Saturday, 27 November 2010

three things: automatarch's regalia

The Automatarch rules a nation where mechanical wonders perform laborious tasks and great engines harness the elements.  Lost in the Siege of Unmaking, restoring the regalia earns royal patronage.  To say nothing of access to all manner of marvellous machinery and mechanical conveyances...

Crown Cognate
This ornately-tined gold crown is studded with tiny sapphires, violet garnets and ornate cogs of alchemically-hardened amber.  When worn, the crown clicks and whirrs to life, the cogs turn and small arcs of electricity move around the tines of the crown. This provides the wearer with a +4 enhancement bonus to Intelligence.
Market Cost: 24,000gp
Creation: Caster level 9th, fox's cunning.

Orb of Foreknowledge
This chased orb of bronze, gold and sapphire emits wisps of aromatic steam and makes a continuous ticking sound audible up to 10 feet away that negates any attempt at stealth.  Once a day, it may provide answers to five yes or no questions in the manner of a commune spell.  The questions are answered by a lawful entity obsessed with simple order and mechanical precision. 
Market Cost: 10,000gp
Creation: Caster level 9th, commune

Scepter of Manifold Purpose
This stout rod decorated in gold filigree and indigo lacquer conceals a number of blades within it in the manner of a brandestock.  By depressing parts of the filigree, the scepter can extrude various blades, spikes and other items which allow it to perform the following functions.
  • +2 short trident (treat as a +2 shortspear).
  • +1 shocking light mace
  • By extruding a slim copper prong to the ground, the scepter provides resist electricity 20 but cannot be used as a weapon while this property is being used.
  • A lens may be extruded which acts as a magnifying lens (+2 circumstance bonus to Appraise checks on small or detailed items). 
Market Cost: 32,000gp
Creation: Caster level 9th, alter self, magic weapon, resist energy, shocking grasp

This content is published under the Open Game Licence 1.0

Saturday, 20 November 2010

inns & taverns: pudding's tavern

Pudding's Tavern is tucked in a busy side-street, jostling with bakers and four storey narrow houses. The circular oak sign has the name painted in gold. It's dark walls and doors radiate warmth and a constant hubbub of activity. The smell of bread and hops is a constant companion interrupted by cooked food. The guild marks etched in the lintel showing the approval of bakers, butchers carpenters and potters who drink here.

Inside Pudding's is bustling, often crowded. Tables and stools occupied by off-work artisans clump together. The smells of food and drink mix with fresh sawdust on the floor and the orange light of the hearth and lamps at the larger table. Stairwells leading up are sometimes taken by guests laden with clay tankards. Kitchen staff emerge with boards of pot pie and sticky tartlets intent on their buyers who bellow directions. The bar alternates between quietly occupied and stacked two deep as the artisans drink in waves with the industrious staff scratching tallies on a huge chalkboard behind them.

The house ale is dark ochre with a potent bite and treacle aftertaste. Other ales are served, a pale ale favoured by thirsty smiths and a thick, dark stout more commonly served by halflings to their friends. Those who don't drink ale can buy either red or white wine or a measure of fortified red wine to keep the chill away. In food, the tavern excels. The local bakers provide pot pies and cakes in return for a tab and this benefits all parties. Pudding's is used to showcase some of the finer eating. Prices are a little above average but the quality is repaid with interest. Artisans out to impress often visit Pudding's as part of an evening's entertainment.

Games of chance are a regular occurence, the butchers who drink here play games of draughts and lay wagers. Students of human nature will notice the butchers here are skilled gamblers capable of bilking the unwary in drinking contests, draughts or even simple wagers. They are often accompanied by a squat, tenacious dog of uncertain breeding and many sharp teeth. This beast is beloved of many regulars and waddles around like he owns the place.

For accommodation, Pudding's is functional. A few coins will rent a key to a narrow room for a night with a straw mattress and a chamberpot with a covered lid - the keys all fit each other's locks and guests are told that their possessions are their own concern. Most guests leave the key in the lock. Larcenous types don't usually visit and those who do attract the malicious attention of the landlord's cat, an ill-tempered, aged beast with broken teeth and razor claws who stalks the halls with the stealth of a goat. Guests will find the cat glaring balefully at them when they leave the room. The cat never visits the ground floor - the dog and it are well-acquainted of old.

The tavern is named for the family who founded it forty years ago. Former bakers, they decided to change direction and their fortunes were assured as a result from careful deals negotiated with the artisans of the town. The latest owner works as the landlord and business is booming under his careful eye. He brews the house ale to a family recipe and keeps this secret. Barring war, famine, pestilence or even sudden death, the Pudding Tavern will continue to prosper for some time.

Monday, 15 November 2010

three hundred... of now.  That proved the old adage the first hundred are easy what follows makes it interesting.  Now a question - what do you want?  

What I'm working on right now:
  1. Putting together a PDF of selected inns & taverns and some extras with it.  Sort of a combination pub/dungeon crawl in the tradition of Griffin Mountain.  This ensures I meet the Chatty Challenge since 4E's transmogrification into Essentials derailed my sekrit project.  Barrowman! (shakes fist).
  2. Exploring GamefulThere is cool stuff and some familiar faces though the tabletop RPG enclave is a small part of a seriously cook picture.  Everything has that new paint smell and for those thinking games can change the world, it's serious gravy.  It will be interesting to see what happens next...  
Seriously, what do you want to play?

high in his stirrups - review - advanced feats: the summoner's circle

Review: The Summoner's Circle by Siegfried Trent  
Metric: Pentacles.  Pokéballs came a close second but let's not go there.
DISCLAIMER: This review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 4 pentacles.  The walkthrough brings people up to speed on an ambiguous class and expands it's options, the feats are versatile and provide pointers on how to get the best out a class with hidden depths though a couple are a bit shaky and one is missing.  The builds illustrate the virtues of the class though GMs may want to review the master of arms build before allowing it at the table.

Content: 4 pentacles.  The walkthrough shows how a summoner sits ambiguously to more traditional roles.  Spells like a sorceror specialised in conjuring and buffing, a cleric's hit points, thief armour and weaponry.  This chimera is a tactical nightmare with the right player and Siegfried Trent gives some insights in how to do that which is seriously needed for some players who want to try something a bit different without breaking the flow of an established game while they find their feet.

The feats are a balanced selection and fill in some gaps though a few will cause discussion at the table (I'm looking at Improved Multiweapon Fighting and Multihanded Weapon primarily) and Usurp Spell is missing but if you have Advanced Feats: The Witch's Brew you'll find it there.  The feats are a mix of class specific and versatile, particular favourites include Hardened Spell, Improved Shield Ally and Touch of Grace.

The builds are interesting stuff.  The Chess Master is an excellent tactical build and my favourite of the three as it showcases the archetype.  The Mythic Rider will appeal to the players who want something a bit different from their summoner.  The Master At Arms is ambitious in building a combat tag team and at high levels is a holy terror but most GMs will try to apply some sanity - something that Siegfried himself admits needs to happen.

Art & Layout: 4 pentacles.  The cover art by Michael Bielaczyc is good and shows the distinctive nature of the eidolon.  Interior art and design suggests otherworldly flavour with some silhouettes reminiscent of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu.  Layout is clean and concise and the winged eyebeasts add a touch of whimsy.

Overall this is a good product and for the price a worthy addition to your Pathfinder toolkit.  There are a couple of glitches on content which surprised me given Open Design's recent exceptional quality - it went a bit Wizards of the Coast there!  It would be an interesting exercise to see how some of these feats combine together but that may be a subject for another article.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

cthulhu double feature: brown's plaid and macleish's heid

Brown's Plaid
A whisky brewed by ex-islander and Glasgow resident Douglas Immanuel Brown, according to an old family recipe.  The bottles are often left unheeded by most respecting bar staff to moulder quietly at the back, their plaid decorated labels (Brown's Distillery Est. 1899) stained with dark, oily residue that smells faintly of lye.   The story of Brown was quietly suppressed by the local church, tales of his still exploding in a blast that left bubbling pools and oily tar "...where once Brown distilt baurley-bree" can be found in the more discerning Scottish libraries as a warning to moonshiners everywhere.

The whisky itself is harsh stuff, pale amber in colour, readily condensing on the side of the glass and reeking of peat.  It's taste is ferociously sharp and warming.  Those drinking must make a CON x3% roll not to cough and be blinded by tears for a round.  Alcoholics (incipient or otherwise) and the mad are strangely unaffected by the brew. Brown himself was tainted by exposure to the lloigor and this whisky carries some of that as well as trace alkaloids associated with hemlock - a part of Brown's recipe.

Those drinking three measures (or more) of Brown's Plaid experience unpleasant dreams of flight/falling and the presence of something reptilian.  They will also wake up 1d3 magic points lighter (or 1 Wisdom damage) for the experience.  Downing a whole bottle (apart from the potential liver damage) results in drunken visions of swirling reptilian shapes and puts the drinker into telepathic contact with a dreaming lloigor - an experience costing 1d6+1/2 Sanity for that night. In addition, the hangover is itself a thing of horror.

Macleish's Heid
This tribal artifact is an overmodeled skull moulded in the likeness of a Ponape tribal ancestor.  The skull is covered in layers of baked sago and palm pith to flesh it out.  These layers are dyed with white pigment then decorated with curved lines of red paint.  Disks of sea shells, snail shells and braided human hair completes the likeness.  The ancestor has widely-spaced staring eyes, a pronounced overbite and narrow jaw. The skull itself has not been exposed for scrutiny.  Doing so would be considered sacriligeous by the tribe and would likely damage the layering and decoration without extreme skill.

Named for noted anthropologist Josiah Raphael Macleish who never returned from a journey to Innsmouth and was finally removed from the missing persons records 15 years later.  The 'heid' was stolen from the antiquities cabinet at Miskatonic University after donation by the grieving Macleish family of Edinburgh, Scotland after Josiah's disappearance.  Stories of the 'daisent heid' are whispered in certain taprooms frequented by Edinburgh students familiar with exotic diseases or anthropology.  The story goes bad luck followed the 'daisent heid' - property is vandalised, rooms burgled and at least one woman abducted.

There are no game benefits for owning Macleish's Heid.  Those familiar with the Mythos or Deep One hybrids may recognise certain common traits to the latter (an Int x5 roll to gain +1% Cthulhu Mythos, only one roll possible).  The misfortune of those owning the 'daisent heid' is caused by various attempts to retrieve it by private collectors or Deep One hybrids.  These groups maneouver about each other and the current owner of the 'heid'.  The artifact is worth a pretty penny but worth a lot more to certain Ponape families who can't offer much beyond being able to guard ancient secrets and keep Deep Ones from hassling the former owner.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

remember, remember - review: kobold quarterly 15

Review: Kobold Quarterly 15 by Open Design
Metric: Traps (these kobolds are tricksy).
This review is based on a PDF review copy from Open Design.
Overall: 5 traps. The Kobold moves from strength to strength.  The cover is exquisite, content is varied and innovative with artwork ranging from good to awesome.  The traps theme is interspersed with druidry, the new King of the Monsters (sporting a new look) and going beyond the DM's friend with situational modifiers and perspective-based dungeoneering.   
Content: 5 traps.  Fantastic stuff.  Lots of quality 4E love ranging  from John Flemming's Rig This making use of ritual mechanics for player character set traps through Quinn Murphy's A Call to Awesome to provide situation or genre-keyed criticals to Phillipe Menard's Jack in The Box with it's traps that transform into monsters and vice versa and Jobe Bittman's Horakh, the newly-crowned King of the Monsters.  Anthony Eichenlaub's Masters of Great Skill uses skill-based utility powers to provide players additional alternatives.
Pathfinder love is also available: Alex Putnam's Blades from the Past offering magnificent toys for fighter-types.  Pits of Despair by Andrew Hind offers 12 twists on the pit trap.  Children of the Wood by Stefen Styrsky uses the Margreve as backdrop for nature magic, divine domains and a sorcerous bloodline.  Collaborative Killers by Michael Kortes offers group tactics for combat and magic.
An inside view on the 'Satanic Panic' via James Lowder's 'Those Dark Dungeon Blues' shows how far advocacy of games has come.  In constrast, the interview with Margaret Weis talks community-driven games and the Cortex system and it's settings inspired by television.  Monte Cook's Simulating Game Reality talks about core assumptions of the rules providing flavour for a game world in a thoughtful discussion.  Book reviews offer more delights though all the books are parts of ongoing series, including the latest Naomi Novik as well as gifting ideas for those who don't yet game.
Mario Podeschi's Side-Scrolling Dungeons is great stuff, showing the virtue of three dimensions and platforms.  While the article uses 4E mechanics in it's example it can be adapted for any game and may offer inspiration for other genres also.  Finally the Cartways, where Wolfgang Baur introduces us to the urban underworld of Zobeck including The Smuggler's Market and the Black Chamber of Anu-Akma could easily be adapted for Pathfinder, d20 or 4E.
Art/Layout: 5 traps.  Cover… (insert Homer Simpson-style drooling).  Is a print available?  Interior art compliments with high points being Nature's Orders, the weapons from Blades From The Past, Horakh and the tower in Going Vertical.  Minor (and I mean minor) layout glitches on the 4E articles are the only foot wrong - a two column layout for those articles would fix this.  On a lighter note, Stan!'s cartoons pull two aces this issue - the 10x10 toon will be funny as long as Desperate Housewives is broadcast.
In closing, this is how a PDF magazine should be, colourful, interesting content, articles bookmarked and with unobtrusive links to products and related sites.  It's particularly neat to see the RPG blogosphere spawning articles for publication and proves there's plenty of life in tabletop RPGs even if some parts of the industry may feel otherwise.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

inns & taverns: the lance and board

Positioned at the edge of the first piazza after the market gate, The Lance And Board is a well-maintained stone gatehouse bought as the city expanded it's walls.  The sign of a shield with a chequerboard pattern and three golden balls on a red chevron has weathered siege, fire and riot and remains conspicuous.  The sign advertises a moneychanger as well as the tavern proper and provides a covered arch to shelter those coming inside.  The ground floor is mostly stables and up to 12 horses may stay here.  At least six of the stalls will be occupied at any time by guest mounts and a small team of five grooms and two guards work diligently to take care of them and discourage would-be horse thieves.  The gate arch has stairwells left and right leading up into the building painted with murals of crossed lances decorated with vines and champion's wreaths. 

The left stair ascends to a small, austere room lit by tallow candles and protected by two armed and armoured guards where a pair of moneychangers behind desks convert foreign coins or valuables into local currency at 10% commission.  For a fee, they will recommend jewellers to those wishing to travel light.  A quantity of coin and capable reinforcements wait behind locked, iron-bound doors.  The right stair ascends to a well-lit mezzanine where travelling cloaks and bulky weapons may be stored for a coin then up a small flight of stone stairs into the tavern proper.  The Lance And Board is a warm, well-lit tavern with arched pillars between six booths along the east and west walls, each with a chequerboard on it.  The common floor often has people standing about drinking and talking loudly around the central hearth where a ruddy-faced cook bakes flat loaves and roasts pigs and chickens.  The north wall has a lengthy bar where three staff and a manager serve drinks.  Stairs are situated in each corner to the upper floor.

The Lance and Board prides itself on it's selection of ales and wine, as a free house it has seven different ales available and seven different wines.  The ales range from a thick stout to a nearly-white cherry ale that finds favour among the nouveau riche.  The wines range from simple house reds and whites to a warming red said to use magic in it's brewing and a cloyingly-sweet pale dessert wine favoured by particular nobles.  Other drinks include a sloe genever and a fortified wine drunk by out-of-favour servants who want to forget.  Apart from the hearth's flatbreads and roasts, sweetmeats and in autumn and winter roasted chestnuts are available along with mulled wine served with herbal possets.  Those used to traveller's fare find the Lance And Board a most welcome change.

Accommodation is favourable in comparison with most city taverns.  There are four suites capable of holding four in comfort and eight smaller rooms capable of holding two in slightly less comfort.  The suits have beds with actual feather mattresses and coverlets while the smaller rooms favour straw mattresses and blanket for their intended use as servant quarters.  The walls are decorated with murals of night skies and knights on horseback.  A rumour that the stars change with each season is just that but looking up at stars instead of cracks will fool some.  The rooms are attended by a pair of scullery maids who will for a few coins provide hot water for bathing and minor repairs to clothing.  Those seeking base companionship will find themselves in need of a cure for pox much to the amusement of the landlord if it comes up in conversation.

The landlord, Budley, is a former man-at-arms who works for the owner, a wealthy former knight who used the money from his tourneys wisely.  Confident in the face of problems, he knows the moneylenders working with him are able to provide up to a dozen armed soldiers if things get out of hand.  He is on excellent terms with the city watch and often provides information on newly-arrived strangers in return for preferential treatment when it comes to problems.  Between this and the moneylenders he is in an agreeable situation and knows it - this makes him cocksure dealing with women not of breeding and his reputation as a womaniser is firmly cemented in local gossip.  This hasn't scared off the merchants or their guards but fewer nobles visit the Lance and Board than did.  Those helping restore his good graces will earn a boon friend.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

surges of the darksea war

The presence of a blue comet in the sky was foretold as a dire portent and it fell into the ocean. The star sank beyond light and stirred up unspeakable horrors in the Underdark. The Darksea War renewed violence as the comet brought betrayals and insurrection with it. While those on the surface were distracted by their wars, the Underdark rang with the sounds of internecine battle.

For the mind flayers, this was disastrous as former allies and thralls turned on each other. This forced them to call on those mind flayers who had descended to depths known to few where their greatest minds dwelled. Yet despite these setbacks and burned by their experiments with star spawn, the mind flayers innovated as inquisitors and scourges supported by Thoon hulks and slaves attacked at the behest of the elder brains. The elder brains created strange beasts - intellect devourers - to aid their troubled kin. The appearance of devils among the mind flayers to counter aboleth demonic allies troubles those few who know of them - the idea of a cambion born of a mind flayer is enough to give anyone nightmares.

The aboleth were less susceptible to the comet's malevolent influence, most of their allies were already insane or their thoughts alien to the influence of the comet. They drew again on the Far Realms and used their allies as proxies between themselves and their demon and elemental allies. Their loyal allies the kuo-toa evolved in their madness, grew more battle-seasoned as their madness helped avert the comet's influence and their priesthood became more battle-adept.

Both sides used the despicable, demented derro. Most derro gladly ally with the aboleth, some formed alliances with mind flayers against mutual drow enemies made bold by Lolth cultists. The derro savants have learned much from the aboleth, including the dreadful practice of surgical enhancement to produce warped slaves whose deformed organs and painful treatment provokes insanity. Their loathesome ways make them universally reviled yet the aboleth tolerate these manic allies.

The growing presence of the Far Realm has brought more entities. More foulspawn, heralded by warpcaller piping means more mercenary insanity. Meenlocks are avoided by both sides despite foulspawn working with them - their corruption has claimed more than one thrall. The arrival of mimics serves only to destabilise conflicts further as they eat their way through thralls and servitors. As the war continues, the imminence of the Far Realm attracts forces intent to banishing it's denizens - the presence of psychically-gifted races grows in an attempt to restore order. Yet this war is a deep wound which has been allowed to fester for centuries. The Far Realm's denizens are not going without a fight - and the two warring nations know what that means.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

rough beasts - review: book of monster templates

Book of Monster Templates by Rite Publishing.
Metric: Pawprints (From what? You'll find out...)
DISCLAIMER: This review is based on a PDF copy provided by Rite Publishing.
Summary: 4 pawprints.  Book of Monster Templates (BOMT) is useful for GMs looking for something different and for classic adaptations for their Pathfinder game. The artwork is solid, minor typos lurk at the edges but the content itself is consistently good with strands of brilliance.

The use of templates makes things easier for a GM and promotes rapid play. A good template can form the core of a campaign arc. Combination of templates is good in moderation - too many games can become creature features.  A whole book of templates may spawn multiple campaigns.

There are blinding examples of brilliance here at all character levels.  Undead sea hags doomed to eternally collect taxes, liches orbited by shrunken dragon's heads singing their praises, parasites stirring armies to fight wars for demons and devils, irresistable forces made flesh, bizarre experiments, hiveminds and magically-imbued entities.  Some templates adopt classic archetypes while others adopt a more Questhaven-centric worldview but it's easy to hack them into your game.

This book acknowledges it's influences without excessive lampshading - references to Aklo, beasts changed by eating magical items and giants gaining power from the earth show both literary roots as well as elements borrowed from comic books and movies.  You'll also recognise familiar faces, GMs looking for particular setting hacks for Pathfinder can find them here.

Artwork/Layout: 4 pawprints. Black & white interior art is consistently good and the cover by Hugo Solis shows a rune-carved dragon about to consider the dilemma of ordering dungeon takeout (i.e. adventurers).

In closing you probably won't use all of them. That's not a bad thing, some are specialised tools but the strength of BOMT lies not just in it's ideas but also it's reusability. You'll be able to return to this well again and again if you're a Pathfinder GM. This one is worth your time.
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