about a 50% probability to roll under a random ability score. I had thought it would be exactly 50% to roll under an ability score (inclusive), but AnyDice says 52.5%. I'll have to figure that one out when I've got more time. Unsurprisingly, the distribution of wild talents follows an inverse normal curve, shown below.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Crooked Baths

My entry to the Great Khan's Roman themed contest was The Crooked Baths, and it came in third, which I'm pretty proud of. I present it here, with some notes.


The upstairs (ground level).

The downstairs (basement).

Ground Level

The crooked baths are located deep in the heart of a city, where space is tight. They are built around the ruins of an old city wall and fed by an underground stream.

1. Palaestra

Decimus Domitius Ahenobarbus, retired soldier and balneator, can usually be found here wrestling or taking money. Even when he is not, there is usually wrestling throughout the day, and a bit of gambling among the spectators is not uncommon.

2. Latrina

There could be something down there, but honestly, nobody wants to know.

3. Oecus

If a character is meeting someone at the baths, they will be waiting here.

4. Oil Shop

Domitius’ wife, Servia Flavia Poplicola, sells oils and unctions from here through a hole in the wall facing area 1.

5. Apodyterium

Domitius’ two daughters, Felia and Mus, work in this room as capsaria. Individually, neither is trustworthy, but will tattle on the other given the opportunity. This keeps them honest as a pair.

6. Frigidarium

The water here comes directly from an underground river through a hole slightly above the water level (the room is significantly below grade). A metal grate separates the water in this room from the water under area 7.

7. Machine Room

A sluice gate in here, controlled by a winch, regulates the water levels in areas 6. and 9.

8. Tepidarium

Two comely young foreign siblings, Lupus and Vulpa, work in this room as aliptae. They have been known to eavesdrop on conversations and probably know more than they should about many things. They have a creepy sibling-lover dynamic.
The brazier in the middle of the room usually burns a mildly addictive soporific substance that grows locally as a weed.

9. Caldarium

The hot baths are fed by an aqueduct running through the hypocaust. The labrum is emptied and refilled at the start of every day.

10. Praefurnium

This hallway runs along the old city wall, and is mostly only used by the servants.

11. Domus

Domitius and his family and slaves live in this set of rooms.


The foundations of the wall extend well below the surface (to prevent tunneling), and so are completely filled on this level.

1. Supply Tunnels

Wood is brought in from outside the city through these tunnels. The water draining along the edge of the wall eventually joins with the cloaca.

2. Furnace Room

Two furnacatores, twin dwarves Phillotus and Spinther, tend the fire in this room. Because the baths are so small, the caldarium is heated directly by the fire. Phillotus and Spinther run a smuggling operation through the extensive supply and sewer tunnel networks beneath the city, and have a cache in area 3.

3. Hypocaust

When the furnace is burning full-blast, it can be very difficult to breathe in the hypocaust, and at all times one can only move at one-quarter speed and only by crawling. However, from a good position in the hypocaust, conversations in areas 5., 6., 8., and 9. above, as well as area 2. in the basement can all be listened in on. Phillotus and Spinther cache smuggled goods and their personal savings in this room.
The channel running along the edge transports water from the machine room to the caldarium.

4. Frigidarium

The pool of cold water here is divided by a grate separating the machine room and the frigidarium proper. It is impossible to surface on the machine room side.

5. Underground Caves

The river feeding the baths comes from a larger underground cave system that continues a while back, eventually emerging somewhere in the mountains.


Aliptae – Slaves who anoint patrons with oils.
Alveus – A gutter around the edge of the schola labri.
Apodyterium – An (un)dressing room, where a capsarius may be hired to watch your things if you have no personal slave.
Aqueduct – An elevated channel for conveying water over long distances.
Atrium – An open court in the entrance, part of the vestibule. Serves as exercise grounds for young men.
Balneae – A bathing vessel, usually a household appliance. Also refers to the room containing such a vessel.
Balneator – Keeper of the baths, responsible for extracting admittance (usually one quadrans).
Caldarium – The hot baths, heated from below by thehypocaust. May contain a labrum.
Capsarius – A servant hired to watch possessions in the apodyterium. Notoriously untrustworthy.
Clerestory Windows – High windows used throughout the baths.
Fornacatores – Servants who tend the fire and the milliarium.
Frigidarium – The cold baths. Sometimes large enough to be a natatio.
Hypocaust – Heated space beneath the caldarium and tepidarium. Filled with pilae.
Labrum – A round vessel containting cold water in the caldarium.
Laconicum – A hot chamber with no bath, used as a sweating room.
Latrina – A toilet, sometimes found in the vestibule.
Miliarium – a three-tiered water boiler above the furnace, so called for its resemblance to a milestone.
Natatio – The pool in a larger frigidarium, used for swimming.
Oecus – A salon where patrons can wait for others to enter and exit the baths.
Pilae – Short stacks of brick in the hypocaust, holding the caldarium floor up.
Praefurnium – A chamber leading into the furnace room. Sometimes underground.
Propigneum – See praefurnium.
Quadrans – A bronze quarter. Standard admission to the baths.
Schola Labri – The space in the caldarium about the labrum.
Strigil – A cuved metal tool for scraping dirt and sweat from the body.
Sudatorium – See laconicum.
Tepidarium – An ornamented, waterless room heated by both the hypocaust and a large brazier. In baths without an unctuarium, one is anointed here. Much time is spent sweating in preparation to enter the caldarium.
Thermae – The bathouse as a whole.
Unctores – See aliptae.
Unctuarium – A room in which one is anointed, not common to all baths.
Vestibule – An area containing the atrium, balneator, latrina, and oecus. A place where servants can await their masters, patrons can await their friends, and announcements can be posted


This is not an academic work, but here's some references:


  • I regret not more strictly enforcing a scale on myself for the maps.
  • I spent far too much time concerned with the grade of the water and how it flows. In the end I just added the "Machine Room" and left it nebulous enough to fudge.
  • The Glossary and References are available in a pdf.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Inactivity, Hobos, & Celts

It's been a while since I've done anything with this space. I missed BFRPG day (but I did find that BFRPG exists, and is cool), I submitted an entry to the Great Khan's contest (that will get its own post later), I found the Planescape appendix to the Monstrous Manual (which is pretty much everything I wanted from a monster book), and I've had classes (blah).

Hobo Treasures

Gus at Dungeon of Signs has made a table of hobo treasures. A while ago, I was part of an effort to clean up the shores of the Merrimack river, and here is a list of less exciting treasures inspired by that expedition (roll 1d20).
  1. Flat piece of slate. 1 in 6: cannot be erased by standard means.
  2. Evacuated turtle shell—some hobo's dinner.
  3. Explicit letter in a bottle. The contents are nonsensical and offensive, and the next 1d6 found will all be exactly the same.
  4. Strange seed pods. Roll 1d200: number of seeds found.
  5. Melted children's toy. Ours was a headless plastic dinosaur.
  6. Monkey wrench, rusted solid.
  7. Small cache of lighters. Roll 2d12: the higher is the number of lighters, the lower is the number that still have a bit left.
  8. Large stack of moldy pornographic magazines.
  9. Newspapers. Roll 2d20: the higher is the age of the oldest paper found.
  10. Blankets, cardboard boxes. 1 in 20: has a hobo in it (daytime), does not (nighttime).
  11. Beer cans and wine bottles. There is never any left.
  12. Tiny circular filters, ~0.5" diameter. Roll 1d200: number of filters washed up on shore.
  13. Planks or other lumber. Roll 1d6 for number.
  14. The remains of a fire (daytime). A hobo campfire with 1d4 hobos (nighttime).
  15. Metal cable strung between two trees, 1d6*10' in length.
  16. A refrigerator (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute an icebox).
  17. A Little Tykes Cozy Coupe (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute a little red wagon).
  18. An old streetcar rail (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute a low stone wall).
  19. Miscellaneous drug paraphernalia (spoons, needles, etc.).
  20. Skewered rodent skeletons.
The seed pods, it turns out, were Eurasian water chestnuts, which not only look sinister, but are an invasive species.
Eurasian water chestnut seed pods (image source: here).


The Great Khan is having another contest in March (skipping this month), and the theme will be the celts. Everything I know about the celts I learned from "Horrible Histories: The Cut-Throat Celts", so I'm looking forward to this. The contest itself has not actually started yet, but here are some thoughts I've had:
  • There is already an implicit Celtic influence in most versions of D&D: the druid and bard classes are historically found only in Celtic cultures.
  • The Celts made brain-balls by mixing the brains of their fallen enemies with lime. These were carried around as trophies but it was believed that they could still take vengeance on their owner.
  • Celts were big into curses. I like Zak's rules for curses (item 73).
  • Celtic saints were not necessarily nice people, which is convenient for the D&D cleric archetype. They also tended to do things after their death.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bestiaries and The Ubiquitous Sages


The Ashmole Bestiary (Source: Wikipedia)
Monster books are great. Let's look at some more obscure ones than the Monster Manual that everyone knows.

Bonus Bestiary

by Jason Bulmahn and F. Wesley Schneider

Paizo released this pamphlet as a preview of the Pathfinder Bestiary on Free RPG Day 2009.
  • It's marked "3.5 OGL Compatible" on the back, even though it uses the Pathfinder rules. I guess they're close enough that Paizo was hoping not to scare people.
  • At the time of printing, the Bonus Bestiary was monsters that didn't fit in the main book, and so this was the only place for them. Some of them I can imagine were missed (the Allip), and some of them less so (the Ascomid).
  • As of the Bestiary 3, I think all of the monsters in this book have appeared in other Pathfinder supplements.

Monster Manual II

by Ed Bonny, Jeff Grub, Rich Redman, et al.

A follow-up to the 3.0 Monster Manual. Hereafter referred to as MMII.
  • Pages 4-21 explain how to read a monster's write-up, but the information is complete enough that it could probably be used for making monsters too (a laborious task in 3.X).
  • The last two monsters (Scorpion Folk and Razor Boar) are designated open game content, which I think makes MMII unique among non-core WotC publications (Technically even including core: IIRC the books themselves are not OGC, only the SRD). I wonder what might have been.
  • The MMII is unique among the monster manuals for never getting a 3.5 printing.
  • I think the skull on the cover is meant to be that of an ethereal marauder, but I don't know that there's a "canon" solution.
  • This book is often remembered for its stupidly high-level monsters, but in fact, they do not comprise the majority of the monsters (see Figure 1). I remember it more for introducing me to many of the more off-beat monsters from older editions, such as myconids and thri-kreen. A lot of the new monsters are pretty uninspired though; it's very hit-or-miss.
Figure 1: Challenge rating distribution in MMII.

Legions of Hell

by Chris Pramas

I think I got this free with a subscription to Dungeon magazine a while back. It's pretty good though.
  • The stat blocks are irrelevant, as are the templates and prestige classes. What really makes the book worthwhile is the dozens of detailed devils with their schemes and manoeuvrings through the political structure of hell. Each of them has goals and activities outlined both in hell and in the material plane.
  • I appreciate that entries frequently play off of each other. For example there are rival dukes of rhetoric and eloquence (appealing to logic and the psyche, respectively). It gives the book a very complete feeling.
  • The book has occasional tie-ins with Hell in Freeport, which I do not own. But I would be interested to see if any of it also appears in the associated "world of Freeport" settings; I seem to recall that Green Ronin had all of their settings in a shared world.

The Ubiquitous Sages

As it was noted in "Let's Read the Monstrous Manual", many monster write-ups refer to "sages" with strangely specific knowledge and theories, implying some sort of twisted academic discourse in the D&D universe. When writing, it's an easy trap to fall into: when I do it it's because sometimes I just don't want to decide how something works, or I think something is a good idea but struggle to make it interesting, or I have multiple conflicting ideas. Basically, it's because I'm lazy (although I do try to catch myself doing it).
This fall-back device has some strange implications though. Take, for example, this passage from the AD&D Monstrous Manual:
Naturally vicious and almost evil at times, displacer beasts harbor an undying hatred of blink dogs. Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. Some sages believe it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. Others argue that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions. Encounters between the two breeds are rare however, since they do not share the same territory.


The judgements implicit in "almost evil" and "undying hatred" contrast sharply with the pseudo-scientific prose in the rest of the text. On the other hand, the back-and-forth of competing theories suggests a reliable communication infrastructure, the use of "sages" and "others" plural suggests a community of academics, and the note that natural encounters are rare introduces the possibility of a controlled laboratory environment, complete with technology that can contain an ethereal blink dog.
The contrast of these prose styles might be explained by the method of writing of a real medieval bestiary: Greeks and Romans would hear stories from all over and write them down. Then monks would copy, translate, and illuminate, these manuscripts, and add a layer of Christian allegory. In some cases, these were then later translated again with annotations, like this one, leaving many competing authorial voices. I think this (possibly unintentionally) makes for a somewhat more "realistic" bestiary.

Naming the Sages

If there is an academic community however, these books do a pretty poor job of citing things. Proper citations and references might be a bit much, but let's at least name the sages. Take the above blink-dog passage:
Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. [Nymphitylus believes] it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. [Marixtus the Optimist argues] that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions.
I think the addition of names is a minor change that adds a more academic tone. I can easily imagine several names reappearing throughout a text, alluding to the nature and reliability of different sources.
Of course, names for ancient sages should be Greek. So here is a table to name them:

Sage Names

A half-dozen samples:
  • Hegetius of Stratonicia
  • Hierocrates the Epicurean
  • Porphygias the Cynic
  • Phaeneas
  • Alexagnote Mallotes
  • Carneacydes of Athens
Epithets can be generated with a d100, or a d30 to exclude place names, or a d20 to exclude Greek epithets. On 1-2 in 6, I exclude the epithet all together.