Wednesday, 28 September 2011

serried ranks of the dead

The undead are many and varied; while some would conflate the dead into a band of homonymous animated cadavers and restless apparitions, they have distinctions and diverse motives that not only serve in their understanding but also in their destruction.  Mistaking one for another often ends badly for the would-be undead hunter.  This kind of knowledge is hard-won and often surrounded by folklore of dubious merit, consider the lore surrounding vampires as an example of the misinformation that can be spawned.  This skims the surface of undead creation.  Detailed analysis reveal cultural mores behind the death masks.  Necromancers work against these to perfect their arts.

Necromancy brings us many forms of undead - from the relatively simple animation of skeleton or zombie to the complex rituals that create ghouls, ghasts, mummies or mohrgs and even those said to grant their adherent lichdom or vampirism.  There are other rituals for undead like crawling claws, juju zombies or wights.  The motives behind such workings are never benign, sophists argue for using skeletons as tireless labourers in an eternity of service without parole.  More malevolent undead have even less justification for existence - arguably no just regime would consider this punishment fit for a crime.  Creating undead as a curse is tradition - one with horrific consequences.

Yet necromantic practices aren't the only motivation to pass into undeath; sheer malevolence is enough to spawn certain undead.  The eyes of a wight bear malice that rooted in it's life.  Wraiths are spawned of 'evil and darkness'. A sobering thought next time you hear of an evil warlord or wizard slain; will they rise again?  This may be doubly true for those denizens of the Underdark slain before their time, many are evil-natured and powerful and proper burials are often ignored.  The truly evil may arise as a spectre though this will only happen following the most heinous of crimes.

The violation of taboo raises corpses and causes spirits to abjure the next world for this one.  Ghouls and ghasts arise from cannibalism and terrible hungers.  Huecuva rise from heretics or fallen priests. Spectres and wights may arise from murder and violence, which makes the ever-turning wars between dwarves, giants and orcs a likely breeding ground.  Perhaps most horrific is the revenant whose focus on the murderer and things precious to it makes it an unpredictable foe.  Unquiet spirits show equal variety - the allip rises from suicide brought on by madness.  Ghosts and spectres are denied eternal rest - the latter possibly due to their deeds or nature.  Even the poltergeist is bound to it's place of death.  Banshees are unique to elvenkind, yet the drow are plagued by them.  Betrayal is frequent with dark elves who perhaps have powerful clerics out of necessity...

The shadow is an anomaly, existing solely to destroy amid ancient ruins yet these denizens of the Plane of Shadow pale against the horrors of the nightwalkers, spawned of raw entropy capable of destroying cities.  The otherworlds hold horrors capable of blasting life and soul from the unwary, twisting them into bodaks or devourers.  Whether this is taboo violation or the corrupting nature of evil is something for clerics to debate.  The perils of worlds like the Plane of Shadow or Negative Plane and the Lower Planes are increased further by the presence of undead.

This skims the surface of undead creation.  Specific races and cultures have their own intepretations of undeath, necromancy and protections against them.  More detailed studies may follow, though such knowledge comes with risk.  Philosophers claim we become what we think about.  If this is so, there is a danger knowing too much means a fate worse than death.

Monday, 26 September 2011


No. Enc.: 1d6 (2d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 4d8
Attacks: 1 (sickle or claw)
Damage: 1d6, disease
Save: C4
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XXI

These skeletal undead are created by foul sorcery and the sacrifice of a diseased person. Plagueridden have a horse's skull for a head and wield sickles caked with blood and filth., a successful attack causes 1d6 damage and forces a saving throw vs. Poison or makes the victim suffer a virulent disease which will kill them in 1d6+1 days unless a cure disease spell is used. Their very presence has a 5% chance of infecting someone with a disease in the same manner as a giant rat. Like other undead, they are unaffected by charm, sleep or hold spells or poison. Clerics turn them as wights.

Friday, 23 September 2011

just a job to do

This month's RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Roleplaying Tips deals with assassins. Sun Tzu argues for assassination as a tactic in The Art of War and Machiavelli warned against the hired assassin as political tool of the people. Yet assassins rarely think of themselves or others beyond the job - to them, it's not personal.  While the assassin may get to know their target in intimate detail, they maintain a detachment that a serial killer cannot have.  Murder by sudden or secretive attack is a profitable trade and effective method of shaking up politics, religion and ideologies.  Yet there is variation within the profession.

Death For Sale
The hitmen of Murder, Inc had a regular salary as retainer as well as fees for killings.  Their families also got payments and in the event of arrest, the hitmen could depend on heavyweight legal support.  They were contracted for assassinations across the United States as part of a loosely-organised, multi-ethnic syndicate (the National Crime Syndicate). Some were hardened killers versed in rope, ice-pick, knife and gun.  Others were opportunists.  Murder Inc was finally brought down due to internal betrayals, a consequence of being purely for proift.

Humble Mercenaries
The shinobi (or ninja) were mercenaries.  Everything samurai were not, recruited among the poor, they worked in secret to topple their targets.  Stealth, disguise and subterfuge enabled their roles as spies, terrorists, arsonists and assassins.  During the Sengoku era, families formed villages to train specialists famed in their prefecture.  A demand for untraceable agents capable of dirty deeds ensured the shinobi would survive.  Families became clans and guilds.  Manuals were found describing techniques based around the elements of fire, earth, water, wood and wind and common disguises.  Devices and weapons used by shinobi worked on utility and concealability.  Their mystique was such that magic was attributed to their abilities.  The shinobi were hierarchical, genin (lower man) worked for chunin (middle men) who in turn worked for the jonin (upper man) who represented the clan or family to potential employers. 

Tools Of State
The fida'is (self-sacrificing) who served Alamut served a political and religious cause.  Maligned as rabble and drug-addicts, the truth was more complicated.  As Assassins took contracts for money, they played a long game, accepting only contracts that helped their own cause even where contracts were paid for by Crusaders.  The network of mountain fortresses held (Alamut was one of many) provided a defensive strategy that required the power of the Mongols under Hulegu to finally break.  Even though a fida'i was a pawn in greater schemes, they were extensively trained.  Learning language and culture as well as stealth and disguise skills.  Their youth gave them physical advantages and these were married to a cultivated patience and cold calculation.  They worked for rafiq (companions) and propagandists who in turn took orders from the enigmatic 'Old Man of the Mountain'.

These iconic assassins have distinctive approaches yet their hierarchy stands at odds with the lone wolf favoured in some media and games.  Assassins are in a deadly business, collaboration with allies ensured their survival.  Even James Bond has Q-branch and M's supervision before working with a varied mix of other agents.  These examples provide blueprints for assassin characters, yet anyone with the appropriate detachment and correct aptitudes could sell their services.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

megadungeon mercantile

"Entrance" by Ian Mcraig
This discussion of merchants in the dungeon opens up interesting ideas.  While having hobgoblins treat their weapons like heirlooms is nice flavour, supply of commodities like polearms, food and basics like clothing take on new significance.  Set routes like a "Spider-silk road" used by drow traders linking up megadungeon sections make useful design elements.  Routes establish relationships, suggest potential treasure and add flavour.  Trade routes have made and destroyed kingdoms.  Even in the smaller scale,  smuggler runs and trade discoveries make interesting adventures.  Profit is always popular with NPC adventuring types...

Underdark commodities - Metals and minerals are obvious choices, including gold, iron, salts, stone, gemstones, oil and coal.  Animal and insect-based products are plentiful.  Fabrics include assorted leathers (e.g. chitin, giant snakeskin), woven material (e.g. cloth of gold, cloth of silver, mohair and spider-silk), furs (e.g. cave bear, displacer beast) and exotic hides.  Parchment and vellum make scrolls and books with ink (e.g. cochineal, sepia) bound with metal plates or inlaid bone marquetry.  Ivory (antler, horn) and related trades (scrimshaw) replace wood-craft (scabbards, hilts and smaller hafts) bearing equal decoration.  Longer hafts are forged of metal, making such weapons more resilient, heavier and expensive.  Arms and armour from the Underdark have history, from exquisite dwarven platemail to jagged orc battleaxe. Incense is made of amber, operculum and exotic reptilian musks, fluorescent and phosphorescent dyes are sold while psychoactive mushrooms and mould provides recreational drug sales.

Surface delicacies - Goods from the surface that cannot be found below are valued.  Foodstuffs, wood, wine and other sundries gain unexpected value. Spices, incense and salt all created trade routes and do so in dungeons.  Honey and sugar in particular are popular choices.  Wood may be treated with resins or pickled in vinegar to increase strength and kill mold.  Weapons and armour are standard quality and plain but odd bits of craft slip down to the dungeon - arrows and crossbow bolts are particularly popular given the scarcity of wood and lack of adequate bone or ivory (shafts have to be footed or they're more likely to break).  Charcoal is popular with traders - light, burns hot, useful for alchemy and rare since most wood is used for doors or structural support.  Inexpensive, durable woven fabrics are at a premium.  Plant-based incenses and resins are popular and command a pretty penny, narcotics are a potent trade item as is simple pipeweed.

Logistics - Walking between the surface world and underworld needs a specific attitude and attributes. A willingness to deal with inhumanity makes the typical peddler world-weary, well-armed and familiar with magic.  The use of wagons is limited to large passages and caves.  Most routes however fit the description of 'twisty set of passages, all alike'.  This means hand carts, bearers and the dungeon mule (or local equivalent).  Climbing between levels, fording underground rivers and finding safe trading points make a dungeon peddler's lot interesting.  Many underdark races are unpleasant, conducting trade negotiations in mutual strength with an eye for treachery.  Negotiations with 'friendly' duergar may involve mutual paranoia, threats of enslavement and drinking sessions with mildly toxic spirits.

Merchants who trade in megadungeons may not command wagon trains or armies of fat bodyguards.  Rather they move between worlds, wielding fantastical wealth and a handful of elites.  Find the right customers and you have a sweet life indeed.  Dealing with some communities has risks -  trading with aboleth is a fast route to indenture as a servitor.  Yet the cautiously bold will take up trading within the megadungeon, forming a hub for communities to gather together.  From these seeds, dungeon ports and sunken cities provide fertile breeding ground for these entrepreneurs.

Monday, 19 September 2011


No. Enc.: 1d2 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Fly: 240' (80')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 5d8 + 5
Attacks: 3 (claw/claw/bite)
Damage: 2d6+3/2d6+3/2d8
Save: F3
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XVIII

The klovinnig is a lesser-known relative of the wyvern whose feet boast an enlarged claw similar to those of a velociraptor.  A klovinnig's scaly body is 12 feet long and decorated with brown and grey stripes.  The klovinnig attacks with it's razor-sharp claws and shearing teeth.  The tail no longer has a poisonous stinger but has bony ridges which help it balance.  The klovinnig can attack three different opponents in the same round in a flurry of kicks, snapping bites and flapping wings.  Klovinnig enjoy horseflesh and human flesh equally to the consternation of riders.

(inspired by the Forge-A-Monster challenge at Monsters & Manuals)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

inns & taverns: the perry compass

Most local to the area speak well of 'The Perry'.  The tavern is named for it's south-facing orchard of eight pear trees planted at cardinal and ordinal points around a sealed well with eight apple trees interspersed between them to form a compass rose.  This 'compass' is occasionally used for festivals but the well remains sealed.  The sign is a half-pear with a compass rose inside.

The Perry Compass has seen a series of expansions.   An ancient tower of worn stone stands proud of a open courtyard lined on three sides by white stone and stained timber buildings.  A chicken run and occupied hen houses are watched by a sleepy hound.  The buildings are fronted by shutters decorated with white flower patterns.  The left building is a rudimentary stable while the centre and right L-shaped building is the tavern proper.  Inside is warm, a roaring firepit is kept busy while a bar against the northmost wall keeps the drinks from spoiling.  There is no accommodation available - drunks are charged for use of the stable.

Patrons are urged to try the perry (a sharp, strong pear cider) and pear brandy (colourless, eye-wateringly strong).  There is also a warming applejack, salt ale and cyser.  A brown-jugged mead is also available but at a premium.  For food, there is cheese, apple butter, stewed pears, pickled eggs and saltfish.  The house special is a honey-glazed chicken pie with chunks of pear and turnip.  This 'perry court pie' is popular among more affluent customers - it's not cheap but it is very tasty.

The staff are courteous, all have henna red hair and favour hard-wearing dark livery.  The landlord, Rob is known as 'Red Rob' for his unruly hair.  An ex-soldier, he keeps the Perry running smoothly.  He has enough scars and tattoos to supply an outlaw band.  His daughter, Olivine is the genius behind the menu and perry court pie.  She's recently married (the stablekeeper) to the lament of local batchelors.  The staff side with each other against anything up to orc hordes or furious nobility.

A local mapmaker, Lukael dwells in the ancient tower.  Resident longer than the Perry Compass, his elvish ancestry shows in his face and mapmaking.  His maps command a pretty penny, being unusually accurate and including snippets of pertinent lore.  Rob ensures Lukael always has food and discreetly vets visitors to the ancient stone tower.  The mapmaker has defences as does the tower.  Neither will be taken without magic, treachery or overwhelming force.

The sealed well in the orchard is said to lead to an ancient underworld.  Lukael could provide a map to local caves leading into the well-shaft and down into the underworld.  The seal is warded by magic and decreed by noble rule.  Red Rob keeps an eye on visitors to the orchard.  Those with pick-axes are discouraged, politely at first.  What lies beneath is an ancient civilisation, older than the tower and possibly than human settlement in the area.

Friday, 16 September 2011

review: kobold guide to board game design

Metric: Pieces.  Whether of eight, of mind or meeses depends on the game.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design.  Based on read through of book.  Play and design experiences vary according to environment and participants.  No refunds.
Overall: 5 pieces (collected wisdom from diverse perspectives)
From conception through design and development to presentation, the creation of games is discussed. While board games are a primary focus, dice, certain card games and even tabletop RPGs also get a look in.  Gaming is now a multidisciplinary process and the advice here is surprisingly relevant even to non-board game publishers.

Contents: 5 pieces. (sage wisdom from those in the field - and lots of it)
From first steps of conception (using story pacing and metaphor to inform mechanics and inject fun into the play process) as well as considering your co-creators and the game in holistic terms, not merely as a collection of pieces and rules in isolation.  In addition, an excellent piece from Richard Garfield on playing wider than a narrow remit.  Something edition warriors and snook-cocking types will fizz, spit and dissolve under.  And so it goes.

Design is next, through intuitive design, creating a gateway game that keeps them coming back, devising kick-ass mechanics, taming the two-headed mutant dog of luck and strategy and how to introduce the gambling element that keeps people coming back for more.  Editor Mike Selinker gives a whistle-stop tour of the best game mechanics though the entire section is studded with excellent examples of design, it's hard to pick a favourite here.

Development of the original design involves rebalancing, testing and revising the design and the great challenge of playtesting.  The articles here deal with incorporating challenge, looking at inbuilt bias and permutations of play elements, editing rules text into cohesive, coherent English and playtesting to shake out the creaks and groans.  All articles entertain with insights, from Mike Selinker's skewering of rulescreak in Advanced Squad Leader and Afrika Korps to Dave Howell's golden guidelines about keeping games fun.

Prototyping the game offers it's own pitfalls - the greatest games you never played fail here.  Avoiding the 'artwork sneezed over maths puzzle' aspect of games design, making a good pitch to a company and getting your game published.  The article by Steve Jackson is a wonderful point by point warning while Dale Yu offers a revealing view into doing it right. Assuming you got that right, Richard Levy takes you through the art of the pitch and licensing brands while Michelle Nephew gives insight into getting the game finally published.

The authors have a formidable line of credits - Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Kill Dr. Lucky, Brave New World, Fluxx, Risk 2110AD, Dominion, Pokémon, Munchkin, GURPS and the Furby among others.  Their voices echo with hard-won experience and useful lessons for those willing to learn. You'll even learn why there's an underground lake on the first floor of the House on the Hill and the eldritch horror spawned of find & replace functions that is dawizard (see p.98 for details).

Artwork/Layout: 4 pieces.  (clean, oddly redolent of the ...For Dummies line)
Previous Kobold Guides have appeared mildly scholastic, their look and layout resembling compilations of academic journals.  Here the styling takes a slightly more workmanlike approach.  It's reminiscent of user manuals and ...For Dummies guides.  A special hat tip has to be made for the flowcharts, both the process flowchart on p.35 (crying out for some poster love) and the Jenga flowchart on p.44 which manages to illustrate Jenga's classic appeal and the core concept behind Dread all in one go.

In conclusion, this book lets you in on a number of secrets.  Some will seem obvious in a "D'OH!" way until you realise, hang on... and that is the book's strength.  While cursory examination makes it worthwhile, on re-examination it gains considerably.  Individually, it's strong enough to merit purchase. As a companion to the Kobold Guides to Game Design it offers valuable industry context.  If you're in the business of game design, or would like to be, this book is worthwhile.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

four hundred... and mostly harmless!

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Four hundred posts?  Already??  That was a bit quicker than expected.  Things have picked up a bit lately as there's been interesting discussions in the blogosphere of late.

Have to laugh - did not anticipate a G-rating for this blog at all! Clearly widespread alcohol consumption, tales of man's inhumanity and eldritch horrors don't bother the censors much.  Still if it's good enough for Roald Dahl, it's good enough for anyone.

There's been two PDFs of inns & taverns compilations (the zaros road crawl and drinking the depths) since the last century of posts.  Other PDFs are coming.  Please do send reinforcements. 

Finally, this week is Speak Out With Your Geek Out.   Admirable stuff on accentuating the positive in our geek community.

Monday, 12 September 2011


No. Enc.: 1d6 (1d10)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 30' (10')
Fly: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 3d8 + 3
Attacks: 1 (touch)
Damage: 1d4 + see below
Save: F3
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XVII

Myrk are undead spirits of entropy and darkness.  They appear as nebulous shadows.  Their presence is preceded by a sudden gloom and hoar frost appearing on metal and glass.  When a myrk approaches, all light sources within 30' are halved in effective radius. Multiple myrk have a cumulative effect to a minimum of 1' radius light.  If a myrk touches a light source it is extinguished as long as it touches it. A myrk's touch does 1d4 cold damage.  Those slain by a myrk rise as a free-willed myrk in 3 days unless given a consecrated burial.  Silver or magical weapons are needed to harm them.  Like most undead, they are immune to sleep, charm, hold spells, poison and death ray effects.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

three things: municipal monuments

Inspired by comments on the post we built this city with wand and scroll.

Defender's Monument
This exquisite marble statue of a great paladin astride his destrier is surrounded by an invisible hymn of faith; his brandished sword burns with continual flame.  Those within 20' of the statue gain the benefit of an enhanced consecrate spell (+6 sacred bonus to positive channeled energy DCs, -2 penalties for undead in the area).  The statue counts as a shrine for the deity in question and often set over a municipal graveyard.
Creation: 9th-level, Create Wondrous Item, consecrate, continual flame, ghost sound, permanency, marble statue worth 2,500gp.
Market Value: 54,000gp

Sword Bridge
This narrow stone bridge (5' wide) arches over a 20' wide gap.  The bridge has hardness 8 and 30 hit points per 5' section and is breached in a single attack with a Strength check (DC24).  Three times a day, when a command word is spoken, the bridge sprouts stone spikes to impede movement as the spike stones spell for nine hours.  The spikes are a magical trap spotted only by those with a trapfinder class feature (Perception check DC29). These spikes reduce ground movement by half and inflict 1d8 piercing damage per 5' travelled on the bridge.  Those taking damage must make a Reflex save (DC23) or take injuries to their legs and feet, forcing them to move at half speed until they receive magical healing or someone takes 10 minutes to treat the injuries and make a successful Heal check (DC23). 
Creation: 9th-level, Create Wondrous Item, spike stones, wall of stone.
Market Value: 51,000gp

Watchful Herald
This marble statue of a winged messenger (e.g. deva, devil, swanmay) serves as a herald commanding those present to "Make Way!" if a noble's coat of arms is visible within 150 feet.  When the watchful herald calls out, those within 20' of the herald are affected by calm emotions cast by a 10th-level caster (Will save DC22).  The herald was originally devised to prevent panic or rioting when liveried servants or nobles themselves used the street.
Creation: 10th-level, Create Wondrous Item, calm emotions, magic mouth, permanency, marble statue worth 5,000gp.
Market Value: 35,000gp

Friday, 9 September 2011

review: rpg creatures bestiary 1 by cloister publications

Metric: Claws. 
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Nicholas Cloister of RPG Creatures and Cloister Publications
Overall: 5 claws (exquisite art and innovatively weird creatures)
Fifty unique creations will surprise your players, a combination of high-concept (undead feathered dinosaurs, drug-making pet lizards) and variants on classics (goblin crow-shamans, ice demons).  The artwork is truly exceptional in quality and quantity.  The pieces remind me of concept art for Guillermo del Toro.  If every bestiary looked this good, games would draw a wider audience.

Contents: 5 claws (fully-realised creatures with adventure hooks)
There are fifty creatures in this bestiary.  Each is notably different and has flavour to spare  Statblocks suggest a system usable with Basic Role Playing or GURPS.  Converting to D&D or varied retroclones is easy enough without invoking licensing issues.  The naming of these beasts implies an exotic setting with the influence of otherworldly forces.  Some monsters straddle existence (undead as well as living and immortal) as well as environment.  It would be easy to imagine these creatures in high fantasy or sword and planet games.  Those wanting low fantasy or dark fantasy also catered for.

Art & Layout: 5 claws (lots of eerily beautiful art, solid layout).
A full-page colour plate for every monster!  Each and every picture in the bestiary would make an excellent cover piece.  The contents page has hyperlinked pictures to take you to individual entries, a very nice touch.  The standard is consistently brilliant.  The text uses a sensible mix of shading and typeface to provide clarity.  Descriptions are evocative, perhaps not native English, excellent in lyricism, detail and mechanical exposition. Others could learn from this.

In conclusion, this is a great start to what I hope will be a beautiful series.  If you want something a bit different, you will do worse by going elsewhere.  I'd heartily recommend the RPG Creatures blog so you get an idea of the standard of this book.  More please! 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

we built this city with wand and scroll

A fascinating discussion was instigated over at Compromise & Conceit and continued at Monsters & Manuals and Dreams in The Lich House about using magic to create a post-scarcity fantasy society.  While Lord Faustus has big ideas yet modest aspirations (only 20 in his harem?), his baseline assumptions and ethics would create a dystopia worthy of Orwell or Zamyatin. As a thought exercise, this does go some interesting places.

The baseline uses the resources of a small city (about 10,000 people) and the modern aspirations of a typical developing nation, namely:
  • reducing maternal and child mortality.
  • improving agricultural output.
  • developing infrastructure.
  • access to universal healthcare
I'm interested in the idea for the following reasons:
  1. GAZ3: The Principalities of Glantri was a brilliant sourcebook and took the idea of a magocracy in fun, playable, directions.  The question of 'why don't we create settings like this?' is perhaps best answered by two observations.
    • They already exist but we don't recognise them - examples include: 
      • D&D (Glantri, Alphatia, Waterdeep, Halruaa, Eberron)
      • Magitech (Amazing Engine)
      • Technomancer (GURPS)
      • Rifts
      • World of Darkness (Mage)
    • A baseline is needed to make the unusual stand out.  If everywhere is Faustusville, accessibility is a consideration (one aspect of GMs as information architects) so that players can understand the setting and enjoy playing in it.
  2. Seeing how utopias break makes for fun settings, entertaining stories and cautionary tales for aspirational players who try to recreate them.
So, assuming your spell casters work harmoniously to improve your society without internal dissent or corruption, you've persuaded the druids and paladins working together is a good thing, the powers behind the divine magic are OK with your plans and the town has sufficient assorted gems and silver, let's rock.  I'm using and patching any holes with the Dungeon Master's Guide 3.5.  While I could max the possible levels of my NPCs, I'll take the average to keep things smooth between rules.  So no spell casters above 10th-level in our small city of 10,000 souls. 

To quantify the resources available to a small city of 10,000 people we go to the 3.5E DMG and learn that we have access to the following spellcaster types.  As we're a small city we roll twice, hence the split between people at higher levels and the multiplier effect on paladins and rangers.  Also paladins and rangers below 3rd-level don't get spells but have other stuff

Table 1: Spellcasters in the small city







8 16


8 16





Maternal and child mortality - The presence of casters with aid, assorted cure wounds, repel vermin and remove disease will improve maternal mortality.  Child mortality might also be reduced.  In any event you'll need plenty of casters.  With modern European population rates about 16 people per 1,000, you get about 200 new people a year in the city.  Using modern European mortality rates of 10 people per 1,000 you get 100 people dying.  Reducing this by 20% for maternity-based mortality simplifies the maths, so you're adding 120 people to the population each year.  Births are likely to be seasonal (pesky fertility rites) and the wealthy get priority one way or another so it will be all hands on deck after the rich have squirreled away the good ones.

Improving agricultural output - Plant growth boosts agricultural output by a third - an advantage depending on what you grow.  Create water yields two gallons per level. Create food and water feeds three people or one horse per caster level.  Goodberry creates healing meals.  Allocation of these to needy, soldiers and wounded makes this less of a cornucopia than originally feared, with a one day duration, create water sustains farms or temple gardens.  Baleful polymorph (cool name for a spell) turns irredeemable criminals into pigs or sheep to be put out to stud.  Druids may summon nature's ally for breeding stock while other spellcasters may offer half-celestial or half-fiendish breeds by using summon monster instead.  For preservation, purify food and drink can't be beat but salting or pickling may be more efficient for the long haul.

Developing infrastructure - Minecraft players will have their own ideas about the fabricate spell.  For construction, wall of stone is self-evident.  Wood shape and stone shape enable simple, rudimentary crafting rather than fine detail and if there's moving parts beware!  Continual flame provides light but best applied to cumbersome objects to limit theft - large civic statuary or water fountains.  Permanency can be applied to objects as well.  The statue of a celebrated paladin may be surrounded by continuous recited prayers by ghost sound and permanency.  With minor creation's limited duration, it's best use is creating high-value consumables (e.g. Greek fire, wine) for immediate or short-term use.

Access to universal healthcare -  When it comes to healing lethal injury speed is of the essence.  Few farm workers have rapid access to spellcasters without help.  Potions and scrolls come into their own here and serve as a powerful incentive to tax temples in this manner.  This is especially true for disease.  In Pathfinder, paladins are immune to disease at 3rd-level and remove disease at 6th.  Even with earlier editions where the lowliest paladin cured the weekly pox, the cured may be re-infected by environment.  Virulence, social stigma and patient ignorance keep disease a viable threat.  There are always more rats than paladins.  An annual 'sheep dip' for 10,000 costs millions regardless of delivery system - though wands are the cheapest option, potions and scrolls give you the fastest treatment of an individual outside a successful Heal skill check, depending on what you're treating.

The upshot of this, that a small fantasy city with civic-minded spellcasters will not spontaneously become a magical utopia but is more likely to draw the attention of the truly powerful by providing opportunities for expansion.  The following features may appear in such places.  For all to appear suggests unusual levels of collusion between disparate factions or the presence of player characters.
  • Architecture created by or enhanced with magical effects.
  • Expanding agriculture; droughts minimal, famine offset by magically-enhanced crops and stock.
  • Festivals where magic is used to benefit the community for short-term (e.g. fountains of wine).
  • Growing population with nearly-eliminated infant and maternal mortality.
  • Limited stocks of low-level healing magic for emergencies.
  • Monuments with permanent ghost sound lit by continual flames.
  • Noble & mercantile patronage of spell casters in return for favoured client status.
  • Paladins and allies with half-celestial steeds or pets*
*or infernal equivalents for blackguards and other evil types where local ordinances permit.

Monday, 5 September 2011

widow millipede

No. Enc.: 1d8 (0)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 30' (10')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1d8
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d4, see below.
Save: F1
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: None

These three-foot long millipedes stand a foot high on a myriad of legs.  Their head is tapered like a widow's peak.  Truly omnivorous, they feed on anything, fresh or rotten; plant, animal or fungus.   Quite passive creatures they only attack in reprisal or if deprived of a meal.   This has led to situations where they feed on sleeping or helpless adventurers. If light is brought within 30' of them, they emit a sobbing ululation audible up to 60' away for 1d2 rounds.  There is a 25% chance this will attract a wandering monster within 2d6 rounds.

(inspired by the Forge-A-Monster challenge at Monsters & Manuals)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

inns & taverns: beklar's wayside

A rowdy's inn, this former waystation expanded out of necessity.  Lawless men made fortunes rich as they robbed prospectors.  The mine now runs iron-sided wagons to the town.  Though well-guarded, outlaws still raid.  Beklar conquered the waystation in a raid and turned it into an inn.  He bought in ale, dancers, drugs and hot food.  The outlaws keep it safe if blood-stained in return.  Those seeking quick coin, stealthy knives or swift death find what they desire at Beklar's Wayside.  The sign is a square wooden board painted with a white bear.  The land around the Wayside is still half-tamed. 

An extended barbican in good repair, the waystation straddles a road on rough ground.  Scraggy bushes and stumps provide cover.  A knot of half-drunk outlaws with a pair of chained war dogs chew the fat outside. Getting past them is a sign of acceptance.  The entrance is found within the gate arch.  Other iron-bound doors in the arch lead to addict-filled cells.  A stairwell ascends to the main bar.  There are benches and stools in passable repair. During the day, it's a bedlam of drunken rogues, begrimed starveling addicts and dead-eyed harlots.  Nights are worse.   Three ruffians wreathed in scars and tattoos tend bar.  Another stair leads upward to another chamber where musicians and dancers entertain the patrons for coin.  Patrons are as likely to hurl abuse.  In gloomy corners, wealdbloom addicts slump, patrons game with dice and whores of both sexes work. 

Drinks are cheap yet grim.  Most patrons swill 'gut-bile', a weak, sour ale or boiled 'rush beer' for two copper.  A handful of copper buys a cup of 'warmouth'.  This rough red wine, fortified with wormwood and juniper helps with stomach illness and starting fights.  Actual wine is available for two silver a jug. In winter, lambs-wool is made (mulled rush beer with chunks of apple) and quaffed.  For food, saltfish, biscuits and smoked sausage of variable content can be bought.  Other purchases include wealdbloom, a chewable narcotic flower.  In autumn, certain mushrooms provide distracting hallucinations.  Both are bought for five silver or fifty copper.

Beklar stays in the east tower with loyal lackeys.  He descends twice daily, once at noon to trade and at eventide to choose bedtime companions.  Beklar is gaunt, cavern-eyed with a steely grip.  Sly witted, his mind is a steel trap.  His stained surcoat hides mail and knives.  Locked doors and a massive, ill-humoured warhound guard the tower from intruders and thieves alike.  This beast accompanies Beklar if his routine is disturbed and is known to enjoy human flesh.  On a slow night, Beklar and his staff drag addicts from the cells to fight for them.  Those refusing are beaten by violently disappointed patrons.  Side betting is often lucrative for the wary. 

Those crazy enough to seek accommodation for ten silver are escorted to the western tower and locked in overnight by Beklar himself.  Beklar has used this to abduct travellers for ransom.  The rooms are small, cold with mattresses of grimy straw and chamberpots.  Whores pay staff to use them as well.  More than one ambush happened in these rooms.  Rooms are strewn with dirty rushes to sweeten the air but there is often tell-tale stains among them.
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