Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chapter XXIV: The Grinning Devil and Why He Grinned That Night

My entry to Jack of Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque's contest, with slight annotation:

Chapter XXIV: The Grinning Devil and Why He Grinned That Night

I. The Vignette

Lucinda ran breathlessly from the man in the red mask as he uncannily crept sideways along the alley walls, leaping from building to building. She stumbled on a wet cobblestone, turned and saw him, his mouth twisted into an inhuman grin. But as he leapt closer, he landed on the wall of a cathedral and froze in place, as a stone. While Lucinda survived, she never quite recovered, and when questioned about anything in her past she broke down, screaming only about the man’s hideous grin, which still leers today from his roost with the gargoyles.
Visual approximation.

II. The Content

The chapter is actually a coded message between two cells of the Thrice-Forsaken Lodge of St. Coraline. It communicates the location of a relic sacred to Kumo-Thlis, and also its guardian—a basilisk.

The Thrice-Forsaken Lodge of St. Coraline

A loose-knit network of converts to the faith of the Lady of the White Way, they return to their old faiths in order to subvert them. More fanatical than those who merely expect to be rewarded, they believe that there can be no reward for their life of idolatry and so care not for their own souls.

The Tongue of Kumo-Thlis

This noxious dagger always appears slick, though it is dry to the touch. Those struck by it suffer a much more insidious poison than any mortal tincture, for they will forever after hear the whispers of Kumo-Thlis himself (or at least so they believe). The whispers cannot impart any information the sufferer does not know, but may direct him or her towards unconsidered courses of action, often of questionable advisability. A Remove Curse spell can lift this grim affliction but a successful Save vs. Poison will prevent it. Untreated, a sufferer will eventually either go mad or fall to worship of the snake god.
The Tongue is currently in a cave outside a small farming village. It is guarded by four cultists, three “converts” (formerly of the Lodge, but all now afflicted), and a basilisk. Additionally, on any day there are 1d4-1 locals paying their respects. The leader of the cult is a daughter of the grave named Mixolydia. Her regenerative abilities, serpentine form, and immunity to the basilisk’s gaze make her a natural snake-priestess of great influence.

III. Notes

  • What came before this vignette in the chapter? I'm not exactly sure, but I think it was something out of From the Ballroom to Hell.
  • Pretty sure  the Thrice-Forsaken were inspired by The Sect of the Thirty.
  • The Lady of the White Way, St. Coraline, Kumo-Thlis, and daughters of the grave are all drawn from The World Between, the implicit setting of Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. It's pretty awesome.

My Bookshelf

Mostly I've been too busy for gaming, but I thought surely I could get in on something so simple as the bookshelf meme. So I took the picture, but I haven't actually got around to it until now. And you may notice that it's rather sparse in terms of actual gaming-related material . . .

The bottom shelf is more interesting than the top. On the left:
  • Carcosa
  • Vornheim
  • The God That Crawls
  • The Decision Book
  • Jon Hodgman's Encyclopaedia of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE:
    • The Areas of My Expertise
    • More Information than you Require
    • That is All
 And on the right, starting after the CD binder:
  • Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (I do not read Spanish yet, but someday I will learn)
  • Collected Nonfictions by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Don Juan in Hell by George Bernard Shaw
  • Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Wonder Tales from Lord Dunsany
  • Welsh Place-Names and Their Meanings by Dewi Davies
  • Historic Newfoundland by the Newfoundland and Labrador Tourist Development Office
  • Some pamphlets (unrelated)
  • Railsea by China Mieville
  • The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt
Let's hope I can get more gaming books on there next semester.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Miscellaneous Mechanics & Ideas

I haven't had a whole lot of time recently, but there's still some ideas kicking around in my head.

For making an alien in Samurai Jack:
Roll 1d6 for number of eyes.

For characters from large families:
Roll 2d12:
  • The higher number is the number of children.
  • The lower number is your birth order.
For halflings, use 2d20.

For steel-boned corsets:
Use AC as splinted mail, with a bonus to Cha, and penalties to Dex.

Tell me these are really so different.
For patent medicines:
I saw "Dead-Sea Moisturizing Face Serum" at Ocean State Job Lots. Not only does this sound truly terrifying, but it's fodder if I ever revisit my generator.

For a wierd nightscape:
Consider a pitcher plant that catches moths using an anglerfish's bait. It obviously grows on trees. Possibly consider fat squirrels with anglerfish-bait-tails filling a similar niche.

Dream fragments:
  • Babylonian guardian demons that take the form of either giant awakened naked mole rats or riderless motorcycles. They enforce the rule that "nothing is free".
  • Helium jellyfish that float around like plastic bags roost in trees. They have a complex lifecycle. Possibly they have propellers.
  • Staircases that are difficult to use the other direction. They require a will save to go the "wrong" direction. They aren't railroads, but make circular navigation necessary.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Non-transitive Dice with Cards

Non-transitive dice are a fascinating phenomenon. However, I don't really want to buy more dice*, especially dice that look, at a glance, like all my other dice. So I've been trying to think up a way to have non-transitive dice without actually needing new dice.

Example of non-transitive dice (opposite sides are same) (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons).

By far the simplest thing I've found, is to make each "die" from a stack of playing cards. This has several advantages:
  • If all piles are the same size, then they will appear identical when face-down. This means that each pile can be chosen with incomplete knowledge or assigned at random.
  • As cards are played, they may be discarded by some rule. Thus, while the stacks may initially be non-transitive, their relation can change over the course of a game.
  • Playing cards are readily available, and can be used to emulate any set of dice that doesn't need numbers higher than 13.

I don't personally have a use for them yet, but if you come up with one I'd love to know.

* = This is a lie.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Scattered Thoughts

Notes from my summer activities and my first month of blogging. Mostly with at least half-hearted attempts to make them gaming-relevant.

Summer Reading:

The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength)
An exciting classic "science fiction" trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although at times the overt Christian themes were grating on my secular humanist upbringing. The villains in That Hideous Strength were particularly strong, and I hope my own games can have villains that good. I also took extensive notes on the language as I went, and eventually I'll share those somehow (hopefully without diluting the content of this blog).

The Long Earth by Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett

A grand exploration of infinity, with some bizarre characters. Reminded me that dinosaurs are awesome.

Railsea by China MiƩville

Great world-building with good proportions of secrets, bizarre new things, and enough familiar things to stay grounded.

Doc Savage Stories

I got back to my pulp roots with some old Doc Savage books ("The Land of Always-Night", "Mad Mesa", "The Dust of Death", and "The Stone Man"). This directly inspired Pulp Materials.

Things in Museums:

My favorite part of visiting the UK is the museums. Here are some things I thought it worth making a note of when I saw them.
  • A German "schwerdt" (which unhelpfully appears to mean sword) was 4-6' long, and was not used in heavy over-head swings, but for fencing. The technique was to keep your off-hand just under the hilt as a pivot, and to control the motion of it with your good hand from the pommel. (Pitt-Rivers Museum)
  • War quoits (chakrams) are basically sharpened rings, thrown like Frisbees held from the inside. I imagine they'd just be like exotic throwing knives in a game. (Pitt-Rivers Museum)
  • In Guyana, traditional duels involve each participant standing close to the other and pressing their shields together. The first to lose their footing loses the duel. (Pitt-Rivers Museum)
  • Instead of a traditional knife-bayonet, some early pistols had a sort of mace-head attachment on the barrel. I wish I'd taken a picture of this. (Tower of London)
  • Before the formalization of molar theory, molar equivalencies were found using a slide-rule with salts marked in the positions of their molar weights. (Museum of the History of Science)
  • When Copernicus first proposed his heliocentric model, people started using it for its accuracy, while simultaneously denying the validity of its assumptions. Essentially, it was used as an empirical model, but its implications ignored. (Museum of the History of Science)

Old Music:

  • Long John effected an escape wearing shoes with a heel in front and a heel behind. Consequently, he was very difficult to track.

A Month of Blogging:

In my eagerness to post, or general confusion, I seem to have missed some things.


Quench bears are obviously inspired by Smokey Bear. I would have used an image, except that I couldn't for the life of me parse the Smokey Bear Act, and decided to err on the side of caution.

Snake Oil

I could not remember for the whole time I was composing that table that the name I was looking for was "patent medicine". If I revisit the table someday, I'll keep that in mind.

Spider Racial Track

The post was going to have an image, but I forgot it. I'm just editing it in now . . .

Pulp Materials

Somewhere between Fire!Fire! and here, I forgot how to make a table in Blogger. Maybe I did it directly in html? At any rate, the table isn't really big enough to justify its seclusion in a Google Doc.

Pub Names

Nonsensical pub names are apparently a long tradition--and just as old a complaint. From what I understand they are frequently mutations of older names that may have made more sense.

The Future:

Classes have started now, but it remains to be seen what effect this might have on this blog. On the one hand, I'll have less time to myself and more other work to be doing. But on the two hand, I'll probably actually get a game going, and be doing more directly involving gaming. As I have no set schedule for the blog anyway, I don't expect any of these changes will be noticed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Debasing Mage Knight

I've got a pile of old Mage Knight figures, and there's really not a whole lot you can do with them. No stores will touch them, nobody will buy them, the bases are too large to play nice with other figures, and a lot of the sculpts and paint-jobs are decidedly mediocre. After pledging to the Reaper Bones Kickstarter*, I thought maybe I'd use them to practice my (non-existant) painting skills until May when the bones ship.

An outline of the process I'm looking at:
  1. Remove the figures from their bases.
  2. Remove the paint from the figures.
  3. Attach the figures to new bases.
  4. Paint the figures.
In this post, I am just considering the first step: removing the figures from their bases.
From this . . .

. . . to this.

This process is about as simple as it seems, the figures pry off of their bases fairly easily with a craft knife. I recommend practising on some figures you don't care about first, such as these "Feral Bloodsuckers" (I chose the same ones because I plan to test solvents on them, so they should all be similar).

There are a few tips I can offer however:
  • Freezing the minis does help them come off easier (unless they're wet from washing, then the ice just mucks things up).
  • Wear gloves. You will cut yourself. You'll cut away from your hands, you'll keep the mini in a clamp, you'll think "I'm smarter than that", and then you'll go and cut up a finger.
  • The motion isn't really a "cutting" motion so much as a "prying" motion. Which isn't to say that you should pry the figure off with the craft knife, but that the gap is already there and you just need to widen it.

Join me at an indeterminate point in the future, when I test an array of household (and exotic) solvents and cleaners on these.

* - Incidentally, if you missed out on the kickstarter, it looks like you can still get in here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Meet Your Representative

The 48,151 duly-appointed members of the elemental parliament are in charge of shaping the material plane. The four major parties correspond to the four classical elements and each hold a large amount of power. There are also countless smaller parties representing various other "elements": poison, ice, smoke, electricity, etc. More puissant interests (magic, gravity, time, etc.) do not participate in the parliament but may retain a token representative, while positive and negative energy were not invited and are generally viewed with great suspicion by the rest. In addition, the parliament employs huge numbers of workers, aides, emissaries, diplomats, couriers, and soldiers to enact its will.

Like this, but all the people are elementals, and there's more of them (image source: Wikimedia Commons).

The parliament's schemes often reach beyond spans of mortal comprehension, and it generally does not liaise with mortal politicians or involve itself in material-plane politics. However, during delicate political negotiations, most parties are not above using mortal cat's-paws to get what they want.

The parliament has a bicameral structure, with a general assembly and a high council of the four largest parties. Motions can only be introduced by the high council, and the high council members all have veto power. If a resolution is not vetoed, it must pass a simple majority in the general assembly (quorum is also a simple majority, which arises often because at any given moment representatives are all over the place).

The high council currently consists of:
  • The Flaming League (Fire)
  • The Allied Waters (Water)
  • The Free Atmospheric Union (Air)
  • The Venerable Chthonic Party (Earth)
Notable lesser parties include:
  • Crystal
  • Electricity (The Storm)
  • Ice (Her Lady of the Glacier's Party)
  • Lava (The Ancient Flame)
  • Light
  • Metal
  • Mud
  • Poison
  • Rot (The Life Reform Party, or "Rotters")
  • Sand
  • Shadow
  • Smoke
  • Sound (The Sonic Party)
  • Steam
  • Vapor
  • Water
  • Wood

I'm not yet sure I want to use the parliament directly in any sense, but if nothing else I think it will help create interesting situations. I plan to detail individual parties in future posts, as I work through their motivations, their methods, and their interactions with other parties.

Incidentally, 48,151 is a lot of members to divide up, and I'd like to do it roughly by importance. I've made a poll, where I invite you to rate the various elements by importance and interest. It doesn't close or anything, I'll just leave it up as an evolving thing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Devil's Darning Needle

Dragonflies have long had a bad reputation. Called "ear cutters", "eye-pokers", "eye-snatchers", and "adder's servants" in parts of Europe, the story I grew up with was that they were "the devil's darning needles", and they would sew your lips and eyelids shut.
I actually think dragonflies are pretty cool, and obviously they don't hurt people at all, but if they did . . .

The Devil's Darning Needle (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A devil's darning needle looks similar to a dragonfly except that when it flies it always flies "backwards". They are encountered alone, in pairs, or in swarms of 2d20, and are a favorite summon of Beelzebub and his ilk when enforcing contracts. The darning needle attacks by poking, prodding, and piercing its prey, weaving it with invisible magic cords while it does. Eventually the prey is immobilized, at which point the darning needles wait for it to die before feeding on the carrion.

For statistics, use a sprite, except that its type is magical beast and every hit deals an additional 1 point Dex damage and they generally have 1 hp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Antalop

Here is the antelope, from a Latin bestiary (antalops) interpreted as a fearsome critter.

The Antalop (source: Wikimedia Commons).

The antalop is about the size and shape of a deer, except that its antlers are like saw blades. It uses these to cut branches off trees and graze on the leafy upper foliage, but in a pinch it can also use them to collapse trees on pursuers or defend itself directly. Owing to this and its notable speed, it is difficult and dangerous to hunt, although if its antlers become entangled in something it may be caught.

An antalop has stats as a mule, but with an antler attack as a short sword.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Modular Dice

I've been using "d50"s without noticing for some time. You can get huge, strange 50-sided dice, but that's not what I'm talking about. Instead, I roll d% and if the tens-place is greater than 5, I "wrap around". I'm sure this is something that's not uncommon, it saves re-rolling if the die is an even multiple.

I decided to investigate this further. For a uniform distribution it's not that interesting, but starting from a normal distribution it's a neat way to get two peaks. Figure 1 shows the effects of different moduli on the 3d6 distribution.

Figure 1
If you'd like to play with this in anydice here's the function I've written:
function: A:n mod B:n {
    if A > B {result: [(A - B) mod B]}
    result: A

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to Get by Dangerous Monsters

An old birthday present from one of my cousins, scanned and traced over in Inkscape:
How to Get By Dangerous Monsters

The Monsters:

  • Octopus Fish
  • Electric Eel Fish
  • Killer One
  • Killer Double-Headed Bee
  • Giant Monster Cat
  • Guardian Monster
  • Giant Snake
  • Guardian Demon of the Wall
  • Killer Kangaroo House
  • Cyclops
  • Kung-Kong Fish
  • Meteor Fish
  • Duckfish

Other Locations:

  • Start
  • Troll Bridge
  • Witch's House


The mixture of aquatic and land monsters suggests a swampy location to me, and the choice of orange color for the paths suggests a boardwalk. Not sure what the purple was, but maybe its some kind of older, more dangerous pathway.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pub Names

I made up a table for naming "the local":

Pub Names

A half-dozen samples:
  • The Wizard & Bear Tavern
  • The Hog Lounge
  • The Wooden Club
  • The White Arms
  • The Orange Ghost Roasted Saloon
  • The Helpful Angel Abundant House

Yes, columns B & C are identical to columns D and E. Use "The", "&", "'s", etc. as necessary. A d8, rather than a d20, can be rolled on column F to limit the results to more "standard" fantasy names.

If you don't end up with any nouns or adjectives (a 1-in-16 chance), substitute the place-name in before column F. If you don't have a place-name, there are some herehere, & here. For example:
  • The Griefstanz Brewery-tap
  • The Trennov Cantina

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pulp Materials

Over the summer I've been reading some old Doc Savage books, where I found references to duralumin and pliofilm. These were both materials I had never heard of before, which intrigued me. I assembled this table in case I ever run a pulp-style game and need to name some new wonder-material, without having to submit to realism.

Fantastic Pulp Materials

A half-dozen samples:
  • hypergel
  • maloplast
  • cellusol
  • formicast
  • lumisil
  • lumilite
Rarely, you may get the trade-name of an actual product (it is cobbled together from those), as I have no mechanism to prevent that.

Spider Racial Track

This is for a game called Legend, which is pretty cool, but doesn't have enough monsters (they're working on it). It's also undergoing major revisions, so this may not always work perfectly.

(Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Spider Racial Track

Of course, I had a lot of help with this track, and credit goes out to the cool people on the forums.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Snake Oil

I don't have a campaign running at the moment, but I'm considering something Wampus-y for the future. I've devised a table of names for things that might be found in a Wampus Country medicine cabinet, sold by shady street vendors or sworn-by by old farm-hands. Most things generated are probably just alcohol, but some of them are possibly admixtures of unrelated potions, and some of them might even be good as actual potions, expertly brewed.

Wampus Country Medicine

A half-dozen samples:
  • Master Totenkinder's Carbonated Tablets
  • Senor Edward's Syrup of Magic
  • Mistress Turner's Original Tincture
  • Doctor Paracelcius' Krynoid-ash Embrocation
  • Madame Gingery's Tablets
  • Doctor Wace's Peculiar Pills

The column "Quaffable" is an alternative to "Substance" if you'd prefer that all your things be potions. The columns "Adjective" and "Descriptor" each appear with 50% probability. The first 10 items in the "Animal" column correspond to the "Setting Specific" columns.

Eventually, I plan to script the table to take the work of rolling out, but I'm not sure how I want to do it yet.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contract Races

The standard non-human races work well for a high-fantasy and high-magic setting, but I have trouble explaining them in settings with fewer deities. On the other hand, I do feel that these races can add to a setting and I have players who like them.

This is the compromise I'm considering: the two major races are humans and halflings. But during the events of a great cataclysm, some groups entered into contracts with greater powers, in which they were granted certain abilities in exchange for fealty to those powers. The arrangements I made for my setting are as follows, but they are somewhat specific, and the idea is not limited to these.

The Dragons

Contracts with the dragons are some of the oldest, perhaps the first. Consequently these contracts more completely change the races they are with: the lizardfolk and kobolds. These races bore the brunt of the cataclysm and are very rarely still found, lizardfolk retreating to the swamps to gather around their remaining draconic lords, and kobolds moving ever deeper underground towards the unknown.

The Elemental Parliament

The elemental parliament remains distant and makes few contracts, but contracted halflings become dwarves. It is unknown however, what contracted humans might become.

The True Fey

Contracts with the true fey are responsible for creating elves and gnomes from human and halfling stock, respectively. They are by far the most numerous of the contracted races, and frequently live alongside their benefactors.

The Envious (Abberations)

A twisted form of contract magic, the Envious could transform unwilling captives into hobgoblins, regardless of race. Since their masters departed, the remaining hobgoblin armies war with each other eternally in the lands to the East.

The Fallen

Generally, breaking a contract is unthinkable, and results in a quick death. However the capricious nature of the true fey can dictate a stronger punishment, and those who break oaths to them are sometimes transformed from elves and gnomes into orcs and goblins, cursed to have no masters.

Signing a Contract

There are only a few contracts for each race, and they usually remain in the custody of the granting powers. Signing a contract is not an affair to be undertaken lightly, and adding one's signature is often a rite of passage in societies of contracted races. Consequently, there are few "pure" contracted societies, as children and those not bold enough to sign still exist as humans and halflings (or something like them).

The signatory of a contract to a greater power must be human or halfling. He or she forfeits all saves made against his or her granting power and in exchange gains all the traits of the race he or she has become. He or she may necessarily lose traits he or she already posesses.

It should be noted that saves are only forfeit against official representatives of the contract. For example, a dwarf does not forfeit all saves against elementals, only elementals who currently possess his or her contract, or direct agents thereof.


Half-breeds don't really make sense in this system, but could be considered as the un-contracted offspring of contracted races. Because orcs have no contract, all second-generation orcs are half-orcs.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fire! Fire!

It was my intention this summer to collect my works and put together my own website and make everything tidy and presentable. But it occurs to me now, more than halfway through, that I would much rather have less content but have a website than have a pile of unfinished things that can't be shared.

I will begin then, by posting my entry to the Wampus Country Summer Contest:

Fire! Fire!

Lost in the woods, our heroes make camp for the night. Ms. Lulubelle lights a Fire using the matchbook earlier picked from the pockets of the Rude Gentleman. She swears the Fire speaks to her, but Mr. Rumpscullion reminds both her and the Fire that fires simply do not speak, and retires for the evening. Ms. Lulubelle wishes aloud for some company and, overhearing, the Fire offers to assist her in the matter, if only she will carry him to a nearby tree. Ms. Lulubelle obliges, but the spreading fire attracts the attention of a family of bears who knock over the tree, stomp out the fire, and abduct Ms. Lulubelle to be tried on suspicion of arson. Mr. Rumpscullion awakes in the morning and reluctantly begins to follow the bear tracks deeper into the woods.

The Rude Gentleman’s Matchbook

This matchbook has a glossy red finish with an elegant, but apparently meaningless gold symbol stamped on the front. It is found with 1d10 matches in it, each of which functions normally. However, the first time one is used to light a fire each day, it summons a weak fire elemental which is not hostile to the caster, but under no obligation to be helpful either.

Weak fire elementals have only one hit die, but the same special qualities as their stronger kin: they can only be harmed by magic or magical weapons, any victim using cold-based attacks will suffer an additional 1d8 damage from their attacks, and they are unable to cross more than 1’ of water.
A full complement of dormant elementals (source: Wikimedia Commons).

The smaller fire elementals are popular with infrequent summoners (source: Wikimedia Commons).

Quench Bears

It is commonly known that some water spirits take the form of fish. It is less known however, that rarely a fishing bear will eat one of these fish, and take on some aspect of its spirit. These “quench bears” invariably hate fires and seek to put them out immediately by whatever means available, including smothering them with their own incombustible hides.

A quench bear has statistics as a grizzly (brown) bear, but lacks the “bear hug” ability. Instead, the bear is treated as though it wears a ring of fire resistance: it is resistant to all normal fire, all other fire damage is reduced by 2 points per die, and it makes saves against fire at a +4 bonus.
Quench bears fighting an elemental (source: Wikimedia Commons).

Firefighters in quench bear hides (source: Wikimedia Commons).

Weak Fire ElementalQuench Bear
No. Enc.1 (1)1d4 (1d4)
Movement120’ (40’)120’ (40’)
Armor Class66
Hit Dice15
Attacks1 strike3 (2 claws, bite)
Hoard ClassNadaVI