Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Number:1 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 8
Damage: 1 per tentacle; spores
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
The rhizopus are a bizarre fungal creature that resembles an octopus with gill-like structures surrounding it's central core.  It's body is arranged radially with eight equidistant fronds that it can use to move towards sources of heat, water and nutrients.  These include dead bodies and slow creatures.  The fronds of the rhizopus can constrict once they successfully hit for one point of damage each round but are easily broken (2 points of damage from any source).  Those constricted by a frond are at -1 to AC and -1 to hit per frond to a maximum of -4 AC/-4 to hit.  The rhizopus can regrow a frond but this costs 1 hit point.  If attacked, the rhizopus spits a 10' diameter radius clous of spores.  These spores force a save vs. Poison or feel sick (-2 to hit for an hour).  Worse yet, food and water or a corpse brought into the spore cloud is spoiled and needs a purify food and water spell to restore.  If the food is discarded, a new rhizopus will grow from it in three days.  Undead are not affected by the spores of a rhizopus.

Monday, 28 March 2011

war pigs - review: soldiers of fortune

Available in PDF or Print
Metric: Dire Boars.  Hulking, slavering beasts with steaming breath, spiked collars and sharp tusks and likely set with a howdah driven by crossbow-wielding kobolds.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF review copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 4.5 dire boars (a specialist publication for the discerning connoisseur who knows what they want.) 
You can base an entire campaign around this book.
Though a general sourcebook, the use of Midgard as a backdrop provides flavour and elements tied into the Midgard mythos.  While the book suggests you use what you like, some options (like the mercenary background and it's feat trees) build heavily on other elements which take a game in certain directions meaning you'll probably end using most of the book anyway.
Great if you're running a war-heavy campaign in Midgard.  If you want the occasional epic battle, you'll need to be selective and quite ruthless in your adaptations.

Content: 4 dire boars (flashes of brilliance, mostly excellent work within GSL constraints)
Going To War notes the importance the reason for war.  Some are suggested, offering plot hooks for each tier.  While some arguments sound similar, salient reminders on terrain, elevation and the different nature of battles by land, sea or air add flavour.  Suggesting Warhammer for 4E mass battles though?  Interesting. The first step of that voyage can be started here.  Those happy with 4E may want to consider the use of Greywulf's War Machine hack.
War in Midgard provides an overview of the races in Midgard.  The styling of dwarves and goblins as 'the sovereigns in steel' is a nice touch. What wows here are the skill challenges.  These are easily transplanted into any game where war or epic scale is encouraged.  Fighters may find these tricky without a useful background, multiclass feat or Skill Training.  Other martial and combat types may find a new niche while their friends may act as advisors.
Midgard Strategems is a fantasy re-interpretation of the Art of War without spies with added background options to provide tactical acumen, flavour and options.  Each section has potential adventure or encounter hooks.  Two legendary generals at the end offer different takes on warfare.  One offers a gateway to paragon-hood, the other a worthy epic challenge.
New Paths and Paragon Powers introduces new powers suited to the military.  Arcane, divine, martial and primal powers are provided for a variety of levels.  A new background (mercenary) and a batch of feats using it showcase the mercenary's talents across a range of classes.  Some can be used in conjunction with the excellent siege engine rules in Monsters, Minions and Templates.  Paragon paths run along each of the four main domains but along the common theme of war.
Spoils of War offers magical items such as banners, standards and guidons.  Midgard-relevant examples are provided with the Flag of Humentu and Gonfalon of Meretis being particularly inspired.  Rituals as martial practices was mentioned in Martial Power 2 yet done much better here.  These rituals support the military campaign and help exemplify why rituals are one of the under-rated shiny bits of 4th edition.  One real gem here is the use of History skill to assess heraldry in the field - while not much is made of it beyond the text box, the potential for campaign detail work is significant.
The Battle of Sanguine-Crag Pass takes the players into rocky ground against vicious foes including a new monster and their potent leader.  This scenario offers plenty of room for customisation above the obvious; it has the potential to be a convention hit given the structure and objectives.  Mentioning resources on the KQ forums without linking to them though?  Uncharacteristic - any KQ fans wish to share where they are?
Monsters, Minions and Templates does what it says on the tin.  Siege engines as creatures supported by a dedicated crew lets a party re-enact The Pride and The Passion with their own cannon.  This alone makes it excellent in my considered opinion.  Using templates to modify monsters is pragmatism (monster themes from DMG2 aren't in GSL) and can easily be used to assemble a truly colourful band of brothers.  Fear the kobold saboteur!  Example monsters for the major races of Midgard are provided for more ready-made combat.   There are some nice ideas for minions, the minion horde builds a swarm of minions while the minion aura gives your necrolord something to brag about.  Combining the two is intriguing, the idea of jittery conscript human rabble hordes might give the more heroic types qualms.  Such is war.  Example companies from Midgard are also provided complete with statblocks.  The Storm Court is fearsome stuff.

Layout: 5 dire boars (why Ambassador, you're spoiling us)
Malcolm McClinton's cover is excellent stuff and shows that in war, magic is a force best kept on your side.  Interior art by Joe Slucher is crisp and the layout is well-decorated and distinctive while being clear to read. The PDF bookmarks are reliable.  Internal hyperlinking doesn't appear here and in a couple of places would place it on a par with later Kobold Quarterly issues. Open Design excels at PDF products and this is another example of how to do it well.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

the carnival of death

The RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Campaign Mastery is about Life and Death  this month .  Having already looked at how life can affect a setting, let's look at the impact of death.  One species of jellyfish is effectively immortal by becoming a colony of sexually immature versions of itself.  Everyone else though has to follow the rules or cheat death in some way. Death is omnipresent, to adventurers a constant companion.

Funerary rites and grief.  From the matter of disposing of the body and worldly goods to the emotional impact of knowing someone will never be physically there any more, there's plenty of ideas to follow here.  The business of bodily interment is big business, with the construction of tombs and mausoleums.  How a culture handles it's dead gives insight into that culture's values.  Those who create massive pyramids around their mummified kings have a different perspective to those who bind up their dead and leave them in the branches of a tall tree or on a platform for the birds.  How a culture handles grief informs how tightly bonds of family or honour may hold.  In some cases, the death of a powerful individual would see the death of their spouse or at the least their servants.  Grief can drive sufferers insane for a time.  From Celtic keening and wakes to professional mourners in the Middle East, death has influence.  Add the drama of managing the estate of a deceased comrade and the resulting situation can pretty much hook anyone in.

Death festivals and veneration of the dead.  Veneration of the dead by the living may take many forms from primitive ancestral worship to commemorative festivals.  In worlds where death isn't necessarily the end, this is even more true.  Commemorative festivals may celebrate (Dia De Los Muertos), honour the fallen (Feralia) or mocking horrors (Hallowe'en).  Where not observed or disdained, in a fantasy world horrific consequences may arise.  Tales of unquiet graves if the Feralia were ignored were taken seriously.  The munera of the Etruscans and later, the Romans spawned gladiatorial games.  The association of these festivals and seasonal boundaries were a reminder people were part of something greater than themselves, something that priests and politicians alike would take advantage of.

Extinction and natural selection.
What happens when the last one dies?  The extinction of species has repercussions on a world, whether by a shift in nature or unnatural greed.  Loss of the aurochs, dodo, Japanese wolf and somewhat ironically-named Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse each have stories associated with them.  Many other species die out due to competition with other species.  The principles of natural selection can inspire strategies to deal with predation and surprise player characters with twists on a familiar monster.  There are those who live to kill the last thing and those who resist the destruction of entire species.  Both extremes make interesting characters.

Monday, 21 March 2011


This creature is created by an unclean spirit possessing a black ram which becomes warped and riddled with worms that cause sickness.  Some evil powers create vermivex by clerical ritual.

Number: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 2d8+2
Attacks: 1 headbutt
Damage: 2d4 + worms
Save: Cleric 1
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: None

This mangy black ram stands 4' at the shoulder and is visibly afflicted by parasites and disease.  It attacks by butting with it's horns.  On a natural 20, one of the worms infesting it will burrow into an open wound or orifice of it's victim.  This leads to nausea (-2 to AC, hit and damage) and loss of 1 point of Constitution every day until either the victim dies or the disease is cured.  A cure disease spell removes the infestation and can kill a vermivex instantly if it fails a save vs. spell.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

inns & taverns: the wyvern and watch

Famed in the county, the Wyvern and Watch is equally enjoyed by locals and visiting merchants.  The inn is a two-storey longhouse with a four-storey watchtower on it's eastern wall.  The stables form a courtyard behind the longhouse.  On market days the tower is occupied by two liveried crossbowman.  As a market tavern, it's reputation reaches neighbouring counties.  It's well-worn sign shows a portrait of a wyvern with a lantern in it's claw.  This is a fair representation of the beast if a little squashed.  The watchtower's presence serves to notify most travellers that this is the watering hole for the local watch and militia.

The exterior is whitewashed stone with black-painted wood.  A thatched roof gives way to red brick tiles at the watchtower.  A green-painted door opens into a spacious bar.  The central feature is a well, capped, dressed and decorated in flowers.  Long tables and benches are arranged galley-fashion.  Five serving maids patrol these, fetching ale and food for coin.  The Wyvern is usually bustling on market days and quieter in the days.  At night, the locals drink heavily, play games of chance and chess and sing varied songs.

The victuals are good, hearty fare.   A pale amber ale is brewed here, refreshing with a faintly sulphurous aftertaste and other drinks are brought in from the market.  Among them is a dark yet mild stout ale that many gnomes admire.  A sweet rose wine is popular among the wealthy.  Food is split into two selection boards.  The vast majority may enjoy porridge, salt pork and pickled cabbage and a vegetable potage.  Those of means may experience honey-glazed pigeon pie, spiced pork and a particularly rich figgy pudding served with sweet almond milk.

The landlord Minias is a garrulous individual, said to talk the hind legs off anything.  He has no kind words for bards, minstrels or troubadours.  The locals fancy themselves as good singers with justification. The serving maids are cheery, if put upon and run the gamut of age and beauty. The cook Althya is skilled but her fading eyes mean sometimes that surprise ingredients can be found in the wealthy food board, much to Minias' chagrin.  The stables are kept by a pair of foundling girls who have learned to talk with horses.  Needless to say, any kind of misdeed draws the attentions of the watch.

Accommodation is limited (six rooms) but well-organised.  The serving maids work also as room maids and keep the rooms warm, cosy and clean.  Market days are particularly busy and trying affairs though and if you can get a room, service may not be swift.  Given the roaring trade that usually goes on downstairs, most people will go down to the bar to save time.  Scholarly sorts may enjoy the peace but don't always get food if they prefer to eat alone.

The story is sung (by the locals) that a wyvern came to live in the well.  It would eat locals and livestock routinely until the village organised a militia to kill the beast.  A 'hero' charges a king's ransom to kill the wyvern and tries to abscond but is poisoned by the wyvern's sting.  The locals will sing this song to read the mood of any band of sell-swords or small groups of adventurers.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

three flavours of orc

Orc by Otherworld Miniatures
Over at Grognardia there's talk of another bandwagon around customising monsters for your setting.  Orcs are a popular choice which I fully endorse as it combats YADO (yet another damn orc) syndrome.  So to help YADO sufferers, here's a Neapolitan selection for inclusion into your game.  One trick I use is picking out a particular aspect of the race, putting something to play against type then creating an in-game reason why that would be the case.  Iron orcs were inspired by the brutal treatment afforded certain smiths in legend and history.  Wild orcs are a mashup of Apache and wilderness survivalist.  Mine orcs were inspired by a TV show about mole rats.

Iron Orcs
A race of treacherous mercenaries, fighting dirty for the highest bidder anywhere.  Burly and thickset from a life of battle, they use shields and formations, favouring polearms, blades and crossbows.  Arms and armour are status symbols to iron orcs, who always seek the best. Some iron orc chiefs enslave smiths to make arms and armour for their tribe's personal use.  Others use torture to learn smithcraft.  Iron orc-crafted weapons are jagged and effective if lacking aesthetic appeal.  Iron orcs set up simple fortified camps and keep moving between war fronts.

Mine Orcs
A grimy, stooped orc with fine black hair, tiny reddish eyes and unusually large hands. Even for orcs, they are hard of thinking.  Mine orcs use hammers, picks and spears in battle but typically dig with basic implements. They sniff the air if meeting something new.  Bright light hurts their sensitive eyes, they have a talent discerning underground phenomena.  They take slaves races to work in the mines except elves who are slaughtered and eaten as delicacies.  When they rest, they gather to sleep in a large pile of bodies to share warmth.

Wild Orcs
A lightly-armoured orc with dappled greenish-brown skin, they are skilled hunters, runners and trappers in wooded hills and mountain bluffs.  They wear furs and simple dyed hides.  Wild orcs favour the spear, bow, axe and knife, using weapons equally well for hunting and killing.  They domesticate wild dogs for guarding, hunting and tracking.  Adept at trapping beasts like elk or human some work as guides though treachery is possible. They favour nocturnal hunting, taking to bivouacs in the high sun.

Monday, 14 March 2011

the carnival of life

This month's RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Campaign Mastery is about Life and Death.  This is such a fundamental topic it cannot be contained in one post without a lot of compression.  In RPGs, typically not much is made of the first, while the latter gets more attention. Both can provide hours of ideas for gaming and have inspired numerous stories.  The arrival of new life is usually greeted with hard work and celebration.  Though this blog is fond of taverns, attending a birth makes a different 'getting the party started' scene.  In addition, the impact of a change in birth rates on a population is not to be understated.  This need not be human population either, the devastation of animal populations has forced human migration and caused calamity to communities.
  • Population boom - The presence of a expanding economy, technological advances or even something in the water may lead to a population boom.  This may cause aggressive expansion into territories held by others, urbanisation and pollution.  With larger families comes  greater probability of your lineage surviving, more mouths to feed and issues around succession. Having used this to drive a horde of Neolithic kobolds against parties before, this works if you want to see a party think rather than fight.
  • Population decline is an increasing concern in some industrialised countries.  An extreme case would be the cessation of birth, such as portrayed in Children of Men. The consequences for a community are severe as the balance between longevity and attrition shifts and survivors age without reinforcements barring immigration.  Being the last of your kind is a classic trope, ranging from Elric to Robert Neville.
  • Gender imbalance by the proliferation of one gender transforms a society.  This may traditionally be caused by immigration, infanticide or war. This isn't always healthy for the society; an excess of men leads to unrest and militarisation among those of low status.  Environmental pollution has led to a shift towards female births by drastically reducing viable male population in some parts of the world.
  • The appearance of unearthly children like The Midwich Cuckoos among the population is an indicator that something is changing.  Marvel has done this for years with the X-Men. For Apocalypse World or Mutant Future, Freakangels offers inspiration.  Characters may seek to prevent their ascendancy or to protect them from the authorities threatened by them.
Changing the base assumptions of a society by changing the ratio of young and old, male and female, normal and unusual makes for diverse, divergent cultures.  This difference makes settings come to life.

    Saturday, 12 March 2011

    hot elf action

    Image by alvincwy
    Blame The Underdark Gazette if you were looking for something different.  OSR resources for those unfamiliar with the old school ways of doing things.
    Quick Primer for Old School Gaming
    Swords & Wizardry
    Labyrinth Lord
    Dark Dungeons

    Some resources to go with those games?
    Classic Dungeon Designer Netbook #4
    CrystalBallSoft City Generator
    Dizzy Dragon Adventure Generator
    Dyson's Geomorph Compilation 

    Those looking for something a little more adult may wish to view these outside the workplace or away from impressionable eyes.

    Lamentations of the Flame Princess

    Monday, 7 March 2011


    Some say that the scytalis is the result of magical experiment and this would explain it's sluggishness in pursuit of prey, it's unusual body heat and rudimentary intelligence.  Though most magical experiments are a bit more eccentric than the scytalis, it's ability to hypnotise it's prey makes this likely.

    Number: 1d3 (1d4)
    Alignment: Chaotic
    Movement: 60' (20')
    Armour Class: 6
    Hit Dice: 4
    Attack: 2 (bite, constrict)
    Damage: 1d4/2d6
    Save: F2
    Morale: 7
    Hoard Class: None

    The scytalis is a thick-set serpent akin to a python with glimmering hypnotic scales.  It's appearance dazes those who see it who must make a saving throw versus petrify or paralyse. Those affected are unable to act and have a -4 penalty to their Armour Class, stupified by the shimmering scales. Viewing the scytalis via a mirror avoids this hypnotic effect.  Those shielding their eyes to fight the scytalis are at -4 to hit and the scytalis gets a +2 to hit them.  It has adapted to the dungeon environment by emanating internal heat so that the mesmeric effect is visible to infravision.

    Sunday, 6 March 2011

    inns & taverns: the mermaid's purse

    A whitewashed port tavern with steep slate roof, it's spattered sign shows a pouch-bearing mermaid.  Gulls raucously roost on the gables as melodic foreign songs escape from within.  The open oak door is guarded by a mermaid figurehead frozen mid-wink.  Few travellers mention it in tales despite such accoutrements. In many respects, it is considered unremarkable.

    This two-storey tavern resembles many of it's coastal kin.  Shutters against the elements are shut over the windows but the door ia wide open. Inside is a plain porch with a second iron-bound oak door.  This grudgingly opens to a crowded  I-shaped taproom.  Overhead beams are studded with scrimshaw lucky charms and verdigris icons of sea and storm gods.  The walls are dingy, smoke-stained and lamp-lit.  Carved tables and chairs are filled with drinking locals singing ancient songs about the sea.  Doors to the left and right lead to his-and-hers' earth closets, an enclosed herb garden and a kitchen smelling of the sea's bounty.

    Patrons enjoy a dark malt ale or orchead cider, a rough-edged dry cider served from a snout jug. Food is limited in variety.  Most patrons enjoy allecoat, a porridge seasoned with mashed fish.  Those feeling a bit more flush enjoy fish stew or boiled mussels served with garum.  Oatcakes and a thick lemon curd help round out the fare; small jars of curd and a piquant savoury relish are sold to travellers with a generous markup as a sideline by the inn.

    Staff here are few but notable.  A local beauty works the bar, fending off amorous advances with salty wit and innuendo rarely seen off a pirate ship.  The chef is a quiet, ill-tempered man who smells of fish and vinegar.  The owner is rarely seen outside his cellar, where he brews the ale and cider that keeps the Purse running.  Years of good service, small gifts and occasional magic have commended the staff to all the locals.  This has been repaid with fierce devotion and the occasional blind eye.

    The Mermaid's Purse is not known as a guesthouse and while it has rooms to rent, these are nearly permanently occupied.  Rooms occasionally come free at seasonal festivals when a guest moves on - the room is typically big enough for a single person.  The price is expensive and the room is basic but private with feather mattress and covered chamber pot.  Most guests are here to do business, rarely spark curiosity and are seldom missed.

    Wednesday, 2 March 2011


    Malaphaunts are strange creatures found in the lush jungles of Aussar.  Their popularity as war beasts comes from their tendency to attack large structures and trampling smaller creatures underfoot.  While difficult to train, the horrific aspect of the beast in battle has broken hardened troops - with some justification!  Seeing your knight get plucked from his horse then crushed and eaten changes you. 

    Number: 0 (2d6)
    Alignment: Neutral
    Movement: 120'(40')
    Armour Class: 4
    Hit Dice: 12
    Attack: 4 tentacles or 1 trample
    Damage: 2d4/2d4/2d4/2d4 or 4d8. 
    Save: F6
    Morale: 8
    Hoard Class: None

    This sinister beast is an elephantine beast with rubbery ochre hide and four barbed tentacles where it's trunk and tusks should be.  Beneath these is a squid-like beak.  Their tentacles lash out at enemies and can reach up to 10' away.  Each tentacle that strikes grasps their target and constricts for 1d4+1 automatic damage each round.  All four tentacles can grasp a single man-sized opponents, smaller foes can only be hit by two tentacles.  A tentacle can be severed if it takes 10 points of damage or more damage in a single blow using an edged weapon.  Those constricted by tentacles for more than one round are automatically bitten by the beak for 1d6 damage.  A malaphaunt can grapple a building and do 1d6+2 structural damage with it's tentacles and gnawing beak.
    The malaphaunt prefers (1-4 on d6) to trample foes and against man-sized or smaller foes gets a +4 bonus to hit.  While a malaphaunt doesn't keep treasure, the barbs on it's tentacles are quality ivory worth 1d4x50gp.
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