Monday 19 December 2016

look out below!

This month's RPG Blog Carnival about garbage and sewers (hosted by 6d6 RPG) drew me in.  After all, if I can write about this, then anything else is easy.

Emptying chamberpots from upstairs window was a feature of city life from ancient Rome to the Regency.  For centuries, urban streets served as open sewers. The infrastructure under your average medieval privy wasn't usually more than a pit. Even this yields fertile gaming ground.  This is before plumbing and the fantastic elements of magic, monsters and other realities.

So, let's start with the one thing all have in common...

Night soil

Before the sewer came the humble cess pit or cess pool, positioned under or away from the dwelling. Buckets or chamber pots would be emptied by servants. Some ancient cultures relied on gravity to transfer waste to the cesspit. These pits were sometimes perforated to assist with drainage of liquids into the soil. The leaching into the soil could be a problem so placement was serious business.  Too close to your water supply was fatal.  Sobering thought when foraging for water near a goblin camp.

Where there's muck, there's brass.

Over time, cess pits fill up. Night soil removal was antisocial yet lucrative. Often working at night, these rakers or night men used long-handled scoops and buckets to load the filth into barrels onto wagons for transportation to specific dumping grounds, certain river piers or marshes.  Some took their cargo to nearby farms for fertiliser.

A night-time urban chase scene involving a dung cart is memorably nasty for those involved.

As late as the 14th century, stories of homes collapsing into cesspits underneath were recorded. This was not just a commoner thing.  In 1183 at the Palace of Erfurt, the Holy Roman Emperor escaped death after a feast where many guests drowned in the cesspit.  Ironic sequel was Richard Raker, a London cesspit emptier whose privy collaped sending him to drown in his work in 1326.

Something to consider if you explore abandoned ruins.  Or a vile trap for the heavily-armoured. 

Not everyone could afford to pay this service or for the protection that it needed.  Gangs stoned night men or shot their horses as late as 1850 in New York if they weren't paid. Indiscriminate dumping was also a problem. Cities charged big fines for unauthorised dumping and beadles (church-sponsored or civic functionaries) supervised to keep the streets clean.  Few faiths want diseased worshippers.

Religions with hygiene laws may be actively involved.  Those acolytes must be good for something.

Sewers solving the problem

Sewers were intended to remove water (draining storm water or marsh) since Babylonian times and removal of waste was an incidental benefit.  Ancient China, Babylon, Crete, Egypt, Greece, Pakistan, Palestine and Rome built infrastructure to support. Crete and Greece had sewer arches big enough to pass through. Rome delayed adoption partly due to privacy concerns! The Romans under Emperor Vespasian built public urinals.  This (and a tax against urinating in public) kept Romans from fouling the stairs and collected urine for dye-making to boost the Emperor's coffers.

As with all ablutions, Romans made this social and gossip and intrigue could be conducted here. An enterprising ruler requires much wealth to provide this act of philanthropy.  Or slave labour on demand.

Where medieval sewers were kept away from streets (not often in Europe) they linked up to irrigation channels and solid traps for people to farm for fertiliser.  Tanners would hire people to bring pots of urine for coin. The practice of street vendors offering 'modesty cloaking' as a customer relieved themselves continued from Rome until the 17th century and later. Such vendors could learn many things. Toilets were decreed by law in France in the late 16th century though these would just feed back into chamber pots or earth closets. 

The concept of privacy was nascent even then.  Royal audiences could be conducted here as well as more sordid affairs and odd assassination attempts.

Sewer constrfuction boomed in the 19th century.  Steampunk dungeoneers may clear out monsters by Royal Charter for sewer engineers.  Later construction may inspire horror games.  Public urinals made their comeback, initially in Paris and India.  The industrial revolution and advent of rail mandated change.  As long-distance travel became ubiquitous, the need for privacy and restroom aesthetics increased alongside them.

Magical solutions & monstrous opportunities

The sewer offers down and dirty dungeoncrawling with added risks of disease, noxious gases and dubious water supply linked to canal, marsh, river or sea. Medieval sewers existed but enclosed sewers that people could travel along were rare in the real world until the 19th century.

Magical societies may have avoided atavism and linked sewers to canals or irrigation channels.  Magic may be used for sanitation, turning the sewage into something cleaner and more useful. Or it may transport it somewhere else.  Altruistic cities will work on safe transit.  Others may be less kind. Cloud castle cess pits are no laughing matter.  Oozes as clean-up crew make sense if you stop them climbing out into unauthorised areas. 

Such underground construction may be linked to cave networks. This would be a smuggler's paradise.  If there were underground catacombs, the décor would be spooky and occupants may be undead or hangers-on. From such fertile roots may megadungeons spring.  It may not just be water and waste in the cesspool. Alchemical wastes, wizardly experiments and unholy messes may alter the deal (and local residents) further.

Ecology of the sewer

This discussion is more interesting than some would have you believe.  The community above determines how active and large the population is below. The primary influx of energy is waste matter, just over a quarter of a pound (128g) per human per day from excreta.  Other sources of biomass are sometimes dumped into sewers, your call on how frequent and how much.  About 10% of biomass produced supports life at each trophic level.  The rest is lost to the messy business of living.  So for a city of 40,000 (say like Middle Ages London, by no means the largest city) that's 11,200lbs of potential biomass per day in a one mile area.

First trophic level is a mixture of bacteria, detritivore (e.g. flies, millipede, ooze), decomposer (e.g. fungi, mold), omnivore (e.g. cockroach) and where the sun rarely reaches, autotroph (algae).  About a half-ton (1,120 lbs) mean some sewers are lively even with flooding.  As long as the food keeps coming they're happy.  The higher levels won't starve.

Second trophic level includes larger detritivores, omnivores and primary consumers of the first trophic level.  Bats, centipedes, frogs, rats, small fish, spiders.  About 112 lbs per day keep near their food supply.  Remember 9 out of 10 don't get eaten and most of these live more than a day. Active but barring unusual local species, below our consideration.  Until something causes a swarm.  More on that later.

Third trophic level are secondary consumers. About 11 lb of biomass makes this the apex predator.  Maybe a few giant rats (for Princess Bride or James Herbert fans), a nest of vipers or a solitary, sewer-dwelling lynx.  Other visitors are desparate wanderers.  Bad food, poor water and plentiful disease discourage most.  Yet in winter, many options are considered.

Water is poor-quality as decay deoxygenates water.  This is mitigated by rain from storm drains.  Fish and molluscs survive where water is cleaner but drinking isn't advised and shellfish will be contaminated.  Disease is a real risk, your average bacillus ain't heavy and a teaspoon of Clostridium botulinus goes a long way. Beware brackish pools and fouled water.  Higher trophic levels can also scavenge from the waste directly.

Definitions of edible and serving suggestions vary by species.  Tweak towards interesting for your game.

Interfering with the ecology

Remember this is before adding other organic waste and missing persons. In a city of 40,000 souls, some will be evil.  Medieval homicide rates were higher (about 0.5 - 1%) and the body must go somewhere.  One person killed every day for a year is noticeable.  A scientific guess of one body a week dumped down the sewer makes about an extra 20lbs of protein per day for the omnivores and detritivores.  Now imagine how a serial killer or discreet murderhobo changes things. 

Missing folk and an explosion of vermin may raise questions.  Particularly if plague comes calling.

The vampire or wererat nest in a sewer is classic.  Imagine Welles' The Third Man with wererats?  Now add those swarms mentioned earlier.  Constructs may work tirelessly to stop blockages.  Elementals may be twisted by this environment.  Outsiders and otherworldly monstrosities may adopt a sewer for their own bizarre purposes or perhaps in memory of home.

Undead may depopulate or shift the ecology.  Ghouls may be a problem if there's linked catacombs.

Speaking of scavengers, fungoids, rat-folk and other carrion crawlers may find the sewers ideal.  More mundane monsters may include big snakes, crocodiles and octopoid monsters like sewer squid or darkmantles. Oozes and slimes are obvious clean-up crew, quite a few climb and squeeze through tiny openings.  An amorphous self-cleaning killer may be tricky for investigative types. another is treasure!

Scavenged loot may be taken magpie-like by sewer dwellers. It may be hastily discarded. It's not likely to be the wealth of ages.  Yet the oddest things have a way of ending up down there.   It's more likely loot is incidental and small.  Stories and rumours may say differently.  While a dragon's hoard is unlikely down here, it's not an obvious hiding place is it?

As with everything, history trumps the fevered imagination. Keeping it primitive may boost grimdark quotient and Rabelaisian bawdry.  Magical sewers require an interesting backstory.  The who, why and when matter.  The threat of disease, monsters and worse (the smell!) motivates heroes or profiteers.  It may also motivate villains.  Plenty for a GM to work with.

Thursday 8 May 2014

unlikely treasures 2: even still more loot for the taking

Roll d12 for the loot!

  1. Matched set of masterwork half-plate & masterwork heavy shield with silver shield spikes (1400gp).
    Weighs 70lbs.  Armour is AC+8, armour penalty -6, spell failure 40%, weighs 50lbs.  Shield is AC+2, armour penalty -1, spell failure 15%, weighs 20lbs.  Shield spikes are a masterwork silver weapon doing 1d6 damage on shield bash.
  2. Mithril throwing hammer with ornate dwarven runes and ornamental blue gem inlays (1200gp).   Weighs 1lb.  Head is topped with a cabochon-cut blue jasper (100gp) and hilt inlaid with lapis lazuli  bands (four bands worth 10gp each).  The runes name the hammer 'Truesilver's Kiss'.
  3. Medium ornate-carved cedar chest (1100gp).
    Weighs 35lb.  Contains six everburning torches, six vials of antitoxin and three thunderstones.  Opens so torches light (harmlessly) around contents.  Chest is worth 100gp (weighs 50lb empty).
  4. Crystal flask holding tawny liquid (1000gp).
    Weighs 1lb. Holds nine doses of exotic perfume (worth 100gp each) that grants +2 reaction bonus for anyone with a sense of smell.  The flask is worth 50gp empty.
  5. Deed of ownership (1000gp).
    Weighs 1lb. Ownership of an axebeak egg from a renowned breeder and trainer.  Hatching, training, saddle, stabling and upkeep not included.
  6. Gold and ivory puzzle box (1000gp).
    Weighs 5lbs.  Fiendishly difficult, requires a Disable Device (DC20, can retry once a day) then an Intelligence check (DC15) to open.  Has hardness 7, 15 hit points and a break DC of 25.
  7. Large ornate-carved oak and ivory chest (1000gp).
    Weighs 280lbs. Contains 180lbs of silver dust in 18 burlap bags of 10lb weight (worth 5gp each). Chest is worth 90gp (weighs 100lb empty).
  8. Necklace of amber beads on gold wire (1000gp).
    Weighs 2lbs.  Made up of 16 amber beads (50gp each) and a larger cabochon-cut amber (100gp).
  9. Ornate gold bracelet to fit large person (1000gp).
    Weighs 4lbs.  Would suit efreet or fire giant.
  10. Silver fox coat with yeti fur trim (1000gp).
    Weighs 5lbs.  Suitable for royalty, would suit an average human.
  11. Crystal-studded gold-plated conical open helm (900gp).
    Weighs 5lb.  Helm is AC16 vs. head attacks only, crystals are blue quartz and rock crystal worth 700gp in total.  Helm without gems is worth 25gp
  12. Masterwork gold-plated breastplate with steel armour spikes (800gp).
    Weighs 30lb. +6AC, -3 Armour penalty, 25% spell failure. Would fit a muscular human.  Spikes do 1d6 (x2) in grapple or as normal attack.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

3DPBMHSCBtm: knights of saint-george

In the 3DPBMHSCBtm there are constants.  Yet even these constants diverge within each world.  The knights of Saint-George are one such. The pale warrior who watches over warriors, wanderers, herdsfolk and the diseased is beloved by many.  The knights protect labourer and noble alike.  The red cross on a field of white is known to all three worlds

And yet…

About the Knights

Knights are lawful, good or both.  As militant servants of a divine power, they possess a peculiar mix of humility and pride.  The church organises into orders and preceptories. These work together for the greater good and to foster law and order in the land.  Knights of Saint-George are bound by a code of conduct. This code divides into two 'hands'.  Some knights contemplate their open palms when considering whether an intended action will violate their code.

The Sword-hand
1. Fear Saint-George and maintain his church
2. Loyalty
3. Generosity
4. Be noble in bearing
5. Truthfulness

The Shield-hand
6.  Respect the honour of women
7.  Protect the weak
8.  Guard the honour of fellow knights
9.  Obey those in authority
10. Never refuse the challenge of an equal

The first tenet is absolute.  Those who do not fear Saint George or allow his church to falter are dishonourable exiles.  The second tenet is reinforced by oaths of fealty. These are made to Saint-George, his knights and servants, then the local church and church-ordained ruler.  Generosity is enforced by  tithe (10% of earnings).  More is expected generally and particularly of paladins and ascetic monks (they give 90% of earnings).  Nobility in bearing combines courtesy, good posture and self-respect.  A knight always represents Saint-George - they never slouch, never whine, seeking to remain strong and composed.  Truthfulness is delivered with honesty first, compassion second.  Sometimes the hard truth is the one that people need to hear to avoid falling into self-deception.

The sixth tenet is crucial - Saint-George disdains arrogance.  No order refuses entry to women, sisterhoods are respected for deeds  as much as other orders.  The seventh tenet is a measure of efficiency.  The weak require protection as much from themselves as from the many who would oppress them.  The eighth tenet challenges hubris and keeps knights honest.  To challenge evil, one observes and resists it in the face of corruption, temptation and leniency.  The ninth tenet supports the first and second.  It teaches respect for local authority, even if such is misguided or needs to be challenged.  The tenth links to the preceding two.  A knight stands ready to justify deeds and intent to peers to ensure they are just.

Defenders of civilisation: Altorr

In Altorr, knights are grim protectors.  With lance, sword and shield, they defy demon, giant and tyrant while driving off dire beasts and disease.  Their preceptories assign knights on periodic tours of duty. While the druids consider them as misguided fanatics, most bards welcome story fodder like the Knights.  Many nobles view the Knights as a two-edged sword.  Their willingness to fight is welcome, interfering with noble judgements and challenging 'unjust' rulers is not.

Ascetic Order of the Crimson Cross
An order of monks devoted to keeping the law.  Their hard fighting style combines strikes and blocks with training in club, dagger, spear and shortsword.  The Ascetic Order can teach riding, law (Profession (barrister)) and religion.  These monks defend the innocent in all trials, including those of combat where they must.

Order of the Black Shield
An order of knights deemed extremist among other that takes any action against evil.  Holding the fight against evil above all other considerations, they are fearsome.  They are taught religion and to understand deception.  Their vows allow divine redemption by atonement without the sting of guilt in dishonourable conduct.

Order of the Warding Cross
An order of knight protectors challenging moral decay.  They are taught diplomacy, riding and noble history as well as martial prowess and knighthood.  Aspirants are lawful good or lawful neutral.  The order is known for an additional code.

  • Courage and enterprise in obedience to the order.
  • Defense unto death of any mission.
  • Respect to peers and equals; courtesy to lessers.
  • Combat is glory; battle the true test of self-worth; war is the flowering of chivalry.
  • Personal glory above all in battle.
  • Death before dishonour.

Champions of good under a burning sky: Bellotra

In Bellotra the Knights never want for action.  Crusading against demon, devil and undead, caring for the sick, maintain hospitals for the afflicted and embassies for good.  Obvious celestial affiliation led to initial distrust among Bellotrans. Over time exterminating vampire demonologists, smashing devil slave markets and quarantining plague victims softened local attitudes.  Bellotran knights outside an ascetic order wear signet rings with Saint-George's seal on the sword-hand's ringfinger.  This signifies the noble bearing they aspire to.

Ascetic Order of The Shining Hands
This order balances cleric and monk.  Bound by sacred vows of poverty, they reject arms and armour for monastic discipline and prayer.  Versed in religious thought, they wield formidable powers.  They work with other orders as bodyguards or enforcers in return for simple shelter or food.

Emissaries of the Scarlet Cross
These ordained persuade where force fails or falters.  Their talents are augmented by divine favour and secret words spoken at the creation of all worlds.  The emissary is versed in diplomacy and planar lore. Their gifts call to souls, convert the unbeliever for a time and sustain the good of heart.

Wardens of the Blooded Cross
An order sworn to slay vampires and redeem their victims.  Wardens are eclectic - those who turn undead and who were scarred by unlife are welcomed.  Quite a few wardens are ex-clerics and ex-paladins.  These hunters of the dead gain divine spells and protection against undead magics.  Their calling card is a stake with cross-carved hilt.

Watchers over giants in the earth: Carcetus

Under the stone sky, the knights of Saint-George keep vigil and light in the deep.  Preceptories are refuge from horrors and enemies.  Warriors of Saint-George are welcomed, not least because they follow orders and co-operate without additional compulsion.  Yet where Knights flourish, foes arise to meet them.  Those who lead communities know Knights are harbingers of conflict - the preceptories are never completely safe. More than one Knight has faced hostility from allies.

Ascetic monks charged with guarding a community.  Their defensive fighting style uses evasion and blocks alongside club, dagger, shortspear, shortsword and spear.  They serve as bodyguard, sentinel and scout. They are also taught to read people and situations as well as acrobatics, climbing and stealth.

Sworn to heal wounded or afflicted in their care.  Adept in battlefield medicine, they also maintain hospitals and quarantines  to protect the sick and diseased.  This does not stop them harming the foe.  Their preceptories are defended ferociously against incursions and are known for crippling traps.

These knights keep sacred fires burning.  In Carcetus, light is life and a votary defends the sacred fires with fanatical zeal.  These pious templars are fortified against magic and harm.  Typically fighters or rangers, they favour the sword, learn of other religions and defend the fire.

Regarding the Secret Orders

Not all orders are bound to one world.  Some are well-known but few in number for ordination is arduous and their enemies are relentless.  Others are reclusive, keeping their mysteries hidden.

Crusading Order of Chalice-Bearers
These rare knights bring the good fight to the evils of the Ten Thousand Worlds.  Though many are called, few are chosen.  Aspirants (mostly paladins, clerics or rangers) are taught extensively of planes and religion and divine magic.  When ordained, they gain formidable powers against evil outsiders.

Order of Pomazal
This reclusive order of anointed knights claim sanctity of body and weapon perfect a warrior of light.  They achieve this sanctity by ordeal and sacred chrism.  Using special oils on ancestral weapons and themselves, they become formidable opponents wielding weapons of terrible power.

Secrets and lies

The dragons died to end the Demonplague and their gold was divided among the remaining survivors.  In Altorr, this story is taught to children.  In all such tales, it hides an uncomfortable truth.  Each preceptory guards one or more dragon eggs from hatching or from corruption.  Only the abbots in charge know this dire secret.  Yet tales of the Whispering Darkness, the insidious, unseen horror of Carcetus, persist despite knightly quests.  "The Darkness gnaws at the base of the cross."  Muttered by drunkards, fools and the broken who recall sibilant slanders before attacking any knights present.  This tale is not yet fully told.

Thursday 1 May 2014

assorted dungeon keys

And if you thought the lock was unusual, check out the keys.  Roll d12.
  1. Bronze master key.  Fits 50% of locks on this level or in this part of the dungeon. 
  2. Darkwood key with long shank.  Totally non-conductive for electricity.  May be useful for an electrified lock? 
  3. Fulgurite key of hexagonal shape that reduces electrical damage by 2 points when used to open an electrified lock. Worth 300gp. 
  4. Heavy key of magical red-veined iron that reduces heat or fire damage by 2 points when placed in a lock that radiates heat or flames.  Worth 300gp. 
  5. Jet key set into ring carved from a single piece of stone used by ancient wizards.  Warm to the touch, suitable focus for magic jar.  Worth 250gp to arcane collectors, 200gp otherwise.
  6. Leaden key that reduces negative energy damage by 1 point if inserted into a lock charged with negative energy. Worth 150gp.
  7. Naga-bone key of interlocking small bones for the blade and a bone cameo for the bow.  Worth 200gp for the craftmanship and exotic material. 
  8. Plaited red gold and faience key with spiralling blade and bow shaped as a miniature shepherd's crook.   The crook is used to disable a needle trap on certain locks by those in the know.  Worth 300gp to the right people, 150gp to the uninitiated.
  9. Rusted iron key with letters SIR etched on bow.  This key radiates moderate transmutation magic.  If placed inside a metal lock, and the word 'SIR' is spoken, lock and key collapse into flakes of rust. This destroys and unlocks the particular lock.  The key is only usable once.  Worth 700gp.
  10. Topaz key of rose and orange hue.  Enchanted to be tough as steel.  Worth 600gp due to craftmanship and enchantment. 
  11. Vampiric skeleton key, works on locks 50% of time. If touched by bare skin drains 1 point of Constitution then open locks 75% of the time until next sunrise.  Will not be inserted into a lock in sight of a holy symbol.  Constitution loss is recovered by 8 hours sleep
  12. X-bladed silver key.  Fits a specific superior lock that imposes a -20% (-4) to picking due to wards.
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