Wednesday, 30 November 2011

damned city: riccoferro

Riccoferro is built on a hill rising out of the Avernine.  An iron mining town, it is split into six fortified zones like a giant spiral stair part carved into the hill leading to the Avernine, Bacino and the Fiumorte and the morass of Oroguida.  Relentlessly grey, Riccoferro hums and vibrates from temple bells ringing over iron-masked soldiers in plate and mail riding steel-shod hooves over cobblestones over tunnels housing ringing trip hammers and stamp mills.   This place breeds ambition, paranoia and a malicious streak.  Seeking to elevate themselves to tiers where underground waterwheels and hammers are unneeded, they scheme tirelessly.  Cautious yet implacable, the idealised Riccoferran has an eye on the prize and plans for almost any contingency.  This attitude is exemplified by the soldiers who provide martial law, called ironmasks by the locals.  These rule by fear, brutality and constancy.

Temple Street runs the circumference  of Riccoferro and gamut of architecture with a thousand beliefs.  Almost every building here is a temple or shrine save the gates to Avernine, Animardente and the locks to Bacino.  An equator of elaborate temples jostle cheek-by-jowl.  Prophets true and false harangue passers-by.  Temples to heresies and schismatics selling indulgence and benefice are neighbours with more orthodox faiths.  Discordant chanting and invective can overwhelm sensitive ears.  Fighting regularly occurs and is suppressed by ironmask brute squads with flanged maces and tower shields.

The first and highest zone, Rutuonis, rises in the northwest but cannot be reached by the Avernine gates or Bacino.  Looming over all of Rutuonis is the Spike.  Artisans and finesmiths line Rutuonis and the average citizen wears more gold and jewels than iron.  Ironmasks here wear a surcoat of grey wool with a red scaled bull to their plate mail.  Statues of snake-haired furies with sweeping wings keep vigil from towers and townhouse roofs.  As a  deterrent against burglars, these are most effective. The Spike is an iron-shod citadel and prison that impales the sky at the heart of Riccoferro.  No building is taller and from it's solar, the local patrician, the Iron Constable observes his domain.  Those trying to build higher than the Spike are condemned to death.  Ironmasks leading convict labourers tear down buildings and tear apart builders between warhorses. It's said the Spike's cells lie under Oroguida's cesspits and Chantákia's strip mines.

The second zone, Settentrion, houses the northern Avernine gate. Ironmask  garrisons at the gate, western wall and the base of the Spike make this zone orderly.  A smithy row from armourers to farriers sells soldiers the tools of their trade.  Finesmiths unable to get Rutuonis gold sell jewellry in brass, copper, pewter and glass.  Assassins and sorcerors sell subtle death away from the garrisons. 

The third zone, Marmorbis, is known for a great coliseum where athletic and gladiatorial games are held to delight jaded appetites.  Schools and stables predominate with an influx of newly-built iron ore mineshafts sunk into the hill away from the Spire.  The ore is processed in Orien, older residents are furious at ore wagons taking up their roads.  A narrow gatehouse, the Centaur Gate on Temple Street overlooks Animardente's slopes.  It's fortification and narrow entrance is such only a small garrison is needed.  Here the Riccoferran mean streak takes the form of flattery and manipulation. Ironmasks are fewer here yet command fearful respect from locals by harsh judgements.  They wear a surcoat with a white circle emblem.

The fourth zone, Orien, houses the eastern Avernine gate.  The gate is heavily-garrisoned as is the base of the Spike.  The ironmasks take special care of Orien for the subterranean ironworks Riccoferro is famed for are based here.  The trip hammers and stamp mills never stop, the incessant noise drives some deaf, mad or suicidal.  Others drown the noise and vibration out with vices.  Wealthier iron miners are moving to Marmorbis so an influx of new blood is happening. Iron is shipped out from Perlanero or the Avernine gate.  

The fifth zone, Perlanero, has three locks to Bacino along the south face of the hill.  Ironmasks here wear a grey surcoat with a black sea horse and have garrisons at each lock and the Spike.  Rats are ubiquitous,.  Warehouses of iron bars, brass and copper jewellry, bales of wool and sailcloth await the boats to Bacino.  Myriad waterwheels under Perlanero's  cobblestones carry water into the bowels of Riccoferro up towards Orien and the Spike. In autumn, chill mists cloak the slave markets flush with a season's takings.

The final zone, Occidua, houses the western Avernine gate and a gate to Oroguida.  Ironmask garrisons built over convict-powered waterwheels stop flooding.  Gloomy, muddy cobbles are treacherous underfoot.  Labourers and hemp-growers provide most wages with ropes and fabrics leaving the Avernine gate or via Perlanero. Exiles from Riccoferro or other parts of the city sometimes linger here before fleeing into the Avernine.  Ironmasks stay in their garrisons but if roused crush any resistance.  A dozen disgraced ironmasks have turned vigilante gang. These rustmasks are the nearest thing to populist outlaws Riccoferro has.  

Monday, 28 November 2011


No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
     Climb/Web: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1d8+1
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d8, poison
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI

Miasmarak are slender, ten-legged spider-like creatures that emit faint incense-like mist from their carapace.  This mist makes those breathing within 10' of one light-headed (save vs. Poison or take  -1 to hit and AC).  Their webs are perfumed traps that entangle the unwary as per the web spell and are laced with the mist (as above) making them risky places to be caught in  Their bite is less potent and slow-acting, a victim must save vs. Poison with a +1 bonus or die after 1d6 turns. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

damned city: the avernine

The Avernine clings to our city like a tattered mantle.  It's a sprawl of crumbling armouries, odious garrisons and cracked roads.   Built on marshland, the Avernine houses soldiers as well as camp followers, criminals, drunks, political exiles and malingerers.  Food shortages are common and the city's patricians buy favour with grain rations for serving troops.  Those too poor, addled or weak to fight become grist for the mill.  Martial law is imposed by militias and armed troops root out entrenched gangs.  Fires caused by marsh gas are frequent enough shouts of 'Fire' are always responded to in force.  Crying wolf is a good way to get lynched.

Life in the Avernine is noisy, jostling for food and status is commonplace.  Thieves are a perennial problem and punished harshly for it.  Poverty is rife, one in three have no home and another one in three are billeted or in barracks.  Brawls are popular as are athletic contests and gambling.  Strength is power, the weak submit or get crushed yet few tyrants survive.  Markets are carefully managed by heavily-armed patrols and inciting food riots is a death sentence.  Patrols have some leeway in identifying inciters.  Owning property in the Avernine is a euphemism for ill-gotten wealth, a shady past or fall from grace.  Ironically many soldiers are eager to do so.

Over time the Avernine has grown like a stain on the marsh despite fires and riots.  Corrupt artisans scavenging from buildings and using shoddy material have inculcated poor repair.  Walls are daubed in cement then decorated with murals and graffiti.  Older buildings have sinister, baroque designs built to withstand siege but theft and poor repair have eroded most.  One exception is the Brazen Keep, largest garrison of the army patrols whose bronze-clad towers seeth with stamped glyphs.  The current commander is whispered to be carving up and slowly eating his predecessor like smoked sausage.  Other landmarks include commemorative pillars studded with the verdigris-coated skulls of enemy generals and kings. 

The marsh on which the Avernine grows is fed by two rivers. The ice-cold, deep-rolling Fiumorte branches, tunnels and rejoins itself.  It yields lost dead to Avernine shores as canny gangs loot patrician funeral barques.  Corrupt Avernine ferrymen demand additional payment halfway, those who can't pay sink or swim.  Those in sight of the oily, oozing Bruciatura have it worse.  It's thick stinking mud sucks at boardwalks and buildings.  When the river ignites, gas explosions and fires spark riots, looting and bloody reprisals. In summer, those near the Bruciatura adopt a siege mentality.

There are five gates into the city proper.  The first, called the Bridge of Smoke crosses the Bruciatura as it leaves the slopes of Animardente.  The second, called the Dead Lock, forms a fortified lock down to Bacino's piers.  Though the Fiumorte has streams throughout the Avernine, this lock sees much commercial use.  The final three are evenly spaced on Riccoferro's walls, at the north, east and south, bolstered by iron portculli and iron-masked patrols interrogating visitors.  They are prosaically named the North, East and South gates.  Around all the gates tenements press closer to form claustrophobic covered alleyways.  Those seeking entry rarely see sunlight until they enter the city.

Monday, 21 November 2011


No. Enc.: 2d6 (3d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 10' (3')
Swim: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1/2 (1d4 hit points)
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d3
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

These gaunt yellow fish grow up to 2' long, have spined fins and mouths filled with needle-sharp, backward-pointing teeth.  The xantheder hunts in groups and will attack anything bleeding or flashing brightly in the water.  Xantheder can wriggle onto the shore but suffocate in 1d6+4 rounds unless they return to water deep enough to submerge in.  Xantheder flesh is dry and sulphurous, a taste rarely acquired.  Boiling a xantheder corpse in a pint of acid for an hour totally dissolves the body to make a most potent glue that only affects wood or paper.  On other substances, this glue separates once properly dried, lasting 1d4+1 minutes.  The glue is used by alchemists and scholars alike for book binding.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

inns & taverns: the halfway house

Perched halfway up a steep incline, the Halfway House serves an ancient hilltop crossroads.  This tavern is famed for offering last meals to the condemned and redeeming many lost souls.  The locals boast "Even the doomed smile at the Halfway House."  Some soothed souls have gone onto great things, others are quiet pillars of a community.  The House is neat, a whitewashed stone and caulked thatch courtyard amid ramshackle wooden cottages.  The sign is a white horse-head snorting fire - homage to a local legend.
The courtyard opens into a working yard, redolent of woodsmoke, straw, manure and yeast.  To the left, a stable for seven horses is tended by a quartet of seemingly identical stableboys in rough-spun livery who charge two silver a night for care, three for care and feed.   To the right a working brewery, where barrels clunk and rumble.  Ahead is a narrow door, surrounded by manicured hops vines.   This opens to a narrow porch. with scarred walls.  Behind a wide taproom runs the length of the building.  Immediately to the left is a T-shaped bar, to the right a spacious seating area with benches and tables set in a U-shape.  In the far left corner a doorway leads into a back room with more seating and a locked door.

A warm brown ale, refreshing and tasting faintly of burnt bread and flowers is served here.  Dark clay two-pint jugs of mild beer, black as tar with a caramel sweetness are sold for five coppers to local labourers.  These are refilled behind the bar and if returned, a copper piece is refunded.  Blackberry and damson liqueur is sold in black clay bottles to those who abhor ale.  Food is simple, a goose confit and bean stew is cheap yet delicious.  More discerning palates enjoy goose liver pate and pork rillaud with smoked sausage and sweet seed loaf

The landlord Pallier is tall, thick-necked and burly, with thinning black hair and squashed nose.  His arms wrestle barrels and people equally well.  His gap-toothed, winning smile warms many hearts. His instinct for spotting those willing to redeem themselves by hard work is keen-edged and well-tested.  A diligent cellarman and cook, his work ethic is infectious.  The bar staff are a colourful bunch, ex-drunk soldiers (Rollo, Berse and Karle), reformed tattooed dancers and washerwomen (Miena, Salla and Neme) and ex-addict healer (Alden) and his quadruplet nephews (the stableboys)   Many locals consider Pallier the best mayor they never had, though never before the current incumbent.

Five rooms are available to rent, these are simple closeted rooms capable of sleeping two in comfort, four at a push with lockable doors (though all the keys fit the locks).  They are basic but comfortable.  Berse and Karle turn a blind eye to four local girls who communally rent one room every week but Pallier throws out anyone who causes trouble.  Berse and Karle delight in dumping certain troublemakers in a horse trough if they cause trouble.

The crossroads at the top of the hill sometimes see use as a place of execution.  Sometimes those deaths are not peaceful affairs, the executed sometimes return to seek revenge. In addition, a local gang intend to expand their turf to include the Halfway House.  So far, the staff have seen off previous attempts but out-of-town help is coming.  The watch breaks up scuffles but withdraw to the temple if undead or magic is involved.  Clearly there are interesting times ahead.

Friday, 18 November 2011

review: divine favor - the inquisitor

Metric: Scapulars.  As we've already made use of  sanbenitos, nobody would expect this.  You were hoping for comfy chairs, weren't you...?
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 4.5 scapulars.
This is an ambitious book, if you're fine with the inquisitor class as written, the spells and archetypes will interest you.  If you're a rules hacker though, this book really comes to life.  Inquisitors are already quite versatile and this book offers options which if you're developing from scratch work wonders though established characters might need a little crowbar & lubrication for the new options available.

Content: 4 scapulars (Excellent if mildly unorthodox, rules hackers & tweakers will love it).
Stefen Styrsky goes to town with the inquisitor, immediately emphasising the classes' offensive capabilities.  Censures and condemnations are new abilities and replace the judgement and solo tactics/teamwork feats.  The latter feel more like sinister versions of the paladin's mercy abilities which is fitting for the class.  A typical inquisitor is empowered to bring down their foe, the build here is much more anti-personnel in nature.  Inquisitions replace domain abilities and built around the Midgard setting though adaptation is simple enough.  Archetypes is where this book really shines with the ghost hunter, hand of god (assassin/monk/inquisitor), penitent  (anti-inquisitor inquisitor), stalking shadow (assassin inquisitor), sworn foe (ranger/inquisitor) and witch hunter (guaranteed hit at parties, perhaps not with parties).  New spells offer some wonderful new weapons for the discerning inquisitor. Greater brand, nail foot and well of angry souls make the inquisitor a fearful figure.  Three extra feats around the new condemnation ability feels sparse given the plethora of new abilities in this book and compared with other entries in this series - perhaps a missed opportunity though an advert for Complete Advanced Feats on the last page is perhaps opportune.

Art & Layout: 5 scapulars (good cover, subtle layout makes content stand out)
A good cover from Christophe Swal helps give this inquisitor an unsettling air.  The skull-flail might be a censer or something much more sinister.  The illuminated layout inside seems subtler than Divine Favor - The Cleric and The Oracle and really focusses you on the content. That is a sign of excellent layout and hats off to Timothy Wickham for walking that particular tightrope. 

In conclusion, this book pushes the boat out for inquisitors in the same way that Divine Favor - The Cleric did.  While there is a cornucopia of spells, the light feats section ends the book on a mild anticlimax.  For a GM confident in their handling of crunch and willing to experiment, this book is golden and worthy of a five scapular rating.  For those content with the inquistor as written the new options may be less appealing though the archetypes and spells are excellent, making this book a worthy addition.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

yet more tools for writing & groups

A trio of sites that help get ideas together.  What happens next?  That's down to you.

Springpad - This intuitive notepad app has hidden depths.  Idea capture, task management and integration with Google and Facebook.  Browser integration makes it easy to share notebooks or individual notes.  Web page capture is available.  Also supported on Android and iPhone.

TitanPad -  Fans of EtherPad may find this open-source web-based version useful.  The big draw here is that you don't need to install anything or sign-up to use it for short-term collaboration with up to 8 people.  Just open a pad and send a link - useful for editing around a document.  Doesn't play with Mac/iOS yet alas.  

Trello - A web-based virtual pinboard that lets you can ideas on boards and sequence them into 'to do', 'doing' and 'done'. Cards can be given attachments, colour coding, checklists, completion dates and voting options that can be expanded into a task management system including allocating cards to other Trello users.

Monday, 14 November 2011


No. Enc.: 1d2 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 30' (10')
Swim: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3d8+3
Attacks: 1d2 (touch)
Damage: 1d4 + paralysis
Save: F3
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

This pale starfish-like creature grows to 6' diameter and  dwells in port sewers, estuaries or anywhere where salt and fresh water mingle.  The urburas is truly omnivorous, unable only to digest metal or gemstone. It reaches out with stinging arms, these transmit a paralytic poison that lasts for 2d4 rounds.  Paralysed victims are moved to the central mouth where they are digested if they don't suffocate first.  This revolting process inflicts 1d6 damage each round and results in death by asphyxia after 10 rounds.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

villainous psychology - traps & tricks

This month's RPG Blog Carnival comes courtesy of Elthos RPG.  It's about getting into the mindset of your villain when creating tricks and traps.  Consider the following, popular with criminal investigation when setting up something to dumbfound, damage or destroy your enemies.

Method - This governs the architect as well as resources available to them.  The psychotic chemist may concoct explosions, acid or poisons.  A necromancer will use undead or death-themed devices.  Engineers devise Rube Goldsberg-esque deathtraps.  Orcs use spiked pits but access to death rays usually involve a third party.  Bait makes a trick or trap seem more compelling.

Example: A Lemurian necromancer in a Mutants & Masterminds game baited four separate flooding sewer chambers with hostages.  This forced the party to split up to save them.  Each was guarded by zombies and a serpent demon.  Though the heroes rescued the hostages, the traps gave the necromancer time to work a ritual summoning something big with tentacles.

Motive - The desired outcome is important.  Tricks deceive, confuse or deny access.  Traps imprison, harm or even kill.  A diabolical warrior might use traps to weaken powerful foes before finishing them.  A haughty sage uses tricks to deter foolish visitors.  Ancient priests set lethal symbols to slay tomb robbers. The motive behind the trap enables a GM to plan accordingly, and where appropriate, signpost the potential lethality or weirdness to come.

Example: A hunchbacked fey offers a narrow-necked crystal ewer filled with yellow gold coins for a horse.  The fey wants a horse and the adventurers delayed.  The narrow neck of the ewer means coins jam together so only 1d6 coins can be retrieved each round by pouring or by hand.  The ewer holds dozens of coins (yet less than the price of a warhorse) and fills a backpack - it will take some time to empty.  Breaking the ewer turns it into a ravening bear.  If broken while holding coins, 30 - 80% are lost in transformation. 

Opportunity - Traps and tricks are active, pre-meditated strategies, implying preparation and anticipation of a target.  If the victim can fly, an open-topped pit is at best inconvenient.  Circumstances work for or against - the smart architect optimises. Planning can mitigate failures.  The best traps and tricks walk a line, planned to prevent failure while seizing the advantage.

Example: Sometimes, simple traps just work.  Deadfalls are simple to set up and depending on system can have greater impact than blunt trauma.  Logs or boulders may block movement or trap someone under their weight.  Depending on situation and how clever the architect is, a simple deadfall may change a combat from a predictable melee to a desperate fight out of a dead-end.

When developing tricks or traps, consider these three things.  The result will be a series of traps that make sense.  Get it right and wnjoy your players cursing your ingenuity while lamenting their not seeing it coming.

Friday, 11 November 2011

review: kobold quarterly 19

Metric: Kobolds.  The little guys deserve your respect - this is year four and they've survived and prospered.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 4.5 kobolds
This issue is a challenge.  It picks areas I've got instinctive and experiential biases against and delivers considered, playable articles on those subjects.  In addition, there's some really good Pathfinder and AGE stuff here.  The layout is good as ever and growing increasingly colourful.  With expansion in mind, the kobold goes from strength to strength.

Contents: 4.5 kobolds (a varied feast of magic, horror and adventure)
This month's editorial announces an expanding magazine.  More stuff?!  This can only bode well.
The White Necromancer (Mark Radle; Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
A niche class for the connoisseur - challenging and done with finesse.  While the spell list and removal of evil spell descriptor ability makes me twitch, considered mechanics and new spells make this fit for odd-ball players without entirely disenfranchising clerics.  Potential campaign arc material.
Bottled Hubris (Jerall Toi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
A serious expansion to the alchemist class, building on Advanced Players' Guide and Ultimate Magic. The new specialists offer interesting directions.  My particular favourite is the calligraphist archetype, which just begs to be introduced into a game.
Magic Shops, What's In Store (Christina Stiles/Spike Y. Jones, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds).
Getting past my misgivings on this subject, this is a good article arguing for why they exist (and the magical missile weapon argument is a fair point.  I'm less convinced about Kieran's or Melysium's shop or the table at the end of the article which suggests population centres have plenty of magic.
Welcome to the Dragon Empires (James Jacobs, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds)
A preview of the lands of Tian Xia and the Dragon Empires Gazetteer.  This whistle-stop tour gives you a flavour of what's coming up.  Exotic lands and strange races provide intriguing glimpses into an excellent setting - shame it shares a name with a bit of Midgard.
Làu Kiritsu (Richard Pett, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The absolute obedience and hierarchical customs demanded by this archdevil and his servants offers a different, exotic flavour to the traditional hellish foe.  Adventure hooks, magical torture items and a puzzle box round out this intriguing article.  Pett at his best, a mix of whimsy and horror.
Archetypes of Death (Phillip Larwood, Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
Something a bit Hallowe'en-worthy, a death-themed archetype each for barbarians, monks, druids and summoners gives a twist on the traditional.  Of particular interest is the grave druid (suitable choice for a battlefield) and the master of worms (a monk inspired to fight undead).
Courting Adventure (Rick Hudson, system neutral, 5 kobolds)
A tour of the noble titles and the courtly figures who keep vigil over the kingdom.  These aristocrats do more than just attend balls, they perform functions.  A useful map for end-games where the high-level characters looking to carve out a barony of their own. 
Land of Horse and Bow (Simon English, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)The Rothenian Plains in Midgard offer a mix of steppe warrior, gypsy tribes, shamans, centaurs and kite-riding elves.  Background options for these characters and variant rules for Arcane Lance spells provide more flavour for Open Design's Midgard setting.
Balance-Free Bonuses (Monte Cook, system neutral, 4 kobolds)
The new lead in Dungeons & Dragons offers some thoughts on how to make the traditional races and  classes stand out with some simple traits without having to worry about bonuses or modifiers.
Morningstar, Monkey Marrow and Ice Cream For Dinner (Jeremy L.C.Jones, interview, 4 kobolds)
An insightful interview with indie designer Jason Morningstar, brain behind Fiasco and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  If you don't have these games, check them out. 
10 Ways to Turn Dull Traps into High-Stakes Encounters (Britian Oates, Pathfinder/4E, 4 kobolds)
A list for trapsmiths to consider when placing their engines of destruction.  Introducing complexity in it's execution and/or disarming is only the beginning.
The Gordian Knot (Mario Podeschi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The winning entry of the Relics of Power competition, an extradimensional knot from the tapestry of the universe which offers magical insight and the ability to evade detection and scrying.
Scions of Terror (Josh Jarman, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
Four more background options for Midgard in AGE, this time for the Western Wastes, which earns a mention in the Midgard Bestiary.  Players may choose arcanist, nobleman, goblin trader or hellborn.
Aneela, Human Cleric (Matthew J. Hanson, Solo player, 4 kobolds)
A novice cleric faces some difficult choices against undead.  This is a simple introductory adventure for a solo player, requiring battle skill, savvy and some luck.
Bark At The Moon (Brian Liberge, 4E, 4 kobolds)
Another Hallowe'en-themed article, allowing characters to gain useful powers from lycanthropy and becoming a shapeshifter.  A theme and various attack powers provide intriguing options.
Book Reviews (various, 4 kobolds)
Gearing up for the primary gifting period reviews of Heaven's Needle by Liane Mercel, Low Town by Daniel Polansky and the latest Pathfinder Tales, Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter.
Order of the Undying Sun (Wolfgang Baur, Pathfinder/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
A thumbnail sketch of a knightly order of Khors, a solar deity that is slipped from courtly favour but serving the Magdar Kingdom with loyalty and links to Divine Favor: The Paladin.

Art & Layout: 4.5 kobolds (an increasingly colourful selection of excellent pieces)
The cover by Malcolm McClinton is an evocative piece, showing an archer with flaming arrow astride a sinuous oriental dragon.  Interior artwork is a mixture, ranging from high-quality, colour pieces like Jason Rainville and Mark Smylie's piece for the White Necromancer and Steven Wood's piece for Bottled Hubris and Matthew Jaecks' piece for Làu Kiritsu.  Colour pieces are more prominent, notably in the Midgard articles by Mark Smylie.  Eva Widerman and N.C. Wyeth also deserve mention for their work.  Monochrome sketches like Hugo Solis' piece for Aneela, Human Cleric stand alongside woodcuts, which are in the significant minority now.  The cartoons are amusing and themed apposite to preceding articles, from the necromantic antics of Stan!'s 10x10 toon to the alchemical ennobling of d20 Monkey and noble aping of Bolt & Quiver.  Legend of Bill resorts to low-brow and falls short(s) because of it.  The layout is crisp and cohesive, something that it's draconic ancestor failed to achieve at year four (and later).

In conclusion, this is a strong issue.  While some articles are challenging because they proposed things I disagree with, there's still plenty of quality content.   Even the ads make you smile while pushing the envelope, Zombie Sky Kickstarter projects appear alongside 3rd party ads and The Kobold Scroll of Holiday Wishes 2011 edition.  Things have changed for the better, and KQ has dominated the niche of  a print zine for tabletop RPG.  Wonder what's next? 

Monday, 7 November 2011


No. Enc.: 1d3 (2d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 2d8+2
Attacks: 1 (touch)
Damage: 2d4
Save: F2 (see below)
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: See below

The kasinganga appears to be a two-foot-long omnivorous worm of glowing orange surrounded by heat haze and leaving a scorched trail behind them.  Those who touch it suffer acute burns (2d4 damage) and  must save vs. Death Magic or have combustible items in their possession ignite.  Kasinganga are elemental creatures made of liquified brass; a dead kasinganga can be smelted into 5d8gp of pure metals (copper, tin, some iron).  As such they are immune to heat-based effects but take double damage from cold-based attacks.  They are often associated with unusual volcanic activity or restless spirits of fire trapped within the earth.  The lairs of kasinganga are littered with spiralling structures of grit on the floor.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

inns & taverns: the mason's jar

The Mason's Jar is a busy two-storey tavern in a town known for temples and pilgrimages.  The Jar primarily serves masons working on temples or noble houses.  Artists, patrons and agents attend, seeking wprkers or commission.  The Jar has a reputation for wealth.  Many well-heeled patrons dress ostentatiously.  The sign is a large jug with a compass and hammer imposed and Mason's Jar underneath in scrolling ironwork.

The Mason's Jar is a south-facing tavern with shaded patio off one of the main roads circling the town.  Massive stone amphorae mark entrances, serving as oil lamps. Filled and lit at twilight, they last all night. The patio is often busy until the pious attend midnight ceremonies.  Inside, the Jar is always busy and lit by cool-burning blackened clay lamps.  A mix of pipeweed, spilled ale, sweat and rosemary oil assails the nose then grows unobtrusive until the next morning.  The door opens to the taproom.  Half of this room is taken up bytables and stools with benches and tables lining the wall.  The other half is clear before a long bar.  Open stairwells lead to a mezzanine over the benches where more small tables and stools cluster and then further to the second floor where doors block further view.

The Mason's Jar buys in ale from many local breweries.  Wife-ale, a nut-brown ale with faint citrus tones is the usual tipple.  A dark wheatbeer brewed by monks is sold in half-pints to poor masons and apprentices.  An ongoing fad for pale ales, like forgewife or furst ale among the wealthy attracts a premium price.  Those drinking such are noted by regulars as nouveau riche or potential patrons.  Wine is also sold, a sweet dark wine said to ensure potency and a red with fruity undertones.  Spirits are not sold by local ordinance and those with them are discouraged from drinking them ont the premises.  Food is inconstant in quality with a stodgy saltfish crumble that provokes thirst, sauerkraut and rock cakes accompanied by delicious sweet cherries marinated in brandy.

The landlord is a surly, burly human gentleman called Jessem.  Familiar with masons and their ways, his clothes are well-mended, his hair a mass of iron curls defying comb, eyes glaring from under beetling brows. He snorts and stamps his way through life, though his cellarmanship is first-rate. The other staff are courteous if subdued and mildly terrified of him.  In the early hours customers are unceremoniously asked to leave by broom-wielding staff.  This has provoked uproar on many times until Jessem comes downstairs, usually to bar the tardy for a lunar month.  Within the Jar's walls, Jessem's authority is a mail fist in a steel gauntlet.  The only exception is the mediocre cook, Addel, a weatherbeaten old sailor who Jessem tolerates with unusual grace.

Five small east-facing garrets on the second floor are available but at double the usual rate.   Jessem leeringly claims this discourages casual whoring, to the outrage of goodwives on pilgrimage.  Those who take rooms here often have commissions, buying the affections of masons with food and ale.  The rooms are warm and well-appointed with coverlets and good straw mattresses.  There is no stabling, again by local ordinance though a municipal stable is a short walk away.  A gang of linkboys patrol the walk between the Jar and the stable at night.

Those seeking masons do well to come here.  Temples, castles and towers attract varied commissions - the whispers of a mason's guild are confirmed on the half-moon every lunar month.  Master masons, influential journeymen and well-heeled gentry visit the mezzanine to discuss business.  These affairs are quiet and subtle but shape the temples' influence upon the city.  Infiltration of the guild by wererats and doppelgangers only serve to make the guild's influence disproportionate to it's size.  Some members are concerned at the guild's rising star being crushed by the temples.  For now, they ride high.

Friday, 4 November 2011

review: the red eye of azathoth

Metric: Brass spheres.  For reasons which will become apparent.  Not that this will help.  After all this is for Call of Cthulhu.  Survival is not a likely prospect.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 brass spheres (worth the wait and then some...)
A well-constructed Call of Cthulhu campaign is a joy to behold and this one is built to last.  Though the epic scale and lack of ready access to dynamite until the last scenario may discourage purists, the quality of this campaign shines through. The historic nature of the campaign makes it slightly different from the usual 1920's or modern-day cosmic horror.  With some truly awesome set-piece encounters and harrowing situations, Red Eye of Azathoth deserves a place in any discerning Keeper's collection. 

Content: 5 brass spheres (a cornucopia of cosmic horrors and likely heroes)
This is a five-part campaign of reincarnating souls in pursuit of an ancient Chinese sorceror intent on becoming master of the world (with a little help) by way of binding Azathoth.  If that doesn't sell you on how insane cultists are, you've not been paying attention.  Pre-generated characters are provided for each scenario - suggestions for other options are available but these are plenty of fun; the last scenario in particular will have your players chuckling if they're Western fans.
The first scenario introduces a Viking raid on Lindisfarne where the stars are right.  Splitting the party between Norse raiders and monks allows for intra-party roleplaying, investigation and gory violence in a tight scenario brimming with Norse zombie lore and Mythos horror against an apocalyptic backdrop where troubling visions may be the least of your worries...
The second scenario leaps to Kamakuran Honshu, where early samurai discover the secrets behind a quietly prosperous village.  Buddhist reincarnation beliefs mixed with distinctive Japanese monsters and the uniquely horrific nature of Mythos magic reveals a scenario replete with treacherous bad guys and stunning visuals set in snowy mountain passes. 
Then to Inquisition-era Valencia, where reincarnated Investigators await torture and worse.  Escaping the Inquisition dungeons will be the easy part.  The odds are stacked against the investigators here and players will need their wits about them to prevent a hideous ceremony.  If an enemy of their enemy can be trusted, will they be able to take advantage of such help?
The next step is Roanoke Island.  The arrival of more colonists may do more than strain relationships with the locals. Yet against this backdrop, a race against time between two former allies puts the newest incarnation of the Investigators between a rock and a hard place.  The roleplaying opportunities come thick and fast here.  The fate of the colony may be the least of your worries.
Finally in Arizona, there is another incarnation.  This has one of the best opening sequences I've seen in any scenario, let alone Call of Cthulhu.  The scenario is classic Western revenge piece.  Cannibalism features large here and using prior relationships with the townsfolk will make this one of the more memorable scenarios that players will experience.
The structure hangs together sufficiently well that events are not entirely dependent on precursors from previous scenarios but the influence of events may enable player agency or provide interesting complications.  The use of the Incarnum skill provides options for lore (including sorcery) making it a double-edged sword.  Sometimes it's possible to know a little too much.
Appendixes with player handouts, new monsters, new spells and other items of interest enable players and Keepers alike to get the best out of the scenario.  The handouts are good-quality and doubtless will inspire responses from players varying from grim chuckling at the Inquisition's handling of confession to wincing at reading some of the magician's manuscripts.

Art & Layout:5 brass spheres (gorgeously grim cover, helpfully organised, lots of fun).
The Malcolm McClinton cover shows berserk Vikings with orange eyes attacking Lindisfarne monks while Norse warriors look on in horror; conveying the mood of the first scenario and setting the tone for the other parts.  Interior art is a mixture of classic pieces.  Each scenario has it's own distinct design and this suits the product perfectly.  Maps and interior art are excellent and where possible keep the aesthetics of each scenario.  The layout and statblocks are helpfully organised with relevant appendices at the end of each scenario so you're not forced to search for long.
In conclusion, Red Eye delivers on it's promise.  It's been a long time coming but now it's here you can see why it's got it's Chaosium-licensed status.  Even if you played each scenario as a one-shot that's still five sessions of wonderful Cthulhu goodness.  The ability to roleplay and think laterally is essential in this scenario.  If your players are of the 'open door, kill monster, take treasure' attitude, this may not be the best option.  Yet those players may also relish the break in pace.  Diehard Cthulhu fans take note, this one is worth your attention.
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